Water

For some background I would suggest reading Lady. This takes place years after Lady and Marquis, but before Dragon.


The river broadened as it approached the sea, widening until the other bank was a hazy green. Houses appeared as minor splotches of color against the unending expanse of foliage on either side. The sailboats plying the river were triangles of white against the dark water and light blue sky, like little hunks of cloud pulled down from the ether and stretched taut to carry the wind. Across the river's mouth, still over a mile downstream, spanned the city of Margate, one of the greatest trading ports on the continent. It was the reason for the fleet of sails on an otherwise calm and stately body of water.

On the great river at its midsummer height one little sloop skimmed along the waves, a scion of the great house of Margate at the tiller and her footman crouched in the bow, his hands white-knuckled on the rail running along the edge of the boat.

"If you hate it so much," she said casually as she altered the boat's course to head for the larger waves of a schooner's wake, "I don't see why you insisted on coming."

"Tis m' job to keep an eye on ye," he replied, though his eyes were pressed closed, his whole face screwed up in concentration.

He twitched as they hit the crest of yet another rolling wave and the little boat bounced. His lady giggled while the young man cringed and pressed himself closer to the semi-safety of the deck, to the warmth and solidness of the planks as the river heaved and swelled around them. He was a few years older than her, but it was only his third time in a boat whereas she had been taken sailing before she could even walk.

"Oh come on Kingsley! At least open your eyes!" she called as they hit another wave and the spray washed over them again. "It's glorious!"

She was tapping an ecstatic beat on the rail with her free hand as she swung the tiller over. The sails twitched and swung to the wind, the boat skipped and the footman cowered lower. Over to their right they were overtaking a river barge on its way upstream, and its crew began to shout and wave in greeting. The young lady waved back and turned the boat slightly more so that they were running full force before the wind, and flying past such slower boats in a blaze of white and red.

"Why are they shouting?" Kingsley asked quickly. "Is something wrong, are they sinking?"

Aurelie let out an exaggerated sigh and glared at the young man, not that he could see it. "No. They're saying hello. If you cared to open your eyes you would see that."

They hit another large wave. The bow went up and then down, the top of the wave practically soaking him while she was only misted. Like a wet cat he huddled further down, shrinking away from the water while she laughed and shook the drops from her hair. Above them puffs of white drifted across the crystal sky and the sun burned with midday heat, causing the water to glimmer in spite of its darkness. The river around them was filled with the pleasure craft of the wealthy, as well as the ships plying their normal trade routes to the interior.

"If I open my eyes," he said, pulling her attention back from the glittering world around them, "will ye talk about it?"

"Talk about what?" She tried to laugh innocently. "I promise I won't tell a soul that you cowered in the bow on a calm river, of all places."

"My little monster, ye know exactly what I mean. If only ye would stop sulking at anything ye don't like like a spoiled child and stop expecting it t'change for ye."

"I am not a spoiled brat! How dare you call me that?!" she shouted, color rising in her cheeks as she intentionally turned the boat towards a larger wave and sent the top of the water crashing across the deck to soak them both.

"Really, Aurelie, are you going to say that to me?" he said, his eyes opening just enough to fix on her, though the gulf between them widened immeasurably as their eyes met.

She flushed and looked away, fixing her eyes on the greenery lining the river. It was suddenly very hard to swallow and her eyes were burning, pinpricks at the back making themselves known as her face continued to burn.

"I'm sorry," she said in a low voice and his posture relaxed slightly, though his hands were still clenched on the rails.

"Ye can tell me anything and I thought ye would want to," he continued while her eyes stayed fixed on the distant shore.

"I do, I know," she said, swallowing forcibly and casting a quick glance around to check the positions of the other boats on the river. They passed a fishing boat moored by a sand bank and she waved to the men blowing kisses in her direction while Kingsley glowered at them.

"Why d'they do that?" he demanded and she laughed, more of the tension easing away.

"They think it's funny to put on a show for ladies, especially when their fathers are not around."

"Hmph. So are ye going to tell old Kingsley why ye came riding up in such a horror and threw yourself into this tiny monstrosity without so much as a word to anyone?"

She sat back beside the tiller, stretching out her legs and letting her eyes rest on him. He could see how closely her grey eyes matched the water around them, unlike her mother's and grandfather's sea-green eyes. Kingsley had often caught himself examining his own eyes in the mirrors scattered around the Dielle house, comparing his own shade of green to the eyes of the mother and her two daughters, but that was a fruitless effort as he already knew the truth.

"I was on my morning ride," Aurelie said at length and Kingsley sat up a bit. "When what should I see as I approached the drive, but a carriage coming towards the house. I know Grandfather does not have any visitors scheduled for today, and not only was it an awkward time to pay a call, but one does not pay an unannounced visit on the Baron of Margate."

The footman nodded knowingly. Even though it was only his first visit to the Baron's estate, the strict sense of rules and the family's own status had impressed itself on him even before one of the other servants had deigned to speak to him. He had heard enough reports while still in Fenningale to make him glad he had never been brought along on one of their family visits to Lady Anabella Dielle's father. But his luck had run out less than a week before when he had been packed off along with Aurelie for her summer visit at her grandfather's estate.

Aurelie's attention had drifted off to watch watermen pulling up crab pots as another schooner swept down the center of the river, headed towards port. "I stopped where I was of course," she said almost dreamily. "You know how I am, nosy past the point of pardon. And who should I see hanging out the carriage window like an eager puppy, but Prince Emory himself."

Kingsley choked on his exclamation, and went so far as to pry one hand from the rail to thump on his chest as he leaned forward, coughing.

"What?!"

"Prince Emory," she drawled, and he suddenly understood the flustered descent to the dock, her shaking hands as she tried to untie her little sailboat, the sheer relief with which she had watched the dock slip away as the current pulled them out into the river and towards the sea.

"What are ye going t'do?"

"I'm trying my very best not to think about that. What do you say we just sail back to Fenningale? It shouldn't take more than a few days. We can get a coach at home and…"

"Aura," Kingsley said firmly enough to cut her off. Her slightly glazed eyes refocused on his face and she smiled sadly. "Ye need t' talk to him."

"I'm trying my very best to avoid that as well. Don't you think I can keep running? I'm the sorceress, if I had to bet, I'd—"

"Aura, ye know I do not like t' see ye upset. I'd do most anything to protect my little lady, but ye snuck around me," here she covered her mouth, unable to repress a laugh as he leaned forward, pointing an accusing finger and completely oblivious to the wave about to wash over the deck.

The giggles burst forth as the wave broke and Kingsley uttered an oath that would have made the maids blush. He turned from cursing the water to glare at her, dragging his hair from his face and flicking excess water at the equally damp girl.

"Ye did that of a purpose!"

"I couldn't help it, it was the schooner!"

"Hmph! As I was saying," he paused to glance back for more looming menaces, "ye went off and got yourself hurt."

"I did no such—"

"And!" he continued right over her. "Now there's nothing I can do to make things better."

"Kingsley!"

"So, the only thing I can do is tell my little lady that she must talk t' him t' discover whether this rascal has lying friends or, if they were not lying and—"

"You really do think it was a lie then?" she exclaimed, sitting up very straight while he rolled his eyes.

"And if he's a scoundrel (which I don't doubt he is), then ye'd better tell him where he can pack his bags off to."

"Kingsely! You are just as bad as Father and John!"

"And yet neither o' them has ever been trapped on a flimsy piece of wood, about to be drowned and at your mercy."

"Neither of them would follow me onto a boat when I was in a mood like that."

"What would they a' done then?" he asked, glancing back again as they hit the crest of another wave, and frowning at the water.

"They would have ordered me not to leave," she said simply, with a shrug and a glance up at the sails.

"Yes, but that hardly works for me," he said, jabbing a thumb at himself, and his footman's uniform.

"Well," Aurelie drawled, turning the tiller once more towards the biggest waves she could find. "It's not like I listen to orders anyway."

A half hour later they returned to the dock. By the end of their very long sail, both were laughing as the sailboat flew along the waves and the water washed over them. Aurelie had enchanted the wind to blow in whichever direction she pleased and they slid neatly between the other boats, watching crews haul on their own sails, and smiling as people stared at their carefree maneuvering around buoys and barges.

They turned into the wide bay that set off the Baron's estate, headed for the stable dock and were laughing until they saw the figure standing by the boat slip. Aurelie went very quiet and still, guiding the boat with determination, her eyes fixed on the task at hand. She pulled it into position, dropped the sails and threw a rope around the pylon, all without glancing to the motionless figure waiting for them. Kingsley did not look up either, he was a servant and it was not his place to look on royalty, not even one he severely wanted to punch; but as he was climbing out he chanced a glance at Prince Emory, the golden-haired trickster god of Fenningale's court.

His look as she nodded for Kingsley to get out first and then allowed the footman to hand her out while ignoring the Prince was unfathomable. If not for his concern for his charge, the footman might have been concerned for himself. When the Prince made a move to step forward she cut him off with a jerk of her hand, still refusing to look at him. It took only a few murmured words and a flick of her wrist to send the water soaking the two sailors flying back into the river. Then she fixed her eyes on her Prince.

"I will speak with you after dinner," she said and Emory's eyes' widened. He looked about to respond but she turned away from him, beckoning to the disheveled footman. "Come Kingsley, I want to show you Mama's old garden. Zizzy and Geoff have taken over it, but the roses and impatiens are hers."

"Aurelie!" the Prince called as she began to walk away.

"I will talk to you after dinner," she said without stopping, her voice dripping with ice.

"Now wait a minute!" He stormed up the dock after her, blue eyes blazing as his boots tromped across the planks.

Kingsley threw out an arm without thinking and caught Emory in the chest. There was a moment of absolute silence as both men registered what had just happened, how a footman had raised his hand against a royal. Then Aurelie turned and saw them standing there, frozen in place. She was back down the slope in a second, hair and skirts flying as the Prince's eyes narrowed.

"How dare you?" he demanded, moving to shove the taller man from his path.

"Don't you touch him!"

There was a flutter of fabric, two shocked looks and a splash. And then Aurelie Dielle was standing on the edge of the dock with her hands on her hips, glowering down at the form bobbing in the water.

"How dare you?!" she demanded, with a stamp to accentuate her points. "How dare you, Emory? How dare you run off on me like that? How dare you drop me and humiliate me?! How dare you follow me after I'd told you not to! How dare you say anything, anything at all to Kingsley when he's only trying to protect me! That's all everyone's been doing for months, trying to protect me from you!"

"Protect you from me?" the Prince shouted back, still splashing angrily, and apparently unaware that his fine silk was not meant to be submerged in murky river water. "Who is the one in the water, pray tell? Who had his affections spurned? Who-"

"Who-" Aurelie began to shout over him, leaning forward over the edge of the dock as she shook a finger at the water.

"Ye twain will talk past dinner, when ye both be too full to fight," Kingsley said, effectively ending the shouting match by picking Aurelie up and slinging her over his shoulder.

"Put me down! I'll hex you!" she yelled, and hit and kicked as he began the long walk back to the manor. "I swear if you don't put me down right now I'll curse you with warts and boils and pox and-"

"Aura. Be quiet," he commanded, only to be rewarded with several more smacks and jabs. But these were followed by relative silence.

They passed the Baron on their way up the dock and Kingsley thought the old man seemed more amused than anything else by the whole situation. It seemed his newest guest had yet to make a good impression, for he was taking quite a lot of pleasure in watching Prince Emory flounder through the water towards the dock's ladder. He merely chuckled and shook his index finger at his granddaughter as she was carried by, pouting and grumbling under her breath. Even his irritation at the footman's presence seemed subsumed at the moment; and Kingsley thought he heard him murmur "good call boy," as they were passing.