This is the paragraph I chose to expand, just for reference:
"The main person in his life now is Nee—as it should be, I told myself as she and I walked across the flagged courtyard to the Residence Wing. But my mood stayed sober as I contemplated how life would change when we all returned to Tlanth. I'm not oath-sworn as a countess, not until we gather before the new monarch when he or she is crowned; and Bran is the legal heir. And a county can't have two countesses…
When we reached our hall, Nee offered to share hot chocolate with me. Shaking my head, I pleaded tiredness—true enough—and retreated to my rooms."
"Beautiful concert, wasn't it?" Nee said as we walked across the courtyard. "Her Highness finds the most wonderful entertainment."
"Yes, it was," I said, only half-listening. I was watching the stars, thinking that they were shining down on Tlanth, too, only shining the clearer for lack of all these lamps the Court people seemed to favor. I had a sudden longing to be back in Tlanth, where people said exactly what they meant and my brother didn't forget my Name Day.
No, that's not true, I told myself. I'd have to go back in time for that as well. Bran's changed, it was inevitable after months at Court. The main person in his life now is Nee—as it should be. And going back in time meant returning to the reign of Galdran and my days as an ignorant, barefoot countess. Did I really want that?
What I really wanted, I decided, was to go back to Tlanth the way it had been before I came to Court. I'd been happy there, before Bran showed up with Nee—not that I held any ill-will against her—and that dratted Marquis. But he had showed up, and things had changed, and now they would never be the same again, even when we returned to Tlanth. I'd be the Count's sister now, not the Countess, though really I wasn't that now. I'm not oath-sworn as a countess, not until we gather before the new monarch when he or she is crowned; and Bran is the legal heir. And a county can't have two countesses…
Bran and Nee would have each other, and I would have my books, and the rebuilding of Tlanth to occupy me, just as I had before. So why did I feel so lonely, all of a sudden?
"Mel? Are you alright?"
I realized Nee was talking to me. With an effort, I pulled my head out of the clouds. "Yes, I'm just tir—Aaaah!" A thick, low-growing vine which had somehow escaped the attentions of the gardeners and sprouted between the flagstones snared my left ankle, and I stumbled and fell to the ground. Sharp pains shot up my leg.
"Mel!" Nee knelt next to me and tried to free my foot. "Are you alright?"
"I- I think so," I said between gritted teeth. "But I'm not sure I can walk." I got my right leg under me and tried to stand, but my ankle was still caught, and wouldn't support me anyway. "I think I twisted my ankle."
"The Residence Wing is right over there," she said, pointing. "Will you be alright alone for a minute if I get someone to help?"
"I'll be fine," I assured her, still gritting my teeth. In truth, I'd gone through much worse in the war. At least there were no steel traps this time. Giving me another worried look, Nee pressed my hand and then hurried away, lifting her skirts as she ran.
I heartily cursed the day I'd given up wearing a belt knife when I came to court. I tried to untangle my foot, but the vine was studded with sharp thorns, and I only succeeded in bloodying my hands. Another attempt wrenched my foot and left me with tears in my eyes. I'd have to wait until Nee returned. At least, late at night in a dark corner of the courtyard, no one was likely to see my predicament. Belatedly, I realized just why the Court types favored so many lamps. One nearby would have kept me from tripping.
I didn't see the two gentlemen until they were nearly beside me. "… Sent it?" the one on the left said, and I recognized Savona's voice. Great.
"Yes," his companion replied shortly. Even better, Shevraeth. He saw me, and put a hand out to stop Savona so the Duke wouldn't run into me. I gritted my teeth and felt my face burn. If the lack of lighting had caused my fall, at least it also concealed my blush.
"Lady Meliara!" Savona said in surprise, looking down at me. "Have you hurt yourself, or are you starting a new fashion?"
"The former, I'm afraid," I said, trying to keep my voice light. "I tripped on some sort of vine, and I seem to have wrenched my ankle. Nee has gone to get some help." So determined was I not to look at the Marquis after this morning's argument that it took me a minute to realize he was offering me a knife, hilt first. I stared at in puzzlement.
"For the vine?" His voice was expressionless, but I knew if I looked up I would see those grey eyes narrowed in amusement.
Mel, you dolt. "Thank you," I said, taking it hastily. It was the same knife he'd given me a year ago, when I had attempted to change the bandage on my foot; I recognized it by the handle. The intricate designs drew me back in my memory, and I vividly remembered sitting around those campfires, verbally fencing with the Marquis. In some ways, our relationship then had been better than it was now, though we'd thought ourselves on opposite sides of the war. At least I hadn't yet attempted to kill him, then.
Wrenching myself out of my thoughts, I attacked the vine with too much energy, slicing through it and into my other hand. I didn't cry out—the cut was a shallow one—but I couldn't very well wipe the knife on my dress, so I was obliged to return it bloodied to its owner. Perhaps he wouldn't notice in the dark.
Of course he noticed. He was the Marquis of Shevraeth; he noticed everything. As Savona knelt by my foot, turning it gently, a handkerchief or bandage of some sort appeared in front of my face. "For your hand?" the Marquis murmured.
The blankness of his voice goaded me into looking up. Thankful I might be for his assistance, but he had no right to mock me. I glared up at him, determined to meet amusement with scorn—and found him watching me with no expression in his eyes. No mockery, no amusement, nothing save perhaps concern—and surprise at the vehemence of my look.
"… Doesn't seem to be twisted or sprained," Savona was saying. I caught myself staring, and looked away from Shevraeth with another blush. I did not, not, need to give him any more reasons to think I hated him.
"Perhaps it's only remembering," I said, trying to lighten the mood.
Savona looked down at me. "Remembering?" He extended a hand. "Do you think you can walk if you lean on us?"
I think I'd much rather wait here until Nee returns, I thought, but I couldn't say that aloud. Where was she, anyway? My mind failed me in coming up with a polite way to decline further aid, so I was forced to say, "I can try." I struggled to my feet, leaning heavily on Savona's arm.
Walking, or hobbling rather, between the two of them, was uncomfortably like my entrance into court the year before, except this time I was between two allies, not two enemies. Or was I? I shivered, at the thought and at the memories.
Savona must have felt me shudder, though he probably attributed it to pain. "What were you saying about your foot remembering?" He tried to take my mind off of the pain.
"Well," I said, belatedly realizing my resolve not to mention the war around Shevraeth. "It was a year ago today I got my foot caught in that dratted trap." On my right, Shevraeth winced. I wouldn't have been able to notice had I been watching him, but with my shoulder pinned to his side, I could feel him tense. Why? Regretting the day he met the argumentative, quarrelsome dolt, probably.
"Then it was also a year ago today that you met my cousin, was it not?" Savona said. I could hear him grinning. Another wince from Shevraeth.
"Yes," I mumbled, praying for this humiliation to end. Where, oh where, was Nee?
"I remember now," the duke said. "He wrote me a letter. Commended your courage, I believe, despite the situation in which you found yourself. And your wit and temper." Had my hands been free, I would have buried my face in them. Savona had found a way to combine the two subjects I most wished to avoid—the war, and Shevraeth, specifically his opinion of me—in one excruciating conversation. It was my fault, I reminded myself. If I'd been looking where I was going, I wouldn't be in this predicament. Just like last year, in fact.
Both gentlemen were much taller than me, like almost everyone, and I took steps, or hobbles, as long as I could in order to inconvenience them as little as possible. Caught in my self-recrimination, I took too long of a step, stumbled, and had too put all of my weight on my left ankle to avoid falling. I winced, bracing myself for sharp pain or for it to give out altogether. Instead, it supported my weight with only a faint twinge. "I—I think I can walk now," I said with surprise, taking a few more steps to be sure. "I thank you for your help." I turned to them and swept a curtsey.
"Surely you don't think we're leaving you now," Savona said, whether in earnest or mock surprise. "You might fall again." I could not get rid of them! The duke's company I did not much mind, though I was embarrassed to be found in this situation. But Shevraeth--!
I concluded that Nee must have been swallowed by quicksand, for she still had not appeared by the time we reached the Residence Wing. The gentlemen walked with me all the way to my rooms, and I prayed I would not be seen by anyone. The resulting gossip would be too complicated to diffuse; I didn't need any more reasons to be in Lady Tamara's bad graces.
"Mel!" Nee found us just as we turned into the corridor outside my parlor. She was accompanied by three tall servants. Her eyes widened as she saw my company, and again when she saw the bandage on my hand.
Almost, in my humiliation, could I imagine her plotting this to bring me into contact with Savona. But no, her worry and surprise had been genuine, and there had been no way for her to know that Savona and Shevraeth would just happen to cross my path. "Yes," I said. "These lords were gracious enough to offer me their assistance." I stopped outside the tapestry, which was strangely ajar, that led to my parlor, and curtsied. "Thank you," I said again.
Shevraeth bowed wordlessly, his eyes focusing somewhere behind me. Did he think I was hiding assassins in my parlor?
I swallowed my anger. "The honor is mine when it affords a chance to help one such as yourself," Savona said, performing the elaborate bow and hand-kiss I remembered from our first meeting. I tried not to stare at him as they walked away, and hoped my cheeks weren't as red as they looked. I wasn't particularly witty, or beautiful, or at all fashionable; yet undeniably, the Duke of Savona was flirting with me. Why?
I braced myself, but Nee said nothing beyond an offer of hot chocolate. I could sense she wanted to talk about the incident, specifically my escort, but my head was unaccountably spinning. I pleaded exhaustion and retired to my rooms, sure the day could hold no more disappointments or surprises.