Disclaimer: I own nothing of Summers at Castle Auburn – everything belongs to Sharon Shinn; I'm just having a little fun.
Summary: Scenes from Summers at Castle Auburn from Kent's point of view.
Author's Notes: I'm sorry this took so long – I've been concentrating on a couple other stories, and this one takes quite a bit longer to write because I use the actual dialogue from the book, so I always need to have the book at my side when I'm writing. Thank you for the reviews - it's nice to see other people who enjoy this book as much as I do!
I stifled a yawn and tried not to look as bored as I felt. We had already spent the better part of our morning with our steward going over tithing levels and had just begun the afternoon session after a brief break for lunch. I was trying my best to find the topic interesting or at least act like it was but was struggling. Bryan certainly wasn't even attempting to focus on the subject at hand. He was sprawled in his chair, his head resting against the back, staring at the ornate ceiling above. I sighed internally, wondering once again just how bad a king he was going to make. I hoped above all else that in the next few years he would mature and would allow me to remain by his side to exert at least some influence over him. I also wondered, not for the first time, just how bad a husband Bryan would make. I feared that his flirtations with the various court ladies would develop into more as he matured and found just how much women liked his position as prince. Not only did Bryan not care about Elisandra's feelings, but he also felt nothing for the girls he charmed. Girls like Corie, who didn't know any better about the prince than to assume that he was as charming as he seemed. They were too infatuated to realize just how inappropriate his attentions were. Disappointed as I was in Corie's apparent fascination with my cousin, I at least knew I could trust her to ultimately not let her relationship with Bryan become truly improper. She may be infatuated but she loved her sister enough to not betray her in such a way. I still longed for the day when Corie would see Bryan for the vain, foolish, conceited man he was.
I mentally cleared my head and resumed my focus on the steward. Hours passed while we spent the rest of the day discussing tithing amounts and what adjustments needed to be made for the poor outlying provinces. Not soon enough, it was finally time to close the discussion for the day, to resume again tomorrow. My father stepped forward to shake hands with the steward and, seeing that Bryan had no intention of doing so, I lightly kicked him in the heel to get him moving. He half-heartedly held out his hand to the steward and I followed suit. The three of us left to gather with the other nobles of the castle for the dinner feast.
As we made our way to the dining hall, my father reminded us of our duties again tomorrow with the steward, though I had the suspicion that this reminder was more for Bryan than myself. Behind my father's back, I saw Bryan roll his eyes dramatically. I resisted the urge to shake my head as we entered the hall.
I glanced around as we made our way up to the head table. There were not many dining with us tonight. Looking over the tables, I spotted Greta, Angela, and Marian, but Corie was not seated with them. As I took my seat, I looked down the table to see if Elisandra was also absent but she was sitting in her usual place. I searched the other tables situated before our head table but Corie was definitely not in the dining hall. The ban Greta had placed on her eating with the rest of us had been lifted some time ago and I wasn't aware that she had enforced any new rules regarding taking meals with the rest of the nobles. I was just about to go ask Elisandra where her sister was when my father started the usual ritual of an oath before the meal and the tradition of pledging via water and wine. I resigned myself to having to wait until after the meal to find out where Corie was.
After what seemed like forever, my father stood, which was the cue to everyone else that dinner had ended and the rest of the night was ours to do with what we wanted. I wanted to find Elisandra, so I immediately stood and made my way over to where Elisandra was chatting with Angela. I waited somewhat impatiently until they bid each other goodbye and Elisandra turned to me.
"Hello Kent. How was your day in discussion with the steward?" she asked with her usual serene expression.
"It was rather tedious but fruitful," I responded, then quickly moved on to why I had approached her. "I noticed that Corie wasn't present for dinner – do you know where she is?" Upon seeing her answering frown, a slight anxiety immediately sprung up inside me.
"I had hoped to have the opportunity to tell you before the meal but I'm afraid I didn't get the chance. Corie had a bad fall off her horse this afternoon and has been resting in her room since."
My face must have shown some of the surprise and worry I felt, for Elisandra looked up at me in empathy. A hundred questions swirled in my head but I focused on the most important. "Is she okay?"
Elisandra nodded. "Giselda has been tending to her and found that she has no broken bones. She does believe Corie sustained a concussion and she seems to be in a lot of pain."
My sense of panic calmed slightly as I heard there was nothing seriously wrong with her. "How did it happen?" Corie was usually more careful than to cause something like this. Elisandra explained that they had gone out riding with Roderick and how on the way back Corie had galloped ahead, her horse had hit some cavity in the ground, and she had been thrown. I couldn't help the annoyed sound that escaped upon hearing that Corie had seemingly invited trouble. She was normally not so careless as to venture out in the first place with a rapid wolf on the loose and then add further risk by goofing around.
When Elisandra reached the part of the tale where Roderick had knelt down and examined her for any breaks or major injuries, I worked to quash my jealousy that he had been there to help her when I had not. On the other hand, I was grateful to him as had Elisandra and Corie been alone, I was certain Elisandra would not have been able to get Corie back on her horse and to the castle.
Elisandra was watching me and for some reason I felt that she knew what I had just been thinking and my envy for Roderick. She had a small smile on her face and lightly touched my shoulder. "She is doing okay now and we were very fortunate that Roderick was there." It was as though she was gently reminding me that my slight resentment was unwarranted.
I nodded, feeling slightly ashamed at my sour feelings for someone like Roderick, who was clearly a good, hardworking, kind man. "I know," I said seriously. "So Corie is in her room now? Can I go see her?" I knew I wouldn't be able to do anything else until I had seen for myself that she was indeed in no great harm.
Elisandra returned my nod. "Yes, I think you would definitely be a welcome visitor for her right now. Just don't let her overexert herself. She may not have broken bones, but as Giselda said, her head received a pretty bad blow when she was thrown."
I can't help, as I exit the room and see the empty hall before me, picking up my pace as I head in the direction of Corie's room. I am partly worried and can't help feeling partly irritated with Corie for being so careless. I also still feel a slight sense of panic as I wonder just how she will look when I visit her on her sickbed. Will she have bruises or cuts or be moaning in intense pain? What if Giselda had missed some internal concern that was even now evolving inside her small body? I slowed slightly, allowing time to calm myself. I so rarely let panic overtake me, but I struggled to rein it in now. It wasn't long before I came to Corie's door and I let myself in without even pausing.
She was lying listlessly on the chaise lounge, staring to her right out the window. I felt another surge of worry upon seeing her pale, obviously ill appearance, in addition to the feeling of anger again at her being so careless on her horse.
"I see it is true, what your sister said, that you did your best to kill yourself yesterday. I know you're careless, but I thought even you would pay more attention off the road and an hour from home."
She looked shocked at my opening remarks, and I was sure she was expecting me to fawn over her as probably every other person who had visited had. I had no doubt that she was at that moment thinking of Bryan's visit to her, which I'd heard overheard Marian and Angela talking about, and the "gallant" concern he'd felt for her and the chivalrous offer to slay the horse she had been riding on.
Corie's eyes filled with tears as she defended herself. "Well, I didn't mean to fall off my horse and cause everybody so much trouble. I suppose you've never in your life come unseated-"
I interrupted her, irritated. "I have – we all have – but neither did I foolishly invite trouble by going too fast on unsuitable terrain." Not for the first time since hearing the nature of her accident I wondered if her galloping around on rough roads had anything to do with showing off for a certain castle guardsman.
She looked defeated at my words and rather than continuing her argument, turned her head away. I watched for a moment as a stray tear made a wet trail down her cheek. That one tear completely undid my frustration and I quickly knelt at her side as two more tears escaped beneath her eyelids. I put my hand on her shoulder, lightly patting her to console her.
"Oh, Corie, I'm sorry. That was cruel. It's just that-" I paused for a moment before I said too much. "Elisandra was so upset when she told me how you were hurt – she loves you so much and she was so worried." I hoped she wouldn't talk to Elisandra later to verify what I was saying.
Upon her promise to be more careful, I couldn't help but lean forward and wrap my arms around her slender body, taking care not to disturb any injuries. I pulled back quickly, not wanting to hold on longer than propriety dictated. After offering my handkerchief, which she used not to wipe her tears but instead to clear her nose, I stayed for the better part of an hour, hoping to entertain her and make up for my harsh words earlier. I left with the promise of returning the next day, which seemed to make her happy.
The following day I brought a vase of flowers as further apology for my actions the day before and spent a good part of the afternoon playing games. It was the most fun two hours of my entire week, just sitting with Corie in her room having fun. I hoped that she felt the same way, although I wasn't sure where my visits ranked when compared with Prince Bryan's.
The next time I saw her was after the hunt. When I entered her room, it was clear she had been waiting for me and had a question on her mind. I had only just shut the door when she couldn't hold it in any longer
"Roderick killed that wolf, didn't he?" she was sitting up on the lounge, looking eager to hear the story.
I nodded. "One shot." I told her the story of Roderick's impressive kill despite the rather large crowd we had traveled with. "Kritlin was impressed, I could tell. So was I."
She nodded, almost looking triumphant. "I knew it was him."
I stayed silent, watching her to see if I could decipher just what she meant by that and the tone of her voice. She sounded…almost proud. I thought of Roderick asking me about Corie and how she was recovering from her accident. I had my own guesses as to Corie's feelings about the guardsman and wasn't sure I wanted to encourage any of those feelings, but in the end my curiosity about what exactly might be going on between them won out.
"He asked after you. Said Elisandra had sent word to the stables a few days ago that you were recovering, but he hadn't heard anything since. He seemed a little worried." I watched her closely, taking note of the smile that came across her face at my words.
"I'm fine. Did you tell him I was fine?"
"I told him." I couldn't help the slightly cold tone that came to my voice.
"Did he say anything else? Send me a message?"
This got me extremely curious – not to mention considerably jealous – were they in the habit of sending messages to each other through others in the castle? I wondered briefly if Daria was a co-conspirator with Roderick and Corie, assisting them in their secret communication – I had seen her by the stables more than once while I was out looking for Coriel. I wanted to make it clear that I would not aid them in their secret affair, if that was indeed what was going on. "Guardsmen don't usually send messages to noblewomen via the prince's cousin."
She was silent for a moment, as if unsure how to respond. "I'm not a noblewoman," she finally said quietly.
This was not the answer I wanted to hear, and I got to my feet, suddenly not wanting to stay as I had originally planned. "He seems to think you are," As he should I thought. "And you could be if you acted like one." I thought that even though Corie was a bit of the castle hoyden, she would still recognize that encouraging Roderick's affections was inappropriate. It was disappointing on more than one level.
At my criticism of her behavior, she seemed to give up on my entertaining her and turned her head away once again. I bowed goodbye and started toward the door. Opening it, I paused before stepping out into the hall, turning back to look at the young woman lying on the chaise. I hoped with everything in me that her interest in Roderick would soon wane.