The next morning, Dinah and Safir were silent. Safir was brooding, as he occasionally did, and Dinah was telling herself to stop being melodramatic. (It wasn't working.)
Dinah's father, however, was more excited then ever, and his normal capacity for speech soared into full-on garrulousness. Dinah managed to tune most of it out, as they rode towards the high stone walls of the majestic castle. Even through her fear, though, she couldn't stop looking around. It was very different from the seclusion of Oxford, where there were few shops, and fewer people. Here, people bustled about trading, the streets were packed with carts and pedestrians, and shouts flew about from one place to the next.
They rode onward, towards the main gate of the castle, and the guards looked at them steadily.
"Hold, there," said one of them. "Your names and your business, please," he said, with a curious look at Safir.
"Language Master Rufus O'Connor, lately of Oxford," said Dinah's father, shifting eagerly in his saddle. "This is my daughter Dinah and her friend Safir," he introduced. "We have an invitation from my friend, Clerk Geoffrey, to stay here," he said. The guards exchanged looks, and then the second one shrugged.
"That's as good as a vouch," said the second guard. "Come in."
They rode in, and Dinah gasped, as they became part of a thronging mass, filled with more shouting than outside, if possible, and a riot of colour. She gestured to Safir to dismount, and he followed her lead. Dinah's father, however, remained on the palfrey, and Dinah shrugged to herself. At least her father had chosen a mare that was nearly impossible to startle. Her eyes lit on a little girl, and she leaned down and tapped her on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, my lady. Could you show my father, my friend and I to the stables?" she asked, dipping her head to the girl. The little girl, whose light brown hair was cut short, turned a deep red and curtseyed.
"Oh, yes, sirs, milady, of course," she said with a stammer. She slipped through the crowd easily, and they followed her with little difficulty. Safir met a stable-hand's eyes and nodded cheerfully.
"Good morrow, friend! Would you take our horses?" he asked. The stable-hand nodded and stepped forward, easily taking the horses. There was a joyful cry from a castle window, and a scholar hurried out of the castle seconds later.
"Why, Geoffrey, you old dog!" said Dinah's father in greeting. "How have you been, old thing?"
"Oh, I'm well, quite well. And who are your companions?" asked Geoffrey, smiling brightly.
"Oh, this is my daughter Dinah, and her friend Safir," Dinah's father introduced. "Say, Geoffrey, I don't suppose that you would have seen the paper published on Nordic characters and the possible relationship to the Latin alphabet?"
Geoffrey shook his head disdainfully. "Let's go to the library. No, I have, but I disagree with it. Complete hogwash, I call it, Rufus. Honestly, I don't see how you can possibly think there is any correlation between–"
"And they're off," Dinah murmured. She looked at Safir. "Shall we find out where we shall stay?" she asked. Safir nodded.
"Ay, it would be prudent," he said. Their eyes scanned the crowd, and Dinah found the eyes of the girl she'd asked to show her the stables. Dinah beckoned to her, and stepped away from the thoroughfare, wincing at the irritated glare sent her way by one brightly dressed courtier. The small girl darted over, and stood before them. Dinah smiled and knelt.
"Good morrow, friend. I'm sorry, I only just realised I didn't ask your name," she said. The girl blushed, looking nervously first at Dinah, and then casting a wondering glance at Safir, who bowed gravely and sent her a charming smile. The girl's blush deepened, and she stammered.
"I-I-I'm called Mindy," she said, curtseying again. Dinah's smile widened.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mindy. I am called Dinah, and this is my friend Safir. Now, do you perhaps know of any guest chambers that may be available, for my friend and I?" she asked.
Mindy smiled. "Ooh, yes, my lady! I'll just take you to them now."
The girl took their hands and led them up into the castle, along several corridors until they came to their rooms. Dinah smiled at Mindy.
"Thank you, Mindy. May I call on you if I need anything?"
"Ooh, yes, of course, milady!" she said with a giggle. Dinah curtseyed, Safir bowed, and Mindy scampered away.
Dinah wandered along the corridors, looking around helplessly. She had set out about two hours before, trying to look for the kitchens, as they'd managed to arrive just after lunch. So far, she discovered, Camelot was not a place easily navigated.
"You could probably lose an army in here," she mumbled to herself.
"It is possible," a voice said. Dinah's head snapped up and she saw a dark-haired young man – though she rather thought he'd still look like he was a young man, even if he was well into his sixties – with a triangular face, high arching eyebrows and bright, clear eyes. The man smiled at her and gave a graceful bow.
"What is your name, my lady?" he asked.
"Dinah. And yours?"
"I am Terence, Sir Gawain's squire. Are you lost, my lady?"
Dinah grinned sheepishly at Squire Terence. "That I am, Squire Terence. Do you think you could show me the way to the kitchens? If it's not too much trouble."
Terence bowed. "The kitchens? But of course, Lady Dinah. I'm on my way there myself."
Terence glided along the corridors with an unearthly sort of grace and Dinah followed, feeling rather like a clumsy infant by comparison. At last, he came to a door and knocked.
"Hallo, Sophie!" he called.
"Terence! What do you want now, you rogue?" came a girl's voice from behind the door.
"Oh, Sophie, I'm hurt! But I've found a lost lady starving in the corridors, and I thought, now who would be kind enough to give this poor lady a bite? Why, I know, I'll take her to Sophie!" said Terence, with a grin spreading across his face.
"What? A lady in Camelot, going hungry? Not on your life! Come in!" With that, the door swung open, Terence gently nudged her forwards and Dinah stumbled into the kitchen.
"Easy now, my lady," said a warm, welcoming voice. "Now, I hear you're hungry. What would you like?"
"Er...well, do you have anything sweet? I'm afraid I have a terrible sweet tooth," Dinah said, slightly sheepish.
The kitchen-girl called Sophie smiled at her. "No shame in that, my lady. Why, I've heard tell that Sir Bagdemagus would fight a bear for his honeycomb," Sophie said, prompting a grin from Terence, as she steered Dinah to a table. "Sit down, now, you look like you've been on your feet for a fair bit."
"I've been lost for the past two hours," Dinah admitted.
"Two hours! My word. I must say, it's quite fortunate you came though. I've been experimenting with some things, but you can't very well serve up experiments to His Majesty, now, can you?"
"I suppose not," Dinah said, with a smile at the thought. She curtseyed to Sophie and took the seat. "I am glad to be of service, Sophie."
Sophie gasped in mock-horror, as Terence swiped a flan or three, shot a wink at Sophie and slipped away. "Lackaday! Another silver-tongue on the loose!"
And that sparked off a conversation that lasted until evening. Sophie served up experiments to Dinah (all of which tasted fantastic), bustled about the kitchen somehow making item upon item upon item of food, and kept up a conversation all at the same time. The topic turned, after a fair while of court gossip, to that of courtly tales, and Dinah learned of the love affair between Sir Tristram of Cornwall and Queen Isolt, the wife of King Mark of Cornwall. Sophie, somewhat taken with the romance of the idea, sighed as she bustled around the kitchen, and Dinah pursed her lips as she thought.
She'd never been particularly taken with the idea of being in love. After all, from all accounts, it made you into in absolute moron, which was not appealing to Dinah. Also, from what she could deduce from this, it could make you bitter and full of hatred, like King Mark probably was, or outright selfish and cruel. Besides, it just didn't make sense. King Mark was Sir Tristram's uncle, which made Queen Isolt his aunt.
"But, Sophie," Dinah said, frowning, "doesn't that mean that Sir Tristram is having an affair with his aunt?"
Sophie giggled. "Only by marriage, my lady." She sobered, though, shaking her head. "Still, I can't see it working out for Sir Tristram and Queen Isolt. Even the cleverest of liars let slip sometimes, and King Mark is growing suspicious. King Mark doesn't have a reputation for being a fool, either."
"And are Sir Tristram or Queen Isolt clever liars?" Dinah asked. Sophie chewed her lip contemplatively, then, hesitantly, shook her head.
"Well, you understand, my lady, it's not my place to comment," she said carefully.
"But, Sophie, say for a moment that it were your place..." Dinah prompted, looking curiously at her.
Sophie smiled at Dinah. "We'll make a social woman of you yet, my lady," she said with a nod, and Dinah grinned. "But if it were my place, I might let slip that my cousin works as a cook in the court of King Anguish of Ireland, Queen Isolt's father. After Sir Marhault, Ireland's champion, was killed, a man came to the court with an entourage, wooing the fair Princess Isolt on behalf of another. A beautiful man, my cousin might've said, with broad shoulders, and he called himself 'Tramtris.'"
Dinah shook her head, mouth dropping. "Tramtris?" she echoed. "Why on earth would he use his own name, but with the syllables turned around?"
Sophie's smile broadened. "As I say, it's not for me to comment on the intelligence of Queen Isolt and Sir Tristram. I'll let my lady draw her own conclusions," she said, with a pert curtsey.
Dinah shook her head.
"Right, well, that answers my question."
And she felt a small glow of pleasure as she realised that she'd found at least one person to talk to, in this daunting castle called Camelot.
A/N: That's all for now, folks. But today's the 31st of July, and it's my birthday tomorrow. Review, please? For me on my birthday?