For the sake of two good men and a horse, Nanette entered into a pact with Sebastian d’Chevalier.
The fallout wasn’t immediate, but when it came, it echoed around the Counterpoint Music Festival and well beyond.
Louise and her brothers were a little bit pisky. When Court Leopold of the indie band Courtesan vanished, Louise wanted to know why. Then Yes Marsh, who was more than a little bit pisky, distracted her. It’s complicated.
Gemma, the Courtesan roadie, had just binned a dreadful breakfast when Henry Dark finally spoke to her. Next thing she knew she was in fairyland. That was really complicated!
And during all this drama, where was Court Leopold?
Leopold Manor, Over There 1993
“It’s your choice, Nanette.” Grand-père Baptiste leaned one elbow on the mantel and propped a booted foot on the fender. He looked into the fireplace as if he might see her answer in the flames.
Nanette turned her eyes sideways to look at Sebastian. He sat, apparently relaxed, in an armchair covered with braeside wool over a generous padding of springyweed. It was Grand-père’s favourite chair, but he’d insisted on Sebastian taking it this time. Grand-mère Fleur had been gone for a long time, but Baptiste still paid their few guests every courtesy.
Since nothing more was said, Nanette turned for a proper look at Sebastian. She’d known him for ages. He was very much younger than Baptiste, only ten or a dozen years older than she was, but the men were good friends. Presumably, it was their status as the last two males of their bloodlines that drew them together, or maybe their shared belief in the value of being court.
“Being court is outmoded, and it’s not as if we were knightly courtfolk,” her friend Lillianne Persimmon said impatiently.
Yeoman court was what they were, what Master Persimmon liked to call salt of the earth. That was peculiar, since salt in the earth was bad for crops.
Sebastian’s family, the d’Chevaliers, were knightly court, which was a major reason for Sebastian’s current visit. He’d come to see Grand-père Baptiste, as usual, but this time it was about her.
They’d gone off to the smithy for some considerable time and then come back in. She’d known nothing about their discussion until Grand-père called her into his parlour. He and Sebastian rose punctiliously, and Sebastian gave her his beautiful court bow, as if she was a lady. She supposed she was, now, since she had enough years. Sebastian sat down, but Grand-père remained standing and explained things quickly and efficiently.
From what she’d understood of the proposition before her, being court was no longer enough for Sebastian.
I’ve been rattling round in the manor, beset by step-aunts who would rather be elsewhere, was what he’d had called it when he’d danced with her at the Midsummer Ball a few months ago.
She’d wondered at the time if he’d been obliquely testing her suitability as a bride. She’d been seventeen, so the question was academic.
They’d danced together often as court balls were family affairs with little maids and lads of six and seven gravely stepping through the figures along with the old and everyone in between. It was fun. Sebastian was a charming dancer, and he sang and played the flute. He was very musical, though he rarely mentioned that in his conversations with Baptiste, who wasn’t. She’d always liked him.
The proposition the men had put before her was not the one she’d been half-expecting. She wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Knowing Sebastian for years should have helped her to make up her mind, but Nanette found it didn’t. It just felt odd. He caught her eye and smiled gravely.
“Your grandfather and I would never ask you to do something you would find distasteful or uncomfortable, Mistress Leopold.”
Mistress Leopold? He’s always called me Nanette.
And it was bound to be a bit uncomfortable, surely? Wasn’t it always, the first time? That was why so many maids and misses and lassies went down to the falls to play with the water lads. They got that first time over as soon as they had enough years. Waterfolk generated so many happy pheromones that apprehensions evaporated like water in the sun, and it was, so she’d heard, all over in a happy blur. It was a bit different if you were court. There were standards and obligations.
She looked Sebastian over. He was handsome, fair-haired and grey-eyed, like most courtfolk men. Baptiste would have looked quite similar when he was the same age. He had a slightly long nose that lent character to his face and a nice mouth.
She usually saw him in court clothing, but he’d come to visit Baptiste in plain britches and a shirt and a cloak he’d left in the hall. She thought he looked better that way. He had beautiful hands, though the heavy gold fief ring he wore looked ostentatious. It was figured with a horse. She knew that was because he was a horse lord. She liked his horse, Hugo, even better than she liked him. Hugo was a sweetheart who always nuzzled and nickered when she offered him a carrot. For some reason, he favoured her over other maids and ladies. When they left a ball in a gaggle, Hugo would be waiting with Tarry for Sebastian. He’d always come to Nanette to lip her hair or tickle her palm with his whiskery chin.
Hugo approves of you. That was something else he’d said. It was gratifying, since she approved of Hugo. Maybe it was more accurate to say she loved Hugo.
Sometimes she went to d’Chevalier Manor early in the morning, just to visit with Hugo. He’d come to the door of his stall when he heard her footsteps. She‘d spend a few minutes in his company, pay her respects to Tarry, his caprine stablemate, and return home before her grandfather was awake.
I wonder if Sebastian knows I like to visit his horse?
Sebastian obviously knew she was staring, because his cheeks turned dull pink and he uncrossed his booted feet as if to get up.
“I beg your pardon, Master d’Chevalier,” she said.
“Sebastian. I’m not being coy, I’m just thinking things out.”
“You should.” He leaned forwards, his colour still heightened. “I know this is a big thing to ask of any maid, especially one as young as you.”
It was an enormous thing.