So many years ago, so many miles away...
Nyssa da Silva moved through the palace corridors easily, her steps light and flowing. She was humming a tune, one that was as old as the hills though most knew it now as a children's nursery rhyme. Little brightly-coloured sparks trailed behind her; it was a simple spell and one she often performed when she was happy. It made the world a brighter place, better to match her mood.
Today she was happy. Today she had pushed the guilt to the far reaches of her mind and locked it firmly away, and let the happiness take over. This afternoon there would be another little tryst in the rose garden, full of the rich sweet smell of the petals crushed beneath their bodies. Love right now, even illict love, was sweet.
"Good morning, Lady da Silva."
Nyssa da Silva returned from her reverie with a blink. The coloured sparks vanished. The little dark-skinned Vagari girl who had spoken stared up at her with wide unblinking eyes.
Nyssa smiled. "Hello, Khoreia. How are you today?"
The little girl did not smile. She rarely did, Nyssa had noticed, which was strange; her father was such a cheerful man, and her little brother Donovan so charming, always smiling. Khoreia, though, took life remarkably seriously.
"Do I look pretty, Lady da Silva?" She asked, her face intent. She spread out her dress for Nyssa's approval; it was evidently new, made of deep red silk, and must have cost a vast amount. It suited her extremely well, flattering even her boyish nine-year-old figure.
"You look very pretty, Khoreia," Nyssa told her gravely. "Did your father give you that dress?"
"Yes, ma'am," the girl agreed. "I am glad I look pretty. I need to."
Smiling amusedly, Nyssa put her head on one side. "Why do you need to look pretty? You are always pretty."
Khoreia stared up at her with deep, dark brown eyes; Nyssa had not noticed how deep her eyes were before. Their penetrating gaze disturbed her in a way she did not like.
"I am catching a husband," said Khoreia, with utter calm. "Papa says I must be pretty to catch a husband."
"You are...not a little young to be looking for a husband?" enquired Nyssa, smoothing the shock from her face. Khoreia shrugged.
"It is better to start learning early," she said, curling a tendril of her jet-black hair around her finger. "My hair will be yellow soon."
"Did your papa tell you that?"
"No. I decided. My hair will be yellow, then I will catch a husband easier."
She seemed so certain Nyssa did not know what to think. Even in court girls did not usually begin to seek husbands until they were perhaps fourteen. And Khoreia was not giggling and flirting like all the other girls; she seemed...almost fixated. There was a period of silence, and then Nyssa asked the only question she could think of.
"Did you have a husband in mind?"
"Yes," Khoreia said, delicately placing the curl of black hair between her teeth and giving Nyssa an arch glance that was far too old for her. "Crown Prince Berengar."
"But...he is only five years old!"
"It is important for him to marry me," sighed Khoreia, sounding almost regretful. "Papa said so. Donovan plays with him already. I am sorry, Lady da Silva, but I am going to have my hair turned yellow and I will be late."
Bowing her head politely, Nyssa da Silva forced a smile onto her face and stepped aside. "Certainly Khoreia, go. I wouldn't want you to be late. I wish you luck."
"Thank you," Khoreia said with a deep respectful curtsey that nevertheless had something insincere about it. She gravely bestowed upon the mage a rare, serious smile and tripped away down the corridor. Nyssa watched her go, and a strange shiver ran through her frame.
There was a disturbing intensity about that girl. Something very, very wrong.
Nyssa da Silva went on with her walk, but her steps lacked their former lightness, and no coloured sparks jumped and danced behind her this time.