“It is hardly befitting,” quoth the Duke of Viarlieth, “to bring a commoner into such a… refined gathering, do you not think, your lordship?”
Henry glanced from the duke to Fiona, who stood at his side, and back again. “She is of the same blood as our host, my good sir. Do you mean to imply that the Alt-Mage of Murkintsen is a commoner?”
“The Alt-Mage was made, not born. He is no plebian, but his relations have no claim to nobility, just as the son of a knight has no birthright to his father’s title. Even if it weren’t so, her relation to him is through her mother, and thus she is not, by any stretch of the imagination, in his line. Have you no education?”
Henry grimaced, squeezing the appropriated pocket watch in his left fist to keep his temper in check. “Little, actually,” he replied, raising his eyebrows in a sort of challenge. “My dear parents never thought it necessary to have me raised properly, as I was never meant to inherit so much as a knamick. Funny how quickly things change, how abruptly one can gain a title…and how suddenly one may, well…lose it, what?” He smiled as pleasantly as he could manage under the circumstances before continuing, “Now, my good Viarlieth, as you stand now in Carvil and as Carvil is my dominion—and you are therefore, indirectly, my guest—I ask you to kindly step aside and refrain from meddling further in my affairs.” He paused momentarily, his right hand drifting almost carelessly to the hilt of his saber. “Or else I may be prompted to forget my duties to you, my guest, and recall only that you have insulted my honor as well as that of a lady in my care. Have I made myself clear?”
Several seconds elapsed in tense silence, both men standing as still as statues, their eyes locked, before Fiona interrupted.
“Ach, for Rezyn’s sake, Henry! Let it go an’ quit behavin’ like a peacock. He isna worth yer time.”
Sir Roderick Delupe of Mistmorrow, a young knight errant who had made a point to drop by Carviliet whenever his travels took him through the Carvil Valley, and who had been watching the exchange from the midst of a flock of tittering damsels, chose this moment to speak up.
“Is there a problem, gentlemen?”
Henry felt his face reddening and dropped his hand from the hilt of his sword, turning quickly away before anyone could notice that he was blushing. “You’re right, Fiona,” he muttered, loudly enough for the Duke of Viarlieth to hear him. “He isn’t worth my time. Shall we?”
She took his arm and allowed him to escort her to a small table in a corner beneath two perpendicular windows, as far from the duke as possible. There they sat in silence as the servants hurried about, distributing tea and edibles. Henry had twisted himself around in his chair so that his arms rested upon its wooden back, his chin upon his crossed forearms, so situated under the pretense of peering through the woven glass window—which was segmented into regular rhombuses—to the grounds below. Perhaps then nobody would see the tears dripping treacherously down his face.
“Dinna feel badly, Henry,” Fiona whispered eventually, clearly not fooled. “None o’ these people—none o’ them—ha’e anythin’ that makes them any better than you.”
Henry sniffed and sank himself deeper into the chair, wanting desperately to meld with it. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that, if I were you.”