“My lady Pallu,” Yunin bowed. “Pleasure to see you again.”
Sardena scowled at Pallu’s side.
“Indeed,” young Pallu replied and for once remembered to curtsy instead of bowing. ‘Bowing was fine in men’s clothes but not in women’s,’ her mother used to tell Pallu before she died.
“You are looking quite lovely in blue, if I’m not too bold. Quite a change from what I last saw you in and suits you better I think.”
Pallu smiled. “I only look better in this because this is what you think I should be wearing.” Sardena chuckled. “That and your mother’s excellence as a dressmaker. She could make a barrel look presentable.”
Yunin did not back away from the slight insult, instead he smiled. “I’m sure she could. But she only enhances your delicate features and that color brings your beautiful green eyes out as they should be.”
Pallu tilted her head and linked arms with Sardena as Pallu had seen other young women do in various towns she had visited. The two girls began to walk towards the dancing and music.
“Do my eyes deceive me or are you unarmed, my lady?”
“Oh bug off, Yunin. Leave her alone. You are awful at flirting. Try it on the other girls.”
“What other girls?” He feigned physical pain at his sister’s verbal jabs.
“Even without weapons made of steel, I am never unharmed.”
“Besides your good looks, what are you armed with?”
Pallu laughed at him from the bottom of her stomach and made those green eyes, he pretended to so admire, sparkle in the firelight. “Wouldn’t you like to know. I think someone wants your time, Yunin.” She reached out with her mind and tapped his shoulder. Yunin turned to find the person wanting his attention. Without hesitation, she pulled Sardena into the dancers before her friend’s brother could see them.
“I can’t believe he fell for that.”
“I guess I was rather convincing.” Pallu laughed and began to dance along with Sardena and the other young men and women.
Sardena’s eyes narrowed slightly but they soon lightened and became smiles. “How is your headache?”
“Surprisingly better. Much better. They usually last for days.”
“How awful.” Sardena smiled shyly as a young man bowed before her with hand extended for the young woman’s acceptance. Her shoulders shrugged, and the pair sped off in a series of twirls and circles.
Pallu continued to dance through the night, never tiring. Sardena was still with her young man and realized after their third dance he must be her man. Several young men of Selaras danced with Pallu though she was careful that she did not dance with anyone more than once. She did not want anyone thinking she was available. Yunin came to her just before she was about to quit the dance.
“Surely you aren’t leaving without dancing with me. You somehow tricked me and escaped before but not this time.” Without so much as a “Would you like to dance” he pulled her into his arms and whisked her about the bonfire.
Yunin was a fine dancer, not like the clumsy warriors she danced with on her voyages. Everything about him was fine from his clothes to his face to his strong arms and shoulders. As she caught glimpses of the faces of the girls of Selaras, she realized they all vied for this man’s attentions.
“Do you always make a habit of not asking girls to dance?”
“No. Only when I think they’ll say no.”
“I gather none of the girls here would deny you.”
His smirk was such as to melt hard stone.
Pallu smiled warmly at him. “’Tis a pity I’m immune.”
She could tell he nearly said that no one is immune to him but checked himself. “How…why is that, milady?”
“I’ve met a million of you men who think you can have whomever, wherever, and whenever you want.”
“Is that what you think of me?”
“Do not act so hurt, Yunin. You know I am jesting. At least not about being immune.”
“How could I know you? I’ve only met you just yesterday.” He stopped and lead her on a walk.
Pallu smiled, knowing well he understood what she meant.
“So you will be with us for several more days.”
“And I take it my dearest sister will be your guide.”
“For as long as she can tolerate me.”
He laughed. “She’ll drive you mad, milady. Wanting you to talk of adventures in lands only you have been.”
“Such things do not interest you?”
“Tales or adventures?”
“Let’s just say that I’d rather live the tale than hear it.”
Pallu was glad for the darkness; it hid her blushing cheeks. He was more like her than she first reckoned. “Have you been on many adventures, Yunin?”
“No.” He sounded saddened by his answer. “As eldest son I am to inherit the farm. Not much adventure in farming.”
“Well, adventures are overrated.”
“Are you trying to cheer me up, Pallu?”
“Is it working?”
He smirked. “Strange woman,” he muttered to the wind. “So tell me, Pallu. How is it that the daughter of a bookseller goes on such grand adventures?”
“My parents had no sons to care for the precious cargo.”
“Ah, so you are a Guardian of a sort.”
At those words she laughed heartily. “Pallu, Guardian of the Books.” He had no idea of how close to the truth he was. Pallu looked to the stars and then to him. “The hour grows late. I have not been feeling well today.”
“Why did you not speak sooner? I would have taken you home straight away.”
“And miss all the bantering with you. Not at all.”
“You are quite sarcastic, Pallu.”
The pair made their way to the inn. Upon entering the barkeep saw her and waved her to him. “You received a letter late yesterday.
Seemed rather urgent. Messenger said he road without stop. I’m sorry for not giving it to you sooner. It slipped my mind.”
Her eyes cut ruefully at the barkeep. “Thanks.”
“What is it?” Yunin inquired as she broke the seal.
“It’s from my father.” Though she tried to keep from blanching as she read it Pallu knew she failed.
At that moment a soldier burst into the room. His face was ashen. “Everyone assemble at the bonfire. It is most urgent.”
“What’s wrong?” came voices from the crowd.
“You will be told at the bonfire.”
She smoothed her face as best she could and went with the others to the bonfire. The mayor of Selaras stood flanked by two soldiers. Worry flitted through the crowd in low murmuring voices. After a few minutes wait for stragglers to filter in from the rest of the town the mayor’s voice boomed through the crowd.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have grave news to bring you on what should be a happy night.”
The whispers began to die into a silence so deep even the fields around them were silenced.
“King Melchiah has been assassinated.”
The crowd’s voice rose in protest and shock.
“The exact details of the murder are unknown, but the queen is safe. His majesty’s two advisors were killed trying to defend the king.”
“How long ago did this happen?” a voice called.
“Early yesterday morning.”
Pallu clutched the letter in her hand. She did not have to feign surprise at the news as her father’s letter was still causing her shock. With glazed eyes, she turned to Yunin. “You should get Sardena and get to your mother’s shop.”
He shook his head as if clearing clouds about his eyes. “Aye.”
“I’ll help you look for her.”
Yunin began to search the faces of the dispersing crowd and found his sister hand in hand with her suitor. “We’ll walk you back to the inn.”
“No. I’ll be fine. Just see to her safety.”
“I can’t leave…”
“Me alone?” she chuckled. “Rest easy, Yunin. I’ll be fine.”
Yunin bowed quickly and retrieved his sister before exiting the now dead Festival. Pallu looked about the concerned faces of the crowd. King Milchaih had been a good king. His rule had been one dedicated to the people and not to the growth of his coffers. Yunin and Sardena cast a glance back to their new friend before rushing to their mother’s shop.