Light cascaded across the marble floor, falling through the massive wooden doors that led to the ballroom. Kegan straightened the lapels of his blazer, listening to the clicking of the heels of his boots on the floor. He could already hear the dull thrum of voices as their guests mingled, the soft whine of stringed instruments creating a thread beneath the murmur. Once again, annoyance tugged at his mind.
He wasn’t looking forward to this charade at all. Bitterness still swam in his chest at the girl’s ruse. He and his father had gone round and round about this most of the day, but King Brieuc was set in his opinion: where did such a woman come from that could slay a handful of men like she had?
Kegan paused before entering the ballroom, schooling his face into calm. He just had to make it through one night.
The light from the chandeliers was bright in his eyes as he stepped into the room. A page heralded his arrival as he stepped down the stairs toward the awaiting crowd. Beyond the expanse of the ballroom were tall windows which overlooked the night. Wind blew in through the open doors, bringing with it the soft scent of salty air. The moons were bright in the night sky.
Kegan turned his eyes from the night to a balcony that overlooked the ballroom. He could already see his father sitting at their appointed table, a goblet in his hand. Kegan clenched his jaw as he walked to the stairs that wound to the balcony.
“Ah, Kegan!” his father bellowed, moving to his feet. He was grinning widely. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come.”
Kegan sighed as he walked toward his seat. “I wouldn’t shame you in such a manner, Father,” he said shortly, “No matter how much I disagree.”
A servant prepared a goblet of wine, placing it before the prince.
“I expect your best behavior,” Brieuc said, walking to the balcony railing. “We need to understand who this girl is.”
Kegan sighed as he lifted the goblet to his lips. “It doesn’t matter who she is,” he said shortly. “She wore antique armor with an even older crest. No one in our courts bears her sigil.”
Brieuc turned to look at his son. “Your studies are failing you, my son,” he said, smirking lightly.
Kegan scowled. “How so?” he demanded.
Brieuc perched a hand on his rotund belly. “The crest she bore is one of the few that sprung from the time of the Priorae.”
Kegan frowned. He’d never seen the faded crest that had been etched into her armor, not even in the books he often combed in the library. He wasn’t even sure of the beast that was depicted, with its hooves flailing and a single horn jutting dangerously from its head.
Silence drew Kegan from his thoughts, and he moved slowly to his feet to look to the guests below. The page had announced the next guest just as he’d done so with all the rest, but this was different. Kegan gripped the railing tightly as his eyes took in the plum-haired girl.
She was tall and lean, the pink dress hugging her slight curves. Her brow was furrowed in uncertainty as a chamberlain approached her, offering his arm to her as was customary for female guests. Her uncertainty seemed to deepen as the chamberlain led her through the crowd and toward the stairs that led to the balcony. Kegan forced himself to release the railing as his father turned, excited.
“Here she is,” Brieuc said proudly. “Our guest of honor.”
The girl bowed to the king as the chamberlain dismissed himself. “My king,” she said softly, glancing up at him carefully.
“Please, join us,” Brieuc said, leading the way to the table.
A servant hurried to pull her chair from the table, seating her. Kegan watched as she lowered herself into the chair carefully, looking down at the wine and food before her. It didn’t seem as though she had ever seen such a meal before in her life.
“I hope the food is to your liking,” Brieuc continued, sitting in his own chair at the head of the small table.
The girl nodded, offering a smile. “Of course,” she said easily. Her voice was soft, still uncertain, but strong.
Kegan eased into a seat opposite from his father, keeping his eyes on her. “You haven’t told us your name, my lady,” he said, trying to keep the curt edge from his voice.
“Forgive me, Your Highness,” she said, turning her lavender eyes to him. “My name is Thyra.”
Kegan arched a brow at her, leaning back in his chair. “And where do you call home, Thyra?” he asked.
Thyra offered a small smile. “The world is my home,” she said easily.
“So you are a transient,” Kegan snapped, setting his goblet down a bit harder than necessary. He leveled a glare at his father.
King Brieuc was frowning at his son in return. “Kegan,” he warned.
“No, it is true,” Thyra said then, turning to look at Brieuc. “But it is my choice.”
Brieuc frowned lightly. “Why would a young woman such as yourself choose such a life?”
Thyra looked down at the table. “I was not welcome in my father’s home after the death of my brother,” she said. “So I make my own home where I will.”
“And who is your father?” Brieuc asked.
Thyra lifted a green vegetable, looking at it closely. “He is dead, Your Highness,” she said, her lips pulling in a soft scowl. “And long before his death, he was dead to me.” She looked up at the king, her lavender eyes bearing a hint of anger. “I vowed never to speak his name again.”
Kegan’s brow rose in surprise at the sharpness in her eyes and the steady tone to her voice. “So you are the last of your family?”
Thyra nodded. “But I do not wish to carry on my family name,” she said easily. “I only want to gain passage across the seas, so that I may live my life the way I choose.” She drew a slow breath. “My family’s legacy hovers over me like a dark cloud.”
Brieuc leaned back in his chair. “You cannot outrun the rain, Lady Thyra,” he said.
Thyra offered a small smile. “I can try.”
Brieuc returned her grin then, and Kegan could see that his father was even more smitten with this girl. Irritation flooded him as his father changed the topic of the conversation, beginning to regale them with how amazing her fighting skills were. It left a sour taste in Kegan’s mouth. He needed to know who this girl was.