Slumber Page 22

Distantly I heard the Lieutenant chuckle, and then he whispered, “Sleep well, Miss Rogan.”

Chapter Ten

Not a big fan of guilt, I smothered the feeling with anger… directed at Wolfe. The next morning he barely acknowledged me. He was cold, distant with me, and it irritated me more than it should have because generally I liked his indifference. But his annoyance with me only compounded how stupidly I had behaved, making me feel like the simpering debutante I was so adamant I wasn’t. Lieutenant Chaeron threw me a few bolstering looks and as usual tried to keep up a pleasant conversation with me as we rode through Raphizya. Wolfe was taking things deliberately slower and it smacked of condescension. I huffed in the saddle, wanting to speed up, and poor Midnight faltered a little at my mixed signals. I leaned over to stroke her face, apologising quietly in her ear for taking my impatience out on her. I forced myself to relax in my seat and ignored Chaeron’s knowing grin.

With my renewed energy it didn’t feel like such a long ride that day. Before I knew it we were crossing the stone bridge across the River Kral, called so because it was the longest in Phaedra, passing through not only Raphizya but Vasterya as well. We were closing in on Ryl, the second largest city in Raphizya, famous for being the only city in Phaedra that wasn’t a capital, and also for its factories. Almost as large as Peza, it was home to factories that mass-produced textiles, paintings, pottery and lots of other knick-knacks, designed by the artisans of Peza. The factories sustained much of Raphizya, supplying employment and a large exportation income.

Knowing the plan was to stay with Matai’s cousins, Mr Zanst and his wife and their two small children, I wasn’t surprised when Wolfe led us through the outskirts of the city towards the Factory District. Ironically, the Factory District wasn’t in fact where the factories were. The Factory District was home to the mansions and large townhouses of the owners of the factories. Mr Zanst owned a large textile factory and was said to be wealthier than his Vikomt cousin, Matai. I had met Mr Zanst and his wife at court before, two of the few people outside the titled nobility who were invited to stay at the palace during the spring and autumn Seasons of Sabithia. They were a nice couple, friendly and open, and a refreshing diversion from the titled nobility and all their manners and ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’.

When we arrived Mrs Zanst was there to greet us, her husband not yet returned from his office at the factory. Attractive and young, I hid a smile as some of the Guard tried not to stare at Mrs Zanst. They had been deprived of female companionship for longer than some of them were used to and she was a lovely sight. Sighing, I dismounted with Chaeron’s aid and was immediately enveloped in a friendly hug by Mrs Zanst.

“It’s such a pleasure to see you again, Lady Rogan.” She smiled widely at me as she stood back to take in my appearance. “I must say you’re looking very well for a young lady who’s been travelling. And without a carriage no less.” She frowned, looking over the Guard.

I shrugged inelegantly, happy to be around someone who didn’t care if I shrugged inelegantly. “I thought a carriage would be more of a hindrance than a help.”

Mrs Zanst didn’t seem to agree but she said no more, clasping my hand in hers as we walked inside, leaving the Guard to their organisation. It would seem there wasn’t enough room in the stables or the mansion for all of them so some would have to venture into the city for accommodation. I rolled my eyes as many eagerly volunteered, knowing that the excitement was due more to finding a bed partner than an actual bed.

“Oh,” I gasped as we stepped into the entrance hall. “Your home is lovely, Mrs Zanst.” And I meant it. Her expression brightened, a little flush of pride cresting her cheeks as we took it in together.

“Thank you, Lady Rogan. I do try.”

In all of the homes of the wealthy I had ventured into, the floors of the entrance hall, hallways in general, were always white and black marble; or, as at the palace, pure white marble with crystalline sparkling under foot. But Mr and Mrs Zanst had forgone the cold marble aesthetic of the wealthy, and instead had beautiful, wide slatted, light wooden polished floors that reflected the light from the stunning but simplistic chandelier that spiralled down from the ceiling in one trim arm. I stared a moment at it, surprised by its originality. It was like a piece of modern art in itself. Careful not to encumber the light, airy quality they had created, there were no drab oil paintings to be found or heavy tapestries, only pale buttercream walls, one of which was adorned with artwork – an actual mural, depicting a brilliantly blurry forest with gorgeous wood nymphs and other charmingly rustic creatures. A few silver mirrors were dotted here and there, wall sconces in the same vein as the chandelier, and flowers of the softest pastels.

“It’s like a fairytale,” I whispered. “Haydyn would love this.”

Mrs Zanst blushed even harder. “Do you really think so?”

I nodded sincerely, giving her arm a friendly squeeze. “You, Mrs Zanst, have a gift for interior design.”

“Oh, I’m pleased you think so. Many of the women here,” her voice dropped to a murmur, “Think my taste unfashionable.”

“To the contrary, your taste is a fashion setter. Wait until we get you back at the palace to decorate Haydyn’s private parlour, Mrs Zanst, then all the ladies will be after you to design their homes for them.”

Wide-eyed, she pulled me into her equally quaint and beautiful parlour. “Do you really think so?”

***

Having inadvertently received a friend for life in the charming Mrs Zanst I felt bad when I tricked her. Desperate for some time alone, to be away from the Guard and the Factory District, which was buzzing with the news of our arrival, I knew I had to make my escape before the neighbours started calling on Mrs Zanst to meet me. Having faked a headache and fatigue from the journey, I was shown to a spectacular guest suite with wonderful views of Ryl. There I hastily wrote a note to Mrs Zanst telling her where I’d gone so she wouldn’t worry, and then threw on a dark cloak, creeping out of the room. I had to hide twice - once in another bedroom and then in the music room on the second floor. I halted at the sound of children squealing and realised the nursery must not be far off. Afraid of being found by an impish child I scurried down the next flight of stairs and then cursed under my breath when I came face to face with the butler.

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