The King and Her Queen
Chapter 5: Tonight's Entertainment
Warm sunlight filtered through the great hall to welcome them from the
cold dark cave. Before them stretched a lush green and brown
carpet which ran from the platform to the opposite side of the
hall. Potted trees were equally spaced along the carpet.
Their branches extended overhead and offered the visitor a sample of
its blossom or its fruit.
Tall narrow windows stretched from the floor to the ceiling and
provided a clear view of the valley below. A bench was
conveniently placed next to each window. On the walls hung
various colorful tapestries of different sizes. Most of the
tapestries were nature themed and some were semi-transparent so that
the weave seemed to glow.
When their initial shock of amazement wore off, they followed Merlyn
across the sunlit hall. When they reached the doorway at the end
of the hall, they heard the sound of someone sprinting towards
them. Merlyn stretched out her arms to welcome the sprinter.
"Mother!" exclaimed a young maiden with a twinkling musical
voice. She was about sixteen years old and was six inches shorter
in height compared to Merlyn. "Welcome home!" She hugged
Merlyn tightly. She was dressed in a light brown and pale yellow
ladies shirt with a laced waist corset and a dark brown skirt.
When they heard the girl's greeting, Rin and Shiro's jaws dropped and
they stopped walking. They stood there in shocked silence as the
girl kissed Merlyn on both cheeks. Then, the girl noticed them.
"How wonderful! Ye've bought visitors!" The girl skipped
towards them and beamed a charming smile. Her facial features
were similar to Merlyn's but were enhanced with rosy cheeks and fair
smooth skin. Her waist length hair was brown and braided in some
places. But the most striking features were her dazzling eyes
which matched Merlyn's golden ones.
Merlyn cleared her throat and gestured as she introduced them.
"Tis Rhynne, Syrowe and Arturia. And tis mine daughter, Airianne."
"Arturia!" She glided over to grasp Arturia's hand in hers.
"Mother told me a lot of stories about ye! She..."
Merlyn put a hand on Airianne's shoulder. "We've journeyed far,
Airianne. Can ye prepare tea fer us?"
Airianne gazed at her mother for a moment as if lost in thought.
Then she smiled warmly. "Of course! I understand. I
will serve it in the rose garden! Or... will the lily pond be
"The rose garden is fine." replied Merlyn. Airianne
curtsied gracefully and skipped to the left hallway at the end of the
hall. At her exit, Rin and Shiro released their bated
They followed Merlyn across what appeared to be a sitting room
furnished with padded chairs and sofas. On several small tables
lay scrolls and crudely bound books. Stringed musical instruments
hung on one side of the room. The carpet was thick and lush
compared to the sunlit hall.
They walked for a minute through several hallways. Merlyn led
them to an intricately wrought stained glass door. The stained
glass depicted an image of red, yellow and white roses intertwined
together. She opened the door and ushered them into an indoor
The soft scent of roses assailed their senses. The rose bushes
were separated into three groups by color and were equally distant from
each other. Rin recognized the pattern of an equilateral triangle
formed by an orderly arrangement pebbles ingrained upon the grassy
ground. Her sense of direction indicated that the red rose bushes
were at the northmost point of the triangle. At the center of the
triangle was a small iron table with a stained glass top.
"This place can be used for rituals." thought Rin. "A
hidden function, no doubt." She tried to recall if she had seen
anything else that might serve a hidden purpose besides decoration, but
could not think of any at the moment. Rin set their packs
down at a corner of the garden.
Merlyn pulled a chair and gestured at Shiro. He carefully lowered
Arturia into it. They all sat down to wait for Airianne.
Shiro looked up at the high ceiling and marveled at its
construction. "Was this made with magic?"
"Nae all of it. Ordinary craftsmen trusted by mine family did a
lot of the masonry. Mine great grandmother enchanted the rock
that lets the light in. It looks like rock from the outside but
lets light in to the inside. Each generation of mine family adds
enchantments to our home. Mine is the platform, as ye can see."
"But before ye had the platform, how did you get up here?"
"Flew? As in using a broomstick?"
"Do ye mock me, boy? I'm not a conjurer of cheap tricks.
Only charlatans use broomsticks."
The door of the garden swung open and Airianne glided in with a tray in
her hands. She set the tray down on the table and served them tea
and small loaves of bread and butter. Then she sat down beside
"Tis mine favorite bread, ale bread. Have some. Airianne
made it herself." Merlyn picked a loaf and spread a generous
amount of butter on it.
"Why am I not surprised..." thought Rin as she took one and broke it to
examine its contents quickly. She noticed some green onion and
melted cheese. "It can't be that bad..." She took a bite
and was pleasantly surprised at its enticing flavor. "Tis
delicious!" she exclaimed.
Shiro nodded in agreement. "Yea. It is." He took
several large bites.
Merlyn quickly finished her bread, slurped half her tea and stood
up. "I must greet mine wife." she declared.
Rin almost spit out her tea while Shiro almost choked on his
bread. Arturia let her bread drop onto her plate.
Merlyn kissed Airianne on her forehead and patted her shoulder
affectionately. "I'll be back, mine dearest. Will ye
entertain mine guests fer me?"
"I'd be glad to, Mother." replied Airianne warmly. Merlyn
nodded and exited the garden.
Airianne smiled at them charmingly. "How was yer journey?
Did ye travel by horse?"
Shiro replied, "Nay. We rode a wagon which I drove."
"Did ye visit any great castles?"
"Nay, we traveled in haste."
"Ah, a pity. Some castles art a marvel to behold." Airianne
poured some milk into her tea. "Yer features art not
Bryton. Art ye Erisch, Pict or Saxon?"
At the mention of the word 'Saxon', Arturia's eyes narrowed and she set
her tea down.
"Nay, I am neither. Mine people call ourselves Nihon-jin, which
translates to a person of Nihon."
"Nee-hun? And where may that be?"
As Shiro told her all about Japan, he had a feeling of deja vu.
While he answered Airianne's barrage of questions, he was reminded of
his original conversation with Arturia. He hoped that Rin would
add to the conversation, but she merely sat there drinking tea
Eventually, Airianne giggled. "Ye're a nice boy. Do ye have
A drop of sweat trickled down his forehead. "Yea."
"Ah, a pity." said Airianne with a note of disappointment.
"Is she beautiful?"
Shiro smiled dreamily. "Yea."
Airianne's eyes grew wide. "Is it Lady Rhynne?" At this
point, Rin was doing her best to suppress giggling.
"Then it must be Lady Arturia!"
Airianne clapped her hands with glee while Arturia sat up when she
heard Shiro's answer. "What?"
Shiro faced her. "Tis true. Though our time together wert
short, I hath grown fond of ye."
Confusion reigned on Arturia's face. "I am flattered... so much
that I know not what to say."
"Oh, how delightful! The beginning of a budding romance!"
Airianne broke out in tiny giggles. "And ye, Lady Rhynne, do ye
have someone dear?"
Rin shrank back in her seat. She was hoping that Airianne would
not ask her. "Yea." she admitted softly.
"Is it goodman Syrowe?"
"Ah, a pity. How interesting if it wert a love triangle!"
To Rin's great relief, Merlyn came back. Her face bore a solemn
look which changed to a slight smile as she neared the table.
"Have ye eaten yer fill?"
"Yea. Twas very good."
Merlyn nodded. "Then come and rest. I will show ye to yer
Airianne stood up quickly. "Allow me, Mother. Mama hath
been waiting fer ye fer so long..."
Merlyn's eyes misted over. "All right. Show them the large
rooms in the west wing."
Shiro carried Arturia and Rin picked up their packs. They
followed Airianne along several hallways. Eventually, Airianne
stopped and opened the door to a room. "This will be goodman
The room was about 30 feet by 30 feet. The ceiling of the room
and west wall were semi-transparent. In the center of the room
was a canopied bed with thick curtains. A small fireplace was on
the north side of the room. On the south side was a vanity mirror
and several dressers and closets. Colorful rugs and carpets
enhanced the stone floor. Rin put Shiro's pack by the bed.
"Next door is Lady Arturia's room." declared Airianne with a
mischievous smile as she opened the door to Arturia's room. Shiro
went in and put Arturia on the bed. "This room is similar to the
other room except that this bed is very comfortable, and can sleep two
people." continued Airianne.
Rin's jaw dropped with surprise when she realized Airianne's subtle
innuendo. She glanced at Shiro who stepped away from
Arturia. Because of the light in the room, it was easy to see
Shiro's flaming ears even though he was facing away from her.
From his reaction, she concluded that Shiro realized it as well.
"Am I to share this room with Rhynne?" asked Arturia. At
her unexpected question, Rin almost dropped her pack.
Airianne's smile was replaced with a surprised look as she turned to
Arturia. She cleared her throat. "The room next to this one
is to be Lady Rhynne's room." Airianne blushed slightly.
"But if ye wish to share yer bed..."
Rin could guess what was going through Airianne's mind and did not wait
for her to finish her sentence. "Mine pack is heavy. I
shall go to MINE room and set it aside." Rin quickly exited
Arturia's room and went to the room next door. She put the pack
down and closed the door.
"I am confused." She heard Arturia say. Rin pressed her ear
against the wood door. "If Rhynne hath her own room, then why is
mine bed so large?"
The silence that followed was deafening. Finally, she heard
Airianne clear her throat. "Since ye art injured, it might be of
help to give yer limbs more room so that ye art comfortable."
The excuse seemed flimsy for Rin. Arturia had been recuperating
on a narrow straw bed and a makeshift cot on a wagon. The lack of
room did not deter her progress. Rin waited for Arturia's
"I understand." said Arturia after a brief pause. "That is
kind of ye. And if I may beseech ye, please tell Rhynne that mine
bandages hath not been dressed yet."
Rin's eyes widened and she quickly grabbed the pack. She sprinted
to the nearest closet.
Airianne's voice echoed faintly in the hallway. "Aye. I
shall see her now."
Rin opened her pack and scattered a few items. She opened the
closet door and pretended to be putting stuff into the closet.
There was a knock on the door. "Come." answered Rin.
Airianne opened the door. "Lady Rhynne, Lady Arturia wisheth to
let ye know that her bandages hath not been dressed." She tilted
her head as if in thought. "Do ye wish to do laundry?" she
"Err... no... not really."
Airianne smiled and walked to where Rin stood. "If ye need to
wash yer clothes, ye need but toss it in yon chute." She gestured
at the open closet. "Clothes art washed every third day."
Rin looked in and saw that there was indeed a chute in the
closet. "Whither doth it go?"
"To the basement. Now, please excuse me. I shall prepare
dinner." Airianne curtsied and closed the door behind her.
Rin examined the chute for a while. "This place is really
cool." she thought. Then she fetched the medicine kit and
bandages from her pack. Suddenly, she realized that the basin she
used for water was still in the wagon. Furthermore, she needed
some warm water. She would have to ask Airianne. She picked
up her kit and walked to Arturia's room. The door was slightly
open, but Rin knocked anyway.
"Enter." replied Arturia.
"Tis I. Didst Merlyn forget to dress thy bandages?" Rin put
the kit and the bandages down on the bedside table.
"Yea. Methinks, in her haste to finish our journey, she hath
"Tis an important task." said Rin gravely, with an air of a
professional doctor. "E'en though thy physic forgeth, as a
patient, thou hath a duty to remind her. Shall I fetch her for
thee?" Rin tried to reign in the teasing in her voice and
attempted to sound as serious as possible.
Arturia bowed her head slightly. "Nay." said Arturia
guiltily. "The thought hath occureth to me, but yet, I kept mine
Rin raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Why so?"
"Methinks, thou perform the task better."
Rin blinked several times. "How so?" she asked with
Arturia bowed her head some more. She remembered the tenderness
of Rhynne's touch and how refreshing it was to feel her wipe her
skin. In contrast, Merlyn rushed through the task and sometimes
the washcloth would catch on a scab. She also had a tendency to
bind the bandages rather tight. Maybe, she could convince Rhynne
to do it instead of Merlyn. However, words seem to fail her and
she blurted out, "With thou, it feels gentler and... cleaner."
"Cleaner?" repeated Rin. She tried to make out Arturia's
face, but her long bangs obscured her line of sight.
"Yea." Her hand curled to grip the blanket. Somehow, it
felt embarrassing and inappropriate to describe how she felt.
Rin was not sure how to respond. After a bit of thought, she
replied with mock solemnity. "I am pleased to hear that. A
physic must do what she can to promote her patient's cleanliness.
Is it not saith that the cleanliness of the body reflects the
cleanliness of the spirit?"
Arturia raised her head slightly and her eyes lit up. "Ah!
I see truth in thy wisdom and mine thoughts art in accord with
thine." She was relieved that Rhynne accepted her reason.
Just under the shadows of her hair, Rin could see that Arturia's cheeks
colored to a slight shade of pink. For some reason, a part of Rin
enjoyed seeing Arturia that way. Her amusement escaped into her
lips. "I will need a basin and warm water. Please abide
here whilst I fetch some."
"Please pace thyself. I will rest until then."
Rin excused herself and went to look for Airianne. After a few
minutes of searching, she smelled the mouth watering scent of baked
bread and followed it to a large kitchen. There, she found
Airianne juggling several tasks of baking, frying and chopping.
Airianne glided about wearing a cute apron embroidered with yellow
"Lady Airianne! Ye art cooking so much! Please let me
assist ye." Rin stepped forward to flip over some slices of meat
in a frying pan.
"Nay, Lady Rhynne. Ye art mine guest." Airianne set a knife
on a carrot on top of a cutting board. "Besides, ye hath come for
something?" After a quick flurry, butterfly shaped carrot slices
were lying on the board.
Rin stared in amazement for a moment. Meanwhile, Airianne basted
several roasting chickens in the oven. "Yea. I require a
basin and warm water to dress Arturia's bandages."
"Warm water? Ah! Ye mean to do some cleaning."
Airianne crossed her arms and thought for a moment. "Is she well
enough to bathe?"
Rin assessed Arturia's current progress. "Yea. She hath
"Then, why not bathe? Tis much better than a basin and warm
water. And the bath and privy art just at the end of the hall
from yer rooms. Bath supplies and towels art stored in a closet
"I will let Arturia know about the bath. However, if she chooses
not to bathe, dost the bath have a basin?"
"Aye." Airianne chopped some mushrooms and onions with lightning
It was obvious that Airianne needed no help, but out of politeness, Rin
asked her anyway. "Art ye sure that ye doth not require
"Verily. Dinner will be ready in half an hour. I shall
fetch ye when it is ready."
"If by chance that ye require any assistance at a later time, I would
be glad to lend mine aid."
Airianne abruptly stopped chopping and looked up. "Any?"
Airianne's lips drew into a wide grin. "Mayhap, I shall accept
yer offer later. I will surely let ye know. Now, off with
ye, and dinna be late fer dinner."
At the sight of that grin, a chill went up Rin's spine. She felt
like she had just signed away her life. She hoped that it was
just her imagination.
"Mine thanks." muttered Rin. Then she returned to Arturia's
room and told her about the bath.
Arturia's face lit up. "A bath would be refreshing."
"Then I will ask Syrowe to carry you there." Rin went to Shiro's
room and told him about the bath.
"That's great! I want to take a bath too!" said Shiro with
So Rin gathered a change of clothes while Shiro carried Arturia.
Together, they went down the hall and looked for the bath. They
found two doors at the end of the hall. The left door was a
privy. After Rin opened the right door, they gaped in
astonishment. Rin and Shiro expected to see something like a
regular bath room but instead they found something like an onsen.
They marveled at the size of the bath for a few moments before Shiro
put Arturia down on a nearby bench.
"Methinks, I shall bathe later." Shiro said sheepishly and left,
closing the door behind him.
Rin found some shelves and put their clothes in it. The cabinets
were nearby and she located some towels, washcloths and soap.
Then she turned to where Arturia sat to give her a towel. Rin's
voice caught in her throat at the sight of Arturia undressing.
She watched with bated breath as her shirt slipped off her shoulders
and down her back. She put it aside and was only clad in her
bandages and trewes. Arturia looked from left to right and then
turned around to look behind her. Her green eyes met Rin's and
she smiled warmly.
By now, Rin realized why Arturia looked so different. The sun had begun
to set and its rays suffused the stone around Arturia with a rich
golden orange color. Even Arturia's hair caught some of its light
and each delicate strand seemed to glow.
She released her breath and walked over to Arturia. "I hath found
some towels." She handed her a towel and a washcloth.
"Mine thanks." Arturia accepted them and put them beside her on
Rin sat beside Arturia on the open space on the bench. She
cleared her throat. "Shall I... remove thy bandages?"
"Yea." Arturia lifted her arms and put her hands on Rin's
Rin shuddered slightly at the contact. She bent her gaze to where
the bandage was secured and attempted to undo the knot which was
located between Arturia's breasts. She was not sure whether to
thank Merlyn or curse her for tying it there. She decided to
curse her after spending a minute trying to untie it.
Arturia noticed the scowl on Rin's face while she undid the
bandage. "Mine apologies, Rhynne. Merlyn hath secured it
"Nay, tis no one's fault." replied Rin. She carefully unrolled
the bandages. As she unrolled them, she noted the wounds
underneath. It was indeed amazing. The wounds had closed
and it was only a matter of time for the scabs to fall off. The
bones and ligaments were healing quickly as well. After she was
done, she put the bandages aside. "Whither thou wish to wash?"
Arturia looked about and pointed to a recessed area with stools.
"Methinks that one washes over there."
Rin nodded. "Mine strength doth not match Syrowe's, but I can
carry thee there."
"Art thou sure?"
"But Merlyn saith that thou art weak of heart. I doth not wish to
"What? I have no such malady. When didst she saith this?"
"Today, after thou fell into a swoon."
Rin's jaw dropped slightly and her brain tried to come up with a good
excuse. "I... I... hath kept watch almost ev'ry night and... the
lack of sleep hath done its toll. Tis I who must ask thee for
forgiveness for the inconvenience I caused."
"Thou needst not apologize. At the moment, mine concern is for
"I am fit now. As thou shall see..." In her mind, Rin
chanted the spell, 'Strength of a Thousand'. "...now." When
the spell activated, Rin scooped Arturia into her arms. It was an
extravagant use of her mana, but she decided to splurge for this
Arturia let out a small yelp and wrapped her arms around Rin's neck in
surprise. When she found her voice, she said, "I see... Thy
strength proveth thy malady false."
Rin beamed her a smile of confidence and sauntered over to the recessed
area. She sat Arturia upon a stool near a flowing
waterspout. Then she fetched their towels and washcloths and
placed them nearby. "I beg thy pardon. I will now change
"Why not change them here? I will be glad to assist thee."
Rin blinked several times. The zipper on the back of the dress
was a pain to reach. Rin was about to refuse but she got caught
in Arturia's expectant gaze. "All right." She sat down on a
nearby stool with her back to Arturia. "The dress is fastened by
a clasp near mine neck. Just pull yon clasp down."
Arturia located the clasp and pulled it down. She was amazed at
how easily the dress parted. "Thy dress is of marvelous
construct. I hath ne'er seen a clasp such as this. And
what, perchance, is this black strap? Ah, I see it hath
hooks." She unhooked the strap.
Rin's eyes grew wide when she realized that her bra was undone.
Her hand hastily reached for a towel while Arturia undid the knot of
the sash around her waist. When the knot was fully untied, the
dress began to slip off her shoulders. Rin brought the towel to
her chest and blushed at the thought of Arturia undressing her.
Arturia reached over and pulled down the sleeves of the dress to reveal
Rin's upper arms and back. She noticed that the black strap went
around Rin's front and over her shoulders. She touched the strap
with her fingers. "And how doth this strap come off?"
Arturia's fingers upon her skin caused Rin to break out in
goosebumps. She put her hand on her bra strap and turned towards
Arturia slightly. "Thou hast giveth me enough aid. I shall
complete the rest."
"I am glad to be of assistance. I shall finish undressing as
Rin remembered that Arturia was still wearing her trewes. She
kept her back to her and stood up. She let her dress fall and
took off her bra which she tossed out of the recessed area. Now
only her panties remained. She blushed some more in
embarrassment, for she had forgotten that she was wearing her lacy
black bikini style panties. She hoped that Arturia would not
notice as she tugged one side down.
After Arturia had removed her trewes, she spread a towel over her
lap. Then she glanced over to Rhynne and was surprised to see her
wearing an unusual piece of clothing for her underwear. She
watched as she pulled it down over curve of her buttocks, past the
length of her long slim legs and off her feet. She picked it up
with the dress and tossed them aside to where the black strap
lay. Just as Rhynne began to turn around, her sense of propriety
warned her to turn away before she caught her in the act of observing
her. Quickly, she turned her head away guiltily. She
suddenly realized that this would be the first time in which she would
see her naked. The thought filled her with excited curiosity.
Behind her, Rin cleared her throat. "Shall I wash thy back?"
Arturia faced Rhynne with an innocent smile. "Yea. Please
Rin repositioned herself and her stool behind Arturia. She
prepared her washcloth with soap and water. With slow, gentle
strokes, she began to wash Arturia's back.
Arturia closed her eyes and smiled to herself. She had missed
Rhynne's treatment since Merlyn met them at the inn. For now, she
was content to relish Rhynne's treatment for the next few minutes.
Her smile melted when Rhynne poured some warm water to rinse her
back. It was over too soon.
"Let me know when thou wish to soak in yon pool. I will carry
thee there." She picked up her washcloth and began to wash
Suddenly, an idea entered Arturia's mind. "Allow me to return thy
favor and wash thy back." She held out her hand for Rhynne's
Rin stopped and gaped in surprise. She was about to refuse but
the sight of Arturia smiling so expectantly changed her mind.
With hesitation born out of uncertainty, she slowly handed Arturia her
washcloth. "I... I thank thee for thy kind offer."
She turned around to provide Arturia easy access to her back. She
felt the washcloth touch her back. Once again, her skin broke out
Arturia mimicked the slow, gentle strokes that Rhynne had used.
She worked on her task methodically.
Internally, Rin was squirming with the sensation of Arturia wiping her
back. "Ohmigod... is this how she feels when I do it?"
thought Rin as her breath came in ragged gasps. She tried not to
make her gasping audible.
Meanwhile, just to make sure that she scrubbed well enough, Arturia ran
her finger over Rhynne's skin. It slid smoothly over her skin.
On Arturia's touch, Rin shuddered and clasped her hand over her mouth
to suppress a gasp. Her other hand gripped the towel with all her
Pleased with her work, Arturia smiled and continued to scrub.
Soon, Rhynne's skin had assumed a nice healthy sheen. Arturia
leaned back in satisfaction. "I am done. Thou may rinse."
Rin let out her breath. "M-- mine thanks..." she blurted
"Thou art welcome." said Arturia. After Rhynne rinsed, she
returned her washcloth.
Then Arturia washed her own hair and the rest of her body.
Rin reached into her small pouch of bath supplies and extracted her
shampoo bottle. She squeezed it until a pea-sized amount of
concentrated goo landed on her finger. Despite the need to
minimize their luggage, Rin made a special exception to this shampoo
which was a special blend of camellia that would keep her hair lustrous
and silky. Of all the lessons in Ise jingu, the shampoo formula
was the most practical one for everyday use. Of course, the true
reason of bringing it was vanity, but she reasoned that it was
essential for hygiene and health. She lathered it on her hands
and then shampooed her hair. When she was satisfied, she rinsed
and waited for Arturia.
Eventually, Arturia finished and turned to her. "May I ask thee
to convey me to yonder pool?"
"Of course." She knelt by Arturia and took her into her
arms. She stood up and felt something slither off her
torso. The horrible realization that her towel had just fallen
off filled her with embarrassment. It was not easy to ignore
Arturia pressing against her breasts.
She calmed her nerves and proceeded to a pool that did not look like a
boiling pot. She dipped her toe into the water to test it, and
was satisfied with its temperature. She stepped into the pool and
carefully positioned Arturia on a small bench attached to the
sidewall. She selected that particular bench so that Arturia can
have a view of the landscape beyond the walls of the bath.
"Is this satisfactory?" asked Rin.
"Yea. Tis perfect."
"I am glad." Rin waded to the steps to get out but Arturia called
out to her.
"Whither goest thou?"
"Mine towel hath slipped off. I will fetch it."
"Why dost thou require a towel?"
Rin was uncertain how to answer. She decided to act
conservative. "Tis for modesty. Besides thou hath don one
upon thy waist. I doth not wish to offend thee by not observing
Arturia shook her head. "Nay. Tis not a custom." To
emphasize her point, she pulled the towel off, squeezed the water out
and placed it outside the pool. "And be at ease. I shant
take offense in viewing thy exquisitely shaped form."
Rin blushed slightly. Her thoughts were in a jumble.
"Was... that a compliment?" she asked herself. She
attempted to untie her tongue. "M--- Mine heart gladdens with thy
words. Thanks to thee, I will no longer need to fetch mine
towel." Rin waded to the sidewall on Arturia's right and sat on
the bench there. To prevent herself from staring at Arturia, she
closed her eyes and let her body relax. In an effort to keep
time, she decided to recite a meditative mantra in her mind.
Arturia watched Rhynne for a moment and then turned her gaze to the
landscape before her. She tried to find the road which led to
this valley, but could not recognize any. Memories of their
journey filled her mind. Even though she had known Rhynne for a
short period, she felt a familiar camaraderie between them.
However, every time she tried to search her memories for Rhynne's
presence in her past, she could not find any.
"What hath happened to me?" she asked herself. She raised
her left arm to examine it. Rhynne told her that bones in her
forearm were broken and that the flesh around it was sliced open and
was further damaged by the broken bones. She touched her arm and
let her hand open and close. Her muscles felt stiff, but she did
not feel any pain. As her eyes examined the skin on the arm, she
noticed a red mark on her palm. The mark was not there when she
washed her body. She touched it. It seemed to glow under
her skin. "What could this be?" she asked aloud.
Rin heard Arturia's question and opened her eyes. "What is it?"
"There is a mark upon mine palm."
Rin waded over and held out her right hand. "May I see thy palm?"
Arturia was about to show her palm, but stopped when she noticed a red
mark on Rhynne's palm. She took Rhynne's palm with her right and
gently turned it up so she could view it fully. She held her left
palm next to it. "Thy palm hast a similar mark."
Rin's eyes grew wide with surprise when she realized that the marks
from the blood cleansing ritual were visible. She tried to
remember if she cancelled the spell properly.
"Mine mark seemst to be a mirror of thine." remarked
Arturia. To test her observation, she aligned the marks and
pressed their palms together. Arturia gasped as a tingling
sensation spread from her palm and into her body. The
sensation filled her with a sense of exhilaration. For a moment,
she felt like she was somewhere else. She could see a wood
paneled room. The floor seemed to be covered with light green
Rin gasped as mana gushed from her palm. She pulled away abruptly.
Suddenly, the vision of the room faded away along with the feeling of
exhilaration. Her heart was beating fast so she sat still to calm
herself. Her thoughts wandered to the vision of that room.
Somehow, she felt like she had been in that room before. She was
jolted from her thoughts by Rhynne's voice.
"Arturia... Arturia... art thou well?"
She looked at Rhynne with dazed eyes. "M-- methinks so..."
"Didst something happen to thee?" asked Rin anxiously. The
meeting of the marks had caused some sort of side effect. She
hoped that it did not do any harm.
"I felt a great excitement overwhelm me... and then... I saw a vision
of a strange place..."
"Didst thou feel any pain?"
"And what didst thou see in thy vision?"
"I beheld a room boarded in wood. Upon the floor lay woven green
As soon as Rin heard about the mats, a sense of apprehension welled up
within her. She began to consider the possibility that Arturia
would remember her time as a servant. She needed to know
more. "Was there anything else?"
Arturia shook her head. "Nay. When thou removed thy hand,
the vision faded." She stared at her hand. "Mayhap... if we
hold our hands again... I may see more of it..."
Warning bells began to ring inside Rin's mind. She had to derail
this train of thought somehow. "Hmm... methinks that thou hath
seen a part of mine memories. The mark on thy hand activated a
spell which allowed thee to peer into mine mind."
"Thy mark was mine mistake. I didst not dispel it properly after
I hath healed thee. Please, allow me to correct mine
error." Rin held out her hand.
Arturia stared at Rhynne's hand. She felt that the vision was
part of her memories and not Rhynne's. She could not fully accept
her explanation. If Rhynne dispelled the mark, then she may not
be able to see that vision again. "Nay." she said
firmly. "Allow me to keep it."
A mixture of surprise and disappointment filled Rin. She
considered insisting on removing the mark. However, if she
insisted, it might arouse Arturia's suspicions. She lowered her
hand. "As thou wish. If thou wish to dispel it at a later
time, please let me know." Rin noted the waning rays of the
sun. "Dinner will be ready soon. We may stay for a few more
minutes before we must ready ourselves." Rin waded back to her
"All right." agreed Arturia.
When they had soaked long enough, Rin carried Arturia to the dressing
area. They dried themselves and combed their hair. Rin
quickly put on a shirt and skirt while Arturia dried herself.
When she was done, she applied ointment where needed and bandages to
protect sensitive skin. She assisted Arturia in dressing
up. When they were done, Rin went to Shiro to ask him to carry
Arturia. Together, all three of them went to the dining
Merlyn and Airianne were already there. They sat on either side
of a hunched old woman at a wooden round table. The old woman's
thinning white hair and waxen complexion indicated her advanced
age. Her face was lined with wrinkles, but she displayed a serene
smile. She wore a simple beige gown.
Shiro carefully put Arturia down on a chair next to Merlyn and sat down
next to her. Rin sat down next to Airianne.
When they were seated, Merlyn introduced them. "I'd like ye to
meet mine wife, Wybrenne. Wybrenne, the lass next to me is
Arturia, the young lad next to her is Syrowe, and the lass next to
Airianne is Rhynne. They will be staying here fer awhile."
The old woman answered in a warm voice mellowed with age.
"Welcome, all. Tis mine hope that thou will enjoy thy sojourn
here. Avail thyselves of our abode as thou wish. And now,
let us sup and partake of Airianne's efforts."
Together, they ate with animated conversation. Naturally,
Wybrenne and Airianne wanted to know more about them and they eagerly
supplied answers. Merlyn mostly simply sat back and ate like
glutton who had not had a meal in weeks. The meal was delectable
and was a veritable showcase of Airianne's talent. Shiro had to
control himself from overeating.
At the end of the meal, Merlyn got up and pulled Wybrenne's chair away
from the table. "We shall now retire for the night. Good
night, all." Wybrenne nodded in their direction and then Merlyn
pushed the chair which had small wheels attached to its legs.
Rin and Shiro cleared the table and wiped it clean. Airianne
washed the dishes while Arturia dried them. When they were done,
Airianne whirled about and asked, "What art yer plans for the
evening? The night is still young."
Rin and Shiro looked at each other questioningly. Rin
shrugged. Shiro decided to reply. "We haven't planned
anything. Doth ye have something in mind?"
Airianne's face broke into a wide grin and glinting eyes. "Aye, I
do. Come hither."
They followed Airianne into the sitting room which was near the great
hall. She pulled out a board with an arrow stuck to it like a
compass. She laid it on a table and they sat down on the chairs
around the table to look at it.
The board had labels such as 'Singing', 'Tales of Romance', 'Tales of
Adventure', 'Dancing' and more. "When Mother is here, we choose
our evening's entertainment by using this board." She brought out
a pack of cards. "And we decide who gets to spin yon arrow by
cards. The loser must entertain the winner."
"What card game will we play?" asked Shiro.
"Old Maid. Doth ye know how to play?"
They all replied affirmatively. Airianne clapped her hands in
glee. "Splendid!" With a whir, she shuffled the
cards. Her hands flew across the table as she dealt them their
hands. Her movement reminded Rin of a nightingale. When she
was done, she faced Arturia. "The winner is the first who
discards all of his or her cards. If it pleases ye, Lady Arturia,
start the game."
"I shall." She picked a card from Shiro and placed a matching set
onto the table. The game was afoot. Soon, matching cards
were piling up in front of each player until Airianne had one card
left. Rin held out her cards to her. Airianne's finger
alighted over the joker which was drawn as a crotchety old hag.
"All right!" thought Rin. "I can still win!"
Suddenly, Airianne's finger moved over to the other card and pulled
it. Rin's face fell in disappointment as Airianne plopped down a
"Done." said Airianne with a note of finality. She touched
the side of the arrow with her index finger and spun. "And now,
tonight's entertainment is... 'A Romantic play'. Airianne clapped
her hands with joy while the other three grimaced at the thought.
"Oh how wonderful! It will be so much better with three
She flitted about the room as if looking for something. "Oh, what
should we do? What should we do?" She opened a cabinet and
began looking at scrolls. "Ah, this one should fit our
cast!" She pulled out several scrolls. "Hath ye heard of
the play, 'Cinderella'?"
Shiro and Rin replied that they had, but Arturia did not know the
Airianne began handing out scrolls. "Tis well that ye art not
familiar with it, Arturia. Ye will be both audience and
performer. And now, I shall cast ye to yer roles. Goodman
Syrowe will be the narrator and all the male roles in yon script.
Lady Rhynne will be the stepmother and her daughters as well as the
fairy godmother. Lady Arturia will be Cinderella."
Airianne gestured to a slightly raised platform on one side of the
room. "This will be yer stage." She opened a door near the
platform. "If ye require any theatrical devices, ye may search
for it in this room." She glided over to a comfortable armchair
in front of the platform. "Ye may begin when ye wish."
Shiro sighed. He and Rin went into the room and returned with a
small rug, a basin and several pieces of cloth. Rin laid out the
props on the stage while Shiro carried Arturia to the stage.
After Shiro put Arturia on the rug, Rin tied the piece of cloth around
her waist and handed her a towel. Shiro stood at the left corner
of the stage and begin his narration.
Arturia tried her best to do what Syrowe described in his
narration. Rhynne entered the stage when one of her roles came
up. Arturia watched with admiration as Rhynne acted out a
conversation between the stepmother and stepsisters. She was so
entertained that she often forgot to read her own lines. She
blushed in embarrassment and tried her best to concentrate.
Meanwhile, Rin was glad that she could rely on her theater experience
at the academy. She pitied pour Shiro who was obviously trying
his best with his monotonic reading and stiff acting. After she
acted out her roles as stepmother and stepsister, she waited for
Arturia's response. Instead, she found Arturia gazing at her with
undisguised wonder. Rin blushed and cleared her throat. She
repeated her last line and emphasized the word 'Cinderella'.
Arturia blushed and fumbled at her scroll until she found her line and
recited it. Rin chuckled to herself. "How cute..."
she thought and continued her acting.
Arturia acted through the play with a sense of bewilderment. Just
as Airianne had predicted, she was caught up in the play as an actor
and as a spectator. She had a few moments to watch Rhynne without
interruption when the stepsisters tried to coerce the prince to dance
with them. Syrowe seemed so wooden compared to Rhynne.
Eventually, it was her turn to dance with the prince. Syrowe put
her on the stool and pretended to dance with her. When the scene
was done, she was relieved.
She was treated to one more scene when Rhynne acted out the competition
of the stepsisters to fit the glass slipper. Somehow, Syrowe
actually managed to find a glass slipper in the room behind the
stage. Her turn came and Syrowe fitted the slipper perfectly on
her foot. He beamed at her with genuine adoration and declared
that he had found his princess. Finally, the play was finished
with their wedding. The script indicated that the prince was
supposed to kiss Cinderella, but Syrowe merely stood there and
declared, 'The End'.
At this point, Airianne stood up and protested, "Nay, nay, nay!
Ye must kiss the bride."
Shiro flushed in embarrassment. "Now...? In front of... all
"Aye." said Airianne firmly.
Shiro hesitantly placed his hands on Arturia's shoulders. He
leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek but Arturia stopped his advance
with her hand.
"Nay..." said Arturia softly.
He pulled away. He did not want Arturia to misunderstand his
intentions. "I was going to kiss ye on the cheek. I
apologize if I made ye feel uncomfortable."
"Apology accepted." replied Arturia curtly. She spoke to
Airianne with a firm voice. "Mine apologies, Airianne, for a
rather poor performance. Methinks that the journey hath taxed
mine strength. I must ask thee to excuse me and let me retire for
Airianne shook her head. "On the contrary, twas splendid!
Much better than Mother's. Tis I who must apologize fer poor
manners." She clapped her hands with great enthusiasm. "A
wonderful play! Know ye that I hath enjoyed every scene.
And ye wert amazing, Lady Rhynne!"
Rin bowed deeply. "Mine thanks. I am pleased that it was to
"Well then, let me escort ye to yer rooms and bid ye good night."
They did just that and prepared for bed, except for Shiro who declared
that he wanted to take a bath before going to bed. That night,
they all slept well under the starry sky provided by the ceiling above.
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