Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 9 - Part 2
lifted a length of velvet the color of polished emeralds. "This
would be good on you, you know. It brings out the fire in your
Isolde shook her head. "I just don't know. Where would I wear it?"
"Wherever and whenever you want to. You aren't in Derry any more, Lady frugal." Josce laughed as he reached for a bolt of heavy silk shot with strands of silver. "Now this will turn you into a goddess. Let me buy it for you."
Isolde glanced over Josce's shoulder to where Albion stood, apart from them, talking with his princess. He had not so much as given her a moment's thought this day. What should she expect? That he meant to continue their emotional interlude?
She should be grateful her virtue was intact. Her conscience pricked her sharply with that thought. Had he indicated he desired more physical sharing she knew she would have agreed, nay, eagerly assisted in his despoiling of her.
She should indeed be on her knees in thankful prayer. Instead she felt only fury and a loss so deep she could barely concentrate on the task before her.
"My lady, have you heard a word I've said?" Josce sounded exasperated.
"I'm sorry, Sir Josce. What was that?"
"I said, if you don't make some decisions soon we'll be here all day. I for one am getting chilled feet and I've no doubt the squires have more interesting things to do than watch you shop."
Isolde glanced at Hugh and Ivo. They indeed looked cold and bored and thoroughly miserable. How could she have kept them standing in the street so long over a few bolts of cloth?
She pulled several silver pennies from her purse and handed them to Hugh. "I know there are cider and roasted nuts a couple of streets over. I can smell them from here. Why don't you two go warm up?"
The boys' broad smiles told her they wanted nothing so much as to follow her instructions. Still they looked to Albion for permission. He was engrossed in his conversation with Sophia, holding her hands between his as if they were the only two on the street.
Josce gave an exaggerated groan and waved the squires off. "Get on with you both. We will still be here when you return, if the lady's past performance shows any indication of her future."
Ivo and Hugh wasted no more time. They scampered through the crowd of shoppers.
"Well, you have taken pity on them at least. May I hope for similar favors?"
Isolde found a smile at the pathetic look Josce gave her. "I've enough pennies left. You could go get some cider and nuts if you like."
"You know what I mean. Festil will have my head for ornamentation if you do not return to his court dressed as he desires."
She grimaced. "He merely wishes to see his gift properly wrapped."
Josce nodded. "And because he is king his whims are the law of all others.
Now, if you won't pick out something, I will."
"I would listen to Sir Josce. His taste is perfect." Sophia rejoined them then and with a wave of her hand drew a length of wine colored velvet toward them. "This, I think, to begin your wardrobe. The green also. Jewel tones suit you well."
Isolde let them have their fun for some time. Josce and Princess Sophia seemed to like nothing better than to dress her like a child's doll. Between them they selected fabrics, slippers, veils, and stockings without more than a nod or shake of her head to indicate she was paying any attention.
When they turned their attention to a glover's shop she looked for Albion. He was nowhere to be seen. Even with soft November sunlight shining down on her, Isolde felt darkness fill her heart.
Albion strode into the luthier's shop. Sweat dampened the hair over his brow, for he had made the trip from drapers' lane to the palace and back at a dead run. In his hands he clutched the crushed leather satchel that still held the remnants of Isolde's clairsach.
The luthier looked up from his bench. His narrow shoulders shook with laughter he held back only by great effort. "Take breath, Your Grace. Better yet, take a chair. What can be so urgent?"
Albion dropped onto a bench against one wall. A cloud of sawdust thickened the air for long moments and set him coughing. When at last he could see and breathe again he found the luthier wiping his hands on a length of wool.
"Your Grace should know better than to move too quickly in here," the craftsman chided him as he poured two cups of sweet ale. "Here, get the sawdust out of your throat."
"Thank you, Master." The ale was one of the best things about coming to this shop. It cleared Albion's head and throat with amazing speed.
"Now, my lord, what have you there?" The luthier set the satchel on a bare worktable and opened it without waiting for permission. His slim, strong fingers drew the clairsach out, piece by piece, and laid it on the table.
From the look on his face Albion guessed the outcome instantly. The harp was dead.
"What great fool did this?"
Albion grimaced. "An arrow struck the satchel, I fear. Can anything be done?"
The luthier ran his hand over the curve of the harp's arm. "This was a fine instrument. One of the best I've ever seen. Its desecration is a crime I hope the wretch paid dearly for."
At that Albion had to laugh. "Well, if the archer survived one of his compatriots fell victim to the lady's wrath. I doubt he will ever recover from the shame."
The luthier laughed at that. "So this belongs to a lady, does it? And you, Your Grace, take it upon yourself to see the damage undone."
"The damage was done while the lady attempted to save me from the arrow."
"Well, let us see here . . ." The luthier spent some minutes examining the seams and joints of the ruined clairsach. He fit the pieces together and nodded at last, satisfied.
"Your Grace, I can remake this. It will take some time, you understand. If you do not wish me to recreate the decoration I can have it done by Michaelmas."
Albion shook his head. "No, it must be an exact replica. That is why I brought it to you, Master. I trust your skill."
The luthier's smile broadened. "Well, Your Grace, it will take a little longer. I should say this will be finished by Saint Valentine's Day, at the latest. I will put both my apprentices to the task this very day."
"Not apprentices. I want your work on this, Master. Your hands alone." Albion drew a pouch from his tunic and set it on the table. The jingle of gold was unmistakable. "And I am willing to pay the cost of a master's work."
The luthier opened the pouch and smiled. "Of course, Your Grace. I will give my apprentices the other projects and begin this piece this very day. When it is ready I will send my girl to you at the palace."
As Albion reached the door, the luthier's voice halted his steps. "You did say this piece belonged to a lady, did you not, Your Grace?" "I did." Albion turned and frowned slightly. The master luthier was not usually inquisitive about his personal life. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I know this device." The luthier traced a pattern repeated over the arm of the clairsach with one slim finger. "And never did I think to see it again."
The luthier laid his hands on the table and stared for a space of heartbeats at the ruins of the harp. At last he spoke, his voice distant and hollow as an old man's.
"I was raised in Arzh, Your Grace. My father apprenticed me to the best craftsman in that rich city, and 'twas there I learned my trade. When Kalman of Torenth sacked that city and butchered the royal family like so many sheep my good master died impaled upon a stake outside his shop. While he died, the barbarians broke the fingers of the other two apprentices who served with me. Never again would his craft be seen in Arjenol."
Albion held his breath while the luthier wiped his eyes with the same wool cloth. A thick layer of sawdust coated the luthier's eyebrows and chin when he looked up again.
"I survived because I was a coward. I hid from the barbarian invaders, ran rather than stay and suffer the fate of my master and my apprentice brothers. In fact, I kept running until I reached Gwynedd and set up my own trade with the tools I took from my master's shop.
"And here." He traced again the spiral pattern set into the arm of the harp. "Here, of all places, my master's work lays before me. For I was in his shop when he crafted this harp for his greatest patron, Savrnik of Arjenol. This small harp was a gift for the Prince's young daughter, whose talent was unmatched in all the world so 'tis said."