Morgan looked up from the report he’d been reading, both annoyed at the interruption and relieved. Keeping abreast of court intrigues was important, but held no interest to him. It didn’t help that the spies he employed were unimaginative report writers. “What is it, Albie?”
The seneschal stepped into the door and sketched a hasty bow. “Visitors, milord. Lady Mildred of Narook and her party have just entered the gates.”
He nodded. “Show her in and order refreshments.” Albie bobbed again and backed out the door, leaving it cracked. His gaze met with the huge black tiger’s at his feet. Black narrowed his eyes and then looked at the door. Morgan had quickly learned that this was his pet’s way of asking to be dismissed. The knight asked in this way even in man form, which seemed odd until Meg reminded him that Black had been a monk as well as a knight. Monks were not given to speaking when it wasn’t necessary. He nodded his approval and the tiger disappeared through the cracked door. He wondered what that was about. It didn’t matter, he decided. Jarod couldn’t leave the keep. His ownership collar wouldn’t allow it.
Lady Mildred was another question. He had few dealings with her since she was a creature of the High Court. He avoided attending it whenever possible, boring dispatches notwithstanding. That question, too, would be answered soon enough. Albie opened the door again, this time throwing it wide to admit the lady and her entourage.
“Lady Mildred of Narook, milord,” the old man intoned solemnly before stepping to the side. A middle aged woman dressed for high court pushed through, taking three steps and then stopping to pose dramatically. Morgan blinked, not particularly impressed with her posturing. A look of disconcertment crossed her delicate features when he didn’t respond in the courtly fashion. Morgan sighed and stood, letting his chair drag noisily on the floor.
Irritated, he dragged the correct protocol from the dusty depths of his brain. “My lady, please come and warm yourself by my fire.” She smiled gracefully, though her eyes let him know that she was aware that it was a reluctant invitation. He didn’t really care. If he wanted to play courtly games, he’d attend the king at Dulor Castle more often than strictly required, which was only once a year at the summer solstice. He didn’t appreciate having to play this game a full two months early.
“My thanks, Lord Morgan. I am quite chilled. You wouldn’t think it was nearly summer from the weather today. It actually snowed while I was coming over the pass!” The woman fluttered toward him. Maybe she was trying to sashay, but to him, it looked more like a nervous bird trying to fluff its plumage and walk at the same time. She also wasn’t headed toward the fire place, but rather directly to him. His left eyebrow crept up on its own.
“Indeed,” he replied, trying to hide his impatience. “It does tend to be cooler here in the northern reaches than in the capitol. The pass usually has snow on the ground all year long.” He moved to the sitting area by the fire hoping to guide the woman to it lest she decided to warm herself with his body heat. He remembered that this particular courtier had a thing for much younger men, and he was a good two decades her junior. Meg was finally letting him into her bed. He had no intention of allowing someone he couldn’t care less about to cost him his progress.
“I imagine you are wondering what important matters caused me to brave such a frigid journey,” she murmured as she settled into the wide armchair he’d indicated. Two maids-in waiting settled themselves on small stools without as much fuss, one to her left and one to her right. Morgan eyed them carefully. He hadn’t seen them enter with their mistress. Many ladies of the court hid their body guards in nice dresses and spells to make casual watchers overlook the fact that their attendants had the bearing of trained killers. Such as with these two. He nodded to each of them, acknowledging what they were to their lady, and took sat across from the lady. One of his servants entered quietly from a side door, bearing a tray loaded with cups, a pot of steaming tea, and finger sandwiches.
“What, no sweets?” Lady Mildred asked, eyeing the tray hungrily.
“I assumed you might enjoy a heartier repast after the difficulties of your hard journey,” he said, not hiding the boredom in his voice. Finger sandwiches was not what he would call hearty, but it was what his cook served when he asked for refreshments. Calling it a hearty repast made it seem like he was a thoughtful host with a cook who understood the need for dainty food. The delighted smile of his guest’s face proved that it had been the right thing to say.
The lady and her servants proceeded to daintily devour their meal while making small talk which made it clear that there was no important news to be shared. Morgan sighed and settled farther into his seat. At least he’d be able to continue catching up with court gossip without having to read that report.
A scream ripped the serenity, causing the lady’s attendants to jump to their feet. Morgan didn’t move. He’d heard the growl of a huge cat under that scream. He smiled. He had his answer for why Black had asked to be dismissed. And the answer to why the lady had paid him a visit.