Nyssa had found herself seated alone for the first time in several weeks. She had not seen Geraint since he had first brought her to his childhood home, but she had kept the company of a mass of young children who resembled him. She had decided she most favoured young Taren, a small boy who was very wise despite his age. Taren was small and clumsy and had ruined his eyesight after reading by dim candlelight – now he required magnifying lenses to help him see. There was something special about him, Nyssa thought, as some days she would be reading with him and she would pause, noting a dark shadow cast upon the boy. Taren would look up at her curious, apparently unaware of the ghostly figure haunting him.
“Oh there you are!”
Nyssa jumped, turning her head to see a blonde girl smiling at her. Nyssa recognized her to be Tanaia, one of the two adopted children living with the Peredurs’. The adopted girls were detectable by their fair hair, in contrast to the vibrant red that the other children had.
Nyssa nodded to the girl, a little surprised she had been sought after. “Here I am,” she said.
“I was looking to find you – Geraint has returned, they’re downstairs discussing a letter received from your mother.”
Tanaia nodded confidently, “Looks as though Geraint won’t be staying long though, which is a shame. I don’t think he’s doing well lately, health wise. Or at least that’s what I overheard…”
“What nonsense are you preaching this time, Tanaia?”
Geraint had appeared at the top of the stairwell, his hardened features pulled into an amused grin. Nyssa felt a rush of blood rise to her cheeks, and sweat began to pool in the palms of her hands. She watched him as he approached, waiting for him to glance at her, to look apologetic and sorrowful that he had been stuck with a girl like her.
Tanaia was bouncing on her toes in excitement, “Oh! Geraint I can’t help it, I’m so bored all the time and your adventures are much more interesting than sewing!”
Geraint chuckled, “You need to find yourself a man to occupy your thoughts with – a man other than myself of course.”
“I wish I were a man, able to go and do whatever I like when I want.”
“I doubt you’d fit in, you’re far too pretty to be a man.”
Grinning, Tanaia glanced at where Nyssa sat. “I’m not as pretty as a princess,” she hinted.
Nyssa looked up just in time to catch Geraint’s eye, they stared at one another for several moments without speaking. He had grown his beard out, and his skin looked a little rugged – as though he’d been on horseback for weeks, enduring the winter weather. His brow was furrowed as he admired her, his lips held in a thin and unforgiving line.
“I’m afraid I have news,” he said slowly.
“Surely it can wait, brother” Tanaia chimed, “I was just beginning to like our shy little princess.”
He smiled sadly, “I suppose that is fortunate, if she is to be your sister.”
Nyssa looked up with a start, her eyes wide. Did he mean to marry her after all? Was that the news he carried, that she would be his wife?
Tanaia cocked her head to the side in confusion, “Oh?”
Her brother nodded several times, suddenly appearing ignorant to Nyssa’s presence in the room. “The queen has fallen ill, and she has written our mother asking that I make a wife out of her daughter, and I believe it is the least I can do after hearing the news of Eirian.”
“Father must be displeased.”
“More worried that in agreeing to the queen’s wishes we will somehow offend the king, but I cannot see Conri caring much.”
Nyssa sat listening to their conversation, fear growing inside her. When she had learned of her sister’s death, she had felt nothing but shame of not knowing the girl well enough. But discovering that her mother was ill caused fear to strike angrily, and she cringed inwardly at the sting of tears threatening to burst from her eyes. She looked to Geraint, resting her sad eyes on his tall figure. Slowly she swallowed her fear, and was left with a helpless feeling of emptiness.