Crystal of the Seven Mists
« Chapter 1 »
Peering through the ornate balustrade at Castle Corvus, Shamone sat down on the stairs with a bored humph. If that infernal Lord Lamont Griffin asked her to dance one more time, she would scream. Either that or hide in the gardens. God, he was such an arrogant bore, not to mention annoying. His foppish manner and disregard for people’s feelings was driving her to distraction.
Why did the most irritating people get invites to banquets? Shamone pondered. Not that she objected to visiting Count and Countess Corvus, quite the opposite, she liked them. In fact, Count Corvus was a barrel of laughs. Shamone suspected he had never quite grown up, which if he were younger would not annoy her mother so much, but Count Corvus was sixty-five so she thought it more than a tad trying.
Perhaps it was because Princess Opia was on the serious side. Being grabbed then waltzed around the ballroom at high speed, which caused her bouts of dizziness not to mention nausea, was not her idea of fun. Hence Shamone giggled every time the Count made a beeline for her mother.
Princess Opia had entered the banquet hall with perfectly groomed hair, and as she staggered back to her table in the large room, her husband, Prince Tylox, smiled as a loose strand of hair bounced in front of her eyes.
Glancing up, Princess Opia sat beside her husband, growling, “I swear the man has no sense of propriety.”
“I think you’re right my dear, but he ensures that any trouble around these parts is stamped out on my behalf. Which means I do not have to waste precious time sorting it out myself. Hence I allow him a little leeway here and there. It’s called politics my dear.”
Princess Opia gave her husband a knowing look. “Then next time he asks for a dance I suggest you go with him. See how you like being thrown to the four winds.”
Prince Tylox laughed, which granted did not happen often. Unusually for him, he was in a good mood this evening because old friends he had not seen for some time had come to Count Corvus’s ball. One was Lord Leo Griffin, Lord Lamont Griffin’s father. Father and son were nothing alike, didn’t even look alike come to that. His son had been spoilt by his mother making him arrogant and irresponsible with money. Lord Leo Griffin on the other hand had risen through the ranks honourably. He had made most of his money as a trader of fine antiquities. The only problem Lord Leo Griffin had was making sure his son did not squander his estate away.
Lamont Griffin had a penchant for gambling, which was bad enough but now he insisted his father bail him out every time he owed large amounts of money. Lord Leo Griffin was tiring of his son’s behaviour. He often remarked that he had half a mind to leave his son to pay off his own debts; see if that didn’t make him stand on his own two feet and straighten him out.
Squaring up to Sabian, Lord Lamont Griffin demanded, “Where in the blue blazes is Princess Shamone? I made her promise me the next dance.”
Sabian was not in the least bit surprised that Shamone was missing. She often disappeared at the most inopportune moments.
“I wouldn’t know,” Sabian said in a bored tone. Truth was he didn’t care where Shamone was. They were always at loggerheads so some peace and quiet was a luxury.
“Then be a good little servant and go find her for me.”
Sabian arched a dark brow. “I’m not your servant,” he admonished.
“You will damn well do as you are told or I will have words with Prince Tylox. Now run along and find out where in the damnation she is.”
Most people referred to Lord Lamont Griffin as Lord Lamont. While his father went by Lord Griffin, only his wife called him Leo but she had died a few years ago.
Lord Lamont was an only child to Lord Griffin. Much to Lord Griffin’s consternation, his wife had created a monster in their son. His son had refused to work or even learn the family business. Instead, he idled his life away as a spoilt nobleman, although few would ever use the word noble to describe him.
Lord Lamont was only twenty, he thought himself irresistible to women and although he was attractive, he lacked his father’s charm or finesse for business matters or matters of the heart.
Charging toward Sabian in one of the larger rooms, Lamont, as his close friends called him, bellowed, “Well, have you found her yet?”
Sabian had not looked for Shamone, he’d simply stepped into the next room hoping that the irritating irk would just wander off. No such luck.
Dragging Sabian out of the room and into a large entrance hall, Lamont snapped, “Well, are you deaf as well as belligerent? Where is she?”
Trying to keep the sarcasm out of his tone, Sabian replied, “I’ve asked around, and no one knows where Princess Shamone is. I can only conclude that she has returned to the ballroom to be with her parents.”
Lord Lamont narrowed his eyes at Sabian. He did not like the haughty looks he was throwing his way. “If you were my servant you would be flogged then sacked for your incompetence. You are no use to anyone so why Prince Tylox keeps you around is beyond me.”
Most things are beyond you you lackbrained idiot, Sabian growled in his head. “Would you like me to tell Her Highness you are still looking for her should we cross paths?” Sabian asked.
“What do you think you blithering idiot, of course I want you to tell her I’m looking for her? Are you dense?”
Sabian would have loved nothing more than to ask the irksome lord to step outside, it would make his night if just for once he could land a punch to his chin, better still, stick a sword up his––
“Where’s Shamone?” Princess Opia asked from behind Sabian.
Sabian turned around. “I do not know Your Highness. One minute she was in the ballroom the next she had vanished.”
Bowing to Opia, Lord Lamont said, “I’ve been asking the same question myself Your Highness. Your servant however is having trouble understanding even the simplest of requests.”
Princess Opia raised a questioning brow at Sabian. “Then I’ll put it in simple terms Sabian. Find her and make sure she stays in the ballroom where we can keep an eye on her.”
Sabian gave a gracious bow. “Yes Your Highness.”
Shamone had seen and heard everything from upstairs. It amused her to see Sabian getting into trouble on her behalf. Avoiding people was fun, especially if it caused Sabian grief.
Sensing that Shamone was close, Sabian glanced up the stairs.
Shamone was hiding behind a large potted plant and cursing, she glanced down the long gallery behind her.
“Your Highness,” Sabian called out.
If Shamone wanted to escape through the long gallery, she would have to drop onto her knees and crawl behind the potted plants until she was out of Sabian’s sight. Using the plants for cover, she scurried into the gallery. Once inside, she rose back to her feet.
When other guests stared down at her with puzzled expressions, Shamone plucked an earring off. Holding it up, she said, “Found it, silly me.”
It was now Shamone’s plan to hurry down the long gallery so she could escape down a second flight of stairs but half way down, she heard her father and Lord Griffin turning the corner. Spinning on her heels, she doubled back along the gallery only to see Sabian’s head appearing just below the balustrade.
Cursing, Shamone gazed at the long row of windows lining one side of the gallery. Using a group of guests for cover, she hurried toward them. Her father and Lord Griffin were still deep in conversation and panicking she opened a window latch before they spotted her. When the window opened, Shamone slipped through it. As luck would have it, no one noticed and turning on the ledge she closed it. Unfortunately for Shamone the latch clicked into place locking her outside.
When Shamone glanced down to see how high she was, she cursed her stupidity. Worried that Sabian or her father might see her, Shamone shimmied left along the ledge. Luckily for Shamone there was enough moonlight to illuminate the slim ledge running the length of the building. When she inched in front of the last window, she saw Sabian meeting her father and Lord Griffin in the gallery. Ducking from view, she cursed then peered back into the gallery.
“Have you seen your daughter Sire only Princess Opia is asking for her?” Sabian asked.
“I thought I told you to keep an eye on her? After her antic’s last month she is to be chaperoned everywhere she goes.”
“I understand Sire but she slipped away after a dance with Count Corvus.”
“Then I suggest you find her before my wife gets irritated and takes it out on me,” Tylox scolded. Seconds later, he brushed Sabian aside and continued toward the dining hall.
Shamone did not realise how cold it was outside, a thin ball gown did nothing to keep out the chill as an icy wind blew around her. It was only when she shifted her position, did she realised that her dress was fast on something. Cursing her misfortune Shamone yanked it free only to hear a loud ripping sound. Frustrated, she peered into the gallery but soon shot back when she saw Sabian walking toward the window.
Scurrying along the ledge, Shamone made her way to what looked like a balcony. It wasn’t, it was just an ornate block of stone with an ominous looking gargoyle perched on top. There was nothing for it she mused, she would have to climb around it because Sabian was now trying all the windows.
When Sabian was only four windows away, Shamone reached around the large gargoyle. Using her foot, she felt for the ledge as it continued along the building. With a move born more out of panic than daring, she scooted around the front of the gargoyle using its large pointed ears to hold onto. When Shamone glanced down into the courtyard, she saw dinner guests wandering around outside. If they knew the daughter to Prince Tylox had her rear hanging over the second floor of the castle with only a gargoyle for company, they would be mortified.
When one guest glanced up, Shamone froze like a statue. It was too dark for them to see, least she hoped. Seconds later, she heard one of the gallery windows creaking open. When Sabian’s head appeared, Shamone ducked around the gargoyle.
Looking left, Sabian narrowed his eyes. Turning, he glanced to his right.
When Shamone pressed back against the wall one of her satin slippers fell off, spinning, it hit the courtyard below. The movement attracted Sabian’s attention, but it was too dark for him to see what had fallen.
Sabian shook his head, he could have sworn that he’d seen Shamone at the top of the stairs. There was no way she could have walked past Tylox or Griffin without them seeing her so where in the blazes was she?
Shamone could feel her other shoe slipping on the damp ledge. She could just picture it now as the people below watched her hurtling toward them. If the fall didn’t kill her, her parents would.
Relieved to hear the window close Shamone relaxed. Cursing, she tentatively reached around the gargoyle and edged onto the other ledge. Her fingers were numb from the cold and if she did not get back into the gallery soon, they would no doubt find her frozen to the windows by morning.
After a narrow escape or two, Shamone peered back inside the gallery. Shivering, she tugged on the window but Sabian had made sure that all the latches were securely in place. It was only when a group of women stopped to sit on a window seat, did Shamone see a glimmer of hope. A woman kept fanning herself while complaining about the heat. Eventually she pushed a window open to get fresh air. Shamone was all but willing them to leave. When they did, she was shocked, she was even more shocked when the woman left the window open.
Glancing into the inky black sky Shamone said a thank you but when she motioned to climb back through the window, a second set of guests entered the gallery. Cursing, Shamone shimmied to the right along the ledge. Reaching the opposite end of the gallery Shamone found a matching gargoyle staring down at her. Gazing up, Shamone mused that the gargoyle had a scowl not dissimilar to Sabian’s. Remembering her dire predicament, Shamone reached around the gargoyle.
Peering around the gargoyles body Shamone, to her horror, saw a hand reach out and pull the window shut. She was so annoyed she cursed aloud and the window instantly flew open again. Clamping a hand over her mouth, Shamone ducked behind the gargoyle.
Popping his head out of the window, a man asked, “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” his friend said as he did likewise.
“I could have sworn that I heard a voice outside.”
“Too much punch dear chap. I told you to slow down.”
“No, I heard a voice,” his friend insisted.
“We are two floors up you inebriated fool, who the devil will be outside in this weather?”
Listen to your friend you lackbrained idiot, Shamone urged.
When the men’s heads swung in her direction, Shamone hugged the wall of the stone ledge. Gazing down she felt suddenly giddy, this was no way to die. Fighting a bandit with a sword in hand maybe, but this, falling to your death while trying to avoid Sabian, it just wasn’t noble enough. Under her breath, Shamone swore to kick Lord Lamont in the shins. This was all because he could not take no for an answer.
“Did you see that?” the first man asked.
“It’s pitch black you clot-pole, what could I possibly see? In the name of all the kingdoms, close the window you’re letting all the cold air in.”
“No, I saw something.”
“Saw, heard, I couldn’t care less, let’s get back to the ballroom. I’ve seen some delectable young women who our charms will most definitely work on.”
“I know I saw something,” his friend maintained.
Shutting the window, his friend chided, “I swear that is the last drink you are having tonight. You’ve only had three glasses of punch and already you’re seeing things.”
His friend laughed.
With a sigh of relief, Shamone continued along the ledge which for now travelled around the building. Passing windows that looked out from a row of guest rooms, Shamone cursed. Stopping at each window, she tested them to see if they would open. Reaching a third window Shamone motioned to try again but when a body slammed against it with force, she nearly fell off the ledge.
Jerking backward in shock, Shamone flailed her arms around. Regaining her balance, she clutched her heart. Clinging to the wall for all she was worth, Shamone tried to calm her racing heart.
Peering inside the window, Shamone saw the young man slammed against a wall as his attacker warned, “Last chance Lamont, they want their money and they want it now.”
“But I don’t have it, least–least not yet,” Lord Lamont stuttered.
“Then get it from your father.”
“That could be a problem.”
The man slammed Lord Lamont against the wall again. “Then you are a dead man.”
“Wait!” Lord Lamont said as the man raised his hand to him. “I’ll get the money I swear.”
“Not good enough,” the man said as he threw Lord Lamont across the room.
Landing in a heap, Lamont cowered. “Okay, I might get the money to you by noon tomorrow. If you want the money it’s the best I can do.”
“Oh, we’ll get our money,” the man sneered. Raising Lamont to his feet, the man tapped his face. “Wouldn’t want anything to happen to your family now would we?”
Releasing Lamont with a hard shove, the man straightened his clothes, asking, “Do you know the Phoenix Inn in Vicarra?”
“Meet us there at noon and do not be late.” Opening the door the man left Lamont alone to ponder his fate.
Straightening his clothes, Lord Lamont preened his hair back into place and after regaining his composure; he headed back to the ballroom.
Shamone already knew that Lord Lamont squandered his father’s money, but this was serious, Lord Griffin could be in danger if his son did not pay up on time. Shivering, Shamone tried the window and to her surprise, it opened. Jumping inside she closed the window and rubbed her arms to warm herself up.
Shamone disliked the thought of mixing with Lord Lamont. He was an unsavoury character at best, at worst he was a disgrace to his family, best to avoid him at all cost.
Shamone’s plan was to make it downstairs and head to the kitchens. It was doubtful anyone would look for her in there.
Entering the kitchens, Shamone smiled when the head cook and maids looked at her as if she had just grown two heads. “Why Your Highness, whatever are you doing down here?”
A hand grabbed her arm. “She’s hiding, now come along Your Highness, time to mingle.”
Shamone cursed. Sabian had found her. Pulling free, she argued, “I’ll be in a few minutes, after I’ve spoken to… to the cook.”
Sabian looked impatient. “About what?”
“About–about food,” Shamone stuttered.
“Why, are you thinking of becoming head cook at your father’s castle?” Sabian asked sarcastically.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Anyway, what I want to talk to her about has nothing to do with you, so you can tell the people looking for me I will be along shortly,” Shamone ordered.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that Your Highness. If I don’t escort you back to the ballroom right now your parents will not be pleased.”
Shamone noticed a maid staring at the hem of her dress and missing shoe. Her dress had a large tear in it.
Shifting position so Sabian could not see the damage, Shamone replied, “I said I will be along.”
“What are you staring at?” Sabian asked the maid, his eyes now levelling with hers.
Nervous, the maid replied, “Nothing, sir.”
Shamone pulled a face as Sabian circled around her. “How in the name of all the kingdoms have you ruined your dress?”
“If you must know I went outside for some fresh air and I caught it on a rosebush. So until it’s fixed I cannot go back to the ballroom.”
“And your shoe, did the rose bush take that as well?”
“When I tugged my dress free my shoe fell off and I haven’t been able to find it. Not with it being so dark outside.”
“I’m curious, how did you conclude that the head cook could help you with your dress?”
“Sir, I’m an excellent seamstress. Her Highness heard it from a maid in the hall and asked me to mend it for her.” It was a blatant lie, but the cook felt sorry for Shamone.
Sabian did not look convinced. “Very well, you have ten minutes, after which Her Highness will go back to the ballroom in whatever attire she is wearing.” Sabian then pointed to the doorway. “I’ll be waiting outside the door.”
Shamone let out a huge sigh of relief as Sabian left the kitchens.
“Now Your Highness, let’s see what we can do for you.” With a wave of her hand, the head cook instructed two maids to fetch her some darning equipment.
Whilst Shamone stood on a chair, the cook mended the tear in her dress. It wasn’t perfect but if Shamone kept her back to the wall then no one would notice.
With her dress mended, Shamone smiled down at the cook. “Thank you for your kindness.”
“Think nothing of it Your Highness,” the cook said as she patted Shamone’s dress straight. “Good as new, well, almost. Enid has gone to find you some slippers. Countess Corvus has plenty to spare so it should not be difficult to find a pair to match your dress.”
“You are most kind, thank you.”
“Your Highness,” Sabian bellowed from just outside the kitchens.
Irritated, Shamone shouted, “I’m waiting for a pair of shoes.”
“Then be quick about it or you’ll go back to the ballroom barefoot,” Sabian chided.
When the maid ran back into the kitchens, Shamone mused that while Sabian was still waiting outside the kitchens, she would ask the head cook about Lord Lamont. There was more to him than met the eye and Shamone intended to learn what kind of man he was.
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