Gwyneira awoke to the smell of fresh tea and warm bread. As she opened her eyes, she realized how tired she must have been, because sometime during the night Niall had returned her to her own bed.
Just like him, she thought, I wonder if he even took the bath. What a waste.
Next to her, on the carefully carved nightstand, sat a modest tray with a mug of steaming tea, bread, and several fresh spreads. Pumpkin, apple, and blackberry she guessed from the smells. She also realized how little she ate at dinner last night and cringed at the thought. Nothing was good about what happened yesterday, today had to go better.
Gwyneira gave herself a few minutes to enjoy the quiet before she began what was sure to be a busy day. She was just finishing her breakfast when Royse appeared at her door carrying the underdress and began laying out her gown.
“Where is Sarah?” she was surprised not to see her elder maid. Sarah was never one to be late. Maybe the night was not a waste after all, she mused.
“She went to the market to get fresh bread and your offering for tonight,” Royse answered with an unusual look on her face. “Master Niall said you commanded it.”
“Of course, did she go alone?” now she was even more curious.
“No, he escorted her, as you requested.” Royse stared at Gwyneira for a moment before shrugging and turned back to finished laying out the clothes. She braided the queen’s long red hair into one braid, that wrapped across the top of her head and down the right side, finally trailing down her back. “We can set your thin golden crown in and add some harvest flowers tonight.”
Gwyneira wasn’t paying attention, she was already thinking about what might go on tonight, where Lord Rhys was and what was he up to, and why he had come here now. “Uh huh,” she replied absentmindedly.
“You miss him,” Royse said more than asked.
This brought Gwyneira back to the present. “Who?”
“The king.” Royse had a way of grounding her, focusing her on what was important. The king was far away, still she could stand to think of something constant and dependable right now.
“Yes, but he has other things to attend to, we will be home in a few days,” That seem like years.
Once she finished dressing, she made her way to the main hall and found her son reading in the corner. “Where were you last night?” She had nearly forgotten about Roland. He usually stayed home when she went on diplomatic trips, but the nature of this trip had been different, and she had wanted him along.
“Morning, mother.” Roland stood and greeted his mother with a warm hug. “I had my meal sent here.” Although only 15, he was already taller than his mother. He had his mother’s blue eyes, but darker complexion and auburn hair. He favored his father’s strength over his mother’s grace, but he was skilled at the sword and the bow. The Commander was training him to be a future King and he was already growing into his own man, with his own mind, even if it sometimes confounded his mother.
“I should be grateful you spend your nights with books and not women,” she teased him.
“Why not both?” Roland quipped back, his mother knowing he was too shy to do any such thing.
Gwyneira smiled. She wondered if Darsell had ever been as shy as his son. He was not so timid when she met him.
“Thinking of father again?” Roland placed his book on the growing stack next to the cozy, animal skin lounge chair.
“I see you haven’t wasted any time,” nodding to the pile. Roland had a love of the legends, and Cedric’s library was full of stories and accounts of magical creatures. Gwyneira had managed to bring some of her father’s books back with them but would not let Roland near them until they were home, for fear he would have them strewn all over the kingdom.
“You know me. Would you like me to do something for you?” Roland tried to be helpful, he knew Niall was out at the market, and had promised to keep an eye on his mother.
“I would like to go to town, but Niall has not returned. Would you get a guard to escort me?” She did not want to drag him away from his reading, and Niall would not be happy if she went out on her own, which she knew was unwise as well.
Roland straighten his tunic and picked up his sword. “I would be happy to escort you, My Queen,” he said, a thin smile slowly spread across his face.
Normally, she would be happy to play along, but after the events last night, she didn’t want that much pressure on her son. “I think the guards are becoming nervous that you are looking to take their jobs. Maybe we should invite one or two to make them feel better.”
Roland hesitated, but then thought this was a fun idea. “Great, I’ll go get them and have your horse brought around to the courtyard.” He bowed and darted off on his quest.
Gwyneira sighed sweetly, then made her way to the kitchen to ask for a small basket of fruit for the afternoon.
Sarah was coming in as Lady Aria finished assembling the basket for the queen. She curtsied, and placed her treasures on the counter, a basket full of warm bread and colorful fruits from the local farms. She pulled out a lovely braided circlet of autumn grains and leaves. “For the bonfire,” she handed it to Gwyneira.
The queen was touched, it was perfect – golden harvest bounty braided into a crown for the head of the effigy – just what she needed to honor the head of her family. “Lovely.” She gave Sarah a warm hug, which surprised Aria.
“I can’t take all the credit,” Sarah said and nodded outside. “He told me not to tell you, but he spotted it first.”
Master Niall was standing outside as Roland arrived with the horses and two guardsmen. “And where do you think you are going?” he asked of his pupil.
“The queen asked to have an escort into town,” he said proudly.
“I did,” Gwyneira said as she stepped out into the courtyard. “Do you have other things to attend to?” she nodded toward the kitchen.
Niall straightened his tunic and cleared his throat, “I was just finishing escorting Sarah, as you asked. I am happy to escort you and Roland to town.” He waved the guards away. In the kitchen, Sarah muttered under her breath, but then sighed and carried on with her tasks.
The queen tried not to smile. She turned to face Roland. “What do you think, should we allow the Commander to accompany us?”
Roland wasn’t as keen to tease his mentor, even though as royalty he out-ranked him. “I think that is up to Master Niall. If he feels we need the protection.”
Being in a lighthearted mood, Niall decided to play along, “I could use a break. If you are coming Roland, then I can just sight see and flirt with the locals.”
“Then it is set. I have lunch. Cedric can miss us for a few hours.” With that Gwyneira mounted her horse and the three of them set off for town.