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A SMALL HOLIDAY

Title: A Small Holiday

Series: N/A

Author: Jane Tesh

ISBN: 978-1-60975-171-5

Product Code: BK0122

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 216

Release Date: September 2016

Cover Price: $17.95

Our Price: $17.95

 

 

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Book Jacket

 

Belinda Banner promised her mother she'd look after her younger brother, Jay, but when a well-dressed stranger named Ivor comes to her door with a tempting job offer, she sets aside her normal caution. She regrets her decision when she and Jay are carried off through a blinding light to Ivor's world of Belfair where Jay is expected to play the lead in an elaborate play for the annual festival. Jay is immediately taken by the director of More than Legend, a round yellow blob of self-importance named Parvan, who has been banished by his people to Belfair to learn humility. In Jay, Parvan sees a way to win his way back home, but he and Belinda immediately clash.

 

Desperate to return to her world, Belinda insists Ivor take them back. He says he can't predict the doorways of light. Jay is having such a good time she finally resigns herself to the fact they'll have to wait. While Jay is rehearsing, Belinda helps Parvan's neighbor, a handsome young man named Martin, out of a serious depression by finding his living musical reeds, creatures he depends on for his part in the festival. Martin encourages Belinda to dance, a talent she has put aside in order to care for Jay.

 

Yet there is something sinister about Ivor she can't explain, and no one in this peaceful world believes her warnings. And Belinda sees her dreams for Jay's future disappearing as her brother becomes more and more involved with the exciting opportunities this new world affords.

 


 

Book Excerpt

 

 

 

1

Belinda

 

 

 

As I looked across the impossibly beautiful meadow, I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that stranger. Was it only yesterday when he’d come to my door with the promise of a job? Had I really been that desperate?

 

v   v   v

 

“I understand you’re in a bit of trouble,” he’d said.

Now this was all I needed. I’d spent another week going to more job interviews and getting nowhere. I’d just gotten home, my feet hurt, my head ached, and all I wanted to do was sit down and stare at the TV for a few mindless hours. I certainly wasn’t in the mood for visitors, especially a sleek-looking man dressed like someone out of an old costume movie: striped trousers, frock coat, ascot, even a large ornate pocket watch dangling from a chain at his vest.

I stood in the front doorway, my hand securely against the frame. “Look, whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested.” I looked up the gray street to see if anyone was outside in case this guy tried anything funny. Aunt Marie’s house was neat and clean, her marigolds bravely resisting heat and dust and dogs, but this wasn’t home. Every time I rounded the corner of Ferris Street, my heart sank. It was hard to get interested in anything when all my dreams were filled with the beautiful big white house where my brother and I had spent the happiest years of our lives, where we never had to worry about weird salesmen ringing the doorbell.

This man was handsome in a flashy way, but he was still weird. “You’re concerned about your future, aren’t you? That’s why I’m here. To help you.”

Oh, brother. What did this crackpot want? “I’m really very busy.” I started to shut the door.

“I came to offer you a job.”

I kept the door open. “What kind of job?”

He bowed. “Allow me to introduce myself, Miss Banner. My name is Ivor, and I represent a Mister Parvan of Deer Point Estates. He’s looking for a housekeeper. Would you be interested?”

“How do you know my name?”

“I called the agency and spoke with a Mrs. Fitzgerald. She gave me a list of several people who are in need of employment. You can call her and check if you’re uncertain.”

The Fitzgerald Agency was one of the best employment agencies in Parkland. I’d had applications with them for months and been on countless interviews for jobs I didn’t get. If what this man was saying was true, I had to give it a shot. “Excuse me for a moment.”

“Of course.”

I closed and locked the front door and made my way down the narrow hallway to Aunt Marie’s phone on a small table next to a jumble of magazines, junk mail, and bills. My cell phone was one of many luxuries I’d had to give up.

“Why, yes,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said when I called. “Mister Ivor has several job opportunities available. I hope you don’t mind that I gave him your name and number. I know we haven’t been able to find you the right job yet.”

“He’s actually here in person,” I said. “I wasn’t sure.”

“Is he wearing a fancy suit? Gold pocket watch?”

“That’s the guy.”

“He has all the proper credentials, Belinda. I’d listen to what he has to say.”

I thanked her and hung up. Mister Ivor was waiting on the front stoop. He smiled at me and gave another little bow. “I trust Mrs. Fitzgerald told you my offer is legitimate.”

“Yes,” I said. “Now what’s this about Deer Point?” Deer Point Estates was a new and exclusive development out near the country club. “What sort of housekeeping duties do you mean?”

“Cleaning and cooking. Nothing too elaborate. It’s also entirely possible Mister Parvan would have some work for your brother, Jayson, as well.”

Had this guy been peeking in our windows? “You know an awful lot about me.”

He smiled in a friendly way. “It’s my job to match client and employee.”

This job sounded very good. Too good. “I’m not sure I’d be right for this position,” I said. “I’ve never actually done housekeeping other than my own.”

“I appreciate your honesty. Mister Parvan wants someone he can train. It will cost you nothing to come talk to him.”

My job hunting this week hadn’t gone well. I’d been told I was too old, too young, too inexperienced, and too just about everything else. Mister Parvan did not sound particular. Yet as badly as I needed and wanted a job, I had to be cautious.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’d need to think about it.”

“Yes, of course.” He smiled again. It was really a nice smile, but there was something odd about this man. I couldn’t figure out what it was. “There’s one other thing that may convince you. The housekeeping job starts at four hundred dollars. A week.”

My mouth dropped open. “A week?”

“Mister Parvan is very wealthy and, shall we say, a tad eccentric?” He stepped off the stoop. “As I said, it will cost you nothing to come and talk to him. Think about it. Discuss it with your brother.” He opened his pocket watch, and it played a sweet music box tune. “I’ll stop by tomorrow at this time.”

He bowed and walked down the street. I leaned against the door. Four hundred dollars a week! There had to be a catch. Mister Parvan would be a drooling pervert. The chores would be drudgery. The house at Deer Point a gloomy gothic mansion.

Or was my luck finally changing?

Aunt Marie was in the kitchen, up to her elbows in flour. Her gray hair was in her eyes, her glasses smudged. She glanced up. “Who was that at the door?”

“Someone with a job offer.”

“Something you might be interested in?”

“I’m going to check on it tomorrow.”

There was a definite look of relief on her tired face. “Good, good.”

“Are you making biscuits?”

She nodded and continued kneading the dough. “It’s my turn to make them for the church dinner.”

Aunt Marie stayed busy with church activities, her job at K Mart, and the housework, although I helped as much as I could. Her two grown children still lived at home. We were squashed in the little house, but my cousins Mario and Ethan worked odd shifts at the furniture factory, and I hardly ever saw them. If they resented the invasion of their limited space, they kept it to themselves. If I could get a good job, Jay and I could move out and Aunt Marie’s obligation would be over. I’m sure she never dreamed she’d have to look after her sister’s children as well as her own.

Four hundred dollars a week. I couldn’t wait for Jay to get home from school.

When he finally dragged in, he flopped his books on the kitchen table and sank into a chair.

“Made it.”

It was his first day back after a bout with the flu. “Rough, huh?” I took a Coke out of the fridge and passed it to him.

“I’m wiped out.” He took a drink and made a face at his books. “I’ve got enough homework to sink a battleship.”

I was dying to tell him about the weird man and his offer, but not in front of Aunt Marie. “Come on back to the room. I’ll help you get started.”

He groaned and heaved himself out of the chair. He followed me down the short hallway to the plain beige bedroom. The mismatched furniture and plaid draperies made the room even smaller and uglier. My clothes were jammed into the tiny closet. Jay’s were wadded in boxes under his bed. He landed facedown onto his bed and I sat on mine, finally able to take off my shoes and wiggle my tired feet.

“I’ve got some news that will cheer you up,” I said.

“It had better be good,” he said, his voice muffled in his pillow. “I’ve got six chapters of history to read.”

“I had a job offer today. A housekeeping position in Deer Point, and get this: it pays four hundred dollars a week.”

Jay sat up. He was fourteen, and overnight, it seemed, he’d shot up to my height of five eight. We both had dark brown hair, but mine was relentlessly straight while Jay’s was naturally curly. He’d also inherited our mother’s attractive features, her even temper, and her dark eyes, which widened in surprise. “Take it!”

“I’m certainly going to look into it.”

“Four hundred a week, Bell, that’s great! We could move out of here. I could get a decent skateboard. You could go back to your ballet lessons.”

“I’m too old for that,” I said, “but I would like to move out.”

“I could get a cell phone and some video games.”

“Hold on,” I said, trying not to get caught up in his enthusiasm. “We’re spending money we don’t have yet. I don’t know how many other people are up for this job. I don’t know if I can do the work. I don’t know if this man is somebody I could work for.”

“Details, details,” Jay said, grinning. “It’s worth looking into. If you’re not sure, why don’t you call Uncle Jake? He’d know if there was anything spooky about this guy.”

Our Uncle Jake worked for a tabloid called the Galaxy News Weekly and was always on the alert for anything out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, he was unavailable. “Did you forget? He’s on his honeymoon.”

“Where’d he go, Stonehenge or the Bermuda Triangle?”

“You know he had this whirlwind courtship with a woman he met during some story about talking flowers.”

“Did her bouquet go ‘Whee!’ when she threw it?”

“When has any story for the Galaxy been real?” All I knew was Jake wouldn’t be able to advise me until he got back, and I needed to make a decision. Four hundred dollars a week. Sixteen hundred dollars a month. That kind of money could get us out of Aunt Marie’s way, out of this dismal little house. Best of all, that kind of money, carefully saved, could go a long way toward Jay’s education.

Just slow down, I told myself. You have to get the job first.

At dinner, I told Mario and Ethan I had a job interview tomorrow and it looked promising. They were as relieved as Aunt Marie.

She dug a wad of macaroni out of the baking dish. “You know I don’t mind having you two here, Belinda, but it’s hard making ends meet, and with Ethan wanting to get married, that means another person in the house.”

I didn’t dare look at Jay. Ethan didn’t make enough to support himself, much less a wife. I took my plate of macaroni. “I understand. If this job works out, Jay and I will start looking for our own apartment.”

“I don’t mind admitting that would be very helpful,” she said.

After dinner, Jay and I went back to our room, and Jay worked on his homework while I took my bath and put on my pajamas. I brushed my hair and examined my reflection in the spotted mirror. What was it about me that made Mister Ivor think I was right for the job? I had a pleasant face, nothing spectacular. Maybe Mister Parvan required a certain type of housekeeper. Maybe he was into brunettes. I had to laugh. Now I was descending into romance novel territory. If he was in any way creepy, I’d have to kiss this job good-bye—assuming I’d be offered the job.

When I came back into the bedroom, Jay was still reading.

“Take it easy,” I said.

He looked up with a grin. “This from the woman who wants me to go to Yale?”

“Or Harvard or Princeton.”

“And where are you going to school?”

“I’ll take care of that later.”

He closed the book. “That’s all for now. The English assignment was easy. Memorize a poem. I know about a thousand already.”

Jay had a remarkable memory. He could remember the flavor of ice cream he had at the beach ten years ago, the color of his swim suit, the height of the waves. School work was a breeze. I knew he’d be able to get into a good school. The only problem with his memory was he hadn’t forgotten a single detail of our life before. Sometimes when he brought those memories up, I didn’t want to listen.

Tonight I did. Maybe it was the anticipation of success, of finally being free of Ferris Street, free of worrying about money.

Jay lay back on the pillows, hands behind his head. “Do you remember the carnival that used to set up across the street from our house?”

“Yes, I remember.” What could be more delightful than your own personal roller-coaster, tilt-a-whirl, bullet ride, and merry-go-round a few steps from your own front porch?

“I wonder whatever happened to it,” Jay said.

It disappeared, like every other good thing, I wanted to say. After Jay and I had ridden everything twenty times or more, we’d sit on our porch and drink Cokes and watch the other children ride, listening to their screams as they tumbled in the bullet ride and up and down the slopes of the rattling roller coaster. Even after I went to bed, I could see the lights like pearls outlining the carousel and hear the dark wheezing music with its tinny cymbals and old fashioned tunes.

“We named all the horses,” Jay said, “and there were two frogs, remember? One with a red coat and one with a blue. I always rode the blue one. There was a lion, an ostrich, a giraffe, and one of those swan boats for the old ladies. Your two favorite horses were Honeysuckle, the brown one with light spots, and Midnight, the black one with the silver saddle.”

“I loved that merry-go-round,” I said. “It was just the right size.” But then, everything had been perfect. The perfect family. The perfect home. The perfect future.

I didn’t want to remember any more.

Jay knew when to shut up. He opened his history book. I tried to stay positive about the future, but my ever-present worry wouldn’t let me. How was I going to take care of Jay when I couldn’t even take care of myself? How was I ever going to keep my promise?

My promise. To even think those words was to find myself five years ago in that sterile white hospital room, rushed from a friend’s house at the news that my parents had been in an accident. My father had died in the ambulance, and my mother was clinging to life. She was also clinging to my fingers, her voice a whisper.

“Take care of Jay,” she said, and I said, “I promise.”

The next few days had been a blur. I remembered very little of the funeral. A lawyer came and said my father had made some unwise investments. I’d have to sell the house, the cars, and most of their belongings. Mom’s sister, my Aunt Marie, came forward and offered to take me and Jay in. Over the past five years, we’d sold whatever we had left to pay our share of expenses.

At the time of the accident I’d been fifteen years old and just starting my studies at the prestigious College of Dance here in Parkland. Lack of money made it impossible for me to continue. I returned to Parkland High School, and as soon as I could, I found a job at a local restaurant. How I hated having to depend on other people! I hated not being able to give Jay money to buy pizza or go to the movies with his friends. I really hoped I could get this housekeeping job.

I was still thinking of this late that night when Jay was asleep. Silvery light from the street lamps shone through the worn white curtains that hung down between the plaid draperies, “sheers,” my mother used to call them. The sheers in our house had been purest white with lace along the bottoms. They always reminded me of the costumes the ballerinas wore in Les Sylphides. I could see the graceful flow of their arms and the sheen of their satin slippers. I’d taken lessons since I was eight years old, and all my teachers said I had natural talent. At dance recitals every spring, I couldn’t wait to be on stage. I had seen all the ballets, Giselle, Copelia. Mother had taken me to the Parkland Ballet every season to the huge recital hall on the university campus. I knew one day I would be one of those amazing ballerinas who seemed to defy gravity.

The only thing I had in common with the dancers right now was tired feet. What would it be like to step out into the light of a huge auditorium like that and dance for hundreds of people? What would it be like to dance with a professional company? To be so light and free?

There was no need to dwell on what would never happen. The important thing was to make enough money to assure Jay’s future. That was all that mattered now.


 

 

 

 

 

2

Parvan

 

 

 

I should have known. I should have sensed disaster. You simply can’t trust beings who are Stable and trapped in one solid form their whole lives. It does something to their brains. One minute, my company is approaching a credible presentation of More Than Legend—the next, my show is in ruins.

Tiblock, one of those little long-eared things that seem to be everywhere, brought me the news. I simply could not believe Kree had quit.

I stared at the little creature with as many eyeballs as I could form. “You must be joking. You must be quite insane. The festival is in two weeks!”

Tiblock tugged one ear and replied that Kree had gone to Toor for the parties and wasn’t sure when he’d be back.

I’m sure I turned a livid green. “I am the greatest director these creatures will ever have the privilege of working with! How dare anyone dream of leaving the show?” Then I had to pull myself back in and apologize to Tib. If certainly wasn’t his fault Kree was an idiot. “Tell the others rehearsal is canceled for today. I have to think.”

I flowed back into my house, graciously lent to me by Lady Night, although it is appallingly small, and proceeded to have a full-fledged Coruthian fit. Is it not enough that I am trapped on this side of the world, surrounded by aliens and treated like some amusing toy? My absurdly thick and soulless colleagues also find it amusing that I am trapped here, for the most minor of offenses! Six long years in this place, building my company, training the untrainable. I would scream if it weren’t so undignified.

“Parvan?” a voice called. “Are you home?”

I formed an eye and curled it out the window. Ivor stood in my front yard.

“I understand you’re in a bit of trouble,” he said.

I sent out my eye and followed it. “Did you hear the news? Kree has left me to go partying in Toor! Can you imagine such a disaster? I am left without a king! How can I present More Than Legend without its central character?”

“Ah,” Ivor said. “Sad news, indeed.”

“Worse! If I can’t present the play, I’ll not be able to take part in the festival. You know what that means.”

Ivor always lends a sympathetic ear. He is tall for an Andrean, and his features are sharp, at least to my eye. He has dark hair and eyes that sometimes appear oddly red and favors what I assume is a fashionable way of Andrean dress. Today he had on gray trousers, a gray coat, and a fancy tie, as well as the large pocket watch he wears on a gold chain.

“Perhaps I can help,” he said.

“I appreciate the offer, but you are too old to play King William.”

“Good heavens, I have no intention of being in your play. But what if I can find a William for you?”

“Who could learn the role in such a short time?”

Ivor took a gray handkerchief from his pocket, brushed off one of the large stones that lay in the yard, and sat down. “Surely our finest director is up to the challenge.”

“Of course.” But there was a crafty look in the man’s eyes. “Ivor, I know there is more to this.”

He tucked his handkerchief away. “Simple enough. I want Fair Meadows. I make no secret of it. I propose a wager. I will find someone to play the king. If you can teach him the role and perform successfully at the festival, you win. If not, your property is mine.”

“And if I win, you forfeit your land to me?”

“Naturally.”

“But you must play fair,” I said. “No slugs. No cretins.”

Ivor smiled. “I know what is required. A young man, dark and handsome, with a pleasant speaking voice, correct? Which reminds me, how is Martin? Have you seen him lately?”

“I hear he’s not well.” Actually, I felt guilty I hadn’t been to see him. “That girl he took in left him. A sad business.”

“The forest girl?”

I nodded. “Alyss, he called her. He is always taking in strays, and they always desert him, poor fellow.”

“He is too good-hearted,” Ivor said. “What about his reeds? Is he still training them?”

“I have no idea.”

Ivor leaned forward, his dark brows creased together in what the Andreans call a frown. “Are you saying Martin might not participate in the festival? But that would be a dreadful loss! What about Two Rivers Crossing?”

“I’m sure Martin won’t do anything to jeopardize his land.” Fair Meadows was beautiful, but Two Rivers Crossing, Martin’s property, was exceptional: two blue-green rivers meeting in a forest clearing, lush riverbanks filled with trees and flowers, and Martin’s fine blue glass house overlooking it all.

“I should hope not,” Ivor said. “Perhaps we shouldn’t be betting on the festival outcome, Parvan. The Council has been very generous over the years.”

“But I need a king,” I said. “I accept your wager. What does Fair Meadows mean to me? I am trying to win my way back to my own country.”

“Have you heard anything from your people?”

“Nothing.”

Ivor made another frown. “I’m sorry, my friend. I know you dislike being stuck here.”

“Not as long as I have good friends like you and Martin.” True, I would be fairly content to stay in this part of Andrea, but the time was coming to Merge. I had to get back to Coruth or I’d miss my one chance. “Your challenge will make me work harder,” I said as I formed a hand.

“Very well.” Ivor shook my hand to seal the bargain. “I promise you, I will be tricky.”

“As long as it looks Andrean, I’ll be able to do something with it.”

He laughed. “We’ll see, won’t we? And we can only hope Martin will feel well enough to take part in the festival. It won’t be the same without him.”

Ivor stayed a while longer and we discussed the projects the others would be preparing for the festival. Lady Tess would have her living art display, as usual. Ivor planned a dramatic presentation. I knew none of these productions could compare with More Than Legend. Even with a mediocre king, I knew I could make it work.

I had to.

After Ivor left, I decided I’d better pay Martin a visit. Two Rivers Crossing lies on the other side of the forest that borders Fair Meadows, a pleasant roll through the trees and across a small stone bridge. From there, a short roll up smooth green grass brought me to his house, gleaming a soft blue in the late afternoon light. Everything looked peaceful. The gardens, as usual, were immaculate. A light breeze sent white blossoms spiraling from the thin magenta trees to drift away in the river current. But a worried Andrean man met me at the door, Martin’s cook, dressed in white with a white apron. His round face had lines I hadn’t noticed before, and his eyes were red-rimmed, as if he’d been crying.

He ushered me in. “I’m very glad you stopped by, Parvan. We’re in a panic. Martin hasn’t eaten in days. I don’t know what we’re going to do. He just sits by the window and stares at the forest.”

“What about the reeds?” I asked.

“They’ve wandered off, forgotten all their music by now, I’m sure. Come speak to him. Maybe you can get through.”

I followed him into the hushed blue house. Its lush pearly depths always make me homesick for the seas of Coruth. The useless squares and rounds and sticks the Andreans call “furniture” were of the highest quality. Lovely blue vases and silver sculptures I admire for their flowing lines decorated the corners and window ledges. We went up the long spiral staircase to Martin’s bedroom, a large silver and blue chamber.

“Martin? Sir, Parvan is here to see you.”

At first, I didn’t see him. Then, in the dim light from the window, I saw his slumped form in a chair, his head resting in one hand. I’d never seen him so dejected.

The cook whispered, “This is worse than when he lost that goblin child.”

I rolled up and extended a few friendly eyes. I’d often thought Martin would be a good choice for the king, although his disheveled dark hair and large melancholy eyes make him more suitable for the tragic heroes of Andrean literature, but today I was shocked by how pale he was, how listless. Martin is by all accounts a handsome young man, but he was practically fading away before my eyes.

“Cook tells me you won’t eat,” I said. “What sort of foolishness is this?”

He didn’t look at me, his eyes on the forest. His voice was barely audible. “Sometimes I think I see her. Sometimes I think she’ll come dancing back from the forest and laugh and say she was only teasing.”

“She’s not worth this.” I turned to Cook. “Fix something. I’ll see that he eats it.” Cook hurried away and I turned my full attention and as many eyes as possible to Martin. “Martin, you must eat. The festival is upon us. You can’t sit here, brooding over that girl. She’s gone.” He winced, but I continued. “You can’t let this get to you. What about your reeds? Cook says they’ve left. Where are they?”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter! Your career, your land—”

“It means nothing without her.”

I had a sharp answer for that, but Cook came in with a tray. Behind him in the doorway stood Martin’s housekeeper, Veece, and Trent, who ran errands and did odd jobs. All three servants were wide-eyed with concern. Pretty little red-haired Veece twisted her apron in her hands. Gangly young Trent shifted from one foot to the other.

I gestured to them with an extra long hand. “If you won’t think of yourself, think of these people. What happens to them if you lose Two Rivers Crossing?”

I thought he wasn’t going to answer. Then he sighed. “I will divide my fortune among them. They can buy homes of their own.”

Veece’s voice trembled. “Sir, this is our home, here, with you.”

“We’ll find the reeds,” Trent said. “We’ll search every inch of the forest.”

Martin shook his head. “Even if you find them, it’s too late for me to retrain them. And I have no desire for music anymore.” He closed his eyes. “If you would please leave me alone.”

I formed a few more hands, took the tray from Cook, and motioned for the servants to leave. “But I’m not leaving until you eat something. I’ll sit right here under your nose. I’ll stretch out hundreds of arms and legs to annoy you. My eyes will be in your face.” I formed a section of myself into a ledge and set the tray on it. The silver tray held a blue bowl full of soup, a blue goblet filled with wine, and a blue plate piled with fresh bread. The aroma made my mouth water. I took the silver spoon and forced it into Martin’s unresisting hand. “You think you’re the only one with problems? I have no king! Kree left without so much as a warning.”

Martin opened his eyes. “He left the play?”

“Without so much as a farewell. You know, of course, that Veece has agreed to play Sorena, and she’s doing a splendid job. With that red hair of hers, she’s perfect. But all is useless without someone to play William.”

“Are you asking me? Parvan, I don’t think—”

“No, no. You would do fine, but this is not the time to ask such a favor.” I sent one eyeball to glare at him and another to indicate the soup. He reluctantly took a spoonful.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Humor me. I’m desperate. I made a bet with Ivor.”

A little more life came to his face. “Made a bet with Ivor? What are you talking about?”

I explained the wager. “If I win, I get Lake Field. If I fail—and I won’t—he wins Fair Meadows.”

“But Ivor could choose anyone. Anything.”

“He has agreed to play fair. It is a true test of my dramatic skill.”

Martin took a small piece of bread. “Parvan, your dramatic skill got you stuck here in the first place.”

“Can I help it if my people are narrow-minded? Can I help it if some of them have no artistic souls?”

“And are easily offended.”

“It was their own fault,” I said. “Everyone over-reacted. My play was a work of art. So what if it poked a little fun at the ruling class? Exposing corruption is the duty of the artist! To exile me here for what was clearly a parody was the height of folly.”

“They left you here to learn humility,” Martin said.

“They left me here because they were jealous of my talent. Eat your soup.”

He took a bite of bread and ate a few spoonfuls of soup. He drank some of the wine. “Will you leave me alone now?”

“For today. I’ll be back. I’ll want a full report from Cook about your appetite, so you might as well get used to eating again.”

He took another weary look out the window. “Parvan, you don’t understand.”

“I understand that we have been through this before. I understand that you must wallow a few days, punishing yourself for who knows what, before you decide to live again.” There was a spark in his dark eyes now as he turned to me. “I also understand that you are being selfish and lazy and irresponsible to let this happen. Pull yourself together and find your reeds! If you lose Two Rivers Crossing, and I lose Fair Meadows, then where in the world are we going to live?”

I thought I’d made him angry enough to snap out of his mood, but at the mention of the reeds, he sank back in his chair.

“Even if we find them, there’s no way to have them ready for the festival.”

I was afraid this was true, but for Martin’s sake I had to remain positive. “We’ll think of something. We have to find them first. I am really more concerned about your health.”

He put his hands over his eyes. “I just can’t think of anything right now. It’s all so hopeless. Just leave me alone. Please.”

“All right,” I said, “but I will be back tomorrow.”

I rolled out into the hallway where the servants waited in an anxious clump. They thanked me for coming.

“I should have come sooner,” I said. “Make sure he eats.” I formed several fingers to point at Trent and Veece. “And you two find those reeds! I’ll send Tiblock and his cousins to help you.”

I rolled back to Fair Meadows. Too bad about the missing reeds. Surely they couldn’t have gone far. Martin always took things hard, but I was certain I could get him back on his feet. I was not so certain I could trust Ivor, however, I had to have a king. I had to win the festival. Maybe, just maybe, this would be the year my people would relent, and I could finally go home.

 


 

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