Now that she was an official ambassador of Naraloth, albeit only temporarily, she was encouraged to roam the palace and socialize with the local nobility. It certainly wasn’t her first choice of activity, but she supposed it was expected of her now as an ambassador, and anyway it kept her mind off of her failure to convince the Bolladian Court to help her. She wrote a long letter to Princess Rinnah, gave instructions for it to be delivered post-haste, and had a servant lead her to the large sitting room and adjoining library where the nobles had congregated.
Most of the noble men wore loose-fitting, highly adorned robes like that of the servant’s that Ayalah had mistaken for a dress, though the robes were in such immaculate condition that Ayalah suspected they were worn only within the palace walls. The women wore their golden hair down their backs in fluffy curls, which Ayalah, with her straight hair, longed to touch. The ladies wore modest dresses covering much of their skin, made of primarily white fabric that looked to be of a similar airy variety to that worn in Olekoth. Even so, with all that fabric, Ayalah thought the dresses must be sweltering in the heat, especially once summer fully set in.
Greyson, it turned out, was quite the conversation topic. The nobles were abuzz with the news of Greyson’s disgraceful return, made all the more interesting by Ayalah’s arrival with him. They were too polite to inquire anything of her directly, so Ayalah was spared having to explain her relationship to him—which was a relief, as she wasn’t sure what she would say, anyway. Nonetheless, she was polite and genial, and though her smile felt fake and vacant to her, the lords and ladies seemed to believe the act.
She developed a few surface friendships, finding herself most often in the company of a Lady Parker, a bubbly young brunette, and a Lady Erikson, who turned out to be the sister-in-law of Erikson, the adventurer Ayalah and Greyson had become friends with in Olekoth. Lady Erikson’s husband was a member of the Bolladian Court, she explained, which meant he wasn’t around much when Court was in session. Lady Parker was newly married to a handsome gentleman who was nearly twice her age and who preferred the company of the other men to that of his wife. Thus, both ladies were happy to have a new friend to talk to, and they took to Ayalah immediately.
The ladies were curious about Naraloth at first—what was it like? what were the latest fashions? what did the princes look like?—but after the first couple of days spent satisfying their curiosity Ayalah sat quietly, listening to the two ladies share local gossip and speculate about the blossoming romances amongst the unmarried nobility.
“Well, what about Lord Mason?” Lady Erikson was saying.
Ayalah played with the hem of her vest and tried not to show her boredom.
“He’s far too old for her,” Lady Parker said. “More than twice her age!”
“Well,” Lady Erikson said with a shrug. “Nevertheless, he’s still quite good looking.”
“To you, perhaps. Speaking of old men, did you see the way Lord Karlson was acting around Lady Westerly at dinner last night?”
Lady Erikson scoffed. “Like he has a chance with her.”
Ayalah perked up at a name she thought she recognized. “Lady Westerly? Isn’t she one of the members of the Court?”
The ladies nodded in unison.
“She’s not married?”
“Why, no,” Lady Parker said. “How could she, when she’s never had the time?”
“I don’t understand,” Ayalah said. Lady Westerly had looked to be at least Ayalah’s age, if not a few years older.
“It takes years to become a member of the Court,” Lady Erikson explained. “Most of its members wait to marry until later in life.”
Lady Parker nodded importantly. “Much later than the rest of us. If they marry at all.”
Finally, a topic Ayalah was interested in. She jumped at the opportunity, not letting the ladies lapse back into their matchmaking. “How does one become a member of the Court?”
“Well, you have to pass a number of rigorous physical examinations and be of a certain social standing,” Lady Erikson said. “And then you must train to become a warrior of Bolladoth so that you have certain skills and knowledge the rest of us lack.”
“Then of course there’s the election,” Lady Parker said.
Lady Erikson nodded. “Of course, yes, but you see, Commander, this way it narrows down the pool of potential candidates for us to choose between.”
“Who does this choosing?” Ayalah asked.
“Oh, the whole city,” said Lady Parker.
“Not the whole city,” Lady Erikson said sharply. “Only the land owners.”
Ayalah thought for a moment, trying to figure out what was perplexing her. “But—but the Court was made up of Lords and Ladies.”
The ladies nodded.
“But that means—you allow both men and women to become warriors here?”
“Certainly. Anyone can become a warrior in Bolladoth. Though not many ladies choose to follow that path,” Lady Parker said.
“Exactly,” said Lady Erikson. “And that’s why Lady Westerly would have no interest in Lord Karlson. She could crush him with a flick of her wrist.”
“Come now, don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh?”
“Not a bit. Why would she settle for a scrawny thing like Lord Karlson when she could get a strong, virile younger man?
Lady Parker giggled. “Like who?”
“What about Lord Greyson?” Lady Erikson gave Ayalah a sidelong look Ayalah pretended not to notice.
“But he’s still on trial!”
Lady Erikson shrugged. “So? They have history.”
Lady Parker giggled again.
“History?” Ayalah asked. “Not that it’s any of my business,” she added when Lady Erikson gave her a pitying look.
“He didn’t tell you? They were engaged to be married.”
Engaged? Ayalah felt the blood drain from her face.
“We—we don’t know each other all that well,” Ayalah lied.
“Well, it was a long time ago,” Lady Erikson said in a placating tone that reminded Ayalah of a mother tending to a crying child. “Maybe he’s forgotten.”
“Do you think it’ll help or hurt his chances of having his honor restored?” Lady Parker asked.
“Oh, it definitely won’t help him,” Lady Erikson said. “She’d probably personally rip out his throat if she had the chance.”
Lady Parker shrugged. “He’d deserve it. Remember what happened to Lord Springer?”
Ayalah let go of the thread of conversation. First she’d discovered that Greyson was a skilled warrior, and then she’d learned he was a Lord. Now it seemed he had an ex-fiancé. What else could he still be hiding?