Magdala r’Ulteer listened inattentively as the prince dissected her news with his counsellors, her gossip and rumour from the marches. She was tired, and interested only to know when she would be on the road again. Her prince knew how quickly she could turn her affairs around, and would not scruple to ask it of her for urgent business. And in such days of strain, what business is not urgent?
She had more respite that she had hoped – five days until she was to join the mule-train for the south, taking her news and a pack-load of spices, to make a start on the work and await what other assistance could be sent after. Leaving, an usher handed her a fragment of blue parchment and brought back her flashing smile for a moment. Her prince saw it with relief, not liking to see his best people so worn down. An invitation on blue parchment, an invitation to the announcement of a marriage – an old tradition that forewarned the guests without pre-empting the announcement. Her face fell, and he asked the day gently
“M’lord, six days hence.”
“Then ride post on the seventh day, catch the train before it crosses the Shap. One must make every allowance, always, for an invitation on blue parchment.”
So Magdala had a holiday in Khyre. Time to meet old friends, to make obeisance at the temple, and to force her younger brother to entertain her for an evening, though she found him oddly evasive. Time to puzzle over her invitation. Each partner invites the other’s friends, but it surprised her not to know the girl at all. A r’Assani, and r’Assani tend to stick to their own, and she knew only one . . .
That was a thought to avoid, though that one well known r’Assani was absent from Khyre. He was expected – soon enough to be making his announcement alongside the girl? Perhaps, and she could not claim to know him well enough to judge the likelihood. They had been close enough once, but they had accepted assignments, light-heartedly, in those distant days of peace, that would separate them for a month or so, thinking it nothing.
As perhaps, for him, it had been. She had seen him five times in three years, the last time for ten crowded minutes as he changed horses, the others little better. And he was r’Assani, and r’Assani stick to their own.
At the inn she was directed to a tiny parlour, and found only two there before her, the happy couple, she assumed. To her shock one was her brother, but she could say nothing. There is no second guessing an announcement – not even when you have seen the boy, not three nights since, with his arm around another girl. They talked awkwardly, pleased to be interrupted by a disturbance, shocked to find the prince in the street below. He had caused a fine fluster, and completely covered the arrival of Barra r’Assan.
Barra r’Assan with blue parchment in his hand, and the dust of the roads on his boots. Barra r’Assan with eyes only for Magdala, and no attention to spare even for his sister.
They were enfolded in one another when the prince arrived, having finally shed the innkeeper. He stood in the doorway with a gleaming grin.
“As I thought, when these two are invited to an announcement that neither knows of, it is no ordinary announcement.”
There was urgent whispering from the conspirators, and, timorously
“If you please, m’lord, blue parchment may be used for any invitation.”
For answer they got only a gale of laughter, the departure of their prince, and word to wait.
The usher who arrived at last found them more decorously arranged, though Magdala and Barra shared a settle with the air of a couple who would not again be separated by so much as a room’s width. He had some difficulty in getting them to grasp the new arrangements.
“And this is changed on our account?”
“I was told I might need to remind you. One must make every allowance, always, for an invitation on blue parchment – of which I have some spare, if you need it?”
Written for the Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower, now available as a free ebook from Smashwords