The Court at Leaf

They returned to the inn together, after Sophia had taken Joy clothes shopping.

The next morning, Sophia and Connor presented themselves at the palace. The nobles here weren’t quite as overtly curious as those in Weriban, but Sophia did find her appointment chart filling up quite quickly, and had to make sure she had some control over the order.

They found time to deliver Joy, and her new bundle of clothes, to Magister Roxmaine before returning to start on the work that brought them to Leaf.

She was able to score something of a coup in convincing the King’s widowed sister to be measured for a dress before any of the others.

“After all Your Highness, you are single and I’m sure you’ll find many people at the Overcourt who far prefer a sharp mind and quick wit to vacuous beauty.”

Princess Ginevra, a statuesque woman of around sixty years with iron grey hair and a strong sense of the ridiculous, laughed at the seamstress’s flattery but gave in to the temptation of a new dress.

“You won’t have me done up as a little pink lamb though.”

“Heavens no, and I think I’ll find the rest of the dressmakers in the Overcourt will love the chance to design something a little different for a mature woman who will lead fashion rather than follow it.”

That comment earned her a sharp look, then a second. The Princess looked thoughtful.

“You said your name was Sophie I believe.”

“That’s correct Your Highness.”

“Miss Sophie, could you possibly shed any light on why you have just put me very sharply in mind of the Lady Sophia of Lillia.”

Sophia, who’d been measuring skirt lengths, sat back on her heels and considered her answer. She smiled.

“I think that may be because I am Lady Sophia and you are extraordinarily acute. I’m wearing a charm that’s supposed to make me quite unnoticeable, so for someone to notice who I truly am is quite an achievement.”

“You don’t seem very concerned at being found out.”

“By you, Your Highness, I’m not. I’ve known for many years that you’re both highly observant and exceptionally good at keeping your own council. In fact, having you recognise me is a great stroke of good luck. I can ask your advice without having to tiptoe around.”

“Oh, lovely! If you’re nearly finished with my measurements, do call for tea and we can chat comfortably. How long do you have before your next client?”

Sophia gave an impish grin, “Tomorrow. I wanted to make sure I had as much time as possible to speak with you.”

Princess Ginevra laughed and submitted to final measurements before making herself comfortable in one of the room’s armchairs while Sophia cajoled tea for Her Highness out of a passing maid.

They made small talk, bringing each other up to date on the gossip and small happenings of their two kingdoms and what news Sophia could bring from Weriban.

Once the tea was served and the helpful maid dispatched with thanks, Ginevra settled in to business.

“Well I now know why young Connor is seeing fit to be hustled about the place by the Overcourt. I’ve always thought it a pity it wasn’t him you were to marry, you’re far better suited.”

Sophia went scarlet.

The older woman chuckled, “Merely an observation, now do tell me what’s going on. I’m simply beside myself with curiosity.”

That made Sophia laugh and she once again launched into the edited version of her adventures to date.

At the end, Ginevra blew out a breath that was almost a whistle, although of course that was something a princess would never do.

“Tis a large task my dear, although I think the Overlord chose well in asking you to undertake it. I suppose you need me to fill you in on the ladies here and their various attributes and preferences?”

“Yes please.”

“Just one question before you can start making notes. Were you tempted to put that charm on to test your parents?”

Sophia flushed again and dropped her eyes.

“I did.”

“What?”

“I put it on the second morning we were at home and not a single person noticed the difference. I was Sophia, not only to my parents but also to every single member of staff I encountered that day. It’s one of the dearest secret gifts I’ve ever been given.”

“Well I’d hope they would, but it must have been a relief to say the least.”

Sophia gave a slightly watery chuckle, “Everyone was worried because I spent the whole morning trying not to burst into tears. I had to change after lunch just to spare them the concern.”

“Change?”

“It’s my dress. The charm is woven into it.”

“How ingenious. Thank you for satisfying my curiosity and now I must uphold my end of the bargain.”

She took a sip of tea and continued, “Now you’re in luck as I’ve been paying attention. My nephew is at the age where he really should start looking around, and he has asked me to make my own observations of the girls here and let him know my thoughts.”

“Of course this is where I may find a clash of interests, as any girl who would make a good Overlady would likely also make a good Queen of Leaf. But since I think my nephew would be better served in marrying someone from outside the kingdom, I’m going to be as honest with you as I am with him.”

“I do hope he’s intending to be at the Overcourt’s Midsummer Ball, the eligible ladies from all the Allied Kingdoms, and I hope Rimeth as well, will be there.”

“I’ll inform him of his attendance this evening.”

Sophia laughed, “Now with your nephew’s future in hand, what do I need to know about the unmarried ladies of Leaf?”

Princess Ginevra proved a gold mine of useful information and, from what Sophia could tell, a good judge of character. After an hour of discussion and occasionally salacious gossip, Sophia felt much more confident in her upcoming appointments.

The princess stood, shaking out her skirts, “Now this has been fun and if you’ll indulge me, I may drop in on a few of your measuring sessions.”

Sophia also stood, “I’d be delighted to have you here, would you like a copy of my appointment diary? It would make it easier for you to ‘just happen by’ at the right time.”

“I would love a copy. Send it to my apartments tomorrow morning. And see if you can cajole Connor into delivering it. I’m hoping my nephew will join me and I would like those two to spend more time together.”

“Connor does end up at a bit of a loose end when I’m doing the measuring, so any activities His Highness might suggest are sure to be welcome.”

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