Discovery

The evening of the ball, the Shipwreck Villagers gathered on the galleon for a party of their own.

Grigor suggested Leila bring her loom.

She frowned in confusion. “Why?”

He looked a little sheepish and said. “You sing when you’re working. If you bring your work, and sit so people aren’t fixing their attention on you, maybe you could treat us to a song or two.”

Marya bounced with excitement, then turned pleading eyes on Leila. “Could you try? It might work and it would be so nice to hear you sing under the stars.”

So Leila brought her loom, and as the evening wound down and people gathered in small groups to murmur and rest, she tucked herself into a comfortable corner with a convenient lantern and began to weave.

Before she knew it, her song soared free and the hum of conversation around her quieted. She only sang for a short time, the lantern was near the end of its oil and it was getting late for people who needed to be up with the larks for work the next day.

She wound up her weaving, and let her song drift away. With a soft sigh, the murmuring returned and the Shipwreck Villagers headed to bed.

~~

Three days later, Andreas left the house, his shoulders easing the minute his foot crossed the threshold. The gardens lay beyond the courtyard and he crossed it slowly, gravel crunching under each step, the flow and splash of the fountain cooling the air and softly stroking his skin with mist as he passed it.

Through the sentinel wall, pillars on each side of the archway standing to attention, and down the lavender-lined paths, busy with bees running their final errands for the day. The olive trees waved their silvery leaves as he passed, the rustle as soothing as the touch of the water earlier.

Down the stone-flagged stairs and into the welcoming disarray of the old orange grove. The leaves here didn’t move as much, more dignified in their deep, shining green. The promise of a good harvest was already starting to weigh the branches, and scent the air with fresh hints of citrus. The light beneath the trees was dimming, echoing shades of the lavender further back and he quickened his steps, just a little.

At the end of the grove was an old stone wall, just high enough to prop a hip on, and strong enough to prevent a tumble down the steep, rocky slope beyond. He was just in time. In front of him, the sun began to sink into the sighing sea, painting it and the sky beyond in colours artists dreamed of, and despaired of recreating.

He leaned on that wall, watching, as the sun disappeared and the sky’s mantle darkened to the deepest of blues, stars peeping out of the depths. He was about to turn, to go back to the light and crowded loudness of the house when he heard it; faint wisps on the wind, strengthening as the world darkened, the sweetest, purest voice in the world, and it seemed to be singing for him alone.

~~

There was something about the air that evening. Even though it was too dark for weaving, Leila couldn’t bring herself to go inside. Not yet. Maybe the sun needed extra soothing to rest peacefully. All she knew was that the night was lovely and she wanted to sing, so she did.

She sang the songs to soothe the Night Goddess’s hounds. Their gentle lilts and softly flowing melodies were perfect for this quiet moment.

As full night drew her star-strewn cloak over the sky, Leila let her song fade, gathered her things, and went inside.

On the clifftop above, Andreas drew what felt like his first full breath in weeks. He turned, finding Xavier under the trees behind him. “I need you to find out where that came from.”

Xavier jerked a nod and fell into step at Andreas’s shoulder as they returned to the house.

The next morning, Andreas woke, and frowned. It was light, there was birdsong. He looked at his valet.

“Did I sleep through?”

Jorge nodded. “Peaceful as you please. I checked you a couple of times, to be sure you were still breathing.”

That drew a guilty half-laugh, Andreas scrubbed at his hair. “I’ve not slept a full night since we got here.”

His valet grimly agreed. “They were rare enough even back in the capital.”

Sliding out of bed and stretching, he said. “It was the music. If it was of this world, I have to find it.”

Jorge ushered him towards the bathing room. “Xavier is aware and, I believe, already investigating.”

~~

The shop continued to hum with customers and news. Speculation over who had caught someone’s eye, and whether it could be held.

There was to be another gathering at the Governor’s House, and new outfits were needed. It was a visit from some old friend of the prince, touring the islands with his new bride. Some foreign dignitary or ambassador, no doubt, on their way to be presented at the Court-of-All-Nations.

For all the activity up on the Hill, preparing for the event and entertaining these mysterious guests, Xavier was constantly to be found in or near the Shipwreck Village.

Marya scowled as she and Leila walked home on the afternoon of the party. “He’s probably offended the Prince and has been banished until he learns some manners. It’s a pity the Prince didn’t think about how it would inflict the horrible man on us.”

Leila considered this, then said. “He’s very polite to us these days. I was just that first time.”

That was greeted with a head toss. “I don’t like it. He’s up to something.”

Leila smiled as they slipped through the gate under Master Kebur’s watchful gaze. “Whatever it is, it’s nothing to do with us, so leave him to it. He’ll be back up the Hill soon enough.”

Marya subsided and moved to other topics, asking after Rosarina and chuckling over her ascension as one of the island’s reigning belles.

They met Xavier at the base of the galleon’s gang plank. He stepped back, waving them ahead.

Leila granted him a smile. “I’m not coming aboard, there’s a project at home calling my name.”

She hugged Marya and left, leaving the pair of them to argue over who would board the ship ahead of the other.

Marya wasn’t holding back. “I don’t trust you and I don’t want you at my back, so you stomp your bad mood on up there and go lurk somewhere I can’t see your scowls.”

She moved out of earshot before she could catch Xavier’s reply and dismissed the pair of them with a chuckle.

She’d finished the first strip of her planned blanket three nights before and now had it bound off, free of the loom and folded away until the time came to put all the pieces together.

The previous evening, she’d planned the next pattern and threaded the loom. A few little adjustments and she was ready to get back to her sunny evening spot in the front garden.

She gathered her loom and yarns, settled onto the sun-warmed stone, and began to weave.

She was jolted back into the world beyond her work by Xavier thundering through her front gate.

He stared at her. “It’s you.”

She shrank away. “I…”

He lunged forward and grabbed her arm. “You have to come with me.”

She pulled back, whimpering. What had she done? Why was he dragging her out of her home? What was happening? What was he going to do to her?

Marya flew through the gate, grabbing Xavier by the ear and hauling his head down. “Let her go you oversized bully.”

He kept hold of Leila even as he wrapped his other hand around Marya’s wrist and pulled himself free. “She has to come to the Prince. She has to sing for him.”

Marya snapped. “As if she’s in any fit state to be going anywhere or doing anything with you brutalising her.”

Xavier scoffed, then paused, taking in Leila’s cringing, shaking form. He swallowed, and let go of her arm. She collapsed.

Marya shoved past him before he could take hold of her again. “Just leave.”

She crouched next to Leila, putting a careful arm around her shoulders and coaxing her to stand.

Xavier hung is head. “I can’t. She has to come to the Prince, she has to sing for him.”

Leila shook her head, each breath a sob as air fought to get past the choking lump in her throat.

Marya glared. “Are you deaf, stupid or just plain horrible? You’ve attacked her, terrified her and now want to drag her into the middle of some fancy party? Go. Away.”

Xavier looked agonised. “You don’t understand. He needs her. He needs the song. The night her heard her singing in the garden, it’s the first time he’s slept properly since he got here.”

He stopped with a wince. “Forget I said any of that.”

Marya eased Leila onto her stone seat and stepped in front of her, crossing her arms. “What do you mean?”

The guard captain shoved a hand through his hair, then looked away. “It’s not something I can talk about. Just, please, come to the Prince.”

Marya shook her head. “Oh no. You don’t get to explain away terrorising my best friend with nothing more than a please.”

He looked around. “Can we go inside at least?”

Marya looked at Leila. “What do you want? I can haul him back to the galleon and get his story out of him there if you don’t want him in your home.”

Xavier looked stricken. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare anyone, it’s just that this is important.”

Marya’s chin went up. “Nothing’s so important that you attack defenceless people you’re supposed to be protecting.”

A figure appeared around the corner of the hill, Marya looked over, then back to Leila. “Speaking of protectors, here’s one that actually does his job. How about we have Master Kebur join us?”

Leila nodded, and Marya waved at the approaching man, ignoring Xavier’s garbled protest.

Master Kebur frowned at the group in front of him as he neared. “What’s happened?”

Marya shot Xavier a glare and replied. “He heard Leila singing and decided to attack her in her own front garden. He was dragging her down the path when I arrived, insisting she had to be taken to the Prince.”

Xavier opened his mouth, then shut it again and stared at the ground.

Master Kebur looked at him, looked at Marya, then looked at Leila, still pale and shaken, with tear-steaked cheeks.

He took a deep breath, then grabbed Xavier by the collar and dragged him along the pathway away from the village.

Once he was clear of Leila’s home, he stopped and blasted the younger man with a dressing-down for the ages. Leila found her heart calming, and even discovered a smile at Marya’s murmured repetition of some of Master Kebur’s choicer phrases. She was clearly committing them to memory.

Eventually, he returned, a stone-face Xavier in tow.

Xavier bowed to Leila. “I apologise for my disgraceful behaviour, Mistress. I beg your forgiveness and your indulgence in accompanying me in a visit to the Prince.”

Marya growled at him, and helped Leila up, ushering her inside.

Master Kebur spoke. “Leila, I believe Xavier is prepared to explain himself. It’s up to you whether you want to hear it, and whether you want to let him into your home, or have him tell his story somewhere else.”

Leila looked back at the pair of them. Xavier looked miserable, chastened, yes, but there was more. She replied. “He can come in, but I’d like both you and Marya with me, and I’d prefer if he remained on the other side of the room.”

Xavier winced and all but tip-toed into the cottage, positioning himself against one of the side walls.

Marya fussed Leila into a seat, then went to make tea, continuing to glare at Xavier as she did so.

This is super messy, will need a serious chop and tidy in edits.

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