That evening at dinner, Leander slipped past Rojah on his way to the buffet to pour another glass of wine.
“Thank you for not betraying me — about what happened the other day, old man,” Leander confided while offering a disarming grin.
Rojah smiled, nodded to one of Lady Margret’s dinner guests. “I leave that to you, old man,” he replied, leaving Fleming wondering at the exact meaning of his words.
“You El Nath chaps excel at concealing your emotions.” Leander selected a decanter, yanked out the crystal stopper, and refilled his wineglass. “Are you interested in the beautiful Jonquil Deering for yourself?”
“I do not like to see a lady’s honor compromised or taken advantage of,” Rojah replied, continuing to flash a dimpled smile to the dinner guests. He glanced toward the two other men standing beside the buffet. They appeared involved in an amiable conversation concerning trade and the financial markets.
“I hear that you are a frequent guest of Adria Gittel,” Leander said.
Rojah nodded, the dining room was beginning to fill with the invited guests as they each found their assigned seats at the dining table.
“Are you aware of the situation between Lady Margret and Adria Gittel?” Leander continued, nodding and smiling at the guests who glanced toward them. He winked at a lady twittering behind her jade fan painted with gold floral motifs.
Rojah nodded, said, “I have been advised. Good evening, Madame Sterling, you are exceptionally lovely tonight.”
The San Bargellian grand matron beamed. “Master Fayerfield, you have an exceptionally flattering manner.” Madame Sterling laughed in her deep, loud voice. “You young men must be the two most handsome gentlemen in San Bargel. You must come to tea next week, Rojah, and you, Leander. Please bring your dear, sweet wife.” The grand matron swept along to her seat.
“Tea with Madame Sterling is a lesson in torturous boredom,” Leander muttered. “The lady is about as lovely as a stuffed sea otter — unlike Adria Gittel. You do not see either Adria or her daughter here tonight, do you, Fayerfield? I would be careful to whom you mention either of those two ladies, especially in this house.”
“If I visit Lady Gittel that is my personal business, Fleming, and no one else’s concern.”
“Lady?” Leander scoffed. “Adria Gittel is no lady. Be careful, old man. The crux of the matter is not to become caught between mother and daughter. Other men have done so and lived to regret it.”
Piqued by Leander’s remark, Rojah asked, “Other men? Was one of those men named Flaric Deering?”
Leander choked on the wine he sipped. Purple stains splattered his white shirt front. “Now, look what you have gone and made me do,” Leander grumbled. “My shirt is ruined thanks to your incessant curiosity. Heed my warning, old man. Be careful to whom you mention Flaric Deering’s name.”
Rojah caught Leander’s arm before Fleming could walk away. “Who is he?”
“Was — who was he. I suggest you go to 2205 Seacoast Drive. You will be able to satisfy your curiosity. Now, if you will excuse me? I must change my shirt.”
Leander strode away indignant over the wine that stained his shirt. He was almost offended, Rojah thought. It was the first true reaction Rojah had managed to evoke.
“2205 Seacoast Drive,” Rojah said, committing the address to memory.
“Oh, Rojah, here you are!” Margret laughed as she took his arm. “Master Pascale has arrived. I have seated you next to him during dinner.”
“Captain Girard! I am delighted you accepted my dinner invitation.”
The uniformed officer bowed gallantly over Lady Perrywhite’s elegant hand glittering with diamonds. “The honor is mine, as a representative of King Edrick.”
“Captain Girard, have you met Rojah Fayerfield?”
The King’s officer extended his gloved hand to the younger man. Rojah immediately disliked the glint in the man’s jet eyes.
“No, I have not. Fayerfield is it? You have recently come from Fayerton, I believe. May I inquire as to what business brings you to San Bargel?”
“Officially or unofficially?” Rojah replied, smiling.
Captain Girard offered a tight lipped smile. “Unofficially, of course.”
Lady Perrywhite laughed. “Not tonight, gentlemen. Tonight my guests must enjoy the evening and nothing more. Please, no business or political conversations. Master Pascale, have you met Captain Girard?”
Rojah saw the same dislike flare in Pascale’s dark eyes before it was carefully shuttered.
“Yes, we have met,” Pascale said, and rather stiffly Rojah thought.
“I was a dinner guest at Master Pascale’s the other night,” Captain Girard replied.
“Indeed?” Lady Perrywhite said.
“As King Edrick’s representative I am often invited to many of San Bargel’s finest houses,” Captain Girard said.
“You must find endless dinner parties a boring duty, Captain Girard.” Golden said as she joined her mother, Rojah, and the two other men who had deserted the buffet and their conversation for Lady Perrywhite’s attention.
“Boring? Quite the contrary, Miss Perrywhite,” the King’s officer said. “Compared to my usual duties, I find the evenings spent dining with King Edrick’s loyal supporters among my more pleasant duties.”
Golden laughed and, taking the Captain’s arm, she led him to his seat at the table.
“This shall be one formal dinner I enjoy, Captain Girard. You must tell me about King Edrick’s court,” Golden said.
Golden Perrywhite’s vivacious charm seemed to enthrall the distinguished officer of the King’s Guard. Lady Perrywhite smiled, as if she had political ambitions of her own and that satisfaction gleamed in the depths of her brown eyes.
“Your daughter and the Captain are well suited to each other, Lady Perrywhite,” Pascale muttered.
“Why, Denarri, from the tone of your voice, you have some personal reservations toward the man,” Lady Perrywhite cooed.
“I dislike the arrogant officer. That is true. You should be on your guard with the man, Lady Perrywhite. The King’s representative is a well paid spy with political aspirations of his own.”
“So you would regard anyone who is a possible threat to your business interests, Denarri,” Lady Perrywhite said.
“And, to your interests as well, Lady Perrywhite. You will hear about it in the next few days, so I see no harm in telling you. Captain Girard recently informed me that King Edrick has ordered a complete audit of my entire financial establishment.”
Listening intently to the conversation, Rojah asked, “You, Master Pascale?”
Pascale blinked, as if by speaking Rojah reminded him of his presence. “Yes, along with several other financial institutions. In fact, any business having connections with foreigners is at risk. I say it is only a matter of time before Edrick helps himself to the Perrywhite fortunes to finance his eastern campaigns. You will be wise to consider sending your investments out of Cardolan and San Bargel and to a safer country beyond the reach of Edrick’s control, Lady Perrywhite. Your brother Mead in Fayerton would be a safe choice,” Pascale said, his voice low, confidential. “Do not ask me anymore about this matter. Saying as much as I have subjects me to an accusation of treason.”
“Yes, but only due to your choice of associations, Denarri. I speak, of course, of your longtime alliance and partnership.”
Pascale stiffened. “If you speak of Lady Gittel, I beg to differ on that opinion, Lady Perrywhite.”
Lady Perrywhite laughed and took Pascale’s arm much to Rojah’s astonishment after their disagreement. He understood the grand charade Lady Perrywhite played with her life and the lives of others — and the lure of power.
“An opinion over which we have always agreed to disagree without taking offense, Master Pascale,” Lady Perrywhite replied.
Intrigue. That was how the evening went, full of intrigue and innuendo. Perhaps it was due to the presence of the King’s representative, Rojah thought. He glanced down the long dining table to where Golden sat beside Captain Girard. Well mannered, gracious, the King’s officer lavished his complete attention upon Golden and several other ladies seated around him, including the overstuffed sea otter, Madame Sterling.
Rojah smiled and dipped his spoon into his curry soup that tasted of coconut and chicken. Beside him, Pascale laid aside his napkin and engaged him in conversation. “Adria tells me you are a frequent visitor, Rojah.”
Rojah glanced halfway down the table at Leander who was refilling his wineglass. No one enjoyed themselves more that evening than Leander. Hesper looked uncommonly pale and was quieter than her usual cheerful self.
“Yes,” Rojah answered. He gazed directly into Pascale’s black eyes. “Will you warn me about the harm I may be causing, sir?”
Pascale blinked. “Harm? I have seen far more good from your visits than harm, young man. These days Adria leads a reclusive life — for many reasons.” The dark gleam of Pascale’s eyes flickered toward their hostess reigning at the far end of the table. “For which I am grateful. You are aware of the lady’s fragile heart condition, Rojah?”
“Yes, sir,” Rojah replied, remembering an indignant face and raging sea green eyes.
“I find the lady fascinating as well as oddly familiar. Did you know she was born in El Nath, Master Pascale?” Rojah asked.
Pascale nodded and lifted his glass of wine to his lips. “Few are privileged with that knowledge, Rojah. I trust you are discreet. Adria guards her privacy and her past with fierce determination.”
“But she has spoken to you about her connection to El Nath.”
“No, she never has,” Pascale said. “Not even Jonquil knows as much as you do about the lady’s past, Rojah. Consider it an honor Lady Gittel trusts you enough to place her confidence in you.”
Rojah wanted to ask the San Bargellian financier more questions, but the lady to his left distracted him, engaging him in a trivial discussion of Sir Galan’s latest theatrical success of the star crossed lovers performed on a San Bargellian stage.
Denarri Pascale excused himself and left the dinner party soon afterward. The evening continued without his presence. Rojah was not as fortunate. Drawn from group to group among the lingering guests, it was almost midnight before he managed to slip away.
He had an early appointment the next morning at 2205 Seacoast Drive.
Excerpt from Under a Pale Moon, Book 5 in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series. Copyright 2019. Available on Amazon.com, September 2019!