Chapter 10 – The General’s Son
“Words have meaning and names have power.”
“Dione Eferhild.” A shaky voice cut through my thoughts.
I looked up at the person who spoke with surprise. Oddly enough, I didn’t recognize him. Despite being well built, the boy’s face was sickly white, like all the color had seeped into his vibrant surroundings. He tugged the collar of his shirt, a thick sheen of perspiration dotting his forehead.
“Who are you?” I asked.
He opened his mouth to speak, but a wave of nausea seemed to overcome him. He steadied himself by leaning against the wall, his chest rising up and down erratically.
“Are you okay?” I asked with concern.
I cocked my head, observing him. “That’s hard to believe.”
The boy yanked his collar so hard that the button popped out. I blinked in surprise when it landed in my drink and slowly sank to the bottom of my glass of water.
I looked up at his horrified expression and erupted in laughter. “Your collar wasn’t even that tight,” I wheezed.
He flushed. “I don’t like parties. It’s suffocating… there’s so many people in one space and I feel like I can’t breathe.”
I felt sympathetic as I outstretched my hand. He was clearly distraught, but I hadn’t been very nice by laughing at him. “Would you like to dance with me?”
He fidgeted with unease. His gray eyes darted around nervously, like he was acutely aware that someone was watching him. He wasn’t used to the attention around us. He didn’t seem to enjoy it either. “I don’t know how to.”
I raised an eyebrow, sticking my hand further out. “I can lead you.”
If his pride was offended by my boldness, he didn’t show it. The boy stared at my hand before hesitantly taking it. “I’m going to regret this,” he grumbled.
I pulled him onto the dance floor.
I had always liked dancing. I loved spinning round and round in circles and seeing the twinkling lights around me turn into shooting stars. I loved laughing out of breath and feeling the gazes on me. I loved the music that twined my limbs and guided my movements like a lullaby.
But while dancing was second nature to me, the boy’s movements were stiff and clumsy. I ended up spending more energy remedying his every error than enjoying myself. He visibly relaxed as I enumerated the dance steps but his hand was still slick and clammy on my skin. His other arm wrapped around my waist awkwardly, as if I was made of something he didn’t dare to break, much less touch.
“So, were you forced by your mother to talk to me?” I asked. Perhaps the boy was a son of a rich merchant, as they tended to try their luck more than blue-blooded nobles. Father said they were greedy people and didn’t like associating with them, but I had yet to truly know one myself.
The boy didn’t even try to deny it, seeming to find relief in confessing the truth. “You’re highly sought after, you know.”
I grimaced when he stepped on my toes again. He apologized, a wave of red rising up his neck. It was true that I was the only duke’s daughter without a fiance. But even though my father had said that I could choose anyone among the nobility, I only talked and danced with boys to be polite.
“Dione!” For what seemed like the hundredth time, someone called out my name. Although the music had not yet ended, we separated.
This time, an older woman rushed towards me. She was also dressed modestly, perhaps even more than me. Devoid of any jewelry, her attire consisted of a pastel blue dress without excessive frills and tulles. Her shoes were flat and equally plain. But if anything, her nondescript attire brought out her natural features.
“Lady Lynnette,” I greeted General Andreas’s wife with a smile. Her husband led the Paladin Knights, which were responsible for defending our territory and overseeing internal conflict. Conversely, the Imperial Knights were responsible for conquering territory and overseeing vassal kingdoms.
Lady Lynnette yanked a boy towards me. He had been standing behind his mother’s petite frame.
“This is my son,” she introduced unnecessarily.
“Lady Dione,” the boy greeted me disinterestedly. We had met before under similar circumstances.
“Nolan Chevaliar,” I replied. We shared a look of amusement. Lady Lynnette had many sons, but I easily recognized his relaxed yet sharp gaze. Nolan was good at sword fighting, but he was better known for his archery skills, which I had never excelled at. Something about it did not provide the same level of satisfaction as close combat did.
“I’m disappointed that you haven’t answered our engagement proposal,” Lady Lynnette huffed with good nature.
“I haven’t responded to anyone else either,” I assured her with a grin.
She chuckled. “While I’m relieved to hear that, I wish you could get to know my son.” She jabbed her elbow into Nolan, who groaned conspicuously. “He’s a nice boy once you get to know him.”
“I’m sure.” I linked arms with her. “But I must say, I’m more interested in what you’ve been up to recently. How’s feisty Pele doing? Still causing trouble?”
“Oh, I do have much to tell you, Dione.” She wagged her finger, her eyes brightening up at the mention of her prized stallion. “But not today, my dear. I promised myself to let you and Nolan talk. If you could be my daughter-in-law, that would be a blessing!”
I laughed. I liked Lady Lynnette because she made me feel like I was more than a pawn used in marriage for some advantage. Not only did she always look at me warmly, but we also had common interests and truly enjoyed each other’s company.
“I doubt she would want to settle with someone of a lesser status,” Nolan grumbled underneath his breath. His father might have been a General, but he was from a less prestigious house.
His mother jabbed him in the gut again. He hunched over, slowly turning red. I didn’t doubt it hurt; One of the reasons why Lady Lynnette and I got along so well was because she came from a family of knights. But while sword fighting was like a hobby to her, it meant so much more to me.
The nameless boy, who had been silently observing our interactions, snickered. Upon noticing him, Nolan straightened himself with a hostile scowl. “Do you have a problem?” He had a rough way of speaking, as if he wasn’t facing a stranger but an enemy.
I blinked in surprise. “Do you two know each other?”
Nolan nodded, unable to keep the disdain from his voice. “Yeah, he’s the only son of General Laurent, Everett Barsotti.”