Chapter 74: The Solace of Friendship
Thankfully, Lily Palace’s head of staff had already arranged a transport carriage to move their belongings. Once the luggage had been loaded, Tiffany, Carina, and Ivy took the Crown Princess’s carriage back to Rose Palace. Both of the new court ladies were grateful not to have to share the ride back with Evelynn, who, along with Percy, was nowhere to be found when it came time to leave.
Carina dismissed them both from her mind as they arrived at Rose Palace. She paid one of the servants who accompanied their luggage to drop off a message at the Knight Compounds for Physician Samael to drop by. Something needed to be done about the instability of her injury. Carina couldn’t continue being carried from place to place for much longer.
‘Something like a brace that can be strapped around my shoe would be the most effective method.’
The head of staff at Rose Palace was Mrs. Poppy. A native of Ventrayna, who had accompanied the Crown Princess and Lady Hana to Lafeara.
“You may just call me Mrs., none of that Lady this or that,” Poppy informed them as she led Tiffany and Carina to their rooms. “In any case, I only take orders from her Highness, so don’t even try to boss me around. And I don’t care if you’re a duchess or a half-blood, if I tell you to do something, you can be sure the words came from the Crown Princess. If you need something done, ask one of the other servants. As far as the Royal Palace goes, I oversee all of her Highness’s meals and needs. Lady Hana will explain your responsibilities in full later.”
Poppy dropped Tiffany off at her room with a servant to help her unpack and then led Carina to the other end of the hall. “You’ll be across from Lady Hana. Her Highness’s room is just at the end of the hall. She requested that you have this room, so no matter what any of the other ladies say, this is your room—even if you are the youngest.” Poppy surveyed Carina critically, with noted attention to her limp. “I suppose you better get in and rest. Lunch will be brought up later, but you will be required to dine with her Highness at dinner.”
“Yes, Mrs. Poppy,” Carina replied obediently.
Poppy unhooked a key from the ring tied to her belt and passed it over to Carina. “This is yours, Lady Maura, don’t lose it. And if you don’t want the servants rifling through your things, keep the door locked. You are expected to maintain and clean the room yourself. Washing is done twice a week after prayer. A servant will collect whatever needs doing the day before, but otherwise should not enter your room without permission.” Poppy turned her gaze towards Ivy and narrowed her eyes. “Today is an exception since we’re busy, but from now on, you’ll need permission to receive guests at Rose Palace. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Mrs. Poppy.”
“Get settled in then. The servants will bring up the luggage once they’ve sorted it out.” Poppy nodded sharply and turned down the hall, her key of rings jingling as she strode towards the stairs.
The interior of Carina’s new room was more than double the size of her room in Turnbell manor. The structure and furniture were similar in position and location as the guest room in Lilly Palace, though the new room came with an added window balcony, and a much larger closet and vanity desk. The bed was also much larger in size with canopy draped curtains pulled back and tied to bedposts that almost touched the ceiling. Carina hopped towards the comfortable looking silk blankets as Ivy stood, mouth agape, gazing up at the artistically sculpted and painted ceiling.
“You’ll get a better view from here,” Carina muttered as she slumped back against the deep, soft pillows and rested her feet over the edge of the bed. She regretted lying down the moment her tired muscles relaxed. Like a dam one push away from breaking, all her exhaustion seemed to seep out, and her body went limp.
Ivy leaned over and brushed the ash-brown locks of Carina’s hair from her cheek. “This is the palace, my Lady,” she whispered. “It can not be as it was before.” She took the door room key from Carina’s hand and tucked it into the top drawer of the nightstand.
Carina grimaced and nodded. ‘Of course, I know that.’
“You should rest, I’ll see to the unpacking,” Ivy said as she reached down and unlaced Carina’s shoes.
“Wait,” Carina caught her wrist. “My chest of books—”
“I’ll make sure it arrives,” Ivy answered as she pulled off the first shoe, and then carefully attended to the other injured limb. “You locked it before we left, no one can open it without the key. Now stop worrying and rest.”
Carina sighed as Ivy wiggled the last shoe free from her wrapped ankle and placed both shoes on the floor at the foot of the bed. A knock on the door confirmed the luggage had arrived.
“I’ll wake you when it’s done,” Ivy murmured as she unwound the summer blue curtains surrounding the bed and draped her mistress in shadows.
Carina listened as the door opened, and Ivy’s soft but authoritative voice instructed the palace servants where everything was meant to go. The muffled tread of footsteps back and forth soon lulled Carina’s eyes closed. She curled against the pillows, inhaled the fresh fragrance of the recently washed sheets, then stiffened as her hand brushed against something beneath the pillow.
Her fingers wrapped around parchment, and she pulled out an envelope. The wax seal of three wolves circling and devouring each other stared back at her. Carina sat up as she quickly broke the seal and opened the letter.
A single piece of paper with a painted purple rose stared up at her, and beneath it, a single word had been elegantly inscribed. Congratulations.
‘The Dowager? When did she—’
Carina turned and quickly flipped over the other pillows but found nothing else suspicious. She rechecked the letter, sniffed it suspiciously, but detected nothing ominous.
‘Perhaps this is her way of telling me that my oath to Eleanora means nothing and that her offer still stands?’
She tucked the letter inside a pillowcase, resolved to burn it later. Then she slumped back onto the pillow as the footsteps outside the curtains receded, the door shut, and the room grew quiet. “Ivy?”
The curtain pushed back, and Ivy gave her an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, were they too loud?”
“It’s fine,” Carina sat up and smoothed out her dress. “I should be awake in case Physician Samael gets here before lunch.” She glanced about the organized room and sighed as she patted the bed beside her. “Sit, you’re here as my guest, not as my servant.”
Ivy glanced hesitantly towards the closed bedroom door and sank slowly onto the mattress. “I had everything arranged similar to the way you had it in Lilly Palace.”
Carina smiled as she leaned over and rested her head against Ivy’s shoulder. “What am I going to do without you?” She wrapped her hand around Ivy’s as the older girl turned and kissed Carina’s forehead.
“If it gets too hard—you can always ask Lord Percy for help.”
Carina groaned softly and sat up. “The Countess would prefer I kept my distance, and I agree with her.”
“But why?” Ivy asked with an audible pout. “He really does care about you, Maura.”
“He’s engaged,” Carina replied with a dismissive shrug.
Carina laughed at Ivy’s startled expression and shook her head. “Most noble lords are married by the time they turn twenty. It only makes sense that the Countess has a suitable wife picked out for him.”
“But—” Ivy broke off as she sucked in a breath and sighed. “I thought the Countess liked you.”
“She treats me well because I am useful to her. Just like how the Crown Princess has given me this room because she intends to make use of me,” Carina corrected even as she glanced towards the pillow with its hidden letter. She turned back to Ivy and repressed a laugh at the dejected expression on her friend’s face. “There now, put such silly thoughts from your mind. You should be focused on your own future. If either of us should be worried about marriage—”
“I just find it hard to believe,” Ivy interrupted. “But if Lord Percy really has hidden an engagement from you—from both of us—then I shall never forgive him.” She shook herself and picked up Carina’s hand with a determined expression. “Now—tell me about the Selection.”
Carina recounted her path through the Selection while tactfully ignoring all of Ivy’s inquisitive questions about Lord Acheron and Captain Beaumont. Before either of them knew it, the morning had passed, and a servant knocked at the door. Ivy rose quickly to open it.
“Will you need a tray brought up for lunch, Lady Maura?” The maid at the door asked politely.
“Oh, is it already mid-day?” Ivy moved to the closed balcony doors. “I should probably see if Lord Percy wants to return.”
“I’m afraid that we do have to head back, Lady Maura,” Percy answered as he appeared behind the maid in the doorway. He looked somewhat distracted, and even a bit annoyed as he flicked a glance over about the room and returned his gaze to the servant. “And do bring Lady Maura a meal tray. She will need to rest for the remainder of today,” Percy instructed with a dismissive flick of his hand.
“Yes, my Lord.” The maid curtsied and withdrew.
Carina frowned at his domineering behavior but quickly hid it with a smile as Ivy returned to her side.
“Promise me that you’ll look after yourself and be very, very careful,” Ivy urged.
“I will,” Carina replied as she took Ivy’s hand, pulled herself up, then embraced her friend tightly once more. “And you must take care of yourself as well. I know you’re worried about Gus, but your body still needs time to heal.”
“Don’t worry. Lord Percy is making sure I rest when needed,” Ivy replied with a subtle nudge and a pointed glance towards Percy.
Carina frowned but relented. ‘I do owe him for saving Gus even if he shouldn’t have meddled in my family’s affairs.’ She turned towards the Earl and offered him a grateful smile. “Thank you, Lord Percy, for looking after Ivy and Gus for me.”
“Of course, Lady Maura,” Percy replied quickly with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry to have to cut your visit short. I hope you won’t mind if we drop by later—perhaps when Gus is feeling better?”
“That—” Carina shook her head. “—I might be busy here for a while, but I will try to visit Hawthorne Manor as soon as I can. I owe the Countess a visit and report after all.”
‘After today’s events, there will be too much attention on me, and I still have to figure out a way to get Eleanora an heir without drugging Lafeara’s next King.’
“Very well,” Percy replied with a note of disappointment as he adjusted his neck scarf and rubbed at a conspicuous red smear against his collar. “We’ll still have the chance to see each other when I come to visit my cousin in either case.”
Ivy glanced between the two of them as a hopeful smile returned to her face.
‘Damn it, Ivy, stop fantasizing, can’t you see the lipstick mark on his shirt!’
“Well,” Percy said reluctantly. “We should probably be heading back, Miss Ivy. For all we know, Gus may have woken up in our absence and be looking for you.”
“Have a safe journey,” Carina said brightly as she leaned against the bedpost. “And remember to write, Ivy!”
“I will!” Ivy promised with tears already glistening in her eyes as Percy extended his arm to her.
‘Don’t cry. If you cry—’ Carina locked her smile in place even as her dear friend and the Earl turned and headed down the hall. ‘Be safe and happy for me, Ivy.’