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Authors: Donita K. Paul

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BOOK: DragonLight
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“How inconsiderate of him,” Kale muttered and turned her mind to designing the fancy dress she would wear to the ball.

         
6
         

S
TOPOVER

They circled the castle once, just to take in the extraordinary beauty of Namee’s domain. Then Greer descended to the dragon field, with Celisse close behind. Kale fidgeted in her seat. Aware that she would get no results, she still stretched her mind to get a glimpse of those who had already arrived. Not knowing whom they would meet added to the thrill. Leetu Bends? Sir Dar? Granny Noon or Granny Kye? She could see spots of light moving among the promenades and knew they were kimens. Would some of her friends from former adventures be there? Unable to contain her delight, she turned to Bardon.

Wake Toopka. She’ll be so excited. Remember how she danced down all the corridors at the urohm wedding?

“I remember you dancing with her.”

Kale watched Mikkai plunge into the knapsack and heard Toopka’s shout of glee when her head popped out from under the flap. Through Kale’s mindspeaking ability, she heard the child begin a one-sided commentary on everything within sight. Greer and Celisse landed on a grassy foothill set aside for this purpose. Toopka finally stopped prattling when Bardon pulled her out of her traveling basket and set her feet on the ground.

Servants ran to greet them and, after the dragons were unsaddled, took the saddles from Kale and Bardon to store them in a tack house. Greer and Celisse moseyed toward a group of dragons whose riders had already entered the castle. Toopka dogged the workers’ steps, asking questions and mentioning every ball she had been to before.

Kale only half-listened until she heard Toopka mention a ball in a pink palace.

“Where, Toopka?” she asked. “Where was this pink palace?”

The doneel child jerked at the question, blinked her big eyes, and then ducked her head. “I was just making that one up.”

“It sounded very real. Your description of the music and the dance steps didn’t sound like a made-up memory.”

Toopka shook her head so hard her ears flopped from side to side. Then she looked up with sincerity fairly dripping from her serious eyes. “I have a very good imagination, and sometimes when people talk about things, I pretend they happened to me. And when I remember what they said, I pretend I was there.”

Kale pondered Toopka’s too-earnest expression. She tried to peek at her thoughts, but as she often found, the doneel’s thinking lurked behind a hazy, noisy, and confusing curtain. Add to that the precautions Wizard Namee had made, and Kale didn’t have a chance of deciphering Toopka’s thoughts.

“All right, Toopka. I understand what you are telling me. Now, understand what I tell you.”

Toopka’s ears drooped, her whiskers quivered, and she dropped her gaze to the floor. Kale continued. “Misrepresenting the truth is lying. Pretending, when the listener doesn’t know it is pretense, is lying.”

Toopka nodded harder. Kale continued, even though she knew she had delivered this exact lecture many times before.

“If you lie to yourself, you can’t help lying to others.”

By now Toopka’s head bobbed hard enough to rattle her poor brain. Kale wondered how much of this compliance was sincere.

“No lie will ever stand against even the slightest examination by Wulder. Explaining to Wulder why you chose to lie would be a very, very hard thing.”

The doneel’s head stilled, and a tear trickled down her cheek.

Kale turned away, exasperated with herself that even after all these years she still distrusted the little doneel girl and allowed her to unsettle her. Toopka presented a mystery she often ignored, but at moments like this, all the oddities of Toopka jumped to her attention. Where did the child come from? How old was she? Was she cunning or guileless? Why couldn’t Kale penetrate Toopka’s thoughts as easily as she did others’?

Bardon signaled for her to join him. An elegant coach had arrived to carry them the short distance to the castle.

“Come, Toopka.” Kale removed the moonbeam cape and draped it over her arm as she strolled toward her husband. The minor dragons flew in a kaleidoscope of bright colors. “Someday we’ll talk, Toopka, and you’ll surprise me by giving me honest answers.” She avoided looking at the girl’s face, knowing the innocent expression that would be fixed there. And also knowing Toopka’s childlike air would annoy her.

Bardon handed them into the waiting vehicle as the horses stamped their eagerness to follow the winding road up to the castle. Torchlights flamed along the way, and whimsical orchestra music drifted through the air.

Through the window in the coach, Kale admired the lighting of the drive Namee had designed. A small river stairstepped down a cliff, making a broken waterfall. Each segment gleamed with a different colored light. The display piqued her curiosity as a light wizard. She sighed with satisfaction as she untangled the spell in her mind and identified how it worked.

She started to share the discovery with Bardon but stopped short when she saw that Toopka had captivated his attention. At this moment the doneel’s enthusiasm for her surroundings appeared to be genuine. Her large eyes sparkled, her ears perked forward, her whiskers twitched, and rather than the endless stream of nattering, Toopka let out soft gasps of astonishment. Kale’s heart softened. If only she could get past the inscrutable veil that disguised this enthralling child, Kale was sure she could love Toopka without reservation.

She doesn’t trust me with whatever she holds as her important, oh-so-carefully guarded secrets. I resent not being trusted. After all, haven’t I always offered good and not evil toward this ward of mine?

She almost laughed when she remembered a plaintive line quoting Wulder and reported in the Tomes.
“Why should my creation accuse me of desiring their destruction? Why doubt the words I give them that would secure their happiness?”

Wulder sounded as confused and aggravated as she did, yet Kale knew the great Creator was never puzzled. Bardon had explained that these quotes were given so that the seven high races could relate to the position, rather than the attitude, Wulder stood in when observing their disobedience, arrogance, and distrust. With this revelation, his followers could identify their impertinent mind-set.

Yes, that was it. Kale felt that all her good intentions had been disregarded by Toopka when the little girl denied sharing her confidences with her guardian.

She studied Toopka and wondered again if this demeanor was real or just a well-performed sham.

When they arrived at a castle portcullis at a side entrance, a servant in livery opened the coach door and arranged a footstool for them to use. Bardon stepped down first, then turned to give a hand to Kale.

She glanced around the darkened meadow, saw kimens gliding down pathways meandering through the garden bushes and servants carrying lanterns as they raced about doing their duties. The air vibrated with activity. Then Kale’s gaze fell to her husband’s upturned face, and love swelled in her heart. He had taken all her grousing in good stead and persisted in bringing her to this. All his efforts were to provide for her a surprise he knew she would appreciate. She placed her hand in his.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve done nothing but whine at you and raise objections.”

He kissed the back of her hand. “You’re forgiven. Now, we’re going to have fun, and not think about duties and pressing needs, and whether or not there is enough fruit in the orchards to provide nourishment over the winter.”

Kale’s face fell into an expression of dismay. “Isn’t there enough fruit? Are the crops poor this year?”

Bardon shook his head. “Fun. We are going to have fun, pleasure, enjoyment. The crops are fine.”

He winked.

She grinned saucily and stepped lightly out of the coach. Not only did she look forward to the ball and the promise of more surprises, but she had noticed the long ride had not caused stakes’ stiffness to return to Bardon’s joints. With this good sign, Kale allowed herself to hope the kimens’ treatment would last weeks and maybe months. And she vowed to increase Bardon’s enjoyment of the evening in any way she could.

Toopka hopped to the ground, took hold of Kale’s skirt, and hovered behind her. The minor dragons scattered, perching on slanted flagpoles, onto the tops of other carriages, on the ornamentation of the portcullis, on piles of fancy luggage waiting to be taken in, and on the covered steps. A well-dressed doneel matron approached. The light wizard allowed her ward to hide, knowing Toopka’s fits of shyness often occurred in the presence of her own race.

As the matron drew closer, Kale realized she must be an important servant. The string of keys dangling from her waist, the stiffly starched apron over her gown, and the mobcap clearly indicated she was the castle’s housekeeper. In typical doneel fashion, her clothing was a bit showy for her position in the household.

The woman’s black taffeta gown rustled as she walked. Shiny white silk peeked from beneath a cut-lace overlay on what should have been a simple apron. The floppy white hat sported more lace with a rainbow of ribbons woven through it. Kale grinned, thinking of the first doneel she had ever met. Much like Sir Dar, this doneel matron followed the prescribed standard of elegance common to their race.

The appearance of the housekeeper made Kale pause.
Oh dear, I wish I’d taken closer notice at what Toopka chose to wear.

The doneel child had a flair for bright colors, but little regard for coordinating her choices. Without looking back and drawing attention to the half-hidden girl, Kale brought to mind an image of her often-scruffy ward. Orange pantaloons sticking out from under a green and purple striped skirt, an under blouse that almost matched the leggings in hue, a tunic of a clashing shade of purple, a dotted scarf wrapped around her neck, and a gray bonnet that had once been white hanging down her back with the strings hidden under the scarf. And wrinkled, of course. Toopka’s clothes pleated around her in uneven creases. The child had been sleeping in a bag.

With only a bit of time to work and hindered by not being able to study the clothing as she changed it, Kale removed all the color from Toopka’s outfit to leave a sparkling white. She eliminated the wrinkles, took away the extra material of the bulky pantaloons, and lengthened the skirt. And then in a nod to Toopka’s desire for fancy, Kale wove golden threads through the fabric, producing a design of shimmering leaves.

The housekeeper curtsied. “Lady Kale, Sir Bardon, I am Mistress Orcutt. Wizard Namee sends his welcome and will dine with you this evening. I have a bedroom ready. If you’ll come this way…” She explained the particulars of the evening as she led them through the hallways lit with yellow, pink, and gold lightrocks. “Dinner is at eight, the ball begins at nine, a light repast will be served at midnight, and an early breakfast at three.”

Kale took the moment to squeeze Bardon’s hand and send him a message, promising to be exceptionally grateful for such a rare treat.

The housekeeper continued, “There will be a buffet in the main dining hall all morning so that you may partake whenever you arise. The noonmeal will be served at midday, of course.”

“Mistress Orcutt,” Kale spoke as they paused beside the open door to their chambers, “we have a doneel child with us, my ward. Is there someone to look after her while we are occupied?”

Kale reached behind her and took Toopka’s hand to gently pull her into the housekeeper’s view.

The woman’s stern expression relaxed, and a sincere smile lifted her lips. “Oh yes, I have six little ones of my own. The oldest will be in charge, and your girl will be welcome to spend the night. They eat in a nook in the kitchen, then sneak into a hidden balcony to watch the dancing for a while. Eventually, my Gia will take them to our quarters to play games, hear stories, and sleep.

“My husband will retire early. He’s head stableman, and his duties will be done long before mine. So he will be there if Gia needs him.”

“That sounds like fun, doesn’t it, Toopka?” Kale hoped the child would respond appropriately.

Toopka gave a cautious nod, keeping her eyes downcast.

“Fine, then.” The housekeeper stretched out a hand. “Come with me now, and I’ll introduce you to my young ones.”

BOOK: DragonLight
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