Bastion was walking through the Palace grounds on his way to the gates to the city when he was stopped by a matron of the court in full regalia, complete with a small, white lap dog on a silver leash. “Captain Bastion, if I may have a moment of your time.”
Bastion had to smile when he saw Lady Olwyn. She had an ageless soul and she wasn’t caught up in most of the nonsense that afflicted many nobles. “My Lady, what may I do for you today?” He bowed courteously.
“I wished to ask if you had any plans to conduct lessons this season. Myself and several other ladies of the court would dearly love to see your particular style displayed at the Fall Festival in a few weeks. My grandsons have been keeping in practice since your lessons of last year and would enjoy the challenge.”
Bastion quickly controlled the urge to sigh in frustration. Of all the things… with everything else going on around him he had forgotten that the social season was coming up quickly. Lady Olwyn was one of the pillars of the Court, and she happened to like him because he was the only one who could teach this particular style. She happened to like anything new because it was so rare for her.
“To be honest with you, my Lady, I had not considered holding lessons. Thoughts of the coming season have been pushed from my mind of late.”
A look of sympathy crossed her face. He doubted that there was a single member of the court who didn’t know about his correspondence with the young sister of the Northern Emperor, and about his inability to help her in her seclusion. It was one of those things that was discussed quietly, he supposed, over tea, but never openly where one not of Castellan could hear. “I understand, Captain.” Her voice was genuinely concerned. “Perhaps the lessons would help lift your spirits? Or, if not lessons, my grandsons are skilled enough with what you taught them last year to pass it on if they must, would you at least honor us with a display? I am certain that you know more than you have taught anyone.”
“For that, Lady Olwyn, I would need a partner, one skilled and trained or at least a very quick study with a natural aptitude. There is no one in all of Castellan…” His voice faded suddenly as a thought struck him, one he hadn’t considered before.
She looked curiously at his face. “Captain Bastion, is there aught wrong?”
“No, my Lady, there is not. I just… I just thought of someone.” He bowed to her. “If you will forgive me for a hasty departure, I need to find her.”
Lady Olwyn smiled behind her feathered fan. “Of course, Captain Bastion, feel free to meet with me later on the subject. I will be taking tea with my nieces this afternoon.” As she watched him hurry away she wondered to himself if the rumors of a streetling romance were true. She found that she didn’t know which direction she would place her bet in the quiet pool the ladies were currently building; whether the Northern Princess had Castellan dreams of the Knight-Captain, or whether he would find his true partner here in the city. She looked down at her little Eileen and smiled. “What do you think, sweetheart?” she asked the dog, “Do you think the Princess is already here?” Eileen barked in response to the attention and Lady Olwyn bent to lift her into her arms. “I agree. I shall tell Lady Vivian that I am placing a hundred coins on the guess that the streetling is a Princess in disguise.” They walked back into the Palace, the Lady quite pleased with her decision. She was rarely wrong.
— — —
Bastion found Riva in the Undercity near Kodran’s shop. She was going through some boxes and had found one of the little caps that she had used to dress the baby. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes and his heart reached out to her.
“I keep looking around for him, but he’s not here. I start to reach, to steady him as I do something,” she held her hands towards her belly, where the sling had set that had carried the baby against her, “and I realize that he’s gone and I can’t stop crying.” She held the little cap in her hands and tears fell down her face.
He reached out and took her face in his hands, wiping away the tears. “It is strange, for me, to see you without his presence, but I have to believe that this will get better. Someday… I truly believe that someday you will have children of your own. You will be a wonderful mother.”
She sniffled, trying to smile. “Thank you.” She paused, then, looking curious. “What are you doing down here anyway? I can’t imagine you came running all the way down here on the off chance that I was blubbering over the baby, who is probably quite happy where he is.”
He smiled. “I had a question I needed to ask. Riva, do you happen to know how to dance?”
She blinked in surprise and then choked on a laugh. “Uhm, which style?”
It was his turn to blink in surprise. “The one I’m asking about is Ballroom, actually. Not the sets and group pieces they teach here, but the stuff from… from home.”
“Again, which style? Actual Ballroom, or Latin? Or perhaps something from the Big Band era?”
He blinked again in surprise. “You have training?”
She grinned. “I played Pop Princess a while back, before I came here, with two other girls. We had the time of our lives and I was able to receive extensive training in several forms of dance. I never quite got all the way to Ballet, wasn’t really interested in it, but I did manage to incorporate quite a bit of Tai Chi in the process. It’s actually been a while since I did any sort of partner work, mostly what we did was a lot of strut and pose, but it was fun.”
He seemed to abruptly relax and sat down on a nearby crate. “This is going to make things much easier.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve been teaching some of the nobles around here to Waltz. It was easy, it looks good, and it was something they hadn’t seen before. Needless to say, they loved it.”
“Where did you learn to waltz? Didn’t you say you were thirteen when you came here?” She looked surprised, but not entirely stunned.
He shrugged. “You said that you were nineteen when you first Traveled and by your own admission you’ve got too many years in that backstory of yours for it, so how come you’re fifteen now?”
She nodded. “Fair enough. I was well over thirty when I got the knock on my door that started this whole mess, but I looked nineteen once I’d stepped through that gate. How old were you when you left home?”
“Twenty-five, a couple years out of college. Took a few classes on a bet from some teammates and found out that I was good at it. Look, several of the ladies of the court have figured out that I know a lot more than I’m showing them and they have been after me to put on a demonstration, of sorts, generate more interest in this unusual form of dance. In order to do that…”
“You need a partner you don’t have to train from the ground up.”
He nodded. “There’s only one other person in all of Castellan that I would even consider dancing with, but she’s got two left feet anywhere except the battlefield.” He didn’t add “or the bedroom”, that would have been inappropriate, not to mention crass, and crude, and altogether insulting.
Riva’s eyebrows rose in curiosity. “So you thought of me.”
“Yes. Would you be interested?”
She smiled, then. “I think that would be delightful. What sort of demonstration did you have in mind?”
“To be honest, I hadn’t considered that particular question, yet. I don’t even know how we’re going to get music for this; the court musicians usually are strained to manage the flow of a waltz.”
Her smile extended into a grin. “I think I can help with that. I’m not called Songbird for nothing.” Her mind started working quickly, if the crystals that the dwarves mined could be used to resonate and amplify sound… “I’ll meet you up in the Palace, where did you want to practice?”
“There are some dancing salles in the training hall. They aren’t used often, just when they’re taking trainees and squires through the most common set pieces. We could use one of those.”
She nodded, and then her grin turned impish. “One last question. Do you want their eyebrows to rise in curiosity, or do you want their eyeballs to pop completely out?”
Bastion felt his heart thump uncomfortably as he realized just how extreme such a display could become. And close on that was the realization that Riva was offering that extremity as an option.
— — —
Riva found Kodran in his workshop, tinkering with some crystals and resonating wire. “Kodran, father of streetlings, I have a favor to ask.”
He looked up at her curiously. “Riva-girl, you are rather formal today. What seems to be the favor?”
She put her hands on the table, leaning over slightly so that her shoulders rose almost to her ears. She looked devilishly mischievous. “Bastion asked me if I wished to dance with him for a demonstration of just what dancing can be, in a style that he and I know but that is yet to be taught to others in Castellan. I have agreed, but we have a slight issue about music. The musicians here are not able to manage what we need them to do. I need a device that can store sound and reproduce it, preferably at amplified volume and clarity. I know that the crystalline structure can resonate, particularly with magical energy, is your technology capable of creating such a device?”
Kodran thought for all of about a minute. “When would you need it?”
“I can probably rig something for practice, just so I don’t have to project it from myself. My concentration’s going to be completely shot if this works. But the energy requirements for the device that I have… are linked to me. I have to actually wear it to charge it up and it only works for a couple of hours once separated from myself. But if this demonstration works, then the music needed for the dance style is going to be in demand, and that means a demand for devices that can produce it, at least until the musicians start composing pieces of their own. And even then, if a musician has the ability to create a copy of a performance and can then sell that copy to those who have devices that can reproduce it… ”
Kodran grinned at the mercantile possibilities. “I knew there was a reason I liked you, Riva-girl. Let me talk to my fellow dwarves. If something can be built, we will manage it.” He paused. “I have an acquaintance at one of the taverns who heard you singing the other day. Have you considered performing?”
She paused for a moment, thinking. “Actually, yes, I have. I’m rather busy at the moment, but I don’t see why I couldn’t see if I couldn’t work in a performance every once in a while. Might even be fun.” She thought a moment. “I don’t know many of the locally popular songs though, so if you could get me some written copies of them, or something I could learn from, I would appreciate it.”
He nodded. “I’ll let him know. You do realize that this could eventually bring you to the attention of someone who has actually met the Imperial Princess.”
She sighed. “It is a possibility, but as long as my brother is claiming that I’m in seclusion because of the strain resulting from an assassination attempt then there’s not much he can do to force anyone’s hand at the moment, unless he starts to claim that the sequestered sister was kidnapped. I’ll try to keep a low profile and we can use the Songbird name, and maybe it won’t be an issue. As long as it’s not shouted from the rooftops that Lady Dauris is singing in taverns, my brother might leave me be. And if he doesn’t then I can start shouting from the rooftops myself.”