Merriment buzzed in the air. The feast at the court of Prince Reynald was nearing its midpoint; the first course of light beef broth, cheeses, bread, wine and ale already consumed. A small chorus of dancers and a mirthful jester entertained while the dishes were cleared in preparation for the next portion of the lavish meal. Servants began carrying in laden chargers of richly-sauced fish and fowl, along with brimming bowls of delicate greens and herbs, nuts, and fresh fruits. The guests seated at the long tables chattered and laughed while shrill melodies rang throughout the long, lamplit hall from the brass sackbut and the various woodwinds played by a half-dozen musicians.
The young maiden of copper tresses and emerald eyes tapped her foot in time to the lilting tune as she glanced around at her table companions, but her gaze caught and held at sight of the comely dark-haired, dark-eyed stranger four seats down. His clothing was that of nobility, with a silken tunic of deep purple and a black velvet pleated jacket. An aura of mystery and adventure clung to him.
Gloriana nudged the woman beside her. "Mother, who is the gentleman seated next to Sir Halway? His countenance is most enchanting."
"Ah, Daughter, I believe he is a knight of the realm and the only surviving son of Lord Darby of Maerwynn Manor. He is reputed to be quite fearless and chivalrous."
Gloriana said nothing more about him, but as the meal was drawing to a close with its array of sweets and elaborate spiced desserts, she became aware that he was now observing her. Casting down her eyes, she took a bite of the berry tart before her, a faint flush glowing on her cheeks.
Later, as couples formed to join in the popular new processional dance, he was suddenly at her side, bowing and doffing his cap.
"My Lady, will you consent to partner me in this frolic? Your radiant beauty has charmed my senses into utter captivity."
"But, Sir, I do not know you." Her hand smoothed the gold-embroidered white gown she wore, and her rosy lips hinted at a smile.
"I am Rowan of Maerwynn, Lord Darby's son. I have been three years away from home in Prince Reynald's service. Indeed, I am most pleased to be back. Will you join me now?" He smiled encouragement as his eyes pled for her acquiescence.
In answer, she held out her left hand, gathered the flowing train of her dress in the other, and they joined the revelers in the center of the room. They danced well together, and when they finally stopped to rest, Rowan led her out into the quiet courtyard. The soothing sounds and fading sunset colors of twilight surrounded them as they trod the scented, flower-bordered paths.
Rowan broke the silence first. "I admire the peace and hush of eventide. There is a mysterious and magical beauty in starlight and moonshine. Don't you agree, Mistress Gloriana?" He looked at her, waiting.
"In truth, I confess that I prefer the day, with its liveliness and light. The dark holds dangers, and evil hides in shadows, does it not? However, the sun brings growth and health."
"But," replied Rowan with ardor, "though daylight can be hot and harsh, blinding the eyes and burning the skin, the cool breezes of night bring relief and aid in rest."
"Have you not seen the sun's rays dance and sparkle on the water and cause jewels to glitter and metal to gleam?" she argued demurely. "'Tis a wondrous sight!"
Rowan took her soft hand in his, and bent down to whisper in her ear, "Dusk is a time for lovers, for romance, and for sharing of confidences that are too tender to be spoken in the intense light of day."
Again Gloriana felt the pink flush suffuse her face and did not reply for several minutes. Finally she spoke, "The priest does tell us that God created both day and night, the moon and stars as well as the sun; and He pronounced them all good. I concede, therefore, that night can have its own special charms."
"And I will grant that as the priest also instructs us to walk in the Light of our Blessed Lord, there is a time to savor the day's brightness and the dazzling loveliness it reveals." He flashed a meaningful smile at her as they continued their stroll hand in hand.
Evening's dimness could not veil Gloriana's dawning joy.
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