Brian tightened his grip on the old history textbook, trusting the wooden fencepost behind him more than he did his own self. It had taken a ridiculous amount of wheedling, begging and coaxing before the Head Librarian had allowed him to take the precious text out of doors to tutor Lord Hadley’s adopted son, but it was worth it to be sitting outside and not locked up in the stuffy castle study rooms.
In the sparring ring before him, the young lord Aiden Hadley, was going a few rounds with Knight Clarion’s squire, Stefan, and their swords clashed and gleamed in the sunlight.
“Must be awfully good reading, Sir Allen.”
Brian nearly toppled off his fencepost perch at the sound of his formal name. He barely caught himself, directing a fierce glare to his unrepentant girlfriend who had snuck off to watch the sword practice.
She wore her commoner’s clothes and a smile that promised mischief as she reached out, steadying the book in his hands. “I see Lord Kendall granted you a favor.”
“Yes, with my life hanging in the balance,” Brian said, wryly. “I’m to treat it with the utmost care and bring it back in pristine condition or suffer the consequences.” He closed the book carefully and gave her his full attention. Lydia rarely visited him in the middle of the day when they were both supposed to be at their respective posts to fulfill the required duties to the nobles they’d been assigned. “Is something wrong?”
“You’ll wear your good suit, yes?” She said, abruptly. “To Lord Hadley’s ball?”
Brian nodded. “Haven’t anything else and you know it.”
“And young Lord Aiden?”
Brian snorted. “How does your lady fare?”
“Lady Mila is up to her ears in the library studying no less than thirteen books about rare poisons and uncommon herbs in an attempt to create a recipe for a healing salve that we should all pray we have no need for.”
“Wait, what?” Brian stared at her.
“She’s in the library,” Lydia repeated, slowly. “Studying about cursed swords.”
“About—but-” Brian stopped. “His sword is no more cursed than my boots are.” He held up one scruffy booted foot to make his point, with a tip of his head in Aiden’s direction.
“I know. I said as much, but he still hasn’t asked her to the function after the tournament and she still doesn’t think he should participate.”
“I thought they were past that.” Brian groaned. “That explains why he’s been skipping his morning studies.”
“He skipped?” Lydia’s eyebrows arched upwards.
“I let him,” Brian blushed. “He was—preoccupied.”
Lydia snickered. “But of course. I do wish he’d ask her, because she won’t go with anyone else.”
“Neither will he,” Brian said. “It’s a pity really. They’re like bookends.”
“Yes. Two halves of a whole, but facing in opposite directions with a world of similarities between them.”
Her snicker turned into a laugh and Lydia nudged him with one elbow. “I love it when you make perfect sense,” she teased. “I don’t suppose you have any ideas on how to get our reluctant couple together, do you?”
Brian tapped the book thoughtfully. “I might,” he said. “Can you get Lady Mila out here?”
“I’ll bring her in ten minutes,” Lydia straightened up. “Here to the practice ring?”
“Yes. Ten minutes will be fine. It shouldn’t take me longer than five,” he tucked the book under one arm and gingerly eased himself off of the railing to stand on the dusty ground of the practice ring. Aiden and Stefan were still tussling with each other.
“I’ll be a moment,” she grinned and hurried back to the castle.
“Aiden,” Brian called, knowing better than to interrupt the match. “A minute, if you would?”
They broke apart for a breather a few minutes later and Aiden came over, mopping his sweaty forehead. “Can’t it wait until-”
“You may skip your lessons for the rest of today and tomorrow, if you ask Lady Mila to attend your father’s ball after the tournament.”
Aiden stared at him for a full minute, then turned on his heel, jaw clenching. He was about to protest when Lydia and Lady Mila came walking slowly up the path. He swallowed.
“Ask her nicely and I’ll let you off for the whole weekend.” Brian fought the urge to laugh. He could see the inner battle taking place and after a moment, Aiden’s shoulders slumped.
“This weekend?” He bargained.
“Ask nicely,” Brian snickered.
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