The Fairest Beauty

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson Read Free Book Online

Book: The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Melanie Dickerson
Tags: Juvenile Fiction, Love & Romance
Who are you and what are you doing here?”
    Gabe resisted the urge to turn his head and cough, as the man smelled like he’d been eating raw onions and garlic.
    After catching his breath, he said, “I told you. I’m a pilgrim from Hungary on my way to Aachen Cathedral.” He reminded himself to try and look humble, like the villagers he’d just seen. “My name is Gabe, and I’m also a musician.” Should he have chosen a different name? Though who would be looking for him here?
    “A musician?” The man grunted in disgust.
    “I was just traveling through this region —”
    “Why did you come up here? The castle mount is hardly on your way.”
    Gabe had no idea how to answer that question and realized he should be acting more afraid of this man.
    “I came to seek an audience with Duchess Ermengard. I thought perhaps she might enjoy my lute playing for a season and would send me on my pilgrimage with her blessing.”
    “If you’re looking for work of that kind, you won’t find it here. The duchess doesn’t like music. Or musicians.”
    Gabe thought about telling the man that he preferred to ask the duchess himself what she liked and disliked, but he held his tongue. Instead, he bowed humbly and said, “You are wise, I am sure.”
    The giant frowned and shook his head.
    Who did this man — very handsome and not much older than she was — think he was fooling? He was no poor pilgrim from Hungary.
    Sophie studied him from where she stood by the fire, dipping candles in the black iron cauldron, taking over the job from Petra, who had been helping her so Sophie could rest. She’d been awake most of the night nursing a sick maid. The young man sat on a stool against the wall, drinking the watered-down wine she’d given him. Walther had taken his horse, with its expensive-looking saddle, to the stable while the man stayed with Sophie.
    The stranger’s boots were some of the finest she’d ever seen, the kind worn by noblemen. Few enough noblemen came round their castle, but Sophie had seen a pair just like them on a margrave who’d called on Duchess Ermengard a couple of weeks before. And this “pilgrim” had obviously forgotten to take off his gold ring, with a large ruby in the center, when he’d donned his poor-man’s disguise.
    Besides, he didn’t have the visage of a pilgrim. He lacked the sun-beaten, haggard, shuffling look of someone who’d been traveling for weeks over mountains and dusty roads. Instead, he had the distinct look of the rich and privileged, with his high cheekbones, straight nose, and well-groomed hair and fingernails. But more than anything else, it was his tranquil demeanor that set him apart.
    He was obviously lying.
    Roslind, who had been scrubbing the front steps of the castle, came around the side and threw her arms around Sophie’s neck. “I thought you’d be picnicking by now!” Sophie tried not to cringe at the reminder — for a week she’d been putting off her promise of a midday meal with Lorencz, and she’d run outof excuses. Today he’d been making a show of ordering various foodstuffs from the kitchen.
    Not that Sophie could be angry with her friend for her excitement about the huntsman wanting to take her on a picnic. Roslind was sweet, with her wide-set brown eyes and pretty, childlike face that looked much younger than her sixteen years. In her innocence, she likely assumed the time with Lorencz would be enjoyable. Sophie loved and protected her like Roslind was her own little sister, but it was the truth that the girl’s head was as empty as a day-old sparrow’s. Most people realized this right away, and Sophie was always interested to see how they then treated her.
    Roslind turned toward the “traveler,” and Sophie watched the interaction between her and their guest as she continued her work of dipping candles.
    Roslind chattered away at him, innocently inquiring, “Where are you going to? We almost never see strangers here. Are you lost?”
    The

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