Excerpt: The Troubadour and the Prince

Amaury was surrounded with beautiful, well-mannered gentlewomen, and he was doing everything he could think of to make sure they hated him.

Damn his father. Damn him to all the levels of hell.

Speaking of hell, it was stifling hot in King Hubert’s great hall. Amaury felt like he could melt through the floor, and honestly doing so would be something of a relief. A group of musicians had set up in the minstrel gallery and their music floated above King Hubert’s guests as they milled around along the edges of the room. The guests themselves were dressed in various costumes, each person’s identity supposedly hidden by a mask and costume. Strange, then, that everyone seemed to know who Amaury was. Amaury was sure he could blame that on his father as well.

This was only the third night of his father’s entertainment. It would culminate in the grand feast on the fifth night and supposedly, on the sixth day, the announcement of who Amaury would marry. Not likely. If Amaury had his way, there would be no one left to marry.

“Good evening, Prince… I mean, Lord Hunter,” said a bold lady wearing a goat mask, with her large hat styled to resemble a pair of curving horns.

Lord Hunter. It was what others called him at the masquerade, a reference to the branching antlers that graced his headpiece and the hunting attire he wore. He was dressed as the leader of the wild hunt. A reference to several popular ballads about love and the pursuit of it.

“Good evening yourself, Lady…” Here Amaury paused to let out the biggest and loudest belch he could manage. The lady’s eyes went wide. Amaury bowed over her hand as if nothing untoward had happened. “Lady Goat. It is my hope that you are as hot blooded as your namesake.”

The lady sucked in a breath. When she next spoke, her words were icy cold. “I think you would do well to watch your tongue.”

“I am perfectly capable of watching what my tongue can do,” Amaury replied, giving a wink. The lady flushed an angry color behind her mask and snatched her hand back. Without another word, she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Amaury sighed. Two more days and nights. Two more chances for him to drive as many of these women away as he could. He’d deliberately missed the first night’s feast, hoping his rudeness would cause offence. It had, but not enough.

Why wouldn’t they just go home? Too many women remained, blinded by whatever his father had promised them. If they went home, then Amaury wouldn’t have to play the fool. If they went home, then Amaury wouldn’t have to deal with his father trying to marry him off. If they went home, Amaury could have a few more days of peace before his father tried to marry him off again. A few days of peace. Was that really all the joy life had to offer him anymore?

“My Lord Hunter. What a fine evening to go hunting.” Another lady approached Amaury, this one with a male chaperone right next to her. She was dressed as Lady Virtue from the Ballad of the Rose, complete with a crown of mint and bees carved of wax perched atop her veiled hair. Amaury gritted his teeth briefly before forcing a smile to his face. The presence of a chaperone meant he couldn’t insult her virtue. Not without getting a sword in the gut.

“Lady Virtue,” Amaury murmured. He reached out, then pretended to sneeze in his own hand. The lady looked horrified as he grasped her fingers with his wet hand. He kissed the back of her hand. “It is an honor to meet you.”

“The honor is all yours.” The lady quickly withdrew her hand and turned towards her chaperone. The man gave Amaury a look of disgust. Amaury feigned a look of confusion.

Another one down. Hopefully, they would leave like those following the second day’s entertainment. Amaury had managed to not go to the tourney his father had planned, hiding in one of the few places where the servants couldn’t find him. He’d only come out of hiding for the celebratory feast at the end, acting the drunk, though he’d been careful to limit how much wine he consumed. The whispers of cowardice that followed had been music to his ears.

It was a slow process, but Amaury’s actions were beginning to have an effect. There were definitely fewer people here than at the feast the night before. It still wasn’t enough.

After making several more rounds, Amaury spotted his father mingling with the guests instead of watching the proceedings from his seat at the head of the room. News of his actions would reach King Hubert’s ears soon. If they hadn’t already.  Amaury knew he was due for yet another lecture in the King’s solar about what a disappoint he was as a son.

So Amaury did was he always did. He avoided the confrontation entirely. It was easy to duck into an arched doorway, move through the servant’s corridor, and enter one of the many small storage rooms there. Amaury shed the most expensive parts of his costume. He removed the deer antlers covered in gold leaf, his jeweled ring, the gold chains around his neck, his fine leather gloves, and the embroidered woolen cloak that his father had commissioned for this event. Turning his doublet inside out replaced the brilliant red and gold with a more muted brown. The hose and shoes he’d worn were in color and cut modest, though they still spoke of wealth. Now Amaury wore attire fit for a noble, but not necessarily a prince.

The change wouldn’t pass close scrutiny. Then again, people rarely looked twice at Amaury if he wasn’t trying to be as ostentatious as possible. This way he could avoid his father while spreading more tales of how worthless the King Hubert’s son was. Amaury straightened his clothing, and went to leave the room.

Only to slam into someone trying to enter the room.

“Watch where you are going,” Amaury snapped as he staggered back a few steps. Why was some servant trying to come into this storage room? There was nothing in it but furniture and some worn tapestries.

After his outburst, Amaury actually looked up. The man’s tight hose left little to the imagination, and the cut of his doublet was fashionable. The cloth had been dyed in soft brown and creams. It caused man’s light brown hair to fade into the costume. He wore a crown with carved mice, and a simple wooden mask painted to look like a cat. This was no servant. This was someone from the masquerade.

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