Name: Ash Halloran @ashyaslan
In the years after Madame Brigide abandoned her daughter, Gwen read one hundred and forty eight books about the ancient land of Reviers. Bienna knew because she kept a list between the covers of A History of Palace Renaissant, so that her lady did not repeat material. If she insisted on reading all of those books, she might as well read different ones.
Most days Gwen attended her lessons in the morning, tolerated lunch with her grandmother, and then took one of her musty books into the fig grove. She’d climb high up into one of the fig trees, where no one would look for her, and read for hours. Only Bienna knew to find her there, but she didn’t give her away; even when, by the twentieth book, she thought sweetness was definitely crazed.
The fig grove was relatively cool in the summer, but it was also full of wasps which she was deathly allergic to. She only went to get Gwen when she absolutely had to. Usually this meant that every time she had to drag Gwen out of a tree, she’d given herself almost no time to get her charge ready and risked the wrath of Madame de Revier. The old woman just didn’t like her because Gwen had picked her.
Today, some nervousness tinged her usual annoyance. Madame de Revier had told her at lunch that she expected her granddaughter at dinner both presentable and on time. There would be guests. Important guests. Which meant Madame was either hosting a higher up from the warfront on their way north to the frontlines, or one of Gwen’s suitors. God only knew how Gwen would react to another boring matchmaking dinner. The last time had been disastrous. Madame had made the mistake of telling Gwen who would be there, and Gwen had found a way to slip in three personal insults to the poor man before they were done with their salad. She’d thought he’d been rather attractive, even if he was her second cousin.
Bienna walked out of the dim confines of Villa Castellano’s kitchen and into the bright herb gardens, dusty with late summer’s heat. Shiny purple grape clusters hung heavy on the vines, and in the distance, the ocean hushed the coast. The ocean breeze made the heat easy—easy enough for Gwen to read in the fig grove for the last three hours. Bienna was already sweating down her back. Why couldn’t Gwen read in her nice cool rooms? Who enjoyed this?
The little demon was just trying to make her job hard. Gwen wanted to smell like an animal and carry at least one wasp into the villa with her, to scare the blushing suitors away. Bienna had already called up a bath and gotten the lavender oils out. She would stroke lavender oil into Gwen’s dark hair and powder her nose until she looked like a painting again. Resistance was futile.