The Blue Sword (Damar #2) : Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here—was it only three months ago?—with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day. But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it—to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity.

Lady Amelia had explained that the orchards only a few days south and west of here were the finest in the country, and many of the oranges she had seen at Home, before she came out here, had probably come from those same orchards. It was hard to believe in orange groves as she looked out the window, across the flat deserty plain beyond the Residency, unbroken by anything more vigorous than a few patches of harsh grass and stunted sand-colored bushes until it disappeared at the feet of the black and copper-brown mountains.

But there was fresh orange juice every day.

She was the first down to the table every morning, and was gently teased by Lady Amelia and Sir Charles about her healthy young appetite; but it wasn't hunger that drove her out of bed so early. Since her days were empty of purpose, she could not sleep when night came, and by dawn each morning she was more than ready for the maid to enter her room, push back the curtains from the tall windows, and hand her a cup of tea. She was often out of bed when the woman arrived, and dressed, sitting at her window, for her bedroom window faced the same direction as the breakfast room, staring at the mountains. The servants thought kindly of her, as she gave them little extra work; but a lady who rose and dressed herself so early, and without assistance, was certainly a little eccentric. They knew of her impoverished background; that explained a great deal; but she was in a fine house now, and her host and hostess were only too willing to give her anything she might want, as they had no children of their own. She might try a little harder to adapt to so pleasant an existence.

She did try. She knew what the thoughts behind the looks the servants gave her were; she had dealt with servants before. But she was adapting to her new life as best as her energetic spirit could. She might have screamed, and hammered on the walls with her fists, or jumped over the low windowsill in her room, clambered to the ground by the ivy trellis (special ivy, bred to withstand the desert heat, carefully watered by Sir Charles' gardener every day), and run off toward the mountains; but she was trying her best to be good. So she was merely first to the breakfast table.

Sir Charles and Lady Amelia were all that was kind to her, and she was fond of them after a few weeks in their company. They had, indeed, been far more than kind. When her father died a year ago, Richard, a very junior military adjutant, had laid the difficulty of an unmarried sister and an entailed estate before Sir Charles, and begged for advice. (She heard all this, to her acute embarrassment, from Richard, who wanted to be sure she understood how much she had to be grateful for.) He and his wife had said that they would be happy to offer her a home with them, and Richard, too relieved to think hard about the propriety of such a godsend, had written to her and said, Come out. He had not specifically said, Mind your manners, but she understood that too.

She hadn't any choice. She had known, because her father had told her five years ago when her mother died, that she would have no inheritance; what money there was was tied up very strictly for the eldest son. "Not that Dickie will mistreat you," their father had said, with the ghost of a smile, "but I feel that, with your temperament, you had best have as long as possible a warning to resign yourself to it. You'll like being dependent on your brother even less, I fancy, than you like being dependent on me." He tapped his fingers on his desk. The thought that lay silent between them did not need to be spoken aloud: that it was not likely she would marry. She was proud, and if she had not been, her parents would have been proud for her. And there is little market for penniless bluebloods of no particular beauty—especially when the blueness of the blood is suspected to have been diluted by a questionable great-grandmother on the mother's side. What the questionableness exactly consisted of, Harry was not sure. With the self-centeredness of childhood she had not thought to ask; and later, after she had realized that she did not care for society nor society for her, she had no desire to ask.

The shipboard journey east on the Cecilia had been long but uneventful. She had found her sea legs almost at once, and had made friends with a middle-aged lady, also traveling alone, who asked no personal questions, and loaned her novels freely to her young companion, and discussed them with her upon their return. She had let her own mind go numb, and had read the novels, and sat in the sun, and strolled the decks, and not thought about the past or the future.

They docked at Stzara without mishap, and she found the earth heaved under her strangely when she first set foot ashore. Richard had been granted a month's leave to meet her and escort her north to her new home. He looked younger than she had expected; he had gone overseas three years ago, and had not been Home again since. He was affectionate to her at their reunion, but wary; they seemed to have little in common any more. I shouldn't be surprised, she thought; it's been a long time since we played together every day, before Dickie was sent off to school. I'm an encumbrance now, and he has his career to think of. But it would be nice to be friends, she thought wistfully. When she pressed him to give her some idea of what she could expect of her new life, he shrugged and said: "You'll see. The people are like Home, you know. You needn't have much to do with the natives. There are the servants, of course, but they are all right. Don't worry about it." And he looked at her with so worried a face that she didn't know whether to laugh or to shake him. She said, "I wish you would tell me what is worrying you." Variations of this conversation occurred several times during the first days of their journey together. At this point there would be a long silence.

Finally, as if he could bear it no more, he burst out: "You won't be able to go on as you did at home, you know."

"But what do you mean?" She hadn't thought much about native servants, or her position, yet; and obviously Richard knew her well enough of old to guess that now. She had written him letters, several each year, since he had gone overseas, but he had rarely answered. She had not minded very much, although she had thought occasionally, as when his six hastily scrawled lines at Christmas arrived, that it would have been pleasant if he were a better correspondent; but it hadn't troubled her. It troubled her now, for she felt that she was facing a stranger—a stranger who perhaps knew too much about her and her accustomed way of life.

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