On Needlework

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Avery sits at a smaller table near one of the windows. There is a stack of letters beside a hot cup of tea.

Haft steps into the library, having been within call for some time outside. “Is there anything I can send for, Lady Avery?”

Avery looks up at the sound of Haft’s voice, pausing her letter-writing. She gently shakes her head. “No, I am quite content, thank you.” She sets the quill down and smiles. “Have you had a pleasant afternoon?”

Haft returns the smile. “Nothing could be more pleasant than watching over Your Ladyship.”

Avery chuckles. “Well, I’m sure that’s not /always/ true, but I thank you for the compliment.”

Haft asks, “You are most welcome. How do you find your reading?”

Avery says, “Not very exciting at the moment. Mostly about some renovations my mother is planning for the manor.” She sets the paper aside. “I am somewhat torn. Excited for change, but a little sad, too. Although, I don’t suppose it matters much, considering I won’t be spending much more time there anyway…”

“It isn’t exactly as though you’re being exiled here,” Haft says, then stops as if caught by the turn of phrase before continuing. “I’m sure you’ll be able to visit Chesterton often.”

Avery says, “Of course I will visit. Often, too.” She shrugs. “I just don’t want it to be so different when I do.”

Haft says, “Begging my lady’s pardon, but I’m not sure you can help the difference. You will find that things have changed, because you have changed yourself.”

Avery considers this and then nods. “That is true.” She picks up the stack of letters and looks through them. One catches her eye and she smiles. “Oh, how did I miss this one?”

Haft says, “You seem to have a great many correspondents. Hopefully nothing that demanded a hasty answer.”

Avery laughs. “Not all of them are pleasant. Some are filled with gossip from ladies of Court. I try my best not to encourage it, but they still write.” She taps the letter. “This is from my friend Abrielle, though. Merely a response to some news I shared with her, I’m sure.”

Haft says, “Abrielle? That should be nice.” He chuckles. “Some folks would be surprised to know just how little truth lies in most court gossip.””

Avery grins. “The things they report are rather ridiculous, too. What does it matter if this lady or that added an extra two spoonfuls of sugar to her tea? I don’t care to know if she added two or even four.” She rolls her eyes and opens the folded letter.

Haft looks impressed. “If they notice such minutiae they have exceeded even the guards of Anvard in their efforts. We should put them to use as diplomats.”

Avery laughs and picks up her teacup. “They notice everything…The maids too. I’ve been the subject of their gossip too many times to count…” A faint blush creeps into her features. “But they forget as soon as something more interesting comes up.”

Haft makes a rueful expression. “I can testify to that.”

Avery nods. She motions to a comfortable seat near her. “Care to do a bit of reading while I finish up here? I’m almost done. And then maybe we could take a walk into town?”

Haft glances toward the door, then nods. He pulls a book at random from the shelf and sits down to stare at it.

Avery watches him choose a book before glancing down at the open letter in her hands. She sips her tea as she begins to read.

Avery’s expression is pleasant as she reads, but then her brow furrows. Eyes still focused on the letter, she moves to set her teacup down and it rattles against the saucer.

Haft glances over at the sound, but he makes no inquiry.

Avery mumbles to herself, her face a mixture of surprise and confusion.

Avery mumbles “… and Abrielle? … did this…No, … cannot … …”, to Avery.

Haft turns a page in his book.

Avery sets the letter down, tugging thoughtfully tugging on a ringlet. She picks up the letter and folds it, sitting in silence for a few minutes. “Haft?”

Haft closes his book and sits up straight, laying it on the table. “My Lady?”

Avery picks up her teacup again. “How well do you know Deonyc?”

Haft says, “Deonyc? Not well. We sleep in the same barracks.”

Avery hmms. “I admit, despite the time he spent as my guard, I don’t know him very well either. There were some…unfortunate circumstances, but I don’t think it would be right to make an opinion of him based on them…”

Haft’s brow moves upward fractionally. “Better to form an opinion based on experience than hearsay.”

Avery says, “Yes, that’s true.” She sips her tea, glancing toward the window. “He seemed arrogant and hasty with his opinions on certain topics, but that doesn’t mean he’s not kind or a good man. But even after a warning or two, he did not change his behavior or take more care with what he said. I admit, I don’t know what to think of him at all.””

Haft speaks slowly. “I would venture that that is an accurate assessment, if it’s my opinion you’re wanting.”

Avery continues to stare out the window. “But if someone you trust spoke highly of him, would that not give you pause to consider there is more to him than you’ve already seen? That he is perhaps different than what you’ve known him to be? Or could they be blinded by an emotion of their own?”

Haft says, “I guess either could be true.”

Avery asks, “You’ve never really talked to him before?”

Haft says, “I…have. I am also aware of the circumstances under which he was sent back to Anvard.”

Avery asks, “Did they change your opinion of him?”

Haft says, “I’m afraid they rather confirmed it.”

Avery turns to look at him. “I see.” She nods.

Haft tilts his head to the letter. “Abrielle is well, I hope?”

Avery looks at the folded letter and smiles lightly. “Yes. She seems very well.”

Haft says, “Good.” He glances back at his book as if wondering whether the conversation is over.”

Avery starts to organize her things. “I don’t think I’m ready to write a reply just now. There are some things I need to consider. So I am all finished here.”

Haft’s expression brightens. He rises and goes to place his book back on the shelf, finally noticing the title. He starts and glances quickly at Avery before stuffing it back with other books on needlework. “Then I’ll be happy to escort you on that walk.”

Avery nods. “I suppose we could.” She glances at the bookshelf and smiles mischievously. “Unless you wanted to return to your embroidery? I wouldn’t want to keep you…”

Haft descends into a hacking cough. “I–ahem–I may have selected my reading material hastily.

Avery grins. “I’ve done that before too.” She picks up the stack of letters and stands. “Shall we?”

Haft bows slightly. “After you, my lady.”

Avery walks toward the library doors. “I could show you some flower stitches when we return to the castle. They’re lovely.”

Haft sets his face into a mask of polite disinterest. “Of course, my lady.”

Avery laughs as she steps through the door.

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