Despite Susannah’s attempts to converse with Sir Hanson, her father monopolized the young man’s attention during the formal banquet. The baronet handled the many glasses and plates with aplomb. He ate a good deal with the tiny banquet spoons and nodded at the King, who sat at the table’s head along with the Queen. The hundred or so other nobles and, she supposed, Jon Tom, were seated at other tables in the room, the roar of conversation muted but lively. Who was Jon Tom seated beside? If it was a noble daughter, she was probably twisted around in her seat for a glimpse of Sir Hanson.
Through the apricot compote and the broiled garlic artichoke hearts, through the almond-crusted halibut and the cucumber peas, through the buttered mussels and the pepper-cheese flowers, an army of servants whisked the miniature plates and bowls onto and off of everyone’s placemat. The King rambled on and on. Susannah finished her puff pastry and wondered why her father had taken such a liking to Sir Hanson. Perhaps he was just doing his part to ensnare an heir.
“Sir Hanson, don’t you like your cheese pastry?” Susannah asked him. “The filling is made from the milk of the Reston cows common to your homeland.”
The baronet gave her a weak smile and gulped down his pastry. The current style for formal banquets was to serve as plentiful a selection as possible, necessitating tiny portions of each in miniature dishes. One was meant to sample everything offered, and if it wasn’t to your taste, at least the spoons didn’t hold much. The crystal thimbles of wines and liqueurs with each course were voluntary, and Susannah drank water during the meal—in a regular-sized glass.
The baronet sat to the King’s left and Calypso to the Queen’s right. Susannah dined between Sir Hanson and Peter and traced a pattern on the damask tablecloth with her spoon. Because she had only Peter to speak to and Peter was in a sulk, Susannah ate more than she normally did. She squirmed in her rigid, formal corset. She wished she could go upstairs, take off her stupid court headdress and brush out her hair.
Her father waved away a second serving of chocolate trifle. The Queen caught Susannah’s gaze and narrowed her eyes, tilting her head slightly to indicate the baronet. Then she engaged her husband in conversation.
Susannah took a deep breath, then another. Perhaps it would make more room inside her corset for all the food. What might Hanson like besides cows? “My father mentioned the superior hunting in the Oldtree Forest, I’m sure. Do you enjoy hunting?”
She pitched the question loud enough for Calypso to hear. Although it wasn’t the thing to converse across the table, her family didn’t stand on absolute ceremony. Besides, her father wasn’t obeying the rules of polite discourse, so why should she? If she could get Calypso chattering about horses and hounds, they’d give their father a run for his coins.
“Not really, Princess Susannah.” The tablecloth rustled near Hanson’s legs, and she realized he was nervously tapping his foot on the ground.
Poor fellow. She widened her eyes at Calypso and inclined her head toward Hortense. Hopefully Hortense wasn’t still so disgusted with Susannah she refused to answer the call of duty. They needed to yank the conversation away from their father, or their mother would lambaste them.
Hortense tinked her spoon against the trifle bowl, as if by accident. Hanson glanced up. “Has our father described our Justice Chambers?” she asked. “He resolves a higher proportion of citizen complaints than any other kingdom.”
The baronet nodded and licked chocolate from his tiny spoon. Little curls had sprung up all over his head and bushed around his circlet, making him look even younger. Across the table, Hortense pursed her lips.
Unaware of the byplay, Hanson quaffed a thimble of hot vanilla liqueur. “Jon said the Justice Chambers were a marvel of efficiency.”
“Mr. Tom?” Susannah nearly crumpled her spoon in her fist. “When did you have the opportunity to speak with him?”
“He took me about this morning. Showed me the lay of the land.” The baronet’s cheeks were flushed, probably from the amount of alcohol he’d consumed over the course of the meal. The thimbles were deceptive, Susannah had learned long ago.
“The lay of the land.” Susannah didn’t know how to take that and ignored Calypso and Hortense across the table, both making “shush” faces. “So Mr. Tom spent the morning with you. He didn’t mention it to me.”
“Why would he? If he’s here to sneak about and investigate you, it seems as how he wouldn’t tell you what he’s up to all day long.”
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