“Oh, Rhia, it’s exquisite! His Majesty will be so pleased!” The lovely cinnamon-haired woman clapped her delicate hands together with delight, her dark eyes shining. Silver bangles which hung from the points of her long ears tinkled merrily with the movement as she bent toward the box her friend had showed her.

Behind a glass pane set in a light colored hardwood frame was a marvelous hunting scene. The miniature figures were carved from various shades of animal horn and bone, and perfectly mimicked the skin tones of the people they portrayed. The king was casting the eagle to the sky, and the green of his gauntlet was marred by tiny talon marks. His horse was tossing its head away from the motion, slivers of white showing around his eyes. The queen crouched, ready to run after the prey the eagle was sent to harry. The fur on her bunched haunches bristled golden, and her red-headed maid stood back holding another horse and the queen’s cloak and crown. Other figures were visible through the trees, each as exquisite as the last.

“Why, Rhia, there’s even a bit of mud on my little skirt! How clever of you. You know that’s why I hate to go on the hunting parties.” Her little pink lips pouted prettily.

Rhiadi smiled at her petite friend and covered her finished work with a dark blue cloth. “Anna, you are a wonder. In all my years of making these, this is the first time I will have made one for royalty. I owe you a debt. This will be my chance to be noticed.”

“Oh, Rhia, dear friend, it was the least I could do! And anyway, I don’t understand why you haven’t approached the court before. Your talent is prodigious! You could command any price.” Her embroidered surcotte brushed the floor and her friend’s bare feet as her hand rested on Rhiadi’s bare arm. The work apron the artist wore in her studio had been discarded, and her naked height dwarfed the clothed maidservant so close beside her.

Rhiadi’s slender fingers caressed Anna’s cheek tenderly. “You know I could not approach the court a commoner as I am. Your influence there has been able to grant me a patron which otherwise I could not have had. You have given me so much, and I have no way to repay it.”

Anna’s eyelashes fluttered delicately above her suddenly flushed cheeks. “Rhia,” she whispered, “You repay me in other ways.”

Their lips met gently as Rhiadi bent herself forward, her soft breasts hanging heavy against the rich fabric that kept Anna’s contained.

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