Clothed now, Rhiadi nervously waited for her turn before the King. The box under her arm had grown heavy with the time she had stood in the anteroom, but she refused to let anyone else handle it. Her other hand picked nervously at miniscule pieces of lint embedded in the skirt of her dress. It was her best one, reserved for special occasions. Anna would have let her borrow one of her gowns, but the two women were so different in height it would have looked ridiculous. Rhiadi smiled at the thought of her dear friend’s generosity. They were an unusual pair in many respects.

Her sensuous turn of thought was arrested by the opening of the massive door before her, and a kid-gloved hand waving her in. She straightened her back, trying to feel at ease in both the airy palace and her restrictive – but required – clothing.

The high-class voice announced her efficiently, “Mistress Rhiadi Feysguir, Craftswoman!” As her name rang through the domed hall, Rhiadi strode forward, head high and hands tight on her precious cargo. She stopped at the bottom step and gave a deep curtsey, careful to keep the box at her side level. She straightened herself and waited, staring with determination at the king’s velveted knee.

“Mistress Rhiadi Feysguir, we have been told that you are a craftswoman who excels all others.” The King’s voice was not unkind, and Rhiadi ventured to raise her eyes to his face, which matched his voice perfectly. His skin was golden, as was the hair that flowed around his face, around the long pointed ears they all had, and down to his shoulders in lustrous waves like a lion’s mane. His broad chest was swathed in deep red velvet embroidered with gold and copper vines, and his eyes sparkled darkly. She was immediately attracted to his outward beauty and his inner confidence, and blushed at the thought.

Clearing her throat, she answered, “Your Majesty, I am but a maker of small things, an artist of form. I bring you a sample of my work as a gift,” here she held the cloth-wrapped box slightly toward him, but looked around uncertainly.

The king waved a page over, but Rhiadi recoiled slightly from him as he reached for her treasure.

“Are you having second thoughts, my dear?” The low-pitched feminine tone brought Rhiadi’s attention to the occupied throne beside the king. The woman there was just as stunning as her husband, with sleek golden waves longer and more tame than the man’s mane, lighter skin, and bright blue eyes which twinkled despite their intensely focused gaze. Rhiadi felt an attraction to her, as well. She loved all things which were beautiful enough to strike the heart with longing.

“No, your Majesty, I apologize. My work is delicate and I … I … ” She stammered to a stop.

“You do not trust our page.” The king grinned as she ducked her head, embarrassed to hear it put so bluntly. “Very well. You may approach, but unveil the thing first that we may know it is as you say it is.”

Rhiadi quirked one side of her mouth wryly; he had insinuated that if she didn’t trust his page, he had the right not to trust her. That was fair. She unwrapped the cloth and handed that to the patiently waiting boy, then ascended the stairs of the dais, glass side facing their Majesties. At the top, she sank to one knee, resting the diorama on her other one, head bent.

While her eyes roamed the smooth whorls of wood grain before her, she heard a slow intake of breath.

“Why, Liauron, this is incredible! Look, every hair on my body is correct, and you can see where I have stepped upon the grass, where it is springing up again!”

“Dain, that is my Dain! Down to the chestnut on his hind hoof!” She felt his movement and looked up to find the king’s face a mere foot from her own, examining closely the scene in the box she held. She could feel his breath on her hands, and her own came faster. “How did you do it? Magic?”

She shook her head emphatically, “No, sire! I use no magic in the making of the models. They are by my own hands.”

The king turned to his wife, “Illia, this woman’s talent is extraordinary! We simply must keep her in the palace.”

Rhiadi gasped, and the two rulers glanced at her, identical expressions of bland curiosity on their faces. “Oh, your Majesties, I couldn’t! I mean, I do appreciate the offer, really, but my workshop is my home. It is where I am … most comfortable. Where I can create! It is … quiet there.” She desperately didn’t want to offend her king and queen, because the thought of royal commissions was too good to want to jeopardize, but she was horrified to think of being kept in the palace, away from the natural world that inspired her, and provided many of her materials.

The queen waved the page over again, and the kind smile she gave Rhiadi assured her that her work would be in safe hands. The craftswoman relinquished her hold and watched a piece of her heart walk away, to be placed on a marble table draped with gold-embroidered lace.

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