194/366 – Lady Ainsley’s Confession

Day 52 of 100 Word Prompts: Turf

Gwendolyn was sure that Lady Ainsley’s cottage was much larger on the inside than it looked from the outside. While, from the outside, the building had held two stories, inside the entryway, the ceiling was easily fifty feet above their heads as an ornate chandelier of crystal dangled over them. A massive staircase led from the center up and around, doubling back on itself to another floor.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Lady Ainsley asked, noticing Gwen’s traveling gaze.

“How?” Gwen managed in her amazement.

“A very talented wizard,” Lady Ainsley replied, giving her a wink.

“We are honored by your invitation, as well as your presence,” Germain said, bowing low and kissing the back of Lady Ainsley’s hand.

“It is I who should be honored by your acceptance,” Lady Ainsley replied, though Gwen caught a hint of something in her voice that sounded off. “Shall we move to the lounge? The furniture in there is much more accommodating.”

“I will-I mean, we will follow you, madam,” Germain responded.

Gwen held back for a moment with Joy, letting Germain walk ahead with Lady Ainsley’s hand on his arm. She wasn’t sure what it was about the situation that felt odd, but she could feel something was off.

“Did you catch that?” Gwen whispered to Joy, sure to keep her voice low enough that only she would hear.

“What?” Joy asked. “We just got here. I still can’t believe that we’re actually here. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that I was dreaming.”

“No, there was something in the way Lady Ainsley was talking,” Gwen clarified as they passed through a doorway to another, more impressive, room. “When she said that she should be ‘honored by our acceptance.'”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Joy said. “All I’ve seen and heard is a very formal greeting between two performers.”

The center of the lounge had the largest rug Gwen had ever seen. The intricate design woven into it produced an effect of making the room appear larger somehow. Around the edge of the carpet, several pieces of furniture sat, broad and padded, and beyond them, lining the walls, golden statues of the actress.

“Are those?” Gwen asked, pointing.

“Gold, yes. Statues commemorating performances for Kings and dignitaries,” Lady Ainsley said, turning to look at her. “I terrible thing to bring from far away places, but they insisted that I keep them.”

“They must be worth a fortune,” Joy said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“It’s unbecoming of women like us,” Lady Ainsley replied, looking from Gwen to Joy, “to refuse gifts from the powerful people running countries. Our job is to elicit emotions they may not even know they possess until our performance. When done correctly, those viewing said performance would fall in love with you.”

“That explains Germain,” Joy muttered.

“What was that?” Lady Ainsley asked, “I couldn’t hear you. A Lady should always clearly and loud enough to be heard by the room.”

“I said, what else does this house contain?” Joy said, speaking too loud, drawing a snicker from Gwen as Lady Ainsley cringed slightly from the volume.

“This cottage is my home when I’m not traveling,” Lady Ainsley replied. “It contains everything I hold dear to me. Well, now it does.”

With her final words, Lady Germain’s eyes darted to and then away from, Germain. Gwen’s jaw dropped, watching the exchange. She was sure that she had heard something again, but only now just realized what it was she was catching.

“You really like Germain then,” Gwen said, sounding only slightly like a question, but more of a statement.

“I enjoy all your company,” Lady Ainsley replied, “Would you care to help me in the kitchen, Gwendolyn? I would very much like to get some drinks for everyone, but cannot carry four glasses.”

“I can help,” Germain said excitedly.

“No!” Lady Ainsley said, putting a hand up. “I would prefer young Gwendolyn’s assistance.”

“Of course,” Germain replied, sitting on one of the couches as he motioned for Gwen to follow.

“I could help as well,” Joy suggested.

“We only need four hands, dear. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable with Germain, and we will return momentarily,” Lady Ainsley said, motioning for another couch.

With a shrug, Joy fell into a piece of furniture as though her bed back at their inn. Lady Ainsley motioned for Gwen to follow as she walked toward a door on the far side of the room.

The ‘kitchen’ that Gwen witnessed when they moved through the door was one of the most intricate that she had ever seen. Rather than a hearth with raging fires, an enchanted cabinet of sorts sat against the far wall with a flue hanging above it. Woodblock tables sat around the room with enough working area to accommodate a dozen people, at least.

“Gwen, I believe you and I may need to have a conversation,” Lady Ainsley said as soon as they were clear of the door.

“About what?” Gwen asked, eyeing a piece of fruit on one of the tables.

“About your comment in the lounge,” Lady Ainsley said. “I expect you have figured out why I invited you all here?”

“Not entirely,” Gwen admitted, “I did find it odd that I was the recipient of the invitation, but you were insistent for Germain to come with me.”

“Can I admit something to you, Gwen?” Lady Ainsley asked, moving elegantly across the room.

“Sure.” Gwen shrugged.

“Only if you promise to keep it a secret, though,” Lady Ainsley said.

“I guess,” Gwen replied.

“As you undoubtedly are aware, I find Germain incredibly alluring,” Lady Ainsley started, bringing a sour taste to the back of Gwen’s mouth. “However, as you are also aware, I’m supposed to be married, and faithful, to Lord Carr. I find myself completely unable to push your patron from my thoughts.

“There is something else that I’m not even sure Germain knows, but we have met previously. A long time ago, before Tymora smiled upon me.”

Gwen stood for more than a moment, trying to consider what was happening, in complete silence. She didn’t know what it was when they had arrived that was playing at the edge of Lady Ainsley’s statements, but there it was in full view for her to see, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it.

“You can’t say anything,” Lady Ainsley said quickly, her face awash in panic. “Lord Carr will arrive soon, and he is known to be jealous. I admit this to you only because you and I are kindred spirits, I feel. I heard the way you felt your music at the festival. You are truly talented.”

“You don’t have to woo me,” Gwen replied, shaking her head. “I won’t say anything. I’m just not sure what’s happening.”

“I needed to see Germain again. I wasn’t always this Lady Ainsley. Lord Thornton thought it best for me to use a stage name,” Lady Ainsley rambled, confusing Gwen even more. “My real name is Millicent Sleford. Germain and I grew up in the same area, though I doubt he remembers the shy girl that hardly said a word to him. He was always so kind and thoughtful. I have never met another man who is so respectful and handsome.”

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Gwen said, lifting her hands. “I assumed that Ainsley was a stage name, but you grew up with Germain? You couldn’t possibly be near his age.”

“I appreciate the compliment, but you need to understand, I have to tell someone about this. I can’t tell Germain for obvious reasons, I’m not sure about your friend Joy as of yet, and I can’t tell my husband, again for obvious reasons,” Lady Ainsley said quickly. “I don’t know what to do. I want to be with Germain, but I know Lord Carr will not like it.”

“One thing that Germain has always taught Joy and me is that we have to follow our hearts,” Gwen said after a moment. “I can’t imagine being in your position, but I can tell you that Germain says ‘not to follow one’s heart is to die slowly on the inside forever.'”

“How eloquent,” Lady Ainsley said, turning for the glasses. “We should be getting back out there. I’ll think on what you’ve said, but please don’t tell anyone. Especially not Germain. I don’t know how yet, but I’ll try to figure out what I’m doing soon. I promise.”

“I still don’t know why you’re confessing this to me,” Gwen said, shaking her head as Lady Ainsley handed her two cups of water. “We only just met. I don’t understand what I have to do with any of this.”

“I find honesty is usually best in most situations,” Lady Ainsley replied, turning back to look at her. “I brought you here with the promise of tutelage, which I will honor, but I saw your performance at the festival. You hardly need my guidance.”

“Germain taught me,” Gwen replied, not knowing what else to say to such a famous person.

“Brilliant,” Lady Ainsley whispered as she moved toward the door to the lounge, pushing her way through with Gwen following close behind.

“Ah, there you are, Dear!” Lord Carr cried as they walked into the room.

Gwen’s heart skipped when she saw both Lord Carr and Germain on their feet in the center of the room, far too close for their conversation to be pleasant. Joy’s face was a mixture of shock and amusement until she noticed Gwen.

“Hello, Darling. I didn’t realize you would be back so soon,” Lady Ainsley said, handing cups to Germain and Lord Carr. Gwen noticed her voice shaking slightly as she spoke. “Let me go get another for myself.”

“Nonsense,” Lord Carr said. “Where are the servants? Where is Elisha? They should be serving us, not the Lady of the house.”

“I’m not sure,” Lady Ainsley said. “I gave them some time off.”

“Gave them some time off?” Lord Carr practically growled. “Why would they need that? They are our servants, and we have guests.”

“I told them they could have time off before I knew we would have guests. I forgot until today, but they were already gone,” Lady Ainsley said, holding up a hand. “It’s fine, Dear. I’ll be back in a moment.”

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