A Wilderness of Glass - Grace Draven

Chapter One

The vestibule just outside the busy kitchens hummed with conversation and the thump of wet boots. One by one, the musicians shed their footwear for the clean shoes they’d carried with them during the slow wagon ride up the castle hill.

Brida Gazi laced her shoes with shaking fingers, still cold from the winds blowing off the Gray to scour the bluff on which Castle Banat perched. She blew on her hands to warm them before tucking them under her arms for additional heat. “I can hardly tie my shoes,” she complained to the woman seated next to her. “I won’t be much good on the flute if I can’t move my fingers.”

Haniss nodded, eyeing the fire they glimpsed in the kitchen with a longing gaze, flames dancing merrily in the giant hearth. “Maybe they’ll let us stand by the cooking hearth for a few moments to warm up and dry off a little.” She caressed the mandolin in her lap as if it were a favorite cat. “It isn’t just us who’ll need warming before we play. I don’t even want to hear what these strings sound like right now.”

The trip had been a miserable one with the salty mists spraying off the Gray to descend upon them in a light drizzle. She had huddled in her thin cloak, clutching her flute with one hand and holding her place on the low-sided dray wagon with the other.

Autumn had brought the annual rains, and this evening had been much like the ones before it for the past fortnight—wet and chilly. It could have been worse. Thunder boomed in the distance, heard even in the depths of the keep, behind thick stone walls. At their arrival in the bailey, the wagon driver had given their troupe a brief frown and a warning as he glanced at the horizon where lightning bolts split the heavy clouds.

“Be prepared for a drenching on the way home,” Odon Imre said. “And a long ride as well. I’ll not be pushing Voreg here to go fast on muddy roads. I’d rather get you home late than dead.”

A scullery maid appeared at the threshold between vestibule and kitchen, a spoon in one hand. She offered the musicians a quick smile. “Cook says you can gather by the fire to warm yourselves. Just don’t get in the way or have a chat-up with the rest of us.”

She leapt back to keep from being trampled as the five of them bolted for the kitchen and the promise of heat the hearth offered. Brida was the last to leave, and she paused before the wide-eyed maid. “I saw your mama today, Aliz. She wanted me to tell you not to forget that pot of pepper you promised when you come home in a few days.” She chuckled at the maid’s frustrated eyeroll.

“I wish I’d never said anything about it. You’re the fourth person who’s delivered that message to me. If I were my da, I’d start to feel jealous over the attention she’s paying to a container of spice!”

The various scents of food stewing in pots, roasting on spits, and frying in pans made Brida’s mouth water. She’d eaten at home a few hours earlier, but the meal had been nothing as tempting as the smells wafting through the great kitchen at the moment.

The castle’s cook, a tall, whip-thin man with a stare sharper than the knife he currently wielded, stalked toward them. Maids and undercooks scurried out of his path. He gestured with the blade and addressed them in a startlingly dulcet voice.

“Once you get the cold out of your hands, you can have something to eat over there.” He pointed the knife to a long table set against the far wall. “Lord Frantisek says a well-fed musician plays better, and he expects you to give your best tonight.”

Exclamations of delight greeted his announcement, along with assurances that each musician would offer up their best performance for the pleasure of his lordship’s guests.

Haniss leaned down to whisper in Brida’s ear. “His lordship is much different from his wife, I think. If it were up to Ziga’s sister, we’d be playing in the bailey in the downpour.”

“If it were up to Lady Frantisek, we wouldn’t be here at all.” Brida had met the lady of the castle very briefly years earlier, before her marriage to Andras Frantisek. A brittle, high-born girl, very aware of her station in life, she had grown into a beauty who captured the attention of the powerful