Somewhere deep inside the building, a bell rang. A moment later, a girl in a white robe opened the door and blinked up at him. “Yes?” she asked in a high, sweet, barely audible voice.
Green eyes, creamy fair skin, golden curls; she clearly wasn’t from this part of the Kingdoms. Probably closer to the Kriethi border. She was very young, maybe thirteen years old or so; probably the youngest of several daughters, put into service here because her family couldn’t afford a dowry for her. Poor child. “I would like to see Sera Fransisa, if you please,” Kaniev said kindly.
The girl blinked again. She looked rather thin, her fair skin nearly translucent, as though she had been ill for a long time. “May I ask –”
“Aislinne.” The stern voice of a woman cut off the girl’s words. “Return to your studies. You are to let the stewards open the door and greet visitors.”
The girl’s cheeks reddened. “Yes, Sera Fransisa. I was only –”
“Now. Don’t argue with me. It is unsuitable for you to be speaking with strangers, especially strange men.”
The girl’s flush deepened, and she lowered her gaze. “Yes, Sera Fransisa.” Then she backed away from the partly-opened door, making room for the woman who replaced her there.
The first thing Kaniev noticed was her ample bosom, impressively corseted beneath the elaborately draped and pleated white robes. He wouldn’t call Sera Fransisa fat, but she did have substance to her, something he appreciated in a woman. The woman was under a vow of celibacy, he reminded himself. Whatever his other faults, and they were many, he wasn’t in the habit of seducing women who had made such vows.
Unless they wanted to be seduced.
Sternly, he made himself focus his gaze on her face, which was still considerably below his own eye level. Warm brown eyes set in a smooth, oval, olive-skinned face met his straight on. A few faint lines showed at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Her rich chestnut hair, done up in elaborate buns and curls, had only a few threads of gray in it. She wasn’t young, neither was she far into middle age. Probably about his age, give or take a year or two.
“Yes?” Sera Fransisa said without the slightest sign of interest or any other emotion other than annoyance.
This one clearly had no interest in being seduced. Maybe, with luck, he could still over-awe her with his stunning good looks and masculinity so that she wouldn’t laugh at him too much when he failed to fix her Source that chances were she didn’t even know was broken. “My name is Kaniev. I…”
“If you’re begging, you can go work in the fields, and at supper time we’ll give you a meal and ten pennies.”
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