A special messenger delivered the letter. Jovinda’s father took it into his study to open it, but Jovinda had already seen the Royal seal pressed into the wax sealing the message. She burned with curiosity. It was not often that a messenger came with a letter from the Royal Palace. She had to wait, though, until after the evening meal before her father told her what was in it.
The family sat down at the long table in the dining room. Jovinda fidgeted on her chair while Promin, the butler, served the soup.
‘Sit quietly, Jovinda,’ her mother said. ‘You’ll jog Promin and he’ll spill the soup.’
‘Besides, it’s not polite to squirm around at mealtimes,’ added her father. ‘I know why you are wriggling though. You are just curious as to the letter that came earlier. I’ll tell you about it after dinner, so have patience until then.’
Jovinda had to be satisfied with that and she managed to sit still while she ate her meal. Afterwards, her father called both Jovinda and her mother into his study. After they had sat down, he picked up the letter, lifted his glasses onto his nose and read it to them.
Jovinda was excited at what the letter said.
‘So I’m invited to the banquet as well?’ she queried, hardly able to believe it.
‘You are sixteen now, Jo,’ her mother said. ‘It’s time you went to be presented at court.’
Her father smiled at her excitement.
‘This banquet is in honour of the trade delegation from Rindissillaron,’ he told her. ‘All the leaders of the guilds and their families will be there, and as part of my family, and a young lady now of age, you are quite rightly included.’
Kendo, Jovinda’s father, was the supreme leader of all the trade guilds in Bluehaven and as such, would be involved in any trade treaties that might be signed between Grosmer and Rindissillaron, the elven homeland. This banquet, given by King Frome, was of great importance.
Ellire, Jovinda’s mother, smiled at the girl’s excitement.
‘We must get you a new dress,’ she said. ‘Tomorrow we’ll go to the dressmaker and choose some fabric and a style.’
The day of the banquet arrived. Jovinda’s parents had booked rooms in the Swan in Flight in Aspirilla, the capital of Grosmer. It was on an island known as Holy Isle because all the churches of the various gods had their headquarters there.
They took the short passage from Bluehaven to the island in the Inner Sea. From there it was a short journey to the Swan in Flight, where Kendo had booked rooms for them. It was the most expensive inn on the island, and probably in the whole of Grosmer. The landlord was more like the host of a large country house and treated his customers as important guests, leading them into the dining room from a comfortable lounge. Jovinda was most impressed.
Also staying at the inn was Jovinda’s best friend, Salor. Salor had been to Aspirilla before as she was almost a year older than Jovinda and so she was not quite so overwhelmed. Never-the-less, the two girls sat in a corner of the inn’s drawing-room chattering.
‘Do you think Prince Gerim will be there?’ Jovinda asked.
‘He might be, I suppose. Why are you asking? There’ll be elves there, Jovinda. Elves! I’ve never seen an elf. Do you think I might be seated near one?’
‘Why are you interested in elves?’
‘And why are you so interested in the prince? He’s younger than you, after all.’
‘Not by much, and anyway, he’ll be king when his father dies and whoever marries him will be queen.’
Salor laughed. ‘He’ll be able to have his pick of all the girls in Grosmer. He’ll pick a noble girl I expect. I don’t think he’ll look at the likes of us.’
The girls continued to chatter until their parents told them that, of age or not, they should retire for the night.
Jovinda and her parents stood at the top of the stairs leading down to the reception room in the Palace. Jovinda scanned the room looking for Prince Gerim. The prince was not quite sixteen, but would probably be at such an important banquet as the heir to the throne. She did not notice the young elf watching her as she descended the stairs.
Ellire had wanted Jovinda to have her hair done in one of the elaborate styles that was so popular, but the girl refused. She was proud of her auburn locks and the way they curled gently round her face. She wore it in a simple style that made her seem rather vulnerable. She had refused to wear an elaborate dress as well, and the simple folds of the green velvet she wore enhanced the look of innocence.
She partook of a glass of Perimo, a sparkling wine from the islands and spoke to many of her parents’ friends and acquaintances, feeling very grown up. Then she was presented to the king and royal family as it was her first adult social occasion.
Prince Gerim was indeed there, and she agreed that he was indeed a handsome young man, and thought that if she could catch his attention, the fact that he was younger than she was, would not make any difference. It was only a few months anyway.
Then the call came for them to go into the banqueting hall and be seated. Jovinda was surprised to be seated well away from her parents. She found herself seated between a young man she knew slightly, as his father was the head of the leatherworkers’ guild, and a handsome young elf.
This elf had been watching her as she walked around talking to people in the reception. He turned to her and asked her name.
‘Jovinda,’ she replied. ‘What’s yours?’
He laughed. ‘I doubt you’d be able to pronounce it,’ he said with a smile that lit up his deep blue eyes.
‘Well, it’s Nonimissalloran, but you can call me Noni. All my friends do.’
Jovinda thought the young elf very handsome, but then all the elves were. His extraordinary eyes fascinated her. They were slanting, like those of all elves, but it was their colour that took her attention. They were a deep blue. Much deeper than any eyes she had ever seen before. And his conversation amused her too. She found that she was no longer interested in capturing the attention of Prince Gerim.
All too soon the evening ended and Jovinda and her parents took a carriage back to The Swan in Flight. They were leaving the next morning for the ferry back to Bluehaven. Jovinda found herself hoping that she would see Noni again. After all, if he stayed with the delegation, then he would be based in Bluehaven. She smiled at this thought.
The day after they got back home in the richer quarter of Bluehave a bouquet of flowers came addressed to Jovinda, the most beautiful girl at the King’s banquet. It was signed Nonimissalloran of House Diplomat.
Jovinda was delighted with the thought that Noni had remembered her, and especially as the most beautiful girl at the banquet. She told Salor, who laughed and told her that she had soon forgotten her ambitions of being queen.
Jovinda looked at her and smiled. ‘Oh, I’ve not forgotten that,’ she said. ‘Can’t I enjoy the flattery of a handsome elf as well?’
But it was not just that. Noni came to call on her a few days later. The two went for a walk in a park not far away from Jovinda’s home. Jovinda found that she liked the elf more and more, and as the day wore on, it became obvious that the feeling was returned.
She could hardly believe that such a handsome man as Noni was could be interested in her. She talked to Salor about him until the other girl said. ‘It seems you have now forgotten about marrying Prince Gerim, them.’
‘Oh, that was just a silly girl’s pipe dream. Noni is so much better than any prince could be.’
‘Are you sure it’s not just his difference that attracts you?’
‘Oh, Salor, how can you say such a thing. He’s handsome, witty, kind, interesting and oh, everything a girl could wish for.’
But that was not what her parents thought. One day Ellire called Jovinda into the drawing room.
‘Jo, dear,’ said her mother, ‘Please sit down. I must talk to you.’
Ellire looked so serious that Jovinda thought that someone must be sick or even have died.
‘What is it, Mother?’ she queried as she sat in a comfortable chair opposite Ellire.
‘We must talk about that youn man, Noni, dear.’
Jovinda was on her guard immediately. What was her mother going to say? They liked Noni, she knew, and while they had not exactly encouraged their friendship, they had not prevented the pair from seeing each other. She waited to see what was coming next.
‘While it seemed the pair of you were just friends we had no worries about you seeing each other, but recently it looks to both your father and me that you are becoming more than just friends.’
‘And what if we are? He loves me, Mother, and I him.’
Ellire sighed as tears came into her eyes.
‘Darling,’ she said, ‘this cannot be. You are human and he’s an elf.’
Jovinda pressed her lips together and clenched her fists. ‘Don’t tell me you’re objecting because he’s different? He may be an elf and have had a different background and upbringing, but we agree on so many things. We’re friends as well as lovers. We laugh at the same things, get angry at the same things, enjoy the same things…’
‘Jo, Jo, I’m not against him personally. I think he’s a very nice man, and if he were anything other than an elf I would not hesitate to agree to your relationship, but he is an elf.’
‘What difference does that make?’ retorted her daughter.
‘Quite a lot, actually. Elves live very long lives. I’m not quite sure how long, but some say nine hundred years. Humans live for seventy or eighty at the most. Darling, you will be an old, old woman while Noni is still young. Do you think he, a young man, will want to stay with an old woman?’
‘He will. We’ve talked about this Mother. He’s promised he won’t abandon me when I get old. He says he’ll love me forever. Do you and Father not love one another even though you are both getting old?’
Ellire laughed. ‘Hardly old, dear. I’m only forty and your father forty-four. Anyway, we are both growing old together. That makes a big difference.’
‘Does it? What about Indro Manibrow? He left his wife for a younger woman only last year.’
Ellire sighed again. ‘Your father and I are both in agreement that this must end before you get hurt, and get hurt you will if it goes on. It cannot be allowed to get to the point where marriage is being considered. You must not see Noni again, Jovinda.’
At that, Jovinda burst into tears and fled to her room, threw herself onto her bed and sobbed herself to sleep.
Little did Jovinda know, but Noni was having a similar conversation. He had come to Bluehaven in the company of his father. As a novice in diplomacy, he had much to learn and his father thought his son would learn a lot from seeing diplomats working at first hand.
‘Son,’ said Noni’s father, ‘I must ask you to desist from seeing this human girl.’
Noni wrinkled his brow. ‘Why? Don’t you like her?’
‘Yes, I like her a lot, and if she were an elf, I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage the relationship. But she’s not an elf. She’s a human and that makes all the difference.’
‘Father, surely you aren’t one of those elves who think all humans inferior to us?’
‘Of course not, boy. But humans are different. They have very short lives. How will you feel watching your love grow old and infirm while you are still young and healthy? How will you feel when she is sick and in pain and you watch her dying?’
‘Father, I love her and I will to the end of my days. I will love her young or old, healthy or sick. I will not abandon her as she grows old.’
‘I’m sorry, my son, but I must forbid you from seeing her. I speak as both your father and the leader of this mission.’
Noni turned and stalked away, back to his rooms and stood at his window brooding and trying to think of away out of this.
Find out what happens to Jovinda and Noni next month on the third Tuesday. Will they overcome their parents’ disapproval or will the affair have to end?