The queen beamed. “Why, you’re a minstrel good sir.” She tittered (so that’s what tittering sounds like, Zorikh thought) “yet do you not think that beauty is something more than outward appearance? Is someone not also beautiful for her character? Her soul?” Zorikh, who had been strolling along with his eyes glued to the orchard, hazarded a glance at her. Yep, there it was- the look. He had been hoping that he was reading the signals wrong, that there was some Dark-Age-to-Modern translation problem with what she was transmitting and what he was receiving. But no- there it was, the look. The queen dug him, despite apparent differences in social standing, and a happily murderous husband. He had to be very careful what he said to her from this point on. “You didn’t answer my question,” Wealtheow said.
“Huh?” Zorikh snapped back to their conversation.
“Do you not think that true beauty comes from within?” Wealtheow breathed gently.
Don’t say it, Zorikh thought, don’t say it. “What do you think, Zorikh?” Wealtheow asked again.
“I think,” Zorikh said almost mournfully, “that a radiance such as yours can only come from within my lady.”
The queen’s smile flashed brighter, but disappeared when she saw his pained expression. “Whatever’s the matter?” she asked.
Zorikh sighed a tall sigh. “It’s like this,” he began. “You are undoubtedly one of the loveliest creatures I’ve ever met, and you have this great way of talking, and you’re a queen through and through, and I’ve never met a queen before, but… I’ve got a lady, and she’s all of the above, except for the queen part, plus she’s just such a great person and I’m totally into her, you know? Anyway, I didn’t mean to make it seem like I was interested in you, I just have this habit of letting people know how I feel about them, and you, honestly, are just so radiant and just struck me as a beautiful person and I just needed to let you know.” He watched for her reaction, which was slow in coming. “So there, that’s pretty much it,” he finished off. “I’d introduce you to her, but she’s in Pennsylvania.”
Wealtheow let herself smile slightly. “So,” she said slowly and clearly, “you are saying that you regret that you told me I am beautiful… because you have a lady in- Pennsylvania?”
“I’m telling you that I didn’t mean to make it seem like I fancied you, your majesty. Although there’s nothing wrong with you.” Oops. Oops.
“I’m certainly glad to know that you think that there isn’t anything wrong with the queen,” she said flatly. “Yet I have to say Zorikh, that your lady is fortunate to have a lord who feels the need to be forthright on her behalf. Come, let us be friends,” she took his hands in hers, kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear, “Your lady can rest assured that you are quite safe with me, good sir. If you promise to keep speaking as freely as you wish to me, I will promise to respect your honor, sir, and protect your virtue from the other girls as well.” She patted him lightly on the cheek and once again took his arm.
“It’s a deal,” Zorikh said, still blushing but very much relieved. They walked on silently for some time until the orchard was a stone’s throw away. Zorikh had half expected to see rows of apple trees, littered with cars and rife with apple-throwing children. He was pleasantly surprised at the small shady grove that greeted them. There were, of course, no apples in the trees, but the bright, fragrant blossoms were beautiful and cheered them. Wealtheow laughingly apologized for the lack of fruit, but produced from her basket a light lunch of mild white cheese, grainy bread and red wine. After their stroll, Zorikh was thankful for a meal, and attacked the bread with gusto.
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