Welcome to the fifth short story in this collection. These are fun little peeks into the background of Mystery of the Golden Shells, which comes out on August 15th. If you missed the first four stories, you can find them here: The Scribe and the Rug, The Dresser and the Color, The Shellfish and the Cook, and The Performer and the Faux Pas.
Or, as a brief recap: Marissa is the new Queen of the Capital. Since it was an arranged marriage, she’s been working hard to earn King Ashwin’s trust. Recently, a peace delegation arrived from the High Coast nation and Marissa has been trying to do her part to make the negotiations go well although cultural differences have made that interesting.
Now on to the next story!
The Storyteller and the Help – A Mystery of the Golden Shells Story
Marissa’s head ached. It’d been a long day and it wasn’t done yet. With dinner over, Ashwin invited the High Coast delegates to a quiet drawing room for coffee and dessert. They’d expressed a love of oral stories and he’d brought in the Capital’s best storyteller to finish off the evening.
As they sat and the servants poured the mugs, Marissa wrapped her fingers tight to the porcelain and breathed in the fragrant steam. Coffee was one of the few things the Capital did better than her beloved Sky Kingdom.
Lilianna, the female High Coast delegate, swayed her way over and delicately sat down beside Marissa on the couch.
“We love our storytellers back home,” Lilianna said. “They are like family to us. What is your storyteller’s name?”
Marissa’s head throbbed. She ducked her face, admitting, “I do not know. I have never met the woman.”
Shocked, Lilianna asked, “How then can you help with the story?”
Thankfully, a servant ushered in the storyteller in question before Marissa had to think of an answer.
The woman’s fingers flashed with jeweled rings as she gave a deep, flourished bow. Marissa couldn’t help but admire the dark braids that wound in circles about her head like a crown.
“Your Majesties and guests,” the storyteller greeted everyone in a low timbre, “I am Patricia Willard, the Capital’s best spinner of yarns.”
Lilianna clapped softly. “Oh, this should be delightful.”
Patricia flashed a smile and began, “Long ago—”
“How long?” asked Timmon, the senior High Coast delegate. He’d leaned forward and Marissa saw nothing but interest in his expression.
“Pardon?” Patricia asked.
The storyteller scowled. “We don’t have a date.”
“Ah, pre-kingdom then.” And Timmon leaned back. He meant, as far as Marissa knew, before the current borders were drawn on the map.
Hesitating, Patricia finally began again, “Long ago—”
“Pre-kingdom,” Timmon supplied.
Color climbed the storyteller’s neck. “If you insist. Before the kingdoms, there lived a boy—”
“How old?” This time it was Lilianna.
As Patricia’s eyes flashed, Marissa began to suspect what Lilianna meant by “help with the story.” As the Capital’s new queen, Marissa was coming to love its easier way of life with the less formal approach people took to each other, but at moments like this, that informality could cause severe consequences. She watched the storyteller’s neck, face, and then ears turning a bright scarlet and knew an outburst was brewing.
For the second time in the same evening, she shared a look with Ashwin, his eyes begging her to help.
“Oh, we forgot dessert,” Marissa burst out. “Dessert, anyone?”
Plate’s clinked as servants responded to her invitation, passing out slices of pineapple cake.
Patricia spun away to stare out the far window of the drawing room. Even from the couch, the tension in her shoulders stood out, clear as a red sky.
Marissa excused herself and approached the woman.
“Mrs. Willard,” Marissa said under her breath.
The storyteller twitched.
“They are not used to our culture, but they are our guests.”
Marissa’s throat tightened at the look that flashed in the storyteller’s eyes. “This is my profession. Should they not show respect in return?”
Marissa didn’t disagree but she hardened her tone. They didn’t have time to discuss the political dance at the moment. “In their culture, they are showing respect to you.”
Patricia glared and Marissa took another tact before she walked away. “We can also tell them you are ill and cut this evening short.” Then, before the woman could respond, Marissa walked back to the couch while resisting the urge to rub her temples.
Get through this evening, Marissa. They leave in the morning.
She hated drawing such a line for the storyteller. If word got out that the castle had cut short Patricia’s performance, others would hesitate to hire her. Marissa did not want to do that to two performers in one evening, but it would be better than ruining the peace agreements with the High Coast delegates.
As she sat down again, Ashwin walked by and brushed her shoulder with his fingers in a silent thank you, and some of the tension drained from Marissa.
Thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed the story. We have one more in this short story set to share, so we’ll be back next Thursday to finish the story before Mystery of the Golden Shells publishes on August 15th. Hope to see you then.
P.S Pre-orders are now open for Mystery of the Golden Shells. You can check that out here on the website.