Searching the corners of her mind, she could not shake the feeling that she knew this mysterious stranger.
Or perhaps Clara’s mind was playing tricks on her, trying to come up with a way to entertain her so she made it through this agony of boredom with some of her sanity intact.
Her father, Lord of Westin, was an important figure in the court, and as such, his family was obligated to attend such functions as this ball. With lavish decoration and scrumptious food, it could have been Clara Westin was simply a jaded, over-privileged young woman who had never known anything but her ostentatious life.
But if one could look past the disdainful eyes into the thoughts behind them, one might see a keen sense of balance of right and wrong, and an astute shrewdness that belied the smooth skin and rosy cheeks of youth.
Clara tried to figure out what it was about the man without staring outright at him. It took some study, but she finally decided it was something in the pleasing yet serious lines of his face, and the way his eyes watched the whole room, somehow seeing more than what was simply there. I do know this man, perhaps from somewhere long ago, but I know him.
It was disconcerting, knowing and not knowing at once. It bothered her, which irritated her. She was the daughter of a Lord, and she was above standing here being tormented by it.
As Clara made her way across the crowded foyer of the wealthy patronage of some artist who had their latest masterpiece on show, the man turned and disappeared. Clara walked through the rooms of the ostentatious home, trying to find him, but he was well and truly gone.
He may have been gone, but his face would not leave her mind. It turned up in her dreams. She thought she saw him in other men, but when she looked again, it had changed to less appealing countenances. She doodled his face on pieces of parchment and in the fog on the mirror after a hot bath.
And then he reappeared in the most unexpected way. Clara was browsing through the library and found a tome so old the pages were made of brown cotton instead of parchment, and the binding was frayed. Intrigued by the ancient runes of the title, which she could not quite make out, but thought they looked familiar, Clara pulled it out and went to sit by the window. The pages were heavy and resisted her wish that they turn. In thick ink made in the days when days things were made to last for ages, family names, details, and portraits filled the pages.
Clara was lost in the history of the realms of Westin and Hortford and Bellmast and Slatemore on the Sea, her eyes moving over the events written in the dry wordage of bookish historians and the precisely depicted faces in the pictures, until she had gone back through a ten of thousands of years and reached the Time of Flame and Frost, the earliest of the known histories, and then he was there.
She blinked and forgot how to breathe. Peering closer, she looked twice and then again, to ascertain she was seeing what she thought she was seeing. The same intense eyes, the same chiseled face, looked back at her from the ancient page. It was him.
Clara read the facts of this picture, still holding her breath, and somehow not noticing that the ancient semantics and inflection that made the language almost unrecognizable in the present did not hinder her in the least. His family name was Ir’Morgon. They owned estates up in the flatlands beneath the Hedran Mountains before they were carved up into the lands of Hortford and Bellmast. After assimilating all the dry information which told Clara precisely nothing, she turned her eyes back to what must be a family portrait.
An older man with a beard and the same eyes as the mystery man and a woman with grey curls and crows feet at her eyes sat in the middle. Two younger women with features like the older woman stood to the left, and each had a man beside them, hands clasped between them, obviously husbands.
On the right was the mystery man. Clara spent many long moments memorizing every line before she noticed there was one more in the picture.
Standing slightly behind the man, with her chin on his shoulder and her arms around him was a woman with wide eyes and dimple in her chin from her mysterious smile.
Clara stared at the woman who had her face and let out the breath she was holding.