Lord Brance was singing. Loudly.
It was close to midnight, but other than the time, there was nothing unpleasant about it. Each note was hit in his clear baritone. Each chord he struck on the guitar was simple, light-fingered and quick. He sat easy, with his broad shoulders curled over the body of the instrument and his dark hair dropped carelessly into his eyes. The open square echoed his voice, carrying it high through the balconies, stairways and open windows of the layers of rooms. He might have picked the night and the square and the song for his own pleasure, except for the way he tilted his head up to face the windows, and the smile on his face which could only belong to a madman or a lover.
Aline crossed her arms as she leaned against the rail of her balcony, half to keep her dressing gown closed, half to tuck her hands into the crook of her elbows for warmth. The night air combed cold, tentative fingers through the pillars and rustled her hair around her ears. She smiled down at Brance, too confused to do anything else.
After a moment, she heard Rhannon step quietly out her door upstairs. She glanced up, catching her friend’s questioning glance as she settled at her own rail. They listened to another few lines together, both turning to the sides as other doors opened and shut and bare feet tapped across the platforms. Brance didn’t alter from his resolute musical romancing.
“Is this for you?” Rhannon asked.
Aline shook her head. “I can’t imagine so…”
“Is it for me?” Rhannon asked. She sounded amused at the idea, and utterly unbelieving.
“I don’t think so,” Aline said, for the sole sake of cutting her off before she shouted the question down to him.
More doors opened. More people crowded toward the railings. Aline watched Coralie tip-toe out farther down the face of the building, her bare gold hair shining in the lamplight. A moment later, her father snuck after her, and stood watching Brance with shocked anger for half a moment before he tapped Coralie on the shoulder and pointed her back inside. Coralie said something, and it echoed down only as a high pitched objection. Her father leaned toward her like if he came close enough and held still enough it might give them some privacy. He pointed repeatedly toward the door. They looked like two statues arguing and trying to rock each other down from their pedestals. A ring of laughter teetered out from them. Brance kept singing, but Aline could see that he was grinning around his song.
More doors. More quiet questions between half-asleep friends. Aline glanced up and down, looking for any unoccupied balconies, but she saw at least one head peering down from every one. Their faces turned in grades of confusion and amusement and shock. No one held very still, pointing down at him, pointing across to their friends, everyone trying to decide who he was delivering the song to.
Brance sang louder, clearer, stood and walked slowly toward the face of the building. But not toward any particular window. Aline shook her head. For a moment, she thought he caught her eye, smiled especially for her. Maybe it was to Rhannon. Maybe to the woman below her. Maybe he was courting the entire audience, and about half of them looked appalled. Aline loved it.
Another door opening and clapping shut, and it didn’t surprise Aline at all. The more company, the merrier the party, she thought. Then she saw Vardan, head of the household guard stride out and stop beside Brance. For half a line, Brance turned his winning smile and flirtatious song toward him. It didn’t look like Vardan moved, but Brance suddenly stood, turned and bolted.
Aline laughed. Rhannon applauded. The rest of the spectators gasped, or clapped, or shouted down to them. Brance ran fast as his long legs would take him. He still strummed the guitar. He didn’t sing, too busy laughing as Vardan came after him. Every chord came faster, more urgently, and strikingly imperfect. The square carried some notes higher than others as he hit sweet spots in the air along his course, until his song sounded more like an old tinker toy box than a serenade.
“You idiot,” Vardan said, stalking after him. He crossed into a perfect corner of the square, so that it carried his voice all the way to the tops. “There is no reading of the phrase ‘stop that’ that could mean ‘I really wish you’d move to the other end of the palace and wake up the rest of them’.”