Klara ached all over, but perhaps the bitter draught of willow bark and hot water which she had just swallowed would subdue it. The aristocratic audience, which contained two princes of the Blood Royal, was one she did not dare refuse.
In the winter twilight, servants had been lighting ranks of candles set upon the chandeliers. The task completed, those tinkling balls of crystal and light were hoisted towards the ceiling. A glow fell over the white wigs and court clothes of the guests, who were seated in a half-circle around four string players and a gilded harpsichord.
The January afternoon was cold, and her maid, Liese had scolded. In the end, Klara resigned herself to wear a silver wig. Very often, in Max’s absence, she did not. This, of course, quickly set her apart from the other ladies, but Klara Silber's hair was her glory. Thick, lively, and the color of polished mahogany, it made a spectacular crown about her heart-shaped face. To atone for the absence of the required wig, her hairdresser would create a frenzy of curls. One auburn lock was often left loose to trail with lazy abandon over one shoulder. Today, however, she was simply too cold. Today she would gratefully accept the warmth that came with the wig.
The host of this English Tea, an elderly Baron, took Klara's hand into his white kid glove, ready to lead her to the harpsichord.
"You appear a little fatigued, Fraulein Silber. Please don't feel you must tax yourself too much on my account, especially when there is so much sickness about this winter. Perhaps just sing the poignant little piece by Kapellmeister Handel, the song of Queen Sheba, which the ladies love so much.”
The Baron, unlike so many others of high rank, was always considerate.
"I do feel somewhat tired, sir." Meeting his faded, benevolent gaze, Klara glossed her discomfort. "However, I would never wish to disappoint you, or your distinguished guests."
"I think there is little danger of that, Fraulein." He regarded her with a fatherly smile. "We wouldn't want you to be ill when your patron returns from his labors in Silesia. I'm sure that after the fighting and the long labors of his absence, Count Oettingen will often require the healing solace of your voice."
The Baron was simply making conversation, but Klara shivered.
Just the mention of Max!
Snow and continuing turmoil on the Prussian border had detained her patron, The Most Noble Maximilian von Oettingen.
Klara had been gratefully thanking every saint in the calendar that he had not yet returned....
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