They were all coxcombs; vain fools who paraded around like peacocks fanning their tails. Indeed, Cardelia felt like the little brown peahen next to these noblemen in their colorful robes made of exotic silks.
Her father’s machinations were for her benefit so she’d played her part for each nobleman who presented himself. She had mastered the actions of a demure maiden; eyes downcast, laughing politely behind her hand when a noble attempted to make a joke, sipping and eating no more than a young child at meals, willing herself not to laugh at the outlandish words of praise.
This last nobleman took the prize. He likened her eyes to rocks and her hair to hay; flaming hay. Cardelia almost choked on her wine, trying not to laugh.
She knew what came next, thanks to almost a complete cycle of the moon, full of daily visitors. Her father would summon the fat priest, who was always inebriated by the time the evening meal was done. He would stagger to the center of the great hall and mumble the quest one more time:
Ye seek the nose of fifty two
The twelve of round are paired and true
The bloom you’ll find is quite contrary
The flower of death to those unwary
Cardelia had no idea what it meant but she’d heard it often enough that she could repeat it in her sleep.
This evening’s nobleman had scratched his head, praised Cardelia’s beauty with more laughable comparisons and then saddled his horse in the middle of the night and disappeared. Cardelia doubted he would be back.
The quality of noblemen had slowly deteriorated since the initial invitation. This latest noble she likened to the dregs of the wine barrel. Well, this was it. No more. She’d dutifully examined and tried to imagine a life with each of the men. None appealed to her in the slightest, and she would be damned before she’d wait around for one of them to show up with the answer to the quest.
No, she vowed to find the accursed thing herself and pick her own mate.