Her bright blue eyes peered down at me, and I sighed. “No talking. If I need to answer someone, do so carefully.”
Her smile was more of a frown, but her fingers running through my hair put me at ease as the music started. People laughed and began to dance, moving about the room.
Father soon took her from me. He didn’t so much as look at me as he hauled her to their thrones.
I looked around, finding Truin against the far wall talking with her grandmother.
Her funny eyes fell upon me, filling with the smile that arched her pink lips. Her fingers fluttered, and I frowned, unsure if I should wave back.
I decided against it and winced when someone trod on my foot, my silver slippers no match for giant grown-up feet.
Bristling, I snuck outside where it was quieter and rounded the courtyard until I found the moss-infested fountain that was never paid much attention due to it being out of sight.
The perfect place to hide.
Seated on the dusty ground, I leaned my elbows on the rough edge. My fingers skipped over the water, my eyes tracking two lonesome carp swimming through the murky little pool.
A croak echoed, and staring across the water, I saw a dark green toad seated upon a lily pad. It stared at me with bright yellow eyes. I stared back, willing it to go away.
It croaked again, then splashed into the water.
“The ground is no place for a princess.”
I startled, glancing up at a huge male that knew my mother. I’d seen them talking sometimes at these fancy gatherings my father liked so much.
I couldn’t remember his name even though I’d been introduced to him some months ago, only that he was a lord. He looked it, with his finery and that regal sparkle in his amber eyes.
“A princess can do whatever she wants.” My eyes scrunched closed when I realized I’d already done the wrong thing. I’d opened my mouth when I shouldn’t have.
The large lord only laughed. My eyes fluttered open at the throaty, deep sound, and I blinked up at him.
He looked behind him when a bunch of males stumbled past the walkway, pushing and shoving one another as they sang and hollered. I think he sighed, and then his long legs brought him closer until I had to crane my neck right back to see his face.
I couldn’t see much from where I sat, and it wasn’t comfortable, so I stopped and leaned back over the edge of the fountain to watch the fish.
I wasn’t positive he wouldn’t hurt me. Not when there was an odd energy to him that screamed I should run from and to him at the same time.
“You should be inside,” the lord said, taking a seat near my hands on the lip of the fountain. “Where your mother can better keep an eye on you.”
“She can’t do that when the king is always taking her away.”
“The king?” His voice rose a little with interest.
I almost cursed, my cheeks heating. I was such a fool. “My father, I mean.”
The lord was silent for a long while, his hands clasped together between his bent knees. He smelled nice, like mint and sunny winter mornings.
“Why are you out here?” I asked, not caring that I’d broken another rule. If he were going to hurt me or take me to my father for punishment, it would have happened by now.
“It’s stuffy in there.”
I laid my head on my arm, watching his hands. They were quite large. I was willing to bet they’d be as large as my face. Then again, I was only ten summers old. “I like the cold, too.”
I felt his eyes on me then, but I didn’t want to meet them.
He was too big, too intimidating, and I was growing tired.
The noise emanating from the ballroom began to fade, my eyelids falling.
I awoke in someone’s arms, my eyes fluttering open to find a bristly chin. It wasn’t my father. He never carried me, and he always shaved.
The smell of winter sun and mint invaded. It was the lord. “My momma?”
A lumpy thing in his neck moved before he said, “She’ll be in to see you when she’s finished seeing guests.” I yawned, struggling to keep my eyes open. “She asked me to make sure you found your way to bed.”
Inside my rooms, he laid me on my bed, dragging my blankets up to my shoulders as I turned onto my side and mumbled, “What is your name, lord?”
“Zadicus,” he said. He then took a seat in the chair by the fireplace.
I heard the sound of a book opening and pages turning, but I collapsed back into sleep.
We landed upon a large crag that overlooked the lower portion of the city, where cobblestoned streets faded into dirt lanes and dense woods.