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If you want to read all the snippets first, start here, Sunday Snippets.
“Among other things.”
“When can we start?”
“Let’s go up on deck.” I stepped out into the hall and looked both ways, then held up my hand to stop her while I closed my eyes and opened my Sight as wide as I could. The ferry was too large for me to scan entirely, but if there were Folke aboard, they weren’t radiating. Which did not mean they were not there. I opened my eyes slowly.
“All clear. You’ll have to get used to that.”
“I will try to remember. Do you really expect to find… something… onboard?”
“No, but I didn’t expect the Roc, either,” I told her ruefully. “And it’s good practice.”
She shivered, and I didn’t think it was from the cold Arctic wind as we left the enclosed cabin area.
“When will I be safe again, Lom?”
She stopped very close to me and looked down into my eyes. I could read the concern, even fear, in hers.
“After coronation.” I admitted.
“And when is that?”
I sighed, and admitted, “there is no set date. Once the King chooses his Consort.”
“His… consort?” She faltered and looked utterly horrified.
“Not what you’re thinking. The King and the Queen aren’t necessarily married, although many of them have been. It’s a political alliance, not one for love or sex.”
She sighed deeply. “Whew. I am glad I don’t have to jump overboard and try to swim ashore.”
I was pleased to hear her humor come back, at least a little. I hoped she was joking about that. I couldn’t have let her jump, of course, and it might have been awkward to keep her in the cabin the rest of the trip; humans frown on kidnapping. The wind bit my cheeks, reminding me why I had brought her out here, and putting me back on track to finish this quickly.
“Want to learn some magic?”
“Will it take long?” She looked around at the empty deck and huddled into her jacket. I didn’t blame her.
“It shouldn’t, but I needed the wind, that’s why I brought you up here.”
I led her near the bow. “Spread out your arms. Catch the wind.” I told her. She did so, looking at me and waiting for the next command. I let her stand there for a moment. Then I asked, “feel the pressure?”
“Yes, I feel… warm.” She dropped her arms and looked amazed. “What was that?”
“That’s your air magic kicking in. Spells will take a while to learn, but your body already uses just a little to protect you; in this case, keeping you warm. Now, let’s go in. I don’t have that magic to use right now.”
She nodded and followed me to the door. Back inside the hall, I rubbed my cheeks to try and get feeling back in them. “Whew. Next lesson I think waits until warmer weather.”
“That was magic? I still have trouble believing it actually exists, much less that I have it. How?”
“Let’s get back to the cabin.”
She fell silent and followed me. As we reached our door, she spoke again. “I thought bodyguards followed their principal.”
I unlocked the cabin and looked in – it wasn’t large enough to need more than that to see no-one had entered in our absence. “Go ahead, Princess. Now I’ll follow you.”
She gave me a dirty look as she slipped past me. I closed the door and locked it behind me. “There will be times I’ll lurk. But unless I’m expecting a stern chase, I want to walk into trouble first. So get used to it.”
“You keep telling me that.”
I shrugged, acknowledging her wounded pride. “It’s that or get used to being dead.”
She flopped into the sole chair, leaving me the bed. “I’m still getting used to that, too.”
“I know this is hard on you.” I sat cross-legged on the bed facing her, even though she had her eyes closed and was no doubt trying to will herself back to a time when I didn’t exist and her life was normal. “But this is the new reality, and unless you learn how to act and react, you won’t live long.”
She sat up straight and looked at me. “What’s in it for you? Why are you not only protecting me, but teaching me?”
“Teaching you is protecting you. When we are Underhill, there will be times I won’t be able to be right there. You need to be able to tap into your magic for both defense and some offense.”
“Well, we have a couple days stuck on a boat. I suppose I’d better cram, then, Teacher.” She cocked her head a little to one side. “You didn’t answer the ‘why’ part of my question.”
“You won’t like the answer.”
“I’m a big girl, if you hadn’t noticed.”
Yes, I had, and sharing a room with her for two nights was going to be a challenge. I fed that frustration into a little snarl as I answered her as unpleasantly as I could. “It’s my job. To get you there in one piece, Princess.”
“Stop calling me that,” she shot back.
“It’s your title, get used to it.”
She closed her eyes again. I guessed that because she couldn’t leave the room, that was her equivalent of walking out and slamming the door behind her. I stood up, and she kept them closed.
“Stay here. I’m going to go get us some lunch, and when I get back, lessons.”
“What if I don’t stay here?”
“Then I will have to find you.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” She had opened her eyes again and was looking intently at me.
I left the room, locking the door behind me. It wouldn’t keep her in, she had a key, but it might slow a monster down. And she needed a little space to digest what I had just said to her. Sure, I had saved her life back on the bridge with the Troll. But that didn’t automatically make me the man with the white hat. In my experience, there was no such guy, and she needed to learn that, fast. This was lesson one. Trust no-one.
Lunch was sodas and pre-packaged sandwiches. Nothing like the crab omelette we’d enjoyed early that morning. But it would keep body and soul together, which was all we needed for now. She was sitting cross-legged on the chair with her laptop when I came back in the room. Her eyes were closed.
“You didn’t challenge me?” I asked her curiously.
“Well, you have a key, and I was watching you.”
“You figured out how to use your Sight.” I grinned, suddenly seeing how a smart student could be a real asset.
“I think so. I’d seen you this way that first morning at the cabin, so I figured I’d recognize you again.”
She opened her eyes, then winced and blinked rapidly. “Ow. Now I’m seeing double.”
I put the food on the tiny table and came to stand in front of her. “Switching back and forth between Sight and real vision isn’t a fast process. That’s why you have to be cautious about relying on it.”
She tried to focus on me, tears in her eyes. “Does it get better with practice?”
“Yes,” I held out my hands toward her. “May I?”
“Ok.” She closed her eyes again and I gently touched her temples, rubbing the taut muscles.
Her skin was soft, and the scent of it, as she bowed her head almost into my chest, was overwhelming. I stepped back quickly. “Better?”
“Yes, thank you.” she opened her eyes, and I could tell she was seeing clearer. “Lom?”
“Yes?” I didn’t like this. This was a messy situation rapidly becoming more difficult, and I was afraid what she was going to ask me.
“Can we not fight? I know I shouldn’t trust you, but I have to trust someone, and I have a feeling you are…” She trailed off.
“I’m no good guy.” She was echoing my thoughts from earlier, in a way.
She grinned suddenly. “Fine, a rogue, a scoundrel, but MY bad guy, then.”
I stepped back slightly and swept into a low bow, trying not to hit either the bed behind me, or her, in the limited space. “Your very own ethically-challenged henchman, Princess.”
That made her laugh. “I suppose if I must be a princess, I at least have a henchman. Is that food?”
Now I laughed. Magical use made her hungry, too. I’d expected it, and had brought her two sandwiches. She made appreciative noises as she tore into the first one.
“I’m glad you aren’t a picky eater, at least.”
“Not a fairy-tale princess,” she insisted. “I’ll eat almost anything, once, and I know enough to not ask ‘what is it?’ in a foreign country.”
“You said you spent some time in Japan?” I prompted.
She didn’t need more encouragement to talk about that, around bites of her sandwich. She might not be a fairy-tale princess, but she was a tidy eater, I was pleased to see. There would be no need to teach her deportment before presenting her in Court. Now, some of the Court might shock and repulse her, but that was not my concern.
My princess had manners, and style. And she was tough. The girl might have a fighting chance. I refused to think about what would happen were she crowned Queen. The evil of the day was sufficient to worry about. We had a long path to walk before I even presented her at Court – and wasn’t that a peculiar thing, to be her guard and sponsor. Her family had almost no connections left Underhill. Lavendar had been the last of her line, and although she had been unusually prolific for an elf in the mortal world, there still were few of her bloodline remaining.
Bella cocked her head at me, and I realized I’d missed something, and apologized. “Sorry. I’m wool-gathering.”
“I was asking if you needed a nap. You look tired.”
I yawned hugely at the word nap. “I suppose you are right. Going to sit watch over me?” My attempt at teasing fell a bit flat when she nodded seriously.
“Wake me in an hour.”
“Will do.” She pulled a slim case out of her bag and flipped it open to reveal a tablet.
I fell back on the bed and closed my eyes, slipping into sleep far too easily.