With a minor headache still throbbing away, Emris Gravels curled up in the library. He wasn’t quite hiding away in the dark corner, but it was a near thing. Once Catherine had cleared the confusion up about her family -her sister the Queen!- Emris had been allowed free access to the two-storied rooms that smelled of the dusty musk of leather and paper. He already had a dozen books piled up next to him, and more marked with ribbons that waited on the shelves. At first the wizened librarian had hounded him, keeping a suspicious eye on Emris… until it was clear he had even more respect for the books than the even librarian did.
It seemed like the Hitori crew was going to stick around Raanan for a while, so Emris was going to make the most of the miserable place. Especially since Isaac had run off with Hanad and Cath to some other city to track down her old gang. At least the King Nealan seemed like an intelligent man. They had spent the better part of two weeks putting their heads together on things as trivial as the best way to sharpen a blade, and as weighted as kingdom laws that needed reevaluation. They had even spent a few evenings sparring and testing out some rarely practiced fighting skills.
The sky burned orange with the last rays of light, casting a warm glow through the windows placed high in the walls. There was no sound in the room except for the whisper of a page turning. Just the way Emris liked it.
Lost in his chosen selection of literature, Emris almost missed the soft footfalls upon the dense carpet. He would have dismissed the noise, except it was getting closer and he might have been naive in his youth, however he’d been a pirate too long. The slim dagger was in his relaxed grip, hidden behind the book he held, when a young woman came to a halt and stared at the scholar with ill-concealed annoyance.
She was lovely, he mused, even when frowning. Her hair was a mess of glossy black curls, a pair of smudged glasses perched above her brow tangled with the mess. Her deep violet eyes held him captive, unnerved. She sported a dusty, road worn, dress and had it not been for her impossibly regal posture, Emris would have mistaken the stranger as a hauntingly lovely maid. Instead, his quick mind was informing him as to exactly who stood before him.
Princess Lavena Virendra of Raanan. Sister to his new friend the King.
It wasn’t until Emris spotted a metallic glint in her hand that he held up his own knife in a plea for peace. He held up the blade in the flat of his palm then set it to the side upon a pile of books. “I’m not here to harm, your Highness,” Emris said, easing from the chair and gliding into a graceful kneel. It seemed prudent to allow the young woman to get over her surprise in relative privacy. Bowing his head, Emris waited for a signal.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
Keeping his head bent, the scholar replied in a soft tone. “My name is Emris Gravels, the ship Hitori’s Scholar, and by my Captain’s orders, I am to await further orders while he travels. The King and Queen gave their express permission for me to pursue my studies in this lovely library, your Highness.”
“Why, pray tell, would a strange ship’s common scholar be allowed to run these halls unsupervised?”
“The Queen’s sister, Lady Catherine bid it so, your Highness.”
There was a silence that grew so long that Emris expected to find the Princess gone when he chanced to look up from the carpet. However she was still there, staring at him like he’d just grown wings and molted alarmingly all over the little corner.
“Cath is alive?” Princess Lavena whispered.
“Indeed. Lady Catherine should be returning to the city once she has found her old crew. My Captain is with her; thus I wait, Princess.”
“How long ago did they leave?”
Taken aback by the young woman’s urgency, Emris blinked. “A couple weeks now, your Highness.”
“Damn. Move over, I need to sit down.” Flummoxed, Emris plopped onto his rear and scooted out of the Princess’s way. She gave his knife an appreciative look before settling in. “Make sure I am not disturbed. And you can read at your leisure. I will not have use for you unless you want to use that blade to defend my solitude. Although… you seem to have found the one place that everyone else has so far overlooked. I’m loathe to share my space, but considering the news of my dear friend’s safety… I can overlook your infraction this time.”
“You’re very generous, your Highness.” Princess Lavena gave Emris a long absorbing stare. For an uncomfortable minute Emris felt like she could see all that he was and had been. Unnerved, the scholar picked up the nearest book and flicked it open to a random page. “I’m at your service,” he mumbled.
With a little laugh, the Princess curled up in the chair like a cat, elegantly arranging her skirts. Then she closed her eyes and when the dark corner started to glow violet startling Emris so terribly that he fumbled the heavy volume and lost his page.
Since when was the Princess of Raanan a mage?
Almost an hour later the Princess stopped glowing and roused from her trance causing Emris to look up at her expectantly.
The moment her bright eyes rested on him perched on a stool, she grinned in a terribly disarming manner. “Cath says you need to get some fresh air and I have to agree with her. Tomorrow I’m taking you to see the city and to tour your ship. She also said you are from Aderyn. Is that true Mr. Gravels?”
“Yes, I’m from Aderyn, your Highness. Though I can assure you that it is nothing of interest about that. I expect a woman of your rank has led a much more interesting life than that of a common man like myself.”
“I’ve met many men, and many were common, Mr. Gravels. You, however, are in fact most uncommon.”