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Surely after Dhori’s intervention everything will be okay now. Surely.
THE SILENCE WAS ABSOLUTE.
Orla wanted to sink to the floor and cradle her head, unable to keep up with the revelations anymore. She stared at the girl she’d been sharing a room with all these months, unable to comprehend that she was a princess. Taryn, the surly skysailor, who’d scrubbed dishes in the galley and sluiced out the jakes after back-chatting the captain, was a princess.
It explained so much, and yet, no. It couldn’t be. It made even less sense than Henley lying to her all this time. She’d always known deep down that Henley’s friendship had made no sense. She’d always known he must have been after something, but the betrayal still stung.
Taryn being a secret princess was worse than a betrayal. This was treachery.
“Dhori!” Both Taryn and the captain sounded less than pleased with the lieutenant’s intervention.
The man smiled, saluted and faded away as swiftly as he’d arrived, leaving devastation in his wake.
“A princess,” Rudtha whispered, forgetting herself enough to drop her hand from her face. Her pimple really was glowing now. “You? You’re a princess?”
“Your Highness.” Imanyne sank into a curtsey and whacked her friend on the arm, miming for her to do likewise.
“No chance!” Rudtha shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not toad-eating to her. Your family might be ambitious enough to stomach it, Im, but mine have more pride. You’re a lousy princess.”
Taryn smirked and bobbed a curtsey of her own. “Thank you. Your pimple is throbbing. You should probably put something on it before it bursts and scars.”
Clapping a hand across her face again, Rudtha tugged at Imanyne’s arm, but when her friend remained in her low curtsey, she gave a small frustrated growl and ran away.
“I don’t think she’ll be back tomorrow,” Captain Stirla murmured to his sergeant. “You can strike her name from the list.”
“Aye, captain.” Joras pulled a notebook from his pocket and scratched out something with his pencil.
“Hers too.” Taryn nodded at the girl practically kneeling in the mud before them.
Imanyne’s head shot up. “Oh, but Princess -”
“I hate crawlers,” Princess Nataryn said, stepping close to her former-fellow student. “But do you know what I hate even more than that?”
“N-no, Highness.” Imanyne stumbled back to her feet, trying not to get stepped on.
“Spiteful brats,” Taryn said, glaring up at the taller girl, who hung her head in excruciating obsequiousness, “who make up vicious bets and aim their nasty little friends in innocent people’s directions, all while they stand back, pretending to be above it all, when in truth they’re the ones that started it.” She narrowed her eyes. “Do you know anyone like that, Imanyne?”
“No, Highness,” the girl whispered, her voice very, very small.
“Keep it that way.” Turning on her heel, Taryn grabbed Orla’s arm and marched them both away.
“Will we be seeing you tomorrow, Imanyne?” Captain Stirla asked.
“No, sir,” the girl said, heavily subdued.
“Strike her, Joras,” the captain said.
“Aye, sir,” the sergeant replied.
“Keep walking, keep walking,” Taryn muttered, tightening her grip when Orla tried to pull free.
“I do not want to walk with you, Your Highness,” she growled, putting extra emphasis on the words that shouldn’t have hurt, and yet cut deeper than anything Henley had ever said or done. Including his long term plan to get her expelled.
She didn’t even like Taryn. They rarely spoke. They might have shared a room, but they were practically strangers. Her being a secret princess should not have been a problem.
Taryn’s fingers flexed around her arm, but she didn’t let go. “I understand. However, if we have this fight here and now, it will undo all the good work we have just achieved. Wouldn’t it be nice if people stopped whispering about you behind your back?”
“They will,” Orla predicted grimly. “Once news of this spreads, they’ll be whispering about you instead.”
Taryn’s lips twitched. “And Rudtha said you had no sense of humour.”
Rudtha had also called her fat and ugly, along with other hurtful things.
“She always was a spiteful idiot,” Taryn continued, seemingly unaware of the turn of Orla’s thoughts. “Just look at the company she keeps.”
Considering who Orla’s only friend had so recently been, that was not comforting.
“I do not wish to talk about this,” she said, hating how stiff and fragile she sounded. She didn’t want to be hurt by any of the morning’s revelations. She didn’t want to let the insults cut at her. She didn’t want to believe that any of this had been her fault.
She didn’t want a lot of things, but as her aunt used to tell her, I want doesn’t get. Not wanting apparently worked along the same principles.
Taryn squeezed her arm briefly, perhaps attempting some form of reassurance as they strode down the winding path towards the city. “We don’t have to talk at all.”
That, Orla realised, was entirely their problem. They had rarely spoken to each other. That was how Taryn had managed to keep such a big part of herself secret and why Orla had ended up feeling like such a fool. Again.
However, since she didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything, she fell into a resentful silence and wondered how swiftly she could find a ship to take her home.
* * *
“THEY’RE GOING TO die! They’re going to die! I can’t watch! They’re going to die!”
Even though Vhen’s own thoughts were running along similar lines, listening to Tenzi scream about it was not helping.
“Shut up,” Keiva hissed. “She can do it. She can do it.”
Vhen found himself gripping both girls’ hands as the three of them stared over the broken rail, watching Rhiddyl face the oncoming ravine wall at horrible speed.
The great blue dragon flared her wings, roaring in defiance. Lightning snapped, searing Vhen’s eyes.
“I can’t see! I can’t see!”
Vhen ignored his companions, blinking as he tried to clear the spots from his vision. When they were gone, he heaved a great sigh of relief and squeezed his friends’ hands.
Rhiddyl was gliding along the ravine, searching for a place wide enough to flap her wings. She found it. Thumping the air, the dragon shot into the sky and soared.
“She’s beautiful,” Tenzi whispered, and for once no one told her to be quiet.
Vhen nodded in silent agreement as he watched the dragon glide over them. Her pale belly shimmered in the lowering sun, her long tail fluttering like a banner in her wake. Silver highlights shone on her wings and face. Clutched against her shining chest, Guto spread his arms and whooped.
“They’re landing by the offices,” Tenzi cried, dropping Vhen’s hand and racing back across the bridge.
Keiva cleared her throat, drawing Vhen’s attention. Her dark eyes narrowed. “Did you know about this?”
Knowing how much trouble the honest answer would bring him, he dazzled her with his rarely-used smile. “Do you think she’ll take us for a flight if we ask?”
As he’d hoped, Keiva blinked, made speechless by his secret weapon.
It was one of the reasons why he so rarely smiled. His mother had taught him early how powerful a weapon such things could be, if used correctly. Feeling smug, he tugged his friend off the bridge, leading back to the offices and the dragon who was slowly coming back to earth. “Let’s go ask.”
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