Two men and a little girl, all dressed for the cold. One man, the shorter of the two, was pale with dark hair, as was the girl, but the other man was obviously from Kriss, judging by his dark skin and stern profile.
“Ah, our guests have arrived. Welcome.”
The pale man smiled. “How could we resist such an offer? I know who you are, and you know who I am, but we still need the introductions. I’m Captain Vincent Henson, this is my daughter, Sophia, and this is my friend, Saïd Hartir.”
Zdenek bowed deeply. “It is a pleasure, Captain. Would you care to meet my guest? This is the new Crown Prince of Nallis, Alistair Wymer.”
All eyes turned on him, and Alistair smiled awkwardly. This was bad. Zdenek, as well as the leader of Canton, conspiring together? Something was going on.
“He wasn’t mentioned in the letter. Is this good or bad?”
“Oh, very good. Sister Lacramioara brought me information regarding the southern kingdoms, which I then had her relay to you. Let us speak more of this elsewhere.” Zdenek started to walk toward one of the larger huts, and Lacramioara and the Krissen followed, but the pirate hesitated.
“Soph, stay here and play, all right?”
“Aye, Da. I’ll be good, I swear.”
“Good girl.” With that, Henson turned and jogged to catch up with the others.
Alistair watched them vanish into the hut. If only he knew where Aisling was, and how to send out his spirit to touch hers. Wherever she was, he hoped she was doing something productive.
“So… you’re a prince.”
He looked over at the little girl, who was sitting in the snow a few metres away, idly tracing patterns with her finger. “Yes.”
“Is it fun?”
“Da says I’m pretty much princess of Canton, but we don’t got a kingdom like you do, so it doesn’t really count.”
Alistair held back a smile. “If you’re his daughter, you’re the most important little girl in Canton. Even if you don’t have a kingdom that counts for something.”
“I guess.” She shrugged and rubbed her nose. “Still. It’d be fun. Can you do magic? Was that what you were doin’ when we came?”
“But you’re Nallisian. Saïd says Nallisians hate magic.”
“We’re trying to fix that.”
“Oh. Well. Good luck. Saïd says you can’t fix somethin’ like that, but I guess if you’re really tryin’…”
Alistair sighed and sat down in the snow, uncaring of the cold and wet. “That’s why I’m here,” he said with a sigh. It seemed prudent to him to leave out the fact that this was kidnapping, that his escorts and friends had been sent off to Spirits know where, and he had been kept there against his will.
Sophia gave him a long stare, her sharp grey eyes feeling as though they could see right through him. “You don’t really sound happy about that,” she pointed out, resting her chin on her hands.
Children were so observant. Adults could learn a thing or two from them. “I’m not. I’m starting to miss some people.”
“Like a wife?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “No. I’m not married.”
“But you’re old.”
“I am not.”
“Yeah? Prove it.”
“I’m only twenty-eight.”
Alistair smirked and leaned against the wall of the training hut. “All right, you caught me, I’m old. You had best not have a husband.”
Sophia shook her head and tugged her woollen hat further down her head. “Nope. Da won’t even let boys in the house. He thinks that once I’m older, they’ll just use me like a street lady to get at his money.”
“He thinks that… what?” He gawked at her, at her tiny, innocent face and childish smile. Did she just say what he thought she said?
“Y’know. Ya gotta have street ladies in Nallis, don’t you?” She grinned, showing off a gap where she was missing a tooth. “That’s how I came around, y’know. Da just can’t keep his hands off ‘em!”
“Should you really be talking like this?”
She cocked her head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“If my little sister had been talking like that when she was ten, or even now, my father would have her locked away and wash her mouth out with soap.”
Sophia’s grin widened, and she gave a little laugh. “Yeah, but your sister’s a princess, an’ I’m the daughter of a pirate!”
“You’re still a little girl. You should be riding ponies and playing with dresses and braiding your hair.”
“You’re an old man. You should be married with little babies.”
Alistair smirked and idly began packing snow in his hands. “Soon enough, I hope. Now that I’m crown prince, I ought to get married and start giving my father heirs, just in case another tragedy should befall the family.” Edric had no sons with his wife—he was blessed with a handful of daughters, and because of it, the throne had fallen to Alistair. A pang of guilt rose up in his stomach, mixed with the same despair that settled over him when he had a thought or tender memory of his brother.
Sophia nodded, opening her mouth, but she stopped abruptly and gave him a sharp stare. “Oi. You’re the Nallisian Crown Prince.”
Alistair’s brows arched up. “Yes. As was previously stated. Why?”
She shrugged and plucked at the fingers of her gloves. “On our way up here, on the road through the marshes, we come across some other Nallisians. One of ‘em mentioned you, I think. A girl.”
Something lanced through his heart. “What did she look like?”
“Dark skin and hair, but not like ‘em savages here. Green eyes, I think? I was a little far away, so it’s hard to tell. She said you was out huntin’, and you’d run off. Was lyin’, seem like, since you’re right here. ‘Less this is one of ‘em spells Saïd tells me about.”
“Saïd seems to tell you a lot.”
“He’s a mage. He knows.”
“Did this girl say her name?”
“Mm-hm. It was weird, though. Da thought she was from the Fells, but Saïd said her name was elven.”
Tucking away that little bit of information to contemplate later, Alistair leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and urged, “Was it Aisling?”
“That’s the one.”
“Was she all right?”
A sly smile crossed her pale face. “Da told me I was seein’ things, and Saïd said the same, but she turned into a dragon and flew away after we left.”
Alistair snorted and stole another glance at the pale, wintery horizon. “Oh, Spirits, Aisling,” he whispered, shaking his head. If only he had been there to see that.
A short bout of silence fell between them, which Sophia broke when she tossed a small handful of snow on his boots to get his attention. Alistair glanced back at her, still lost in his thoughts.
“I didn’t tell Da or Saïd, but guess what?”
“Another dragon followed her.”