It was strange to actually see her in the flesh. The rumors were richer than she was, making her stand taller in his memory than she did on her own two feet. She had a habit of looking down. Not at her toes, the floor, or the dirt. Not pretending interest, just eyes idly lowered, always a foot beneath what it would take to match his gaze. Quietest spite. That he remembered perfectly, but not the way her shoulders rounded, or the way she measured each breath as if she needed the count to steady her. He forgot all her smallnesses.
Then he saw her again, almost overlooked her, and marveled that she had survived when he had ordered her dead.
She was a mouse who hadn’t collapsed in the snap of the trap. Glass that hadn’t broken under the swing of the smith’s hammer. Some moments, he would have given the order again, just to prove that she would shatter. But she shrank with every step she took toward him.
Taking a long breath, Damion leaned back in the High Seat. He settled his shoulders comfortably against the padding behind him.
Brance approached ahead of her, and she held her place perfectly, one step behind, one step to the right. She pretended to be his son’s guard well enough, though Damion knew she didn’t perform the job any more than he breathed ice.
“Father,” Brance said, taking his bow at the bottom step.
“You came,” Damion said quietly. Some of the men and women gathered in the hall heard, some of them didn’t. He didn’t care. Every one of them saw the perfect angle of his son’s head, the slow way he rose out of his respect.
“Don’t I always?” Brance asked. He smiled, just to admit to the lie.
“You’re late,” Damion told him. He wondered if Brance would apologize. He couldn’t remember if he ever had.
“Aren’t I always?” Brance asked. His smile twisted brighter, false in a different way now.
Damion nodded toward the chair on his right. “Take your seat. You’ve held up court long enough.”
“Thank you, Father,” Brance said. He bowed again, and came up the stairs in light, quick steps. Behind him, the girl stayed perfectly in stride until they split so that he could drop into the chair and she could take her place beside it, hands folded, shoulders squared.
And, at the last moment, she met Damion’s eye.
No, she wasn’t glass, looking at him like that with her chin still tucked down and her mouth an unshaped line and her eyes hesitant on the edge of boldness. She was something else. Something cracked. Something jagged. Already broken.
Donnemey had lied for her. Aymee had begged for her. Brance hid her behind all his wrongness, and it had been for this. Because the shine off her biting edges was a thing worth catching.
Damion took another breath, hating his chest for pulling tight. And he smiled at her slowly.
I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from my friend, Bek. Be sure to stop by her blog to check out who she was surprised to see face-to-face. While you’re there, welcome her back from her holiday hiatus. :)