“We do have a lot of…catching up to do,” Elijah said, clapping Kieran on the shoulder with a heavy hand that caused my brows to rise.
A black-haired woman in a deep forest green, knee-length tunic and matching breeches strode forward, a heavy cream shawl draped over her shoulders. Immediately, my gaze was pulled to her footwear.
They were boots.
She drew closer, and I noted that her eye color was very similar to Elijah’s, if not exact. Were they related? She seemed at least a decade younger, closer to Hawke’s and my age. Maybe a niece? She gave all of us a close-lipped smile, her gaze, like Delano’s, falling and catching on my visible scars. There was no pity in her face, just…curiosity, which was far better than the former.
“I must speak with a few people, but Magda will show you to your room.” Hawke turned to the dark-haired woman before I could respond. “Make sure she has a room to bathe in, and she’s sent hot food.”
“Yes—” She started to dip, almost as if she were sinking into some sort of curtsy, but then stopped halfway. Her cheeks flushed prettily as she glanced at me. “Sorry. I’m a little off balance somedays.” She patted her slightly rounded stomach. “I blame baby number two.”
“Congratulations,” I said, hoping that was the appropriate response as I turned to him. “Hawke—”
“Later,” he said, and then pivoted, stalking off to join where Kieran stood with Elijah, now joined by Phillips, who was eyeing every inch of the keep.
“Come.” Magda lightly touched my arm. “We have a room on the second floor that has its own bathing chamber. I’ll have hot water sent up, and you can bathe while Cook prepares your dinner.”
Unsure of what else to do, I followed Magda from the entryway and through the side door that fed into a stairwell. Surprised that Hawke had left me alone, I figured it was because he knew I was more than equipped to defend myself, but it still seemed odd. Unless he felt confident about there being no Descenters here.
But even if that was the case, it didn’t explain how Hawke had known this woman’s name when he’d only been to the town briefly, and we hadn’t been introduced.
The room was surprisingly large and airy despite the only source of natural light being a small, narrow window overlooking the yard. I liked the exposed wooden beams on the ceiling, and the bed looked like the most inviting thing I’d ever seen.
I didn’t dare go near it, not when my cloak and clothing were stained with Craven blood, dirt, and sweat. I’d draped my cloak over a heavy, wooden chair and then made sure my sweater covered my dagger.
A fire was lit, and the food, a rich and savory beef stew, had come before the hot water. I ate every drop of the stew and the accompanying biscuits, and would’ve probably licked the bowl clean if it hadn’t been for the small army of servants commanded by Magda.
As the tub was filled with steaming-hot water, Magda hung a light blue robe on a hook in the bathing chamber. I stared at it, my throat suddenly clogged with emotion.
It wasn’t white.
I closed my eyes.
“Poppy,” the woman said, and I snapped my eyes open. She’d asked earlier what to call me, and that was the name I’d given her. “Are you all right?”
“Yes.” I blinked. “It’s taken…a lot to get here.”
“I can imagine,” she replied, though I doubted she could. “If you leave your clothing here by the door, I’ll make sure it is cleaned this night.”
She smiled. “Fresh soap and towels have been placed by your bath. Is there anything else you need?”
I wanted to ask where Hawke was, but I didn’t think she’d know. I shook my head, and she started for the door. Then I thought of the Ascended. “Magda?” I called out. “Who is the Lord and Lady in residence here?”
“Lord Halverston has gone hunting with some of the men,” she answered. “He would’ve been here to greet you, but he was already preparing to leave with it being so close to dusk.”
“Oh.” The Lord went hunting with the men? The people here were…odd.
“Is there anything else?”
This time, I shook my head and didn’t stop her. I quickly undressed, leaving my clothing by the door and then hurried across the chilled floor that the fire hadn’t yet warmed, dagger in hand.
The large tub had to be the second-best thing I’d ever seen.
My sore muscles immediately welcomed the hot water, and I stayed longer than necessary, scrubbing myself with the lilac-scented soap and washing my hair twice before I worried that I’d wrinkle like a prune if I stayed one minute longer. Toweling off, I slipped on the warm robe and padded on bare feet to the small vanity, pleased to find a comb. I roamed out to the bedroom, idly combing out the knots and tangles in my hair, and placed the dagger on the end table. When that was done, there was nothing to do but wait.
I sat on the edge of the bed, wondering what Tawny was doing right now. Was she making friends with the other Ladies and Lords in Wait? Sadness tugged at my chest, and I welcomed it. That was far better than feeling only anger and pain, but I missed her.
I missed Vikter.
The knot of emotion was back in my throat as I smoothed my hand over the soft blue material. My eyes burned, but the tears…they wouldn’t come. I almost wished they would. I sighed, glancing back at the head of the bed. There were two pillows as if the bed were meant for two people to—
A knock on the door startled me. I jumped from the bed and was in the process of moving to the end table when the door opened. Snatching up the dagger, I whipped around.
“Hawke,” I breathed.
He lifted his brows. “I thought you’d be asleep.”
“Is that why you barged in?”
“Since I knocked, I don’t consider that barging in.” He closed the door behind him and stepped into the light. He’d bathed and changed, his damp hair curling against his cheeks. “But I’m glad to see that you were prepared just in case it wasn’t someone you wanted to see.”
“What if you’re someone I don’t want to see?”
That half-grin appeared. “You and I both know that’s not the case.” His gaze roamed over me. “At all.”
“Your ego never fails to amaze me.” I placed the dagger back and then looked around. Since the only other place to sit was the very uncomfortable-looking chair, the bed was the only option. I sat on the edge.
“I never fail to amaze you,” he replied.
I smiled. “Thank you for proving what I just said.”
He chuckled as he strode forward. “Did you eat?”
I nodded. “You?”
“While I bathed.”
“Multi-tasking at its finest.”
“I am skilled.” He stayed where he’d stopped, several feet from me. “Why aren’t you asleep? You have to be exhausted.”
“I know the morning will come sooner rather than later, and we’ll be back out there, but I can’t sleep. Not yet. I was waiting for you.” Suddenly nervous, I toyed with the sash on the robe. “This place is…different, isn’t it?”
“I imagine if one was used to only the capital and Masadonia, it would be,” he answered. “Things are far simpler here, no pomp and circumstance.”
“I noticed that. I haven’t seen a single Royal Crest.”
His head tilted. “Did you wait up for me to talk about Royal banners?”
“No.” I sighed, letting go of the sash. “I waited up to talk to you about what I did to Airrick.”
Hawke said nothing.
My nervousness gave way to irritation. “Is this later enough for you? A good time?”
There was that curl of his lips. “This is a good time, Princess. It’s private enough, which is what I figured we would need.”
I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut. Dammit. Was that why he’d kept pushing it off? If so, that made sense.
“Are you going to explain why neither you nor Vikter ever mentioned that you had this…touch?”
My jaw came unlocked. “I don’t call it that. Only a few who have heard…the rumors about it do. It’s why some think I’m the child of a god. You, who seems to hear and know everything, haven’t heard that rumor?”
“I do know a lot, but no, I have never heard that,” he replied. “And I’ve never seen anyone do whatever it was that you did.”
My gaze searched his, and I thought I saw the truth in his stare. “It’s a gift from the gods. It’s why I’m Chosen.” Or at least one of the reasons. “I have been instructed by the Queen herself to never speak of it or to use it. Not until I am deemed worthy. For the most part, I have obeyed that.”
“For the most part?”
“Yes, for the most part. Vikter knew about it, but Tawny doesn’t. Neither did Rylan or Hannes. The Duchess knows, and the Duke knew, but that was all,” I told him. “And I don’t use it often…ish.”
“What is this gift?”
I blew out a long breath. “I can…sense other people’s pain, both physical and mental. Well, it started off that way. It appears that the closer I get to my Ascension, the more it evolves. I guess I should say I can sense people’s emotions now,” I corrected, tugging at the blanket beside me. “I don’t need to touch them. I can just look at them, and it’s like…like I open myself up to them. I can usually control it and keep my senses to myself, but sometimes, it’s difficult.”
“Like in crowds?”
Knowing he was thinking about when the Duke had addressed the city, I nodded. “Yes. Or when someone projects their pain without realizing it. Those times are rare. I don’t see anything more than you or anyone else would see, but I feel what they do.”
“You…just feel what they feel?”
I looked up at him.
He was staring at me with slightly wide eyes. “So, you felt the pain that Airrick, who had received a very painful injury, felt?”