“Better than what?”, she heard a voice she mistook for Jeneyereu Nightwise’s.
Better than waiting for something to happen, stinking like straight out of a prison cell. Though the waiting part is still inconvenient, was what Lotye would have wanted to say. But when she looked up, she was too surprised to say anything at all. Why did Lord Nightwise enter the room through the main door even though she had assumed him to be in his bedroom? Why was he wearing the clothes of a sailor? That didn’t seem to fit his style. And who was that eorman next to him? By the looks of him, the man was a mariner, but there was more than just one thing strange about him. She hadn’t expected the State Magus of the Grand Navigators to bother with shady types like him.
But the confusion was cleared up not much later, only to be replaced by an expression of even more surprise on Lotye’s face. Starhand, not Nightwise. The Starhand? Peino Starhand Ereonis was kind of a national hero to the people of Farind. Lotye didn’t know much about this kind of stuff, but she had heard her father and the other fishermen drinking a toast to him in the small pub of Fisher’s Point more than once. She vaguely knew that Peino Starhand had been involved in the war against the goblins, but it wasn’t as if she had been the most attentive student in her history lessons. What she was certain of, though, was that he was more than just a little bit famous, a man whose adventures she had seen printed in newspapers and heard about in the chatter on the streets.
Belatedly, she followed her lawyer’s example and stood up from the soft cushions. Still distracted by the thoughts of who was standing in front of her, she didn’t manage much more than to bow her head as Aeto introduced her. A low “Milord” left her mouth. She slightly blushed under his glance and smile, both similar to his brother’s and yet so different. He had the same eyes, but they didn’t look at her with the purely scientific interest that made her feel like a test subject in Jeneyeru’s vicinity. To make the comparison perfect, a voice nearly the same as the one that had just complimented her sounded from the other side of the room.
Oh, by all gods, I didn’t intend to meet the whole family, Lotye thought as the two brothers greeted each other. Lotye felt certain that both would have been as alike as two peas in a pot if they had not worn such different clothes. Both tall, dark and handsome, both undeniably of noble birth. And yet, two persons couldn’t have been more different. One refined and effeminate, the other one in the simple clothes of a sailor, his attitude more telling of his high rank than his outward appearance.
Still standing, Lotye watched the scene play out in front of her. After a second or two, she had to remind herself to close her mouth if she wasn’t going to say anything. More cards. That can’t be good. Suddenly the feeling of all this being much bigger than her awoke inside her again. Her first reaction was the natural flight instinct of people like her. She actually considered simply running out of the room and down the stairs, out onto the street while everyone else was talking. But how far would that bring her? If she did that, she would just be declared a wanted fugitive. So, she came to the conclusion that, at least for now, she had to stand through this whole mess, for better or for worse. Her eyes followed the packet containing the cards moving from one pair of hands to one remarkably similar, but without the calluses that spoke of the hard work at sea. How will this all end?
They spoke on, of kings and deals, and Lotye couldn’t help but wonder how she of all people had ended up in all of this. In the meantime, she also shot a short glance at Starhand’s strange companion, the man with the weirdly pronounced name. What did he have to do with all of this? When Prince Starhand left the room, she followed him with her eyes. What would happen when he returned? Then, she finally sat down again.