“I’ve been watching you for a while now, you know.”
Princess Anezka sits bolt upright in bed, clutching her blanket to her chest. Perched in her room, at the foot of her bed, is a man. Her first thought is He’s going to kill me. Her second thought is I can’t look away.
He raises a hand, says gently “There’s no reason to be frightened. I don’t mean you any harm. I didn’t know of a better way to introduce myself. I’m not really…part of your household, so to speak. They don’t know I’m here.”
“Who – who are you?”
He smiles, and she can see his teeth glimmer in the moonlight. He is tall, she can see, even hunched over, and graceful, even elegant. “You can call me Rune. Because for now, I am your secret.”
He’s dressed like an aristocrat beneath the dark cloak that obscures his silhouette. She whispers a spell to let her see more clearly in the dark, and he comes into stark relief.
She sees he is unarmed, but is undeniably dangerous.
He shifts, then steps backward off the bed and stands up. He tosses part of his cloak over his right shoulder and bows slightly, his eyes never leaving her face, her body never even considering moving from where it is. His eyes are like a starless night sky.
“I hope we can speak again soon. We will, if you wish it. If not, then you will not see me again. I believe there is a lot we can offer each other. You are a woman of beauty, intelligence and guile. You’ve shown yourself to be very strong, already mistress of this great keep, already…learning a great deal. I am quite accomplished in my own right. I am a…man of means, of skills you will find useful, of knowledge you need.”
“You aren’t meant for this place. Not at all. This great keep will someday become a prison to one such as you. No, I know you. I have watched you. You have grander designs than this.”
“As it turns out, so do I.”
They talk. The guards, slumped in deep sleep outside her door, do not hear. But in another part of the keep, an old woman who is more than merely a woman gazes into a dim image in a mirror and smiles a slow, cold smile.