Leffen had a steady, comfortable gait, the sort Susan imagined must be lovely on campaign, when one spent so much time in-saddle that one’s saddle sores had gained their own landscapes and maps. She found it quite soothing, and an interesting contrast to Soleck’s story.
“The Prince, Sendar, he has been having trouble around the Palace. Nothing large, but these things sometimes happen to young nobles. They get involved with people who are not the best choices, they allow themselves to be taunted into things they shouldn’t…”
“Like the time, remember…” Lucy began, and stopped. “That is, young people do that everywhere.”
Soleck wisely did not smile at this coming in Lucy’s small, chirping voice. “Indeed. Our Prince has made some choices that, perhaps, he would not have made were here somewhat older. And he is not listening to older or wiser counsel, or, that is, was not listening before he disappeared.”
“Kidnapped?” asked Peter.
Soleck coughed. “No. That is, we do not believe he was kidnapped without his own willing consent, although how willing he might be now is up to some interpretation. The problem we are having is, he has stopped listening to Heralds or to Companions save his own, and his own Companion, who should know better, is not speaking with us. He…” Here Soleck coughed again, and took a moment to look quite embarrassed. “He will not speak with anyone he considers an adult or an authority.”
“So we’re perfect,” Edmund pointed out cheerfully, “because we don’t look like adults or authority figures at all.”
Susan eyed him thoughtfully, but Ed didn’t seem upset by this revelation. It had been an adjustment for all of them, getting used to their childish bodies yet again, but it had seemed hardest on him and Lu. Now, though, Edmund was grinning. “It’s practically being incognito. I remember things I thought I’d lost forever, I can still just about swing this mace properly, and everyone is going to look at me and see a kid.”
“When did you get interested in espionage, Ed?” Peter teased. “I thought you were more direct than that.”
Susan remembered it differently. She remembered Ed smiling brightly and coming home with his pockets full of secrets. “I think it’s brilliant. That is, once we’ve gotten clothes that don’t look so much like we crawled through the rag-bag and not the closet to get here.”
“You do not look rag-bag,” Soleck protested gallantly. “You look foreign and strange, that is all. Exotic.”
“Exotic!” Lucy exclaimed. “I like that. Like the time when we went to Madrid, and we were the strangest thing around. We’re exotic, Susan!”
Susan thought, from the way that Soleck looked at her, that he thought exotic was a very good thing indeed. She ducked her head and smiled, pretending it was just at her sister. “Well, we’re in a strange land again, Lu. It’s been a while since we could say that.”
“You are not so different in coloration than many of those here in Valdemar,” Soleck offered. “But your manner is, perhaps, a little different. As is mine.”
“Yours?” Peter tilted his head. “Are you strange, then, to those who know you?”
::Not to those who know him,:: Leffen inserted, ::but to those who will not see.::
Susan took a long look at Soleck. Her first impression had been of a Calormen who had been in the sun for quite some time. His white clothing hung on him as if tailored to him, and matched the Leffen and Leffen’s tack too much for it to be an accident. He was handsome, she thought, with a square chin and a pleasant smile, but that could be its own curse.
He shifted from foot to foot. “I am dark and strange for one of Valdemar, yes. There are darker, of course, but none of them look so… so Karsite as I do.”
“Karsite?” Peter asked.
Soleck shifted again. “It does happen. Not often, but the Companions Choose who they will.”
“It’s not that.” Edmund was carefully neutral. “What’s a Karsite?”
“Oh, yes.” He looked startled. “That is not why you were looking at me, then. You are truly not from around here.”
“We are from – practically another world,” Peter answered carefully.
“Two other worlds, really,” Lu pointed out. “But that’s okay. We’ll be perfect for your mission that way.”
Soleck gave Lucy a long, thoughtful look, which he then turned on Peter, then Edmund, and then Susan. “You are strange, too, then. I see. It is possible that this mission will succeed.”
Susan didn’t think she was supposed to hear what he said next, but she had a habit of hearing such things left over from a time long-gone in a world long-locked. “It is possible,” he muttered, “that I am not the strangest thing here anymore.”
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