The Tzarin and his people wanted to leave slow and late the next day, so Raizel and the Diamond Raven left them behind, not without some relief.
The Raven was quiet as they walked, which suited Raizel. It was early, the sun was low and rising lazily, and she wanted to make good time while the weather was clear and cool.
When he started humming, she tried to ignore it, but the tune was catching, the sort of thing that spiraled its way into your ear and took up residence there. She found herself humming along.
It was only when she caught him glancing at her sidelong, smirking, that she stopped the humming, flustered. “What?”
“You sing very nicely. and you handled those idiots quite well.”
“Thank you?” She frowned at him. “Were you expecting them to bother me? They’re flower petals, all stink and no substance.”
“Ah, but the right flower petal in a tincture can kill someone.”
“Are you going to soak them in enough alcohol for that, then? Or boil them down like a tea? They wanted to hurt their Prince. I think that’s stupid. More than stupid – it’s folly.” She wrinkled her nose. “He will learn – has already learned – they are not to be trusted, and if he is a Prince like a Tzarin is a Tzarin, he will always have power, even if he never becomes the Tzar. So they have alienated someone that they could have been friends with who has more power than they will ever have.”
“Oh, but if they manage to convince him that he is worth nothing, that only they care for him and can take care of him -”
“Even then.” She wrinkled her nose again at the Raven. “Do you think I don’t know what people are like? Even in the high mountains, we have people who are cruel or unkind or manipulative. I know what that looks like. And they hadn’t broken their Prince.”
“They had gotten close, I think. Until you reminded him not to be broken.”
“Is that what I did?” Raizel considered her actions. “I did what they asked me to do. I sang to him. I sang a song I thought might hurt,” she admitted.
“Ever have an arrow removed?”
“No.” She studied the Diamond Raven. He looked like he knew what he was talking about. She hadn’t expected that. “Have you?”
“Twice. Some day, when you take this rope off of me, I’ll show you the scars. But the thing is, it hurts. You usually have to cut it open wider just to get the arrow out.”
She winced. “That’s – like a bad splinter. The sort that slides under the skin. Only much worse.”
“Exactly.” He nodded approvingly. She found she didn’t mind so much the approval as she did the other condescensions. “So you might have cut him a little, but I think you bled out some poison. That is, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors. And I don’t think that his courtiers will be able to hurt him as much anymore.”
She ran her finger over the ring. “I should put this away.” It was a pretty ring, the sort of thing a courtier or a Tzarin wore, not the sort of thing for a trades-person, even if she was gods-brushed and pixie-cursed. “It’s just asking for trouble.”
“You should wear it with pride,” he countered. “It’s showing how you handle situations, that you have the favor of a Tzarin. Combine that with the glaze of the pixie dust that anyone with a touch of site can see, and you’re in a fairly safe position.”
“I’m on the road with a wizard who doesn’t want to be here, travelling to the capitol, with the questions to a ghost hanging over my head, the quests from not one but two god-touched weighing on me, and I’m still not to the train station.”
“You could let me go,” he pointed out. “That would give you one less thing to worry about.”
“Of all the things I have to worry about, I’m sorry, but you concern me the least.” She smiled crookedly at the wizard.
“I have magic powers, you know!”
“And if you were going to use them against me, you’d have used them when you were trying to stay back at the temple. Since you haven’t, well, I can imagine – “ She stopped. “The whore.”
“I’m sorry?” She thought he actually sounded offended.
“The boy whore! I forgot him!”
“Was he supposed to come along, too? You’re going to need a wagon soon.”
“No, no. He wanted me to make him a scented fox. I don’t suppose you know-”
She trailed off, because the Diamond Raven was obviously trying not to laugh out loud at her.