It was the Gaultic girl’s fault that everyone had come to call him Ransom. She’d meant it as a
joke at first. She did like to tease, and for some reason, she liked teasing him the most. But the
name had stuck, mostly because everyone in the palace knew the story of how he’d nearly been
hung from a trebuchet in front of the walls of his father’s castle. His father had gambled with his life, shrewdly predicting that the king wouldn’t go through with his threat. And he hadn’t. For
which Ransom was deeply grateful and deeply hurt.
It was a breezy day, and so the words of the deconeus were difficult to hear as he rambled on in his liturgy, the prayer over the dead. Ransom crossed his hands in front of himself, standing still, even though he had the urge to crane his neck and try to get a better view. Everyone at the palace, servants and all, had gathered to witness the occasion. King Gervase’s stiff body lay in a canoe on the edge of the royal docks. His cheeks were gray and looked nothing like the man in the flesh. Yes, the body bore a strange resemblance to the man he’d known, but he didn’t look the same without his smile, which he’d always reserved for Ransom and Claire—of the dozen or so hostages of varying ranks—or the laugh lines around his eyes. Near the end, there wasn’t much the king could smile about. But he had always taken time for his son, Ransom, and Claire—a walk through the royal gardens, a pretend duel with wooden swords, or a sweet from the kitchen. He’d seemed lighter at those times, happier.
Ransom’s heart ached with loss. The king had been a true father to him. Tears stung Ransom’s eyes, but he willed them back and blinked quickly. He wouldn’t lose his composure, not in a crowd. Not when she might see him.
Ransom blinked quickly and shifted his gaze to where Claire stood side by side with her father. The man was a giant. He was huge, thick, and the sword belted over his chain tunic was nearly even with Ransom’s chin. She looked like a tiny thing in her father’s shadow, but she was a little taller than Ransom, and he was taller than most of the boys his age at the palace. He was taller than any of the new king’s sons, who all stood dutifully by Devon and his wife, Emiloh, although the youngest was fidgeting. They were younger than him.
His gaze went back to Claire’s hair, which looked deceptively brown in her father’s shadow. Her hair had always fascinated him. He’d heard that many in Legault had hair the color of pumpkins, but Claire’s wasn’t like that. Its color seemed to change throughout the day, the brighter light revealing shades of crimson. She turned her head, as if she’d heard his thought, and caught him looking at her. He quickly looked away, but not fast enough because he caught that teasing smile again.
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