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She wasn’t eating, that’s what the servants told Tinny. Despite having to deal with the chaos of Freege as its newly appointed Duchess, Tinny dropped what she was doing right there and then to rush off to the guest wing. There was no response to her knocking, so she unlocked the door and entered unbidden.

Inside she found untouched plates of sweetmeats, cheese, fruits, and bowls of stewed squash gone cold. What made Tinny pause were the platters piled high with bite-sized cucumber sandwiches, the crust carefully cut off each one. That was Ishtar’s favorite food, since they had been small.

Her cousin stood at the window, back to the feast, staring at the new spring growth in the courtyard with its dogwood trees in bloom. Tinny didn’t let herself hesitate, walking until they stood even.

Taking a fortifying breath, she asked softly yet firmly, “Are you not feeling well?” Ishtar gave no answer. Glancing at her face, Tinny saw the dark rings under her violet eyes.

When the dark prince had finally been slain and Balhalla seized, Tinny had watched her cousin fall to her knees, sobs muted by enchanted Silence. The others had demanded she be imprisoned in a cold cell in some dungeon, but at Tinny’s pleas Seliph had permitted Ishtar to be placed under house arrest with the Mjölnir Tome locked away within the Balhallan vaults.

Tinny had afforded her cousin every comfort she could for a prisoner, so she was at a loss how to help with this melancholy. “Ishtar, please!” Tinny grabbed onto the only family left from her childhood with shaking hands. “Please, tell me what’s wrong?”

“…I was Julius’ princess.” Ishtar’s words weren’t quiet but sounded hollow as dried gourds. “I was meant to die on that battlefield.”

“No! I–” Tinny’s voice broke a she fought back tears, “We don’t blame you. You’re a kind person, Ishtar, and have every right to live.”

A surprised squeak escaped her as Ishtar’s fingers returned her grip and suddenly turned to face her. “They won’t let his child live.”

Tinny allowed Ishtar to place both their hands over her belly and finally understood why she had chosen silence.