“I wish I’d brought one of my books from back home,” she lamented to no-one in particular. Radisrol had too much empty space and too little color. Hence why Johnny was sitting next to her. “There’s plenty I haven’t reread yet. And plenty more I haven’t gotten the chance to even start reading.”
“What kinds of books?”
“All kinds,” Chelsea said and didn’t elaborate. But she shifted in her chair and pressed her lips together, knees knocking under the table, and it was obvious she had more to say.
Woodrow, he thought, would have ignored it. For better or worse, he was not Woodrow, and so he offered her an opening, obvious and merciful. “Any storybooks? Fairytales? If you want bedtime stories, I have some to tell you.”
He only had one, in truth. The only thing that differed in the retellings was the choice between casting her as a princess or simply a girl. It didn’t matter though. She died either way.
“No, none of that,” Chelsea sniffed. How juvenile! How vulgar! She was too much of a lady to afford such an outburst, you see, and so she merely frowned. “Only kids read that.”
“Oh?” There would be a monster, he wanted to tell her. There was always a monster. He elected to smile. “But they’re quite fun.”
“Yes, they could be,” she conceded testily. “But you don’t become a good ruler by reading fiction. When I realized that, I stopped reading them. And besides, they beget frustration. In the real world, sitting pretty and waiting to be saved—it doesn’t bring results. It just doesn’t.”
He had half a mind to say an unkind word or two about her prince, but decided against it. She was every bit ready to defend the king’s honor in his absence. As though he minded anything of what Chelsea did—let alone what Johnny thought of him. As though he had any honor to begin with.
…Anyway, he reasoned, if he did that, Chelsea would probably threaten to declare war once she stepped up to the throne. And what would become of Aquaveil then? He thought back at the days when war was a playground game and Fayte’s fleet was made of matchsticks and couldn’t help but smile. There might not even be any rubble to salvage after all was said and done. So Johnny kept his mouth shut. He would be doing his father a favor.
“Those stories are all very misleading. I pity the poor children who don’t know any better,” she concluded.
Fair enough. “So no stories, then. Note taken.”
Chelsea nodded curtly. The chairs in Radisrol were too big for her. He imagined she had gotten used to that. “I’m thrilled we’re on the same page.”
“Hmm, you know, Johnny, I’ve been wondering. How does it work?”
He tilted his head at her, interrupted mid-melody. “How does what work?”
“You don’t have a Swordian like Woodrow-sama. So you can’t cast magic. But your songs can heal, and sometimes they hurt, too… in all but name, they’re spells. I can’t wrap my head around it.” She shook her head, sending her hair bobbing. “What’s the secret?”
Johnny smacked his knee and winked. “Maybe I’m just that good, baby!”
Chelsea didn’t find that nearly as funny. Maybe he should’ve given a thumbs-up instead. “And sometimes they don’t do anything at all.” Thus returned the indignant, puffed-up cheeks. They were pale, only faintly rosy from the steadily cooling air. She’d trained herself to blush crimson on the cue of Woodrow’s voice. “But I see. Adults always have to keep their secrets, don’t they?”
She went back to polishing another arrow. She was very methodical about it, in that particular way of someone who had done the same thing for a long time and could no longer imagine going without. Unable to decide what to make of the observation, Johnny stopped altogether.
He kept watching her for another moment, then said, “Well, you know what they say about magicians—”
“Yes, but you’re a clown. You say that all the time. The comparison doesn’t work.” Chelsea sounded unimpressed. She didn’t even look up from the table she was working on. Her perpetual work-in-progress, an arrow in particular she insisted on polishing to perfect sheen. Just looking at it intimidated him. “You know, Woodrow-sama told me about you. He said you were a prince from Aquaveil.”
Johnny let out a low whistle, “I’m sure he did.”
“But I’ve never heard of any princes who wore feathered hats and went around telling people he was—Blue Lightning,” she swallowed a hiccup at the nickname, unaware he would’ve found it less rude if she’d just laughed. “Actually, no. Most people would call someone like that a libertine.”
I’ve never heard of kings who shamelessly hit on widowed women. Now that’s something to laugh at. “Impressive! Did your king tell you to call me that, too?”
“No. That’s just common sense.” Chelsea leaned back into the chair, sounding awfully proud of herself. Then went on, “He wouldn’t lie. I figured he was just being polite.”
“If you say so,” Johnny conceded, and made sure to look appropriately deflated. After all, she did know better.