She hides it well, Cain thinks one day at an informal breakfast with the royal family. They are, as they have been for nearly a year, in residence at Finaqua.
“Who hides what well?”
He looks up from his plate and at his son, Jeb, sitting beside him, realizing that he’s spoken out loud. Not too loudly, though, since Jeb is the only one looking at him. The rest of the family, the advisors and visitors are still eating and talking. He almost asks Jeb’s opinion, then. He wants to know for sure whether the conclusions he’s drawn are logical and backed up by the observations he’s made. But he’s not sure he’s done yet. He doesn’t think he can quite put it all into words in a way that would make sense—really make sense. He wants this idea of his down pat in his own head before he puts it out there, as DG might say.
“Nothing, son. Just thinking out loud.”
Jeb’s eyes bore into his for a long moment before he nods and goes back to his eggs over easy. “Okay, Dad.”
The love of runny eggs he’d gotten from Adora. That hard stare…Wyatt Cain, Tin Man and rebel, didn’t want to think about how his boy had acquired that stare, but it’s that stare that makes him the very person Cain wants to share his theory with. As soon as he’s sure he’s got one.
It’s easier to observe her when it’s his turn at guard duty. And as Captain of the Personal Guard he makes sure that everyone has a turn guarding the Princess Azkadellia. He makes sure every recruit knows that doing so is more than a possibility, but an eventuality. It’s harder on her, he thinks, at least for the first few rounds.
After all she is working her hardest at being everything the Sorceress was not. In the months, nearly a year, since things have settled down, he has not once seen her hair up in its distinctively rolled style—one that she’s had since childhood if the family portraits are an indication—or an inch of flesh from the neck down. Every now and again either the Queen or DG can convince her to wear a shear overdress with something solid and sleeveless underneath, but that was about as close as anyone got.
It was the first thing that tipped him off. There is a stubborn streak in the Gale family, and though Princess Azkadellia’s was hidden under layers of fine cotton, satin and silk, a soft-spoken refusal was still a refusal. He’s watched her refuse all sorts of things, not just better looking dresses: unwanted dances with nobles, being paraded before the people, haircuts, colors other than those that make her disappear into the background. He’s watched her deny herself, too. Sometimes he wants to go up to her and tell her that it’s okay to let her father hug her, hold her, for no reason at all. But, he figures, that’s for her to work out in her own time and no pushing or advising by any of them is going to make it happen any faster.
Sometimes he thinks if it weren’t for DG, who’s stubborn streak is just as wide and not hidden by anything except the holes in her own memory, the Princess Azkadellia wouldn’t allow herself to be touched at all.
Cain understands all about penance. Things happen, there are consequences and you’ve just got to do your time.
But in observing her, in watching to see if/when she’d be willing to bend, he began to see her: not just that she was in need of mending but that she was hiding something. Which raised the question of what, exactly, that was.
As he paid attention he suddenly began to see other “troublesome” things. She snapped the horse head off the intricately carved black knight taken from her father, when a page came into her sitting room to request the Prince Consort’s presence in the throne room and prematurely ending their chess game. She did excellent needle point which were popular even after she quietly demanded that everyone know who had made them, but still somehow managed to scratch herself bloody while doing it. She could swear under her breath like a Tin Man off an extended post to the Realm of the Unwanted, a pleasant smile etched on her face.
Sometimes, when she does that, he has to remember that she is not the Sorceress. She is, was, the hapless victim of a Witch who had taken over her pre-adolescent body and used it to serve her own evil ends, taking the young Princess Azkadellia along for the ride. A very long ride.
Sometimes, especially when he’s the one on guard duty, he wants to shut the door to her sitting room—there aren’t a lot of visitors anyway—sit her down and ask her what it was like. He has the feeling, though, she’d be about as inclined to talk about it with him as he would be to describe living in a tin suit for eight annuals. He also has the sneaking suspicion that she’d be just as close to cleaning his clock as he would be. And just as good at it too.
As a former Tin Man and rebel, Wyatt Cain is no stranger to violence, and the Princess Azkadellia has that subtle air of violence around her. But he thinks she hides it well.