Roar is copyright Catherine LaCroix 2017
It was an inconsequential evening that changed the entire course of my life. I couldn’t say the day or the time, but I remember it was snowing.
I was restless, inconsolable, and suffered from the curiosities of childhood. I’m sure my mother knew of my late night escapes but never said a word. The moon washed over the snow in a gleam that would draw envy from the sun as I padded my way over the white landscape. It was late; far later than any eight-year-old should have wandered from their room. But I couldn’t sleep and nothing in my home seemed to distract my fits of insomnia.
And so I wandered. The powdered streets of Lorelyn were abandoned at such a late hour. The chill air sometimes calmed the thoughts that rushed through my head—thoughts that should have never weighed me down to begin with.
That’s when I saw you.
Dark hair succumbed to the wills of the breeze, bright eyes sparkled in time with the stars. You perched beneath an old oak tree, staring intently at the Isten Mountains. With the wisdom and courage of a child, I approached, taking a seat next to you.
“What are you looking at?” I asked, oblivious to the social anxieties I would learn later.
“I’m…wondering what’s past the Istens,” you replied with the graces of one a few years older than I.
With the all-encompassing knowledge of someone who hasn’t been told that there are things that simply don’t exist, I told you with outright confidence: “There’s dragons out there.”
You laughed and my tenacity shattered.
I poked at a few pebbles in the snow, avoiding your beautiful gaze and hiding my embarrassment. I wasn’t yet to be bested. “Well, you don’t know. What if there are?”
“What if there are?” you replied, nodding and hiding your giggles. “What’s your name?”
“Cyprus Reyner,” I announced proudly, as my parents had taught me. Never fear who you are, they’d said. “And yours?”
“Victoria d’Audrieu,” you declared easily, your name rolling off of your tongue like a melody. “Well met.”
“Well…met,” I responded slowly, unassociated with the phrase. “What’s out there for you?”
“Hmm,” you contemplated my question with more credence than it was worth. “A prince to save me, a world to see, cities far larger than this…”
“I’ll take the dragons,” I responded with distaste, familiar with the fairy tales mothers told their daughters.
“Would you fight them, Cyprus?” you asked without missing a beat.
“Of course!” I responded with the fervor of a brave knight.
And, my love, that’s where you had me. Why? For fame? For glory?
“I…Well, someone would have to lead you to your prince, right?”
You laughed and it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard in my short existence.
I shivered and you positioned yourself so your cloak covered us both. Your skin warmed me, your laugh warmed me—everything about you warmed my entire being.
“My parents…they’ve always told me to stay away from Whispers,” you remarked while you pulled me closer to you.
I knew what I was; everyone knew what I was. But you so freely commented on something I’d never been ashamed of before. For a few span of seconds, I wondered if I should be. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” you said, pushing back a strand of hair that fell across my eyes. “You’re quite sweet.”
“Can we be friends, Victoria?” My hopes peaked as I leaned into you.
“I’d like that very much,” you smiled—it made the snow jealous.
We watched the moon disappear over the Istens. Together.
After a few sleepless evenings of meeting Victoria beneath what I’d christened “our tree,” I couldn’t hide my exhaustion. One morning after my father made his way to work, my mother sat down with me at our small dining table and passed me a mug.
“It’s hot. Make sure you sip it.” She cradled her own cup between her hands.
“Hot chocolate?” No amount of sleep deprivation could hide my excitement.
We only had hot chocolate on special occasions—the price of cocoa in Lorelyn was outrageous.
“That it is, dearest.” She smiled, deepening the lines in the corners of her eyes and mouth. Guinevere Reyner loved with all her heart and laughed without inhibition. “I know you’ve been out the past few nights.”
I had the decency to look guilty. “I…um…”
“I know you have a hard time sleeping sometimes. Your mother is just worried. That’s all.”
“I made a friend,” I admitted, sipping on my rare treat.
“You did?” Her blue eyes sparkled. I wasn’t known for my social circle. “And who would that be?”
“Her name’s Victoria! Victoria d’Au…d’Aut? Well…Anyway, she’s eleven. She has a cat named Solonie—”
“Ice cream?” She laughed.
“Yeah! She said he’s white all over and he loves to play in the snow. She loves the spring and books. She…doesn’t believe in dragons, though…”
“You don’t believe in fairies,” she countered, tipping her mug towards me.
“That’s because fairies are impossible. Tiny humans with wings that grant wishes?”
“Mhmm,” she answered, using the tone that drove me to argue on most occasions.
But, I knew she was baiting me and I was too excited to take it. “Victoria wants to learn Alavei. I…I was wondering if…If she came here and we were really careful—”
“I’m sure your father would be alright with you learning from his books. However, you have to promise to never take them from the house.”
Few things in the world were more precious to Doran Reyner than knowledge. Some nights he would read to me and others I would read back. His tomes never crossed the threshold of our front door—he was extremely protective of them.
“Are you going to see her tonight?” She looked at me over her mug. Her raised eyebrows said she knew the answer.
“…Yes.” I confessed.
“Don’t stay out very late. She can join us tomorrow afternoon, but only if her parents allow her to. Understand?”
“Alright,” I conceded.
One thing Victoria said on our first evening together plagued my thoughts. “Mom…Why would Victoria’s parents tell her to stay away from Whispers?”
“Well, my love, sometimes…” She pulled her long fair hair over one shoulder and braided a section in thought.
I didn’t know it then, but that was my mother’s tell. When she wanted to explain complicated topics in the best way possible, she would pause and braid her hair.
“Sometimes, there are things people don’t understand. Like dragons. We’ve read stories about how terrifying dragons are. But, what if they only roar to seek companionship? What if they only attack humans because they’re scared of us?” She asked.
“I…I don’t understand.” A dragon’s roar was a fierce and terrifying thing, made only to frighten the weak. They attacked cities out of malice and nothing else. At least, that’s what my young mind had decided.
My mother, the most patient person in all of Rhoryn, tried again. “Cyprus, there are many things in this world that people don’t understand. Maybe they’ve only heard scary stories of them in books or fairy tales, or by word of mouth. But, maybe they never gave the thing they’re afraid of an opportunity to prove how it is in reality. That it doesn’t act out of malice. That maybe it doesn’t roar at them, but for something greater.”
I thought on her words, considering them one by one. People just had to give me a chance? I would impress them as much as possible.
“I’ll be a dragon who doesn’t roar!” It was the best solution I could muster. If dragons were perceived as kinder without roaring, then I could exist as a Whisper without causing unease.
“There you are.” She smiled, finishing her drink. “You’ll be the one to change their minds.”
“Thanks, Mom! I’ll be back later!” I polished off my hot chocolate before running outside into the snow, destination unknown.
My attentions were short and excitement lay in the outdoors. My mother understood, occasionally keeping an eye to the outside and trusted that I would always return safely. I always did.
The following afternoon, I paced the living room waiting for Victoria to arrive. I was excited and nervous, wondering what she would think of my home.
My mother watched me from the kitchen with patient amusement. When the knock finally came, she wiped her hands on her apron and moved to the door.
I positioned myself at her side, wringing my hands in an effort to keep myself occupied.
She opened the door and a light draft carried into our warm house, bringing with it a few flakes of snow.
Victoria stood beside a tall, slim woman that could only be her mother—identical eyes and hair—and curtsied kindly. “It’s nice to meet you, Lady Reyner. I’m Victoria d’Audrieu, and this is my mother, Madeline d’Audrieu.”
“Call me Gwen, please,” my mother replied, offering a curtsy of her own.
“This must be Cyprus,” Madeline remarked. Her tone was curious, her eyes were quizzical.
For the first time in my life, I realized I was being measured.
The cautions of Victoria’s parents played through my mind again. Stay away from Whispers.
But…I was a dragon who didn’t roar.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” I gave her a sweeping bow, taking Madeline’s hand and kissing the top of it.
It was something I’d witnessed my father do when he took me into town. I associated it with being a gentleman.
To my surprise, Madeline laughed and tousled my hair.
My pride was hurt, I wondered if I’d executed it incorrectly.
“Would both of you like to come in? I’ve just finished making tea and snacks,” my mother offered.
“Thank you for the offer. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I have to help my husband clean up his shop. I would love to accept in the future, though.”
“Not a problem at all. The offer stands, then.”
“Behave yourself, Victoria. I’ll be back this evening to walk you home.” Madeline kissed Victoria’s forehead.
“I always do, Mother.” Victoria’s voice was sweet, but I caught her eyes rolling.
We ushered her in and waved Madeline off.
“Where’d you learn a bow like that?” Mother asked.
“I saw dad do it once. It didn’t seem like it worked for me,” I replied.
“You’re a little heartbreaker, love. It worked.” Her words mended my ego.
“So your father’s a teacher?” Victoria asked me. We’d talked about it briefly the night before when I’d invited her to my home.
“He teaches history and language at the university. He said Mom would start us off and he’ll help us when he gets home.” I took a pastry and mug of tea, seating myself at the table.
“Is he a Whisper, too?” she asked casually.
I saw Mother glance between us, but I was too young to understand her concern. Victoria was too young to understand why it was a controversial question.
“No, my grandpa was. I don’t really remember him, though.” My grandfather on my mother’s side had the blood of a Whisper and so did she, despite her appearance. My skin was caramel colored and hair bright white in contrast to her soft, pale hues.
“When Cyprus was very little, my father came down with a terrible illness. We did all we could but…he passed on even so.” Mother would often tell me stories of her childhood that made me wish I would have known my grandfather better. I wasn’t given the time.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up negative—”
“No, you didn’t. It’s quite alright. He lives on through my memories.” Mother smiled and nibbled on one of the baked goods as Victoria stared into her tea. Mother then tactfully changed the subject. “Are you two really prepared to learn a whole new language?”
“I’ve never been more excited,” Victoria replied, her eyes sparkling.
I had to agree with her, the thought of a new means to speak with someone entranced me.
“Let’s start!” I chimed in.
I took to Alavei as a bird takes to flight. It felt natural on my tongue and my parents were wonderful teachers. I loved the mechanics of it: the grammar, the nuances, the pronunciations that separated the language from the Reln I’d grown up with. When my father took over teaching from my mother, he was ecstatic to find two so young interested in learning. He helped perfect our accents and emphasis and was able to break down the hows and whys of the order of words.
Victoria struggled with some of the phrases and certain words didn’t gracefully roll off her tongue as they would in Reln. This served to fuel my own personal education. I stayed up late into the night with my father, learning more, practicing more—just so that I could help Victoria as much as possible. He brought us spare parchment from the university to practice on. Mine was always filled in a few days’ time.
Madeline walked Victoria to our home any day that Victoria’s schedule wasn’t filled with other lessons—music, etiquette, and sewing. Compared to our study of language, Victoria’s daily life seemed so boring to me. I wondered how she could stand it. Oftentimes, Madeline would stay for tea and speak with my mother about small things and I took those opportunities to engage her as much as possible. Even if I wasn’t incredibly interested in her answers, I’d ask her about her home, their cat, her husband’s—Simon’s—shop, anything to provoke her into talking to me. At first, her answers were strained and short, but over the years she warmed up to me and held full conversations. Eventually, Victoria showed up on my doorstep each morning without the watchful eye of her mother. Madeline would only join when she wanted to spend some time speaking with my mother. I didn’t meet her father until Victoria’s sixteenth nameday and even then he spared me a short word and a cautious glance.
After I mastered Alavei at the age of thirteen, my father suggested I learn a new, nearly forgotten language. It used long strokes that represented entire words as opposed to singular letters to make up an alphabet. It was much more difficult than Alavei or Reln, and I accepted the challenge with fervor. Each day Victoria visited, I would pause in my studies to continue teaching her Alavei.
One evening a few weeks before my own sixteenth birthday, my mother pulled me aside. We sat on the floor of my room, just the two of us. She handed me a mug of hot chocolate—it would forever be my guilty pleasure.
“Cyprus, you’re nearly an adult now and there are…some things we should talk about,” she began. “Like, what it means to be a Whisper.”
“Alright,” I nodded, wondering what she could possibly tell me that I didn’t already know.
“I promised my father that I’d relay everything he told me before he passed when I thought you were ready. I know how much Victoria means to you and I don’t want you to unintentionally hurt her.”
I blushed and looked to the floor, was I that obvious? “I would never hurt her.”
“I know, love, and that’s one of your best qualities.” She brushed the hair from my eyes and tipped my chin up so her gaze met mine. “We’ll start with something a little easier. Whispers share a common creed. Tere L’etai. Love Freely.”
“What…does that even mean?”
“It’s meant to exist to help understand who you are and what you want as a person. From what I gleaned of my father, you aren’t bound by the rules of gods on who you choose to love and how. You have the capability of… of loving more than one person at once, you see.”
What she said seemed impossible. I could never care for anyone more than I cared for Victoria. “I’m not sure I could do that.”
“It’s not a requirement. It simply means you have the capacity to. Not that you must.” Mother paused for a moment and I took a sip of the still scalding hot chocolate. “I have a feeling I can spare you the details on the basics of sex—”
“Mother, please.” This conversation seemed focused around making me as embarrassed as possible. I had access to hundreds of books thanks to my father. Of course I knew.
“Cyprus, I wouldn’t bring this up if it wasn’t important. Your grandfather told me he wished someone was there to tell him these things. You need to know the sensations you’re subject to.”
“Like what?” I took another drink, trying not to meet her eyes. I understood that she was right. It was just difficult to talk to my own Mother about my body.
“There are certain things you’ll react dramatically to that a normal person wouldn’t. Like your sense of touch, smell, and sound. It can be very easy to lose yourself in any one of them.”
“Lose myself…As in losing control of myself?” It was hard to believe that at any point I wouldn’t be able to maintain self-control.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Let’s say you hear a melody you really enjoy. Your whole being becomes solely dedicated to listening to that song. Then, once it’s over, you want nothing more than to hear it again. To the point that it may drive you mad if you don’t. You need to hear this song. Imagine that feeling, but…replace a melody with the touch of another person.”
I enjoyed Victoria’s company immensely, but I couldn’t imagine craving her as a necessity. The thought in itself scared me. I stared into my mug and wondered if I was born a monster. It was no wonder her parents wanted her to stay away from Whispers—we were desperate for the companionship. And to what end? They were afraid of me.
“What’s on your mind, sweet?” She interrupted my thoughts.
“I…I don’t want to be feared. I don’t want to hurt her…So, what can I do?”
“Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are. I’ve told you that for years and I mean it. You don’t want to hurt Victoria and you won’t. Just because some people fear you doesn’t mean that you’re meant to be feared. A…dragon who doesn’t roar, isn’t that right?”
“I…Yes.” She remembered what I’d said from so many years before. No matter the circumstances, I was still myself. Whatever instincts I harnessed, I refused to let them change me. “I won’t be feared.”
“Good,” she sighed. We shared a few beats of silence before she said anything more. “Did I add enough cinnamon to your drink this time?”
“Cinnamon?” I laughed in spite of myself.
“That’s the secret ingredient! I’m surprised you never noticed.” She leaned in and kissed my cheek. “I love you. If you ever need to talk to me about any of this, please don’t be afraid to?”
“Of course, Mom. I love you too.” I smiled and drained my mug.
On my sixteenth nameday, the day I was considered a full-fledged adult, both my family and Victoria surprised me. The spring had melted the last of the winter’s snow and Lorelyn’s flowers were blooming in sporadic patches along the roads. The aromas of breakfast dragged me from sleep and I slipped on my trousers before going into the kitchen.
“That smells delicious,” I mumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Cyprus, I’m sorry. I should have told you…” My mother was trying not to laugh, and I didn’t understand why.
Victoria cleared her throat. I jumped in surprise—I didn’t expect her so early, if at all. I slowly realized I hadn’t bothered to find a shirt.
She focused on her cup of tea, but I caught the quick dart of her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Victoria, I didn’t think—” I could feel the heat of embarrassment rising to my face.
“No, I wanted to surprise you. It’s my fault.” She was trying to hide it—the mischievous little smile she saved for me when she was up to something.
“Go get dressed and then come eat with us.” Mother laughed, shooing me away with a spoon.
Withholding the panic that overcame me, I marched back to my room to find a tunic. Victoria’s glances and her smile brought more than the heat of embarrassment to my blood—a new sensation I wasn’t familiar with. I breathed and suppressed it as well as I could before I finished dressing and went back to the dining room. The table was set with full plates of food: meats, pastries, eggs, everything I loved.
“Victoria, don’t you have music lessons this morning?” I asked, waiting for Mother to join us before I started eating.
Victoria waved a nonchalant hand and shook her head. “I convinced my parents to let me skip them. You only turn sixteen once, you know.”
“Well, it’s been so long for you. Do you even remember what we did?” I snickered and dodged Victoria’s well-aimed swat.
“Cyprus!” Mother chided, but she was well aware of my sense of humor.
“It’s alright, Lady Reyner, I’m sure they accept returns at the shop where I purchased his gift,” Victoria replied easily, turning up her nose at me.
“Victoria, you know you can call me Gwen. You’re family here,” Mother corrected her gently.
“I’m sorry, Gwen. It’s…habit lately,” Victoria replied.
“You didn’t have to get me anything.” Just knowing she’d skipped her lessons to spend time with me was more than enough. My mother finally took a seat and we began serving ourselves.
“I know I didn’t. This year is something special, though. You’ll have to be more kind than that if you want it, though.” Victoria played the snobbish noble perfectly, but deep down I knew she’d always be the little girl sitting in the snow with me.
“Of course, my lady. Please, pardon my rudeness.” I gave a little bow from my seat.
“Your father would have your hide if he saw you like this.” Mother rolled her eyes, laughing as she did.
“Where is he, anyway?” I asked as I hastily shoveled food into my mouth.
“He couldn’t find a replacement for his lecture today. But, he’ll be joining us for dinner. Victoria, dear, of course, you’re also welcome to join us.”
“I’d love nothing more. We’ll be back by then for certain,” Victoria replied, taking dainty little bites of her breakfast. Everything she did was graceful and fluid. Often times I wondered how we’d become so close.
“Where are we going?” I asked. No one had told me there were plans for the day.
“It’s a secret. You’ll see.” Victoria held one long finger against her lips and winked.
I may as well have inhaled the rest of breakfast. I wanted to know where Victoria was taking me and I didn’t want to miss a second by her side. I waited what felt like years while she and my mother carried on idle conversation until finally Victoria collected a bundle beside her chair and stood.
“Always so impatient,” she giggled and brushed her fingers through my hair.
“I didn’t say anything!” I argued.
“You can’t hide it from me.” She turned to my mother. “Thank you for breakfast, Gwen. It was fantastic.”
“Of course, dear. You’re welcome here anytime.”
“Thank you, Mother. See you for dinner?” I slipped on my boots.
“Yes, you two have fun, now.” She waved us out the door with a hug and a kiss each.
The sun was still low on the horizon—I hadn’t realized how early it was.
“How are you awake at this hour?” I stretched. Thanks to the large breakfast, I was ready to go back to bed.
“It isn’t that early. Besides, I want to spend the whole day with you.” She nudged me playfully.
The weather was pleasant and the city peaceful. Victoria led me by the hand past the houses and storefronts until we reached the trees.
“Now for a little adventure,” she announced. This was the Victoria I’d always known— ready to take on the world. Afraid of nothing.
“Lead on, my lady.” I bowed and she laughed. Her warm fingers weaved into mine and we made our way into the forest.
Soft moss gave way beneath our feet. The sun trickled through the pointed leaves and branches of the trees. Only a few easily scalable rocks threatened our path. The Istens surrounded us on either side as we climbed. By the time we reached our destination, the sun had cleared the horizon.
“I spent a lot of time looking for a spot just like this. I hope you like it,” she said.
How could I not? She’d discovered a gap between the Istens where the Kingdom of Rhoryn spanned below us. We’d made our way above the clouds. Even so, we could see the distant outlines of the Capital’s castle towers.
“Victoria, this is incredible,” I breathed.
It was a spectacular view, one that gave me vertigo. When I turned back to her, she’d spread a blanket out on the soft ground and started to unpack the basket I’d helped carry.
“Good, because we’ll be here for a while. Sit.”
I obliged, taking a seat next to her. She unveiled two bottles of wine, finger foods and sandwiches, water, a pack of cards, and two wrapped bundles.
“I’ve never had wine before,” I remarked, looking at the bottles.
“I know. This is a celebration that I think called for it.” She smiled, handing me one of the wrapped bundles. “Gift number one.”
Carefully untying the string, I unfolded the white cloth she’d used to cover the contents. Beneath it was a heavy, black fabric, lined with soft fur. I stood and held the edges so the rest of the fabric fell free.
“It’s hard to get the both of us underneath one cloak, now. I thought you’d like one of your own.” Despite our difference in age, I’d grown nearly a head taller than Victoria. She stood and swept it around my shoulders, latching it at the front. “Perfect fit.”
It felt heavy and warm and wonderful. It reminded me of hers but lined with thicker fur. I adored it.
“Thank you, my lady.” I gave it a flourish and she giggled. I sat beside her again and wrapped half of the cloak around her shoulders. With her petite frame, it comfortably fit us both.
“And gift the second,” she murmured, pressing herself against me.
Everything about her made my head spin and I had to work hard to concentrate all of my focus on the second bundle. It was wrapped similarly and I quickly undid the knots. Inside were assorted quills, ink bottles, and a soft, leather-bound journal the color of Victoria’s eyes.
“You have a talent for language…you should never give it up. I thought…I thought you may want somewhere more permanent than scraps of parchment to practice in.”
It was a personal and generous gift. I couldn’t imagine how much the journal alone had cost her.
She arranged the quills and ink bottles near the basket before reaching over to pull back the cover. “I thought I would start it off for you.”
I love you. Three simple words were centered on the first page, written in Alavei, penned by Victoria’s elegant hand. My heart raced and I was suddenly very aware of the heat of her skin against mine. The scent of her hair, the weight of her gaze. For so long I’d wondered why my entire being reacted so strongly to her. How to convey those feelings to her. How to tell her that I never wanted to leave her side. I would do anything for her. She’d said all that I wanted to in three little words.
“Cyprus, I…I’m sorry, it was silly—”
I pressed my lips to hers—my first kiss. Our first kiss. Her lips were so soft and welcoming.
“I love you, too,” I murmured against her mouth.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and I slipped mine around her waist. I leaned back on the blanket and she followed, aligning her body to mine. My heart sang, my thoughts evaporated to nothing but her. She begged further exploration with her tongue and I parted my lips, breathless, eager to accept her request. Having never practiced, I could only attempt to reciprocate her motions. She moaned and fire surged through my veins. When she pulled away, I had trouble breathing. As if she had become the very source of my air and the absence of her choked me. I craved her. More of her. An empty wellspring deep inside of me had awakened and it was starving.
“Are you alright?” she whispered, brushing her fingertips down my neck. Her face was flushed.
I shuddered beneath her touch. “Gods, I…Yes. I’ve never been better,” I breathed, drowning in the ocean of her eyes.
“You’ve never looked at me this way before.”
“How’s that?” I wanted to shift myself on top of her, taste every inch of her skin, draw more moans from her throat…It’s easy to lose yourself.
“It’s…intense,” she struggled for the word, searching my face.
I had to restrain myself—we needed to stop before I did something I’d regret. “Nothing a little wine can’t help?” I smiled and kissed her gently. “You did plan this whole day out, didn’t you?”
She blushed and repositioned herself next to me, tugging on my cloak for me to sit up. Fishing a wine key from the basket, she poured the first two glasses of deep red liquid and handed me one. Taking her glass, she carefully touched it to mine.
“To many more namedays together,” she toasted.
“Cheers to that.”
“Just sip it. It’ll take a bit to get used to,” she instructed, taking a drink from her glass.
I did exactly that. The first drink was bitter and it was hard to hide my distaste. She laughed and handed me a piece of bread. I took a bite and tried again—this time it went down more smoothly, more flavors than “burning” danced across my tongue. By the third drink, my nerves had calmed and clear thoughts returned.
“It’s not so bad,” I teased her. “Surely better than the pisswater you drank on your sixteenth.”
She burst out laughing. “I thought for sure you were going to tell your mother about that.”
“That you, precious Victoria, bought enough cheap beer at the tavern to drown a horse? Because ‘a lady never drinks,’” I quoted her father. “That I had to sober you up with an entire loaf of bread and listen to you sing lewd songs that you learned from heaven knows where for three hours?”
“It was not three hours,” she refuted.
“Oh, my lady, it was three hours.” I laughed and took another drink. “How did it go? ‘Satins and silk, leathers and lace, the princess is locked up and all things but chaste?’”
“Cyprus Reyner, I did no such thing!” Her cheeks were bright red and she caught her breath between fits of laughter.
“Eventually, I joined in with you. Even if you don’t remember. We made a pretty little harmony that I was sure would wake the city. I spent the entire next day convincing your parents something in the food made you sick. I don’t know if they believed me, but somehow they still think you a lady.”
“Perhaps I’ve become too good at pretending.” She leaned her head against me and looked toward the castle.
“I don’t think you’re pretending,” I replied, softening my tone. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “You’re perfect the way you are.”
We looked at the clouds for some time, enjoying each other’s company. Eventually, we finished our first glass of wine and I moved to pour another as Victoria reached for the pack of playing cards she’d brought along.
“My uncle was by earlier this week, and he taught me a few games I thought you may enjoy.” She tugged the cards from their casing.
“Is that so?” I watched her unpracticed fingers trip over the motions of shuffling the deck and smiled. My father was a card player and Victoria knew I was always on the lookout for new games to play with him.
“I thought we’d start with Finan.”
She dealt the cards and we enjoyed the remainder of the evening learning new games and mastering them. Victoria wanted me to have a memorable sixteenth. It was one I would never forget.