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Everywhere she went, people fell silent.

Alethea knew their reasons had changed. Before, they had smiled – the boys had blushed, and the girls had offered her warm greetings, their conversations arrested by her appearance. But they no longer smiled, and they no longer blushed, and when they averted their eyes it was with a hint of fear, suspicion. Even one of the guards she used to flirt with would no longer make eye contact, unless she made a point of it. And she had stopped making a point of it when she’d realized how uncomfortable everyone had become.

It was not because she was any less beautiful, although she probably did appear a bit more forbidding without twigs in her hair or smudges of charcoal on her riding breeches. Standing at the Queen’s elbow all day, she found herself more often in embroidered silks and lustrous velvet, lace peeking out from collar and sleeve. Today she wore a lightweight, navy blue coat with silver buttons over a dress of blue and gray – Mordred’s livery. The color brought out her eyes, but everyone seemed to notice the puppy she clutched to her chest, first.

Mortimer was silent, his long black snout and silken ears framing large, watchful eyes. He was adorable, like all puppies were, but everyone seemed wary of him. Or perhaps they were only wary of her. She sighed, kissing his soft puppy forehead, and strode purposefully for the kennels, Leto at her side.

“We’ll get you talking, yet,” she assured the Prince’s familiar, who merely blinked up at her. “Maybe you just need some time with other pups.” Alethea herself was grateful for the opportunity to leave the castle walls, and maybe practice her magic. It had been months since she’d tried speaking dog.

“A strange language,” Leto commented. Thea smiled.

“Oh, don’t be a snob.”

The kennels were loud and pungent of dog, and the chorus of their barking was nothing but noise as her magic strained to make sense of the cacophony. Alethea winced a little, closed her eyes, breathed. Strange as it was, their acrid stink was a relief after months of perfumed parlors. A few words began to emerge as she paced, gently rocking Mortimer like a baby – “Cypress, Cypress!” from the puppies in the yard. Alethea moved toward them, curious and baffled. She paused when a girl greeted her.

“Hello,” she said, looking and sounding a bit surprised. “I was just bringing this one out for a bit of fresh air, and to get some socialization. Are you the puppy-master?” Her smile was tentative, as if she wasn’t sure the girl would appreciate any attempt at conversation. But it turned concerned as her eyes tracked the kennel-girl’s hands, and spotted the bruises she was covering. “Oh! Are you hurt?”

Leto, meanwhile, squinted at the distant shadows.


glowing


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