Artless

Over that winter, Prince Jonathan and Duke Roger sparred more than once. Josiane found this very curious, as no heir to the throne of the Copper Isles would ever do anything so risky, and there seemed to be no love lost between the Prince and the Duke. She supposed it was a Tortallan custom. It certainly wouldn't be the strangest.

During one of the bouts, Josiane found herself watching alone from the balcony above the practice courts when she suddenly became aware of a presence behind her. She tensed, the habits of a lifetime of fear not easily discarded, then made herself relax. This was Tortall. She was safe here.

"Oh, how sweet," it was Lady Delia's rich voice. "The Prince and his cousin, fencing."

Josiane turned a little to see her. Lady Delia was strikingly dressed as usual, in a provocative gown of deepest green.

"Yes," Josiane replied, her voice still slightly accented, "His Highness is very good."

Delia came forward, her eyes on the fencing pair. "Yes, I suppose he his. But look closely at Duke Roger," she said thoughtfully, slipping her arm round Josiane's waist. Josiane tensed a little, but then relaxed. She was still becoming accustomed to the physical touches Delia bestowed on everyone. It was a Tortallan thing, she supposed.

"Do you see how the Duke moves faster in defence than offense?" Delia asked quietly, leaning in so it felt conspiratorial. Josiane watched the fencers closely, and slowly began to see it.

"Yes," she murmured.

"He's holding back," Delia said with some satisfaction. "So as not to hurt his cousin's feelings, no doubt." She glanced over and smiled warmly at Josiane. It reached her eyes and softened them. "He's a very good man, the Duke. Have you met him?"

"No," Josiane answered absently, still watching the bout closely. "So you think that the Duke will win?"

"Oh yes," Delia said with certainty. "I have no doubt about it." She paused and glanced over at Josiane. After a moment of silence Josiane turned and met her eyes, puzzled. Delia smiled and said gently, "I will introduce you to him. You have much in common."