She just wasn’t sure how to do it. She’d been thinking and rethinking it for almost a week now, but she couldn’t see any way to get a private interview with Lumi. If Lumi were a noblewoman of some sort, it would be easy; a peasant living off of the land or the sea, also easy. But because she was a palace servant, it added all kinds of complications Ayalah could see no way around. For one thing, palace servants lived right in the palace, so it wasn’t as if Ayalah could show up uninvited at Lumi’s front door in the evening. For another, Lumi didn’t appear to be in the class of servants who went into the marketplace each day—in fact, as far as Ayalah could tell, Lumi didn’t ever leave the palace at all. The princess had told her that Lumi was one of Prince Komma’s personal servants, which complicated matters even further. The only ways to get a word in with the High Prince’s servants were to be a servant in another part of the palace, which she couldn’t pretend to be, or to meet with Komma himself, which she had no cause to do.
She and Greyson hadn’t spoken since his haughty exit the morning after the citizenship party, though they’d eaten a silent breakfast together each morning. This morning was no exception, and Ayalah pushed her eggs around her plate impatiently as she thought over the Lumi dilemma.
“You want to talk about it?”
She looked up. “Talk about what?”
Greyson hesitated. “Look, I don’t have to go back to Mil—”
“I’m not thinking about your ridiculous insinuations, Greyson.”
He flushed and looked down.
“I’m thinking about something else. I suppose it doesn’t concern you, if you’re leaving.” She realized that her leg was bouncing up and down agitatedly; her words had come out in a more biting tone than she’d intended.
“I’m sorry.” For once, he didn’t meet her gaze.
She shoveled a few bites of eggs into her mouth and then pointed her fork at him. “You don’t even know what you should be sorry about.”
He didn’t respond. She had no intention of telling him that Monty had left the party hours before she had or that she’d ridden back to the inn in Monty’s carriage alone. That wasn’t the point.
“The point,” she said, voicing her thoughts aloud, “is that you don’t respect me. No, don’t try to deny it. If you respected me, you would have asked me what I planned to do about the housing situation before jumping to conclusions. You would have assumed prudence before—well, nevermind. You wouldn’t have insisted on coming with me to Naraloth, only to act like a child when something exciting happens for me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
She looked down at her plate and realized she was no longer hungry; she stood up. She opened her mouth to say something—she wasn’t sure what, something biting, though, something mean—but changed her mind. She turned wordlessly and went back up to her room to get ready to leave for the day.
“Commander Tarall,” Greyson said from the doorway of her room. She turned around, eyebrows raised. “I respectfully request the commander’s forgiveness for a moment of weakness.”
She was so surprised at this form of address, at his first voluntary acknowledgment of her rank and status since she’d known him, that she forgot for a moment that she was angry.
He bowed his head. “I further request that the commander remember that I am her friend, and that friends help each other solve problems.” He paused, a smile playing on the edges of his lips. “Finally, I would like to remind the commander that I am twice her size, and if she refuses to talk to me, I can bend her like the most supple of metals.”
The thought of Greyson—kind, weapons-refusing Greyson—beating her at a fight was so absurd, she burst out laughing. To be sure, his arms were each roughly the size of her torso, and in theory he could be a formidable opponent if he knew how to wield a sword. But all she could think about was him flailing around with a sword, awkwardly trying to wrap his massive arms around her to crush her while apologizing simultaneously.
His face broke into a smile as he watched her laugh, and he crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe until she regained her composure. “So?”
She hesitated. Her natural inclination was to hold her secrets close and brush him off. But he’d saved her life; he’d set her bones, wrapped her wounds, found her food. He’d even given up his home to come with her in search of her family.
“I met a woman in the palace the other night. One of the servants. I think she may be my—well, at least, she said she had a sister who ran off with a warrior from Miltinoth.”
“You think that sister may have been your mother?”
She nodded. Saying it aloud made it seem so much more real, somehow. It also made it seem far-fetched. “Maybe I’m reading into it too much.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. There’s only one way to find out.”
“It’s not that simple.” She explained the difficulties she’d already worked out, and Greyson listened stoically, not moving from his position against the doorframe, as she explained.
“I have an idea,” he said when she finished.
She stared at him. “You do?”
“Well, I’m almost done making the princess’s armor. Don’t you think the High Prince may be a bit jealous?”
He smiled as if he knew something so obvious, he couldn’t believe she didn’t realize it. “It’s simple. You give him a gift, something to thank him for your new rank. But you make it a surprise—so, naturally, you need to speak to his personal servant to find out what he would enjoy.”
“A gift?” She gaped at him.
“It’s a nicety you give someone to thank them for something they’ve done for you.”
She scowled. “I know what a gift is, Greyson.”
“Have you ever given one?” He didn’t smile, but the lines around his eyes crinkled in amusement.
Now he laughed, shaking his head. “Well, this will be a new experience for you, then.”
“…A gift?” she repeated lamely.
He came forward and rested his hands on her shoulders. “You’ll give the High Prince a gift, something I can make at the forges. But you’ll consult with—Lumi, did you say?—to decide on it. A private conversation. Because it’s a surprise.”
She grinned. “Greyson, you’re a genius.”
He lifted his hands from her shoulders and scanned the room. “I know. Now where are those armor plates of yours? You’re going to be late to your meeting with the princess. I’ll help you suit up.”