She blinked at him, concerned. In her mind’s eye she saw the king’s paramour, the prince who was not royal. “That’s quite all right with me,” she said, careful to keep her voice low. There was a crowd forming, eager to enter the matinee performance. “Unless it isn’t all right with you?”
“No, no, I’m very happy he came. I—I asked him to come.” Somehow, the prince was tripping over his words, and Coriane could not understand why. “I wanted him to meet you.”
“Oh,” she said, not knowing what else to say. Then she glanced down at her dress—ordinary, out of style—and frowned. “I wish I wore something else. It’s not every day you meet a prince,” she added with the shadow of a wink.
He barked a laugh of humor and relief. “Clever, Coriane, very clever.”
They bypassed the ticket booths, as well as the public entrance to the theater. Tibe led her up one of the winding staircases, offering her a better view of the massive foyer. As on the bridge, she wondered who made this place, but deep down, she knew. Red labor, Red craftsmen, with perhaps a few magnetrons to aid the process. There was the usual twinge of disbelief. How could servants create such beauty and still be considered inferior? They are capable of wonders different from our own.
They gained skill through handiwork and practice, rather than birth. Is that not equal to Silver strength, if not greater than it? But she did not dwell on such thoughts long. She never did. This is the way of the world.
The royal box was at the end of a long, carpeted hall decorated by paintings. Many were of Prince Robert and Queen Anabel, both great patrons of the arts in the capital. Tibe pointed them out with pride, lingering by a portrait of Robert and his mother in full regalia.
“Anabel hates that painting,” a voice said from the end of the hall. Like his laugh, Prince Robert’s voice had a melody to it, and Coriane wondered if he had singer blood in his family.
The prince approached, gliding silently across the carpet with long, elegant strides. A silk, Coriane knew, remembering he was of House Iral. His ability was agility, balance, lending him swift movement and acrobat-like skill. His long hair fell over one shoulder, gleaming in dark waves of blue-black. As he closed the distance between them, Coriane noticed gray at his temples, as well as laugh lines around his mouth and eyes.
“She doesn’t think it a true likeness of us—too pretty, you know your mother,” Robert continued, coming to stop in front of the painting. He gestured to Anabel’s face and then his own. Both seemed to glow with youth and vitality, their features beautiful and eyes bright. “But I think it’s just fine. After all, who doesn’t need a little help now and then?” he added with a kind wink. “You’ll find that soon enough, Tibe.”
“Not if I can help it,” Tibe replied. “Sitting for paintings might be the most boring act in the kingdom.”
Coriane angled a glance at him. “A small price to pay, though. For a crown.”
“Well said, Lady Jacos, well said.” Robert laughed, tossing back his hair. “Step lightly around this one, my boy. Though it seems you’ve already forgotten your manners?”
“Of course, of course,” Tibe said, and waved his hand, gesturing for Coriane to come closer. “Uncle Robert, this is Coriane of House Jacos, daughter of Lord Harrus, Governor of Aderonack. And Coriane, this is Prince Robert of House Iral, Sworn Consort of His Royal Majesty, King Tiberias the Fifth.”
Her curtsy had improved in the past months, but not by much. Still, she attempted, only to have Robert pull her into an embrace. He smelled of lavender and—baked bread? “A pleasure to finally meet you,” he said, holding her at arm’s length. For once, Coriane did not feel as if she was being examined. There didn’t seem to be an unkind bone in Robert’s body, and he smiled warmly at her. “Come now, they should be starting momentarily.”
As Tibe did before, Robert took her arm, patting her hand like a doting grandfather.
“You must sit by me, of course.”
Something tightened in Coriane’s chest, an unfamiliar sensation. Was it . . . happiness? She thought so.
Grinning as widely as she could, she looked over her shoulder to see Tibe following, his eyes on hers, his smile both joyous and relieved.
The next day, Tibe left with his father to review troops at a fort in Delphie, leaving Coriane free to visit Sara. House Skonos had an opulent town house on the slopes of West Archeon, but they also enjoyed apartments in Whitefire Palace itself, should the royal family have need of a skilled skin healer at any moment. Sara met her at the gates unaccompanied, her smile perfect for the guards, but a warning to Coriane.