Chapter Fifty-One

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Lorn felt more at peace than he had in years. Seven years, in fact. It permeated every inch of his body, swathing him in soft, gentle warmth. He was vaguely aware of voices, of his mother talking and laughing, his father's booming voice, but their conversation was mostly indistinct--a pleasant hum. They were probably discussing Matta's latest antics. She'd been doing a lot of running off lately, disappearing for hours and coming back full of grass stains and secret smiles. Mother suspected a boy was involved. Father said that if there was a boy in the kingdom who could make his daughter smile like that, he must have nerves of steel. 

Lorn sighed and rolled over, nestling deeper into the thick fur of the hearthrug. He didn't much care what his sister was doing. Her frequent absence meant he got Mother's full attention, and that meant more stories, more time spent at her knee while she penned her star maps and sang the old songs of her people. It also meant more time spent with Father, trailing in his wake as he went about his duties, imitating his proud stride, taking every opportunity to grab hold of his trailing cloak or clamber atop his broad shoulders. 

It wasn't that Lorn didn't like having Matta around--she was always up for a lark, always ready to laugh or teach him some new trick with a sword--but she was elderheir. She was simply more important than him. When Matta was there, it was to her that Mother spoke first of starlore and Ther's history, her who Father took in hand and tried to teach how the castle was run. 

Matta was going to be queen of everything someday. She had to know many things. Lorn was glad it wasn't him. He loved learning, loved the stars and the stories and the castle--but only for their own sake, not to own or rule over. Where was the fun in that?

There was a thump and a click as Father left the room. Moments later, a soft hand on his cheek made Lorn stir, but he didn't open his eyes. "Sleepy, my little wisp?" his mother asked softly, stroking his head. "I thought you wanted me to tell you about Orillion the Swift and his twenty feats of daring?"

Slowly, Lorn cracked open one eye. Mother smiled down at him, her pointed mouth forming a dimple in one cheek. She swept a strand of silver hair behind her ear and raised an eyebrow. "Or would you rather dream the day away, hm?"

Lorn opened both eyes and returned her smile. "I'm awake, Mam'ta." He shaped the Silkwalker word for mother carefully, mindful of the accent. She'd started teaching him her mother tongue only a week ago, but he was learning fast. 

He was pleased to see his effort made her smile deepen. She ruffled his hair and laughed. "Little bird. Little wisp. You're learning fast as a sparrow gains its wings!" 

Lorn sat up and rubbed his cheek, suppressing a yawn. "I like it," he said, and stretched. "It sounds like when the wind blows through trees."

Mother nodded. "It does indeed. And when I teach you the seeding songs, you'll see just how right you are. Now--" she leaned back in her chair and patted her lap. "Shall we begin the trials of Orillion?"

Lorn nodded, still groggy and pleasantly warm from his nap, and clambered up onto her lap. Even at the age of ten, he was small and light. That was why Mother called him 'Little Bird,' and 'Wisp'. In truth, he didn't think such pet names were befitting a prince whose father was one of the tallest, broadest and strongest men in all the land--he could still carry Matta on his shoulders, and for all her slenderness, she was heavy!--but he didn't tell Mother that. Her voice was too soft and musical when she called him those names for Lorn to really mind. Perhaps, one day, when he was tall and broad and strong like father, he would inform her that it was no longer suitable--but for now he would let it be.

As he settled into the silky folds of her gown and leaned his head against her shoulder, Cassilda wrapped one arm around him and began the tale of Orillion.

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