If there is one vice Shinkokami has, it is this: she likes to watch people.
She is a master at watching without seeming to - though, she thinks, more bitterly than is her wont, these Easterners mostly see her only as a pretty Yamani doll anyway. She could probably get away with openly staring, with none the wiser.
So Shinko watches.
Shinko watches, and sees the look on the famed Lioness' eldest's face when his mother cannot bear to look at him. The look on his face is the betrayed look of a child trying to please someone he knows he cannot, and though Shinko does not know him, something fractures in her heart.
Shinko watches the lanky redhead, whose name, she learns from Roald, is Thom, and watches as he hides the flickers of his Gift, a deep, pure amethyst, from his mother and his mother's friends, as if it is something shameful, yet something he cannot help but use.
Shinko is entirely unsurprised when Roald tells her Thom almost never leaves his room at the university, that he has a horrible habit of switching his course of study right before he is due for mastery in the previous one. She does not know Thom at all, though she wishes she did, since he is her fiance's oldest friend, and Roald speaks of him with nothing but genuine affection and sad respect.
Shinko watches, which is how she knows this Thom is broken, and has been since the first time his Gift flickered to bright purple life around him and his mother began to avoid him. Shinko watches, which is how she knows that Roald is deeply in love with his redheaded friend.
Shinko watches, watches as Roald leans just a bit too close to Thom when Thom speaks, watches as Thom makes the occasional shy appearance at a party, all at Roald's behest, all for Roald, and that couldn't be plainer. Shinko wonders, idly, how no one else ever seems to notice, how only she seems to see that Roald takes any opportunity propriety grants him to touch Thom, how Thom, in turn, only ever looks up at Roald, only ever speaks more than necessary pleasantries to Roald, only ever is seen if Roald is there to bring him out of his awkward shell.
Then Shinko sees Queen Thayet, one day, and realizes the Queen is watching too, but whereas Shinko watches with nonjudgemental curiosity, Thayet's eyes are narrow and hard.
Shinko watches, which is how she knows Roald knows his mother watches him suspiciously, and watches Thom with suspicion that borders on anger, and Roald knows secret paths to the university, and enough magic to not get caught.
Shinko does not know magic, does not have ways to avoid detection by mages, so Shinko does not watch Roald when he is at the university. She stays, instead, attendant on the Queen, diverting Thayet with Thayet's own graciousness.
But once, when Roald is back at Corus, finally, for the wedding, and the Queen - and, indeed, the whole Court - is wrapped up in the preparations, Thom stays the night at the palace.
And Shinko watches.
She watches through the crack of the door, thankful that the palace is still largely empty of people so that there is no one to see her and grow suspicious. She watches the two men inside, one the handsome prince she has learned to love, one the gawky, nervous almost-mage she wishes she could, and she watches as they move closer, Thom shy and awkward in his shyness, Roald calm and steady and therefore bold. Roald's grace turns Thom's lack of coordination into a gentle dance, and as the two men kiss, as tentative as if they have not been lovers for years, years before Shinko ever heard of Roald, Shinko thinks that Thom in this intimacy has gained a sort of grace after all, that loving and being loved has made the awkward duckling beautiful.
Roald gently divests Thom of his clothing, and through eloquent silence persuades his lover to return the favor, smiling at Thom with more passion than he has ever graced Shinko with when Thom's fingers hesitantly tug at Roald's tunic. Roald, Shinko sees, is a patient lover, considerate and reassuring and gently prompting, but never pushing, never forcing, even though it must be frustrating, dealing with a longtime lover who is still so nervous.
Shinko is oddly reassured, herself. She is glad at times like this that she watches people, because her upcoming wedding does not seem so very terrifying, now.
Shinko watches as Roald kisses Thom deeply, as Thom wraps himself around Roald as Roald lowers them both to the bed, and Thom looks up and sees her, and freezes.
And Shinko curses herself, because of course if she can see in through the gap, something of herself - a color of her dress that is decidedly not stone, a glimmer of her eye, perhaps - would be visible to anyone in the room who cared to look. And Thom's father is the real spymaster of Tortall, and even if Thom is not so inclined to tricks he undoubtedly knows all the ones Shinko does, and now Thom's hesitance is back full-force, deep shame and desperate love twisting his expression, and Shinko has ruined their beautiful moment.
Shinko does the only thing she can think of: she bobs an awkward Eastern curtsey and bows her head, hoping something of her meaning can convey itself to Thom and her love and his lover can rescue their night, and scurries off.
Later, when they are married, Shinko still watches. She watches Roald's reflection in her mirror the morning after their wedding, as she pins up her hair. Roald is watching her, and there is honest affection in his eyes, for which Shinko is thankful, because he could have hated her for taking him from his lover, for being a duty.
"In Yaman, there is no shame in taking a lover, as long as one does one's duty by one's wife," Shinko says at last, watching Roald's face.
He freezes, and blushes, and she meets his eyes in the mirror, and when he bows deeply to her in Yamani style, she knows he understands her meaning.
Shinko watches, and watching gives her power. She can ruin Roald, can destroy Thom, with a whispered word of what she sees; that is power enough for her.
But Shinko has grace and graciousness of her own, and she will never use it.