Willimgard didn’t attempt to dislodge Alighierie’s hand from his arm, but he still kept an eye on Meria as they headed down the corridor; she was unsteady on her feet yet. Jealousy was something that had to be tended to and gently untangled much like a convoluted knot, but even if it pulled that knot tighter for the moment, he would be a poor king and a poorer friend if he let Meria hurt herself trying to walk out of her pride.
He knew that pride so well. He watched her grin while bleeding, wisecrack through violent illness, refuse to let tears fall as her right to live was denied over and over. He watched her take the harder path simply because it was there.
She would make a terrible king, but she was the best of champions.
Alighierie squeezed his arm again; Willimgard glanced at her to reassure her, and as soon as he looked back, Meria half-stumbled. She caught herself, but he reached out to steady her all the same.
Alighierie squeezed his arm a third time, more insistently now. The king wanted to shake his head and sigh, but instead he simply imitated his son’s favorite gesture and glanced skyward for a moment.
Light drifted in through the open-arced doorway, and Meria drew up short for a moment, making a face and squinting.
“Is something wrong?” Alighierie asked before Willimgard could say anything.
“…it’s bright,” Meria complained long-sufferingly, and Willimgard remembered that she’d never seen daylight before.
“Your eyes will adjust in a few moments,” he said to her, and gestured to Alighierie to indicate that they should keep moving. Meria’s footsteps followed along after a few moments, like he’d known they would.
They emerged, at last, upon the castle ramparts—Willimgard hiding his half-smile behind his beard, Alighierie still sulky and suspicious, Meria scowling and shielding her face from the bright light assaulting it.
Slowly, Meria’s hand dropped; a little more quickly, her face lost its disgruntled look and she simply stared, wide-eyed.
Willimgard wondered what it must be like as he watched her—wondered what it must be like to see the familiar scenery of Aventheim proper with its sprawling gardens and spiraled streets spinning out in every direction, framed in sparkling dark-sapphire waves capped in white. To see the land stretched out on the horizon, what was left of Kilgia Tower in the distance, all the way out to the mountains, with fine clouds strewn everywhere about the blue, blue, blue sky.
Meria took a few steps in one direction, then halted and drifted off another way, staring and staring. Just as abruptly, she ran over to the crenels and leaned out over them, struggling to take in as much of the scenery as she could—even tall as she was, she still pushed herself up onto her toes so as to get a better angle for trying to decide what to stare at first.
She wasn’t looking anymore, so Willimgard did not bother to hide his smile any longer; he simply turned to Alighierie and nodded toward Meria slightly. Go on, say what you like, but you have to admit she’s cute.
Alighierie sighed and then pouted. Perhaps that’s so, but that doesn’t mean I have to like her yet.
“That’s… and then that over there is where… and I remember there, oh damn, it’s really green! I couldn’t tell! And all the flowers and the…” Meria was saying, probably just to herself, her voice rushed and excited. “It makes a lot of difference. The light. Holy shit, it makes a difference. It’s like I’ve never even seen this place before!”
She rocked back onto her feet in order to look over her shoulder, aiming a curious expression at Willimgard and Alighierie.
“Well, that explains a lot. No wonder you were fighting like crazy even though you were scared—obviously you wanted your body back, but this place…”
Meria smiled purely and went back to ogling the view.
Willimgard and Alighierie exchanged looks once again—his politely victorious, hers resigned.
“You’re in charge of the housebreaking, my lord,” Alighierie murmured under her breath, rubbing her temples lightly.
Meria glanced back again, quirking an eyebrow in confusion. “Huh? What’d you say? I didn’t really catch that.”
“Oh—please, you mustn’t worry about it. I was simply remarking on the tides today.”
Meria shrugged and turned back around; Willimgard coughed.