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queen under stars

Chapter Text

One of the things about William is he's not just young in years, he's young in the head, too. It shows so much that sometimes Eric has to work hard to keep from laughing at him. It's entirely good humoured, good-natured laughter, but he remembers being William's age and in William's place, more or less. It wasn't that long ago. And he himself would have been hurt by even a slightly older man's laughter.

And there are worse things to get you through years of darkness than one too many epics, one too many ballads, one too many tales of heroic deeds. Drink, for example. Killing people for fun and profit. Any number of other things you'd care to think of. But it means that some of William's expectations come from someplace as odd as the fairie-forest, and as simple as those old tales. Doesn't hurt that life's been resembling a tale just somewhat of late, but Eric's pretty sure it won't last; the world can't possibly carry that sort of thing very long, or it'd pull itself apart. That's how he feels, anyway.

He isn't drunk, when William comes to find him. It's amazing how mead turns his stomach, actually, when he's not looking to drown his brains in it. Whiskey's all right, but whiskey's more expensive and besides, it comes with a Hell of a bigger kick to the head when he wakes up next morning. Or afternoon, as the case may be. A lot of other people are drunk, though, very drunk - anything from giggling and staggering to legless, and more fancy women drinking than Eric'd think usual. He doesn't blame them, either. Drink works both ways: if you want to drown yourself in it, you can, but if you want to cling to a fancy that'll look right silly in the light of day, it'll let you do that, too. It'll drown all the complicated bits instead, all the reasons that what you want can't be so.

A new Queen and a few trees blooming is all very well, but Eric's farmed through bad years, back when Sara was alive. And out there in the castle Hall and spilling out onto the bridge and the outer courtyards - out there is more than one man who's done the same, or overseen other men do it; more than one woman who's had to make food stretch through any kind of trickery. There's hope now and hope is a fine thing, but it's only a beginning. Hope doesn't fill your belly, it just makes you think it's worth struggling over the next hill, that then your belly will be filled.

So they drink to drown their doubts and hopefully piss them out against the wall in the morning, when the real work starts.

William finds him as the porters and other servants who've mostly stayed at least within a stone's throw of sobriety get the legless or brainless up off the ground and at least piled neatly in corners with blankets thrown over them. He looks only slightly the worse for drink and a great deal the worse for worry, and his hand is twitching as if it misses his bow when he comes in hearing range of Eric and says, "I can't find her. Anywhere."

He means their Queen, of course, and he clearly expects this to draw Eric into shared not-quite-panic, but Eric shrugs. "I'm not surprised." And he isn't.

When William stares at him, Eric reminds himself of youth and a certain kind of dedication and elaborates, "She's spent years up a tower with nobody but the occasional other prisoner, come and gone, and that across the hall from her cell, and otherwise only birds to talk to. Now there's hundreds of people who all want to talk to her and bloody well grab bits of her clothing for good luck, so they can say they touched the good Queen. Of course y'can't find her."

William shakes his head. "No," he says, "I thought of that, I looked in the royal quarters - "

"Oh," Eric interrupts, "y'mean where her step-mother killed her father and then lived while she kept Snow White up the tower?"

He catches his own impatience and clasps William's shoulder in a sort of wordless apology, reminding himself that the boy fought raids and rampages before a victorious (if unlikely) battle; he probably didn't know the feeling of the soul being dragged in the mud and hit so many times in the same place that it flinches before anyone even bothers to threaten a blow, because of what it expects.

Hell, Eric wouldn't even understand that, if it hadn't been for Sara. He'd've lived it - Hell, he did live it, for years - but he wouldn't understand it.

William looks a little chastened. "Right," he says, "you're right," and it's a credit to him that he can say it without ire; but the worry comes back, and the frown, with the words, "But where is she, then?"

Eric has his suspicions, actually, but he's not sure he wants to tell William at this hour of the night, with drink and worry and exhaustion thick in the air and perhaps getting in the way of the words to explain. He temporizes instead.

"Tell you what." Eric gestures to the remains of the coronation feast. "You put this in some kind of order, because I've no idea where even to start and you should at least know something about the ordering of high-born castles, and I'll go find her."

It takes less to persuade William than Eric might have expected, and he couldn't tell you whether it was sense from the lad or fear - sense, in knowing that Eric's right, or fear at what she might say if she's hiding. Or what her hiding place might tell him. He doesn't repeat his question about where she could be, at any rate. Instead William just looks around like he's just noticed the half-chaos that the feast and party have decayed into and it sets his face into new purpose: this is something he knows how to do, and he immediately goes about doing it.

Out of the corner of one eye, Eric thinks he sees William's own father against one of the walls, singing softly to himself and conducting invisible friends with his cup.

William doesn't ask how Eric intends to find their Queen. If Eric'd ever had the inclination to idiot pompousity, he might have pointed out that you don't get anywhere as a hunter if you look everywhere, that part of being a good hunter is learning to look exactly where the quarry is likely to be, and figuring out where that is. But for one, he isn't, and there are ghosts enough who would come back to kick his head in if he tried, and for another, his Queen isn't quarry.

He learns where the place he wants is by the expedient of catching a serving-man by the arm and asking direct; so Eric finds Snow White up in the north tower.

Chapter Text

The tower cell is hasn't changed.

They didn't do anything to it, Ravenna or Finn, Queen or shadow. In absence of orders, neither did any servants or guards. It looks exactly -

- well, it looks like it must have looked the moment after she slashed the nail across Finn's face and ran and ran and ran without thinking of anything but running, exactly like she wants to do now. But this time, she knows, there'd be no white horse waiting for her on the rocky shore, and she isn't sure she wouldn't drown like she'd thought she would before in the pounding water that stole all breath and sense of direction, is deadly sure that this time there'd be no fairy-magpies to show her what to do, where to go.

No huntsman to be a miracle and drag her through forest and lake. Not if she goes now. Not if she tries to run away. She thinks that's the bargain: we save you, you save us. And saving them - all of them, and the kingdom itself, the land itself - means she has to stay and she has to be a queen and she isn't allowed to be a coward.

But oh, God, she wants to run. She puts her face in her hands for just a moment. Takes a few deep breaths and then pushes back hair that the maids braided after the coronation and before the feast, and so doesn't need to be pushed back. Takes in the tower that's stayed so exactly the same.

Her dolls are there, scattered in the dirt. So are the rags she used as blankets, the carefully hoarded wood and straw, the candle-ends some servants might bring her - everything. It's like she never left. In her head, she might not have, yet.

She goes to the dolls and crouches to pick them up; the heavy red velvet of the gown she wears brushes over the floor and sweeps a little space clean. This doll: her father. This doll: her mother. And a memory of her mother, for just a briefest breath: you will be a queen, her mother's voice saying, so I named you after the first queen. A voice, her mother's voice, but no face. Her memories are too much like that sometimes. Voice and smell and touch and feeling, and nothing there to see.

Snow White hears the footsteps, hears the heavy door to this part of the tower. She nearly tumbles to the floor in her haste to stand and turn, tangled in fear and confusion and embarrassment and not understanding any of them - she has nothing to fear, there is nothing she has to be ashamed of, and so why the confusion? Why are her thoughts so unruly? Why can't they make sense?

Yet there the confusion remains, so that when she scrambles to her feet with her dolls clutched to her chest, she finds herself staring at her huntsman again without a thought in her head. For a heartbeat, maybe three.

Then a thought comes, filling the emptiness like a spark in straw. It is a question, a wondering, an uncertainty over whether she has the right to think of him like that. To use the possessive. To think of him as my huntsman.

Maybe she does: she is after all his queen, just like she's everyone else's queen now, so they all belong to her the same way that she belongs to each one of them. But maybe she doesn't. William is hers, and his father, and the women from the lake and the people of the villages and the servants of the castle and maybe even the dwarves - but she isn't sure about the huntsman. About Eric. She remembers all too clearly searching the faces as she felt the crown on her head and the real terror there until she found his, because she really wasn't sure he would be there. And she isn't sure he'll stay.

In the silence that is confusion and remembered fear closing around her throat, Eric stands with one hand still on the door she'd half-closed behind her and he'd opened all the way and says, "Y'don't match, princess," nodding his head towards her gown and then tilting it to indicate the cell around her.

It's a bit like cool water to the face on a hot day, because it's exactly the same kind of thing he would have said in the forest - in either of the forests, or the mountains - and it doesn't either sound worried or disappointed or even angry, it just sounds like her huntsman giving her a hard time again, because he never asked to be part of her little mad hope. Snow White tries to keep her laughter down to just a smile and a chuckle and not giggle the way that turned into mad, crazy sobs.

"Not anymore, anyway," she says, looking down and trying to remember what she'd sounded like in the forest, trying to match him.

Eric looks around, stepping into the cell and examining the ceiling from where he stands. "This," he says, "is a miserable little hole. I've honestly slept in better pig-hutches, while drunk."

Snow White bites down again on the laughter that would twist to something uglier. Eric goes on, "A word of advice, princess. If for some reason y'don't want to just tear most of this down and reuse the stone for bits of the castle in need of repair, then burn everything in here and get your people to use it for storing horrible old furniture or some such. Also, right just at the moment, y'should stop lurking around in freezing towers and come have a drink."

Sometimes she wonders if she'll ever stop comparing him to William, something that started - well, no, not the moment she'd seen William in the fairie-forest, because everything had been swallowed soon after by grief and -

No, not the moment she'd seen him. But soon after. In the days through forest and over rocks and into the mountains. Comparing them, seeing them one beside the other. She thinks she should feel guilty, maybe, but the comparisons are never . . .bad. They're not about one having something that the other wants, or anything like. They just . . .are. And they are right here, and right now.

When William offers her his hand, there are a hundred things underneath it, meanings and promises back to trees in sunlight before a night full of screams, and weaves in with guilt and loss and being so completely alone. It's always complicated, always tangled, always deep. Every touch between them is. Sometimes it's tangled in with things William can't even know, like Ravenna in his shape and a kiss in snow-muffled woods; things she hasn't told anyone and probably never will.

When Eric offers her his hand, it just means he's helping her step over something, or out of something, or keeping her from stumbling off a cliff or into a tree, or it means she isn't walking fast enough. It might be that last one tonight. Eric makes things . . . simple, not because he's simple, but - she can't even find the end of the thought.

When she takes his hand, he pulls her out of her cell that's no longer hers except the way that everything in the kingdom is, and he kicks the door closed behind them.

Outside it's cold with the cold of spring nights when the sun's been gone for hours. She knows that cold, but the smell of the air is new, even if some of the smell comes from the stables. It isn't herself, or smoking fire, or air that sits trapped inside stone for days and years. The sky's clear and the stars are everywhere, and she follows Eric without really thinking. By itself, the velvet of her gown is warmer than she's used to.

Eric stops a little below the tower, leaning on the balustrade and unhooking a skin from his belt. "I haven't actually seen you drink tonight," Snow White says as she joins him, and he laughs as he produces a cup.

"And you won't," he replies, pouring wine from skin to cup and handing it to her. "Reason being, I've no need to drink tonight. You do. And you haven't yet tonight."

She takes the cup, but says, "It goes to my head. I'm not used to drinking this. I'm not used to drinking anything except water." She's not even sure yet that she likes the taste, although she's not sure she doesn't, either. "Why do I need it?"

When he gives her a half-smile that's almost as complicated as a touch from William, she stumbles inside her own head for a moment. She wonders if she should tell him, if she could tell him, that somehow she seems to know more about him than she should. Like the name of his wife, and the shape of her face. Like that he fought first against Ravenna and then for her, and where, and why he deserted war to come home and be found by a woman who shouldn't've died.

Snow White knows these things like she knows her own name, and that they're real, and that they're true; but he never told her, and how could she ever have seen Sara, dead when all Snow White knew was the tower? But she knows, the same way she knows that smile, or better said maybe that look, because it isn't a smile, not really.

"You tell me you aren't strung tighter than William's bow," he says, "and I might consider believing you, but only because I've seen how the faces you make when you t'tell a lie."

That makes her laugh, but it's an honest laugh and she makes a face at him on purpose. She takes a cautious sip of the wine, too, and thinks it might be more than just wine because it makes her cough just a bit. "Fine," she says, "why don't you need it?"

Unfair question, and unkind, she knows it as soon as she says it and her mouth is already open to take it back and stammer an apology when he snorts his own brief laugh. "You asked me about the drinking in the Dark Forest," he tells her, unguarded in a way that takes her aback, "and I never gave you an answer, but the answer was yes, princess. There was no choice between sorrow and conscience: I needed to drown both. Tonight, I don't."

The frankness takes her aback, makes her feel strange and guilty; she tries to fend it away by saying, teasing, "You probably shouldn't call me 'princess' anymore, you know." Then she thinks that might come off wrong, but Eric laughs.

"You're right," he says. "But 'queen' doesn't have quite the same ring. It's a bit more serious, as titles go, meant for formal occasions. Which, you must admit, this isn't."

Thank God, she thinks, but - "You could try my name," Snow White counters, and then, because she remembers old days with sun and William laughing, she adds, "Even if it is odd."

"How did y'end up with a name like that, anyhow? It's not really the sort of thing you'd expect, for a princess." His voice is just the sound of idle curiosity, but the question makes her look down.

The dolls are still in one hand, fingers tight around them and the bit of uncovered palm pressed to against the front of her gown. Snow White opens her hand, looking down to see the figures she's known so long and are sometimes her clearest memories for mother or father.

"My mother said it was an old name, from her grandmother's people," she says. "They came from south, she said, lifetimes ago. She said it sounded different in the old language but she never told me what it was. In that language, I mean." Snow White looks up, first at Eric and then at the night sky and the stars that appear as the glare of torches and lanterns leaves her eyes. "She said she named me after an ancient queen, a queen of the stars, from a land even further away than the one my great-grandmother came from. She said the queen was holy and wise and immortal and that if I was lucky, I might be like her." And at a new assault from memory, fractured and painful, Snow White stops speaking and bites the inside of her lip.

After a moment's silence, Eric says, "I suppose it could be worse, then," and she can't help laughing. "Maybe I'll just call you 'Snow'."

"Careful," she says, smiling, "or I'll just call you 'huntsman' for the rest of your life."

"Honestly," he says, "there's probably fewer people who call me by my name." And he gives her a look that's as complicated as before and says, "In fact, I don't think I ever told you what it was."

She gapes at him, feeling her face flush, feeling like she's been caught with a dirty secret; then that feeling hits something inside her and she draws herself up, the flush draining, waiting for him to be angry and trying to think what she'll answer.

He shakes his head. "Y'know you were dead when we carried y'into the Duke's castle, princess," he tells her. There's no laughter in his voice. "I've been around enough corpses to know the signs. Cold and stiff, not breathing, no heartbeat - if it'd been summer in the lowlands instead of the tail end of a bad winter in the mountains, y'd've even started to smell on us. I sat vigil with you for a time, and believe me, you were dead."

The words are hard, but his face isn't; he goes on, "And then I leave you alone for five minutes together and you're wandering about giving rousing but, let's be honest, slightly confused speeches and inspiring the masses to suicidal war. And very much alive, and fighting Ravenna's wars I saw more than one revenant-dead, so I knew what to look for."

There something about him withdraws for just a breath, lost in a dark kind of memory; Snow White had wondered how Ravenna had convinced him she could bring Sara back. If you'd seen her raise corpses with magic, it might be easier to think she could bring the dead back to something like true life.

But Snow White just says, "I had a headache," a little defensively. "A bad one. And I felt like the whole world had exploded inside of me. Of course my speech was a little confused. It worked, anyway."

"That it did." He's still looking at her with that look that speaks of quiet and thought. "But y'came back from the dead, Snow White - came, or y'were sent, or released, or something. I'd be surprised if knowing things about me I never told you were the biggest part of the changes there."

The thought makes her cold. Any thought of her death makes her cold. She remembers choking in the forest and William crying, and she remembers waking on the bier feeling like she'd been drowned while suns died and were born inside her skin, with her head too full of thoughts and knowing: about Ravenna, about the magic, about the earth she stood on and the world. About everything.

Knowing that Ravenna was hers to kill, and mourning that. Knowing why Ravenna was what she was, and knowing that it didn't change anything except to make it all a sadness that tore at her heart.

It's all more distant now, so much of the knowing fading like a dream where you only remember the parts you make into a story to tell yourself.

"I don't know anything," she says, half to him and half to herself. "Not worth knowing. I'm still only me. Not a queen or a warrior or holy or wise or anything else everyone wants me to be. I'm only me, Eric," she says, the words hard to keep steady as they need to be, to keep her from falling apart and turning into the girl Finn dragged sobbing back to the castle on the night of so many screams.

She takes another mouthful of the wine to cover that; then she blurts, "Are you going to stay?"

There might be some relief on Eric's face, at the move from her sideways confession of her terror to a question so straight-forward, and his answer means she struggles not to gulp air like she's been drowning when he frowns at her and says, "Where in Hell else would I go, then?"

They stand there for some time. Snow White isn't sure how long it is, and doesn't try to think about it, or find other things to say in the silence past one of her fears. Eric pours her another cup of the wine when she's finished her first and her head starts to spin just gently.

That's where Greta finds them. Her cheeks are only a little flushed from the wine Snow White saw her drink all evening, between throwing herself out of her chair to dance the many dances that ringed the courtyard, as if she were proving to herself that her body was young and strong and hers again. But then, everyone else had drunk some wine since they were a child. Only Snow White was different.

She curtseys in a way that makes Snow White feel awkward and ungainly; then she says, "Majesty, Master Huntsman. Milord William sent me to tell Her Majesty that the queen's - that is, her royal mother's chambers are prepared for her, when she wishes to retire." The correction comes before Snow White even starts to tense, memories of the royal apartments flitting through her mind; instead she's left off-centre and off-balance, because she had never thought of ordering her mother's rooms cleared instead.

Eric takes the mostly empty cup from Snow White's hands, fills it to three quarters and then gives it back, closing up the skin. "Drink the rest of that," he says, quietly enough that Greta probably can't hear from her place by the door, "and go to sleep, princess." And the inaccuracy of the title becomes a joke, somehow, just between them.

Her head is light and her feet will probably be unsteady, and she is very, very tired; with the spectre of the rooms removed, Snow White thinks he's probably right.

"Thank you," she says, stepping back carefully. He mimics a courtly bow at her, and she laughs. She's no judge, but from the look on Greta's face, Snow White thinks he's probably not very good at bowing.

Chapter Text

When Eric steps back into the castle, Tarval is waiting for him.

The duke is as drunk as anyone else who's staggered out of the feast, but he's managed to gather about him a few more wits and a bit more dignity than when he sat against the wall singing earlier. His eyes are clear enough, at least, and he's fixing Eric with a look fit to drill through him. It might even work, if Eric were someone else.

He's never been sure what he thinks of Duke Hammond of Tarval, the last noble in Tabor to stand in the old king's name and keep his lands while doing it, more or less. Rather less than more, true, but enough to farm food to feed most of the refugees who ran to his fortifications and sheltering skirts. The mountains helped, of course, and the forests. There's only one approach to the castle at Tarval that isn't suicide for the invader before he - or, given this is the kingdom that used to bow to Ravenna and will now bend knee to Snow White, she - even manages to get in sight of it. And then it's suicide, because it brings you in range of the castle's archers. Eric knows. He assaulted that castle in Ravenna's army.

Once.

And now Tarval will emerge as something else. As the only fief that still stands, ruled by the last faithful vassal of the king, with a son who (let's be honest and look politics in the face) will probably one day be consort to the queen. Eric's not sure what that means, and while loyalty to her dead father and fathering William is a good start down the right road, Eric's by no means sure he trusts the duke that much. Good men can still do stupid things, and be deceived in their own motivations, let alone deceiving others; Tarval will have a lot of power in Tabor's future and there's nothing to be done about that, and Eric, well -

Eric's not a nobleman, and he doesn't really trust them. He trusts William because he's William, and because they hiked over God's half-acre night and day to get their new queen to safety, and you can get to know a man when you do that if you know how. And because William was willing to live like a tramp for Snow White's sake. His father stayed in a fortress and guarded its borders from raids. That doesn't say anything about a man one way or another.

The duke came out to war when Snow White called, but Eric doesn't trust that either: there's not much Tarval could have done otherwise, not after every other living body in his castle was ready to throw themselves at Snow White's feet.

So he nods to Tarval the sort of abbreviated bow that's all he'll give anyone without a fight, which is a test itself, to see what the man'll do. And what the man does is raise the wine-skin he's still nursing, lean unsteadily against the wall and continue to fix Eric with his clear and thoughtful eyes.

"Y'were th'one who said to William about the rooms," the duke says. Drink slurs his words, give him a mountain accent that's not in his cultured, sober speech. "No way he came up with that one hi'self."

Eric throttles the first answer that comes and trades it for one that pretends at respect, even if it's not necessarily telling the truth. "I fear you underestimate your son, your Grace," he says, calm enough. "He was looking for the Queen and I said as how he probably wouldn't find her Majesty in rooms that once belonged to Ravenna. Anything else was his own doing." And fair clever, Eric would be the first to say. He hadn't thought of that, himself. He'd thought of suites for visiting nobles, or Hell, a pavillion in the courtyard - it wasn't as if the tents for royalty weren't damn well as comfortable as their rooms in their castles. He hadn't thought of her mother's rooms.

When Snow White speaks of her father, there's affection but little else, and no wonder with a man who had fallen so completely for Ravenna's charms. But when she speaks of her mother, her voice carries awe, love and a yearning for something lost. That was clever of William, no doubt.

"Hnh," Tarval grunts, frowning like he's thinking that over. "Maybe. I've lived with'im longer'n'you, though."

As his father, Eric thinks, but doesn't say, because it's of no use to him to antagonise the man either. And one who didn't half understand his guilt either, I'd wager. Eric merely gives a short nod, acknowledging the point. But Tarval doesn't look away.

"She was searching f'you," he says, "at th'coronation. I saw her, and I saw her face when she finally found yours. Be careful, huntsman."

Eric almost bristles, but there's a note in Tarval's voice that stays it: a note that says he's serious, and that it's a warning, not a threat.

The duke burps and then passes thumb and forefinger over his eyes, bringing them in to pinch the bridge of his nose. "I d'know what you are, huntsman," he says, with the frankness of wine. "Y'come with my son through th'Dark Forest with dwarves in your train, y'take vigil for th'la - I mean Her Majesty, alone, and then after you leave she stands up and walks, alive under the stars when she was God damned well dead before, and then she runs off in a mad scheme that works and then here we are." He waves the hand that holds the wine-skin. "S'I d'know what you are. But I think sh'needs you, d'know why. An' there's those'll be looking to cross her, huntsman, mark me. We have t'make this a kingdom and tha' means taking back the ones as weaseled for years, and appointing more, and compromises'n'deals, an'alliances and what have you. I think sh'needs you but you," and he lurches forward to point a finger at Eric, "you'll have to be certain sure you're not a chink in her armour too, y'see? You're a thing as doesn' fit, and there're those who'll hone to that like a hunting dog to blood. D'you understand me?"

Eric stares at him for a moment, eyes narrowed, and then nods sharply again. He's thought the same things. It's why he almost left, it's why he was that figure out of place at the coronation, late and alone. He almost left, but he thought the way Tarval apparently thinks, and that otherwise Snow White'll be surrounded by - by people who don't understand and can't grasp at the strangeness of her life. Not that he does either, entirely, but he does better than most. "Better than you know," he says, and the duke nods, the motions exaggerated.

Tarval takes a swig from his skin and then leans more heavily on the wall. "Love th'girl like she's my own daughter," he says, with the quick change of drunks everywhere. "Cried for her, did, when I thought sh'was dead. Loved her mother, too, but sh'was for th'king. Magnus, my friend, like my brother. Told him not to marry the witch." He looks morosely at the wine-skin and then takes another swig. "Did m'best for Eleanor, t'be her friend. Was a bad day for th'kingdom, when she died." He stares ahead and then grunts, as if to himself. "Always meant for William to marry th'princess, s'why we were always at court." He drinks again, and his eyes glitter. "Migh' still happen. But not th'way it should have."

He slides down the wall. Eric's not sure he believes it, but he's not sure he doesn't. He's been a drunk and around the drunk more than enough to know that it can take you sudden, especially if you use up part of yourself in deep but drunken thought. In the end, everything Tarval says is probably truth. Eric just doesn't quite trust the timing, and you can lie with truth, too. And he knows what he looks like, and what Tarval might not expect him to understand. Like politics.

As if there aren't politics in a battlefield levy to match those of any court.

But he sees things in the duke he recognizes, too, from inside and out. And it might be true. The man's had cares enough, these past ten years, and such things can unwind on a man all at once. On a woman too, he supposes.

Eric offers the man his hand and says, "Up with you, your Grace. Let's find your boy and get you to bed, before you sleep in some hallway and wake up with your bones full of Hell's ache."

The look the duke of Tarval swings at him is bleary-drunk enough. "Hnh," he says again. "Good idea. Too old for that."

William finds them not a handful of minutes later, and takes Eric's place under his father's arm with a look of gratitude; Eric puts a hand on his shoulder and then gently pushes the boy off to get the duke to a flat and cushioned surface. Then Eric goes back outside to stare up.

In the end of it all, he thinks, he still wishes to God Sarah were here.