Sigrid had never seen her father look so terrified. He eyed the sheaf of letters as though they were about to burst into flames. She’d caught him on the way back from the stables, and the wind had whipped his clothes and hair into a state of disarray most unbecoming for the King of Dale. Then again, she thought, her simple dress and ink-stained hands were not those of a princess.
“Are those…” he choked.
“Yes.” She handed them to him and he tucked them hastily into one of the pockets of his coat, his cheeks flaming red. She’d seen him blush only once before; when he’d attempted to explain to her the things that would have been her mother’s province, had her mother lived. He had done well, all things considered, but she hadn’t been able to look him in the eye for some days afterwards.
“Did you read…” he began.
“Only until I realised what they were.” Sigrid was aware of her own cheeks colouring. All the young women sighed a little over the elf-king – or his handsome son – and envied her the frequent visits to the kingdom in the woods. It was one thing, though, to let her eyes linger for a little too long on pale hair and broad shoulder and quite another to read something so…intimate.
Yet she had been almost reluctant to stop reading, caught up in the beauty of the elf-king’s words. There had been something entrancing about the way Thranduil’s handwriting flowed across the page, curving in bold black strokes across the parchment. My sweet king, I have been too long without you…
She swallowed. “Tilda found them,” she explained.
Bard went from crimson to white under the darkness of his tan. “Does she…do I…do I need to speak to her?”
Sigrid took pity on him. “I explained.” They were, neither of them, as naïve as he thought – a father’s weakness, perhaps, to see children where there were two young women. Two young women who had not had a genteel upbringing surrounded by softness and servants.
“You explained,” he repeated. He looked as though he meant to inquire further, then thought better of it. His brows drew together and she read the sudden uncertainty on his face. “Sigrid, I…”
Sigrid flung her arms around his neck. “I’m glad for you, Da.” She breathed in the familiar scent of him as he hugged her back; wood and leather oil and clean wool. She felt like a child again, caught up in his strong arms, knowing that nothing in the world could hurt her. “And—“ she hesitated – “mother would be too.”
He stiffened for a moment, then his shoulders relaxed and he pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “When did you become so wise?” he murmured.
She slipped out of his arms and stood on tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek. “I have always been wise. And I am late to the infirmary,” she told him. “I must go.” Brona had little patience for lateness, and no patience at all for princesses.
Her father’s voice stopped her. “You won’t…” he began.
She turned, cutting him off with a roll of her eyes. “Da, there is not a soul in this city who does not already know.”