The Ambassador

In some ways, this follows from The Harpist: the main character is the same, and he’s moved a bit further along in the journey begun in that first, exploratory short story.
More than anything before it, though, today’s entry shows that everything here is intended as the rough initial concept. There are differences in the continuity between today’s entry and The Harpist, and they are intentional. There may also be some elements you see from the Harpist that are restated. That is because this, like the Harpist before it, was written to help me develop the story and the world further before I attempt to flesh it out all the way. I hope you enjoy it.

Along its northeastern border, the border of the Hold governed by Lord Ancel Telmyr met with the border of Orosia. This border ran southeast, using the wide Oros River as a natural marker of the boundary between the Hold and the country of the Orose. Where the river met the ocean, Telmyrhold did as well, and it called a long stretch of the coastline its own. Its capital, Port Telmyr, stood just north of the center of Telmyr’s coast, where it had grown up around the edges of Fennen’s Bay.

In the south, Telmyrhold shared its border with Cavanhold, another of the many Holds that had splintered off of what had once been known as Minasora, the grand kingdom that had once been one of the largest countries in the world. The Holds which had once made it up covered all of northeastern Nerrona. None of them were large enough or independent enough to be kingdoms or countries in their own right, yet neither were they unified enough to come together once more under the same banner.

Queen Lora sought to change that. In the west, Telmyrhold intersected with Minashold, where Queen Lora had reclaimed the throne in the name of her family, and where she had begun establishing the seat of power from which she would reunite the Holds as the kingdom of Minasora once again.

Telmyrhold shared one more small segment of its border with another hold, Emberhold, along its northernmost reaches. A stretch of land historically held by the Telmyrs, where Telmyrhold reached out to touch Emberhold, separated Minashold and Orosia, forcing any trade between the two to take a more circuitous path through Emberhold so long as Lord Telmyr opposed Queen Lora’s claim to the throne.

Of course, trade between Telmyrhold and Minashold still continued unofficially. It had to, for the health of both populations and their economies. Queen Lora was well aware of this fact, as she was aware of all things, but even without her direct advice Hawke would have been aware of it as well. It was one of the chips he would be bringing to the table during his discussions with Lord Telmyr.

Go next to Telmyrhold.
— L.D.

Hawke rolled the small strip of paper between his fingers. Queen Lora’s handwriting had a grace to it he wished he could match, with clear lines and delicate embellishments that would have made his calligraphy instructor jealous. As ever, the Queen’s instruction was simultaneously clear and vague: “Go to Telmyrhold,” in itself, was quite direct, but Hawke had to imply what it was she wanted from him once he arrived.

He knew, at least in part, what she desired: she wanted Telmyrhold to unify with Minasora once more under the same banner, for in time, she wanted all of the Holds to become one. If she had her way, Hawke thought, she may very well attempt to unite the entire world. He smiled. If anyone had the ambition and the drive for that, it was Queen Lora.

The grade of the road had taken the carriage downward for so long that it gave Hawke the impression that the entirety of Telmyrhold sloped toward the sea. Given the maps and geographical surveys that Hawke had seen in school, and ones he had seen later in life which had been informed by Queen Lora’s own knowledge, his perception was not entirely inaccurate. The Embersmont Road, on which his carriage travelled, did indeed have a downward trend for the majority of its length.

Here, the slope of the land became steep enough that, when he leaned out of the window, he could see Port Telmyr in the distance, and the ocean beyond it. Cultivated land surrounded it in a wide, irregular radius, and even where the land hadn’t been tamed completely by mortal hands, the lines of roads and highways decorated it like inscrutable handwriting.

Telmyrhold had never been heavily forested, and so the untamed portions of the wide expanse that spread between Hawke’s carriage and his destination consisted primarily of sweeping grasses, interrupted in places by late-blooming wildflowers and, occasionally, low shrubs. Strong winds from the sea, cupped by the low mountains along Telmyrhold’s southern border, blew through Telmyrhold, making it difficult for larger trees to take hold.

The trees along the road were an exception born of human intervention. Priests of a sect in service to Lokyah, God of Life and Father to that which grows from the ground, had tasked themselves with planting rows of trees along every major road throughout Telmyrhold. The trees were a hardy, fruit-bearing variety from further north. Queen Lora said that the priests intended to take their task to all of Nerrona, given the opportunity.

With Schiizar’s Season approaching, the trees looked like the had been brushed with gold at their tips, as the first touches of the cool weather brought then from green to a vibrant yellow. Elsewhere, the wind was not yet cool by any means, but here in Telmyrhold, even at this distance from the sea, the breeze carried with it the cold of its passage over the waters.

Despite the lack of warmth, the brilliance of the sun made the day into a pleasant one. Hawke had one of the carriage windows cracked so that he could smell the clean, pure scents of the passing countryside. Not that the inside of the carriage had an unpleasant aroma. Hawke’s own cologne, and the smell of the his hair clay and his beard oil, filled the space. Penpen, sleeping on his pillow at Hawke’s side, gave off a pleasant, warm aroma all of his own.

Hawke smiled down at Penpen, placing a hand on the miniature deer’s soft fur. He stroked Penpen between his antlers. The deer’s short, silky fur felt soft and warm beneath his fingers. Penpen’s eyes flickered open at the disruption. He yawned, looked up at Hawke, then huffed and closed his eyes once more.

“I know,” Hawke said. He leaned down to kiss Penpen’s nose. “We’ll be there soon.”

“You spoil him more than I spoil my grandchildren,” Zyra said, glancing up from her book.

“You have grandchildren?” Hawke raised his eyebrow. Zyra’s hair had gone purely to grey, and the lines on her face told of a life well-lived, if not as full of lotions and balms as Hawke preferred his to be. Still, he’d never thought of her as a grandmother, or even as a grandmother, despite her tendency to treat him as someone who needed looking after.

“I do,” Zyra said. “Are you surprised?”

“I’ve never thought of you in that context,” Hawke said. “I apologize. I’ve been so distracted that I never thought to ask you much about your life.”

“It’s alright,” Zyra said. “I understand quite well the burden the Queen has placed on you.”

Hawke heaved a heavy sigh at the reminder. “According to her, this is what I was born to do.”

“Is that how she put it?” Zyra asked.

“In a way,” Hawke says. “She certainly believes that I have an important role in the Plan.” He shrugged. “If she didn’t, she would never have paid for my education.”

“Do you have reason to doubt her?” Zyra said. Her brown eyes fell upon him, suddenly sharp where they had been soft.

Hawke tilted his head, surprised at her change in demeanor. Her tone of voice had not change, nor had the way she held her shoulders, or the grip of her hands upon her book. The shift was entirely within her eyes. Someone other than him might not have noticed.

“Of course not,” he replied, and with honesty. “If I did not believe in the Queen I would have been removed from her service long ago. The Queen knows all.”

“The Queen knows all,” Zyra echoed.

Hawke watched her as she went back to reading her book, his hand idly stroking the thick fur of Penpen’s back. She had been assigned to him, by Lora himself, as both a servant and a sort of caretaker. She handled his business about town, she mended his clothes when he couldn’t get to a tailor, and she took excellent notes in a shorthand she had created herself, which she had taught to Hawke so that he, too, could read them.

Queen Lora knew everything, or something like it. Hawke believed in her, and he believed that, as she said, she had the world’s best intentions in line. He was not yet sure that she knew quite as much as she claimed to know. She professed to have born a party to the Plan created aeons ago as a contract between the Holy One and the Dark One, the story of the world which they had written together after a conflict so terrible it nearly destroyed the Nine Realms.

There were two issues Hawke had with Lora’s claims, despite all of the proof he had been given in support of them. One of those issues he wouldn’t have even been aware of, if not for the education with which the Queen herself had supplied him. Before the studies and the tutors for which she had paid, he hadn’t known that the legends of the Plan between the two overdeities were, supposedly, apocryphal.
There was no record of such a contract within the canon records of the churches of any of the members of the Enneads nor the Free Gods of any of the realms, nor would any of the gods, even Quet, speak of it when asked directly. It existed as a religious fable somehow outside of religion itself, with only the Queen’s recent claims bringing it back into light.

In fact, the Queen’s claim that she had personally chosen by the Holy One had itself come under great scrutiny. Before the advent of her claims, common knowledge among religious scholars was that, after crafting Aia and the Nine Realms and forming the Enneads to balance them, the Holy One had retreated from contact with Aia altogether. No mortal worshipped her. She was considered the God of the Gods. The Aurelian Ennead itself followed her, and she paid no mind to mortals.

That bothered Hawke less than it did true scholars of religion. The deities were known to interfere in mortal affairs, especially those of their devout followers. Lora’s own were proof enough of that, and proof enough to Hawke that she at least had the support of the Aurelian Ennead in her claim to the throne. Under her command were nine women she called the Guardians, each of whom had been blessed by a member of the Aurelian Ennead.

This was not a mere claim. Hawke had seen them. He had watched them demonstrate their power. The Guardians of Lora were real, as were their blessings. He had not seen their like anywhere, not in his travels nor in books. The Churches of the Aurelian Ennead had not decried them as pretenders, either, which further cemented Hawke’s faith in them.

No, the only other reason Hawke doubted that Queen Lora knew literally everything came from deep within the logical and philosophical parts of his mind. The possibility of a human mind containing all the knowledge of the story of the world seemed inconceivable to him. He could barely remember what he had for lunch yesterday, yet the Queen supposedly knew not only what he’d eaten for that meal, but for every other meal he had eaten and would eat for the rest of his life besides.

Then there were the philosophical questions, which Hawke tried not to ponder but which his education had prepared him to ask: If Queen Lora knew everything that was ever to happen, how did she operate as an agent within the world? Did she have free will and control of her own actions, or was she merely playing the role of a character in a story she already knew, reciting the lines as an actor might in a play?

If she knew everything everyone else was to say, as if she held the script in front of her, what did that say about everyone else’s free will? About Hawke’s?

No, Hawke had to keep some form of doubt alive within himself, no matter how faithfully he followed the Queen. To do otherwise would be to drive himself mad with the considerations of just how extensive her knowledge might be.

Hawke drew his travelling robe across his chest, feeling the chill more acutely now than he had minutes beforehand. Still, he did not close the window. He breathed in the air instead, imagining it flowing through his mind and clearing out all of the thoughts that would be unnecessary to the task that lay ahead of him.

From the pocket of the carriage door, Hawke drew forth what notes he had on the Lord of Telmyrhold and the resistance he was likely to face in converting the man to Queen Lora’s point of view. The Lord himself, Lord Rand Telmyr, was not in an easy position.
His people were divided in whether they believed the word of Queen Lora, with some who staunchly refused to follow her, as Hawke had discovered on his journey through the Hold. Even those who believed in her didn’t necessarily want Telmyrhold to give up its autonomy by submitting to becoming a state in a larger kingdom.

Lord Telmyr had not declared, publically, whether he supported or opposed the religious basis to the Queen’s claim to the throne. To do so would put him in danger from extremists on both sides of belief, as well as possibly alienating his close allies. Nevertheless, he had staunchly refused all offers to join with Minasora which had been presented to him thus far.

Hawke knew that the Lord had representatives from his allies within his court, and he suspected all of them would be opposed to the Queen’s rule for their own reasons. As Telmyrhold divided Minasora and Orosia, the orosian ambassador would have a strong opinion on whether or not Telmyrhold and Minasora should join together under the same banner. The orose dogmatically denied both Queen Lora’s religious claim to the throne as well as her more mundane claims based on her bloodlines, saying that her methods offended the ideology of their god Iff, God of Balance.

A representative from Cavanhold, a longtime ally of Telmyrhold which relied on Telmyrhold for trade, would also be present. Few of the Hold Lords took pleasure in the question of assent to Queen Lora’s rule, but Lord Cavan had been the most vitriolic. He believed that his own bloodline had a right to the throne of Minasora, which through her claims, the Queen had taken from him and his son.

Finally, there would almost certainly be a representative from Isurine, as Telmyrhold had strong ties to one of the Isurian Houses, Aesthenilan, the House of Living Light. The Isurian Houses had unanimously dismissed Queen Lora’s religious claims, though only those with business in Nerrona made active effort to resist her ascension. The other Houses, separated as they were by two weeks travel by a fast ship across the ocean, paid the Queen as little attention as possible.

This, Hawke thought, was a mistake. Queen Lora had made it clear that she desired to unify the world. She did not speak in hyperbole, either. When she succeeded in unifying Minasora once more, she would move on to neighboring countries, annexing them if she could, and forging strong alliances if she could not. Queen Lora saw a darkness coming, one which the people of Aia would withstand only if they stood together.

Queen Lora strode to use only peaceful means in her unification, but she was forming an army. The Guardians of Lora were not ambassadors, like Hawke. Their powers were forged for martial conquest, or at least defense. They were being trained to fight and to win, and to command their own units of the Queen’s army. Ostensibly, this was for defense against the darkness that the Queen foresaw, but Hawke knew, and Queen Lora’s opponents knew, that an army could easily be turned to other purposes.

For the Isurians to attempt to ignore the Queen as something they didn’t have to deal with at present would only worsen their dealings with her in the future. As she took back Minasora under her own banner, the Holds with which the Isurian Houses had alliances would have to rethink and redraw their agreements with those Houses. The details of the trade between them would inevitably change, no matter how many promises the Queen made to the Holds regarding their autonomy.

The Queen had promised that the Lords would be able to continue to rule their own Holds without an overbearing amount of interference. However, that promise was entirely spoken. The actual writing of the accords drafted between Minasora and the Holds gave Queen Lora a great deal more control over the Holds than she promised to exercise.

Thus far, Queen Lora had kept to her promises and allowed the Holds that had joined with her to function with most of the autonomy to which they had been accustomed. This had done little to ease the worries of Lord Ember, who even when signing the treaty had seemed doubtful that the Queen would follow through.

The Queen had congratulated Hawke and attributed Lord Ember’s assent to his work in Emberhold, but Hawke felt as though it hadn’t been his work which had finally convinced Lord Ember. True, he had spent many months there working closely with the Lord and the members of his court in order to convince them of Queen Lora’s benevolence and the benefits of unifying once more as Minasora, yet he couldn’t discount the communication and advice from the Queen — in the form of short, often cryptic missives, like the one directing him to Telmyrhold — and he felt Lord Ember had been convinced almost entirely by the visit from the Guardian of Fire.

The Ember family were traditionally avid followers of the goddess Maela, Lady of the Flame, the Summer’s Warmth, and the Heat of the Hearth. When Hawke had felt at his most desperate, as though Lord Ember wouldn’t budge no matter how much Hawke persuaded him, Khari had arrived following only a day’s warning from the Queen.

It had been a bold move, Hawke felt, for as curious as most of the Lords were about whether the stories regarding the Guardians of Lora were true, the presence of a representative of the Queen’s growing martial might made them uncomfortable. For what was essentially a high-ranking member of the Queen’s army to arrive unannounced at Lord Ember’s home might have easily been perceived of as a threat.

Yet Khari had been anything but threatening. With great poise, she had called forth the fires of the goddess Maela without even the spells or prayers required of a priestess. Her demonstration had been artful and awe-inspiring, rather than terrifying, as it might have been. She had surrounded herself in flame and remained unscathed. And within the flame, onlookers had glimpsed a servant of the goddess, a great bird with a golden beak and a crown of stars.

Lord Ember had quickly agreed to the Queen’s conditions, leaving Hawke both relieved and unsatisfied. All the months that Hawke had put into turning Lord Ember to the Queen’s side felt like they had been for nothing, as he had so quickly changed his stance after Khari’s visitation.

Hawke was determined to sway Lord Telmyr without the Queen’s overt assistance. She would send him her short, cryptic notes, of that he was sure, but even if the Lord should turn to her side, he would feel like a failure if one of the Queen’s Guardians arrived once more finish his work for them. He would feel like the years of study and apprenticeship, paid for by the Queen’s coin, had been for naught.

Luckily, he knew that Lord Telmyr was far less devout that Lord Ember. The man still worshipped the Aurelian Ennead, with special attention paid to Roaak, God of Air, whose portfolio also encompassed travel and trade; and to Coralome, God of Water, whose domain encompassed the seas, rivers, oceans, and lakes of all the world. Yet Lord Telmyr did not worship any one god with great passion, and Hawke’s information didn’t indicate that he was likely to let his respect for the gods influence the wellbeing of his kingdom.

The wheels of the carriage rolled as the sun and Aouta, the verdant green day moon, rolled through the sky. At their peaks, the two had passed each other by. Now they stared at each other from opposite ends of the sky, each daring the other to set first. Both were several hours from their first contact with the horizon when Braise pulled the carriage off to the side of the road.

Hawke rolled his head and his shoulders. At his side, Penpen stood eagerly and moved to the window, his delicate steps giving the impression that he tiptoed across the seat. Zyra put down her book.

“Time for a break?” she said, leaning forward to look out of the window.

“One would guess so,” Hawke said. His eyes had begun to drift shut, despite his determination to learn everything he could from his notes about the Hold. Braise had timed their break well.

Hawke opened the door and leaned out. Penpen bustled to his side, shaking his bottom in preparation to leap out. Hawke forestalled him with a stern glance and a hand held in front of him. “Are we taking a rest stop?” Hawke asked.

“Aye,” Braise said. He stepped down from the driver’s seat, stretching his back liberally. He was a rough fellow, outwardly, with a low, scratchy voice, a thick beard, and brown skin darkened and hardened by years out in the sun. Inwardly, he was kinder than Hawke might have suspected, if he were the type to judge by person’s appearance. Which he was not. “You can let Penpen out. We’re in a pretty good spot.”

Penpen jumped out of the carriage as soon as Hawke moved his hand out of the way. He kept away from the horses, bouncing around the back of the carriage and into the taller grass by the side of the road. Hawke stepped quickly out of the carriage to keep Penpen within his sight, though Penpen was very well trained. He would return immediately if called. As Hawke had suspected, the miniature deer was in a rush to relieve himself.

“How much longer do we have to travel?” Hawke asked.

“I’m thinking we’ll arrive at the outskirts of the city just before or after sundown,” Braise said, his gaze following the line of the road as though the distance was written upon it.

“I see,” Hawke said, considering. “In that case, I would like to delay our arrival at Castle Telmyr until morning.”

“Oh?” Braise said. “I would have thought you’d want to be there as soon as possible.”

“I do, but I also don’t want to arrive covered in the dust and dirt of the road,” Hawke said. “I have to look presentable.”

Braise fixed him with a flat stare. “You look fine, sir.”

Certainly, by the standards of a gruff bodyguard, Hawke looked impeccable. His travelling clothes, ostensibly made for comfort, were all of high quality and the latest Emberhold fashion — which, by extension, was the latest fashion in all of northern Nerrona, as Emberhold was considered by all to be at the forefront of what was considered fashionable. Hawke’s travelling robe, with its gentle floral pattern, married perfectly with the colors of the three layered shirts he wore beneath it, which in turn complemented his loose trousers.

That morning, he had styled his hair with the hair clay he’d brought with him from Minas, which to his dismay was beginning to run low. He would have to send Zyra through the city to attempt to find him an equally skilled apothecary to provide his hair and skin products. He doubted the hair clay he wore now could be matched. In the sunlight, it made his blond hair sparkle like an impeccable diamond, and though it held his hair just as he intended, it left the strands soft and supple to the touch.

“We both know that my definition of ‘fine’ and yours are highly divergent, Braise,” Hawke chastised. “I must bath and don my finery before presenting myself to Lord Telmyr’s court.”

“Hmph,” Braise grunted. “You know best. In that area.” He smiled, which made Hawke narrow his eyes in suspicion. “But I know best in another.” He reached under the seat and withdrew something that made Hawke groan.

“Now?” Hawke said. “Really?”

“Now,” Braise said, tossing Hawke the wooden sword. Hawke caught it with significantly less grace than Braise had shown in throwing it. “You’ve been sitting all day. We’ve got to keep you fit and healthy if you want these lessons to continue.”

“I don’t,” Hawke said. “I really don’t.”

“That’s not what you said before we started,” Braise said, waggling a finger.

“You’ve got to do it, Master Hawke,” Zyra said, making her way down the carriage steps. “You told me to make you do it if you refused.”

“Do we really have to do it now, though?” Hawke asked. “I’m already going to be quite unpresentable for my arrival.”

“You just said we’d be staying a night in the city just so you could be presentable when we arrive,” Braise said. “Sounds to me like you’re making excuses.”

“But —” Hawke began.

“No more of that.” Braise pointed to his side. “You carry a sword. You made me promise to teach you how to use it, no matter how much you complained.

Hawke looked down at the sword, a sour expression on his face. “This is all your fault,” he said.

The sword did not respond. It had been a gift from Queen Lora. Long and thin, with an ornate hilt, guard, and pommel of silver and gold spiraling around black wood, the sword looked decorative and flimsy. It was not. There was none of the flexibility one might expect from a thin blade, and its edge was sharp enough to score even the metal blades of his opponents. The blade was enchanted, with pure magic folded into the metal as it had been forged, giving it a rippling sheen like polished marble.

Hawke also carried a dagger, sheathed beneath his arm and always hidden by his clothes, whatever he chose to wear. When the Queen had assigned Braise to guide and to guard him, he had asked the man to further his training with both of the weapons, to which Braise had readily assented. A man who knew how to protect himself was easier to guard.

Hawke had received some martial education as a part of the education Queen Lora had supplied, but he felt that it had been insufficient. It had never been the focus of his studies, during which he had learned a great deal about the cultural climates of the different holds, about treaties and currency and economics, about geography and language, and more besides. Learning how to handle a sword had been an afterthought, but Hawke thought it to be just as important.

“Master,” Zyra said, sounding for all the world like his grandmother telling him to wash his face.

Hawke sighed. He leaned his practice sword up against the side of the carriage. He slid his arms out of his cloak and hung it from the door of the carriage. Braise smiled and began to stretch, starting with his legs and back. Hawke unbuttoned his vest and handed it to Zyra, then followed it with his overshirt.

Telmyrhold’s cool breeze cut through his clothes, making him tense up. He took a deep breath, forcing himself to let go of his tension, and joined in Braise’s stretching routine. It did feel good, after so many hours trapped in the back of the carriage, to move his body in such a deliberate fashion.

Zyra neatly folded the clothes Hawke had handed her, placing them on his seat in the carriage, then moved around to the back of the carriage. She whistled for Penpen, who came bounding up to her. From one of her pockets, she produced a sozo nut, Penpen’s favorite treat. Penpen ate it greedily.

“He’s going to get chubby if you keep feeding him all the time,” Hawke said.

“That’s okay,” Zyra replied. “He’ll be even cuter.”

Hawke rolled his eyes. “Tell me that when he asks to be picked up and he’s so heavy that I can’t carry him.”

“Cut the chatter,” Braise said. “I know it’s the only thing you’re good at, but it’s time to do some work.”

“The only thing I’m good at?” Hawke said. “I’ll have you know that I play the lute quite passably, and my sketches often at least somewhat resemble my subject matter.”

“Yeah, well, none of that helps you know which end of the sword to hold,” Braise said.

“I’m not that bad,” Hawke said. He picked up the wooden blade and gave it a flourish. “See?”

“Showmanship is a natural part of you,” Braise said. “It does you no good in an actual fight.”

“It can do some good,” Hawke protested. “It can intimidate my enemies.”

“Or make them think you’ll present no challenge at all, at which point you can surprise them,” Braise said. “If you listen to everything else I have to say.”

Hawke grumbled and protested and joked, but he did listen to Braise. He would never be a master of martial combat, but Braise did praise him from time to time. Hawke listened well even when he was pretending not to, and he made every effort to adjust when given praise or criticism.

Braise made Hawke practice his form on several drills, then moved to sparring with him. He went very, very easy on Hawke, purposefully making simple mistakes to allow Hawke to score blows, while still punishing Hawke’s errors with harsh retribution.

By the end, Hawke was sore, frustrated, and worse, sweaty.

“You move as gracefully as any woman I’ve seen, sir,” Braise said.

Hawke scowled at him. “Now we definitely have to stop before we arrive at Castle Telmyr,” Hawke complained. Even his head was sweaty. The moisture had gotten into his hair, softening the hair clay. He checked his reflection in the carriage mirror. He grimaced and turned quickly away.

“They don’t expect you to be perfectly groomed after days spent on the road,” Zyra said. She had retrieved a folding chair from the carriage while they had sparred, watching them instead of reading, since, as she said, they were more entertaining than her book.

“They do,” Hawke said. “At least, I would in their position. I certainly expect myself to make a proper first appearance in court.”

“You know best,” Zyra said. Hawke squinched his eyes up in her direction, but she wasn’t looking. She had leaned over to play with Penpen.

“Let’s be on our way,” Braise said. “We’ll find an inn in the city outskirts for the night, then announce ourselves in the morning.”

“Yes, let’s,” Hawke agreed. His exercise finished, he shivered slightly in the cold. The sweat on his exposed skin made the wind bite all the more fiercely. “Penpen. Load up.”

Ears twitching, Penpen jumped up into the carriage to settle happily onto his pillow. Hawke and Zyra followed him. Zyra pointedly cracked the other window to bring more air into the back of the carriage.

“I do not smell, Zyra,” Hawke said, though he did sniff himself out of paranoia. No, the deodorizing balm from his favorite apothecary had kept him smelling of woodsmoke and wildflowers.

“I’m sure you don’t, sir,” Zyra said. “I’d still like a bit of fresh air.”

Hawke heaved a dramatic sigh and drew out his notebook to study for the rest of the journey.

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