“I told you already that you don’t need to make up stories. No matter how you’re getting the gold, I would not be angry,” Lady Linnea said.
“Uh-huh,” Gemma said.
“I wouldn’t be mad even if I learned you had a beau here in the castle. Especially if he is slipping the gold to you,” Lady Linnea said. “Is it one of the guards?”
“Nobody is courting me, My Lady.”
“Right,” Lady Linnea said. She looked to Gemma’s project with undisguised curiosity before she sighed. “I need to go.”
“Do you have a meeting scheduled with Prince Toril, again?”
“No,” Lady Linnea said, wrinkling her nose at Gemma. “Worse: I have embroidery practice.”
“Ah. Good luck.”
“Thank you. I shall need it,” Lady Linnea said.
“Take care, My Lady.”
“You too! Do not hesitate to tell me if you need anything,” Lady Linnea said before scrambling out of sight. “Goodbye!” she said, popping back into view as she climbed the wall like a deft squirrel.
Gemma shook her head and kept sewing.
Gemma was tying off her thread a day later when the door clanked open. “Yes?” Gemma said when she looked up and realized the guard—Foss—didn’t have any food with him.
Foss adjusted his helm. “The Captain said—if you like—Rudd and I are to take you outside for a walk.”
Gemma stared at the guard.
“He said you might appreciate the fresh air,” Foss added. “Would you like to?”
“Yes, please,” Gemma said, hastily standing. She folded the long pieces of the cape, stacked them in the corner of her cell, and grabbed her cloak before joining Foss at the door.
Foss backed up into the dungeon aisle, where another guard—Rudd assumedly—waited. “This way, Miss,” Rudd said, his voice a deep, rumbling noise. He led the way to the dungeon stairs, and Foss brought up the rear behind Gemma.
“Where would you like to go, Miss?” Foss asked. “The kitchens? The library?”
“The gardens,” Gemma said, throwing the cloak over her shoulders in preparation for the cool air.
Foss hesitated. “It’s quite cold out,” he said.
“I’ll be fine,” Gemma said. “And I promise I will not run.”
“We know, Miss,” Rudd rumbled.
Neither of the soldiers said anything more as they led Gemma through the twisting palace, popping out a small door that Gemma supposed—based on its close proximity to a weapon storage room—was a guard entrance and exit.
The fall air had cooled considerably. Gemma’s dungeon window was sheltered, so the bitter wind that yanked at Gemma’s cloak and clothes was a shock.
“Are you sure you want to be out here?” Foss shouted over the howling wind.
“Yes. Is there a more protected area?” Gemma asked.
“This way,” Foss said, beckoning.
Gemma followed Foss and Rudd into a tiny, narrow courtyard nestled into the castle that still afforded a view of Lake Sno and, if one stuck their head out of the protected area, Ostfold.
“Thank you,” Gemma said, pulling her borrowed cape closer, able to speak at a regular volume in chilly but sheltered courtyard.
Foss nodded in acknowledgment.
Gemma itched her nose as she looked out over the beautiful lake. Her expression thoughtful, she extended her finger and pointed past the lake, to the area where the mountains flattened into the Kozlovka border. “The first night I was ordered to spin, I saw some of the Snow Queen’s magic activate there. Do you have any idea what it was?”
“Ah, yeah, that,” Foss said. “The night watch saw it too. Some guards were dispatched in the morning to investigate it. They found—what was it, Rudd?”
“Hellhound,” the second guard supplied.
“Yeah, hellhound tracks and horse hoof-prints,” Foss said.
“A hellhound?” Gemma said.
“Yep. I haven’t heard of one coming so far north in ages,” Foss said. “Of course it will never get into Verglas,” he was quick to add.
“Why do you ask?” Rudd wanted to know.
“It just seemed…unusual,” Gemma said.
Foss squinted up at the cloudy sky. “Yeah,” he said. “Oh, the captain said we were to tell you that you can expect at least two weeks before the King will be ready for you to spin again.”
“Two weeks?” Gemma said.
“All the flax in the area has been bought up and shipped south. The King has to buy it in small loads—some of it isn’t even correctly prepared, yet,” Foss said.
“I see,” Gemma said.
“The King was purple with rage when the news was given to him,” Rudd said.
“Especially when he received a written offer from Princess Elise of Arcainia. Prince Falk has come up with a new type of flax, which she offered to sell a load of,” Foss said.
“He ripped that letter up and threw it in the fire,” Foss added.
Gemma grinned. “Thank you for the news,” she said, pushing her hair out of her face.
“Sure thing,” Foss said. He hesitated, and rested his hand on the pommel of the sword strapped to his waist.
Gemma slid her hands under the cape and waited for the soldier to build up his courage.
“If you don’t mind my asking…what are you making with that fabric?” Foss finally asked.