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Of the two men who guarded her daily—or kept her enslaved, if you really wanted to be honest about it—Orin was the one she favoured less. At least Ashan would occasionally play at dice with her, and sometimes he laughed and told her jokes about his days on the streets of Hadai and he always met her gaze with untroubled eyes.
But the same could not be said for Orin. Orin rarely spoke, and when he did it was only to say something grave and portentous, and he spent all of the evenings sitting by the window, staring out at nothing, ignoring her. Or worse.
Like tonight, when he felt it necessary to chide her on the dangers of trying to shimmy down a rope of towels out of the uppermost room of the palace.
“Do you have any idea how agonising a fall could be from that height?”
She tried not to roll her eyes.
“It would be more than agonising. It would mash your bones into paste and turn your body inside out. Is that what you want, Rajkumari? To have your body turned inside out?”
By all that was holy, why did he always have to call her that? He knew she wasn’t a member of any royal family. Just because a con artist had given the Maharaja a magical future-predicting scroll that only she could read didn’t mean she was a rajkumari. She’d refused the hand of a terrible man, who’d lumbered her with a terrible ability then stuck her with the worst Maharaja in all of the seven jungles of Lal.
That was it. That was her life so far. And now here was Orin, berating her with his big arms crossed over his chest and his big, demonic eyes staring down at her and everything just awful, awful.
“Orin—come away. Leave her be.”
Ah, Ashan. Ever the diplomat. Though she could see even he was starting to flag after her seventh attempt at escape. The fourth and fifth he’d found amusing because she’d dressed herself up as a man, complete with a beard comprised entirely from snatches of Orin’s chest hair, and the chest hair snatching had involved drugging Orin then being quite squeamish about getting under his shirt.
She’d explained it to him in detail while Orin’s eyes had grown wider and wider and her own heart had seemed to pound harder and harder, and the whole shirt thing had somehow felt much more embarrassing than it had actually appeared at the time. In fact, she clearly recalled blushing when she had got to the part about touching Orin—despite having felt only a vague sense of unease when she’d performed the act of hair stealing.
But nothing really approached how she’d felt when they’d caught her the sixth and seventh times. How she felt now, with Orin so angry and Ashan seeming so troubled, somehow. As though both of them didn’t exactly mind her stealing chest hair, but flinging herself off large structures in the desperate hope of escape... Well, that was beyond the pale.
“Just tell us, Rajkumari. What are we supposed to do? You know we do not wish to be in this position, but the Maharaja has decreed—”
She flashed fire at him then.
“Oh, the Maharaja, the Maharaja! Is that all you have to say, Orin? Is that the only reason you guard me day and night? You know, one day those scrolls are going to reveal some bleak and terrible future and it will be all my fault for reading it aloud. What then?”