Gemma cautiously poked her head into the parlor to find Stil had kept his promise. Waiting for her was a pair of black buckle shoes, black stockings, and a dress that was beautiful enough to pass off as Verglas wedding clothes for a civilian like Gemma.

The skirt was black wool with a high waist and a ribbon for a belt. The edge of the skirt and the ribbon belt had pink and green floral designs. The ribbon belt covered the hem between the dress, and a black vest that had similar embroidery on it. Black string looped around gold buttons and criss-crossed the front of the vest. A white, linen shirt that had the same embroidery on the cuffs and collar was set out to go under the vest, completing the look.


Gemma searched the bathroom for a much less expensive gown to wear—something more appropriate of her station. Finding no alternative, she reluctantly put on the dress and crept into the parlor.

Stil was there, taking inventory of a number of jeweled items spread out on the low table. His hair was damp—signaling he too had taken a bath of some sort—and was much, much shorter. It was slicked back out of his face, with the exception of a few tendrils that hung over his forehead, and was closely cropped to his head in an almost military style.

His clothing style was—once again—unlike anything Gemma had ever seen before. He had knee-high brown boots that had elaborate, royal blue embroidery on the heel and toe. He wore black breeches—but the inner caves and leg were colored royal blue, and a dove-gray jacket that cut off at the knees was strapped into place by a giant leather belt that encircled his torso. The jacket was decorated with blue embroidery on the cuffs and lapels that matched the embroidery on his boots.

“There you are,” Stil said, smiling when his blue eyes landed on Gemma. “I was wondering if I picked the wrong size clothes for you. But you look just as beautiful in it as I thought you would. What would you like to do first: see your room or enjoy some refreshments?”

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Gemma briefly considered saying something about his hair as she stared at it before she brushed the thought away. “I think I would like to see my room,” Gemma said, holding up her silk bag.

“Of course. This way,” Stil said, going through a different door. He led Gemma down a hallway that was dotted with doors. When they reached the end, he opened a room.

Gemma peeked inside before she backed up. “No.”

“No, what?” Stil asked.

“I can’t stay here,” Gemma said, gesturing to the room.

“Why not? Is it not fine enough?”

“It’s too fine.”

Stil gave Gemma an amused smirk. “I don’t think I have ever heard a lady complain that something is too fine.”

“You still have yet to, for I am not a titled lady,” Gemma reminded him. “Do you have a less decorous room?”

“It does not matter if I do. This is my camp, and it is for me to decide where you will stay.”

Gemma ventured another peek in the room. “You cannot be serious.”

“It’s your room. I will carve your name into the door if you do not believe me,” Stil said.

Gemma mulishly tucked her head.

“You will not win this one, Gemma Kielland. This is your room. Return to the parlor when you have finished putting your things away,” Stil said, sauntering back down the hallway.

Gemma watched the craftmage go with a scowl before she returned her attention to the room. The walls were a pale blue, like snow in the evening light. The floor was wood stained the color of a rich, dark honey, but there was a beautiful, elaborately woven rug spread on the ground. The furniture—the bed frame, vanity, armoire, and nightstand—were all a beautiful, medium shade of wood decorated with dark colored, carved swirls. The air was fragrant with the smell of pine, and the slightest hint of mint. Gemma didn’t know if it was from the furniture or a hidden nosegay, but the scent was welcoming.

Gemma had seen Lady Linnea’s bedroom before. This room easily rivaled it.

“No,” Gemma said, moving down the hallway. She tried turning door knobs, but none of them budged. Gemma rummaged in her silk bag before pulling out the needles Grandmother Guri had sent. She tried using the dullest needle to pick a lock, but the door shook and boomed like thunder, discouraging Gemma from trying again.

After five minutes of wandering, Gemma was forced to admit defeat. She returned to the bedroom and unpacked her things, setting them out on the beautiful vanity table.

She dragged her feet as she wandered back to the parlor.

Something wasn’t sitting right with her. It was the environment, and the way Stil was acting—like she was a dear companion he wanted to comfortably house instead of a vagrant on which he was taking pity.

Magic users do not befriend civilians. They aid us, yes, but only to address whatever our common problem is before they set us on our way. They do not invite civilians into their homes, dress them, and give them such a room. Perhaps they would do something like that for royalty, or heroes on a quest, but for a poor seamstress?

Gemma paused outside the parlor door. Why is Stil doing all of this? Why is his kindness going so far?

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