Opening the prince’s door, Liora spotted the boy curled up on his bed tuning his lute. The room was basked in a grey light from the balcony doors, while his curtain swayed and fire crackled in the stone hearth. The prince was supposed to be studying but in no way did it surprise her that he wasn’t.

Cáel didn’t need to prove himself like she did. He had his life planned out for him. One day he would be king and she… well… she didn’t know what she would be.

Dropping her textbook on the bed, Liora crawled across the feather mattress. Her back leaned against the footboard while the boy continued tuning his lute. His tongue was between his teeth. His messy curls were slicked back with water. He wore a fresh cotton shirt and dark linen trousers. The smell of citrus danced in the air.

“Did you get thrown again?” Liora noticed him smirk.

“Nah, I fell into the muddiest section of the grounds,” Cáel muttered, strumming the strings before shaking his head. “There’s one bloody strin’ that doesn’ sound ‘ight.”

“Maybe it’s your ears?” Liora jested, reaching to pinch his lobe before moving back. She caught his cheeks flush as she forced her glance down at the textbook.

The cover of the book wasn’t much to be impressed about. Like most of the sage’s books they were plain on the outside and colourful on the inside. The fungi were listed alphabetically and each was accompanied by a water colour picture.

“How did drawin’ go?” Cáel turned the key at the top of the lute’s neck.

“Painting class was fine, though I would have preferred riding with you,” Liora chimed, seeing the boy look at her again before looking back at his instrument.

“I’ll trade yah. Those bird-lions and I don’ get along,” Cáel sighed. “Me da says I just need practice but the practice ain’t helpin’ me any.”

“You can’t expect to be perfect at it the first few times you’re riding and besides – I can’t take you up on that offer,” Liora pressed her head against the footboard, “not for another two weeks.”

“What’s in two weeks?” Cáel strummed the lute again, before setting it onto the floor. He leaned across the bed, grabbing the textbook from the nightstand before resting it on his knees.

“My name day – I believe the Dermite call it birth day,” Liora explained, seeing the boy’s head bolt up from the book.

“How old are yah gonna be?”

“Fifteen – like you,” she smiled, “I can’t wait. In Morza I would have been given my first dragon but I’ll settle for a gryphon. According to the books fifteen is the year you start learning how to ride since your feet can reach the stirrups. You can even request to visit the nests.”

“And yah want that?” Cáel didn’t want any more responsibility. He was happy worrying about himself and his studies. Having a gryphon to take care of would add stress to his life that he really didn’t need nor want.

“Of course I do. I could fly anywhere and visit you in the capital without Foe or Caldor,” Liora explained, noticing the boy’s brow knot. “What’s wrong?”

“I forgot about Derlin,” Cáel breathed, looking down at the textbook before him.

Derlin was large, the castle monstrous. His father was always busy and he would have tutors bothering him even more than Master Caldor. Now that he was well, he would be expected to train with the guard and study with the council. He would be forced to stand in on meetings and participate in discussion.

“I’ll visit,” Liora chimed, resting a hand atop his, “we’ll both be busy but we can send letters. If you get better with the gryphons you could even fly and visit me here.”

“Yah think so?” Cáel asked, feeling the girl’s hand tighten around his. Her hand was warm, and her grey eyes were sincere.

“I know so,” she smiled, taking her hand back before looking back at her text. “Now, back to fungi and you back to… whatever it is he has you reading.”

Cáel chuckled, flipping to look at the cover. The blue leather book was another text on laws of Derm and political treaties. He flipped to the second chapter and began to read.

The words were like white noise as he heard Caldor’s drawling voice read the sentences in his head. Moments like this made him wish he was born of minstrels. Sure, he would have been poor but he wouldn’t have had to read textbooks thicker than a fattened pig.

“So…” he heard her sigh. She glanced up at him with narrow eyes and raised brows. “When exactly’s yar name day?”

“Two weeks from tomorrow,” Liora chimed, flipping to the next page of her book. There was a colourful picture of a bright yellow mushroom. “Now, study or I’ll leave.”

Giving a sigh, Cáel looked back down at his book. Liora knew how to get him to work. He didn’t want her to leave.

Glancing up from his book, he stayed silent this time to watch the girl work on her reading. Her long raven locks fell over her shoulders as her large almond eyes studied the page before her for every detail. He didn’t know how she could stay interested in reading about mushrooms but as long as she was there with him he didn’t mind keeping silent.