The duchess watches her daughter and nephew playing at swords. So young, so oblivious. The old and weak, already crowded into the tower, shift back to give the children more space.
Shouts and clashes of steel ring from below. She listens, familiar with every echo of this castle. Ah, beyond the first gate already.
One of those voices is her husband’s. She longs to be fighting by his side. But this last child, this surprise in her later years, placed her here, among the infirm.
She senses for the invisible wards around the tower. Stable, for now.
Pulling her daughter into her lap, she weaves her fingers into the short dark curls. With forced cheer, she chirps about cutting the girl’s hair, what to eat for supper, which victory songs the minstrels could play.
The duchess turns toward the window, so the girl cannot see her face. “Tomorrow.”