Prince João halted in front of the princess as his people set up a perimeter, facing out toward the concourse. First he gave Octavian a nod. Then he surveyed Sun from the bloodred garrison cap perched atop her head to the polished toes of her shipboard boots. His hand flicked out, and she stiffened, face heating with a flush. He intended to adjust some infinitesimal misalignment of her jacket and she could not stop him without appearing rude to her esteemed parent. But just before he touched her clothes he recalled the nature and size of their audience. With a flourish of the hand, as if a theatrical gesture was what he'd intended all along, he indicated her uniform without handling it.
"The drabness and modesty of an unmarked duty uniform is an adept statement. Especially since it will be contrasted with the flamboyance of your successful flanking maneuver. With the way you not only broke and routed the enemy line but used your attack group to surround and destroy the Phene command ship and its escort."
"How does Channel Idol already know the details of the course of the battle and my part in it?" she demanded. "I claimed passage on the fast courier so I'd be first to bring news of the victory to the queen-marshal."
"And has Eirene seen you?"
A familiar churn of frustration tightened her chest. "She has not, even though the palace corvette is docked at Pier 8. I was told she isn't yet on station."
"How like her," João murmured, but his watchful gaze remained on Sun, measuring her reaction.
"Breathe, Princess," said Octavian in her ear. "Don't let your temper control you."
She breathed a slow inhale and exhale and, after making a slight alteration to the alignment of her jacket, was able to speak in something approaching a normal tone. "I was required to give my report to Crane Marshal Zàofù. He only had his son with him. Anas, obviously. Not James."
"Two of the most tediously pompous people in existence," remarked João.
"My point is that none of the ministries or palace officials have made a statement about the battle yet. She'll blame you for the leak to Channel Idol and be furious."
The prince raised perfectly sculpted eyebrows. "However shall I manage Eirene's notorious temper? I quake in my authentically detailed boots."
"Did you leak it? Because if you did, you must have known it would anger her. When she's angry at you it affects how she treats me."
"No, I did not leak the news. I expect your mother had it leaked as soon as Zàofù pinged her your report."
"Why would she leak it? Why not just release the official report? Why pretend she's not here and refuse to see me? What do I have to do, what impossible task must I accomplish, to win a word of praise from my mother?"
"Ah. So that's what's eating you."
Naturally the people on the concourse had already taken it upon themselves to go back about their business, hurrying on their way despite the intriguing scene of the prince greeting his daughter. Channel Idol's ubiquitous camera wasps weren't allowed to roam in military installations, yet images of this piquant public reunion would soon spread across the Republic of Chaonia's confederated solar systems. Prince João might be an untrustworthy foreigner, but no one in Chaonia could fault his absolute devotion to his only child.
"Listen and learn, my unconquerable Sun." The prince started to walk. Sun kept pace, wondering where he was leading her but knowing it would be the right place to go. "Your mother is a complicated person. She'll be thrilled at this evidence of your tactical skills, your boldness and follow-through. But she'll be pricked by envy as well. She was young once too."
"She's not that old."
"Indeed she is not. She has many years left to her, as chance, fortune, the gods, and Lady Chaos allow. Certainly she's packed more accomplishments into the twenty years of your young life than any ten thousand people can manage in a hundred."
Sun said nothing. Queen-Marshal Eirene had achieved what everyone said was impossible. But since she'd done it, that meant it hadn't been impossible.