After the powerful images awoken by the snowball, a human face seemed dull and foreign. She stared at him in confusion, and then annoyance. The snowball.
“I’m fine. Let go of me. I told you I didn’t like snow.”
“You said you didn’t like it, you didn’t say you’d go into convulsions at the first touch of it. What happened?”
The dirty cheat had taken advantage of her momentary weakness and pulled her into his lap. Everyone else, to her embarrassment, was watching. She scrambled to her feet, and would have dove into the furnace room had he not held her back with an iron grip. “We need to talk.”
She knew he could feel the wild pounding of her heart. It refused to obey her, to listen to her slow down commands. “No.”
He didn’t listen to her. Instead he pulled her the rest of the way into his lap. She squirmed away from him, trying to free herself quietly, without making a scene. He ran his fingers over her tattoo, and she went still.
“You’re not indelfy,” he said at last, letting go.
Fear coursed through her. Two people now in the same day had figured out a secret she had kept for over a year. She tilted her head until she could look up at him, though mostly all she could see was his jaw. “I’m not indel either, and I don’t like snow. If you keep throwing it at me, I’ll put an ax through your skull.”
He stroked her back, ignoring the mild threat. “You know why I left, don’t you?”
She pulled at the hand still locked around her waist, and found to her disappointment it was immovable. “You left because you were given a way out. I don’t blame you if that’s what you’re thinking. I’d have done the same thing in a heartbeat.”
He shook his head. “I left to make a way out for everyone. I was born an Invoker, but I got a chance to see first hand what it’s like to have no magic. You gave me that. I thought if I made it as an Invoker, I could use my newfound rank to bring equality to everyone. Eberhard can’t be a strong nation until everyone is equal.”
She snorted. “Eberhard doesn’t even need the indelfy. There’s only a few of us left since Lokeli opened up its borders, and Eberhard has gotten along just fine. You’ve wasted your time, if you’ve even tried.”
Bernard gave her a squeeze. “I’ve already made some progress. The Duke’s hiring indelfy now, isn’t he? That’s progress. All we need is a definite way of proving the indelfy are needed as much as the indel, and equality will come.”
She wiggled in his lap, trying to find a way to free herself. “Sure, I believe you. Let me know how that works out for you.”
He let her slide out of his grip, but didn’t move from his place until she was all the way inside her bedroll.
“I need to borrow Rat.”
The business side of her brain was refusing to click on. She could still feel Bernard’s touch on her tattoo, gentle, exploring, magical. It was enough to make her want to stay there, in his lap, forever.
“A rich man like yourself speaking of borrowing?” she asked tiredly.
She didn’t even look to see what the value of the coin he tossed her was. She merely slid it under her bedroll and collapsed into sleep.