Solomon nodded and looked around the town. "It's larger than most, with a good-sized market, a number of blacksmiths...I wish I visited this place during my courier runs!"
His smile sent the princess's heart aflutter. For a moment, she forgot her dirtied boot and gazed up into the face of happiness, while her hand found its way over her shoulder and started twirling her hair on a finger. Amalthea failed to restrain her own smile and looked down at her feet to hide it.
Then she noticed her dirty boot again.
It would stink up a decenly clean room, let alone any close encounter with His Heroship. His smile would turn into a sneer. And it would kill her. Honest-to-God heroes didn't show up every day, especially ones this young and handsome, and if that redheaded criminal thought for one minute that she could keep him away...this moment wouldn't last, would it?
Angry tears welled up in her eyes.
Whether or not Solomon noticed her turmoil, his attempts at conversation distracted her. "Did you ever visit markets like this before recent events? Forgive me, but until I met you, I always thought of royalty as kings and queens sitting comfortably on a throne for hours on end. You've proven me wrong of course, but..."
Now grateful tears welled up in her eyes. That was the single greatest compliment she'd ever wanted to hear. Nobles showered her with meaningless flatteries, like "how radiant you are," "what magnificent poise," or "you're like the loveliest rose in spring." But behind her back, they called her "prissy bitch" and "mouthfooted whore." None of them could see all the work she put in to exploring her kingdom with her own eyes, to learn about this land she was to rule before she had to rule it. She didn't want to become an armchair queen, who never knew or cared how her policies would affect her people. And indeed, that was how most folks perceived royalty - how they would perceive her.You've proven me wrong,
he'd told her.
Amalthea sniffled and lifted her chin. "Thank you. I try. Yes, I did often visit the markets before I was forced to run. It was better by far than listening to some stuffy old coot drone on about economics. I spent more energy staying awake and secretly wiping drool on my sleeve than learning anything useful. I learned so much more by going out and seeing it all for myself."
She chuckled, adding, "I remember, back when the concept of 'money' still sent my head spinning, I once asked a fruit vendor whether I could have an orange. He replied, 'That'll be a copper.' When he saw the confusion on my face, he launched into an essay on why they were such a steal at that price, and I'll never forget his expression when I asked what a 'copper' was and why the orange would turn into one. He had this...off-blank, slightly scrunched-up look that seemed like he wanted to laugh, cry, and hug me all at once. That old man taught me more about money and economics than any tutor ever could. I aced the exam that week, if you were wondering."