"Whoa-" the man in the hallway cried, raising his hands as Kui loomed before him. "I'm just here...I wanted to see Princess Marona-"
"She's not here right now," Kui said.
"It's about the Midnight thing-"
Kui's hand shot out and the newcomer choked suddenly. Estelle tightened her grip on the letter opener, but folded her arms instead of advancing. Kui heaved-
Belthor landed on his hands and knees before Estelle, coughing and clutching his neck. Very firmly, Kui shut the door behind him, and the click of the lock was a very loud, very dangerous sound.
"What Midnight thing?" Estelle asked, glaring down at Belthor. He slowly looked up, and his eyes fixed on the letter opener.
"Any time now," Kui advised. "Or we can see if a wizard's acolyte can fly out of a fourth-story window."
"Oh, gods." Belthor paled. "I, uh. I just...I figured out...you're this Midnight character."
"Who?" Estelle asked unconvincingly.
"The vigilante sort of person," Belthor said. "The drifter girl, she's been spreading the story everywhere. I heard it...her description matches what you were wearing the other night, when you came by the camp."
Estelle tilted her head. Belthor started to rise, but she very firmly picked up one foot and shoved him back down. "How did you figure me out?"
"The party," Belthor murmured, and his voice wavered a surprising amount. "You came up and talked to me, milady...err, Princess Marona-"
"She doesn't like being called that," Kui advised. "Brown-nosing isn't going to save your life if we don't like what we hear."
"Well...you talked to me," Belthor said. "Me. I'm nobody. So that was a flag right there."
"Maybe I just wanted to make conversation with a wizard's acolyte," Estelle said. "You're hardly nobody."
"That's what I thought, after a minute," he agreed, very earnestly. "But then...Lady...you called me Belthor. You called me son of Morse. You gave me your name at the party, but you never waited for me to give mine."
Estelle felt a cold flush run through her veins. She glanced up at Kui, and her companion was shooting her a very, very disappointed look.
"Was that it?"
"No, no," Belthor said, and now Estelle winced. Thankfully, the boy was looking down. "When we talked about Vivian's tattoo. I said she had that of the Goddess of Luck, and I bemoaned my chances against her...you said healing was a better power than manipulating fortune."
"I had no way of knowing what tattoos you had," Estelle finished. "You never said, I never asked."
"Exactly. And then last night..." Belthor swallowed. "Look, I haven't told anyone, I swear on my mother's soul. You saved my life, from Chartreuse and Argo. I just thought...I thought..."
"What?" Estelle asked. She unfolded her arms, but still she held the letter opener. "Thought what?"
"...I kind of...I am a healer," Belthor finally muttered. "And I'm not getting a staff. Vivian's practically got it already."
"You want a job?" Estelle asked.
"I want to help," Belthor stressed, meeting her gaze. "I owe you. And I want to repay you somehow. I can heal. So if you're...injured, after last night..." He spread his arms. "Here I am."
"You think he's telling the truth?" Kui asked, as if Belthor wasn't there.
"I don't think he's capable of lying to a woman," Estelle observed. "He's barely capable of talking to one. Deception is another thing altogether." She refocused her attention downward. "How did you get in?"
"Master Kulkas came to talk with Princess Luna," Belthor explained. "I came with him and Vivian. Slipped away while they were chatting. Happens all the time - they'll assume I'm seeking an endorsement or trying something to impress him."
"And you're not?"
"I've given up on that," Belthor said, voice tinged with sad resignation. "That's what I said, isn't it? Vivian's got it, in all but name. And I can probably do more good here anyway, logically speaking. She's a stronger magician, and I have the healing gift...you need healing to do what you do..."
Estelle took a breath.
"Here." She extended her non-blade hand. Belthor looked up at her, then took it extremely gingerly. In fact, his touch was so light Estelle snorted. "I'm not going to scream about inappropriate contact, Belthor. You’re holding my hand." She raised an eyebrow. "Scandalous."
"Sorry." He went red again as she pulled him up to his feet. "You're just...you're..." He dropped his head into his hands. "I'm making a hash of this. You're frightening, that's what you are."
"Good." Estelle clapped him on the shoulder. "You tell a soul about this, Bel, and frightening is the nicest, cleanest adjective I would use to describe what I'll be."
"I won't, I promise," he said, raising his hands. Estelle nodded.
"Good." She paused. "I'm not injured after last night, no, but maybe you can help me with something else."
"Anything," Belthor promised. Estelle spotted Kui trying very hard not to laugh behind him.
"Okay." She plucked the two shards of Vaneer's window from her nightstand and tossed them Belthor's way. He caught them both with surprising dexterity.
"This is glass," Belthor observed.
"Yes, it is," Estelle said. "It's from a window that was used to view events near and far."
"Ardwal glass?" he demanded, a look of wonder in his eyes. "I never thought I'd see any in person!"
"Well, that's it," Kui told him. "We took the shards - Estelle did, really - because we thought there might be something useful in being able to see things far away."
"Slightly," Belthor agreed.
"The problem is that we can't figure out how to make it work," Estelle said. "It's just...glass. I've held it and thought about what I want to see...I've told it what I want to see..."
"Off the top of my head, I don't think..." Belthor frowned. "I've read about this before, I know I have. I know how to make it work but it's...it's not there..." He rapped himself on the forehead very hard. "It's...oh!" He nodded. "There's a spell. An incantation. A phrase."
"What phrase?" Estelle asked, mood soaring.
"I don't know," Belthor told her, which sent it plummeting again. "Whoever makes the glass sets the words, and the only way to find out would be to learn them from someone who already knows." He looked around. "Who was the original user?"
"His name was Vaneer, and he's dead," Estelle said.
"Oh." Belthor sagged. "Well, all's not lost yet. I can look through my books and see if there's anything. You could try and contact the maker and work that angle."
"We'll keep trying," Estelle agreed. "When does Kulkas leave?"
"Four days," Belthor said morosely. "His timetable's moved up since the party. He'll send me on my way the day after tomorrow, most likely. If you want my services, I can stay in Rosa, but I'd need some manner of...place to stay."
"Let me worry about that," Estelle said. "I won't leave you on the street, and that's a promise. I owe you too."
"What? Oh, no. That's nothing. Fair trade. You didn't let them kill me, so I healed you."
"And you helped me escape pursuit and make it home safely," Estelle pointed out. "I'll get you sorted, don't worry. You just concentrate on trying to figure out this glass."
"And," Kui interjected, voice firm, "if I suddenly show up at your little wizard camp, it's because I either have an urgent message from Estelle, or it's because she's in dire need of a healer."
"I'm not going to be in dire need of a-" Estelle sighed. "Whatever. Sure. That too."
"Of course. Anything." Belthor nodded. "I'll take one of these shards with me, just in case that helps. Maybe I can ask Master Kulkas about it, if I can figure out a good excuse to have it."
"Before you go!" Estelle plucked two chocolates from Luna's gift basket and dropped them in Belthor's hand. "One's a bribe, to keep your mouth shut, and the other's a thank-you for the carrots and water the other night."
"...thanks?" Belthor asked after a moment.
"Don't mention it," Estelle said. "Now, it'd be for the best if Kui escorted you back downstairs and you pretend you got lost on the way to the restroom or something."