It was raining outside, but Phidoch Castle was no less busy. It could not afford to be.
"…Loslorien is… the streets… an eye out for…"
"…send to… Brigantys. Rations… be enough…"
The voices of different men echoed into the meeting room through its closed door; some were calm, some were panicked, and some were always changing roles. None of them would intrude, however, for the princess Versalia had made it clear that she wanted no interruptions during her discussions with her closest and most powerful allies. Since the morn, important figures in the Resistance had entered and left the room where the princess waited: its leader Denam was first, followed by Archiereus Mreuva, and then his daughters Cerya and Cistina, who had been with the Resistance for some time. Now it was Sherri's turn.
Sherri sat in one of eight chairs around the table; all others but Catiua's were empty. A small bowl of snacks and water, poured by some hurried page into a wine bottle, were the only frivolities on offer. She also noticed a book on Catiua's side of the table: Strauss's Theorems of Virtue. A plain bookmark stuck out of a pair of pages in its middle. Sherri surmised that the princess had been reading it while waiting on their tardier colleagues, the way Sherri herself had the first few times she marshaled her own men in Heim. It was a fine way to reclaim wasted time, she thought.
"While we are here, you may address me as Catiua," the princess said, "and I would prefer you do so."
"So Denam has said," Sherri told her. "What other improprieties will you permit when the commons cannot see?"
Catiua tucked her seat in closer to her table, and Sherri saw a brief glimpse of some sincerely-felt emotion in her sharp eyes.
"I do not wish to grow too comfortable with the benefits of my station now," Catiua told her. "The temptation is there, nagging at me, but I know what it is to be treated as any on the streets of Heim or Golyat. It is the same for people throughout Valeria, and I would not forget that. Speak to me here as you would the rest of the Resistance."
"We both arrived here recently," Sherri said. "There's little for us to discuss of tactics. I am skilled in all forms of magic, most of all earth, and I am more prepared for battle than Olivya. I feel you would be better served talking to *her* about the perils of battle, and to me about our shared circumstances."
"Oh?" Catiua raised an eyebrow. "I did not think you the sort to break bread with a stranger, let alone one who would enlist you in their ranks as they seek to rule."
"I must, if I'm to trust you more than I do Brantyn," Sherri said flatly.
"Fair enough." Catiua said.
Sherri thought she must have been expecting that response. Cerya had openly remarked that Catiua was sharp-tongued, but it seemed that itself was a form of expression for her sharp mind.
"Truthfully," Catiua continued, "I cannot say I am surprised to hear you ask that I lend your sister my support. If any part of that is surprising, it is that you would not ask her to leave the battlefield entirely. Denam has done the same to me, as I once did of him."
"I have learned that it is best not to ask my sisters to do anything they haven't already chosen to do." Sherri said.
Catiua nodded. "…if you would speak on this subject, I would know where your relationship with them lies. You cannot trust Brantyn, and I would not ask you to trust me entire, but what of your sisters?"
"I did not wish to say this outright, but I apologized to my sister between tears for all that happened. I do not regret my apology."
Catiua nodded again.
"That is more than enough." Catiua told Sherri. "The precipice of grave error is a fine tutor. If your bonds have been tested in that way, and yet reforged, I know that you are as committed to our cause as I am."
Sherri exhaled through her nose, masking a sigh of relief. She had not needed Catiua's approval, per se, as even the princess would not deny her father his most trusted aides. But it was welcome nevertheless.
It was mere minutes after Sherri and Catiua had met that they were exchanging glances full of caution. There was no sense of immediate distrust, as if one or the other could be traitorous, but they were both wary of the possibility that the other knew more about them than they did, or worse, that they differed in truth. They had sensed their similarities on some level, Sherri watching Catiua speak with Denam and Catiua pausing to listen to the sisters' conversations, but that alone was not proof that they had trod the same path.
Their conversation now, however, was.
"…if you wish, we may yet speak of tactics," Sherri told Catiua. "We both march with the Resistance, and we share our spellcraft. It is likely we will fight side by side, even moreso than the rest of the van."
"Very true," Catiua agreed. "We will strategize together, then."