Born at Dawn
Neva filled the bard’s cup, but she couldn’t force her gaze from the Da’Valia in front of her. Although his hooded cloak blocked his horns from the customers, her view allowed her to see each was as wide as her wrist at the base, pointed on the end, and black. Instinct told her his ears were molded pointy like her own beneath his unshorn hair.
“And you?” Neva pushed the words out, trying to avoid staring at the scar stretching from below his eye to his jaw.
He was fearsome, yet something about him resonated with her. She had never seen a Da’Valia other than her mother, but she had heard the stories of the male warriors. Her mother’s white skin had almost shone, but the males, the hilans, had not been born at dawn, according to the old stories. The hilans had been born at midnight.
“Of course,” the Da’Valia said, sliding his mug forward. His voice reminded her of a shepherd’s horn, deep and echoing through the mountains.
“Have you heard any news from farther north these past months?” the bard asked as she poured.
Neva shook her head. The more northern regions were so remote only miners with gold fever ventured there. Fewer still ever returned.
“Very little comes to the Pass during Fireside,” she said. “You would probably know of worthy things better than I.”
She spoke with the bard, but every part of her was alert to the Da’Valia. Mentally, she thanked Neil for warning her. As far as her uncles knew, she was entirely human, but the Da’Valia’s presence was intimidating enough.
The Da’Valia moved to pull his mug to him, but the edge of his hand tapped the ceramic, knocking it off the table. Faster than a human could track, Neva set down one of her pitchers and caught the mug by the bottom. She stopped its fall before a drop spilled. The action was pure reflex.
It happened so fast, the bard didn’t take notice, but Neva was aware of the Da’Valia’s unwavering gaze as she scooted the mug back into his hand. She hadn’t taken her eyes off the bard, yet instinct told her the Da’Valia was looking at her. Silently, she cursed her reaction to his clumsiness. It would have been safer to let it drop to the floor and deal with the mess. She knew better than to show her speed in public, but she was rattled.
The bard paused in his story for another sip of mead, and the Da’Valia took advantage of the moment of silence.
“Nevazhi,” he said.
“Aye?” she asked, keeping her eyes down, not wanting to look at him directly.
“I heard the customers call you that,” he said, wrapping his hands around his mug. “It’s an interesting name. How did you come by it?”
“Why, my mother gave it to me, of course,” she said, forcing a chuckle. Polite, not giving anything away.
The silence that met her response dragged, forcing her to glance up. Her eyes locked with the Da’Valia’s. Without meaning to, she held her breath. Maybe he didn’t recognize her for what she truly was. Maybe he was just of odd character.
But his next words shattered her hope.
“Nevazhi is a name in my family as well,” he told her.
“That’s interesting,” she spoke softly, ready to give her standard response. “But my mother was foreign. I suppose it’s popular in other parts.”
“No. It’s not.” The Da’Valia’s voice took on a hard edge.
Neva stilled like a child found out for lying. She swallowed hard. The bard leaned forward, sensing something was amiss.
“Indeed,” the bard said. “Nevazhi is an unusual name. I have not heard it in any of my travels, and I have walked to the far corners of the realm.”
The Da’Valia kept his eyes on Neva’s a moment longer.
“It’s of no matter,” he said to the bard, settling comfortably back into his seat. “Were she one of my people, she would not be able to deny who she is forever. Regardless, I’m sure the barmaid has more customers to attend.”
Neva nearly bit her tongue to keep from engaging the Da’Valia further. What choice did she have? To accept it publicly would be to invite judgment, fear, and hostility from everyone in her life. Something he couldn’t possibly understand.
“I should move on,” Neva agreed instead, gesturing to the next table.
“Aye, of course!” the bard agreed, nodding.
Neva obtained their coin before moving to the next table. They stayed for more than an hour, and Neva felt the Da’Valia’s eyes on her as they departed. As soon as the door closed behind them, she let out a lengthy breath. The Da’Valia had recognized her name and all but challenged her to admit her bloodlines. That scared her.
Neva stepped into the kitchen to collect herself. She had spent her entire life hiding the true nature of her blood, but for however long he was visiting Glacier Pass, the chances of her being found out were far greater.