Imperial hint

Inching up icy steps, the girl held the cups carefully. Wisps of snow curled through the rampart overhead. The sole figure above the iron gate, wrapped in fur and helmet capped, was a prop. His spear and horns, daunting at a distance, only draped a slumped figure.

Still, even greybeards need to break their fast. She set her mulled wine down, then nudged him.

"Salve, Anha."

She wrinkled her nose and sighed. Ten years on now, the old man still used his sing-song city-speech. She could still remember her first visit, her father's offer to have her guide him through town. She could still smell his breath of fetid fish and olives, his strange gesturing, his blankets for clothes.

She tried to keep him being played for a fool at market, to keep laughter quiet when he asked for ink. Over the years, she just tried to keep him safe and sane. Someday, his great city could forgive. Her reward might be as great. 

"Naso. Again. Why are you here?"

He shuddered, whether at her question or the frigid air, she could not tell. The road winding away from the town gate to the plain below was covered in rolling snow drifts. Along the frozen shoreline, beneath walls' shadow, rows of overturned boats caked in ice. 

"I wrote a book about love."

Her nose wrinkled, though if from the answer or the wine, the old man could not tell. 

"But your emperor, he did not love it."

"He never said, dear. I know not."

She looked to the frozen sea, winced in the glare, and drained her cup.

"Think I might, Naso."

The old poet gave a tired nod.

"Indeed, child. Judgment was not subtle." 

They descended, slowly, arm-in-arm.