The ward of castoria, p.29
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       The Ward of Castoria, p.29

           Robin Silverglate


  “This is our little secret,” said Dane solemnly. “You can’t tell anyone about this.”

  Elora crossed her heart and said, “I promise.”

  Quilyn did one better and said, “I xeny promise.”

  Yara never approved of the children having too many sweets, but Dane handed each child a cookie anyway. Quilyn ate his treat in three bites while Elora slowly nibbled on her cookie as they walked through the crowded market. Dane had promised to take his niece and nephew to market day in an effort to keep his mind off of Bryn. Dane had not told anyone of what had transpired in the Reflection last week and he preferred to keep it that way. However, that did not stop him from thinking about her constantly. The only way to stop his obsessive thoughts was to keep himself busy. Dane had volunteered to go to the Reflection as much as possible and when he was in Castoria, he spent his time working on the border fortifications.

  At home in the Main House, he forced himself to act as if his heart had not just been broken in two. He did not want anyone to suspect his true feelings, especially his sister. It was difficult enough acting normal around Yara because she had once again become aggressive in her search for his future wife. With his niece and nephew, their innocent exuberance made it easier to forget for a while. That was one of the reasons why he found himself walking through the crowded market with them one late afternoon.

  Elora led them over to a vendor who had a display of necklaces, bracelets, and rings. Dane and Quilyn indulged her and gave her time to look at the pretty trinkets. Elora picked up a small ring and said, “I like this one. It looks just like your ring. See, Uncle Dane, it has the same purple stone in it.”

  Dane studied the ring and saw that it did look similar to the one he always wore on his right hand. He raised his head and asked, “How much for this ring?”

  The woman behind the counter widened her eyes in apparent surprise and she faltered a little as she said the price. “Five cyntels.”

  Dane pulled some coins out of his pocket and paid her. The woman’s cheeks turned a rosy pink as she stammered out her appreciation. Elora hugged Dane and thanked him for the gift. Then, she fell in place a little behind Dane and Quilyn while happily admiring her new ring.

  “Uncle Dane, why do you always wear that ring?” asked Quilyn in his raspy voice.

  “It’s part of my Vanguard gear. Every Protector wears a ring that helps keep track of where we are and it also glows when Tetari is trying to contact us.”

  “I want to be a Protector when I grow up.”

  Dane ruffled his nephew’s hair. “I’m sure you would make a very good Protector, but I hope the Vanguard would be a thing of the past by the time you are an adult.”

  “Have you found a way to stop the animals from entering the Reflection?”

  “No, but Castien is working on it so I’m sure things are bound to change sometime in the future.”

  “Why is Castien so grumpy all the time? Did something happen to him or was he just born with a permanent frown on his face?”

  Dane lowered his voice and said, “He was not always this way. I first met him when I was about your age and he was actually cheerful back then.”

  “What changed him?”

  “It’s not my story to tell. But you don’t need to be afraid of him.”

  “Oh, I’m not afraid of him,” said Quilyn proudly. He then stood on his tip toes and whispered in Dane’s ear, “I think Elora is though.”

  “She has nothing to fear. Castien has a very good heart.”

  When the trio returned home, they saw Yara waiting for them outside of the dining room. “There you are,” said Yara impatiently. “I was just about to send someone to start looking for you. Our dinner guest should be arriving soon.”

  “I’m sorry,” said Dane sincerely. “I didn’t realize you had set a determined time for dinner.”

  Quilyn touched his arm and said, “I’m sorry, Uncle Dane. I was supposed to tell you about dinner tonight, but I guess I forgot.”

  Yara sighed. “No harm done. Just go get cleaned up and ready quickly.”

  Ten minutes later, Dane rejoined the whole family in the dining room where Elora was proudly showing off her new ring. Their dinner guest hadn’t arrived yet, so Dane used the time to inform his sister about the fortifications around Castorshade and the border. He did not take the vision of Takaron’s son in Castoria lightly.

  “I spoke with Tetari yesterday,” said Yara. “I am not sure that her vision confirms Thalien is here with evil intent. She did not see him with a weapon. All she said was he was trying to get something.”

  “I’m not going to take any chances. His visit may be destructive or it may be harmless. Nevertheless, when Thalien does come here, I want him to see we are well defended.”

  “I heard that Thalien has a birthmark on his bum in the shape of a flower,” said Quilyn before letting out a loud laugh.

  Yara gave her son a stern look and said, “Stop making up stories.”

  “It’s not a made-up story,” defended Quilyn earnestly. “I heard it from Darcasan. He has an uncle who has a friend who knows the mother of Thalien’s former governess.”

  “You can’t believe everything Darcasan says,” Elora said primly. “He told me he saw a sarlock in the woods last week and everyone knows sarlocks don’t live anywhere near here.”

  “He’s not lying about the birthmark,” said Quilyn a little too loudly. “He said it is bright pink and right on his—” Quilyn was interrupted by the entrance of their dinner guest. The little boy closed his mouth and sat straight up in his chair at the sight of his teacher.

  Yara stood up from the table and walked over to guest. “Tsarra, I am so glad you were able to join us this evening.”

  Tsarra’s eyes turned directly toward Dane as she said, “The children were very sweet when they delivered your invitation. I am grateful.”

  Dane looked over at Quilyn and sent a silent message. “I wish you had warned me.” If he had known Tsarra was going to be here tonight, he would have thought of an excuse.

  “Sorry, Uncle Dane,” came the childish reply. “I guess I forgot to tell you my teacher was coming over for dinner tonight, too.”

  Yara told everyone to sit at the table and of course, directed her guest to the chair right next to Dane’s. He couldn’t help but notice that Tsarra moved her chair slightly closer to his just after she sat down. Yara began to ask questions about her children’s progress and inquired about their studies. When Tsarra turned her body to better see Yara, she gently rested her knee against his leg. To avoid giving her the wrong impression, Dane tilted his body away from Tsarra on the pretext of better seeing his sister, as well.

  Dane quietly endured the rest of dinner. He only spoke when he was directly spoken to and never initiated a conversation with Tsarra. He could not help but make comparisons between Tsarra and Bryn. There was nothing inherently wrong with Tsarra, other than being a little overeager. Tsarra was smart and pretty, but Bryn was clearly superior in his mind. He much preferred Bryn’s challenging intellect over Tsarra’s refined knowledge. Dane was not even attracted to Tsarra’s long wheat-blonde hair for which he knew many people, including Beckwyn, had a preference. For him, he only saw perfection in Bryn’s beautiful brown hair.

  Dane saw the irony of sitting next to a woman who obviously wanted him while he spent his time pining away for someone who rejected him. His thoughts soon became only fixed on Bryn. He figured out that she was probably in second period right now. He wondered if she ever thought about him. Probably not, he thought morosely, unless it was to admit relief that he was gone. Bryn herself said she didn’t even like him. He lost his appetite just after reliving that depressing memory and rested his fork on the dinner table.

  His brief bought of nausea was instantaneously replaced with panic when Yara asked after dessert, “Dane, can you please escort Tsarra home tonight?”

p; He glanced at Tsarra who had an eager grin on her face and then eyeballed Yara who had an annoyed smirk on hers. He did not see a way to politely get out of performing this simple duty. “Of course,” he said pleasantly and then stood up and walked toward the door. Tsarra thanked Yara and Feredir for their hospitality and then joined Dane. He held the door open for her and heard Yara’s voice in his head saying, “Give her a chance, Dane.” His only response was to close the door a little too loudly.

  Once outside, Tsarra took her hand and placed it through his arm. He did not pull away from her, but he did increase the pace of his walk so he could get this over with quickly.

  “Your niece and nephew are adorable children,” said Tsarra and she bumped her shoulder into his.

  Dane agreed with her.

  “And so smart, too,” she added.

  Dane agreed with her again.

  “They really are a pleasure to teach,” she said having no problem carrying on the majority of the conversation. As Tsarra went on to talk about the specific merits of each child, Dane only half listened. He tried to calculate the most direct route to get to Tsarra’s house. As she talked about what a pleasant meal she had at his house and how excellent the dessert was, Dane tried to figure out how many more minutes were left in his duty to get her home. Before, when he had strolled with Bryn, he never wanted it to end. He cherished every moment he was alone with her and always felt their walks ended too soon. Usually, the sight of Bryn’s nosy neighbor signaled the end of their conversations. With Tsarra, however, every moment dragged by slowly and he heartily wished for a nosy neighbor to come along and take her home the rest of the way.

  When they reached her house, she beheld him with expectant eyes. She placed her hand lightly on his arm and asked, “Would you like to come in? I could make us some tea.”

  “No, thank you,” said Dane politely. “I promised the little ones I would tuck them in tonight and tell them a story.”

  She took a step closer to him. “I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. Especially if I read them an extra-long story in class tomorrow.”

  “I forgot tomorrow is a school day. I definitely should not intrude then. Good night, Tsarra.”

  He bowed and left before she could say anything else.

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