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       Slumber, p.18

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 
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  Impulsively, I strode forward past Chaeron, who tried to reach for me and missed. “There must be some mistake,” I implored to the man. “We didn’t know.” He looked at me with such revulsion I flinched. And then he made a groggy noise in the back of his throat and spat in my face. Chaeron’s blade was against his neck before I even could comprehend what had happened. Humiliated and ashamed, I wiped at the phlegm dripping down my cheek and glowered at the man who now stood stiff against Chaeron’s sword.

  “Your name?” Chaeron growled in his face.

  “Den. Den Hewitt.”

  “Den Hewitt, you just committed a crime. Do you know who this lady is before you?”

  The rebel-rouser paled somewhat as he realy looked at me, his eyes showing a little of his panic as he wondered who he had just offended. “No,” he replied hoarsely.

  “You just assaulted the Lady Rogan of Silvera. The Princezna’s Handmaiden.”

  The gasps of the people around us made me want to curl inside myself. Den blanched, fear turning his mouth white. Stil shocked at his treatment of me, a woman, a lady, I let him stew on it a while. They thought his punishment would be grave indeed. However, although stunned by his offence, I was more concerned by his accusations.

  “I didn’t know.” He wilted a little.

  “No. I imagine you did not.” Chaeron shifted the sword from his throat. “Den Hewitt, I charge you with assault against the Lady Rogan of Silvera. You wil be placed in my custody and taken back to Silvera for trial.”

  “Lieutenant.” I shook my head, not wanting this man punished severely for an act of stupidity born out of frustration.

  “But Lady Rogan?” Chaeron frowned.

  “Al I want is an apology.” I crossed my arms over my chest.

  Hewitt looked between the two of us, his expression filing with hope as he waited for Chaeron’s decision. The Lieutenant finaly nodded, although his eyes blazed against the decision, and Hewitt breathed a sigh of relief before turning to me. “I am so sorry, my Lady. I am so sorry.” I nodded. “If you had merely told us your grievance we would have dealt with it, Mr Hewitt. I assure you that none of us were aware of these conditions you speak of. Let us return to our camp quietly and I wil speak with the Captain of the Guard. He wil investigate the matter.” It was perhaps obnoxious and forward of me to assume Wolfe would take care of this situation, but I couldn’t leave these people as they were. They were so volatile. Just one spark…

  After thanking me and apologising some more, relieved at escaping a close cal, the men and I withdrew from Hewitt and turned back for camp. I could feel Chaeron’s disapproval simmering beside me, but I shrugged it off. I was the one who had been spat on. I should be the one to mete out the punishment.

  Before I could approach Wolfe, Chaeron was charging ahead. He cornered the Captain and began speaking to him franticaly. At any other time I would have been annoyed, but I was trying to keep my distance from Wolfe.

  By the time Chaeron was done, Wolfe’s face was hard as stone. With an efficiency and lethal determination that demonstrated just why he was Captain, Wolfe rounded up a group of ten men and they mounted their horses. As they cantered towards me, I stood to the side and kept my eyes on the grass. I saw Wolfe’s horses’

  hooves come into view and then stop.

  “Next time, ask me before you offer my services,” his harsh voice caught me by the back of the neck and tipped my head upwards.

  I scowled at him. “Are you saying you would leave them this way?”

  He frowned back at me. “You know I wouldn’t. But I don’t appreciate taking orders from you, Lady Rogan.” My apologetic smile was brittle. “Apologies. It won’t happen again.”

  Again, seeming startled and disappointed by my compliance, Wolfe nodded and began to pul away. Just as I was relaxing, sure Wolfe would take care of the issues the vilagers had put forth, he threw over his shoulder, “I’m fining Den Hewitt for assaulting you.”

  “But I don’t want that!” I cried, rushing to catch up with him. I could see the other men trying to look uninterested in our exchange. “You can’t do that!” Wolfe drew to an abrupt halt and glared down at me. “I can do anything I want, Lady Rogan. I am the Captain of the Guard.” He seethed, his face mottled red with anger. “He assaulted you, Rogan, and that I wil not stand for.” Abruptly he turned and jerked his reins, galoping over the bridge and into the vilage, unmindful of his surprised Guard who took off after him. Surprised by the abrupt departure? No.

  Surprised that in front of them, Wolfe had betrayed his feelings… and used my given name.

  ***

  It was with a mixture of relief and pain I realised Wolfe had had enough and was no longer speaking to me. He returned to camp some few hours later and told Chaeron what had happened. I tried to eavesdrop, but the colective snoring of the Guard drowned out their voices.

  The next morning Wolfe refused to look at me, let alone speak to me, and as we moved off away from the vilage, I had to ask Chaeron for the details of Wolfe’s venture into the vilage.

  Apparently Den Hewitt had not exaggerated. After investigation, Wolfe discovered the Manager of the mine, a wealthy Baron no less, was working the vilagers to the bone to keep up with the competition from the local mining communities surrounding them. Discovering sick children and il workers, worn out and hopeless, Wolfe was furious. The vilage had had two deaths in the last month. Exhaustion and dehydration. He fined the Manager (and Den Hewitt) and threatened him with criminal charges if he did not return to the normal working procedures. To ensure his obeisance, Wolfe left two of his men to guard the workers and sent a messenger to Vojvodkyna Winter Rada explaining the situation, and asking her to send some of her men to relieve the Royal Guardsmen and to order a replacement Manager for the mine.

  I rested easier knowing Wolfe had taken care of it. I had known he would. I sighed wearily and stared straight ahead, worrying about what we would find in the next vilage we passed through. I had so much to tel Haydyn once she was awake and wel. Our problem wasn’t just the evocation. Our problem was that outside the cities governed by the Rada, the people were ignored and left to go about their business ungoverned. That had to change. I straightened my spine with determination. When this journey was over and my task complete, Phaedra was in for some changes. For the better.

  Chapter Twenty One

  To my utter relief, the next few days through Daeronia passed uneventfuly. We stopped in two other mining communities, and neither of them was suffering under the conditions of the first. From their disposition to the state of their homes, to their fervent hospitality, they were fire to the southern coal mining vilage’s ice. And I? I was confused. Perhaps I had merely wanted to put the Manager of the coal mining vilage attitude down to Haydyn’s evocation, but the northern coal miners had great attitudes, and surely if the evocation waning was the problem then they would be the ones to feel the affects more so than the south.

  My forehead spent a lot of time in a perpetual state of wrinkles.

  The situation with Wolfe hadn’t changed. If anything it had worsened. Anything he had to say to me he had Lieutenant Chaeron pass on to me, and the night we dined in the home of the Manager of a large coal mining town caled East Winds, Wolfe flirted with their twenty-year old daughter as he ignored my existence. I ignored the fist of agony in my chest. His attitude was of my own making and I had no right to feel anything toward him.

  We had been folowing the River Cael and were closing in on the border between Daeronia and Alvernia. My stomach had now formed into a constant knot of anxiety, the need to get to the Pool of Phaedra an obsession, sharp and unrelenting. I was impatient when Wolfe stopped us by the river for our midday break, and was about to voice my disgruntlement when I remembered I hadn’t spoken to him for three days. Plus, it was unseasonably hot, not even a wisp of that crisp Daeronian breeze that I had come to love. Teling Chaeron I needed a moment alone, I wandered along the river bank that flowed on the left side of the trade road, as
the men gathered near the woodland on the right. They stopped, sliding down to lean against tree trunks and eat the hard biscuits that had come to form their unsatisfying daily diet. I was stil in sight, but I used the horse to cover me as I took off my shoes and stockings to dangle my feet over the bank into the river. I sighed at the havenly feel of the cold water on my skin and thanked god I hadn’t had to walk too much. My stupid soft ‘lady’s’ feet would be ruined. Reluctantly, I puled my feet out of the water and reassembled my clothing before Wolfe sent someone to colect me. However, as I walked back to the men, my eyes darting over them, there was no sign of Wolfe… or Chaeron. Puzzled, I searched them out. Where were they? Just as I was about to draw near the first group of men I caught a flash of colour from the corner of my eye a little way in among the trees. Wolfe’s green military jacket. He’d had to borrow it from one of the Guard, who now wore a plain jacket provided by the Vojvodkyna. Curious as to why Wolfe and Chaeron were huddling in the woods, I eyed the men to see if any were watching me. I was somewhat disappointed to see that none of them were.

  That was briliant guarding for you.

  Roling my eyes, I snuck away from the men and edged closer to Wolfe and Chaeron. Leaving my horse, I stopped a few trees back from them, hidden in the shade.

  “I just don’t know if it’s a good idea,” Lieutenant Chaeron exhaled.

  “I have to,” Wolfe insisted, his voice flat.

  “I could do it.”

  “No, it has to be me.” Wolfe shook his head. “If Rogan’s going up into the mountains then I’m going to be the one protecting her.” Chaeron sighed again. “Things are difficult between you as it is.”

  “I know. But I won’t let my feelings get in the way of my duty. Which is to protect her.”

  “What wil I tel the men?”

  “Tel them I’ve taken Rogan on a tour of Alvernia, to let her see for herself what the area and the people are realy like, so she can report back to the Princezna.”

  “They’l think it’s insane. They’l wonder why you’ve gone alone. Perhaps even speculate…”

  “If any one of my men utters a derogatory word against Lady Rogan I want you to deal with them.” Chaeron sucked in his breath as if insulted. “You know I would, Captain.”

  “Good. Tel them the Alvernians are paranoid, suspicious. A Royal entourage traipsing around their land would be seen as an act of aggression; tel them that Lady Rogan and I are going incognito.”

  “Alright.” There was a moment of silence between them before Chaeron peered at Wolfe with genuine concern. “Wolfe,” he said softly, surprising me and Wolfe by using his given name, “You’ve never been into the mountains. A few of the men here have. They’d be better suited to escort Miss Rogan.” Wolfe shook his head determinedly, his jaw set. “I won’t let her go into that without me…” he shoved a hand through his hair in obvious frustration, appearing vulnerable and lost. “It would drive me crazy.”

  Chaeron placed a hand on Wolfe’s shoulder. “Alright.”

  I backed away as stealthily as I could, the blood rushing in my ears from what I had overheard and the blood flooding my cheeks for having been eavesdropping. I walked numbly back to the men with my horse beside me, and saw nothing and heard nothing as we mounted back up and set off. Wolfe was furious with me but he stil cared. Cared enough to foolishly folow me into the heart of the Alvernian Mountains where the chances of us both coming to harm was great. No. I shook my head, ignoring Chaeron’s concerned looks. I wouldn’t go into the mountains with Wolfe. I had to keep my distance. I had to stay focused on finding the plant and I couldn’t do that if I was worrying about Wolfe.

  I had to get away from him somehow.

  When we reached Arrana I had to leave and set off into the mountains alone. It didn’t matter if I had an escort or not. Only I knew the way to the Pool of Phaedra and my magic would get me there without getting me lost. I just had to be careful and remember the route up so I could get back down the mountain without fault.

  ***

  That night, we made it to Arrana. Smaler than the other cities, Arrana was also more heavily fortified, with a massive fifteen foot wal snaking around its border. Like one of the keeps used thousands of years ago when the mage first came to Phaedra, the city had a moat and drawbridge, and armoured guards. We had to wait for permission to enter, and as we crossed the sturdy bridge into the city wals, I frowned in disapproval. There were no wars in Phaedra. No need for city wals and moats and drawbridges. I understood the Vojvoda was nervous of the mountain people of Alvernia - I was nervous of them and I had to walk right into their midst - but his fortification sent the wrong message. It isolated Arrana; it made it a lone entity, and broke it from Haydyn’s Phaedra.

  What must the people of Alvernia think? Or any people who crossed the border into Alvernia? It was unwelcoming and superior. Worse… it was aggressive.

  This too would have to change.

  ***

  This would never do, I thought glumly, watching Markiz Andrei folow the servant girl’s bosom with his eyes whilst his father, Vojvoda Andrei, tried to convince me that his son would be a briliant match for Haydyn. I found it difficult swalowing my fish as I dined with them. I studied the junior Andrei as he smiled at me and I bemoaned the vapidity behind his eyes. The poor boy wasn’t lascivious or cruel. He was just… sily and… wel not very inteligent. He was so wrong for my Haydyn.

  Haydyn needed someone as clever and as passionate as she was, someone who stood up for her and to her.

  Someone like Matai.

  Al of a sudden I felt unbearably sad.

  I let Wolfe and the Vojvoda do al the talking. I smiled enough so as not to seem unpleasant and bored, but I was sure the Vojvoda was puzzled as to why Haydyn would send an advisor on her behalf who had barely opened her mouth once to speak. But I felt buried by the troubles of Phaedra. Buried and useless. I needed Haydyn to wake up. I had needed her to wake up before she fel il. I only hoped that she would, once I provided the cure and told her al I’d learned. To begin with, marrying Andrei would be a terrible mistake.

  So lost in my problems, I barely noticed that Wolfe had managed to finagle it so he was the one to walk me to my room. As we drew closer and his arm brushed mine, I began to come out of my stupor, and my skin came instantly alive at being so close to him. I glanced at him quickly and looked away. We hadn’t talked or been this near to one another in some time. Not since Caera.

  “In the morning you and I wil leave for the mountains.” Wolfe stopped abruptly and I drew to a halt, turning to him. We looked one another in the eye for the first time in days. “We’re going to pretend we’re taking a tour of Alvernia and its people, but in reality we’re going to get that plant.” I knew if I didn’t try to dissuade him after al we’d been through he’d be suspicious. I had to give a little argument, even though I already had my plan at the ready.

  “Do you realy think that’s wise… considering?”

  “Considering?”

  “Considering you hate me.” I held my breath, waiting for him to dispute it. I knew he cared. I just needed him to admit it. Haven, I wished my heart would make up its mind!

  I felt a sharp pain somewhere near the said organ when he shrugged. “It’s my duty.”

  I bit back a hurt retort. “Fine. I want it noted that I dispute the idea. For future reference.”

  “Noted.”

  I nodded and turned to go into my room, disbelieving that that would be the last thing I said to him before heading into the wilderness where I might never return. I stiled as his hand wrapped around my upper arm. I glanced up nervously as he sidled closer, his eyes chalenging me to stop him. I didn’t. I let him kiss me. I thought it would be a hard kiss meant to dominate, but instead he surprised me with a soft, seductive brushing of lips and tongue, meant to melt. Even as he kissed me, giving me what I wanted, I ached with longing.

  When he puled back Wolfe’s cheeks were flushed and he gazed at me again with that soft curl of his lip,
bright gold in his blue eyes. “I want it noted that I don’t hate you. For future reference.”

  Not able to stop it, I felt a smal smile tilt up the corners of my mouth. “Noted. Although I must protest that you keep forcing unwanted kisses on me.”

  “It’s the only way to get one. Unwanted indeed.” He raised a knowing eyebrow at me.

  Arrogant knave.

  I shook my head, feeling sad and happy al at the same time. “Why do you persist, Wolfe?” His grin was slow and wicked as he stood back from me, alowing my body and mind to breathe again. “Strategy.”

  “Strategy?”

  He cocked his eyebrow. “At first I thought imposed isolation would make you miss me-”

  “Why you arro-”

  “-But then I realised that it’s being near me you can’t resist. And there are only so many kisses you’l take before you give in to me completely, Rogan.” Ignoring the flush of excited heat that shivered through me at his hoarse tone and serious eyes, I gripped the handle of the bedroom door behind me and guffawed.

  “We’l see, Captain. We’l see.”

  I slammed the door in his face, growling at the sound of his cocky chuckle as he walked away.

  For a moment al I could do was stare at myself in the mirror, touching a mouth that now tingled with the taste of Wolfe. I closed my eyes, hating that thrum in my body that never used to be there before he first kissed me.

  I wasn’t even sorry for kissing him. I was thankful that our last moment together - before Wolfe truly did come to dislike me - was sweet, in that dysfunctional way of ours.

  Shrugging him off as best I could (he stil lingered in the air around me), I scrambled about, ringing the bel for a servant, and getting my coins at the ready. Grateful when a young girl in rough servants clothing appeared, I explained to her what I needed from her and showed her the coins. She stared at them in wonder. There was more money there than she probably earned in two years of hard work.

 
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