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       Slumber, p.23

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 
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  It took me to behind a large rock by the edge of the lake. Behind it grew a blue plant, the colour of the lake itself, vivid and alien, the sweet smel of molasses drifting up out of it.

  “The Somna Plant?” L asked from behind my shoulder.

  I nodded, reaching for it.

  “No’ much left.”

  No, there wasn’t. “I’m taking it al,” I whispered, reaching for my pack. “We have alchemists back in Silvera who might be able to plant this to grow more crops.

  Mayhap they can withdraw its properties and discover other uses for it.”

  “Alchemists. Properties. Who cares, Rogan, just be gettin’ the damn thing and put it in yer pack.” She glanced around warily now.

  I frowned as I carefuly puled the plants out by the roots and wrapped them in cloth. “What’s wrong?” I asked, putting the plant into my pack just as carefuly.

  L exhaled shakily. “Wel, I don’t be wantin’ to alarm ye but I be sensin’ we might be hittin’ a spot o’ trouble on the way back down.” My heart thumped in my chest, visions of the Mountain Man making me dizzy. “Trouble? What trouble?” She shook her head, her eyes narrowed in frustration. “I don’t be knowin’ yet. Sometimes my gift, as ma cals it, has a warped sense o’ humour.” With one last longing look at the Pool of Phaedra, L and I hurried back into the woods. I trusted that L had been paying attention to the route we’d taken, and as I folowed her, having taken note just in case, I saw that she had. I shouldn’t have expected anything else.

  We were both tense and anxious as we moved swiftly through the Arans. Al I wanted now that I had the plant was to get back to Silvera and Haydyn as quickly as possible.

  As the wood creaked and cracked around us, we would come to a stop, warily cocking our heads, our eyes wide as we studied the landscape around us. There would be nothing. We’d look at each other, me frightened, L ready, and we’d head off again, our departure faster downhil that it had been going up.

  Dusk passed into dark and stil we strode through the woods, desperate to get back to L’s home. For now, L searched the woods, looking for the perfect place to bed down for the night. When more time past, my feet aching, my stomach growling, and stil L hadn’t stopped, it was almost on the tip of my tongue to beg L to just choose somewhere already, when the hair on the back of my neck rose.

  A low growl sounded from my left and I drew to an abrupt halt. L heard it too and spun around to look at me. Her eyes flicked to the direction of the sound.

  “Mountain dog,” she told me quietly. Slowly, silently, she took her crossbow and brought it up, aiming somewhere out to my left. “I thought we might be comin’ upon one o’ these dung bred lowlifes.”

  Frightened but needing to see for myself, I turned my head slowly. My eyes widened at the sight of the large dog merely metres from me. Its body was skinny but muscular, it’s coat rough, with little bald patches here and there. Its sharp muzzle was puled back over its sharp teeth, saliva dripping from his rotting gums. Its eyes feral.

  “We’ve got to be takin’ this mutt down and then be goin’. Its pack can’t be too far behind it.” Just as the dog moved to attack, L shot the arrow. It plunged with perfect aim into the dog’s flesh. It whined and colapsed mid jump. I exhaled in relief and turned to thank L only to yel out to her as another dog lunged out of the woods and onto her. It took L down, its jaws clamping on her shoulder as she struggled under it, trying to reach for her crossbow which had falen out of her hands, and keep the dogs teeth off of her.

  I acted without thought.

  With the hunting knife in hand, I leapt on the dog, plunging the blade deep and up into its bely. It jaws lashed out at me, missing me by an inch, before it whined and slumped unconscious on top of L. I grabbed the top of her arms and puled her out from under it. The dog’s blood stained her trousers.

  Her own stained her jacket, where the dog had ripped it open and tore into the muscles of her shoulder. It was deep. She swayed a little and I reached to catch her.

  In her usual gruffness L batted me away.

  “We need to go.”

  When she took off at a run, I folowed, anxiety gripping my chest. L was running on adrenaline right now. When that dissipated, I needed to get her home to Sarah as soon as possible.

  Finaly L drew to a stop, the palor of her skin worryingly pale. So white. I puled out the cloth the Somna Plant was wrapped in and put the plant back into the pack.

  With a briskness L couldn’t argue with, I removed her jacket and shirt, tying a tourniquet up over the awkward wound. It would stem the flow of blood but that was it.

  Hastily, I put her shirt back on as she loled in my arms. Next her jacket. I forced a couple of sugary biscuits on her and some water. And then I wrapped my arms around her, watching over her, trying to keep her awake.

  Chapter Twenty Seven

  I’d never been so thankful in my life to see a house.

  Of course our trip going down the mountain was faster than going up, but with L growing weaker by the hour, we weren’t as quick as I would have liked in getting her back home. For once I could pride myself on doing something right on this trip. I was glad I’d paid attention to the route we’d taken, for L was worryingly disorientated the rest of our way back to her home. In those hours with her, looking after her, keeping her conscious, I felt more like myself again. This person, this young woman in control, was me again. And with my old determination, I pushed both L and I to our limits, not stopping for food or rest, until I had her back to Sarah.

  I wasn’t letting anything happen to the girl who had saved my life twice without ever asking for anything in return.

  As if she sensed us, the door to the shack flew open, and Sarah rushed to meet us as I dragged L up the Moss’ garden path.

  “What happened?” Sarah’s eyes blazed with worry.

  “Mountain dog,” I bit out, relief making me weak. Thankfuly Sarah took hold of L and carried her the rest of the way into the house.

  When I stepped over the threshold I took in Jnr staring wide-eyed at his mother as she laid L on top of the table.

  “Jnr, heat up some water,” Sarah threw over her shoulder as she ripped L’s clothes away from her shoulder. She hissed at the sight of the wound and I turned away, seeing how putrid it had grown with infection. Sarah stroked her daughter’s face tenderly. L barely registered the touch. “L, my love, ye got yerself a fever. I’m goin’ to be sortin’ that out, alright, honey.”

  I just stood there, gazing on uselessly. This was al my fault. I shoulder never have taken L with me. Sarah caught the guilt and concern on my face and smiled reassuringly.

  “Now don’t ye be lookin’ like that, Rogan. Things happen up in these here mountains. L’s goin’ to be alright.” Jnr struggled with the pot of hot water so I hurried to take it from him before he splashed the water and burned himself. Sarah took it from me quietly and set about cleaning L’s wound. She stirred a little at her mother’s touch. And then, as she had done with me, Sarah put her fingertips on the wound and shot her energy into L. I watched in amazement as the wound began to close, the colour returning to L’s face with surprising swiftness. L’s eyelashes fluttered and she groaned, looking up into Sarah’s happy but now fatigued face.

  “Ma.” Her head roled and she saw me standing over Sarah’s shoulder, wringing my hands. To my surprise she smiled. “Knew ye wasn’t completely useless.” She turned to Sarah now. “Here, Ma, Rogan saved my life.”

  “Wel don’t that be somethin’.” We al turned at the sound of Jonas’ voice. He stood in the doorway to the house, his eyes bright on his daughter and then on me, a dead rabbit slung over his shoulder. He winked at me and then stepped further into the house. A shadow moved behind him and my heart faltered. There was a man with him, taler, broader. As he stepped inside beside Jonas, his familiar eyes bored into me, inscrutable and probing.

  “Wolfe!” Jnr shouted happily and flew past me to hop at Wolfe’s feet. “This be my sister, L, Wolfe.” He pointed at L ly
ing on the table. I glanced at L as she puled herself into a sitting position. Her eyes flicked between Wolfe and me, giving me a knowing look.

  I exhaled and looked back at Wolfe.

  I shook my head.

  I couldn’t believe the fool had come after me. Where was the damn Guard?!

  When our gazes locked, despite the inscrutability of those pale eyes of his, a delicious relief, like coming home after months of miserable absence, swept over me.

  ***

  It was strange sitting around the Moss’ kitchen table with Wolfe. I knew I’d only known the family a few short days, but I had a bond with L that made me feel closer to al of them, and it was strange to share them with Wolfe. We hadn’t spoken yet about my running off on him, and he wasn’t unpleasant to me. However, I knew that was more for the Moss’ sake than anyone else. We’d been eating for five minutes, and having already exhausted L and I’s rescue of one another from the mountain dogs, Jonas and Wolfe sat discussing hunting techniques while Jnr desperately tried to get in on the conversation, completely enamoured by Wolfe. As he did with everyone, Wolfe had enchanted the Moss family. He took up a lot of room at their table. I forgot how large he was. Thankfuly he had forgone his emerald military jacket. The warm jacket he had been wearing when he appeared with Jonas was hanging up on the Moss’ coat pegs, the fur around the cuffs and colar proclaiming Wolfe’s wealth. His shirt and waistcoat were finely made, his boats, his trousers. He looked powerful and rich, his white-gold hilted sword propped against the wal.

  Just being near him made me feel safe. I thought of L’s words of wisdom in the woods and longed to reach out and brush his hair off his face, stroke his arm, anything to feel the heat and life of him under my fingertips. But he refused to look at me. I watched him talk animatedly with Jonas. From what I’d gathered, Wolfe clearly knew the Moss’. How?

  L stared at me. Her eyes demanded me to question Wolfe about it but I was frightened any conversation might start an argument. She kicked me under the table and I muffled a cry of pain. I glared at her and exhaled, turning to Wolfe.

  “So, Captain, when did you arrive?”

  The sound of my voice made Wolfe tense and he glanced sharply at me. “Apparently a few hours after you and Miss Moss left for the Pool. Sarah and Jonas convinced me you were in safe hands and that it would better if I stayed with them to await your return.” That last word he emphasised with an edge and his eyes suddenly turned dark with pure, undiluted fury. I tensed. I had expected him to be mad, but this… He looked ready to explode. “Jonas told me how L and he found you. Where they found you. With whom. In what state.”

  The breath whooshed out of my body. I hadn’t ever wanted Wolfe to know about the Mountain Man. I looked away and scraped at my plate. “I see.”

  “Rogan…”

  “Later, Wol- Captain.”

  Just as I had not wanted to, Wolfe and I had created tension at the table. I shifted uncomfortably.

  “So, Captain Wolfe,” L suddenly piped up. “How be ye findin’ Rogan?”

  Yes, I thought, glancing over at him. How had he found me at the Moss’?

  Wolfe shrugged. “I’m a Glava as wel, Miss Moss. I have a heightened sense of intuition.” L threw me a look. I had told her about Wolfe being Glava but had not mentioned this ability. I shrugged back at her. I hadn’t known about that ability. I sighed and refused to look at him. Wolfe was powerful. Extremely powerful. He could move things with his mind, cal upon the elements, and he had some psychic talent as wel. I had never heard of the like. Perhaps that’s why he hadn’t trusted me enough to tel me. I chanced a glower at him but Wolfe caught it. The glare he threw back said

  “Don’t be mad at me for not trusting you. You who didn’t trust me and got yourself almost raped in the Alvernian Mountains.” I grimaced and turned from him. L threw me a sympathetic smirk.

  Chapter Twenty Eight

  The sun bit into the morning chil and I breathed in the crispness of a summer morning in the Alvernian Mountains, feeling far more exuberant than I had in weeks. I had the plant, I was no longer alone, and I was heading back to Silvera to save Haydyn.

  Sarah, Jonas and Jnr stood on the porch of their home while L helped me on with my pack. I could feel Wolfe waiting impatiently behind me at the end of the garden path, having already thanked the Moss’ for their hospitality and made his goodbyes. Jnr was not amused to see Wolfe’s sudden departure and was blaming me. He refused to say goodbye to me.

  “Right,” L said briskly, handing over the hunting knife.

  I shook my head. “I can’t take anything more from you.” I was already wearing her clothes and carrying their food. They had so little, and yet they gave so generously.

  L gave me one of her characteristic scowls. “Ye be refusin’ to let me escort ye down the mountain, so ye be takin’ the damn knife.” I hid my smile. Last night, L had made quite a stink when I told her she was staying with her family, that I would be alright now that I had Wolfe with me. She’d given Wolfe, in his fine clothing, with his nice hair and skin, a dubious look. Wolfe had good-naturedly let her pick at his ‘obvious uselessness’ as she caled it. I felt an ache in my chest as L had gone on and on, pretending to be put out. She was worried about me.

  I took the knife and held her gaze. “You and your family must come to Silvera to see me, L. I’l arrange it.” I nodded hopefuly, looking past her to Sarah and Jonas.

  They smiled at the idea so I took that to mean yes.

  “Ye isn’t meaning that,” L sniffed, kicking dirt on the path self-consciously, not looking me in the eyes. “Ye’l go back to yer fancy world and forget al about me and mine.”

  “L.” I grinned, grabbing her arms. “L, you’re just about the most unforgettable person I’ve ever met. And if you don’t come to see me in Silvera, then I’m going to crawl al the way back up this mountain to you.”

  She reddened a little but she looked please. “Wel no need to be gettin’ al melodramatic on me,” she drawled, waving me off.

  I laughed, feeling that pang again. I felt as if I’d known her forever, and I was sorry to leave her and her family up here in these forsaken hils. I’d be back for them though. I was going to make sure they never had to worry about anything again. Ignoring L’s gruffness I tugged her into a hug and was surprised by how tight she held me. After a moment she patted me on the back and puled away. Both our eyes were bright.

  “Ye be careful,” she warned and then peered around me to Wolfe. She threw him her famous scowl. “Ye be watchin’ o’er this one, Captain Wolfe.”

  “I promise, Miss Moss.”

  “Miss Moss,” L muttered under her breath and then threw me a look. “Ye ever heard the likes.” Stil muttering under her breath like an old woman, L turned on her heel to join her family on the porch. Wolfe and I waved one last time and then I walked away with him in a mixture of reluctance and anticipation.

  We’d been walking an hour and stil Wolfe hadn’t said a word to me. The tension between us was thick and uncomfortable; even my teeth ached with it. I concentrated on watching where I was going, thankful to Sarah who had healed al my new blisters again. I’d probably have a few by the time we got off the mountains but maybe not so many. My feet were already feeling harder and stronger. That morning as I’d puled on L’s trousers and shirt, I realised how much weight I’d lost since I’d left Silvera. My calves and thighs had slimmed with muscle, my stomach flatter from eating sparingly and walking the hils. Stil, despite our similar heights, L

  was wiry and I was stil curvy; she wore her trousers tight, and on me they were indecent. I’d forgotten al about propriety up in the mountains without anyone from home to see me. But now that Wolfe was around, I was suddenly painfuly aware of how revealing these clothes were. I had put my borrowed coat on over the top of the trousers and shirt before Wolfe had seen them. I wouldn’t be removing it.

  The silence continued between us, Wolfe keeping a careful distance, enough for me to know he wasn’t speaking with me, b
ut not enough so he couldn’t keep an eye on me. I kept waiting for his explosion of indignation and anger, and when it didn’t come I was strangely hurt.

  The tension only grew thicker as the afternoon wore on and we found ourselves at the outskirts of Shadow Hil. Before I could warn Wolfe, he turned to me with a finger to his lips, hushing me. He knew about Shadow Hil. Either the Moss’ had warned him, or he may have already met Brint in Hope o’Hil and Brint had warned him. We moved on the outskirts of the town with stealth and quiet, the voices in the distance making my heart pound. I grew unbearably warm under my coat. It was with a sigh of relief when we made it past the Hil without incident, and carried on at a quicker pace down the mountain. Again, we were making good time at this speed.

  An hour or so later I heard the trickle of the stream in the distance and something about the wood seemed familiar. I shivered. We were close to where I’d been taken by the Mountain Man. Without explaining, I picked up my feet, almost running to get away from the spot, my skin crawling, my neck prickling. I felt as if his shadow was watching me, taunting me. I shuddered in revulsion and began to run. The sounds of Wolfe’s running footsteps grew louder and closer, but I couldn’t stop.

  Abruptly, I was forced to a halt, Wolfe’s hand catching my arm and dragging me around to face him. His features were fierce with anger, the golden striations in his blue eyes prominent with passion. “What the hel were you thinking?!” He yeled, not caring if his voice carried now that we were miles from Shadow Hil.

  I struggled to get out of his grip. “I just felt like running.”

  “Not that Rogan,” he bit out, his jaw clenched. He looked close to violence. I struggled harder to get away from him, but he only puled me closer. “I’m talking about you running off from Arrana, alone without an escort; about lying to me and making a fool of me; of nearly getting yourself raped and kiled!” Like always his overbearing attitude caused my knee jerk reaction – to dispute him. “Nearly. Nearly, alright. I managed wel enough without you, Wolfe.”

 
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