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       Slumber, p.24

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 
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  “Wel enough?! Jonas told me how he found you, Rogan, and he spared me no details!”

  “Wil you stop yeling? Are you trying to get us into bother?” I hissed, glancing around to make sure we were stil alone.

  “Stop trying to wriggle your way out of discussing it.”

  Using al my strength, I tugged out of Wolfe’s grasp, my own face now red with frustration and anger. “Did you ever stop to consider I might not be ready to discuss it?”

  Wolfe’s expression changed instantly. He slumped, his eyes grew anxious. “Rogan…”

  I shook my head.

  He nodded, his lips pinched tight. “Fine. But what about my first question? You ran away, Rogan. From me. You knew I would come after you and as far as you knew I had no way of knowing which way you went. I could have got lost up here, Rogan.” Guilt gnawed at me, and I shook my head in denial. “No. I didn’t… I thought if you did chance into the mountains you would bring an escort; Chaeron, or a few of the men. I didn’t think you would be foolish enough to come al the way into the Mountains after me alone.”

  “You’re lying,” he hissed in my face, causing me to flinch. “You knew I’d come after you, Rogan, you had to have known that.” I clenched my own jaw trying to stop the tears that choked me. Hanging my head, I didn’t say anything in return. Was he right? Had I known Wolfe loved me enough to do that? I knew what kind of man he was. Because of my fear of being alone with him, a fear of my own damn feelings, had I selfishly put him in danger? I didn’t know. I had no response. There was nothing I could say.

  Al this time I’d fretted that his parentage meant perhaps he didn’t deserve me. But realy… I didn’t deserve him.

  “I don’t know what I was thinking. I just knew I had to get this plant. For Haydyn.”

  “And stil she lies,” he whispered bitterly.

  We didn’t speak after that.

  ***

  The journey downhil cut the time in half. By late night Wolfe and I broke out of the trees and into Hil o’ Hope.

  I chanced a glance at Wolfe. “You came through here too?”

  He nodded, not looking at me. “I stayed with a man caled Brint Lokam. He told me he’d sheltered a young woman with him who was looking for the Pool of Phaedra.”

  My mouth fel open. “He knew I was a girl?”

  Wolfe roled his eyes but not directly at me. I harrumphed. I’d so thought my disguise had worked. Had al of Hil o’ Hope known I was a girl? My cheeks flamed with embarrassment. We crossed through the quiet hil, noise, cheer and light spiling out of Hope Tavern. Wolfe didn’t stop. He was heading for the Lokam’s shack. I shook my head in wonder at the thought of Brint. He’d been such a gentleman to me. No wonder he’d seemed so concerned about letting me go into the mountains alone. He knew I was a girl!

  The door to the shack opened before we even reached it and the tal figure of Brint came out. He squinted in the dark, holding up a lantern, and then grinned when he recognised us. “Wel, hulo there.”

  I waved and folowed Wolfe up to the door.

  “Brint.” Wolfe held out his hand to shake. Brint took it heartily, grinning at us both. “Could we perhaps trespass upon your hospitality one more evening, Mr Lokam?”

  “No needin’ to be askin’.” He shook us off gruffly and grinned wider at me as I passed. Brint must have seen the look on my face because he said, “Ye wasn’t thinkin’ ol’ Brint was bein’ fooled by the boy’s outfit o yers? No one was but wee Tera. She be mighty embarrassed when she be told she flirted with a girl.” Wolfe raised an eyebrow questioningly as I blushed but I refused to tel him about the night at Hope Tavern. Not that I was sure he’d appreciate me speaking to him anyway.

  Anna was happy to offer us some food and ale, and they put down blankets by the fire for us to sleep on. Wolfe was so mad at me he slept at the kitchen table.

  ***

  I didn’t think I had ever been happier to be on flat ground in my life. I celebrated my last step off the Alvernian Mountains by rushing into the arms of Lieutenant Chaeron, who, unlike Wolfe, was happy to see me. I ignored Wolfe’s grunt as he strode past us. Chaeron squeezed me hard and I puled back. Half the Guard filed the narrow trade road leading away from the mountains. They al pretended to be indifferent to my clothing and the fact that I was informaly hugging Chaeron, treating him as a friend. But he was a friend. And I was thankful to see him again.

  “Another hour and be damned Wolfe’s orders, I was coming up to get you both. I am delighted to see you are wel, Miss Rogan,” Chaeron smiled wearily at me. It didn’t seem as if he’d slept much since I had left.

  “You too, Chaeron. I got the plant!” I whispered excitedly.

  He smiled in relief and then lifted his gaze to Wolfe, who was taking off the winter coat and replacing it with his emerald jacket. We both watched as he mounted his horse, not looking back at me.

  “He’s not speaking with me,” I told Chaeron forlornly.

  “You frightened him, Miss Rogan. Give him time.”

  I nodded, but I didn’t think even time would fix the situation between Wolfe and I. Chaeron had no idea what I’d gone through up in that mountain. For that to have happened to me, surely made Wolfe sick with impotence. He was a man who believed in protecting others. And I hadn’t let him protect me. I hadn’t trusted him.

  With another woeful look at the man who had so surprisingly complicated my life, I turned and mounted the horse Chaeron had waiting for me.

  “Don’t you wish to remove that coat, Miss Rogan?” Chaeron enquired as he puled up beside me.

  “Don’t you dare.” Wolfe was suddenly in front of us, his eyes blazing. “It’s indecent what you’re wearing, Rogan. You wil not take that off in front of my men.”

  “Indecent?” Chaeron’s brow furrowed.

  “You saw?” I blushed, aghast.

  “At the Moss’.” He nodded. “Before you put the jacket on.” A strange look entered his eyes and I could have sworn a flush rose on the crest of his cheeks. He shifted on his horse and then glared at me. “Keep it on.” And then he headed off, leading the way for me and Chaeron to move through the men (who al nodded their relieved greetings at me) so we were in front of the entourage.

  “Indecent?” Chaeron asked again.

  I shrugged, throwing him a sheepish look. “I’m wearing trousers. They leave little to the imagination.”

  “Ah.” Chaeron shifted his gaze to Wolfe who began to galop off ahead of us. His mouth broke into a wide, knowing grin. “I think you’l be fine, Miss Rogan. You and Wolfe both.”

  It was cold and black as tar outside by the time we entered Arrana and were alowed entrance into the Vojvoda’s home. I stil had the coat on, and after a day of blazing heat in the valey, my clothes were sticking to me. I needed a warm bath, badly.

  As soon as I was inside, Chaeron took care of everything. I was taken to the room I had been given before and I watched impatiently as the servants filed a tin tub with hot water, leaving rose scented soap out for me. After the last maid had laid out one of my dresses for me, I shooed them out and began taking off L’s now dirty clothing. Sinking into the tub was like sinking into my own piece of haven. I breathed a sigh of relief, not realy able to comprehend that I had succeeded in retrieving the plant; that I was off those forsaken mountains. I felt as if I’d spent months up there.

  I broke into hysterical sobs. My chest ached with the harsh racking, my throat closing and unclosing as I struggled to draw breath, tears burning my cheeks as they roled down one after the other as quick as rainfal. I hugged my body, trying to blot out of the memory of the Mountain Man, assuring myself my body was mine, and mine alone, and that he’d never get near me again.

  “My Lady?” a voice asked softly, folowed by a tapping on the door.

  I swiped at my tears and shuddered in air. “I’m fine,” I caled out, my voice quavering. “I’m alright.”

  “Are ye sure, my Lady?”

  “Yes. Thank you.”

  I waited for
the sounds of fading footsteps and then reached for the soap, scrubbing the bar over my body and lathering it into my hair. I couldn’t think about the bad things that had happened to me in Alvernia. I had to think of the good. Like Brint. And L. Especialy L. Had I realy only known her a matter of days? I smiled through my tears, thinking of gruff L who had saved my life and burrowed her way into my much guarded heart. Haydyn would love L. I couldn’t wait for them to meet. I couldn’t wait to repay the Moss’ for al of their help.

  Once I had calmed myself and gotten most of the poisonous memories out of my system for the night, I changed into my dress. It felt strange swishing about my ankles. Encumbering. I frowned at it and kicked out with my legs. I missed trousers. Sighing, I plaited my hair back and frowned at the way the dress lifted from my waist. My clothes no longer fit wel.

  The Vojvoda Andrei Rada and his son the Markiz awaited me with Wolfe in the dark, masculine dining room.

  “There she is,” Vojvoda Andrei caled out, approaching me with a fatherly smile. He took my hands and I found it difficult to smile politely back at him. “Lady Rogan, what a scare you gave us, taking off to tour Alvernia alone.”

  I grimaced at our lie. I grimaced at the way the Vojvoda looked down on me condescendingly, in his gated home and isolated city. Where was he for the people of the Mountains?! Al my anger and frustration over everything that had happened suddenly seethed to the surface. If I’d known this was going to be my reaction at seeing him again I would never have come down for dinner. I struggled to maintain calm.

  “Wel.” He shrugged, seeming nonplussed by my silence. “I’m very glad the good Captain caught up with you to keep you safe. How did you find my rough lands?” I thought of L and her forthright honesty. Of the Moss’ kindness and sincerity. Of Brint Lokam and the people of Hil o’ Hope’s generosity.

  “Like everywhere else in Phaedra, your Grace. Populated with good people and bad people… and poorly governed.” I straightened my shoulders, jutting out my chin defiantly. “If you’l excuse me.”

  And leaving al three of the men with their jaws hanging to the floor, I spun on my heel and left them to it.

  Chapter Twenty Nine

  The days ahead were filed with a mixture of anticipation and a sickening coldness. I barely ate a thing as we galoped through Daeronia, stopping to pick up the two soldiers in the mining vilage, who now greeted us happily, offering us bread and shelter. But we didn’t stay long. If our pace had been grueling before, now it was frantic. I knew the Guard were curious, that they al suspected something more was going on, especialy since they’d seen me come out of the mountains. They wondered what an earth had possessed me to go up them. But I didn’t want to panic anyone, especialy when we were so close to saving Haydyn. I’d rather they’d think I’d gone light in the mind than know the truth. The times I did sleep, I twisted and turned with the nightmares. I dreamt of arriving in Silvera only to find we were too late and Haydyn was gone. I dreamt the Mountain Man was stil alive and chased me into the empty palace, no one there to protect me from his deranged lust. And I dreamt of Wolfe. Always he stood on the Silver Cliffs, his eyes begging me to save him. I’d make a move towards him and feel a tug on my hand. I’d turn to find Haydyn, shaking her head at me, my parents and little brother behind her, mirroring her expression. When I looked back at Wolfe, he’d glare at me, hatred filing his eyes. And then he’d leap, leap right over the cliffs into the crashing water.

  I didn’t need to be a scholar to interpret the dream.

  We reached Caera in record time, not stopping enough to make time for incidents. I was exhausted by the time Vojvodkyna Winter welcomed us into our home.

  Taking in my bedraggled state, she was even kind to me. As she ushered me to the guest suite herself, ordering a bath and food tray for me, I forgot to be jealous of her. I even came to the conclusion, that as before, I may have judged her too harshly.

  *

  The next morning as the maid’s giggled in the halway al my good feelings toward Winter flew out the window. It was easy in a household as large as Winter’s for the gossip to reach my ears. Wolfe had been seen leaving Winter’s bedroom early that morning. I stumbled when I heard the gossip, the pain of that knowledge hitting me in the chest with the force of a sledgehammer. I turned on my heel, no longer hungry for breakfast, or able to stand the sight of Wolfe and Winter together. I could barely draw breath; my whole body ached with the grief. With the betrayal.

  But he wasn’t mine to betray me.

  Sniffling back sily tears, that were best not wasted on him, I drew on my traveling cloak and clutched the pack with the Somna Plant inside. It was time to leave.

  ***

  Chaeron and the others seemed confused. Before Caera, Wolfe had been the one not talking to me. Now every time he passed me an icy blast would burst out of me, my looks so queling they made everyone flinch. Wolfe caught my looks and frowned, his eyes asking Chaeron if he knew what had upset me. With no answer, he grew even more indignant. I imagined the Lieutenant and the Guard were just as exhausted with Wolfe’s attitude, and my own, as much as they were of the journey.

  We crossed into Raphizya, stopping in Ryl to stay with Matai’s cousins again. This time I met Mr Zanst, who welcomed us into his home just as warmly as his wife had. From his dark good looks to his charming stoicism, he reminded me much of Matai… and I longed for home. Mrs Zanst was so worried for me I felt terrible for deceiving her, for having been foolish enough to be kidnapped by the Iavi in Ryl. She asked me if I had been treated badly, and I assured her that Wolfe had come to my rescue and kept me safe.

  After a wonderfuly, civilised and pleasantly refreshing evening with the Zansts (perhaps because Wolfe stayed away), the Guard and I set off for Peza. It rained the entire journey and I wasn’t sure if it was because my body had hardened with its recent experiences, but I escaped the cold that seemed to be sweeping through the Guard. Mayhap because of their position distant from the Guard, Wolfe and Lieutenant Chaeron managed to get by unscathed also. Stil, I was glad to reach Grof Kril Rada’s home. I’d never heard supposedly strapping and capable men complain so much about a little cold.

  I wasn’t the only one happy to see me in Peza. Grof Kril came bounding out of his mansion with Strider, the wolfhound, at his side. Strider seemed to remember me and my generosity at the dinner table and licked my hand when I reached out to pet him. Grof Kril was grinning at me so brightly I was taken aback. We hadn’t exactly left on the best of terms.

  “My Lord.” I bobbed a curtsey.

  “You are a vision, Lady Rogan.” His grin grew even brighter if that was possible. There was no flirtatiousness in his tone, nothing seedy. He seemed genuinely happy to see me.

  I was completely bemused. “Thank you, my Lord.”

  Seeming to catch my confused look, Groff Kril laughed. “Come, I want you to meet someone.” As I took his arm and folowed him inside, forgetting Wolfe and Chaeron at my back, a suspicion grew.

  No. It couldn’t be. Could it?

  The door was swept open by the butler, my heart pounding in my chest, praying my suspicion was correct.

  As soon as we stepped inside I saw her. I broke out into a choked laugh. “Ariana?”

  The pretty young woman came forward at a hurry, her grey eyes brimming with happiness. “Is this her, Kril?”

  “This is she.” He spun me around, gripping me by my upper arms. “How can I ever repay you for writing that letter, Lady Rogan?” Ariana joined us, puling me into a hug, joyful tears filing her eyes as she told me al about receiving the letter; how she couldn’t believe the Handmaiden of Phaedra had written to her; how she so wanted to believe me about Kril’s love for her; how she’d left her life behind and took a chance on what I had confided.

  Grof Kril and Ariana married three days after her arrival in Peza. She was now Grofka Ariana.

  Exhausted and incredibly elated that I’d done one other thing right on this quest of mine, I felt tears wel up in my eyes.

 
; “Lady Rogan, are you alright?” Grof Kril asked anxiously, seeing my dark eyes shine.

  “I’m fine,” I whispered hoarsely. “I’m just delighted for you and… so very tired.”

  “Oh.” Ariana looked aghast. “Here we’ve been monopolising your time when you must be so weary from your journey. How il-mannered of us.”

  “No, no,” I rushed to assure her. “I am so pleased to meet you, Ariana, and I am so happy I had a hand in bringing you and Grof Kril together. It’s just been such a long trip.”

  I was struggling now to keep my tears in check.

  With a perceptiveness that bothered me, Grof Kril straightened his spine in alert. “Nothing untoward has happened to you, Lady Rogan?”

  “No, no. Please… I just need to rest.”

  “Kril, stop pestering the poor girl,” Ariana admonished gently. She took my arm. “Come, I shal show you to your room.” Ariana left me in the suite I’d stayed in my last visit and rang the servants to send for a supper tray. With one last grateful hug, she swept from the room and I flopped down on the bed. I was glad the Grof had gotten his happily ever after. At least someone in my life had.

  The food arrived, and delicious though it was, I barely tasted it as I shoveled it down. I kept seeing Winter at the door to her mansion, waving her handkerchief at Wolfe with that knowing, intimate look in her eyes.

  I slid back on the bed and rested my head against a fluffy gold brocade pilow, wiling the nightmares away tonight. I’d give anything for a restful, dreamless sleep.

  My eyes were just closing when I heard the handle on the door turn, someone entering without knocking. I bolted upright at the impudence, my heart spluttering when the intruder revealed himself. Wolfe. He closed the door behind, turning the key in the lock.

 
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