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       Slumber, p.6

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 

  “Donal is from coal mining country in the north east of Sabithia,” the Lieutenant grinned. “Quiet, reserved people. He moved to Laerth to live with cousins, start a new life in farming. He wasn’t prepared, I don’t think, for the overwhelming attentions of my sister.” I laughed as he described her outrageous tactics to get Donal.

  “She succeeded though?” I asked laughing, not nearly as uncomfortable as I had been.

  Lieutenant Chaeron snorted. “Kirsta had him wed in under two months. They’ve been married three years now, and have two children; more to come I suspect.” His was a warm sounding family, what I’d always imagined my own would have been like, had we been given the chance to grow with one another. I swalowed my numbed grief and encouraged him to tel me more about his own wife and children.

  As night fel we crossed first the River Silvera, and a while later, the River Sabith, and as we passed through smal woods we saw lights twinkling in the distance between the trees. Coming out of the woods, I swatted at another insect that had decided my skin was a tasty treat. Not even twenty four hours in and already I was feeling the irritation of traveling.

  “Sabith Town.” Wolfe stopped his horse, turning to us as he pointed at the large town in the distance. “We’l rest here for the night.” I swear I almost swooned in relief. And I was not a swooner. I grinned at the Lieutenant, and with renewed energy the Guard loped into a canter, the men and the cart stil trailing behind us in the woods. I was assured they would catch up, however.

  Seeming to know the town, Wolfe took us straight to a large inn on the outskirts of it. I was thankful that we wouldn’t be trotting our way through the quiet streets at this time, waking everyone from their beds.

  The inn keeper, a tal, stout woman with arms like roling pins, came swaggering out to us, and I raised my brow at her manners. Then I smiled. Her robust confidence reminded me of Cook.

  “Wel, what a fine sight!” She caled heartily, as Wolfe dismounted. They shook hands and it became clear to me that she and Wolfe were already acquainted.

  “You bring me much business, Captain Wolfe.” She nodded to us al, her eyes landing on me. She dipped me a graceful curtsey at complete odds with her ambling gait. “My Lady!” She caled up to me. I was beginning to realise that this woman never spoke. She barked. “Wel.” She turned to Wolfe. “You’l be needing a room for that fine lass. As for you and your men, wel, I have five rooms free that I’m sure a good few can share. The rest wil need to bunk down in the stables, I’m afraid.”

  “That’s fine,” Wolfe assured her. He spun around to address Lieutenant Chaeron who dismounted. “Lieutenant, I’l ask you to take a room in the inn. See how big the rooms are, see how many of our men can share. I’l bunk in the stables with the rest.” Taken aback by Wolfe’s order, having thought he would’ve been too spoiled to ‘rough’ it with the rest of the men, I forgot myself and began to dismount. I was almost to the ground when I felt a hand on my lower back and was eased to the ground. I knew his scent before I even turned. “I can manage,” I bit out.

  “I know,” Wolfe replied coldly. “But appearances, my Lady, appearances.”

  I made a face and he roled his eyes at me.

  “Child,” he muttered and then took my arm like a gentleman. I tried to tug it away but he held me fast. “Can you behave for one night, Lady Rogan?” he hissed. “I have to show you to your room.”

  “You’re such a fusspot,” I exhaled and alowed him to walk me into the huge inn. I gaped in wonder at the openness of it. To our left was an arched doorway that led into a large eating area and bar. A fire crackled at one end and I shuddered at the thought of its delicious heat. To our right was a narrow halway I guessed led to rooms and before us a massive open stairway that led to the rooms upstairs.

  “Room 11, Captain.” The inn keeper approached us grinning broadly. She thrust the key towards us and Wolfe took it before I could.

  “Thank you, Mags, you’re the best.”

  She blushed at his smile and I groaned inwardly. Dear haven, if a woman like Mags fel for Wolfe’s charm, no woman alive (except me!) was safe.

  “You know I’m sure I can find the room al by myself. I’m a big girl you know.”

  He grunted at that and led me upstairs.

  The room was surprisingly nice. And large. A four poster with clean cotton sheets and woven quilts sat at one end, and lo and behold a lovely fire already lit, flickered briliantly at the other. Very nice. Not that I gave positive commentary in front of Wolfe.

  “I’l have Mags bring you up a meal.” Wolfe strode around the room, peering here and there. What in haven was he looking for? “Everything seems in order.” He marched stiffly back to the doorway.

  “What? No rookery thieves behind the changing screen?” I asked sarcasticaly.

  I was rewarded with a disdainful look. “Just lock the door behind me.”

  I shrugged in answer just to annoy him and as the door was closing in his wake he said, “And stop flirting with my men, my Lady. Some of them are married.” My cheeks flamed in outrage, and without him to bear it, the door took the brunt of my thrown traveling bag.

  Chapter Seven

  Although Wolfe had promised to take it a little easier on us after having hurried us through the first day, he stil kept up what I considered a grueling pace. He was only giving us a fifteen minute break, and although I understood (more than anyone) the importance of getting the plant in good time, I didn’t think we’d get there any faster if we al died from exhaustion. Plus the men were a little befuddled by how quickly we were moving, considering this was supposed to be a casual diplomatic trip.

  I managed to antagonise Wolfe into giving us a half hour break.

  By the third day of our journey we were close to reaching the northern border of Sabithia. The night before we had been given shelter by one of the wealthiest farmers I had ever met. Chaeron told me no one knew how they bred their sheep, or worked the wool, but the Farmer Soel and his family made plenty of money around Phaedra, providing the rich with the finest wool. And as Farmer Soel had welcomed me into his home, I had found his face familiar. Clearly, I had seen him at the marketplace in Silvera. I had been led inside with Lieutenant Chaeron. The rest of the men were either camping outside or in the stables. Wolfe had insisted I be chaperoned, but at the glare I drew him he had immediately suggested Lieutenant Chaeron accompany me while he kept an eye on the men.

  After a wonderful sleep it had been jarring to get back on the horse, but as the hours wore on I realised my aching muscles were growing used to the saddle. Thank haven for smal mercies. The light was fading as we cantered into what Chaeron caled Lumberland. Most of the northern Sabithia was covered in forestation, and the province purchased most of its wood for housing, furniture etcetera from these companies. Wolfe carefuly folowed signs that had been posted to alow travelers to pass through safely, careful not to put us in the path of faling trees and such. By the time we drew clear of the forest and into a clearing where a smal vilage stood, a lumber factory on the outskirts marring its quaint beauty, the day had grown dark as it gave into night.

  People were stil miling around and noise levels rose at our appearance out of the woods. Wolfe held a hand up to us and the Lieutenant stopped; I puled on Midnight’s reins to halt her. We watched quietly as Wolfe approached a tal man who stood with his sleeves roled up, his face dirty and sweaty. At whatever Wolfe said he nodded quickly and disappeared off into the door of the factory. Only minutes later and he was folowed by an equaly tal, strapping man, perhaps in his late fifties, who grinned broadly at the sight of us. He spoke to Wolfe for a moment and then Wolfe brought him over.

  “My Lady. Lieutenant,” Wolfe addressed us quietly. We were al a little tired today. It had been especialy hot. “This is Jac Dena. And this is the vilage of WoodMil. Jac owns the largest lumber company in northern Sabithia.”

  Jac grinned proudly and nodded his head at me, his eyes washing over me, wide and astonished. “Nice to make your acquainta
nce, my Lady.” I nodded my head, unsure what to say. And to be truthful too tired to think.

  “Jac has graciously invited Lady Rogan and Lieutenant Chaeron to stay with him and his family. He’s going to prevail upon the rest of the vilage to give the Guard shelter for the night.”

  “Thank you, Mr Dena,” I acknowledged softly, desperate for some food and sleep. “That’s extremely kind of you.”

  “Oh not at al, not at al, my Lady.” He shook his head, stil grinning. “We are honoured to offer hospitality to the Royal Guard and the Handmaiden of Phaedra.” I glared at Wolfe. Damn him and repeating that stupid nickname. He smirked unrepentantly back at me.

  ***

  Not too much later, I found myself seated beside the Lieutenant at a homely table, in a homely kitchen, with wonderful homely aromas that made my stomach clench in anticipation. Jac’s home wasn’t overly large but it was comfortably furnished, and from the state of things it was clear his family had everything they needed. His wife, a pretty, petite woman who stammered in my presence (bloody Wolfe!) flittered around us like a little butterfly around too many flowers. Jac sat at the head of the table, and after arguing quite profusely, I sat across from his two sons instead of at the other end of the table where Mrs Dena normaly sat. I wasn’t coming into someone else’s home and acting like some kind of overbearing Kralovna. Mrs Dena finaly took a seat and we al began serving ourselves. I became uncomfortably aware of the Dena’s two sons’ staring. My cheeks flushed under the scrutiny. The eldest, Jac Jnr, looked to be my age, the youngest, Leon, perhaps Haydyn’s. I had never before been the target of such open attention and I squirmed in my seat. From the corner of my eye I saw Chaeron grip his knife a little too tightly.

  Thankfuly, Jac began asking questions about Silvera and I tried my best to answer them graciously and articulately. After al they had opened their home to strangers and I was more than thankful to be off my horse for a while. I’m sure Midnight was equaly thankful.

  “By gee…” Leon suddenly exhaled, sitting back in his chair, his dark eyes fixated on me. I stopped with my fork halfway to my mouth, my eyes wide with surprise.

  The boy looked as if he was picturing me naked. I flushed harder. “You are the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. And that’s including Shera. Shera’s the prettiest girl in WoodMil, but she isn’t as pretty as you.”

  “Leon, don’t-”

  But Jac snr’s reprimand was cut off by Jac Jnr, who slapped his brother across the head. “Don’t be speaking to royalty like that, Leon. And don’t be speaking about Shera at al. I told you to stay away from my girl.”

  “She’s not your girl!” Leon yeled, going purple with anger very quickly. I unconsciously slid towards the Lieutenant as the boys argument grew wilder, none of the two listening as their parents demanded them to stop. I flinched as the discussion became aggressive in light of some personal revelations.

  “What do you mean you kissed her?!” Jac Jnr belowed. He dove onto his brother, the two crashing to ground. I jerked back from the table at fists meeting flesh, images of Kir on the muddy ground, a giant soldier towering over him in the dark. I stumbled away from the fight, feeling hot shivers cascade across my skin. Seeing my reaction, the Lieutenant strode across the room, shoving Jac snr, who was very little use considering his size, out of the way. He grabbed the two boys as if they weighed nothing and shoved them apart with little effort.

  “Enough!” He shouted at the two and then glared at Jac Dena. “I suggest you discipline them.” Jac nodded, his face red with embarrassment. “I am so sorry, Lieutenant. I’ve never been so ashamed in my life.” He grabbed his sons, growling at them as they disappeared from the room. I looked at Mrs Dena who looked so confused and alarmed by her sons’ behaviour that I immediately began to draw from her panic.

  My eyes clashed with Lieutenant Chaeron. A silent message passed between us. This was it. The Dyzvati magic was beginning to fail in Sabithia. People who were inclined towards temper would no longer be affected and soothed by Haydyn’s evocation. They would react as they would do naturaly, without thought, only with the heat of anger no longer tamed by my friend and her magic. It never even crossed my mind that it might be natural for brothers, close in age, to fight so. To Phaedrians, under the Dyzvati spel for so long, natural was to curb any instincts that may disrupt the peace, despite any inward feelings of anger, passion or violence.

  That night, Chaeron insisted on sleeping on a palet in the room the Dena’s gave me. I didn’t question it.

  Chapter Eight

  Wolfe was visibly upset when Chaeron told him what had happened the next morning as we readied to leave. He glanced around to make sure none of the men were listening nearby and then looked at me sharply, penetratingly. I took a step back under his gaze. “Are you alright?” He asked tightly.

  I nodded, perturbed by his seeming concern.

  Wolfe looked at me a moment too long, his eyes teling me he was worried by the news. Instinctively I wanted to reassure him somehow.

  And then I remembered who he was and turned my back on him to mount Midnight.

  ***

  It rained in Raphizya. Not light showery rain to ease our hot skins. Hard, pelting rain that fel down on us in large drops, furious at having been dominated by the sun for so long. My cloak was soaked to my dress like a second skin, making movement on the horse difficult. Not to mention I had to keep puling my cloak closed, my muslin dress leaving little to the imagination as it plastered my body. We stopped at an inn that night and I stood naked by the fire for so long the backs of my legs were blotched red. I didn’t care. I was blissfuly warm.

  The next day the sun was back out but not so hot, and we gathered ourselves together again for a milder, more comfortable journey. I winced at a chorus of sneezing from the men behind me and prayed that none of them were very il.

  When Wolfe stopped us for lunch it was in a wide open field. In the distance we saw cows and sheep in neighbouring farm lands. The grass was as green as green could be, as green as a master painter’s imagination, and a single, beautiful wilow tree attracted the men as they dismounted. Some gathered around the tree, talking and laughing as they sipped thirstily from their water canteens and munched on bread we had bought from the people of WoodMil. I fed Midnight an apple and then left her to graze by the men, needing a moment of peace from them. I didn’t wander far, just enough so that their voices were bels on the wind. Wolfe sat laughing with Chaeron and a few others, munching on some oatcakes. I shrugged off an uncomfortable feeling that had begun to grow on this trip with Wolfe. Like I had misjudged him somehow, unfairly blamed him for his father’s deeds. So far he had proved himself strong and fair. His men loved him and obeyed him, trusted him, despite his young age. Surely that told me a little something of his character. I winced and thought of my parents, mentaly slapping myself for my soft musings. If I felt this strongly, this hateful towards Syracen for what he done, surely Wolfe felt the same way about me and my exposure of Syracen. Frowning, I puled my gaze away from him and grew interested in two of the men training off to the side. They parried and thrust at one another with their swords; easy, fluid, strong. My heart skipped a little as a sudden interesting idea took hold. I lifted up my skirts and strode towards them.

  “Officer Stark, isn’t it?” I enquired softly as I came upon them. “And Officer Reith?” They seemed surprised that I knew them by name but I had an excelent memory.

  “My Lady.” They both offered little bows, their eyes stil wide on me.

  “Please.” I held my hands up. “It’s Rogan. Or,” I noted their appaled looks, “Miss Rogan, if you must. But I’m not Lady anything.”

  “Miss Rogan,” Officer Stark cleared his throat, “How can we assist you?”

  I smiled at them. Now, I couldn’t flirt. I was terrible at it, but I had learned from Haydyn that a soft smile went a long way. And she was right. They seemed to puff up their chests under my feminine attention. “I was watching you train, you’re both very good.”
They flushed and began murmuring ‘thank you’s’. I calculated their heights with the happy realisation they were the perfect men to ask of this. Not too tal, nor too broad.

  “I wonder if you might teach me how to use a sword.”

  Reith’s jaw dropped before he remembered himself and straightened, clearing his expression. “A sword, Miss Rogan?” I offered him an even bigger smile for caling me Miss Rogan. “Yes. Nothing too difficult of course, but I do think with us traveling into Alvernia that it may be of use to me to know how to defend myself a little.”

  The men shared a look. I breathed relief. They weren’t too shocked by the idea. In fact Officer Stark nodded determinedly. “You might be right there, Miss Rogan.

  Shal we show you first how to grip the sword?”

  I grinned excitedly, unable to believe they had acquiesced so easily. I was so used to being treated like Haydyn; like I was a piece of precious glass that would shatter at the slightest touch. Reith, being the shortest of the two, circled me a little uncertainly and then came up behind me, his arms going around me to show me how to hold the sword. So engrossed in their teachings, laughing with them as I thrust the sword like a limp noodle, I didn’t hear his approach until…

  “What the bloody hel is going on?”

  Reith jumped away from me as if I was poisonous, his face flushing as he looked at the person behind me. Wolfe.

  I turned around. “We wer-”

  “I wasn’t asking you,” Wolfe snapped, glaring at me, at the men. “Officer Stark?”

  Officer Stark coughed, shifting uncomfortably. “Miss Rogan asked us to show her some basic sword training, Captain. We didn’t see any harm in it.”

 
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