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       Slumber, p.8

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 

  “No.” Kril shook his head. “I would never force you. I just want your help.”

  “I can’t help you, my Lord. My duty is not to you. I work only for her Highness. Now please leave.” I watched the light dim in his eyes, his face growing instantly haggard. “Of course, my Lady. I shal leave you in peace. I apologise for my untoward behaviour. I overstepped.”

  He left quietly, the door closing behind him. Futile though it was, I turned the lock.

  I sighed wearily. I would never sleep now. Instead I hurried to the dressing table and rummaged through the drawers until I found stationery. I dipped my pen in ink and quickly began my letter…

  Dear Ariana,

  You do not know me. I am Rogan of Vasterya, Princezna Haydyn’s Handmaiden and one of the Azyl. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the hospitality of Grof Krill Rada of Raphizya whom I am told you are acquainted with. I write to you on behalf of a desperate man who tells me he loves you. I have not informed him where you are, although the Grof did command me to seek you, so if he lies and yours was not a relationship of mutual love then fear not, he will not find you. Did you know the Grof had no inkling of his aunt’s blackmail until after your disappearance? Did you know his aunt is dead thus freeing your dear friend from any consequences of her blackmail? Grof Krill desperately seeks you, Ariana. He has been looking for three years. I doubt he will ever give up. He loves you.

  If you love him… please return to him.

  Yours Sincerely

  Rogan

  I sighed and folded the letter into an envelope, addressing it to Ariana. I snorted at my own foolishness. The girl would probably think the letter a hoax. I shrugged and puled on a dressing gown. Stil, it was the only thing I could think to do for him without putting al my trust in his sincerity. I hurried from the room, my candle flickering shadows across the wals as I made my way through the mansion and out into the cold stable yard. I shivered and rushed to the stables, coming across a man on guard whose hand immediately leapt to the hilt of his sword, before jolting in shock, in recognition.

  “My Lady,” the officer whispered, rushing toward me. “What are you doing out here? Are you wel?” I nodded, my teeth chattering together. “Here.” I thrust the envelope at him. “You must find a messenger immediately and have this delivered in Javinia.” I handed over the coins to pay the messenger with.

  Like a good soldier, he nodded unquestioningly. “Of course, my Lady. But please, I insist you return inside.” I smiled. “I have every intention of doing so.” And without another word, I hurried back toward the mansion, that deep, buried, romantic part of me hoping my letter reached Ariana.

  Chapter Nine

  I didn’t think I had ever been so tired. The mistrustful side of me couldn’t sleep and I had sat frigidly up in bed until sunlight started to spil through the cracks in the curtains of the guest suite. By the time the maids arrived to help me dress I was already washed, a clean simple riding dress adorned, my hair back in its conservative plait. I knew they were shocked by my ‘unladylike’ behaviour – a lady who took care of herself, haven forbid - and I imagined I’d be a prime bit of gossip amongst the servants of Grof Kril’s home when I left. But by that point I was so numb with exhaustion I couldn’t realy give a damn.

  The Grof was not at breakfast and the butler informed me Wolfe had already eaten and was preparing his men in the stables. I scoffed down some toast and black coffee hoping it might wake me up. Al it did was make me jittery. Knowing Grof Kril would not be seeing me off after last night’s embarrassing – and alright, cold –

  encounter with me, I made my way outside to find the Guard waiting for me. I felt annoyed that no one had come for me sooner; I hated being the one to keep everyone waiting, like I was that woman. Tiredness made me grumpier and I huffed in annoyance as Lieutenant Chaeron helped me mount Midnight with a cheery, “Good morning.”

  “Lady Rogan.” Wolfe urged his horse towards me from the front of our cavalcade. He nodded a dismissal at the Lieutenant who left my side to mount his own horse, Snowstorm, whom he sidled away from us, giving us some privacy. I frowned against the morning sun, wishing suddenly I was more inclined to wearing bonnets, but they annoyed me. I liked to be aware of my surroundings, and bonnets cut off too much of my peripheral vision.

  “Captain Stovia,” I mumbled, hoping I wasn’t in for some kind of lecture. This could end in a screaming match. A weary one, but I’d give it my best effort.

  His blue eyes were pale as the sun shone off them, pale and concerned as they checked me over, as if searching for injury. “Are you alright, Lady Rogan? After last evening, I mean?” He twisted his mouth in consternation as we both remembered Kril’s appaling behaviour.

  I nodded sardonicaly, suppressing a yawn. “Yes, Captain, I am fine. Grof Kril explained his unseemly behaviour last night and apologised.” Wolfe stiffened at the news, his eyes narrowing. “Oh he did, did he? And what exactly did he tel you?” I shrugged. “He was trying to ingratiate himself to me. He wanted to use my magic to find someone.”

  “That piece of…” Wolfe spat, turning around in the saddle to glare bloody murder at Kril’s mansion. For a moment he looked ready to dismount and head inside. I roled my eyes, yawning whilst he was turned away. The man realy took his duties too seriously.

  “Never mind,” I assured him and he snapped back to face me, anger stil etching his features. “I assure you I knew from the start that he was up to something, Captain. I’m not the sort of woman men make fools of themselves over.”

  I grew uncomfortable as Wolfe stared at me, seeming to digest what I had said. And then he snorted and gathered his reins. “And yet so many of them do.” Too tired to question that cryptic comment as he rode off to take the lead, I merely acknowledged Lieutenant Chaeron with a tremulous smile and we took off riding side by side, the Guard at our backs.

  I barely remember leaving Peza, my mental state had practicaly shut down and my body was slowly folowing it. Everything was a blur as I fought to keep my eyes open, my body tense so it didn’t fal asleep. But as the city disappeared behind us and the land grew quieter, passing many farms off the beaten track, my body grew happy for the peace, and thus began to give in to its need for respite. I began to feel a little nauseated with the exhaustion and fought to keep my head up. We couldn’t waste any more time after stopping off at Peza. Every time my eyes slid shut for brief moments, Haydyn’s smiling, beautiful, serene face danced across the blackness of my lids, and sparks of aching pain shot out of my heart and across my chest. I snapped my eyes open and gripped the reins harder, determined to go as fast as Wolfe was leading.

  My body was in total disagreement. Perhaps three, maybe four hours into our journey al I was aware of was the heat of the sun burning through my dress, the distant sounds of the clip clopping of horses hooves, murmured chatter that resembled insects buzzing around my head. The sounds didn’t make sense.

  And then I was lying outside in the grass by the cliffs in Sabithia. It was a hot summer day and my mind lazily began to drift into slumber.

  “Miss Rogan,” I heard a voice cal in the distance. My eyes popped open at the happy sound and I stood up leisurely. I gazed behind me to see Haydyn approach, and was shocked to see her al alone. She was barefoot like me, her toes dipping deliciously into the cool grass at our feet.

  “Your Highness.” I teased back. “I missed you,” I said as she took my hand.

  “I missed you too.”

  We grinned at one another and then turned to stare out at the calm sea from the cliff edge.

  “That water looks wonderful,” I whispered.

  Haydyn squeezed my hand excitedly. “You know today it looks calm enough to swim in.”

  I shook my head. “We’re too high up.”

  She chuckled. “Be adventurous, Rogan.”

  Frowning I took a step closer to the edge, the drop at least fifty feet, probably more. “It’l kil us.”

  “Not today.” Haydyn shook her head. “Trust me
.”

  Heart pounding at the thought, I gripped her hand tighter. “Together? On three?”

  She laughed, exhilarated. “One. Two. Three!”

  “Miss Rogan!”

  And then I was faling.

  Blissfuly faling.

  ***

  I didn’t want to peel my eyelids open. Everything ached; that sore, yucky - even my muscles were tired - kind of achy exhaustion. I felt strange and disorientated.

  Where was I? I slowly opened my eyes and found myself staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling. It was dark, night time. Only a few candles around the room lit it enough for my heart to start pounding at its strangeness. Where the hel was I?

  “Ah, Miss Rogan, you’re awake.”

  Calming instantly at Lieutenant Chaeron’s voice, I turned my head on the soft pilow and found him sitting in a chair by my bedside. His brow creased with worry as he leaned over me, offering me a glass of water. He helped me sip it and then settled back in the chair.

  “What happened?” I asked hoarsely. “Where are we?”

  He made a clucking sound with his tongue, a little disapproval marring his usualy friendly expression. “You should have told us how exhausted you were. You could have been kiled.”

  Alright, now I was very confused. Al I could remember was talking to Wolfe earlier outside Grof Kril’s mansion. “What happened?”

  “You fel asleep on your horse.” He sighed like a wearied parent. “If I had jumped off my horse one second later you would have landed on the ground, possibly have been trampled.”

  I swore softly at the thought, chastising myself for my stupid pride and hel bent determination to get to Alvernia in record time. “You caught me?” He nodded and patted the hand I reached out to him. “We’ve stopped at a nearby farm. We’ve al been resting. We’re going to stay here through the night. Captain is not at al pleased with me or you.”

  I groaned. “I’ve slowed us down.”

  Chaeron patted my hand again. “That’s not why he’s angry. He wishes you had told him you’d had no sleep. He takes your safety very seriously. We al do.” I nodded vaguely, annoyed somewhere inside, but too tired to find it. Feeling my lids start to flutter again, I mumbled, “He needs to find himself a hobby.” Distantly I heard the Lieutenant chuckle, and then he whispered, “Sleep wel, Miss Rogan.” Chapter Ten

  Not a big fan of guilt, I smothered the feeling with anger… directed at Wolfe. The next morning he barely acknowledged me. He was cold, distant with me, and it irritated me more than it should have because generaly I liked his indifference. But his annoyance with me only compounded how stupidly I had behaved, making me feel like the simpering debutante I was so adamant I wasn’t. Lieutenant Chaeron threw me a few bolstering looks and as usual tried to keep up a pleasant conversation with me as we rode through Raphizya. Wolfe was taking things deliberately slower and it smacked of condescension. I huffed in the saddle, wanting to speed up, and poor Midnight faltered a little at my mixed signals. I leaned over to stroke her face, apologising quietly in her ear for taking my impatience out on her. I forced myself to relax in my seat and ignored Chaeron’s knowing grin.

  With my renewed energy it didn’t feel like such a long ride that day. Before I knew it we were crossing the stone bridge across the River Kral, caled so because it was the longest in Phaedra, passing through not only Raphizya but Vasterya as wel. We were closing in on Ryl, the second largest city in Raphizya, famous for being the only city in Phaedra that wasn’t a capital, and also for its factories. Almost as large as Peza, it was home to factories that mass-produced textiles, paintings, pottery and lots of other knick-knacks, designed by the artisans of Peza. The factories sustained much of Raphizya, supplying employment and a large exportation income.

  Knowing the plan was to stay with Matai’s cousins, Mr Zanst and his wife and their two smal children, I wasn’t surprised when Wolfe led us through the outskirts of the city towards the Factory District. Ironicaly, the Factory District wasn’t in fact where the factories were. The Factory District was home to the mansions and large townhouses of the owners of the factories. Mr Zanst owned a large textile factory and was said to be wealthier than his Vikomt cousin, Matai. I had met Mr Zanst and his wife at court before, two of the few people outside the titled nobility who were invited to stay at the palace during the spring and autumn Seasons of Sabithia. They were a nice couple, friendly and open, and a refreshing diversion from the titled nobility and al their manners and ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’.

  When we arrived Mrs Zanst was there to greet us, her husband not yet returned from his office at the factory. Attractive and young, I hid a smile as some of the Guard tried not to stare at Mrs Zanst. They had been deprived of female companionship for longer than some of them were used to and she was a lovely sight. Sighing, I dismounted with Chaeron’s aid and was immediately enveloped in a friendly hug by Mrs Zanst.

  “It’s such a pleasure to see you again, Lady Rogan.” She smiled widely at me as she stood back to take in my appearance. “I must say you’re looking very wel for a young lady who’s been traveling. And without a carriage no less.” She frowned, looking over the Guard.

  I shrugged inelegantly, happy to be around someone who didn’t care if I shrugged inelegantly. “I thought a carriage would be more of a hindrance than a help.” Mrs Zanst didn’t seem to agree but she said no more, clasping my hand in hers as we walked inside, leaving the Guard to their organisation. It would seem there wasn’t enough room in the stables or the mansion for al of them so some would have to venture into the city for accommodation. I roled my eyes as many eagerly volunteered, knowing that the excitement was due more to finding a bed partner than an actual bed.

  “Oh,” I gasped as we stepped into the entrance hal. “Your home is lovely, Mrs Zanst.” And I meant it. Her expression brightened, a little flush of pride cresting her cheeks as we took it in together.

  “Thank you, Lady Rogan. I do try.”

  In al of the homes of the wealthy I had ventured into, the floors of the entrance hal, halways in general, were always white and black marble; or, as at the palace, pure white marble with crystaline sparkling under foot. But Mr and Mrs Zanst had forgone the cold marble aesthetic of the wealthy, and instead had beautiful, wide slatted, light wooden polished floors that reflected the light from the stunning but simplistic chandelier that spiraled down from the ceiling in one trim arm. I stared a moment at it, surprised by its originality. It was like a piece of modern art in itself. Careful not to encumber the light, airy quality they had created, there were no drab oil paintings to be found or heavy tapestries, only pale buttercream wals, one of which was adorned with artwork – an actual mural, depicting a briliantly blurry forest with gorgeous wood nymphs and other charmingly rustic creatures. A few silver mirrors were dotted here and there, wal sconces in the same vein as the chandelier, and flowers of the softest pastels.

  “It’s like a fairytale,” I whispered. “Haydyn would love this.”

  Mrs Zanst blushed even harder. “Do you realy think so?”

  I nodded sincerely, giving her arm a friendly squeeze. “You, Mrs Zanst, have a gift for interior design.”

  “Oh, I’m pleased you think so. Many of the women here,” her voice dropped to a murmur, “Think my taste unfashionable.”

  “To the contrary, your taste is a fashion setter. Wait until we get you back at the palace to decorate Haydyn’s private parlour, Mrs Zanst, then al the ladies wil be after you to design their homes for them.”

  Wide-eyed, she puled me into her equaly quaint and beautiful parlour. “Do you realy think so?”

  ***

  Having inadvertently received a friend for life in the charming Mrs Zanst I felt bad when I tricked her. Desperate for some time alone, to be away from the Guard and the Factory District, which was buzzing with the news of our arrival, I knew I had to make my escape before the neighbours started caling on Mrs Zanst to meet me. Having faked a headache and fatigue from the journey, I was shown to a sp
ectacular guest suite with wonderful views of Ryl. There I hastily wrote a note to Mrs Zanst teling her where I’d gone so she wouldn’t worry, and then threw on a dark cloak, creeping out of the room. I had to hide twice - once in another bedroom and then in the music room on the second floor. I halted at the sound of children squealing and realised the nursery must not be far off. Afraid of being found by an impish child I scurried down the next flight of stairs and then cursed under my breath when I came face to face with the butler.

  “May I help you, my Lady?” She bowed, gracefuly, the talest female butler I had ever encountered.

  I gulped, thinking fast. “I’m going for a walk. Mrs Zanst suggested I folow the Factory District out to the right to get to the city…” She frowned, shaking her head. “That can’t be right, my Lady. Mrs Zanst must have meant for you to take a right and then a left once you reach the entrance to Factory District.”

  I smiled inwardly. “And that just takes me straight into the city?”

  “You can’t miss it, my Lady.”

  “Thank you.”

  And as easily as that I was out the door. I held my breath, almost skipping as I shot out the driveway and through the gates. As I hurried along, I peered towards the back of the house and saw some of the Guard stil organising themselves at the stables. Afraid to be spotted, I took off at a run, no longer caring which of the neighbours saw.

  As the wind rushed into my face, tearing my eyes, my skirts fluttering a hindrance around of my legs, I grinned and pushed harder. It felt wonderful, so freeing.

  Skidding to a stop at the end of the Factory District, I peered over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being folowed. I couldn’t see anyone. I smoothed my skirts down and straightened my cloak and began walking sedately towards the city which caled to me with its noise and smel. There were stil a few hours until night fal, plenty of time to have a look around.

 
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