Slumber Page 10

I threw Matai a mock horrified look. “Lord Matai, may I say now how much I’ve enjoyed knowing you, for I fear it will be the last time I look upon you. Death by boredom.” I winced.

He grinned at me. “I’m sure I’ll survive.”

“Well you don’t have to sound so put upon,” Haydyn sniffed.

I laughed, thinking about her well known generosity. “And just where are all these gifts going? We didn’t bring a cart?”

“I’ll borrow one. Or buy one. I am the Princezna.”

I almost rolled my eyes. She asserts her authority when shopping. Wonderful.

“Well, don’t let me keep you. Off I go. Shan’t be long.” I moved as fast as I could away from them and into the crowds before Haydyn demanded I take an escort.

I breathed deeply of the thick smells of the market. It was a strange mixture of pungent sheep’s wool, beats, chocolate, oil, sweet meats, bread, perfume, paint… oh it was a fragrance of all the variety of the market. Usually, I hated the crowds, preferring my escape to be down at the cliffs some miles from the palace. I loved the peace and quiet of watching the surf of the Silver Sea crash against the cliff walls. For some reason it reminded me I was alive. But never alone. No. There was always a guard with me some way in the distance. Today, as I swept past people, some who recognised me, some who didn’t – calling out to me to buy their wares, desperate for what they assumed was a noblewoman to purchase something expensive from them – I loved the market in that moment. Because I was alone. All alone. Free.

I was quick on my feet, dodging persistent sellers, and hopefully any of the Guard who may have followed me. In no time at all I found the stall with the fabric that called to my magic. I saw it right away. Velvet, the colour of lapis lazuli, made from the finest silk in the textile factories in Ryl. Haydyn would look wonderful in it. I reached out to stroke the beautiful fabric when a hand clamped around my wrist.

“No, no, miss.” I looked up into the ruddy face of the market seller. “Not the right colour for you, miss. Come see some of my silks.” He tried to pull me towards the more expensive material. I tugged at his grip but he was determined.

I grew irritated by his persistence. “Sir-”

“With a face and figure like yours, you shouldn’t hide behind the heavy textures. Fine silks, miss, fine silks for you.”

I tugged again. Oh yes. This was why I hated the marketplace.

A large hand came down on top of the sellers, ripping it from my own and holding it tight. Both the seller and I looked up into the intimidating and angry face of Wolfe Stovia.

“You dare to lay your hands on the Princezna’s Handmaiden?” Wolfe growled at the man.

The seller blanched as he looked at me, recognition finally dawning. “Oh my Lady, I meant no disrespect.”

Wolfe grunted and shoved the man away a little. “Lady or servant, I see you trying to forcefully coerce a woman again and you and I will have words.”

I’d never seen anyone look so ill, so green. “Apologies, my Lord. I was over excited. It won’t happen again. Apologies, my Lady.” His head bobbed up and down at me.

Oh for havens sake. “I’m not a lady,” I snapped, furious at Wolfe for drawing attention to the situation and blowing it out of proportion. The overbearing lout. I glared at him. “You, sir, are a bully.”

Wolfe merely frowned at me. “And you, girl, are the Handmaiden of Phaedra and as such a lady. You are not to allow strange men to touch you.”

I curled my lip disdainfully. “I’ll allow a mountain man of Alvernia to touch me before I take advice from you, Stovia.” Dismissing him, agitated by his presence, his ruination of my pretence at freedom, I turned back to the seller. “I want three bolts of the lapis lazuli velvet and one bolt of the emerald silk chiffon.” I relaxed a little at having completed my task for Haydyn, but then my body hummed with energy again and I turned without thinking toward a stall some quarter of the way back into the middle of the market. The fabric that would suit me most was in there somewhere. Damn Haydyn. Damn being an Azyl.

I spun back on the seller. “Have the fabric delivered to the palace and ask for Seamstress Rowan. You’ll be paid well for your troubles.”

He nodded, doing this obscene half bow/curtsey thing that made me throw a growl in Wolfe’s direction. Turning sharply from them both to make my way to the fabric stall my magic was called to, I drew in a breath at the pleasant sandalwood scent of Wolfe as he fell into step beside me.

I stopped abruptly. “What are you doing?” I snapped.

Wolfe shrugged, refusing to look at me, refusing to leave. “Just one of the more unpleasant jobs of being Captain of the Guard. Protecting you.”

Pulling a face, I began walking again. “We are droll aren’t we?”

“Some people think I’m charming.” He grinned flirtatiously and executed a graceful half bow to a passing tavern girl, who eyed him seductively over her bare shoulder.

“Some people don’t know any better.” I huffed and tried to move away from him.

“Ooh is that judgement I hear in the voice of the lady who was flirting with a mere stable boy this morning.”

I gritted my teeth. “Stable Master.”

Wolfe raised one annoying eyebrow. “As if that makes it any more palatable. You know he’s bedded every girl in the palace, you’re not special.”

I could feel my blood boiling under my skin, as it did whenever I was forced to be in the same presence as this man. I tried to take deep, calming breaths. I did. I really, really did. It didn’t work. “Who I choose to converse with is of no consequence to you, Captain Stovia. And may I remind you to whom you are speaking?” So, I was being a little snooty. He deserved it!

He gave me disgusted look. “So there is a snob buried under all that ‘I’m not a lady, I’m not a lady, I’m just like everyone else,’ piffle?” He mocked.

“For one, I don’t talk like that. And two… I am just like everyone else. Except,” I spat, “When it comes to you. You will talk to me like I’m royalty, Captain. As in… don’t speak to me at all!”

The usual cool and collected Wolfe stiffened at my insults, his face taut with anger. Our dislike was definitely, definitely mutual. “If you want to get snooty, Rogan-”

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