Slumber Page 13

“Not all of them.” I shook my head.

“My Lady, crime rate is rising. There is no way I’m taking the Handmaiden of Phaedra across our land without an army.”

“Stop calling me the Handmaiden of Phaedra.”

He shrugged. “Just being respectful.”

“I’d believe that if you didn’t add this mocking tone to the title every time you say it,” I huffed, and realised we were being childish. “Fine. Twenty men.”

“A hundred.”

A hundred men! Talk about conspicuous. I gave him a look that told him I thought it was ridiculous.

Wolfe snarled, “Fine, fifty.”

I opened my mouth to argue and Jarvis held up a hand. “You will take fifty men with you, Rogan. That’s an order from the Rada.”

I grimaced but deferred to his wishes with a brittle nod. “Alright, so how long will it take us?”

Wolfe shook his head. “Difficult to say. Depending on weather and any other unforeseen circumstances I would say anything between three to six weeks. What will I tell my men?” He queried Jarvis.

“I assume you can trust Lieutenant Chaeron with the truth. Otherwise, just what Rogan outlaid. This is merely a diplomatic trip on behalf of the Princezna. If trouble brews and you must tell your men then you must, but otherwise keep it between you, Rogan and Chaeron. May I suggest you leave Second Lieutenant Worth back at the Palace, just in case you and Rogan don’t make it back in time before trouble arrives here?” Jarvis shuddered at the thought of crime in Sabithia, as did we all as we shared anxious looks.

“Of course.” Wolfe stood, projecting strength and capability. They all looked to him as if he would take care of everything. I hated him for that. “I’ll see to my men.”

“I’ll see to Haydyn’s quiet removal from the Palace,” Ava said, standing unsteadily to her feet. “Lord Matai, will you find Seamstress Rowan, explain everything. She will need to pack a few things. Raj, Valena, Lord Jarvis, we need to get the Princezna out of the Palace.” She turned to me and, taking me by surprise, she drew me into a soft hug. I stiffened at the touch. No one but Haydyn and Valena ever hugged me. “Good luck, Rogan. I know you can do this. We shall see you in a few weeks’ time.”

I nodded, pulling back, trying not to choke on my tears. “I better gather my things together.” I strode to Valena and drew her into a tight hug, and she bent down to soak her tears on my shoulder. “You take care of her. And yourself.”

“Be careful, Rogan.” Valena pulled back, brushing at her tears. “Please.”

I promised I would and marched from the room, only now feeling what Haydyn must feel every day.

The weight of an entire world on my shoulders.

And now, like her, I would have given anything to ask someone else to help me carry my burden.

Chapter Six

Haydyn lay before me on her bed, peaceful and pale, her eyelids not even twitching to assure me she was dreaming somewhere inside herself. My throat felt so tight, so sore, and I gripped the bed post lest I reach forward to shake her as I wanted to; to shake her awake and scold her for terrifying the living daylights out of me. Her chest rose gently, slowly, and I let go of the breath I was holding.

“You’re going to be alright,” I whispered, bending down to brush a kiss across her forehead. I knew every feature, every freckle of her as well as I knew myself. I choked back a frightened sob and pulled away from her. “I promise.”

***

I strode out into the courtyard where the Guard were busying themselves with their horses and the cart that would travel with us with supplies. I tugged on my leather riding gloves, my cloak billowing at my back as wind rushed in from the east. My heart thudded rapidly in my chest, my whole face tight with tension. I willed my expression to relax into a soft smile when I realised Jarek was watching me carefully as I approached him and Midnight.

“Thank you, Jarek,” I acknowledged, taking Midnight’s reins and stroking my mare’s glossy blue-black coat. Midnight nickered and bounced her head towards me in hello.

“So.” Jarek eyed me sceptically. “A diplomatic trip on behalf of the Princezna?”

Not meeting his eyes, I nodded as I continued to stroke Midnight. “Yes. Haydyn’s interested in improving relations with the Alvernians.”

“It’s such a hastily put together outing.” Jarek shook his head. “My boys nearly broke their backs getting the horses ready under Wolfe’s command. Usually a trip such as this would take a week of preparation at least.”

I shuddered, hating to lie to an old friend. Instead I opted to trust him with a little of the truth. I looked into his eyes and he froze instantly at the seriousness of my gaze. “Alvernia is worsening,” I told him quietly, glancing around to make sure no one else was listening. “I’m going with Captain Stovia to discern the situation for myself and see what can be done. Speak of this to no one, Jarek, but Haydyn may consider a betrothal to Vojvoda Andrei’s son.”

Jarek’s eyes widened. “Are things really that bad?”

I nodded.

He sighed wearily, shaking his head at the news. “I swear, I’ll tell no one, Rogan. It would cause unnecessary panic.”

Smiling at his understanding, I took his hand. “Thank you, Jarek. Haydyn will be staying at her cottage in Land’s End while I’m gone. The news has troubled her and I think it would do her good to get away from palace life.”

Jarek squeezed my hand. “And what of you, Rogan? You’re to bear the burden of travelling and worrying and making the decisions? It hardly seems fair.”

I felt warmed by his concern and gave him a soft look. “I make no decisions. I merely offer an opinion. Which we all know I do often, and well, on many subjects,” I teased.

“I will miss you while you’re gone.” He raised my hand and kissed it softly, his eyes twinkling as they captured mine. Such a charmer, I shivered. I knew deep down that as soon as I was gone Jarek would be flirting with the next prettiest maid that came along. But there was comfort and ease in being with Jarek, in being in Silvera, and to leave him was to leave the city and all the security I had known since I was blown adrift from my family so many years ago. I felt a sudden panic at having to leave and abruptly pulled my hand from his.

“I won’t be long, Jarek,” I replied and let him help me into the saddle. “Take care of everyone.”

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