Slumber Page 14

He nodded, patting the rump of my horse, and stood back as Wolfe cantered into the courtyard from the stables.

Wolfe eyed me gravely. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

I was surprised and annoyed as Wolfe sent Lieutenant Chaeron before us so that Wolfe could ride beside me, the Guard at our backs. Before I could offer suggestion of an alternative travelling formation that involved him being gone from my side, Wolfe cleared his throat, “Vovjoda Jarvis has instructed me that we will have to stop in Peza for the night to visit with Grof Krill Rada, and in Caera to visit with Vojvodkyna Winter Rada.”

Visiting nobility on social calls on a journey to save Haydyn’s life?! Were they insane?! Remembering rumours of an affair between Wolfe and Vojvodkyna Winter a few seasons ago I wondered if Jarvis had actually been the one to come up with those instructions at all. I threw Wolfe a disbelieving look. “That’s ridiculous.”

Wolfe shook his head. “No, it’s not. We can’t expect to travel through the land with fifty of the Royal Guard and not have word reach the Rada that the Handmaiden of Phaedra is on a diplomatic trip to Alvernia. The Rada would be insulted if we didn’t stop in to visit with them. Just be thankful we’re only travelling through Raphizya and Daeronia.”

“Thankful,” I scoffed. “Thankful! It’s your fault for making me bring fifty bloody men with me. We could have gotten through the provinces undetected otherwise.”

“Oh really?” He asked, his eyebrow arched mockingly. I glowered at him. “So if you took off through Phaedra with a couple of men you would retrieve the plant faster, is that right?”

I sniffed. “Exactly.”

“And how would we explain your disappearance at the palace?”

I smirked. “I’m at the cottage with Haydyn.”

Wolfe grunted at my quick response. “Fine. What about the fact that even if you were disguised as a lumberjack people would know you were raised a lady. You’re a target, Rogan; everything about you is, and I doubt even a few men would be able to help you out of the trouble you would get in if I weren’t here supervising you.”

I was stunned by his utter arrogance. My expression must have said as much because he chuckled at having irked me, so much so I was speechless.

“Perhaps I better swap places with Lieutenant Chaeron?”

I wanted to kick him off his horse. “I think that would be wise,” I muttered through gritted teeth.

Very quickly I had the soothing presence of the older Lieutenant Chaeron, who was happy to oblige me with pleasant, easy conversation. We passed slowly through the city as folks dodged out of the way of the massive entourage, not to mention some of the streets narrowed greatly here and there, slowing us even more. I was surprised when Wolfe began leading us toward the Flower District, the wealthy neighbourhood where Matai and Wolfe lived, where all nobility and wealthy business owners had beautiful townhouses. This route lengthened our journey out of the City. I was even more surprised when we drew to a halt outside one the townhouses.

“What’s going on?” I queried Lieutenant Chaeron.

He nodded to Wolfe as the Captain dismounted from his horse. “Captain Stovia wanted to personally inform his mother of his departure. She worries.” He smiled at me as if I would be moved by the familial image he created. Instead I had gone cold inside at the thought of Wolfe and his mother. Of the man missing from their lives. I shuddered and looked away from the house, fighting to keep my composure as images of Syracen flashed through my mind, always followed by my parents’ horrified faces as they died, of my little brother lifeless at my feet.

“Miss Rogan, are you alright?” Lieutenant Chaeron asked softly.

I nodded, throwing him a brittle smile. I liked Chaeron. A few years ago I had asked him to stop calling me my Lady like everyone else. He swapped it for Miss Rogan, and it felt a little easier to swallow.

I was about to speak, to reassure him, when the door to Wolfe’s home reopened and he appeared with a short woman at his side. He turned and kissed her hand and she smiled sadly, worriedly at him. Then she turned and waved at the Guard.

“Safe trip, good men!” She called softly.

“Thank you, my Lady!” Some of the men called back. She smiled prettily, still very attractive for her age, not even a hint of a grey hair in her chestnut tresses. Her eyes travelled over our entourage and then finally found me. Vikomtesa Stovia froze, her lips falling open, looking aghast. She turned to Wolfe and whispered something and he too stiffened, shaking his head and muttering to her. She nodded, seeming to gulp, and then looked back at me. I could have sworn the woman looked scared. Seeming to shake herself, her blue eyes switched from me to Chaeron. “Lieutenant Chaeron, take care of my Wolfe won’t you?”

Lieutenant Chaeron grinned as Wolfe rolled his eyes at his mother before patting her hand and bouncing down the stone steps to mount his horse with an ease and agility that made me envious. “Of course, my Lady!” Chaeron called back.

I looked away sharply, shaken by the Vikomtesa Stovia. Even more so by her reaction to me… as if I was the one to be feared, not them.

***

As soon as we were out of the city, Wolfe pushed us on at a fast pace. When we could we skirted around villages, when we couldn’t we slowed so as not to cause suspicion. I hated those moments, having to wave to the villagers like I was royalty, when in truth I was a farm girl just like many of the Sabithians. Once we were out of the village and onto the main trade roads, Wolfe picked the pace back up and we followed suit. My body began to ache three hours in, my bottom numb in the saddle. I tried not to show my discomfort. We wouldn’t be stopping today as we had gotten a late start. We would be riding on until night fall.

Lieutenant Chaeron seemed to sense my ever growing discomfort and began to talk to me about his family. We shared stories of farm life, how similar the people in Vasterya seemed to those in Sabithia. But not once did I actually ever mention my family, and Chaeron didn’t pry. Everyone knew my sad tale. Everyone knew I didn’t talk about my sad tale. Instead, the Lieutenant made me laugh as he spoke of his younger sister and her comical attempts to catch the man of her dreams in their village in the north west of Sabithia near the stone quarries.

“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.”

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