Slumber Page 16

People were still milling around and noise levels rose at our appearance out of the woods. Wolfe held a hand up to us and the Lieutenant stopped; I pulled on Midnight’s reins to halt her. We watched quietly as Wolfe approached a tall man who stood with his sleeves rolled 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 followed by an equally tall, 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 all a little tired today. It had been especially hot. “This is Jac Dena. And this is the village of WoodMill. 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 acquaintance, 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 village 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 all, not at all, my Lady.” He shook his head, still 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 normally sat. I wasn’t coming into someone else’s home and acting like some kind of overbearing Kralovna. Mrs Dena finally took a seat and we all 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.

Thankfully, Jac began asking questions about Silvera and I tried my best to answer them graciously and articulately. After all 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 equally 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 WoodMill, 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 all. I told you to stay away from my girl.”

“She’s not your girl!” Leon yelled, 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 bellowed. 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 naturally, 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 spell 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 pallet 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 telling 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 fell 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 pulling 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 blissfully warm.

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