Slumber Page 17

The next day the sun was back out but not so hot, and we gathered ourselves together again for a milder, more comfortable journey. I winced at a chorus of sneezing from the men behind me and prayed that none of them were very ill.

When Wolfe stopped us for lunch it was in a wide open field. In the distance we saw cows and sheep in neighbouring farm lands. The grass was as green as green could be, as green as a master painter’s imagination, and a single, beautiful willow tree attracted the men as they dismounted. Some gathered around the tree, talking and laughing as they sipped thirstily from their water canteens and munched on bread we had bought from the people of WoodMill. I fed Midnight an apple and then left her to graze by the men, needing a moment of peace from them. I didn’t wander far, just enough so that their voices were bells on the wind. Wolfe sat laughing with Chaeron and a few others, munching on some oatcakes. I shrugged off an uncomfortable feeling that had begun to grow on this trip with Wolfe. Like I had misjudged him somehow, unfairly blamed him for his father’s deeds. So far he had proved himself strong and fair. His men loved him and obeyed him, trusted him, despite his young age. Surely that told me a little something of his character. I winced and thought of my parents, mentally slapping myself for my soft musings. If I felt this strongly, this hateful towards Syracen for what he done, surely Wolfe felt the same way about me and my exposure of Syracen. Frowning, I pulled my gaze away from him and grew interested in two of the men training off to the side. They parried and thrust at one another with their swords; easy, fluid, strong. My heart skipped a little as a sudden interesting idea took hold. I lifted up my skirts and strode towards them.

“Officer Stark, isn’t it?” I enquired softly as I came upon them. “And Officer Reith?” They seemed surprised that I knew them by name but I had an excellent memory.

“My Lady.” They both offered little bows, their eyes still wide on me.

“Please.” I held my hands up. “It’s Rogan. Or,” I noted their appalled looks, “Miss Rogan, if you must. But I’m not Lady anything.”

“Miss Rogan,” Officer Stark cleared his throat, “How can we assist you?”

I smiled at them. Now, I couldn’t flirt. I was terrible at it, but I had learned from Haydyn that a soft smile went a long way. And she was right. They seemed to puff up their chests under my feminine attention. “I was watching you train, you’re both very good.”

They flushed and began murmuring ‘thank you’s’. I calculated their heights with the happy realisation they were the perfect men to ask of this. Not too tall, nor too broad.

“I wonder if you might teach me how to use a sword.”

Reith’s jaw dropped before he remembered himself and straightened, clearing his expression. “A sword, Miss Rogan?”

I offered him an even bigger smile for calling me Miss Rogan. “Yes. Nothing too difficult of course, but I do think with us travelling into Alvernia that it may be of use to me to know how to defend myself a little.”

The men shared a look. I breathed relief. They weren’t too shocked by the idea. In fact Officer Stark nodded determinedly. “You might be right there, Miss Rogan. Shall we show you first how to grip the sword?”

I grinned excitedly, unable to believe they had acquiesced so easily. I was so used to being treated like Haydyn; like I was a piece of precious glass that would shatter at the slightest touch. Reith, being the shortest of the two, circled me a little uncertainly and then came up behind me, his arms going around me to show me how to hold the sword. So engrossed in their teachings, laughing with them as I thrust the sword like a limp noodle, I didn’t hear his approach until…

“What the bloody hell is going on?”

Reith jumped away from me as if I was poisonous, his face flushing as he looked at the person behind me. Wolfe.

I turned around. “We wer-”

“I wasn’t asking you,” Wolfe snapped, glaring at me, at the men. “Officer Stark?”

Officer Stark coughed, shifting uncomfortably. “Miss Rogan asked us to show her some basic sword training, Captain. We didn’t see any harm in it.”

“Any harm? Any harm?” Wolfe seethed. “She could have walked into the damn thing, for havens sake.”

Blood flooded my cheeks like boiling water and I bit my tongue from screaming at him like a banshee. “Captain Stovia,” I fumed. “I am not a doll. I am perfectly capable of avoiding the sharp end of a sword!”

“And!” He ignored me entirely, knowing how much it would enrage me further. “Lady Rogan is to be addressed as such.”

“I asked them to call me Miss Rogan,” I retorted.

He growled, “Well I’m un-asking them.” His own cheeks were flushed now as his blue eyes sparked like hot chips of aquamarine at his men. “From now on, if she asks for anything, you ask me first before you acquiesce to her request.”

“Yes sir.” They both mumbled, heads bowing a little.

Wolfe turned on his heel and began marching away, his spine stiff with irritation.

“I have a name!” I called out to him lamely. She indeed.

As soon as he was out of earshot, Officer Reith whistled, “I don’t know what it is about you, Lady Rogan, but you’re the only one who ever makes Captain lose his composure.”

I frowned at him and Officer Stark nudged him, his eyes telling him to shut up.

“Oh right.” Reith swallowed, looking embarrassed and a little guilty. So they had remembered I had inadvertently had Wolfe’s father killed then, had they?

“Yes,” I replied wryly. “People react oddly when they’re talking to their archenemies.”

I walked away, feeling deflated now. But I stiffened when I heard Reith mutter to Stark, “I’m not sure that’s what gets Captain so hot.”

I grimaced and kept walking, my eyes finding Wolfe as he ordered the men back onto their horses. Of course he saw me as his enemy. Why else was he always baiting me? I wasn’t an idiot – Wolfe hated me as much as I hated him. And I’d be waiting when he took his chance for vengeance.

If only I knew how to use a sword.

Spoilsport.

***

I wasn’t speaking to Wolfe for humiliating me in front of his men and he wasn’t speaking to me for enlisting his men’s help behind his back. He rode ahead the entire way to Peza and I glared at his back without distraction. Lieutenant Chaeron kept making amused little sounds from the back of his throat but I ignored him, somehow thinking if I stared long and hard enough Wolfe might suddenly be knocked off his horse and onto his ass.

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