Slumber Page 42

I stepped inside the humid air of the orangery, the scents somewhat overwhelming. But Haydyn liked it here. She said it made her feel like she was somewhere else. I relaxed a little at finding her sitting on a bench at the back of the orangery. She glanced up, unsurprised to see me there.

“Haydyn,” I whispered, moving towards her, the rustling of my skirts sounding overly loud in the quiet of the glass room. With a deep exhalation I sat beside her, our elbows bumping. “Why aren’t you at the ball, enjoying your debut?”

She huffed, “It’s not as if they haven’t seen me at a ball before.”

I stopped myself from snorting out loud. “True,” I muttered, desperately trying to keep the laughter out of my voice. Sometimes it was so hard to teach her to be responsible when I agreed with her summations. “But this is a special evening and you really should return to your guests.”

Haydyn shrugged.

I frowned. “I know you aren’t blind to the superficiality of some of your court but you’ve never treated them with disdain. You’ve always been so friendly and polite to everyone. Tonight, I’d be surprised if you had stretched your lips once into a smile. I even thought I misheard you telling Lady Viskt that if the people of Alvernia were half as well-fed as her cat, Phaedra would have no tribulations. Now I think I didn’t mishear it at all.”

She laughed lightly. “No, you didn’t. But, Rogan, she’s awful. All she talks about is that bloody cat of hers. As if the Princezna wants to discuss an overfed spoiled brat of a cat that scratched me last time she brought it to court, over her donating money to the charity I wanted to start for the mountain people of Alvernia.”

A wave of fondness made me smile softly at her. “Dear, not everyone is as open-minded about the Alvernian mountain people as you.”

She snorted. “Including you.”

I shrugged, unabashed. “They’re under the same evocation as the rest of us. If they wanted to be civilised they could be.”

“But-”

“You know I’d be more positively inclined towards this rapidly failing philanthropic idea of yours if I thought for one second it had been your idea.”

Blushing, Haydyn shrugged. “Darren is very passionate about these issues.”

Now I did snort. “Darren is an arrogant troubadour with an overinflated sense of importance. He’s never even been to Alvernia! The furthest he’s been is Ryl. Not exactly the best troubadour if you ask me… travelling minstrel my left butt cheek!”

Haydyn burst into raucous laughter, shaking her head. Once she’d controlled her giggles, she stared up me with love shining bright in her eyes. “Perhaps you’re right. He did write me the most awful poetry the other morning. Something about hair the colour of the moon and a sweet lady granting him a boon. I think he may have been trying to get me to kiss him.”

I narrowed my eyes. “You didn’t, did you?”

Pinching her lips together she gave a sharp jerk of her head. “No. I did think about it but he’s not really what I expected. None of this is.” She swept the room with a dainty hand.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think I can do this,” she confessed hollowly. “Decisions and choices, and pandering to the court. It’s all so much responsibility. The coronation ceremony is only two years away, and then I’ll be crowned Queen. Somehow that makes it sound all that much more frightening.”

“Why don’t we go away?” She clutched my arm frantically, her emerald eyes pleading with me. “We’ll jump on a boat and sail the coast to Alvernia. See for ourselves what the people are really like.”

“Hay-”

“Or we could take off on Midnight and Sundown, head for your old family home in Vasterya. We could run through the fields and play by that stream you always talk about. It sounds like paradise.”

I smiled sadly at her and drew her into a hug. “Haydyn, you know we can’t.”

“Why not? You’re the only one I care about and the only one who cares about me. We’ll have a grand adventure.”

“You know you care about the people here, Haydyn. You’re just overwhelmed, and that is to be expected.” I turned so I was facing her, my eyes serious, older than my years. “Phaedra needs your magic, Haydyn. And it needs your goodness. I know it’s a lot to ask of a young woman, but we’ve all had to sacrifice something for our land.”

Immediately her eyes welled up with tears. “Oh, Rogan, you must think me terribly selfish and childish.”

“No. I think you’re young. I think you’re scared. But I know how smart and kind and good you are. And like you said, you have me. I’ll help you through. I’ll always be there for you. You’re all that matters, and nothing will get in the way of that. Nothing…”

…a stripe of heat across my face tingled, slowly bringing me out of sleep. I peeled my eyes open, blinking against the stream of sunlight coming in from a crack in the rafters.

Where was I?

It took me a minute but then it all came flooding back and I stiffened; my head whipping to my side. The place where Wolfe had slept was empty. He was gone. My heart raced. No, he was probably just in the house, I reassured myself. I groaned and sat up. Despite feeling less exhausted, I still ached all over. All over. Why, oh why had I kissed Wolfe last night? I groaned, burying my face in my hands. It was such a silly, stupid thing to do!

You were exhausted.

Yes. I was exhausted. I wasn’t thinking clearly... clearly.

I was in the middle of rescuing my best friend, my sister; the one person in the entire land of Phaedra who meant anything to me. I couldn’t be distracted by kisses from the most inappropriate man imaginable. His father killed my family! He was a Vikomt and I was a farm girl! He would marry and I… definitely would not!

But what to do now? When I went into the house, how should I act? My stomach churned. I dreaded an actual conversation with him about it. Oh surely Wolfe would know it was a mistake. A bleary-eyed, adrenaline-rushed error in judgement. I should just act like nothing happened. I bet that was exactly what he would want. Nodding, happy with the decision, I scrambled down out of the hayloft, nearly falling on my bottom - I trembled with nerves so badly. The sun was bright and hot outside the hayloft and I winced at the thought of riding to Caera in this heat. Heaving a huge sigh, I braced my shoulders as if readying for battle, and headed into the widow’s house. Wolfe was nowhere to be seen; the widow bustling around the kitchen, the smell of breakfast heady and thick in the air. My stomach grumbled a plea.

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