Slumber Page 48

“That was chilly,” I said quietly to Chaeron.

He answered with a brittle nod and looked over at Wolfe questioningly.

Wolfe sighed. “It’s nearly dark. We should camp here. I think we’ll be fine as long as we don’t ask them for a place to sleep.” He flicked a glance at me before staring straight ahead again. “I’m afraid it’ll have to be a campfire bed for you, my Lady. I hope that doesn’t distress you too much.”

Oooh, I wanted to nip back at him. He had said it loudly to needle me in front of his men. I looked at him, sensing the anticipation about him. He wanted me to nip back. He wanted something, anything from me. Trembling a little, I turned away from him. “I think I can manage well enough, Captain.”

Feeling his questioning gaze on my face, I slid off my horse, letting my hair fall and cover my burning cheeks.

“Tyler, Szorst!” Wolfe called out to two of the men. He slid from his horse and approached them, holding out a bag of coins. “Go back into the village and procure us some coal. It should keep us warm at camp and perhaps soften the locals to us.” He nodded in the direction of the bridge to some of the villagers who had come out of the village to peer at us making camp. Their entire bodies radiated with hostility. As the two men started off on foot I worried my lip between my teeth, watching them. Remembering the looks on the coal miners faces I decided that sending the men in alone was a bad idea. But I couldn’t very well say that to Wolfe and I couldn’t rush off alone – that had not worked out well in the past.

“Lieutenant.” I approached Chaeron quietly as he settled the horses with some water.

“Yes, Miss Rogan?”

Telling Chaeron I thought his men were in danger wouldn’t work. The Royal Guard were somewhat arrogant about their prowess and didn’t take lightly to having it called into question. I’d have to go about this a different way. “We’ve been riding all day and I really would like to stretch my legs. Would you walk with me into the village?”

He frowned at me, suspicion in his eyes. “Miss Rogan, you saw how unfriendly the people were.”

“Then perhaps a few of the other men would like to stretch their legs with us,” I used my take no prisoners tone that Haydyn hated. She could never defy me when I used that tone. I usually brandished it on her when she was daydreaming during her tutorials or refusing to get out of bed.

I blanched at that last thought. Shaking off the familiar growing panic that thrummed continuously beneath my skin, I raised my eyebrow at Chaeron as he just stood there. As my look intensified he finally drew himself up. “Of course, Miss Rogan.”

As we passed two men, Chaeron called to them to come with us, and then informed Wolfe that he was escorting me into the village. Discerning the coming argument by the look on Wolfe’s face, I drew out my heaviest artillery and stilled him with a look so cold it made him pale.

I gulped down my guilt and hurried on, my skin prickling and muscles twitching at the feel of his eyes on my departing figure.

As soon as we crossed the bridge I felt the charge in the air, a sense of violence and anticipation. Chaeron and his men must have felt it too because suddenly we were hurrying back into the town and through the narrow streets, to get to the main village courtyard we’d come through. Sure enough, Tyler and Szorst stood with their hands on the hilt of their swords, surrounded by a group of angry coal miners, spitting and shouting at them. Just one spark, I thought. That’s all it would take.

“Halt!” Lieutenant Chaeron bellowed and I flinched in surprise. He sounded terrifying and intimidating, and looked it too, as he strode forward with the two guards at his back. The villagers stumbled a little but did not move away from Tyler and Szorst who looked relieved to see us. “An attack on the Royal Guard is a high offence and will result in imprisonment!”

Some of the villagers seemed to deflate, their faces drawn and wary. Others grumbled but slumped away. Others grew even more aggressive. One man, a tall stout man with a round face hardened with hatred, stood forward from the group to face Chaeron.

“Who gives a damn about the Guard?! We’re left to stew in this forsaken place, working our fingers to the bone in 18 hour shifts in the mines under order from management! Three months ago we worked good hours, decent hours, until management started adding an hour here and there until eventually we exist on no sleep, bad food and broken bodies. Our children grow sick! Our wives grow weary! Where is the Royal Guard in that, I ask you?!”

Chaeron was as shocked as I at the explosion, and the rebel rousing yells of agreement. What on Phaedra was going on here? What this man said, it couldn’t be true? But as I looked around at the desperate faces, I found the truth in their eyes.

Impulsively, I strode forward past Chaeron, who tried to reach for me and missed. “There must be some mistake,” I implored to the man. “We didn’t know.”

He looked at me with such revulsion I flinched. And then he made a groggy noise in the back of his throat and spat in my face. Chaeron’s blade was against his neck before I even could comprehend what had happened. Humiliated and ashamed, I wiped at the phlegm dripping down my cheek and glowered at the man who now stood stiff against Chaeron’s sword.

“Your name?” Chaeron growled in his face.

“Den. Den Hewitt.”

“Den Hewitt, you just committed a crime. Do you know who this lady is before you?”

The rebel-rouser paled somewhat as he really looked at me, his eyes showing a little of his panic as he wondered who he had just offended. “No,” he replied hoarsely.

“You just assaulted the Lady Rogan of Silvera. The Princezna’s Handmaiden.”

The gasps of the people around us made me want to curl inside myself. Den blanched, fear turning his mouth white. Still shocked at his treatment of me, a woman, a lady, I let him stew on it a while. They thought his punishment would be grave indeed. However, although stunned by his offence, I was more concerned by his accusations.

“I didn’t know.” He wilted a little.

“No. I imagine you did not.” Chaeron shifted the sword from his throat. “Den Hewitt, I charge you with assault against the Lady Rogan of Silvera. You will be placed in my custody and taken back to Silvera for trial.”

“Lieutenant.” I shook my head, not wanting this man punished severely for an act of stupidity born out of frustration.

Prev Next