Slumber Page 49

“But Lady Rogan?” Chaeron frowned.

“All I want is an apology.” I crossed my arms over my chest.

Hewitt looked between the two of us, his expression filling with hope as he waited for Chaeron’s decision. The Lieutenant finally nodded, although his eyes blazed against the decision, and Hewitt breathed a sigh of relief before turning to me. “I am so sorry, my Lady. I am so sorry.”

I nodded. “If you had merely told us your grievance we would have dealt with it, Mr Hewitt. I assure you that none of us were aware of these conditions you speak of. Let us return to our camp quietly and I will speak with the Captain of the Guard. He will investigate the matter.” It was perhaps obnoxious and forward of me to assume Wolfe would take care of this situation, but I couldn’t leave these people as they were. They were so volatile. Just one spark…

After thanking me and apologising some more, relieved at escaping a close call, the men and I withdrew from Hewitt and turned back for camp. I could feel Chaeron’s disapproval simmering beside me, but I shrugged it off. I was the one who had been spat on. I should be the one to mete out the punishment.

Before I could approach Wolfe, Chaeron was charging ahead. He cornered the Captain and began speaking to him frantically. At any other time I would have been annoyed, but I was trying to keep my distance from Wolfe.

By the time Chaeron was done, Wolfe’s face was hard as stone. With an efficiency and lethal determination that demonstrated just why he was Captain, Wolfe rounded up a group of ten men and they mounted their horses. As they cantered towards me, I stood to the side and kept my eyes on the grass. I saw Wolfe’s horses’ hooves come into view and then stop.

“Next time, ask me before you offer my services,” his harsh voice caught me by the back of the neck and tipped my head upwards.

I scowled at him. “Are you saying you would leave them this way?”

He frowned back at me. “You know I wouldn’t. But I don’t appreciate taking orders from you, Lady Rogan.”

My apologetic smile was brittle. “Apologies. It won’t happen again.”

Again, seeming startled and disappointed by my compliance, Wolfe nodded and began to pull away. Just as I was relaxing, sure Wolfe would take care of the issues the villagers had put forth, he threw over his shoulder, “I’m fining Den Hewitt for assaulting you.”

“But I don’t want that!” I cried, rushing to catch up with him. I could see the other men trying to look uninterested in our exchange. “You can’t do that!”

Wolfe drew to an abrupt halt and glared down at me. “I can do anything I want, Lady Rogan. I am the Captain of the Guard.” He seethed, his face mottled red with anger. “He assaulted you, Rogan, and that I will not stand for.” Abruptly he turned and jerked his reins, galloping over the bridge and into the village, unmindful of his surprised Guard who took off after him. Surprised by the abrupt departure? No.

Surprised that in front of them, Wolfe had betrayed his feelings… and used my given name.

***

It was with a mixture of relief and pain I realised Wolfe had had enough and was no longer speaking to me. He returned to camp some few hours later and told Chaeron what had happened. I tried to eavesdrop, but the collective snoring of the Guard drowned out their voices.

The next morning Wolfe refused to look at me, let alone speak to me, and as we moved off away from the village, I had to ask Chaeron for the details of Wolfe’s venture into the village.

Apparently Den Hewitt had not exaggerated. After investigation, Wolfe discovered the Manager of the mine, a wealthy Baron no less, was working the villagers to the bone to keep up with the competition from the local mining communities surrounding them. Discovering sick children and ill workers, worn out and hopeless, Wolfe was furious. The village had had two deaths in the last month. Exhaustion and dehydration. He fined the Manager (and Den Hewitt) and threatened him with criminal charges if he did not return to the normal working procedures. To ensure his obeisance, Wolfe left two of his men to guard the workers and sent a messenger to Vojvodkyna Winter Rada explaining the situation, and asking her to send some of her men to relieve the Royal Guardsmen and to order a replacement Manager for the mine.

I rested easier knowing Wolfe had taken care of it. I had known he would. I sighed wearily and stared straight ahead, worrying about what we would find in the next village we passed through. I had so much to tell Haydyn once she was awake and well. Our problem wasn’t just the evocation. Our problem was that outside the cities governed by the Rada, the people were ignored and left to go about their business ungoverned. That had to change. I straightened my spine with determination. When this journey was over and my task complete, Phaedra was in for some changes. For the better.

Chapter Twenty One

To my utter relief, the next few days through Daeronia passed uneventfully. We stopped in two other mining communities, and neither of them was suffering under the conditions of the first. From their disposition to the state of their homes, to their fervent hospitality, they were fire to the southern coal mining village’s ice. And I? I was confused. Perhaps I had merely wanted to put the Manager of the coal mining village attitude down to Haydyn’s evocation, but the northern coal miners had great attitudes, and surely if the evocation waning was the problem then they would be the ones to feel the affects more so than the south.

My forehead spent a lot of time in a perpetual state of wrinkles.

The situation with Wolfe hadn’t changed. If anything it had worsened. Anything he had to say to me he had Lieutenant Chaeron pass on to me, and the night we dined in the home of the Manager of a large coal mining town called East Winds, Wolfe flirted with their twenty-year old daughter as he ignored my existence. I ignored the fist of agony in my chest. His attitude was of my own making and I had no right to feel anything toward him.

We had been following the River Cael and were closing in on the border between Daeronia and Alvernia. My stomach had now formed into a constant knot of anxiety, the need to get to the Pool of Phaedra an obsession, sharp and unrelenting. I was impatient when Wolfe stopped us by the river for our midday break, and was about to voice my disgruntlement when I remembered I hadn’t spoken to him for three days. Plus, it was unseasonably hot, not even a wisp of that crisp Daeronian breeze that I had come to love. Telling Chaeron I needed a moment alone, I wandered along the river bank that flowed on the left side of the trade road, as the men gathered near the woodland on the right. They stopped, sliding down to lean against tree trunks and eat the hard biscuits that had come to form their unsatisfying daily diet. I was still in sight, but I used the horse to cover me as I took off my shoes and stockings to dangle my feet over the bank into the river. I sighed at the havenly feel of the cold water on my skin and thanked god I hadn’t had to walk too much. My stupid soft ‘lady’s’ feet would be ruined. Reluctantly, I pulled my feet out of the water and reassembled my clothing before Wolfe sent someone to collect me. However, as I walked back to the men, my eyes darting over them, there was no sign of Wolfe… or Chaeron. Puzzled, I searched them out. Where were they? Just as I was about to draw near the first group of men I caught a flash of colour from the corner of my eye a little way in among the trees. Wolfe’s green military jacket. He’d had to borrow it from one of the Guard, who now wore a plain jacket provided by the Vojvodkyna. Curious as to why Wolfe and Chaeron were huddling in the woods, I eyed the men to see if any were watching me. I was somewhat disappointed to see that none of them were.

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