Slumber Page 50

That was brilliant guarding for you.

Rolling my eyes, I snuck away from the men and edged closer to Wolfe and Chaeron. Leaving my horse, I stopped a few trees back from them, hidden in the shade.

“I just don’t know if it’s a good idea,” Lieutenant Chaeron exhaled.

“I have to,” Wolfe insisted, his voice flat.

“I could do it.”

“No, it has to be me.” Wolfe shook his head. “If Rogan’s going up into the mountains then I’m going to be the one protecting her.”

Chaeron sighed again. “Things are difficult between you as it is.”

“I know. But I won’t let my feelings get in the way of my duty. Which is to protect her.”

“What will I tell the men?”

“Tell them I’ve taken Rogan on a tour of Alvernia, to let her see for herself what the area and the people are really like, so she can report back to the Princezna.”

“They’ll think it’s insane. They’ll wonder why you’ve gone alone. Perhaps even speculate…”

“If any one of my men utters a derogatory word against Lady Rogan I want you to deal with them.”

Chaeron sucked in his breath as if insulted. “You know I would, Captain.”

“Good. Tell them the Alvernians are paranoid, suspicious. A Royal entourage traipsing around their land would be seen as an act of aggression; tell them that Lady Rogan and I are going incognito.”

“Alright.” There was a moment of silence between them before Chaeron peered at Wolfe with genuine concern. “Wolfe,” he said softly, surprising me and Wolfe by using his given name, “You’ve never been into the mountains. A few of the men here have. They’d be better suited to escort Miss Rogan.”

Wolfe shook his head determinedly, his jaw set. “I won’t let her go into that without me…” he shoved a hand through his hair in obvious frustration, appearing vulnerable and lost. “It would drive me crazy.”

Chaeron placed a hand on Wolfe’s shoulder. “Alright.”

I backed away as stealthily as I could, the blood rushing in my ears from what I had overheard and the blood flooding my cheeks for having been eavesdropping. I walked numbly back to the men with my horse beside me, and saw nothing and heard nothing as we mounted back up and set off. Wolfe was furious with me but he still cared. Cared enough to foolishly follow me into the heart of the Alvernian Mountains where the chances of us both coming to harm was great. No. I shook my head, ignoring Chaeron’s concerned looks. I wouldn’t go into the mountains with Wolfe. I had to keep my distance. I had to stay focused on finding the plant and I couldn’t do that if I was worrying about Wolfe.

I had to get away from him somehow.

When we reached Arrana I had to leave and set off into the mountains alone. It didn’t matter if I had an escort or not. Only I knew the way to the Pool of Phaedra and my magic would get me there without getting me lost. I just had to be careful and remember the route up so I could get back down the mountain without fault.

***

That night, we made it to Arrana. Smaller than the other cities, Arrana was also more heavily fortified, with a massive fifteen foot wall snaking around its border. Like one of the keeps used thousands of years ago when the mage first came to Phaedra, the city had a moat and drawbridge, and armoured guards. We had to wait for permission to enter, and as we crossed the sturdy bridge into the city walls, I frowned in disapproval. There were no wars in Phaedra. No need for city walls and moats and drawbridges. I understood the Vojvoda was nervous of the mountain people of Alvernia - I was nervous of them and I had to walk right into their midst - but his fortification sent the wrong message. It isolated Arrana; it made it a lone entity, and broke it from Haydyn’s Phaedra.

What must the people of Alvernia think? Or any people who crossed the border into Alvernia? It was unwelcoming and superior. Worse… it was aggressive.

This too would have to change.

***

This would never do, I thought glumly, watching Markiz Andrei follow the servant girl’s bosom with his eyes whilst his father, Vojvoda Andrei, tried to convince me that his son would be a brilliant match for Haydyn. I found it difficult swallowing my fish as I dined with them. I studied the junior Andrei as he smiled at me and I bemoaned the vapidity behind his eyes. The poor boy wasn’t lascivious or cruel. He was just… silly and… well not very intelligent. He was so wrong for my Haydyn. Haydyn needed someone as clever and as passionate as she was, someone who stood up for her and to her.

Someone like Matai.

All of a sudden I felt unbearably sad.

I let Wolfe and the Vojvoda do all the talking. I smiled enough so as not to seem unpleasant and bored, but I was sure the Vojvoda was puzzled as to why Haydyn would send an advisor on her behalf who had barely opened her mouth once to speak. But I felt buried by the troubles of Phaedra. Buried and useless. I needed Haydyn to wake up. I had needed her to wake up before she fell ill. I only hoped that she would, once I provided the cure and told her all I’d learned. To begin with, marrying Andrei would be a terrible mistake.

So lost in my problems, I barely noticed that Wolfe had managed to finagle it so he was the one to walk me to my room. As we drew closer and his arm brushed mine, I began to come out of my stupor, and my skin came instantly alive at being so close to him. I glanced at him quickly and looked away. We hadn’t talked or been this near to one another in some time. Not since Caera.

“In the morning you and I will leave for the mountains.” Wolfe stopped abruptly and I drew to a halt, turning to him. We looked one another in the eye for the first time in days. “We’re going to pretend we’re taking a tour of Alvernia and its people, but in reality we’re going to get that plant.”

I knew if I didn’t try to dissuade him after all we’d been through he’d be suspicious. I had to give a little argument, even though I already had my plan at the ready. “Do you really think that’s wise… considering?”

“Considering?”

“Considering you hate me.” I held my breath, waiting for him to dispute it. I knew he cared. I just needed him to admit it. Haven, I wished my heart would make up its mind!

I felt a sharp pain somewhere near the said organ when he shrugged. “It’s my duty.”

I bit back a hurt retort. “Fine. I want it noted that I dispute the idea. For future reference.”

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