Slumber Page 61

We took off at a brisk pace, and I marvelled at how rejuvenated my body felt, as if I had never undergone what I had. The boots didn’t begin to rub as quickly as the maid’s from Arrana had, but when I did eventually feel pain niggle, I ignored it.

Our march upwards was quiet until we broke for a late lunch. I was sweating in my jacket already. As we sat to nibble on the biscuits and bread Sarah had given us, it soon became apparent that L was bored with the quiet.

“Ye don’t talk much for a fancy person with fancy learnin’.”

I shrugged.

I thought that would be the end of it but as we began walking again, L encouraged me to tell her about my ‘fancy’ society life. Anything I said or explained to her was answered with phrases such as, “Well that just sounds stupid.” and “What would ye be wantin’ to do that for?”

Surprisingly, I began to enjoy L’s chatter. Her speech may have been of the mountain people but its rough slaughter of our language belied a keen mind and sharp wit. I couldn’t help but agree on some of her assessments when I told her about some of the scandalous things society members got up to.

L was pragmatic and straightforward, much as I’d always thought I was. She knew the mountains well, traipsing through them without a care, physically stronger than I. I puffed a little to keep up with her. She began to wonder how I’d survived this far without her, especially when I squatted to relieve myself and she saved me just in time from squatting on poisonous leaves. After that L began pointing out the different species of plant in the forest; what each of them was called and what their properties were capable of. I was amazed by how knowledgeable she was on the subject and she told me her grandfather had taught her before he died a few years ago.

Hours later, when we stopped for the night, my magic vibrating through me stronger than ever, L didn’t build us a fire. When I asked why, shivering in my jacket, she told me it would attract the mountain dogs. My heart had thudded in my chest as I remembered warnings from Brint about the dogs. I was glad L said we should huddle together for heat.

We fell asleep with our arms tight around one another.

***

“Who’s Wolfe?” L asked as I tripped over a tree root I hadn’t seen. I picked myself up, dusting the soil off my hands. It was early morning, we’d already eaten, and we’d been walking for half an hour.

I glanced sharply at L.

She smirked at me, her young fresh face bright with amusement. “Ye said his name in yer sleep, last night. And the night before.”

Whatever she saw on my face, it had her laughing. “Ah I be seein’. I just got a wee picture o’ ye kissin’ a fine-looking specimen o’ a man. Wee bit soft perhaps, but mighty fine.”

I felt the heat of indignation. “Wolfe is anything but soft,” I snapped.

L grinned mischievously. “He yer man, then? Yer betrothed?”

Like a thirteen year old I blushed, shaking my head. “It’s complicated.”

I was rewarded with a scowl. “I can be keepin’ up.”

With a weary sigh, I went on to tell L about my family, about what Syracen had done to them. That Wolfe was Syracen’s son. How all these years I’d thought Wolfe had been after revenge. How I had recently discovered what Syracen had done to Wolfe. That Wolfe had feelings for me. That I had feelings for Wolfe but I knew that acting on them was a betrayal of my family. I talked myself hoarse, surprised by how much I’d come to trust this girl in so little time. L listened patiently, her eyes betraying her interest and her sympathy.

Still, when I was finished, she scratched her cheek and said gruffly, “Well, I isn’t no expert on these here things but from what ye be tellin’ me, sounds to me as if ye be gettin’ things a wee bit backward.”

“Backward?” I puffed out of breath, glowering at her back. L turned around and caught the look. She chuckled at my expression and reached down to pull herself up the suddenly steep incline of the mountain.

“Well yer parents tried to protect ye, told ye to run. They died for ye basically.”

“Yes,” I replied through clenched teeth, hissing the ‘s’.

“Well that be sayin’ to me that they was good folks. They just wanted ye to be free and happy.”

I frowned, wondering at the direction of her point, and if she was ever going to make it. “Yes?”

“Well if this Wolfe man – haha, wolfman.” She chortled and then noticed my belligerent expression. “Never mind. If this Wolfe makes ye feel free, makes ye happy, don’t that all that be matterin’ to yer parents?”

“But his father killed my parents. Being with his son would be a betrayal of their memory.”

“That don’t be makin’ no kind o’ sense. Ye brought yer parents murderer to justice, Rogan, and ye saved Wolfe and his mother from a life o’misery at that evil-doer’s hands. And this Wolfe person, he sounds like he be an upright kind o’ fella. And don’t he be some kind o’ nobility?”

I swept the sweat off my forehead, my fingers trembling. “A Vikomt.”

L grunted. “Lass, ye be gettin’ yerself a rich man. That’s every parents dream,” she joked.

When I didn’t respond, she threw me a wicked smile that transformed her from ordinary to pretty. “Ye joined giblets with yer Wolfe, then?”

I frowned, searching my brain for a translation.

L laughed at my confusion. “Has he bedded ye, Rogan?”

I rolled my eyes at her forthright question, my cheeks flushing red despite myself. “No,” I bit out.

L sobered quite abruptly. “Ye a maiden then?”

“Yes. Aren’t you?”

“O’ course.”

I nodded, having expected as much.

“Think on this then, Rogan…” she stopped to freeze me in her guileless gaze. “What if I had no’ got to ye? Is that how ye would have wanted it? Raped and abused by a stranger in these here mountains, instead of it bein’ right and true with the man ye love.”

I felt cold. Stumped. Panicky little flutters shaking off the ice she’d created inside me with her directness.

“If there be one thing these here mountains learn us, Rogan, it be life is often harsh… and always temporary. Don’t run from love because ye lost so much o’ it as a child. Instead… love while ye can.”

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