Slumber Page 67

I didn’t need to be a scholar to interpret the dream.

We reached Caera in record time, not stopping enough to make time for incidents. I was exhausted by the time Vojvodkyna Winter welcomed us into our home. Taking in my bedraggled state, she was even kind to me. As she ushered me to the guest suite herself, ordering a bath and food tray for me, I forgot to be jealous of her. I even came to the conclusion, that as before, I may have judged her too harshly.

*

The next morning as the maid’s giggled in the hallway all my good feelings toward Winter flew out the window. It was easy in a household as large as Winter’s for the gossip to reach my ears. Wolfe had been seen leaving Winter’s bedroom early that morning. I stumbled when I heard the gossip, the pain of that knowledge hitting me in the chest with the force of a sledgehammer. I turned on my heel, no longer hungry for breakfast, or able to stand the sight of Wolfe and Winter together. I could barely draw breath; my whole body ached with the grief. With the betrayal.

But he wasn’t mine to betray me.

Sniffling back silly tears, that were best not wasted on him, I drew on my travelling cloak and clutched the pack with the Somna Plant inside. It was time to leave.

***

Chaeron and the others seemed confused. Before Caera, Wolfe had been the one not talking to me. Now every time he passed me an icy blast would burst out of me, my looks so quelling they made everyone flinch. Wolfe caught my looks and frowned, his eyes asking Chaeron if he knew what had upset me. With no answer, he grew even more indignant. I imagined the Lieutenant and the Guard were just as exhausted with Wolfe’s attitude, and my own, as much as they were of the journey.

We crossed into Raphizya, stopping in Ryl to stay with Matai’s cousins again. This time I met Mr Zanst, who welcomed us into his home just as warmly as his wife had. From his dark good looks to his charming stoicism, he reminded me much of Matai… and I longed for home. Mrs Zanst was so worried for me I felt terrible for deceiving her, for having been foolish enough to be kidnapped by the Iavii in Ryl. She asked me if I had been treated badly, and I assured her that Wolfe had come to my rescue and kept me safe.

After a wonderfully, civilised and pleasantly refreshing evening with the Zansts (perhaps because Wolfe stayed away), the Guard and I set off for Peza. It rained the entire journey and I wasn’t sure if it was because my body had hardened with its recent experiences, but I escaped the cold that seemed to be sweeping through the Guard. Mayhap because of their position distant from the Guard, Wolfe and Lieutenant Chaeron managed to get by unscathed also. Still, I was glad to reach Grof Krill Rada’s home. I’d never heard supposedly strapping and capable men complain so much about a little cold.

I wasn’t the only one happy to see me in Peza. Grof Krill came bounding out of his mansion with Strider, the wolfhound, at his side. Strider seemed to remember me and my generosity at the dinner table and licked my hand when I reached out to pet him. Grof Krill was grinning at me so brightly I was taken aback. We hadn’t exactly left on the best of terms.

“My Lord.” I bobbed a curtsey.

“You are a vision, Lady Rogan.” His grin grew even brighter if that was possible. There was no flirtatiousness in his tone, nothing seedy. He seemed genuinely happy to see me.

I was completely bemused. “Thank you, my Lord.”

Seeming to catch my confused look, Groff Krill laughed. “Come, I want you to meet someone.”

As I took his arm and followed him inside, forgetting Wolfe and Chaeron at my back, a suspicion grew.

No. It couldn’t be. Could it?

The door was swept open by the butler, my heart pounding in my chest, praying my suspicion was correct.

As soon as we stepped inside I saw her. I broke out into a choked laugh. “Ariana?”

The pretty young woman came forward at a hurry, her grey eyes brimming with happiness. “Is this her, Krill?”

“This is she.” He spun me around, gripping me by my upper arms. “How can I ever repay you for writing that letter, Lady Rogan?”

Ariana joined us, pulling me into a hug, joyful tears filling her eyes as she told me all about receiving the letter; how she couldn’t believe the Handmaiden of Phaedra had written to her; how she so wanted to believe me about Krill’s love for her; how she’d left her life behind and took a chance on what I had confided.

Grof Krill and Ariana married three days after her arrival in Peza. She was now Grofka Ariana.

Exhausted and incredibly elated that I’d done one other thing right on this quest of mine, I felt tears well up in my eyes.

“Lady Rogan, are you alright?” Grof Krill asked anxiously, seeing my dark eyes shine.

“I’m fine,” I whispered hoarsely. “I’m just delighted for you and… so very tired.”

“Oh.” Ariana looked aghast. “Here we’ve been monopolising your time when you must be so weary from your journey. How ill-mannered of us.”

“No, no,” I rushed to assure her. “I am so pleased to meet you, Ariana, and I am so happy I had a hand in bringing you and Grof Krill together. It’s just been such a long trip.”

I was struggling now to keep my tears in check.

With a perceptiveness that bothered me, Grof Krill straightened his spine in alert. “Nothing untoward has happened to you, Lady Rogan?”

“No, no. Please… I just need to rest.”

“Krill, stop pestering the poor girl,” Ariana admonished gently. She took my arm. “Come, I shall show you to your room.”

Ariana left me in the suite I’d stayed in my last visit and rang the servants to send for a supper tray. With one last grateful hug, she swept from the room and I flopped down on the bed. I was glad the Grof had gotten his happily ever after. At least someone in my life had.

The food arrived, and delicious though it was, I barely tasted it as I shovelled it down. I kept seeing Winter at the door to her mansion, waving her handkerchief at Wolfe with that knowing, intimate look in her eyes.

I slid back on the bed and rested my head against a fluffy gold brocade pillow, willing the nightmares away tonight. I’d give anything for a restful, dreamless sleep.

My eyes were just closing when I heard the handle on the door turn, someone entering without knocking. I bolted upright at the impudence, my heart spluttering when the intruder revealed himself. Wolfe. He closed the door behind, turning the key in the lock.

I glared at him as he leaned back against the door, his eyes washing over me inscrutably.

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