We rode fast, down a windy path for a good two hours before we rode off through the trees. I felt as Aria’s breathing slowed down, her control returning. All I could think about was how stupid I had been for letting my displaced anger take me away from her in such a dangerous moment.
I know she loves Dastan. I know if he stood here with us, she would choose him in an instant, but logic sometimes eludes me when my heart takes the reins of my body. As much fear that could have passed through her body when we were attacked, I felt just as much knowing I wasn’t by her side to protect her.
Now, I was not letting her out of my sight. I brought the horses down to a stop as we approached Thijs and Sarn. They had dismounted their horses near a creek and waited for us to do the same.
“The sun will begin to set in a couple of hours.” Thijs spoke as he opened the pack of his horse, taking out the necessities for surviving the night. “All kinds of creatures will come out then, we can seek shelter there and head back out in the morning.” He pointed upward toward a cluster of rocks that would, without a doubt, contain caves.
I nodded, dismounting the horse before reaching up and bringing Aria down. It is only then that I notice the dry blood that had once trickled down her right temple, “Aria, you’re hurt.” She looked at me with dazed eyes, wincing as her hand went up to touch the tender spot on her temple.
I lift her in my arms, carrying her toward the creek where I sit her down on a boulder and wet the sleeve of my cloak. Her eyes speak to me as I move around. I know they are burning holes through my skull, I know she has so much she wants to tell me. But none of it is what I want to hear. I want her to say that she chooses me over Dastan. That she doesn’t care if we stay here and take the land from her parents. Build our own kingdom. But no, she would never say that.
As gentle as I could manage, I reach up and start to clean her temple. There was a bump hidden under the blood, a purple and blue bruise that I knew hurt her more than she let on. She winced as I moved about, moaning and breathing in her pain.
To my surprise, her hands shot up and grabbed my wrists. My eyes moved directly to hers, and she conveyed a feeling of guilt through the glint in her eyes. ”I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-"
“Don’t apologize, Aria. It was my fault.” I gritted, not willing to hear whatever excuse she came up. Although I knew she would never admit it, I knew. She loves me.
She might not ever admit it. Because she might feel guilt over Dastan. Because she might love him just a bit more than she loves me, but I know she is holding back her feelings for me.
Her shoulders drop and she frowns to herself as I continue wiping the blood from her, “It’s bruised really bad. As difficult as it might be in our current situation, you’re going to have to take it easy.” She nodded, still frowning and with her eyes glued to the ground.
I held her again in my arms, even as she continued to keep her eyes away from mine.
“Jakko.” Thijs approaches us from where he and Sarn had made camp, “We are almost finished with dinner, and we found perfect caves for us to stay in.”
“Caves?” I raised an eyebrow as I set Aria down next to Sarn.
“Yes, one for us and one for you and Aria?” Thijs frowned, looking confused at my question.
“Umm, Aria can stay with us-” Aria had probably told Sarn about our fight earlier.
“No.” I gritted, taking a seat next to Aria, “She’s staying with me.” Thijs hands both of us a plate and frowns as he nods, confused as to why that was in question in the first place.
Sarn only looks at Aria with a questioning gaze, to which Aria responds with a small smile and a nod. We eat in silence, the only sound reaching our ears were the flirtatious whispers between Thijs and Sarn. I couldn’t even look at them, wishing I could also close my ears as a twitch of pain tugged at my heart.
I would never be able to hide in the shadows behind the romantic warm light of a fire as I whisper with the only woman I have ever loved. I feel her tug on my arm and I look down to see her offering the rest of the food she could not finish.
I snorted, taking the plate from her hand, “How am I supposed to protect you if you turn me into a blob?” Without a second thought, I finished what was on my plate before scarfing down what she had offered me.
She giggled deep down in her throat and I couldn’t help the smile that spread on my face. I didn’t want there to be a rift between us, as heartbreaking as it might be to love her with no promise of a return.
I stood up as I swallowed my last bite, reaching my hand down for her to take it. My heart warmed up the moment she did and we slowly walked to the cave were we would spend the night.