“Are you afraid?” Disseus queried. Hungering to see if she’d admit her vulnerability.
Become a bit closer to me through a hint of truth. If she’s even capable of that…
“No.” She choked a little. “I just can’t protect both your friend and your mistress by myself.”
“Almora isn’t my mistress, as you know very well. I’ve only ever wanted one woman.” Catching her chin, he turned her face back to him. Giving her a long look that conveyed his disbelief.
But she promptly jerked her head away.
“Look at me.”
“How do you somehow make your commands seem coaxing?”
She wants to do what I’m asking but it defies every instinct she has to protect herself. Some part of him could faintly understand that. She had no one else to look after her for a long time.
But that thought made the old bitter part of him return to the fore. That was her own doing.
I’d have been there.
“Because I’m asking you to obey.” He reached for her again, but she turned away.
“Don’t.” There was pleading in her soft voice.
Some distant emotion she was choking back.
Nightmarish memories, no doubt.
“Nealinim, look at me.”
In spite of herself, she found herself complying with his direction. Peering over her shoulder, eyes wide and fearful.
“What’s so terrifying?” His permeating gaze roved her face. Looking for a clue as to what her fears were.
“I…I don’t know how to explain to you, Disseus…”
She feels exposed, as it is.
“Why do you always want to look at me when you’re asking probing questions?”
To read you.
“I want to see if you’re lying or not. Why are you evading answering me? I’m not one of your halfwit lovers that would miss it, you know that.”
She’s well aware of that.
“I’ll stay.” He conceded.
And for a moment he seemed very much like the man she used to know. Lying there next to her. Protecting her against the world.
Ready to take on anything that would disturb her.
Disseus remained awake the rest of the night. Watching for any threat.
Unfortunately, that left him the night for haunting memories to descend. Memories of better times.
Then after that, of the broken times.
Mornings in Enuchte. When the grasses were green, and the fog was a thick blanket over the grass rising to his hips.
Making hunting rabbits nearly impossible.
The fat leaves of the trees still dripped with morning dew, slicking his white hair. He’d brushed it from his face. Tossing it back and smoothing it along his scalp. Making him stand out in his thick black tunic and black breeches. Walking with a spear as he searched for some breakfast.
That’s where she’d found me the first time.
He’d already made a name for himself among the Harbinger ranks. Their militaristic unit serving his impersonal nature well. His devotion to strive for better skills and his quick reflexes well honed to the tasks assigned to the Harbingers.
Normally the other fey skittered from the paths of the taller, more sterile Harbingers. Avoiding their ominous, still presence and evading the cold, unemotional stares they landed on the fey. Seeing into them. Knowing the crimes, they’d dared not admit to a soul.
And ready to wreak recompense.
Harbingers were the law of the fey. Creatures both necessary and abhorrent to the fey realms. Once Harbingers were fully trained and gained rank within their units, they were assigned out districts to watch over the fey.
To enforce fey law and hunt any demon that dared set foot in our territory.
Usually emerging the victor in their constant phases of combat, he became renowned very quickly.
His hunt had led him to one of the highest points of Black Rocks to attempt to see over the film of fog. It was the crumbled remnants of a cave, now reduced to a tall heap of rocks tinged black from the algae growing on them.
Crouched on the highest boulders, he released a handful of dirt deliberately. Studying the angle the wind carried it away. Straightening, he squinted over the moor and into the treeline. Watching everything around the river below.
Moving his black cloak to the back of him, he flung it over the bow across his back, exposing his leather pants and sleeveless tunic as well as the chorded length of his bronzed arms. Pausing as he watched for movement below.
He was so still he might’ve been a statute.
Then he jerked. The arrow was pulled, nocked and unleashed so fast it took her a moment to register what the movement had been. The bow lowered and he relaxed. Having warned his target that he was aware of her presence.
As I’d been when she followed me to the tavern mere days ago.
“What is it Princess?” Disdain was clear in his voice as he lowered the bow.
Startled she’d realized he was talking to her. Surprised he’d even known she was creeping behind him.
“Princess?” She queried. “I’m not a Diamond.”
The fey describe their lords and royalty in terms of gems. Depicting their value. A Diamond indicated true blood royalty.
I didn’t call her a princess because of her status amongst the fey.
It was because of who she was. She was as far from me as any princess. And it was a good way to remind myself of that simple fact.
Sighing, he’d turned and began agilely hopping down the rocks as he slung the bow over his shoulder. “No. But you’re a Gem. Truly little difference from where I stand. You’re just as pampered, no doubt.”
I’d intended to offend her. As I did the others. To send her scampering on her way.
Scoffing, she trailed after him as he walked away as though he’d dismissed her.
“You know nothing about me!” She was talking to his back.
Checking her own cloak, she verified she was still carefully disguised and that he was likely guessing.
She had no idea it was her manner that gave her away.
Perhaps it was the line of her back or her confidant stance, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. But somehow, every movement she made, gave away her status.