Elemental Heir : Book 1 Of The Elemental Heir Series

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Chapter 11

Dristan had taken only thirty minutes to bathe, much less time than it had taken me. He didn’t seem very impressed with the magical guest house, or the fact that the washroom was more than twice the size of any of the huts in my village. I wondered if the thought even occurred to him. I doubted it.

I doubted very much that Dristan knew what it was like to have nothing. All of this magic, this luxury, the excitement... it all seemed normal to him. I both envied and hated him for it.

While he had tended to his private matters, I’d lost myself in thought. Now that I was free from the king’s men, thanks to Dristan, I wondered if he would allow me to see my father.

I had to let him know that I was okay. I had to see that he was okay, for my own peace of mind, before I allowed Dristan to take me anywhere else. And if he wasn’t okay, I had to do whatever I could to help him. Surly Dristan could help me see to that.

He could use his magic to help somehow, or take him somewhere safe, where he could live in peace. I made a decision in that moment...

I would willingly go with Dristan, wherever it was that he was taking me next, but only if he would let me see my father first, and help him. It seemed reasonable enough to me. Those would be my only terms, my only wish.

And if he refused my request...

I would escape. I would get out of here, somehow, or be dragged to our unknown destination kicking, screaming and biting. Determination, once again, settled into my bones as I finalized the decision in my mind. I would bring it up in the morning.

When Dristan finally emerged from the bedroom, clean and dressed in grey, wool pants and a soft black shirt, our dinner miraculously appeared on the dining room table.

There was a loud popping sound with its sudden appearance and I yelped out of surprise, nearly knocking over a potted plant near the sofa. I was about to scowl at Dristan for laughing at my startled reaction, but I was distracted by the scent of roasted chicken and garlic potatoes.

I rushed to the table with wide eyes, my mouth agape, and my stomach rumbled in anticipation. I marveled at the array of succulent food, not really sure if I was dreaming or not.

On the table sat an entire rosemary roasted chicken, a steaming bowl of smashed garlic potatoes, a pile of freshly baked rolls, a bowl of snapped green beans, four ears of seasoned sweet corn, two giant sweet rolls with cinnamon, a glistening pitcher of iced tea, and a large jug of ale.

On either end of the table were two dinner plates, silverware, goblets, napkins, and two folded pieces of paper. One was labeled, “High Lady Brenya Blackwell”. The other, “Lord Dristan Draconian”.

I wasted no time. I grabbed my plate and piled it high with a generous helping of each and every kind of delicious option we’d been given. I rushed back to my end of the table and sat down before filling my goblet with trembling hands, and dug in.

The food was the most delectable I had ever tasted. Back home, we didn’t have access to spices and herbs such as these. We couldn’t afford them. But once in awhile, we’d find them growing wild. I had once made basil potatoes for me and my father on his forty-seventh birthday. But those were nothing compared to these.

By the time I had devoured half of my plate, I suddenly remembered that I was not alone. With a fistful of chicken inches from my mouth, I flicked a glance across the table and found a cool pair of blue eyes assessing me.

Dristan watched me with a concerned expression, softened only by thinly veiled amusement. He speared a green bean and brought it to his full lips, popped it into his mouth, and chewed slowly as he stared at me. I felt the heat of my blush creeping across my cheeks as I stared back, my chicken still half raised to my mouth, frozen in mid air.

Gods, he probably thought of me as a complete savage. I lowered my chicken leg, wiped my hands on the cloth napkin, and resumed eating at a slower rate. This time, I used my utensils.

“Don’t hold back on my account. If you wish to consume your food like a rabid dog, then by all means, carry on.” He said, bringing his goblet to his lips. His expression was serious, but his sapphire eyes twinkled with humor at me over the brim of his glass. I narrowed my eyes at him.

His hair was still damp, tousled from the towel he’d used to dry it, and stuck up in every direction imaginable. His face was shaven, the dark stubble gone, leaving him looking much younger than before. It was odd to see him in lounging clothes rather than his usual leather and armor attire. He was much less intimidating this way.

When I did not respond, he added, “Are there no such thing as forks where you are from?” He set his goblet down and began working on his potatoes.

“We had exactly three forks in my home, actually.” I held up the fine, sterling silver fork and studied the intricate detailing of the handle. “Of course, ours were made of wood and iron. Not nearly as lovely as these.” A sadness crept into my voice as I thought of those three forks.

There was one for me, one for my father, and one for my mother. After my mom passed away, we only used two of them. Now that I was gone, my father would only need one. That was, if he even had a meal to use it for.

When I glanced up, I found Dristan watching me with an unreadable expression. I stabbed at my green beans with more force than was necessary.

“Those forks were never used for such articulate meals. We were lucky to have squirrel or rabbit more than once per week, if I managed to catch any. Even then, we never had the pleasure of using seasonings on our food. Have you ever tasted overcooked, unseasoned squirrel? It’s sort of like chewing on a leather boot. Not at all like this. I have never tasted food like this...” I held up a forkful of steaming chicken and smiled fondly at it.

When I looked back at Dristan, I frowned. “I’m quite sure that you, a dragon lord, with your fancy magic and your big sword, have no idea what it’s like to struggle just to survive. I wouldn’t be surprised if your whole life was handed to you on a pretty, silver platter. Not everyone is so blessed. I certainly haven’t been. So please, do excuse me for my rabid dog like behavior.” I lowered my head and continued to eat.

The instant before I’d broken our eye contact, I’d noticed a small flash of hurt in his eyes at my words. Something I said had struck home, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I was glad of it.

For several minutes, I did not look at him. I focused only on eating, savoring each flavor and sensation on my tongue as we sat in silence.

My annoyance began to burn out as the time passed and I began to feel guilty for being so rude. That was the most I’d ever said to him at once, and it had been so poisonous. I had no idea where Dristan had come from. I didn’t know what his life had been like, who his family was, or what he’d been through. My parents always taught me to treat people with equal respect and kindness because that was what the gods expected of us.

My father always said, ‘Never judge a man based on his appearance. You can cut open a perfectly good apple and find it rotten inside just as well as you can cut open a deformed one to find the inside perfectly sweet.’

He would be ashamed of my attitude, especially given the house, bath, clothes, and meal I had received thanks to Dristan. Not to mention the fact that he’d saved my life.

I peeked up at him through my lashes, expecting to find him scowling at me, but he wasn’t. Instead, he was casually leaning back in his chair, his expression cloudy and vacant, as he stared into the goblet in his right hand. His plate was empty.

I studied his face. His dark blue eyes gazed blankly into the ale, not really seeing it at all. I wondered what he did see. What memories were swarming around in his mind? What ghosts did he see reflecting in the surface of the liquid in his cup?

The guilt in my gut grew stronger as I watched his brows furrow and his mouth set into a thin line. The deep V between his brows popped out as they pulled together. Whatever he was thinking of, it was painful. And I had caused it.

“Dristan, I-I’m sorry-” I stared to whisper, but he interrupted me, his hand rising slightly to silence me. I waited for him to say something, or perhaps to simply get up, walk into the bedroom and slam the door. I pressed my lips together to keep them silent.

“It may be difficult for you to believe,” He started slowly. “or perhaps you didn’t have the mind to consider it at all,” I winced. “but I can relate to the difficulties you have gone through.”

His pain filled eyes were still lost in the goblet. I swallowed, feeling my cheeks heat with shame.

“Given my physical advantages, I have not known starvation as you have. But I do know what it’s like to struggle to protect the people you care for. I have known war and loss and grief.”

He paused, taking a long drink of his frothy ale, and then locked eyes with me. I was sure he could see the regret on my face. For once, I didn’t try to hide my true emotions. I wanted him to see that I was sorry.

His eyes softened. “I don’t expect you to believe me, but... I know what it’s like to be surrounded by people, and yet still feel that you are alone.”

I stared at him.

“I won’t go into detail, but my life certainly hasn’t been handed to me on a silver platter. I have fought to survive, just as you have. Just, in a different way.”

I wished he would go into detail. I didn’t really understand how someone like him could ever struggle to get by. But there was one thing I did understand, and that was the pain in his eyes. I’d seen that same pain looking back at me in the mirror a thousand times.

Even though I didn’t understand how or why he could sympathize with my life, I believed him. And for one glorious moment, I felt for the first time in my life that perhaps I wasn’t so alone after all.

“I’m sorry.” I said, and meant it. “I wasn’t raised to be judgmental. I didn’t mean to be so harsh, it’s just...” I struggled for words. He lifted his gaze back to mine.

“I’m just lost. And I’m scared. I miss my father. I’m trying to come to terms with what I am, but I don’t know how. I don’t know how I’m supposed to cope with all of this when I don’t even know who I am anymore.” I hung my head in shame, fighting to keep the tears burning behind my eyes from escaping.

“It’s okay.” His voice was unusually gentle. “I know that what you’ve been through this past week has been difficult. I wish I could have prevented that. I know you feel alone in all of this, but you’re not.”

I lifted my head, my eyes stinging at the sincerity in his tone. He gave me the ghost of a smile and I felt the corner of my mouth turn up in response.

“Thank you.” I whispered.

He nodded once. His eyes glowed as his smile slowly faded. I couldn’t look away from those smoldering eyes. There was such intensity in those deep, ocean eyes, some emotion swirling in the currents that I couldn’t quite see. It was too well hidden beneath the depths.

“For everything, I mean. For your honesty, for this meal and for... saving my life.” I said.

He cocked his head at me. “Such kind words. I didn’t know you had them in you.” He teased.

“Yes, well.” I straightened in my chair and cleared my throat. “Don’t get used to it.”

He grinned, but didn’t respond.

I couldn’t help but move my eyes over his nearly perfect features

I couldn’t help but move my eyes over his nearly perfect features. The thick, angled brows above his eyes. The sharp angle of his cheek bones and strong jaw, now clean shaven. The curve of his full, bow shaped lips. The thick, corded muscles beneath the skin of his tanned neck.

His own eyes, I noticed, were exploring my face as well. He slid them slowly down my face, my neck, my breasts, and back up again before settling them on my lower lip, which was pulled snugly between my teeth. His eyes darkened and I immediately released it and swallowed. My mouth suddenly felt very dry and I took a swift sip of my tea.

“You look...” He said slowly. “Different. I mean, without all of the dirt and blood covering your skin.”

My fingers dug into my knees beneath the table, both pleasure and irritation clawing up my spine at his strange comment.

“I would say thank you, but I’m not sure if you are trying to compliment me or not.” I seethed. His lips quicker upward.

“I apologize.” He said as he straightened his spine. He took a swig of his ale, his eyes twinkling with humor at me over the brim. He set the cup down, his fingers lazily stroking the stem. “What I meant to say,” His eyes traveled up and down my face once again. “Is that you look very lovely tonight.”

My lips parted, the shock of his bold words sending heat across my cheeks. Was he toying with me? He had to be... But he stared at me with unwavering intensity, his eyes two immobilizing forces that seemed to paralyze me to my core. I struggled to breathe, to say something, anything at all.

“Uhm, thank you.” I said a bit stiffly. Then it occurred to me that it was polite to return a compliment when you received one. “A-and you also look quite... er, clean.” He rose a brow at me.

“I-I mean, you look different too! Not that I thought you looked bad before, you know, with all the dirt...” Panic bubbled up in my stomach as I stumbled over my words. His eyes danced with amusement.

“What I mean to say is that you, also, I mean, you as well, look very... Uhm...”

“Lovely?” He finished for me, a lopsided grin creeping across his lips.

“Right.” I sighed, my shoulders slumping. I took a long drink from my goblet.

Silence settled around us and I grew very uncomfortable beneath his piercing gaze. I cleared my throats and stood to my feet, my chair sliding noisily across the floor.

“Well, I uh, I think I’ll go to bed now.” I shifted from foot to foot. “Do you want the bedroom, or...?”

“The couch suits me just fine.” He replied, his lips still holding a subtle smile. I absentmindedly pulled my lower lip between my teeth and his smile fell as his gaze fell upon my mouth. The sudden change in his expression, the darkening of his intense eyes, sent an explosion of butterflies in my belly. Quickly, I began to back away, toward the bedroom door.

“Okay, then. Goodnight.” I said, still backing away.

“Sleep well, Lady Brenya.” He said, eyeing me over his muscled shoulder.

I jumped, gasping, when my backside bumped into the door. I spun around and fumbled with the knob before throwing the door open and bolting inside. I hastily shut the door behind me and leaned my back against it while my heart pounded in my ears.

What the rutting hell was that?!

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