Elemental Heir : Book 1 Of The Elemental Heir Series

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Chapter 4




It had been two days since Dristan and I had killed the three soldiers in the woods. Neither of us had spoken of it since. Or spoken much at all, for that matter. The handcuffs around my wrists had rubbed my skin so raw that it bled beneath them.

As the sun began to set, rain began to pour down. Thankfully, we had traveled so far south that the rain was actually quite warm. And with the sun beating down on my back the past few days, I welcomed the relentless sheets of water like a dear friend.

Ahead of me and Dristan, the soldiers began to grumbled their complaints, and horses whined in distress as the lightning and thunder rolled in. Hooves squished and splattered in the mud as we rode on. We came upon an open clearing and a carpet of green grass and wild flowers stretched ahead as far as I could see. Trees still towered along the edges of the field. It seemed we would never reach the end of the forest.

At last, the line of horses and men haunted. “Set up camp here! Tents go up tonight!” The familiar voice of the Captain shouted from the front of the line.

Dristan dismounted and helped me off of my own horse. I tried not to notice how firm his muscles felt as I braced my hands on his arms, or the gentleness with which he set me down. He studied my face as I gazed up at him, beads of water dripping from his hair, his nose, his lips...

His attitude could be so cold, his words sometimes as sharp as the blade at his hip. But more and more often I would notice the softness in his gaze, the unnamed emotion trying to break through the hard surface of his blue depths. It confused me to maddening ends.

He pointed behind me, to a large tree nearby. It’s canopy was so large that the grass beneath it looked fairly dry compared to the rest of the field. “Tie the horses there. I’ll set up the tent.”

Tent. One tent...

I was to share with him, it would seem. I had slept beside him every night thus far, but we had been on bedrolls, modestly spaced apart, with only the stars around us. To be confined to a small tent with him, alone... The thought made me nervous. I was not sure why, I knew he wouldn’t harm me. But I shivered nonetheless as I led the horses toward the tree.

The other soldiers, still wary of Dristan, camped away from us in small groups, scattered beneath the largest trees along the field’s tree line. I was grateful they kept their distance. Even the Captain seemed to be avoiding us.

Dristan made quick work of the tent, and I gathered whatever dry wood I could find while I waited. The rain had soaked through my clothes, but I didn’t mind. Soon we had a fire going. In silence, we roasted two squirrels over the flames. The rain pelting against the tent, distant thunder, and the crackling of the fire were the only sounds for a long while.

I avoided Dristan’s eyes. I gazed into the fire, or across the field, or at my hands. I looked anywhere but at him as we ate quietly. Still, I could feel his gaze on me. I hated the depth of his sapphire eyes, the mysterious way he watched me move. I hated all of the questions that bounced around my skull, and that I knew he wouldn’t answer any of them if I dared ask. I hated that he seemed concerned when he noticed the open sores on my wrists beneath the chains. I hated the way he studied me when he thought I wasn’t paying attention.

I hated that he seemed to care.

Because even if he did care about me, it was only because he had orders. Because he was taking me to my doom, to my certain death. He was taking me to the king. It would be foolish of me, delusional and inconceivable of me, to think for one moment that he cared for any reason other than that. And that was what I hated the most.

“When are you going to read your father’s letter?” Dristan’s deep voice droned suddenly, breaking the long silence.

I stopped chewing. I met his eyes slowly, trying not to choke as I swallowed the tough lump of meat. “How did you...?”

“Do you really take me for an unobservant fool?” He asked, taking a bite of his squirrel. I pursed my lips.

“Why didn’t you take it?” I picked at my food, my appetite suddenly diminished.

“I may be a soldier, Brenya, but I am not cruel.” He answered. I glanced up and found him staring at me, his face sincere. My chest ached a bit and the familiar confusion returned.

“I haven’t had a chance to read it. I don’t know if I even want to.” I said softly.

“Why not?” He pressed.

I gazed across the field, through the rain, toward the direction we’d come from. I stared south, as if I could see all the way home, to my father.

“I suppose it’s because... If I read it, it will feel like a final goodbye to him. And I don’t know if I can face that reality yet.”

A long minute passed without a response from him. When I finally turned my gaze back to his tanned face, his eyes held a sadness that only confused me more. We stared at each other for a long while as the rain intensified around us. Finally, he spoke.

“It is time to sleep. Go inside and get settled, I will put out the fire.” He offered.

Some hidden, unspoken thing seemed to shine behind his gentle eyes as he watched me walk toward the tent. And I realized, after it took him much longer than necessary to put out the fire, that he was trying to give me some time alone to read the letter. I smiled to myself at the realization.

I snuggled down into my bedroll, the blanket dry and warm, and pulled the crumpled letter from the front of my dress. With trembling hands and burning eyes, I slowly unfolded the paper and began to read.


“Brenya,

I know you are confused and afraid. I am so sorry. I should have told you. Your mother made me promise that I would tell you when she was on her death bed. I couldn’t bear it. But now, I must... We found you in the woods when you were just a baby. We did not know where you came from, or who left you there. We could not conceive our own children, so we took you in and raised you as our own. We loved you right away. But as you grew older, we began to notice things. Your unique eyes, your unusual beauty... We did not know for certain, but your mother suspected you were Fae, or some other supernatural being. I denied it. I did not think it possible... I should have told you sooner, given you a chance to run... I did not want to believe it was true. We loved you, always. I can only pray now, that you survive somehow. Do not give up, do not stop fighting. You are strong, courageous and cunning. Escape, if you can. Do whatever you have to do. I cannot tell you how sorry I am, Brenya. Please... Forgive me.

-Father”


His handwriting was messy and rushed. Tears fell from my eyes, smearing the ink on the paper.

I read it three times.

Four.

Five.

When Dristan finally crawled into the small tent, I shoved the letter back down my shirt and wiped desperately at my eyes, trying to hide the evidence of my crying. If he noticed, he did not comment.

He sat with his back to me as he pulled off his boots and armor. He pulled his shirt over his head, left only in his leather pants, and laid back onto his bed roll. His feet nearly stuck out of the tent flaps, he was so tall. He tucked his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. I did not miss the flash of the dagger that he slipped beneath his pillow.

There was less than a foot between us. I could feel the heat from his body. He smelled of rain and pine needles. With the tent so small, and his torso bare, he looked even larger than usual. Even in the darkness of the tent, I could see the definition of his muscles. I studied his chiseled chest and abdomen, marred with so many silver colored scars, as I tried to wrap my mind around the letter.

My parents were not my real parents. I was abandoned in the woods, discarded like a piece of garbage. But by who? And why? And perhaps the most important piece of information... The ring was not mistaken. I was Fae.

I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I’d never felt more tiny, insignificant, or afraid in all of my existence. I was lost.

Where do I belong?

Dristan turned his head toward me. His eyes somehow sparkled, even in the darkness.

“Did you say goodbye?” He asked quietly.

I gazed at him blankly for a moment before turning over. I could not bring myself to answer. I stared at the wall of the tent as new tears stung my eyes.

He did not speak again. Neither did I.

That night, I dreamt of the woods, and the distant crying of a lost child.



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