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WaterRose, Meadow Mountain, Grier Country


Elsabet wandered to the stairs as Sebastian drug in a wiltry tree from Warlock Grove across the moor. She stepped near the bannister and frowned down at him. Watching his progress.

They’d spoke minimally since he’d returned from the battle and Rhyers had reprimanded her for not offering him comfort. They’d both been avoiding the other.

I don’t know what to say to her.

“What are you doing?” Her voice cut into his thoughts.

“It’s nearly Christmas.” He straightened to remark.

Her long look told him she’d no idea what this meant.


“Are you being sincere, Little Harpie?”

You don’t know?

She blinked at him, passionlessly.

“Come down here.” He invited.

Perhaps get a little closer…

Her lips tightened and she shook her head adamantly. Backing from the stairs to return to her chamber. He heard the door click.

He called for Elengard. The elf woman that ran WaterRose when he was away. She was careful to stay from sight of the valkyrie as he’d directed those few years ago.

“Please ensure we’ve warm sweet bread from the ovens for knights arriving the next fortnight.”

“As you wish.” She murmured. Lowering her head in deference. “You want the candles lit?”

“Yes, the green ones, scented with leaves.”

“Very good, My Lord.” She backed from the room.

In less than an hour, candles burned in every dark corner of the stronghold. Bast carefully set some in the branches of the tree. Then hung crystal jewels.

“What are you doing?” The valkyrie watched from the parlor entryway. “That’s silly.”

“But pretty nonetheless.” He didn’t look at her.

Stay. Appease your curiosity.

“Do I smell sweet bread?”

“Yes. I’ll assure some is sent to your chamber.”

“Why are you having sweet bread made?”

“My brother sometimes visits this time of year. It’s a memory of who we were.” He murmured. Hanging another jewel. “You should hang one.” He held one out sideways to her. It twisted on its scrap of string. Turning slowly in the candlelight. He was careful to only look at the tree before him. She seems to find me less threatening when I’m not looking at her.


“It’s tradition. It means you were once part of this place.” He gave an encompassing sweep of his arm.

“But I’m a prisoner.”

“But part of it, nonetheless…” He changed the subject before she could vomit the argument she clearly already cultivated. “I do this every year, if you care to join.”

Since you’ll not soon be going anywhere.

“You didn’t last year.” She tilted her head to eye him, accusingly. As though he were deceiving her.

“Last year was an exception. We were still mourning, when the snow came. It was a bad year.” He hung the jewel.


Everyone we lost.

When he wasn’t inclined to answer she expostulated. “This is foolishness! What does all this,” She gestured to it. “represent?”

“Belonging. Welcoming. There other knights come here often in sorrow or loneliness or injured. Such things,” He nodded to the tree as he reached in the crate and retrieved another crystal. Fingers plucking to untangle the bit of string attached to it. “can help heal their wounds. Whatever kind they may be.”

“This place is infinitely strange!” She protested. “Who are these knights? I’ve seen them come and go.”

“My brethren.”

“You do this for them?”

“I do most things for them.”

She stepped next to him. Eying him warily. He’d still pointedly avoided looking at her, though the urge was nearly overwhelming.

She stomped over and yanked a dangling pearl earring from her ear to hang it roughly on a branch before pivoting, skirt swinging as she exited the room.

“Later,” He called to her back, making her pause in the doorway. “I heat chocolate and add a bit of cream next to the fire.”

“Instead of sherry?”

“Instead of my sherry.”

She grunted.

“You are welcome to join me. I’m guessing you’ve not had it before. It’s not an experience you’ll soon forget.”

“I don’t wish to have such indulgence when people in this country are hungry this night.”

He chuckled. As he added another crystal.

“What’s funny?” She demanded.

“No one is hungry tonight. And every landless person in this country has such a treat this eve.”

She snorted. “Unlikely.”

His head turned slowly to give her a prolonged study.

“What?” Her eyes narrowed. “How would you know that?”

“Because I import it from the Isle to ensure there’s enough for them.”

“And how would you know they all have it this night?”

“Because it came in on my ship last eve.”

“And you’re telling me chocolate and goods have been delivered all over Ardae in one night.” She scoffed. “No one is capable of that. Not even you.”

“No, I’m not.” He concurred. “But I have many brethren and they can cover much ground.”

She harrumphed. Eying him skeptically and headed upstairs.

Go ahead and believe I tell you such things to deceive you.

I’m not.

Despite his invitation, she didn’t come back down. He drank his chocolate and admired the tree with its dangling leaves, in dancing firelight. Remembering many years in the UpperLands with his twin. Playing around such trees.

He stared at the pearl earring in its blue holding. Turning softly in the light. She actually hung it. He was stunned and pleased.

Very touched that in a way it was her confession she wanted a part of herself to be recognized here. You are. He envisioned her shining silver-blonde hair in the firelight. The storm in her eyes as she warred with herself on whether or not to believe him.

There’s more to this woman. She’s curious. Interested. And wants acceptance here. He sighed and took another sip of his warm chocolate. Adding another block of the rich dark treat to the liquid in his wood mug.

I’ll find out everything there is to know about her.

And eventually, she will be mine.

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