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Chapter Twenty

It occurred to me that I had no idea where Tiran’s family lived, but I then noticed a white wisp floating in front me, as if to guide me there. I knew it had to be from Tiran, even in his current state.

As I walked the roads, following the wisp, I saw several homes still ablaze and others that had been doused. It made me sick to think that the poor Dragon, despite hurting Owen and had begged for mercy, was the same creature that could have done all this.

The wisp vanished as I came across a fairly large cottage that glowed faintly at my arrival. This must be Tiran’s home. It was made of brick and stone, and was somehow undamaged by the fires. I took a shaky breath and walked up the small steps to knock on the door. I waited a moment before a little boy that looked the age of seven opened it with a smile. He looked exactly like his father and I forced a smile at the sight of him.

“Hello child, where is your mother?” I asked.

“My Mama’s making Papa’s favorite soup for when he comes back from fighting evil people,” the boy said. I could not help grin.

“Dillon! Who is at the door?” A woman with auburn hair and a fair complexion who looked to be in her late thirties walked over to the boy.

I bowed my head in greeting.

“Good day, Madam. I am Mel—”

“Melanie, love! Please come in,” the woman said happily.

I walked in, dazed that she knew who I was, as Dillon closed the door behind me.

“Come this way, Melanie.” I followed her from the large and cozy living room into the cluttered kitchen. “I am sorry it is such a mess,” she said with a laugh. “My name is Reya, I am Tiran’s wife. Please, have a seat.”

“Thank you,” I said, sitting down. “Pardon me, but may I ask how you know of me?”

Reya smiled. “My Tiran is always speaking of the young duchess and what a fine lass she is. I can see now that he was right.” I blushed.

Dillon scampered into the room. “Mama, is she Duchess Mel?”

“She is,” Reya agreed, taking a sip of her cooking.

Dillon turned to me.

“Truly? I thought she would be taller. Papa did say she was fierce and was not afraid of anything!” The boy then examined me, eyes narrowing as he did so.

But hearing him speak of Tiran, made me lower my head as I remembered why I had come.

“Melanie, love, you did not come all this way to have a friendly visit, have you?” she asked in a low voice. Her voice made my eyes water.

“No, I have not,” I admitted. Seeing her catch her breath, I quickly added, “But Tiran is alive.” Reya sighed in relief. “He is injured, and he thought that it would be best to let you know he will not be coming home soon.”

“Thank you,” she whispered. “How bad is it?”

“He was struck by a Dark Mage’s arrow to both his side and leg.”

Reya stopped her cooking for a moment, and then resumed. There was a long pause between us.

“Tiran told me he had five sons,” I said, trying to lighten up the mood as Dillon played with the sword Owen gave me. I unclasped it from my belt and let him hold it, although it was quite heavy for him.

“He does. The boys are out back in the yard, practicing swordplay.”

“And Dillon cannot join them?” Reya shook her head.

“He is like his father. He would rather be indoors with his mother than outside battling to the death.”

Dillon smiled in my direction and ran out of kitchen, the sword dragging on the ground behind him.

Reya watched him go. “He must want to show off to his older brothers. They practice with wooden swords. I think it is best you follow him, Melanie. Watch him for me?”

“All right.”

I followed Dillon out to their garden. Dillon saw me going after him and decided to run faster. Seeing his little self, moving at such speed while holding onto the heavy sword, made me rush after him fearing he would trip.

Dillon giggled and called for his brothers’ help. “Eryk! Silas! Tristan! Radley!”

“Dillon!” the four chorused.

I stopped running at the sight of them. The four boys looked exactly alike and all the same age, which I imagined to be my age or slightly older. Dillon ran behind the four of them and giggled, still holding my sword in his hands.

“Oh, I am Melanie.” I did a quick curtsy to the four, although it was more a bow in my armored dress. They bowed in return.

“She is Duchess Mel!” Dillon exclaimed. “I have her sword, too!” He showed his older brothers the sword I had given him.

“Quite a find,” one of them said, and gently took the sword from Dillon and handed it over to me. “I think this belongs to you.”

I took the sword, reattached it to my belt, and gawked at them. I had never seen four so alike. They all had their mother’s light skin, a vivid contrast to Dillon’s darker tones. When I noticed they were uncomfortable, I apologized.

“Sorry,” I said, briefly looking away. “I heard Dillon say your names, but which is which?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

The four must have been used to this, as they did not need to even glance at one another when they introduced themselves.

“I am Eryk, and the first of four,” the one who had given me the sword said, a hint of pride in his voice.

“I am Silas, the next eldest.” I noticed Silas’s eye color was not brown like his other brothers. They were gray like his mother’s.

“I am Tristan, the third born.” Tristan seemed to like the color gold, since he was the only one with a gold armband and ear piercing.

“And I am Radley, the youngest.” Despite the fact that the four were identical, Radley was slightly shorter.

“No, I am the youngest! I am Dillon and I am seven!” I smiled at him, and he grinned, and then raced over to my side. “Duchess Mel, are you hurt?” He pointed at the slash in my armor.

“Oh no, I am not hurt. I was attacked by a Dark—evil man.” Dillon’s eyes widened. “It is all right,” I assured him. “The evil men are gone now. We defeated them.”

“Was our father at the battle, Duchess?” His gray eyes told me it was Silas.

“Yes. He was wounded, but he will be fine.”

“I wish he allowed us to fight,” I took the sight of the gold armband: Tristan. “We are nineteen. We could have helped.”

“Your father risked his life there. I do not believe that he would want you to do the same,” I said, folding my arms over my chest.

“But a mere girl like you was there! Surely, Father knew that,” Tristan said, the jealousy clear in his voice.

“She is no mere girl, big brother. She is Duchess Mel!” Dillon exclaimed, making me smile at his defense for me.

Tristan’s face reddened and he mumbled an apology. I fought the urge to grin. My title as Duchess had put him into place.

“Boys, supper is ready! Wash up before you sit at the table!” Reya said from the doorway. “And Melanie, love, please join us.”

Dillon grabbed my hand and ran towards the kitchen. When we entered, the table was already set up.

“Mama, look! Duchess Mel was attacked by an evil man!” He pointed to my armor. Reya set down the ladle in her hand to walk over for a closer look.

“Let me have you changed into something, yes?”

“Oh no, I cannot. I would not want to burden you any further,” I protested as Reya pushed me towards another room.

“Nonsense, love.” She had me change into a spring green dress, which was pretty enough, but Reya was much taller than I and much bigger in build. To accommodate this, she had to tighten the strings of the corset, but the hem of the dress pooled at my feet.

“This is not necessary, Reya,” I pleaded.

“My dear Melanie, do not fret. This is a pleasure,” she said with a smile. “If only Tiran were here to see you. It would have made him so happy to see you with us.” Knowing I could not disagree to that, I smiled and joined her as she walked back to the kitchen.

I felt much at home talking, eating, and laughing with Tiran’s family. It was a nice change from all the formal meals I was used to. And I adored Dillon especially; he was the only one who shared his father’s ability to keep my spirits high.

But inside, I felt as if I were doing something wrong, spending carelessmoments with Tiran’s family when more important things were at stake. Yet Icould not bring myself to leave, not when Reya and her sons needed adistraction to keep their minds off of Tiran’s ailing health.

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