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7.

I woke late the next morning and stretched like a cream fed cat. The sun’s warmth eased through me and the ache in my muscles was almost refreshing today. I sat up and blinked sleepily at my surroundings for a few seconds until last night’s vision flashed through my mind. I snapped alert instantly. Thomas sat on his pack next to the fire, reading from a small leather book. A small coffee pot warmed in front of him. The others were nowhere in sight.

My eyes narrowed. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep the night before. I had been on edge, ready to fight. I rose slowly and picked up my stout practice stick. I had suspected for a while that Thomas was more than just a good singer. I walked toward the fire, weapon in hand. Thomas’ salt and pepper hair was swept back, away from his face. His lips pursed slightly in contemplation at his book. He looked up as I got close and his soft eyes glanced apologetically toward my practice sword. He put the book aside and smiled penitently. “Would you like some coffee?”

My paranoia fell away and was instantly replaced with the thought that this was the first time Thomas and I had been alone. I smiled and let my practice sword drop. Thomas reached for the coffee put, but I pushed him back and swung myself into his lap. The skirt rose up my legs as I straddled his lap, facing him. His head snapped up and his eyes widened with unfiltered shock. I stopped his lips with mine and wrapped my arms around his neck, melting my body into his. I could feel his hands on my arms, trying gently to push me away. I shook my head and broke the kiss just long enough to whisper softly in his ear, letting my need for him flow into my voice. “You want this as much as I do. I know you do.”

His body went stiff with shock and I wrapped myself into him, pulling him close. His protests died on his lips. His body shuddered softly and folded around mine, his arms reaching to encircle me. I wanted him close. I needed him close. I stood up and turned away to grab the coffee pot and filled the empty mug nearby. Thomas sat speechless. His jaw hung open while I sipped my coffee. It was warm and delicious, easing down my throat to burn pleasantly in my stomach. Beside me Thomas blinked, shaking himself back to the present. “What…?”

That’s for last night.” I said. “Disappointment for disappointment.”

Thomas cleared his throat, visibly trying to collect himself. “I really am sorry for last night,” he said “but we did have our reasons. And I was able to work in some healing for you while you slept. It was something of an apology.”

You waited until I was asleep to run your hands over my body?” I said, raising an eyebrow. “Again?”

Thomas choked on his coffee. “It wasn’t like that.” He coughed. “The sleep was a healing sleep. It should have given you several days’ worth of pure rest.”

I sat on a log near the fire and nursed my coffee, thinking about the kiss over and over. I could feel Thomas’ eyes on me. My heart was pounding. “I’m sorry for teasing Thomas.” I took a breath. “I… That kiss wasn’t a lie.”

I know.”

The silence stretched, but he didn’t speak. “Is that all you’re going to say?” I demanded. “What I said wasn’t a lie either, Thomas. You want me as much as I want you. I felt it last night through your spell. I felt your feelings for me. You can’t just turn away.”

He stared. “You… You couldn’t. That’s not possible. That’s…”

I stiffened at the rejection and turned away. Suddenly he was beside me, taking my hands in his. “I’m sorry.” He said. “That’s not what I meant. I…Yes, I have feelings for you, strong ones, but that’s not what matters right now.”

It matters to me. You poured your feelings through you spell last night whether you meant to or not. I know how you felt with me in your arms and I know how long you’ve wanted me to be there.” He swallowed hard. “I felt more than that too. I felt your strength, your compassion, your power. I’ll wait if I have to, but I don’t want to wait too long.”

The words hung in the air for a moment. Thomas stammered. “I… I didn’t… I…”

I leaned across and kissed his forehead. “Where is everyone else?”

His jaws snapped shut with an audible clack. “I…“ He shook his head. “The others are out scouting. Serena and Jason went to follow the trail directly. Friss and Tara went over the hill to higher ground. They’ll be gone most of the day.”

I laughed and batted my eyes at him. “And you thought you’d keep a young, vulnerable, village girl safe?”

His face reddened again and he slid back to his former seat. “Actually,” he said. “That may not be as far from the truth as you think.”

It was my turn to drop my jaw, but Thomas just laughed. “Not that. But there is something else I need to talk to you about.”

I laughed with him and let the tension fade. Thomas drew his brow downward. “Tell me again about your vision.”

I told you everything I could remember last night.”

Yes, but how did you know it was a vision?”

I didn’t at first. I told you that. I thought it was real until I realized I had the wrong color hair.”

No. I mean after you woke up. How did you know it wasn’t just a bad dream?”

I thought for a second. “I don’t know, really. Does it matter?”

I’m not certain.”

I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. My father, the Priest who raised me, was a Regent of Brill: New God of Hearth and Song. His whole life was stories. He practically raised me on them. It was probably just something I heard when I was a kid that stuck in my head.”

Thomas smiled at me fondly. “Tara mentioned you had an adoptive father.” He said. “I didn’t know you’d been raised by a priest though, especially not a regent of Brill. You must’ve had an adventurous childhood. Regents never stay in one place for long.” He blinked. “I suppose that means you even know how to read, doesn’t it?”

I laughed. “I can read, write, and sing in three different languages, but two of them nobody uses anymore. He taught me facts about everything, numbers, and how to enjoy the little things, no matter what.”

Is he the one who saved you?”

No, I was gathered up by the healers that were trying to fight the pox in my village. I was nearly seven when my parents died. My father had been a woodcutter and I can still remember the smell of my mother’s pies. The place was in chaos. People were dying every hour and there was almost nothing that could be done. I was old enough to walk and mostly feed myself so they largely ignored me. No one even sat down and told me what was happening. I cried myself to sleep almost every night.”

Thomas put down his book. “Tell me more.”

Well, when it was over they moved me to a central orphanage. I was walking through the gardens alone one day and there was an old man lying on the ground. He couldn’t breathe. He begged me to find help and I ran around screaming until someone finally listened. That was how I met my father, Regent Kostya. He had been having a heart seizure. They said I saved his life.

When he was finally well enough to leave the treatment of the others he sent for me. I was terrified as they walked me down those stone hallways. I thought I had done something wrong. That was the only time they really dealt with the children in that place, when something was wrong. When they walked me through the door to his quarters I was crying and scared to death, begging to know what I’d done.

The acolytes led me into a small stone room and left without a word, closing the door behind him. I could barely see through my tears, but I knew I wasn’t alone. I was terrified. When Kostya stepped forward I couldn’t even recognize him as the man I’d helped at first. Then I felt his arms around me. He just sat on the floor and held me, telling me it would be okay. When I finally calmed down he introduced himself and said he wanted to thank me.

He handed me a small paper wrapped bundle with a new green travelling dress inside and helped me open it. It was so pretty I started crying again. To this day, that color green is still my favorite. I changed behind the screen in his room and when I stepped out he let me look at myself in a mirror. It was the first time I can ever actually remember seeing my reflection. It was so magical. I couldn’t believe it was me. Then he asked me if I could help him with something. That was how he put it. He asked if I would be willing to go with him when he left and look after him, to make sure he didn’t fall down any more.

I stood there in my pretty green dress, still awed over the magic of the mirror. I remember drawing myself up tall, feeling so proud that he’d asked for my help. I told him he didn’t have to be scared. I would protect him. He laughed, but from then on we were inseparable. I went everywhere he did and he always introduced me as his protector. Regents of Brill are always on the move, learning stories and songs and finding life where they can and I went with him every time. He taught me everything I know. At first I learned because part of me thought if I didn’t he’d either die or send me back to the orphanage. Later, I learned because I loved him and grew to share his love of stories.”

Thomas smiled. “Is he still out wandering around somewhere?”

I shook my head. “When I was twelve he got sick. Something evil was growing inside him. I spent months waiting on him, sitting near his bed and reading him stories while I watched him get sicker.

Finally one day he asked me for forgiveness because he was going to have to leave. He said Brill had summoned him and wanted to hear his story. Then he thanked me for protecting him all those years; that because of me he hadn’t fallen down. He had walked tall until he had found a good ending to his story. He always believed that every story needed to end so that another could begin. He told me that although his story was over, he had given me everything I needed to begin mine.

He died later that night. A few months later I stopped at the first town I came to and went to work at the inn. I needed to heal and figure out what to do with my life and I had already spent so much of my life in bars, taverns, and inns that it just seemed like a little bit of the home Kostya had given me.”

I wiped tears from my eyes, shaking myself out of my reverie. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to get sentimental.”

It’s okay.” Thomas said with a smile. “I did ask.”

A second later he pulled away and looked down at my belt. “Why do you still carry those bones? The ones from the grave?”

I shrugged. “Everyone needs a hand now and then.”

He opened his mouth to speak but the joke settled in. He let out a groan and my smile widened. My face split with laughter. Thomas joined me a second later. We laughed until my sides hurt.

When our laughter finally faded I felt elated, freed. I sat up and untied my pouch from my belt. “I don’t think I could really leave them anywhere. They feel so right in my hands. And they weren’t wrong about the earlier directions. Why?”

Thomas sighed and stood up. “I’m not sure. There’s something strange about you, something special. I thought it was an old man’s infatuated imagination until last night.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Infatuated?”

He shot me a look and I smiled, shaking my head. “It was just a vision. I don’t have any special training or anything.”

I know,” he said “but there’s no longer any doubt in my mind you should get some. There’s more to you than you think. A lot more. Last night I put you to sleep, but I really shouldn’t have been able to. Not with the feeble spell I used. I felt the strength of your resolve, the depth of your power. If you hadn’t already been half asleep in my arms you could have scattered that spell like leaves on the wind.”

No Thomas, you’re wrong.” I shook my head. “I don’t have any special powers. I’m just a tavern wench with enough imagination to believe the stories I was told as a child. If the bones bother you, we can take them. We can bury them together.” I tossed the pouch to the ground at his feet, spilling its contents.

He stepped lightly over the spilled pile and walked toward me. “It’s not the bones.” He stepped close to me, his face calm. “You don’t have to be afraid of this, Cary. I know how people like me are viewed by people. It’s like I’m not even human. I’m a Priest so people are more accepting, but even then they consider me an instrument of divine rule and not a man. But that’s not how it is. I’m still a person, all magic users are. We just learn to use parts of our soul that most don’t, that’s all.”

He met my eyes. “There’s something truly special about you, Cary and the others have noticed it too. It’s not a bad thing. It’s an expression of power and strength, and you’re lucky to have it.”

I moved into him, our bodies almost touching. I looked into his eyes. His scent filled my nostrils. “Are you sure it’s not a bad thing?”

He smiled shyly. “Cary, I’m almost three times your age. I have a son who’s older than you. My wife died in childbirth giving him to me. I haven’t really been interested in a woman since… until I saw you. When you kissed me earlier I was helpless. I’m not sure of your powers. With regards to you I’m not sure of anything. You could be the greatest threat the kingdom has ever known, but I won’t be the one to notice.” He pulled me to him, his head bending to meet my upturned lips.

I leaned into him and his body bent to meet mine. My vision brushed the corner of his arm, slipping past him to rest briefly on the spilt pile of bones on the ground. I stopped moving and turned to stare at the strange, sword-shaped cross pointing eastward, Thomas’ soft lips landing gently on my forehead instead of my lips.

I pushed him away and looked into his face. My voice was grim. “Jason’s in trouble.” I said.

From the east the sound of distant thunder echoed my words and Thomas’ face hardened. As one we turned and ran toward the sound.

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