Chapter Eleven: Part Nineteen

“We’ll discuss it more later.” She says. Without saying anything else, she turns and heads back down the hallway and disappears down the stairs. I turn and find Caden watching me, hesitant and unsure.

“I’ll, uh, see you downstairs?” he asks. I laugh at his uncertainty, a blush staining my cheeks.

“Yes. I’ll see you downstairs.” I reply, smiling broadly at him. I turn and head into my room.

Once inside I’m stunned at the grand opulence that’s before me. The bed is huge and takes up a large portion of the space. The rest is taken up by a comfortable seating area, as well as a space off against a wall with a large bookshelf. The top shelves are jam packed with books while the lower shelves are literally overflowing with toys.

The furniture and carpets are all of very expensive make, the crown moldings intricate. It’s so unusual standing in the middle of a room so higher class than what I’m used to. It’s just like the master’s manor. It makes me uncomfortable to be here.

“It’s so pretty, mama!” Kails breathes, staring around with wide whining eyes. And then she catches sight of the toys and starts wriggling frantically to get down.

“Mama, I wanna play!” she cries when I won’t let her down, pushing against my shoulders with her small hands.

“No, sweetie. We’re going to go take a bath. You can play later after dinner.” I say, walking across the room and through a doorway opposite where we came in.

I find myself in a large, luxurious bathroom. I’m surprised at the immense size of the tub in front of me. It’s large enough to fit four or five people very easily.

There are pipes extended over one end of the tub. I know what they do in theory. Indoor plumbing is an extravagance I’ve heard of but never actually seen before.

I drop my bag by the door and walk over to the taps. Both of them are labeled in an elegant, curling script; one labeled hot and the other cold.

I twist the hot handle and am surprised when water comes pouring out of the center spout. The drain must already be plugged because water starts filling the tub fast. I adjust the cold tap until the water is steaming and toasty warm.

There is a shelf that runs along the edge of the tub covered in bottles and jars filled with soaps, salts, and oils. I spot a bottle of bubbles and joyously add a generous dollop of the thick pink foam to the water.

The bath quickly fills, the water obscured with mounds of bubbles much to Kails’ delight, and I strip the two of us down and we both sink gratefully into the tub.

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Chapter Eleven: Part Eighteen

We stop in front of a large wooden door that stands out from the rest. It’s a heavy, dark wood whereas the rest of the doors are smaller and are made of light wood. There’s a gasp from beside me and I look up into Ayers’ anguished face.

“I’ve kept it just the same, your highness.” The woman says gently.

“Thank you,” he replies sincerely. I can hear the pain in his voice, however, and I wonder at the cause.

“You’ll be right next door,” the woman says, addressing Caden. “And you and the girls will be right across the hall.” She gestures to the doors respectively.

“Thank you,” I say, smiling brightly at her. Caden takes the bags off his shoulders and proceeds to untangle the knot keeping them tied together. Once separated, he passes each bag off to its respective owner.

“Can’t I stay with Ayers?” Emma asks in a small voice when Ayers goes to pass her over to me. I look up at Ayers and find him giving Emma a soft smile. It’s difficult to place the emotion playing across his features. He’s normally so stoic.

And then I do place it and I’m even more surprised. Adoration. Love. Ayers has barely known Emma for two days and he’s as enraptured with her as I am with Kails.

It has to be magic. That’s the only explanation for the instantaneous love I feels for Kails and Ayers feels for Emma.

“Of course, Emma.” Ayers says. Emma’s unsure and timid expression is quickly replaced with a relieved smile of pure delight. Ayers turns and guides her into his room.

“Dinner is in an hour!” the woman calls before he can shut the door. He gives her a smile of acknowledgment and closes the door with a soft thud.

“I’ll bring you a salve for your saddle-sores.” The woman says to me and I blush.

“There’s no need.” I say. “They’ll be gone in a few hours. My magic will take care of it.”

“Oh! You’re a spellcaster?” she asks, interested.

“In a manner of speaking.” I reply. She gives me an odd look and goes to ask another question but cuts herself off and shakes her head.

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Chapter Eleven: Part Seventeen

Caden removes the improvised saddlebags and the halter and gives Firelight a through rubdown and brushing before going out of my line of sight and coming back with a large bucket full of water and pouring it in the trough in the stall.

He makes a couple trips and comes back with large armfuls of hay and also leaves a bucket of what look like oats on a low down shelf for the horse as a treat.

Once he’s finished, he comes back in carrying the bags thrown over his shoulder. I flush with pleasure when he comes right to my side, standing so close I can feel his body heat.

“Let’s go get you all cleaned up. Then how about some dinner?” the woman asks.

“Yes please! I’m hungry!” Kails exclaims, causing me and the woman to burst out laughing and Ayers and Caden to smile down at her affectionately.

“Wait, I have questions.” Ayers says, looking at the woman.

“And I shall answer them, your highness… at dinner.” The woman replies firmly. Ayers’ face hardens into an angry mask but he keeps any further complaints to himself.

“This way now,” the woman says, and heads off down a hallway off the entryway without looking to see if we follow. I turn to face Ayers and the girls.

“Do you want to hold my hand or stay with Ayers?” I ask Emma, picking up Kails and swinging her onto my hip.

“Ayers, please.” Emma murmurs shyly, a bit timid. She’s probably expecting some form of negative reaction at choosing Ayers over me.

“Alright, sweet pea.” I say fondly, running the backs of my knuckles down her cheek. She startles a bit from the unexpected touch but smiles brightly.

“Let’s go, then.” I say, straightening up and following behind the woman. At the end of the hallway is a curving set of stairs leading upwards. The woman is already halfway up the stairs and we all hurry up behind her.

The stairs really are a marvel to look at; the railing especially. It’s an intricate, wrought iron, with silver vines winding up the hand bar. It’s very intricate and like nothing I’ve ever seen before and absolutely beautiful.

We reach the landing and head down the very long hallway lined with doors. It’s brightly lit with lamps letting out warm yellow light, spaced at even intervals down the hallway. The length of the hall is much longer than it should be for the size of the house and it’s a bit disconcerting.

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Chapter Eleven: Part Sixteen

Caden passes Kails over to Ayers and then comes back for me. He reaches up and I reach down. Once he has a grip on me I slide sideways off Firelights back and he catches me easily. I blush as I press up against his front, face inches from mine. He seems just as embarrassed as me and looks away.

Once again, I’m saddle sore. The blanket helped. I don’t have as many open wounds as I did this morning. Just a couple but I do have tender patches of skin and more aching muscles than this morning by far.

“True love really is a marvel, isn’t it?” a voice says behind me. I jump and whirl around, startled. The woman is standing behind me, grinning broadly, looking at Caden and me.

I feel myself blush scarlet and risk a glance sideways. Caden is rubbing the back of his neck and his face is turned away. But not far enough away that I can’t see the blush staining his cheek and neck.

“Now could you hold onto Firelight’s halter while I get him a room please?” the woman asks of Caden. He looks confused but he nods, stepping forward and taking the halter from her hands.

“How did you know his name?” Caden asked, putting a gentle hand on Firelight’s soft nose.

“He told me, of course.” The woman says, matter-of-factly, walking over to a large door. She opens it and I see a dining room on the other side.

“Hold on…” she murmurs. She closes the door and taps the handle twice with her fingers before opening it again. I’m shocked to see a completely different room on the other side; a kitchen.

The woman closes the door and repeats the process, tapping the handle and opening the door. This time it’s what looks like an alchemist’s work room.

“Darn it!” she exclaims. She slams the door a little harder than necessary, startling a small cry from Emma behind me. I quickly turn around and rush to her, murmuring soothing words to her and patting her hair and shoulders.

“Ah-ha!” the woman cries out behind me. I turn around and see that the door now opens into a horses stable.

“Alright, come on then, Firelight.” The woman says, turning around and holding the door open. Without any further prompting, Firelight turns and walks through the door, ducking his head elegantly at the woman as he passes.

Caden steps forward and follows Firelight through the door. The rest of us stand patiently in the hallway waiting while Caden gets his horse prepared for the night.

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Chapter Eleven: Part Fifteen

After a few moments the door opens to reveal a young woman with a mess of wild brown hair. She’s dressed in an overlarge tunic that hangs off a shoulder and a pair of patched leggings. She takes one look at Ayers and her eyes widen and she gasps.

“Your highness!” I hear her murmur. She quickly darts out and shoves him unceremoniously inside. I have to laugh as he stumbles through the door, turning to throw a glare at both the girl for pushing him and me for laughing. Out of the corner of my eye I see Caden’s shoulders shaking and a hand covering his mouth, suppressing his own laughter.

“Come in! Come in!” she exclaims, rushing down the steps toward us. She reaches forward and, without a pause for the massive beast, places a hand on Firelights nose. He leans forward into it and I feel the horse heave out a sigh below me.

“Come now,” she murmurs, voice tinged with magic. She walks backwards up the walkway to the house leading the horse, me and the girls still resting on his back.

“What are you doing?” Caden exclaims, rushing up beside us, staring incredulously at the woman as she leads Firelight up the steps and through the front door.

It doesn’t seem like he should fit through the small doorway but he does. I instinctively duck, nearly bending the girls over backwards as I do, expecting to hit the doorframe but we pass under it harmlessly.

“Shut the door, please.” The woman asks of Caden once Firelight is all the way in the entryway. Kails is looking around us in awe. I am too.

The house is gorgeous, if unusual. It all feels a tad surreal, however. I am sitting on the back of a horse in the middle of an entryway that looks like it would be much too large to fit inside the small house that we saw from the outside.

Caden shuts the front door behind us and then comes up to my side, reaching up expectantly. I bend forward and, with my arm around Kails’ waist, slide her sideways off the horse. She reaches as I slide her off and lands safely in Caden’s waiting arms.

Ayers comes up and he and I coax Emma off. She’s just as scared as she was the first time but still goes willingly into Ayers’ embrace. He steps back and stands against the wall, putting Emma on her feet and holding tightly to her hand.

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Chapter Eleven: Part Thirteen

Authors Note: If anyone is actually reading these posts and not just liking them, it would be wicked awesome to get some feedback on my writing and plots and such. The only feedback I get is from my sister. She says it’s all really good but she’s family so her opinion is a little biased so… please and thank you!  -Lisa

 

Hours pass. I can feel the saddle sores forming again and every step the horse takes is agony. We pass through the rest of the forest and are in open farmland after a while. Numerous farms go by and people call out to us passing from the fields but we don’t stop.

Throughout the day, both girls are extremely bored and I tell them stories as the day passes, my voice growing more breathy as the hours go by, pain forcing me to gasp as I talk.

It’s well after dark when we see the Citadel in the distance, shining with light. I gasp in awe at the beauty. The Citadel and the surrounding city are shining like a jewel in the dark and it’s beautiful.

It takes us almost another two hours and everyone is drained again by the time we reach the city. Kails and Emma are both asleep again while Ayers and Caden are both panting hard, worn through with exhaustion.

Ayers takes the halter from Caden and he leads us through the streets. I’m looking right and left at the various shops and houses. Most are made of flat planked wood or stone and it’s all very beautiful and a lot more high-class than I’m used to.

It’s so late that most of the streets are empty. We pass a couple pubs which are still bustling but all the shops are closed and most of the homes are shut up tight with no lights.

Soon, we’re standing in front of a worn down house which doesn’t look like it should be standing. It’s very haphazard in the way it was built. There are rooms built out at odd intervals, a tall skinny tower which shouldn’t be able to support its own weight, and overgrown gardens. It’s a drastic difference than the houses on either side, both of which are neat and tidy looking.

I can feel the magic in the air around the house. It’s resonating deep within my chest and I can feel it vibrating in my bones. It’s obviously magic keeping the house upright when it shouldn’t be standing at all.

Ayers hands the halter back to Caden and goes up to the house and knocks hard on the door. Both girls rouse a bit in my arms at the loud noise. Kails lifts her head from my chest and looks around, blinking blearily.

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Chapter Eleven: Part Thirteen

Caden shakes out the blanket we’d been resting on and throws it over Firelight’s back. Then he places the saddlebags over the blanket, arranging them so they’re rested comfortably on the horses back.

Ayers is standing next to me, holding a content Emma in his arms while I have Kails in mine. He’s looking at me, confused. Then he looks down at my legs and I blush at his scrutiny. I had decided not to wear a skirt, even though I feel ashamed of not doing so, but it would be easier to ride the horse without the extra cloth restricting my legs.

“What happened to your saddle sores?” Ayers asks suddenly. I flush and look away, fear rising up in my chest.

“They’ve all healed.” I say quietly, staring hard at the ground. Caden stops his adjusting and turns to look at me, shock lining his features. Ayers is looking at me as well, eyes wide. I sigh in resignation.

“Since my seal is broken completely, I suppose I’m able to access my magic.” I explain, gesturing to my legs with my free arm. “I healed myself without thinking about it.” Ayers and Caden both stare at me, eyes wide. I sigh and gesture to Firelight.

“We don’t have much time. I don’t have much time. We need to get moving.” I say impatiently. This gets them moving. Ayers comes forward and reaches for Kails. It takes some maneuvering but after a minute he has both Kails and Emma nestled safely in his arms.

Caden comes forward and I blush, looking him in the eye, remembering the kiss. His face colors a bit as well and I know he’s thinking of the same thing.

He bends down and cups his hands together for me. I put my foot in his hands and he easily lifts me up. I swing my leg over Firelight’s back and settle myself comfortably, muscles twitching at the body memory of the saddle sores.

Ayers comes forward and, after a moment of prompting on Emma’s part, takes her from Ayers’ arms and lifts her up to me. Kails is passed up a moment later and, once we’re all three settled on the horse, we head out.

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