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Chapter Fifteen, Scene Two
We leave Lauramore’s bogs and travel into a montane forest filled with Glendish oak brush and slender, white-barked whisperwood trees.
“There’s a village,” I say to Cadalia, pointing to the small community nestled in a meadow in the distance. “Best stay clear of it.”
Before the words are even out of my mouth, Shalay swoops down in front of us. Cadalia follows her, and we drop into the trees, preparing to land.
Once again, the dragons leave to hunt for their supper while Lionel and I set up camp.
“In the morning, I’m going to walk to the village and see if I can find work,” Lionel says.
I glance at him as I fight with the tent. “Why?”
He motions to his ripped tunic. “I need to replace this.”
Most of the bloodstains came out, but the boar’s tusk shredded the fabric. There’s a large, ragged gash in the cloth that’s too tattered to mend.
“Let’s go now,” I say, wrinkling my nose at the lopsided tent. “I have enough gold for a couple rooms in the inn, and we can have a decent meal.”
“What about the dragons?”
That is a problem. If Cadalia and Shalay return and find us gone, they could assume Lionel was up to no good. They might burn down the village searching for me.
I gather several small stones, find a section of bare dirt, and place them on the ground.
“To village,” Lionel says, sounding less than impressed by my ingenuity. “Do dragons read?”
“A little bit,” I say. “They should be able to make this out.”
Just in case, I form an arrow, pointing toward the village.
“Well, that should do it,” I say as I stand, brushing off my tunic.
Lionel doesn’t look convinced, but I sling my pack over my shoulder and begin walking. He falls in step beside me.
Desperate for mindless chatter to fill the silence, I point at a scraggly blue flower growing on a tall, spiny stalk. “What’s that?”
“Genevieve,” Lionel interrupts, sounding frustrated. “What are you doing?”
Frowning at a rock in the path, I say, “Nothing.”
I can feel him studying me, but after a few moments, he looks ahead. “Merryming.”
I don’t ask any more questions after that.
The sun is just setting when we reach the village. Smoke puffs out of stone chimneys, and children play in the dirt streets. People sit on porches, enjoying the evening air. They smile as we pass, lifting their hands in greeting.
It’s smaller than Dragon Ridge, and the structures are primarily built of clay bricks instead of wood and stone, but there’s something achingly familiar about it.
Most of the cottages have small gardens in front, some with flowers, but most of the space is reserved for food crops and cooking herbs. I stop in front of one, studying the carvings on a fencepost. It reminds me of something, but for the life of me, I can’t place what.
Shaking my head, I continue, catching up to Lionel.
When it seems we’re nearing the end of town, I stop an elderly woman as she walks past. “Excuse me, can you tell me where the inn is?”
She turns, her mouth already turning up in a welcoming smile. But that smile freezes when our eyes meet, and her expression becomes slack. Slowly, she narrows her eyes, studying me.
I force a nervous smile, unsure of her reaction. Perhaps she doesn’t like strangers?
Lionel shifts beside me, impatient.
“The tavern has rooms,” she finally says. “It’s just past the chandler’s shop, the second to last building on the street.”
“Thank you,” I murmur, bowing my head as I pass her. I feel her eyes on me, and I wonder what about me offends her so.
Then I glance down, taking in my travel dusty trousers and tunic and realize it’s probably not such a mystery after all. Still, the woman’s reaction seemed extreme.
As we climb the tavern’s stairs, I whisper to Lionel, “That was odd.”
He grunts an agreement and opens the door.
I immediately close my eyes when the smell of something savory wafts to me, calling me inside like a siren.
“I’m starving,” I say.
“You’ve barely eaten all day.”
I glance at Lionel, surprised he noticed. It’s true, though—my stomach has been off since yesterday evening.
“Take a seat anywhere you like,” a woman calls as she carries a tray to a nearby table. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”
We find a table near the window. I’m about to take my seat when Lionel steps behind me and pulls out my chair.
“Oh, you want this one?” I say, ready to dart to the other side.
He rolls his eyes, and then he jerks his head to the seat.
I look at the chair as if I’ve never seen one in my life. “What?”
“Sit down, Genevieve.”
Gingerly, I sit, letting him scoot the chair into the table for me—someone thing no one has offered to do for me before.
Butterflies stretch their wings in my stomach, and I look out the window, rubbing the back of my neck. “I am capable of pulling out my own chair, you know.”
“I’m aware of that.” Lionel takes the seat across from me, looking too scruffy to make my chest tighten the way it is.
What’s wrong with me? I don’t even like him, not really. Most of the time, he drives me mad.
The prince is coarse and callous. He has less tact than a fairy and the manners of a troll…a troll who occasionally pulls out chairs for his dusty traveling partner.
“Ale, mead, cider, or tea?” the serving woman says when she steps up to the table, eyeing Lionel’s ripped shirt with interest—like she knows there’s a tale behind it, and she’d love to ask.
Sadly, she’s in for a disappointment if she thinks Lionel is the gregarious, story-telling type.
But that’s enough about Lionel. I turn my attention to more pressing matters, refusing to think about the prince anymore.
“Cider, please,” I tell her after Lionel orders ale.
“Today, our cook has prepared roast duck. Does that suit your tastes, or would you prefer stew?”
Lionel looks at me, waiting for me to decide.
“The duck sounds fine,” I assure her.
The woman nods. “I’ll be back with that for you and your husband—”
“He’s not…” I interrupt, but she’s already walking away. Under my breath, I mutter, “My husband.”
When I look back at Lionel, I find him studying the table, a strange expression on his face. I think he’s trying not to laugh.
My face flushes, and I look out the window, watching a cow as she grazes in the pasture behind the tavern.
“Genevieve,” Lionel says.
“Why are you suddenly so intent on avoiding eye contact with me?”
I glance at him briefly before looking back at the cow. “I’m not.”
“If you tried any harder to—”
But his words are cut off by the tavern door swinging open and smacking the wall.
An older boy walks in, wincing. “Sorry,” he calls to the man behind the bar, having the decency to look sheepish.
“Bernard,” a man says sharply, entering the tavern behind him. His clothing is that of a nobleman, and boots and hat are fine. His belly has gotten larger, and his hair is more gray than brown…
But I remember this man.
He walks to the bar as if he owns the entire tavern—and he might—and sits at a chair, demanding ale. The boy sits next to him. He fidgets, though it appears he’s trying to be still.
“Genevieve?” Lionel says quietly. “Do you know them?”
“Do you see that boy there?” I ask a stricken whisper.
“I think he’s my brother.”