Chapter Four — Genevieve of Dragon Ridge

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I drop the canvas bag near the prince’s feet, jostling the contents. “I almost died while fetching all this for you. I hope you appreciate it.”

Cadalia saunters past the room on her way deeper into the cavern. “You didn’t ‘almost die.’”

I stick my head into the large hallway. “I nearly slipped from your back.”

Nearly. As in it did not happen.”

Rolling my eyes, I walk back into the room. It was my fault—I lost my grasp on the bag Denton filled, and when I tried to catch it, my hand slipped on the fabric band. If I’m going to keep this up, I’ll have to request a custom dragon saddle from the local saddler.

I snort, just thinking of Tarith’s reaction to that.

The prince groans. “You’re back.”

“So it would appear. Unless I’m an apparition. Who knows, perhaps I did die?”

“If someone were to haunt me, I do not doubt it would be you.”

“Feeling better, are we?” I say, sitting cross-legged on the floor and emptying out my loot.

“Not particularly.”

“You’re infamous.” I pry open a tin of green salve, trying to remember what Denton said it was for. “Do you know that?”

The prince’s only answer is a labored breath.

“Your name is Lionel?” I sniff the salve and then wrinkle my nose. “Is that right?”

He angles his head toward me, and I can feel his gaze on my face. “How do you know that?”

“Fairies know everything,” I explain flippantly. “Nosy little busybodies. Now, tell me, would you rather I slather you with this putrid smelling goo or make the pain-relieving tea first? Your choice.”

He nods toward my dagger. “Make good on your threat.”

“That’s a coward’s way out,” I say cheerfully. “A man stubborn enough to hop one-legged to his escape doesn’t strike me as cowardly. Am I wrong?”

The look he gives me is so full of pure hatred, I’d likely be terrified if he weren’t half-dead. As it stands now, he’s not terribly intimidating.

“The tea,” he bites out, turning his head to stare at the ceiling.

“Good choice.” I snatch the parchment bag from the pile and stand. “I’ll be back in a bit. Denton said you are to rest as much as possible, so sleep if you can.”

The prince—Lionel, I remind myself—grunts.

I leave the room, walking outside to the tiny cottage that’s tucked into the trees just past the meadow. Though it’s technically mine, I only use it for cooking. At night, I feel far safer in my room in the cavern.

It’s a lot of fuss to start a fire just for tea, but at least it gives me a chance to scrounge for something to eat. After skipping dinner and breakfast, I’m ravenous. I should have stopped for bread and cheese while I was in Dragon Ridge, but my focus was solely on my task. If I don’t hunt soon, I’ll starve—and so will the worthless prince.

I check my crocks, satisfied to find a meager amount of flour left, along with a little salt. As I wait for the water to boil in the kettle, I pat out two unleavened flatbreads and place them on stones near the fire to cook.

As soon as they’re done, I pluck mine right from the stone, nearly burning my fingers. Thankful for the addition of the honey I gathered last week, I eat quickly. After I’m finished, I eye the other round of bread.

Practicing restraint, I prepare the tea and walk back to the cavern.

“I’m back,” I announce. “Do you think you can sit up? I have tea and bread.”

Lionel doesn’t answer, but I know he’s still alive because his chest is moving.

“I’ll take that as a no.” I lower myself carefully to the ground, trying not to slosh the hot tea. “That’s all right—I brought a spoon. It’s wood, though. Hopefully, it won’t offend your delicate princely sensibilities.”

“Go away,” he groans, unable to ignore me any longer.

“You could be slightly kinder to the person who’s reluctantly attempting to save your life.”

“Go away, please.”

Barking out a laugh, I assess the situation. Not liking the only solution I can come up with, I let out a longsuffering sigh and position myself behind the prince so I can rest his head in my lap.

“What are you doing?” he demands, jerking away from me like I’m hurting him—and who knows, with all those injuries, I probably am.

“Do you want to choke on the tea?” I grasp both sides of his head, holding him in place, looking at him upside down. “I asked you to sit your fool self up, and you didn’t move. Now, are you going to allow me to help you, or are you going to fuss like a child?”

Lionel clenches his good eye shut and nods, which I take as a sign he’s going to cooperate.

I dip the spoon into the tea and bring it to his lips. He cringes as he opens his lips and takes the first taste.

“Is it as awful as it smells?” I ask.

He grunts an agreement, but he doesn’t fight me. In fact, he looks like a man whose spirit has been broken. It doesn’t please me as much as I thought it would.

“The scent is strangely familiar,” I say, feeling the need to fill the silence as I go about my task. “I think I must have had something like it when I was young.”

“It’s the merryming,” he says. “It reduces fevers, but it’s bitter.”

I pause. “How do you know that?”

He doesn’t answer, and that’s fine. I’m perfectly capable of carrying on a one-sided conversation.

“I assume your mother spoke of it. Perhaps she gave it to you when you were ill.” I spoon up more of the liquid. “I suppose she must be worried about you now.”

“My mother is dead,” he says, and then he adds, “I barely remember her.”

For some reason, I think that second bit is a lie, but I don’t call him on it.

Unfortunately, the conversation dredges up memories I’ve tried to bury, and I murmur, “I wish I could forget mine.”

For some reason, that catches the prince’s attention. He opens his good eye and peers up at me. Worried we might have stumbled onto a subject he actually wants to pursue, I quickly press the spoon to his lips.

“Hurry up,” I say. “Your head is heavy, and my legs are falling asleep.”

Continue to Chapter Five

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