She stumbled slightly as she walked across the kitchen and through a doorway to the front room. It was an easy thing to use the knowledge from the books she had read to convince herself she had put on a different face. Gaspard would never notice unless he spent days looking for something he thought he would see everywhere. But even if he did find it, it was unlikely that hed call it anything other than her natural face. He wasn an idiot. But he hadn proven himself to be anything more than Gaspard, either. And now Celene could only hope he would truly listen to what she had to say when they returned to the palace.

The sun was shining when she finally staggered back into the kitchen and dumped the saddlebags outside. Gaspard was gone by then, but she heard him talking to his servants after she shut the door again. She wanted nothing more than to talk to Roxy, but she needed to organise what she intended to say. All she knew for certain was that she couldn continue to run from her past and her fears. If she was going to do any good, she needed to stop hiding and start trying.

She started in the library. There was always the chance that it would lead her somewhere else, which was what she would have to do eventually, but she found a chair and settled into studying for a while. The sun was high in the sky by the time she had finished. Celene exited the castle into the afternoon air. On the way to the stable,e she stopped at the grocery store across the street to buy fresh vegetables—they were all grown within miles of where she stood, as the sign claimed. In the morning light, they seemed crisp and clean enough to eat raw. It would have to wait until morning, though.

She retrieved her horses from the stables without incident. She was careful to avoid looking back and wondering what Gaspard might have been doing. She had come to feel that anything he might have seen was going to be a disaster for her future with the elves. She could only hope he would grow less obsessed with keeping himself safe from harm once their business was done. And so long as that was true, she would keep doing whatever she believed was right.

She arrived at the edge of the woods just before nightfall and helped Roxy stow the supplies. All told, there were four barrels full of wine and ale, another of fruits and cheeses, and three of baked goods. With some difficulty they managed, to fit everything into the mule carts without needing to break open the barrels.

Celene didn want to push her luck, so she stayed on her horse as she guided them back through the woods. She was tired but couldn sleep until she knew she was well away from Lrial. Then and only then would she be able to believe that the knights weren searching for her. And then she would have to face herself.


There was a fire burning in the fireplace when Gaspard arrived at the castle. As the bells tolled at midnight, he left his chamber and returned to Celenes room. He had every intention of speaking to her once more before dawn, but if he could see her now, perhaps he could be convinced to take a few more steps towards ending their rivalry.

”I am glad you waited, ” he said. ”So, do you think this was an adequate place to leave you? ”

He took her hand and led her around the room. When they were at the window again, he glanced toward the forest and then back at her. ”You do realise we could have killed each other instead of leaving each other? ”

Celene shrugged. ”It might not be as much fun, but I can guarantee it would end up the same way. ”

He stopped and spun to face her, taking both her hands in his own. His expression turned serious. ”That is why I cannot let you go, Celene. I see how you act. You will always try to defend yourself the first chance you get. That is fine—I would prefer we fight like friends than strangers. But if I let you go, you would return to the elves and expect me to die so that you might live. If we did that, I would no longer be a man, but a thing. It would turn out far more terrible for all of us if either of those things happened. ”

She smiled and looked down, unable to speak past the lump in her throat. She was impressed by what she had seen of his devotion over the last few days. He had proved that he cared about more than himself.

He pressed on. ”But I understand the impulse. You can keep trying to distance yourself from the elves. Eventually, you may become their prisoner, or worse. ” He tightened his grip as he finished. ”Or you can promise me now that you will never hate me, and at the very least I won have to kill you. ”

For a moment she hesitated. She didn want to make another promise unless she understood where that promise might lead. ”I am not sure I would be able to control my emotions if you died, ” she said. ”Even in this life, I cannot promise what would happen to me when you were gone. ”

”What do you mean? ” he asked. ”Couldn you find comfort in Roxys arms? Or Isabeau? ”

She glared at him. ”I hope you are not suggesting you have some claim on me, Gaspard. I have to respect people for more than just being related to me. ”

”What kind of man would I be if I didn wish to be in your arms? ” Gaspard asked. ”I will admit it, Celene—you terrify me more than anyone else alive. Even Orrick seems only slightly more dangerous because he does not have so many sharp teeth. But that fear is exactly why I care about you so much. ”

She could feel the heat rise to her cheeks. She wasn even certain what she was feeling. It was too large of an emotion to contain or name. She said nothing.

Instead, he put his arms around her, pulled her close, and kissed her firmly on the mouth. The familiar sensation sent a shock through her. ”If we are going to spend our lives together, ” he whispered into her ear, ”I am glad to know you won run from me. At least not away from this room. ”

It took her a moment to pull away from him. When she did, she turned her back to him and pretended to consider the issue. Gaspard knew better than to try to speak while she thought things out. He left her to mull over her choices in silence. When he finally decided it was time for action, she found herself looking toward the fireplace again.

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