“You needn’t bother with trying to be silent,” Zad said. “You’re about as stealthy as a wounded horse.”
Irritation prickled at my nape. Still, I climbed into the seat next to him, eyeing the wine he was nursing. “How is this possible?”
Zad licked the corner of his lips, then smiled. “Why, the same way what we can do is possible. Magic.”
“But it looks real,” I said, my eyes roaming the greenery and moonlit kaleidoscope of color.
“Because it is; it just needs a little more encouragement to survive.”
I pondered that, then asked, “Emmiline?”
Zad nodded. “Her powers are tied to the soil, to the earth.”
I blinked, then reached for his wine and took a hearty sip. He said nothing as I handed it back with a small amount remaining. A wave of his hand had it refilled.
“I need to learn that.”
“There are many things you still need to learn.” Unamused, he sipped his wine. “You went straight to heavy hitting without paying any mind to what the finer, less devastating things can offer.”
I ignored that. He was right, in a sense, but I had better things to worry over these days. “She’s royal, then.”
Zad seemed to stiffen. “She is.”
I eyed him. The unyielding set to his broad shoulders, the rigid lines of his hewn cheekbones, and that hardened jawline. “Your mother?”
He took another sip of wine. “You already know my mother is dead. Emmiline is my mother’s sister.”
I had heard that. “She bears an uncanny resemblance to you.” He frowned at me. “Bone structure, and the…” I gestured to his face. “Silent intensity thing.”
His frown gradually slipped, his eyes swirling over my features, and I felt myself sag as though I’d finally been handed water in the middle of the desert. “You couldn’t sleep.”
I shook my head, then grinned when a throw pillow and blanket materialized before me on the clear patch of grass. “I find looking at the stars can sometimes help.”
“Do you find yourself up here often?” I settled over the blanket and tucked the pillow beneath my cheek.
Zad’s crossed ankles shifted from side to side near my knees. “Whenever I can.”
“How is it not freezing?” Granted, it wasn’t as cold here as it was at the castle; the temperature thawed with every mile away from it, but the air still carried a bite. A bite that didn’t bother me, but would bother most.
“The house is heated the same way your home is, only it extends to the roof as well.”
I yawned. “Which is also how you’re able to keep the gardens alive.” We had magic users working full-time to ensure my own gardens’ survival.
Zad picked up a book that lay beside him and opened it to where he’d marked the page. “Exactly.” He began reading aloud from a collection of tales that were crafted long before our parents were even blips on the horizon. Stories of princes and princesses, of royals being hunted and slain by faeries, forced to find a place of their own to ensure their survival, of kings and queens and human warriors and monsters of flesh and scale.
And all too soon, the deep, melodic timbre of his voice had my heavy lids drooping, following me into a dreamless sleep.
Some hours later, as the sun sent spirals of golden light snaking through the dark, I awoke to find the lord lying next to me, gazing at the fading stars. “Have you decided what to do?”
I stretched my legs and arms, then sat up and watched the last of the shadows disappear. “I’m not sure which cumbersome matter you’re referring to.”
“All of them.” His voice was lilted with sleep and pressed on every single place he’d ever touched. All of me.
There was little else to be done. A war was brewing whether I, or any of my people, liked it or not. “Raiden can wait.” I turned my head over my shoulder, offering a smile. “I think it’s time we go to war.”
“And you’d like me to join you, of course.”
I said nothing but continued to smile.
Zad nodded once with a gleam in his eye that couldn’t be read but filled me with warmth all the same.
I pressed a hand to Wen’s muzzle, the heat from his nostrils warming my palm. “We will stop more now that we have daylight, my friend.”
He huffed as though he didn’t care either way.
I grinned, sliding my hand over his neck before I mounted him and clicked my tongue. Before I could get ten feet away from the stables, Zadicus stopped me.
He stood in the sunshine, his long brown leather coat flapping behind him, and his hair kissed by the sun. Wen whinnied, and Zad stroked his neck as he neared. “You were going to leave without saying goodbye.”
My brow crinkled, my gloved hands creaking around the reins. “I said goodbye—”
With a crook of his finger, my head tilted down, and he grasped it within his cool, calloused hands. His eyes met mine for an instant that morphed into something more, and then our lips touched.