“Excuse me?” I coughed and quickly drank some more tea.
Truin flicked her yellow-blond hair over her shoulder, then finished chewing a bite of toast before saying, “You know very well who I’m referring to.”
I said nothing and stared daggers at my cooling tea.
She lowered her voice. “Though I do have to ask, what are you doing to yourself?”
“Isn’t that obvious?” I asked over the lip of my cup.
Truin brushed some crumbs from her gray linen top as her eyes danced with amusement. “Perhaps, but tell me anyway.”
“I’m torturing myself.” I placed my empty cup down. “It’s not much fun, so I cannot say I recommend it.”
Truin laughed, and I dragged my finger around the rim of the porcelain. “He remembers.”
I looked around the room, but there were no guards. They were busy readying for our journey and recruiting any city folk who could handle a weapon to protect the city. “He told me his version of events.”
Truin swallowed, a harsh sound, then sipped some tea to wash down the bread. “He remembers that far back?”
“He hadn’t told you?”
She shook her head. “No, but I haven’t seen him in a few days. Gretelle has been checking on him while I tended to the influx of orders I’d abandoned.”
“And what has she said?”
Truin stared down at her toast. “That he was growing less confused by the day, and he’d stopped throwing up.” She looked at me then and leaned closer. “Granted, this type of thing doesn’t occur very often, suppressing ones memories, but I didn’t think…” She trailed off, but she didn’t need to continue.
She’d thought my plan would wind up being nothing but wasted time and would only serve to unbandage damaged wounds.
“If I’m being honest, I didn’t truly think it would work either.”
“Love,” she said. “It really is the strongest power of all.”
I snorted. “That or I’m simply a determined bitch.”
Truin laughed as I left her to her toast. “You’re never simply anything. But what will you do now?”
“Nothing. We’re off to war.”
Before I could leave, she said, “Oh, and Zadicus slept alone. I heard the handmaids fighting over who got to tidy his room after he left for the training yard.”
Steam tendrilled toward the ceiling, wafting off my skin as I unfolded the towel and swept it over my body.
I’d never experienced war. Never had I known what it was to battle for your very life until some weeks ago. Though I’d been trained for it, the unpredictable tide that rolled for us all had every one of my breaths counted.
Raiden. This had all started because of him. Though I’d be a fool to place the blame solely on his shoulders when really, it began with my father.
That didn’t mean I trusted him. I could never trust him again. But I wondered if perhaps I could end him swiftly and soundlessly. Let it be done. Only, even if I did, I knew it wouldn’t end there.
A howl wrenched the air, echoing off the mountains behind the castle.
Time jumped with unrecognizable speed when you were heading for what might just be your doom. Maybe I’d been heading toward it my entire life, and that was why I felt somewhat resigned to it. Not to die, but to ride into battle, to immerse myself amongst the flavor of hatred and death.
Peace could only last for so long without all-out resentment and long-buried feelings eventually clawing their way to the surface.
I’d contemplated going to the dungeon, but all day long, I was taking my time and doing everything else I could think of instead. And now, nightfall had arrived, bringing with it a shirtless lord on my bed.
I kept the towel around me as I sat before my dressing table and began brushing my hair.
Mint and cloves filled my lungs with every swipe of the bristles over the damp strands. “I believe we’ve been here before.”
“A different time,” Zad murmured.
A glance in the mirror to the left showed his eyes on me. “Is it, though?”
He lifted the pipe to his lips and wrapped them around it, his gaze probing.
I sighed and set the brush down, then pulled the lid off a pot of lavender and vanilla bean lotion to dab some over my face, neck, and arms. “Will you be returning to your room?”
“Do you want me to?”
I wasn’t sure what I wanted. “We’re not fucking if you choose to stay.”
Zad huffed as I stood and draped the towel over the chair. He kept his eyes on mine as I traipsed over the soft rugs and patches of cold floor between them, then climbed inside the bedding. “You think me interested in only one thing?”
I turned to press half my face into the pillow. “We never speak of you. It’s always me.”
He was silent for a few minutes as he finished smoking his pipe. I watched the light from the night sky break through the window, robbing some of the shadows of their souls.