The sun peeks through the curtains, pulling me from a languid sleep. My dream lingers in my mind; the dark, hazy place. A woman in red robes, with long dark hair hanging out from under her hood. It’s cold, and my body shivers, covered in goosebumps. She doesn’t speak, she just stands there, waiting, watching.
Today is the fifth day since our arrival in Camelot. I roll away from the light, reaching across the sheets. For a moment, I’m confused; there’s no one there. I prop myself up on my elbows and sigh as I look at the other side of the bed, the undisturbed covers look forlorn.
“Don’t look so depressed, Kat. You still have me.” Rhoan whines, as he watches me from one of the many pillows, in the form of a fluffy blond cat.
I smile and pat his little head, “Yes. I always have you.”
The stone floor is frigid, and I rub my arms over the long white gown. I pull back the curtain and lean on the stone ledge. I can just make out the training grounds down the hill in the courtyard. Andrei is already there, his long brown hair tied back, an intimidating figure in front of him. They trade blows, and then the other man barks at him. He seems to be learning rather quickly. I find it hard to look away, and my cheeks hurt from grinning.
“My lady?” A voice calls, muffled by the door. A knock follows. “I’ve brought breakfast.”
“Come in!” I yell back, closing the curtain and jumping back into bed.
The door creaks open, and Alice walks in balancing a tray on one arm. She moves to place it on the desk by the fireplace. I don’t remember when they added a desk to the room. “How are you this morning, my lady?” The blonde smiles sweetly.
“I’m well, thank you, Alice. How are you?” I think she’s my favourite of the castle servants. Her skill with a hairbrush, sweet demeanor, and delicate features combine to make her memorable.
She blushes, “Oh, I am quite well, thank you for asking.” She places the tray down, and turns around, “May I help you dress?”
“Please, that would be wonderful.” I climb out of bed, and she moves over to the wardrobe. It seems that when we were in town the other day, our rooms were stocked with clothes.
Alice pulls out a dress and sets it on the foot of the bed. It’s a white under-layer, with a dark green outer layer, “I think this colour suits you well, my lady.”
“Alice, please, call me Kaitlyn,” I tell her, for the tenth time.
Her smile broadens. “If you insist, my lady.” A hint of mirth in her tone.
I sigh. She helps me out of the nightgown and into the dress. It seems heavier and thicker. “This dress is different from the last few.” I point out, almost as a question.
“Oh, yes. It’s quite chilly outside today, my lady. I would hate for you to catch a cold when you go out to see your young knight.” She puts emphasis on ‘your’, then turns a deeper shade of red, “I’m sorry, was that too bold?”
I laugh, “Not at all. You’re very observant.” She tugs the fabric into place and nods.
“Would you like me to brush your hair, my lady?” She bows her head.
“Kaitlyn,” I correct. “I would love that. Thank you.”
I sit at the desk as she collects the hairbrush from the vanity. I pick at the bread and oatmeal, relishing the gentle strokes of the brush. “Would you like me to style it for you?”
“Sure.” I nod. Why not.
Her fingers weave my long locks into an elaborate braid down the back of my head, and she ties it off at the end with a ribbon. Afterward, she steps around the table and curtsies. “Is there anything else I can do for you, my lady?”
I think about it for a moment, “Yes… Is there a library here?” She lifts her head, her big blue eyes curious.
Alice shows me the way to the castle’s very own library. At first, she’s a little confused by the cat that follows at my heels, but she says nothing. I dismiss her when we arrive; I’ll be here a while. I’m sure I can find my own way back.
The room isn’t terribly impressive. It’s nothing like that scene in Beauty and the Beast, with row upon row of stacked oak bookcases neatly filled with seemingly thousands of books. It’s only one floor, though the shelves to reach the ceiling. There are several shelves crammed in, and a couple tables with chairs. The layout makes the room almost like a small maze. It’s lit with strategically placed candles, and it smells of ink and leather. It may not be like Beast’s library, but I can hardly wait to dive in.
In no time, I’ve got six books in one arm, and I’ve only looked through two of the shelves. I pull down another one with a faded title and flip it open to the first page. The writing is a little smudged. I squint and try to sound out the letters.
“Can you really read that?” A masculine voice asks in a coy, suggestive tone.
I scream, dropping all the books as I jump back a foot. My heart pounds in my ears, but to my relief, there’s no fire. At least the library is safe. I turn to glare at the person and promptly freeze. My retort cut off before it is even spoken.
Arthur stands next to me, head tilted to one side with a huge grin lighting his handsome features, “I’m sorry, did I startle you?” He kneels and gathers the books at my feet. As he rises, he frowns, “Are you alright?”
I snatch the books out of his hands and turn away. What an arrogant little… “I’m fine. Yes, I can read.”
“How fascinating.” He muses, “Can all women in your time read?”
I glance up from the corner of my eye. He doesn’t seem at all threatening. “We can do more than that.”
“Like what?” The teasing tone has vanished, replaced with genuine curiosity.
I walk farther down the row, hoping to put space between us, but he follows like a puppy. I avoid meeting his intense stare. “We can go to school, work, vote… Pretty much anything men can do. Even fight in wars.” I answer simply.
“Really?” He gasps, “You must tell me more!”
I turn the corner and walk faster toward the door, “I, um, I’m not supposed to. You’re not supposed to know that much about the future.”
He cuts me off, “Then tell me more about you.” Does he ever quit?
“Me?” I gulp, glancing between him and the door behind him. “I, um… I just remembered I’m supposed to go see Merlin. Sorry.” I duck around him and jog towards the door.
“Will you join me this afternoon for a ride through the woods?” He yells after me, “You can invite your friend as well.”
“I don’t know… I’ll ask.” I reply quickly as I slip out into the hall.
“This way,” Rhoan whispers as he runs out between my feet. I follow the cat through the stone halls, relief washing over me as I recognize the doors up ahead. I slam my door behind me and lean back with my eyes closed. That was too close.
Once again, I scream. This time I clutch the books against my chest as my eyes scan the room. Sitting behind the desk, feet up on the table is a familiar face. His long dark hair frames a strong jaw, and the morning sunlight gleams off his thin glasses.
“What are you doing here?” I frown, looking cautiously for his overzealous friend. I move over to drop the books on the bed.
“I told you we would be coming by to check on you.” Ceph states simply. I hear the chair scrape across the stone as he stands up. “You are not recovering quite as well as I had hoped though.”
“You can’t just-” I turn to face him, only to realize he’s crossed the room already. He towers over me, dark eyes narrow and expression unreadable. I stumble back, around the foot of the bed. “What the heck are you doing? What is it with the men in this time?! Have none of you heard of personal space?!”
He raises an eyebrow at the comment. “Men? I forget, most men are not as mannered as I am… Who has touched you? I will impair them so they cannot do so again.” He says rather defensively.
“Touched?” I blink, “No, not… yet anyway. I can handle myself, thanks.” I cross my arms, “Why are you looking at me like that? It’s creepy.”
He flinches, offended. “How is my look creepy? I would not look at you in any manner that most other men would look at you. I already have a loved one. I was reading your aura. It concerns me that after three days of rest you have not recovered any amount of power. I am thinking we need Merlin’s help in this matter.”
“Arthur has a wife. That doesn’t stop him.” I scoff bitterly. “What can Merlin do? He’s already healed my wounds.”
He smirks, amused. “Merlin knows a great deal. I can take you to him and we can discuss what can be done to help you recover beyond your physical wounds.”
I narrow my eyes, “Alright, I guess. Though, I wouldn’t suggest sneaking up on me, when I do recover.” I warn.
“I wasn’t trying to sneak up on you. I was merely waiting for you to return. I had your servant show me in.” He shrugs. I’ll have to tell them not to let strange men into my room…
I pout, turning away, “Still… Maybe it’d be best if I don’t get my fire back until we’re back in our own time.”
“I’d have to disagree. Eli would very much like to teach you some of the techniques he’s mastered. He has not met another fire elementalist like himself, let alone a Guardian.” He muses.
I tip my head, “Did you know him before he became a Guardian? Did he ever have trouble controlling the fire? Does it… have a mind of its own?”
He watches me thoughtfully, “That’s a question you should ask him.”
I tap my fingers against my arm anxiously. “What if I do get my power back, but I can’t control it? What happens if I accidentally burn the castle down?”
He puts a finger under his chin, “Let me ask you this; have you ever lost control in front of the time mage?”
I flinch at the seeming randomness of the question. I have to think about it, “I… Not exactly. I guess I haven’t burnt anything down while he’s around.” I shake my head, “But that’s not the point. He’s not here right now. Just now, I was in the library, and Arthur snuck up on me and if I hadn’t been like this, he’d probably be dead now!”
“That is a highly unlikely scenario. I cannot see you being as out of control of your power as you claim to be. You would not be granted it if you could not control it. But again, these would be questions Eli could answer better than I.” He nods in satisfaction at his own words. How incredibly unhelpful.
“Maybe if it was just Guardian power that I had to worry about, it would be easier,” I mumble. “Okay, well. If we’re going to go see Merlin, we may as well go now.”
Ceph frowns, “I don’t understand. There is only two kinds of power, regular elemental arts and the level of Guardian, master of the elements. I can see how one might be born into great power, such as Merlin, but that does not cause you to be out of control. I would determine this to be an issue in training or understanding your power, rather than one of too much power.”
I raise an eyebrow and laugh, “What about dragons? I thought dragons were common in this time.”
“They are, but they are complementary to fire. They would not cause chaos in power, only increase the potential of raw power. This is very similar to Merlin’s own situation. If I were you, I would talk to him about this.” His know-it-all tone is really getting on my nerves.
I scoff and head for the door. “Who I need to talk to is Markus. Obviously, he’s the only one with answers.” I pause at the door, “Um… Don’t mention any of this in front of Andrei. I get the feeling he’s having enough trouble managing his own power.”
“Markus isn’t the only Guardian with answers. He may have been a pioneer in his research, and a founder of this place you call the Guild, but he is not the origin of all Guardians.” He pauses, “What do you mean? He seems adept enough to jump two people at once. Is there something wrong?”
I brush off his statements about Markus. He doesn’t know the whole story. “I don’t know. I guess in the same way that you’re looking at me, I can sense something isn’t right. He won’t tell me because he feels responsible, but he might talk to you.”
He nods, “Alright. I was planning on seeing him anyway, to see what he can do. Let’s go see if Merlin can help you first though.”
“Come on, Rhoan,” I call over my shoulder as I open the door. I wave for Ceph to go ahead as the blond cat jogs up to my leg. I pick him up and he shifts into the mouse, curling up under the collar of my dress. I smirk at Ceph, “I bet you haven’t seen that before either, huh?”
He chuckles, “You’d be surprised.”
“Ceph, Kaitlyn,” The middle-aged man smiles, looking up from the massive book on his desk. “What can I do for you?”
“Ceph seems to think I should be more magically recharged by now, and says you can do something about it.” I lean against a table with some sort of apparatus of tubes and vials.
Ceph rolls his eyes, “Not in those words, but yes. She should be making fire by now, wouldn’t you agree?”
Merlin stands up, walking around the desk, his eyes narrow. “Yes… How strange.” He studies me for a moment. I shift uncomfortably under his scrutiny. “How do you feel?”
I shrug, “Tired, I guess. Pretty much the same since I woke up here.”
Merlin nods, and wanders over to a shelf of old books, “I believe I may have a recipe for a potion here. It should boost your natural regeneration.” He pulls one book off the shelf, flipping through it. He shakes his head, putting it on the table and grabs another one. Four books later, “Ah, here it is… Oh, but I’ll need a few ingredients. Ceph, how is your knowledge of herbs?”
He raises an eyebrow, “It’s fairly fluent. What do you need?”
Merlin grabs a blank paper and scribbles out a list. “These. Most of it is local, but a couple of them are out of season. I assume that’s not a problem.”
“Not a problem?” I gawk. “How long do you expect us to wait here?”
“It shouldn’t be a problem. I can bring these into season for you.” He nods with a smile. Oh, right… Time mage. Even being around Andrei, I’m still not used to it.
“Great.” Merlin grins, “I’ll send word to the stables. Feel free to borrow some horses. Those herbs tend to grow deep in the forest.”
Horses…. “Shit.” I hiss, quickly covering my mouth. That wasn’t supposed to come out. The two men raise their eyebrows at me. I quickly compose myself, “Arthur invited us to go for a ride this afternoon…”
Ceph hums as he turns to Merlin, “She is concerned about Arthur’s earlier behavior.” He turns back to me, “Would you like me to join you? I can gather these plants while on the ride. I could maybe fetch Eli so that you can also ask him the questions you had earlier.”
I chew the inside of my cheek. “He did offer for both me and Andrei. I guess if you have to go anyway…” Though I’m not looking forward to spending more time with you, to be honest…
“Good, then it’s settled. You’ll all go together.” Merlin claps. “I’ll get started on the preparations.”
I move to follow Ceph out of the room, but something crosses my mind. “Hey, Merlin. Do you have any blank books?”
He looks up curious, “I do. Why?”
“Could I have a couple of them?” I ask hopefully.
He blinks, “Well, I don’t see why not.” He shuffles over to his desk, digging around. He comes back with two leather-bound books. “I assume you’ll want some writing utensils? I’ll have them sent to your room.”
I take the books and hug them to my chest, “Thanks.”
I end up spending an awkward few hours reading in my room, while Ceph broods until Alice brings our lunch. He insists on hovering, after my comment about Arthur. I’m starting to wonder if this macho protector thing is a side effect of time magic. He takes one of the books I grabbed from the library, sits at the desk, and reads. I don’t know what to talk about with him, and he doesn’t try to chat.
When lunch is cleared away, I straighten myself out in the mirror. “Remember what I said about talking to Andrei, right?” I ask in the hallway.
“Hmm?” Ceph looks down at me, over his glasses.
“Maybe you can do your, whatever, creepy stare thing. I don’t know. Maybe whatever is wrong with me is affecting us both.” Yeah, that totally makes sense, right?
“Are my eyes that scary?” He asks, feigning offense.
I scoff, “I said creepy, not scary. You don’t scare me.”
“I’ll have to work on a scarier look then.” He muses.
I laugh, “With what I’ve seen lately, good luck trying.”
He steps ahead to hold open the door leading to the courtyard. “Really…” He sighs mournfully, “I guess I’m losing my touch.”
I smirk as I pass him, “That, or you need a better necromancer impression.” I half-jog down the hill when the training grounds come into view. Andrei and Eli are side by side, munching on some bread and ale, sitting on the same bench from the other day.
“Hey! Sis! Looks like Ceph found you after all!” The redhead waves, with a huge grin. “Took you long enough!” I glance up at the tall brunette beside me. He just sighs and shakes his head.
“Hey Kaitlyn, how was your morning? Cold?” Andrei asks with a wink.
“Eventful.” I shoot a sideways glare at the elder time mage. His gaze is fixed on the boisterous redhead. “How about you?”
“What? Without me?” Andrei pouts. “Mine was frigid without you.”
I smile, “I’m sorry. Perhaps this afternoon will be more exciting for us all.”
“Wait, what’s happening this afternoon?” Andrei frowns confused.
“Are you finally ready to play with some fire?” Eli leaps to his feet excitedly.
“No.” I snap, in sync with Ceph. I glance up at him with an eyebrow raised.
Ceph clears his throat, “It seems Kaitlyn and Andrei were invited on a ride with the king, and Merlin has asked us to go along to find some plants for a potion I asked him to make for Kaitlyn.”
“Pretty much insisted on it,” I mutter.
“You do want to make fire again, don’t you? I’ve never met a Guardian who didn’t want to be one.” Ceph scoffs.
I turn away, “I didn’t ask for this.”
“None of us do.” He whispers, as though lost in thought.
Andrei hops up, his clothes covered in dirt and sweat stains. “So, a ride with the king? Sounds fun. When do we head out? Eli and I just finished morning routine.”
“He didn’t say,” I admit, blushing lightly. “I didn’t have a chance to ask.”
He raises an eyebrow, “What? Why not?”
I cough, “Um… It’s not important. You guys might want to clean yourselves up a bit before we’re called to go. I hear it might be a little chilly out today… but I guess you’d know that.”
Andrei glances at Eli, who shrugs, “I never feel the cold. It shouldn’t bother you either, Sis.” I shrug, without comment. Normally it wouldn’t, but I feel it now. I guess that’s a sign of my lack of fire.
“Well, that might be a problem, with her condition. We’re working on it. Let’s go get your two changed and then we’ll head to the stables.” Ceph says calmly. As Andrei looks back at Eli again, I stomp on Ceph’s foot.
“Ow…” He grumbles, “What was that for?”
“I told you not to talk about it.” I hiss. He mouths ‘Sorry’. I glare at him. I’m not sure he means it.
Andrei glances between us, eyes narrow. I smile and hold out my hand to him. He takes it and we head back inside. Servants bring a change of clothes for both men, and I wait in the hall with Ceph while they get ready.
“Why don’t you want Andrei to know you are having trouble with making fire? I would think you would want him to know.” Ceph asks, leaning against the wall beside me.
“You would think wrong,” I reply. “He thinks it’s his fault that this happened to me in the first place. He doesn’t need anything more to worry about.”
Ceph’s brow creases, “Why in the world would he think that? He had nothing to do with you coming into your full power, and that had nothing to do with your low magic levels.”
“No,” I nod, “But he blames himself anyway.”
“Then all the more reason to tell him, no?” He tips his head, “So he doesn’t worry anymore?”
“You think he’d worry less if he knew I’m not getting any better?” I blink at him. “You realize how stupid that sounds, right?”
“No, not that. Knowing that it’s not his fault you lost the power in the first place.” He shakes his head.
I turn toward him, hands on my hips, “I tried to tell him that. He won’t listen.”
The door to my room opens, and Eli steps out into the hall. He looks between us and raises an eyebrow, “Am I interrupting something?”
“Never.” Ceph smiles at Eli. The redhead trots over to join us. I watch Ceph’s expression carefully, how he seems slightly more animated now. Interesting.
Andrei’s door opens, and he seems a little startled as he finds us standing outside his door. “You all waiting for me? Shucks.” He grins bashfully.
I snicker and shake my head, “Come on, we shouldn’t keep the king waiting.” Actually, I kind of do want to make him wait, but I don’t really want to stand around in the cold hallway with happy-go-lucky and Mr. Can’t-keep-his-mouth-shut. So, awkward ride it is.
So, we make our way to the stables. I can smell the hay before we round the corner. Arthur is already there, watching the stable hands prepare five horses.
He smiles as his blue-eyed gaze finds me, “You made it!”
“Yes, we did,” I reply, straining the multiple.
“Ah, yes.” He glances over Ceph and Eli, “Merlin mentioned you were going on an errand for him, and thought it best we go together. Safety in numbers, and all that.” He chuckles, “Don’t worry. I’ll keep you all safe if we run into any trouble.” The king winks at me. I pretend I didn’t see it.
“Sorry if we are intruding.” Ceph bows slightly.
“I’m sure most of us are capable of taking care of ourselves on a ride,” Andrei grumbles. I squeeze his arm, holding back a snicker.
“Not at all,” Arthur nods, “The more the merrier, as they say. The horse in the front is my prize stallion.” He gestures to a pitch black horse, that’s significantly taller than the rest. “The one over here, a young mare, is perfectly suited for the lady Kaitlyn. She is as gentle as she is beautiful.” I wonder if he’s still talking about the horse. She’s much smaller than the black one, and a shiny honey colour, with a blonde mane. I can’t deny that she’s quite breathtaking.
“Wow… I’ve never seen a horse this colour.” I admit, wandering a step closer.
“This,” Andrei steps up beside me, “Is a palomino. They are very good horses.” He assures me. I vaguely remember an entry in his journals about working in stables during one of his jumps.
Arthur grins, “Yes. She is quite unique.” He waves to the other three, “You are free to choose among yourselves who will take which of these. Let’s have them brought out into the courtyard.”
We move out of the way as the five horses are led out into the daylight. Aside from the black and the blonde ones, there’s a grey one, and two brown ones. Each one has a saddle and everything already fitted, ready to go. I swallow the dread rising in my stomach.
Andrei looks down at me with concern, “Are you okay? Have you ridden before?”
I wince, “Does that time with the dragon count?”
His eyes widen, “That was your first ride?” I shrug. “Well, a horse is… a little less lurchy than that dragon. Just make sure you grip it with your thighs.”
I raise my eyebrows, and bite my lips together. Now is definitely not the time for a dirty joke. Bad Kaitlyn. “How hard can it be?” I smirk.
I approach the blonde horse slowly. She cries out and snorts. I flinch back. I’m not really good with animals. I reach my hand out and she shakes her head with another snort. I’m starting to regret agreeing to this.
“She doesn’t bite, I promise.” Arthur chuckles, appearing next to me. I gasp and lean away. He reaches out and strokes the mare’s neck. “See? Come, try it.” He doesn’t wait for me to reply. He picks up my arm and presses my hand beside his. The fur is unbelievably silken. She only complains a little.
“I guess it’s not so bad.” I mumble, unconvinced.
“Alright, lesson one,” Before I know what’s happened, I find myself swung off the ground, and onto the horse’s back. The bottom of the dress is apparently wide enough that even though I straddle the horse, it creates sort of a tent from my waist to my ankles. “You put your feet in the stirrups.” Arthur lifts my foot and places it in the little hoop. He then moves around to the other side. “Lesson two, don’t let go of this.” He hands me a thin strap connected on either end to the bit in the horse’s mouth.
I don’t remember when I started holding my breath, but when he walks away to get onto his own horse, I let it out slowly. I definitely regret agreeing to this. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to get off this thing now. I can feel the eyes of the others on my back, but I’m afraid to look back.
Andrei takes the grey horse, and Ceph and Eli climb up on the browns. Once everyone is settled, Arthur shouts and kicks his horse in the sides. As his starts to move, the honey mare starts to move under me. Okay, don’t panic. Just watch what they do, and copy it. Easy.
We pass through the gate of the castle, and cut down the main street of the town. The horse seems to be pretty good at not walking into things, much to my relief. When we get out of the town’s limits, Arthur slows down and turns around.
“What did you say you were looking for?” He shouts. I tug on the reigns and the mare stops. Andrei pulls up beside me, and the other two fall in line behind us.
Ceph calls back, “Oh, some plants that would likely be in the forest. I’ll keep an eye out for them as we go.”
“Alright.” Arthur takes off again. I nudge the mare with my heels and she starts to follow. He starts to move faster, and she follows close behind. I have a feeling she’s trained to copy the black stallion. I guess that makes it easier for a novice like me, but I resent the training wheels all the same.
We veer off the road and into the uneven terrain of the brush. I clench my jaw and my legs ache with the tension. It’s a lot harder to stay upright but I manage. It’s hard to appreciate the natural scenery when you’re focused on not falling to your death.
“Relax, Kat. You’re doing fine.” Rhoan whispers in my ear.
“Easy for you to say.” I mutter.
Over the next hour, Ceph calls us to stop a few times. He picks a few plants, and then we continue on. When we pass a small grove of trees, he calls a stop again.
“Just a moment..” He announces as he dismounts. He stands beneath a branch and raises a hand to it. Before he begins he turns to Andrei, “It may be a good time to take a break, let the horses rest. Perhaps you can assist me.” He suggests.
Andrei’s face lights up. “What are you planning to do?”
“Wait,” I gasp as he leaps off his horse next to me, “How do I get off this thing?” I whisper, risking a glance over at the king. He hasn’t gotten down yet.
Andrei turns to face me with a chuckle. “Stand on this foot and swing your other leg over. I’ll catch you.” He winks as he reaches up. I’m not convinced, but I don’t want to give Arthur another chance to try anything.
“Okay… If you say so.” I slip my left foot out of the stirrup and lean my weight on the right. I brace myself with both hands on the saddle as I carefully stand and bring my leg around. Andrei’s hands rest on my waist. I turn slightly and place one hand on his shoulder for support.
The honey-coloured horse shifts, snorting with displeasure. I lose my balance and yelp in spite of myself. I fall into Andrei hard, knocking him over with me. I hear a strange pop, but I’m not sure what it was. The horse whinnies and trots away from us. Gentle, my ass. Arthur shouts at the horse, and as I look around in a daze, I see him chasing after her on his stallion.
Andrei grunts from under me, “Are you okay? You aren’t as graceful on a horse as you are in the training room.”
I push myself up and see him smirking. I glare playfully, “Says the guy who nearly threw up on the back of a dragon.”
“Hey, unfair.” He pouts sarcastically, “We all know I was half dead before that.”
I raise a skeptical eyebrow and shake my head. “Whatever. I officially don’t like horses.” I grumble as I sit up.
“You’re just not accustomed to them. It often takes a few weeks to adjust to a horse and how to control it. You have to build a bond with them, just like a person.” He smiles fondly up at his grey horse.
I snort, “Yea, because I’m so good at that too.” I glance over his now grass stained clothes and bite my lip, “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“Me? Nah, I’m good. You’re lighter than a feather.” He winks. I feel my cheeks flush.
“You two alright?” Eli rushes over, dropping to one knee in front of me. “That looked like a pretty nasty fall. Can you stand?” He offers his hands.
I grab onto him and frown, “Why wouldn’t I – Ow!” I hiss as I try to put pressure on my right foot. My ankle screams at me, like a hundred tiny knives, are stabbing it. I fall back and clench my jaw.
“Kaitlyn, what happened?” Andrei gasps.
“I fell off a horse.” I retort, as I lift my skirt slightly. I can see my ankle over the short boots Alice gave me to wear. It’s not bleeding. I try to roll my foot but as soon as I move an inch the pain flares. I struggle to control my expression.
Ceph walks over, crouching down to observe my exposed boot. He reaches down, but I flinch away as his fingers cause it to flare again. “So it hurts.” He states, “Could be sprained or broken. Can you put any weight on it?”
“I’d rather not.” I pout.
“Well,” He glances around. Behind him, I notice the king walking back leading both horses. Ceph frowns and turns to Andrei, “Have you learned to heal yet?”
“A little.” Andrei answers hesitantly.
“I want you to help me. I have yet to age the ingredients for Merlin, so I should be careful. Let’s work together to try to heal her a bit.” Ceph proposes.
Andrei nods once, placing his fingers gently on the rapidly swelling ankle. Ceph touches the other side and instructs Andrei to clear his mind. Eli rubs my shoulder encouragingly. Andrei’s face scrunches, but nothing happens. Only Ceph’s hand glows. The intensity of the pain fades to sort of a dull hum. I relax a little, but now I’m more worried about Andrei.
“What happened?” I ask, though I’m afraid I know the answer.
Ceph eyes Andrei, “We healed it a bit, but you’ll still need rest. You should stay off of it. I’ll send you and Eli back to the castle. Andrei and I can finish with the ingredients.”
Arthur, watching from over Ceph’s shoulder now, nods. “I agree. I will escort you back immediately and have Merlin see to your injury at once.”
“What?” I gulp, “No, that’s not necessary. I’m fine. We can finish the ride all together.” I push myself up to my feet, trying hard not to wince as I lean mostly on my left. “See? All better.”
Andrei chews his lip nervously, “I think you should listen to Ceph, Kat.”
I hate the way his big brown eyes melt my resolve. I glance between them, and at Arthur, who is already getting the horses ready. “But…”
Ceph’s expression darkens, “You should take better care of yourself, and stop acting like a selfish child!”
I flinch back, wide eyes stinging. What’s his problem? He looks like he’s maybe five years older than me. I’m not being selfish. What the hell does he know. “Fine.” I glare at him, and stomp away. I don’t care that it hurts.
“Sis! Hey, wait!” Eli jogs up beside me, “You probably shouldn’t ride on your own like that. Come on, I’ll take you with me.”
“Fine. I don’t care.” I grumble. He steers me toward one of the brown horses, and lifts me up onto the back. He hops on behind me and pulls me close to his chest. Strangely, it doesn’t feel weird, or sexual at all. I guess maybe it’s because he seems to be acting like a big brother.
“Hold on to the saddle. I’ll try not to go too fast.”
Arthur pulls up beside us, “Follow me. We’ll take the quickest route back to Camelot.” He glances back at the others. “I’ll send a few guards to join you, for security.”
I don’t look back.
By Krystyna Yates