Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chapter 35: In the Name of Love


"Where are they taking Edelina?" Sterren demands. Guards had nearly dragged the distraught, crying woman into a carriage not an hour ago, and no one in this household would answer any of Sterren's questionsabout that or anything else.

"To a convent in Den Bosch," Reinier answers, looking up from the scroll he was busy reading.

"A convent?" Sterren asks, not familiar with the term.

"Women who swear themselves to the service of the Watcher live together in convents, away from the society of men," Reinier answers, pulling another scroll from the pile. His brother's estate was left in a state of confusion that Reinier must sort out as he asserts his dominion over the town.

Sterren's eyes narrow into angry slits, "You're shipping her off so you can seize control of her town," she accuses.

"You don't believe Edelina is fit to run a government, do you?" Reinier answers her accusation with a question of his own.

Sterren frowns, unable to argue that point. What little she knows of Edelina has shown her to be vain, proud and concerned more with fashion and entertainment than the welfare of her people. "No," Sterren admits, "But, she must have some family with some claim..."

"Yes, and that is why I'm sending her away," Reinier says, "Whatever claim some distant cousin of hers has on this town is no stronger than my claim as her husband's brother. Edelina gave Odet to Diedericx as part of their marriage contract, and I must secure my family's claim before anyone else can step in with their own."

Sterren is no stranger to the ugliness of politics; she'd seen it often enough in the decisions her uncle has made as lord of Avendale. That was the life she'd hoped to avoid when she asked Reinier to give all this up to live with her.  "And what of our plans?" she asks, her voice growing softer, "What of the promise you made me?"

Reinier rises from his chair to step around the desk and face her. "Sterren, the situation has changed drastically since I promised to come away with you. Wilders assassinated my brother, believing he was me. When they discover they missed their true target, that I still live, they will come after me again. I cannot live like a commoner in Avendale now. I need my guards, I need this keep to protect me."

"Sterren, I need you, above everything else. Don't abandon me now."

He brought it on himself, she thinks, by capturing that wilder. But she played her role in that, she muses, feeling the guilt of Diedericx's unfair death. She'd told them where they they were taking the captive, and they used her to free him while they carried out their plans to assassinate the dragon slayer. And with that murder, Reinier takes his brother's place as Lord of Odet, and is asking her to stand by him. It would be selfish and wrong to put her wishes above his safety now, she thinks, and nods, reluctantly. "I understand," she murmurs, trying to accept the new reality.

He's responsible for all of his nest, for their safety, for their lives. Aymeri grieves for his son, but it's not grief that keeps him awake while Ico sleeps, her head pillowed on his chest. When he closes his eyes, he remembers all the warnings he gave his son, the times he tried to teach him to reign in his anger, to think before he acted. He remembers every time he set a bad example by giving in to his own emotions when reason should have held him back. He'd failed Talfryn, and now his son is dead.

Ico stirs, awakening, entwines her fingers in his as she kisses him. "You take too much on yourself," she says, as sensitive to his emotions while she sleeps as she is while she's awake, "Talfryn's death was not your fault."

"If I had..." Aymeri starts to protest, but Ico stops him with a kiss.

"He was not a child, my love. He made a choice, and he made a mistake. There was nothing you could have taught him that would prevent it. Not every choice is so clear. Success and failure is often a matter of chance. If he had succeeded, we would all be celebrating his victory."  Aymeri falls silent, taking in her words. "You were a good father," she assures him, "And you will be a good father again."

"Again?" he asks. Ico had been his lover for these thousands of years, and Aymeri had long given up any hope that they might one day have a child together, but that one word, spoken with her sweet smile, her eyes gleaming as she looks into his...

"Again," she says, smiling as she draws his hand to her stomach, "There is new life here. I have felt her."

The joy cannot mitigate the sorrow of his loss, but it is still joy, and must be celebrated on its own terms.

Guards patrol the cobbled streets of the town below, guards stand outside her door. For her protection, Reinier had said, but she is not allowed to move without them.

"What troubles you, my love?" Reinier, undressing as he joins her in her chamber for the night.

"I miss my freedom," she says, feeling selfish and yet still unable to adjust to this life he's asked her to live, for the sake of his safety. "I miss being able to do as I please, go where I will. I miss my home."

"Your home is with me," Reinier says, wrapping his hands around her waist.

He says it with such a firmness, like he's claiming her. The way he claimed Odet, she thinks. She doesn't want to be claimed, to be owned, to live under guard, watched at every turn. "Reinier, I can't," she whispers, "I can't do this. I can't live like this. I love you, but..."

Reinier turns her around and lifts her up in his arms, "If you love me, there s no 'but', Sterren," he says, "I need you here with me, to be my wife, my love and my support. Odet needs you, to be its lady. Freedom is nothing more than the fancies of youth; it's time to put that aside and accept our duties, to each other and to this town."

"Odet is not my town," Sterren says, "My duty is to the Lady. Please, if you love me as you say you do, you'll let me go home."

"How can you ask me to let you go in the name of love?" he asks, dropping her on the bed, parting her legs beneath him with his knee, "If you love me, why are you in such a hurry to leave me?"

"It's not you I want to leave," Sterren says, one hand pressed against his chest even as the other wraps around his neck, pushing him and pulling him forward simultaneously, "It's this life. I am not a lady, I'm not fit to be your wife, nor do I want to be." Just saying it out loud, making her decision final, lifts the weight from her shoulders. She does love this man, but she cannot be his wife.

"You are the only woman in this world fit to be my wife," Reinier insists, "The Watcher Himself lead me to you, I know it. I feel it in my bones. Don't give up on me so easily."

"Reinier," she sighs his name, wishing they could get past this discussion, "I knew we'd only end up hurting each other. I wish I had stayed firm and not given in to my desires."

"You do desire me, still," he says, slipping her undergarments off her.

"I cannot deny it," she admits.

"Then let me make love to you tonight,"he says with a smile, "If you truly wish to leave me, I will let you go tomorrow."

"Truly?" she says, relief making her exuberant.

"I love you, Sterren," he says, leaning down to kiss her stomach, then her breasts, as he makes his way up to her face, "I am ever yours to command."

At sunrise, Inira, Fearghus and their group arrive at Aymeri's nest, and greeted happily by their surprised parents, who had been up waiting for Morvyn's return.

Kelyn and Ceyrth are introduced to Arienh, Seirian and Aymeri. More dragons, Ceyrth thinks ruefully, and none of the fae he'd traveled so far to meet.

Morvyn takes Aymeri aside while the others talk. Over thousands of years, Morvyn had taken more than a few human lovers, knowing it was forbidden, but confident that his law breaking would have no ill effect so long as he kept the secret of his dragon nature from his lovers. In the end, it was Talfryn that paid the price for his folly, and during the long walk home from his prison, Morvyn decided he needed to own his guilt, admit it to Aymeri, and take whatever punishment is meted to him.

"Talfryn's death was my doing," he says flatly, making no excuses for himself.

"He died trying to rescue you, but that isn't your fault," Aymeri says patiently, "Any of us would have..."

"I have...I had...a human lover, and she betrayed me to the dragon slayer. That's how I came to be captured," Morvyn quickly explains, not wanting to be forgiven before the truth is known, "Talfryn knew. He came alone because he meant to keep my secret. His death is on my head."

Aymeri snarls, his fist rising instinctively. It had been many thousands of years since he had to bring this kind of discipline to his nest, but for all the changes made to his kind since the great war, he was still the First of his nest, and it was still his duty to keep his charges in line, "You know that's forbidden," he snarls.

Morvyn braces himself, ready for the brutal physical punishment he's heard about but never witnessed himself.

Aymeri's fist hovers, shaking a little as he forces his rage down, separates the anger from his grief. Finally, when he's got himself under control, he thumps his fist gently on Morvyn's chest, reaching out to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder "Is our secret safe?" he asks.

"She knew nothing," Morvyn says, contrite in guilt, "The mortals believe we are a human tribe. 'Wilders', they call us. We're savages, according to them. She never knew I was a dragon. But the dragon slayer, he suspects a connection. He questioned me about it. I'm afraid that Talfryn coming for me only confirmed his suspicion. But, he's dead now, by Kelyn's hand, and hopefully his suspicion died with him."

"What you did was foolish. And against all our laws," Aymeri says, "But you did not kill Talfryn. Humans killed Talfryn. And that's why we have such laws, why we keep ourselves separate from their kind. You understand that now?"

Morvyn nods. He'd learned his lesson while he was in chains, what had seemed a harmless dalliance put not just himself, but all his kind, in danger.

"You used to beat Brys down for far less than that," Seirian says as Morvyn walks off on his own, unscathed.

"And it never stopped Brys from being Brys," Aymeri answers, "No matter what I say, Morvyn is going to blame himself for Talfryn's death. No beating could make him feel any worse than he does already. And, unlike Brys, he'll learn from his mistake without me beating the lesson into him."

He did not kill Talfryn, but he would not have been captured, and Talfryn would still be alive, if he hadn't been chasing after Gaelle, if she hadn't betrayed him. And, why did she betray him? Morvyn wonders as he walks away from the nest, unable to share his parents' joy as they reunite with his siblings. Ametair will take him in, he decides, needing some time away from the others, to grieve in solitude.


He gave her a fine new dress and asked her to walk with him around the town. Happy at the thought of soon returning to Avendale, she's pleased to indulge his whims for one last day together, and dons the dress with its heavy brocade and jewels, playing the part of the lady for the afternoon, knowing she'll be wearing her simpler, less restricting clothing soon enough.

When she had strolled the town with Odet, he'd shown her the church of the Watcher, but they hadn't gone inside. Just the exterior of the building had given her a chill; when Reinier guides her inside, she trembles with dread, an odd feeling that she's come to the place of her death. An old man stands waiting for them, and Reinier pushes as much as guides her forward to meet him.

"Father Loyset," he says, "This is my bride, Lady Sterren of Avendale."

The old man nods his head at her. "I understand you are a follower of the old religion, my lady," he says, "I will have to consecrate you in the name of the Watcher before I can marry you to Lord Reinier."

Sterren turns angrily to Reinier. "You said you'd let me go!" she says angrily.

"I said what I needed to say to appease you," Reinier answers, his face twisted in an angry grimace, "You are acting like a child, Sterren, and I've had enough of this game. You are meant to be my wife, and today I will make it so."

Sterren gasps, realizing that this man she'd seen only glimpses of behind the lover who wooed her is Reinier's true self, as much a part of him as the man who makes tender love to her. He's not a man who asks, he's a man who takes what he wants, who commands others and who will not accept refusal. She should have known it would come to this, on the day he took his prisoner, the day she questioned him and he turned his anger on her. She should have seen it then, and run, run as far from him as she could.

"Begin the ritual," Reinier snarls at the priest, not taking his eyes, or hands, off her.

"As you wish, my lord," the priest answers.

None of these men gathered here will defy him and come to her aid, Sterren realizes, so she must defend herself. Her mother had taught her to harness and use the magic that runs in their family, and had told her to use it rarely, and wisely, only when there was no other option. Today, Sterren is out of options. She pulls herself forcefully out of Reinier's grasp and begins to weave a spell. She'll put them all into an enchanted sleep, and then run, flee back to Avendale, to her uncle.

But the guard behind her moves swiftly, pulling her arms behind her back before her spell is finished.

"Let's proceed," Reinier snarls at the priest.

"My lord, she is witch," the priest protests in a tremulous voice, "You cannot marry her. You must execute her."

"I am lord here," Reinier says, "You'll do as I command. Now, proceed with the ritual. I mean to be married before sundown."

The guard that holds her pushes Sterren down onto her knees, holding his sword up, prepared to strike if she attempts another spell. The priest reluctant begins chanting a prayer to his Watcher.

Sterren's prayer is made silently, a desperate plea to the Lady to rescue her from this fate.

She did not, in truth, expect an answer to her prayer, and is just as confused as the men when a sudden flash of light interrupts the priest's chant, and figure appears, floating above them.

He speaks no words, floating still and silent above them, but somehow, he makes Reinier, his guards and the old priest fall back as though thrown by a great force, while Sterren remains on her knees, unmoved.

"Come with me, daughter," he says, dropping to the ground before Sterren, "I will take you home."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chapter 34: For the Rest of Our Lives


"He's gone," Evenfall says, her voice ragged and broken from the hours spent crying in her father's arms, "Gone forever."

Forever. The word sends Auberon down into the deep well of his thoughts. Forever belongs to their kind, fae and dragon alike, immortals who never die. Except, the dragons do die more often than they should, tossing their immortality aside, throwing their lives away for a violent death.

"He was a dragon," Auberon's thoughts become spoken words, "His kind chase after death, and eventually, even if it takes thousands of years, they all find it."

Evenfall's sobs grow more desperate at his words. Auberon turns to kiss her forehead. "When your mother's human mate passed into their spirit realm, I tried to comfort her. But I only made her misery worse," he says.

"Please, just stop talking," Evenfall pleads, "Just, hold me and let me cry."

Silence is the one comfort he can offer her, so he gives it to her.

"I would happily wait for our wedding night," Treveur whispers, but there is a hunger in his voice that says  he would not be as happy to wait as he is willing. 

Gaelle leans close to him as she slips her hands into his, and is surprised for a moment at the smoothness of his skin, soft and unused to labor. "I would not be so happy to wait," she whispers, flirting, trying not to think of Morvyn's hands, their roughness tickling his skin where he'd touch her. It cannot wait, she thinks, if she's to have any chance of him believing the child she carries is his.

She moves her hands to his face, drawing him closer to kiss him, feigning shyness at first, and growing bolder as his tongue finds hers. All through their youth, she has been his only desire, and she must be sure that he believes she has been his alone. She does not, at least, have to feign attraction or affection, for she's always been fond of Treveur, and even loved him. That love was not enough to keep her from straying, but it is enough to allow herself to take real pleasure in his caresses, to feel real desire as they remove each other's garments and fall into the bed together. She could even forget to think about Morvyn at all, if it were not for the sting of guilt of knowing that while spends this night in the arms of the man she will marry, Morvyn spends his imprisoned, possibly tortured, all because she gave him up to the dragon slayer, just to save herself. And the child, she reminds herself, trying to brush the guilt away, everything she's does now, is for the good of her child.

"Did I hurt you, my love?" Treveur whispers, seeing the single tear that rolls down Gaelle's cheek.

"No. Well, just a little," Gaelle lies, remembering to pretend that this was her first time, "But my tears are for joy, knowing that we will be together forever." It is the last tear she will shed for Morvyn, she decides, the last thought she will spare for him. Even indulging in pleasant memories would be too much of a risk now. From this night forward, she must think if herself, and her child, as Treveur's, and forget anything else.

"I will go ahead and tell Aymeri and the others you are free. Shayeleigh and Moth will accompany you the rest of the way back to the nest," Ico tells Morvyn once they've gotten a good distance from the dragon slayer's prison tower. They've come to  a stream by the side of the road, not far from the forest protected by the dragons' wards, and Ico can travel much faster through water than she can over land.

"Shayeleigh can go with you," Morvyn says, "I can make it back alone."

Ico bites her lip; if they were to loose Morvyn again, all we be for naught. But it's also clear that Shayeleigh herself longs to be off the road and back to the safety of home, back to Riain, who will be worried about her. "Moth will stay with you," she decides, "He can alert us if anything happens."

"Nothing will happen," Morvyn promises, "The dragon slayer won't be out looking for me so soon. And once I get to our forest, he'll never find me at all."

Assured if his safety, Ico enters the stream, and disappears into the waters, while Shayeleigh trades her horse form for a swift flying bird. She won't travel as fast as Ico can, but she'll be home quicker through the air than she could be at her fastest gallop as a horse.

As soon as they're gone, Morvyn takes off his clothes and enters the water. He can't travel very far this way, but he can wash the grime of the prison off him, something he could not wait to do for abnother moment.

Ceyrth lowers himself into a stealthy crouch when he spots the lone figure bathing in the stream, and gestures for Kelyn to do the same.

"That's one of mine," Kelyn says, keeping her voice low even though she doesn't bother to hide as Ceyrth has.

Since his escape, Morvyn's heightened senses have been slowly returning to him, and he turns at the sound of Kelyn's low whisper, preparing to fight if he has to, or flee if it's the dragon slayer.

But what Morvyn sees is definitely no human. The voce he heard was a female dragon, unfamiliar to him, and her silent companion must be a fae, though unlike any of the fairies he'd known in his life.

Thousands of years have passed since dragon fought fought dragon, but that is no guarantee that this unfamiliar dragon's intentions are peaceful. "Who are you, sister?" Morvyn calls up to her, "What brings you to Aymeri's territory?"

The female crouches by the stream's edge, looking him over closely, while her companion keeps a safe distance between them. "You must be Morvyn," she says, surprising him, "Fearghus and Inira speak fondly of you. You bear a close resemblance to your sister."

Morvyn relaxes; if she knows Inira and Fearghus, she must have born in the northern lands where his sister had moved her nest some hundreds of years ago, after she and Fearghus had their first child. 

"You know my name," Morvyn says, "Will you give me yours?"

"I am Kelyn, daughter of Dechtire," she ays. It's a formal introduction, Morvyn notes, and she names her status as a daughter, indicating that she has no nest of her own, though she's obviously not a juvenile. Dragon's have changed over the years since the great war. Once, a male like himself living without a mate in his mother's nest would be treated as a juvenile, but now Morvyn is free to be both single and an adult. But never in his thousands of years of living has he heard of a female who hadn't taken at least one mate. 

Curious as he is about her situation, such a personal question to someone he just met would be unforgivably rude, so instead he asks about Inira and Fearghus, as he is equally curious about how they have fared.

"My companion and I are traveling with them," Kelyn tells him, "We were a ways north of here when we heard Talfryn," she says, her voice dropping into a solemn tone, "Inira and Fearghus lost their eldest son to the dragon slayer not five years past. And just this last year, their second fell to his sword. They were coming back to the south to get away from that, only to hear the death cry of Inira's brother."

"How many of us has killed?" Morvyn asks, shocked by her tale.

"Too many," she says, "He wasn't the first of his kind, nor will he be the last, as the mortals idolize the ones who can call themselves dragon slayers. But this one at least is dead," she finishes proudly, "I'm just coming back from killing now."

"How?" Morvyn asks, "That metal he wears...when he took me prisoner, I scarcely had the strength of a human, and I couldn't fight him and his men off."

"He was not in his armor, or carrying more than a simple dagger when I took him," Kelyn explains, something about that fact suddenly not sitting right with her. The dragon slayer never went about without his men or his sword at the very least, "But, even if he had the metal on him, it can weaken only our magic and our senses, it cannot dull our blades."

"You use human weapons," Morvyn says, noticing for the first time the sword and dagger she wears around her waist.

A disdainful snort coms from her otherwise silent friend. "Those weapons are of alfar make," he says, "And far superior to anything the mortals can forge."

"Except that the human weapons have magic," Morvyn points out. "What is an 'alfar'?"

"That's Ceyrth," Kelyn makes a belated introduction, "He's an alfar. If you have ten or so evenings free, he can recite his whole people's history in poetry," she laughs, "There are even a few interesting parts."

"Maybe when I'm not standing up to my waist in water," Morvyn says, "We should meet up with Inira and Fearghus, and get back to the nest."

Barely an hour after leaving Morvyn, Ico rises from the well by their nest.

Though the hour is late, she's not surprised to find Seirian and Arienh in the common room waiting for any news of their captured son, and Riain pacing around worried about Shayeleigh.

"Morvyn is free," Ico tells them, "I left him with Moth just outside the forest. He should be home by morning."

Seirian and his mate turn to each other in relief.

"And Shayeleigh?" Riain asks.

"She's right behind me," she assures him, "We couldn't have done this without her help."

Aymeri was not waiting with the others; Ico finds him alone in the darkness of their bedroom.

"Morvyn is free," she tells him.

His head lifts slightly in a nod, but he says nothing, and does not even glance in her direction.

Ico kneels on the bed beside him, taking his face in her hands and making him look at her. "My love," she whispers

"I should be happy that Morvyn is free." Aymeri says, his voice too hoarse to rise above a strained whisper, "But it doesn't bring Talfryn back."

"I left you to mourn alone," Ico says sadly, understanding how much he needed her to be with him, "I was not here when you needed me."

"You did what had to be done," Aymeri murmurs, pulling her close into his arms, finally able to let his tears flow now that she's with him.

He spends his grief in a torrent of tears, and when he's done he rises to his knees, pulling her up with him, pressed against his chest, his lips locked to hers in a deep kiss.

Instinct drives him now like it did on the day he met her, a need for her that he cannot deny, a compulsion he cannot refuse. Her clothing tears away without him realizing he was undressing her, and she slides beneath him, taking him inside her. Like a river meeting the ocean, his consciousness flows into hers, water meeting water, merging into one body. As one, they remember, they remember that moment, when their eyes first met, and they knew each other. For a moment, that memory shines bright, and then fades back behind the thousands of years they've spent together, joined now as they were then.

"I was so young, and foolish enough to believe I understood love," he says, not having to explain to her what he means, "But I had barely touched the surface of love."

Sterren wakes with the sun, wrapped in Reinier's embrace. "It will be like this for us every morning," he whispers.

"We will wake up, and I will make love you, every day for the rest of our lives," he continues, kissing her hungrily as he rolls her onto her back.

Sterren pulls him down toward her as she lifts herself up, holding him close as he enters her gently, slowly, clinging to him with a sad kind of desperation. She wants to believe that his promise will be real, and she does believe he means what he says. But she knows she betrayed him by releasing his prisoner, and even if he never learns of her involvement, she will always know, and it will always be a wall between them, a lie she will always have to live so long as she is with him, and nothing will ever be the same with him again.

The shouting starts shortly after they've dressed. At first it's distant, coming from the lower floors of the keep, but eventually rises to this floor, to the hall outside her door, and then enters. Sterren braces herself, preparing to act surprised when the news of the prisoner's escape is revealed.

"My husband!" Edelina both shrieks and sobs in the same breath, running up to Reinier, "He is dead! Murdered!"

Sterren can only stand in wooden silence. This is surprising news, and not at all what she was preparing for. Did the wilder take revenge before getting away, did the fairies have this planned all along? she wonders.

"They came out of the shadows," Anselm reports what he remembers of the attack to Reinier, "The man had me down before I knew he was there. He was man, though. His ears were large and pointed, his skin an odd, pale color and his face covered with evil markings. Before he knocked me out, I just caught a glimpse of the woman who murdered Diedericx. She was a wilder, no mistake. As she stuck the knife in, she said 'You'll never kill another dragon'. And that was the last I saw or heard until I was awakened this morning."

"Never kill another dragon?" Reinier muses. His brother had never killed any dragons in his life. The only other living Landgraab who could name himself Dragon Slayer was their uncle Osbrand, who was now too weakened by age to so much as hunt rabbit. The last dragon he'd felled was back when Reinier was just learning to walk. "I was their target," he says, his lips hardening into a frown. "And I was right, there is a connection between the dragons and these wilders. It's time I had a word with my prisoner."

Sterren's heart drops down into her stomach, and she has to use all her strength just to keep her knees from giving way beneath her. 

Reinier turns to head toward the tower prison, only to find the tower's night guard approaching.

"My lord," the guard says, bowing before he launches into his own carefully crafted spiel, "Wilders have attacked the tower, and released the prisoner."

"Attacked? How is it we heard nothing of this?" Reinier demands.

"They came in through the windows, my lord, all quiet like. I tried to call out, but they were on me before I could say a word. Threw me so hard against the wall that I knew nothing for the rest of the night. When the day came on me this morning, we found the prisoner's cell empty, and a length of rope hanging out the window."

Any worry Sterren harbored that the guard might recognize her and identify her to Reinier dissipates in the face of his self-serving lies. Of course, he'd come up with such a tale rather than admit to his lord that he took a drink from a strange servant girl in the middle of his watch.

But the lie compounds Reinier's belief that he wilders orchestrated this attack, intending to both free his prisoner and assassinate him at the same time. For all Sterren knows, they did, and they and their allies among the fair folk used her to help them carry out their plan.

Reinier immediately calls for a curfew for the whole town, and doubles both his personal guard as well as the night watch for all of Odet. "Send for the scribe," he orders, planning to write to his master smith back in the Landgraab's home country, to demand more of the blue iron that weakens his magic wielding enemies.

"Reinier," Sterren says, claiming his attention while he waits for the scribe, "Perhaps it would be best if I returned to Avendale until you've settled your brother's affairs."

"Leave me? No, Sterren, you cannot leave me now," Reinier says, turning to face her, "I need you with me now. To stand by me as a wife."

"I'm just a guest here," she protests, "No matter how you feel about me, the people won't se me as your wife, or even as nobility. I should get out of your way until you are free again to join me," she says, knowing even as she speaks the words that he will not be joining her. Whatever he believed he was capable of, giving up his name and title was not something he would do even for love, and it's better that they part now rather than continue pretending that they have a future together.

"You will not leave my side, Sterren," he says, gripping her arms tightly, "The time for games is done. There are assassins out for my blood, and there will be no time ever again when I am free of that. I'm taking Odet and fortifying it to protect me. To protect us, Sterren, for you will be my wife. We will marry as soon as I can arrange it. I need you. You cannot leave me now. I will not allow it."