They missed breakfast, yet she wasn’t hungry. Kintra felt completely satisfied. She lay, looking at Farron as he slept, seeing him with fresh eyes, eyes that saw through the lens of her heart. He was unrecognisable from Farron the clown, the flirt, the occasional companion. She saw the shape of his face for the first time. The way his hair curled around his ears, and one curl on his forehead had a life of its own, seemingly going against the grain of all other hairs on his head. It made her smile. His jawline was well defined under the dark growth of a close-cropped beard. His right shoulder, drawn across with a scar, faded pink, but puckered around muscle that joined a tanned arm. She stroked down from the shoulder, through the tight curls of hair on his chest, and the long dark eyelashes opened. Brown eyes, serious eyes. Not the eyes of the Farron she had known before. The eyes of her lover.
He smiled and she couldn’t help but smile too. His hand, resting on her hip, stroked upwards, reaching her face and pushing her own longer curls to the side.
‘Who are you?’ he whispered.
‘Who are you?’ she whispered back.
He smiled again. ‘I don’t know. You changed me.’
‘I did nothing,’ she whispered snuggling forward until their noses touched. He kissed her, lightly, then drew back to look into her eyes once more.
‘You disappeared.’ He was suddenly serious. ‘That’s what you did.’
‘I’m sorry, it was a reaction. The Wildfire…I could feel it. I ran without thinking.’
He was silent, staring at each area of her face in minute detail before resting his eyes back on her own.
‘When I found you gone…your clothes in a heap…I feared…’ He stopped and swallowed. ‘I feared. And I realised just how much you mean to me. We have never spent so long in each other’s company.’ He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Kintra held hers.
‘I care for you, Kintra. Please, next time, run to me, not away.’
She placed a hand on his cheek and pressed her lips to his trying to stifle the tears she could feel at the corner of her eyes. He wrapped her tightly in his arms and kissed her, slowly, as if binding the memory of this kiss to him for all time.
Everyone had taken the opportunity to grab extra sleep it seemed. Kintra and Farron were the only ones in the small dining space at lunch time.
‘Should we go door knocking?’ Kintra asked.
Farron pursed his lips, thinking. ‘You know…this war won’t go away anytime soon. Perhaps we should make the most of our time here.’
‘But what if it does come over the border? Or what if those hunting for me and Helian do?’
‘I think it’s unlikely in the next hour,’ he said with a grin. He took her hand and squeezed it lightly. ‘Let’s eat. The others will join us when they’re ready.’
She took a sip of the steaming bowl of soup in front of her. ‘I wonder what’s going on between Petra and Vlarimar.’
‘I don’t know. He seems to be gaining strength each day though.’
‘I still don’t like him much.’ Kintra tore a hunk of bread from the warm loaf before Farron ate the lot.
‘From what I gather he had nothing to do with the invasion of Erania. He told me he hasn’t seen any family in six years.’
Kintra looked up startled. ‘That long? It’s been five years since the invasion…’ she pondered for a moment. ‘I suppose it does explain why his father acted as he did. Although, from everything I heard they were never a close-knit family. He has younger brothers, and there was a lot of competition between them all when it came to making a name for themselves on any battle field they could find.’
‘Is he good with a weapon? I’ve never seen him handle one.’
‘Did you ever hear the tale of the Fields of Schnell?’
‘The ballad? ‘…where blood soaked earth drew mighty breath, opened its maw and swallowed the dead…’ ’
‘Yes. The great warrior who slew all those dead in such a barbaric fashion was Vlarimar’s Grandfather. It is a ballad they are rather proud of, and all the princes were brought up to emulate him.’
‘Better than growing up emulating my Grandfather,’ Farron said. ‘He ended up in debt to Lord Mantic and became a professional Sneak. He was killed on the job. Wasn’t great at sneaking by all accounts!’
Kintra looked at him. ‘You’ve never mentioned family before.’
‘We were never at a point I wanted to share.’ He raised his eyebrows, his eyes serious.
‘Well,’ she said with a smile, ‘It’s nice to hear you have a background and didn’t just appear out of thin air that day in Georgeton.’
He smiled too, still staring into her eyes. ‘Seems a long time ago doesn’t it?’
‘Three, nearly four years. I’ll always be in your debt for that.’
‘You did just save my life the other day,’ he pointed out, going back to his soup.
‘You saved mine back then. Being a slave was the equivalent of being dead. You don’t know this…but you saved me from rape. That day he beat me, because I tried to escape. I knew what kind of slave he wanted, and his wife had just left town for a week. When you attacked him, I had decided to let him beat me to death. I was planning what else I could do to bring the whip down on my back. It was preferable.’
He took both her hands now. ‘I didn’t know that. I just saw a beautiful girl in chains. You know me and beautiful girls!’
He gave her his grin, and all the horrors of their first meeting vanished. She kicked him under the table. ‘No more looking for beautiful girls!’
‘Ow! No need.’
‘There you are!’ They both turned at the sound of Zorbel’s deep voice. The giant man grabbed a chair and pulled it up next to Farron’s.
‘Where’s everyone else?’ Farron asked, pushing away his empty bowl.
‘Helian went out first thing to scout around for any rumours of what’s going on in Erania. I took the opportunity to look for work, but there’s nothing. Nobody seems to know what’s happening, but those with family in Portua are worried.’
‘Any sign of Petra and Vlarimar?’
A pretty young woman arrived with a pot pie for Zorbel. Farron glanced up at her appraisingly, and then with that grin, and a lick of his lips he stared at Kintra. She shook her head and grinned, turning to pay attention to Zorbel.
‘I saw Petra just now. They are on their way down.’ He looked up from his pie at the two grinning idiots at the table. ‘I expect they’ve been partaking of the same activity as you two.’
Kintra spotted Vlarimar first. He strode confidently towards them, Petra a step behind. Both had a strange look on their face.
‘I think you’re right,’ said Farron nodding at the pair.
Kintra watched Petra pull on an air of control, but she couldn’t hide that light in her eyes. ‘Sorry we are late, we overslept.’ Even Vlarimar turned to look at her quizzically.
‘I wouldn’t worry,’ Zorbel said, ‘It seems to be catching.’
Kintra shuffled over so that Petra could sit next to her. Vlarimar squeezed on to the bench seat next to Farron. There was an awkward silence. Petra looked everywhere but at Vlarimar, but Vlarimar had eyes for only the Amorian. Kintra coughed to disguise a giggle. She didn’t dare look at Farron for fear of bursting out laughing. But Farron burst out laughing anyway. Petra turned and glared at him as he pushed back the bench, enough to get out.
‘We’ll leave you all to eat,’ he said, gesturing for Kintra to follow him. ‘I could do with some supplies from the market.’
‘Good idea. I need boots.’ Kintra squeezed past Petra. ‘Anyone else need anything?’
Petra and Vlarimar shook their heads.
‘Just be careful,’ Zorbel warned. Kintra couldn’t resist giving him a hug and a peck on the cheek as she passed. He grunted and patted her arm with brotherly affection.
The young girl came back. Farron swung his arm around Kintra, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head, escorting her out of the inn. The sun was shining, warm, but no longer oppressive. She had never felt so good.
All thought of danger disappeared as they walked around the market, hand in hand. It was busy and large, with a good variety of stalls. She found some boots, and Farron haggled the seller down to a price that felt like stealing. He bought her a new arrow sling from the same man. The leather work was excellent, and the stitching was patterned rather than the usual straight lines. He also bought her a blue silk scarf to tie around her head, as she kept complaining about her hair falling into her eyes. It was beautiful, and far too good for such a purpose.
‘I thought you needed supplies?’ she said. ‘So far you’ve spent all your money on me!’
‘I can take them back?’
‘No!’ She smiled. ‘Thank you. Both are beautiful. It’s been a long time since anyone got me a gift.’
He pulled her close. ‘Then stop complaining.’
He escorted her to a knife stall. She stood to one side, watching him run an expert eye over a wide variety of knives, talking with the trader all the while, building rapport. Before beating his price right down, she thought. It was strange to see this Farron and she felt a thrill in her stomach. All she wanted to do was grab him and tell the world he was hers. She thought back to the day before when his leg had irritated her. What the hell had changed?
‘Hi!’ She jumped and turned. Helian’s serious face searched her own. It was a complete mood killer. She took a deep breath.
‘Hi. Did you find anything out?’ He was staring at Farron’s back now. She saw a flash of something, that changed to a look of resignation.
He sighed and pushed his hair back from his face. ‘Not as much as I’d hoped.’
Farron finished haggling for his knife and turned away from the stall looking pleased with his purchase. His smile dropped away when he saw Helian. He replaced it. With a different one.
‘I think you’ll find it’s afternoon.’
Farron curled his arm around Kintra’s waist and looked down at her. ‘I forgot we missed morning.’
She groaned inwardly. Helian quickly looked around as if he’d seen something important. She wished he would go away.
Farron broke the silence. ‘I have to buy a new saddle cloth. The others are back at the Inn though. We’ll see you back there in about an hour.’ He skilfully turned her and began to walk away, but not before she saw the hurt in Helian’s eyes. She squeezed down the guilt and forced herself not to stop and invite him along. The next time she glanced back there was no sign of him.