The throbbing in my head subsided considerably after Quill’s ministrations, some water, and some breakfast. Matters were further improved when Quill handed me my harness of knives, and then we made camp to rest for a few hours. I was asleep almost before I lay down on my bedroll, the Countess snugly tucked between myself and Galo. My dreams were fitful and full of trees marching across the land and rivers running with blood. When I awoke, it was midafternoon, horses were being saddled again. My face felt stiff, but I could tell that Quill’s salve was doing its work. Quill was talking to Rakov by their horses. As if he felt my gaze, Quill turned and gave me an appraising look. I put the effort into a small smile to show that I was feeling fine.
Buckling on my harness of knives, I woke the Countess and Galo before getting to work rolling up the bedrolls. Luza showed up at my elbow to take the bedrolls, and I didn’t argue but joined the Countess and Galo on a log eating a bit of dried fruit.
Galo handed me a water skin when I sat down beside her. “How do you feel?” she asked, surprising me with her concern.
“Sore, but I’ll be alright.”
Galo clucked and produced a little jar. “We were waiting for you to wake up.” She opened the jar and the scent of calendula and something else tickled my nose. She clucked again as she patted the cream onto my skin, “This will help head off the worst of the bruising. Keep you from having a purple cheek.”
I flinched a little as she touched one of the more tender spots, but Galo kept on as if I hadn’t.
The Countess reached for my hand. “I’m so sorry for what Adorjan Bulgar did to you.” Her dark eyes were large and earnest. “I had no idea what he was capable of.”
I thought of all the times I’d been stabbed or nearly impaled by people much more bent on hurting me. The blows to the face were almost insulting by comparison. “You needn’t apologize, my lady, he kidnapped you. Please make more polite enemies in the future.”
Both the Countess and Galo smiled at that, if weakly. Galo finished applying the cream and looked my face over with a critical expression before putting her jar away. “I’ll apply more tomorrow.”
“Have you spoken with Ilya Terr?” I asked, taking another drink of water.
The Countess shook her head. “He has kept his distance, even during the ride before we stopped here. Galo told me that he knows who I am—knows that I lied to him.” Her lips trembled, expressing the fear that she’d broken something irreparably. Possibly something she hadn’t even considered in her grasp. “You were with him when you came to get me…did…did he say anything? Was he very angry?”
“He was upset.” I considered, taking the time to pick up a piece of fruit and chew it thoroughly. At last I said, “I think that you will find him quite reasonable if you apologize.”
She nodded, but didn’t look like she believed me. After a pause she said, “Ilya was the one who told the tree to do that to Adorjan.”
It wasn’t really a question, but I said, “Yes.”
Her gaze met mine, “But you aren’t human.”
Galo looked at me in surprise.
I drew a deep breath. “I am half human.” Ilya hadn’t known I really was half-blooded. I wasn’t surprised the Countess had seen at least part of the truth, and judging from the way she was studying me she was on her way to seeing the whole of it. My rounded ears, no longer hidden by loose hair, would clue in even Galo if she looked. Unsure I was ready for that, I stood up, saying, “We thought a half-blood leanyod would be less likely to jeopardize the treaty should Bulgar decide to bring up this little incident.”
“Why did you never mention you were half-blooded?” asked Galo.
“It wasn’t relevant,” I replied, my tone a little harder than I intended.
Galo blinked, “I didn’t mean offense.” Then, as if to prove it, she asked, “Can you sense trees like Ilya Terr?”
“My gift is not equal to his.” This was true. I could sense water and commune with it, but I had never spent enough time with a single body of water to wield it the way Ilya did the forest. The waters of Cartahayna couldn’t be counted because they were well in my mother’s thrall, so my influence stemmed mostly from belonging to her—Ilya either already knew these woods well already or was too charming for anyone’s good.
“He is very strong, isn’t he?” mused the Countess. “I didn’t trip over a single root when we were running, and we didn’t get any scratches on our faces or hands from the underbrush.”
“I do what I can, my lady.”
At the sound of Ilya Terr’s voice, the Countess jumped liked a scalded cat and whirled to face him. She was so flustered that I felt a little bad about not warning her of his approach. Galo gave me a wicked look before also standing and turning to face the elf lord.
“Lord Terr,” began the Countess, she was wringing her hands, “I must apologize for my conduct toward you. I should have told you my full name when we met. I was embarrassed to be caught sneaking across my own land. I meant you no insult and am gravely sorry for any embarrassment I have caused you.” Ilya opened his mouth to reply but the Countess hurried on, “I have great respect for you, and it has only grown these days traveling with you. You are a very diverting companion and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you better,” She paused, “And I wish you to know that I have no tie to Adorjan Bulgar and decry his actions as disloyal and despicable. I am grateful to you for both your forbearance and bravery in rescuing me from his treachery. The King will not let his actions go unaddressed. I will bring the matter to him and demand that he remove Adorjan’s title and make him pay restitution for his despicable and dishonorable actions putting the treaty in danger and insulting both your title and mine…”
I wasn’t sure she was making sense anymore, and she stopped talking as if she realized the same thing. A hot flush crept up the Countess’s cheeks.
Ilya waited a moment to make sure she was done this time before holding out his hand.
The Countess stared at it, then raised her eyes to his and hesitantly placed her hand in his. Then, holding her gaze, Ilya lifted her hand to his lips and slowly, tenderly, kissed her fingers. In Daiesen, a bow and a kissed hand were owed to royalty. But here, a kiss on the hand was an entirely romantic gesture, and Ilya had imbued it with sensual grandeur. I struggled to keep my smile restrained to my eyes. I thought it likely that Ilya had heard the words that had moved the cedar tree to quick and decisive action.
“Countess Adelheid Wuhn, I, Ilya Terr, Lord of Linden of Terrimbir, am delighted to see you again.” Ilya released the Countess’s hand, but she kept it extended, as if frozen, “Please allow me to escort you to Gar Morwen. For your company would be a boon, and shorten the days of travel.”
The formal greeting and formal invitation were an eloquent acceptance of her apology and acknowledgement of who they really were. But the kiss was from the Ilya Terr who’d spent the last three days laughing at inappropriate stories with a young noblewoman he’d met on the road. The kiss was not entirely appropriate. The kiss was perfect.
The Countess remembered herself enough to lower her hand and say, “Nothing would please me more than traveling with you and your companions.”
I grabbed Galo by the elbow, “We’ll help with the horses,” I said just to say something. Without waiting to be dismissed, I walked away, dragging Galo after me.
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