Thursday, August 2, 2012

Choices Chapter Twelve

(Previous chapters can be found here.)

"Anwen!" I said, thinking quickly, "Please go wake Doctor Carson and tell him he is needed," my mind raced trying to find a suitably discrete place to relocate this visitation. "Have him meet us in the rooms directly above my own." She nodded and began to scurry out of the room but I stopped her once more to admonish, "Keep to the less-trafficked corridors and avoid being seen if at all possible. When you have sent the doctor to me, please go and send for Ballard as well, then return to your evening. Speak of this to no one but those of us here and the men I am sending for." A look of fear flashed across her face and I could guess at its cause easily enough. "I will inform Roslyn of our visitors in the morning," I told her, gentling my voice. "I do not believe she will want to be disturbed with this right now, and I would prefer to explain the situation to her myself." As soon as I know what the situation actually entails, I did not add.

"Yes my lady," she said, bobbing her head again and leaving the room.

I turned to survey the remaining occupants of the room. Aaron's companion still held him upright and was alternately watching him in concern and eyeing me with uncertainty. The head cook, I struggled a moment for her name before remembering it, was sitting placidly on a stool, watching everyone as if mysterious men turning up in her kitchens in the middle of the night was a normal occurrence.

"Lise," I said to her, drawing a quick but respectful bow in my general direction, "I am sure the doctor will want hot water and clean rags to tend to my brother," her eyes widened slightly at the word, but not as much as I might have expected. She had drawn her own conclusions about our visitors' identities, it seemed. "Can you please prepare what you think he will need and bring it up to us? I know such jobs are not part of your normal duties, but--"

"Of course, my lady, I will see to it. No need to be waking up the entire household at this hour."

"Thank you." I gave her a grateful look and turned back to Aaron's friend. "And you are?"

"Drew, my lady," was the terse response.

"Drew, then. Can you carry him?" Drew nodded and scooped my brother up in a surprisingly gentle manner. "Very good. Follow me, please." I turned and led him out of the kitchen, going back the way I had come. I initially kept my pace slow, worried that Aaron's weight would slow Drew down, but he was right on my heels and clearly itching to be off, so I stepped faster. I had chosen the rooms above my own because the third floor of that wing was largely vacant and it would be easier to keep their presence from being known by too many. There was also a largely ignored stairwell close by that I could use to move between floors without attracting too much attention in the event that this visit was longer than one evening. Despite my earlier calm in reassuring Anwen, I was not at all sure how Roslyn would take the news that my outcast brother had turned up at our doorstep in the middle of the night. I was determined that she would not throw them back out into the city however. I would stand my ground on that, but I was prepared for her to demand their presence be kept a secret. She would not want it to cause a scandal for the Stag. No, never that. Although to be honest, I had my own motivation to keep their appearance secret. My brother's sudden return to Pelos could hardly bring glad tidings for Garrus or Jade either.

Doctor Carson arrived at the rooms just as we did. To his credit, he did not seem at all disgruntled to be woken so late in the night. He merely took one look at Aaron and instructed Drew to lay him down on the bed. I opened up the windows while they got my brother situated, hoping to air out the stale room a bit. Doctor Carson tutted and tsked over Aaron for a while and Drew hovered nervously behind him. I gently pulled Drew away to give the doctor more space. I could see he did not want to move, but he was of no help in his current state. I noticed that he too had seen his share of mistreatment; his knuckles were scraped and bloody and there was a cut above his left eye. There was quite a bit of blood on his clothing but I suspected it was mostly my brother's, transferred as he supported Aaron here.

"Doctor Carson will see to Aaron, Drew, he will be alright, I promise." He looked down at me and I took advantage of his distraction to pull him into the sitting room. "Come, let me tend to your own wounds." I indicated his knuckles and Drew looked down at them in surprise, as if he hadn't even noticed his own hurts. Maybe he hadn't, his attention seemed wholly focused on my brother. I got him seated on the sofa and turned just as Lise arrived carrying a basket laden with supplies. Ballard slipped into the room silently behind her. I gave him a reassuring smile and directed Lise to the bedroom, following to appropriate a few things so that I might get started cleaning up Drew's wounds.

"Will my lady be needing anything else this evening?" she asked after she had handed over the basket. Doctor Carson rifled through it for a moment.

"I believe I have everything I need for my patients," he said.

"Thank you Lise, your help is greatly appreciated. I apologize for the interruption to your evening."

"Oh, it's no matter to me, my lady. I was just enjoying a cuppa by the fire and trying to think of a way to chase off Anwen and her silly prattling. She does so go on about the young men of the guard. Lise directed a less than sly look toward the other room, where I could just see Ballard standing still as a statue next to the rooms' entrance. "My lady Roslyn does so like to hire the pretty ones. Not that I object, mind you, but it does set the younger girls' tongues wagging, you know." I wasn't quite sure what to say in response to that, although behind her I could see Doctor Carson fighting back a smirk at the commentary. "I'll bring up some breakfast for the gentlemen in the morning, shall I, then, my lady? I assume the other one won't be straying too far tonight, will he?"

"That would be appreciated, Lise. I will likely take my breakfast here as well, thank you." She dipped her head and strolled out, pinching Ballard's cheek as she passed him on her way to the corridor. My eyebrows rose and he resolutely tried to avoid my gaze, although the flush creeping up his neck was just discernable in the dim sitting room light. Returning my thoughts to the matter at hand, I walked over to the bed and brushed a lock of hair out of Aaron's face. "How is he, doctor?"

"Well, it isn't pretty but I don't think any of the damage is permanent. He must have made someone powerfully angry, though." The Doctor frowned over a gash that he was stitching up. "Most of this should heal fairly quickly though and he'll be right as rain in a moon or so. He doesn't have a fever and I see no sign of infection, which is very good. I will want to watch him for a few days to make sure he is not bleeding on the inside, after a beating so severe. If he is I fear there will be very little I can do for him." I nodded, gazing at Aaron sadly. "If I might ask, my lady," the doctor said after a moment, "who is the lad, exactly?"

"He's my brother," I answered softly.

"Ah," was all he said.

I took the supplies I needed for Drew, a small basin into which I poured some hot water, some rags, and a poultice that would dull the pain and help with the healing, and returned to the sitting room. I found Drew still on the sofa, staring off into space as if he was utterly lost. I put down my supplies and lit another lamp, placing it on the table in front of the sofa to get more light. He jumped a little when I sat next to him and began cleaning his hands.

"My lady, that's not necessary," he started.

"Whatever happened to the two of you, Drew, I have no doubt my brother would be much worse off if you had not managed to get him here. The least I can do is see to your wounds." He gave me a hard look, trying to assess my sincerity, I guessed. I went on cleaning and dressing his knuckles, then moved on to the cut on his face.

"Aaron often wondered what sort of woman you would grow to be," he said softly after a while. I managed to hide my surprise, but only just. My memories of Aaron were vague at the best, though I remembered he had always been kind to me, and willing to play with a little girl despite the gap in our ages. I remember crying when he had left, because I missed him, and because nobody would tell me why he had to go away. Father refused to speak of it entirely, and all that Mother would say was that Aaron had done something very bad. I had never actually forgotten Aaron, but after a while, I had stopped thinking of him. To know that he had continued to think of me caused a twinge of shame.

"He didn't want to come here," Drew went on, "he was worried that you would turn him away, that your parents might have turned you against him after all these cycles. It seems that his fears you would turn out like your mother were unjustified," Drew added with a wry chuckle.

"That was never really a likely outcome," I replied with a small laugh of my own. I finished cleaning the cut and sat back, "I fear this will need stitches. Doctor Carson can see to it once he's tended to Aaron." Drew nodded, shooting a worried glance at the bedroom. "The doctor says that as long as there is no internal bleeding, he will be just fine. He'll keep an eye on Aaron for the next few days to be sure." Drew relaxed visibly. I bit my lip, pondering his words. "You've known Aaron for some time, then?" I asked.

"Since we were boys," he answered, turning to face me.

" know why Father sent him away?" Drew's eyes widened, he had clearly not expected the question.

"You don't?" I shook my head, I could feel Ballard watching me with concern. I had not spoken much of my family with him.

"I was very little," I told Drew truthfully, "I don't think anyone thought I could handle an honest explanation. Aaron was considered pretty much a taboo subject after Father disowned him. No one ever talked about the situation, not to me. By the time I was old enough to ask," I shrugged, "I knew better than to risk it."

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," he said, nodding. He gave me another assessing look. "I don't think it's my place to tell you, though, my lady," he said at last, sadly, "but Aaron will explain, if you are willing to listen." I sighed, giving a small nod of my own. It would have to do.

"Well, I've dosed him pretty heavily and he shouldn't be disturbed until he wakes naturally," Doctor Carson said, entering the sitting room and drying his hands with a clean towel. Drew started to stand but I stopped him and the doctor continued. "I will keep an eye on him for the next few days, as I told my lady, but I believe he will be just fine. He should wake sometime tomorrow. He'll be in a world of pain, I am sure, but otherwise fine. Now," he said, spotting Drew's cut, "what have we here?"

I moved aside so that he could stitch up Drew's face and moved to stand by Ballard. While the attention of the other two men was diverted, he risked grabbing my hand and giving it a quick squeeze. I smiled at him and squeezed back before we let go of each other. The doctor was done with Drew in short order and he turned to shut the door to the bedroom, clearly serious about the order not to disturb Aaron.

"Is there anything else I might do for you this evening, my lady?" he asked me.

"No Doctor, but thank you."

"Yes, thank you." Drew echoed from the sofa.

"All in a day's work, of course," Doctor Carson said cheerily. "I will be by tomorrow afternoon to check on my patient. He bowed his head to me and left. I closed the door behind him. Drew was staring at the closed bedroom door once more, clearly unhappy that he wasn't allowed to check on Aaron himself. They must be very close indeed.

"Now that we know Aaron will most likely be alright," I said softly, moving to sit next to Drew once more, "Can you please tell me what in the blazes happened to you two?" Drew turned back to me and sighed. He had been expecting the question, but I could tell he did not look forward to answering it. He looked pointedly at Ballard, still stationed beside the door. "Ballard is my guard, and my friend," I assured Drew, "I have no secrets from him. You may trust him as well." For a moment I thought that Drew might still refuse to talk, but then he seemed to come to a decision. Instead of voicing further objections, he sat forward and began to speak.

"It was Riordan," he began. Ballard stiffened at the name and I frowned. It sounded vaguely familiar but I could not place where I had heard it before. "Well, not actually Riordan himself," Drew continued, "he has minions for that kind of thing. He set them on Aaron while I was running an errand in the Quarter of Trade. If I hadn't returned when I did..." he trailed off, swallowing hard, and his logic was not hard to follow. My brother had almost died this night. "I got back to find Riordan's lackeys beating him and I barely managed to stop them. I'm still not sure how we managed to get away."

"But why?" I blurted out. "Why would this Riordan want to hurt Aaron? What is he mixed up in Drew?"

"It's...not a short story, my lady." He answered.

"Well, we have all night, don't we?" I retorted. Drew leaned back against the sofa regarding me. He passed a hand over his eyes and shook his head.

"You are more like him than I expected," he told me softly. He was quiet for a few moments before he went on. "When Garvin threw Aaron out of Jade, we didn't know where we would go." We. It sounded like Drew had gone into exile with my brother. He continued, "It was a difficult time. We thought to go south through the Wildlands, there have always been rumors of other nations beyond them. But we had no resources, and no real skill that would enable us to survive such a journey."

"Aaron had been tossed out with barely the clothes on his back, and I had only a little more chance to pack anything before I followed after him." I pondered that. Had Drew worked in the House of Jade when Aaron still lived there? Why then did I not remember him? "We holed up in a rather frightful inn in the Quarter of Citizens and tried to figure out what to do next, hoping to come up with a plan before what little money we had ran out completely. That was when Riordan found us. He actually went to the trouble to recruit us in person, after his people had tracked us down to the inn."

"He offered us sanctuary in his House," Drew continued, his voice husky from weariness. I inhaled sharply, finally placing the name. Riordan of the Griffon! He was Head of one of the only Houses that truly rivaled the Stag and Rivers in terms of wealth and influence throughout Pelos. An image of a face flashed through my mind. Goodness, he had dined at the same table as my family on my wedding night!

"Yes," Drew said, seeing the recognition dawn, "you can understand why it was too good an offer to pass up. In return for protection, we would become his sworn men, carrying out odd jobs and delivering messages, dealing with the less...public aspects of his business interests. Aaron and I thought that it was exactly what we needed to get back on our feet. We could take the opportunity to save up our pay and learn as much as we could about the Wildlands so that we might eventually strike out away from Pelos. It was...painful for Aaron to stay too close and hear news of Garvin and Jade."

"I sense there is more to it than that," I stated after he had not spoken for some time, "else there would not have been beatings involved."

"You are quite right there," Drew nodded. "We soon realized that what Riordan really wanted was someone to do his dirty work. Aaron was easy prey, and since I went where Aaron went, so was I. After perhaps two moons we had made up our minds to leave, Aaron could not stand to carry out Riordan's orders any more. We didn't have nearly enough to strike out on our own, but we would not earn our way with such tainted coin."

"Of course leaving would not have been easy." I speculated.

"No. Riordan had ordered a close watch on us, he figured out what we were planning almost before we made the decision. That was when he brought out the heavy artillery. Your father had gone to great lengths to keep the true reason for Aaron's disownment hidden. The official story was that Aaron had broken an agreement between Garvin and a very powerful House, refusing to marry the woman your father had chosen for him." Drew shrugged, "That part is true, actually, but it is only a very small bit of the entire story, especially considering that particular event happened several years before Aaron was disowned. Riordan, however, had managed to ferret out the whole thing. That man has spies all over the damned city."

"He threatened to reveal the whole truth if you left?" I hazarded a guess.

"Yes, my lady," Drew answered, a sad look crossing his face.

"But why would that matter to Aaron?" I asked, half to myself. "If you were leaving the city anyway, he couldn't still be concerned about his own reputation. Why protect Father after what he did?"

"Aaron never really blamed your father for disowning him," Drew said softly, shaking his head. "He regretted it, certainly, but he had always feared its inevitability if the truth was discovered...your father was a very traditional man, my lady. Aaron never stopped loving him, and he refused to let his own secret be the scandal that brought downfall to the House of Jade."

I tilted my head in thought, watching Drew and processing his words. He had turned back to gaze at Aaron's door once more, the pain on his face clear. Several pieces of the puzzle clicked into place all at once for me.

"You're lovers!" I exclaimed softly. Drew inhaled and closed his eyes, but he nodded slowly, refusing to deny the truth. I had long wondered what my brother could have done that my tolerant, forgiving Father might deem unforgivable. His son and heir choosing the company of men to that of women would certainly have been too much for him to accept, I knew. As Drew had said, Father was a very traditional man, and he would have considered such a thing to be unnatural and against all of the very laws of nature and Pelos, although I knew the actual laws of Pelos to be very murky on the subject. They dealt more with the complications such relationships added to the lines of succession than the actual relationships themselves. "Oh Drew," I breathed, leaning forward to take his hand in mine.

When he finally looked at me, he seemed surprised that I did not react with revulsion. But how could I? I had learned what it meant to follow my heart where the traditions of society forbade me to travel. I glanced quickly at Ballard and saw sadness in his eyes. He understood as well. I was glad to see that. Drew grasped my hand as tightly as his bandages would allow and gave me a wan smile.

"Nothing like your mother," he commented, "thank all that is good in this world." I could guess at his meaning well enough. Father might eventually have reconciled himself with Aaron's...deviations, had he been willing to keep them secret. But Mother would never have risked the chance of such a thing continuing under her roof, inviting discovery at every turn. No doubt she had been the driving force behind the disownment. I heaved a sigh, hating to think so ill of the dead, but it did her no justice to remember her as anything other than what she had been, I knew.

"What about the denied marriage?" I asked, wondering that I had never heard the details of that story. "Who was he supposed to marry? And how could it have been grounds for disownment if it happened so long before the disownment itself?"

"The refusal of marriage wasn't so much grounds for disownment as fuel on the fire when it actually occurred," Drew answered carefully. "But to be honest my lady, that is most definitely your brother's tale to tell." He seemed to have pulled himself back together somewhat and continued his own story.

"We spent almost a cycle under Riordan's thumb," he told me, "before we could take no more. I was never able to figure out the how of it, but somehow Aaron managed to do a little bit of turnabout and dug up a secret that Riordan would rather be kept buried. We used it as leverage to barter our freedom from his employ without our own secret being revealed." Ballard's eyes narrowed, but I took little notice, as I was engrossed the story. "The parting was not amicable, however, and we knew Riordan would not forget us easily. He had been aware of our plans to head south, so we sought to throw him off our trail a little. We did head south at first, but a day or two into the Wildlands, once we were sure we were not being followed, we skirted west and back north."

"To the mountains?" I asked in surprise.

"Exactly. There are a few mining villages scattered throughout the range. They are isolated enough from each other, and even more so from Pelos. We went as far west as we could get and settled down there. No one paid much attention to two bachelors trying to find their fortune."

"You and Aaron worked the mines?" I could not keep the incredulity out of my voice. Aaron had never been of a very delicate constitution, to be sure, but his early life as the heir to the House of Jade could hardly have prepared him for such physical labor.

"At first, yes," Drew said, laughing a little at my reaction. "As I am sure you can imagine, he did not take to it particularly well. The owner of the tavern took a shine to us though and after a time took pity on Aaron. He offered him work in his kitchens and your brother gratefully accepted." It was equally surprising, but more believable, I had to admit. "I found I rather liked working in the mines, actually," Drew went on, "the physical labor was freeing to me." He shrugged. "After a few cycles Aaron was all but running the tavern, and it was thriving as a result. We were happy."

"Then why in the heavens would you come back Drew?"

"Because Riordan found us," he said quietly, his smile gone again. I placed a hand over my mouth. It was so unfair! These poor men had gone to such great lengths just to be able to live their lives. "At the beginning of this cycle, some traders from Pelos came to our village to purchase the goods from the mine," Drew said. "One of them was a spy for Riordan, and he recognized Aaron instantly. We didn't know, of course, or we'd have fled. We didn't find out until it was too late..." He looked at me, his expression guilty and remorseful. I didn't understand. Ballard did, though, his fists were clenched and I realized he was seething, though I couldn't fathom why. Until Drew spoke again, softly, apologetically, "A few moons later we received a message demanding that we return to Pelos, immediately. Riordan provided Aaron with a rather compelling ultimatum, and we had no choice..."

"Because he had Laren," Ballard said, speaking for the first time since arriving in the rooms. I whipped my head around and stared at him, comprehension fully dawning. He moved forward, and I could see he was practically vibrating with rage. I stood and took a step toward him, wanting to sooth his anger, but my mind was reeling as well.

"He swore that if we returned a message agreeing to his demands immediately he would let you go alive, my lady," Drew whispered. I could barely hear him, he had buried his face in his hands. "If we didn't arrive within a moon, he promised to kill you. We were back in the city within two weeks."

"Do you know what they did to her?" Ballard hissed moving forward again. "Do you? They let her go alive, certainly, but not before they--"

"Ballard!" The time for discretion was long past. I calmed myself and closed the space between us, taking his face in my hands and turning it so that he was looking at me and not Drew. "I am alright," I told him quietly, "I survived, and we cannot change what happened. They no more caused it than you could have stopped me from being taken." He winced at that, it still rankled him to acknowledge that my abductors would have likely found a way around whatever security measures might have been in place had any already been in effect. Jonah and Walon had been told to keep me alive, they would have had no need to spare those who stood in their way. I held his head in place, his eyes locked to mine, until his breathing began to even out and he began to regain his temper.

"I do know," Drew said at last, looking up and watching our silent showdown. "That bastard Jonah," I failed to repress a flinch at the name, "took great pleasure in telling Aaron all about it when we were once more in Riordan's grasp. I thought Aaron would murder him then and there, but Riordan stepped in and called him down. He made quite sure to remind us that your safety was forfeit at any disobedience."

"I would like to see him try to come for you again," Ballard whispered harshly, his hands gripping my own tightly.

"I am so so sorry, my lady." Drew said, a pleading note in his voice. "If either of us had thought for one heartbeat that you would ever have been in danger because of our actions, we never would have left Pelos."

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Drew," I said, turning to face him. "What's done is done, and it seems to me the blame can be laid squarely at Riordan's feet and no one else's." He relaxed a bit. "I think, given the circumstances, I would really rather you call me Laren, by the way." He blinked in surprise and then nodded. Ballard mumbled something almost unintelligible under his breath, but I was pretty sure I caught "bloody noble-hearted soft-touch" among the words. I smiled at him sweetly and he huffed a sigh of exasperation.

"So you have explained where you and Aaron went after you left Pelos, and how you fell in with Riordan in the first place," I said, tapping a finger against my lips. "Also, why and when you came back to the city. I suppose that just leaves tonight's events left to retell." I returned to my seat on the sofa and looked at Drew expectantly. He stared at me in bafflement, and then at Ballard.

"Don't look at me," Ballard responded. Some days it is all I can do to keep up with her." He gave up the pretense of being a passive observer and pulled up the chair next to my end of the sofa. "You may as well tell her the rest, she's not going to let you get any sleep until you do."

"There's not much left to tell," Drew said finally. "We've been back here for several moons doing Riordan's dirty work for him. Mostly it is just spying on nobles when they leave the Quarter of Houses, gathering blackmail material for him in case he wants something from one of our targets." He grimaced in distaste. "Occasionally he orders us to break into a warehouse or shop, to take something he perceives as rightfully his or to leave a message. There is more physical intimidation as well, although he usually uses Jonah and his toady Walon for that. They are much more inclined for that kind of violence."

I managed to keep my face blank at the mention of my abductors but Ballard wasn't so controlled. He had been exceedingly frustrated at his inability to turn up those men's origins, and now he had been more or less handed the information on a silver platter. He wanted vengeance, I knew. I was sure the only thing that kept him from grilling Drew for the information was my presence in the room. I reached over and took his hand, hoping to calm him a little. I am not so sure it worked, but he at least schooled his features into something less angry.

"Last week Riordan wanted us to set fire to one of the dock houses," Drew went on. "The owner was behind in payments and he wanted to send a message that he basically owned the man. Aaron flat-out refused, saying the risk of damage to others was just too great. He somehow managed to collect the back payments from the owner, so Riordan let the matter drop. He wasn't too happy about it though. Jonah's been harassing us since we returned, and Riordan never really bothered to discourage it. Jonah took it into his head to boost his approval with Riordan by teaching Aaron a 'lesson' about his proper place." Drew shook his head in disgust.

"Walon joined in and I think they started trying to outdo each other and it got out of hand. I had been out collecting a payment and I walked in on them...Aaron was curled up on the floor, covered in blood, and they were kicking him and they would not stop...." I felt my own hands clench in rage. Those two men I would gladly see at the bottom of the Peregrine if I had my way. For a heartbeat I wished I could set Ballard loose on them. Drew took another deep breath to steady himself and finished his story. "I managed to pull them off of Aaron and get him out of there, and we just ran for as long as he could. We lost Jonah and Walon but then Aaron collapsed and I realized how badly hurt he was. I needed to get him somewhere safe, where his wounds could be seen to..."

"I am glad you came to me, Drew." I took his hand in both of my own, trying to reassure him.

"I've put you in terrible danger, my lady. Laren," he corrected himself, "Riordan will know or at least suspect this is where we went. The Stag may be a powerful House, but the Griffon is its match at the very least, and Riordan doesn't fight fair."

"Yes, well, neither does Roslyn. She's just very good at keeping that fact hidden." Drew looked at me in surprise and I offered him a small smile. "I will see to it that she is aware of the threat, and Ballard will make sure the security is appropriately fortified," From the corner of my eye I caught Ballard nodding, a thoughtful look on his face as he went over possible weaknesses to be shored up. There wouldn't be many, he had grown extraordinarily cautious over the last cycle. "The House of the Stag is already more of a fortress than the casual observer would believe, and Roslyn is exceptionally skilled at keeping things quiet that she does not want others to know," I told him, patting his hand. He looked doubtful, but nodded his thanks just the same.

"Thank you for taking us in like this Laren," he said softly. "I know we have no right to impose on you so, especially after what you have been through already because of us."

"Nonsense, Drew. You are family. Aaron is no less my brother for the cycles we have spent apart. I wish the circumstances were different, but I won't lie, it is good to have him back in my life again, even if it is only for a short time." At Drew's look of confusion, I elaborated. "Roslyn will offer you both protection as long as you are under her roof, but I don't doubt she will not want to extend that courtesy much longer than Aaron's recovery, unfortunately. Either way, it should give us plenty of time to devise a way to get the two of you out of the city safely and away from Riordan for good." He nodded in understanding.

I stood and stretched, suddenly overcome by the lateness of the hour. My drive had finally faded and my body was reminding me that it did expect a certain amount of sleep. I looked at the door to the bedroom, behind which my brother slept soundlessly. I turned back to Drew, seeing once more that sense of being lost about him.

"I am sure that if you are very careful not to disturb him, you should be able to sleep in the bedroom as well," he swung his head around to me in surprise. I placed a hand on his shoulder. "Even unconscious, he will know you are present, and it will give him better rest." Drew nodded, a thankful look crossing his face. I had only been able to enjoy a few nights in their entirety with Ballard, but the sleep I got on those evenings was more restful than any others I had experienced since. After so many cycles together, I suspected sleeping apart was a rarity to them, and a sense of routine would help them both.

"I will remain on guard outside," Ballard said softly. I was relieved to see he had calmed down greatly. "Let me know if you have need of anything."

"Good night, Drew. Try to get some rest," I told him. "I will be back in the morning for breakfast."

"Good night," he answered, already moving toward the bedroom.

Ballard and I slipped out of the sitting room into the corridor and he took up a watchful stance.

"Thank you," I said softly.

"He is your brother," was the simple reply. We gazed at each other for a few moments and I was about to leave when Ballard spoke up again. "You do know it won't be that simple, don't you? Riordan isn't going to simply allow them to leave Pelos and let the matter rest. They probably know too many of his secrets."

"That's what I am counting on, Ballard," I answered. "I won't let him continue to persecute my family. We have a chance to put a stop to this for good, and I intend to take it." He gave me a hard look and finally nodded.

"Good," he answered. I scanned the corridor to be sure it was empty before pressing a quick kiss to his lips. I saw his eyes widen in surprise before I turned to go, hurrying back to my own rooms on the floor below. There was so very much to be done once morning arrived.

No comments:

Post a Comment