He looked at me, his eyes wide. He looked so terribly young. “I don’t…hurt anymore.”
“You don’t?” I forced a smile as I kept the connection open, washing him in waves of light and warmth. I didn’t want even the slightest bit of pain to sneak through.
“No.” A look of awe settled in his expression. “I know I’m not, but I feel…I feel good.”
“I’m relieved to hear that.”
He stared at me, and I knew Phillips and Hawke were watching. I knew without even looking at them that they realized his sudden relief had nothing to do with the stages of death. No one with that kind of wound slipped away peacefully.
“I know you,” Airrick said, his chest rising heavily and then slowly settling. “Didn’t think…I should say anything, but we’ve met.” More blood leaked out of his mouth. “We played cards.”
Surprised, the smile became real. “Yes, we did. How did you know?”
“It’s…your eyes,” he told me. There were too many moments between when his chest settled and when it rose again. “You were losing.”
“I was.” I leaned down, keeping his pain at bay. “Normally, I’m better at cards. My brother taught me, but I kept being dealt bad hands.”
He laughed again, the sound even weaker. “Yeah…they were bad hands. Thank…” His gaze shifted to my shoulder. Whatever he saw was beyond me, beyond all of us. It was welcome. Airrick’s lips trembled as he smiled. “Momma?”
His chest didn’t settle. It rose, but it didn’t come back down. Airrick passed some seconds later, his lips still curved into a smile, his eyes now dull but glistening. I didn’t know if he saw his mother, saw anything, but I hoped he did. I wished for him that his mother had come for him and not the god, Rhain. It was nice to think that loved ones were there to greet those passing over. I wanted to believe that Vikter’s wife and their child had been waiting for him.
Slowly, I lowered his hand and placed it on his chest. I looked up then to find both Phillips and Hawke staring at me.
“You did something to him,” Hawke stated, his gaze searching mine.
I said nothing.
I didn’t need to. Phillips said it for me. “It’s true. The rumors. I heard it, but I didn’t believe it. Gods. You have the touch.”
Our group rode hard, the pace aggressive and jarring, and we were three guards short of when we left Masadonia. A few hours later, we found Noah’s horse grazing, and once he was tethered to Luddie’s mount, we were on our way once more.
Having stopped just outside of Three Rivers for only a few hours to rest the horses, we traveled straight through the night. My heart was heavy, my legs numb and sore, and I was worried.
Phillips didn’t speak of what I’d done once the others joined us, but he kept stealing glances at me. Each time, he looked at me as if he weren’t sure I was real, reminding me of the glances the servants had sent my way whenever they saw me veiled.
It made me uncomfortable, but it was nothing like Hawke’s response to my gift.
He’d stared at me over Airrick’s body as if I were a puzzle missing all the edge pieces. Obviously, he was surprised, not that I could blame him. I’d figured he’d have questions. When we stopped outside of Three Rivers, I tried to speak to him about what I’d done, but all he did was shake his head. Just told me “later” and said to get some rest. I, of course, resisted, which ended with him either pretending to fall asleep beside me or actually going to sleep.
I didn’t know if he was mad or disturbed or…upset that I hadn’t told him, but I didn’t regret using my gift to ease Airrick’s passing. Hawke and I would talk, and later may come sooner than he wanted. But I managed to resist using my gift to determine how he felt. I’d rather him tell me than for me to cheat.
Because reading his emotions right now would feel like cheating.
By the time we reached New Haven, dusk was quickly upon us. We passed through the small Rise with little issue. Hawke dismounted and walked ahead to talk to one of the guards before swinging back up onto the horse behind me, leading the way through the cobblestone street.
Kieran had taken Airrick’s place, riding alongside us as we traveled through the sleepy town surrounded by a heavily wooded area. We passed shuttered businesses, closed for the evening, and then entered a residential area. The homes were as small as the ones in the Lower Ward but not nearly as stacked on top of one another. They were also in much better condition. The small trading town was obviously profitable, and the Royal who ruled over this city, apparently had a better grip on maintenance than the Teermans did.
It was about a block into the neighborhood when the door to the first house opened, and an older, brown-skinned man stepped out. He said nothing, simply nodded at Kieran and Hawke as we passed. Behind the man, a young boy ran out and to the house next door. He banged on the door, and shutters swung open. Ahead of us, Phillips’ hand moved to his sword as another young lad stuck his head out. “My papa is—” He broke off, eyes widening as he saw our little caravan. He whooped, and with a toothy grin, he disappeared back into the house, yelling for his father.
The boy from the first house ran two doors down, summoning another child, this one a girl with hair redder than mine. Her eyes grew as wide as saucers when she saw us.
Then, across the street, another door opened, this time revealing a middle-aged woman with a small child on her hip. She grinned, and the child waved. Lifting a hand, I gave an awkward wave back, and then I noticed that the first boy had gained quite a crew. An entire group of children followed our progress on the sidewalk now, and more and more doors opened as the people of New Haven came out to watch. None of them called out. Some waved. Others smiled. Only a few looked on wryly from their front stoops.
I leaned back and whispered, “This is a little odd.”
“I don’t think they get a lot of visitors,” Hawke answered, squeezing my waist, and my stupid heart jumped a little in my chest in response.
“This is an exciting day for them,” Kieran commented drolly.
“Is it?” murmured Hawke.
“They behave as if royalty is among them.”
Hawke snorted. “Then they truly must not get many visitors.”
Kieran slid him a long, sideways look, but Hawke seemed to have relaxed behind me, and I took that as a good sign.
“Have you been here before?” I asked.
I glanced over at Kieran. “You?”
“I’ve passed through a time or two.”
I raised a brow, but then Haven Keep came into view. Situated near the woods, it didn’t employ a secondary wall like Teerman Castle did, but it was also nowhere near its size. Only two stories tall, the greenish-gray stone structure looked like it had survived a different era.
We rode forward just as something cold touched the tip of my nose. I looked up. Snowflakes fell haphazardly as we crossed the yard, heading toward the stables. Several guards in black waited, nodding as we entered the open space that smelled of horse and hay.
I exhaled raggedly, briefly closing my eyes as I loosened my grip on the saddle. The trek across the kingdom was nowhere near complete, but at least for the night, we had a bed, four walls, and a roof.
Things I would no longer take for granted.
Hawke dropped down behind me and turned, lifting his arms as he wiggled his fingers. I arched a brow and then slid off the other side of the horse.
Grinning, I rubbed Setti’s neck, hoping he would get a tummy full of the best hay and some rest. He deserved it.
With the saddlebag draped over his shoulder, Hawke came to my side. “Stay close to me.”
He shot me a look that said my quick agreement was not to be trusted. Once the others joined us, we exited. The snow was coming down a little harder now, dusting the ground. I pulled my cloak around me as the front entrance opened, revealing another guard—a tall blond with pale, wintry-blue eyes.
Kieran greeted the guard with a handshake. “It’s good to see you,” the guard said, his gaze flickering to Hawke and then to me. His attention lingered for a few seconds on the left side of my face before coming back to Kieran. “It’s good to see all of you.”
“Same, Delano,” Kieran answered as Hawke placed his hand on my lower back. “It’s been too long.”
“Not long enough,” boomed a deep voice from inside the keep.
I turned to see a wide-open area lit by oil lamps. A tall, bearded, dark-haired and broad-shouldered man strode out from two large wooden doors. He wore dark breeches and a heavy tunic. A short sword was strapped to his waist even though he wasn’t dressed as a guard.
Kieran smiled, and I blinked. This was the first time that I’d seen him smile, and he’d gone from coldly handsome to strikingly attractive as he did it. “Elijah, you missed me more than anyone else.”
Elijah met Kieran halfway, capturing the younger man in a bear hug that lifted the guard clear off his feet. Eyes that were hazel, more gold than brown, landed on where Hawke and I stood.
One side of the man’s lips kicked up as he let go of Kieran. Or rather, dropped him. Kieran stumbled back a step, catching himself as he shook his head. “What do we have here?” Elijah asked.
“We’re in need of shelter for the night,” Hawke answered.
For some reason, this Elijah found Hawke’s response funny. He threw back his head and laughed. “We have plenty of shelter.”
“Good to hear.” Hawke’s hand stayed while I glanced around the entryway, confused.
Several people had come from beyond the doors, men and women. Like the townsfolk, there were varying degrees of looks. Most smiled, but a few stared in a way that reminded me of the blond Descenter who’d thrown the Craven hand.
Where was the Lord or Lady who oversaw the city? The sun was still up, but the space was windowless and, therefore, would not be an affront to the gods if they moved about. I didn’t see any Ascended among the gathered people. Perhaps this man was one of the Lord’s stewards and the Lord was otherwise occupied? I noted that Kieran was looking around with a narrowed gaze, probably thinking the same thing as I was.