Chapter 31

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Though Tristan’s family home had burned to the ground, the stable and horses were unharmed, thank the gods for small favors. Sam suggested they wait a day before departing Finchold so Tristan could recover, but he insisted he was well enough to ride—the wound in his side was minor and he’d expelled the toxic smoke fumes from his lungs. He conceded to an hour of rest—two hours at the most—and then they would leave.

The matter of Sander, however, still needed to be settled. Sam had half expected him to bolt as soon as the last demon was slain, but he stayed true to his word. Secretly, part of her wished Sander had broken his promise; his presence unnerved her. She couldn’t understand him—why he’d let them abduct him without protest, why he’d helped them, why he’d gone so far as to save Tristan’s life. There was no other explanation for it other than that he was, well, good. And yet the High Commander condemned Sander as a dangerous man, and she was forced to entrust him with her most dangerous secret. It made her uneasy.

Sander crossed the field from the stables with his stallion and passed the reins to Braeden. He squatted in front of Tristan, who was resting against a tree. The Uriel held his wrists out to him, palms up. “What are you doing?” Tristan asked.

“Keeping my promise,” said Sander. “You can tie me back up. Although, I’d appreciate it if you would undo my binds during the next demon attack. Doing nothing is damned annoying.”

Tristan stared at the brown wrists for a long time. The skin was red and irritated where rope had rubbed against it. “No,” said Tristan.

Sander sighed. “You won’t consider it?”

Tristan said, “You misunderstood me. I want you to leave.”

Sander cocked his head. “Leave?”

“Yes, leave. Go. Go back to your Uriel.”

“You’re letting me go,” Sander said slowly. “Why?”

Tristan wouldn’t meet his eyes. “You saved my life. Twice. It’s not something I take lightly.”

Sam looked between the two men in disbelief. True, Tristan was indebted to the man, but still...“What about the High Commander’s order?”

Tristan took a deep breath. “I think he made a mistake.” Sam gaped at him, and even Braeden seemed startled by his declaration. “The High Commander is human, too,” Tristan said. The words seemed to mock themselves.

Sander rose to his feet and extended his hand. “You’re a good man, Paladin.”

Tristan hesitated, and then grasped the offered palm. “You too, Uriel. Now go, before I change my mind.”

Sander dipped his head, and then vaulted onto his horse. “I’ll take the reins now.” Braeden surrendered them to him wordlessly. “It’s a courageous decision to ask questions of authority,” Sander said, “and one that’s seldom rewarded. If you should find yourselves in trouble—any of you—come to Luca. The Uriel always have room for courageous men.” He added, almost as an afterthought, “Or women.”

Knowing his last remark was directed at her, Sam studiously avoided Sander’s gaze. She didn’t appreciate the Uriel treating her future like a game. She hoped Tristan didn’t read into the careless comment.

Oblivious, Tristan pushed himself off the ground. “Thank you,” he said. “The gesture is appreciated but unnecessary. My trust in you does not extend to your organization. I fear the Paladins and Uriel will never ally.”

“No?” Sander asked pleasantly. “And what will you tell your High Commander?”

“That I owe you my life, and should he want you recaptured, he’ll need to assign another Paladin to the job. That’s all I can promise you.”

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