Chapter 34 Part 1

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Tristan sighed. “Goodbye, Addie. I’ll check in on Sam again in an hour.”

“Please don’t,” came Addie’s muffled reply. She had disappeared into the storerooms, likely to mix some foul-tasting concoction for the next poor sap who fell under her care. “I’ll send for you if you’re needed.”

Tristan left the sickbay and climbed up the winding stairs to his temporary chambers in the Beyaz Kale. The chambers were in an unused, musty corner of the castle and the accommodations were sparse—little more than a bed and an extra pallet. Sander had apologized, explaining the room was the best he could do on short notice, but Tristan was frankly grateful to have anywhere to stay—he was unsure of the reception he would receive in Luca, despite Sander’s parting words to him.

Braeden sat on the edge of the extra pallet, pricking his fingers with a dagger. “I just came from visiting Sam,” Tristan told him.

Braeden’s eyes lifted and then returned to his fingers. “How is she?”

“The same,” said Tristan. “You haven’t visited her since you got to Luca.”

“I know.”

Braeden had always been self-contained and, Tristan thought, a little aloof, but he was even more taciturn than usual, ever since he arrived in Luca five days ago, two days after Tristan had arrived with Sam.  When Tristan had asked him what had transpired with the High Commander, Braeden said, in a voice colder than the grave, “He lives.” And then he clammed up, tight-lipped and somber.

“You should visit her,” Tristan said. “I think she’d like that.”

“She’s unconscious. She wouldn’t even know,” Braeden said callously. He resumed pricking his fingers. “Besides, she has you.”

Tristan shook his head. He didn’t understand Braeden’s reluctance to see Sam—the two of them had been thick as thieves before the events at the Diamond Coast. “You should go,” Tristan urged. “You’ll regret it if you don’t. If she dies—”

The tip of Braeden’s knife drove deep into his finger. “Don’t even say that,” he hissed.

A knock came at the door, breaking the suddenly tense mood. Tristan opened it to a young castle servant. “Excuse me, Master Lyons,” said the servant. “Doc says you should come. Lady Samantha is waking.”

A tidal wave of relief washed over him. “Thank the gods,” he breathed. “Braeden, are you coming?”

Braeden averted his gaze. “I’ll stay for now.”

“Suit yourself,” said Tristan. He grasped the servant’s shoulder. “Take me to her ladyship.”

***

Sam opened her eyes to a face so beautiful it could only belong to a goddess. Idly, she wondered in which of the seven heavens she had landed. The goddess looked a great deal like Naamah, so Sam supposed she must be in her realm. Funny, Sam had always thought that when she died she would wind up in the realm of Hermod, the patron god of Haywood.

“Naamah?” Sam croaked. Why was her voice so rusty?

The goddess rolled her eyes. “Not the first time I’ve heard that one, I’m afraid,” she said in a brisk, businesslike tone. “I’m Addie Branimir, the local doctor. You gave us all quite a scare.”

So Sam wasn’t dead, then? She should have realized; she was in far too much pain to be dead. Sam blinked as the room came into focus. Stained glass windows depicting Elethia, the goddess of healers, let in soft light and color. The walls were lined by neat rows of beds, half of which were empty. The others were occupied by men and women in varying states of illness and injury. “Where am I?” Sam asked. The last thing she remembered was the High Commander’s leer as he plunged his blade into her chest. She shuddered.

“You’re in Luca, in the infirmary of the Beyaz Kale,” said Addie. “Your betrothed brought you here.”

Her betrothed? Sam glanced down at herself—she wore a woman’s chemise and her breasts were unbound. She blanched. Tristan must know.

“You’re hyperventilating,” Addie said. “You need to stay calm.”

As though the thought of his name had summoned him, Tristan burst into the infirmary. “Sam!” He ran and skidded to a stop a few feet shy of Sam’s bed. “Lady Samantha.” He bowed at the waist.

Addie rapped his knuckles. “Stop exciting my patient,” she said. “Too much excitement isn’t good for her.”

Tristan wore a contrite expression. “My sincerest apologies to both of you.” He cleared his throat nervously. “Could I talk to Sam—Lady Samantha—for a few minutes?” he asked, “alone?”

Addie narrowed her eyes at him and then nodded curtly. To Sam, she said, “If he bothers you, just yell and I’ll get rid of him.”

Briefly, Sam considered pretending to fall back unconscious, but Addie was a doctor and would see right through her ploy. “It will be fine,” Sam said weakly. Except it wouldn’t be—after months of deceit, she finally had to pay for her lies. Gods, Tristan must hate her. How could he not?

“Okay, then,” said Addie. She tugged on tasseled drawstrings, enclosing Sam’s bed in a maroon velvet curtain.  “If you feel faint or the pain worsens, call for me.” Addie ducked out through a gap in the curtain, leaving Sam alone with Tristan.

Sam squeezed her eyes shut, bracing for a diatribe of accusations and insults. When none came, Sam cracked open a lid.

Tristan bent down on one knee and clasped her hands in his. “Lady Samantha Haywood,” he said. “Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

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