Chapter Two, Part One

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Note: Some chapters in GUARDIAN will be broken into two parts, to make their long length more manageable. 

 Chapter Two, Part One

The dagger is heavy in my sleeve. Part of me worries about it slipping to the floor and exposing my ‘nightly walk’ as something else. But there’s a larger part of me worrying that someone followed me back to the castle, so I keep the weapon tucked safely against my forearm.

Although it’s not like anyone would panic if they caught me with the knife. I’m a princess. I’m supposedly crazy. And that mixture provides freedom like no other.

As I approach my chambers, Jolik stands in front of the doors, frowning down at me from his towering height. I have a quick flashback to ten months ago, when Jolik frowned at Ashe as he read the arrest orders. A shudder runs through me, but I quickly expel it with a deep breath.

 “Miss Princess,” Jolik greets me.

I don’t like how he calls me that—it seems incongruous. But I let him get away with it, only because he sounds so harmless when he speaks. Having been born in the Eastern Regions, Jolik drawls every word, and has an uncanny ability to multiply syllables until words are hardly recognizable.

When I don’t respond, his frown deepens. “You were out late tonight.”

It’s concern that furrows his eyebrows, not mistrust. I doubt he even notices the bulge of the knife in my sleeve.

I use the most exaggerated grin possible and meet his eyes. “Me?” I say, as if we aren’t the only people in the corridor.

He smiles down gently at me. After dragging away Ashe to his death ten months ago, Jolik decided I needed closer watchin’. His words, of course. He said that if a traitor had been allowed to Guard me for five years, then my protection wasn’t guaranteed. Now Jolik spends nearly every evening at my door, guarding it and waiting for me to return from my nightly meetings.

He’s right: I’m not safe. But only because someone framed my Guardian. Only because my Ashe is dead and can’t protect me.

“Yes, darlin’,” Jolik says. “Of course I’m talkin’ to you. Where’ve you been all this time? It’s nearly midnight.”

He knows as well as I do that midnight is an early return for me. I wake up late so that I can stay out until the early hours of morning. It’s so much easier to track people late at night. Things like knives and royal titles become nearly invisible, and bribes and threats are more likely to pay off when guards aren’t on duty.

I continue smiling up at Jolik, allowing an awkward silence to pass between us before I answer. “I was out walking, Mister Sir Guard.” If he gets to call me a ridiculous title, then I’ll call him something just as ridiculous. The difference is, he doesn’t even flinch at his new name. I’m expected to say things like this.

Jolik sighs and shakes his head. “I never seem to be able to catch you before you go out on your walks. I just don’t know how you do it, Miss Princess.”

I just keep smiling, not daring to tell him about the forgotten passageway I use to sneak out. Leading from my library to the back of the castle, the passage is one of the more useful things I’ve discovered in my visions. 

He cocks his head, giving me a look that borders on suspicion. “Sometimes I wonder if what they say about you is true.”

He’s not talking about the rumors that I’m bat-shit crazy. No, he’s talking about the more vicious rumors. The ones that say I’m a witch, and should have been put to death along with my Ashe.

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