Chapter 8

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Maelyn stormed out of the castle, wrapped in a rose-colored cloak that reached her ankles. The chill of twilight did nothing to cool her rage. She needed a place to walk long and fast.

The castle sat atop a broad hill, mountains rising behind and forest sloping below. All of Runa had been built on land that rose gradually into the mountains, each town and village slightly higher than the one before it. Maelyn crossed the clearing to the fringe of Lumen Forest.

She took the Wending Way, a narrow trail that wiggled and squirmed a clumsy route through the forest, meandering around ponds and slipping between trees. Maelyn stomped down the hill, stumbling over roots as anger blinded her steps.

Why had Uncle Jarrod come? Why did he not wait for a messenger’s return? It was unlike him to visit without notice. Unlike him to leave Grunwold at all, where he governed more kingdoms than he could name from memory.

His behavior was odd. For one thing, he had insisted on taking Father’s bedchamber rather than the larger room he normally used. And he questioned her about Father’s belongings until she assured him nothing had been moved or changed since his death. Since Uncle Jarrod possessed the sentimentality of a lump of coal, Maelyn couldn’t imagine why he should care about this.

Her tromp dwindled to a weary amble. She didn’t want to turn back but the forest darkened with every step. If she didn’t hurry, she’d be groping her way back up the hill.

Maelyn stopped suddenly.

Hushed voices, very close.

She turned to the sound but saw only the bulging trunk of a Lumen tree. Her mind flashed images of bandits, assassins, invaders. But no… she knew one of those voices.

She crept around the tree, sliding her hands over the marble-smooth trunk. Halfway around she stopped and stared ahead of her.

They stood between two trees that leaned together, forming a pointed niche between their trunks. The young girl’s hands lay comfortably on the man’s shoulders and she whispered something that clearly pleased them both. The man’s fingers slid through the girl’s silk-fine hair as he listened.

Maelyn stood straight and tall. “Arialain!”

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