Chapter 28

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“You asked to see me, my lady?”

Maelyn turned away from the bookshelf. “Good day, Willow.” She had spent the past hour rearranging her books, moving her favorites to lower shelves. Her library never looked more beautiful.

Willow strode toward her, his boots hushed by the carpet. “I thought you left. I saw your uncle’s carriage when it passed through Merridell.”

Maelyn smiled. “Turns out I won’t be Prince Murdel’s bride after all.” She slid The Devious Damsel off the shelf. “Because of this.”

Willow looked startled. “Because of… that book?”

Maelyn told him all that transpired during her carriage ride with Uncle Jarrod. Willow leaned against the bookcase, arms folded, his face a blend of the shock and outrage Maelyn had felt. But he grinned through her description of the king’s symptoms as he slowly succumbed to ‘Red Fever’.

“It was the devious damsel!” Maelyn laughed. “She switched ingredients and spoiled the Wicked Pixie’s potion. So I switched Uncle Jarrod’s wine. I wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise.”

Willow smiled softly. “I’m so glad, my lady.”

“I’m glad it worked,” said Maelyn. “It might not-”

“No.” Willow stepped closer, barely a foot from Maelyn’s face. “I’m glad you’re not leaving.”

Maelyn pulled her gaze from the grip of his blue eyes. “Thank you,” she mumbled, forgetting what she wanted to ask. “Oh! Where did you get this?” She held up The Devious Damsel. Willow’s expression became withdrawn.

“And The Heartsick Hero,” Maelyn pressed. “I know they didn’t come from the Book Miser.”

The room had sunk to a cozy gloom as daylight crept back from the window, but she noted the darkening hue on Willow’s face. For a few worrisome moments she wondered if he’d stolen the books.

“They were mine,” said Willow. “After a few visits, I knew the miser wouldn’t bend. But I couldn’t disappoint you.” He smiled uneasily. “And you seemed to enjoy the books I brought.”

“I did,” said Maelyn, wondering why Willow acted like a bandit caught in the treasure room. She stood a bit straighter. “Willow, what is it you’re not telling me?”

Willow sighed, his features succumbing to a bashful smile. “I – I wrote them.”

Maelyn stared at him. Once again she became that knight thrown off his horse.

“I never had many books of my own,” said Willow. “So I learned to write them myself. You wondered why you never saw me before Rowan’s burial. It’s because I was always at home, writing. All day. All night sometimes.” He laughed. “Becoming the messenger has been good for me. It drove me out of my hermitage.”

“How many books have you written?” Maelyn asked.

Willow laughed again. “A lot!”

“Who reads them?”

“My family, mostly. Some friends.”

“Who copies them? Do you hire the monks?”

Willow shook his head. “I can’t afford copies.”

Maelyn gasped. “You mean… the books you gave me - they are all that exist?” She reached out, offering the book in her hand. “Here. I’ll give them back immediately.”

“No, Maelyn. They are for you.”

Maelyn.

He called her Maelyn.

Since her father’s death she had not heard a man’s voice speak her name. A queer feeling tickled her stomach and she looked down, suddenly shy. “But… why would you give them to me?”

A quiet moment passed. Then gentle fingers slid behind her neck. When Maelyn looked up, Willow pulled her against him and kissed her. Softly. Steadily. The book dropped from Maelyn’s fingers.

Willow released her, sliding his hands along her arms to her fingertips before letting go. He scooped up the book and held it toward her, smiling. “Good day, my lady.”

Maelyn clutched the book to her chest until the library door closed behind him. She leaned against the bookcase, breathless, her heart and cheeks burning with a fire never felt. She closed her eyes, savoring the light glowing within her like a new star.

Willow.

She heard the soft clop of horse hooves passing on the dirt road outside. With a frantic, unladylike scamper, she reached the window, shoving the curtains aside. In the russet glow of sunset she watched his mounted silhouette until it faded behind the Lumen trees.

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