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The next few days were a blur for Story. When she wasn’t sleeping or eating (or rather, having food shoved down her throat by Adair), she was sitting on the wagon’s front bench alongside Eilath, enjoying the warm sun. Even though the bruises on her leg were healing nicely, she wasn’t allowed to walk anywhere yet. She still had trouble putting her full weight on it, and ugly, puckering, pink scars wrapped around her right leg from where the fuath’s tail had grabbed her. She traced her fingers along them absentmindedly, seriously considering Adair’s offer to paint over them in patterns the way Eirnin’s arm was covered.

A bird fluttered off to her right, and she looked up. The landscape around them was drastically different from what she’d last seen in the woods around Stoneybrook. According to Eilath, they were traveling through the Sunset Plains, toward the Piney Green Forest and a gnome settlement of the same name. Gently rolling hills, covered in waist-high, waving grass, spread out as far as she could see. There was the occasional cluster of trees located around small pools of water that broke up the endless plains.

Story thought it was all starkly beautiful, especially when the wind ruffled the tops of the grass. Adair held a very different opinion; she was going stir crazy with no water to swim in—the pools hardly counted since they were rarely deeper than her knees. So, at Story’s suggestion, Eirnin had spent the last couple days taking Adair hunting. Just as she thought, Adair loved the bow and had taken to it with as much enthusiasm as the twins had—though without their exuberant penchant for destruction and chaos. She hadn’t actually managed to hit anything yet, but that would come eventually.

This left lots of alone time with Eilath, and Story found that she enjoyed it. He was very easy to be around. He didn’t feel a need to fill up the silence with useless chatter (not that Adair did, but like the twins, her exuberance could be wearying at times). Eilath reminded Story of her father in many ways; not that they were alike in personality or anything. No, it was something about the way they both made her feel: warm and protected, comfortable, and above all else, loved.

“I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for Adair.” Eilath’s gentle voice broke into her thoughts.

“Uh, how do you mean? I think she’s done more for me actually. It’s a good thing my clothes were stolen; I don’t think I could button my jeans anymore with as much as she’s been force feeding me.”

“Aye, my daughter has never done anything by halves,” he chuckled. “No, what I meant was, thank you for being such a great mentor for her. She doesn’t get to see much of her mother anymore, and I’m afraid that I let her get away with nearly anything she wants to.”

She smiled, thinking of all the times he turned a blind eye to Adair feeding sweets to the da’nan, or how she’d convince him that she didn’t really need to practice her faolán right then. “Yeah, you are kind of a push over.” She smiled at him to let him know she was teasing. “But really, I should be thanking you. I know how hard this must be for you to go back…”

She left the unasked question hanging, not wanting to pry, but also wanting him to know that she was aware of and grateful for the sacrifice he was making.

He shrugged and smiled wryly at her. “I’ve avoided the past for far too long. My daughter is nothing for me to be ashamed of, and I don’t wish to set a poor example for her. I’m not too stubborn to see when I’m wrong.”

His answer was pretty cryptic, but Story didn’t want to push him, so she shifted the conversation to the subject of elf society. The last thing she wanted to do was to commit some sort of social faux-paus when she had her audience with the queen.

War of the Seasons, book one: The HumanWhere stories live. Discover now