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One day had turned into three, partly due to Missus Borgmester constantly insisting that they needed just one more day of rest. Eilath, despite what he’d said upon their arrival, seemed in no real hurry to move on to Ailes. Still, it seemed that they would be leaving tomorrow (Eirnin insisted upon it), and Story found that she would be sad to say goodbye to the gnomes.

After that first night of dancing with them in the common room, they treated her as a long lost friend, and she was constantly greeted whenever she went for strolls through the village. She enjoyed taking in the new sights, sounds, and smells—so very alive and vibrant. The walks also helped her stretch her leg out, and she could feel it was slowly getting strong again.

Story paused in her current walk when she felt her leg twinge; it still had some stiffness and sensitivity to it. Leaning against the Milliner’s store front she curled and uncurled her toes. It seemed to help and took her mind off the pain darting up her calf, so she focused on that simple act, smiling at the lavender and black swirls that were painted up her leg. She’d finally given in and let Adair paint over her scars with a semi-permanent dye that she’d sworn would wash off after a few weeks. She had to admit, it looked pretty cool—though Dad would have lost his mind if I did it permanently. She chuckled at the thought and looked around at the gnomes bustling about with their daily business, smiling and nodding at each other and occasionally at her.

Without warning, the scene before her made her feel like she’d been punched in the stomach.

She thought being here in another world, and so many months after it had happened, that she couldn’t be affected like before. That it would be safe to let her guard down.

Apparently, she’d been wrong.

It was a simple thing really. Some young boys were taunting some young girls walking home from school. One ruddy-cheeked boy dropped a frog down the back of one prim-looking girl’s dress. Rather than scream or run, she’d turned around with a handful of mud and made him eat it.

It was so Will and Katie.

A searing fire tore through Story’s heart like it was being fed gasoline. Gasping for breath, she ran back to the inn as quickly as her legs would carry her and fought the tears that threatened to spill.

Not here, not now, not in public!

* * * * *

A soft knock sounded at the door of her room, and Story ignored it. She wanted to be alone. She needed to be alone.

Swinging her legs lazily in the open air below them, she leaned her forehead against one of the wooden poles that was part of the balcony’s railing. The sunset over the forest was beautiful, and she thought that maybe if she just focused on that for a while her lungs would stop feeling like they were burning, and she’d be able to breathe normally again. Or at least without hiccupping sobs.

“You didn’t come down for dinner.” Leave it to Eirnin to intrude on her solitude.

“I wasn’t hungry.”

“That’s a first.”

She stiffened her shoulders and didn’t answer; she was in no mood to be teased. The silence built, and finally, she heard the door close, and she breathed a loud sigh of relief. He’d taken the hint and left.

Relaxing her shoulders, she slumped forward again and focused on breathing in and out, slowly, methodically. Someday, it wouldn’t hurt. Someday, she would be able to do this without thinking about it. Someday, she’d be able to live a normal life without the fear of being blindsided by hurt and loss.

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