13: Celebration and Secrets

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    "Isn't the Crown funding this trip to begin with?" Blayre laughed as she sat down beside Fletcher at a small circular table.

    "That's how he's getting away with being so generous, of course." Fletcher grinned as a flagon of ale was placed on the table in front of him.

    Blayre was surprised when the server placed a glass of clear amber whiskey in front of her. "From the big lad over there." The woman winked.

    Blayre narrowed her eyes, and looked in Rorrick's direction. It seemed he was playing the part of undercover royalty again. Not that she blamed him. She'd been undercover her entire life more or less.

    He winked one azure eye at her from where he stood leaning against the counter, and her cheeks heated. She had the sudden resolve to corner him alone and put a close on their unfinished business. What was the great fool thinking?

    It was difficult to get time alone, when surrounded by traveling companions at every turn. But she was so tired of the mixed signals. Part of her wished the duke would simply leave her alone - nothing good would come of them having feelings for each other anyway.

    But she wanted him to express his feelings for her.

    Badly.

    And the sound of Alessa's twinkling laughter as it drifted to her was not making Blayre's restraint any easier, as she stared resolutely into the amber depths of her glass.

    "What did whiskey ever do to you?" Fletcher said, and she saw his pewter cup of ale lift out of the corner of her eye.

    Blayre forced a smile, looking up from her drink. "Nothing, just thinking a bit too much is all."

    "More than usual?" Fletcher snorted.

    "Yes," Blayre confirmed, a genuine smile shifting in place over the false one. "Far more than I should." Glasses clinked around them as more alcohol was poured and folks received bowls of steaming food.

    "You know what helps with that?" Her friend waggled his bushy brows. "Drinking the whiskey, rather than just staring into it all evening."

    This earned him an eyeroll. "We both know I am a very controlled drunk." She couldn't stop thinking if she tried.

    A bowl of the inn's stew was placed in front of her, and her appetite made her forget for the moment, her predicament as she fell into the lull of conversation around her as Ainslee and then Caval and Nuala and one of the soldiers joined their table.

    A second glass of whiskey immediately replaced Blayre's first, and she was feeling pleasantly buzzed when she felt Ripley's magic as soundly as if it were a tap on the shoulder. She craned her neck to look at him and he simply motioned for her to follow, his face as impassive as ever.

    "I'll be back - I hope." She said to her friends, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with her napkin and tossing the cloth onto the table in her wake. Ripley had disappeared from view, but she followed the familiar imprint of his magic like an old friend - or perhaps like an animal being lead to slaughter.

    His magic led her outside to the stables, where the welcome sounds of horses munching on their meals and wuffling in their stalls greeted her. Warm but gentle light seeped out from the place which appeared to be deserted save for a stable boy who slept slouched against a wall on a small pile of hay, a sleeping spell pulsing gently off of him. Moon and Sun, what was going on? Where was the unmarked mage taking her? Had there been less alcohol in her system, she might have cared more about the improper use of magic by an unmarked mage.

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