Nyx carried me swiftly across the drawbridge. I wore my plate armor over my leather surcoat, giving in to my paranoia. At least it was still cold and I appreciated the warmth. I had my sword strapped across my back.
Lisbet stood at the parapet. Two hours before I saddled Nyx, we made frantic love in the chambers. It would be a while before I saw my queen again... if I saw her again. I turned around and waved to her. She smiled and then turned away sharply, as if to hide her tears. The courtyard was packed with men and women from the villages and towns, practising simple drills and exercises. The armorer's forge had begun roaring last night.
I passed by two more platoons jogging up the path. They had roughspun tunics and pants on, but they looked fit and ready.
My stomach clenched. I should not have left Lisbet in a time like this.
I was lucky. The journey up the mountain was relatively smooth. Brigands and assassins were scarce. My back prickled though. The last time I travelled this path I was ambushed by one of Fazalur's goons. His remains were still strewn somewhere in the bushes. I felt my heart lifting, lightening.
The small house, with its thatched roof and brown-white walls, stood beside the gnarled maples. I saw a flash of steel... and a glimpse of a familiar figure under the ancient trees. I urged Nyx to canter forward, my heart in my throat. What would I say to him? He was my teacher first and foremost.
I trembled when I dismounted from Nyx who immediately started browsing on the early clover. My legs had become water, my belly fire. I was suddenly very vulnerable, open. He walked towards me, his stride confident. He was half-clothed, his torso glistening with sweat. It should be his daily morning practice, working through the drills next to the maples.
He seemed to have grown older, his head now bald, his face more lined with care. I saw his battle scars, pale and long, criss-crossing across his chest.
"You are back," he said in his soft deep voice.
I miss you, I wanted to say. I want you. Instead, I bowed. "I would like to practise more." I knew he could see through this lie. It was as transparent as the melt-water coursing in the brook nearby. How many more lies could he see?
"Let's have some hot stew," he said, a ghost of a smile twitching at his lips. "You have to tell me what's happening in the realm."
We curled around each other, panting softly after our love-making. I kissed his bare shoulders, hearing his rumbling response. His small room was still the same: sparse, sheets on the floor, and a small cupboard where he kept his clothing. I could see the surrounding mountain ridges, now cast in gentle pinks and oranges from the setting winter sun.
"So, the queen is now preparing for war," he murmured, nuzzling my throat hungrily. "You should be with her."
Even with the post-coital glow, I felt the stab of cold fear in my ribs. "She let me go. I wanted to visit... to practise more. I also wanted to see my family."
He shifted me gently until he looked at me directly. I loved his sky-blue eyes. They were dark with concern. "Tell me the truth, Morgan."
I stared back, shuddering at his directness. "I... I miss you," I said and closed my eyes, relieved. Silence. Then I heard his chuckle and ... his mouth was suddenly on my lips, hot, demanding, his hips pushing hard against mine.
"You should have told me," he husked, caressing my face. He was hard. "Why did you hide?"
I couldn't answer. Instead I placed my hands on his cheeks and kissed him tenderly.