Chapter 23

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A messenger comes for me the next morning with a note that Willow is awake and asking to see me. I ask Hale to let Sebastian know where I've gone if he stops by, then follow the messenger to the castle. 

Kassia throws open Willow's door the second that I knock, greeting me with a huge grin.

"She's much better," she assures me, ushering me to her bedroom.

Laying in her bed, Willow turns and looks at me, her eyes wide and blue. My knees go weak with relief. 

"Thank the gods," I gasp, falling forward to rest my head on her stomach. "Don't you ever do that to me again!"

She laughs weakly and strokes my hair like a small child, both of us pretending like I'm not on the verge of tears.

"Listen," I say, pulling away to make her look me in the eyes. "I understand that you want to stay. But you have to promise me that you'll start being honest with Mortimer about how you feel. He can help you."

She nods, her freshly washed blonde hair shining. "I promise."

I make her scoot over and crawl into bed with her. She rests her head on my shoulder, smelling of lavender soap. Kassia steps outside silently, giving us some privacy.

"You really scared me," I whisper.

"I know, I'm sorry."

"I really should lecture you right now..."

 She looks at me with a pitiful expression. "But Talia, I'm so tired. Can we not talk about it now?"

Brat. "Sure." I don't want to push her anyways, not when she looks so fragile. "What do you want to talk about then?"

"Tell me about your training? And about the cute boys?" she asks hopefully and I laugh. 

Hours go by as I tell her about Hale, Gareth and Elias, and all of the other friends I've made. She laughs at all of the pranks Gareth pulls on the others and Elias's constant scowling. She gasps when I describe sparring with the other recruits and all the new skills I'm learning. And. predictably, she swoons when I explain how Hale has been helping me and had a sword made for me.

"He sounds dreamy," she sighs. "Is he handsome? All of the boys back home were pigheaded with faces to match."

"He's okay, I guess," I say, thinking about his golden tan skin, beautiful green eyes, the way his hair turns honey brown in the sun. I give myself a mental shake.

"Uh huh." Willow doesn't sound convinced. 

I'm thankfully saved from further inquiry by Kassia opening the door. 

"Sorry to interrupt, but Prince Darius is at the door. Should I let him in?" Her eyes twinkle mischievously.

I jump out of bed. "Stay," I tell Willow firmly, ignoring her gasp of outrage.

I head to the door and fling it open, revealing Darius in all of his handsome glory, holding a tray with a cup of something steaming.

"Hello again." He smiles, showing off his perfect teeth again. He leans to the side, trying to peek into the bedroom. I step in his way smoothly.

"What do you want now?" I ask flatly. 

"Talia, don't be rude!" Willow wiggles around me, wrapped in a deep plum dressing gown. "Please forgive my sister."

"No apologies necessary. I'm simply here to bring you a tonic from Mortimer. Apparently, he got wrapped up in another one of his dusty old books." He winks at Willow.

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