Chapter Thirteen

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IF THERE WAS one thing that Isiilde excelled at, it was sleeping in, and she did so with impressive dedication, sleeping well past sunup and nearly to noon. However, her stomach was still unsettled, and she silently swore off chocolates for the rest of her life.

Oenghus and Isiilde left for home later that day. Despite the poor roads, they made good time with their empty wagon. Although the dreary landscape went by at a swifter pace, the journey seemed much longer, because she half expected to find Marsais, lying unconscious in a ditch, or worse, dead.

The Isle had its share of bandits who preyed on travelers, and although attacks were rare danger was always present, especially for a lone traveler at night. She scanned the grey countryside, as she told Oenghus about her day at the festival. Her breezy conversation was more of an attempt to distract herself from her worries and ailments, but the mood changed when she mentioned Coyle's invitation.

Isiilde was utterly unprepared for her guardian's reaction.

"You aren't going to have lunch with that swine." Oenghus bit the words out with restrained fury.

"Coyle's not a swine—he's a man," she pointed out, reasonably enough.

"Exactly!"

"I thought you liked Coyle?"

"Aye, until I find out he had the gall to ask you for lunch."

"And what's the matter with that?" Isiilde demanded, leaning to the side, distancing herself from him on the cramped wagon seat. "Why can't I have friends?"

"It's not friendship that's on his mind. Trust me," he grumbled, tugging on his beard in irritation.

"How do you know?"

"Because I'm a bloody man. I forbid you from seeing him."

"I will see him if I like," she stated with all the bearing and poise of the blood flowing through her veins.

"You will not, Isiilde Jaal'Yasine. I'm your guardian, and you'll do as I say." It was never a good sign when he used her full name. "I'm dead well serious, if I catch you near that lad, I'll make him wish he never looked at you. This matter is finished. I won't hear another word against it."

The nymph bristled at his ultimatum. She turned away from Oenghus, staring straight ahead in tight-lipped fury. If he didn't want her talking back then she wouldn't talk at all.

The silence deepened, with only the creak of the wagon and the ocean breeze to interrupt the chasm between them. They passed three lonely cottages before Oenghus finally took a deep, calming breath.

"Look, Isiilde, you can't go fooling around with the lads. I gave an oath to the Emperor to keep your honor intact. You go fooling around and it's not just my head on a block, but you'll be sold first chance. And it might not be to one of the larger kingdoms."

Her mouth fell open in shock. Where in all the realms did he get such ideas from wanting to have lunch with someone? And for that matter it made no difference what kingdom bought her, she would still be sold as a slave.

"I just want to have lunch with him, Oen. I don't want to... bed him. Am I not allowed to have friends?"

"Not if they piss standin' up," he replied. "And don't think I haven't noticed you eyeing him up at the forge, so don't talk to me about friendship, because I don't catch you staring at the other lads like that."

Isiilde stared at Oenghus, speechless and confused. She looked at Coyle because he was nice to look at, but she hadn't thought anything beyond that. Regardless, when Oenghus used her name, it was pointless to argue. Through the years she had discovered that she would have better luck arguing with a rock.

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