Chapter Twenty-Nine

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I leaned against one of the trees lit up by fairies as I watched the celebration wind down. Eir and Thom were currently dragging a very drunk Aengus to his room, telling him he'd had enough to drink for one night. He belligerently muttered something in Irish, but he didn't seem to be in a place to fight, so he let himself be hauled away. Eir's face was smooth, giving nothing away, but her eyes were flashing with annoyance. Thom, on the other hand, looked more amused than anything. He was in a good mood now that we were so close to storming Morgana's castle and saving Mom.

Guinevere, Arthur, and Mordred had all disappeared together during the party. I assumed it was about time for the three of them to talk about the fact that Guinevere was not Mordred's real mother. There were a few maids cleaning up and Bryce, Rubrae and the others were leaving, too, waving at me before they went on.

Merlin was standing beside me silently, seeming to be deep in thought about something as we watched everyone go inside.

"Are you afraid?" He wondered.

I turned to look at him, surprised at him suddenly speaking—he hadn't spoken all night—and raised a brow. He didn't turn to look at me, though, just kept his gaze forward, snow falling softly on his sandy colored hair.

"Partly," I answered after a moment, letting out a sigh. "We have so much to lose. What if I mess it up?"

"Yes, but what if you don't?"

I was quiet for a moment before asking in a small voice, "What if we've come this far and I can't save Mom? I care about this kingdom, more than I thought possible, but my mother is everything to me. What if I can't save her?"

"And what if you can?"

His answering my questions with questions were starting to piss me off. Mainly because every question he asked, I had already asked myself. However, I knew deep down he was right. No matter how many questions I asked, there would always be more. There was a chance that I would fail, but there was a chance I wouldn't. I had to take that chance and say to myself that I would not fail.

"You've been avoiding Nimue," I spoke up, changing the subject.

Merlin continued to face forward, but I saw a grimace break through the emotionless façade on his handsome face, proving I was right. I had begun to notice that, since we got here, he avoided Nimue like the plague and she seemed to be avoiding him, too. It made me wonder what happened between them.

"Nimue and I have decided we are not right for each other," said Merlin, eyes sweeping over the remaining maids as they took their leave.

My eyes widened in surprise, studying his face for some sign that he was upset. I didn't find any indication that their breakup was affecting him, but then again, he didn't seem to really love her romantically anyway. Maybe she broke things off with him because she could sense it?

"Do you want to talk about it?" I wondered, examining his side profile. "My mother always said talking about things helps..."

Merlin's eyes slide in my direction before he faces forward again, clenching his strong jaw. The expression on his face is one that I haven't seen from him before and that confused me all the more. He looked like an awkward teenager rather than a five-hundred-year-old wizard.

"It would seem," he finally spoke up, his voice so soft I had to lean in to hear him clearly, "that I have grown deep affection for another."

All I could do was look at him in surprise. It seemed that surprises were coming left and right tonight.

"You've fallen in love with someone?" My voice was high, showing the surprise I was feeling.

Again, his eyes shifted in my direction before he looked forward again, swallowing hard. Meanwhile, I was still reeling. I suppose I should've been happy about Merlin falling in love with someone, but in reality, what I felt was a crushing emptiness. Ever since he'd told me about not being in love with Nimue, I'd felt some kind of relief—small, but powerful—in the pit of my stomach. But now, imagining him in love with someone made me feel sick to my stomach.

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