A cold nose prodded her back, and Sam jolted awake. Shite. Braeden’s arms were still wrapped around her waist, her rear to his scantily clothed front. Tristan, meanwhile, must have shifted during the night. His face was pressed into her hair, and his long, bare leg was draped across her hip.
She was effectively pinned between the two men.
“Braeden,” she hissed. “Braeden!” He tightened his embrace and nuzzled her shoulder, letting out a light snore.
Sam panicked silently. Maybe if she pretended to be asleep, she could avoid the incipient awkwardness when Tristan and Braeden awoke. She was all too aware of Braeden’s hands, which were spanned high across her ribcage, and Tristan’s mouth, which now rested against her forehead.
After what felt like hours, Braeden finally stirred. He froze against her body, his breath short and hot on her neck. He dragged his arm out from under her and rolled to the opposite side of the tent. “Gods damn it,” she heard him mutter.
Sam maintained her false slumber for a few more minutes, but grew impatient waiting for Tristan to wake up. His lips were descending, almost at the tip of her nose now. Unsettled, Sam turned her head and tried to wriggle out from under Tristan’s leg, to no avail.
The tip of Tristan’s tongue traced the rim of her ear. Sam sat up with a start, shoving at Tristan’s leg. “Get off me, you big lug!”
Tristan’s lids popped open. His gaze turned lucid after a few quick blinks. “Sorry,” he said with a sheepish smile. “I must’ve mistaken you for a woman in my sleep. You’re as slight as a girl, anyway.” He lifted his leg from her hips and kicked her lightly in the stomach. “And I was having such a lovely dream, too.”
Braeden cleared his throat. “I think the rain has stopped.”
Tristan pushed himself up onto his knees. “Excellent. Let’s see if we can locate some dry clothes. The weather will likely be cool in Pirama, so we’ll need to dress warmly. I want to be on the road in ten minutes.”
They arrived in Pirama just before nightfall. The city was built at the foot of the Elurra mountain range, with roughly a third of the city actually carved into the jagged rock. The remaining two-thirds of city land that stood underneath the sky was surrounded by a stone wall forged from the same mottled gray granite that formed the mountain.
The gates to the city were already closed, but after some wheedling from Tristan, the gatekeeper let them in through a small side door in the stone wall, just tall enough to fit them while on horseback.
“Be careful, milord,” the gatekeeper said, securing the door behind them. “I’d seek lodgings quickly if I were you. You don’t want to be outdoors after dark if you can avoid it. It's dangerous.”
“Dangerous? How so?” asked Tristan.
“Demons, milord. We’ve had attacks near nightly for more than a month now.”
Tristan scanned the empty street. “Where are the Paladins this eve?”
The gatekeeper shrugged. “Don’t rightly know. Paladin Reynard was stationed here for close to a year, but he was called back east four months ago. He was replaced by three new Paladins fresh off their apprenticeships, but they keep to themselves.”
Tristan looked up at the gatekeeper’s tower, frowning. It had only three walls; the fourth side facing into the city was completely exposed. “What about you? Are you safe at your post?”
“It's my job, milord,” the gatekeeper said. “You be safe now.” He climbed up the ladder to return to his post.
With the gatekeeper restored to his tower, the city was eerily quiet. Only the clip-clop of their horses’ hooves and the occasional nervous whinny cut into the silence. “I don’t like this,” said Tristan. “Braeden, do you sense anything unusual?”
YOU ARE READING
Sam is the most promising swordsman among this year’s crop of Paladin trainees...and knows it. Brash, cocky, and unbeatable with a sword (well, almost), Sam is the kingdom of Thule’s best hope against the violence wrought by demons. The only problem...