Chapter 6: A Rose In The Wild

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Chapter 6—A Rose In The Wild

I had to find out exactly what Dylana's mother had done.

And I had to do it all before Lord Eloroan arrived in Kamiir Garden, house of Lord Aspertin.

A wrought iron gate with gilded stags along its ridges was opened by two sentries to let the carriage pass. The white gravel path cut through the centre of an enormous expanse of lush, emerald green lawn.

With the clomp of horse hooves, we jostled along. I plastered my face to the window to have a better look at the grand house before I remembered that a lady wouldn't behave in such a way.

Kamiir Garden looked smaller than I remembered. The central building was comprised of a round hub that rose up to a tall tower and two wings angled like a pair of arms reaching out to embrace newcomers.

Amidst the blushing orange exterior, rows of large rectangular pedimented windows sparkled in the morning sunlight. The white marble tympanums showed relief sculptures of more stags, squeezed under frilly gables.

A long time ago, I used to accompany papà to Kamiir Garden to deliver wine. I remember thinking then that the house, with all its white stone dressing, strongly resembled a frosted wedding cake.

Papà wanted me to meet Gyran Pyke, the head of Aspertin's household who personally dealt with the wine. Pyke was a middling, bearded man with a deep scar cutting across the tip of his flat nose. His wide-set brown eyes missed nothing. I always got the sense that he was watching me even when his back was turned.

That was back when I was meant to inherit the vineyard and all I saw in my future were vines, grapes, oak barrels and a husband who would fill my belly with babies.

It was before I ran away from home with a purse of dels and begged the mask-maker to take me.

Before I betrayed Marin and gave her the fate I hadn't wanted for myself.

"I'm the only one who won't pretend that you leaving didn't kill us."

I almost shuddered at the memory of the last words Marin had spat at me before storming out of the house. Her eyes had been filled with such loathing, it was like knives stabbing into my flesh.

That was when it happened. They came and took her.

And her words became literal.

The carriage jolted to a stop, its wooden door creaking open from the outside. A footman in a green tunic embroidered with the Aspertin stag placed a step for us to use while a group of grooms untied the horses.

I lifted my skirt as I stepped out after Afali. Green-clad servants stood in welcome, the men on the left of the portico above the main door, the women on the right, and in the centre stood Gyran Pyke, as stout, grey-bearded and scrutinising as I remembered him, with his usual bottle green silk mask embroidered with enough gold thread to seem like a noble's mask.

He looked directly at me and for one dreadful moment my blood ran cold at the way he inclined his head in my direction. He couldn't possibly have recognised me. When I came here last, I was only a child. But the part of me that had been subjected to his inquisitive gaze in the past wasn't convinced.

Afali saw nothing of Pyke's expression. She wasn't raised to take into account what a servant's face did. "Is everything ready?" Afali asked.

Pyke bowed his head. "Indeed, my lady." He nodded towards the line of servants. Two guards I hadn't noticed before stepped forward. They wore vests of ornamental chain mail that was woven with jagged gold plates and their heavy iron masks gleamed in the sunlight, shining as brightly as silver-backed mirrors. They were both outrageously tall, with shoulders so broad they would've made a hefty mantelpiece.

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