Must another child die because of my weakness? Because of my fear?

Just as my jumbled thoughts begin to clear with this newfound realization, a voice speaks and says, "Hello there!"

Whatever courage I could have hoped to grab onto flees from me, leaving me a defenseless pile of quivering emotions. My throat constricts as though the Witch herself has stepped upon it. A silent gasp billows from my parted lips as my eyes flutter to the top of my head. I nearly fall from the horse, but manage to catch myself. I press my forehead to the Prince's back and try my hardest to regain control of my twitching body. Sweat drips down my face and into my mouth. A mixture of salt and bile fills my tongue.


Although our time together was short, I would still recognize his voice anywhere. Our last shared moment together, the frightening moment when he aimed his arrow at my head, still constantly replays itself in my mind. This haunting memory will never leave me, no matter how hard I try to rid myself of it. The memory of the hatred that clouded his chartreuse eyes still strikes fear in me. The words he uttered that terrible day, after I unintentionally caused the death of his town, are still tucked away in the back of my heart, like a jagged piece of glass:

"If I see you again, I will not hesitate to do what needs to be done."

Now here he is again. I can't dare to even glance in the direction I know he is in. Fear clogs every pore in my body, threatening to burst forth in the form of either a scream or tears. I can't risk either. I keep my head lowered and my breathing as silent as I can manage.

I feel the Prince shift in my arms, curious to get a glimpse of the red-headed man that's approached him.

"Hello," the Prince says, sounding somewhat surprised. "Did you need help?"

Tannin voice is as light as the day we first formally met, void of the hatred it held the last time we spoke. "I hear that a man is offering refuge for survivors of a fire. My comrades and I don't come from that town, but we do hail from Darpine, another village recently destroyed by fire."

Prince Charming turns even more in my arms. "Another village?" he balks. "This is getting ridiculous, Nate!"

"Indeed," I hear Nate murmur from a distance. "Our assumptions of magic being the cause may be correct."

Tannin's next words nearly silence my heart. "A beautiful girl brought about our demise. But then again," he pauses to give a humorless snort of a laugh, "when don't they cause trouble for us men?"

"Truer words might have never been spoken," the Prince agrees with a light chuckle. My back stiffens when I feel his hand fall lightly over my own. "I'm fortunate to have stumbled upon such a sweet, quiet girl as this one."

I risk looking at Tannin through the curtain of hair that separates us from one another. My breath catches in my throat when I see his eyes locked onto me. His lips are pulled up in an entertained smirk. My eyes flicker over him, hurriedly taking in his red curls of hair, the sharp curves of his face, broad shoulders, and lanky build before I pull my gaze away. I shut my eyes and time my breathing, praying that Tannin doesn't remember my form as well as I remember his.

"She seems like quite the looker," I hear Tannin say. "Another survivor from the fire?"

The Prince pats my hand. "Yes. The poor girl. She was just sitting there during the fire. It must have been a frightening experience."

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