Chapter Eight

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True to her word, Ysanne went to sleep on the right side of the bed, and after pulling together the quailing threads of his courage, Edmond joined her.

And nothing at all happened.

There was no sound in the room, but for the crackling of the fire, and at first Edmond found that unnerving. In the village, he'd shared a room with his siblings, and he'd got used to the sounds of them breathing, mumbling, sighing, and snoring.

Ysanne didn't breathe.

She lay next to him, as still and silent as a corpse, and the strangeness of that made it hard for him to fall asleep. But eventually, once he got used to it, he finally drifted off, and when he did, it was the best sleep he'd had in years. For the first time since leaving the village, he didn't have to worry about protecting himself, or keeping warm, or finding food in the morning. For the first time in a long time, he was able to just sleep.

By the time he awoke, the other side of the bed was empty. Ysanne crouched in front of the fire, moving half-burned logs around.

"Good morning," she said, glancing back at him.

He sat up and scrubbed sleep out of his eyes.

"Morning," he mumbled.

"It's a long time since I've been there, and I think today I should explore our surroundings a little more," Ysanne announced, straightening up and wiping her hands on her breeches. "You can't survive on smoked horse meat all winter, and it would be good to know if there are any other food sources nearby."

Edmond started to climb out of bed, but Ysanne held out a hand to stop him. Despite all the manual labour she had done lately, her palm still looked soft as silk.

"I'll be going alone," she said.

"I can help," Edmond argued.

Ysanne shook her head. "I can move faster without you."

It wasn't meant as an insult, but it stung, nonetheless. Back in the village, Edmond's family had relied on him. After the plague ravaged everything he loved, he had relied on himself. He was not used to relying on someone else. He was not used to feeling helpless.

But already he was starting to understand that there was precious little point arguing with Ysanne. And she was right. He had neither her strength nor her speed; all he would do was slow her down. What good did that do either of them?

Ysanne tied her hair at the nape of her neck with a strip torn from her old dress.

"Don't leave the house while I'm gone," she said. "If I come back and find you frozen to death, I shall be very annoyed."

After she had gone, Edmond busied himself by cleaning the kitchen floor. Any part of the horse that could not be used had been buried in the snow outside, but the stone slabs were still stained rusty red. He used the kitchen pots to bring in snow, which he melted in front of the fire, then he used more rags from Ysanne's dress to scrub away the stains.

It was hard work, but he found himself strangely enjoying it. Until now he hadn't realised how much he missed having a roof over his head.

He was so lost in his work that he almost didn't hear the voices. It wasn't until a bark of laughter shattered the winter-locked stillness outside that Edmond's head snapped up.

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