Chapter Twelve

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He watched Ysanne kneel in front of a small tree in the grounds outside, murmuring quietly to thin air. Once, he would have found that strange. Now, he thought he understood. He carried his lost loved ones around in his heart, same as Ysanne, but she had been carrying hers a lot longer, and in many ways she was a lot more alone in the world. Edmond had no friends and family left now, and these two years had felt like wading through a swamp of pure loneliness, but Ysanne had been alone for centuries.

He couldn't imagine how that felt.

Ysanne's long hair blew in the wind, pale strands of rippling silk, exposing the line of her neck, and Edmond's breathing hitched.

He'd always known she was beautiful, but he'd known it in an abstract sense – like he might understand that a sunset or a piece of art was beautiful. Now it felt like something more.

Ysanne was so much more than human, so much bigger and brighter than the world he had always known, and that was where he became confused.

That feeling in his chest when he looked at her – he couldn't pretend it was purely platonic. But he could never be part of her life in that way. Even if he ignored the class lines that lay between them, what would a woman like Ysanne ever want with a wandering peasant boy?

And yet . . . she was still here.

She could have left at any point, but she was still here.

Because she considers you her responsibility.

Edmond's heart sank.

Ysanne had said that, but that didn't mean she only saw him as a responsibility. Did it?

She'd never given any indication that she viewed him in some kind of romantic light, but there was still so much of herself that she kept hidden. He had tried, a couple of times, to ask her why she had come back to this house that night, why she had rescued a small, potted apple tree from her carriage only to abandon it outside the front door, who had broken her heart so badly that she still couldn't quite seem to put it back together, but Ysanne never answered.

Maybe one day she would.

Or maybe whatever had happened was still too painful for her.

If that was the case, how could there ever be room for him in her heart?

Edmond looked away, edging back into the house before Ysanne saw him.

"Look what I found," said Ysanne, after she'd come back inside. She held up a small lump of soap. "It was tucked into the sleeve of one of my dresses; I didn't even know it was there."

She cast a critical eye around the main room, then:

"I'm going to bring the bath-tub downstairs," she announced.

Edmond looked up from the fire, startled. "What?"

Ysanne held the soap to her nose and breathed in the smell of it. "It will be nice to bathe in front of the fire, don't you think?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," Edmond mumbled.

No one in his village had owned a bath-tub – when they wanted to wash, they went to a nearby river, and even then, only when they had time. He was used to going long periods without regular bathing. Even though this house had an actual bath, he had never used it. It was much easier to melt snow in front of the fire and wash with that.

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