Chapter Twenty Two AND Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Two- Wounds Reopened

A week later, I walked out of my hut to find Wanepi and Philippe getting ready to go home. 

“Leaving so soon?” 

Philippe coughed a little. “I’m feeling a bit under the weather, so we decided to go back a few days early.” As if to demonstrate, he doubled over from the coughing.

“A bit under the weather? That looks like more than a little bit.” 

He tried to straighten up, but just started coughing more. Wanepi spoke for him. “I think what he is trying to say is that he will be fine once he can get back to his own,” she whispered, mock behind her hand, “warm bed.”

“Well, safe travels, and I hope that you start to feel better soon.” I hugged Wanepi and kissed her cheek. “I love you. Hopefully I will see you soon.”

“Goodbye Antepi. I love you.” She mounted her horse after helping Philippe up onto his horse.

I waved as they rode up the side of the valley. At the top, Wanepi stopped and looked back. Her shoulders dropped slightly before she turned and continued on to catch up with Philippe and the two warriors that were accompanying them. 

I turned and headed for the woods. I hadn’t taken a walk there in a long time. My breath became labored as I climbed the side of the valley. I looked out over the valley, at Cat and Joeté walking towards the stables, and at Hannah and Hypoleta learning how to sword fight from Matthias. I smiled; this was definitely the Antioch I was used to.

As I turned to walk into the woods, I noticed a movement in the bushes. I smiled wider. Wildlife was finally starting to come back to the area surrounding Antioch. After the attack the first time, they had fled and hadn’t really come back fully until now. I continued deeper into the woods. I looked up at the trees and sized up how tall one of them was. I looked at the nearest branch. Not too far. I backed up to run and jump to it. Suddenly I heard a grunt and russling. I looked over just as the knife sliced through my skin, right into my scar. I screamed as the pain seared through my body.  As I fell to my knees and clutched my arm, I realised I hadn’t worn my metal band today. The tears fell down my cheeks as I continued screaming from the pain. I lay on my back and rolled back and forth.

 I heard more grunts and then someone gasp. I tried to look around, but my eyes wouldn’t focus. 

I felt arms wrap around me and lift me up. I sobbed and screamed as something brushed my arm. 

“Breath Antepi- you need to breathe.” I felt every jolt and bump whenever they stepped. I tried to figure out who was holding me, but it was so hard to think. All I could feel was the burning in my arm. I clutched their shirt, trying to take my pain out on something, but it didn’t work. “It’s okay Antepi. I have you. Nothing more is going to hurt you. You are all right.” Once again something brushed my arm and I leaned forward, screaming again from the pain. “Hey, hey, hey. You need to calm down. You are going to hurt yourself even more if you don’t calm down. Everything is okay. I got you. Nothing can hurt you now. No one is going to get to you.”

“Who are you?” I gasped through the haze. 

“It’s Joeté. It’s okay. I have you. Just breathe. Don’t worry about anything else.” I squeezed his shirt even tighter. 

“Antepi!” I heard someone yell through the haze. I felt a cool hand on my wrist. As the haze started to clear up a little, I recognized Hypoleta’s voice. “What happened Joeté? What happened to her?” She sounded frantic.

“Adam threw a knife at her and hit her right on her scar. He must of found out somehow how badly that area was damaged. She’s going to be okay, she just needs to calm down a little.” His words didn’t reassure me at all. I could tell he was worried. I felt myself slipping into the darkness. “Antepi! No- you have to stay awake. You can’t fall asleep. You can’t. Hypoleta, get Mica. Now.” He sounded more worried than before. “Please Antepi. Fight it. You have to fight it. You can’t die on me. Not now. Please stay awake.” I lifted my hand- which felt like it weighed a ton- and put it on his cheek. I tried to smile, but my face couldn’t seem to move. 

“I don’t plan on dying yet.” I felt my hand drop without even trying. “What happened to Hypoleta? She was just here.” I tried to look around, but all I saw was light.

“Antepi, I need you to just calm down- don’t try to talk. You are starting to get delirious.”

“Delirious? No, I don’t get delirious.” I knew I sounded crazy, but the words had come out before I could stop them. I forced myself to breath and clear my head. “I’m getting delirious- aren’t I?” 

He laughed. “A little.” 

I groaned. “This is going to end well.”

“You’re going to be fine- just keep breathing and stop talking.” I nodded, but I felt like I barely even moved. 

I could hear the footsteps all around us that were walking with us, but no one was talking. I tried to look around again, and as the fuzziness faded, I saw Matthias walking with the rest of my family. Once again, something jostled my arm and I gasped from the pain.

Joeté’s face was filled with remorse. “I’m sorry. We are almost there. Just wait a minute.” I heard running and felt a hand on my shoulder. 

“Tell me what you know about what happened.” Mica’s voice was stern and serious.

“Adam was in the woods where she was walking. I guess he saw the perfect opportunity to weaken us, and threw his knife directly into her scar. I have to say, he has amazing aim. Not many could have made that shot. It hit the damaged nerves, muscles, and tissue from what I could tell. When I got there, she was on the ground screaming.”

I felt a hand probing my arm around the wound. I sucked in a breath. 

“This will hurt a lot, but we need to hurry. She is losing too much blood.” Mica kept probing the wound without taking the knife out. I bit my lip until I could taste blood. “Antepi, this is going to hurt really badly.” I could see her look up at Joeté. “Run. Run to her hut and get her on the bed as quickly as you can.” I braced myself as Joeté went from a fast walk to a swift run. He tried to hold me tightly, so I wouldn’t be jostled as much, but I still felt every step. 

As he hurried up the steps, I tried to stifle my groan and failed. I didn’t want to make him feel any worse about causing me pain. 

He set me on the bed and stood back for a moment before pulling up a chair and grabbing my hand. He squeezed it for a moment before rubbing his thumb across the back of it. Even through the pain, I could feel it sending thrills through my arm and into the rest of my body. I watched Mica sit down on the other side of me and looked down at my arm. 

“I’m not going to lie, Tepi. This is a bad one. Worse than anything I have ever seen you get. And I’ve been patching you up since we were seven.” I grimaced. 

Joeté squeezed my hand lightly. I focused on looking at his hand holding mine, and looked away from my arm with the knife protruding from it. 

I felt Mica’s hands wrap the bandages around my arm. I felt her accidentally shift the knife when she was trying to wrap close to it. I felt her put her hand on the knife, readying to pull it out and wrap the bandage over the open wound quickly. I tried to brace myself, but a small cry of pain still escaped my lips as she pulled it quickly from the wound. I squeezed Joeté’s hand tightly as she wrapped the bandage over where the knife had been. I saw Joeté clench his teeth and try to put on a tough face at how tightly I was squeezing his hand. When I let my hand go limp and he lifted up his hand, his fingers stuck together for a moment before he was able to spread them apart. He laughed a little and smiled down at me. I tried to smile, but I couldn’t do anything without starting to tear up. I was too weak. If I smiled, I would start to cry and then we would be in a mess that I didn’t want to have to deal with. Mica patted my arm and stood up. 

“You are going to be alright. I promise.” She brushed some of my hair away from my face. “I know that you are worried, but it will be fine. You just need to rest- you need to sleep, and you need to eat healthily.”

“Do I look like I eat unhealthily?” I tried to laugh, but the pain in my arm made it come out like more of a squeak. 

“I’m going to go and get some salve from my hut- you stay here and don’t try to get up.” I raised my eyebrows. “I know you Antepi. The minute I leave, you could be out the door on your horse. Even with your injury.” She smiled and hurried out the door. I heard her tell everyone outside that I would be okay, but that I needed rest. And not to disturb me. 

“How are you doing?” Joeté leaned forward. 

“Better. I think.” I shrugged. 

“It still hurts pretty badly, doesn’t it?”

I nodded then closed my eyes and sighed. “I knew deciding to let Adam and the others out of the caves would end badly. I knew that it wasn’t going to go at all the way we wanted it to. I hoped that Adam would feel the same way Melissa did, and I knew that Eleanor would never really take action. I thought it would be okay.” I looked down at my hands. “I guess I was wrong.”

“We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect. You can’t upset yourself right now.”

“So I can later, when I am better?” I gave a wry smile. 

“No,” he smiled, “you can let it go and remember that we can’t expect to make the right decision all the time.”

“Yes, but I have made so many wrong decisions in the past few months.” I started listing them on my fingers. “Letting Cat and Respato get close even though I knew that it could end badly. Arresting Respato without fully explaining to Cat first. Not taking Cat to the wedding with us. So many things I could have done better if I had just thought about it for a little while.”

“Stop second guessing yourself. I made those mistakes too. I was part of them- I could have stopped you, but I thought they were the right decisions at the time too. Those decisions were on both of us, not just you.”  

I tried to sit up, but Joeté pushed my shoulder back. 

“What did Mica say?” He looked down at me reproachfully.

I sighed. “I don’t want to be cooped up again. This is the third time this year, and you guys are never going to let me out of here.” 

“I promise that I will make sure that you are allowed out as soon as Mica says you are well enough.”

I smiled up at him. “I am sure the others are probably bursting at the seams to come in here.”

“Well for now, I get you all to myself because Mica said not to come in.”

I scrunched my face. “Doesn’t that mean you too?” 

He shrugged. “Maybe. Do you want to talk more now?” 

I raised my eyebrows. “Now that I can’t go anywhere? Perfect timing Joeté. Perfect timing.”

“What can I say,” he held up his hands, “I know when a topic is good.” 

“And when the other person is trapped in a bed.” 

He leaned against the side of the bed and looked down at me. “If you don’t want to talk right now, you don’t have to.”

“I-” I stopped and stared at the figure in the doorway. My hand involuntarily reached over and grabbed the knife that Mica had just pulled from my arm. 

“Well, you certainly have done well for yourself, Anne.” Matthew stepped further into the room. Joeté turned around and stood, blocking me from harm. 

“How did you find me?” I held the knife ready to throw. “How did you get here without anyone seeing you?”

“Easy. Your whole family followed that other lady to wherever she was going, and left your door unguarded. Getting into the valley was easy, having been watching it the past few days and knowing when the guard changes.” He looked around the hut. “I have to say, this is a step down from your old home.”

“This is my old home. That was merely a house that I stayed in for a while.” I glared at him. 

He shrugged. “Anyway- I will cut to the chase. I want to know if you will accept my proposal from before I left.” 

My eyes widened. “You are mad? If you think I would ever marry you after finding out you were an English spy, you have got something wrong with your head.”

“I would provide everything for you. We would make a wonderful couple and be honored by all of England.” 

“I choose France.” 

Joeté glanced back at me from where he was still standing. “And fortunately, she is taken.” Joeté’s jaw looked as if it were made from stone. 

Matthew looked him up and down. “So you must be the old fiance. I have to say- you are much more muscular than I imagined when Adam wrote and told me he was here.” 

“What do you mean, Adam wrote and told you he was here?”

“Did you really think Adam wouldn’t try and cause another attack by sending out the coordinates? You always did trust people too much. Like that Liam. You had no idea who he was, and yet you always had a plate set for him.”

“Liam was a better man than you will ever be.” I spit out the words.

“Oh, give it up Anne. I am obviously the better choice of the two of us. He can’t provide you with anything. I can give you a large home in England, where you will have maids and other servants and never have to lift a finger again.”

“If you weren’t aware, I could have all of that if I wanted to. My sister is the queen of France and if I asked her, I could have it all. But I don’t want it. I am giving you one chance, Matthew.” I pushed myself up and over to the edge of the bed, grimacing from the pain. “You can either leave France now, and never return.” I held up the knife. “Or I can throw this through your leg right now, disabling you from ever walking again.”

“You don’t know how to do that.” But the fear shone in his eyes. 

I pointed the knife at his lower leg. “Your tibia. I hit it at the right angle with the right amount of force, and it shatters. You will have to have your leg amputated, and you can never walk again. You could also die in the operation of getting it amputated.” I pointed the knife back at his chest. “Do you really want to test that theory?” I raised my eyebrows. 

“Option three?” I hadn’t mentioned one, but I was feeling gracious today.

“Option three? You stay down in the caves below our valley for the rest of your life, barely ever seeing the light of day.” 

“I think I will take option one.” He stepped towards the door. 

“Wait-” he stopped mid-step- “I think we will have someone accompany you to the border. We will let you leave through Germany I think.” I raised my eyebrows. No use making this easy for him.

His eyes widened. “But how am I supposed to get back to England?”

“There is always the Netherlands.” 

“And if you ever return  to France, there will be no options.” Joeté said coldly. “If we ever see you again, you are going down in the caves where you belong.” He walked towards the door and grabbed Matthew’s arm. 

I sat back against the wall as he led him down the steps and called out to someone. I closed my eyes and tried to breath as the room spun. I grabbed the edge of the bed and squeezed it as tight as I could. 

“Antepi?” I looked up quickly. Mica was hurrying towards me from the doorway. “What happened? I just saw Joeté taking some strange man to Haska and Honah.”

I sighed and took in a shaky breath. “That man was a man that Cat and I met when we were in the village. He is an English spy. He just came to threaten me. But he didn’t really plan on getting captured. He was working with Adam. Turns out Adam is exactly like his father. He was telling Matthew where we were so that they could organize another attack.”

“But we have their soldiers.” She unwrapped the bandage and frowned. “They can’t fight if they don’t have an army.” She put her hand on her hip. “And didn’t I tell you to stay still and rest?”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures?” I offered.

“Not when it comes to keeping your arm.” She raised her eyebrows reprovingly. 

“I know, I know. And I completely planned on staying in bed and being good. It just… did not work out that way.”

“Obviously.” She glanced toward the open door and then swiftly hurried over and closed it. “Your family really wants to see you.” She smiled softly as she spread the salve over the wound. 

I winced as the burning sensation returned. “Please don’t let them all in at once.” I pretended to beg. “They are all going to say the same thing, and if it is one at a time, I can handle it, but if they all say it at once.” I blew out a breath and widened my eyes. “I would burst.” She laughed and rolled her eyes. 

“They are only trying to take care of you. You must suffer so much from their love.” I smiled, then looked up at her. 

“Mica?”

“Hm?” She didn’t look up.

“Do you miss your parents?” 

She sighed. “Everyday.” She tried to put on a brave face, but I could see right through it. “But I have learned to live by myself.”

“You really do not have anyone, do you?”

“I have you and your family. Isn’t that enough? You all have never treated me like I am any different from you.”

“Because you aren’t. We all lost people that day. We all just banded together into one big family.” I paused for a moment. “Although, Cat and Joeté still have their mom, so I guess she is part of the family too.” 

“See? I have everything I need.” 

“And no one… I don’t know,” I smiled slyly, “special?”

She rolled her eyes. “No, no one special. I think you would know about it if I did.” 

“True. Do you ever see yourself with anyone?”

“In Antioch? Never. I’ve grown up with the people here. I couldn’t marry any of them.”

“And outside?”

“No one that I have seen. I’ve left this valley maybe twice in my life, and every time, I just see people. Because of being a healer and helping people, I see people for their injuries- physical and mental. I tend to analyze people, which makes it harder for me to fall in love.”

“I wish I had that problem. I think once I find someone, I fall too fast.”

She laughed. “You? Fall too fast? You forget Antepi- I grew up with you. If anything, you don’t fall fast enough.” 

“What are you talking about?”

“Joeté loved you for years. He tried to get you to pay attention to him for so long. When he finally realized that you weren’t ready for that kind of thing, he moved on. And then things with Yamina didn’t work out, and he came back to you.”

“No.”I shook my head slowly. “He liked Yamina when we were kids and then he liked me after she left.”

“Honey, were you blind when we were younger?” She laughed. “You only thought he liked Yamina because you liked him, and didn’t believe he liked you, so your brain made up reasons why he didn’t like you. He didn’t like Yamina until you were thirteen and he was fifteen.” She started rewrapping my arm. “And she left a few months later.” 

I sat back against the wall again. “Really? I had it wrong this entire time?” She nodded and shrugged. “But why didn’t he correct me then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he thought that was easier than explaining the whole thing to you.” 

“I can’t believe that.” 

“Well, believe it, because Yamina was my best friend at the time, and she told me everything that happened.” 

A knock sounded at the door. “Mica! Can we come in and see her now?” 

I sighed. “And here we go.”

Chapter Twenty Three- Healing

I braced myself as Matthias walked through the door. He rushed to the side of my bed. 

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, I am fine. I am used to that arm hurting at this point.” 

“That doesn’t mean you are okay.” He raised his eyebrows and studied the bandage. I pulled my arm behind me.

“Mica did a perfectly fine job bandaging it. You don’t need to scrutinize it.”

“I know- but what happened?”

“No one has told you yet?”

“Joeté said that he would let you tell us exactly what happened- he said he wasn’t entirely sure himself.”

“Well, his idea of what happened is spot on, so he should be sure.” 

“He still didn’t tell us, so please, enlighten me.” He sat down in the chair. 

“I went walking in the woods, Adam threw his knife at me, it hit my scar. End of story.”

“Is your arm going to be okay?”

“Perfectly functional in two weeks.”

“Make it three, and I will be satisfied.” He leaned forward, trying to make light of the situation, but I knew he was serious.

“Leave it at two, and I might actually obey.” I raised my eyebrows. 

He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Antepi, come on. You need to heal, and you need to listen to Mica’s orders.”

“I need to be training, and I can take care of myself. I am eighteen. When I am going to stop being the baby of the family? We just talked about this a few weeks ago. I can take care of myself- I can protect myself.”

He laughed a little. “I can see that.” 

I glared at him. “I won’t be persuaded for more than two weeks.” 

“Fine. But you have to rest for the full two weeks. No overexertion.”

“Deal.” I sighed.

There was a commotion outside. 

“Just let them all in.” I looked up and pointed at him. “But warn them that I won’t be babied or forced to stay longer than two weeks.” 

“Yes ma’am.” He grinned- I glared. 

He stepped outside the door and I heard him explaining everything to them in a low voice. Then I heard Hypoleta exclaiming in a louder voice. I sighed again. This was going to be fun. 

They all burst through the door and crowded around the bed. 

“Are you okay?” Hypoleta asked.

“What happened?” Titro pushed his way to the edge of the bed. 

“Will you lose your arm?” Senepha giggled from the end of the bed.

“I’m fine, I got a knife thrown at me, and no, silly. I am not going to lose my arm.” I smiled at her. 

She climbed up on the bed and crawled over next to me on the other side. I put my uninjured arm around her and gave her a side hug. Matthias stood laughing quietly at the edge of the crowd my family had created. I shook my head at him over all the heads that were looking at my arm. He shrugged. 

Mica walked into the room and clapped her hands loudly. “Alright everyone- she needs to rest.” She watched as everyone preceded her out of the room. As she closed the door behind her, she winked and looked pointedly at the spare bedroom. I looked over at it, confused. Joeté quietly opened the door and stepped out. I laughed quietly and nodded. Mica and Joeté had always been conspirators. He eased down into the chair. 

“How are you doing?”

“Pretty good. I have questions, but pretty good.” 

He looked confused. “You have questions for me? I thought I would be the only one who had questions. You go first.” He leaned forward, pretending to listen intently. I rolled my eyes and laughed. 

“You never told me that you liked me before you liked Yamina.” I didn’t want to beat around the bush, but I hadn’t meant to be that blunt. 

He was surprised. “I didn’t think it was necessary.” 

I raised my eyebrows again. “Not necessary? After I thought that I had always been your second choice, and was going to make you prove it wasn’t that way anymore, you didn’t think it was necessary to show that it wasn’t that way in the first place?”

“Was going? What does that mean?”

I sighed and looked at him. “You are changing the subject.” 

“Maybe.” 

“Why?”

“Because it is working.” He smiled, reached over and grabbed an apple from the table, and bit into it. 

“You know, if you weren’t so annoying, I would think you were cute right now.”

“Aren’t I always?” He smiled even wider, showing the bits of apple. 

I held up my hand. “If you weren’t so annoying. You have to remember that if.” I reached out and grabbed his free hand, trying to hold his attention. “You aren’t answering my question.” 

He set the apple on the edge of the bed and took my hand in both of his. “I don’t think that it is something that needs to be answered.”

I tried to pull my hand away, but he held fast. “I think it is. You could have saved yourself a whole lot of trouble if you had just told me. Things could have been moving along.”

“But if I didn’t prove that I loved you now, I would have to do it at some other point, and it could cause a big mess. Besides, you already said you aren’t ready for something like that.”

“And I am not. But I could have been ready sooner if you had told me.” I paused, thinking about what he had said. “Wait- you… you love me?” I stared up at him. 

He laughed a little. “Of course I love you. More than anyone in the world. What I am wondering is if you love me?”

“I… I don’t know.” I looked down at our hands. “I think so, but something in me isn’t sure.”

He smiled. “I think it’s the part that needs more time.” 

“You aren’t upset that I am not sure?”

“No. We only just started thinking about this a little while ago. Of course you are not sure. I understand that.” 

“What questions did you have to ask me?”

His smile faded a little. My chest clenched up. What questions could he possibly have to ask that would make him look so nervous and unhappy? 

“Matthew? He said some things. About you marrying him. Were you really going to?”

My stomach sank. I should have thought about that. Joeté had heard everything he said. 

I shook my head vigorously. “No. Never. Even before I found out he was English, I never even thought about it. I was still mourning you in secret, and I wasn’t ready for something like that.” 

“Then why did he seem so sure that you would accept?”

“Because he’s crazy?” I shrugged. “Something about him was always a little strange. He was power hungry. I guess that made him crazy from wishing for it. But he is smart. And if he knows what is good for him, he will never come back.” 

“So that gets all the questions out of the way. Much less difficult than I thought it would be.”  

“How hard did you think it was going to be?”

“I don’t know. That guy seemed pretty confident that you would marry him if he offered you the right things.”

“Well he had the ‘right things’ all wrong. My right things are love, kindness, simplicity, and home. And he could have never offered me a home.” I frowned. “Plus he was English. Never would have worked.” 

“Good to know.” He nodded and smiled softly.

“What happened to Adam?” I hadn’t thought about it before now.

“He is down in the caves. Once you are better, we will have a trial of the elders, and decide what is to be done with him. And most likely his family.” He let go of my hand and reached over for the apple. 

“And Hannah?” His hand rested on the apple. He didn’t look at me. 

“And Hannah.” He nodded. “She hasn’t made it clear, but she will probably go wherever he does because her mother is going with him.” 

I nodded. “That’s hard for you, isn’t it?”

“I may not be engaged to her anymore, but she will always be a part of the family we have created. And she has just been starting to make progress. I never thought I would see her stand up for Antioch that way.” 

“That makes two of us.” I smiled. “She has definitely changed things around here. It won’t be the same without her.” He looked surprised. “Yes, even I can admit that.” 

“I think that what people don’t understand is that she is a part of Antioch now. She wasn’t born here, but part of her belongs here.”

“I think the elders have all had doubts about letting her stay here at one time or another. But after Sunday, I don’t think they will ever second-guess her again.” 

“I’m going to miss her. She definitely has changed my life.” 

“She has changed everyone’s lives. And she may be a bit hard to get along with at times, but she has a good heart. And something tells me this isn’t the last we will see of her. Antioch has been her home for the past four or five months- she won’t be able to walk away from it easily.”

“I don’t think anyone could walk away from Antioch easily.”  

“My point exactly. We will see her again.”

“Alright, but now you really need to rest.” He stood and grabbed the apple. He tossed it into the air and caught it. “Rest. Get some sleep.”

“You expect too much of me.” I pretended to groan.

He laughed. “Don’t make me stay in here and force you to sleep.” He stepped out the door and closed it behind him. 

I lay down and turned on the side that wasn’t injured. I took a deep breath to calm myself. The pain in my arm intensified as I tried to relax. 

I sat up and moved from the spare bed that I was on into my room and to my own bed. I couldn’t stand the smell of the blood that had suddenly washed over me when I had nothing to distract me. I laid down on my back and stared up at the thatch roof. So much was happening so fast and I couldn’t handle it all at once. I wanted so badly to be with Joeté, and these past couple of days I felt so close with him, but at the same time I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure what was next. I told him I needed enough time to know what I wanted, but what if I never knew? What if I was always searching for what I wanted and kept pushing it off and never knew? I tried to clear my head and sleep, but every time I tried to stop thinking about things, faces popped up in my head. 

“God? I want this to work. I do. But what if this isn’t what you want for me?” I whispered. “Please show me what you want. I can’t keep doing this without you.” I pulled a blanket from the side of my bed and wrapped it around myself, cocooning me in warmth. I turned over and snuggled against my pillow. The pain in my arm numbed as I slowly drifted off to sleep. 

I looked around me. The smoke from the fires drifted across the valley and through the trees as I walked closer to the edge of the valley. I looked down into the valley as the screams met my ears. I watched in horror as my parents were held up for everyone to see, and spears were driven through them. Then Catania and Joeté were led onto the platform. I started running down the side of the valley, screaming. Joeté looked up at me, his eyes filled with tears. Suddenly I was right at the edge of the platform. His eyes changed to a glowing red and he broke the ropes off of his wrists. He killed the guards and then turned on Catania. I looked on in horror as he finished the work the English had started. He turned to me, running towards me, and suddenly, he was normal again. He smiled and held out his hand. I took it and together we walked out of the valley. As we reached the woods, he drew out his sword and drove it through my stomach. 

I woke up, gasping for air. I could feel the blade in my stomach, but when I looked down, nothing was there. I looked around. It was still dark outside. I fell back onto my pillow. I put a hand to my forehead and wiped away the sweat that was running down my face. I ran a hand through my hair and my hand came away soaking. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself down. Joeté’s face with glowing eyes immediately popped up. I opened my eyes quickly and sat up. I walked quietly into the kitchen and grabbed an apple. I sat in one of the chairs and took a bite. Elisiana opened her door and came out. 

She rubbed her eyes. “What time is it?” 

“I am not sure. What are you doing up?”

She grabbed an apple and sat down in another chair. “You can’t sleep?”

“I slept for a while, and then I had a dream and every time I close my eyes, I see it. And it is definitely not something I want to see over and over. What about you?”

She laughed. “I don’t sleep well on a regular basis. This? This is normal for me.”

“Do you get up every night?” 

“Yep. Every night I am usually out here at some point. I get dreams that are so vivid it would scare you if they were real, and after that, it is hard to fall asleep.”

“But then how are you so chipper during the day?”

She shrugged. “I have learned to adjust, I guess. And getting good at acting like I am happy has made it easier.” She smiled sadly. 

“Where did you learn how to do that?”

“My home. I lived near the palace my entire life. My mother and father were not the most loving parents. They got me that job at the palace as soon as they could. Since then I have sent my pay back to them and never returned.” 

“Do you miss them? Being here, I mean.” 

She shook her head. “Never in a million years could I miss that place. I wish I could be there for my younger siblings, but I never want to go back.”

“Did they mistreat you?” I leaned forward. 

“No. Not directly at least. But as the daughter of my mother’s first husband who died, my father- or stepfather, I guess- never really cared to treat me well. And I learned to bear it if I didn’t want him taking it out on my younger siblings. It just never really felt like home.”

“I understand. Without my parents, I feel as if home is harder and harder to find. But I guess in your case it is the other way around.” I looked her up and down. “Do you like being here?” 

She nodded eagerly. “I love it here. Everything is so open and free. I feel as if I could fly when I am here. I can do what I want when I am not helping you. I am not bound to anyone. This is like heaven on earth for me.” She smiled blissfully. 

“I know the feeling. Growing up here has made me realize just how stuffy the rest of the world is. Here, things are free and happy. Outside the valley, there are far too many walls.” 

She finished her apple. “How’s your arm?” 

I shrugged lightly. “Better than ever.”

“How are you so tough? You act like everything is so easy and you never get hurt.”

I laughed. “Believe me, I am not as tough as I appear. I may look and act tough, but most of it is just that- an act. I guess it’s sort of for the same reasons you have learned to act okay. I shut people out so that I wouldn’t get hurt, and that helped me learn to control my emotions better. I could be hurting so badly inside, and no one would even know- until I get mad. That is my one problem. When I get mad, I tend to let things slip and then that makes a mess of things. People get more upset that I didn’t tell them I was having problems, and then we are in a big argument and everything goes crazy.” I fingered the apple. “That’s been happening a lot lately.”

“I noticed.” She smiled. “Why don’t you trust people?” 

I was slightly taken aback by her blunt manner, but admired her for it. She was usually so quiet. “Because I don’t want to get hurt. And I have learned that the best way to make it so that people can’t hurt you is to never let them see the real you.”

“It’s a hard way to live and make friends.”

“But it’s a good way not to die or get hurt.” 

“And it’s a bad way to get the love of your life in your life permanently.” 

I looked up at her. “You notice more than you let on- don’t you?” 

“I got real good at listening without being heard when I lived with my parents.” 

“It’s a good skill. We might be putting that to use sometime soon.” 

“I would love to actually be useful for once.” I raised my eyebrows and she smiled. “But you are supposed to be resting. Mica specifically told me to make sure that you are sleeping and resting.” I stood up and put my apple in the small pot that I was using for garbage. 

Before I stepped into my room, I looked back. “And Elisia?” She looked over at me from where she was putting her apple with mine. “You have a family now. Ours.”