I fumed as I exited the stage after the last curtain call. Most of the cast saw my expression and sensibly stayed out of my way as I stalked off to find Niwot.
I growled under my breath as I slammed the door of his office open. His tall maroon wingback chair was turned to face the window so I couldn't see anything except the top of his messy bird's nest hair cut. There was complete silence for a moment as I waited to see if he'd turn his chair around to acknowledge me. "What happened to caring about my safety!" I screeched.
"You let me go on stage with that aristocratic bastard watching! He didn't take his fucking eyes off me the entire show! You know what that means right? I'm screwed! I'm going to have to pack up and leave tonight and hope he - whoever he is - doesn't manage to track me down and follow me!" I screamed.
There was a deep chuckle from the chair and I froze. I felt all the blood drain from my face because Niwot sounded nothing like that when he laughed. "He said you had spunk," a rich voice said smoothly.
Immediately I turned on my heel and stumbled for the door. I was a moment too late though because as I reached it, Niwot stepped into the room and pulled the door shut behind him. "Niwot, please," I gasped.
"I'm sorry, Airin," Niwot replied. I glared up into his face and crumbled when I saw his expression - regret, anger, fear. My anger abandoned me abruptly and I slumped as Niwot grabbed my arm and swung me around to face the desk again easily.
Niwot's chair swiveled to reveal the young man I was so upset about. "Niwot," he said, inclining his head in acknowledgment, "Aeirin."
My jaw clenched tightly as I glared at him. Niwot gently set me in the chair in front of his desk and retreated to lean against the wall. He regarded me with a solemn, concerned look that I icily ignored.
"Jason, get on with it," Niwot said shooting him a dark look. His tone held an edge of venom that made me look at him sharply. His face was uncharacteristically haggard and a little bit more of my anger slipped away.
The young man - Jason - coughed slightly. "Ah yes, we should get on shouldn't we?" He stood up and held out a hand to me imperiously. "Let's go, Aeirin."
My mouth tightened and I glared at him. "You have to be kidding me," I hissed, "There is no fucking way-" I broke off as I saw Niwot shake his head slightly behind Jason. My mouth snapped shut and I turned my face away, tears burning in the corners of my eyes.
Niwot cleared his throat and Jason turned toward him. His arm dropped and I let out a slight sigh of relief. "Would you give Aeirin and I a moment please Jason? " he said.
Jason shrugged and sauntered around the desk. I cringed as his fingers trailed along my shoulder as he walked behind me. As the door closed behind him I turned and glared at Niwot. I felt... betrayed. Despite everything, I never thought Niwot would give me up like this.
"I-" I started to say but Niwot cut me off.
"Your Aunt and Uncle called a Hunt," he said bluntly, "Jason came to warn us and take you someplace safe."
My stomach twisted. In ancient times, the Hunts had been a way of instilling new blood into the governing class. Minache who did not bond with another for one reason or another were hunted down and forced into bonds. After the Terror, the Hunts had been a way for the Naché to force Minaë into bonds once the traditional voluntary pool dried up. They were often bloody with Minaë killing themselves rather than become bound or injured when they resisted capture.
The only reason my Aunt and Uncle would call a Hunt was because they'd finally found a way to ensure the crown passed to their son - my cousin. They had always resented that my parents had bypassed their line in the succession. If I died the Minaë crown would skip them and go to a more distant cousin who had bonded with a Naché.
"The Hunts were banned," I snapped. My eyes flashed and I stood up angrily. "I can't believe you listened to his lies."
"Don't call me that!" I shrieked.
"Airin," he said carefully in an attempt to head me off. "There's nothing left to govern the revival of banned practices or not. There is a Hunt. Can't you sense the change in the atmosphere here in Hunagi?"
I shook my head violently. "If they do that, they're calling Naché down on themselves. They wouldn't do that. They value their self-preservation too much for that."
"There are Bonds other than the Naché-Minaë one," Niwot reminded me. "They are bound to each other and unavailable to the Hunt as a result." I collapsed back in the chair.
"What about Michel?" I asked, "How will they protect him then? They want him to have the throne but he's not Bound yet. He's at risk by this Hunt."
"And in a veritable fortress. No one's going to touch him," Niwot countered, "Honestly Airin, you need better arguments if you're going to win this one."
My shoulders slumped and my head dropped to rest on my knees. "I don't want this," I whispered.
"I know. I didn't want this for you either," Niwot replied, "We're lucky Jason found out and is giving us this much warning."
"And who is Jason, Niwot?" I hissed, "Obviously, he's Unbound. He's using the Hunt as an excuse to save me but really he wants me. He wants me as his Companion..."
"Wren..." Niwot started helplessly.
"It's true though, isn't it?" I snapped, jerking upright to glare at him.
Niwot's shoulders slumped. "Yes," he said, defeated, "But he wants a Reciprocal Bond... He's idealistic... He wants you to want the Binding too. If you went with him you'd have time to decide whether you wanted the same things..."
"Like hell," I muttered. I crossed my arms and glared at Niwot. "Niwot, don't dodge the question. Who is he?"
Niwot swallowed. "The heir..."
My face contorted in rage. "So like I said," I snapped, "There's no fucking way." I stood up again and marched to the door.ns 22.214.171.124da2