“An abomination to Mar, is it not?” Low Bishop Jervis of Har-Kin Kensley sputtered before his coughing cut off his line. “Tis . . . something . . . we should pull down.”
Dawkin sat atop his destrier, smirking as the bishop continued to hack. In actuality, he liked the runestones. To him, they spoke of a forgotten past, harboring secrets and mysteries he hoped to one day discover through scholarship.
Until then, they served as an annoyance to the more conservative factions of the kingdom, a persistent truth that oft brought a bit of joy to Dawkin.
“Your Grace,” called a paviser who stood before the runestone. “Methinks you should see this.”
The Low Bishop rolled his eyes though obliged nonetheless, withdrawing his head from the open window of his carriage so the attendant could open it for him. A large gentleman with hooves for feet, he still waited for two attendants to take his hands to escort him down the stepstool and onto the soft ground of the field road.
Dawkin, seeing an opportunity to stretch his legs – again – dismounted. He strode in the shadow of the clergyman, careful to keep his distance as His Grace hawked into his handkerchief. The attendant to his right offered him a fresh cloth while the unfortunate one to his left accepted the spent one. Dawkin, feeling sorry for both, shook his head.
Jervis rounded the runestone to where the paviser waited. He nodded to the base of the obelisk once the Low Bishop came to his side. “I almost missed it, til me waterskin slipped from my hands and fell. Then I saw it.”
Dawkin peered between the Low Bishop and the servant to his right to glimpse the point of interest: carved into the stone, beneath the ancient text, were words of a more familiar language.
A layer of plaster coated the inscription, filling its grooves almost to the point of hiding the engraving altogether. Dawkin had seen other such attempts to cover up the graffiti of Kin Foleppi, markings their spies and invaders had left in the waning decade of the Century War, a desperate effort to terrorize the countryside with signs of their presence. Notwithstanding the fact few Marlish could read the foreign script, the foxes of Afari always left an unmistakable cipher of their ever-constant threat: a broken sword. Not the outline of a fox, complete with tale and head, as most would expect. Such a symbol would have been too prominent for the cunning Foleppi. Instead, they chose a symbol prophesying the peacefall to come.
In days past, the countryfolk always alerted their barons and bishops upon discovering a new inscription. Most gawked and pointed at first before taking measures to protect themselves, such as fashioning new arms or increasing night patrols. Despite considering the markings to contain evil spells, nonetheless, the neighboring townspeople were credited with plastering over the engravings, even as rumors erupted of faeries and enchanters of Marlish lore coming in the night to do so.
“Like I said,” Jervis said, his coughing fit paused, “an abomination.”
“I . . . have a confession . . .” the paviser started, turning his gaze downward in shame.
“Out with it, boy.”
“I, I touched it.”
“What?!” The Low Bishop released his handkerchief.
“Forgive me, Your Grace. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Why, you need to be cleansed. Immediately!” He pointed to the servant at his left. “Fetch me a vial of holy water from my carriage.”
“Your Grace, I think you should know –”
“The clay, covering the words in stone. It hasn’t dried.”
The Low Bishop, whose mood had only worsened with each mile spent in his coach, darkened further. “Are you certain?”
“I am. Tis soft.”
“Then dark magic stalks these woods. Spirits filled in those engravings, and why they waited so long to do so with this stone, no mortal can say. But as it’s been years since the Century War has passed, that means the incantations you discovered befouled this land for years and years after their original writing.”
“They did,” the paviser turned pale. “What will become of me?”
“I can’t say, my son. But you must be cleansed, through and through. My meager stash of holy water will not do you justice.” The Low Bishop sighed, composing himself as a magistrate does when handing down a death sentence. “You are relieved of your service as my escort.”
“Follow my carriage at least twenty paces back. Touch nothing. Not your fellow countrymen. Not my carriage. Not me. When we reach the abbey, the brethren there will take you in, to begin the prayers and blessings necessary for the salvation of your eternal soul.”
The color drained from the paviser. He managed a nod. Dawkin thought the whole spiritual ruse to be a bit much. Still, he held his tongue out of respect.
Jervis turned, making haste back to his carriage. The paviser followed, albeit at a slower clip. Dawkin held back, staring at the inscription to consider the other, more sinister possibility.
The plaster wasn’t fresh because spirits and sprites forgot to cover it over. It hadn’t dried because the etching was new.
With each opportunity granted to Dawkin, he inquired. It proved not hard, as the runestone and its recent inscription had turned into the talk of the countryside. When they paused to water their horses, a gathering of mothers and maidens by the stream washing their clothes spoke to Dawkin of changelings who stalked the forest and had carved the inscription as a warning to children. At the highway tavern, where the bishop stopped to gorge himself on mutton and ale, the barkeep said remnants of Kin Foleppi’s spies still roamed the nearby hills and even boasted of killing one only weeks before. The shepherd up the road herding his flock claimed the same as did two sawyers who journeyed on the road with them for a spell. Everyone Dawkin encountered spun a yarn about the runestone, which only obscured the truth rather than bring it to light.
By the late afternoon, when they reached the abbey, Dawkin never wanted to hear of the blasted stone ever again. He tired of the tall tales of the countryfolk, preferring the promise of a quaint room – quiet, unadorned – among the quarters of the silent brethren. Only when they arrived within the courtyard of the abbey, the whole mass of brethren scurried about. Each man moved in haste as the Low Bishop’s carriage pulled to a stop, though not one paused to attend to His Excellency.
“Uh-hmmm!” Jervis grunted as a brother nearly hurried past.
The monk, as if seeing the carriage for the first time, straightened and bowed. “Low Bishop Jervis! You’re here!”
“A condition of which I am well aware,” the Low Bishop snorted. “What I can’t figure out is why you and your brethren have left me to rot in this wretched wagon.”
“I beg your forgiveness a thousand times, Your Excellency! It’s only that –”
“What could possibly be so important as to keep the man who oversees a diocese waiting?!”
“I, I –”
“Out with it, man!”
“We have a, a situation, Your Excellency. A fever has overtaken the nearby town. Or an illness. A rash of ailments, maybe.”
“Well, which is it?”
“We don’t know, Low Bishop Jervis. Several of the townspeople have come to us, with a range of conditions such we can’t pinpoint their cause. A few claim to have fevers, though in my opinion, they feel only a bit warmer than normal. A group complains of aches in their hands and knees, which they say came about all of a sudden. Still more talk of headaches which won’t go away ever since they . . . touched that stone.”
“Ughhh . . .” Dawkin muttered, loud enough to draw a glare from the Low Bishop. Upon receiving the look, Dawkin tightened his lips, remembering his ruse as Sir Evenon, an additional escort to His Excellency.
“Well,” Jervis resumed, directing his attention to the monk once more, “I can see my services came not a moment too soon.”
“They did, Your Excellency! I’ll be glad to escort you to the chapel where –”
“Patience, my boy, patience. I need to receive counsel from the Mar Himself, as the ailments you speak of are no small matter.”
“Of course, Your Excellency.”
“First, help me down from this death trap on wheels. Then, show me to your finest room, where I shall require a hot bath and one of your monks to iron out my garb, which has been sitting wrinkled in my chests for far too long. After, I will send word to your cooks of my meal. The proper sustenance is necessary for me to delve into the teachings of Our Lord, given by His scripture and through His direct conversation with me, of course.”
Low Bishop Jervis threw open his door, signaling to all his intention to move. The carriage’s attendants descended upon him, with their many hands and a step stool ready. The brother sped to the transport as he motioned his brethren nearby to come to his aid. A small force soon enveloped the Low Bishop, lending to him the air of superiority he so desperately craved.
Dawkin, glad to be rid of the idiots, dismounted. As part of his ploy, his job on this expedition involved securing the perimeter of every inn and host residence where they stopped. He took it semi-seriously at first since the bishop’s family of Har-Kin Kensley still held one of the largest fortunes on the island. The threat to His Excellency could not be dismissed on the highways and secluded roads that laid just outside the city. However, this far out in the country – where the most significant threat to His Excellency became the boredom of listening to superstitions– Dawkin’s resolve to guard an overfed, pompous figurehead of the Church waned.
He walked his courser to the stables, proceeding to unsaddle the horse and ensure it had fresh grain and water. With the task complete, he left his mare in peace as he slung his saddlebag over his shoulder to wander through the grounds surrounding the abbey. From what he had gathered before their arrival, the abbey abutted a stream opposite the town of Meadowdale, which offered rich pastures dotted with trees of oak and walnut. There Dawkin hoped to find seclusion away from the hysteria.
His encounter with the stream dashed his hopes. For there - watering their flocks, scrubbing their laundry, or just chattering without a chore – seemed to have gathered every loose-tongued mouth in the diocese. Elders with one tooth and as much sense jabbered with the middle-aged and youth of the town, their wild theories on the runestone and its supposed curses overlapping each other. Fevers that sprung with a touch or rashes erupting at the first thought of worry stood out as some of the observations shared among the groupings. Such professions glanced off of Dawkin’s ears, as he had no interest in the ravings of an uneducated populace. For as a prince, he had witnessed the many supposed “plagues” which had gripped the island over the years. Ordinary folk would come from near and far to lament in Court of how their children and elders suffered from curses or of how pestilence would spread to the whole island. His father, as King, would console his subjects with promises of serious consideration. He would dispatch messengers and mages to the far-flung edges of the kingdom to investigate the rumors of plague. Only one in ten tales had merit, with all the rest stemming from hysteria which cost the country too much in wasted time, funds, and other spent resources.
Perhaps sensing his disdain for their gossip, a few sturdy glares feel his way. Dawkin shrugged them off, chalking the looks up to the wayward traditions of country folk. He continued on his path past the bulk of the townsfolk, their conversations fading as he made his way to the south fork of the stream. As more of the meadowlands opened before him, with only scant signs of commoners going about their daily tasks, his demeanor lightened. Patches of short grass beneath awnings of sturdy, leafy limbs offered the perfect reading spots. He settled on a particular location, one with a spread of dry rivergrass under the shade of an aged black oak. He laid his saddlebag on the trunk of the tree, where he knelt to withdraw its contents. Aside from a wool blanket, he pulled out two volumes: the first aptly titled Conversational Ibian by Sir Roger of Har-Kin Caunter, the second being his most recent gift, The Adumbration.
He leaned against the tree base, ready to settle into Conversational Ibian just as he intended. But as the volume sat unopened across his lap, he could not help his eyes from gravitating to the cover of The Adumbration. The title, its embossed scarlet letters having faded with age, called to him. He knew the appeal stemmed not from the contents within. Rather, the source of the present churned his intrigue, causing him to toss his text on Ibian aside to grab the sacred book instead.
With each holy passage he read, the memory of the maiden at Sir Nygell’s clouded his focus. The Angel of Fate visits the houses of the living, her sword delivering the wicked to their graves. Those green eyes, soft in hue, more pleasing in sight than any blade of grass. The masses fall by the hundreds. Curled locks, of gold, fall. The treasures they hold prove endless. Once of soil, the ground becomes ash; the sky is a robber of day as smoke chokes out the light. In the chaos, the justice of Mar reigns. Through death, His Word is delivered. Oh, and perfect skin. Without a blemish. Really, just perfect.
Dawkin shook his head. Idiot! One encounter, though fateful, with a dashing maiden had turned his once steady mind into a bloody mess. He tossed the book aside before running his fingers through his hair. This isn’t me. I can’t let myself go on like this. Daydreaming as if a virgin bridegroom on his wedding day. Pfff! What lunacy. My thoughts run amok. My judgment clouds. It even has me hallucinating as though that dear maiden was right before –
“Am I seeing this?!” Dawkin could not help but ponder aloud. For coming up the path on the far side of the stream strolled a maiden, not unlike Lady Cora.
She carried a wicker basket leaning against her hip. In a forest green dress and white apron, anyone would have mistaken her for a commoner doing her daily wash. She certainly looked the part, with her golden hair wrapped in burgundy cloth and the faintest hints of dust and dirt upon her cheeks. Remarkably, the smudges upon her skin and her homely attire only accented her beauty rather than obscure it. Without any intent towards presentation, her radiance shone, like sunlight peeking through the leaves of a wind-tossed branch.
She shifted her wicker basket from one hip to her other. Dawkin blinked. Her image, in an instant, changed. She shimmered. Her likeness vibrated, as though the air before her had broiled, sending up fiery tendrils. The waves blurred her form, not unlike a ripple upsetting a reflection. Dawkin blinked again, and with that, the anomaly before her vanished.
Dear Mar, I’m going mad with obsession.
If the lady had noticed the momentary oddity before her, she did not show it. She pressed onward, traversing the path through the grass to scout the best place to wash. As the shore directly across from Dawkin appeared to be of soft mud without solid support, the lady almost strode on past him.
Emerging from the shade, Dawkin hopped to his feet into the sun. “Aye! Lady Cora!”
The maiden, startled, froze on the path. She shot a look at Dawkin, as though a deer spotting a wolf.
Dawkin, having not considered his next move, offered a slight wave.
“You?” the lady offered. “How, what, what brings you here?”
Immediately, Dawkin fumbled with how to respond. “I, uh, I’m here . . .” Oh, hell, tell her the truth. A bit of it at least. “I’m here as an act of service, guarding the Low Bishop Jervis.”
“Really?” she smiled. “Odd, I think I would have noticed a bishop in our presence.”
“He’s resting at the abbey. Since he’s in good hands and we’re off the road, I took a moment to gather myself.”
“Good for you.” Lady Cora made a move to continue on her way.
“And you? What brings you to this area?”
“Me? Why, I’m home.”
“I never took you for a resident of Meadowdale.”
“I, I only assumed you lived in the city.”
Why, indeed? Lady Cora stared back at Dawkin with those green eyes, as entrancing as any set of emeralds or precious stones he had ever seen. So intense, so full of curiosity and wonder. Had that question come from any other, especially a commoner, Dawkin would have felt slighted. Though not with her. There stood no formality in her queries because pretense had no place; she did want to know his motivations, his reason for being.
“It’s that we don’t get many girls from the country in the city — none whatsoever like you. You, you carried yourself so well in Sir Nygell’s. You had a sense of comfort, of grace, as if you had known the bookstore – all of Arcporte, really – your whole life. Such a trait, such boldness, is not all so common with transplants to the city.”
“You are too kind. Your boldness is of note too.”
“How you meandered past the washers up there,” she nodded back toward the crowded stream banks. “Passing so close to the locals as they discuss their affairs is considered rude in these here parts. I’m surprised you didn’t receive a tongue-lashing.”
Dawkin tilted his head, smiling.
“Did I say something amusing?” Cora asked.
“So you did notice me? Earlier? The look of shock I saw before when I called to you on the path, ‘twas a ruse, wasn’t it?”
Like a girl caught swiping a hot cross bun before her elders had helped themselves, the Lady blushed. “Oh, fine, so you caught me. Yes, I saw you from afar. A fool with his head held high, a stranger strolling amongst us lowly commoners, unaware of our local customs. I suspected you to be the same man I met at Sir Nygell’s, but from such a distance, I couldn’t be certain.”
“Well, now you are.”
“I, I should help you with that.” He bent his head toward her wicker basket of laundry.
“Oh, don’t bother. It isn’t heavy.”
“Please, I insist.”
“As you wish.”
Dawkin balanced himself on three stones leading across the stream to end up on the other side.
“Oh,” she uttered.
“Your eyes . . . Up close, they’re different than before.”
All of a sudden self-conscious, Dawkin averted his gaze. Of all the times! He had remembered to apply the potion the day before but had failed to administer another dose since then.
“I don’t mind it,” Cora added, trying to make eye contact. “My father, his eyes look different too, according to the light. Light green in the morning and soft brown towards the evening. Tis how the light hits them is all it is.”
Dawkin, his worry fading, looked back to her. “Aye. My eyes suffer the same affliction, I suppose.”
Soon he carried Cora’s basket as she sauntered beside him, answering his casual questions on Meadowdale. Their quaint conversation took them further away from the village on a path that curved with the water until they came to a bend, which revealed a grove of a dozen dwarf elms, and among them, a small anomaly.
Dawkin paused. Cora took a few steps beyond him before stopping to pivot and face him. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Just I didn’t expect to come across another marker such as this?”
“On the way into town, the Low Bishop’s caravan I was guarding stopped to inspect a runestone by the road.”
“Aye, I know of it. Been there a while. As has this one. So why are you so surprised?”
Her questions, those eyes . . . Mar save me. “The runestone had been covered over in one section with fresh plaster. That meant the inscription must have been new. Or newly discovered. It gave all of us pause. Such exploits haven’t happened since the last decades of the Century War, when Kin Foleppi roamed these parts, terrorizing the countryside.”
“And that is your fear? The foxes have returned?”
“Well, that’s ridiculous.”
“Is it?!” he blurted.
Cora’s eyes widened. Dawkin bowed his head. “Forgive me for the outburst, my Lady.”
“You are concerned, truly? Aren’t you?”
Mar, this woman pulls at me. “I am. People dismiss such worries, saying the threats we notice – or I, more specifically – are imagined, the products of an over-active mind. But look at all that has happened in the past year or two. We’ve been assaulted on our northern shores, betrayed by our nobles, and in the end, we lost a king. Our kin.”
The last note hit Dawkin particularly hard. He tensed, careful not to let any sign of his regal history escape, via a twitch or a blink. Something even slighter must have shown, however, for Lady Cora’s demeanor evolved, becoming somber and dutiful.
“You, and your family, were close to the King, weren’t you?”
“I’m so sorry, Sir Jameson.”
Damn, she still remembers me for the wrong moniker. “Actually, it’s . . . Never mind. Thank you.”
Cora offered a grin as she took the wicker basket from Dawkin. Laying it down beside one of the elms, she withdrew a clothesline, which she proceeded to tie to two opposing trees. “Your family,” she began. “I suspect they were thrilled by the news of the royal wedding.”
Dawkin hurried to help Cora, taking the other end of the line to tie to the nearest tree. “Why, yes. The announcement of the royals finally joining brought joy to our manor.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, were any in your family invited?”
“My whole family received invitations. My brothers went while I stayed to attend to my kin’s affairs.”
“Isn’t that always the case? The best of us manage to miss out while all the rest have their fun.”
“Aye. There seems to be the trend.”
“So, guarding the Low Bishop counts as your kin’s affairs?”
Aye, she’s a crafty one. “The King requested my assistance. Well, his Steward, Baron Artus. With so many barons and their sons across the sea for the royal wedding, good help is hard to find.”
“You’re right. Without your assistance, I would have to hang my wash all by myself.”
“Was that a jab, my Lady?”
Dawkin, finishing his tie, cocked his head toward the runestone. “Tis an unusual place to wash.”
“It’s quiet. Solitary. Nobody dares to pass here if they don’t have to –”
“I know the stories.”
“Yet you don’t abide by them.”
“I view the stones as . . . companions. They sit here to rest. It isn’t their fault some idiots chose to carve in them.”
“And it doesn’t bother you in the least these same innocent stones carry incantations, spells from demons or faeries no one can decrypt?”
Lady Cora threw back her head to laugh. “Really? No one can understand them, yet they swear they’re bad for us.”
“You mock superstitions? A moment ago, you chastised me for disgracing such local customs, even though you laugh at other ones right now.”
“I pointed out your lordly air, which led you to cast a shadow across us meager town folk. I merely look at the facts, consider, and judge for myself the dangers, or lack thereof.”
“So . . . What have you noticed about this stone?” Dawkin edged closer to the runestone. Across its face, the inscriptions dated to antiquity. Remarkably, it had survived unscarred from Kin Foleppi.
“It’s shorter than many of its brethren, perhaps because it lies near a stream and not by a road or town center.”
“Then why here? By a game trail bordering a stream. I mean, it would make sense if it stood by a ford or shallow pass of a major tributary. But a random stream?”
“Tis why it’s special. A couple could have erected it here, to commemorate a first kiss or the place of their union.”
“Weddings occur in churches, my Lady.”
“I wasn’t talking about that kind of union.”
At that, Dawkin blushed.
“Anyway,” Cora continued. “The fact the stone stands aside means it was meant for the eyes of a few, not many. Like a book tucked away in a tall shelf, one you seek out because you – and only you – know of the treasures within. Or a cavern under a castle, one which holds chambers and recesses where children can laugh and play without the watchful eyes of their parents. Or a field with the joys of spring, blossoming with wildflowers for the first time, one you are privileged to enjoy before any other.”
The girl within the lady shone forth as she shared her childlike visions. From another, Dawkin would have found such proclamations immature. Yet from her, they only added to her soulful qualities, drawing Dawkin ever closer to her presence.
In the distance, a bell tolled. Dawkin, straightening, looked toward the abbey. “Why does it ring?”
“Calm yourself. Tis only the mid-supper bell. It lets the locals know not to disturb the abbey, for after the quick meal prayers follow.”
“Do you need to check on His Excellency?”
“I suppose,” Dawkin grumbled. In truth, leaving the Low Bishop’s side for so long would be considered an offense to the church, one for which he would receive a reprimand, if Jervis were even sober enough to notice his absence.
“Well, then, I suppose this is good-bye.”
“I leave for Seafall next morning.”
“But, I thought your har-kin hailed from here?”
“Yes, the bulk of us Glennish hail from here and other nearby hamlets of the Foothills. But my har-kin married into other families all over, if you recall from our first encounter. My cousin wed into a har-kin last year, one residing just outside Seafall. She’s expected to give birth any week now, so I’m going to help her with the babe.”
“Oh, I see,” Dawkin said, his heart sinking.
“Come now, Sir Jameson. Once a few weeks have passed, and my cousin has bonded with the babe, I can stop by Sir Nygell’s again on my way back. By chance, we may even run into each other again there.”
I don’t want to leave such an encounter to fate. Damn the chances of my life. “What if I were to accompany you?”
“You have your duties here, with the Low Bishop –”
“Forget that pompous drunkard.”
Lady Cora raised a brow. Dawkin found himself – again – tilting his head in another apologetic bow.
“My concern for your safety outweighs my other responsibilities,” he offered as a show of remorse.
“That is too kind of you, my lord. You needn’t worry, though. My uncle’s apprentice has agreed to accompany me through the countryside, so I won’t be traveling alone.”
“An apprentice? Is he skilled in the art of war? Does he know how to ride? Or quarrel? How to fight three bandits at once?”
“Why . . . Yes.”
“Quite the accomplished reader-and-swordsmen, aren’t you?”
Lady Cora considered. “As you wish. My uncle won’t be too pleased with me traveling with a stranger, so you’ll need to meet him first, to garner his approval. He has a smith shop on the edge of town. It has a chimney of limestone leaning slightly north, so you can’t miss it. Be there at dawn.”
Dawkin’s heart fluttered. “It will be my honor.”
“What will you say to the Bishop?”
“I will say I need to excuse myself to attend to a family friend, to honor a word given.”
“A little bit of a fib, wouldn’t you say?”
“Tis true. If we are to head to Seafall, we will need to stop for a spell first.”
“Why Sir Jameson, you presume too much.”
“Not for that. I owe a favor to a friend. More of a brother, truthfully.”
“Very well, but if you try . . . All I’m saying is I’m well-armed at all times.” Lady Cora patted her left thigh, holding her hand there long enough for the folds of her dress to bend to the outline of the sheath beneath. One long enough for a dirk.
“My Lady,” Dawkin bowed.
“Go on, now. The Low Bishop is waiting. I’ll see you at dawn.” The bell tolled once more, as if to serve as a reminder.
“And leave you with laundry still to do. What kind of gentleman would I be?”
“Like all the rest, I reckon.”
“You deserve a man apart, then.” Dawkin knelt to pick up a soiled shirt, perhaps her uncle’s, before proceeding to the stream. He bent down to soak it. Lady Cora followed with a garment of her own. She placed a jar of soap powder, a mix of fat and ash, between them.
Dawkin smirked, digging his hand into the pasty substance. The viscous mixture stuck to his fingers. He slathered a wad onto the shirt collar, which stood out as the area of the garment most in need of cleansing.
What am I doing? he asked himself. He had washed clothes once as punishment for horseplay resulting in a bowl of spilt stew on a baron. Such a memory stemmed from an incident eons ago, and the lesson of what needed to be done hadn’t stuck. Nonetheless, Dawkin went on with what he thought as the proper way to wash. Absent of Lady Cora’s corrections, he continued, with the Lady concentrated on her own clothing.
So this is what I’ve been reduced to? A monarch washing the clothes of a commoner? All while my brothers lay with a Queen and feast with the Court. Dawkin mused. Nearly twenty years of courtly upbringing – almost two decades of princehood – had prepared him for a life absent of such labors, the mediocrity of peasant life. He sometimes wondered if he could survive the repetitiveness of the common folk, most of whom would no doubt live and die without ever leaving their hometown, let alone the island. No castles for them. Nor company of barons. Nor courts. Absent of any legacy.
He submerged the soap-covered shirt into the stream. Rubbing it beneath the water, he watched the grime and soap disperse into the current, to slip away.
Their lives seem so empty. Meanwhile, I have the chance at legacy. So why . . . Do I feel this longing? This void? This . . . weight I cannot shake?
He glanced at Lady Cora. A woman unknown, beneath him in rank yet unlike any other.
Could she . . . Could it be . . .
The possibility hung in the air before Dawkin, with nary a word to encapsulate his thoughts. Instead, it stood apart as an emotion — an overwhelming one.
“What?” Lady Cora asked, noting his expression.
“Nothing,” he answered, lying a bit. And everything.206Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡJhLNFGXj8ins 126.96.36.199da2