*For the previous chapters, please go here. These are posted first draft, as the brain dictates to the fingers which are remarkably stupid. Eventually it will be cleaned up and fixed just before page is made secret/taken down and the book is published. At that time I will take lists of typos or volunteers to proof read. For now, it’s written in a hurry, usually an hour before it goes up. And, let me remind you, it’s free – SAH*
Strangers In the Night
Al wasn’t sure where she was, but to her Michael’s voice–
No, Lord Michael’s, she had to remember she was consorting with the highest levels of nobility in the land. Mostly she had to remember because she wasn’t sure what the rules were and she despised situations where she had no idea what was expected of her. It was the type of situation in which she did something that made Mother scream at her, or worse, put watchers on her.
Lord Michael’s voice seemed to come from an entire world altogether. For a moment she wondered if she’d got stuck in the in-betweener and his voice was coming at her from one of the real worlds.
Was that what happened when people got lost in the in-betweener?
Then she realized she was most uncomfortable. There was something poking her in the back, and something else covering her eyes. She could feel rough leaves on her forehead. And of course, this was not the sort of thing that should happen in the in betweener, where nothing existed but yourself. She drew a deep breath and it came in scented of pine. Moving her arms, and hands, she felt fairly sure she was laying on a pine branch. A pine branch that was wider than her body, and–
“Al?” Somehow a Lord’s voice shouldn’t sound that tremulous, should it? They were trained from infancy to know exactly what to do, right?
“I think I’m on a tree,” she managed. She cleared her throat, “It’s just really dark.”
“Oh,” he said, and she could tell his voice was somewhere beneath her. She thought he chuckled, though he tried to make it sound like he’d just cleared his throat.
Al sat up and felt for the branch she was lying on, and then towards the trunk. “I’m not sure I can get down, without seeing the branches,” she said, and her own voice trembled, which made her feel like a fool.
“Um,” he said, which wasn’t exactly informative. Or the sort of speech one expected from a high nobleman.
And then there was a long, long silence.
“Mich– Er…. Lord Michael?” she asked.
And then there was light. It was a ball of it, climbing, climbing. By its light, Albinia saw that she was up a very tall and ancient pine tree. “I think,” she said. “The branches are close enough for me to climb down.”
He didn’t answer. She could see him far below, a small figure, his face a pale oval looking up at her.
Right. She was going to have to climb down, and the distance seemed as high as the tower where her room was in her father’s house. But this time she didn’t have a rope ladder made of old sheets.
For a moment she considered asking if someone who had the kind power where he could conjure a big light out of nowhere with so little effort, and keep it shining and stable, couldn’t somehow float her down. But then she took a deep breath. No. She’d be damned if she’d ask his help and catch herself at his mercy. She didn’t even know him very well.
So, fighting an inner certainty that she was about to lose her footing and crash down, she slowly slung herself off the branch, searching with her feet for the branch below her. She found it, solid, under her foot, let go of the top branch, and sat on that one, before she managed to swing herself from that one, holding on to it with her hands, while her feet looked for the next branch.
There was a dangerous moment, after several hundreds of branches — okay, probably dozens, but it felt like hundreds — when she couldn’t quite reach the branch below with her feet, and then she heard Lord Michael’s voice, “Pardon me, I’m going to touch your ah, limbs,” and then his hands clasping around her ankles.
She screamed, but his hand guided her foot to the limb, while her hands groped around for a hold, and then found the trunk, and looking down, she realized she was at head level with Lord Michael. He let go of her ankles, as though he’d been burned.
Well, it was shocking, but she didn’t think her legs were actually on fire. She managed another branch down, and then she jumped, falling on what felt like springy moss.
And Lord Michael was reaching out with a hand, as though offering her balance.
He let got of the energy that kept the light going. She could feel him withdrawing his power and she said, in a shaky voice, “I thank you. I know that must have taken a lot of power.” In fact, she was starting to wonder if he needed her virtue at all.
“It’s not the power,” he said, and his voice sounded tight. “I’m afraid someone will find us by the light. We can’t be sure everyone in this forest is friendly.”
Just like that, out of the dark forest, they heard the sound of a howling wolf.
*Sorry it’s short. I finally sat down at 11 pm to write this chapter, but I didn’t want to fail you again. Yes, I’m well, but I’m trying to prepare two flower beds for planting, and my hoe broke, so we had to buy a new one, and…. you know… like that. ALL day.
I’ll now go to bed. Goodnight all – SAH*