This chapter shifts to the point-of-view of Stefan Nilsson.
Burmese: သတ္တမသီချင်း၏အိမ် – sattam sehkyinn eat aain
Brom found a few things in his wardrobe that fit me that I could also tolerate wearing. Evander brought in a few more pieces from some other room, which I only tried on because they didn’t seem to be his. I know Leila wanted me to be more friendly with him, but no matter how trustworthy he seemed, I wasn’t going to wear his clothes. From what I could assess, most of the musicians had clothes reminiscent of the medieval, renaissance and baroque eras, while Evander’s style leaned more Victorian. I was more interested in older styles, that’s for sure.
I pulled on a simple tunic and pants, assuring the others that I would wear the morn formal things later on, at dinner. Just then, I wanted to head outside and practice with the throwing axes Nikolai had mentioned. I had energy to burn (Leila probably would have called it stress, but she wasn’t there to argue the point just then), and I wanted to be ready in case any of the dark creatures they’d been talking about came back. I was better with an axe than with a sword, and I could do a lot more with one than just chop wood.
Once I felt that I’d spent enough time practicing with the throwing axes, and could sufficiently hit my target, we went back inside. I kept the bandolier of throwing axes close with me, setting them down only when I went to take a bath. As I soaked in the steaming water, I thought about the fact that Leila was in the bath, too, probably with the young fae girl attending her. And there I was, all alone, asking myself why I was still too much of a coward to tell her what was on my mind. I was brave enough to not leave her alone in this fantasy world, dammit, so why couldn’t I just admit to it?
While I sat there trying to sort myself out, my mind wandered back to a conversation I’d had with Larsa back before he’d moved in with Killian. I had gone over to his place to help him study for the afternoon, but he was fawning over a picture that Killian had just texted to him.
“Oh, isn’t he so handsome?” He showed me the phone and I nodded briefly, wanting to focus on my purpose for being there. “I just love him!”
When he noticed my startled stare, he added, “I do, though! Oh, he is so wonderful to cuddle! He puts his arm around me when we watch a movie together, and he smells so good.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” I asked him.
“Because you’re family! Of course I’m going to tell you. And he’s your friend, so why wouldn’t you want to know?”
I let out a heavy sigh. “You’re not trying to get my advice on anything, are you? I’m really not the right person to ask about relationships, considering that I haven’t been with anybody for about a year.”
Larsa had given me a worried look. “I think you should try though,” he told me. “As handsome as you are, you could have anyone you wanted.”
“Well, I would want her to want me, too,” I grumbled. “I’m not into one-sided affairs.”
Larsa was admiring Killian’s picture again. “I think I’m going to tell him!” he said decidedly.
“What? Are you sure? What if he doesn’t feel the same way?”
“Or what if he does?” Larsa replied excitedly. He practically had hearts in his eyes. “I have nothing to lose and so much to gain. Oh, and if he doesn’t want to serious relationship, maybe we can still make out. Oh man, now I can’t stop thinking about his lips. I’m sure he tastes delicious!”
“How is that all you can think about since coming to Oregon?” I asked him incredulously.
“He’s not all I think about,” Larsa insisted. I’m still getting my homework done and going to all my classes. Besides, even back in Sweden I had a boyfriend. I just Didn’t get to talk to you about him very often.”
He had a point there. It was astounding how much love that boy had to give, and how even a little bit of affection made him happy. In some ways, I felt the same. I wanted to share my love, and I’d be happy with even a little bit in return, but there was a major difference between me and Larsa: I had a lot to lose if I was wrong about my feelings.
I wasn’t willing to say what it was out loud, because no matter what, I wasn’t willing to lose it; it was the most important thing I had in my life. But damn it, it was getting harder and harder to not risk losing it all. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it inside, and Larsa was definitely noticing.
I eventually managed to drag myself out of the bath and get dressed. They’d given me an ivory-colored linen shirt, a hunter green jacket to put over it, and chocolatey brown leather pants that were incredibly soft and supple; I hardly felt like I was wearing them. There were also boots that were incredibly comfortable, and a leather belt with a buckle etched with an axe and knot-work. I combed out my hair, debating whether or not to tie it back, and eventually decided to just let it be loose.
Larsa and Killian were already in the dining room when I got there, letting Tobiass get them various types of mead and cider to taste. I sat next to where Leila would be sitting soon, and accepted a glass of mead. I found myself staring out the window, watching the colors change in the sky as the sun set. Purple, gold, aquamarine, navy blue– it was all beautiful, but not as beautiful as–
Her voice pulled me out of my reverie, and I stood up to greet her. When she appeared in the doorway, I felt my knees go weak. I gripped the back of my chair as I stared at her; I couldn’t help it. She looked like a princess– a queen, I should say. But when would I be able to tell her that she already ruled over my heart?
Leila had on a dress of bright yellow brocade with green stitching, and a pine green outer gown with delicate silver stitching. All of it was edged in fine white velvet, and she had ribbons and braids tied in her hair, looking like a natural crown.
“Hey, Stefan,” Larsa’s voice said, though it sounded distant and muffled. “You’re looking a little faint there. Are you okay? Maybe you should sit back down.”
“Leila…” I breathed as I reached out a hand for her.
She was incredible. She gave me her usual bright, practical smile. “I told them to give me something simple,” she replied, “but this was the least fancy thing I could get them to bring me.”
“It suits you,” I told her. “You should let them give you whatever they want you to try on. You would look wonderful no matter what. If you’re here and they’re asking you for the kind of help they need, you might as well…”
“Dress up?” she finished for me.
I tried to nod, but my body felt stiff. I moved to pull her chair out for her, nearly stumbling, and gave Evander a look warning him not to try to help me. Leila thanked me and sat down.
“Are you as hungry as I am, Stefan?” she asked. “I feel like I’ve run a marathon today.”
“Y-yeah,” I replied, barely able to get the word out.
“I’ve heard from the kitchen that there is a nine course meal prepared for all of you,” Evander said. “I think you’ll rather like it.”
Platters soon came out from the kitchen, and Leila and I chatted as we snacked on bruschetta with olive tapenade. Once all of the musicians had come done and had their drinks, the soup course came out, but I was so busy talking to Leila that I hardly ate any of it. Then there were the stuffed mushrooms, and then salads made with greens I had never seen before. Larsa was ecstatic when the fish course came through, and looked ready to ask for more when the main finally arrived: roasted pheasant with grilled root vegetables and cream sauce. That was worth the wait, and I savored every bite of it.
The staff was clearing away dinner plates and refilling drinks when a man came in and whispered to Evander, who got up and excused himself from the dining room. He still hadn’t returned several minutes later, and as sorbet was being given to each diner, I noticed that Jean-Marc seemed to be on alert. There was a shout from the main hall, and he sat up straighter, then whispered to one of the staff, presumably sending them to find out what was going on. They didn’t return.
I could hardly eat while I was wondering what was going on. Jean-Marc tried avoiding my gaze, instead whispering to the musicians beside him. Larsa and Killian seemed blissfully unaware that anything seemed off; I wondered whether Tobias and Aubré were entertaining them to keep them from getting worried, or if they also had no suspicions. By the time anything else happened, my sorbet was melting and I’d started wishing I had the axes with me.
A panel opened in the wall that had seemed solid before; it was completely soundless, and it seemed that it had been a carefully-designed secret. I was halfway to my feet when Evander peeked his his head out.
“Lady Moss, the faun began in a voice as calm as ever– a voice that was pretending he didn’t have a scratch on his cheek and a tear in his jacket– “may I ask that you join me for a while?
My eyes widened. “What’s doing on?”
Evander put a finger to his lips to indicate silence.
“It’s quite all right,” Jean-Marc said. “Evander knows precisely what to do.”
I was about to demand what was going on when Tobias put a hand on my shoulder and whispered, “Act like nothing is wrong. We can’t attract any attention to this room.”
Evander beckoned to Leila, who started to get up.
“Don’t go,” I told her. “Not without an explanation.”
Leila gave me a concerned look. “He can explain later,” she whispered. “Let’s just trust him for now.”
She started walking towards Evander and the secret door, and I tried to follow her, but Tobias held me back.
“Let me go, dammit!” I snapped at him. “Leila wa–“
His hand clamped over my mouth. “Keep quiet!” Tobias hissed. “The less they know about where she is, the more time she has to hide.”
I shoved him off of me, and he fell onto the floor. “Who the hell are you talking about?!
Nikolai rubbed his face and shook his head. “If someone asks for quiet, you need to trust them,” he said with a sigh, also keeping his voice down.”
Leila paused in the doorway. “Stefan…”
I started moving towards her, but Brom shook his head. “You’re too loud. Do you want them to find her?”
I was about to say something when Evander spoke instead. “If joining her will allow you the peace of mind to control your voice, then by all means, come now.”
Jean-Marc and Brom shot him warning looks as I headed to the door, but Evander was unmoved.
“He’ll protect her with his life,” Evander told them.
I passed through the doorway, and Evander started to close it. Brom appeared in the narrow gap.
“There’s more than one kind, isn’t there?”
Evander nodded solemnly. “Whoever wants her has sent several of his pawns. Get your best weapons ready; the werewolves are bigger this time, and Xanthus has vampires with him.”
The door shut, and Evander lowered a locking bar into place. The passage we were in looked padded and insulated, and it was dark except for his single dim lantern.
“Who the hell is Xanthus?” I asked as quietly as I could while following Evander and Leila around a corner.
“A man without any good intentions,” he replied. “He’s not welcome here.”
“That doesn’t explain anything,” I hissed.
He paused and narrowed his eyes at me. “Will you be quiet and follow me without question if I tell you this one thing?” I nodded, and he said, “It’s the satyr who accosted Leila at Club NightShade.”