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A Ballad of the Moon and the Sun

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Kimber found her near death, cold and with only a faint putter of a heart beat. He'd carried her back to Darkfrith gripped in his talons, holding her as close to his belly to keep her warm.

He couldn't understand. He'd known she meant to leave, but this seemed impulsive and, considering Sunniva, stupid. She simply wasn't the type to forfeit life just to escape.

The council firmly theorized that she had attacked Theodore Henry, unprovoked, likely due to denying her nature as dragon. She'd remained human too long and when her instincts consumed her she lost control. She was a danger and needed to be contained.

In the dark. In the depths.

The Dead Room was a prison deep in the undercroft of Chasen. The walls and ceiling were formed from heavy blocks of ordinary grey stone holding back the engulfing earth and keeping any hapless drákon in. In one corner was a narrow bed, in the other a plank table with matching chairs. By the door hung an unlit lantern, rendered superfluous by the glaring source of light that was Sunniva.

She didn't belong here, thought Kimber. She belonged somewhere comfortable. His bedroom came first to mind, sunk into his feather mattress next to a roaring fire.

He kept her covered in thick quilts and had hot stones placed between the blankets to keep her warm. Once sure of her survival, he finally had the peace to go over what had happened.

His betrothed had gone missing and a councilman had been mortally injured.

Theodore Henry had arrived at Chasen as smoke and when he Turned to human had two large gashes across his chest and one over his throat. He'd been unable to speak, but the wounds were unmistakable. And her scent had been on him.

Kimber had used the knowledge that she would eventually become his tether the ferocity for which he craved her. He'd tried not to let it eat him whole, fighting every ancient instinct that thirsted to dominate her. But that possessive dragon flicked it's barbed tail newly awakened and now refused to be ignored.

It wasn't until he had returned her to Chasen that he caught the scent of Henry on her as well. The only certainty keeping Kimber from insanity was that the two hadn't coupled, the telling signs no where to be found.

He repeated what he knew over and over until it hurt to think.

Niva didn't seem one to attack without provocation. But she must have been scared. The marks across his neck and chest were no knife cuts or claw marks. They were unmistakably from a dragon's barbs, razor sharp and sloppily administered.

What could have possibly happened to cause her to do the one thing she'd so disciplined refused to do?

The realization culminated in sickening arcs like lighting striking limbs of a trees.

Henry had tried to mate her the way males of their kind sometimes brutally did. And she had fought back.

Now, she lay here.

There would be no more thinking, or pondering, or plotting. The black dragon demanded action. Retribution.

No one would take her. No one.

Theodore Henry had tried and paid a terrible price. And now Kimber would finish what she couldn't.

He knocked on the thick iron, barring them both from the outside.

"My Lord?" came a voice from the outside.

"Send for my brother," commanded Kimber.

He hadn't permitted a single person to see her and nor had he left her side guarding her vigilantly every second. Everyone knew now that she could Turn, but having her here in the dark revealed her for much more than that.

His brother must not have been far, the knock on the door coming within minutes.

"Unlock and unbar the door," Kimber commanded the guard, "and then step back ten paces."

The door was made of iron a few feet thick. It was designed to keep dragons in, but Kimber was now using it to keep other men out. Once he heard the turn of the key, the sliding arch of the bar, and ten careful steps Kimber pushed the door open a few inches. He cast his senses out confirming only his brother stood there.

Rhys waited at the crack of the door with a lantern, an artifact he wouldn't need.

"Rhys," Kimber said, emphatically.

"How is she?" asked Rhys grimacing upon seeing Kimber. He must have looked dreadful.

"There is something I want to show you," said Kimber.

Rhys stepped cautiously forward. Kimber backed up into the room watching as his brother saw why.

Rhys' mouth dropped. The light beaming from the corner where Sunniva lay atop the bed cast his eyes into orbs of polished jade.

"Dear God," he whispered. Rhys had thought his brother was going to unnecessary extremes for a woman that could Turn. But upon seeing Niva he now understood Kimber’s strident precaution. Despite his lack of romantic interest for the woman, her brightness tugged at his senses.

"You always supported our union," stated Kimber, "even when father did not. You knew what she was, didn't you?"

"Not like this," answered Rhys amazed. He ran a hand down his mouth.

Kimber scrutinized his brother carefully, listening to his pulse, looking for any flush of heat or dilating pupils, checking for any signs of desire or lack of control. "Does it change anything?"

Rhys knew in this moment Kimber was not his brother. Neither was he a friend. He was a dragon, purely an Alpha protecting his mate and would not hesitate to eliminate rivals. Rhys was careful to keep his eyes on Kimber, avoiding any look of intent. "Not a thing," Rhys said, careful and measured. He took a small step forward.

Kimber stiffly rose as if only just contained.

Rhys froze. At first, he felt ardently offended that Kimber was wary, but he realized he was guilty of distrust as well. He had broken their laws, kept his precious secret hidden for years for selfish reasons. Letting out a deep sigh he decided to risk his love in exchange for the trust of his brother.

"You're not the only one in love with a woman of great Gifts," said Rhys.

Kimber cocked his head inquiring, yet didn't take his eyes off him.

"Zoe Lane. Because of her I've known what Niva was. And it's because of her that I've blindly pushed for you to marry. Not because it was right or because you were in love, but because I'd rather lie and cheat and kill before letting Zoe become the mate of another man."

I know the exact feeling.

Rhys explained what Zoe could do, pausing frequently to judge Kimber's reaction. Kimber listened carefully and a semblance of relief took the place of the strain carved on his face.

"I never would have taken her from you," Kimber finally replied.

"I couldn't risk it,” argued Rhys. “You were always so prudent and perfectly followed every fart of a rule this place has. If she had ever been discovered she would have been forced into your arms and I had to assume you would've wed her in the name of duty."

"You really think I would have let the council dictate me in that?" he asked moving to sit on the bed next where Niva lay.

Rhys creased his lids, his disbelief clear.

"It doesn't matter now," added Kimber. He brushed Niva's cheeks with the back of his fingers. "By rights she is mine and Zoe is yours. Even the council can't contend that fact."

He straightened the blankets on top of Niva, her glow illuminating his dark face.

"And yet I was challenged even though to the council's ignorant knowledge I've upheld the laws of our tribe. I don't know what precisely what happened, but I do know that a traitor lies in comfort while my mate is imprisoned down here like a criminal."

Kimber stood from the bed as if it pained him to leave. He went to Rhys and placed his hands on his shoulders. "With father in London, you're the only man here I can trust." His face softened, asking a question he needn't ask with words.

Rhys understood. He replied, returning a gripping hand of assurance on Kimber's shoulders. "I'll stay here with her. I'll let no one see her, let alone touch her."

Kimber gave him a thankful nod and left the Dead Room.

****

Kimber had been in the Dead Room with Niva ever since he'd returned her. He'd lost track of the days and was surprised to find it night time when he emerged from the depths of Chasen.

"My Lord?" asked one of his guards not granted even a pause. The guard quickened his step to keep apace.

"I'm going to retrieve Herte," Kimber said, not slowing.

The guard gave him a precarious look. The council had insisted the stone be placed with the injured to ensure his return to good health.

"Councilman Henry no longer has need of it," stated Kimber with dry resolve.

The guard understood exactly what he meant. "Shall I gather the council?"

Kimber paused for a moment to think.

"Yes," he said. "It would be prudent for them to bear witness."

The guard bowed and left.

Councilman Henry had been granted the luxury of Chasen to convalesce. His room was located in the guest wing, with fine tapestries and furniture of carved mahogony.

Next to the bed sat Joan scowling at down at the councilman. She'd been placed there for the sake of Herte, tasked with guarding the Heart of the Tribe. The council had disapproved of it, but with Kimber's father and mother gone the Alpha family was spread somewhat thin and Kimber didn't see why his sister shouldn't share the responsibility.

"Kimber?" she asked with surprise when she saw her brother. "I didn't think-" she paused, clearly rethinking her words. "Is Niva awake?"

He shook his head. There was more disappointment in her face than simply sympathies for her brother.

"Will she be ok?"

Kimber nodded. "She's breathing well and the wound in her leg is healing nicely. Rhys is with her," he explained.

Joan gave a nod of understanding and something resembling approval. Kimber went to the bed and pulled back the blanket from Henry revealing the wounds that Niva had inflicted. They were nearly healed, streaks of knotted pink across his chest.

"Kimber you must know what he did?" asked Joan in disgust.

Kimber twisted his lips, a mixture of fraternal pride that she had deduced what he knew and dismay at what the deduction actually was.

"If he was bold enough to try that,” she furthered, “what else do you suppose him capable of?"

Kimber saw an added glint of worry in Joan's eyes, begging her brother for answers.

"Whatever he is capable of he won't be around to follow through.” He looked straight at the man and continued poignantly. “Betrayal of an Alpha is a mortal offense, isn't that right councilman?"

Theodore Henry's lids rose and startled, Joan’s eyes snapped to him.

"Joan," said Kimber, not taking his eyes off the councilman, "return Herte to its resting place, please."

Joan took the blue diamond from Henry's chest. She gave him a final sneer before leaving the room.

"You seem to have made a full recovery."

"Yes, my Lord."

"Good," replied Kimber, yet there was nothing suggesting he either pleased or relieved.

"The council will be gathering soon which means we have little time to talk, so I'll be frank. What possessed you to attempt a claim on my mate?"

Henry licked his dry lips, swallowed and licked them again likely in an attempt to give himself time.

"She can Turn," he finally said. "Any man would have taken the chance."

"Only disloyal ones," said Kimber, knowing it was a lie. "If you wanted a mate who can Turn why not go after my sister Joan? It would have been the more reliable option. Why try to take a pauper's daughter who is barely dragon?"

"But she is a dragon," argued Henry.

"You didn't know that. None of you ever believed it," countered Kimber. "It was a fact she was careful to conceal from everyone. So tell me why you went to her home to rape her."

Neither of the men blinked.

"It's how our kind have taken mates since the beginning of our time,” Henry finally said. “It's how Alphas have always claimed their females."

A sinister smile spread across Kimber's face. "Is that what you think you are? Well then I'll tell you a secret Alpha to Alpha. It took me some time to unriddle this. Alphas don't claim females through force. Do you know why?"

Henry gave no hint of understanding.

"Because such a woman that would be desirous of an Alpha would kill any man who tried to take her. And so would I." Kimber hissed his words with deadly intent.

Henry remained frozen until they both felt the power of drákon approaching just outside the window down on the lawn.

"The council is here," Kimber said, taking a step back from the bed. "Would you prefer to meet them in their chamber or shall we get this over with in the sky above Chasen?"

Henry waited a moment and after a hefty snuff flung back the blankets. He stood proudly and walked over to the nearest window, turned the hinge and opened it letting a flush of brisk air in. He gave Kimber a cryptic smirk. "I'll take my chances out there," he said before Turning to smoke and drifting outside.

Kimber became smoke as well taking the same route out the window to the lawn where he found Henry standing as man among the council. Kimber took form before him.

"What is the meaning of this my Lord?" asked Claude Grady.

"Theodore Henry is found guilty of treason. He attempted to steal my mate nearly resulting in her death. For that as you all know, death is the punishment."

"My Lord perhaps this was a misunderstanding," attempted Devon Rickman.

"Let's not be too hasty-"

"Perhaps if we-"

There was a strange, new daring in Henry's eyes as a few council members tried to defend him. Did he think he might escape justice?

Curious, thought Kimber, for these stiff bastards to attempt averting convention, to dodge their own tradition and laws. A man had indirectly challenged the Alpha by trying to take his female. Disputes like that were settled, as they had always been, with one victor and one corpse.

What were they up to?

Kimber couldn't abide insubordination. And he would no longer grant them the illusion of asking permission. He Turned from man to smoke to dragon already wound back in a tight coil. Before any of them could react he struck at Henry, catching, perfectly as intended, the man's head between his jaws. He jerked only once and ripped it clean off. He tossed it to the side letting it role to the feet of Grady, whose eyes had gone shockingly wide with a jaw dropped nearly to the ground. None of the men moved, nor did they attempt to Turn, all remaining still like statues of petrified stone.

Kimber became man again with the executed's blood seeping from a severed neck out onto his feet.

"Anyone else wish to challenge me?" Kimber cordially invited as if proposing a game of skittles. He looked each man in the eyes giving them a chance to speak and when no reply came, lowered his head to a deadly glower. "I'll say this once more for clarity's sake: Sunniva Williams is mine. Is that understood?"

The men seemed to sink into their feet, heads lowering one by one submission.

"Yes, my Lord," came a voice from the back.

"What was that?" Kimber asked with a raised brow.

"Yes, my Lord," muttered a few more in tandem.

"Good," replied Kimber.

****

"How far did I make it?" was the first thing she asked when she awoke.

Kimber, sitting on the wooden chair that was a permanent fixtures of the Dead Room, pulled his heavy head up from his palms and blinked the sleep away.

"Niva," he gasped.

"How far?" she demanded.

"Halfway to Leeds."

Niva gave a snort and looked away angry. "Couldn't even manage to find my way West. Pathetic." She surveyed the bare room – the stony bleakness of the walls, the thick iron door. “So this is the Dead Room?"

Kimber gave her an ashamed nod. "Yes, unfortunately. It's where we hold our kind for penance. Or until..."

"Execution? And which will it be for me?"

He looked at her gravely. "Until we marry."

With both hands she gripped the blanket closer to her chest like a shield. "So now you know," she stated like a taunt.

"I found you farther from here than anyone could possibly go on foot, lying in the snow, naked. No one saw you, but the only natural conclusion is what I've always known. And now the council does too."

She wasn't currently glowing. Kimber had kept the room well lit, knowing she'd feel more comfortable in the presence of fire than darkness. Still, Niva knew he had seen her exposed without the guise of her magic.

"Of course," she sniffed in return. "The sacred tribal laws. You must be pleased now that you have the council's support. The strongest mate with the strongest? Like breeding livestock. What a relief it must be that you finely found an appropriate brood mare to keep your Alpha line powerful and your bed warm."

"Niva-"

"How will it happen? Will you hold me down, bite my neck as you force yourself upon me? Or will you flatter yourself with kisses and a soft caress?"

She didn't really believe him capable of it, yet she was sitting in the Dead Room and was no longer sure what to believe the drákon capable of. And Kimber could only defy the council so much.

He stood up in a rush running his hand swiftly through his greasy hair and let out an exasperated growl. "After everything, how could you think I would do that? I don't want you like that. I never wanted it to be like that."

"Then what did you expect that first night you lied to me?"

Kimber dropped his head, throwing his gaze to the ground. "I don't know. I was stupid. Every part of me, every instinct told me to keep you near, to take you with me whether it be with a lie or by force because you are my mate, so I did what my blood demanded I do. I'll always regret it. I want to make this right."

He felt stripped and bare and to hell with it, if she was going to see him like this then he would tell her his final truth. He knelt down by her bed, palms out in a pleading array. The light of the candles threw his hair and eyes into a deep purple.

"I want you so much. God, I've wanted you since I found you in the woods and you kissed me with such passion.” Kimber began pacing a frantic rhythm.

“I've wanted to show you my home and make it our home. To give you a tribe, a family. Our family. To share with you my treasures. And yes, I won't lie, I've ached to have you naked in my arms, gasping my name while I'm inside of you. I've wanted to ride the winds with you, and hunt with you. I've wanted you to show me your secrets so I could see you. I still want all of that, and goddammit if you think I'm selfish, I want you to love me like I love you!"

Niva held herself frozen. She couldn’t admit that she had grown to want those things as well and damn her eyes for threatening to reveal her emotions. She shook her head slowly. "I- I can't give you that,” she stuttered. Tears streamed down her face. “Not like this. You think you love me? You don't know who I really am. You don't understand what I am. And this place is not who I am. Your laws are not who I am. I cannot live like this, Kimber, let me go, I beg you! I'll go far away and you'll never even catch a wisp of me I swear it! You'll find some nice dragon-girl to be your wife. Someone who will yield to the laws of this place. Someone who will be happy to be obedient and give you children. Just let me go."

She knew it wasn’t possible. Even if he granted her freedom the talons of the council were driven too deep. And what was worse, if he couldn’t hold his position, she’d be pawned to the next in line. But she would still make this one last, desperate plea.

"Is that what you want? To be free of me?" Kimber asked. His face was still, but severly focused.

She wished a reply would be easy. All she had to do was nod her head, move her lips to say that simple word. Yes. What if he did let her go? She wet her lips, once, twice. She couldn't say it. She hung her head ashamed, prepared to accept this prison as an inevitability.

"No." It escaped her lips like a hopeless prayer. She wasn't even sure he'd heard her at first, his face shadowed and indecipherable. Then he released a sharp breath.

"Then let me go with you," he whispered. Kimber didn’t know how or when, but he did know he wanted to do anything to free her.

She jerked her head up not sure if his words were true.

"Wh-What?"

"Let me come with you," he repeated, moving to sit at the edge of her bed.

"Are you saying-"

"Niva-,” he took her hand and placed a begging kiss on it. “I want to be with you, however you'll have me. Show me your treasures, your secrets. Let me see you, and fly with you. Share with me what this freedom is that you covet so much. And if you discover that you do not love me-” it was almost too painful to say, the words catching in his throat. “I will release you forever."

Niva bit her lip and moved her head giving him his answer.

****

Kimber sat down on the fur covered chair before the hearth in his study with a curious knot in his stomach. He leaned forward resting his head on his open palms and allowed the fire to warm his face.

He couldn't stand that she was still down there locked away instead of warm in his arms - a sad fact he would be forced to endure.

"Let me go!" she had roared and kicked the table so hard the top split in half.

He had no other choice but to leave her there in the confines of the Dead Room. That horrid place of penance and contemplation.

It became a routine. He visited her every day and every day he was met with fury, or scorn, or sometimes even mockery. Sometimes candles flew - though he always insisted they give her more - and sometimes she ignored his very presence.

Particular council members insisted she stay there until she demonstrated a consistent improvement in behavior - something that Kimber's strong-willed betrothed was not willing to grant. Other council members delicately expressed their concern for his 'patience'. The Alpha heir hadn't the time to wait for his mate's invitation to the bed.

Spring passed, with summer hot on its tail and still the Earl's bride-to-be was confined to prison beneath Chasen manor.

Clearly at a loss as to what action to take Kimber finally -as he was wont to do in matters of the heart - turned to his mother. She was the most similar to his bride, most familiar with her plight and could possibly sooth the woman's fury. His father even agreed, thinking it a wise decision.

The day she was to visit the prisoner just so happened to be the same day as a council meeting, both of which coincidentally fell on the summer solstice - the longest day of the year.

It was to be a lovely early breakfast – Kimber had suggested to his mother – who had the kitchen prepare a tray fit for a princess. Fresh scones from the oven, strawberry marmalade and clotted cream to go with them, piping hot offal and fried eggs as well. The cafe au lait was prepared hotter than normal so that the temperature would be right by the time the marchioness reached the bowels of the manor.

"Mama?"

Rue turned just as she was handed the breakfast tray from one of the kitchen maids. It had been ages since Kimber had addressed his her thusly.

"Yes, darling?" she replied with a sympathetic smile. She fretted for her son, on whom the current situation took an incredible toll.

"I just wanted to say that I'm lucky to have you as my mother. And I know I've disappointed you in the past, but I want to be better. I'm trying to make things better."

"I know you are, Kimber." Rue would have pet her son's cheek if her hands hadn't been full.

He looked nervous, eyes flicking around and sweat beading on his forehead.

"Are you all right?" asked Rue, cocking her head concerned.

"I think so. I think I'm doing the right thing."

"Whatever could you mean?"

He shook his head dismissively. "I'll tell you later."

She nodded with a tender, maternal smile. "Go on. Don't want to be late for those old sods," she said referring to the council.

He smiled one last time at her and turned on his heals to leave.

****

"Members of the council are convinced you are crazed," Rue said as she placed the tray on the recently replaced table.

"They see what they want to see," replied Niva with an uncanny demure. She rested both hands atop her knee.

"Is that so?" Rue asked pouring the hot coffee and steaming milk into a saucer. Niva took it with a thankful nod, placing it on the pauper's table.

"I spent a night in here once," explained Rue, looking about the stone prison. "A long time ago. I can't imagine having kept my sanity for much longer." Rue brought her own steaming cup to her nose and inhaled.

"Why Lady Langford are you suggesting that I've gone insane?" Niva didn’t bother with cutlery. She grabbed an entire liver and stuck the whole thing in her mouth.

"Heavens no,” protested Rue. “I actually mean to give you a compliment. I've been known for my determination and stubborn will, but you have me outmatched by far."

Niva raised her brows proudly. She popped a few slices of kidney into her mouth.

Rue blew the rising steam off the top of her hot drink. "But I think you underestimate how set in stone the ruling men of this tribe are. I've fought them every step of the way demanding miles and they have given less than an inch."

"And your husband? Is he among those men?" Another liver. Niva licked the small amount of runny escaped grease off the corner of her mouth.

"No,” answered Rue. “Well, long ago, yes. But I saw to it that at least he adapt his ways. It's afforded our children a degree of freedom that has been unprecedented. Why, even my youngest daughter Lia was, after showing no signs of Gifts, permitted to attend finishing school in Edinburgh. But that was where it ended. So many seemed perfectly happy to keep the status quo." Rue finally took a sip, deeming her beverage cool enough.

"There are more women in the tribe you know, begging for that same freedom," Niva mentioned, perusing what she might stuff herself with next.

Rue’s brows rose. "Then where are they? Where were they when I needed them? Where was that support?"

With a mouth full of the remaining offal Niva offered, “to reveal yourself as a woman with Gifts is a dangerous thing among our kind as I'm sure you are aware,” demonstratively waving her hands at the room. She gulped loudly and added absentmindedly, "perhaps they are too isolated, scattered and scared that no one else thought like them.”

Rue’s eyes narrowed. "You're quite right,” she concurred, revealing with a twist of her lips a hint of revelation. “Perhaps they need a woman with the right gifts to show them not to be afraid."

Sunniva stared at Rue, then took am impromptu sip of her coffee – which had until remained untouched – clearly affected by Rue's words.

Rue’s porcelain cup made a delicate clink as she set it down on the saucer, suggesting a new frank purpose. "Sunniva, the council will not relent. You have no leverage. They will not release you from this place unless it is with a wedding band around your finger and my son's child in your belly.”

Niva licked her lips. The last to go were the scones smothered in jam and cream. “You almost sound just like them,” she scoffed, her words muffled by pastry.

“I am not them,” snapped Rue. “And I'm not telling you this as a threat."

Niva struggled to swallow. "Then why are you telling me this?" she beseeched once her mouth was clear.

"You must find power in a position as Alpha."

Sunniva’s eyes dropped to the empty plates, as if to find crumbs and globules of cooking grease more interesting. There was remorseful slant to her lips and when Rue searched for acknowledgment, only received a further glance away.

Rue shook her head exasperated. "I'd like to return tomorrow if that's alright with you?" she asked, rising to leave.

Sunniva gave her a faint nod. Perhaps the matriarch was right. Perhaps she could pick up where Rue couldn't continue, finding power as a leader among their people. The marchioness was wrong about one thing though...

"Lady Langford?"

Rue turned to her daughter-in-law.

"I appreciate what you are doing and all that you have tried to do. I think if I asked you, you would help me, but it's too dangerous and that burden can’t be yours."

"Whatever could you mean, dear?" asked Rue.

"Forgive me."

Rue’s eyes hadn't even time to contract. She felt a terrible warmth surround her, swelling quickly and gathering at her back. The air became lacking, an unknown force pressing down across her throat. She tried to Turn, but the weakness cut through her. Losing oxygen fast her eyes began to close.

****

Lady Rue Langford picked up the breakfast tray, then applied her knuckles to the thick iron door, calling out a name. As she waited she looked back at the prisoner covered in blankets.

Metal grinded and scraped against metal as a bar was lifted, a key sliding into a lock from the outside. She slipped through, careful to keep balance for the sake of the candle atop the tray. She halted just outside the door allowing the flame to steady on the wick.

With a council meeting underway, two of the Alpha's most trusted guards - married as well - were left to tend to the Alpha-heir's mate.

"May I take that for you my Lady?"

"No, no, I can manage," replied Rue. "You must mind your duties."

She walked with haste into the main tunnel eager to get out. Gasping at the first hint of fresh freedom she slowed a bit to not extinguish her only source of light. Her heart pounded as she knocked on the last doors separating her from liberation. The door seemed to moan as it was lugged open. Rue sucked in her first breath of precious air as she stepped out into a flood of blinding sunlight.

"Take this to the kitchens”, she said to one of the guards passing him the tray.

"Of course my Lady."

"Is the council still in session?" she asked the other.

"Yes, my Lady."

She gave them both a nod and walked away with purpose.

Rue didn’t even blink when the prismatic light from the rock-crystal chandelier tickled her eyes and skin as she walked up the grand staircase, grazing the banister with her fingers. She took a small, inconspicuous door towards the top, opening up to a steep corkscrew of stairs. After climbing and climbing she emerged to a gently sloping rooftop, the glass Adam dome arching proudly above the tiles.

The lustrous sun warmed her face giving her a last push of courage. Not a single cloud threatened her, giving way to the infinite blue.

Rue took a sure step onto the tiles. A smile flitted across her face as she Turned, disappearing into the clear sky.

****

Kimber glanced once more out the window as sweat ran down his brow. The meeting was filled with topics of relative triviality; silver sales, a few minor neighborly disputes, expenses, expenses, expenses. He heard the furious footsteps before anyone else did and was already looking at the door when his mother burst in, four guards at her flank.

“What is the meaning of this!” snapped Claude Grady at the sight of her.

Lady Langford gave him a dismissive flick of the hand. "Sunniva is gone," she snapped, addressing her husband and son.

The roar of the council was a flood of pleasure in Kimber's ears.

"You helped her didn't you!" accused Grady pointing a finger at Kimber’s mother.

"No, she couldn't have possibly,” spoke one of the guards.

“We saw Lady Langford leave the Dead Room,” continued another guard, a confused look upon his face. “But when he heard nothing for over an hour we looked in to find Lady Langford unconscious under the blankets on the only bed in there. Alone. Miss Williams appears capable of tricks we are unaware of."

The clamor of enraged councilmen swelled again.

"All the more reason to find her," yelled Grady.

"She must be captured!" insisted Acton.

"And contained!" added Larousse.

"The gameskeepers must be notified!"

"But we can't Turn now in broad daylight-"

"Someone will have seen which direction-"

"We can still pick up her trail-"

"-start on foot-"

Kimber almost revealed a smile at their vain attempts. None of them could track her. None of them knew how. He kept his expression grave to show that he indeed agreed the news to be dire.

"My Lord this escape is your son's fault," accused Devon Rickman. "Had he bred her like we advised she might have been properly subdued."

Christoph pounded an angry fist on the table, the inkwells and quills and abaci jumping like beans with it. “Then perhaps you best direct your complaint to him, Sir Rickman.”

The faces of the councilmen turned to Kimber who stood looking out the window, a shadow from the glazing bar slashing grey across his face. He held his hands loosely behind his back as he peered through the glass.

"I asked for approval for my marriage to Miss Williams nigh on a year ago which was denied due because of a foolish belief.” Kimber kept his voice was low and deliberate, hoping to convey gravity. “When I decided on patience allowing Miss Williams time to Turn when she was comfortable, I was betrayed by a fellow member of the council. It almost resulted in the death of the most powerful female any of us have ever known.” He turned to the men, unsmiling, wondering if at least in their limited way, they understood the grave error they had made. “Neither your wisdom nor your advice seems to be of value."

Eyes flicked back and forth as if to cast blame on this man or that.

"She still must be returned," reminded Adam Richards.

A round of agreement fluttered through the room. Even Lord Langford gave a small nod.

“You are certainly right, Sir Richards,” said Kimber. “Tonight then. At sun down as our laws dictate. So I suggest we all get some rest.”