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Crossing Thresholds

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Karigan steadied herself as they stood readying the torches at the tomb entrances. She hadn’t been looking forward to this ever since the full events of her second visit had reinstated themselves in her mind. She touched the hilt of her saber and felt the tickle of black silk thread hanging over the edge of the scabbard.

It reassured her; she'd earned it herself since that visit.

"Lieutenant." She didn’t have time to let her nerves overcome her any further as Fastion spoke. He nodded imperceptibly and passed her a lit torch.

The torches weren't necessary for the first part of the journey, but it would be easier and quicker than stopping in the process of their search later on.

Fastion gave the small twitch she knew to be a reassuring smile and she straightened slightly in response. With that, Brienne took the lead, and Karigan and King Zachary fell into place behind her. Fastion took the rear. She didn’t have time to hesitate and she took a step towards the entrance, then another. She could barely hear the others as they moved.

She felt the King's presence at her side more than she should. She still thought it madness that the King was coming along on what could still turn out to be a wild goose chase, especially now the war against Mornhaven and the Second Empire was on the verge of breaking out fully.

She would have certainly felt more confident had their party been bigger, but King Zachary had pronounced feeling safe enough with three Weapons in the party, and the others in what she was still sure was a moment of madness, had agreed.

She didn't feel like a weapon, even if she had undergone most of the training, and she had been all but adopted by them. It had certainly taken long enough for her promotion to Lieutenant to sink in, and she had had a vague idea that that was going to happen given the increase in size and stature of the Riders.

They passed Queen Lyra's chamber and she realised she was simply distracting herself from the images of falling masonry that had plagued her this last week. She slowed to a halt just past Queen Lyra, the others following suit, and stared at the wall.

Sure enough, when she felt along the bare stone of the wall there was a crevice, and she pushed her torch into it to get a better look.

It looked like a narrow passage and the initial section looked like it would be a squeeze, even for her.

She felt a glimmer of recognition and nodded at the others that this seemed to be it. Only the fact Brienne had expressed her disgust that morning about another secret of the tombs they didn’t know about made Karigan aware of the nature of Brienne's, and Fastion's, quiet.

She squeezed through and as she waited for the others to join her, looked ahead to see the corridor opened out slightly further along. Even then, it still relatively narrow, and when they had all fell in behind her, they had to walk in single file.

The light in front of her was the only reason the panic didn’t overtake her, especially when she brushed against the wall of the passage. It was far too reminiscent of her time entombed, and she thought she had managed to hide it well until she felt the gentle brush of fingers against her free hand.

She only just managed to avoid startling at what she knew the King meant to be a gesture of comfort and reassurance, but in reality felt like someone had burnt her. It was her own fault at the reaction she knew, but that didn’t make it feel any better.

She carried on walking. To be honest, she didn’t want him accompanying them in the first place. Her dream visit from King Jonaeus was only half remembered, even now, and the research they had done was inconclusive.

She could tell he was getting restless though, sitting in the throne room, holding what felt like to her endless meetings as they waited for Mornhaven to show his hand. They were as prepared as they could be; defences readied, contingencies for every type of resource. It was only their magical defences that were lacking, and even their current ones were worse off. The breach in the wall was still unrepaired, the forest seemingly angrier than ever.

The King still seemed to be running himself ragged, no trusted advisors yet to replace the ones that had broken his trust last spring, and she supposed that was why he was coming himself.

Perhaps he was worried…

She steadied her breath. Those thoughts weren't doing her any good and were possibly downright dangerous down here. She refocused, and she used her free hand to touch her broach. She hadn’t felt anything yet but it didn't hurt to try.

Still nothing.

The walls looked exactly the same, and it was hard to tell how close they were to the place she had been guided to by King Jonaeus' apparition last week. She was still amazed by the visit, even after all her encounters. He'd claimed he'd used her tie to Lil to visit her to tell her about the artefact they were searching for, and as he had faded from her dream, he had told her that their similarities were greater than just having a broach and power in common. He'd rubbed his ring finger as he had said it and this last comment she had told no one, not even the Captain when she had pressed and had known Karigan wasn't telling the truth.

Her step slowed as she felt the slight tug on her broach, and she finally knew they were getting close to the area they wanted. She was careful, watching her balance and the group behind her kept quiet, though she could feel the intensity of their looks increase.

The tug slowly increased, pulling her closer, and she recognised the niche in the wall ahead of them. She opened her mouth to let the others know but only a startled sound emerged as the pull intensified and she stumbled forward. She only had time to feel a hand grab her waist before the same sensations that she had thought she had felt for the last time two summers ago gripped her again and the walls went spinning.

When the world righted, she was still staring at the same walls and the hand around her waist dropped. She heard the King, for it must be him, he had been walking behind her, sag against the wall. She managed to keep her torch steady, and after sweeping the corridor ahead to check it was empty as far as she could tell, she slowly turned to face him.

The brief pain behind her eyes that accompanied the travelling faded, for now at least, though she knew it would be back with a vengeance later.

He looked seasick, which she supposed was apt considering the world had been spinning. Before she examined him too closely though, she looked past him, down the corridor they had already travelled. Neither Fastion nor Brienne were there. The King must have only travelled because he grabbed her.

The corridor was still silent and suddenly the darkness that lay beyond the reach of her torch seemed more threatening, more deadly. She forced herself to take a deep breath. Then, certain there was no immediate danger, she looked at the King.

He was standing straighter now and, looking a little more composed, he nodded at her enquiring look. He looked around at what little they could see.

"Did we travel in time?" He glanced towards her broach, and she realised he could see them. She pushed that thought aside when he kept looking at her.

"It felt like it." She brushed her hand against the wall, the roughness of the rock doing nothing to ease her worries. "The last time I could still touch objects but I couldn’t be seen or heard by most."

Zachary nodded. "Will we be able to get back?" He seemed remarkably calm, and she was reminded that he was a consummate actor. She had sat in on enough meetings with him to recognise the edge to his voice though.

She resisted the urge to close her eyes and pretend this was a dream. "I don't know. It was rather unpredictable before." She took a step forward, the light extending out. The world wasn't leached of colour like it normally was when she faded. "I usually returned when I had seen or learned something important. Or when I was pulled back." She added.

The King didn’t say anything but she could hear him take a step, and the light around her grew brighter. She carried on walking, her broach silent now.

She was confused. She was sure she had recognised the niche. She thought back to the visit.

It could be that it was a signpost and whatever it was was better hidden than they had thought. She walked further, able to do nothing but trust that her previous experiences that she would be returned, that King Jonaeus was showing them something valuable. She just wished that the King hadn't accompanied her. Fastion and Brienne, for all they knew of her ability and knack for finding trouble, would still be panicking that she had brought him with her.

It made her worry about getting back, a worry she wouldn't have had had he not been there. How would Sacoridia cope with losing him, now of all times? How would Estora, especially after their conversation the other day?

She cursed inside her head. These thoughts weren't doing anyone any good, the dark was playing tricks on her mind again.

The King didn't say another word, and for that she was grateful.

She wished there was something in the corridor that would give an indication of how far they had travelled. But no, the walls looked exactly the same, and there was just the two of them as far as she could see or hear.

She tensed when she caught a flicker of shadow on the wall ahead. She slowed and her footsteps became lighter.

Her stance softened when it was revealed to be a carving in the wall, the light of the torches catching on the edges of the chiselled rock.

She stopped in front of it and realised she had seen a brief glimpse of the impression in her dream.

The King stood beside her, shoulders almost touching ,and she caught the look of wonder on his face. He reached out a hand to touch it, and she grabbed it, only thinking of stopping him.

She pulled away almost immediately. "Perhaps I better," She trailed off, and she hoped her face wasn't as red as it felt. She faced the wall and steadfastly ignored the expression on his face.

There were still no other sounds in the corridors, and she gave over more of her attention to it. It looked like a rough approximation of a music note, though which one she couldn't tell.

"It looks freshly carved." The King spoke up.

She nodded. "With conditions down here it's impossible to tell if it is,"

"Or if it's a thousand years old." His voice was soft as he finished her thought. He seemed to perfectly understand her quandary. "There seems to be no other option but to touch it. Did King Jonaeus give any more hints when he visited?" The last word sounded awkward, as if he didn't know which better word to use.

She ignored it and shook her head. "He couldn't stay long, and this was as far as he showed me." She touched her fingers to the groves, feeling the smoothness in contrast to the unworked stone. Something niggled at the back of her mind, and the King kept quiet as she tried to think.

The brief glimpse in her dream had included the First Rider, and the towers in the D'Yer wall admitted those who touched their badges. Or sang but this wasn't the time to think about Estral.

A smiled graced her face and she turned to the King. She had to tilt her head to see him properly, they were standing so close. "I think my badge will allow me to pass."

She had a sudden thought. She didn’t want to leave him here alone, especially if she returned after seeing or finding whatever it was they had been sent for. "Allow both of us." She hesitated a moment as she tried to work out logistics. "You'll need to hold on to me." She managed to keep her voice even and he merely nodded.

She touched a free hand to her broach, and the King gripped her around her waist again. She managed not to shiver and held her hand holding the torch up to the wall, her knuckles brushing the stone. She took a deep breath and then took a step forward, felt the King keep pace with her.

It worked. Too well, as the world spun around again, wouldn't stop. She had to close her eyes as she could feel bile rising as her eyes couldn't keep up with the movement of the world around her.

It wasn't like any threshold she had crossed before. Not time, nor death nor wall. It felt like she was stuck in place as everything else moved, and the air was thick, though it was hard to tell if that was just the effect of swirling and sickness.

She could feel panic start to rise, and the thought that she had gotten them both killed, that no one would ever find out the truth about the deaths, ran through her head. She could feel the cold start to sink into her body, and she thought she may lose grip of the torch.

The only thing that stopped panic taking over completely was the solid arm around her waist.

She felt the cold lesson and after what seemed like an eternity the air evened out, and she no longer felt as if she was spinning. She stopped moving and the King almost bumped into her. She opened her eyes and whimpered as the light, everything was too bright. The intensity was almost enough to make her stagger, and leaning back against the Kings made her realise the cold wasn't retreating either.

She certainly remembered this reaction from before. Her teeth started chattering, and she almost dropped the torch. She was dimly aware of the King catching it as he shouted her name, but her legs would no longer hold her weight. Her knees hit the floor, but the pain was numbed by the cold.

The King moved, and she couldn't tell what he was doing, but it sounded like he was lighting torches. All she knew was that she suddenly felt his warmth behind her again, felt two arms wrap around her waist. He pulled her onto his lap, insulating her from the cold floor, and he held her closer. She burrowed into him, too cold to think. She was aware of him rubbing her arms and legs, his head beside hers and he was whispering her name.

She wanted to cry. She was just as cold, and he was touching her like she had dreamed of so often. She hoped he mistook her slight hitches of breath as a reaction to the cold, rather than the near sobs the really were. She tried not to let self-pity overtake her, but the cold and the memory of the conversation she'd had with Estora the day before were overwhelming.

--

Ellen stepped aside and Karigan walked into the nursery. The room was bright and airy, just warm enough, especially if you were swaddled in blankets. She forced herself to take her eyes off the baby and take a step forwards. She bowed as she stopped in front of the Queen, "Your Highness."

Something flickered briefly across Estora's face but Karigan had spent too much time avoiding her recently to tell what.

"Karigan, sit please." Estora rearranged the baby boy she was holding in her arms, a beatific smile on her face as she gazed at him.

Estora tore her gaze away and went straight to the point. "I know you have been avoiding me, and the castle, as much as you can." She paused as a servant brought in tea. There was silence as he puttered about, placing cups and pouring.

Estora didn't look surprised that Karigan hesitated in reaching for her cup. She checked the baby one last time and rose. She shook her head as Karigan started to rise, and put the baby to bed.

She picked up her own tea as she sat down. "I also know part of the reason why and it has been remiss of me to leave it alone this long." She looked at her directly in the eye. "I didn't knowingly give my blessing to Ard's full mission. And I am truly sorry for not telling you sooner."

"I," Karigan was lost for words. Estora stood and sat down on the couch beside her, reaching out for one of her hands.

"Richmond acted behind my back, and as soon as I heard about it, I worried."

Karigan could sense was something else and waited.

Estora looked at her knees. "And a small part of me just wanted Zachary to myself."

"I'm sorry," the words burst out, nothing else sprung to mind. The gulf between them seemed to grow until Estora softened and grabbed her hand again.

"I know, and I am truly sorry. If I could take back my reaction I would. It was just a very difficult time."

"I would think it still is."

Estora nodded her head in acceptance of that. "It is easier since Zachary and I have come to an understanding. I don't tell you this to make you uncomfortable, just the opposite. Zachary and I have become good friends, and I know he holds affection for me. That and he listens is much more than it could have been any for any marriage I could have made." Estora blinked and Karigan didn't know what to say.

"I know he doesn't love me the way he loves you, and I doubt he ever will, but since Isen I have made my peace with that. I had F'ryan, at least for a short while, and I know how difficult matters of the heart are." Estora stopped. "But I have done all the talking so far."

There was a pause. "I don't know what to say." The words felt redundant. "I've never,"

Estora knew what she was seeing despite the fact she couldn't get the words passed her lips. "I know." She looked at her with sudden understanding. "That is the other reason you have been staying away."

"I've been busy with preparations."

"And so have I, but I haven't been avoiding you."

Karigan sighed. "I know. Everyone needed space." And it seemed like everyone knew, and that made her want to climb the walls from humiliation. Humiliation and pain that had only increased when Estora's pregnancy had been announced. So soon after her nightmare in Blackveil, Estral, it had just been easier to focus on her duties.

"I understand." Estora blinked again and Karigan recognised the sadness in her expression and it caused a lump in her throat.

"I needed space." It was time to be brutally honest.

Estora squeezed her hand. "And was it enough?" She recognised the stubborn set of Estora's face and knew she would have to answer.

"No." The words seemed to echo around the room despite being whispered.

"Thank you for being honest." Estora whispered but she didn’t let go of Karigan's hand. "And thank you for being a true friend." Estora spoke louder this time and Karigan couldn't help the jerk of her head. "There are so many ways you could have used this to your advantage, or taken what you wanted, but I know it wasn't just your views of love that held you back."

"Estora,"

"I know this may hurt," she paused, "but I miss our friendship."

"I miss it too." It was hard to know how far to go, she'd spoken very little to Estora outside official duties lately and she felt nervous. She gripped Estora's hand and it seemed to be the right thing to do. "I know we have both changed,"

"You more than I," Estora broke in and Karigan looked a little shocked before she had to acknowledge Estora's point. Despite it all, Estora was doing what she had been raised to do. She was fairly certain neither her parents nor her aunts had envisioned her becoming a Green Rider, or sword master, or any of the other things she hadn't told them about.

"I don't know if it will be the same."

Estora shook her head. "I don’t think so either. That that doesn't mean it won't be as good."

They both smiled and Estora leaned over to top up the cups from the teapot. She handed over a sweet biscuit as well, and the domesticity almost startled her. She smiled but Estora still held herself rigidly. "There's one more thing I would like to discuss." Karigan put down her tea, sensing this was just as serious. "I know this is a lot to ask, and believe me when I say that I don’t ask this to hurt you."

She took a deep prey. "War is almost fully here. If something were to happen to me would you take care of Zachary and Isen?"

"Estora, I," she was speechless. "You are safe here."

Estora looked stubborn. "We both know the truth of that and that I am as much a figurehead as Queen. My death would be killed as a victory to the second Empire almost as much as Zachary's would." She looked deadly serious and Karigan still couldn't get the words to form.

"I can't believe you're asking,"

"I want them both to be loved and safe. I know that you will do both, and not let Isen forget me."

That did it. She could remember her aunts, how hard it would have been without them, how they had told her of her mother when her father couldn't and let out a shaky nod. "I will do all that I can." She could sense it was vitally important to Estora and she recognised the strength it must have taken for her to ask. All at once she was reminded of how good a friend Estora had been. She squeezed her hand again.

"There shouldn't be any objections, not after what you have done, and are likely to do. There is no one else I would entrust." Karigan felt a lump in her throat and managed a nod. There was part of her that couldn't believe they were discussing this, that Estora knew how she felt about the King. She could feel the mood go melancholy and tried to shift the conversation.

"It's more than likely something will happen to me first." The words weren't what she had in mind, but it was too late to take them back.

Estora considered her point. "Then Isen will hear about you." There was silence for a minute, almost painful, then Estora straightened her skirts and Karigan reached for another biscuit.

They sipped their tea, then Estora broke the silence again. "Why don't you tell me what happened to you this summer? The full version, not just what you reported. I know there are personal details you haven't told anyone."

It was almost like before and Karigan, relieved that Estora had taken that brave first step instead of her, found the whole story tumbling out, the full details making up for her lack of words earlier.

--

It was almost painful to remember the conversation, and it was a little clearer now that she wasn't quite so numbingly cold. She was still shivering, still painfully cold though, and she wasn't sure if that was worse.

The King was still rubbing his hands along her. He must have stopped at some point, as she was aware enough to recognise his cloak draped over her. He'd also lit the other torches in the chamber, for which she was grateful. The brightness seemed to have faded enough that it didn’t hurt to open her eyes for long, and they provided a little heat that filled the small chamber.

He noticed she was awake, and she could feel him relax. He didn't say anything, and she burrowed into the cloak and felt herself drift off again.

--

When she woke this time, the torches had burnt down a little and the cold was a little less bone deep. She was still grateful for the King behind her and the heat he provided.

"Karigan?"

She had to clear her throat before she could speak.

"The cold will pass."

"Are you all right?" He sounded worried.

"I will be."

His hands slowed their movements along her arm. "Can you move yet?"

She tried not to feel disappointed, but she was still cold enough that she didn't have a proper grip on her feelings.

She tried to focus on moving her foot. "Not yet." She wasn't just saying that. Crossing the wall so shortly after travelling seemed to have knocked more out of her than she would have liked.

She managed to keep her eyes open this time and looked around the chamber.

It was tiny and there was nothing at all to indicate when they were.

"Do you know anything about this room?"

She could feel the King shake his head. "Nothing is written about it. I had a glance when I lit the torches, and have stared at the walls since. The chamber is bare apart from the box against the wall."

"Did you look in it?" She pulled the cloak tighter against her, flexing her fingers at the same time.

He paused before he answered. "No." She could feel him take a deep breath. "You terrified me." He whispered. "I had heard of your reaction from Laren the last time, but seeing it…" She almost thought she imagined the brush of lips against her hair. "I was terrified I was going to lose you."

Her heart leapt, and the admission almost made her feel warm. The feeling lasted exactly as long as it took for the flashback of her conversation with Estora to spring to her mind. She tried to get up off his lap, but she was still too cold to coordinate properly and his arm held her fast.

"Karigan," He almost pleaded and she stopped trying to resist. She couldn't bring herself to sink back against him though. She leaned back just enough to feel his warmth.

She realised that she couldn’t avoid him either and if Estora had noticed, then so had he. She might as well talk about it while she couldn’t get up. Even if she could have stood, she doubted she would have withstood travelling through the wall again.

She could feel his arm still securely gripping her waist, and the full realisation that she was sitting on his lap sunk in. She could feel her cheeks heat, pooling low in her belly and it certainly warmed her.

Even as she enjoyed it, she knew she couldn't talk to him like this. She could feel herself tense, and to make matters worse she heard him whisper, "Kari," as he brushed another kiss on her hair. She wanted to melt against him at the intimacy of it, wanted to give into the feelings that were causing the heat to flare further and throw herself at him but she didn't.

She had a flashback to the telescope in the Berry's sister study, and she was glad that she couldn’t see the expression on his face. It might have been the end of her.

"Your Majesty," she managed to force out, desperate to move on from feeling like this.

She could hear him sigh, but he didn't force the issue.

"I know you have been avoiding me as much as possible."

She couldn’t help the bubble of laughter at that, and she felt him shift beneath her. "The Queen and I have already had this discussion."

He relaxed. "Then I am blessed with two incredible women."

She wasn't sure what to think about that but he never gave her the time.

"I'm sorry; Estora and I are getting on well and I," he sounded truly apologetic and she couldn’t listen to more.

"Don't," She tried to get up again but his arm was still around her waist. "Don't apologise. Estora is a good person, and my friend."

"I know, and I wish things could be different." She stopped trying to move and they both fell silent.

She rubbed her fingers together instead to help her dexterity. They had come to investigate something that could help with the upcoming war and here they were, sitting on the floor and she was feeling sorry for herself.

She could feel herself getting restless despite the cold, eager to get up of his lap and do what they came for.

The King's voice in her ear stopped her cold.

"I wish in private you would call me Zachary."

She opened her mouth to say something, she wasn't sure what, but he cut her off.

"I know it is complicated, and that we can't," He hesitated over the word and she knew he meant won't, "but I would still like you in both our lives. You are one of the few I can completely trust."

She was reminded of her conversation with Estora again, and the thought crossed her mind that she was being ganged up on.

She let out a slow breath, and then nodded slightly. "I will try." Despite how hard it would be for her, she would. She wasn't sure if it was better than nothing, but she wouldn't find out by hiding on message runs.

She flexed her fingers again, trying to move the conversation on. "I think moving might be better for me now."

He moved his hand from around her waist, although she could sense his reluctance. She ungracefully rolled off him, the floor giving her a jolt of cold even through the extra cloak.

She hated to admit that she needed help to get up, but he realised anyway. She pulled her arm away from his as soon as she was standing.

Her body had other plans though, and he had to reach out and grab her arm to keep her upright. She started to move to keep her mind occupied. The first couple of paces were staggered but she slowly managed to get her body to coordinate properly. He didn't let go of her arm though, and she was happy for the heat and support. She didn't want to think any more about it.

She looked at the walls instead. Aside from the torches, and the sigil at what she assumed was the entrance, they were bare, smooth enough to prove this wasn't a natural chamber, but rough enough to show that it had been quickly excavated and that looks weren't important. She noticed for the first time that her broach was reacting to the chamber though and she knew that magic had aided in making the chamber.

"It is a lot of work. What ever is hidden must be of high importance." The King said what she was thinking.

"If it was that important why would they leave no clue at all?" She asked, still feeling a little muddled.

"We don’t know what it was like, if they could risk leaving information. Or it could have got lost, despite all efforts."

She nodded. Her broach was flaring every time they passed the box, and she stopped in front of it on their next lap.

They looked at it for a minute, but it looked like nothing more than a plain wooden box. The King reached out a hand to open it.

Nothing happened.

Bracing herself and adjusting the cloak so as little of her was outside it, she reached for it this time with him.

It opened easily.

Must be the broach she thought. They were certainly fond of that trick at the end of the Long War.

There was very little inside, just a book resting on the bottom, and as he lifted it out she could see it was perfectly preserved. She opened the cover as he held the book steady and watched as the words appeared. She pulled back, sticking her arm back under the cloak, and the writing disappeared.

They looked at each other. "Magic."

She touched it again and the words flared again. He seemed to understand enough of the language to say, "Another spell book by Silverwood."

Even she recognised the next page as a music score. "Perhaps it's to do with the song for the D'Yer wall. Estral said it wasn't complete."

She felt the pang she did when she thought of Estral; she knew that as happy as Estral would be to investigate the book, the loss of her voice still burned.

She jarred from the thought as the King shut the book. "Are you ready to handle the wall?" He was looking down at her with a concerned expression.

She was ready to say yes, to get out of here, but she could still feel the cold around her, the headache threatening. It didn’t matter though, getting the King and the book back was more important, and she could get all the blankets and hot stones she needed when they were safely back in the tombs.

She nodded her answer as she pulled his cloak tighter around her. They walked the couple of steps it took to cross the chamber, and the King tucked the book into his shirt, his other hand grabbing a torch. She stood still as she looked at the wall showing a mirror carving of the one on the other side, and he wound his arm around her waist again. He held on tight as she touched her broach again and took a step forward.

Passing through the wall wasn't any easier this time, and it took a huge effort to keep going. The world spinning setting off her headache, and she could feel the cold creep back into her bones. What felt like an eternity later, she staggered out of the passage again and almost crashed to the floor, the wall and Zachary's arm the only things keeping her upright. She had to keep her eyes closed for fear of bringing the last of her breakfast up, and she leaned back against the King as she took some calming breaths.

After a minute, her stomach the only thing improved, her hand touched her broach again under her cloak, and she forced herself to take a step forward as it warmed again, otherwise she would never get them back.

Another one, and another one, Zachary keeping her upright until she felt the pull of her magic again.

Suddenly they were no longer alone in the corridor, and Fastion, Brienne and others she couldn't make out in the second she had her eyes open were surrounding them. Numbness was setting in again, and she could no longer keep standing, even with the King's help. She was dimly aware of more arms grabbing her and cloaks being piled on her, the sounds of people moving but then everything disappeared as she fell asleep.

--

She woke in her own room, the familiar surroundings reassuring. She was almost warm and headache free, and she burrowed into the blankets a little more. She yelped when the movement dislodged almost cool warming stones tucked around her.

She sat up. She needed to empty her bladder and search for food anyway. She managed to dress by herself, even if she was still stiff from the cold and then lying in bed. She added her great coat to her outfit to keep her warm, not caring about the looks it would cause to be sent her way.

She sat down for a moment, flexing her legs. No one had popped in to check on her yet, and she thought it best to check into the medical wing first. There was no point in aggravating Ben any more than she had to. She was about to stand again when she caught sight of a note on her cabinet. She pulled it across to read it.

Karigan,

Estral arrived this morning and is waiting to discuss the book with you. She is also worried about your health.

I admit to both myself.

Please join us as soon as you are able.

Z.

She read the letter again, rereading the middle paragraph over and over again. She finally forced herself to put the letter down.

She needed to find Estral. She needed to hear what she had to say about the situation, needed assurance and the mother-henning that Estral could do so well.

Her stomach rumbled and jolted her from her thoughts. Food first then. Everything was easier on a full stomach. She took a deep breath and ventured out of her room.