1. Fragments of past conversations floated through her mind like clouds in the wind. She thought about Quick and wondered whether her old friend was in the compound, being cared for as she was. Or had he been taken away by the three men? She tried not to think back on that night, but memories of that terror plagued her no matter how much she prayed they wouldn’t. There was one time she recalled crying aloud. Her entire body had been alive with fire in the tiny bed as she struggled against her imaginary demons. A comforting presence had been there to help her cope, to reassure her that she was no longer in danger.
2. “It means, Bethel, that I’m in exile. I cannot ever use my real name for fear of retribution. Just having you here is endangering those who accompanied me into exile. But we couldn’t turn you away or ignore you in your time of need. Enough about me for the moment, I want to hear about you. Tell me about growing up at Banderling Mayne. How did you end up running about the countryside like a self-appointed benefactress?”
3. In the evenings, she resumed dining with her father, a habit they’d both grown away from in the past year as Bethel began to spend more and more time with the farmers and villagers. Now it seemed that they both felt the need to have more time together to talk about things, both general and specific. After their meal, they would retire to Lord Voril’s study. There, he would work on the books, tallying crop yields, adding the new foals to the stable’s count, or figuring wages for the servants, among other things. Bethel would do her needlework, something which she ordinarily abhorred, but recently she’d had the urge to do something domestic to keep her mind and hands occupied. The evenings were not an enjoyable time for her, but the nights were worse. For it was then, in the deepest hours as she lay awake in her room, that she knew she couldn’t pretend any longer. That she wished in her heart that she was back in the woods, awaiting the arrival of a faceless benefactor whose voice had rescued her soul from loneliness.
4. “Poor man. First his son’s deformities, then his beloved wife’s death. The castle says one thing, that the queen died in childbirth, aided by an illness she accrued during the royal couple’s last excursion to Africa. And that the attacks on the villagers came about due to a pair of lions, which had been brought back to the kingdom, accidentally escaping once they arrived. So why all the stories of evil curses and men who turn into beasts, when it is easier to believe in exotic sicknesses and escaped wild animals?”
5. “Then tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you look forward to serving your lord and master,” Oris emphasized with disdain. “Tell me you’re not anxious to rid yourself of this place.” He grabbed her wrist, pinning it to the table. “Tell me.”
6. The knight turned on him with a sneer. “I don’t fear you. And I, for one, do not believe anything you have to say anymore. The others are here with me because they don’t believe you, either. Who can follow a king who deceives his people year after year after year? How can any of us believe anything you may say to us in the future? When you first denied me Lady Bethel’s hand, I grew suspicious, until my spies brought me this latest piece of news.” Giving Bethel another little shake, he continued to glare at his sovereign. “Speaking for the sum of us gathered here, I respectfully request that you either produce your alleged son and heir, or go to your people and confess the truth. Now.”