He sipped slowly, eyes gleaming as he ogled her over the rim of his teacup. At last, he wiped his mouth and set his saucer aside.
"Tessa..." He said, and she fought to suppress a shudder. This was the moment she dreaded. She kept her hands firmly clasped in her lap. Perhaps if she didn't give him any quarter, she could avoid it.
"Tessa, look at me."
She stared at his chiseled, gleaming face, his eyes that haunted her, his lips that twitched more into a smirk than a smile.
Her father only saw that he was rich and well-connected. He didn't see the wandering hands, the seething stares, or the slurred words murmured in private and denied in public.
"Well?" he pressed her, shifting closer. "Say something, Beautiful!"
She shifted away. "Please understand," she begged, "I realize how my father feels about having a son of the Archduke's cousin taking an interest in my family--but it pains me to hear you speak of harboring such feelings for me when I cannot in good faith reciprocate!"
Tessa stood up with the tea service, heading for the dumbwaiter door on the wall of the parlor. He followed her for those few spaces.
"Tessa! Say something--" She made the mistake of backing away after closing the dumbwaiter, right into his waiting arms. His grasping fingers folded around her elbow. "Don't just ignore me, girl!"
He did not move. His eyes darkened. "Not till you say you'll accept my proposal."
"Tessa, come back!" His voice followed her, but she dared not turn around. She ducked into the next wing and threw herself behind the first open door she could find.
Her heart beat wildly, and as he neared the door into the room where she hid, Tessa slipped out a second door and into the next room.
"Scurry, scurry, little mouse!" His dark voice echoed from the next room as she darted into the solarium. "You can't avoid me forever, you know! You're mine! I am your destiny!"
Tessa listened at the door, cowering and trembling, until the sound of his footsteps faded. Still she waited with bated breath, until nothing but the pounding of her own heart reached her ears. Only then did Tessa dare to step out from her hiding place, and take great, deep breaths to calm herself.
Tessa drew the knife and gazed at the constellation etched on the blade. The arrangement of that singular row of stars was such that the main star, Polaris, graced the pommel. Tessa sighed and sank into a chair, speaking the star's name aloud as she did so.
"There you are!"
The suitor's voice rasped in her ear, his breath hot against her neck, and Tessa jumped from the chair with a scream.
Somehow, she doubted that anyone would try taking advantage of her ever again.
"No, Damaris," he said to the empty hallway behind them. "I thought I was very clear that you are not coming with us."
Jaran shook his head. "It is unwise to take too many people along to what might amount to a fact-finding mission. You would get very bored before we'd even arrived in Wildhaven."
Damaris scowled. "It's better than hanging around here with Him!" he retorted.
"And now we're headed to try and get ahead of this threat that's got three of our own captive," Erlis added, her weird Elvish eyes glinting. "You don't have an assignment yet--"
Damaris smirked. "Little did they know that this was the last time any of them would see each other," he quoted.
"If you find out anything," Jaran directed, "Contact Azelie. That will be the fastest way to let us all know."
"I will," Damaris replied. He waved as they departed out of the castle gate. "Fare you well!"
Once the guard closed the gate behind them, Damaris jogged back toward the Great Hall, where Trev sat at a table with Lizeth and Nyella.
"Have you always lived in the castle?" Lizeth asked.
Trev nodded to the scroll.
I have lived elsewhere. I have lived in another castle, where I could move freely. Not this castle all the time.
Lizeth gestured to the light, summery linen tunic he wore. "Did you always wear clothes like this, or do you remember wearing longer sleeves, or thicker fabrics at some time or another?"
Trev gestured all around them. I am warm in these places. I have fire when my arms are cold. I have no need of other clothes. I do not have them with me. In my other castle, I had cloaks and other clothes.
Nyella made some notes, crossing out a few locations on the map. "This other castle, was it big or small? Many rooms or just a few? Tall towers, or only a few stairs?"
"Family is an important part of one's identity," rumbled a voice behind her. "Without them, we are ships adrift, deprived of an anchor for our souls."
Risyn sighed and sat upon a nearby bench, looking very much like a man with a painful secret--hadn't Kaidan suspected as much the last time he talked to Javira?
"That's why you were so afraid when Captain Haggard's ship pulled into the Harbor," she whispered.
Risyn nodded. "Your brother suspected as much. That young man was me, and the last time I saw my sister Quilla was when Captain Haggard declared that she would serve as his galley maid until he had no further use for her. That was so many years ago, I don't even know if he's bargained her away at some point, or if she might still be on his ship--but I know that if I ever see the Captain again, he might claim my debt to him and use it against me. That's why I stay here--not because I'm waiting to betray any one of you," he abruptly declared the very resentment that Javira harbored as an excuse to avoid the dark Mage, "but because I failed the dearest person in my life so long ago, I don't want it to happen ever again." He let out a sigh and rubbed his hands together. "And now you know something about me that I have never told anyone--not even Mage Korsan."
Risyn nodded. "I just want my sister back, before she is caught in the crossfire between Queen Mallory's forces and our own."
Risyn seized her hand and clasped it tightly. "For family," he affirmed.