The sun was setting when Lirya drove the carriage back to the villa. Two men-at-arms stood at the gate, on alert with weapons raised. They relaxed only slightly when the recognized her.
“I need to talk to Malyenne as soon as she gets back.”
“Lady Malyenne has already returned, ma’am. The summons to court was false. We were told that you had been abducted—”
“Yes, but as you can see I got away. The man who kidnapped me is in the back of the carriage.” She lowered her voice. “Be careful; I think he’s awake and pretending to still be knocked out.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The guardsmen quickly took charge of their prisoner. Lirya jumped down from the carriage and ran toward the villa house.
Malyenne stepped out of her study as Lirya burst in the front door. “What—Lirya!” She rushed toward her and took her into a close hug. “When I heard what happened.... Are you all right?”
“I’m all right.”
They held each other close for what seemed like forever.
Finally, Malyenne looked away for a moment. A guardsman was standing next to her, looking very uncomfortable. He whispered into the lady’s ear. Lirya heard the name “Makorin,” and felt Malyenne tense up. She thought she could hear the beginnings of a wild-animal growl in her lady’s throat.
After a long pause, Malyenne drew back and composed herself. Somehow, that was even more frightening than the growl.
“What did he do to you?” she asked in an unsettlingly calm voice.
“Nothing. I managed to catch him unawares before he could... before he could do anything.”
Malyenne smiled. Lirya thought she saw a tear in the lady’s eye as she drew her close again. She closed her eyes and resolved never to reveal the truth.
What I told her is true enough, really. He removed the charm on me... but that doesn’t change anything. She hugged Malyenne closer. She’s the first person who’s cared about me since the raiders killed Mother and Father. I have a home and a family.
She slid one hand down to the small of her lady’s back, and then a bit further. And she gave me pleasures that I never would have thought to seek out for myself... but now I can’t imagine living without.
Lirya opened her eyes and looked over Malyenne’s shoulder. Jaeni was standing in the hallway, still in her riding clothes, looking stunned and worried and glad all at once.
She smiled reassuringly. Everything was all right now. She was home.