"I said no Jem."
"Kate," Her face was stony and I saw the tension in her jaw as she fought to keep calm, "I hate him almost as much as you, but we need help and we need it now. We can't let the past, however horrible it is, get in the way of the safety of those we've vowed to protect."
"I can't stand there and talk calmly about a treaty with him Jem. I'll kill him."
"I'll speak to him. You don't even have to be there. But I need to know if you support the idea. Odds are you'll have to talk to him at some point."
"Oh I'll talk to him alright." I fingered the hilt of my knife.
"Kate..." Jem warned me. "Not until we've succeeded. Then we'll return to normal."
"Normal?" I scowled, then looked at the family who were keeping me before gesturing to Jem that we should walk. I gave the family a nod of gratitude and closed the door behind me. "Jem, we'll never be normal again. I still can't walk properly, Griever..." I saw the pain in her face and changed tact, "We're different now. There's more hurt. And although Griever owes his injuries to the fae, mine were all at the hands of a man. And I fully intend to sink my knife as far in to his chest as it will go."
"He did stop-"
"He knew it would draw him in to the fight. Make no mistake Jem, I will no longer play with this man. The next time we face each other in battle I will kill him. But..." I took a deep breath, "for the sake of our people I agree. Try to make a treaty. If he agrees then we fight the fae. But I will not talk to him, I will not stand near him. I want nothing to do with him. If he so much as looks at me funny I'll gut him, you understand Jem?"
"I'll send a messenger."
"Are you sure you want to be there?"
"Want and will be are two different things. I'll be there, but only because I have your back."
"Thank you Kate." She smiled a rare smile. "I think I shall go and check on Griever."
"Alright. I'm going to patrol."
"Be safe. Take someone with you."
I nodded and waved her away before setting off around the village. I took no one with me; I was not going near the forest, I just needed to be alone with my thoughts. I had no idea how I'd react if I saw him again. It was too painful to comprehend. It would either be me sticking a knife in to him, which I preferred, or I felt like I would break down, cry, become weak. He was the only person who had ever managed to hurt me...
I whipped round, dagger at the ready. Norida stood in front of me.
"What is it?"
"Jem just asked me to go to the castle with a message. I thought I should ask you, if you knew..."
She stared at me.
"-It's for the good of the villagers. And for all of you."
"We all want to kill him for what he did..."
"I know. But he's mine. I will deal with him once this is over. Go, take the message."
She nodded and left me to my thoughts.
"Kate, are you sure...?"
"Jem if you ask me one more time I swear-"
"-Ok ok. He'll be here shortly."
"I have to get my bandages changed again, but I'll be right there. Don't let anyone kill him. That's my job."
"I know. Nice kitty." I purred and was rewarded by a light laugh. It was a miracle if any of us laughed after everything we'd been through in the last few weeks. I hadn't laughed since before - Pain shot through my feet like a knife and I winced from the memory of the hot poker clapping down on my skin.
"I'm fine." I brushed it off. "Go. I'll be there soon."
I turned and marched as well as I could towards the infirmary. My feet had been under constant care since we had returned and the rawness had finally gone. I was left with oozing burns across my feet; I had been told they would scar. As the fae got closer and closer and larger in number, I willed my feet to mend. Against my natural instinct I had been resting them, not even walking, to get them to heal as fast as possible. I wanted to be able to fight. But now I could stand on them, and although I could not run yet, I was making steady progress. Occasionally the pain would flare and cause me to fall in to a limp, but I had it under control most of the time. A little bit of pain goes a long way...
"How are you?" I asked Griever.
"Bored." He replied, looking up from the sword he was cleaning. "But happy to see your pretty face Kate."
"Disappointed I'm not Jem?"
Griever raised an eyebrow and grinned.
"I hear she's very busy today. I'm not surprised you're not there."
"I will be. I just came to get my feet done."
"Ah yes, the spa treatment."
I rolled my eyes at him and slipped my boots painfully from my feet. I had not been allowed to wear anything on my feet while I had been resting them, but now I could walk they were bandaged every day and I put soft boots on. They cushioned the blow of the ground with every step I took.
Kiara came over with a bucket of warm water to bathe my feet. She had taken charge of the infirmary with the medics of the village, and they all looked to her for direction now. She was thriving.
"They're looking better Kate." She muttered, inspecting my feet as she removed the bandages. "How do they feel?"
"Like someone slapped a hot poker on them." I replied dryly. Griever chuckled. Despite the loss of his sword, he had managed to retain some of his previous humour.
"Maybe you'll return the favour one day." He pointed out.
"Only too happy to." I muttered and flinched.
"Sorry." Kiara said, but it hadn't been the water that had just hit my feet that had caused me to shy away. It had been the harshness in my own voice. That I would consider inflicting that pain on any living creature, even him... I hadn't changed that much. I would not stomach it. I would kill him outright. A blade, an arrow, but not a poker. No torture for the man who might help us in our hour of need.
Kiara cleaned and bandaged my feet and then helped me put my feet back in to my boots.
"Knock him dead for me." Griever winked.
Throwing open the flap of the tent I emerged in to the dreary rain filled air. I strode across the ground towards the big tent we had erected for the meeting and saw that guards already waited outside, on horseback. He must be inside. I checked my belt for my knife and squared my shoulders. No crying. Go for complete ignorance of his existence. Right.
I headed for the front and ignoring the guards, threw open the tent flap and marched inside. The light hit the group, Hawks with stony faces, villagers cautiously watching, guards standing uneasily in their armour. Jem was sat in a chair at the opposite end from me, fingers steepled in front of her lips thoughtfully. She glanced at me and then at the figure that stood before her, who had turned around sharply as I entered. And now I saw him.
He was not much changed, although the moment of shock that registered on his face distorted his usual emotionlessness features in to something more innocent. It was entirely truthful, and I saw his eyes flick to my feet before they returned to my face and locked on to my eyes. I held his gaze for a moment and then looked away as though he were mere dirt on the ground, and went to my place at Jem's side. She looked as though she wanted to congratulate me, but instead she turned back to him without a word. I stared ahead, ignoring his existence, coolly indifferent to his presence.
"As I was saying Marshall Twynam, although there has been unrest between us, we are ready to put forward a temporary treaty in light of the problem growing in our woods."
"Are you indeed?" He replied. "And what problem might there be in our woods?"
"An army is growing amongst the trees. An army of creatures which we cannot hope to defeat with out small numbers."
"The rabbits are revolting?" He chuckled and I gritted my teeth. He was goading, more than likely trying to get me to look at him so he could gloat at how much pain I was in...
"Not rabbits, Marshall."
"Deer them?" I could hear the guards chuckling and gripped my knife. I felt Jem shift beside me as a warning.
"Fae Marshall Twynam. The creatures we face are fae."
There was a pause before laughter roared through the tent from the guards. I could not tell whether Twynam himself was laughing. He waited until the laughter had died before speaking.
"Fae? Surely someone has told you that those bedtime tales were merely to make you behave young hawk. The fae do not exist."
"You have seen a girl change to a cat with your own eyes."
"A human with powers of witchcraft is not proof that a myth is real." I twisted my hand around the knife and felt Jem lay a warning hand upon mine. "This trickery will not work on me. Fight your imaginations on your own. And I'd be careful what you eat in the forest. Apparently the mushrooms are going to your heads."
That did it. I hissed and drew my knife, and with that everyone with a weapon had drawn theirs too. I finally looked him in the eye once more and glared. He looked back, triumphant in his success at reaching me.
"Jem, I told you we didn't need his help. Let him go back to his Sheriff and his whores. We do not need to sully ourselves with the likes of him."
"My dear little hawk..."
"Do not," I hissed, taking a step closer to him, "call me that."
"Would you prefer Kate?" He asked. I had to fight not to lunge at him. Jem was suddenly gripping my arm.
"Kate. Kate, go. I will handle him. Go, before you do something you regret."
I almost threw her off; this was my chance to kill him... but I knew too much was at stake. Gritting my teeth I jerked away and marched out of the back of the tent without looking back. As soon as I was outside I threw my knife so hard in to the wooden hut nearest it took me a good few minutes to pull it out. Then I went to sit watch at the village/forest boundary on my own to cool down.
The trees rustled with the promise of hidden creatures and I sat on a log, twisting my knife in the gathering dusk, as villagers began to light the fires that surrounded the village protectively at night. They avoided me and the black cloud that hung around me, and so I was alone in the gathering dark, with a fire and my knife for company.