Zane clearly noticed Layla's improvement, and she began to enjoy her lessons with him. Not as much as she enjoyed those with Jasper, but then the two had very different methods. Jasper was patient, and Zane tried to be but it was easy to tell when he was frustrated. The hours of training put a strain on all of them, but Layla didn't mind. Every time she managed to do something right she saw it helping in her fantasies of killing the sorcerer, finishing him once and for all. But she knew it would take more. Her back would no longer hinder her; it was healed in to scars at last, and the pain from the healing had ebbed away to nothing.
Layla tucked in to her meal with relish. All the training she was doing made her appetite more ferocious than it had been when she first arrived, and she savoured each bite ecstatically.
"Hungry?" Jasper muttered, sliding in to the seat opposite her.
A small smile invaded his face, wiped off by the loud arrival of Zane.
"Hey Layla! I reckon we'll soon have you practicing outside; what do you think about that?"
"Outside? You mean, on the mountainside?" Layla threw a quick glance over to Jasper and saw his fist clench.
"Yes. I thought you could do with some fresh air, and a change of scene."
And this is in no way for your benefit? How did you get Ceri to agree to this?" Jasper asked, leaning forward to stare at Zane full on in the face. Zane scowled.
"I haven't asked him yet, but I will."
"Let me know how that goes."
They glared at each other across the table, and Layla coughed.
"Um, can we stop the manly stand off for a minute? I spent a long time on that roast and you're both letting it go cold."
Zane held his glare for a second more and then let out a chuckle. Jasper's eyes flickered to Layla's in apology and then they both dug in to their food. Layla rolled her eyes, picked up her knife once more and then paused. She realised how much she'd changed over the last few weeks. She now smiled, laughed even, and rolled her eyes at the two men. She was learning how to fight, she was healing, and she was strangely warm inside. Perhaps this was happiness?
"Look who's not eating now." Zane muttered, elbowing her slightly. She threw him a scathing look and resumed her meal. But at the same time she thought about her changes. They were so different, but they felt right. It was a happy feeling. Yes, that's what she felt. Happy.
"I have to go and patrol. Zane, Ceri just arrived. Perhaps you could ask him now?" Jasper said, his tone lightly taunting. Zane glared at him and looked as though he would stand up, but Layla did instead.
"You two are hopeless." She muttered, and marched away, carrying her plate. They'd been at each others' throats for weeks now, and that was without Zane knowing about Jasper's extra training. She wondered whether he had found out but didn't think that was possible. Unless Jasper had mentioned it.
That wasn't likely either.
She returned to her room and found that once again Tanya was not there. She never was these days. Layla wondered if she was meeting with her brother, or had found another man. Perhaps that was it.
She sat on her bed and took out the knife which Zane had given her. It wasn't the weapon she used to fight, but it was a handy device for close combat, and cutting fod if needed. She liked to play with it and had been teaching herself to twist it round her fingers. Maybe she would ask Zane or Jasper to teach her to throw knives. That could be useful.
"Layla?" The man Durn appeared outside her cave.
"Hello. If you're looking for your sister, she is not here."
"No no, I came looking for you. See, I think I recognize you. You were a slave of the empire, am I correct?"
Layla flinched. It had taken him this long to 'remember' her?
"Yes, I was. But you were not."
"No, not in your terms. But I was under the rule of the sorcerer."
"I don't think you recognize me. At least, I don't think I have ever seen you."
"My mistake. But you escaped and are safe now yes?"
"Yes." Layla shifted uncomfortably. Why was he here?
"Good. Well I can see I have made you uncomfortable. I will not trouble you any more."
"No, I just was not expecting you..."
"... to remember the girl who caused a stir? You stole a horse and rode out of there like you were one of the sorcerers own people. Everyone heard about it. How did you manage that?"
Layla glared at him, refusing to answer. This was not a conversation she wished to have. Especially not with a man she barely knew, in her room, on her own. His eyes made her feel unsettled.
"Well, I can see I have inconvenienced you. Maybe one day you will be good enough to tell me how you managed it. That would make an interesting tale." He bowed to her and left, leaving Layla with memories to fill the gap where, moments ago, happiness had been.