‘I didn’t say I didn’t trust thieves, but then I’ve not really come into contact with many thieves in my life so I don’t think I’m qualified to judge. All I meant was when you think thief; trustworthy isn’t the first word to come into my head.’
'Well I think you’ve got a pretty skewed view of my people,’ Artem chuckled. ‘Among our friends we can be very trustworthy, you can tell them anything and they will take that secret to their grave. Besides, you didn’t answer my question, do you trust me?’
Rowena paused, wondering how she should phrase her answer. She did trust Artem, she had no idea why, but for some reason he made her feel safe and protected. But she was still painfully aware that she had told Artem nothing about who she was or Damia or Narcissa. Was there some subconscious reason behind this? Something deeper than what she was feeling on the surface.
‘Yes. I trust you.’
‘OK then if you trust me, then tell me about you. I know nothing about you other than your name.’
‘I told you before, I’m not that interesting.’
‘Let me be the judge of that.’ This is what Rowena had been scared of. She didn’t know what she should tell him. The truth?
‘Well I was born eighteen years ago in my father’s house in the country, just outside Genata. It’s a beautiful place with endless gardens and a lake that’s so deep it looks like it goes on forever. I spent most of my childhood there under the supervision of a nurse and the housekeeper, but my father had a lot of… business in Genata so spent most of his time in a town house there. He would come back occasionally to visit but on the whole I didn’t see a lot of him growing up.’ She wasn’t lying completely. She had been brought up by a nurse in a country house outside Genata, she just wasn’t specifying that the house was the Summer Palace where kings and queens had visited for hundreds of generations.
‘What about your mother?’
‘I didn’t know her very well; she died when I was very young. I know it sounds like a stupid thing to say because I barely knew her, but I miss her.’ She laughed at her honesty. ‘I’ve never told anyone that before, not even my father.’
‘That doesn’t sound stupid that you miss her, she was your mother, no matter how long she was alive for.’
‘I think that’s partly why my father didn’t visit as often as he should. I reminded him too much of my mother. He loved her so much. He was heartbroken when she died. I remember him coming to me just after the physician had pronounced her dead and he said you have to be strong Rowena, for your mother. He told me that she had gone away but I would see her again some day.’
‘Why did he call you Rowena?’ Artem asked. Rowena’s stomach clenched up as she realized her mistake. She had felt so good about finally telling someone about her family that she’d forgotten she was meant to be hiding who she truly was. ‘Your name is Ena.’
‘Well everyone calls me Ena,’ she said, trying to sound natural, ‘but my real name is Rowena. Only my father ever calls me that.’ Artem seemed to have bought it, nodding and asking her to continue.
'When I was fourteen my father insisted I move in with him to his house in Genata. I hadn’t really been to the city before and it was all so new and scary. But after a month I was bored. I wasn’t allowed out and my father was away for most of the day so I didn’t see much of him, only really at meal times and if we were entertaining.’
‘That must have been pretty hard, not seeing a lot of your father.’
Rowena shrugged. ‘I was used to it, I knew no different. He’d been an absent father ever since I was born. And he doesn’t do emotional stuff very well, so it was probably for the best. Anyway, it was just the two of us for a while and then my father re-married.’
'So is that why I found you miles from home? You don’t like the new stepmother?’
‘Not really,’ Rowena lied. ‘I mean she’s not evil or anything. She’s just not my mother.’ Sensing that Ena didn’t want to talk about her father any more, Artem remained silent, thinking of another question to ask.
‘So are there any eligible young men waiting for you back home? A beautiful young woman like you must have suitors.’
‘You really need to stop calling me that,’ Rowena said, giggling nervously.
‘A beautiful young woman.’
‘But I only speak the truth.’ There was such earnestness in his voice that Rowena felt sure he wasn’t joking with her this time. ‘Anyway, you’re avoiding the question again. Tell me about the noble young men of the Ferserian court.’
'I don’t like them. They’re all so fake, all wanting to climb up the social ladder and they think that by marrying someone like me they will gain power.’
‘But they would wouldn’t they? Or can women inherit in Fersere?’
‘If they are the eldest then women are allowed to inherit and the property stays in the hands of the female rather than going to her husband.’
Artem’s eyes widened. ‘Is that a popular idea?’
‘It depends what circles you’re in. But in general, not really. Our men like to know they are in charge and when women can own land and even inherit the throne, it takes power away from them.’
‘Oh yes I remember now, the next person in line to the throne is the King’s daughter.’
‘It should be,’ Rowena said thoughtfully. ‘But unfortunately she’s been missing for years. No one knows exactly what has happened to her or what the country will do if the King dies and she hasn’t been found.’ There was a moment of silence as Rowena thought about her uncertain future, and Artem had no idea what to say. ‘But that’s far too much about me,’ Rowena said, laughing to break the tension. ‘I really should be going to bed.’ She sat up and began moving to get up when she felt a cool hand rest gently on her shoulder.
‘You are a remarkable woman Ena, you know that.’
'Hardly remarkable,’ she said, blushing and dropping her head to examine her lap.
‘No really,’ he said, putting a hand under her chin to make her look at him. ‘I don’t think I’ve met anyone like you. You seem so strong but underneath…’ Shivers coursed through Rowena’s body as Artem’s hand began to gently stroke her cheek. ‘I have no idea what is underneath.’
Their eyes were locked, both unable to look away, both unwilling to break this beautiful moment. Ena wanted this moment to last forever as Artem leaned in closer, his head tilting to one side. Ena’s eyes closed as she anticipated the touch of his lips on hers. Then, when she could feel his breath on her face and his face was only inches away from hers, she drew back, suddenly scared and unsure what she was doing.
‘Good night Artem.’ She stood up and hurriedly walked away, back to their camp, leaving Artem sitting alone on the cold ground. Her heart was beating so fast she thought it would burst and her whole being was vibrating with something she couldn’t name.
Pull yourself together she told herself as she wrapped herself back up in the blanket. It’s just Artem. There is nothing that could ever happen between you. He’s just too different. She closed her eyes and began to drift off into the world of sleep. Just before she disappeared completely, one thought stuck in her mind. But what if I wanted there to be something? She shook the thought out of her head and fell asleep.