I stood in the foyer of the castle three days later. I was hugging my mother while she cried into my shoulder. She didn't want me to go but I had to for several reasons, one of which I couldn't tell her. According to Cian, I was the only one that had my memory back.
"I'll be fine," I said with a reassuring smile.
"Are you sure you don't want Chester to go with you?" she asked for the tenth time and I laughed.
"I'm sure. I'll be with their best guards and...." I sighed. "And Lord Cian."
The doors opened and Cian walked in, looking at me expectantly.
"Time to go," he said.
I kissed my mother on the cheek.
"I'll be fine," I repeated. "We'll be back in a week and a half."
"Okay," she said in a stuffy voice.
I gave her one last hug and stood by my luggage. I cleared my throat pointedly at Cian and he frowned.
"What?" he asked.
"What would be the polite thing to do if a lady is about to carry her luggage?"
He stared at me for a long time. Then he groaned. "The polite thing to do is offer to take it for her."
He narrowed his eyes. "A lady wouldn't be going on such a dangerous venture. I'm sure, if she was, she could manage carrying her own luggage."
I rolled my eyes. "Stop being stubborn and be polite," I snapped.
"Fine," he snapped back and snatched my luggage from my hand.
I sighed wearily. I was a little grateful, though, that things had gone back to normal between the two of us after he kissed me. Although he said it was to heal my bruise, his kiss had been too soft and sweet to be about just one thing.
"Okay, introductions," he said and gestured to five men.
A guard with sleek black hair and black eyes bowed to me. I offered my hand as he said, "I am Abel, ma'am."
He kissed my hand and I smirked at Cian. "See?"
"Shut up," he snapped.
The next guard had brown hair and those black eyes, too. "Brone," he said in a low voice.
The third was black but had blond hair. "Clemente at your service."
The fourth had brown hair. "Daray," he said in a bored voice.
The final one looked like the duplicate of Daray, right down to the scar on his face. "Dany," he said. "I'm Daray's twin."
"Really?" I asked. "Vampires can have twins?"
"We were born twins and turned together," Daray explained, leading a horse over to me.
The horse was pure white and had beautiful blue eyes. The mane was black and silky.
"This is Ashling," Cian said. I detected a tone of affection in his voice. "She will be your horse for this journey."
"Isn't a white horse... conspicuous?" I asked.
"We're not on a mission of stealth," Clemente said. He looked to the south, frowning. "Whatever is out there knows we're coming."
Cian frowned at him. "It is?" he asked and Clemente nodded grimly. Cian turned to me. "Perhaps you shouldn't come then...."
"You're not getting rid of me that easily," I said. He growled and made to get on his horse. "Wait just a minute there, Lord Cian." His jaw clenched. "I'm a lady beside a horse."
He groaned and put his head on the side of a chestnut horse.
"Are you serious?" he grumbled.
"I'll help you," Abel said but I held up my hand.
"No, I'm sure Lord Cian will be polite enough to help one of his people."
He glared at me and stomped over, getting on his knee in the dirt and putting his hands together. I placed my boot in his hands and he helped me mount Ashling.
"Well, thank you, Lord Cian," I simpered.
"Minx," he snapped and mounted his horse.
Brone's horse was pulling a cart that held our luggage, food, and a couple blanket. I had a feeling they were for me. Cian clicked his tongue and flicked the reins. His horse moved forward.
"Come on, minx," he called over his shoulder. "Even I know that a so-called lady goes before men."
I glared at him but urged Ashling forward until I was directly behind Cian. People stared as we left, whispering to each other. I knew Cian was glaring at them so I had Ashling walk beside him.
"Don't glare," I snapped. "Smile."
"I don't smile," he hissed.
"You do now," I said. "Now smile, damn it."
He grimaced and people started to applaud. He looked confused but didn't speak until we were out of the village.
"Why did they applaud?" he asked when we were in the trees.
"Because their lord is going to face whatever has scared them," I answered. "They are frightened, look up, and their is their lord bravely going into the forest into the abandoned village! It gives them hope and courage. Not to mention more faith in you."
"You make it sound like a fairy tale," he said with a wrinkled nose.
I shrugged. "Many fairy tales are based off of truth." I looked around at the barren trees. "How far is this village?"
"Three days," he answered. "We will break every twelve hours for the horses and so we can sleep."
"And in the meantime?" I asked.
"We ride in silence," he snapped.
I scoffed. "Boring," I murmured.
"Well, what do you suggest?"
I looked over my shoulder. The guards were clustered together, muttering among themselves. One of them told a joke and they chuckled quietly.
"How well do you know them?" I asked and he glanced back, too.
"Well enough to know they're the best," he answered with a shrug.
"Do you know how to tell them apart?" I asked with a smirk.
"Shut up. I know the twins have a scar but I don't remember their names. And the one with the blond hair is...."
"Hey!" I called to the guards behind us. "Come on up here."
"No," Cian hissed.
"Why not?" I demanded. I heard their horses come closer. "You need to know your people and that definitely includes your guards."
"Our lessons are over," he snapped. "I'm not going to talk to them."
I shrugged. "Then I will."
They had caught up now and Cian tried to speed his horse up but I grabbed his arm before he could. He hissed at me but I ignored him. The guards looked surprised at my boldness.
"So, tell me about yourselves, gentlemen," I said in a light voice. "Lord Cian says our journey will be a long one." They stared and I sighed. "Fine. We'll begin with Brone."
"Maybe we could start with Clemente?" he mumbled.
"Nope; we're starting with you," I said cheerfully.
He sighed. "Well.... I guess...."
Is every man in the palace so dreadful at conversation!?
"How old are you?" I asked.
"I was 28 when I was turned," he answered. "That was about 42 years ago."
"What about you, Clemente?"
We went through the five guards, learning their ages and what they were before they were turned. All of them had been turned by King Nelo and that's why they each had black eyes. I asked the twins about their scars and, to my surprise, Daray laughed.
"That would be Dany's fault," he said and his brother glared at him. "We were fencing and he took on someone much too large for him. This was a day or two before we were due to be turned. I went to his defense and the opponent, finding it humorous that we were twins, gave us identical scars. Dany was so embarrassed," he finished with a snort.
Dany rolled his eyes. "I was not embarrassed."
"You were practically crying," Daray laughed and the other men joined in.
I laughed, too. Ashling made a weird gesture with her head so I checked on her. When I did, I saw a small smile on Cian's face.