Malachai escorted Cole and Ruby to Aura, where the festivities were to be held. Halfway there, the horse drawn carriage came to an abrupt stop. Malachai peered out the window. "The Fae boy has flagged us down." He informed hoping out of the carriage. Cole followed suit and held his hand to help Ruby down as well.
Jace took one glance at Ruby and his eyes widened as what he suspected to be true was confirmed. Ruby was in fact, attending the festival. "Do you have a death wish for me?"
The perspective answers from Cole, Ruby and Malachai came in unison.
"I don't follow."
"The Elders believe I have killed Ruby, because they suspected her to have stolen the tome, and they think she is in cohorts with the Dragon King." Jace explained.
Cole stepped toward Jace. "And why should we protect you?"
Jace took a step forward and leveled his gaze with Cole's. His dark wings flared out in warning. "Because my sister risked her life to help you. Highness." He seethed, all but spitting the last word.
Ruby intervened by putting her hand on Cole's arm to calm him down, but he shrugged her off. He thought about it for a long minute. "Fair enough. You and Penelope will be under our protection from here on out and abide by my rules." He cast Jace a dark look.
"And what would those rules be?" Jace asked in an agitated tone.
Without meaning to, Cole glanced back at Ruby. Don't kiss my friends, he thought. Instead he said. "You are to be watched at all times until I trust you."
Ruby glanced between the two boys, and then back at Malachai. The woodsman thoughtfully assessed the situation before speaking. "We mean no disrespect, we are grateful for your assistance Jace. Please...bring Penelope to the castle and I'll have my guards watch over her. There will be enough tension at the Festival tonight, without you having to worry over her. You have my word that she will be well protected and treated fairly."
That was enough for Jace. When it came to Pen's protection, he was able to put things into perspective. And, as often as Jace got under her skin, that was something she could empathize with. The bond between the two siblings, made Ruby long for home and family.
Misreading Ruby's appreciation and understanding for something else, Jace gave her a smug grin. Their moment was ruined as heat flooded into her core and she remembered just how wicked Jace could be. Ruby took a sudden interest in her boots. With only a curt nod at Malachai, Jace headed back to his own steed.
The Festival was in full swing by the time they arrived. A narrow passageway made within the trees, took them to the Sycamore. A Fae throne carved of wood and embellished with flowers sat against it. Lantern birds of every make and model, color and assortment, took refuge in the tree, creating a spectacular display of light. Ruby gasped in awe. She smiled at Cole, glad to have been able to share this moment with him.
Flute players made jubilant music, in which the Fae delighted in dancing and frolicking to. A smorgasbord of colorful food and drinks, stretched the expanse of several wide oak trees. Malachai leaned in towards them. "Be respectful, but be on guard. The Fae have a habit of tampering with drinks, for their own amusement," he advised before slipping into the crowd.
Ruby grabbed Cole's hand. "Want to dance? The Fae elders haven't arrived yet!" Without waiting for an answer Ruby grabbed his hand. They laughed as they stumbled awkwardly into the mass of Fae and humans. They spun and twirled, and made up their own lyrics to the wordless music. Ruby was having so much fun losing herself with Cole, that she almost forgot anyone else existed. They could have been in any time and place. The dancing was a welcome distraction from their two woven realities. However, the spell was broken when Aira"accidentally" bumped into Cole.
Flowers were braided into the Princess's hair, and she wore a delicate white gown, though she looked anything but pure in it. Ruby glared as Aira led Cole into a secluded area.
Cole hadn't found a sincere way to turn Aira down when she came looking for him. He knew, she was in a fragile state of mind after all she had been through today. He followed her out of duty and sympathy.
Aira had been stewing as she watched Ruby and Cole from a distance. In spite of all her efforts to tear them apart, the pair seemed to have an impenetrable bond. With the tiny vile secured in her satchel, Aira prepared her Kings's drink. She handed him the mug of ale, which, much to her surprise he gulped down greedily.
Their eyes met as Cole finished the last drop. The mug dropped and rolled on the forest floor as Cole zeroed in on the Princess. He stalked her. With every step towards her, she took a playful step backwards until her back was against a wide tree trunk. He set his hands on either side of her head. Aira's breath caught in her lungs. He leaned in closely. That was how Ruby had found them.
Ruby's heart shattered into a million tiny pieces as she watched them unnoticed. Cole was staring at Aira with a level of intensity that Ruby never knew from him. Ruby backed away quietly, consumed by her own need to be comforted. In her blind fury, she ran into a hard wall. Jace's chest. "Eager to be somewhere?"
Ruby licked her lips. What did it matter if she kissed Jace? She told herself she didn't have those kind of feelings for Cole, and it was clear he liked someone else. The girl who happened to be evil incarnate.
Ruby stepped closer to Jace, welcoming a distraction.
Cole fought the hallucinations and effects of the poison. He leaned close to Aira, so only she could hear what he was about to say."Seems my drink has been tampered with. Luckily, my will cannot easily be bent. Keep a close eye out for anything suspicious."
He left Aira slumped against the tree with her mouth agape. He was going to find Jace and make him pay for poisoning him.