“I have excellent reasons for being cautions,” Nevynne says. “We had a servant, at Combray, Bodogon was his name.
“He was the son of my father’s equerry, and only a few years my elder. When he was old enough, he began working in our stables to learn his father’s trade. I was very fond of riding, and came often to the stables, and when I did, I usually spoke a few words with Bodogon. At first, we mostly talked about horses, because he naturally knew a lot about them. But little by little, we began to speak of other matters as well, and as much as such a thing can be said given the difference in his birth and mine, we became friends. He was a bright boy, and a good listener. He had a younger sister, himself, and he always had something insightful to say when I told him about the fights I had with my brother, or my disagreements with my parents, and he never gossiped about anything I told him. He became a confidant to me, and helped me many times when I needed to rein in my temper during my quarrels with Odrynn, which were quite frequent.”
“What did you quarrel about so much?” Stellia asks.
“Odrynn was my big brother, and he wanted to protect me. That was all good and proper, naturally, and I’m not saying I did not appreciate his concern. But I liked doing things on my own, as well, and his worrying grew tiresome. He taught me archery, but then he fretted endlessly when I wanted to ride out and hunt rabbits in the fields. He taught me to fence, but forbade me to ever pick up anything but a wooden practice sword. Had it been possible, he would have had me fencing with a peacock feather!”
“Why did he even teach you those things, if he feared so much for you?”
“Because he knew of my stubbornness! Had he not agreed to teach me, I would have found someone else to do so, and that thought worried him even more. If he taught me himself, at least he could be there to watch over me. But he always saw disaster looming, as though I might shoot myself with bow and arrow, or cut off my own head the moment I swung a steel blade. It was maddening.”
“He meant well, I’m sure.”
“Of course he did. How silly it all seems, now that he’s forever gone. I wish I had never spoken a harsh word to Odrynn, nor to my parents. But one cannot live like that, I suppose.” Nevynne clears her throat. “But it was Bodogon I meant to tell you about. Over the years, he grew up to be quite handsome. Naturally, I was afflicted with an unavoidable infatuation for him.”
“What else could one call it? I was smitten with Bodogon only because I was at the age where these things first happen, and because in my heart I knew it was perfectly safe, as there was absolutely no possibility of acting on it. He was a servant, and I his lord’s daughter, and that was that. The whole thing was just another childhood disease, a foolish thing to be gotten over with. It passed soon enough.”
“Did he feel the same way about you?”
“I daresay he did,” Nevynne says. “Not that I ever encouraged him, even at the height of my juvenile fancy for him. But he’d managed to grow infatuated with me, regardless. One day, as he showed me how to properly tighten a new saddle, he let his fingers rest on my hand, and kept them there.”
Stellia gasps. “Your heart must have been racing!”
“Not in a good way,” Nevynne snaps. “Don’t you understand? Bodogon was a dream to me, a shudder passing over my spine as I imagined in my vaguest thoughts things I hardly even knew to imagine. I never wanted any of it to be real! With that touch, he destroyed the dream! The only thing I could imagine in that moment was the disaster that would ensue if anyone saw us, or if he persisted in his foolishness.”
“What did you do, then?”
“I could see him from the corner of my eye, giving me this look as though he expected to be struck by lightning. I did not look back at him, mind you. I just shook my head. This cannot be, I said to him. Not now, nor ever. He withdrew his hand. Fortunately, no one else was near to have observed or overheard us.”
“And after that?” Stellia asks. “Did you remain friends?”
“We pretended nothing had happened,” Nevynne says. “Though we did not speak as much, or as freely, as before. I thought it was a bit sad. A mere fortnight later, Ingharad’s soldiers attacked my father’s castle. I fled, assuming that Bodogon had perished in the assault along with everyone and everything else I held dear. I did not linger in Baramond. I had sworn to my father that I would find Prince Ansil and seek justice for Ingharad’s crimes, and so I made my way into Taronnis. I took the long way around the southern foothills of the Heavens’ Teeth, for fear that the Pass of Talvain might be watched. Besides, I was ill equipped for the harsh weather of the mountains. My plan was to ultimately make my way into Hestia, where I hoped to somehow accomplish what the Guardian and her many soldiers could not: to find the Prince. Obviously, I didn’t succeed. I had no horse, and no gold to buy one, and I did not wish to risk the gallows by stealing one. I reached Hestia eventually, and spent nearly two years wandering its wilder regions thinking that I might stumble upon whatever secret place Prince Ansil had chosen as his hermitage, or that I might encounter him simply by chance.”
“Hestia is vast,” Stellia says. “It would have been a lucky chance indeed.”
“Don’t you think I knew that, in my heart of hearts? I didn’t even really believe that the Prince was still alive. But what else could I do? My home was destroyed, my family extinguished. The search for the Prince, however hopeless, was the one last thing that gave me a reason to go on. Had I conceded to myself that it was futile…” Nevynne falls silent for an instant. “And there was my promise to my father. I could not give up.”
“Then one evening in autumn, when I was searching for a safe place to sleep at nightfall, I came across an abandoned barn in the hills above some tiny hamlet the name of which I never learned. Just as I was about to peek inside the barn to make sure it was unoccupied, I heard footsteps behind me, and saw a stranger approaching. The moon was new, and in the darkness I could not see his face. Shaking with fear, I drew my dagger. The man stopped a few paces away, and raised his hands to show me that he was not bearing arms. Then he laughed, and called out my name. I recognized the voice at once.”
“Bodogon,” Stellia says.
NEXT: Nevynne’s Tale: A Rude Awakening