No real drama this time, only more of the relationship between Damien and Cécile.


That evening, after the conference, Cécile came out onto the balcony where Damian leaned on the parapet looking out over the valley below. The glow of hearth and cooking fires lay scattered across the land, showing a peaceful, close-knit community. She rested her arms on it as well, content to watch with him in companionable silence, but after a while she spoke without turning her head.

“I meant what I said.”

The silence afterward held so long that she thought he might not have heard, but then, “I know,” he said. “So did I.” It was that simple; a settling-in of friendship that picks up on a conversation as if only moments had passed between instead of months, and miles, and pain. Then again, after a while, “Why?”

“I see in her the future of Martagne,” Cécile said quietly. “Kindness. Gentleness. Compassion. Strength.” Again a pause, then, “It won’t be like you.”

Damien laughed once, softly, and said, fervently, “Oh, I hope not.” He shook his head once, and the torchlight slid across the slight smile on his lips.

Cécile laughed once as well, turning her face toward him. “I just don’t see myself riding desperately across the countryside—” She broke off and laughed again in gentle self-mockery, “Yet did we not just do that?” She shook her head and went on. “What I mean is that I don’t see myself crossing borders and spying so much as being her confidante and bodyguard.”

Again his smile flashed in the night. “One needn’t be a spy to be in the Intelligence Service. I’m sure you are aware how much information you can gather just going about your daily duties. People let fall the most amazing things if you just pay attention.” He tilted his head, watching her. “Did you know that just this morning the cook’s second assistant was found fast asleep in the chicken coop, curled around all the eggs like a broody hen? Stark naked.”

Cécile couldn’t help it, she laughed outright in shocked amusement.

“It’s true,” he said, straight-faced, and turned to her, leaning one elbow on the parapet. “The hardest thing to learn is how to appear to not be listening.” His smile faded after a moment. “Bodyguard,” he murmured. “That’s a different set of skills entirely.” He looked straight into her eyes, and his expression was solemn and more than a little sad. “Are you willing to kill to protect her?”

She returned his gaze as directly. “You may recall I have already done so.”

“True enough,” he murmured, gazing down at the ground somewhere between them.

“Teach me,” she said.

He looked up at her from under his brows. “You are sure?”

“I am,” she said.

He nodded once. “So be it.”

* * *