“Get that reptile out of here!” The physician ordered.
Caoinlin, who had been silent until that moment, said, “No!” She moved her arm, though it caused her obvious agony, to shield Fee who was, himself, too fatigued to speak up.
“Ceara, please put Fee the bowl and get him something to eat.”
“You are the one who needs to eat,” the physician, Oillin, chided.
“I’m not hungry,” Caoinlin said. “And he’s not a reptile, he’s an amphibian.”
Ceara scooped Fee up, her tears wetted him before she deposited him into the bowl. She poured some water over him and sniffled, loudly.
“You, girl,” Oillin said to Evin. “You bring broth and make sure she drinks it. Continue to lay cold cloth upon her. The water must be as cool as possible, do you understand? Make sure she chews this bark at least once every four hours, more if the pain is too much, hm?”
“Yes,” Evin said, inclining her head.
“I will return this evening,” the red-faced physician grumbled, taking his bag under his arm and hurrying from the room. At the door, he cast one more look back at Caoinlin. No one else saw it, but Fee did. It filled him with bile. The doctor’s disapproval, the glint of suspicion in his eyes. Fee knew the type. He’d be the one to convince the king and queen. The girl is mad, beyond hope. Better to lock her away. Better to chain her to the wall.
He could see it on the man’s jowly face. The calculations, the risk he would take, the nobles who were likely already whispering in his ear, suggesting that if he did declare the girl insane, how they would provide for him . . . once the throne was open for the taking . . .
Fee knew men like the physician, he knew what would come.
What they would try to do to her.
And they would try. But they would fail.
Fee submerged beneath the water, plans spinning out in his mind, nearly too quick for his frog mind to keep up with.
But he would keep up. He wouldn’t give in to the curse. He would hold on as long as he had to. As long as he needed to.
As long as she needed him to.
Four days later, it was raining.
“Bite down,” Draigen put a thin candle in between Caoinlin’s lips. “If you speak or remove it, I will know. And if you move.” She pointed at the shroud of rain less than foot behind Caoinlin, “Your dress will tell me.”
Draigen locked the balcony doors in Caoinlin’s gaunt, yellow-green bruised face. Caoinlin had spent the last two days, when she could begin to walk again, plotting her escape. Fee had let her, because he was too busy assessing his own designs. But as the moment of the big apology arrived, a new fear arose in him.
“Caoinlin,” he said from the pouch tied to her waist. She continued to glare at the glass doors in front of her, the slick yellow candle sticking out of either side of her face. “Cao!”
She sighed and held her hand out to him. He hopped up and she lifted him to her face.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “And I’m going to tell you why you’re going to change your mind about apologizing.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“And why you’re going to change your mind about running away as well.”
Her jaw flexed.
He took a deep breath.
“Because if you do not apologize to Brogan, and if you run away, then I will not give you your birthday gift.”
Her eyes were flat and unsparked. He shifted in her palm.
“And if I do give it to you, you must promise me to do what I say and as I say and trust that what my instructions are only and will only ever be for your benefit—”
Her gaze slid back to the glass panels before her. He was losing her, but he kept talking.
“Because no one should be given a sword without undertaking proper instruction.”
She nearly dropped him and the candle.
Cupping both hands under him, she stared at him. Her clenched her teeth hard into the wax. Her eyebrows rose questioningly.
“Yes,” he said sternly. “I can give you a sword and teach you how to use it, but as I said, you must first apologize to Brogan. And in order for me to train you, you must remain here. And you must swear to me that you will do as I say, even if you do not understand why. Do you swear?”
Her heart was racing. He could feel it through her palms.
“Do not swear to me hastily,” he told her. “I know you want this, but you must understand. What I give you endangers us both. In more ways that you can currently comprehend. You will be done with your petty lashing out against the structure imposed upon you by your station and your sex. Everything we do must be done in utmost secrecy if we are to have any hope at all of succeeding in making a warrior of you. Much of the time, you will detest and curse me. You will want to question me. But if you truly want to fight. If you truly want to survive long enough to be a warrior, then you will not question. You will not argue. You will do what I say. It will not be easy. You will not enjoy it. Least of all how you will have to play pretend with the rest of the world. What you should be asking yourself in this moment, princess, is what you want more? To defy your family, your station, your king, to make a point? Or if you want to wield a sword with such deadly skill that all those who seek to defy you will find themselves unable to do so.” He let out a long breath. At least, as long as his little body could contain. “And so, what say you?”
She took a moment, seeming to absorb everything he was saying. He could see the questions there. She was wondering if he was telling the truth. If he was even capable of all he promised. But since she had a candle clenched between her teeth, she could not ask them. Even if she had, he would have had no answer for her except that she would only find out if she gave him the opportunity, if she agreed to his terms.
Finally, she nodded.
“You swear to follow my instruction, not matter what?” he asked.
She hesitated again, but nodded.
He nodded in return. “Good, first lesson. Why must you apologize to Brogan?” He cleared his throat and cringed when it came out in croak. “You must apologize because you humiliated him. And in doing so, you humiliated his family. And since your father sees fit to make treaty with Whiteplains, then you disgrace your father by humiliating the Whiteplains. I know this means little to you, but I am not going to train you to simply swing a weapon about haphazardly. I have seen you demonstrate leadership and deliberation, when it suits you, it is time you learn to do so when it is not so clearly to your immediate benefit. You can never be just a warrior. It is not in your nature. You are a leader. One of the hardest qualities of leadership is patience in diplomacy, particularly when it entails humbling yourself. But you are going to go in there, get down on your knees and plead for forgiveness. You will not beg, you will not cringe, and you will certainly not look him in the eye. You will merely remember that in apologizing to him, you are apologizing to your own family for marring the Redthorn name. You are apologizing to your mother and father for the embarrassment and apologies they had to make for you. Most importantly, you are apologizing to yourself, for expending your valuable energies out-of-turn and in manner that did not further your aims. There will be a time to deal with Brogan, but now is not that time. Have you heard me?”
She nodded and to his great relief, she appeared take in what he said soberly
“Good. You’ve been fighting against them, but you’ve been on their field. Now, it is time to learn that you can appear to be losing the battle when you are in fact, leading them into an ambush. Let them think you are playing along, until the time is right. Patience, mo ghra, is the first weapon you must master.”