How can he grin like that? How can he laugh? How can he be happy at all while he’s imprisoned like this? Eschia frowned at Robin as if he were a puzzle made out of deliberately mismatched pieces. He should be furious. He should be despondent. He should be so many other things and he is none of them. It doesn’t make sense.
Two puzzle pieces inexplicably matched up inside her head. Maybe…Maybe that’s why Isellta is drawn to him. It isn’t a physical thing at all. It’s a mental thing. It’s the longing to fix what is broken, to make sense of what is nonsensical.
Her heart went out to Preyuna. How can Her Majesty hope to compete with that?
“So?” Robin said. “Is Isellta okay? He ain’t hurt?”
The concern in his eyes and in the tone of his voice were two more puzzle pieces she didn’t know what to do with. “Your concern is misplaced. Worry more about what will happen to you, Robin. After all, you are at the mercy of Mark Caten. And, fair warning, he has no mercy.”
“So? What? You offerin’ to bust me outta here?”
“NO. If I set you free, Her Majesty would be the one to suffer for it.”
“Then, bring ‘sellta to me. Let me see him.”
She shook her head. “It isn’t that simple.”
“Why? He’s alive, ain’t he? He got legs, don’t he? He can walk and stuff.” A concerned look came over his face. “Can’t he?”
For one moment, Eschia realized how easy it would be to tell him the truth, the whole entire truth. Nothing held back. All secrets spilled out and revealed. But it would be a profound betrayal of Her Majesty’s trust in me. “I can’t.”
She whispered into her hands and pushed her magic at him.
His head slammed back against the brick wall. Before Robin could recover from that, his mouth clonked shut.
Eschia moved closer to him. “Like I said,” She refastened the mouth guard and the muzzle. “I am not at liberty to discuss Isellta. I’m sorry, Robin. This is how it must be and how it will be until Her Majesty says otherwise. I am truly sorry. Good-bye.”
She turned and left the cell.
Barbara closed the door.
The air outside was balmy with the distinct promise of higher temperatures. It was all a matter of time. Probably not that much time. Maybe even within the hour.
She walked over to the balcony’s white lacquered railing. The breeze set Barbara’s yellow sundress all a-ripple and teased at her hair. Barbara smiled and rested her elbows on the railing. She quietly admired the view.
And what a view it was!
A whole yard’s worth of palm trees towered above the hotel. They all stood close enough to make a statement and an impression, but they were judiciously planted to not obscure the distant blue haze of the ocean.
The familiar yet unfamiliar shape of the palm trees centered Barbara in the amazing reality that she was no longer in Ohio. She was in a completely different state, many miles away from home.
But she didn’t feel lost or lonely.
A flock of large, brown birds flew overhead. They were clearly not seagulls. Their heads were too big and were vaguely reminiscent of pterodactyls. Their whole undersides were far too brown to be seagulls…unless they were a flock of juveniles, but that didn’t seem to be all that likely. Before Barbara could fully comprehend what she was looking at, the birds flew far out of sight.
It’s so amazing and surreal. The mix of the unfamiliar and familiar. Trees grow leaves. Leaves are green. She looked up at the sky. And the sky is still blue. The clouds are white. Birds fly. Fish swim. And people are still people. Extraordinaries are still extraordinaries.
But these trees are not pine trees. Nor are they oaks. The birds here are not chickadees or robins or cardinals. As for the extraordinaries…Some are the same as what we have back home. Others are not. Some I will see and meet and talk to without realizing their secrets. Others I will never know.
The balcony door slid open.
She looked back and let out a surprised laugh.
Ambrose shuffled out, all wrapped up in the blanket. He held it as tight as he could so that nothing other than his shins were revealed. “Hi.” He closed his eyes in what probably was meant as a blink, but his eyes stayed closed.
“Nope.” She walked over to him and wrapped her arm around his waist. “As much as I would love to stand out here with you, I don’t want to have to haul you back to bed when you drop unconscious. Come on, you. Back to bed.”
Ambrose yawned. “Not sleepy.” He opened his eyes to half-mast. “See?”
“Not convinced. Come on, kitten.”
He rubbed his eyes with the corner of his blanket. “Hnmnn…okay.”