Anaria sat quietly for the first part of the ride, thinking through the events of the past night, it hadn’t even been a full day and her life had been turned upside down several times over. Eventually though, her ever-curious brain took control.
Her questions started slowly, but soon came thick and fast. The compost tub’s purpose, why the animals needed to stay out, why there was a garden with no one to tend it, who built the hut and more.
Liam answered most of them, some he turned back to her, he wanted to know how she’d solve the problem.
The morning passed quickly and surprisingly pleasantly. They stopped for a late lunch and stretch of the legs in a pretty clearing but didn’t linger, there was still a long way to go.
As the afternoon wore on, the seat of the cart became harder and harder, then, as the sun dipped below the trees, colder and colder. Even wrapping herself in the second clock didn’t fully chase off the chill. Anaria continued to dredge up more and more questions and topics of conversation. During a lull, in which she was wracking her brain for any question other than the one she really wanted to ask, Liam proved to be a mind reader on top of everything else.
“If you’re wondering how much further it is, we’re about three hours away now. So we’ll be in after dark, but not too late.”
“Am I that obvious?”
“It’s a natural question, I’ve been wondering why you haven’t asked.”
“Because I’ve spent very large parts of today feeling like a particularly stupid child and I didn’t want to add to it with another bout of whining.”
Liam shook his head, “Town girl, you are many things, but you most certainly are not stupid.”
“But I am childish?”
“Don’t put words in my mouth Ana, I’m not interested in fighting with you.”
“Just proving you think I’m childish.”
Liam pulled the horse to a stop and turned his full attention on Anaria.
“I think you’re an intelligent and resourceful young woman who has spent her entire life until last night being pampered and coddled. That is the situation, you are not at fault and neither am I, but your past life is going to make adapting to your future one painful at times. It will make things easier for everyone if you allow yourself a little kindness, rather than being always on guard and ready to attack whenever you’re feeling vulnerable.”
Anaria spluttered, torn between confusion, terror and fury at this neat dissection.
Liam cautiously put an arm around her shoulders, “You aren’t stupid and you most certainly aren’t weak. Please, and I know this is a lot to ask, please trust that I’m at your side and ready to extend a hand whenever you need it.”
Anaria sniffled and self-consciously leaned into his warmth, “Aren’t you supposed to promise to look after me?”
That prompted an amused snort, “Only if you promise to look after me as well. Equals, Ana, always, no matter what.”
This was a new idea, and she wasn’t quite sure it would work, certainly as she was learning his world but the more she thought through it, the more she liked the picture it painted.
Liam had, by this time, got the cart underway again and they were trundling along the old road, tucked against each other.
Her words clearly startled him, he jerked the horse to a stop again and tried to see her expression in the dimming light, “Truly?”
“Well it’s only fair, although I do think it’s going to be awfully strained in the next little while.”
That brought his easy smile and a gentle squeeze of her shoulders, she found she rather liked his squeezes, “I promise as well.”
“That just sounded awfully like a marriage vow.”
He started the horse moving yet again, “I did rather, but I hold to what I said before. Until you’re in a position to have the a proper choice, we’re betrothed, nothing more, nothing less.”
Anaria yawned. Now she was warm, sleep was reaching out again, “You’re so honourable and so kind. Don’t you have trouble with people taking advantage of you?”
“You’ll have to teach me to be tougher.”
She humphed and drifted off.
It seemed only minutes later he was gently shaking her awake, “Open your eyes town girl, we’re home.”