She tripped over the sound of his voice, struggled to regain her balance. "What?"
"That's enough." He tugged the stick out of her hands. "I'm not sure where your mind wandered off to, but you weren't paying attention."
Oh, she'd been paying attention, but she'd been focused on the man and not the lesson.
"It's close to midday, and the weather has cleared." Lucivar smiled at her. "Why don't we fly down to the village? I'll buy you a meal."
Pain lanced her heart, fierce and deep. She shook her head and backed away from him. "I can't."
"Sure you can." He sighed. "Marian, eating a meal you didn't cook isn't neglecting your work."
"I can't." He'd mentioned once or twice that he'd never seen her fly, but she'd been able to avoid giving him a reason. Now…
"Why not?" Lucivar asked.
Tears filled her eyes. "I can't fly! My wings… they were damaged. They're useless."
Grief and understanding filled his eyes. Here was someone who understood what that loss meant to her.
Then his eyes chilled. "Who told you that?" he asked too softly.
"It doesn't matter. I can't…"
"Who told you that?"
Uneasy now, she wiped the tears off her face. She could almost see the temper beginning to burn in him, could almost see it rising from spike to spike until it would reach the explosion point.
"Jaenelle brought you to Kaeleer," Lucivar said, studying her. "She would have done the healing. Ifshe told you you'd never fly again, you'd have to accept it. But she didn't, did she? So who told you, Marian?"
She stared at him, not sure if there was any safe ground to stand on.
Lucivar bared his teeth. "Luthvian. She's the one who told you."
"Lady Angelline doesn't have experience with Eyrien…"
"On her worst day, Jaenelle is a better Healer than Luthvian can ever hope to be." He shook his head. "You think your wings were damaged? When I came to Kaeleer, mine were so broken, so destroyed by slime mold there was barely enough healthy tissue left to work with. Luthvian
wanted to remove them. Jaenelle rebuilt them, healed them. So don't tell me she doesn't have experience."
Marian's legs trembled. She could have flown? All these months when she'd been afraid to try, she could have soared over Ebon Rih?
Swearing viciously, Lucivar circled the room as if he couldn't stand still a moment longer. Finally, he stopped in front of her. The hand he held out curled into a fist.
"Don't let them win, Marian. Don't let them make you less than you are. Don't let them take away what means the most to you. Not the family who dismissed your strength and your skills, not the bastards who hurt you…yes, I know about them…and not Luthvian. Don't let them win. Fight for what you want with everything that's in you."
"It's not the same," Marian cried. "I'm just a hearth witch and you're—"
"I was a slave!" Lucivar shouted. "A half-breed bastard sold to one court after another, wearing that filthy Ring of Obedience to keep me submissive. But I wouldn't submit, I wouldn't break, and I fought back with every breath I took. I refused to be less than a Warlord Prince, and I made them deal with me on my terms. No matter how much pain they inflicted, I gave it back."
"I'm not like that. I can't fight like that."
"Have you ever tried?" He raked a hand through his hair. "If you give up your wings, what else will you give up because someone tells you you're just a hearth witch?"
Something broke inside her…broke and reformed in a different pattern. She teetered on the edge of a cliff. She could step back to familiar ground or she could leap…and possibly soar.
He'd been pushing her toward that edge. She saw that now. Every time he challenged and she pushed back, he never undermined the sense that she had held her own. She didn't usually win…his idea of compromise was laughable…but she didn't actually lose, either.
He wanted her to win. And he'd throw everything he was behind her to help her do it.
She swallowed tears and gathered her courage. "Could you help me learn how to fly again?"
He approached her slowly. No smile. No light words. He reached out and stroked her hair, watching her. He kissed her forehead, something he'd done frequently since the day she threw the pot at him. Then he kissed her mouth. A restrained kiss that made no demands…and left her wishing he would make a few.
"I'll help you fly again," he said as he stepped back. "Get your cape. We'll still go down to the village for a meal."
Wondering how soon they could start working to restore her flying skills, she hurried to obey. As she reached the steps that led to the rest of the eyrie, he said, "Marian?"
He grinned at her. "Learning how to fly again isn't going to get you out of learning the sticks. Just so we're clear on that."
Hell's fire, she thought as she hurried to her room to brush her hair and. get her cape. She hadn't thought about doing both. The time it would take out of her daily schedule… But he'd already locked the gate on any argument she could make.
Somehow that didn't annoy her as much as it should have.
Marian paused at the side door of the eyrie and looked at the dark, heavy clouds coming over the mountains. No gentle snowfall this time, but a mean storm that would bury Ebon Rih for days. Hopefully, Lucivar would get home before it hit.
*Tassle?* she called on a psychic thread.
*I am returning to the den,* Tassle replied.
Good. A kindred wolf would know how to find shelter if he was caught out in a storm, but she'd feel easier having him at the eyrie.
Hurrying into the mud room, she shook the snow off her heavy cape before hanging it on the pegs to dry. She traded her boots for soft house shoes, then went into the kitchen to put away the food she'd bought to last them through the storm.
As she unpacked her cloth market bags, she kept glancing out the window. The snow was already coming down fast. A hard gust of wind turned the world white and blind for a moment. Then she caught a glimpse of Tassle at the far end of her garden and breathed a sigh of relief. One of her males was home and safe. Now if the other one…
For the past few days, ever since they'd returned from celebrating Winsol at his father's house, Lucivar had been on edge. He denied there was anything wrong, but the looks he'd given her were close to hostile. Something was putting his back up, and she suspected it had to do with her.
Spending Winsol, the winter holiday that was a celebration of the Darkness, at the Hall had been fun and dazzling. She'd felt disappointed that Andulvar and Prothvar Yaslana hadn't been there, since she'd been hoping to meet them, but meeting the coven almost made up for that. There had been long walks and snowball fights, afternoons when the women had gathered to talk and laugh. During one of those afternoons, it had suddenly occurred to her that the women who were including her as if she were one of them were the Queens who ruled their respective Territories. But they didn't seem to notice that she was just a hearth witch, just a housekeeper. And the looks on their faces the day she'd told them she'd spent the morning with Mrs. Beale, helping prepare the midday meal…