Nick glanced back toward the lake. “What’s the Bloodlords’ Guard?”
Amy pulled her arms to her chest and looked him in the eye. “You know that there’s the old line of Bloodmaidens and the new one.”
“The Bloodlords’ Council advised the emperor in the bad old days, and after the last of the old line killed the royal family, it became the Lords’ Council—officially. It’s still the same families. They’re the most powerful users of blood magic. The Guard never changed their name, and it’s loyal to the Council. It’s officially loyal to our family too as we’re members of the Council, but we bring our own guards to sessions. We know where their loyalty lies.
“I knew they were nervous about me, but I thought the Harcourts were their only agents.”
Nick stared at her. “You knew that and you’re still traveling with them?”
Keeping her voice calmer than she felt, she said, “There’s more to this than just me. It’s important to the family that I’m out of reach of whatever’s going on back home.”
Nick stood up a little straighter and took his hands out of his pockets. “What’s going on back home?”
“I don’t know,” she said. All of it washed over her then—the shock of her first transformation, having to leave her home, her family and everything familiar, and then the fight. She could still see the expression on each of the men’s faces when she took them down. During the fight, she’d felt nothing—except maybe satisfaction.
Tears rolled down her cheek and then she began to sob.
Nick’s mouth opened, but he shut it before saying anything. Then he took a step closer to her and put his hand on her shoulder. She leaned into him, still crying. After a moment, he held her in both arms.
They stayed that way for a time. Then she pulled away, and he let go.
“Are you okay?” Nick asked, glancing toward at a gap in the trees to check the lake again.
Amy shook her head. “No.”
Then she thought about what she’d done. If she’d been home, holding him would have caused problems that wouldn’t have been over for months. But she wasn’t home, she told herself, was she? For that matter, she wasn’t going to be here much longer either.
She grabbed a handkerchief out of a pocket and dried her face. “I’ll just be a moment.”
“Take your time. They’re still down. They’re taking the two guys you hit away in a wagon. They can’t move themselves.”
She almost started crying again, but this time, she blinked away the tears. “What happened to the men you fought?”
Nick grinned. “Still caught in the net. Sleeping, in fact. There’s a poison on the threads. Um… Was this your first fight? If it was, you were amazing.”
Amy smiled a little at that. “It might surprise you, but they don’t encourage princesses to learn how to fight. I learned a little, but mostly because my twin sister was going to become the Bloodmaiden, and everybody knew it. She didn’t want me to feel left out. I know more about magic. I assume that you’ve been trained to fight?”
Nick shrugged. “Captain Lee, a friend of my grandfather’s, taught me the basics and a bit more.”
“I heard your grandfather mention him. I assume he’s very good?”
Nick grinned. “My understanding is that he’s utterly terrifying in battle, and that’s not surprising. I think he’s got Elder blood in him, so he’s had hundreds of years to learn. You’d know more about that than I would. Aren’t most of the nobility descended from the Elders?”
Amy put away her handkerchief. “That’s what I’m told. I wonder if we should go back? If they found us, there might be others.”
Herbert Johnson, the man whose memories she’d absorbed, didn’t know of any, but he didn’t have any special need to know. Well, so far as she could tell. His memories were a jumble when she took them, and she felt sure that she was losing them moment by moment.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Nick was watching her, hand held out as if he thought she might need support.
“I’m fine. I don’t know what you know about the old Bloodmaiden’s abilities, but remember the man with the fiery hand? I took his memories. I don’t know how. I was remembering them as we talked.”
Nick blinked. “I had no idea. Did you know that the Elders did that? That’s in texts about fighting them—the ones that didn’t get burned during their rule.”
Amy shivered. “I did. Please don’t tell anyone. Oh, and this is going to sound silly after everything else we’ve discussed, but please don’t tell anyone about how I broke into tears, and what happened after.”
Nick frowned, and then his eyes widened. “Oh, right. I did learn that much about royalty in school. Your marriages are used to pull the empire together. Rumors of a romance with some boy in the Summerlands would cause problems.”
She smiled at him. “It might cause problems for you too.”
“Unlikely,” Nick said. “I’m not going out with anybody. I almost dated a girl last year, but it turned out that she was a werewolf. When her pack realized what we were doing, they left. I don’t know where they went.”
Amy stared at him. “A werewolf? They’ve killed whole villages.”
Shrugging, Nick said, “She looked like a normal girl when we met. I didn’t find out about the werewolf part till later.”