Strand of Faith: A love story with a touch of mystery
Such an exciting concept executed so cleverly and uniquely. This is the start of such an exciting series and I cannot wait to see where we head off to next timeZooLoo's Book Diary
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A girl. A monk. An unthinkable sacrifice.
When the choice is between love and life, how can anyone decide?
A brilliant story full of intrigue and mystery...keeping me hooked throughout - Black Book Blogs
An incredibly entertaining and compelling story... I could not put this one down - Jessica Belmont Book Reviews
A plot full of tension and (impossible) choices made for one great read - The Magic of Wor(l)ds
In a post-apocalyptic future, a girl and a monk, both with extraordinary mental powers, have compelling reasons not to fall in love. But their choices will have consequences for the rest of the world.
After the troubles of his youth, Brother Prospero has found comfort and fulfilment in the monastery. Then he discovers something that forces him to reconsider his whole vocation. How can it possibly be right to leave a life of worship and service for human desire? And if he does leave, will the pressures from his past destroy him?
Orphaned and mistreated, Leonie has found sanctuary and safety at the Abbey. When she comes into contact with Prospero everything spirals out of her control. Everyone she's ever loved has died. She can't do that to him. But how can she walk away from the first place she's truly belonged?
Abbot Gabriel is faced with an impossible choice. He can do nothing and watch the world descend into war. Or he can manipulate events and ensure peace – at the cost of two lives that he is responsible for. Is he strong enough to sacrifice those he loves?
Magical ... full of adventure with enjoyable characters...a must read for the genre! Touch My Spine Book Reviews
The quick pace, perfect balance between information and action along with the likeable characters made Strand of Faith a truly enjoyable read. It is a truly unique story and the elements are woven together so well.Odd Socks and Lollipops
What can I say about this book? It was pretty darn good! I can truly recommend this book to anyone that likes to read about choices and it has certainly paved the way for a fantastic series. Nemesis Book Blog
Such an exciting concept executed so cleverly and uniquely. This is the start of such an exciting series and I cannot wait to see where we head off to next time. ZooLoo's Book Diary
It had an unique tone and storyline, with some twists that truly surprised me. It was the kind of book that takes us on a journey in a different world. Jess Bookish Life
Release date: November 15, 2018
Publisher: Isbin Books
Print pages: 258
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Strand of Faith: A love story with a touch of mystery
Rachel J Bonner
The young lord slowed his horse and dropped behind the rest of the hunt, sickened by his discovery of what their quarry was. His companions glanced at him with little curiosity, no doubt assumed he was feeling the after-effects of last night’s drinking, then went on without him. He took a circuitous route away from the hunt, in no hurry to return to their starting point. He stopped at a convenient stream to water his horse and then sat on the bank lost in his own thoughts.
Gradually he became aware he was being watched. It took him a few minutes to spot the source. There was a child lying along a branch low over the water all but hidden in the leaves, one hand dangling in the stream. All he could make out were her eyes, large and dark in a dirty face.
“You're not safe there,” he said. “Come back to the bank.”
The child laughed, surprising him. “Your kind hunts mine,” she said. “This is as safe as anywhere.”
His guilt intensified, cutting him to the core with her apparent easy acceptance of her role as prey.
“Not me,” he said. “I left the hunt.” He tried another approach. “Are you hungry? I have food in my saddlebag.”
She hesitated, clearly thinking it might be a trick. He stood up, fetched the food and placed it on the ground between them before returning to his seat. With little sound, the child disappeared from her perch and materialised on the bank. Seen out in the open she was about eight or nine years old, dressed in rags and so filthy he couldn't be sure of either her skin or hair colour.
She studied him for a moment then dashed forward and grabbed the food before retreating a pace or two to squat and eat, still watching him, her body poised for flight. He held still, trying to appear unthreatening. Slowly she sank into a sitting position, legs crossed, licking her fingers and ensuring she got every last crumb.
“You're the one the Lady expects to marry,” she said between mouthfuls.
That was true enough. As probable heir to one of the other ruling Great Houses, his alliance with the daughter of this Great House would be welcomed on both sides. The details were still being hammered out between their High Lords but he was supposed to formally ask for her hand on this visit.
“No,” he said impulsively, “I won't be aligned with those who think you should be used as prey.”
The child grinned at him, mischief now dancing in her dark grey eyes. “She’s planning to run off with the stableman anyway, soon as she can. Her father thinks marrying her off will stop her.”
He stared at her, trying to take it in. This brat knows more than I do? That was the underlying reason for what he was being asked to do? He – and his House – were about to be tricked? As most of his mind processed this, some part noticed that the brat was shivering. He shrugged out of his coat and tossed it towards her.
“You're cold,” he said. “Take this. Put it on.”
She paused, uncertain, then slipped it on and wrapped it round herself although it dwarfed her. He was aware of her eyes following him as he paced up and down by the water’s edge thinking about his next action.
“I'm not putting up with this," he said more to himself than to her, “I'm leaving. Now.” He turned to the child who was sitting watching him, the food now gone. “Come with me, I'll take you somewhere safe. You'll be safe at Taylor House.”
She shook her head and scrambled to her feet to back away from him.
“If you stay they'll hunt you, too,” he told her but she shook her head again.
“They won't catch me,” she said as she backed further away and then disappeared into the trees.
He went after her but he couldn't see her. He closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, looking for the spot of light in his head that indicated the presence of another human. The spot flickered – he still hadn’t fully mastered this skill – and when he opened his eyes there was nobody there.
“Taylor House,” he shouted into the empty space around him, in the hope that she would hear. “Remember Taylor House.”
He didn't continue to search for long knowing that carrying a reluctant, struggling wild child wouldn't be practical with what he needed to do next. He didn’t understand why she mattered so much to him, why he felt so hurt that she’d rejected his offer. Telling himself that he was being silly, that saving one child would make no difference at all, he returned to the House he was visiting, told the High Lord of his decision, packed his belongings and left.
To himself, he swore that he would be back to find and rescue this child.
The child watched him from a perch high in one of the trees. Like many of her pursuers, he hadn't thought to look up. As soon as he was out of sight, she scampered down the tree and hurried back to her nest, a makeshift shelter deep in the forest. The other children clustered round her; despite her age, her skills at finding food and building shelter made her the natural leader.
“I met an angel,” she told them, eager to distract them from the fact that this time she’d returned without food. “He gave me this coat.”
The other children pestered her. “What’s an angel? Tell us!”
They snuggled into a pile with her at the centre, sharing body warmth, one or two of the smallest huddling into the coat beside her.
“He was tall,” she said, “a bit like a grown-up, only much nicer. Angels look after people. They’re never mean. They give you food and warm things.”
“Did he give you food? Did you bring us any?”
“Yes, he gave me food.” She felt a flare of guilt that she hadn’t saved any for her nestmates. “He watched me eat it. When angels give you food, it’s just for you, you have to eat it then. But we can all share the coat.”
“What was his name? Where did he go?” The other children were insistent.
What was his name? she thought. What was that name he’d called after her? Taylor, that was it.
“He was called the Angel Taylor,” she told them. “He said I could go with him, but he left before I could come and get you all. I couldn’t go without you. I don’t know where angels go. I’m sure it’s somewhere warm with plenty of food and other kind angels to look after us and be our family.”
The littlest child burrowed more deeply into the coat. “Will he come back?” he asked.
She smiled down at him. “I hope so. We’ll all have to hope so and look out for any angels. There might be others around. But we’ll have to be careful they aren’t grown-ups trying to trick us.”
She made up new stories about the angel every night to help the children sleep. Angel Taylor became the nestlings shared symbol of hope. Gradually the stories took over in her mind and merged with the real experience until even she could not distinguish between them.
Late again, Prospero would have no chance of making it to the Abbey on time if he followed the conventional routes at a conventional speed. But there were alternatives he’d discovered through many years of similar situations. He surveyed the corridor with his mind to ensure it was clear, ran along it, pushed open the window at the end and jumped, unconcerned that the ground was two floors below. Using his telekinetic ability on himself meant he could land gently and, this time at least, he remembered to use it to close the window behind him.
The Abbey itself was central to the campus and the other buildings had grown organically in courtyards around it. Having been built at different times, the courtyards did not fit exactly together and the consequence was a number of small, forgotten spaces like the one Prospero was now in. At the upper levels, it provided light into various corridors. At this lowest level he was faced with a door. Despite its imposing appearance it wasn’t locked and it gave him access to the extensive cellar storage that spread under the campus, which meant he could run directly across rather than having to zig zag round the courtyards.
Part way through, he pulled up suddenly, sensing the presence of another person nearby, someone he didn’t recognise. He hesitated for a moment, torn between curiosity and his urge to reach the Abbey. But, whether or not they were supposed to be here, he certainly wasn’t. If he stopped to investigate, not only would he be late, but there could also be some very inconvenient questions about why he was in the cellar in the first place. His compulsion to be with his Brothers won out and he set off again, trying to push thoughts of the stranger to the back of his mind. At the far end of the cellar he ran up a flight of stairs, slid carefully round a corner then merged into the line of Brothers as they filed into the Abbey.
The stranger refused to stay at the back of his mind. At the slightest lapse of his concentration during the service in the Abbey they danced back to the forefront of Prospero’s thoughts, the remembered sensation of spotting them tickling at his mind, an itch he couldn’t relieve. Andrew nudged him as they were leaving the Abbey.
“You were almost late, and you haven’t been paying attention,” he whispered.
Prospero just grinned, glanced around to make sure no one was looking and pulled Andrew into a cupboard under a flight of stairs.
“Come on,” he said. “There’s something I want to check out.”
He reached for the back of the cupboard, where another long-forgotten door gave access once more to the cellar storage. In the middle of the cellar, they met Pedro, head chef, checking on his supplies. He raised his eyebrows at them.
“What are you two doing here?” he asked.
Andrew just shrugged but Prospero was happy to explain, “I was in here earlier and I'm sure there was someone else here, near the back, the older part.”
“That's hardly surprising, there are often people in here. And what were you doing here then? Were you late again?”
“Maybe.” Prospero grinned. “But if it was anyone who was supposed to be here I'd have recognised them. And I didn't, so I want to find them.”
“Well, they won’t still be here, not now, not with the noise you’re making,” Pedro told him.
Prospero acknowledged that, “I know they’re not still here, or I’d be able to sense them. But there may be some sign that they were here, and of who they were.”
Prospero was quite certain about where he’d sensed whoever it was, but there was no sign that anyone had been there and nothing seemed to be missing or to have been disturbed. Puzzled, but unrepentant and still convinced of what he’d sensed, Prospero headed back to his duties, taking Andrew with him.
Late one evening, Andrew and Prospero walked across the courtyards to the monks’ residence after fulfilling their medical duties at the hospital. The cold season was well underway and both men shivered slightly, pulling up the hoods of their outer tunics and covering their hands with their sleeves. The night Shields were on, protecting the campus, but limiting the range Prospero could mind search.
As a skilled adept, Prospero had an extended awareness of the presence of others over a range of several miles. He could even identify and locate specific individuals, seeing them as glowing spots in his mind, each as individual as a face, superimposed on a mental image of their location. Each time he used this skill and saw only those he recognised he was reminded of his failure to find the stranger.
“It’s not any of our Brothers, nor the Sisters,” he told Andrew. “In fact, it’s not anyone from the Great House at all. I know everyone here, and it wasn’t someone I know.”
“You’re looking for that intruder again, aren’t you?” Andrew asked. “Honestly, there are plenty of people you don’t know. Especially in the college, and some in the hospital.”
“Not that many,” Prospero said shortly, his frustration building. “And anyway, if they were on the staff anywhere, I’d have spotted them by now even if I didn’t know them personally. And no one else should be in the cellar.”
“You know you’re being ridiculous about this, don’t you? Just forget about it.” Although his face was hidden in the dark, Andrew’s feelings showed in his short, sharp tone.
“I can’t. It’s nagging at me. All the time.” Prospero was insistent.
“Have you thought, maybe you just made a mistake?”
“I didn’t. I’m sure of that.”
“Well, then, someone who shouldn’t have been in the cellar. A student, or a random stranger.”
Given that neither a mistake, nor a random stranger could provide a satisfactory solution in Prospero’s mind, he continued to scan the college part of the campus for students. Once or twice he thought he caught a mental glimpse of his intruder but they always disappeared before he could track them. He thought about staking out the cellar in case they returned, but duties and events conspired to stop him. He’d still look, every time he used that route as a short cut – even when he didn’t need it.
As soon as he was sure that Andrew and Prospero had left the cellar, Brother Pedro returned to where Prospero thought he had sensed someone. He circled the shelfing once or twice, studying its contents while thinking hard. Then he reached for a large box on an upper shelf and was unsurprised to find it light and empty. Behind the box he saw a concealed space, big enough for a person to curl up in. He spotted a couple of old blankets, a book, a water bottle and a small food tin. Putting the large box on the floor, he opened the tin, and smiled to see that it contained a couple of his signature chocolate chip cookies. So that’s where they’ve been disappearing to, he thought.
He put everything back as it was and decided to keep his findings to himself. If Prospero’s intruder was what Pedro now thought they were, Pedro would keep their secret as long as necessary and provide all the help he could. Prospero might mean well, but this particular intruder would be easily scared off and that wouldn’t help anyone.
Instead, every night before he left the kitchens, Pedro put extra food, old items of clothing, and anything he supposed might be useful, in places where they might be thought of as having been discarded. He wasn’t surprised when they disappeared promptly. He thought about trying to communicate with this secretive creature but he knew his presence would scare them off and he very much doubted that they could read, so for now he did nothing more.
Lord Gabriel started dreaming again. The first dream was simple; a jewel, a glowing red ruby, fell into his hands. He knew that he had to do something vital with the jewel but not what that was. He awoke in fear of what the dream meant – not in itself but the consequences of it happening at all.
“Not again,” he prayed. “Please not again. Please take this burden from me.”
He dreamt again the next night. This time he was holding an emerald when the ruby fell into his hands. He tried to keep them apart but they were drawn to each other and began to merge together. He woke suddenly, unsure whether they had merged to form a new jewel or disintegrated to dust in his hands.
He prayed again, “Show me what this means. Give me the strength to do your will.”
I opened the door to the Old Chapel just far enough to be able to look in and make sure it was empty. It was, so I slipped inside and hurried to my hiding place, underneath the altar table. This was one of my favourite places to hide out, where I could relax and sleep without fear. It was on the edge of the campus, near the river and clearly one of the first buildings on the site, built not that long after the Time of Devastation. It wasn’t used now, but it was dry and looked as though it was still cared for even though I never saw anyone else visit it.
I suspected that it was cared for out of respect for the memorials inside. There were three memorials along one wall commemorating the events of the Time of Devastation, but it was the fourth one, on the opposite wall, that drew me most. As the world had repopulated after the Devastation, some of those in their late teens had started to discover they had additional skills, things they could do with their minds. Some could communicate with each other, or sense where people were without being able to see them. Others could move things, or start fires, or predict the future. Those who didn’t have these skills had been scared of such magic, and the first generations were persecuted and often killed. This was a memorial to those early adepts and to those who had died assisting them.
As more people developed the abilities, having such skills became more acceptable, though there were still many who feared them. Engineers had developed a Shield which could be used to prevent anyone under it using their gifts, and Shields were used anywhere people thought they might be unduly influenced, such as in shops or any building used for religious purposes.
The Old Chapel still had a working Shield, triggered whenever someone entered. That was one of the reasons I thought it was still well maintained, and also one of the reasons I liked being there. Being a telepath I could always hear a background chatter of other people’s thoughts. I’d learnt how to ignore it, but under a Shield everything became quiet, peaceful, which was such a relief. Also, I’d found that I didn’t have nightmares or sleepwalk if I slept somewhere that was Shielded. My mind always felt slow and sluggish the next morning though, so I didn’t do it too often.
Once I was safely curled up in my hiding place, I started to think about my current situation. I was almost happy living in this community, despite the inherent dangers and risk in what I was doing. The whole place felt peaceful, safe and non-threatening. Of course, I had to be on my guard and I did my best not to be noticed but that was the case anywhere. Now I was afraid I had been spotted.
A couple of weeks ago I’d been hiding out in the cellars under the Abbey buildings. Someone had come rushing through and I had felt a current of power around them, the sort that indicated someone was using their gifts. I’d been hiding my presence physically rather than mentally, and I was pretty certain they’d spotted me where I shouldn’t be. I had got out of there as soon as the coast was clear. I’d been back once or twice, making sure I hid my presence properly, but I hadn’t risked sleeping there since because I couldn’t hide my presence mentally when I was asleep.
Nothing more had happened, so I’d thought I’d got away with it. But today, I’d had classes at the college, and, as I’d been where I was supposed to be – at least as far as anyone here knew – I hadn’t been hiding my presence mentally. Doing that took a fair bit of energy so I didn’t do it when it wasn’t necessary. As I’d walked across the courtyard after class I’d felt that current of power again, whispering past my mind. I’d been surrounded by other students, but this whisper had come from a distance and I was afraid I’d been recognised. I’d shielded myself immediately, but I was very concerned that someone might have been looking specifically for me, and that they’d know me when they found me.
As I thought about it, I figured I had two options. One, I could leave, find somewhere else to live, but I had nowhere else to go. And I was finding the classes in how to use and control my gifts useful, which was a bonus as it was something I very much needed to learn to avoid disaster. Or, I could stay, but I’d have to be much more careful and much more watchful. I didn’t like to think about what might happen if I did get caught.
I’d have to be more rigorous with hiding myself mentally, of course, which took energy. Using my abilities always left me hungry but I could scavenge food from the kitchen, as I had today. The real danger was sleeping, as it always had been. If I started sleepwalking they’d find me, without a doubt, and I couldn’t spend every night in the Old Chapel. I figured I’d just have to sleep out in the woods more, even though the cold season was here now. I could have a fire if I was careful – it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship.
More settled in my mind, I left the Chapel and set off to take some of this food I’d scavenged to those who needed it even more than I did.
I was running, fighting, trying to escape Them as I had so many times before. They were dark, nebulous, never clearly defined, bodies shrouded in black cloaks, faces hidden. They shadowed me, following, looming, certain to grab me if I let them get close enough. I fought where I had to, ran when I could. I knew exactly what would happen next; I would find a hiding place, deep, dark, secure and as I entered it, I would wake. Usually, I would wake to find I was some distance from where I had gone to sleep, with a trail of destruction behind me where I had tried to fight Them off. I tried – so hard – to find ways to sleep without risking the devastation of my nightmares.
As I filled my normal role in this dream world, part of me was already thinking about what I would lose this time. I’d had such hopes, been doing so well, this time. I knew here, this college, this Great House, was where I needed to be, and I’d survived months without anyone noticing me. Now I would be discovered and I would have to start all over again – if I survived the consequences of being caught.
Then the dream changed, subtly at first; there were more of Them. Still undefined, they were solider than usual, more direct, starting to approach me. I grabbed for a weapon and found my hands around a large, loaded catapult. I fired it at the nearest one and it ducked out of the way. Another approached from the side and I swung round to kick it in the stomach, meaning to bring the catapult down on the back of its head as it bent over. As I did so, the catapult turned into a sword, and the Them faded away like a ghost, leaving me off balance as my foot failed to connect. I dived, somersaulted and came back up and now there were two more advancing. My sword turned into a pillow – that’s the problem with dream weapons, they are totally unreliable – so I threw it at them, and again they ducked away, but they didn’t retreat. I gathered the power and launched that at them, but again they didn’t falter. Now there were four of them, closing in on me, blocking my escape routes.
I felt another behind me, turned to attack and found myself immobilised, its hands on my upper arms. As it pulled me closer, I looked up, partly terrified, partly curious for more definition, more information about Them. I felt something like an electric current run through my body, not painful, but exhilarating, followed by the certain knowledge that I had found whatever I had been looking for…and I woke up.
Struggling for comprehension, I realised I was still being held, still immobilised.
I stared into the wide open, dark blue eyes of one of the monks. Several thoughts competed for my attention; this time I was not going to be able to deny, hide or rectify my trail of destruction. And this man had now discovered one of my secrets. In dismay at what I’d forfeited, I closed my eyes again and sagged, my forehead falling against his chest. I felt him lift me up into his arms, and he spoke to me. I understood the words, they just didn’t make sense in context.
“It’s you! I’ve found you!”
Of course I am me, who else could I be? And he most certainly had found me out.
No, nothing is okay, how could it be?
“It’s over now.”
Well that bit makes sense, life here is definitely over.
“You’re quite safe, nothing will harm you.”
I knew that had to be nonsense—I’d never been safe. Except that, for a moment as I woke, his mind had been open to me, just as mine had to have been to him. There’d been no malice, just consuming curiosity and a desire to help. I gave up trying to understand and succumbed to the exhaustion that always followed the nightmares.
Brother Prospero hadn’t been surprised, when the night-watch team had called him to assist with a sleepwalking student. Each group of students included a few of those rare youngsters with two or more strong Gifts, and they inevitably suffered the devastating nightmares brought about by the development of these Gifts. As he had responded to the call, he had run through likely candidates in his head. To find that the troublemaker running riot through the central courtyard was Leon had surprised him; the boy was unassuming and easily overlooked, his abilities barely sufficient to qualify him for this group. Nonetheless, it never paid to underestimate a dreaming student especially one who was frightened, and more strongly Gifted than anyone had thought.
Despite being asleep, Leon had used telekinesis to move benches and plant pots to block his pursuers, and pyrokinesis to set small fires and smokescreens to add to the confusion. The team had slipped into a well-practiced routine, two members in front of the boy, attacking and distracting, forcing him to concentrate on them. Two others had focussed on protecting their teammates, and the environment, dousing fires and restraining moveable objects. Prospero had slipped round behind Leon, shielding his own presence and radiating feelings of reassurance and calm. Carefully, he had crept closer until he could reach out and had then pulled the boy close, immobilising him as he had placed a mental Shield over the pair of them. Within the Shield he had touched Leon’s mind, intending both to soothe and wake him. What he had found there had shaken Prospero so deeply he had almost let the Shield drop.
Breaking the mind contact, he swept the – dreamer was probably the best word he thought – into his arms, and looked around for Andrew, who was duty doctor.
“I’ve found them!” he whispered exultantly to Andrew. “This is our intruder!”
Andrew just shook his head. “Intruder or not, what’s important is dealing with whatever they need now,” he said. “Bring him back to his room and I’ll take care of him.”
Once he had consigned the dreamer to Andrew’s care – and made sure that Andrew knew exactly what he was dealing with – Prospero headed for Lord Gabriel’s office at the centre of the complex. He knocked on the open door, and walked in without waiting for an answer. Despite the lateness of the hour, Lord Gabriel was still seated behind his large oak desk. As the High Lord of the Great House St Peter, demands on his time were never ending, but he considered his most important role to be that of Abbot, spiritual leader to the Brothers and Sisters, and his door was always open to them. He looked up at the sound of someone entering and smiled when he saw Prospero.
“I hear you successfully halted another student nightmare again tonight.”
Prospero nodded. “Actually, it was that I wanted to talk to you about. It’s not what it seems.”
Lord Gabriel rose from his desk and gestured to a comfortable seating area. He raised an eyebrow in query as they both sat down. “So? You have some issue concerning the boy involved?”
“That’s just it, Father – he’s a girl!”
“Interesting.” Gabriel leaned forward in his chair. “You are sure?”
“I’m sure,” confirmed Prospero. “At the moment – she – woke up we connected, just for an instant.”
“What have you done with her now?”
“She’s back in her room, asleep, sedated. Andrew is with her. I said I’d go back.”
Gabriel thought for a moment. “This all suggests that Leon is both more Gifted and more skilled than we thought. What do you think?”
“She used pyrokinesis and telekinesis whilst asleep; both were skilfully placed to deter rather than to hurt, which also suggests a very high awareness of the location of others. Clearly she’s telepathic, whether she has precognition or teleportation skills I couldn’t tell. When we connected, I had the impression of very high strength.”
“And she’s managed to hide all that from us for weeks, which certainly makes her very highly Gifted,” Gabriel agreed. “I wonder why she chose to hide both her ability and the fact that she’s a girl?” He looked over at Prospero. “Was there anything else to report?”
Prospero felt uncomfortable, realising that he would have to confess. He sighed. “A few weeks ago I sensed someone I didn’t know in the cellars. I’ve been looking for them since – this is her.” He hesitated. “There’s something about her that disturbs me.”
“Can you tell what?”
“No, I can’t really describe it. Now, I can see her with my mind even without trying, but I’ve spent the last few weeks looking for her and I’ve been unable to find her.”
“I expect it will become clearer in due course,” Gabriel reassured him. “For now, you’d better return as you promised.”
The next morning
When I woke, I didn’t open my eyes immediately. Instead I used my mind to scan the area and assess the situation so as not to arouse the suspicions of anyone who might be around. It was morning, I was in my own room, but he was still there, sitting in the chair, giving out an aura of calm relaxation. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around, either in the room or in the area outside.
He spoke, “You might as well open your eyes—I know you are awake.” His voice sounded amused.
I sat up and looked at him. “Have you been there all night?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Someone has. Not always me.”
“Ah, guards,” I deduced with a snarl.
“No, doctors,” he claimed. “To make sure you are unharmed after last night’s escapade. You aren’t a prisoner. You are free to walk out that door and go wherever you want, if you wish.” He smiled. “But if you are going to do that I suggest you get dressed and have some breakfast first.”
He indicated a tray on the table piled with food. I was hungry and the smell was overwhelming but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction that easily.
“I need the bathroom.”
“Fine. I’m sure you know the way.”
He didn’t try to stop me, and once safely in the bathroom, with the door locked, I took the time to think about my options. I could escape now, out of the window, but I’d be hungry, inadequately dressed, and, if I was a prisoner, there’d be a guard out there or not far away. I wasn’t too worried about the guard, but if it was that easy to escape now it would be easy later, too, and I’d be fed and dressed. If it wasn’t that easy now, I’d just make my situation worse by trying. On the other hand, if he was right, and I was free to go, I might as well take the meal and the clothes first. Possibly my logic was affected by hunger, or perhaps curiosity, a characteristic which had got me into trouble many times. Still, I’d got out of all that trouble too, and no doubt I’d find a way to get out of whatever mess I might get into this time.
I returned to the room. He was still there, a fact which I knew already, being far more aware of his presence than that of anyone I had known before. I was certain that he was connected with the feeling I’d had last night that I’d found whatever I’d been searching for, though I didn’t know what that was or how it involved him. I wasn’t even sure that I knew that I’d been searching for something.
He smiled at me and indicated the table and the tray of food.
“Perhaps introductions are in order,” he said. “I’m Brother Prospero, and you”—he paused—“are very definitely not Leon.”
I dropped the spoon I’d just picked up, all thoughts of hunger gone, and stared at him in horror. Of course, he knew I wasn’t Leon, I’d realised that last night, but I’d put it to the back of my mind in hope that it had been forgotten when he didn’t bring it up immediately. I started to back towards the door, very conscious of how little I was wearing; now I understood what he would want from me, why there was no one else around. He didn’t move, and to be fair, I felt no hint of threat or menace from him.
“Don’t run,” he said calmly. “I told you, you are quite safe here.”
My fears must have shown in my face; he sounded exasperated as he added, “Honestly, whoever you are, this is predominantly a monastery. You’re probably safer here than you have been anywhere else in your life.”
I doubted that—I’d known a fair number of religious types whose private morals rather differed from their public vows. On the other hand, I’d been here for a while, and I’d seen no evidence to contradict the claim that these monks kept their public vows even in private. He must have noticed my hesitation as he went on.
“At least sit and eat, I won’t move from here while you do, and you can stay closer to the door. We have a proposal for you, but it is entirely your choice as to whether you take it up.”
Then he was silent. Fine, I thought, play on my curiosity, but the food was tempting me again and I sat and started to eat.
“I still don’t know your name,” he said mildly. “You don’t have to tell me, but I’d like to know what to call you.”
I studied him carefully. He looked relaxed and comfortable, confident that he was both in the right and doing the right thing. Even sitting down he looked as though he was tall, and broad shouldered. His eyes drew me for a moment; I could get lost in them. They were such a deep blue they were almost navy. He stared back and I could feel my skin starting to heat. I turned back to my food to hide my blushes.
“My name’s Leonie,” I admitted between mouthfuls.
“Ah, very sensible. That’s close enough to your assumed name to make your deception that much easier, isn’t it?” He didn’t wait for an answer before continuing, “Do you have another name, a family name, a House name, or is it just Leonie?”
I shook my head. “Just Leonie. I don’t have any other name.”
“Well, Just Leonie, once you have eaten we would appreciate it if you would dress – as Leon for the time being – and then the Lord Gabriel requests the pleasure of your company.”
I started to eat faster. Whatever the circumstances, prisoner or free, you did not keep any High Lord waiting, particularly not if you wanted them to look on you at all favourably. Prospero looked amused.
“Take your time,” he ordered. “Gabriel can wait, he’s in no hurry, he’s got plenty else to do.”
I rapidly reassessed Prospero. To speak so casually of the High Lord, he had to be very senior in the House himself, and yet he looked too young. Several years older than me, certainly, but surely too young to be on first name terms with a High Lord?
I hadn’t paid much attention to the hierarchy here; I’d been concentrating on learning what I could in class, keeping my head down and making sure that I kept out of sight and out of mind. I continued to eat fast. Prospero leaned forward in his chair, making me jump.
“Slow down,” he insisted. “You’ll get indigestion or make yourself sick. I told you, there’s no hurry.”
I looked at him in disbelief, but slowed down a little, which seemed to satisfy him as he leaned back again.
“A proposal?” I queried, curiosity coming forward now some of my hunger was satisfied.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until we see Lord Gabriel,” he replied, “but it’s a good one. It should be better for you than what you’ve been trying to do here.”
He gestured broadly at the student room. Clearly I was going to have to wait so I returned to eating and ignored him, which seemed to amuse him. He noticed as soon as I finished and spoke again.
“I’m going to move now,” he said, “and go and wait outside while you dress. Come and find me as soon as you are ready, okay?”
I nodded, and watched while he got up and left the room. As quickly as I could, I pulled my clothes on and dragged a comb through my hair. I leaned against the inside of the door for a moment before opening it, trying to get my feelings in order. I was confident I could get out of this mess, nervous about what the price might be, what I might lose. I was reluctant to go and see Lord Gabriel, but eager to be with Brother Prospero again. Eager to be with Brother Prospero? Where did that come from?
I couldn’t put it off any longer so I opened the door to find him waiting outside, leaning against the wall looking quite at ease. I tried not to look nervous as we set off, but he must have been able to tell because he spoke.
“It will be alright, you know,” he said gently. “I know you don’t trust me, but could you perhaps trust my vocation?”
Funnily enough, I realised I did trust him; it was the situation I was wary of. I wondered why I trusted him. Was that to do with how we’d connected last night when he’d woken me? I looked him straight in the face as I answered him. “I’d rather trust a person than a role.”
He didn’t have an opportunity to respond as we had reached our destination. He led the way through the open door without knocking. I was right, he must be very senior. No ordinary member of a House would just walk into a High Lord’s office like that. Lord Gabriel looked up at Prospero then came towards us and indicated that we should sit down.
“Hello, Leonie,” he said, and sat down opposite me.
I couldn’t think why a senior member of the House would take any time over me, let alone the High Lord. My deceptions, my crime, my punishment were surely minor enough to be dealt with at a much lower level. Had I totally misjudged the situation? Did they consider what I’d done far more serious than I’d thought? Did they know what I’d been before? Had they somehow found out what I’d done in the past?
I’d never come across anyone like Lord Gabriel; he had a glow, an aura of such goodness, and when he looked at me I thought he could read me through to my very soul. I immediately decided that this was one person to whom I would always tell the truth. Possibly not the whole truth, but never a lie.
Leonie looked very composed as she sat down opposite Gabriel and responded to his greeting.
Gabriel continued, “You’ve caused us quite a challenge you know. The thing that interests me most is why you have disguised yourself as a boy and come here?”
Leonie looked at him with some surprise. “But you don’t have girl students, not amongst those with extra skills.”
Prospero had difficulty stifling his laughter and turned it into a cough, which earned him a look from Gabriel.
Gabriel smiled at Leonie. “Well, we do, but they live at our sister house on the other side of the campus, and tend to need different classes, for their different Gifts. But you could also simply have come to the college as a student.”
“I thought that the college students couldn’t access the same classes as the adepts,” Leonie explained. “And anyway, I just knew that this was where I had to be.”
“Sister Elizabeth would not have had the facilities to manage all your abilities anyway,” Gabriel reassured her. “But you said you ‘just knew’ this was where you should be? How did you know?”
Leonie took some time to reply, picking her words slowly and carefully. “I used to feel a pressure to move on, keep going, but when we got here, to the town, it stopped, just disappeared. The person I was with then, she knew of my gifts, and she told me about here. She said that usually the gifts appear in teenagers and they either fade away by the time you are eighteen or grow much stronger, and that very few have more than one gift. She told me that you pick out those with more and take them as a special group – the adepts – but only boys and you only find a few each time.”
Leonie paused to gauge how her revelations were being taken, but Gabriel motioned for her to continue.
“Before she died she told me I should find a way to be one of those few. And the others in the group didn’t think I should stay with them once she’d died, so when they moved on, I stayed here and worked out how to come to the college.” She looked up again and continued more quietly. “I have to learn how to control the things I can do, before I hurt anyone. I didn’t mean last night to happen.”
“Don’t worry about that, it’s in the past. You’ve covered the why, so how?” queried Gabriel.
“Forged papers are pretty easy to find, if you know where to look, and have something to trade,” Leonie confessed. “That got me everything I needed for an application. When I came for an interview the interviewer wasn’t expecting to see a girl, so he didn’t. I shielded my thoughts so he only saw what I wanted, distracted him when I thought he was getting too close, tried to do the tests only just well enough to get in…”Her voice drifted off but picked up again, “And then when I got here, I just tried to stay out of sight of everyone, not get noticed, just be average – I’ve had a lot of practice at not being noticed. It seemed to work, until last night.”
Gabriel agreed, “It certainly did work—you’re very good at it, but we are going to have to be rather more rigorous with our recruitment in future!” He thought a moment, and studied the girl with interest.
“Leonie,” he asked, “were you with a caravan of Traders?”
Leonie nodded as he continued, “Katya’s caravan? She died while they were here, some time ago.”
Leonie could only nod again but she met Gabriel’s eyes, even though her own were full of sadness.
“I had a lot of time for Katya,” Gabriel said. “If she felt you should be here, then I am certain she was right.” He paused. “You do want to stay here with us, don’t you, Leonie?”
For a moment Leonie’s eyes and face were full of hope, before clouding over with caution. “You mean as a girl, but here still, to learn how to use what I can do?”
Gabriel smiled. “Yes, as a girl, to study what is appropriate to your levels of skill and ability.”
Briefly, Leonie was speechless, and then she whispered, “But how?”
“You will be my ward,” Gabriel told her. “It will appear that Leon leaves for the Christmas break tomorrow and does not return, while Leonie will arrive tomorrow afternoon. Your rooms will be in the main House, rather than with the students, but within the main Shield. I think that is important for all our sakes. Brother Edward will sort out clothing and equipment, and we’ll find you a duty assignment in the kitchens with Brother Pedro. All clear so far?”
Gabriel looked at Leonie who was watching him in wonderment. She nodded, still speechless.
Gabriel continued, “After the Christmas period we will assess your skills and strength properly and plan a suitable curriculum for you. Now, in terms of other details, I assume that as your application papers were forged, all the information in them is also incorrect?”
“Mostly,” Leonie agreed.
“Do you know your real date of birth?” Gabriel asked.
“The twenty-ninth of February,” Leonie responded, her voice little more than a whisper.
Gabriel looked up sharply, and Prospero sat up, suddenly more interested.
“That’s Leap Day,” Prospero said. “Last year was leap year, and that means you’re seventeen.” He turned to Gabriel. “We don’t need her consent.”
“I’m not a child,” Leonie muttered, but mostly under her breath.
“It’s irrelevant,” Gabriel told Prospero. “I want Leonie to be happy with what we decide.”
He turned back to Leonie. “We take new students in every quarter. Why did you choose to come now, and not next April, after your birthday?”
Leonie looked down at the floor and scuffed her foot, sheepishly. “I didn’t expect it to work, not the first time, I was trying to find out where the problems were, what else I would need to do to get in. But it did work so I didn’t want to pass it up.”
It was Gabriel’s turn to laugh. “You’ve had us completely fooled, haven’t you? Still, at least you are safe with us now. Do you know anything about your parents?”
“I was told my father died before I was born, and my mother died giving birth to me. I lived with my aunt until she died, then after a while I joined Katya’s caravan.”
Gabriel stood up, dismissing them but still smiling. “We’ll leave it at that. Brother Prospero will take you to meet with Brother Edward.”
I followed Brother Prospero through doors, down stairs and along corridors into a large space that resembled a cavern filled with treasure. He led me across to a room on the edge of the cavern, lined with racks of fabrics in all the colours of the rainbow, and well-lit by a wall of windows. Another monk was seated there at a long work table. My head was spinning with all the new things I had to think about. The sheer size of the storerooms didn’t help and by the time we entered the inner room, the spinning felt real, not just figurative. Brother Prospero introduced me to Brother Edward and I know Brother Edward spoke to me but it didn’t seem to make sense, and then he seemed to be swaying from side to side. I heard someone call Prospero’s name urgently as if from a great distance, and then I was sitting down with a hand gently but firmly holding my head down by my knees.
“Don’t move, breath slowly,” I was told – Prospero again – and for once I felt inclined to do what I was told.
After a moment he moved his hand from my head and let me sit up, though I realised he was still holding my wrist. He was squatting down in front of me, so that his dark eyes were level with mine.
“Better?” he asked.
I nodded and regretted it as my head started to spin again.
“You don’t eat properly, you don’t sleep properly and your life is far too stressful. It’s no wonder you nearly passed out,” he accused me.
I growled back, “And you know this how?”
“The pup has spirit,” Edward laughed from somewhere behind Prospero.
I would have snarled at him, too, but couldn’t find the energy.
Prospero ignored him to respond to me. “You’re nothing but skin and bone, you’ve got dark circles under your eyes, and you’ve been living a life of deception for the last three months at least, if not longer.”
Edward passed him a mug and he paused to press it in to my free hand. “Drink!” he commanded.
I did. It was hot and sweet, and sipping gave me time to compose myself. Truth be told, it was Prospero himself who was having a major effect on my senses. The man acted like he was always right, was far too sure of himself, and yet I trusted him instinctively. His touch made my skin feel like an electric charge was crawling across it – how could he not feel it? I wanted to bait him, annoy him, disrupt that calm exterior and make him feel as disorientated as he was making me feel. I was sure he was connected with whatever I had been seeking, and that made me feel insatiably curious, because I didn’t know what I had been seeking, and I was without any way of finding out – and that irritated me too.
I reached out with my mind – something I should have done much sooner if I’d had my wits about me – to touch his mind and see what I could find out. No telepath could read or hear more than the surface thoughts of any non-telepath’s mind – even with another telepath it was like talking without using your voice – but I thought it might give me a clue to his actions. I found a blank, a telepathic Shield, and backed off. I hadn’t expected him to be a telepath – in my experience men rarely were. Then I realised that Lord Gabriel had known my name before Prospero had had time to tell him out loud; they had to both be telepathic.
Amongst the Traders, it was the women who were telepaths, like Headwomen Katya. I still missed Katya deeply. She had taken me in as her apprentice, provided me with food, a place to sleep and training. Maybe I was an Outsider, but she’d always treated me well. I could have done with her wisdom to talk over all the things that were happening now. I pulled myself away from these past memories, aware that Prospero was still watching me. I realised that I’d finished the drink, so I passed the mug back to him, and he took it and put it on the table.
“You’ll do for now,” he said, “though I wish I’d taken the opportunity to take you into the hospital last night when I had the chance.”
I shuddered, I did not like hospitals, but before Prospero could comment, Edward spoke.
“She’ll be fine here with me. You get off to wherever you are supposed to be right now.”
Prospero turned to him. “Make sure she gets a decent lunch,” he said and then looked back to me. “If you don’t eat properly, I’ll know.”
I hoped that was an empty threat but as he headed towards the door, I felt an unexpected fear flare up in me. Despite the fact that he unsettled me beyond measure, Prospero had been the one steady focal point in all that had happened in the last few hours, and now he was disappearing and leaving me in an unknown and potentially dangerous situation. I wasn’t aware that I’d said anything but he turned back and squatted down again so our eyes were on a level.
“Don’t worry; you’ll be safe with Edward,” he said quietly. “I’ll be back for you in a couple of hours.”
Then I was on my own. I don’t think Edward heard that last reassurance for he smiled at me and said, “He’s a very good doctor, and monk for that matter, even if he can be a bit bossy!”
“Bit bossy!” I responded with a cautious smile myself.
Edward laughed and, as I looked up at him, I thought maybe I was going to have to reconsider my views about these monks. Although the college was run by the monastery, I hadn’t had much to do with the monks or the nuns up to now. The Great House was arranged in courtyards around the Abbey and the monks occupied a separate courtyard from the student adepts. There was a shared dining hall and some classes were taught by monks or nuns. My policy had been to keep out of the way and keep my head down because I hadn’t felt it was safe to get to know anyone, whether they were monk, nun or student.
Right now, I realised that Edward was also studying me so I dragged my thoughts back again to the current situation. Despite this, his first question took me totally by surprise.
Now in his mid-fifties, Edward had been a monk for more than thirty years. Although he didn’t possess the abilities that Prospero and many of the others did, he had found the monastery a haven from the harsh world outside. In another place, another time, he might have succumbed to an unhappy conventional life as a reluctant husband. Here, celibacy was a relief to him and he revelled in being able to use his creative abilities to design and make glorious vestments, altar cloths and wall hangings. He was also responsible for clothing requirements across the monastery, the convent and the lay House, but, whilst there were a number of females in the lay House, being asked to provide a full wardrobe for a teenage girl was unusual, particularly one with such a high status as ward of the High Lord. He was looking forward to the challenge and regarded the girl carefully.
Despite the fact that she was dressed as a boy, he could see she had a delicate bone structure. Far too thin, he thought, but beautiful; dressing her well would be a reward in itself. Something struck him as odd so he looked more closely, trying to analyse it – clear skin the colour of honey, deep grey eyes with just a hint of green, short dark brown hair – ah, that was it, those colours didn’t work together.
“What’s your natural hair colour?” he asked.
Leonie looked up in surprise. “Red,” she admitted. “It’s rather noticeable, so I tried to hide it. It’s curly too so I’ve tried to straighten it,” she added.
Edward nodded. “That makes sense,” he agreed. “We’ll take that into account when we’re choosing colours. No boring browns for you.” He looked down at his own clothing – brown trousers, white undershirt and hooded brown over tunic. “Not that brown is boring, of course, far from it, but it won’t do for you,” he added. “Now, I’ve got a list here of what you will need.”
He glanced down his list, then back at the now speechless Leonie. “What’s up?” he asked, seeing her face.
Leonie just shook her head. Edward waited patiently. He was one of those people that others talked to, often saying more than they ought or than they had planned to. In the early years, he had struggled with gossip, eager to pass on what he had heard, but with maturity had come the ability to distinguish between what should be confidential and what needed to be passed on to an appropriate person. People still talked to him more than they should, and this put him in a unique position to identify synergies and apparent coincidences that no one else spotted – a trait Lord Gabriel valued very much. Right now, though, he was quiet, waiting for Leonie to be able to express her concerns.
“I don’t need much,” she said. “I never…I never had new clothes before.”
“No?” queried Edward, unsurprised, given the basic nature of what she was wearing. “Well, there’s a first time for everything.” His voice held a trace of amusement. “You have a role to take on as a ward of the House, and you need to dress appropriately for it so as not to let Lord Gabriel down. It’ll just be what is necessary, no more.”
Phrased like that, Leonie seemed to find the idea more manageable, so Edward carried on. “Are you up to walking round the stores with me now?”
Leonie nodded, words clearly still difficult, and they set off through the caverns of supplies.
Edward was patient and kind, and I warmed to him as we started to find the various supplies he seemed to think necessary. I felt it seemed excessive given how little so many people had, but I succumbed to the pleasure of new clothes, just for me. Whatever the catch was in what Lord Gabriel was offering me, I found myself unwilling to let him down; I would keep up my end of the deal.
Edward didn’t ask questions that weren’t related to what we were doing and he chatted on with snippets of information about the monastery, the House, and the monks, which I stored away for future reference as I followed him round. He kept pulling things off shelves and piling them into my arms.
“Gorgeous grey, for everyday wear for you, I think,” he said. “That’ll bring out the colour in your eyes.”
But he chose loads of other colours, too.
“Not red,” I said impulsively, as he reached for something. “I can’t stand wearing red.”
He looked at me, but didn’t say anything, and left whatever it was on the shelf. In the past I’d been made to wear red, just so that others – lords and ladies – could laugh at me and mock me. And anyway, I thought it looked dreadful with my hair. We took everything he’d chosen back to the long work table where Edward sorted it out and picked out a selection.
“Go and try these on,” he said, handing them to me and indicating a changing cubicle to one side. “And then come back out. I need to check the fit.”
I went, obediently. What he had handed me was a basic everyday outfit – trousers, undershirt and tunic. The monks and nuns always wore brown trousers and a loose fitting tunic – no wonder Edward had said brown was boring – with a white undershirt, but they seemed to vary sleeve length on both shirt and tunic. My outfit had trousers in a soft grey cotton weave, and a matching short-sleeved tunic that fastened down the front. The long-sleeved undershirt was emerald green, a silky fabric that clung to my skin. I did the tunic up and found it was shaped to my body, accentuating the few curves I had. I might have twirled in front of the mirror, admiring it. I wasn’t anything to look at but these clothes were lovely.
Edward nodded his approval, pinned a few minor adjustments to the trousers and tunic then gave me some more to try on. Soon we had three piles on the table – those things he approved of, which he then consigned to a trunk, those he’d rejected and those that need alterations. In the late morning we heard the Abbey bells ring; they did that four times a day to call people – monks and nuns anyway – to the services. I was surprised that Edward made no move to go.
“Aren’t you going . . ?” I asked, the words just slipping out and then drifting off as I realised it wasn’t my place to question him.
“It’s not compulsory, you know,” he replied gently. “However much we might want to attend, sometimes we have other responsibilities. Can you imagine a surgeon stopping in the middle of an operation?”
Well, no, I couldn’t, but neither did I think what we were doing was as important as all that.
“Lord Gabriel has told me that you are that important, if not more so,” Edward insisted. “Now we’ve sorted out everyday wear we need to make you some items for special occasions.”
He pulled some pattern books towards us, starting to show me examples and finding samples of fabrics, buttons and other trimmings. My mind was still on how services in the Abbey and work duties all fitted together for these people, so, feeling brave, I started to pester Edward with questions.
“Well, the monastery came first,” he said. “Both monks and nuns, living separately but worshipping and working together. Our priority is the worship of God.” He must have realised that contradicted what he’d said earlier because he went on, “We also serve God through our work, which is about taking care of others. That started with the hospital, treating the sick, which led to the college to train healers, which then expanded to train people in other areas, to enable them to improve their lives and the lives of others.”
“But there are people who live here who aren’t monks or nuns, aren’t there?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yes, the lay House is for those who are affiliated to the college or hospital who aren’t or can’t or don’t want to be monks or nuns. And the House sometimes takes on wards, like you, adopted children. It acts in the role of parent to them.”
Well, I didn’t remember my parents at all, so I guessed a House could do the job as far as I was concerned.
“What about those with gifts? How do they fit in?”
Edward took his time replying. “I’m not blessed that way myself, though I can see that the Gifts are a wonderful blessing, properly used. But they are a burden too, and can be difficult to control and use responsibly. Many of the adepts who come here find that putting their Gifts at God’s service gives them a framework in which to control them and use them well. Often, that is within the monastery, but there are those within the House, too. The student adepts get the opportunity to learn to use and control their Gifts and explore that framework for themselves in a safe environment without making a commitment before they are ready.”
“Is that why Brother Prospero came here?”
“Prospero?” Edward responded. “I think he always wanted to be a doctor—I’m pretty sure he had no intention of being a monk. He was pretty wild as a student to start with, and the nightmares he had…” Edward’s voice drifted off in memory.
I looked up suddenly. “Nightmares?”
“Yes, like I hear you had last night,” he answered, in a very matter-of-fact tone.
Honestly, does everyone know?
Edward continued, “His were some of the worst we’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing he never got the hang of fire-starting, or he’d have burnt the place down long before he graduated!”
That was more information for me to store away, so I returned my concentration to our work while I digested it.
I was aware of Prospero as soon as he returned, his presence like a current in the air around me. He stood at the door for a while, calmly surveying us as though he was checking up on what we were doing, then walked in like he owned the place. I was afraid my time here – to my surprise I’d been enjoying it – was over.
By the time Prospero returned to find Leonie, she appeared to be on excellent terms with Edward. As he entered the workroom he saw them at a table partly turned away from him, conferring over patterns and fabrics. He was hit by a sudden flash of jealousy, which irritated him; she was just a student, of no special importance to him after all. To regain control of his feelings he took a moment to look around the workroom. A slightly battered trunk was on the floor against the desk, perhaps three quarters full, mainly with clothing but he also saw books, stationery, toiletries and other student paraphernalia in there. The work table nearest the door was covered with bolts of fabric; idly he thought the sapphire blue would suit Leonie very well, and then had to drag his mind away from such thoughts. On the desk was the detritus of a working lunch. As he glanced over at Leonie, it was clear her improved colour and energy suggested she had eaten a proper meal again. That reminded him of his medical duties. He moved towards Leonie at the same time as she looked up towards him.
“How are you feeling now?” he asked her by way of greeting but without waiting for an answer he also reached for her wrist to check her pulse.
Edward answered first, “We’ve been fine here, thanks, and I think we’re doing well, aren’t we, Leonie?” He turned towards her for confirmation and she nodded in agreement.
Prospero continued with his questioning. “You had a decent lunch?”
Leonie nodded again, and Prospero glanced almost imperceptibly towards Edward who also nodded from behind her. Prospero let go of Leonie’s wrist and checked her forehead with the back of his hand.
“No shivers or shakes, dizziness, feeling sick, anything like that?”
Leonie shook her head this time.
“Well then, you seem to have recovered from last night and this morning.” He smiled at her, sure that if anyone had been feeling his pulse they’d be able to tell the effect she had on him. “I’m happy to escort you back to your room when you are ready.”
“Do I have to go now?” Leonie asked.
“No,” replied both Prospero and Edward together and then looked at each other in amused surprise.
Prospero continued, “You’re not a prisoner of any sort; you’re free to go wherever and whenever you wish, but I think you’ve got a bit to finish here.” He looked towards Edward who confirmed this with a nod. “Besides,” Prospero added, “out there it’s heaving with students and their families coming and going as everyone packs up and leaves for Christmas. It’s much nicer in the peace and quiet here!”
“Does that mean you’re hoping to hang around here until Leonie is ready?” asked Edward with a grin.
“Oh, I think I could,” answered Prospero slowly, as he acknowledged with a grin that his ruse had been discovered. “I don’t suppose anyone will miss me for an hour or two.”
“Fair enough,” confirmed Edward, “but I’m not having idle hands round here. You can start by finding some coffee.”
“Sure,” replied Prospero. “What about you, Leonie? Tea, coffee, hot chocolate perhaps?”
Leonie nodded at the last option, and Prospero ambled off, collecting the lunch plates on his way to return them to the kitchen.
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