barracks that were located outside the Earl’s palace. His mind was preoccupied with thoughts of Olyva, and he didn’t notice he had made his way to her rooms until he was standing outside her door. He knew he should leave, he needed to break off the foolish tryst before it was too late and someone discovered their affair. But he couldn’t leave without seeing her. She was probably sleeping, but he knocked quietly, using the rhythmic tap they had worked out in secret so Lady Olyva would know it was Rafe.
A moment later the door opened and Olyva stepped out into the dark hallway.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her arms wrapping around his thick chest.
“I had to see you; I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” Olyva said, laying her head on his chest. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Did I wake your maid?”
“No, she’s snoring so loudly I hardly heard your knock.”
“Are we insane?” he asked.
“Yes, but I don’t care. My time with you has been the happiest of my life.”
“And mine, but I’m dying inside.”
“Kiss me,” she said.
They kissed, the heat between them rising until Rafe had to pull away. Every fiber of his being ached to make her his, but he knew he couldn’t.
“I have to go,” he said. “This is goodbye.”
“No,” she said. “It can’t be. I’ll die.”
“If we’re caught—”
“We won’t be.”
“I’m not coming back,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “I’ve made up my mind.”
“And I have no say in the matter?”
“You know I’m right. We both knew this couldn’t last.”
“All I know is that I love you.”
Rafe kissed her once more, but it was a hard kiss, his body rigid, his hands holding her away from him. Then he spun away. He heard her sobbing in the darkness, but he forced himself forward. He knew he was doing the right thing, even though it felt completely wrong.
He kept moving forward, making his way toward the nearest exit from the palace. He passed three guards who eyed him suspiciously, but didn’t speak. He hurried out into the cold night air. The nights in Avondale were always cold, regardless of the time of year. The mountain fortress was so high above sea level that the air was cold without the bright sunshine to lend it warmth. Rafe took deep breaths of the cold air, but he couldn’t stop the tears that ran down his face. He cursed his weakness. How could he be a warrior and yet be so weak that a woman could break down his resolve and leave him weeping like a child?
He took his time moving back to the barracks. The officers had a large, well-constructed apartment complex. The units were made of polished stone and covered in thick vines of ivy that rose up to the red tiled roofs. The junior officers and regular soldiers were not so well appointed. The barrack was a large timber structure with rows of plain undecorated rooms. Each room had a dozen men housed inside, with racks for their weapons and chests for the personal effects.
Rafe heard the snoring and the deep breathing before he entered the room. His roommates were all asleep, which was fine with Rafe. He didn’t want anyone asking him questions about his night or why he seemed so distraught. He dropped onto his bunk and pulled off his boots. Lying back, he adjusted the pillow and tried to sleep, but it was impossible. He felt a despair so deep and inescapable that he was sure it would swallow him up.
Everyone at the temple complex was excited. News of the Forkus had spread through the city, and although most of the Priests and Paladins had never seen one of the massive creatures, they all knew Tiberius had. They wanted details and Tiberius felt as if his peers and the Prefects could see right through him. Tiberius was excited too, but not about the Forkus. He could hardly wait to try his first spell, but he also felt exposed. He was doing something wrong; there was no denying that. Even the ancient scriptures decreed that magic was evil and not