Jasmine woke and stretched the sleep from her body, curling her toes and stretching her arms over her head. Without even opening her eyes, she knew that Gareth was watching her. She felt safe in this tent with him. It was so strange to be comfortable in the presence of a halfling.
She didn’t open her eyes as she asked, “Why are you so different from other halflings?”
Gareth chuckled a little. “I can’t tell you that yet.”
Jasmine growled in frustration and he laughed. “Well, can you tell me how you pull energy from the universe?”
He was quiet a moment. “No, I can’t tell you that either. I will, but not yet.”
She pursed her lips in annoyance, both at the non-answers, but also at the fact that he was amused by her frustration.
“Your lips look better when you’re smiling,” he interrupted her thoughts.
“You haven’t seen me smile!” She exclaimed, her eyes flying open to look at him. She had been anything but happy on this trip through the woods. His eyes glowed a little, and she saw a moment of that hunger again.
“Yes, I have. You smiled in your sleep,” he grinned, a couple of dimples showing in the corners of his mouth.
Jasmine knew he watched her, but once again she felt violated that he had been watching her sleep. She gasped, mouth hanging open. She narrowed her eyes at him, and she sensed a habit forming in the action.
“Ah, I could get used to your mouth being like that too. Just a little more closed…” Gareth said, letting the sentence wander off, watching her with lazy eyes.
She closed her mouth and pursed her lips. She wondered why he was coming onto her. The halflings had, after all, started a war with the fae. There was hate on one side of the table, and fear on the other, two feelings that didn’t mesh well. However, Gareth was definitely different from others of his kind, and she didn’t fear him. Still, it wasn’t a good idea to carry on flirtations with her captor.
Gareth chuckled again, letting his eyes wander over her body. She blushed at his gaze, and wished she could escape it. “What are you doing?” She finally burst out, wanting him to stop his advances and looks.
“Just appreciating the view,” he said with a wolfish grin.
“Well, I don’t appreciate your appreciation, or you watching me sleep,” Jasmine bit out, irritated. This wasn’t what she had in mind when she had agreed to go along.
“Well, we have a little while until the sun goes down,” he said.
“I hate that we have to travel at night,” she pouted.
“What do you mean? You went on a walk every night.”
“How do you know that?” She was outraged that he knew so much about her.
“Calm down. And because I’ve been watching you for a long time,” Gareth said.
“How long, exactly?” She was miffed at this confession, not liking the feeling of unease spreading in her gut. How long had the queen had surveillance on her? Why was she so interested in her? Jasmine didn’t think she was anything special, or that her magic was that out of the ordinary.
“About six months,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders. “And don’t get mad,” he warned.
She only gaped at him. Six months? How could she have ever felt relaxed with this creature? She shifted uncomfortably in her ankle-length, deep purple gown and rearranged her skirts. It was light as air the way it barely grazed her skin. She carefully reigned in her emotions, taking a deep breath in and breathing out through her nose. The ache she felt within her to practice magic kept growing, and she felt an emptiness settle in around her.
Gareth frowned at her. “I know that you want to rearrange energy and use your magic, but I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.”
Jasmine frowned as well, her brow furrowing. “I know,” she whispered, looking down at her hands. She just wanted to be able to feel the vibrations in the earth again, like all fae could. Feel the magic dance inside as she redirected it, and the glow from releasing it. She sighed and bit her lip, wondering how the captured the fae taken after the war dealt with the feeling. She voiced the question to Gareth.
“They…went mad. The hollowness was too much for them to take. Some lasted longer than others, of course, but, all the same,” he seemed uncomfortable answering, taking his eyes off hers.
“What happened to them? Are they still prisoners?”
Gareth shifted, coughing, his black clothing faintly rustling. “They were executed,” his voice took a hard edge, as though steeling even himself to saying it out loud.
Jasmine gasped. “All of them?” She mourned, wondering if there was any of her friends or family left in hiding, somewhere. The memories were still so painful, she hardly ever let herself remember.
“All of the fae that were seized, yes. But, I’m sure there’s plenty of them left out there, in hiding,” Gareth said, seeming to read her mind again, nearly comforting her.
She remembered that night, and a physical pain gripped her, wracking her heart. A few tears spilled from her eyes. She could smell the village burning, the homes of everyone she loved on fire. Her father had put up a force field that had been weakened, she could feel it. With every hit from the halflings, the shield was weakening, her father along with it, as he poured more and more energy into the shield. She heard the screams, fae yelling for help, defenseless as the invading halflings sucked their energy and magic away. She heard the clangs of swords as they tried to fight their way out, but they were surrounded. Jasmine never dared to look out the window, the glow from the flames and shouts, the absence of fae magic enough to tell her all she needed to know. Her mother was crying as her younger sister tried to console her. They all knew it was only matter of time, and their own home was silent, save for the sobbing. They listened to the fight for many hours, until her father pulled her aside.
“Jasmine,” he had whispered urgently. “You must leave this place. You are too important to stay here and be slain like us. Your magic is too great to wither away like myself. You have to leave us, and I can’t hold on much longer.” Jasmine had been able to feel her father’s weakening magic and spirit, and had felt great sorrow as her father’s energy and being was withering away before her.
“I can’t leave you! Any of you!” She had exclaimed, her body shaking with fear, grabbing ahold of her father’s arms, falling to her knees. The thought had felt like it was more than she could ever bear, leaving her family behind to surely die.
He had pulled her up, shaking her a few times. “Jasmine, listen to me! You must!”
She had bowed her head. “But how? We are surrounded.”
“There is a trap door under your bed. Move it, and you will see. Take the tunnel out to the woods, and run. Run like you’ve never run before,” her father had said. “Never stop running, there is no place far enough to be safe from these monsters.”
Tears had fallen down her cheeks, clouding her vision. Her father had gently wiped them away. With a great sigh, she gazed at her mother and sister, comforting each other, for a few moments before turning back to her father. She’d embraced him, never wanting to let go. She could smell his magic as she had held on tight.
He had forced her away from him. “Go! Now!” She turned and ran to her bedroom, moving her bed, and saw a trap door she had never seen before. She quickly opened it and jumped down into darkness. She’d heard the scraping of the bed as her father had moved the bed back into position. She had stood there for a few minutes, breathless. She had been afraid, pausing to let the terror claw at her until there was nothing left. If she didn’t move, she had known the halflings would find her, just under the trap door, from the resonance of fear itself. She took a moment to mentally say goodbye to her family, and everyone she cared about, more tears running down her cheeks. Taking a deep breath and clearing her mind, she had then run as fast as her feet would take her, her eyes adjusting to the darkness, the beating of her heart threatening to burst right out of her chest. She hadn’t allowed any more tears to fall as she ran, her skirts flapping behind her.
Jasmine shook herself, taking a deep breath and forcing the awful memory from her present mind. She touched her face and felt wetness on her cheeks. She wiped them away. “Is it night yet?” She sniffled. When she didn’t hear an answer, she looked towards Gareth, only to find that he wasn’t in the tent with her. She reached out, and knew he was close. She more thoroughly wiped the tears from her face as she took a deep breath. The hole in her chest was a little wider as she remembered her family and all that she had lost that night. She had been pretty young, only 50 years old. She had just been coming into her power, and her father had been working with her on them, as was tradition with the fae, who lived to be very old, usually 500 years or more.
She knew that Gareth had given her some semblance of privacy as she became emotional, and she silently thanked him. She didn’t want to break down in front of him, or anyone else. She steeled herself and forced everything from her mind except for her current predicament. Gareth seemed trustworthy enough, but she knew that once she was in the presence of the queen, everything was over. She tried thinking of ways she could reclaim her magic from the halfling outside, and escape.