From Sea Lord
A grunt, another thump, and a man--a young man's legs--appeared as he backed over the threshold, carrying one end of a large trunk. His companion followed, carrying the other. Setting their burden down, they turned to face her.
Boys. Lucy released her breath. They were just boys--sixteen? seventeen?--in long white shirts and ragged shorts, one big and broad with a shock of dark hair and a belligerent expression.
Tough guy, Lucy thought with a teacher's instincts and a smothered smile.
His companion was wiry and lean, not quite grown into the strength of his wrists or the size of his feet. Beneath a mop of blond-streaked hair, his eyes watched her, guarded and golden as the dog's.
He nudged the trunk with one foot. "Warden said you needed clothes."
She swallowed. "Yes. Thank you."
The bigger boy shifted his weight awkwardly. "There's more."
"Other clothes. If these do not fit you." The tawny one frowned in apparent concern. "You are taller than Miss March."
"Miss March?" Lucy asked cautiously.
"She was our teacher."
Was? "What happened to her?"
"She got old." A girl spoke from behind the two boys.
Their age, Lucy thought, or maybe older. With girls, it was hard to tell.
She had sleek, dark hair the color of mink and a wide-lipped, sulky mouth.
"She died," said the big, dark boy.
"I'm sorry," Lucy said.
The girl shrugged, her eyes cool blue and disdainful. "She was human."
Her casual dismissal chilled Lucy. "She" was human. Did that mean...
"Are you a teacher?" asked the tawny-haired boy.
"I..." Lucy dragged her scattered thoughts together. "Yes."
"We don't need a teacher anymore," the girl said.
The boy shot her a look. "Speak for yourself."
"Suck-up," taunted his companion.
The wiry teen clenched his fists. "Stupid."
"Tell me your names," Lucy said. As if this was the first day of school, the first fight on the playground.
The tough guy scowled, unwilling, maybe, to back down in front of the girl.
"Iestyn," said the other boy, the one with the strange, pale eyes. "This is Roth."
The girl tossed her head. "Kera."
She looked like a model, a girl made up to look like an adult. A beautiful almost adult in a short silk tunic the color of apricots that left her arms and most of her legs bare. Beside her, Lucy felt like a scarecrow. She resisted the urge to pull the slicker tighter.
"Warden said to call you Miss Hunter."
She smiled easily, encouragingly. "I think we can drop the 'Miss.' I'm not that much older than you."
For some reason that made the bigger boy laugh.
Iestyn poked him to shut him up. "Warden said anything you want, you can ask us."
Anything you want... She would have killed for a shower. A long, hot one. But she suspected enchanted castles didn't run to indoor plumbing.
"Maybe...A fire?" she suggested hopefully.
Iestyn nodded. "We brought wood. And water for your bath."
"The prince said you would want one," the girl—Kera—said.
Conn had ordered her a bath.
Something softened in the center of Lucy's chest. That was thoughtful. It didn't make up for kidnapping her, of course, but she could still appreciate the gesture.
Roth came back with a bundle of driftwood and dumped it by the empty fireplace.
Lucy roused. "I can do that." She nudged the hound Madadh out of the way to kneel on the cold stone hearth.
While she arranged wood and kindling, Kera drifted from the room, delivering an armload of towels before disappearing again. Iestyn and Roth trudged in and out, dragging in a copper tub big enough to sit in and buckets of clear, hot water. A faint sulfur smell rose with the steam.
Lucy shivered with cold and anticipation. "Did you have to boil all that?"
Iestyn grinned and leaned down to strike a spark to the fire. "No, there's a spring deep in the cliffs under the castle. Where all the elements meet, earth and air, fire and water. But--"
"It's a bitch of a climb," Roth said.
"But my lord thought you would appreciate some privacy on your first night," Iestyn continued.
Blood surged in Lucy's face. They weren't talking about the bath anymore. Conn's clothes hung in the armoire. This was his room. She sat back on her heels, hoping the boys would blame her sudden flush on the fire. She cleared her throat. "I bet you enjoy that. Having your own hot springs, I mean."
"Oh, aye," Roth said darkly. "If you don't mind demons looking at your butt."
Iestyn's bucket slipped, splashing water out of the tub.
Roth jumped back, cursing. "You great wanker!"
"Here." Lucy got between them with a towel, reassured by their squabbling, glad for something to do. They were just boys after all.
She mopped up the mess while the fire crackled and the boys trudged in with more buckets and went out again. Red shadows danced on the hearth. Under the slicker, a line of sweat traced down Lucy's back. She glanced from the half full tub to the open door and sighed. She was not getting naked in front of the boys. Still she was beginning to relax, lulled by the fire and their uncomplicated wrangling, soothed by the promise of the bath and the possibility of clean clothes.
To pass the time, she opened the trunk.
A long red buttoned cloak lay on top. She lifted it carefully, shaking the scent of lavender from its folds. Below were neat piles of thin drawers and thick socks, tidy stacks of yellowed shifts and bright shawls, sturdy dresses of no particular color or style. She looked dubiously at some of the dresses. The waists were so tiny, the shoulders so tight. Several pieces she was sure would fit: a hooded cape in deep green velvet, a padded turquoise robe, a sheer silk nightgown that whispered of seduction.
Everything was clean and creased, as if it had been lying unused for a long time. Lucy frowned. A very long time.
When the boys came back, Lucy was smoothing the wrinkles from the green cape, trying not to notice how her hand trembled against the velvet. "Your teacher, Miss March...How old was she?"
Iestyn looked surprised. "Almost a hundred, I guess."
Lucy's heartbeat quickened. Her suspicions grew. "And how long ago did she die?"
Kera reappeared and set a silver hand mirror on one of the chairs. "Fifty years ago."
Iestyn nodded. "Maybe more."
"But you knew her. She taught you." Her mouth dried. Over fifty years ago.
"Aye." Roth's grin revealed strong white teeth. "The prince said he was not having us grow up as little savages."
"But we were the last," Kera said. "Or almost the last."
Iestyn set another bucket on the hearth. "There was Dylan."
"But he had already gone through the Change before he came," Roth said.
"We were the last on Sanctuary," Kera said.
Lucy moistened her lips. Her pulse drummed in her ears. "The last what?"
Iestyn regarded her with wide gold eyes. "Why, the last children."