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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by Turin Wallace - Page 10 Book 2

Hearing Isuiln's remarks, Ithramir joins in with the rest of the group and laughs heartily, so much so that some even paused to stare at him. They had become so used to seeing their commander serious that this side of him took them by surprise. After watching more of the banter, he composes himself as he watches Ardwen and Isuiln move away a bit.

In a semi-serious tone, he says,

"Well, unless anyone else has something rather wise to say, I suggest we all get a few hours rest. We ride before dawn."

Sitting down on the ground, Ithramir leans against the tree and relaxes, letting the others do with their time as they please.

Written by Tempyst

Before Tempyst could respond, a servant girl came up close. "Excuse me, I could not help but overhear your dilema. I thought I would let you know, all guest rooms are provided with clothing. We have many guests who travel light and are in need of something clean to wear. I will see that some clothes are left on your bed when you return frojm your outing. If nothing fits, please let me know and I will see to it that it gets altered. Now, if you both hungry, there is breakfast still on the long board downstairs. Oh, by the way, my name is Clarise and again, if there is anything you need, please let me know."

Tempyst thanked the girl and smiled, then turned back to Lucant. "Well then, it seems we shall have the means to get cleaned up. And come to mention it, I am rather hungry, perhaps we should get something to eat first, then you can show me this maple tree." She touched his arm gently. "I hope it is easy to find, for the last time I got lost in here, I was sent to the dungeon."

Clarise smiled, "No worries m'lady, I can show you both the way to the dining hall." With that, Clarise began walking down the hall with Lucant and Tempyst in tow.

Tempyst's eyes grew large. SHe had never seen so many different kinds of food in one place. "Wow." Was all she managed to get out before she realised she was staring. "I, uhm, well, I have no clue to what most of this stuff is. Lucant, perhaps you can help me try something new." She watched him tell her what what what, even though he seemed to stumble over some ofthe foods, but she paid it no heed. She just smiled and tried whatever he pointed out to her. After eating and without thinking, Tempyst placed her arm within Lucant's. "Well then, lead the way, I am anxious to meet this tree."

While walking, Tempyst looked around at her surroundings, taking in all the sights and sounds of the city. She closed her eyes a few times, perfectly trusting Lucant to guide her, and listened to the whispers around her. It was sad, for along the busy streets, there was not much to be heard, except for the few dogs, cats and rats that scampered about. Most all they were concerned with was food and finding a cool place to rest.

Lucant took a couple of turns and soon she began to hear the soft, familiar whispers of the earth. She smiled as they entered the small, secluded park and smiled even bigger when she saw the large maple tree in the center. Tempyst let go of Lucant's arm, and ran to the tree and placed her forehead upon it, listening to its whispers. She could tell the tree, though not neglected, had not had anyone to speak to for a long time. Smiling ear to ear, she turned to Lucant and hugged him tighlty. "Thank you so much for bringing me here."

Lucant seemed a little taken aback from the hug and turned away so she would not see him blush. "It was no problem Tempyst, I have always liked this place myself." After a few moments, Lucant turned around, just in time to see Tempyst's dress drop to reveal her naked body and watched as she stepped into the tree and disappeared.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant stood there, stunned yet again by this woman he found effortlessly enchanting. "Where...where did she go?" he asked A'lanthear, who now hung from Lucant's belt. "All things in time, master. She will return to you."

He sat down by the old maple tree, folded his hands behind his head, and leaned back against the tree. Closing his eyes, he listened to the melodies of the songbirds and waited for Tempyst to come back from wherever she had gone.

His mind began to wander with the wind that blew thru the limbs of the tree. Why had Nyrondis chosen him, of all people, to be His champion? What was he suppossed to do? He thought back to the misfortune he had endured before and just how much he had gained in such a very short time. He was thankful for one thing over all others, but he could not find the strength to tell her so. Lucant sighed calmly and continued his wait.

Written by Tempyst

The wagon finally stopped and Kaya and the other prisoners were taken out of their cages to relieve themselves and to eat. The orc in charge of them, like all the other orcs she had come across, was rough and paid them little mind, except to see that they were bound tight. After eating they were all put back into their cages. Kaya sighed, looking up into the night sky. She had no doubt of where she was now, she was on the front, overseas in the warzone. But not on the side she had always hoped to be on. She watched the masses of orcs walk by and shuddered at their numbers. There are so many of them, many more than anyone back home could ever imagine. If our forces cannot defeat them here and they make it to Alyatol, the elves will be doomed.

She sighed and again tried to wrackher mind for what Beridane had up his sleeve where she was concerned. "Does he plan to kill me in front of the troops as an example? What good would that do?" She thought out loud.

You will me mosssst ussseful child. Never fear, I will take care of everything. Kaya started at the hissing voice inside her head.

"Who are you, where are you, what do you want?" Her voice a bit frantic, not knowing what was happening.

All in due time child, all in due time. The voice trailed off with a sickly laugh and in her mind she was flashed quick visions of death and destruction, all by her own hand, but yet, was not her own.

Kaya shuddered once again, suddenly feeling cold and alone, then she screamed. "I WILL NEVER DO YOUR DIRTY WORK!" An orc guard quickly came up to the cage and struck her on the head. This time, she welcomed the darkness.

Written by Ardwen

"Well, I like a good fight, too, ya know... but you don't have to be all serious about it. I mean, sure when it's fightin' time ya gotta be focused and stuff, but now? We are just riding along. Enjoy the sun, enjoy what has been provided to us. Silly man. Oh! I'm Trinni! But some people call me Trinni-ninni, or Trin, or..." ducking her head, turning pink, she realizes she just spouted all this off to Renalis not two seconds ago. "Sooo... what is YOUR name, or should I just call you Blackie?"

“My name?” Ardwen paused, cleared his throat and said, “My name is Ardwen. My brothers in Avari took to calling me Macilsul for a surname as I lost my family name long ago.” Ardwen shrugged, and his armor made a slight grating noise. Ithramir spoke then, relaying dire news of Minus Aure in flames, and the odds that awaited them. Ardwen kept a stone face, he knew what was expected of him, he had taken his oath this morning and nothing, neither man nor god, would keep him from fulfilling it.

But then something happened that he could never had expected, and it came from the same Elf who had helped him bear Tempyst out of the rally before they had departed from the Citadel.

"I have one question, Commander," Isuiln pointed at Ardwen. "Can we send him in first? If he can make a woman swoon with but a glance, I bet he could knock half the orc army flat with a glare!"

An Elf to the right of Isuiln coughed and spat, the others had looks that ranged from slightly amused to outright confusion.

"You should have seen it earlier., “Isuiln continued, “A poor woman comes up to ask him directions, and he does no more than look at her, and she drops in a dead faint!" Ardwen kept a still face, but he was confused. “What the hell is he doing?” He thought, and then he looked around to see the entire council of commanders and assistants alike bursting into fits of laughter.

"I figure that if he can do that with nought but a glance, what if he tries to look angry? He could very well send the entire orc army home, wetting their loincloths the whole way!" Seeing the elf not so much as bat an eyelash, he kept going. "Look! A glare like that would do the trick!" Isuiln suddenly collapsed into the Elf’s arms that had spat wine earlier, but laughter had caught them all, and Isuiln was promptly dropped to the ground. He lay there in a fit of mirth. Ardwen merely shook his, “I suppose the meetings is over.”

He would have stayed perhaps. But then he saw something he could not bear, Ithramir was laughing. Laughing like the rest. He had not noticed at first, partly because he had expected more from the commander and partly because the general revelry had blocked out any one laugh. “Ithramir.” Ardwen thought sadly, “I would have named him another Galiswyn, a man fit for the Throne of Stars. Are they all like this? So different . . . so alive. They are not like my people, they are not my people.” Ardwen walked away, the only outward indication of his inner turmoil was a slight slump in his shoulders.

He walked toward the edge of the camp, where else did he have to go? “I’m trapped here on another world,” He began softly, “I do not belong here, this is not my place. But why? Why? Why? Why?” His voice rumbled more with anger with every why. “I thought I was here to protect my people, when Ithramir announced the Orc attack on Minas Aure I had no doubts. Surely this, I thought, was the reason? The Elves here were in peril as they were on Aerynth, I was even arrogant enough to think that some god who still cared for our people had pulled me here.” His voice was now tinged with bitterness and sarcasm.

He let out a sigh and continued on, “So what then? What could possibly be here for me?” He stood completely still at the edge of the camp and racked his mind. He had to find it, his reason, his purpose here. There had to be some small hint. Suddenly an old memory wafted up in his mind, one he had repressed for so long. It was the Priest of Battle, Turin Wallace looking at him with a smile. Just the memory of her face caused Ardwen’s to crumple for a brief second in sadness and loss. The memory unfurled like a flag on invisible winds in his mind’s eye. Turin said something, his mouth moving but the memory had no sound, and the words were lost to him.

Then Turin held out his hand, he was smiling still and moving what was in it toward Ardwen, as if he was offering something. Frowning Ardwen focused, trying to get his mind to show what was in Turin’s hand. And suddenly it did, and there it was – a cheese biscuit. All of a sudden it all mad sense. Something snapped him out of his reminiscence; it was the Elf who had begun the jests earlier, he moved in front of him to ensure he did not walk off. "I'm sorry if I offended you,” Isuiln began,” friend Ardwenn, I did not mean to make you the butt end of my jokes. But if I may ask, what's so terrible about life that you never take the time to enjoy it?"

Ardwen forced himself to ignore him for a brief second, he had to finish putting it all together before he took the plunge. The cheese biscuits were one thing, but that was not enough, there was something else. Wilhelm, yes, the name, and he looked like Wilhelm. A descendent perhaps? Or a coincidence? There was one thing else . . . they used His name. The All-Father. Ardwen could very well believe that a biscuit recipe, a name, a face, and a god could all be coincidences – but not at once, and not all together.

He looked at Isuiln who was still awaiting an answer. He had to do it now, before he lost his nerve. “I wonder,” he thought, “what jests he would make if he knew what I was thinking?” He forced himself on, slightly aware that his arms were straight to his side and his teeth were clenched. He opened his mouth, it felt as if his jaw weighed a ton and his tongue was swollen, his throat had turned insufferably dry. “Have you,” there, he had started it, no turning back now . . . and suddenly it all came out. His voice was part rage, part plea, and a sparsest part hope, “Ariana Trueblood, Turin Wallace, Ezikial Stonebrewer, Xanders, Arrak, Kiradia,” This was hell on him, each name hurt like a dagger in his throat, but he strained on, “have you ever heard these names? Ancora, the Hands of Providence . . . these names . . . people, places, anything? Please, you must tell me if you have, you must!” Ardwen’s jaws clamped shut and he looked straight into Isuiln’s eyes. He was not aware of it but sometime during his speaking his voice had risen to something between a shout and a wail. Soldiers were looking at him, and he had the embarrassing sensation that the whole damned camp must have heard him. He didn’t care though, he had to know!

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst closed her eyes, feeling finally at peace for the first time in a few weeks. The healing of the rips in the forest, then all the activity today had drained a lot out of her. As the maple tree embraced her, she embraced the maple tree. Finally focused, she let her mind go and reached out to all the natural spirits she could find, feeling their energies refresh her very soul. After an eternity, she felt heself being lifted into a higher state of awareness, then she heard a familiar whisper.

"Child, it is good to feel you here, but I know you are troubled." Tempyst felt the tears well up as she heard the voice of the protector, Nyrondis in her mind. The only other time she had heard the sweet music was during her rebirth 3 years earlier.

"You know me well father, there is nothing that can be hidden from you." Tempyst let her emotions loose and cried. "I feel so lost, this place, this city, is nothing like home, how can people live here?"

Fear not little one, the world consists of all types of people, who live in all types of terrain. Each place has their own spirit and life, you just have to know how to listen." Nyrondis' words washed over her soothing her.

"Of course father, it is all just so new to me." Tempyst took a deep breath. "And what of Lucant? He does not even know of me, I had thought the one I dreamt of would dream of me also."

The world he lived in was different than yours, he could not, or perhaps would not hear my words. But that does not matter now, for you two have been united and all continues."

"What continues father?"

There are many things going on in this world and the next child, most of which you would not be able to comprehend, but know this, you, Lucant, and others you will meet are all part of something bigger, something good and valiant, something worth fighting for. He may not know you, but you know him. He will be tested many time in the coming days and he will need your strength, your resolve and your love.

"I have loved him all my life father, what if he does not love me back."

"That is something that may or may not come to pass, but it does not matter, your love for him is what will keep him strong to beat the challenges he is to face."

"Yes father, of course you are right. I continue on the path you have sent me on and will keep strong for Lucant."

"There are others who will need your strength, both of them afraid, yet too stubborn to admit it. You have met one already, the other, you will know when you see her. Now be at peace child, do not let the world overwhelm you. You are strong, you are my child, I chose you because I knew you could handle anything life would put in your way. Go, be with him, show him what it means to live."

The voice faded from her mind and Tempyst felt herself being lowered back into the confines of the maple tree. Taking a deep breath, she stepped from the tree and emerged into the sunlight. She looked around and found Lucant leaning up against the tree, asleep. She smiled, then dressed and looked around, seeing that the sun had progressed in the sky and it was probably early afternoon. She sat down beside Lucant and just watched him for a while, looking at the curve of his jaw. She loved him. She always had, and knew, just by looking at him, she always would. She smiled, watching the soft, warm breeze ruffle his hair. She inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of the city around her and closed her eyes once more to listen. This time, she could faintly hear a few whispers, but she knew she would need more practice to be able to make any sense of them.

She looked back to Lucant and saw that a leaf had settled upon his cheek. With a gentle touch, she reached up to brush the leaf away, only to see his eyes flutter open and look back at her.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

A soft, warm caress roused Lucant from his nap. He opened his eyes, and saw Tempyst next to him, with her hand on his cheek. She withdrew it hesitantly as a smile slid across his face. "You're back."

He was painfully aware that he was stating the obvious, but he always seemed to trip over himself whenever he tried to talk to her. He felt foolish around her and wondered if she thought the same. Lucant was glad that she was back and wanted so much to tell her so, but he dared not.

"How was it? Did you find what you where looking for?" Thinking his questions a bit too bold, he said "If...if you'd rather not talk about it, we could go for another walk, or whatever you would like to." He hesitated again before finding a bit of courage, "I...I just...want to spend the rest of this day with you."

Written by Tempyst

"How was it? Did you find what you where looking for? If...if you'd rather not talk about it, we could go for another walk, or whatever you would like to." Tempyst saw his hesitation and remembered the words of the father, He will be tested many time in the coming days and he will need your strength, your resolve and your love. Lucant continued and Tempyst took heart. "I...I just...want to spend the rest of this day with you."

Tempyst smiled brightly and without thinking took his hand in hers. "I would love that very much. And yes, I did find what I was needing. My communion helped rejuvinate me and helped to gain focus for the journey ahead." She glanced down, then looked back up into his wondrous blue eyes. "I know this is a strange and trying time for you, but it is for me as well. The first time A'lanthear whispered to me, well, it was quite a shock. I had never heard any weapon talk to me, only the spirits of the forest. But A'lanthear came from the father, Nyrondis, and he has my unfaltering trust." She took a deep breath and stood up, then pulled Lucant up with her. "Let's walk."

Lucant and Tempyst walked about the city, him showing her sites she had not ever seen before. All the while she took in the sights, scents and sounds of the city, finding it's heartbeat, finding out that it too was alive in it's own way. The whispers were still faint, she doubted she would ever hear them clearly, but it felt more comforting to know she was not surrounded by death. The two of them made small talk and as evening approached, made their way back to the citadel, in comfroting silence.

As Lucant showed her back the way to their rooms, she spoke once again. "Events have been set in motion and we are but players within those events." She turned her head and looked up at Lucant. "We have much to learn of one another if we are to travel upon this path A'lanthear and Nyrondis has set forth for us." She smiled again, having so enjoyed Lucant's company.She felt herself getting up the courage to ask him a question. "How are you feeling about all of this? About me?"

Written by Lucant Dolvan

"We have much to learn of one another if we are to travel upon this path A'lanthear and Nyrondis has set forth for us." She smiled again, having so enjoyed Lucant's company.She felt herself getting up the courage to ask him a question. "How are you feeling about all of this? About me?"

The last question stopped him dead in his tracks. He was amazed at how easily she could turn his world upside down with just a simple touch or a few words. "I am unsure...afraid even...of what Nyrondis intends for me. Just yesterday, I was a broken farrier without a friend or hope in the world. In just one day, I've gained A'lanthear, I found a purpose in Nyrondis' will, and I was accepted into Her Majesty's service. But most of all...," he swallowed hard and started to sweat, "I found you...and that is what I am most thankful for. But, I would give up everything in a heartbeat...if only to keep you...Tempyst."

Written by Isuiln Fellblade

“Have you,” Ardwen started, then stopped, and to Isuiln it seemed he did not want to continue, but needed to. “Ariana Trueblood, Turin Wallace, Ezikial Stonebrewer, Xanders, Arrak, Kiradia, have you ever heard these names? Ancora, the Hands of Providence . . . these names . . . people, places, anything? Please, you must tell me if you have, you must!”

The mere response, not at all an answer to his question, was enough to fluster Isuiln, but the feverish force Ardwen hurled each word out with, coupled with the crescendo of his voice, until he was nearly yelling at him, left Isuiln dumbfounded. After a moment, he shook himself off and tried to think.

"No, most of those names mean nothing to me. Except, if I'm not mistaken, I believe Ariana was the first Queen of Westgale. As a whole, the elven homeland knows little of what occurs over here, save for the status on our brethren stationed here. Though I have made a point to know at least the basics of human history. If you want to know more, you'd have to talk to Ithramir. Can you wait until tomorrow and discuss it with him while riding? Or do you need to talk with him right away? Are you feeling ok?"

Written by Aethelwulf

Dusty from the trail, and with his dark green armor smelling faintly of smoke, Alaric rode up to the command encampment, and brought his black steed Morion to a halt. Ardwen's eager, strident words still floated in the air, as Alaric swung a leg over his saddle and jumped to the ground. Handing the reins to a nearby soldier, Alaric nodded to Isuiln, and with his eyes narrowing he slowly approached the one named Ardwen.

"What is this of which you speak son?," Alaric pretended to flick a mote of dust from Ardwens chest, and in a soft steely whisper he asked, " Where did you learn those names?"

Written by Tempyst

"I found you...and that is what I am most thankful for. But, I would give up everything in a heartbeat...if only to keep you...Tempyst."

Tempyst heard those words and her heart began to flutter and without a thought she leaned forward and kisses him lightly, lips lingering. She shivered when Lucant wrapped his arms around nad responded to her kiss, making it deeper. WHen they finally parted, breathlessly she whispered, "I have loved you all my life. You asked me once to wait for you and I have. Now, we need not wait any longer." Taking his hand, she led him into her room, shutting the door behind them. Trembling slightly, Tempyst undressed then turned and kissed Lucant again. This time, they both fell upon the bed and discovered each other as the world slipped away.

Written by Ardwen

"No, most of those names mean nothing to me.” Isuiln began, “Except, if I'm not mistaken, I believe Ariana was the first Queen of Westgale. As a whole, the elven homeland knows little of what occurs over here, save for the status on our brethren stationed here. Though I have made a point to know at least the basics of human history. If you want to know more, you'd have to talk to Ithramir. Can you wait until tomorrow and discuss it with him while riding? Or do you need to talk with him right away? Are you feeling ok?"

Ardwen merely smiled, at last. But the smile was cold, ruthless, and sinister to a fault. “OK?” He began; a snake would feel shame at the venom Ardwen put in his voice, “You wanted to know why I never smiled? This is the only smile left to me, when I find the trail cold and know my sins stand. If you would kno-“

Ardwen stopped, cut off as his eyes caught movement off to his side. A human was approaching. Not just any human, Ardwen recognized this one, it was Alaric. He was close to the Queen, and had been appointed a high command in the human regiment’s that marched in Mavigan’s name. Alaric was approaching slowly; he was being cautious Ardwen realized. Alaric’s eyes were narrowed into piercing slits by the time he reached Ardwen.

"What is this of which you speak son?,"Ardwen watched the human’s hand come up and brush against the chestplate of his armor. “A bold move,” Ardwen thought, “The next time he attempts that I take his hand.” Alaric continued on, his voice carrying an edge to it, " Where did you learn those names?"

The first thing Ardwen did was let out a scoff; the second was to use the scoff as a screen to shift his feet slightly into a bladeweaving stance. The human wanted to play did it? Very well, he could be game. “Son?” Ardwen began his voiced tinged with incredulity, “I have walked this world for over five-thousand years and then some human. I was there when the Dragon awoke from the Fields of Sorrow. I was there when the Chaos Gates broke open. I was there when Aerynth shattered. And yes, I was there when the Hands of Providence raised their banner on the fragment of Tythrrian Major in defiance of the Age of Strife.”

Ardwen’s voice became as chilled as iced steel as he continued, “I did not learn those names lesser! I lived with them! They were my friends, brothers and sisters, and much more. Turin Wallace was my Priest of Battle and I served under him in the Sect of Battle! I fought in the battles of Cornerstone, Blackwatch, Ahmas Cairne, Xanten, and many more. When Mandemus the Meek presented his council before the Church and begged succor I marched alongside the Hands, as one of them! I was slain three times and still returned to the fray!”

Ardwen’s voiced shifted to a breath above a whisper when he finished, “And I was there when the order left Tythrrian. Or rather, I was not there. I fought against the traitor’s legions, and was killed there the last time wearing the Hands azure coat and blanc candle. To this day lesser it still haunts me that I could have done something to have prevented that, to this day.” Ardwen let a pause separate his statements, “So Alaric,” he began making sure to use the human’s proper name, “I’ve told you a bit about myself, now why don’t you return the favor?”

Written by Aethelwulf

Subtly, instinctively, countering the Elven warrior's stance, Alaric smiles grimly, his lips drawn in a tight thin line.

"Steady there friend, I did not mean to incur your wrath" Stepping back a step, Alaric waved away his guards Koric and Lau who had both dismounted their own steeds and were warily taking up positions on either side of the Elven berserker.

"I only ask because those names are a mystery in my family. There is a tome..", Alaric's eyes seemed to gaze briefly into the distance," an ancient tome that one of my ancestors brought with him, when he came to this land. A tome written by the very hand of one of those that you mentioned."

"I will tell you indeed of myself, elf. I am a warrior of a long line of warriors, direct descendant from the one known as Aethelwulf the Red, first Laird of Aedmon. His grandson was my father's father. And not much is known of him. However, our family has long served the light, and our Queen's family!" Alaric's eyes flashed as he spoke. "Aethelwulf spoke of moving between worlds through the very portal that the first Mavigan traveled through. When he came to this land he brought with him a dairy, written by Turin Lord Wallace. That very diary resides now in the Ancoran Royal Library. The names that you mention are written within that book."

Alaric then leaned in very close to Ardwen, and in a cold whisper as flat as a grey winter sky, he warned the elven warrior. "Know that I am no...LESSER," Alaric spoke the word between clenched teeth, "And tho you may be ancient beyond human understanding, and a beserker at that, if you ever stand up to me like that again, there will be blood spilled and it won't be mine." Alaric then moved to the nearby campfire and began to warm his hands over the flames.

"Now then good warrior, tell us more about these people that you knew."

Written by Ariana

Mavigan was feeling quite pleased with herself as she Keeryn put their heads together and whispered about their plans. When she spied Wilhelm, walking with purpose towards them, however, her stomach clenched with anxiety. “Oh *&^%!” she thought. “Already busted!”

But Wilhelm was not there to bust their plan for escape before it could begin. Instead he asked them to accompany him to the stables, saying he had something for her. Once there he began on a long-winded speech. To give her credit where credit was due, Mavigan tried to pay attention – truly she did – especially when the first part of it started out so interesting. But then Wilhelm compared to her a rock and the speech showed no sign of ending and her mind began to wander.

“I will do my best to protect you,” said he. “Blah Blah Blah,” heard she, and her attention continued to waver until “And now I have something for you to see”, said he.

And then he took her breath away.

"Happy 18th Birthday, Mavigan. You have now come of age. May you live to see many more birthdays. Take good care of Argent and she will bear you well. (Remember that she likes her apples.)"

Her birthday. Her 18th birthday. Today was her 18th birthday and she had completely forgotten. Unbidden, memories of birthdays past flooded through her mind as she stared at the cake Wilhelm had provided. Happy memories, filled with fun and family, the type of memories she would no longer have the opportunity to make. Mavigan struggled to hold her tears at bay as she briefly contemplated the man who had remembered what she had forgotten, and had made an effort to bring her a little happiness in the midst of so much grief. Guilt started to gnaw at her, a sensation she had not felt since she had first runaway from home.

She looked at Wilhelm, his eyes shining with something she could not identify, and suddenly she found a confession of her current devious plan on the tip of her tongue. It took a supreme effort on her part to keep from spilling the beans, but she was afraid that if she told him, he would prevent her journey. No, it was better to commit the error and then ask for forgiveness later.

Instead, she looked up at Wilhelm with tears in her eyes and gave him her most heartfelt “Thank you.” Then leaning up, she landed a big, wet, and noisy kiss right on his cheek.

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