A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 7
“Korina?” repeated Sanjar. “Ah, so that is the sea star’s name.”
He turned that smile on me again and I had the urge to smack it off his face. However, I wasn’t given the chance to truly consider if I wanted to do so or not because by that time Aaron was between the two of us and starring down at Sanjar menacingly. I almost felt sorry for the merman. Clearly Aaron was upset that I had sneaked out and Sanjar was going to be getting the brunt of that anger first.
“Sea star?” repeated Aaron, his voice a deep, bass growl.
Sanjar quelled a bit, taking a step back.
“Ah, hahaha just something I call all beautiful ladies. It was just a harmless compliment. I didn’t mean any offense by it.”
Aaron simply continued to stare down at the now nervous merman and I began edging away down the path. I really did have a final destination in mind and I didn’t particularly want Aaron with me when I went there. Surely I could sneak off for a few minutes while my bodyguard was distracted.
“Don’t take another step... Korina,” growled Aaron, not looking away from Sanjar.
I stopped where I was and sighed.
“Ah, I do believe I should be going. Meetings and paperwork to do in the morning you know and I really should get some sleep,” Sanjar was saying as he began edging off.
Aaron looked over at me and the merman, now out of the line of fire, quickly headed back up the path the way he had come. Well, so much for my escape route.
The MAGI didn’t say anything at first, simply looked down at me, arms crossed, and scowling. After a moment I turned to face him head on, crossing my own arms defiantly in front of me.
“So what are you going to do?” I asked, breaking the icy silence.
For a moment, Aaron was silent. Then, slowly, he popped his neck and cracked his knuckles.
“Trying to intimidate me? It won’t work and I won’t apologize for sneaking off. I needed some space to myself. I couldn’t stand being cooped up any longer in that room.”
Another long moment of silence stretched between us and finally Aaron sighed.
“You can’t go wandering off by yourself. Not after what happened.”
“Can too,” I shot back. “I was here by myself before you and that clown fish showed up.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” growled the MAGI in a low voice.
“So what? Why should I have to notify you where I’m going? You’re not my keeper.”
“Yes I am, Etti,” he shot back, taking an angry step forward. “I’m your bodyguard for this mission. You have to let me do my job and I can’t do that if you don’t say anything to me when you go somewhere or ditch me because you ‘needed some space’.”
He took another step forward, now right in front of me, and put one huge hand on each of my shoulders, making me feel even smaller in comparison to him.
“Don’t you realize how worried I was when I woke up and realized you were gone?”
I opened my mouth to reply, paused, and slowly closed it. He was right of course. I may have needed my space, but it was his job to protect me and, if I was perfectly honest with myself, it was just outright mean of me not to have told him. If I had been attacked my the assassin out here, no one would have known the difference until morning when they found my body. I hadn’t been fair to him.
I dropped my gaze, suddenly ashamed as I realized the position I had put him in.
“I’m sorry, Aaron,” I said quietly, but sincerely.
The MAGI sighed heavily and dropped his hands.
“Just don’t do it again, alright?”
Then, without any warning, he had swooped me up into his arms.
“What are you doing?” I demanded, pounding a fist on his chest and scowling.
“I’m taking you back inside. You shouldn’t be walking yet anyway. I saw that limp.”
“Wait, wait, wait, you giant lug!” I said, pounding on his chest until he stopped.
I found that I suddenly couldn’t look him in the eye so I starred at my hands, still balled in fists against his chest. After a moment, I spoke quietly.
“Carry me, that’s fine, but I have somewhere I need to go first. Take me there and I’ll be good. I’ll go back inside and behave myself, alright?”
I snuck a glance upward to see him looking down at me suspiciously.
“You’re being agreeable. I don’t trust you when you’re being agreeable.”
I sighed in exasperation.
“Will you take me there or not?”
“Alright. Where am I going?”
I pointed further down the path that twisted through the royal gardens and he began walking. He didn’t ask where we were going and I was grateful for that. We reached the edge of the gardens and he paused. I motioned for him to keep going and he walked on. It was actually a good thing that he insisted on carrying me because as we went further I realized that if I had walked the whole way myself my feet probably wouldn’t have been up for the return trip and I would have been stuck there.
Then, we reached the graveyard. I tugged on his sleeve and he stopped, setting me down so I could find my own way. As I walked through, slowly reading over each stone so that I didn’t miss the one I was looking for, Aaron followed me closely.
I found the stone I was looking for on the far side. It was the most recently place one, though it had been dug years ago. I knelt in front of it and read what it said.
“Sleep in peace till we meet again”
I touched the date of death, feeling my heart clench in my chest. Just a few weeks after King Malyon had ordered him to the border. Malyon had sent him away because he didn’t like his son, the crown prince, associating with a lowly mutt like me
So when Sefron was killed, Malyon had blamed me for his son’s death because if I hadn’t been so familiar with him, the King would never have had to send him away in the first place. He couldn’t admit that it was his own arrogance and pride that had driven his son away from him in the first place and toward the very thing the King hated the most. Neither could he admit that he was the one at fault for threatening his son with banishment to the border if he didn’t stop being friendly with me in public. The King was the one at fault for making the threat at all and it was his own fault that he had then been forced to fulfill the threat. He should have known Sefron better. If he had, he never would have made such a stupid threat.
I swallowed hard and felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.
Looking up, I saw Aaron squatting beside me, his face full of concern.
“Etti, are you alright?”
“What? Of course I am.”
“Then why are you crying?” he asked quietly.
I touched my face and my eyes widened in surprise as I realized my cheeks were wet with tears. I didn’t even know when they had started. I hid my face quickly, wiping them away, but my shoulders began to shake as more tears came.
I sat back on the grass, wrapping my arms around my legs and burying my face in my knees so that Aaron couldn’t see my tears. He put a gentle hand on my head for a moment and then spoke softly.
“It’s alright to cry. I don’t know what me meant to you or how he died, but I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude on this.”
He started to get up, but I caught his sleeve, and he paused, halfway up.
I still refused to look at him, so my voice was muffled and a bit shaky when I spoke.
“You’re the one who said... I shouldn’t be alone. Since you’re already here just... just stay, alright?”
He reseated himself and I pulled my hand back, rewrapping my arm around my legs. For a long time, neither of us said anything. Aaron simply stayed by my side as I cried quietly.
Eventually, I ran out of tears, and looked up, wiping my eyes and sniffing loudly. I shivered as a breeze came up and I realized it had gotten much cooler. Aaron, without saying a word, picked me up again and began walking back to the palace. I didn’t fight him. I was too exhausted from lack of sleep and crying for so long.
So instead, I leaned my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes, figuring I would rest for a moment. The next moment I opened my eyes we were already back inside and Aaron was carrying me into my bedroom. Groggily, I shook my head.
“Put me down.”
The MAGI did what I told him to for once and I walked to my bed, quickly snuggling down in the covers as he closed the door behind him, probably to return to his own makeshift bed in the parlor.
It was only moments before I was asleep.