Sienna rode home later that afternoon, alone. The Koskovs had been summoned back to the manse at Smyth’s request, shuffled along by her father’s own men. Sienna had been offered a space in the carriage, which she declined. There had still been discussions to be had with Nalus, which went nowhere, and quiet pleading with Viola, which went worse.

She nodded to the guards. It had been somewhat funny to see guards trying to hide the cream puffs they had been snacking on. Where had they even found them? Probably some cook had slipped it to them.

Sienna herself had left the countess’s manse just an hour or so after the children, but already the shadows were starting to loom. The already cold air was becoming far colder, but still she rode on horseback. She wore a heavy cloak, and though her breath wafted out from underneath her hood, she ignored it.

Sienna was changing, something she truly hated. She had been vain, and silly, and able to grasp the comforts of the world and hold them to her chest. But the noble had soon realized that that was something Viola Konstantin would not tolerate, and changed out of necessity. Now, she could see the necessity there, but no Viola.

The girl could not stop seeing shadows. The Valley which had once been a beacon to her, now loomed. There were whispers she was once deaf to, rumors that she had ignored for far juicier, more risqué ones of the court.

And what was she supposed to do about them? Sienna shivered, consumed in that question. She wasn’t a soldier. She didn’t have magical powers like the countess. She was Sienna, a glorified gossip. Trading on her looks as much as her father’s name. Sienna was, in her own modest opinion, pretty useless in this respect.

“Lady Sienna,” A voice crackled through the trees.

The horse reared up with a whinny. Sienna’s hands clenched, and she looked around for a weapon. Why did she not carry one? Of all the vestiges of civility to remain, a lady remaining unarmed had to be the worst.

“Peace, human.” Willow Sam emerged out of the trees. “We merely want to speak.”

We? Ah, Sienna could see them now. Leaning against the trees, or hidden in the boughs. Their own appearance a natural camouflage in the forest. Sienna wondered how many treemen were now in the Valley.

“Willow Sam.” She managed. “Speak.”

He bowed his head. “We did not want to speak. We are content with our grove, provided by the countess. When there are problems for us, or our flock, we know that the countess can be relied upon for response. And to not offend your countrymen, or anyone else, we stay silent. It is our way.

“However…” The treeman looked back to his brothers. “When it comes to her own safety, we do not know how to proceed.”

“Her own?”

Willow Sam nodded. “We are fae. We know humans, of course. But someone like Viola…is there such a thing? We do not know what will break her.”

His face cracked into a smile. “You humans are just so fragile. One wrong move and you’re broken.”

“Was that a threat, tree?”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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