Chapter 4

Athella slipped into her room, thankful that no one heard her entrance. The few servants and maids citadel possessed had gone home. And her family was deep asleep, just as she left them. Placing the key she used to enter the citadel on a nearby table, she drew off her cloak and entered her water room. Closing the door behind herself, Athella sent an interlace of luminosity to illuminate the room.

It was small with a small bathing tub, privy and mirror. Above the mirror was a tiny high window near the ceiling. Athella shuddered at her reflection. Mud splattered her entire body and her hair dripped with it. She smeared the mud off her face, still unbelieving the night's events. She winced as the cloth of her shirt scratched against her right arm as she stripped off her clothes.

The woman swore. There, on outer part of her forearm, was a swelling running from her wrist to her elbow. She shook her head, knowing it was from the explosion, but hell's bells, she didn't know it was going to be this bad. Athella sighed. But the damage was done. There was no changing the past.

Stripping off the rest of her muddy clothes, Athella turned to her bathing tub and turned the knob on the wall. Water poured down into the small bathing tub from the pipe above the tub. She smiled, loving the luxury of being the Warden's daughter. Water pipes in the citadel were a true blessing. No other structure possessed the wonderful water pipes. It had been hard to place the pipes in the citadel but it would be even harder to place them in any other structure for only the citadel had a nearby water source.

Turning the knob, Athella watched the water slowly stem its flow to nothing more than a slight trickle. Sticking a single finger into the water, Athella frowned at the cold water; quickly she pulled two threads from her aura and, keeping her finger in the water, pulled the smallest hint of the water essence from the tub water. With practice, she bound them together into a simple interlace. Releasing the interlace into the water, Athella opened her eyes and grinned when she felt the water instantly warmed.

Of course, the water essence was not necessary for the warmth interlace, she remembered as she eased her body into the faintly steaming water. But it was more effective using the essence of the water. The water remained warmer for a longer period of time. And if she did it correctly, it would stay warm until she dismissed the interlace of warmth.

Sinking into the water until the stress-relieving warm water covered her entire body, save her face,, Athella frowned when her thoughts turned from her aura magic to the man in the rain. Who was he? Or better yet, what was he doing so close to Emmora? Athella shook her head. There has to be a logical reason to all of this, she thought. The man must have been looking for Emmora. No mortal went into Esmera for any other reason.

Rising out of the water, she reached for the lilac scented soap and began to scrub herself clean, grimacing when she saw the dirt and mud floating in the water once she finished. Leaning towards the end of the bathing tub, Athella searched blindly in the water for the water plug and released it. Sitting back, she watched the water spiral down the drain and ending with a raucous gurgling.

Shivering from the cold, Athella quickly refilled the tub and warmed it with another interlace and sighed, leaning back. She could lay there for hours, soaking in the heat. Setting herself in a position that would prevent her body from slipping completely underwater, Athella closed her eyes, trying to remember what she did wrong earlier with the cold rain. If she had not lost control, she would have harnessed the essence of cold rain.

Athella grinned lazily at the thought of such power in her grasp before sinking deeper into relaxation.

A sudden hard rapping on her apartment door startled Athella, her eyes flickering open. She heard a voice. Her stepmother's voice.

"Athella, damn it to ashes, girl, you had better be awake or I will come in there myself," Thera, exclaimed. "You are not a child anymore. It is indecent to sleep in this late. Athella-a-a!"

Athella rolled her eyes. Though she loved living in the citadel, it came at an expensive price. Living under rules of her stepmother was just one of many.

She opened her mouth for a terse retort for waking her in the middle of the night when she froze. Sunlight was pouring in from the high window. It was morning. Athella frowned, realizing she spent the entire night in her bathing tub, which had grown to lukewarm over the night.

Athella shook her head. Not a very good way to start the day.

Quickly, she rose out of the water and grabbed a fuzzy white towel. Wrapping it around her body so it formed a sort of dress, she took the last towel from the rack and draped around her shoulders. Jerking the water room door open, she strode towards her apartment door and opened it slightly to reveal her irate mother, short woman with graying fair hair and hard blue eyes.

"I am awake," Athella stated flatly at Thera. "And you are right, I am not a child, so why do you treat me like one?"

Her stepmother frowned at her daughter's tone of voice. Her eyes hardened. "Caelum was here, looking for you not a half of an hour ago. He said you were supposed to meet him this morning."

Athella's eyes widen. How could she have forgotten Caelum, her confidant? He was supposed to help her with her wards. "Oh hell's bells, I forgot!"

Thera's eyes narrowed. "Watch your language, Athella. And please, for the love of the land, put some decent clothes on. Caelum will meet you in the eastern fields. And be back here before noon. Your father wishes to speak with you."

Athella nodded and bade her mother farewell before closing the door and rolling her eyes. What did her father want from her now? Whatever it was, she hoped it had nothing to do with last night, or at least the explosion. But then again, how could he suspect her when he merely thought her to be the daughter who refused to be married off to the suitor of her father's choice.

Athella sighed and turned to her wardrobe, quickly picking her clothes without thought and left the room, her hair dripping slightly as she ran out.

"You are sure I'm doing this correctly?" Athella asked as she held a complicated ward of protection. This one was stronger and larger than the standard ward of protection she knew. It used four threads, each looped and twisted in each and every direction.

"M-hmm," Caelum murmured, peaking into her psyche as she permitted. "Just loop the third thread around the second one."

Athella frowned and did so, wondering how she was going to remember this ward. Generally, wards were supposed to be easier than interlaces since wards were only used in protection. But this looked impossible to remember.

Athella opened her eyes, still holding the interlace in place, and glanced at her friend. Like all of the inhabitants of Emmora, Caelum's hair fells short of his ears, hanging gracefully in nearly white waves and contrasting his tan skin. His hazel eyes glinted mischievously, as usual when he caught her eye.

"So tell me again, Caelum, how do you know this ward again? I do not see how the son of a baker would need to know such a strong ward of self protection," she stated, her eyebrows raised.

Caelum grinned as he leaned forward to pluck a blade of grass from the field they sat upon. "Well, my father is friendly with Werian –"

Athella rolled her eyes lightheartedly. "Everyone knows Werian. He is the best head guard we had in ages."

Caelum chuckled. "Yes. That he is. But I know his son too, Inauro. He taught me to use the stronger form the self-protection ward. Said I should use if the bread decides to blow up one day." Caelum laughed as he tore the blade of grass down the center.

Athella scowled at the name Inauro. "Ugh. Father tried to marry me off to him."

"Who?" Caelum asked innocently as he glanced at Athella. "Werian?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "No, Caelum. I meant Inauro. And besides, Werian vowed never to marry after his wife died.

"Is this right, now?" She allowed in into her psyche to open up to him. She felt his conscious slip into hers.

"It should be."

Athella glared at him in jest. "Should?"

Caelum laughed, his sapphire eye dancing in mirth. "Just release it when I say so. I want to try a mild interlace of force against it."

Athella frowned. "But even a standard ward of self-protection can with stand that."

Caelum shook his head. "We are testing to see if you made the ward correctly, not to test its strength. If you made it correctly, it should absorb the force I throw at you."

"And if not?" Athella asked with raised eyebrows.

Caelum smiled sheepishly. "Ah, well, my interlace should not hurt too much."

"Caelum!"

Chortling, he waved off Athella's piqued protest. "You are very gullible, you know? Just have the standard ward of self-protection prepared. You might need it," he laughed.

Athella frowned lightheartedly as she did so, but she grimace at the strain of holding more wards and threads than she usually held at once. "Hurry," she murmured to Caelum.

"Going as quick as I can," he assured. "All right, release it."

Athella marveled as an indigo sphere formed around her entire body when she released the ward. She glanced at Caelum, who released the small wave of aura force at her. Instinctually, Athella flinched away. Caelum only laughed.

"Athella, it worked! You did it," Caelum praised.

Athella looked up. The ward was gone, making her smile. The ward was a one-time use. She had grinned at Caelum as she allowed the standard ward she created to sink back into her pool.

"I really did it!" she exclaimed. "After only, hmm, four tries at setting up the ward?"

"Now it was not that hard, was it?"

Athella grinned. "But impossible to remember. Can I try it on you?"

"What do you mean? Ward me?" he asked all too innocently with wide eyes.

"What else did you think I meant?" she laughed. If she could do this, then she knew she was good at warding.

Caelum shook his head with a rueful smile. "Sorry, Athella, that would be a different ward. Something I do not know…yet."

Athella smiled. "I wager I could learn it before you do."

Raising a high eyebrow, Caelum eyed his friend. "From who? Inauro?"

Athella stiffened and glared at Caelum. "No-o-o," she drawled, "I am sure there are other people who know that ward. Werian has a daughter, right? So I'm sure she can teach me it if I asked nicely enough."

"That is your choice. So what are you wagering?"

Athella grinned wickedly. "If I win, you have to bake me those cookies I love. The ones made with chocolate bits. A dozen of them or so."

"And if I win, you have to promise you will be at the Charistia. Deal?"

Athella stuck out her hand with a mischievous glint in her indigo eyes. Charistia was the autumn solstice under the full moon. It was one of the rarer festivals of Emmora. Last time, Athella refused to go. But if it was the price of a harmless wager…

"Done."

Caelum grinned knowingly and shook on the deal. "Done."

When they dropped hands, Athella looked up. "How long have we been out here? Two hours?"

"Two hours?" Caelum laughed. "Try three. We stopped at my father's bakery on the way to get you some breakfast."
"Aw, hell's calling bells," Athella swore as she rose from her seat on the grass. "It is past noon, is it not?"

Caelum nodded with worry puckering his brow. "What's wrong?"

She glanced down at him. "I was supposed to meet my father by noon. Back at the citadel. I have to go, Caelum," said Athella as she turned to go.

"Good luck then," Caelum called after her, settling deeper into the grass.

Chuckling to herself at the man's comment, she ran as quick as she could to the citadel, panting when she finally arrived breathless. Straitening her clothes, she entered the citadel.

"Where have you been, Athella!" was the greeting she received from her father as she closed the door calmly behind herself.

She glanced at her father, the tall Warden in the deep green attire. From him, she inherited her indigo eyes and silver hued hair. From him, she received her height that her elder sister did not possess. He strode across the foyer from the drawing room, his deep-set eyes seething in anger.

"I was with Caelum," she answered evenly.

Her father, Emeric threw up his hands exasperatedly. "Hell's bells, Athella, you should not be seen with the likes of him. He is a commoner, a baker's son!"

"He is also my friend," she snapped, glaring. "Besides, you all ready had your fun finding the best suitor for Caylin."

Emeric shook his head wearily. "And she is happy, if you have not noticed, with the son of the ward master, even if the couple lives on the other side of Emmora"

Athella rolled her eyes. "Ward master is just as important as baker, if you have not noticed, Father. Besides, Caelum is just a – a friend. He has been my friend since I was five summers old. He is just as good as any one."

Emeric raised a suspicious eyebrow, his arms crossed over his chest. "So you love this fellow then?"

"Father!"

Her father shook his head again and turned to go, gesturing her to follow. "Well, those matters have yet to be solved then. But, Athella, I really wish you would choose a husband soon. Caylin was married by your age."

"But I am not Caylin, no matter how much you wanted me to be, Father," Athella pleaded, following her father out of the citadel.

Emeric sighed. "All right, Athella. You win. But for now, I need your help," he said, walking towards the small garrison the village possessed. In her mind, it could hardly be called a garrison.

"With what?"

He stopped short and turned to her, speaking in a low voice. "You are only one I can trust with this, Athella. Your mother is too much of a, well, gossip. Your elder brother, Alaric, is in the citadel doing work for me since he is going to take my place later as Warden. Caylin is on the other side of Emmora, but I would not trust her with this either. Tarvid is too young for this."

"Tarvid is sixteen summers," Athella reminded her father. Tarvid was her half-brother, first son of Thera.

Emeric nodded. "Yes, that he is, but it is too young for this. And I do not trust most of my assistants with this."

Athella eyed her father. "So what is this about?"

Emeric motioned her to follow. "Come, I'll show you."