Above me, the citadel’s irrigation turned on, sending a silent mist down onto the arbor. I tracked wet footprints to my room and wedged the desk chair under the doorknob.
I fell into a fitful slumber, but woke to an unchanged room. I sat up and wrapped my arms around my knees. Had I imagined it all? Somehow, that thought was less reassuring than the alternative. I got up, but my hands hesitated to remove the chair from the door. What if the fox or Kenn were waiting for me? What if they weren’t? I cursed my indecision. I was tired of being afraid, tired of being alone, and tired of being tired of everything.
I pushed the chair free and headed to the cove. It was time to find some answers on my own. I slowly eased myself into the warm water. My black hair fanned out around my shoulders as I took a deep breath and dived. The fish scattered at the intrusion. I patted down the walls in search of an opening, but it was clear after several attempts that it was far deeper. I clung to the pavestones at the cove’s edge as I caught my breath. I didn’t relish swimming beyond the light’s reach, but I had come this far. It seemed silly to quit.
I kicked off from the wall to propel myself into the depths. As the light dimmed, I felt around blindly. My hands scraped against rocks and tangled in weeds as I pulled myself deeper and deeper. I soon realized my folly. In the darkness, I had no way of knowing which way was up. I turned around and frantically pulled myself in the direction I thought I had come, but the water grew no lighter. My lungs screamed. Had the shadows finally caught up with me?
Kenn’s sinuous form suddenly coiled around me and hauled me to the surface. I greedily gulped air as he swam me to the pavestones. His arms held me there for mine were leaden.
“What were you thinking?” ask Kenn, his tone a mixture of concern and anger.
“I was looking for the entrance.”
“It’s deeper than you can swim on your own,” he said. “Promise me you’ll never try that again.”
I gave him a sideways glance. His expression revealed nothing, but the yellow of his eyes had swallowed the green.
“I have no desire to die like my little brother,” I said.
“He took his own life,” I said as I stared at the pavestones in front of me, “rather than fight in the war that killed our older brother and my husband. He was barely 16.”
“You were married,” stated Kenn, his tone inquiring yet tinted with a note of surprise.
“For two months, before he went off to fight,” I said. “A month later, I was a widow. And now there’s no one left.”
“You’re still here.”
The angry scrapes on my hands glared accusingly at me. “I’ve come so close to death so many times. I’m beginning to think even it doesn’t want me.”
“Then perhaps there is something you still need to do.”
I snorted. “I’ve done everything that was ever asked of me. I have nothing left to give except my life, and I thought I had already given that. Yet here I am.”
“Jianna, why did you want to find the tunnel?” asked Kenn. “You know how dangerous it is outside these walls.”
I shrugged. “Just in case.”
“In case what?”
I bit my bottom lip, glad he couldn’t see my face. “In case you didn’t come back.”
Kenn shifted in the water to move beside me. “I would never abandon you here.”
The sincerity in his voice made me feel guilty for doubting him. I met his gaze.
His eyes darkened to green again. “Did something happen?”
“You were gone for so long,” I said. “I thought I must have offended you in some way.”