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Authors: Breeana Puttroff

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BOOK: Leaves of Revolution
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“I’m sorry to hear of your loss,” Quinn said.

“Thank you. We had a long and fulfilling life together, enough happiness to last me. Not everyone is lucky enough to have what we did for as long as we did. But I appreciate your kindness. Anyway, the point of my story is more that everyone who knows my secret is in this room, except for Sophia, and she is more afraid of me finding her than I am of her finding me.”

“You’re that scary?”

To Zander’s surprise, Tobias smiled. “You may want to reserve your judgment on that until you see the condition of my guest rooms. They haven’t been tended to in ages, I’m afraid.”

“I’m sure I can help with that,” Mia said, shrugging out of her cloak and smoothing the skirt of her dress. “If you can point me to the rooms and to any supplies you might have.”

That seemed to settle the discussion for then. Zander wasn’t sure what to think of Tobias or his secluded farmhouse, but it appeared they’d be staying here, at least for now. There really weren’t any better options. By the time he stepped outside to help the other guards finish bringing everything inside, the sky had already grown dark with thick, heavy clouds, and the wind had changed from cold to biting.

~
Eleven
~
The Friends of Philip

 

“CAN I HELP YOU with that?”

Mia looked up over the cream-colored sheet she was shaking out over a bed in one of Tobias’ guest rooms. “You really don’t…” She stopped, squeezing her eyes shut for a second, and then nodded. “Sure.”

Thomas reached for the edge of the sheet, pulling it flat against the mattress and leaning down to tuck the edges in. It was softer than he expected, made of a nicer material than he’d guessed it would be. The mattress was thicker, too. “So Quinn and William will be in here, then?” he asked, nodding toward the diaper bag sitting on one of the armchairs by the fireplace. He knew it was a stupid question, but it was better than silence.

“Yes.” She followed his gaze. “I need to get some water on to boil for those diapers – we’ll be out by tomorrow and they’ll need time to dry since I’m not going to be able to put them outside.”

Through the window, he could see big, fluffy snowflakes falling from the moonlit sky.

“I’ll go and get some water going on the kitchen hearth. You have enough with the rooms – let me do the diapers.”

She tilted her head and huffed out a sigh. “It’s not your job, Thomas. I’m Samuel’s nurse – and I haven’t even been especially useful at that yet.”

“Quinn will need you plenty sooner than you think. As soon as that baby’s old enough to be awake more and hard to carry everywhere.”

“She will if we survive this, anyway.” Mia said without looking at him as she reached for a heavy quilt folded on a chair.

“Mia…” he closed most of the distance between them.

“What, Thomas? Are you going to tell me it’s not that bad? We wouldn’t have fled the castle in the middle of the night if that wasn’t exactly how bad this is.”

He pressed his lips together. “We still can’t think that way. We did get out of the castle, and for tonight we’re safe.”

She kept the quilt in front of her, looking down at it as she nodded. “I know.”

“Do you regret your decision to come to Philotheum?”

“No.” Stepping away from him, she took the side of the quilt and began to shake it out over the bed.

He put his hand over hers, stopping her, and put one finger under her chin, gently turning her face toward him. “You don’t?”

“No.” She took a small step back from him, but didn’t look away this time. “I’m scared that this is happening, but I knew … after Ben … that Tolliver was likely to cause problems. I feel like I’m supposed to be here, doing what I can for Quinn and William and Samuel. I might not be able to fight for them like Ben did, but I’m honored to be able to serve the true queen and the heir.”

Thomas nodded – he understood the sentiment as well. As strange and frightening as the situation was, this was where he wanted to be, with his brother and sisters and his nephew. More than anything, he wanted to win this fight with Tolliver once and for all.

“So, then, this…” he motioned with his finger to the space between them, “is all about me, isn’t it?”

She cocked one eyebrow. “Are we going to talk about that now?”

“Well…” He picked at a hangnail on his thumb. “We kind of need to at some point.”

“Do we? Because we’ve been doing…
whatever
it is we’re doing now every day for long enough now that I think we could keep it up forever.”

“Is that what you want, Mia? For us to just continue like we’ve been?”

“I wasn’t the one who wanted that in the first place Thomas.”

He took a deep breath in through his nose, willing himself to not be irritated with her, to really be able to talk about this, but it wasn’t easy. “You’re the one who wanted to go to Philotheum without telling me.”

Her fingers wrapped around the edge of the quilt again, her knuckles turning white in a way that sent a painful pulse rippling through his stomach.

“You’re right. I was. But was I the only one? Is it all my fault if neither of us can talk about what we’re thinking?”

“No,” he whispered. Now he was the one not looking at her.

There was silence for several seconds as he stared at his hands and she began shaking out the quilt again.

“This isn’t the time, Thomas,” she finally said once the bed was made. “I have a million things to do, and we’re all emotional… Let’s just do what we need to do for now.”

He started to nod, started to take the easy way out, yet again, but then his hand slipped and brushed against his pocket, jingling the bracelet inside – making it clink against the small coin his father had given to him before returning to Eirentheos.

“All right. But… later, after things have settled for the evening, can I make you a cup of tea?”

She was quiet again, for almost too long, before she finally said, “Okay.”

 

When he reached the kitchen, only Tobias and Zander were in there. The older man stood at a tall counter in the middle of the room, chopping onions and peppers, while Zander sat on a stool, watching and drinking steaming tea from a metal mug. Thomas frowned at Zander.

“Leave him be,” Tobias said. “He offered plenty of help, but I can tell he’s not so used to the rigors of this world yet. We made a deal. I’ll cook if he teaches me a recipe from his world.”

Not for the first time since encountering Tobias earlier today, Thomas nearly choked on his spit.

“Are you all right?” Tobias asked, looking up from his giant pile of vegetables for only a moment.

“I’m fine. Could you use any of
my
help? It looks like you must have a very impressive indoor garden somewhere.”

“I do – and usually not nearly enough company to cook for and share it with. The chickens are well fed, though.”

“Well, that one
was
,” Zander said, nodding toward the counter next to the large pump-fed sink, where strips from a freshly plucked and gutted chicken were soaking in some kind of oily sauce in a large ceramic bowl.

“So… What are we having?”

“Fajitas,” Zander said.

“Fa- what?”

Zander grinned. “You’re always feeding me unfamiliar food. I thought it was my turn to introduce you to something completely different. “So we’re having fajitas. Well, sort of. He doesn’t have exactly the right peppers – or steak.”

“It’s hard to justify butchering a cow just for myself,” Tobias said, shrugging. “The recipe sounds interesting anyway. But, no, Thomas, I don’t need your help, either. You look like you might be busy yourself. Is there something I can help
you
with?”

“Uh, yes, actually.” He held up the bag of soiled diapers. “I was wondering if you had a washing tub I could borrow?”

“Ah, yes, Thomas. Just through that door over there, you’ll find a laundry sink. It’s not anything fancy, and it’ll be cold in there, but you should find what you need.” Tobias’ attitude was dismissive of his house, but in truth the property was quite nice for a rural farm. Clearly he had added onto it over the cycles, and upgraded many rooms. The buildings were in need of some maintenance here and there, perhaps, in areas that were probably becoming more difficult to keep up with as he aged, but even so it was a beautiful and cozy home.

“Thank you. We may be imposing on you a bit more for washing clothing. I’m afraid we all packed in a rush and aren’t as well prepared as we’d like to be.”

“You’re welcome to anything, truly. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the opportunity to meet my great-niece in person. I intend to care for her while she’s here – and the rest of you as well – however short the time may be.”

Thomas didn’t understand Tobias at all. If he’d wanted to meet Quinn before this, he would only have needed to send a message to the castle introducing himself.

“Well, we all appreciate it. Quinn is always interested in meeting the family she never knew she had.”

Tobias smiled at him quickly before turning his attention back to another onion. “Feel free to boil some water over the cooking fire for those diapers. I imagine the queen and king will be finishing their discussion with Marcus any time now and will join us.”

There was an implied dismissal in Tobias’ words, but Thomas couldn’t help his curiosity about the man. Some of his interest came from wanting to know just
how
safe they were here at this farm, and whether anyone else might discover them here – but if he were being honest, most of it was simple fascination with the intriguing man. After he’d set the offending bag down out of the way in the laundry room, he went back into the kitchen and searched for a pot to boil water in.

“Do you have any children?” he asked Tobias as he chose the largest cast-iron pot he could find on the wooden shelves that lined one wall of the kitchen.

“No. We were never blessed with the honor. We did enjoy a close relationship with the son of some dear friends, but his marriage took him to a village several days from here, and I only get messages from him in between visits at feast-times.”

“And no other family?”

“Nobody is going to drop in on me unexpectedly, Thomas. A few well-placed Friends of Philip know how to reach me – and I have some friends in the village who check in on me from time to time, but only because I’m a doddering old man. They’d be easy to hide from long before I offered an invitation up to the house. Your concern is understandable, though. I don’t mind the questions. You have no reason to trust that you’ll be safe here. I know you’re only here because you have nowhere else to go tonight – but that’s fair enough. I’ve no doubt I’d feel the same as all of you if I were in the same position.”

“If the floor is open for questions,” said a voice behind Thomas, “I’d like to know how you know about the other world.”

“Hello again, Your Majesty.” Tobias set down his knife and wiped his hands on a white towel he had draped over his shoulder. “There’s a fresh pot of tea if you’d like a cup.”

“I would like answers, Tobias.”

“Yes, I know you would. I’m not avoiding giving them to you – I think you’re actually going to be rather disappointed in how little I know that you don’t already. But there’s no reason to stand there and be uncomfortable while we talk. I’ll make you a cup of tea and you can have a seat by the fire. You too, of course, King William. I see you have your hands full with that beautiful baby. Please, sit down.”

Quinn’s posture relaxed a little as she walked over to one of the comfortable chairs just to the side of the fireplace. Thomas guessed that Tobias must spend most of his time in this room; there was a little table between the chairs stacked with several books. There was even a little stack of clay tiles; Tobias set out two of them and placed hot mugs of tea on top for both Quinn and William.

“He truly is marvelous,” Tobias said, pausing for a moment to stare at Samuel. “If he wasn’t sleeping so peacefully, I’d ask if I could hold him.”

“He’ll wake again soon,” William said. “I’m sure you’ll have the chance before the meal is over.”

Tobias smiled. “That would be wonderful. I’m not at all fond of the circumstances, but I must say I’m not disappointed to get a chance to see him up close – and while he’s tiny, too.”

There was a catch in his voice that Quinn must have caught, too. “Up close?” she asked? “Have you seen him from far away?”

“I did make it to the city for his Naming Ceremony. It was all amazing, of course, but I like seeing him snuggled with his father in front of my fire much more.”

“You think Sophia thinks you’re dead, but you would risk going to an event where she’ll be?”

“It’s not as if I went to the
castle
, Your Majesty. I merely attended the ceremony, in the back with the commoners. Nobody knew I was there. I didn’t even tell Nathaniel this time.”

She looked over at Nathaniel, who was on the other side of the kitchen with Marcus, retrieving more mugs from a high cabinet. He was clearly familiar with this house.

“Do you and Nathaniel speak regularly?” she asked.

“Yes.” Tobias didn’t hesitate. “We exchange messages at least once a moon; more often since he’s returned to Philotheum. And he was kind enough to visit me several times each cycle for a long time, although that stopped once he became known more publicly. It’s good to have him here again.”

“We need to start at the beginning, I think,” Nathaniel said, coming up behind Tobias and patting him on the shoulder.

Tobias nodded, retreating back to his vegetables as Nathaniel set his mug down on another of the tiles and pulled a stool over from the kitchen counter.

Marcus turned his attention to the chicken on the counter – Thomas noticed the old man didn’t object to
his
help. Apparently Marcus already knew everything.

He pulled up a stool of his own so he could hear the whole conversation. Zander passed him a hot mug as he scooted closer, too.

“Tobias is right,” Nathaniel said, “in that it’s really not much more than you already know. I’ve told you nearly the whole story before this, but for various reasons, I’ve left Tobias out.”

“Because of Sophia?” she asked.

“She’s one part of it. Another part is that Tobias has been a safe refuge for me for a long time, and he was the same for your father before that. I didn’t want to jeopardize him
or
us – and while I’ve never liked hiding things from you, Quinn, right now I’m very glad I kept this secret.”

BOOK: Leaves of Revolution
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