Gemma sat in the bit of late afternoon sunlight that peeked into her cell and studied her newly acquired items.
She ran a finger over the dulled hatchet edge and walked the perimeter of her cell. “It’s all stone, so unless I could chop through the iron bars—which I can’t—I can’t burrow out. And even if I did, the soldiers would be blamed for my escape. I will have to escape when I’m supposed to be spinning. Perhaps I can convince King Torgen I must be unguarded,” Gemma murmured.
She sighed and lifted the hatchet up again to study it. “Where on earth am I going to hide this?”
Minutes stretched into hours as Gemma experimented with various locations of securing the hatchet in her clothes so it would neither fall out nor cut her.
It wasn’t until the sky was purple-blue with the beginning of night that Gemma realized no one had stopped by. Not that she was expecting anyone besides Lady Linnea, but the guards hadn’t dropped off lunch or appeared to take her breakfast tray.
I don’t blame them. They must be leery of me, Gemma thought as she rested her back against a grungy wall and closed her eyes.
“You lie and say you can spin flax into gold, and you return to the dungeons after a successful escape attempt. I am beginning to think you might have a death wish.”
Gemma lurched forward in surprise at the familiar, melodious male voice.
It was the mage.
Gemma stood, careful not to disrupt the various escape items she had strapped to her body, and hopped on the stool to look out the ceiling-window.
The mage sat on the edge of the grille with enough ease to make Lady Linnea jealous. He still wore his unusual, black cloak, but today he had on tan, cotton pants that puffed a little at the knee but were tucked into his boots, a blue sash with incredible beadwork as a belt, and black cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. A blue dragon was embroidered on his shirt, and if Gemma looked at it out of the corner of her eye it seemed almost like the dragon moved.
Why does he dress so oddly? He must be ancient and is dressing in styles from the distant past, Gemma decided, taking in the mage’s clothes.
He lounged on the cold ground as if he were seated on pillows with his elbows propped on the grate and his legs carelessly crossed. His face was covered by his cloak, but his fine chin and lips were pointed down at Gemma.
“I very much wish to live,” Gemma firmly said.
“Truly? You need to be more convincing, in that case,” the mage said.
“If I did not lie about my abilities, King Torgen would have killed my father in addition to me. Although I cannot abide the man, my mother feels something for him, and it would be cruel to leave her alone in this world.”
“And your escape this afternoon?”
“The guards in charge of me would have been slaughtered.”
“You would sacrifice yourself for the men holding you captive?”
“I would sacrifice myself to spare the men who have shown me kindness in spite of the danger they face. They have families, children, and wives who would miss them. I am but one person,” Gemma said, getting a crick in her neck from looking straight up. “It is not that I wish for death or think I am worth less as much as it is that I choose to not see them die for my sake.”
“You are noble.”
“If you say so,” Gemma said, hopping off the stool.
“No, I don’t think you understand me, Gemma Kielland. You are noble,” the mage said.
Gemma leaned against a gritty, damp wall. “I fear you have been deceived. I am not noble. I have often been told I am a jaded, cynical being who speaks with the intent to maim.”
The mage chuckled. “You mistake aristocracy for nobility. By noble, I mean you have an excellent moral character.”
Gemma felt like she had no response to such a compliment.
“It is a rare quality,” the mage added, his voice wistful.
Gemma pushed off the wall and raised her icy gray-blue eyes to look at the mage. “Rare? I should think you often rub elbows with people of excellent moral character,” she said.
“Why would you say that?” the mage asked, his fine lips curling with the question.
“You are a magic user—,”
“Sure. Magic users—and mages—are some of the most outstanding figures in the world,” Gemma said.
“Maybe we once were,” the mage said, sighing with elegance. “But now we have so many rules and regulations we must follow.”
“Aren’t they noble rules? You said you had an obligation to help those in need.”
“I did, and I do,” the mage agreed. He tilted his head to look up at the sky, treating Gemma to a quick few of his rather fine nose. “But it’s not because of any regulation. When I made the rank of craftmage, a very dear friend spoke to me about the responsibility of using magic. She insisted that whenever possible, it was my duty to help the weak. I swore I would do so.”
Gemma pinched her lips together.
The mage exhaled. “And I’ve upset you. What is it?”