The mage laughed. “You are quite a bit of fun.”

Gemma raised her eyebrows. “I believe this is the first time anyone has thought so.”

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The mage grabbed the last slice of sourdough bread and, in one elegant motion, rocked to his feet. “Then everyone you know is blind,” he said, checking the tension of the spinning thread.

Gemma smiled for the merest moment. She glanced up at the mage to make sure he hadn’t noticed—he was still busy tending to the spinning machine—before she bent over her work with determination.

It was just after midnight when Gemma hacked the last wooden bar covering the window apart. Her back and arms ached, and she was sweaty and growing chilled in the cool, fall air, but the window was wide open. and the crisp air smelled like freedom.

“Well done,” the mage said. “But I fail to see what the open window will accomplish as you seem most determined to save your guards.”

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Gemma looked down at her hatchet and shrugged. “I felt like hacking at something,” she said.

“That’s a useful way to channel your aggression,” the mage said, crossing the room. He leaned out of the open window and inspected the outside walls. He momentarily turned back in the direction of the spinning wheel before climbing onto the window sill with great ease.

With elegance that was unnatural—considering how high up they were—the mage started to stand, molding his body against the castle wall when he passed the boundaries of the window frame. He jumped, and the buckles on his black boots glittered before he disappeared from sight, climbing upwards.

Gemma leaned out of the window and watched the mage pull himself up over the edge of the roof, resting on the base ledge. The patch of roof spiked above him like an icicle, and snowflakes the size of Gemma’s head formed the lattice work around the triangle.

“Care to join me?” the mage asked.

Gemma pointedly looked down, where large torches posted in the courtyard were barely pinpricks of light.

The mage laughed. “I won’t let you fall,” he said, scooting on the ledge so he could offer his hand.

Gemma grumbled under her breath about nutty mages, but the lure of the cool, fresh air and the light of brilliant moon soon had her heaving her body onto the window sill.

“There are so many carvings, it’s actually quite easy,” the mage said, gesturing to the caribou carving next to the window.

“Right. Easy,” Gemma grunted as she planted a foot on the hooves of the caribou’s back legs and strained to grab his rearing front legs. Gemma grumbled more about crazy mages when her grip slid and her stomach rolled—making her regret the last few pieces of bread she had eaten—before she climbed higher.

When Gemma clambered onto the caribou’s head, the mage grabbed her by the back of her dress and helped haul her onto the ledge.

“It’s less windy here,” the mage said, motioning for Gemma to scoot further into the triangular shape. “Which is lucky, because I’m no weather mage,” he said, offering Gemma a grin.

Gemma had nothing to say—the intimidating climb up to the ledge and her knowledge of everything she owed the mage kept her from speaking the insults.

Instead, Gemma admired the beauty that lay outside the castle. The night sky was a deep purple with a screen of stars twinkling like diamonds sewn into lace. Fresler’s Helm—one of the tallest and surely the most famous mountains in the range that loomed around the royal palace like the train of a dress—glowed in the moonlight. Occasionally, long strands of emerald green and shadowed snow blue light swirled from the mountain and added extra color to the sky.

The air chilled Gemma, freezing her cheeks and nose, but it smelled fresh, with hints of leaves and smoky fires and—just the barest trace of what would soon come—snow.

It felt amazing to be outside again. Her escape attempt had awakened Gemma’s longing to be out. Out of the castle, out of the black walls of the dungeon. Sitting on the ledge in the fresh air soothed her.

“It’s beautiful,” Gemma said after several minutes.

“It is,” the mage agreed, rustling around in his cloak. “Verglas is savage and wild, but also unbelievably beautiful. Here, take this. It will keep you warm,” he said, removing something from his cloak. He breathed on it before holding it out to Gemma.

In his hands was a ruby. It was the deep red of blood, cut as thinly as a knife blade, and fashioned in the shape of a flame.

“What is it?” she asked, reaching out to take it. Gemma jumped in surprise when she touched the ruby and felt heat flow into her finger tips and up her arm. She withdrew her hand and eyed the elaborately cut gem.

“A heat charm. One of the more rare variety as it’s attached to jewelry,” the mage said.

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