King Torgen narrowed his eyes. “No?”
“No, there will be no guards posted outside the tower. The lower windows are glass; they could easily look in. My…skill will raise a ruckus, and no one may hear the noises I make or—,”
“The flax will not turn into gold. I am aware of your little ruse, Gemma Kielland. The guards stay,” King Torgen said, grabbing a chunk of Gemma’s wild hair and pulling.
“Then you will not get so much as a strand of gold from me,” Gemma said, her voice strong and her posture confident in spite of her prickling scalp.
“Don’t play games you cannot win, girl,” King Torgen growled, pulling harder.
Gemma ignored her pain and met King Torgen’s glare with the presence of a commanding general. “After tonight, I will have spun enough gold to pay off half the country’s debts, and you are ripping me from my family and friends to bring me into yours. No guards. That is my price for the deeds you have forced from me.”
King Torgen’s upper lip curled back in a sneer. He released Gemma’s hair and pushed her backwards.
“As you wish,” King Torgen said with a pseudo-pleasant smile. “No guards will stand on duty tonight.”
King Torgen swept outdoors, the wind yanking on his clothes and hair.
“I’m sorry,” Prince Toril said before he followed his father outside.
“Are you alright, Miss Kielland?” the guard captain asked when the door ominously slammed shut.
Gemma took in a shaky breath but set her shoulders and chin. “Yes,” she said, her voice strong. “Will he keep his bargain?”
“You mean will he refrain from posting guards? I think so. His anger indicates he will,” the captain said.
Gemma nodded. “Thank you.”
“Are you going to escape?” Foss asked.
“I don’t know,” Gemma honestly replied.
The guards exchanged glances and nodded.
“It’s been a pleasure to be in your service,” the captain said as his men saluted Gemma. “I wish it could have been under different circumstances.”
“Thank you for your kindness,” Gemma said.
The captain also saluted Gemma before he motioned for his men to follow him and exit the tower.
The howling wind rampaged indoors while the guards filed out, making the torches flicker. When the door slammed shut, Gemma heard the familiar groan of a bar being dropped into place, and a lock turning.
Gemma ran a hand through her wavy hair. “Now what?” she wondered.
When Stil banged into the tower an hour or so later, Gemma was pacing back and forth in front of the flax.
“Good evening,” Stil said, brushing snowflakes from his cloak.
“I am in a great deal of trouble, Sir Mage,” Gemma said, still pacing.
“What is wrong?” Stil asked.
“You must let me out of the tower so I can run.”
“Gemma, have you seen the weather? I can’t let you flee in this,” Stil said.
Gemma stopped in front of Stil and whirled to face him, every muscle in her body tight with agitation. “Then you may as well kill me now. I would rather be dead than be married into that demon’s family!”
Surprised by the outburst, Stil reached out and placed his warm hands on Gemma’s shoulder. “No matter what happens tonight, you will be safe. Now, please explain—everything.”
“The base bargain is still the same. If I don’t spin all of this into gold, King Torgen will have me killed.”
“I expected that,” Stil said, squeezing Gemma’s shoulders before he released her and approached the spinning wheel. He wet his fingers and started pulling flax from the distaff to get the machine running.
“Yes, well he’s gone and added a benefit. If all the flax is spun, he will marry me and make me his queen!” Gemma said, spitting the words out like they were bile.
“He what?” Stil said, turning around incredulously.
“I know,” Gemma said, shaking her head.
“That does change things a great deal,” Stil said, seating himself on a rickety chair. He folded his arms across his chest as he thought, occasionally nudging the spinning wheel to make it run.
“It seems running is your only viable option,” he said.
“Yes,” Gemma emphatically nodded.
“But you can’t leave right now.”
“The weather is terrible, and these days I prefer not to travel at night,” Stil said, turning so his fine lips and chin were pointed in the direction of a glass window.
“Forgive my bluntness, Sir Mage, but I fail to see what your travel preferences have to do with me.”
The mage tilted his head. “You can’t really think I would allow you to set off into the wilds alone.”
“If you open the tower door for me, that will be more than sufficient help,” Gemma said.
“No,” Stil said, rejecting the idea.
“Sir Mage, Stil,” Gemma said, trying again. “You have done so much to aid me. I cannot count on you any longer.”
“Fine,” Stil said, and Gemma sagged with relief until the mage spoke again. “Then I choose to tag along as your extra baggage.”