Calista tucked herself into a private corner of the courtyard. She tried to ignore a man's loud laugh, false, grating, and the lady's responding titter was no better. She stared despondently at one of the stone pillars.

This was hardly the escape she craved and she tried to comfort herself in her plans. It was coming. If she only focused on her plan it was enough. Only her plan and not that it would likely be her last outing. Forget her impending doom. Ignore the rising swell of disgust in her stomach at the thought of his arrival.

She sighed. What better lock upon her cage than a wedding?

"Lady Calista?"

Calista gasped and turned. The general stood near and she berated herself for her lack of attention. Such a lapse could only be dangerous in these times.

"General Asthar!"

Asthar bowed his head. "Apologies, my lady. I did not mean to startle you."

"It's of no concern. I should have been paying more attention."

"Does something trouble you?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I found myself feeling rather stifled. I only thought to get a breath of fresh air."

"A fine place to do so."

The only place, Calista thought privately.

"If only all could enjoy such peaceful environs," he added.

"Surely such places exist across the island."

"Perhaps, but there are many dangers as well. All would do well to remember that."

Calista swallowed. He watched her, but surely he couldn't know, yet even suspicions were too dangerous.

"I can only imagine," she replied carefully. All too well. She only needed to wander the halls to be aware of dangers. She only needed to be in the presence of her uncle for that. Then something flared in her and she fixed the general with the best stare she could muster.

"And yet I can only wonder if the castle is any different."

Was that a grimace that flashed across his face?

"I daresay anyone can find danger when they look for it, but caution and a watchful eye may prevent… accidents, my lady."

"I see." Calista bowed her head. "Thank you for your company, General Asthar, but I am feeling fatigued. If you'll excuse me."

'Accidents,' Calista thought as she made her slow way to her room. So they were always led to believe. What of the general's phrasing? It seemed perhaps he too shared her fears.

Perhaps.

Fears or a veiled threat?

There were too many unknowns. As much as she wished to, she dared not trust anyone entirely, not even him, but 'caution and a watchful eye'—that she would maintain.

I'm sorry, General. You speak wisely. But one more time. I must have this before the end.

She would only have to be even more careful in her escape for her last night of freedom.