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Here's Chapter 9!

"Roxaaane!" Lilly moaned, "We have to go! Everyone will be there!"

Roxane rolled her eyes, "Come on Lill, I'm tired! Go without me! You and Melvin have fun, you two never notice anyone else anyway, gazing fondly into each others eyes and all that"

Lilly couldn't help but smile shyly, "Oh shut up! Fine, I'll go without you, don't blame me when your sitting here bored senseless!"
With that she flounced out of the tent.

Roxane sighed and flopped back onto her bed. In truth she didn't much feel like going to the party on the other side of the camps tonight. Where is he? She wondered for the millionth time, it had been days since she had last seen Dustfinger in the castle and she couldn't help feeling restless.
She pulled the golden fairy he had given her out from underneath her pillow where she had stuffed it hurriedly when Lilly had barged into the tent.
She turned over onto her stomach and moved the fairy around in her fingers, watching as the light caught on the shiny surfaces and sent a myriad of colours onto her canvas wall.

She couldn't stop thinking about him, her dreams were filled with fire and warmth and his face filled her mind every time she blinked. She could barely stand another moment without seeing Dustfinger. Roxane had passed by his tent hundreds of times these past few days hoping to hear his voice inside or even see the flicker of a flame, but to no avail.

She cried out in frustration and then jumped off her bed.
She would ask the Prince she decided, if anyone knew where Dustfinger had disappeared to, he would.

She marched out of her tent and began in the direction of the Prince's tent, hoping he hadn't left for the party yet.

The camp was mostly empty. Lilly had been right, everyone really would be there. Everyone except the one person she was interested in...

She was muttering angrily to herself, barely paying attention to where she was going when she walked right into something solid.

Roxane staggered back slightly but two hands reached out to steady her.
"Whoa there!"

She looked up, and there, with a curious expression on his face was Dustfinger.

Roxane threw her arms up in the air, "Where have you been!?" she demanded, exasperated.

Dustfinger looked startled for a second, before this expression was replaced with a mischievous grin, "Did you miss me?" he teased, stepping closer to Roxane.

"What? No! No, I was just wondering...because I haven't seen you around lately...and I just wondered...well, anyway, you're here...safe and sound and all that so...good...that's fine..." She felt flustered and embarrassed, but delighted he was back all the same.

Dustfinger smiled and Roxane calmed down immediately, what did it matter if she embarrassed herself? As long as she could be near him.

"I was looking for Nettle" Dustfinger explained, "I didn't realise it would take this long, but she's never in one place for very long so I had some trouble finding her."

Roxane understood very little of his sentence. "Who?" she finally asked, not even sure if it was the correct question to ask.

"Nettle" Dustfinger replied, "She's a healer, I was looking for her in the forest."

"Oh....Wait! Are you hurt?" Roxane asked panicked, "why do you need a healer?" She tried to examine him for any signs of injury but could find none.

"Not me" he reassured her, "Cloudancer, his tightrope wasn't tied properly and he fell, I think it's just his leg that's injured" Dustfinger's concern for his friend was apparent.

"Oh no" Roxane said quietly, she had only spoken to Cloud Dancer a few times before, but he had one of those friendly trustworthy faces that was hard to forget.

"I'm on my way to see him now" Dustfinger continued.

"Can I come with you?" Roxane asked, "If he doesn't mind an extra visitor?"

Dustfinger looked down at Roxane's face, her sincerity touched him.

"Of course, he'd love to see you." He replied in an equally quiet voice. "This way, he's in the Prince's tent, it has the best lighting".

Roxane nodded and followed Dustfinger.

Within minutes they were outside the Prince's tent, Roxane stopped dead. Dustfinger looked back at her questioningly and saw her eyes fixed on the large black bear stationed just to the left of the entrance. Dustfinger couldn't help but chuckle, "he's harmless!"

Roxane shot him a disbelieving look.

Dustfinger reached out and took Roxane's hand. "Come on, trust me, he does nothing but sleep unless the Black Prince tells him otherwise! As large as he is, he's only a cub!"

Roxane tightened her grip on Dustfinger's hand and bravely stepped forward, she had travelled into the Wayless Wood with Dustfinger, she could handle a bear.

The black Prince's bear raised its sleepy head at the sight of Dustfinger in the hopes of a snack, when none came he lowered it back onto his paws and closed his eyes again.

Roxane laughed, "I can't believe I've been afraid of that cub all this time! He's almost cute!"

"Don't tell the Prince that!" Dustfinger commented lightheartedly.

He pulled across the tent's door flap and the two of them entered the tent.
Inside it was well lit and spacious; in one corner stood the Black Prince. In the centre of the tent lay Cloud Dancer, with a cast of sticks and cloth secured onto his leg. By Cloud Dancer's bedside stood the strangest woman Roxane had ever seen, she was small and dressed in heavy clothing, with various plants and herbs tied around her waist. She had a thick grey plait and large boots.

"What's the diagnosis Nettle?" Dustfinger asked.

"A broken leg, a bruised ego and an over active pride" replied the Black Prince.

"Quite so" agreed Nettle.

Cloud dancer rolled his eyes, "They treat me as if I were a swooning maiden!"

"That you are" commented Dustfinger moving farther into the room, Roxane followed, stifling a laugh at their banter.

"Speaking of maidens..." Cloud dancer continued, spotting Roxane, "Interesting...." he said, noticing Dustfinger's hand still holding Roxane's.

"Very" added the Black Prince with a knowing smile. Dustfinger shot him a warning look as Roxane blushed, but to her delight he didn't let go of her hand.

"Roxane wanted to come and see this fool" Dustfinger said, nodding in Cloud dancer's direction.

"He's not a fool!" Roxane exclaimed, "How are you feeling" she added more gently to Cloud Dancer.

"Well, now that you mention it..." Cloud dancer began, putting on a mock victimised face, "I do feel as if I could do with a massage, my leg feels terribly stiff"

Dustfinger kicked his cast gently, "You poor martyr".

Roxane laughed and nudged Dustfinger playfully, "The poor man is in pain!"

"Yes, you hear that Dustfinger? I'm in pain!" Cloud dancer asserted with a wink at Roxane.

"Nettle can help you with that, can't you Nettle?" The Black Prince joined in, "with that wonderfully tasty concoction of yours?"

"Not that green goo again!" Cloud dancer complained, "On second thought I'm feeling much much better! 'Could run across the campsite and up to the palace without a wince! Honest!"

Nettle pulled a few herbs out of her belt and threw them into a small wooden bowl; she added some water and began crushing them into a paste.

"Can never be too careful" the Prince laughed.

Nettle scooped some of the paste out with a spoon. "Open" she commanded. Cloud Dancer reluctantly opened his mouth and the paste was shoved in by Nettle. "Swallow".

Cloud Dancer scrunched up his face against the sharp taste, "eugh!"...."bleuch!"
He continued releasing incoherent sounds until the paste was swallowed.

"Very attractive...." muttered Dustfinger, he filled a glass with water and handed it down to Cloud Dancer whose face begun to smooth out, he moved his toes around, "huh...it doesn't hurt anymore!"

Roxane turned to Nettle, "what was in that paste?" she asked, "I didn't realise plants could heal people!"

"There's more to flowers that just their colour and scent" Nettle replied, looking at Roxane carefully, "They have substance; it just takes the right person to discover it".

Roxane nodded, glancing over at Dustfinger who was laughing at something the Black Prince had said.

"I'll show you how to make it someday" she said, pointing to the paste, "If you want".

"I'd like that" Roxane agreed.


They spent another half hour teasing Cloud Dancer before Nettle announced that he needed rest, Dustfinger and Roxane left the tent with quick "goodnights".

Dustfinger took Roxane's hand again, this time locking his fingers into hers. "You didn't want to go to that party did you?" he asked.

"No, not really" Roxane said quickly, she wanted to be alone with him, not in the middle of a loud crowd.

"Good" was Dustfinger's reply.

They walked hand in hand through the tents and left the campsite. Roxane wasn't sure where they were going but she enjoyed his company and the comfortable silence they walked in. They continued strolling until they reached the small stream which supplied the players with their water.

They walked along it carefully; the night around them was silent, only the gentle lapping of the stream could be heard. The crescent moon above cast a gentle blueish glow onto the land beneath and the lanterns at regular intervals added their own dim light to the romantic atmosphere.

"I lied earlier" Roxane admitted quietly, looking down at her feet as she walked.

Dustfinger gave her the questioning look she had come to love, one eyebrow slightly raised, head tilted.

Roxane rested her own head on his shoulder, moving her arm so that it was linked with his, it felt natural to her, she didn't feel shy or self-conscious anymore.

"I did miss you" she explained.

Dustfinger smiled, "I missed you too".

Roxane lifted her gaze from her feet and looked into the brown eyes above her. They had stopped walking now and were standing inches apart. Roxane felt warm in his presence, her heart beating twice its normal speed. His face was soft and open; in the beginning it had been guarded and unreadable, now she could see his eyebrows slightly furrowed as if he was trying to hold something back.

Dustfinger looked down into Roxane's eyes, they were the most expressive eyes he had ever seen; right now she was examining him, reading him and Dustfinger let her. There was nothing he felt the need to hide from her. She looked so beautiful in the dim light, her long eyelashes casting a shadow on her cheeks and her full lips slightly parted. He wondered what it would be like to kiss those lips; he wanted to, but couldn't bring himself to without invitation. He had seen the way Basta forced her and didn't want her to think he was interested only in her appearance, because in truth more than that he loved her laugh and her trust in him; in the short time he had known her she had conquered so many of her fears. It was apparent she had no interest in the rich material goods that were given to her and he admired her for it.

Instead he lift one hand and moved a stray piece of hair away from her face, he rested his hand on her shoulder, cupping her neck.

Roxane felt her skin warm where his fingers had touched it, as if reading his mind she tilted her head upwards and closed her eyes.

Dustfinger moved his fingers into her hair and lowered his own lips softly onto hers. Roxane felt her whole body tingle, as if a fire was spreading from her lips around her body.

It was innocent and lasted only moments, but even hours later; lying in her bed, she could feel the ghost of the kiss still tickling her lips.


Across the camp, Sootbird smashed his fist onto the table, causing the cards to scatter and his remaining few chips to topple over.

He stood up and left; he had lost enough coins for one day. The men he left behind at the table jeered as walked away.

Sootbird made his way through the crowded party, not gaining any amusement from the lively music or joining in with the laughter.

He walked on until the sounds of the party were far behind him and all he could hear was the sound of water from the stream.

Deciding he was thirsty he walked closer to the stream and stooped down to drink.

It was then that he heard quiet voices; he looked up and could just make out by the light of a lantern Roxane and Dustfinger. They stood close together; he watched as Dustfinger touched her face and then kissed her.
He could make out the dreamy expression on Roxane's face when he lifted his lips from hers.

Sootbird clenched his fist; Roxane had rejected him, but was now wandering around at night with Dustfinger.

He hated Dustfinger more than ever. "You wait" he vowed under his breath, "One day...."

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