1… 2… 3, 4… 5…Laina counted the dead rabbits by the side of the track and reaching some morbid amusement inside herself. The rain had cleared over night and the sun had broken through sending spirals of pale light down. Caught up in her newfound game and the pleasantness of the morning, Laina could have forgotten about her presumably horrific fate and the cruel man sat behind her. That is, she could have forgotten about it if her hands were not bound and she did not have a gag in her mouth. She wondered how she could get the Prince to remove her gag and then an idea suddenly occurred to her.

Laina waited for the horse to slow to a trot and then she started to gurgle and gasp for breath. With the Prince still not reacting she slid off the side of the black horse and to the floor with a hefty thump, all the while still choking. She gave a silent whoop of triumph as the horse halted and Septimus jumped to the floor. Laina had expected him to watch her pretend to die but instead he knelt down and untied the wad of material from her mouth.

A sweet relief of fresh air rushed in, a welcome change from the saliva soaked rag. Their eyes met, his cruel darkness staring harshly into her lighter green-greyness, it was almost a moment on tenderness. She held the gaze and for a second thought that deep within the cold blackness of his piercing look she saw recognition and half concern. Laina suddenly turned her head and hacked up a ball of spit onto the floor. Septimus recoiled and stood up suddenly spitting disdainfully, "If you wish to work on the housekeeping staff you will have to work on your manners! Disgusting wench!"

"I do not want to work in your family's household!"

"You have no choice! I command it!" His voice raised, eyes narrowing down at her.

"Why keep me alive?"

"Hold your tongue! If you are not silent I will bind your mouth again!"

Laina frowned. The inevitability of her fate that seemed worse than the initial threat of death. Septimus dragged her back onto the horse and she continued her game of rabbit-counting, only with the victorious taste of fresh, cool air rushing past her lips.

"We will stop here." Septimus' voice was deadpan as he dropped from the horse to set up a tent.

"Oh!" Laina said in mock surprise, "Are you not going to help me down? You have bound my hands after all!" Sarcasm dripped from her every syllable. Septimus whipped round, "Roll off the horse for all I care."

So she did.

Laina landed in an ungracefully, wriggling mess as she attempted to struggle to her feet, only managing to roll further along the muddy, sludgy ground. Finally her knees connected with a squelch and she staggered to her feet. "Sit down!" Shouted Septimus a few metres away, grappling with canvas sheets and metal tent pegs. The clouds rolled in from the west with a rumble of thunder and fat splattering rain splashed against Laina's face and exposed wrists.

Laina sat in the mud and watched the Prince assemble the tent. He was not classically handsome with his hooked nose, deep set eyes and frown perpetually carved into his face but she observed that there was something strangely attractive about him. If it was not for his foul disposition, she thought bitterly with the rope rubbing sorely against her wrists. "Get inside." He growled striding over, grabbing her shoulder and pushing her into the tent. Laina toppled in and smelt the stale canvas stained with the stench of old wood fires.

Once settled inside the relative dryness of the tent with the light of a candle lamp flickering around, Laina waited for the Prince to speak. She knew he would not but still she waited. Eventually she glanced at him, he was cleaning blood off the blade of his sword. "Why did you remove the cloth from my mouth, sir?"

"Your death would be an end to my amusement."

"Why were you at the market?"

"My business is no concern of anyone else's."

Silence.

"I did not bewitch your squire."

"You have no evidence otherwise. Convince me," he spoke dangerously, looking up with a precarious fire in his darkness.

"How can I convince you when I am no witch?" Laina retorted, swallowing down her anger at his accusations. Septimus paused.

"You have logic for a woman. Have you education?" The Prince made sudden eye contact.

"No."

"You lie. I can see it."

"You are a truthseer?" Laina asked incredulously, her eyes widening,

"It is the magic of Stormhold."

"Oh."

"Who was your tutor? Few will teach a girl – especially one so low-born as yourself," Septimus said snidely.

Tears threatened to creep into Laina's eyes at the thought of her father. The thoughts of –

Curling ivy leaves creeping up the grand stone walls of the gardens… the castle… endless staircases… summer rose… a grand clock… being chased… chess games… roaring fires… the jewellers… the ring fitting –

"Answer me!" Septimus demanded.

"I do not want to talk about it anymore. I am too tired." Laina spoke. It was the truth she was tired, however that was not the reason for her abrupt end to the conversation.

Septimus grunted in reply and continued to clean the blade. Laina lay down on her side and pressed as close and she could to the canvas, feeling the coldness and the dampness against her cheek. A tear rolled down her cheek and stuck to the tent.

The candle was blown out and there was silence.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Note - Chapter 3, at last! Sorry it took so long to update. Review :)