Daemon sat on one side of the table, watching Tersa. She did not meet his eyes, tracing a triangle over and over on the table, over and over and over, the same triangle, as though tracing invisible lines only she could see. And perhaps she was, he thought with a pang of sorrow. Perhaps she did see lines invisible to him. Her world, after all, was hardly imaginable to him – one of shadows and shapes and blurs, one of madness.
He reached for her hands, caught them between his. "Don't do that. You'll make your fingers bleed," he said softly, keeping his hold on her hands loose, nonthreatening. Nonetheless, she twitched, began to pull away, then looked at him. Her eyes widened slightly and her grasp tightened, then her vision clouded again and her hands were limp, uncaring, in his.
He released her hands, set them gently on the table, and drew back his own, knowing she didn't want the pity he could feel in his face but unable to deny it. "How have you been, Tersa?"
She gave him a quick look, twisting her hands, toying with her fingers. "Fine, fine," she murmured, despite the fact that her hair looked like a bird's nest and she was little more than skin over bones – Daemon knew better than to try to make her eat. "Daemon –" She paused, shook her head, and went back to tracing the triangle on the table. One side, the other, a third, then back again to repeat the same motion.
"Yes, Tersa?" he inquired, gently, keeping his voice soft and low, like coaxing a frightened dog or horse nearer. The comparison jarred him, made him flinch, but it was unavoidable.
"Be careful," she burst out, looking up at him and stopping with her mysterious drawing.
Daemon tried not to laugh. It did no good to explain to Tersa why her warnings did not make sense, except to hurt her, and that he never wanted to do.
"All right. What should I be careful of?"
But, having given her cryptic warning, Tersa had gotten up and gone over to a nearby tree, stroking the bark, touching the branches almost lovingly. Daemon got up as well, slipped his hands into his trouser pockets, followed her.
"What does he say to you?" He asked her, not mocking.
"She," Tersa corrected him, "Says that the waiting is nearly over, and the Prince must be patient."
Daemon sighed, quietly. It was the same message she'd given him for months, and he knew it didn't come from the trees. But Witch was not here, Witch had not been here, and he had begun to feel that Witch would never be here. "Yes, Tersa," he said, though, patiently. "Would you like to go walking?"
She looked worried, and he quickly retracted the invitation. "Though if you would rather stay here…"
"I would." She wandered back over to the table, past the table to the holly bushes, brushing her hands over the prickly leaves. Daemon winced, but didn't try to draw her back, knowing that it would do no good, that she would just look at him and shake her head and vanish again, and he thought maybe he could convince her to stay, to eat something.
He sat down, watching her. "Tersa, if you like I can find you some new clothes."
"Nothing wrong with these ones," she said, almost petulantly, and Daemon closed his mouth again with a sigh. He'd known the answer, but he always asked anyway – it gave him a pang to see her shivering in rags while Dorothea was warm and dressed in Hayll's finest.
"Daemon?" Tersa asked softly, just behind his right shoulder. He turned quickly to see her shy away, and held up both hands, showing himself weaponless.
"I'm sorry. You startled me. Yes, Tersa?"
She opened and closed her mouth, staring at him in something like consternation. Then she shook her head violently. "No, no, it isn't time yet. I agree. Wait, wait, wait." She turned and wandered off again. He almost caught for her arm, but realized quickly the stupidity of that and instead called her name gently.
She turned and looked again at him, seeming bewildered. "What is it, Daemon?"
"Will you stay here with me? I am lonely."
She hesitated, then nodded. "I can stay…for a while," she said, slowly. He stood up, offered a hand to her. She took it gently.
"I'm glad to have the honour of your company, Lady."
She laughed, a ghostlike, misty sound less of mirth than of regret. "Lady."
"You will always be a Lady," he said firmly, "More than they ever will."
She smiled at him and said no more, but released his hand and went to smell the flowers at the side of the walk. Daemon continued home with her by his side, waiting for her when she wanted to pause, humming softly to himself. When they reached the cottage, he turned to invite her in and found the path behind empty and deserted. "Tersa?" He called softly, but there was no answer.
She had gone again.
He went inside alone, prepared a plate of food, set a White shield on it, and laid it outside the door, ten feet away from the house before going back inside to prepare his own meal.
The next morning, the plate was clean, and the napkin had been folded neatly, painstakingly, into a square, writing in clumsy block letters reading "FOR DAEMON." He opened the note and read it, his chest aching.
Thank you for the food and your kindness you are very good to me please be careful of yourself Tersa.
He half smiled, bitterly, and crumbled the paper, setting light to it with his thumb. The ashes drifted away on the wind, like snowflakes, or ghosts.