We left Innes the next morning after a quiet breakfast, saddling the horses and getting back on the main road. The sun was bright today, the air fine and warm. The road was nearly dry, and Rowin stepped out smartly, Conor still following me at his horse’s own high-stepping pace. We were quiet, three people who had no idea what to say to each other.

When we stopped for lunch, I let Rowin graze. Conor and Murrow did the same. As we ate our cheese and bread, made especially at the Order for travelers, Rowin trotted farther across the meadow where we had stopped. Conor’s horse followed close behind. As the two animals crested a rise, I got up, cramming the last bit of cheese into my mouth. When I had swallowed, I called for Rowin. He turned his head, stopping for a moment, then continued on, Conor’s horse trotting to keep up with him. I glanced at Murrow apologetically, and then began to jog across the field. Rowin had disappeared behind the rise. As I came to the top as well, two minutes later, I saw him, running neck and neck with the black horse, their strides thudding on the damp ground.

Resigned, I began to run toward them. They were fast, though, and after a moment I stopped, calling Rowin’s name again. I brushed the hair out of my eyes helplessly. Someone was breathing next to me. It was Conor. He glanced at me, then put two fingers in his mouth and whistled the same piercing whistle he had called his horse with in the stable of the Order. The black stopped. “Renna!” he called. The horse turned and ran back the other way, toward us. Rowin stopped as well, hesitated. Then he turned, following Conor’s horse. A moment later, both horses stood before us, almost shamefully. Their sides were heaving. I looked at Conor in astonishment. “How did you do that?” I asked, remembering too late that he was most likely to shrug and walk away.

Surprisingly, he grinned at me. “I’ve had Renna for years. My parents gave her to me when I was nine. She was always running away, so I had to train her to come to me when I called. She doesn’t run away anymore, though, at least not usually.” He smiled indulgently at his horse, tapping her on the shoulder so she began to follow him back across the meadow. She had only taken two steps, though, before she stopped and whinnied, turning her head to us. “Seems like she doesn’t want to be without him,” Conor said easily.

Rowin trotted up to walk next to Renna, and I began to walk next to Conor, still amazed that he was speaking. “She was supposed to be a warhorse,” Conor continued, “but she’ll never see a battle. I would ride her in the parks, race her with my friends, jump her, even.”

I nodded. Renna tossed her head and whinnied again. Rowin replied, snuffling. He took off again, toward Murrow, Renna close on his heels.

“Of course, this was all before….“ he broke off. “Looks like we should get going.”

Murrow was standing next to Flyt, waiting. Conor jogged the last bit to meet him, going to get Renna and mounting up. I followed suit, calling for Rowin. As Murrow wheeled Flyt onto the road again, I thought about Conor. I knew what he had been about to say, before he had stopped. His parents had thrown him out of their home, treated him like a stranger and sent him off with Murrow carelessly. My parents had been dead for seven years, but I still knew that parents were not supposed to expel their children for being musical. What a waste it was.

I didn’t long for my family. I only remembered little things about them. But there was still room for fury in my heart, toward Kasha, the woman who had killed them. I didn’t know why I believed Murrow and Antho so readily. They could be lying, to what end I didn’t know. But Murrow had told me about my gift, assured me that I was not going mad. Whatever the reason, I somehow knew that Kasha was not a person who should rule Lenëa: anyone who founded his or her kingdom on murder was not a good sovereign. Murrow knew this; he wanted to save his weakened country from ruin.

As I pondered this, I remembered something Murrow had said at the Order. My grandparents had been ambassadors in King Leonard’s service. Were they still alive? Or had Kasha killed them, too? Surely they would have had something to say about their daughter’s mysterious ascension to the throne. They had disowned my mother, though; the bitterness in Murrow’s voice when he spoke of them showed that he was not fond of them. Would they have aided Kasha in her takeover? I found it hard to believe that any of my own family, even people I had never met, would be so callous and selfish.

I nudged Rowin with my heels, and he trotted forward, until he and I were abreast with Murrow and Flyt. Unsure what to say, I cleared my throat. Murrow looked sidelong at me. “Yes?”

“Your parents,” I hesitated. “What happened to them?”

Murrow sighed. “My father was killed in the same fever that Selia died from. Whether Kasha ordered them to kill him or whether it was an accident, I don’t know. I haven’t been home since your mother died. My parents didn’t want to see me and I didn’t want to see them. The last time I was in the capital, when I picked up Conor, I heard that Mother was still alive, working for the King. But what Kasha’s done with her, now that she’s Queen….” He trailed off. “She wouldn’t have helped to kill Briam, I know that.”

Murrow hadn’t seen his parents in almost eight years. And he didn’t care. I looked at his ramrod-straight back with new eyes as I slowed Rowin and regained my place behind Murrow. Somehow it didn’t feel right to ride next to him, as if we were on some sort of romantic day trip. I heard Renna’s hooves behind me, patiently eating up the dirt road. It was growing chillier now; the warm day shrinking back again into damp springtime. I shivered as the wind tugged my hair viciously out of its braid.

We camped that night in a small glen off the road, soft, springy new grass making the perfect addition to our blankets. A tiny stream chuckled close by, so quiet it was almost inaudible. As Conor and I tended the horses, Murrow made a small fire and heated water, herbs and dried vegetables into a simple stew.

“It’s nothing like the food they have at the Order,” he apologized as he ladled it into bowls. Conor nodded in agreement, then realized what he had said and colored before resuming eating with more vigor. Murrow’s smile was lopsided. “Antho’s the cook, not me,” he admitted. “When we traveled together he tried to teach me. He said that if I was alone I would starve to death.”

We sat by the fire, on the cool grass. It was growing dark. I drained the last of my broth. Murrow hopefully offered me seconds. To my surprise, I accepted eagerly. While the soup was no royal fare, it did keep the spring chill away.

The three of us ate in companionable silence, tired from the long and tedious day of riding. As Murrow ladled a second helping into Conor’s bowl as well, I heard a crackle from the surrounding trees. Though we were only a short distance from the road, I thought of wildcats, bears, or even some malignant, wispy spirit.

Murrow barely looked up from his food. Maybe I was just being paranoid, I thought. Conor didn’t even seem to hear the noise. To me, though, the woods that were so light and green in daylight seemed able to house anything at night.

The crackle sounded again, nearer this time. Again Murrow looked up, again he returned, uninterested, to his dinner. A slight buzzing sound began to accompany the now persistent sound of someone, or something, making its way toward the campsite.

Finally I said, “Murrow, shouldn’t you check to see what that is?”

He shook his head and swallowed. “Lia, I don’t think it’s something dangerous. Whatever it is, it’s not very big, maybe a fox or weasel.”

I was not reassured. It sounded bigger than that: the large-footed thumps made it seem as though a small wolf was making its way to us, and our food. I picked at my stew. The noise was very close now, almost to the clearing. I moved closer to the fire. Conor coughed. He was almost friendly now, different from his sullen, solitary attitude at the Order. Perhaps he wanted to comment on my inexplicable fear of the steps through the woods. After all this talk of Kasha, though, and her supposed plot to murder my parents and now me, I was a bit on edge.

Then, all of a sudden, the tramping stopped. All was silent once more, and I began to relax. Murrow and Conor were still concentrating on their food. I stared into the flames, hypnotically leaping and smoking. The fire made me drowsy; my mind was blissfully blank.

Something furry brushed against my leg. It was soft, downy and warm, like a blanket. A blanket, I realized hazily, that was vibrating. A strange buzzing sound was coming from it, like the noise in the woods. I looked down. And screamed.

An enormously wide cat glanced up at me, purring. Conor and Murrow looked at me as well, staring at the animal on my foot.

The cat was weird in the firelight, its eyes glowing strangely and its fur a bizarre mottled blue color. The purring had not let up. The cat’s fat body shook with its sounds of pleasure. Conor and Murrow looked at each other, and Murrow voiced what we were all thinking.

“That’s what was making those noises in the woods.” Conor made a strange sound, halfway between a chuckle and a choke. Murrow had a small smile on his face. “Looks harmless to me.”

I glared at him. The cat’s eyes opened wide and it purred louder. “Stop,” I told it. “Be quiet.” It purred on. Murrow’s smile grew wider and Conor made that sound again. Shoving the cat off my foot, I stood. “I’m going to bed.”

“Suit yourself,” said Murrow.

Trying to retain what was left of my dignity, I walked off to where I had set my pack earlier. In the dark, I dug through my pack, found my bedroll, and laid it out. I kicked off my shoes and removed my tunic, leaving my shift and leggings on. Rolling into my blankets, I pulled them over my head.

I had been scared out of my wits by a hugely round cat. How embarrassing. What must Conor and Murrow think of me? I had the gift of prophecy, could see what might happen in the future, but could be frightened easily by noises in the woods. I cringed.

The buzzing noise from the cat became louder. Soon the soft fur was under my chin, the pudgy body moving up and down. I pushed it away. The purring receded. I lay awake, listening. There was no other sound from the woodland, merely the cool wind in the budding trees. I gazed at the dark sky. What was I doing, traveling to the capital with two gifted sorcerers? Did I think I could help save Lenëa from the woman who had murdered my parents? Exhausted, I closed my eyes.

The purring was back. Again it crept under my chin, curling up in a fluffy ball. This time I didn’t have the energy to push the animal away. Its breaths mingled with mine, the comfortable purring leading me towards sleep.

Emma Moesswilde lives in Belfast.