“Where am I to go?” I asked Sage as I brushed her velvety side.
Blinding white, sixteen hands high, and powerful, Sage’s heritage as a unicorn was only evident by the nub in the center of her forehead that had once been a long, elegantly lethal horn. I had never seen her in all her glory.
According to Lippin, a unicorn hunter had driven her to the ground, bound her, and sawed off her horn when she was only a colt. Only the master healer’s intervention had saved her from being harvested for her other parts. Since then, she had lived in the compound, cared for and fed.
When I came, one of my first duties was to deal with the unicorn because she didn’t like males. Not a surprise, considering her past. Not all males were an issue. I had been told she tolerated the master healer.
I rested my forehead against her warm hide, breathing in the scent of warm, clean horse. “If he throws me out, I have nowhere to live. Father still wishes me violence. I don’t want to go back there. Henri is dead.” A fresh wave of grief pressed in on me. I hadn’t been able to save him. Never to hold him again, ruffle his hair, laugh at his teasing, or chase him around the bailey. Tears filled my eyes. I missed my brother so much.
Sage’s nose bumped my shoulder. She snuffled at my kirtle sleeve.
“Just give me a moment,” I told her.
She snorted and side-stepped away from me.
“What?” I lifted my head and blinked at her. Unicorns differed from horses in more than appearance. Intelligent and intuitive, they understood far more than their less magical cousins. Sage wheeled around so her whole body blocked my view of the stable doorway.
“I can still see her, Sage,” a male voice said. The healer entered the stable and came around the side so he could address me, but he remained with his back to the outside wall and his face and torso in the shadows. “I see Sage has imprinted on you.”
Sage huffed and tossed her head at him before nuzzling my hair as I came around to better see the healer.
“She seems to like me,” I agreed.
He chuckled, low and deep. “She is protecting you from me. See how she is trying to position herself between us?”
Sage bumped my shoulder with her nose, trying to nudge me to step back out of sight. I stood firm. She huffed and stamped her foot, which I ignored.
“I won’t hurt her,” the healer told Sage, who swung her head toward him and showed her teeth. “Honest.” He offered her his hand. Sage only eyed him and shifted closer to me. “I owe her an apology.”
I stiffened in surprise. Men didn’t apologize. At least in my experience, they didn’t. “Apology for what?”
Sage grew still beside me, as though listening.
“For my words back at the clinic. I spoke without properly assessing the situation and accused you of things that clearly weren’t true. I am sorry.”
I blinked and peered into the shadows where his features hid. Did he jest? Was this a ploy to make me appear foolish? “Step into the light, please.”
“A distrusting creature, aren’t you?” he asked. The healer stepped forward, so the sunlight fell over his features.
“With good reason,” I replied.
He was tall, but all elves were. Lean-featured with the changeable silver-blue eyes of his species, he made a striking impression even before one accounted for his pure white hair. Wild and gleaming silver in the light, his hair stood out from his head in a disarray of curls as though he had run his fingers through it a few times. He arched a silvery-gray brow at me when my gaze fell to his face. “So, you can tell if I am honest if you see my face when I am speaking? That must be a useful skill. You realize I am an elf. Lying makes us ill.”
“But you are capable of it,” I pointed out.
He met my assessment openly, eyes flashing silver. “True. By omission or half-truths, but never outright lies.” He tilted his head slightly. “And you? Are you honest?”
“I told you the truth.”
“You did,” he admitted.
We stood there, studying each other in silence for a few moments. His stance remained relaxed, as though we were friends chatting about the weather. I wondered what he saw in me.
“Are you going to throw me out?” I asked suddenly.
“Whether or not you want to go.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “This compound is a haven, a place of healing. If you wish to remain, you are welcome. If you wish to go, you are free to do so.”
“I wish to stay.” I loved tending the animals, helping Sina with the housework, nursing patients. “Will you allow me to help with the patients?”
I opened my mouth to ask for clarification, but I found him watching me expectantly, as though he knew exactly what I was going to say. I pressed my lips together and lifted my eyebrows instead.