Dragonhearts - Page 16

It was then that I realized Elfreda hadn't heard a word that I had said for some time. I had automatically tuned out the sounds of distress that resounded through the woods, but she hadn't. While I had been busy prattling, she had knelt down in the dirt next to the trio, placing a soothing hand on each of their foreheads in turn as she murmured comforting words. To my surprise, her ministrations seemed to do them some good, and one by one they drifted off into a troubled sleep. Once again she had demonstrated the power of her great heart . . . as well as showing me once again just how much was lacking in my own heart.

“The time has come for us to part ways,” I told her softly.

“What?” Elfreda asked with a startle, then lowered her voice so as not to disturb the slumber of those who mere minutes before had been planning to assault her. “Why?”

I shrugged beneath my robe, grateful for its concealing hood about my face. “There is nothing further you can learn from me,” I lied. “And what you do have yet to learn, you will learn all the better without me hovering over your shoulder.”

She considered me for only a moment before saying with gentle accusation, “You're lying.”

I chuckled despite myself. “Yes . . . yes, I am,” I admitted. “But let us leave it that way regardless, shall we?”

I thought she would protest – part of me hoped she would protest – but she didn't. She was still just child enough that my adult words carried the weight of final authority. “As you say,” she whispered, her eyes becoming moist with the hint of tears she would weep later.

It's best this way, I told myself. Soon she would be adult enough to protest my departure, and my heart was not only weak enough to be a danger to her someday, it was also too weak to deny her. Best for all concerned that she and I never see each other again before she realized that.

“Will I ever see you again?” she asked, a barely suppressed sob in her voice.

Before she fully realizes it then, damn it! “Once more,” I assured her. “I promise.”

Seven times seven years passed before that happened though.

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