Chapter 3: The Sorceress and the Assassin

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Dinner was a bit awkward that evening.

First of all, we had the pleasure of enjoying a man's company at the table, and not just any man. A handsome man. The Sisters might be celibates, but I caught several of them throwing admiring glances in Rowan's direction when they thought Head Sister Ursula wasn't looking.

Rowan visibly took pleasure in the women's attention—although he feigned polite ignorance—which made me even more skeptical toward him. Despite the sudden heart throbs that always warned me of his presence, I was a bit cautious around him. Not only because he was a man and I was an almost-eighteen-year-old girl who hadn't even kissed a boy before, but also because he knew of ... my true nature. Sometimes, I noticed him staring at me from the corner of my eye, a look of deliberation on his face as if he was still deciding whether I was really the innocent girl that I appeared to be, or a criminal in disguise. Whenever that happened, I just stared back at him until that maddening small smile made his lips curl up and he looked away.

When we said our usual short prayer before starting to eat, I expected Rowan to be unfamiliar with the ritual. Much to my surprise, though, he recited the prayer along with us. "May the Light guide us even in the darkest of times. May it lead us in the right direction, even if we are determined to get lost. May it fill our minds with reason and understanding, and our hearts with love and hope." So he was a religious person, all right. One point for Rowan Marks.

After the Sisters had exchanged the usual gossip from the neighboring towns, Head Sister Ursula put down her fork, folded her hands in front of her on the table and turned her attention to Rowan. "Captain Marks, have you already told Kenna about your plans to train her a bit in physical combat?"

My head snapped up with sudden interest. He was going to train me to fight? Although I had sufficient experience with magical combat, I had always wanted to learn to fight someone off with my bare hands.

A moment later, I slumped back in my chair, disgruntled. Another bloody point for the arrogant soldier.

"No, I haven't, Sister. I haven't really gotten the chance to talk to her yet." He played with his fork while saying so, winking when he met my gaze—a gaze which hopefully conveyed that I wasn't impressed with his womanizing skills.

"Well, in that case, you could ask her now." I had to give it to Head Sister Ursula: she always cut to the chase.

Rowan's smile widened. "Kenna, would you like me to teach you how to fight another person without magic?"

I took another bite of roasted pheasant, chewing slowly to make him wait just a little longer while I pretended to contemplate his offer. Judging by the silent scoff that escaped his lips, he was on to my games. With a snort, I remembered how Eros and Rafa had glared at each other in an attempt to dominate the other, and I realized that Rowan and I were in fact doing the same. The Sisters gave me strange looks, but I ignored them.

When I had finally swallowed my food, I turned my face to Rowan, beaming. "Sure, I'd like to have you train me. Although ... you are very young for the experienced elite soldier you claim to be." His grin faltered a little and he puffed up his chest. I bit my lip to stifle a giggle at his cocky attitude.

"I'm twenty-three, and I finished my education at the Academy five years ago," he said. "I've gone on plenty of missions since then, so I do see myself qualified enough to train an eighteen-year-old who's never been near a battlefield before."

Oh, did I hurt his feelings?

"How were you recruited, Rowan?" Sister Thea asked to keep the peace, her eyes nervously flitting from one to the other.

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