The other guests stretched and stirred, moving outside. He waited as long as he dared, then shook Marenya’s shoulder.
“Is it morning?” She sat up and blinked.
“Yes. Everyone’s gone outside.”
They walked out into the cold stillness of the garden, and up the steps to the wall. She shivered, and he wrapped his arms around her, for he had forgotten to fetch their cloaks. Below them everything was sparkling with snow and a pinkish golden light, clean and new and perfect like the first morning ever dawned.
The first edge of the sun’s bright disk appeared above the trees. Something stirred in Faldur that he hadn’t felt in ages. It had been so long since he had known anything but the company of other rangers, the cramped, smoky barracks, bad weather, worse food, watchfulness and danger, that he had nearly forgotten what it was like to be an ordinary hanor. This night had lifted the lid of a box long-closed and he was helpless to shut it again.
Marenya was in his arms – soft, warm and still a little drowsy. They were standing behind everyone else. No one was looking at them. He bent his head down to hers and she looked up in surprise. He kissed her, their breath mingling in the frosty air. At first she froze, but then responded with a sweetness that made the earth tilt strangely beneath him.
When they drew apart at last, she gazed into his eyes with the same devotion he had seen in Pelwyn’s face when she looked at Mel.
All at once, Faldur realized what he had done and cursed himself.