Victims of Circumstance-Chapter 3 *SPOILER*

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*Spoiler* warning - the third chapter from my fourth novel in my Masters and Renegades series. Refer to prologue for details.
  Victims of Circumstance Chapter 3 – Tell No LiesSnyder had been sleeping curled up in his chair, when the sound of a dog barkingoutside made him start into wakefulness. He was disoriented at first, unsure of where hewas. Recalling the events of the day before, he glanced about the shadowy moonlit room. Nia’s scales shone a bright silver, awash in the moon’s radiance. He watched her sleeping at first, until the dog began a second round of barking. She opened her amber eyes, and stared back at him, blinking away the sleep.  Rising from her bed, she crept over to him, careful not to wake Emrys as she passed him.“You’re not just worried about Emrys, are you? There’s something else botheringyou about all of this,” she whispered, kneeling next to his chair. “You are always hidingthings from me. You were dishonest with me from the moment we met. For once, canyou just tell me the truth?”There was no point in pretending anymore, Snyder thought.“I can’t go with you into Seaforest,” he admitted to her in a hushed voice. “I cansee you to the border, and then you’ll have to travel on your own.” Nia frowned. “Is it because you’re a known Renegade, or because you tutoredTom? I’m sure if that’s the case, he could arrange for a pardon, especially under thesecircumstances…”“It’s worse than that, Nia,” he interrupted quietly. “Much, much worse.”“What did you do?” she asked, obviously surprised by this revelation.“They say – they say it was arson, and that I killed people,” he confessed, unableto meet her gaze.“What do you mean, ‘they say?’ Did you do it or not?” Her voice rose a little inher excitement, but she quickly lowered it again when Emrys stirred in his sleep.“That’s the problem. I don’t know, because I don’t remember exactly whathappened. My employer, his nephew, and his daughter were all dead. His house was burned to the ground. I was the only one to survive. I have a couple of unexplained scarson me that might be burn scars, but I’m not sure. I may never know what reallyhappened,” he whispered, his expression bleak.“But there are ways of recovering lost memories. There are spells that could helpshow whether or not you are innocent. I don’t understand,” Nia breathed.“Not in Seaforest. All of those spells are Renegade magic, so as a consequence,you are not allowed to use magic to mess with anyone’s mind in that kingdom, by royaldecree. I have no way of finding the answers while I’m there,” the half-satyr said,shaking his head. “The price they have on me is a heavy one too. My employer was anobleman with significant political influence.”“But by hiring you for Renegade magic, wasn’t he also breaking the law.Shouldn’t some of the blame fall on his shoulders?” She suggested.“The penalty for hiring someone to perform Renegade magic is a light one. It’sonly a misdemeanour. Practicing it, on the other had, is a more serious offence. All of this means nothing compared to murder. They’ll execute me if I go back,” Snyder admitted. Nia looked completely taken aback at this. “Execute you?” she hissed. “Tomwould never allow that. If this is real, Snyder, how come they never caught you and putyou to death while you were training Tom?”“He promised to keep my identity under wraps, and he did that. When he and Ilast parted ways, he told me not to return to Seaforest, and that he could no longer protectme. We didn’t part on the best of terms, and he made it clear I wouldn’t be safe thereanymore. As soon as he finds out I’ve been keeping Emrys from him, I’ll be lucky if hedoesn’t have me hunted and killed on the spot,” the half-satyr assured her.“But you trained him for more than a year. How did he manage to conceal awanted criminal for that length of time?” she demanded.  “I’m not the man I was at the time of the incident, Nia. I was stronger, braver,and much more confident. I knew exactly who I was. Things are so different since then.I remember nothing about the night in question, and little for months after that. That picture everyone saw of me in the magical mirror at the University Admission Trials, itwas an exaggerated version of what I looked like when my bardic mentor found merunning wild in the forest after than event, out of my mind and living like an animal. Iwas bestial and crazed, but he managed to draw me in and helped me to restore myself tosome extent. I healed on the outside, but there are still a lot of pieces missing on theinside. Part of me wants to know what happened, but another part of me is scared todeath of what I’ll find there.” Snyder spoke slowly, watching for Nia’s reaction. If shechose to distance herself and Emrys from him because of what he had just told her, hewould understand. It wasn’t like he would have that much longer with them anyway.“We’ve been together for years, and you could never tell me this? You couldnever trust me?” she whispered with great disappointment.“I could never trust that you would be there when I woke up in the morning, and Iwas worried that you might take Emrys with you when you left. I didn’t want to give youan excuse to go, not one this big. But it’s too late for that now. You have to go, andknowing the truth won’t change anything. I can’t go with you, and I’ll understand if youdecide that my travelling with you makes things too dangerous,” he said, his eyes nowfocused on his sleeping son.“No,” Nia responded, “Emrys would want you to stay with us, as far as you can. Iguess this explains why you wanted to stick to the paths in the woods, off the main road.Why didn’t you try to resolve this while you weren’t in Seaforest these many years? Youcould have accessed the magic without risking prosecution, and if we discovered youwere innocent then we could have fought the accusations, we could have presented the proof.”“I was happy with the way things were. I didn’t want to change anything, and Ithought you and Emrys were better off not knowing,” Snyder insisted. “Besides, thatkind of magic comes with its own risks. I was broken, Nia, badly broken. It took a longtime to get me to the point where I am now, and I’m still not completely fixed. I guess Iwas concerned that if I went through with it, and the memories resurfaced, that I wouldlose what little I’ve managed to restore. I was hardly going to attempt anything like thatwhile trying to conceal it all from you. That would have never worked.” Nia sat in silence, staring out the window at the night sky. All of this was a lot toabsorb in one dose. She knew he had been holding something back from her, but shewould have never suspected that it was something quite as complicated and as serious asall of this. She couldn’t imagine her gentle and mild-mannered bard as an arsonist and amurderer. It seemed so impossible to her. Then again… Nia remembered two instances where she had seen something in Snyder that hadnever quite fit everything else that she knew of him, and both of them had occurredduring the Admission Trials. The first had been seeing him race to confront the demonanother competitor had accidentally summoned during one of the Trials, while many of the other competitors had shrunk away and cowered, or stood back looking helpless.There had been an uncharacteristic bravado to his actions, a display of courage thatseemed completely out of place for the passive bard. She had wondered where this  unusual behaviour had come from, she had admired it, and now, perhaps, she couldexplain it.The second instance had been during the last Trial, when Nia, out of a terribledesperation to complete the Trials and not disqualify herself from future attempts, hadleapt from the cliff that was the main obstacle of the Trial, without the appropriate spellsrequired to get her to the bottom safely. Despite great fatigue, and despite a powerful binding spell that should have prevented him from interfering, Snyder had foughtferociously to rescue her from sure doom, with a second uncharacteristic display of internal strength. It was that moment that had convinced Nia that there was somethingmore to the docile half-satyr, something that had intrigued her. Had that encounter never occurred, she would have never agreed to apprentice to him, and she would have never followed him to Ashwood. To her great disappointment, she had never seen that side of him again.There had been some hope on Nia’s part. She had tried to elicit some kind of similar reaction from him over the years. She had argued with him hoping to get a riseout of him, even threatened him at times, but he had always backed down. Her curiosityhad never died, and the desire to try and find that mysterious fortitude had been enoughto overcome her wanderlust, enough to keep her in Ashwood. Now she understood, butnow they were also forced to go away, and things would never be the same.Snyder gazed out again at the moonlit sky.“The rain has stopped. We’ll be able to return to our journey again in themorning. We can travel by the main road if you wish, but I’ll have to watch for thecontingent from Seaforest if we go that route, and I’ll have to be prepared to run if theyshow up,” Snyder whispered, wishing he could somehow make this moment last muchlonger. He only had a few days left to be with them.“No,” Nia maintained. “We’ll be sticking to the backwoods, as srcinally planned. I, personally, would prefer to travel alone and in comfort, rather than restricted by the presence of an armed guard. We should enjoy our freedom while we still have it,not to mention the fact that I expect we’ll be able to travel much faster without an officialentourage in tow.”Snyder nodded, avoiding eye contact as Nia rose from the floor beside him, andreturned to her bed. He had been expecting more of a reaction from her, something moreextreme. Perhaps he would see some of that from her in the morning, when she had hadtime to sleep on it, when she was less numb from the shock of it all, and was lessconcerned with disturbing Emrys. Dealing with that kind of an outburst would be mucheasier than bearing the unsettled tension that now hung in the space between them.* - * - *The sun was shining that morning as Regina supervised the loading of her  baggage onto the coach that would take her and her brother on the lengthy journey toSeaforest. They would be travelling in reasonable comfort and style, as Finesse wantedher and Stefano to make an entrance worthy of potential heirs to the throne. Reginacould not help but smirk at the thought of the type of poverty they would have beenforced to live in if her mother had survived the trauma of their birth. She had lived longenough to see them into the world, and lingered several days beyond that, weakened by
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