I give, I trust, I fade away

where the darkest pain swallows

I long for the one who will stay

the one who always follows.

Instead I learn to fail again

to cower further inside

When my heart is a domain

that I truly don't want to hide.

I search for a safe place

in which to hide the ache

Something I'll never win, this race

not even for my soul's sake.

Ariena re-read the words she had written the night before and passed a shaky hand over the parchment as if trying to feel her way through the paper, her fingertips feeling the slight difference where the ink lay on the paper.  It was as if touching the words was a balm against the decision that the Master had made for her.  A decision she had, for the first time, bitterly argued against, to no avail.   A decision that led her to this moment.   A moment where she knew that the Master's words would forever change her life, one way or another. 

What Tegwyn was going to say, she had no idea.  As the Lord of the land, the dark haired woman had every right to deny anyone's participation in her household.  However, the Master had shown Ariena the quiet calculation that she had always known he must have by taking care of all the preparations for those who were to head to the Lord's Hall for as long as Tegwyn needed them.  He had hand picked several servants from his own complement to go with Tegwyn and fill the positions that the new Lord would require with her return to her true home.  Whether they stayed or not, and for how long, were Tegwyn's decision. 

Now they were all packed and waiting outside for Tegwyn's departure.  All but Ariena.  She took one more look around the room that had been hers for as long as she could remember and closed the journal she still held reverently.  Fighting back a sob, she cradled the leather bound pages to her chest and closed her eyes tightly.    She knew that the Master felt this was the answer.  That forcing them to face each other would bring whatever result had to be but it didn't make it any easier.  It also hadn't made her arguments the night before any less vehement. 

Under his patient gaze and questioning, she had told him everything.  About how she had loved the Heir for almost as long as she'd known her.   About the devastation she'd felt when she saw Tegwyn with Cerys and when Tegwyn had refused to even look at her, never mind speak to her.   Soon after, a tidal wave of emotion had overwhelmed her and she had poured out everything until she felt completely drained, and found herself half asleep in his comforting arms.  She had learned that her words had confirmed some of what he'd already suspected and filled in some holes that he hadn't realized were there. 

Of course, they had also both been quite stymied by Tegwyn's change of behavior.  In fact, the Bard Master had surprised Ariena with the intensity of confusion and anger on her behalf.  He had insisted that something else was at work and he would get to the bottom of it.   His pacing had caused Ariena to smile fondly, remembering all the times that she'd seen him do the same as he worked out difficult problems.  Then he had suddenly stopped, as she'd seen him do so many times when everything had been worked out in his mind, knelt down and grasped Ariena's hands, telling her that he would handle it and she had to follow along with his plan. 

Then he had told her his plan, such as it was.  That she would be part of the group that was going to go to the Lord's Hall.   That she would help get the household in order and provide whatever assistance their current staff needed.  The blonde could still remember the lead weight that had plunged to the bottom of her stomach when the Bard had voiced something that had never even entered her mind before.   He had insisted that as capable as Cerys was, even with what Ariena had seen, she wasn't the one for Tegwyn.  He had also insisted that Tegwyn would require someone that had, at least, some experience in that type of position. 

Her comments about Tegwyn having the help of the housekeeper had been swept away in a tide of well thought out words from the Master Bard.  He had been right, of course.  A housekeeper had duties that had nothing to do with ruling the land and couldn't help Tegwyn in the way that the new Lord truly needed.  Tegwyn needed someone who was capable of taking away the responsibility of some of the decision making.  Someone who could make plans, help protect the land and people and simply get things done both inside and outside the house.  A housekeeper, no matter how well liked, just didn't have the time or, truth be told, power. 

However, someone with the training that Ariena had already received and the backing of the Bard's Guild would arrive with that power already in place for her to wield.  It was a double edged sword, of course.  It was her responsibility to be sure that such power was wielded in a manner that didn't harm Tegwyn, the land or people.  That the power was used to defend and show strength, and yet also to fight.  But, most importantly, that the sword was sheathed most of the time so that it wasn't abused and create more trouble than it solved. 

Ariena opened her eyes as the memory of arguing with the man who had basically been her father assailed her mind.  It had been one of the very few times she had argued with him and the only time that she'd flat out refused to do what he asked.  That is, until he had stood and looked at her with such a disappointed air that her heart had dropped. 

"I'm not doing this for me, Ari.  Not for just you or the new Lord either.  I'm doing this for all of us.  The Land and her people need the best leadership it can have.  You taking whatever responsibility is required will free Tegwyn up to deal with whatever she needs to deal with.  You have more than proven yourself in this type of role and are the very best person to help us all right now."

Softly and quietly, she closed the door to her room and her safe life, feeling every tiny feather's weight on her shoulders as if they were multiplied in lead many times.   Then she heard a sound and turned her head to find Bira trotting around the corner from the landing.  Straightening her shoulders, she smiled and fought to corral her emotions. 

"Ari!  Teg and the rest are on their way, you need to get out there!" Bira exclaimed and then gathered Ariena up in a huge hug.  "I'm gonna miss you so much.  You will write?"

Returning the hug gratefully, Ari responded immediately, "Of course I will and I'll probably be back before you know it."

Bira's youthful eyes took on a sheen that belied her age as she pulled back and looked directly into Ariena's eyes.  "Come on, Ari.  You know you're going to be the Lady, we all know that."

It was too much for Ariena and she was pathetically glad that Bira waved a tap at her head as if asking her what she was thinking and then turned away to pull the blonde toward the stairs. 

Discreetly wiping away the trickle of tears, Ariena tried to keep the sob forming as a ball in her chest to herself.   She'd never talked with any of the others about Tegwyn, that they knew the depth of her feelings for the tall Heir simply amazed her.  She thought she'd been so careful and now ... now everything was lost and she had no idea if she would ever recover.  No idea what she would say to them when they found out that they were wrong.

Before she had time to sink into depths that she never would claw her way out of, Bira had led her all the way to the bottom of the stairs and it was what awaited there that truly proved her downfall.  The tears fell unchecked as she saw all the younger children waiting for her in an excited, babbling group. 

They surrounded her with hugs, love and many promises of writing and visiting.  She tried to speak and tell them she was sure she'd be back soon but her voice had deserted her and only the Master's arrival at the front door, telling her to hurry, proved enough to free her from their friendly clutches. 

Saying her goodbyes to the rest of the staff was much more subdued but just as difficult.  Luckily, that Master's tapping foot caused the departure to be much quicker than it normally would've been.   Then, she was in the arms of the cook.  Unmistakable with the hint of a cloud of garlic that seemed to follow him wherever he went, however often he bathed or changed his clothes.  It was a warm smell of home and Ari found herself unwilling to let go.  Unable to let go. 

The Cook's deep voice sounded in her ear, "Trust that this'll be workin' out, lass.   True heart calls its own."

Frowning in confusion, Ari looked at the normally reticent cook in question but never had the time to find out what he meant before the Master Bard was pulling her away.  Out into the morning's cool air and bright sunshine.  Surprisingly, Tegwyn's retinue was already headed away from the house and Ari looked to Ithel.

"'tis the way it needs to be.  Just go."

Shaking her head, Ari tried to speak up but found herself hustled to Rascal.  The horse had just been led from the stables and was prancing in place, obviously picking up the excitement of the moment.

"Get up and go.  We all need you, Ariena.  Remember that and remember that I will always be here for you."  After a tight hug, Ithel pulled away and walked back to the front doors, leaving Ariena on her own. 

Ari felt the warmth of the house, its people and Master Ithel leech from her body.  Until all that was left was a cold shell that numbly followed the instructions given to her and pulled herself onto Rascal.  There were people still waiting to move in the courtyard, therefore it brought no attention to have one more person added to the mix.  At that moment, she was incredibly thankful that Brycen had been called away by one of the messages delivered the night before.  That, she truly did not need.  In fact, his overly solicitous nature had begun to really grate on the last nerve she'd been operating on since Tegwyn's return.

Eagerly, Rascal moved forward in a hop and then more hops until Ari finally reined him in and patted his neck, talking to him quietly.  He soon slowed to an excited walk instead and allowed Ari the chance to study the train of surprisingly orderly people. 

As they moved further and further from the place she had grown up in, the carts rumbled over the well kept road, swaying slightly from side to side and bumping over the occasional uneven spot in the road.   Apart from the occasional jingle of a horse's tack or human coughs and low voices, the rumble of the carts was really the sound that stood out in the quiet of the forest.   Of course, the horses made some noise as they moved but it was easy for Ari to filter out those sounds and move her eyes from one subject to another.

Easily recognizing the various members of the Bard's Guild household in the group, she eventually let her gaze drift closer to the front of the line and absently fingered a few strands of Rascal's wiry mane.   It wasn't long before she found her eyes lingering on the proud frame backlit by the morning sun at the head of the column.  As she watched, a light gust of wind caught the long black hair and fanned it out behind the broad shoulders.  Her memory played tricks with her and, for a few moments, she felt silky strands running through her fingers.

Closing her eyes for a long moment, she got her mind back on track by figuring out what she would need to do first when they arrived at the Lord's manor. 'Assuming Teg lets me stay,' she thought morosely.

There would be much to do.  Master Ithel had advised her, the night before that the household had been operating with very few personnel since the governing of the land had basically all been shifted to Lord Rander.  Tegwyn hadn't expected to have to take over for some time yet, and they were going to be sorely tested in the near future.   Since so many had misconceptions about what she would have to be prepared to do, the Master had also gone over what would be required.  Some of it had even surprised her. 

Being the Lord's Hall, she and Tegwyn would have to make sure that the most important positions were filled as soon as possible.  The Smithy, for example.  If it was still empty, as the Bard Master feared, then it would require immediate steps.  In fact, getting the household running at full speed would require help from many sources and they had to be prepared to tap them all.   Still, that was to be expected.

What hadn't been expected were the other positions that she would be required to hold if Tegwyn accepted her presence.  The Master Bard had explained that it had been reasoned that both the Lord and Lady must be ready to do anything required, since many couples did lead together. 

Her lips quirked ever so slightly as she remembered the Master telling her about a Lord who had taken another male as his mate many years before.  They had changed the rules by flat out refusing to take the normal Lord and Baron status that had been used in the past in these situations.  Instead, they had both become Lords of the land and cleared the way for any Lord to choose their title.  In fact, Tegwyn and whomever she chose as her partner could be either Lord or Lady.  It was now completely their own choice...

"I'm the Lord of the land!" stated a young girl; straight dark hair that normally flowed down to her waist was tied in a tight and very filthy braid.  She stood on the top of a very muddy hill holding a thin stick of birch as if it were a spear, one end stuck in the mud.  Her own clothes were heavily stained with the same reddish mud that liberally covered her hair and skin but she stood as proud as if she were wearing silk.

"But, you're a girl!" 

Flashing blue eyes turned their heat on the speaker of the previous words.  "And your point is?"

"You're the Lady of the hill, not the Lord, silly!" explained the patient Meilyr.   Already stocky and strong, even with his young years, he had been the favorite to win this particular battle but showed no anger at the loss of the 'hill.'

Ariena pressed her lips together in an effort not to laugh, knowing what Teg's reply would be.

"I'll always be Lord of the land, just like my father," was Tegwyn's proud reply.

And so it had remained throughout the time that Ariena had known the tall woman.  There had simply never been a question that Tegwyn would take the title of Lord.   She held that memory to her as she moved her mind back to the duties she would be expected to perform.

Tegwyn's tired mind was turning over a problem as if it were one of the wooden puzzles that Ariena had picked up for her at a festival a few years back.  She tried examining it from all sides but still came up with the fact that she really was short handed and needed a firm but knowledgeable hand to help her with getting the Lord's Hall back up to speed. 

Just remembering the puzzle brought Ari to mind and she knew that the blonde would've been perfect for the job but how could she expect that, how could she want that?   Regardless, it was true ... the blonde's infectious nature, people abilities and intelligent mind would have been invaluable in this situation. 

'Well, tough, Teg.  That's finished.  You'll have to make do.' Blowing out a gust of air that expanded her cheeks, Teg blinked to try and keep herself alert.  It was so much easier to think of just about anything but Ari.  Counting the blades of grass as they passed them by would be easier than thinking about Ari. 

In truth, there was little else to do besides worry about the upcoming changes, the Riders and think about Ari.  Teg had been distant from everyone since the news of her ascendance to the position of Lord.  That morning had brought no change in that state of affairs; the Lord had spoken only the briefest commands and had kept anyone approaching at a distance with her steely glare.   She simply wasn't ready or prepared to talk to anyone about these changes, too many things would never be the same now and she needed time to process.

And, processing she was when a hint of a sound on the breeze distracted her from her torture.   Turning her head to try and catch a repeat of the sound that had instantly raised her hackles, Teg put her arm up instantly to stop the train. 

Instantly, a confused but very alert Cerys came closer from her flanking position.  After waiting a few moments, knowing that Teg was figuring something out, and keeping her eyes roving the countryside, Cerys finally asked, "What is it?"

"Trouble," Teg responded immediately.   A jerk of her head indicated a direction beyond the thicket of trees to the left.   "I'll take a small group with me to go check it out."

Without thinking, Cerys spoke up immediately, "Teg, that's my job.  You can't risk yourself."

Extremely unused to being told she couldn't do something, especially when it pertained to a battle, Tegwyn brought her head up slowly from where she had been checking to be sure her sword was firmly tied onto the saddle.  "What?" came out in a deadly whisper.

Realizing her mistake immediately, Cerys swallowed and spoke blunt words that very few would dare.  "You have no Heir, Te.. Lord Tegwyn.  If you were to die, the land would revert completely to Colwyn.  I would be remiss in my duties to not ensure your safety."

Tegwyn was disgusted with herself for being petty but staring Cerys down seemed to help her feel slightly better and the redhead finally looked down at her saddle.  Truth was, Cerys was in the right and Teg knew it.  She was about to order a group to investigate when the entire group's attention was drawn to a small clearing ahead and off to the left.

Rhyllen’s new Lord didn't have much time to think.  Her eyes widened slightly, but as soon as she saw the danger behind the carriage that had shot into the clearing, she yelled to Cerys, "Take a group and try to slow them down!  The rest of you, form up and protect!" 

Taking the lead in the protection, Tegwyn didn't bother to check on Cerys knowing that she would do her job.  Instead, Teg gathered her group and prepared for an attack.  Having run the drill more times than they could count and having it save lives on occasion, the Guard had the non combatants protected in an incredibly short amount of time. 

Tegwyn turned from looking over the positioning of the Guard, her attention distracted for just a second towards the rear of the group, and suddenly the world exploded in a cacophony of noise.  The carriage that had been leading the Riders arrived in their midst and the guards split perfectly to allow them entrance on Tegwyn's gesture before closing up as if they had never separated.  Then, the Riders that had gotten past Cerys' group were upon them.

As one of the Riders approached her, Tegwyn's lip curled and she reached for her sword.  It was as if everything had been slowed down to very slow motion.  Amidst all of the noise, she felt as if she were in a pocket of calm quiet.  She could hear the hiss as she slid her sword out of its leather sheath, the jangling of her horse's tack and the whistle of the Rider's weapon as he brought it back to swing it at her. 

Easily anticipating the blow, she simply ducked under his heavy handed swing and brought her sword across his torso in a stroke that had him clutching his belly right before he wobbled and dropped off the horse.

Another Rider angled toward a location where several of his brethren were forcing their attentions on the guards and Tegwyn jammed her heels into her horse's flanks, causing it to jump forward and quickly get in the path of the attacker.   Sparks flew as their swords met in mid air but the dark haired woman couldn't help but laugh as she pushed forward with her shoulder and her elbow flattened the Rider's nose as he tried to slip by.  By the time he hit the ground, she had already moved onto another target.

Ariena couldn't believe it; the Riders were actually attacking this far inside the border.  It was unprecedented and damned annoying, especially since one of the guards she had never met had labeled her as a non combatant and tried to move her out of the way.   From her position atop her horse, she had seen Teg take one of the Riders down but then had lost sight of the other woman as the fighting became intense and that was most definitely worse than being shoved into a pile of scared people. 

It was impossible to get Rascal through the terrified people and animals to help, so she quickly jumped off and wormed her way through the horse and human flesh toward the outer ring of protectors.  The problem of what to do once she got there was quickly taken away as a spear carrier charged into their midst.  The spearhead dripped red and a piece of torn and bloody cloth hung from one side.  The woman carrying the spear wore black patched banded leather armor and had her sights firmly set on Ariena's blonde head as soon as she'd gotten through the outer ring. 

Ari could almost hear Master Shen's words in her head.  'Act, do not react, little one.'   Turning her small frame she waited until the spear woman had committed herself to the move and the spearhead was far too close for comfort, before swinging her upper body out of the way and following through with her right arm.  Her right hand hit the grained wood solidly and redirected the head of the spear, in a solid thunk, into the wagon that Ari had deliberately aimed for. 

The grunt of surprise from the spear woman coincided with the crack that signified the splintering of wood.  As the brown haired woman stumbled and tried to right herself, Ariena took advantage of the situation.  Grabbing the fractured spear, the blonde twisted the rounded wood in her hands in a sharp twist and, with a tug, separated a good length of the spear from the rest. 

The spear woman caught herself and moved to draw her short sword.  However, as she looked up to spot the blonde again, all she saw was a thin shape move toward her at a great speed.  That was the last thing she would remember until much later.

Two hands solidly gripping the wood, Ariena pulled her right arm back toward her body and watched with a tiny eyebrow lift as the woman before her dropped to the ground. 

"Guess you didn't know that was one of the requirements of being a Lady.  Hmm?" she smirked quietly.   Hefting the makeshift staff in her hands, Ari nodded to herself and moved forward to her next target.  Stepping forward just in time to see Toby, a member of Teg's guard group, drop to the ground and a Rider raise their sword to make a deadly stroke.

Teg's left arm caught the corded wrist of the horse rider attacking her, the other woman was close enough that Teg could smell her rather ripe breath and the Lord couldn't resist a comment, "Don't you people ever brush your teeth?"

It took a few moments, fraught with struggles to free her arm, but the comment finally hit the attacker's brain and the Rider looked in surprise at the fiercely grinning face of the woman in front of her.  People just didn't do this when the Riders attacked; just who did this dark haired woman think she was?   Anger surged through her and she pulled free of Teg's grasp.

Waiting for just that chance, Teg immediately drove forward with the hilt of her sword and sent the woman's head reeling back with a spray of blood from her mouth.  A quick pull back and Teg's arm was clear enough for a thrust of her long sword. 

A searing pain took the Rider's breath away and when she saw the bloody sword glistening with ruby fluid being raised by the woman with brilliantly blue eyes, she suddenly realized who they'd likely attacked and cursed her commander for being the idiot she'd always thought he'd been.  She died cursing his stupidity.

Swinging the staff over one shoulder, Ari brought one end down on top of the Rider's head with a solid 'thunk' and the man fell to the ground in a crumpled lump, his sword landing at Ariena's feet.  She took one look at the dully gleaming metal and gripped that much harder on her staff.  Making sure that Toby was up, she moved on toward her ultimate goal.

Cerys looked up and wiped a blood spattered hand across her face to try and move her hair out of her eyes, unintentionally smearing blood across her already filthy face.  She tried to look for Tegwyn but found her attention diverted to two very determined Riders trying to get to the carriage that they'd initially chased.  Driving her horse forward, the redhead charged into the fray.

Teg found herself in a tight spot.  She had been separated from any other Guard members and had two spearmen and three horse riders around her.  Between her war horse and her own skills she was managing to hold them off but it was quite likely that others would join them and make it considerably more difficult.  She made a decision to deal with the problem now. 

An explosive burst of energy hit the first spearman in the form of a leg thrust that snapped his head back with such force that it knocked him down, dazed.   On the other side, one of the Riders flew off their horse as Teg's sword swung underhanded and sliced through their arm and flattened against the side of their head.  The tall woman took advantage of the shock evident in her attackers and pressed on, whirling her sword above her head and arcing it down through another Rider's neck. 

Teg tried to follow through the swing, only to find her sword caught in the Rider's body.  It was a choice of continuing to pull and perhaps be pulled off her horse or release the weapon and hope for another.  The Rider fell off, sword still attached and neck fountaining blood as Tegwyn quickly pulled a long dagger from her belt.   Meeting and deflecting the thrust of one of the other Riders, she tried to determine which direction to twist as the remaining spearman approached. 

Ari watched in horror as one of the Riders attacking Tegwyn fell from their horse with the Lord's sword still attached to their body.  Pushing forward, the small blonde astonished two Riders by sweeping her staff in a wide arc to meet them as they tried to get closer to the tall, dark haired woman.  One was unseated and fell to the ground to be trampled under the following Rider's horse and the other struggled to regain their seat but weren't in time before members of the Guard pulled down the horse and tolled another death bell for the Riders. 

Ari didn't even notice.  Her attention was firmly on getting to Tegwyn.  A sharp one-two punch with each side of her staff dropped a Rider that had run towards her, sword raised.  And then she was there, next to Tegwyn.  Watching as the spearman thrust at Teg's unprotected side, she did the only thing she could.

Resisting an almost unbearable urge to look to her left, Teg used every bit of strength to push back the Rider pressing his attack against her dagger and knew it would be a miracle if she were able to meet the approaching spearman's thrust in time. 

In a vicious move, Ariena brought her staff up between the spearman's legs and was rewarded by a cry of pain and his body dropping to a fetal position, hands clutching his private parts. 

Tegwyn blinked, her surprise quite complete by both the falling spearman and appearance of green eyes, albeit in a very dirty face, that she knew very, very well.   However, she didn't have much time to try and figure out what was going on as one of the attackers ran at Ariena's undefended back.  Not willing to risk injuring Ari with her horse or take the chance that the blonde knew the man was approaching, Teg launched herself off her horse and at the man. 

Skewered with the tall woman's dagger, the man pulled her to the ground with him and she rolled off, once again without a weapon. 


Tegwyn looked up into those green eyes again and found her hand reaching out to grab a sword that had been thrown at her, hilt first, from the slight blonde.   Catching it in a firm grip, Teg couldn't help the grin that split her face as she fought the attackers back to back with Ariena. 

There was a sense of rightness that had been missing ever since she had tried, completely unsuccessfully, to push the blonde out of her heart.  Grabbing hold of the feeling with an eagerness that surprised her, she deliberately forgot everything that had gone on and reveled in the fact that it warmed her down to the very tips of her soul, using the strength it provided to keep the attackers from finding any openings. 

Two more Riders under her belt, Cerys' red head peeked around a corner of the carriage and her eyes widened as she strived to duck what appeared to be a curtain rail from inside the carriage heading towards her head.  "Whoa!" she cried out.  "I'm one of the good guys!"

Looking up, she found herself looking at a woman slightly taller than herself with brunette hair that glowed with red highlights in the shafts of light flowing through the carriage windows and flashing and obviously very angry slate gray eyes.  With the hint of an unfamiliar accent, the woman spat, "How do I know this?"

Cerys took a breath to answer and then realized she didn't really have an answer.  A local would recognize her guard uniform but if this woman were from out of the area, how would she know.  As she looked around, a rather simple answer presented itself.  Leaning up against the carriage, arms folded, she asked, "Well, since they all seem to be retreating, it would be very prudent of me to sit around here and chat with you, now would it?"

Pursing her lips, the brunette looked around quickly and noted that the other woman was correct.  The ones who had attacked her did seem to be leaving, but still, this redhead was rather very rude to answer her with such insolence. 

After dispatching another very surprised attacker, Ari shook her head and blew a breath to try and move some errant blonde locks out of her eyes and turned her head to find the next attacker.  Finding none, she turned her head to look at Tegwyn.  Anxiously viewing the Lord to be sure she didn't have any wounds.

Twisting her sword in her hand and unintentionally spraying blood drops in an arc as she did so, Tegwyn prepared herself to meet another attacker but also found none.  Indeed, a quick glance around showed that the Riders were retreating.  Licking her dry lips, she quickly turned her head to look over Ariena and the world faded for an instant as their eyes met. 

It was as if nothing had ever separated them.  As if the world had stopped just for them and they could only hear each other's breathing.  Could almost hear each other's heartbeats. 

Too soon for Ariena, the screams of the injured broke into her world and was forced to look around her to try and determine where she would be needed first.  She took one more look back at Tegwyn and was surprised to find the Lord of the land standing right next to her.  Startled, she jumped back slightly.


Teg's soft voice tickled her eardrums and poured into her heart as if it were a parched desert.   Suddenly finding herself too tired to speak she just smiled tiredly and shook her head, only starting slightly as Tegwyn grasped her arm carefully. 

"Nasty cut.  Needs to be taken care of."

Dumbly, Ari looked down at her forearm and noticed for the first time that she had indeed somehow picked up a slash on her arm that was bleeding copiously. 

A little alarmed at Ariena's quietness, Tegwyn asked, "Are you okay?"

Taking a deep breath and moving her gaze up to those gorgeous baby blues she loved so much, Ari breathed out, "Yeah.  Just very tired."

There was a break of a few seconds as Tegwyn looked for a clean part on her shirt and tore a strip free, tying it carefully around Ariena's forearm.

Tegwyn spoke up, "Thanks for the ..." 

At the same time, the blonde said, "Thank you." 

They both stopped and looked at each other, the warmth of their skin touching each other a welcome respite to the violence they'd just experienced. 

Breaking the silence first, the dark haired woman said with unusual stark honesty, "You're welcome and thank you for the save.  I wasn't sure I could block the spear in time."

As if completely unaware of their location, Ariena simply kept her eyes on Tegwyn and a smile briefly touched her lips.  "Couldn't have anything happening to our new Lord, could I?"

White teeth flashed in the morning sunlight, a bright spot in an otherwise very nasty place, as a quirky grin teased Teg's face.  "No, can't have that.  Can we?"    She finished off the knot around Ari's forearm.  "It'll need some stitches I think but that'll do until we're sure we're safe."

Still awash in a sea of blue, Ari barely realized what was being said.  "Huh?  Yeah, it'll be fine."

"Are you sure you're all right?" Teg queried worriedly.

Nodding, the blonde pulled herself together.  "Fine.  I need to see what I can help with."

"They might not be finished, keep your staff with you."

Pleased beyond measure that Tegwyn was concerned about her, Ari agreed with a nod. 

Both knowing that chasing down the remaining attackers would most likely be futile and possibly death to some of their wounded, they split up to help the wounded members of their party. 

After getting a report as quickly as she could, Cerys finally caught up with Tegwyn as the tall woman administered to one of the stable boys who had tried to help out in the battle.  The boy had a wicked and heavily bleeding wound from the bottom of his right eye down to his chin and another in his side that Teg was dealing with.  A once over with her eyes had settled her mind over Tegwyn being injured; as good as Teg was at not showing pain, it was obvious the Lord hadn't taken any serious wounds.

Waiting patiently, she looked around and was shocked by the number of downed Riders.  The Guard had dealt a very heavy blow and now she could understand why the Riders had retreated in such a rush. 

"Cerys?" Tegwyn was extremely tired; the adrenaline rush of battle had left in a fast moving wave and left her craving a warm bath and comfortable, clean clothes.  Still, she was aware there was a lot of work to be done.  Hopefully, Cerys would have good news.

Turning around quickly, Cerys looked up into slightly duller than normal cerulean depths.  "We have four dead, upwards of twenty wounded but just a few of them need special care.  Eight injured Riders are now in our happy care and there are at least fourteen dead."  Neither of them needed to add that the boy that had just been under Teg's care would be one of those requiring special help. 

Listening to Cerys report, Tegwyn wished she could find something to wash the sticky blood off her arms before they had to get underway again but common sense told her that there wasn't time to do anything but get the injured ready to move and get to safety in case the Riders chose to form another attack.   She looked in approval at a group who were rounding up some of the walking wounded Riders and prayed that the dungeons were ready for occupants. 

"All right ... "  Teg stopped in surprise at the bucket and cloth being presented to her.  She looked gratefully into Ariena's eyes and smiled, then plunged her arms into the bracing water.  "I won't even ask."   Using the cloth to dry her arms and face off, she briefly wished she could simply dump the contents of the bucket over her head but knew that would be a foolish move, not to mention uncomfortable once the water soaked through her underclothes.   "Thanks," Teg said quietly.

Ariena smiled, she'd known that getting clean would be important to Rhyllen's Lord.  It always had been something they shared and so, once she'd given herself a quick wash over, she'd picked up a bucket, filled it from one of the water wagons and taken it to Teg.   Long used to doing whatever was required made it no hardship to carry the bucket with her good arm and the warmth she was feeling from Tegwyn had been very well worth the effort. 

"Oh and I think I know why the Riders were after the carriage," Cerys added to her report even as she eyed the blonde.  The very surprised guard had seen Ariena helping one badly injured member of her Guard and also wanted to ask Tegwyn about Ariena but knew this certainly wasn't the time, nor place.

Dragging her eyes from Ariena, Tegwyn asked, "Why's that?"

An eyebrow raised in somewhat of a parody of Tegwyn, Cerys said, "Seems like we have some visiting dignitaries."

Cerys' tone had Tegwyn quite curious.  "Who?"

"Some Baroness Kassale from Sallera and her entourage.  They were separated from their protection and happened to run into us."

"How would the Riders know there was a noble in there?"  Tegwyn looked toward the carriage and realized immediately by the very obvious, even if mud covered now, markings on the side of the carriage.  Sighing, she added, "Never mind.   You'd think they'd know to not bring that much attention to themselves."

Rolling her eyes, Cerys couldn't resist.  "You must be joking?  This one wouldn't be happy with trumpets marking their every step."

"I would settle for bagpipes at this stage," came an acid voice from the crowd.

Tegwyn pulled a laugh back inside herself at Cerys' cringe, realizing that this must be the woman that Cerys had been talking about. 

Ariena had to smile as well but couldn't help but admire the bearing of the newcomer.  A couple of inches below Tegwyn's height, the woman was a striking figure with gray eyes.  Her features were less angled than Tegwyn's but she was still quite pretty even if Ariena didn't believe that the other woman was in Tegwyn's class.  She wore her now filthy robe as if it were threaded with gold and her head was held high. 

The blonde stepped forward unconsciously to welcome the newcomer and see what she could do but stopped dead in her tracks when the gray eyes swept over the dirty and blood covered form in contempt. 

Tegwyn watched as Ariena stepped forward, as the blonde always did to make newcomers welcome, and was surprised to see her stop, shoulders tight with tension.  The look that the other woman cast over was not missed and she stepped forward, pushing past a staring and slightly slack mouthed Cerys to stand next to Ariena.

An eyebrow rose high as the gray eyes took her in and Tegwyn gave the other woman a dose of her own medicine.  Squaring her jaw, she looked over the newcomer's form with disdain and sneeringly asked, "And you are?"

Stealing a look at Tegwyn, Ariena pressed her lips together tightly to stop the smile from appearing on her face.   Her friend was literally dripping with scorn and Ari knew that at least some of it was on her behalf. 

Ari's green eyes twinkling were almost Teg's undoing but she managed to keep the look on her face and crowed inside when the gray eyed woman began to look around uncertainly.  She had to give the other woman her due, she had lasted longer than most under her patented stare but it was obvious she was buckling.

"I am Baroness Kassale DeMart," the woman began haltingly before regaining her composure.  "And, I demand that you find my soldiers and escort us to safety."

The eyebrow on Tegwyn's forehead crawled higher.  "You demand?  I think not."  Cutting off the Baroness with a wave of her hand, Tegwyn deliberately stepped to within the other woman's personal space.  "We will get you to safety and I'll see what I can do about your soldiers but only because it's the right thing to do and not because someone demands it."

Abruptly turning and startling Cerys out of her stupor, Teg ordered, "Cerys, see that the Baroness is taken to the safety of her carriage and they're prepared for departure."

Ari watched the gaping mouth of the Baroness drop even further at being relegated to the care of someone obviously not in charge.  Turning quickly to follow Tegwyn she couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for Cerys.

Trying to wrap some semblance of her dignity around herself, Kassale asked Cerys angrily, "And who was that ... person?"

Watching Tegwyn stride off to get the train moving again, Cerys couldn't help but shake her head slightly at the onerous duty she'd been given.  "That was the Lord of Rhyllen, Tegwyn Emrys."

"THAT was the Lord of Rhyllen?"

Cerys was amused at the shock in Kassale's voice.  "That it was." 


Dark hair flowed back against a long, lean length of back as Tegwyn put her hands on her hips and stretched out protesting and definitely over taxed back muscles.  She let out a soft breath of pleasure as her spine realigned itself with audible pops and rolled her head around her shoulders to loosen her neck as well.   Her eyelids slipped closed as she drowned in the almost sensual pleasure of both stretching her muscles and being alone.

Not surprisingly, it had been an incredibly tense ride to the Lord's Hall as everyone jumped from the simplest thing as a rabbit in the bushes.  A smile flittered over Teg's lips as she remembered the cook looking in amazement at the several nice pieces of meat they'd managed to bring from the trip to supplement the kitchens, thanks to the jumpy nerves.

Not that Teg was about to admit that fact.  After the battle they'd had, nervousness was absolutely expected.   Instead, she chose to praise those that had brought down the various animals and jokingly warned about poaching on the Lord's land.

After a brief stop for the formalities of the new Lord taking control of the Hall, Tegwyn had settled everyone as best she could and had been astonished at how well everything had gone so far.   Granted, things had been made that much easier with the fact that, apparently, word had gotten out and several people from the surrounding towns had come to offer their services to their new Lord.  It had been an occurrence that Teg hadn't anticipated in her planning and she couldn't help but be incredibly thankful for their presence.  Their talents would be essential to the speedy readiness of the Hall, which in turn led to better protection for the lands. 

Then Teg had been completely tied up in what she called her 'meet and greet' duties.  Learning names, directing traffic, briefly visiting the injured and, most importantly, telling the same housekeeper that had been there in her father's time to continue doing exactly what she was doing, just on a bigger scale.  Tegwyn's dour proclamation of what a wonderful job the housekeeper, Cora, had been doing in her absence had been completely derailed by the woman surrounding her in a welcoming hug that severely threatened to undo Teg's patented Lordly composure.

Cora had saved the day by doing her duty and reporting the state of the House.  Then it had fallen upon Teg to deal with household duties and preparations as the train of people that had come with her dispersed with the aid of various members of the staff. 

The staff.  Her staff now, she mused.  They had been running around as if they were foxes in a hen house ever since she'd returned and was quite sure it had been going on long before that.  Rushes were cleaned, bedding replaced, rooms warmed up and the Gods knew what else.  Food seemed to be available at all times and Teg spared a prayer of gratitude that the quality seemed to be as good as ever. 

Her staff, in her house, on her lands.  True, the Lord's house truly was more of a castle than anything but it had always seemed more ... politically correct that it should be called a house, rather than the militaristic symbol that it was.  Teg could recall a time when she was a child that workers had been clearing out the well in the courtyard and she hadn't understood the necessity to the constant upkeep of things she'd never seen used.  Her innocent questions to her father about what the workers were doing had begun a very long series of lessons on what seemed to be a never-ending stream of protective measures.  Basically, things that could be done that may save lives and why they were done.  It occurred to her that she was still learning.

Bright blue eyes blinked open slowly and she took in her first good look at the room she was standing in.  It bore the stamp of her father in many ways, as it should since it was his favorite room.  Rich colored cloth covered parts of the gray stone in tasteful swoops of burgundy, forest green and rust, and fine tapestries warmed the walls in appropriate places.  The furniture was made mostly of dark, heavy wood and seats were covered in comfortable woven cloth.  Light from both sconces and beautiful lamps splashed against the walls and furniture in seemingly random locations that were actually carefully thought out strategic locations, designed to give the best coverage anywhere in the room. 

She reached out with a hand and touched a beautiful sculpture of a horse that her father had always loved.  She could remember him reaching out to touch it every time he passed it by and how he'd laughed when he saw her copy him for the first time.  Reverently, she lightly trailed her fingers against the horse's head, feeling the familiar smooth, cool surface pull at the warmth in her hand and then begin warm up as she moved her hand to the side of the sculpture.   Taking a step back to gaze at the piece, she couldn't help but admire the rusty sheen that covered one side as the fire bathed the ebony piece with color and lent it a little of its warmth as well. 

"My Lord?"

The mind of the Lord in question was quite firmly anchored in the past, reliving old memories before she headed out to visit the injured again and she didn't hear the query.

A cough.  "Lord Tegwyn?"

Spinning in surprise, Tegwyn almost knocked the housekeeper over.  It was extremely unusual for Teg to allow herself to be that unguarded and unforgivable at such a dangerous time.  'Self recriminations later, work now,' she grumped to herself.  "Yes?"

Eyes wide, the housekeeper still held her hand at her chest.  She had been astounded at the speed of Tegwyn's reaction and was glad that she hadn't been any closer.   Swallowing a gulp, she informed, "The injured are settled and the word you sent about the new staff helped tremendously."  After dipping her head slightly in thanks for the warning, Cora continued, "I've found places for the new staff and the ... visitors have been given rooms in the east wing."

One side of Tegwyn's mouth tilted slightly as she considered how a simple pause could convey Cora's sentiments so well.   Obviously, the Baroness had made the same impression to the usually polite housekeeper as she had to everyone else so far. 

Her mind caught up finally and eyebrows scrunched together as she dissected part of what Cora had said.  "The word I sent?"

"Aye?"  The excitement of the day and many hours of work she had put in that day allowed Cora's country upbringing to poke through for a moment and she blushed.  Even if this were the girl she'd helped to raise and had paddled once or twice in her youth, with Lord Telryn's permission, the older woman was well aware that being a Lord's housekeeper meant that she should remember her training at all times.  There were standards to be met and kept, after all. 

Tilting her head, Tegwyn wondered what had caused the housekeepers flushed state and took a half step forward.

"I do apologize, my Lord.  Yes, the word you sent very early this morning with how many to expect and what was badly needed."

Settling back on her heels, Teg queried, "I didn't send word.  Now I think about it, I should've but do you have the message still?  And, why are you apologizing?"

Cora cringed a little inside.  Still, not owning up to her mistakes wasn't something she was going to start at this stage in her life.   Digging into one of the pockets in her apron, she replied, "Yes, I do.  Just let me find it and your father, bless him, had us all learn the ways to, as he said, make the best impression right off."

Holding her hand out for the parchment, Teg suddenly realized what Cora meant.  Teg's father had always been a stickler for protocol and making sure his household staff was well trained, educated and extremely presentable.  He had gone to great lengths to make sure that anyone in the household who was likely to be in close proximity to visiting dignitaries for any length of time basically, as Teg had overheard once, had the country stomped out of them.

Turning the parchment over in her hands, Rhyllen's new Lord thought about that.  If there was one thing she had learned from her time at the Bard's Guild and in the Guard it was that backgrounds didn't matter.  What did matter was the person underneath.  It was all well and good to have servants who spoke 'properly' but what did it matter in the long run?  As long as they were trained properly and performed their duties to the best of their abilities, anything else was a prestige badge rather than something useful. 

She still remembered a time when she'd found Ariena comforting one of the new servants to the Bard's Guild.  They had been sent down from the Lord's Hall because of their inability to leave the country behind in their manner and speech and were horrified at their failure. 

Ariena's empathy had washed over her in strong waves, so had the blonde's righteous anger much later.  Teg could easily recall how the blonde had argued with her about her belief that the lessons should only be mandatory for some positions that required it and never something that caused a person to be shamed so badly.   A memory of green eyes sparking as Ariena told her that diversity was a positive force and shouldn't be suppressed flashed into her mind.

Teg had, of course, argued on her father's side but seeing the woman that she had frankly adored as a child shamed at her own actions made her realize something she had missed back then.

'Well,' she thought.  'I've been the Lord of Rhyllen for less than a full day.  I think I need to make at least one change before the day's out, don't I?   Right now seems a good time.'

"Cora, how long have you worked for us?"

Rather surprised by the question, Cora blinked and then responded.  "Going on twenty three years, my Lord."

"And in that time how many times have you healed my scrapes, wiped my nose or fed me your special soup?"

"Why ... many times?" Cora stammered, quite awash in this particular sea.

"Yes, and the day you have to worry about which word you have to use when you talk to me is over.   When I get settled and things calm down a little, we'll have a talk about a few things that maybe we can look at changing.  All right?"

Shocked beyond measure at what the tall woman was saying, Cora just nodded and waited as Teg unfolded the message she'd handed to her.

Smiling slightly to herself at her first sort of decision as a Lord, Teg slowly unfolded the message to find out who had thought ahead so that the Hall was prepared.  Teg was eminently grateful for that piece of good thinking and that reminded her of something she should also be better at, complimenting those who did work.  "You have your staff well trained.  Even with the warning everything has gone so smoothly, it's amazing."

Blue eyes fell on the well formed letters on the parchment.  'Of course.  Ariena.'

"Amazing?  Yes, that she is," Cora agreed.

Puzzled, Teg looked up. 

Knowing the look, Cora anticipated the question.  "That Ariena, of course.  She's been a wonder!  Thank you for bringing her with you.   She had the injured settled in a flash and even Tomas the blacksmith was playing nurse.   She's got quite a hand that one."

Everything fell into place in Tegwyn's brain with an almost audible snick.  'You addle brained idiot.  How do you think you had all these helpful people who showed up, how else was the Hall prepared for the number we brought with us and how else would things have gone that smoothly?' 


It was strange to Tegwyn how that one name seemed to always be at the root of everything good.  Everything important.  Who else.  'Idiot.'

Tegwyn caught the question on the housekeeper's face and shook her head slightly.  A certain blonde that she had done so well putting out of her mind, or at least had deluded herself enough to think so, was ushering wounded into the makeshift hospital and dealing with the blacksmith that had unexpectedly been waiting for them when they'd arrived.  "Yes, she does indeed.  Do you know where she is?"

"Aye, the last time I saw her she was in the infirmary.  About to fall over I'm thinking but she wouldn't listen to me," the housekeeper added with some annoyance.

"Teg, I've ... Oh sorry."  Cerys skidded to a halt after seeing Tegwyn was with someone.

"It's all right.  What is it?"

"Just wanted to give you a report ...," the redhead began and was interrupted by Tegwyn's raised hand.

"Is there anything critical or that you can't handle?" the Lord asked, her eyes lifting to the guard's.

Still new to the role that she'd had been entrusted to her, Cerys thought about Tegwyn's question for a long second.  "No, it can wait."

Smiling slightly, Tegwyn patted Cerys on the upper arm.  "Thanks."  Turning to Cora, she repeated herself and then added, "I'm going to go take care of that problem you told me about right now."

Leaving a slightly puzzled housekeeper and nervous acting-Captain of her Guard behind, Tegwyn headed for the front door and something she should've done a long time before.


Wiping the back of her hand and wrist against her forehead, Ariena blinked back the fatigue that now threatened to knock her over in her tracks.   Her other hand remained on the pale forehead of the stable boy who had been badly injured in the fight.   He wore a shockingly white, against his considerably darker skin, bandage that covered a good portion of his face and the blanket covered another wound in his side.

She smiled slightly at this boy's amazing bravery.  The stories were that he had thrown a bucket at one of the Riders who had broken through to the inner group and gone after some of the defenseless.  The Rider had turned on him and he'd actually managed to use a pitchfork to very good effect but had fallen just before the Rider was overwhelmed.  A mental note was made to either compose a ballad or, if time didn't permit, request one from the Bard's Guild and Master Ithel for Sean's benefit.  The boy's actions were certainly worth considerably more than a ballad but that was all she could offer.

Reassured that he had no fever, Ari let out a quiet breath and stretched her neck to one side and then the other as she looked about the room.  It was quiet now, much quieter than it had been hours before.  It had been a mess and after trying to quietly direct, she'd simply waded in and began throwing orders around.  Once everyone saw the normally warm green eyes sparking, they'd complied with every order and hadn't even questioned.   Seeing everything finally moving, she'd thrown herself into the work of helping to clean out the storeroom and getting the infirmary ready.  It had been a very long time before she'd looked up from the work again.

However, even she had a smile on her face after the blacksmith had approached her timidly and asked if he was needed any more.  Looking around, she'd realized that it had been quite some time since they'd arrived and everyone was fairly settled.   The only trouble she'd had after that was the housekeeper insisting she take a break and her unwillingness to do so.  It had definitely been a battle of wills, one that she'd won this time but had no misconceptions that she would every time. 

A spluttering torch caught her attention and she realized that it would need replacing before it spluttered itself into oblivion.  However, she was pleased to note, the extra torches she'd ordered were providing enough light for the healers to work and provide comfort to those in pain.   And, there certainly were enough of them.  She'd never experienced anything close to this number and type of injuries before.  It was a hard wake up call for someone unused to it. 

Teg nodded to the alert guard at the door and flicked her eyes around the room in approval.  The worst of the injured Riders were also here, in a slightly separate section, and two very burly looking stable hands watched over them.   It was a good decision and left the guards who had fought earlier a bit more time to rest, plus freed up two of them to guard the prisoners who were in better physical condition. 

It was obvious that torches had been added to the room and that also met with Teg's approval.  She knew quite well how difficult it could be to help with injuries when there wasn't enough light from many experiences in the Outlands.   The torches lit a crowded but orderly infirmary, with a mixture of wood and stone walls.  The floor was made of large gray stone, cool but obviously easier to keep clean.  Searching her memory, Tegwyn realized this had been a storeroom prior to being put to use as an infirmary and once again couldn't fault the choice.  'Ariena's probably,' she mused.

The room was surprisingly quiet, muted whispers and an occasional groan being the only sounds as the healers on duty moved soundlessly around the room giving their care.  Stepping inside she greeted one of the healers who noticed her and listened attentively as he gave her a report on the injuries.  Her heart grieved at the news that they had lost one of the injured Guard and then the healer moved slightly to the side, allowing the Lord a view of the person she'd come to see. 

'She looks so small,' she thought as she looked on a hunched over Ariena.  'And tired.'   Dragging her attention back to the healer, she politely thanked him and all the others for their work and moved toward her goal. 

It was amazing but the torchlight still managed to pick out the highlights in the unusually dirty blonde hair.  It still managed to make the best use of shadows to make Ari look even younger than her few years.   With approval, she noted that Ariena's arm sported a clean bandage and that gave her reassurance that the other woman's wound had been seen to.  "Hey," the tall woman said softly.

A little dazed, Ari turned her face to the side and looked up into a serious, concerned face.  Surprised, she nonetheless breathed in the presence of Rhyllen's Lord with quiet pleasure and more than a touch of relief.  "Hi," the blonde's voice cracked slightly and she cleared her throat.

Tegwyn's brow furrowed and she crouched down to bring herself more on level with the blonde.  "I understand that I have a lot to thank you for but that's going to have to wait until after you get something to eat and rest.  There are others here to watch over them."  Deliberately, knowing how stubborn the blonde could be, Teg spoke very gently. 

"I need ...," Ari started to argue but one look at the face now even with her own broke her very tired resolve.  Closing her eyes for a moment, she took stock of herself and knew that she really had to rest or there wouldn't be anything left for the next day.  Opening them again, she found worried blue watching her and she let that fact roll around inside her heart and warm her from the inside out for a few seconds before she nodded. 

Realizing that the ease of Ariena's agreement betrayed just how tired the blonde was, Tegwyn stood tall and held out a hand to her friend.  "Come on then."

It was a small thing in the greater scheme of life but it seemed like it had been so long since she'd seen those blue eyes looking at her with anything less than cold anger or indifference.  Without even thinking about it, her hand moved to join Tegwyn's and her heart felt the connection the instant they touched.  It was as if nothing had changed and yet so much had. 

Ariena caught the sob that almost broke through her tired soul but it still came out as a halted breath.

Concerned, Teg looked carefully at her friend.  "Are you all right?"

'No,' Ariena's exhausted mind provided.  "Just a little tired."

"Let's get you taken care of then.  I happen to know you've been given a great room."


It wasn't until the next evening that Tegwyn had a chance to take a break.  She'd decided to change clothes after spending most of the day interviewing the prisoners, most of whom were not talking one bit.  Their contempt of title of "Lord" was obvious; that she was a woman was double trouble.   Even the one woman prisoner they had was contemptuous of Tegwyn being the ruler of the land, to the Lord's surprise.

As she rinsed herself off, Tegwyn couldn't put a name on why things like this made her feel dirty.  Usually used for the very occasional poacher who took too much or trouble maker, the dungeons were as clean as they could be to avoid disease but obviously not spotless.  The cool cells had been built several generations before and were spartan and damp.   Huge blocks of stone comprised the walls and floor but it always amazed Tegwyn that rodents still managed to find their way in. 

Besides the thick oak door, the only openings in the cells were a very small latrine that everyone said had to have been built when the dungeons were, and which supposedly led to a completely contained underground space that had yet to have been truly tested for its capacity.  Teg spared a prayer that it would survive the current use, and less than finger wide slits at the top of the walls that provided an occasional glimpse at the outside sky if you looked from the right angle. 

Most of the prisoners wore the tunics they had been wearing under their armor or scraps that had been given to them, as any armor they had possessed had been stripped and would be cleaned and put to use elsewhere if possible. However, some wore their nakedness as a badge of pride.  Otherwise, those with wounds had been seen to but that was about it since the demoralization factor could be a very good tactic to use in these situations. 

Still, it wasn't as if she had hardly touched them.  It was simply the atmosphere, she realized.  The whole idea of it.  Of having to demoralize human beings to get the information they needed, having to threaten them and then finally to punish them. 

Her attitude throughout the questioning had been a very necessary aloof contempt.   However, after getting very little information, Teg had finally determined that giving both herself and the prisoners time to think about things for a couple of days might be a good idea and had left in a sweep of her midnight dark cloak. 

Having absolutely no problems using any tool at her disposal, she still had chosen the intimidation factor over violence by simply using her very presence and confidence to keep the enemy off guard.  She knew well the benefit of her height, appearance and icy gaze, and had used them to good effect several times throughout the day. 

A frown marred her forehead as she thought back to the last person she'd questioned, to the exhilaration of having the man look at her with such fear in his eyes.  Simply from her presence.  The rush of blood that tingled through her veins had been somewhat intoxicating and she'd found herself bending over him as she supported his weight by a fistful of his torn, sweat stained tunic. 

He'd refused to answer a question and, before she knew it, he was at her mercy.  The stench that surrounded him had invaded her senses and she'd brushed it off as if it had been a fat summer fly flitting about her.  Her lip had curled and the desire to crush this man like the bug he was had crashed over her as she tightened her hold and watched the man begin to panic as the cloth tightened around his neck.

She thought back to that moment.  To when she'd held the man's life in her hands and he knew it.  A hint of a breeze had sliced like a knife through the gloom, bringing a clean breath of nature through the tiny slats high up in the wall that might be called a window if you truly had to name them as something. 

More importantly, the breeze also brought the dying echo of someone's laughter to Tegwyn's ears.  Rather than it sounding joyful, the echo had been almost melancholy.  As if the initial feelings had been drained and only the burned out husk remained.  Her brain had identified and classified it instantly as someone she knew.  Someone always at the root of everything important it seemed.  Ariena. 

Of course. 

In that instant of comprehension, Tegwyn keenly felt the presence of the other woman who truly wasn't anywhere close by.  And, as if doused with a bucket of cold, clear water, she had released the man to fall to his rear end and scuttle away, back into the dark corner he'd come from. 

As she tried to dry off her hair, she realized that, besides a long distance view as the other woman walked purposefully toward the stables, she hadn't seen Ariena all day and, not that she'd confess it to anyone, the slight blonde had been on her mind a lot.  It was as if seeing those green eyes on the battlefield had fueled a fire that she had been able to somewhat bank in the preceding months but never put out. 

'As if,' she snorted at herself, as she watched drops of water sneak their way onto her skin after escaping from her damp hair and then expire in the barrier of rough towel that covered her from the breasts down.  'Ariena,' her eyes slid closed as her mind said the name. 

Words had stayed on the tip of her tongue the night before as she'd shown the blonde to her room.  There was so much to ask and to say but the blonde had plainly been exhausted.  The best she'd been able to come up with was a quietly spoken wish for a good night's sleep.  Ari had nodded and after a gaze that was held just slightly longer than normal they'd parted. 

A night that hadn't been very restful had followed and Tegwyn had actually been glad of the first stirring of morning.  By the time she heard the servants stirring, she had been long since dressed and had several pieces of parchment surrounding her as she worked on yet another.  A report of the attack and presence of Baroness Kassale was ready for her uncle, various alerts and updates to garrisons and assorted other important business papers were ready to be sent. 

After a very abbreviated breakfast, in the form of a couple of warm biscuits eaten on the move, Cerys had stayed with her for most of the morning.  That is, until Teg had sent her off to deal with the, once more, complaining Baroness and told her to stay until the woman was dealt with.  In fact, Tegwyn realized, she hadn't eaten since breakfast and her stomach was letting her know that in tremendous detail. 

Suddenly, she stiffened.  Even above the grumblings of her stomach, she had sensed a change in her surroundings.  After chastising herself for her lapse the day before when she hadn't heard Cora approach, she was pleased with the reaction.  Moving to the side of the thick wooden door, she leaned over and soundlessly slid her long dagger from the belt she'd put close by on a counter for just this reason and then stood with her back against the wall.

"I can hear that out here.  Do you want me to get you some supper?"

At Cerys' voice, Tegwyn blew out a relieved breath that billowed in her cheeks and stepped into the doorway.

A dark red eyebrow rose slightly at the sight of Tegwyn barely covered body filling the doorway with a long stretch of pointed and dangerous steel in her hand.  "You're worried about being here?" she asked bluntly, suddenly wondering if she shouldn't have more security in the house.

Teg thought about that for just a moment before she answered, "No but I don't want to be surprised anytime soon."  She reached behind her and grabbed some clean clothes.

"Should I increase the patrols inside?"  Turning toward the windows, Cerys mentally reviewed the plans she had in place.  She thought that there was enough security inside but it certainly wouldn't hurt to be sure.  Especially since they really didn't have a full complement of warriors for the hall, both due to injuries and the garrison that would normally be there.  Some of the garrison had remained, of course.  It wouldn't do for the Lord's Hall to be without some protection but there simply hadn't been a need for many to stay when the war was being fought so far away.  At least, it had been far away.

"No, more in here means less keeping an eye on the outside.  I'd rather have the extras out there to give us an earlier warning that someone's coming," Teg responded as she slipped off her towel and got into the clothes.

"Right."  Cerys nodded and rather than finding a comfy wall to lean on, she stood in place and almost imperceptibly shifted from the ball of one foot to another.  Putting up with the Baroness had rattled her to the edge of no return and it was safer to try and expend little bursts of energy as often as she could rather than wait for the big blow.

For reasons that escaped her, this sight amused Tegwyn.  Wondering if she might have an idea of what was going on in Cerys' mind, she questioned, "Any problems?"

Cerys' head snapped up from her contemplation and she turned.  "No!"   As she watched Tegwyn's eyebrow rise, the redhead realized that she'd given away too much with the vehemence of her answer.  Truthfully, she'd found herself enjoying baiting the Baroness just a bit.  Okay, more than a bit.  After listening to a near litany of the problems with her room, the weather, the rug, the sun and whoever knew what else, Cerys had initially found herself simply nodding and then, as the Baroness' annoyance rose with no response, a simple affirmative.   Once she'd collected her senses that seemed to have deserted her at the time, the guard had enjoyed finding ways to get those remarkable gray eyes flashing at her.  'Did I just think remarkable?'

Tegwyn watched an odd look cross Cerys' face and recognized it immediately, surprising herself at the depth of her insight since it wasn't something she normally prided herself on.  What was even more surprising was that she felt no jealousy over the obvious twist of fascination and shock in the guard's face.   At that look, the one she recognized she herself probably sported more than a time or two when thinking about a certain slender blonde, Teg felt something settle inside.  As if she'd just finished reading a favorite book and closed the cover, treasuring the memory but knowing it was time to move on. 

The dark haired woman thought about that for a very long moment.  About the fact that she was able to close the book on that aspect of her relationship with Cerys but there was no doubt in her mind that would never be the case with Ariena.  Never.  As if a bolt of lightning stroked her entire body, she finally understood something. 'My god, what have I been doing?  Feeling sorry for myself, making myself and probably those around me miserable when I should be fighting for her.  Showing her how I feel.  What I feel.'

"... settled now.  She insists on seeing you, though."

'Crap,' Tegwyn thought as she realized that she'd not heard the vast majority of what Cerys had said.  She took a stab at an answer, "I'm sure everything's fine."  She shot a quick and careful look at Cerys and noted the guard's eyes were focused somewhere on the floor.  With this, a look of devilment sparkled in Teg's eyes.  "I think we might need to keep an eye on the Baroness.  I don't want her running off and doing something stupid, nor do I think we should blindly trust her or her people.  So, since she's already dealt with you, you're in charge of keeping an eye on her."

A wash of sheer panic crested over Cerys' body and her eyes flew open to focus on Tegwyn.  "But ... but.  I ... "

Only confirming what Tegwyn had thought to be true of her new Captain of the ... her thoughts stilled momentarily.   "Speaking of duties and orders ... "  Tegwyn walked over to some of the parchments she had worked on much earlier in the day.  Her fingers pushed one, then another out of the way as if she were searching for one in particular and then she grabbed the corner of one specific parchment, shaking another that had been lying partially over it so that it fell to the table in a soft wave.  Pleased it had only taken her seconds to find her prize, Teg turned and handed the parchment to Cerys.  "I know this isn't an official ceremony and that you've already been doing the job, but I need to make this official."

Keeping her eyes on Tegwyn, Cerys reached out a hand and felt the parchment's slightly rough texture under her fingers.  Her eyes fell to the document and she turned it around so that she could read the words formed in dark ink.  As she brought it closer to read, tiny grains of sand dusted her hand betraying the fact that the document had obviously been recently written.  Swallowing hard, she spared a moment to look at Tegwyn and once again found herself charmed by the quirky grin she'd seen so many times.  Then her eyes flitted back to her hands and what they held. 

There it was.  Confirmation of something she had never even dreamed possible.  Oh, she knew there would be problems with those who were older and had more experience, those who had even worked with Tegwyn's father but it was the ruler's explicit right to pick the person they wanted as their Captain of the Guard.  It was always someone they trusted completely, someone who had the abilities to both protect and deal with a gamut of responsibilities.  She was young for the job and had quite a few doubts but the pride she felt in the actual confirmation of her post of Captain of the Guard was threatening to sweep every one of those doubts away. 

'Well, it wouldn't do for the new Captain of the Guard to cry now, would it?' Cerys thought to herself before she blinked back an errant tear or two and steeled her jaw muscles to help bring spiraling emotions under control.  She brought her dark eyes up to her Lord, using the awe she was feeling at this moment as her strength, and cleared her throat.  Speaking carefully, she changed just a couple of words from the standard oath a guard had to take and added some of her own, "I will protect you, this land and its people with my life.  You will never regret your trust in me.  My life is yours."

Taking in Cerys bowed head, Tegwyn smiled softly knowing that her Captain meant every word.   With gentle fingertips, she touched the redhead's chin and brought their gazes together again and kept that smile on her face.  "I may sometimes seem to own big chunks of it, but your life is your own, my friend.  Protect yourself as well, I have no intentions of ever needing a new Captain of the Guard."

A lump of emotion stuck in Cerys' throat.  So many times she'd heard that she would never be good for anything from various members of her family.  So many times as she was growing up she'd heard about how she should just settle down and be the wife of whoever might want her.  It was vindication, it was ... she would make sure that she would never let Tegwyn down, about anything.  That final thought sent a current of shame down her spine.  There was something she had to do.  Should've done the second she'd found out.  "Teg, ... I ... "

Dark brows crept together slightly as the other woman's demeanor changed.  For a moment, Tegwyn wondered if Cerys was having second thoughts.  It wouldn't be an easy ride, that's for sure.  Although the group they'd been fighting with knew Cerys' value, without a doubt, there were definitely battles that would have to be fought.  Battles that Tegwyn frequently wouldn't be able to help with as Cerys proved herself to the others, just as Tegwyn would have to prove herself to the other Lords and any who challenged her authority.  With a touch of concern coloring her thoughts, she asked impatiently, "What is it?"

Cerys took a moment to think about what she was going to say and then decided to just get straight to the point.  "There's something you need to know."


"There's something you need to know." 

The words still rang in Tegwyn's ears.  She stood at the window and looked out onto a clear night, torches lit the pathways and the occasional movement of bodies could usually be seen as members of the Guard.  Her mind was running in every direction, but always seeming to end up in one place. 

Cerys had left an indeterminate time before and all thoughts of supper or pretty much anything else had left with her.  Now, all she had was time to think about the terrible mistakes she'd made. 

What a very cruel joke life could be at times.  She'd chosen to let jealousy and insecurity rule her life and Ariena had probably been lost because of it.  Bitter, self recriminating thoughts ran through her mind.  'What, Teg?  Were you so sure that someone that wonderful couldn't possibly love you?  That what she'd offered you had been a ruse?  How could you possibly be so stupid?' 

Her mind busily invented different ways to make Brycen suffer.  He had deliberately made it seem that he had taken Ariena from her and made a point to let Cerys' brother know.  The squire was obviously aware that the brother and sister communicated, what better way to drive a wedge between Tegwyn and Ariena.  And Tegwyn had allowed it to happen.  Had allowed the conniving man to build various barriers between Ariena and herself.  Believed him instead of the person she should've believed in. 

Running her hands over her face, the dark haired ruler felt the weight of what she'd done to her very toes.  'How could she ever forgive me?'

As she rounded the corner over the open door, green eyes took in the scene before her and Ariena's heart dropped to her toes.  The desolation in Tegwyn's form drew her forward before she had a chance to realize it.   Placing the plate of food on a nearby table, she turned and quietly closed the open door behind her.

It had been a very strange last few minutes.  She'd been taking a minute to relax with Cora and smiling as the older woman's country accent began to slip in as she spoke about her husband and children, when Cerys had arrived. 

Ariena had been surprised at best; the redhead had studiously avoided her, not that the feeling hadn't been mutual, since their arrival.  In addition to her sudden appearance, it was more than obvious the guard had something on her mind and Ari wasn't sure how she was going to get that information from the guard or even if she wanted to.

Instead, she'd observed in confusion as Cerys had nervously told them that Tegwyn hadn't eaten all day and then looked directly at Ariena and mentioned that perhaps the new Lord could use some company.

After Cerys spun on her heel and left, Ariena had simply looked at Cora in bewilderment.  She couldn't understand why her rival, the woman who had obviously stolen Tegwyn from her, was giving her every indication that she should go be with Rhyllen's Lord. 

The blonde had wondered if it wasn't some strange joke on the guard's part but had chosen to take some supper up to Tegwyn and sent Cora home to be with her family.   Now, looking at Tegwyn's obviously upset form, she was glad she'd chosen to heed some internal sense she'd had to trust this.  To trust the look in Cerys' eyes and believe she was needed for some reason.

The soft snick of the door closing somehow broke through Tegwyn's frozen mind and she glanced over to the doorway, expecting to find probably Cora ready to admonish her for going without food all day.  Instead, there stood everything she'd always wanted and had foolishly thrown away. 

The brimming tears and raw emotion in the azure eyes had dragged Ariena into the room much more effectively than a team of wild horses.  She'd crossed the room before she realized it and stood a few steps away from Tegwyn's stiff back.   She began to reach out a hand and then bunched her fingers and brought it back to her own warmth, not sure of the reaction she would receive.

"Teg, what is it?"

Each word was like a knife cut in Tegwyn's soul.  Once again, the blonde was showing her more compassion than she deserved.  Would ever deserve.  How would she ever apologize?  Could she ever make a difference?  Her eyes slid closed again, a barrier against the reality of the pain she was feeling.  A barrier instantly breached, of course.

The silence unnerved Ariena.  She could have expected many things, but not this.  Not the slightly hunched shoulders that seemed to be waiting for a blow that would damage the very core of the woman she'd never seen like this.  Not since Tegwyn's father had died and even then, there wasn't this impending doom hovering around the other woman.

"Tegwyn, please ... let me help," the blonde pleaded.  All thoughts of the hurt she'd gone through had dissipated into the murky mists that frequently clouded her judgment when someone was in pain.  What was important to her now was that someone she cared very much about was hurting a great deal. 

'Oh, if only it could be that easy,' Tegwyn thought as her arms wrapped around herself in an attempt to provide warmth she wasn't sure she'd ever feel again.

Ariena began to panic a little at the silence and further attempts of Tegwyn to almost protect herself.  Hesitantly, she reached out her hand until it finally touched Tegwyn's arm.

Teg started the instant the fingers touched her skin.  She felt them move away for a split second, only to return.  Warmer.  Stronger.  Just like Ariena herself.  Shaking her head and feeling incredibly unworthy of even this woman's presence, never mind her friendship and, at least at one time, love; she brought her hand up with every intention of removing Ari's hand. 

Instead, her hand betrayed her and covered Ari's.  She watched in fascination as her thumb, quite of its own mind, stroked the softness of the other woman's skin. 

Looking from their hands to Tegwyn's face and seeing the hooded pain, Ariena felt a bolt of clarity hit her right between the eyes.  Somehow, she knew this was to do with her.   Something had changed.  Something that had deeply affected Teg.  Blinking in shock, she realized that Tegwyn was expecting the blow to come from her.

It was a decidedly odd feeling indeed.  To understand that you had that kind of power over someone who had hurt you so badly.  Ari decided she didn't care for it much.  Revenge had always been something that she'd found too painful to even contemplate.  Not even when she was a child, it had always seemed to be self-defeating. 

Instead, understanding and words had been her version of revenge.  More than one bully had found themselves laid bare by her quiet methods, to the admiration of many.  Teg might be far from a bully but it seemed words might be needed now.  "Teg, talk to me."

The words came out in a choked whisper, "I don't know if I can."

Relieved that she'd gotten some type of response, the bard continued, "This is me, Teg.  You can tell me anything."

In her despair, Tegwyn's hand dropped from Ari's, instantly feeling the loss of warmth on connection.  "Anything."

"Yes, anything," came the firm response.

'Grow up, Teg.  This is your future, your happiness you're dealing with here.  She hasn't left yet, that's good!  Believe in her, Tegwyn.  Believe in her strength and love and take a leap.'  To give herself a little space between them, Teg took a couple of steps away and then turned to regard the woman she'd never stopped loving and took a deep breath.  Blue eyes sadly looked into green as Tegwyn said, "I've been incredibly stupid.  Stupid to depths I can't even begin to explain.  That stupidity hurt the one thing I care the most about.  It hurt you."

Ari's eyes widened in surprise.  That admission had been something she never thought she'd hear from the other woman.  'Wait, did she say that she cared most about me?'

In a few short sentences, Tegwyn explained how she'd allowed herself to fall into Brycen's trap but still managed to convey the disgust she felt at herself for not trusting Ariena.  How Cerys had talked to the cook at the Bard's Guild and discovered information that had allowed the Captain to put two and two together to equal four.  The letters.  Everything.

Ari began to pace.  She was furious.  Angrier than she'd ever been in her life, in fact.  Suddenly revenge didn't seem quite so bad an idea.  There was simply no doubt that what she'd just heard was the truth.  Everything fell into place now.  The odd words that the cook at the Bard's Guild had said to her over the past couple of months, the looks, the bizarre congratulations she'd received from one of Lord Rander's staff that she hadn't even begun to understand at the time and so many other things. 

Oh yes, revenge had a definite benefit to it right at that moment.  Revenge against Brycen for deliberately betraying her trust and she didn't even want to think what else.  Revenge against Tegwyn for giving up so easily on their love.  Revenge against everyone and anyone who had assisted with this lie.  Revenge against Cer... 

Ari turned, repeatedly bunching her hands into fists and releasing her fingers, and looked at the tall woman standing watching her with fearful eyes.  "Cerys," she whispered.  "Cerys did this.  Helped me.  Why?" 

It was impossible for Tegwyn to not admire Ariena, to get lost in the sparks flying from her angry eyes but she managed to answer the question, in a fashion.  "Do you want the short answer or the honest truth?"

Taking a few steps towards the tall woman, Ari growled, "Always the truth, Tegwyn.  I don't care how long it takes or how hard it is.  Do you understand?"

Nodding, Teg nevertheless dropped her eyes.  Truth was something she'd not been able to keep up with lately, especially when in regards to Ari and her feelings.  "I understand," she verified with words.  "Cerys told me that she had known all along that she was just standing in for you.  That she'd deluded herself for a while but knew that I had always been and would always be yours."

"She did it because she loves you," Ariena softly concluded.

"She said she wanted me to be happy and only one person could give me that.  She believes that person is you."  Teg winced as the last words came out; it hadn't sounded exactly as she'd wanted.  A detailed exploration of the wooden floor seemed a good idea.

'And what do you think about that, Tegwyn.' There was a mental snort as the anger started to drain away with the revelation of Cerys' selfless act.  'And lest you forget, what do you want, Ariena.'   She had to admit it was ironic, that the one person she thought had 'done her wrong' had actually done nothing wrong and everything right.   'What now, m'girl?' 

There had been enough misunderstanding, enough pain because of words not spoken.  Straightforward questions seemed a good path for the moment and Ariena latched onto that thought.  "She believes?"

Even though she'd known Ariena would almost certainly pick up on the gaff, Tegwyn hadn't expected the question and looked up in surprise, quite easily understanding what Ari was asking.  "I know it too, I always have.  I just ... I don't ..."

Grabbing the moment and wrestling it to her satisfaction, Ariena's attention firmly focused on the tall woman before her and she closed the gap between them.  "You don't what?" she asked, unwilling to let anything be unsaid now.

Never removing her gaze, Tegwyn replied, "I don't ... deserve you."  Holding her breath as Ariena turned away from her, she felt her heart rate increase.

Ariena thought about that for several moments, letting the experiences of the last few days flash through her mind.  There had been so many different feelings, different ups and ... mostly downs.  She knew it would be incredibly easy to crush Tegwyn right now, to give her back some of the pain she herself had felt in the recent past but that thought was brushed away as quickly as it arrived.  That wasn't what she was about.  That wasn't what she wanted. 

However, that brought her back to the question of what she wanted.  What Tegwyn wanted.  There was little point in ignoring the rather important fact that she wanted Tegwyn, had always wanted Tegwyn.  If she could forgive, if they could move on, what Tegwyn wanted.  Turning back to the face the tall woman, she moved closer and waited until Tegwyn's eyes met her own.  Until she could look into those eyes and see the depths of the other woman's soul when she asked with infinite tenderness, "What do you want, Teg?"

Barriers fell away and Tegwyn's hand trembled as she slowly brought it up to Ariena's face.  There was no time and everything to say.  She could hear her heart pounding in her ears and her mouth was as dry as the worst of the deserts in the Outlands as her eyes searched the depths of the jade green eyes staring intently at her.

So much to say.  'If only eyes and hearts could tell the whole story,' trickled into her mind as she licked her lips.  Then, her hand finally met the softness she doubted she would ever stop needing to touch and she felt the connection down to her very toes.

Almost melting as Ariena leaned into the caress, she began haltingly, "I want ... "  Pausing, she tried to come up with the words and almost lost them completely as Ariena's eyes moved to a half lidded position. 

"You," the new Lord breathed.  "All of you.  Everything." 

Her own eyes began to tear as the first drop of molten crystal from Ari's eyes flowed down the other woman's cheek and onto her fingers.  Resisting the urge to move her fingers over the silken skin and carefully sweep away the precious fluid she continued, "Ari, ... you have my heart and my soul.  You always have." 

Ariena felt her breath catch in her chest as Tegwyn's dark hair poured over her shoulder and swung freely on one side, causing shadows to partially veil her angled face.  She wanted so much to believe that this was everything she'd wanted to hear but even if it was, could she forgive and forget so easily?

"But, know this ... I need you.  I need you in my life.  Always."  Tegwyn tried to let everything she felt for the woman in front of her show in her face, as a single tear spilled over and down her own cheek.  "And know this truth spoken with everything I am.  There is no one else that I need to share my life.   And there is no one else who belongs in my arms but you."

Swallowing her fear and emotion and scared silly by Ariena's lack of words, Tegwyn prayed she was getting through to the woman she loved and her head bowed.  "I've made such foolish mistakes.   I've not trusted what I should've but I have always loved you." 

A single halting question crested Ariena's lips, "Always?"

The answer was immediate, "Always.  Please never doubt that, never doubt me.  I need you, my love.  I love you.  Please forgive me."

Ariena's knees buckled but she reached up to make sure that the contact with Tegwyn wasn't lost, even as she put her other hand behind her and luckily found a chair.  Almost lightheaded, she thumped down in the wooden chair and almost managed a smile as Teg followed her all the way, never losing touch. 

The blonde found herself in the unusual position of looking down at the blue eyes that had captured her so completely from the first time she'd seen them.  She searched the sky blue infinity in front of her and saw everything she had ever wanted to see, ever wanted to know. 

The love that she had always wanted within her grasp and the devotion she thought was gone forever.  She could also see the fear in the depths of those startlingly blue eyes and the rigidity of Teg's muscles waiting for the worst pain of her life if Ari rejected her pleas. 

Could she trust?  Could she let Tegwyn have that much power over her again?  Could she turn away everything she'd always wanted?   It was a terrible decision to make this way.  An impossible choice in an impossible situation.   It was this moment she would remember later, this decision that would change her life.

And then it was made. 

Taking a deep breath, Ari found herself diving into Tegwyn's waiting arms and hugging her with a strength that even surprised herself.   As her lips easily and greedily found Tegwyn's, she realized that it hadn't been the doubts and fear that had finally made her choose. 

It had been the pain she felt the instant she thought of letting Tegwyn go and the bone deep knowledge that what they had was the only thing that would let them survive because apart they wouldn't make it.   At least, she knew she wouldn't make it because nobody could ever fill the place that Teg held in her heart and soul.

Volcanic heat rose instantly between them and Ari found herself baring her neck for Tegwyn's insistent lips.  The other woman's teeth would stop occasionally and nip at the soft flesh under them and the resulting tingle would pulse right down to her groin.   She moaned her approval and suddenly found blue eyes searching her own green from very close. 

"Are you ... "

Knowing what Teg was going to ask, Ari interrupted with her lips on Teg's.  Crushing herself into Tegwyn's arms, she thought perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her when she suddenly felt herself flying and then she opened her eyes to find that she was indeed flying, in Teg's arms. 

Tegwyn pulled her head back and licked her lips, her breathing fast and hard.  She looked deeply into Ariena's eyes, wanting to see the approval that she dared to hope for as she slowly moved them both closer to the bed. 

She found it in the smile that graced the fair face of the woman she loved.  In the fingers that lovingly caressed her cheek.   In the green eyes that sparkled with tears.   In the lips that met hers once again and the hands that circled her neck and stroked her hair. 

Carefully laying the most important prize she'd ever won on the bed's quilt, Teg held herself over Ariena's body with her elbows locked and looked down at the flushed face of the woman she loved with every part of herself.  Even in the deepest throes of passion with Cerys, it had never been what it was at this very moment.  The soul searing connection that she felt with this woman in her arms caused any other memories to burn to ashes. 

She thought about how she would never be able to explain her need to be close to the blonde every minute she could, how the thought of losing her had almost driven Rhyllen's new lord to insanity.  Indeed, the thought of Ari being in someone else's arms was enough to make the tall woman go mad all by itself.   She wanted to be able to tell Ari everything.  To tell her what she meant.

Thoughts ran rampant through her mind as she tenderly stroked Ariena's blonde locks.  Deliberately circumventing the blonde's slightly swollen lips, she tasted her neck, chin, eyelids and forehead in a rain of kisses so soft they were barely felt but obviously eagerly soaked up. 

Ari simply couldn't speak and that was a situation she wasn't sure had ever happened before.  She was where she wanted and needed to be, in Teg's arms.  Her body was on fire and that fire was being stoked to further heights by the sensation of Teg's lean body against her own and the lips that were dealing little deaths with each touch.  Trying to convey what she was feeling would be impossible. 

Instead, she brought her hands to either side of Tegwyn's face, barely resisting the urge to revel in the soft skin under her fingers, and looked deeply into the blue eyes.  After a short while she spoke the words she felt were carved into her heart.  "I love you.  With everything I am."  Then admitted, "From the first moment I saw you standing in that barn, so imperious with your hands on your hips.  I was yours."

Pulling the dark head closer, Ari waited until Tegwyn's mouth was within range and then lined the other woman's lips with her tongue before pressing her lips to the other woman's in short and sweet connections at first.  Then two fingers lightly massaged the nape of the dark haired woman's neck as several more moved to press Teg's head closer and allow Ari to fully capture all of the sweetness being offered. 

Pressing against soft Ari's lips, Tegwyn could feel a heady sensation bubbling up from her very toes as a groan swelled from the center of her being and her hips pushed closer seeking some form of release.  The blonde's touch was akin to quicksilver and lava combined and it burned a path straight through the tall woman's body. 

Unable to wait, her tongue explored the delicate edge of the blonde's lips and plunged inside her warm mouth, owning her taste for what felt like truly the first time.  The carnality of the moment surprised the Lord and the raw desire that surrounded them both was intoxicating.  Her tongue slid inside the darkness and danced with Ari's as her body let her know that it needed and wanted more.

Craving Teg's touch, Ari's body required something that only the other woman could give and that knowledge freed a part of her that she had been holding deep inside.  Unlocking that particular door and setting her passion free, she released Teg's lips and felt the trembling take hold of her as she whispered into eyes filled with a depth of yearning she'd never imagined, "I've waited so long.  Be with me."


Barely heard, the response filtered into Ari's mind and echoed through her body in a raw, blatant, pulsing want that scattered and reformed every time Tegwyn devoured a different part of her neck and shoulders.

Suckling on another tender piece of neck, Tegwyn slowly undid and slid down Ari's loose blouse until the swell of her breasts became visible.  As she began to move the blouse further down and followed it with her wet lips, it was as if nothing else existed but the woman in her arms. Tendrils of desire began to lick her tall frame as if the two conjoined bodies were creating fire itself. 

The tingle of rising goosebumps sent jolts of need crawling down Ari's spine to pool in her groin and spiral out in waves that threatened to crush the strongest of wills.   It was time to let her own hands roam.  Pulling Teg's shirt free of the restrictive belt that held it in place, Ari quickly slid her hands underneath and she found the skin soft and hot under her touch. 

As Teg's dark head bent to trace a wet path on her chest, Ari dragged a finger lightly around from Teg's shoulder blade to her chest and brought her hand around to  cup a heavy breast.   When she felt Tegwyn's breath catch, as her thumb grazed an already hardened nipple, insecurity caused the blonde to pull back slightly.   Only for a second, though, until Teg's larger hand covered her own and pressed the smaller hand back against the breast.

A flash of simmering blue and the tongue circling her own soft skin swept away any doubts and Ari's fingers lightly traced their way to the waiting peak.  Rolling it gently between her fingers, Ari had an overwhelming desire to feel the texture with her mouth when all sense was lost as the heat of Teg's mouth surrounded her own nipple and strong fingers manipulated the other. 

Tongue and fingers worked in tandem, circling and then descending on both nipples until they were both almost painfully hardened under Teg's touch. 

It was also too much right then and there, Ari's senses were on complete overload and she had to laugh to herself, after finding a few brain cells not otherwise occupied, about the fact that they weren't even undressed yet.   Then Teg was moving her arms above her head and soon more goosebumps were rising, this time because of the cool air against her now naked upper body and a few more brain cells went into hiding. 

Teg couldn't help herself, she needed the feel of Ariena's skin against her own.  Removing the blouse and then quickly adding her own shirt to the pile was accomplished in seconds.  The delicious sensation of Ariena's smooth, silky skin sliding under her own was breathtaking.  As she covered Ari's body with her own, she almost cried out as her incredibly sensitive nipples scraped against Ari's breasts and then pressed in to the soft flesh. 

Smiling, as Ari's legs instinctively parted to allow her lower body to slide in-between, she kissed the hollow of the blonde's neck, licking in a circle before suckling gently, knowing that a mark would likely be left and reveling in the knowledge that it would likely not be the last such mark between them. 

Letting her head fall back against the bed, Ari bared her neck for Teg and, as the brunette's tongue lavished her neck with attention, she found her hips pressing up against the weight of the tall woman between her legs.  At first slowly and then with more determination as her body demanded release. 

Holding herself up with one arm, Teg's other hand moved to Ariena's waist and deftly undid the buckle that held the pants closed loose.  Finding Ari's mouth with her lips, she pressed down hard and her hand began to slip the pants off the blonde's hips.   A smiled curved her lips when Ari's body jumped at the first touch of the large hand on its stomach.  Using the opportunity, she pushed Ari's pants down as far as she could and deliberately allowed her hand to barely graze the soft curls that were now exposed. 

A sound that she'd never heard from herself before escaped Ari's throat at the feather touch and the sensation of Tegwyn's body sliding across her skin.  The other woman was nipping, licking, kissing and touching her way down the center of Ari's body and the blonde was almost lost in desire.   Unable to completely focus on what she was doing, her hands blindly moved to Teg's shoulders and then, as Teg slid further down, to rest in an almost carnal benediction on the dark head now hovering over her belly.

Tegwyn could feel the warm wetness pushing against her chest as she circled Ari's navel with her tongue and briefly dove in.  Repositioning herself slightly with both arms caused a flush of heat to circulate her body as it allowed the scent of Ariena's need to imprint itself on her senses. 

Knowing that the now trembling blonde was approaching the limit of teasing, Tegwyn's hand trailed down the outside of one well muscled thigh and touched a knee gently, noting that Ariena's thigh muscle clenched with the touch.  Tracing a meandering path, she let her fingers trail against the inside of the thigh in question and move toward their ultimate goal. 

As the fingers brushed the tender inner thigh, Teg positioned herself to hover over where Ariena needed her most and looked up at the woman she loved. 

It was a glorious sight. 

Ariena's jade eyes gave the illusion of being the deepest forest green in her need and a thin sheen of sweat covered the firm body.  Her breasts moved with her heavy breathing and Teg barely resisted the urge to lavish more attention on the soft mounds of flesh.

Instead, keeping her eyes firmly on the hooded green watching her intently, she leaned her head forward and licked some of the sweat from Ari's stomach, just as her hand slipped inside the silky folds.  A jolt of pure wanton desire made her own hips buck as she felt the steamy, slick heat welcome her presence. 

Concentrating on bringing her partner to the heights of pleasure, she lowered herself completely so that her body was lying almost completely on the bed and was rewarded by Ariena's musk suffusing her senses in a tide of need.

Taking her now free hand, Teg moved it back up to begin to rhythmically squeeze Ari's breast and toy with a nipple by gently pulling and then rolling it between her fingers.

Writhing against the bed's quilt scratching against her back, Ari was almost beside herself.  It was as if every nerve she had was being run over with a wire brush.  There was simply nowhere else to go but wherever Tegwyn led her.

Using the now drenched hand to open the path to where she really wanted to go,  Tegwyn blew a soft breath that began at Ariena's entrance and ended at her womanhood before she lowered her mouth to gently caress the body so close to her lips. 

"Gods!" exploded from Ariena at the first touch of Tegwyn's mouth on her sensitive flesh.  Quite without her permission, she found her own hand covering Tegwyn's on her breast and her back arching into the touch, just as her hips were pressing as far as they could to get closer to the talented lips.

Tegwyn spent a few precious seconds on a quick glance to reassure that all was well and then moved back to her prize.  A groan escaped her quite accidentally as she once again tasted what surely had to be the nectar of the Gods. 

She wanted to be everywhere at once. 

Her tongue swirled around Ari's womanhood, then moved on to lap at the moist crevices and delve into the creases.   Wanting every drop for her own.  Heat on heat.

Letting her teeth ever so lightly graze against Ari's center, she slid her mouth down and circled the other woman's entrance with her tongue.  Teasing a dip inside that was unbelievably difficult to not follow through, she slipped her hand into position and lifted her head back up to suckle once more. 

Ari felt the slight pressure against her entrance and immediately looked down to where the perfect image of every fantasy she had ever had in her life rested.  The sultry, oh so present longing in the misty blue pools shot shafts of desire through her limbs, she swallowed to wet her incredibly dry mouth and repeated the word she'd heard just a short time before, "Yes."

Lifting her mouth from the sweetness she craved was one of the hardest things she'd ever done, but Tegwyn needed to say something.  With a voice that was hoarse from a multitude of emotions, she whispered, "Look at me.  Watch me love you."

Feeling her body react to the husky request, Ariena knew she was simply lost. 


And, that feeling only deepened when heat surrounded her core again and Tegwyn slipped a finger inside.   Instantly, her body welcomed the length and she began to move against it, slowly pumping her hips in time with the gentle thrusts and pull against her center.  But, she never lost track of the eyes that held hers.

Flicking her tongue and suckling softly, Tegwyn slipped another finger into the over heated channel and increased the pace of the rhythm.  It wasn't long before she felt Ariena tighten and begin to pulse around her as they moved in synch to a ritualistic dance that was older than time. 

Teg watched her lover's eyes slide closed as her body surrendered to the insistent ecstasy that hammered inside.  The lamp light cast a burnished, healthy glow to Ari's skin and cast interesting shadows along her body.   It was amazing.  The sight before her was ...   If artisans could capture Ariena's beauty at the moment of her release, they would be showered in gems and gold for the rest of their lives.  She was perfection itself and everything she'd always wanted in a lover. 

There simply weren't words. 

Rather than try, she lovingly brought her new lover down from the dizzying heights with tender touches and tastes.  Until green eyes looked through sweat matted blonde bangs and caught Tegwyn in their net. 

Teg couldn't resist the pull of the fathomless depths and, after laying the softest of kisses where she'd just been, she wiped her face on an errant sheet and trailed a feather light path up to Ariena's face.  Then she devotedly worshiped Ariena's face, painting the flushed skin with the love of a true devotee.

"I love you," the dark haired woman whispered into Ariena's ear as she suckled a lobe.

Not willing to let herself drown in the passion again without making her own statement, Ariena surprised Tegwyn by twisting her hips and swiveling to rest on knees positioned on either side of Teg's thighs.  Looking down at the woman who was now beneath her, she was struck by the beauty that was offering itself to her.  By the love and pride that shone in the eyes intent upon her and the heat radiating from the skin. 

And then she noticed something else.

Bending down, Ari nibbled at Teg's lips before capturing them in a sizzling kiss.  Gliding along, she moved her mouth to Teg's ear and blew a tiny breath before stating, "You are my dream come true."

Stroking a diamond hard nipple, she spoke again, "My love."

Her fingers rolled the other nipple, "My life." 

Her hand moved down and her mouth shifted to the neglected ear.  "But... "

In a daze, Teg's heart lunged at Ariena's last word.

"You have far too many clothes on," the blonde teased as she loosened the loose weave trousers that Tegwyn still wore and proceeded to create her own memories of the love she hoped they'd share for as long as they lived.

Quite some time later, Ari blinked sleepily.  Not sure what had woken her up, she looked down fondly at the dark fan of sleep mussed hair that was spread over one of her breasts.   Tegwyn's cheek lay on the other and a soft, warm breath warmed the center of her chest. 

Her hand lifted up to brush bangs out of Teg's eyes, sensing that even though this particular action would normally wake Rhyllen's Lord it would be safe this time.  The dark haired woman's face relaxed into a much younger version of Teg in sleep and Ari couldn't help but find it endearing. 

Words bubbled up into her mind, floating into her tired consciousness.

Leave the world for a while, 

rest here, safe in my arms.

Spend a moment to smile,

as I stand against all harm.

Close your eyes and dream,

let me lead you to peace.

Everything is at it seems,

I am your life's release.

Let me look at your face,

to see the ache fade away.

Smooth the lines I trace,

with love's touch every day.

Praying that she would always be able to give Tegwyn the peace she needed, exhaustion began to take its toll on the blonde and she wearily slipped back into the depths of sleep vowing to do whatever was necessary to make sure that she would fulfill that vow.


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