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Riding Out the Storm
Merryn couldn't help but get the shivers as she walked the halls of the giant cathedral. Where others saw beautiful windows made of colorful glass, depicting the saints in all their saintly duties, she heard cruel words and saw a fist flying through the air, nearly smacking a young girl off her stool as she tried to please the sisters with her washing skills.
Her eyes scanned the windows, which bled red, blue and yellow on the floor of the sanctuary. She looked up to see Christ looking down at her, his eyes half-hooded as he blessed his faithful, only to be nailed to a cross the next pane over.
As onlookers marveled at the finely carved wood, and beautifully sculpted saints, Merryn saw a confused child, forever wondering what she'd done so wrong to deserve the wrath of the nuns who swore to protect her.
A worthless letch like your mother!
The words still echoed in her mind, like her boot steps echoed upon the fine marble of the cathedral floor. The smooth beauty had been pilfered from the ancient statues and palaces in Rome, scavenged and sold for a pretty price.
Moving further into the sanctuary, Merryn studied the rows of highly polished pews, which were dotted by bowed heads and the soft sobbing of a woman near the front.
As blue eyes scanned the parishioners, she saw a familiar blonde head, bobbing slightly as its owner rocked. Walking down the center aisle of the sanctuary, she quietly scooted into the pew next to Cara. The girl's eyes were closed, her hands clasped together, lips moving in silent conversation, but with whom?
She waited patiently for the blonde to finish, and her eyes to open. The girl seemed startled to find Merryn sitting next to her.
"Who were you speaking to, lass?"the brunette asked quietly, eyes twinkling. Cara looked away, embarrassment coloring her young face.
"You lie. T'weren't it the job of the Father to be doin' your talking for ya?"Merryn asked, nodding her head toward the priest at the front of the sanctuary. Cara followed her indication, then looked down at her hands, which fidgeted in her lap.
"I can't tell the priest what I need to tell God,"the blonde softly explained. Dark brows drew.
"And why not?"
"They'd call me a witch and do away with me,"the blonde answered, fear coloring her eyes. Merryn studied Cara for a moment, knowing the truth of those words. She nodded agreement. After considering what she'd been told, she looked to her friend again.
"What do you tell him?"she asked, her voice soft. Cara studied her for a moment, trying to make out the sincerity of the question. Seeing nothing but honest curiosity, and feeling that she could trust her friend with what she was about to say, the blonde looked around, making sure no one was nearby.
"I hear a voice in my head, Merryn,"she whispered. The brunette's first impulse was to laugh, but when she saw the earnesty in those deep, green eyes, her mirth died in her throat.
"What do they say?"
"It tells me what I must do, to help someone. It's almost as if,"Cara thought for a moment, trying to get the right words, "as if a picture of the root or herb, or combination thereof floats before my eyes, and then I know what I must do. It guides me, Merryn,"she said, her voice growing even softer. "It guides my hand. Am I crazy?"
Merryn looked at the young woman for a moment, contemplating this question for long minutes. Finally she smiled, shaking her head. "No, lass. Seems you're blessed."
Cara's eyes dropped, her gratitude palpable. She'd never been able to tell anyone of her gift. Not even her mother or Father Steffen knew the full scope. Shining green eyes finally met twinkling blue.
"Nonsense, 'tis I who should thank you."Merryn grew serious for a moment, holding Cara with a piercing gaze. "Ye saved my life yet again, lass. How did you get me here?"
"Brogan pulled a liter I built for you."
"Brogan? My native tongue,"she whispered, then smiled with a nod. "She is a sturdy one, t'isn't she?"
Cara beamed, pleased her friend understood. "Aye."
Merryn looked around the sanctuary again, noting a few of the sick being brought through the doors.
"Can we leave this place?"
"Do you feel strong enough, Merryn? We can stay-"
"We should go,"the brunette said, standing. "The black sickness spreads to this place. Can feel death crawling around here,"blue eyes scanned the sanctuary, almost as if Merryn were looking for death herself.
"God be with you, child,"Sister Agatha of Renault whispered, hugging the blonde close. Pulling away gently, she looked into the soft green eyes. "You're certain you can't stay awhile? The ill could use such a friendly face and kind word."She smiled, her plump face seeping from her habit. Cara smiled in return.
"I'm sorry, Sister, but I must go."
"I understand."Turning to Merryn, the nun took the somewhat resistant girl into a gentle embrace. "I'm sorry we weren't able to outfit you properly, child,"she said, eyeing the brunette's masculine clothing. "'Twas good your brother had clothing for you to wear."
Merryn said nothing, briefly glancing at her friend, then smiling with a curt nod. "I was lucky."
As the two left, Merryn glanced over at Cara, a question in her eyes that she need not speak.
"They wanted to bring you before the magistrate for dressing like that,"the blonde explained. "I told them your house went up in flames, and you grabbed what you could."
"Good thinking, lass."Merryn chuckled softly. "This world is no place for a woman."A short burst of savage coughing followed her words, causing the brunette to pause for a moment, hand resting on a wagon they were passing. Cara was immediately at her side.
"All you alright, Merryn?"She rubbed the girl's back, under her cloak. Finally the brunette nodded.
"Fine, lass. Just pushin' the rest out."Taking Brogan's reins from the blonde, Merryn whipped herself up onto the mare's back. Looking down at the smaller girl, she held her hand down to her. "Come up, lass. 'M too tired to be walkin."
Cara took the taller girl's heavily calloused hand, feeling herself being nearly yanked off her feet. She hugged the massive animal's body between her thighs as she tried to get settled on her back.
"Settled, then?"Merryn asked, glancing over her shoulder. From the weak nod she got, she clicked her tongue, and nudged the horse into motion.
They rode on in silence, Cara's arms wrapped around the waist of the girl sitting before her. It had been frightening for the blonde, watching her friend become so ill and weak. Merryn had more pride than any king's soldier the girl had ever seen. Merryn had fought hard for the freedom she prized above all else, and for her to become slave to sickness, well. Cara knew the brunette had not been in her right mind to allow Cara to care for her so completely. She never would have allowed Cara to rock her to sleep, the brunette's fevered head in the blonde's lap, a soothing lullaby frosting the air.
Though Cara was not afraid to be alone, and in fact oft craved isolation, she had always had her mother and sister around her. She had always taken for granted that no matter what, at the end of the day, they'd be there for her to go home to. Her mother and Grace loved her unconditionally, as she loved them, and she never worried of judgment or doubt in her abilities. Fact was, more than once Mary had tried to talk her daughter into taking her healing abilities outside their small village. The girl refused, shy and unwilling to leave her people.
Now she felt so far away. Her village, her people, her family, felt like a lifetime ago. Cara knew herself to be a different person now than she was then. Yes, she had Merryn, but one thing the strong brunette had taught her was to rely on herself, never on anyone else. The help of others was like smoke- it looked thick, smelled strong, and felt against the skin. But the slightest shift in wind, and it would float away.
Cara turned her head, resting her cheek against Merryn's back, needing to feel that wisp of smoke for just a moment. She felt a winter-chilled hand brush against her own, which made her smile. Just the briefest of contact, that she had no doubt Merryn hadn't even realized she'd made.
Nothing more had been said about parting ways, and Cara didn't figure there would be. She figured if nothing else, she'd managed to prove to Merryn that she could serve some purpose, even if it was a killer shot with a sling shot, and able to save the brunette's life from time to time.
"Cara?"Merryn said later that night, both laying on their separate bedrolls. The blonde, lying on her back, turned to meet blue eyes made gray from the fire. Merryn lay on her side, facing the smaller girl, hands tucked under her chin. Their blankets and cloaks covered both girls nearly completely, only their faces visible. "Tell me about your mother and your sister."
Cara turned to look into the Heavens again, swallowing hard, then nodding. She began her tale, voice soft and hushed.
"My mother, Mary, was a kind, loving woman. She could be tough as nails, need be."She smiled at random memories parading through her head. "But all in all she was tender. Oh, she loved Grace and I,"she whispered the words with vehemence. "T'would do anything for us. And she did."
"What did she look like?"Merryn whispered, her eyes scanning her friend's profile, seeing the way the firelight danced along the bones in the girl's brow, outlining the shape, shadowing her eyes. The straight nose, a golden tip in flames. She watched as Cara's mouth moved, lips forming the words, tongue peeking out from time to time in the formation of a sound, or to absently lick dry lips, or rid them of random spittle.
"Her hair was darker than mine, though not nearly as dark as yours,"Cara glanced at her friend, seeing she had her full attention. She smiled at that, quickly returning to her story, and her gaze of the stars. "Her eyes were so sad. Always sad and tired. A hard life she had. Had the chance to marry a Duke, you know."She shook her head with a sigh. "Flat refused because Grace and I were not to be part of her new life. She could have gotten out of the squalor, out of the dirt and the cold and the sickness,"her voice trailed off, lost in thought and memory. Oh, how she'd fought with her mother, trying to convince her that the young girl could take care of Grace.
"A brave soul, lass. I now see where you get it."Merryn smiled softly at the surprised look she received. Cara's eyes fell, suddenly shy and embarrassed.
"And then there was Grace."It almost hurt more to talk about her small sister, than it had her mother. "What troubles she caused our mother,"the sadness was replaced with a smile that lit up Cara's face brighter than the firelight. "Oh, what a villain she was. Her hair, so blonde, so thick. We once sold her hair for a gold piece. It was cut and used to stuff a mattress,"Cara laughed quietly at the memory. "Less than a season and it was long again."
"She was."Cara nodded in agreement. Sighing, she turned to her side, grunting softly as she got herself settled, mirroring Merryn's position. "I didn't get to say goodbye to Grace,"she continued. "She was not with our mother."Sighing, she looked at Merryn. "I miss them."
"I know you do, lass. I know you do."To both their surprise, the brunette reached out her hand, gently wiping away a single tear that had just managed to escape one of the beautiful green eyes. Cara smiled at the tender gesture, Merryn smiling in turn. The hand remained placed gently against the blonde's face, Cara's eyes closing as she absorbed the touch. The lack of affection almost bothered her the most.
When Sister Agatha had hugged the girl, Cara had wanted to cry. She needed to be hugged, and found it more and more difficult to not attack Merryn, insisting on a daily hug.
Green eyes opened as the touch slowly drifted away.
"Ride, lass! Ride!"Merryn cried, her long legs pumping as fast and hard as they could, her cloak flying out behind her, along with her hair.
Clicking her tongue, Cara got Brogan moving, her own hair flying away from her face as she ducked under branch after branch, heart pounding like mad.
The brunette reached their small cave within moments of Cara getting the mare tied to a tree just outside the lip. She was gathering wood from the pile gathered the night before when she heard the heavy footfalls, and Merryn's wild, erratic breathing.
"You're going to get us killed, Merryn,"she said, partially scolding the darker girl, partly laughing at her.
"Rubbish,"the brunette panted, tossing her goods to the stone floor, then bending over at the waist, hands resting on her thighs to catch her breath. "He was a fast bugger, though,"she conceded, taking the water skin Cara passed to her.
"Indeed, his belly like a bowl of animal lard to boot,"the blonde teased, garnering a glare as Merryn tied the skin shut.
"Stuff it, or I'll take those back to him,"she admonished, pointing to the boots. Eyes opening wide, Cara hurried over to the stolen goods, fingers touching the fine, rich leather of the boots, of which she'd never owned a pair.
"Thank you, Merryn,"she squealed, rushing over to the taller girl, crushing her in an enthusiastic hug. Though Merryn did her best to look annoyed, she couldn't help but be pleased by the blonde's reaction.
Cara lugged the heavy boots with her to a rock near the cold fire ring, forgetting all about the lack of warmth for the moment. She tugged off her own turnshoes, which were badly worn and in need of repair or destruction. She'd dismantle them and find a new purpose for the leather. Tugging the boots on, her eyes closed in pleasure at the instant warmth.
Merryn chuckled at the pleasurable sigh that echoed in their stone hideaway. Kneeling next to the fire ring, within moments new flames colored her features orange. She smirked as the small blonde clomped around the cave, nearly falling to her face in the oversized, unfamiliar footwear.
"Don't fall and smash yur face in, lass. 'M afraid ye'd have to stay smashed. I don't have the healin' touch you do."
Cara glared at her friend, making her way over to the pouch of goodies that had been dropped with the boots. Digging through them, she was pleased to see Merryn had managed to get everything she asked for- suet, flour, and nuts. The raisins and spices she already had.
Ordering Merryn to fill the pot with water, she turned to her own pack. Bringing out a small, thick piece of cloth, as well as the rest of the ingredients needed for their Christmas meal.
"How long, how long, how long?"Merryn excitedly asked from behind the blonde, chin almost resting upon Cara's shoulder. The blonde grinned, shrugging the taller girl away.
"Have the virtue of patience,"she said, hearing the brunette smirk from further away.
"One I do not possess, lass."
"I hadn't noticed,"Cara gave her friend a mischievous grin. Stuffing the cloth full of the ingredients, the blonde pulled the cloth up into a bag-type container, tying off the neck tightly with a length of rope. The water in the pot was just beginning to warm, so she gingerly sank the bundle into the depths.
"I got us something to go with supper,"Merryn said with a grin. She opened her cloak, unhooking a wine skin from her baldric. Green eyes lit up, only having a sip of wine but a few times in her short life. She made her way over to her friend, trying not to trip over the unfamiliar footwear. It felt so strange having something fit so snugly against her calves, and the lack of the constant breeze that found its way over the tops of her feet, only covered by the heaviest stockings she could find, with the turnshoes.
Merryn was amused at the girl's antics, looking over her shoulder, down at the new, full leather boots. Cara watched as the firelight gleamed off the brown leather heels.
"Let me have a breeze of that,"the blonde said, finally reaching the darker girl, having enough of her boots for the time being.
Merryn handed the blonde the wine skin, after taking her own long, satisfying draw. The brunette sighed in contentment, relaxing with a smile and hooded eyes as she watched her friend sip cautiously, face screwing up as the girl tasted the bitter drink.
"Wuh,"Cara shivered as the drink singed down her throat, boiling into her stomach. She handed the skin back to her friend, sitting next to her.
"'Tis good stuff,"Merryn sighed, capping the skin. It was their only one, and it was not for wasting. Cara looked at her friend like she had just grown into a dragon.
"'Tis."The brunette nodded, glancing over at her friend as she rested her head back against the cave wall. Cara matched her position. She smiled at the taller girl.
"Thank you for the boots, Merryn."
"Merry Christmas,"the brunette said in lieu of a response.
"You don't celebrate Christmas,"the blonde said softly.
"But you do, lass,"Merryn said equally as soft.
Not knowing what to say, so pleased was she, Cara continued to stare at her friend. She searched Merryn's eyes, such a rich blue, bright and inviting, filled with the fire of her heritage. Her gaze moved around the brunette's face, seeing the high cheekbones, a strand of hair, so dark, starkly contrasting with those eyes. She reached over, running her fingers across the smooth forehead, smoothing that strand away.
"How are you feeling?"she whispered, noting that Merryn hadn't had one of her coughing fits in days.
"Fine as wine,"the brunette smiled, the blonde smiled in turn.
"I have a poet in my midst,"
"Far from it, lass. More like a wanderer with no place to wander to."Merryn smiled, though it was sad. Her eyes fluttered closed when she felt those fingertips drift along her arched brow, gently sliding down along her temple to her cheek.
Cara watched as the long lashes trembled a bit just before they lifted as Merryn's eyes opened.
"There is such strength in you, Merryn,"Cara whispered, her fingers running along one of those cheekbones, following down to the proud jaw line. "You can do anything,"
"Shh,"resting a finger to Merryn's lips. "'Tis true. I have faith in you. A strong leader, you are."Cara smiled sweetly. "I know I'd follow you anywhere."
"And I'd take you, Cara."The brunette shook her head. "Won't leave you behind."
Cara sighed in contentment. How was it that the most profoundly painful time in her life was quickly morphing into the most wondrous? With that, the sound of boiling water stole bother their attention.
The blonde crawled over to the fire, using a dagger to poke at the bundle, gentle enough to not rip the material of the makeshift bag.
"'Tis good news. 'M just about ready to feast on those new, shiny boots o yers."Merryn smirked, tapping the boots in question with her blade. Cara glared at the taller girl over her shoulder, making the brunette laugh outright.
"Christmas dinner is served,"Cara said, lifting the bag from the water, carefully lying it on the stone floor. She cut the steaming rope, using the dagger to slowly peel the material away from the prize inside. "Lovely, lovely,"she whispered, seeing what lie beneath.
Merryn watched as the blonde laid the food on a flat stone, slicing it with her dagger. She cut into the hard, fatty meat that had once encased the kidney of a sheep, the goodies inside spilling out.
Cara licked her fingers, the sweet sugar- nut mixture covering their tips. Humming in pleasure, she placed a large piece in their one bowl, handing it to Merryn. By the raised brow, Cara placed a hand to her hip.
"Tell me you've had plum pudding before?"she asked, incredulous. Merryn shook her head, leaning in to sniff. "Well, then you are in for a treat,"she assured, joining her friend by the wall again, her own portion balancing on a cloth.
"Lucky for you I'm hungry enough to eat enythin'."
"Lovely,"Cara said dryly, eyes closing in utter pleasure as the first bite was taken. She chewed slowly, savoring each and every taste sensation that exploded in her mouth. Merryn sniffed one last time, then took the hunk of a piece, ripping at it with her teeth, cheeks rounded with the mouthful. A sip of wine helped it to go down even better.
"Not bad, lass,"she finally admitted, tearing another hunk off.
"Thank you. I must agree."
Cara stopped, head tilting slightly as she listened, trying to tune out the sound of the cold water around her.
"These, Mum?"a child's voice asked. A little boy, sounded like.
"No, child. Fall over dead, ye will."
"Like da and Samuel,"the child reasoned, resigned sadness in his voice.
"They're askin' fer trouble, being so loud,"Merryn grumbled from the shores of the tiny stream. She capped their water skin, tossing it to the shore before beginning to fill the second.
"True, that."Teeth chattering, the blonde made her way from the icy waters, wringing her long, stiff hair out, gasping as the half frozen water that was released ran down her back and butt. Merryn smirked.
"Crazy as a loon, you are."
"Yes, but cccclean,"Cara glared, quickly drying herself with a few rags, and stepping into her dress. She sighed in pleasure as the dry material surrounded her chilled flesh, her heavy cloak topping off the contented sigh. She almost outright moaned as she slipped her boots on.
"I'll not get it in this life,"the brunette muttered, still thinking the blonde was crazy for bathing every time they came upon water, Cara always making sure it wasn't tainted with what she called 'the squirts'. Strange lass.
The pair heard more of the mother and son's conversation further in the forest. They spoke of everyday things, and of the village they'd left, the black sickness. It was coming back with a vengeance from the reprieve of the winter, as spring came upon them.
Cara thought about this often, and thought the correlation was most interesting. It was almost as though the source of the black sickness either died, or was halted during the cold months. She had thrilled that the horrible death had finally left the land in peace. But upon walking through the last village they had, the odor of the rotting dead had met their noses before the daily noise of the village had.
"Perhaps we should invite them to midday meal,"Cara mused, gathering the wet rags and stuffing them in her pack, where she brought out her comb.
"Bad idea, lass,"Merryn said absently, lugging both water skins to hang over her shoulders as they started away from the water, Cara carefully combing out her tangled locks, which had partially frozen together.
"But why? You heard them- they have little."
"As do we, Cara."Merryn looked the girl deep in the eye as they headed back toward the cave that had been home for the past three months. "And our supplies grow ever thin, lass,"she added when she saw the troubled look in those green eyes.
"Shh," the brunette hissed, eyes opening wide as her body became stock still. She held a hand up to ward off anything else the blonde might have to say. Were she a wolf, her ears would be perked.
"What 'tis it?" Cara whispered, trying to listen for anything out of sorts.
"Bloody hell," Merryn muttered, grabbing Cara by the arm. "Let's go, lass, and make quick of it." The brunette began to move through the trees, making little to no sound, save for the swishing of the water in the skins upon her back. Cara followed, learning the trick of the stealthy, often the one to get their supplies nowadays.
The blonde gasped as she now heard what had garnered Merryn's attention so thoroughly. Far off in the trees, though gaining, was the sound of the clanking of chain mail, and heavy boots, lots of heavy boots, and swords banging against grieve-covered legs.
Merryn prayed the regiment had no dogs with them, or they'd be done for.
"You there!" a man's voice boomed, scaring many a winter bird from their perch in the trees.
Cara's heart froze in her throat. She felt Merryn's grip on her arm again, then breath on her ear.
"Run, lass, like you've not run before,"
"Don't argue with me, Cara!"
Taking off at a dead run, two water skins fell to the forest floor. Cara ducked between and around trees, arms and legs pumping as fast as they would go, the chilled air running through her still partially frozen hair, making her teeth chatter even as the rest of her body burned.
Snagging the blonde's hand, Merryn turned their direction, sneaking through a thick patch of growth, better to cover any prints left in the new soil of spring.
The mouth of the cave gaped with a welcoming maw, both throwing themselves inside, panting as wide eyes peeked out from darkened shadows.
Far off in the woods two screams rose, one begging for the life of her child, the other crying for his mother.
"We must help them," Cara whimpered, lunging toward the day beyond the cave.
"No!" Merryn caught her, holding her tight, turning her own back to the light of day, protecting the little one.
"Let me pass, Merryn. They'll die-"
"And so will we!" Merryn hissed, shaking the small blonde by the shoulders until she had her eyes. "You can do naught."
"They'll kill them," Cara whispered, her eyes filling with tears as shrill screams filled her head. She buried her face into Merryn's chest, clutching the taller girl for all she was worth.
"I know, lass. We are no match fer them," the brunette whispered, one hand on the back of the blonde's head, the other pressing against the girl's back. They remained that way until all had returned to normal, life in the forest exploring its day.
Sniffling softly, Cara stepped away from Merryn, her green eyes bright from the tears. She used the end of her cloak to wipe her face. She was quiet as she gave her back to the brunette, taking a few steps away before turning angry eyes on her friend.
"You just let them die!" she accused. Merryn was taken aback, staring for a moment at the blonde, unsure what to say. It took not long for her anger to build.
"Do not put their fate in my hands, Cara!" she shot back. "If ye want to yell, lass, that's your bid. But yell at them!" she pointed to the day behind her, eyes on fire as she glared at the blonde.
Cara said nothing, just stared at her, blood boiling, mainly out of guilt, which she knew she was taking out on Merryn, but couldn't take it back. Instead she turned away, heading toward the fire ring. She was still deeply chilled, and needed to warm.
Growling softly to herself, Merryn turned, storming out of the cave.
"Where are you going?" Cara asked, hurrying after the brunette.
"We need supplies, lass," Merryn hissed, leaning in close to the blonde's face. "I'm going to see if those bastards left enythin'. 'Tis that alright with you?"
"No, it's not." Cara didn't flinch as the brunette's eyes narrowed, her body stiffening. "If you go and pillage from their bodies, Merryn, it makes you no better than they."
"It's called having a heart, Merryn," Cara explained, her voice softening with the passion behind her words. "Only that separates us from King Edward and his thieving, raping soldiers." She took the brunette's hand, placing it over Cara's own heart. "This," she said passionately, squeezing the larger hand. "It's what makes us strong and not an animal. Not like them." She looked deeply into Merryn's eyes. "Please don't become like them."
Merryn found herself lost in Cara's eyes, the passion of her words, and the feel of the blonde's breast beneath her hand.
As Cara looked into the brunette's eyes, she saw something wash through them, a softening, her face relaxing, then becoming pensive again. The blonde was very aware of the heat emanating through the thin material of her dress, warming her entire upper chest, her breast on fire. She realized that her heart was pounding almost painfully in her chest. She was able to feel it all the way into her temples.
Taking a small step back, Cara was able to breathe again, Merryn's hand falling back to her side. Neither said anything, both confused by the swarm of heat and unrecognizable feelings.
"I'm going to get more wood," Merryn said quietly, quickly leaving before Cara could stop her. Cara, for her part, was in a daze. She looked down at her chest, seeing that the nipple of her left breast stood at stark relief against her dress. It was almost painfully erect, sensation shooting between her legs as she covered her own breast.
"What on earth?" she breathed, confusion abounding.
Merryn walked for a long time, mindful of her surroundings in case the soldiers weren't gone. She needed time alone, space to breathe and think.
Stuffing her hands inside her cloak, she wandered back toward the stream, where she'd dropped the water skins.
"Blasted," she muttered, seeing they were gone. Kicking at a few stones that lay about, she raised her head to the Heavens, feeling the sun's warmth upon her face. She strolled along, smiling as she glanced at the nearby stream, seeing Cara freezing all over again, as she stood at the deepest point, the water coming no further than the girl's armpits.
"Crazy, lass. Ye truly are," she whispered, moving on. She knew there was a village not far, and she and Cara were running very low.
Whistling softly to herself, she tucked her hands inside her cloak. It wasn't long before she stumbled upon the violence of minutes before.
Slowing her pace, Merryn brought her hands out, lightly resting them on the trunk of a tree.
"Lord have mercy," she whispered, looking on at the carnage. The child, no more than six summers old, lay on his side, curled up, eyes closed. For him it had been quick, the red fire of a blade trailing through his middle. The blood was already freezing as it seeped from his young body.
The woman didn't fare so well.
"Oh, lass," she whispered, slowly folding to her knees, one ear tuned to all that was around her. The mother was not much older than Merryn, herself. Her skirts were torn and bloodied, the young mother's sex exposed. Her throat had been slit with the sharp point of a sword, her face forever frozen in horror and pain. It was obvious that in life the girl had not been healthy, her frame painfully thin.
Merryn had seen such scenes before, but suddenly the face of Cara flashed before her eyes. What if it were the blonde lying here in a pool of her own fear and misfortune? A rage filled the brunette that should couldn't explain or contain. Never had she felt anything but luck at finding the bodies before anyone else, before. Now, any thoughts she'd had before of pilfering from the mother and her sun were gone. She began to feel the bitter taste of vengeance on her tongue.
Swallowing it down, Merryn gathered all the belongings of the two, no doubt the soldiers finding the simple blade and empty leather pouch, not good enough to bother with. One whiff of the bag told the brunette that it had once held food for the pair. They were trying to find a meal when attacked and senselessly murdered.
"Bastards," she muttered, pulling out one of her own daggers, using it to dig a small hole in the still winter-hard ground. She placed the meager belongings in the hole and quickly pushed dirt over the top, patting it down.
No one else was going to steal from these two, either.
Turning back to the bodies, Merryn pulled the woman's skirts as into place as the tattered shreds would allow. Placing the woman's son in her arms, she bowed her head, closing her eyes, and murmured a small prayer.
"May Arawn take vengeance for you," she finished, opening her eyes and standing. Brushing her knees off, Merryn tugged her cloak around her shoulders and headed toward the nearby village.
Cara raised the torch, looking closely at the etchings and paintings. Bringing up a hand, she traced the faded lines of what looked to be an animal of some sort- big and brown, horns.
"What on earth," she murmured absently, eyes squinting in the dim, golden hue of the fire, bouncing off the stone walls, head slightly tilted to the side.
"Drawin' purty pictures, are ya, lass?"
Cara yelped at the voice in her ear, whirling around to nearly smack her friend with the torch.
"Don't do that, Merryn!" the blonde exclaimed, hand to her rapidly beating heart. Merryn smirked, raising an arm to ward off a flying hand.
"'M sorry, Cara," Merryn laughed, heading back over to their fire, setting her bundle down. The blonde took several deep breaths to get her heart under control, then followed her friend, curious of what goodies she'd brought with her.
Merryn sat next to the fire, bringing her hands to the warmth, sighing softly as she began to unthaw.
"Summer be swift," she said quietly.
"'Tis a cold night," Cara agreed, sitting across the fire from the brunette. Her eyes glance at the large stitch bag, filled with unknown prizes. She shook her head slightly, a soft smile on her lips. Merryn hadn't had that bag when she'd left earlier in the day.
Merryn met a raised golden brow across the fire. "What?" Green eyes strayed to the bag, then met her own again. The brunette chuckled, nudging the bag toward the blonde with a shove of her boot.
Quickly, and giddy like a child on Christmas morning, Cara grabbed the bag, tearing through the thin rope that held the mouth together. Figuring the bag would come in handy as they traveled, she began to bring the insides to the surface: bag of lard; vegetables of just about every type; bread; a wooden bowl.
"What's this?" she asked, bringing out something long and slender, wrapped in cloth. She glanced over the fire at a grinning Merryn. Unwrapping the thing, she finds a small, simple wooden flute inside.
"I figre you whistle enough, lass, perhaps ye c'n make music."
"Thank you!" Cara threw herself at the older girl, wrapping her arms around her neck, flute clutched tightly in her fingers.
"No worries, Cara," Merryn whispered, thrilled that the spontaneous gift made her friend so happy.
Pulling back, Cara sat back on her heels, turning the flute over in her hands.
"Well, come on, lass. Play!" Merryn encouraged, relaxing against the wall of the cave.
"I've not played one before," the blonde said shyly, glancing up at the other girl.
"Practice while I make supper."
Cara took her prize into a corner, turning it this way and that in her hands, inhaling the rich wood that made the small instrument.
Merryn watched surreptitiously watching the girl take careful, quiet and tentative toots on the flute. Green eyes would quickly glance up to see if she was being watched. Thinking she was basically alone in her little world of music, she continued on, fingers pressing over various holes, trying to see what notes would come out.
Smiling to herself, the brunette filled their pan with water, then chopped up some of the vegetables, meat, adding a small chunk of lard for flavoring. Soon enough the stew was cooking, so Merryn sat back to enjoy what she had brought for her own amusement.
Pulling out the last of her daggers, she took hold of the thick piece of branch she'd cut from a tree just outside the cave. Turning the wood round and round in her hands, she chewed on her lip as she tried to best decide where to begin. Finally she began to peel the bark from the branch.
"Merryn?" Cara asked, sometime later. She sat on her bedding, looking into the dying fire.
"Yes, lass?" the brunette answered, brows knit as she studied the thus far shapeless wood creation.
"Were they both killed?"
Blue eyes looked up, seeing only her friend's back, back arched forward as the girl wrapped her arms around her drawn legs.
"Yes, Cara. They were." Returning to her whittling, she missed the small sigh of resignation from her friend.
Green eyes snapped open, a scream of fear locked into her throat. She tried to struggle against the hand that was clasped over her mouth.
"Quiet!" Merryn hissed, close to the girl's ear. "Wake up, lass. We must go. Now!" With that, the brunette disappeared into the darkness that swamped the cave, the fire long ago burnt out.
Her sleeping mind coming into focus, Cara heard the sound of yelling me and barking dogs echoing out in the night.
"Oh, Lord," she whimpered, quickly gathering her bedding, shoving it into her pack.
"Grab only what you can, Cara. We must go!"
The blonde nodded unseen by her friend. She heard the scraping of a blade being drug across the stone floor before it was fastened to Merryn's baldric. Cara's eyes felt like they'd pop out of her head, so wide they were as she tried in vain to see through the darkness, thick as molasses.
She yelped as a hand grabbed her arm, another hand returning to her mouth. She could feel the hot breath of her friend against the side of her face.
"I need ye to listen to me, lass, and listen fast," Cara nodded at the whispered words. "The soldiers are climbin' through these woods, lookin' for enythin' alive."
Cara felt her mouth being released, and her face cupped between two warm palms. Though she could see nothing, she felt those intense blue eyes on her.
"Let us go," the blonde whispered. She felt Merryn's warm breath on her face.
"Whatever happens, Cara," Merryn said, her voice soft, yet so filled with an earnest declaration. "if we get separated, I'll find ye. I swear it to yer God, I'll find ye,"
Cara nodded, swallowing the tears of fear and love that swelled in her heart. Her eyes closed as instinct told them to. She was not surprised when she felt the softest touch against her lips, feather light and brief, but it touched her to the core of her heart.
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