For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Her smile was wide, eyes twinkling. Merryn watched golden hair blowing in the unfelt breeze, her fingers reaching out to touch it.
"Merryn," she whispered. "Merryn." A warm hand on the side of the brunette's cheek. Her eyes closed, leaning into the touch, her cheek twitched with the tickle of a single tear.
"Cara," she breathed, holding the hand to her face with her own hand covering the blonde's. "My Cara."
"Aye. Always. Forever."
Blue eyes flew open, frantically looking around. Merryn jumped to one knee, breathing heavy in frantic desperation. Heart breaking as it raced, she fell to her bum, head hanging.
Raising her face to the moonless sky, she let out a cry, the wild beast wounded. Getting to her feet, she grabbed her blade, walking over to a hapless tree. With a cry of rage, she chipped away, pieces of bark flying, hitting the brunette, a large piece cutting her cheek as it whizzed by. She didn't feel it. She didn't feel but loss.
Haunted by visions of Cara for the last month's worth of nights, she was being slowly driven mad with grief.
Falling to her knees, exhausted and emotionally broken, her hand released the grip of her blade. It clanged uselessly against the tree next to her.
Merryn looked to the skies once more, the skin of her neck chilled as a line of tears trailed down it, tickling her upper chest before her tunic absorbed them. Leaning her head against the tree, she sighed. How was it possible for someone who'd never had anything to feel like she'd lost everything?
Her face slowly crumbled, chin falling to her chest. How did a body have so many tears in it? Doesn't it run out? Oh, how Merryn wished hers would. She had nothing left to give.
Getting to shaky legs, she picked up her sword, examining the blade, looking for chinks and scratches. She ran her fingers down the length, feeling the cold steel against her flesh. Tapping her fingertip against the sharpened tip, she felt the slight sting, then warmth as a small bead of blood trickled around to her fingernail. Bringing her hand closer to her face, she watched the thin red line run slowly down her finger, the head glistening. Blue eyes slowly trailed back to the blade in her other hand.
Absently sucking her wounded finger into her mouth, she kept her eyes on the blade. The coppery taste of her own blood glazed her tongue. Bowing her head and closing her eyes, she offered a small prayer for forgiveness. Strength waning, she took her blade in both hands, closing her eyes as she looked to the Heavens. Bringing her arms up, she touched the point to her tunic-clad stomach. She could feel the slight indent on her flesh as she used a bit more pressure.
Taking a deep breath, she flexed the muscles in her arms, preparing to push.
"Please, no! Timothy!"
Merryn's eyes snapped open, pressure on her blade slightly released. Listening, she heard nothing but the early morning chatter of waking birds. Taking a deep breath, Merryn flexed her fingers around the grip, again readying herself. Holding her breath, she was about to plunge when she heard yelling, then the tell tale sound of a scuffle.
Lowering her sword completely, Merryn tried to see through the pre-dawn blackness. A gurgle, then grunt. The morning was split open by the screech of a terrified woman.
Running blindly, Merryn plowed through the foliage, hissing as branches scraped across her face and arms. She nearly tripped over a body lying on the ground before instinct took her off the ground, jumping over it and into the fray.
Without thought, she grabbed the soldier from behind, grabbing hold of his head and twisting viciously. Without a sound, he fell heavy to the ground. Blue eyes wild, saw two other soldiers, one attacking a woman, the other heading straight for her.
Heart pounding, breathing coming in shallow pants, Merryn bared her teeth, face twisting in violent rage, she met the soldier halfway. Issuing a violent kick to his gut, he fell to his knees, allowing the brunette to attack the man attacking the woman. He heard her coming, having seen his comrade fall.
With a roar, he turned on her, raising his blade. Merryn tried to move out of the way of his blow, but he managed to nick her in the arm. Ignoring the sting, she raised her blade, blocking his follow up blow. She grunted under the strength of his attack. Using all her own strength, she managed to push him off. With a violent shove, Merryn sent the woman flying out of the way.
Merryn snagged the downed soldier's blade, trying to adjust to the weight of the foreign sword. She slashed at the oncoming soldier's face with her left hand while thrusting with her right. He yelped in surprise at the double attack, jumping behind a tree, a slice of bark where his face had been.
Following, Merryn growled as she parried his thrust, using the advantage to slash again with her left hand. The steel hit its mark, the man crying out as a chunk of skin was removed from his shoulder with a zing of blade.
"Pay fer that, ye will," he growled, coming at her with full force. Merryn's eyes grew huge as she tried to follow everything he did. She was being backed up further and further until her back hit a tree, knocking the wind out of her.
She saw him coming at her, mouth open in a scream that she could no longer hear. Time slowed down as her eyes settled on his blade, new born sun glinting off its steel.
"Move, Merryn! Move!"
Cara's voice echoed in her head as her mind stopped, one foot moving before the other, her body rolling around the trunk of the tree. She heard the vibration of the blade connecting and piercing the bark, the soldier grunting at the entire body shock that ran through him. Blue eyes widened as she saw the blade mere inches from her face.
Seeing him stuck to the tree by his blade, Merryn raised her own, high over head, bringing it down to the back of his unprotected neck. She felt the blade grind into the vertebrae, neatly severing his brain stem from his spine. Merryn was jolted as the blade tip tucked into a small divot in the tree bark.
A soft hiss escaped his ruined throat, the soldier's body sagging against the blade. Afraid it would tear his head off, Merryn quickly yanked the blade free, his body falling to the ground with a metallic plop as the mail that covered his chest and legs hit the dirt.
Looking up, Merryn saw the horrified face of the woman who had backed up against a tree, a small boy hidden behind her skirts.
"Wakin' up, he is," she whispered, pointing to the other soldier. Merryn's eyes found him, groaning as he brought a hand to his head. He'd hit a rock on the way down, blood coming back on his palm.
Merryn looked at the woman. "Get outta 'ere," she hissed.
"Can't leave me husband," she said, her voice shaky with unshed tears. It was only then that the brunette saw a man lying not far from the soldier that still lived. He was obviously dead, gut slashed open.
Merryn walked over to the soldier who was trying to get to his feet. Eyes on fire, she kicked him in the gut a second time, knocking him back to the ground with a brutal cough from him. He looked up at her with questioning, pain-filled eyes.
"Why'er ye here, ye daft bastard?" She hissed. He said nothing, clutching his stomach as he began to roll to his knees. "I said, why?"
The soldier cried out, falling to his back as Merryn's boot made contact with his ribs.
"Get the lad out of here," Merryn said to the woman. The woman, ashen, nodded, grabbing her young son and hurrying into the shadows of the trees.
Merryn turned back to the soldier, falling to one knee. She grabbed him by his mail shirt. His coif fell from his head, revealing the face of a youth, barely a man. He cried out in pain, no doubt his ribs were broken. She didn't care. She doubted his fellow soldiers cared about that when they were torturing their captives.
He looked up at her, fear in his eyes.
"Yer hunt is over," she hissed. He tried to speak, but Merryn silenced him, slamming him in the mouth with her fist. A sick, crunching sound rent the air, then gurgling as the soldier began to choke on his own teeth and blood.
Without another word, she stood, looking down at the soldier who gasped for breath. His eyes were wide as the final panic settled in, his hands reaching blindly for Merryn. She stepped away, watching, jaw set, eyes cold. He choked, trying to suck in air, instead sucking his teeth further down his throat. Mouth open in a silent gasp, the soldier's body began to convulse, desperately trying to draw breath.
Merryn felt her stomach churn at her own actions, and turned away. She walked to the other soldier who lay dead at the foot of the tree. She eyed him, looking at his boots. Mentally sizing them, she squatted next to him, tugging with a grunt. Pulling off her own boots, worn from more than a year's travel, she tossed them aside. Pulling on the soldier's boots, she sighed in contentment at their comfort. Quickly tugging off his ruined coif, her blade tearing through the metal links, she turned him over, looking at the mail he wore. It was heavy, cumbersome.
Deciding to only take the boots and a water bladder filled with wine, Merryn headed back toward her own camp, wiping her blade on the jerkin of one of the dead soldiers as she passed.
Merryn felt numb, her fingers cold, wrapped around the grip of her blade. The sun's rays lit her path, warming her skin, which was pale and splattered with the blood of the soldiers. Just off the side of the path the woman sat against a tree, her son curled up in her lap. She saw the boy's eyes peeking out from under long bangs. His mother eyed her, nervous relief shining in the dark eyes.
Merryn ignored them, grabbing her baldric, slipping it over her head. Belting it into place, she slid her sword home.
Glancing over her shoulder, Merryn saw the woman, carrying her son. They stood by the tree she'd attacked earlier.
"Mightn't we travel with ye, m'lady?" she asked, her voice quiet, laced with fear. She knew not to what t think of this strange girl who dressed like a man and fought. Merryn looked at her for a moment, then turned back to her gear. She flipped her cloak across her shoulders, quickly clipping it in place.
"Why were ye attacked, lass?" she asked, flipping one side of the cloak over her back so she could tie her rope around her waist, tucking her daggers inside.
"I know naught." The woman ducked her head, shielding her eyes from piercing blue. Merryn turned to face her full on.
"Lie not, lass." Her voice was stern, irritated. She wanted to be alone, wallowing in her own self-pity, not dealing with them. It was only the murmurings of Cara's goodness that kept her from leaving them at the roadside.
The woman nodded, looking up at her with heavy eyes. "Me husband and 'lil boy was leavin' London. Death everywhere." The woman shivered at the memory, bodies piled in the streets, the stench thick and heavy. Rats crawling all over the corpses. She shivered again. "Soldiers says the rebels must die."
"Aye." The dark haired woman nodded, wisps of hair falling into her eyes.
"Soldiers thought ye were a rebel?"
Merryn studied the woman's eyes, seeing nothing but truth. She could also tell she was barely holding together. The shock would wear off, and hysteria of grief would set in. Merryn knew much about that.
"What rebels'r these?"
The woman shook her head.
"I know naught."
Merryn nodded, turning away, kneeling by the rest of her meager belongings. "Get yer belongins', lass. I leave now."
It had been a long day traveling, Merryn resentful of the duo who sat on the opposite side of the fire. She glanced at them through the flames.
A young mother with a son no more than five years of age. Her husband killed by the soldiers, his body left to rot in the forest with that of his murderers. And for what? To stop possible rebels? And what of these rebels? Rebelling against what? Whom? The king, for certain.
Merryn tossed it out of her mind. It did not concern her, nor did she care for it to. At the moment, she needed to tend to her arm, where the soldier had managed to slice.
She could feel the boy's eyes on her every move as she searched through the medicines she'd taken from the cabin, trying to decide which would work best for her wound.
Grabbing a small pinch of crushed arnica root, she mixed it with a bit of water until a thick soup was made. Letting that sit, she cleaned out the wound, already scabbed over with crusted blood. Merryn winced as she gently scrubbed the dried blood away, revealing an ugly wound.
The brunette looked up, feeling eyes on her. The small boy stood not a full arm's length away, watching, dark eyes wide with fascination.
"C'n I help ye, lad?" she asked, trying to hide her irritation. He said nothing, glancing up into her eyes before his gaze trailed back down to the wound on her arm. Deciding to ignore the boy, Merryn continued to clean the wound, tossing the soiled cloth aside. She grabbed the arnica mixture, hissing as the mixture stung. Holding her teeth together, she rubbed the mixture inside the wound, making sure it was liberally coated.
The boy took in every movement, his lower lip tucking into his mouth before being released. His eyes flickered up to the brunette's face as she began to clean out the scratches made by the tree branches as she'd raced to get to the screaming woman.
Finished cleaning herself up, she noticed a bit of bruised swelling on the boy's forehead.
"Have ye got a name, lad?" Merryn asked, grabbing a clean scrap of material, and the remaining bit of arnica mixture. She held out a hand to the boy, but he stood where he was, staring down at the hand, then bringing a finger to his mouth, chewing nervously. He glanced over his shoulder to his mother, who had moved a bit closer, watching the exchange. The woman nodded. The boy turned back to Merryn, finger still hooked onto his lower teeth, he stepped forward.
Merryn rose up to her knees so she could reach the boy's face.
"Me boy be mute, m'lady."
Merryn glanced at the boy's mother, then turned back to him, where she'd begun to carefully clean dirt from his face, brows knitted at the task.
"What 'tis his name?" she asked, grabbing the arnica.
"Ye were brave, Paul," Merryn said, her voice soft as she applied the healing herb. "Protected yer mum, ye did." She smiled, getting a small, weak one from the boy in return. She patted his shoulder, standing. "All better, lad."
The small boy raised a hand to his face, fingers tentatively touching the drying paste, big eyes still latched on the tall brunette.
Turning away from the two, Merryn grabbed her blade. "Sleep, now," she instructed. "More soldiers'll be on 't lookout." With that, she made her way into the forest.
The night was filled with life, the warm summer moon lighting Merryn's way. She watched as a fox chased a small rodent, being led up a tree, across a branch, and finally catching its dinner.
The brunette was mindful that the sounds around her were night creatures, and not night stalkers by way of royal soldiers.
"Bugger," she muttered, looking up into the clear, night sky. Who was she kidding? She was no hero, no rescuer of the downtrodden. Truth be told, Paul and his mother would be better off staying at the next town they came upon.
Finding a large rock, Merryn sat, her blade chipping into the dirt at her feet, hands clasped around the grip. With a sigh, she flipped her hair over a shoulder. A soft smile spread across her lips as she thought of Cara.
She could see her, image what her eyes would look like under the bright moonlight. She could see the blonde looking up into the sky, up at Heaven's bright spots.
"Do ye ever wonder what else might be out there?" the blonde asked, her voice soft. She lay on her bedroll, hands tucked under her head. She stared up into the night sky, a sliver of a moon winking at them through the trees.
Merryn glanced over at her friend from her perch on a log.
"Not thought much 'bou'it, lass." She returned her attention to her bracer. The leather was wearing thin, the thin, leather laces breaking more and more. Soon there'd be none left on the right bracer.
"I have." Cara's eyes took in the sky in its entirety. "What lies beyond the darkness?" she whispered.
Merryn tossed her bracer to her pile of belongings, shoving off the log and scooting to her bedroll next to Cara's. The blonde smiled faintly as her companion joined her finally. Without a word, she rolled over, resting her head on Merryn's shoulder.
Affection between the two was new, and Merryn sighed, rolling her eyes. It was a part she had to play, never letting Cara know how much she loved the little one to cuddle up to her. Cara reached behind her, grabbing the brunette's arm and placing across the blonde's waist. Merryn smiled, tightening her hold.
"Do ye wonder what's beyond the Heavens? God? Nothin'a'tal. More land?"
Merryn's brows drew as she contemplated what her friend was saying. These were things she'd never thought about before. Sure, she'd looked up into the sky, saw all that glittered, thinking it was beautiful, but never wondering what, if anything, lay beyond.
"Could be angels," she said, her voice as soft as her friend's. "Winkin' their wings at ye." She smiled at Cara's laugh.
"Aye. Golden haloes in the night, they are."
Merryn smiled, snuggling in closer to her friend. Her eyes getting heavy, she yawned.
"Night, lass," Merryn whispered, recognizing Cara's breathing.
The smile was still on Merryn's face as she opened her eyes, though it quickly slid off as she felt the cold rock under her and the fireless night. Her arms were empty, save for the cold, comfortless steel of her blade.
Bringing a hand up, she swiped a single finger under her left eye, rubbing the wetness she found there between her finger and thumb.
Merryn tried not to smile at the big, fat tears that were threatening to dive off those dark lashes.
Paul looked up at his mother, begging in his expressive eyes. His mother, who's named was Tamara, knelt down before her son. Holding him by narrow shoulders, she smiled.
"Best listen to Merryn, me boy." Her words were soft and filled loving understanding. "Ye don't wanna get sick like Nanna, do ye?" The boy shook his head vigorously. "Alright then." Getting to her feet, Tamara turned trusting eyes to the brunette. She took the pouch of strange, gray paste from their rescuer, then hiked her skirts up. Her son's hand in her own, she led the boy into the water.
Merryn did stifle a chuckle as the boy's tears finally fell as he was made to, *gasp* take a bath. His chest was so narrow as his mother removed his small tunic, tossing it to a rock on shore. The mother removed her own skirt, the heavy material flopping atop her son's clothing. Kneeling down in the knee-high water, she began to scrub the lad clean.
Merryn watched as she ran her fingers through her own hair, wondering how she'd ever lived so filthy as most the people of the land did. She smiled at her own stubbornness when Cara had insisted she bathe. She had acted not much better than the boy who silently cried, bottom lip sticking out in silent testament to his unhappiness.
Finishing her own washing, Merryn laid out on a long, flat rock, allowing the sun to shine down upon her glistening skin. She felt good, for the first time in many, many weeks. One eye peeked open at the sound of splashing water. This time she wasn't able to hide her smile as she watched a pouting boy drench his mother with a tantrum.
Tamara gasped at the cool water, her dark hair hanging in her face in dripping ropes.
"Paul! Skin ye, I will!" She grabbed the lad by the arm. Merryn closed her eyes again as the mother punished her child. She had no desire to see the boy whipped.
The air was much fresher as the trio traveled on. A quiet bunch, as Paul made not one sound, and Merryn was the only other person for Tamara to carry a conversation with. The brunette made it clear by walked a few paces ahead, she had no interest in conversation.
She had spoken with the woman earlier in the morning, trying to find out just exactly how long she would be stuck with them. Tamara was headed north, to Scotland. Her family was up that way, and she'd heard the black sickness was not as bad. She wanted her son to have a chance at survival. Merryn had agreed to get them as far as Hexham. They now traveled along the Irish Sea, heading toward Lancaster and further north.
Weary travelers they passed had tales of local magistrate and the King's own men attacking either they, themselves, or other travelers, tales passing from one set of ears to another.
"Be on yer guard, lassy," one such traveler warned Merryn. "Vicious killers, they are! Me own son died!"
"Merryn?" Tamara began, her voice quiet, unsure. Her dark eyes, so much like her son's, never left the dagger in her right hand and the half cleaned fish in her left. Merryn glanced over at the young mother. "Will me make it?" She was barely able to spare a glance at the younger girl before her eyes dropped back to her task.
Merryn looked at her, meeting the fleeting gaze. She sighed quietly. "Hope so, lass."
Merryn and Cara had traveled the woods, living on the edge of civilization, only venturing into towns when they needed supplies.
As she led Tamara and Paul through Lancaster, she kept a careful eye on those around her, the few. The streets were eerily quiet, many homes deathly so. The tell tale stench met their noses immediately, making Merryn's stomach curl. She could feel Tamara stepping a little closer to her as those in the town eyed them, suspicion in their eyes, wondering if the three new souls were bringing them more death.
The filth in the streets was high, rats climbing all over piles of dumped waste, human and animal. Bodies littered alleys between the houses, some falling off carts where they'd been stacked, waiting to be taken by those from the highlands. Groups of rustic men charged high fees to come down, or from the countryside, taking the bodies out to deep pits dug to dump the dead. Their curse buried for all time. Their sin, bringing the wrath of God upon the land, His hand harsh and swift.
Merryn's gaze ran up the length of the road, what sounded like …, she listened, straining to hear, … chanting? Yelling?
"Stay close," she muttered, hand hovering near her blade.
Around the bend, the chanting got louder, followed by a thunderous Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! Soon a large group of men came into focus, wearing only britches, their bare chests covered with splatters, which Merryn quickly realized were specks of blood.
Stunned, taking an unwitting step backward, eyes glued to the crowd heading up the road, toward them. The crowd followed the men, who continued to flagellate themselves, crying out with every stroke of their leather whips, blood and bits of flesh clinging to the ends. The crowd behind them chanted with every lashing, women crying and praying. One woman was walking behind one of the men, a scrap of cloth catching his blood. She brought the cloth up into raised hands, screaming in a foreign tongue before rubbing the blood on her face.
"They've all gone bloody mad," Merryn whispered, stepping further back from the road as the crowd got closer, their voices filling the late morning with cries of pain and joy.
Merryn turned at the voice behind her. A man stood, arms crossed over his tunic-clad chest. The scrap of turban on his head hid dark hair, while his darker beard covered his face. He glanced at the brunette.
"Called the Flagillants, the are." He grinned at her look of confusion, rotten teeth expelling rancid breath. "Mad men from Germany, they are. Thinks they's riddin' themselves of God's curse, they do." He sighed, shaking his head. He raised his hand, wiping the turban from his head as he itched a spot to the left of his part. Long, dirty strands fell into his eyes. Smoothing it all back, he replaced the turban, eyes never leaving the chaos passing.
Merryn's eyes also returned to the spectacle. Once they passed, she grabbed for Tamara and the frightened boy she held in her arms. Turning back to the man, who met her gaze with dark, steady eyes.
"Travelin' through, are ye?" he asked. At Merryn's nod, he indicated the passing crowd with the tip of his head.
"Best bein' mindful. They's stone ye as sure as wish ye mornin' greetin'." At Merryn's look of confusion, he explained. "Lookin' fer ta blame." He gestured toward a pile of rotting bodies. He looked at the small group. "Come, sup with me wife 'n me." He looked between Merryn and Tamara. "What say you?"
Merryn carried their equipment while Tamara carried her son. His big, brown eyes scoured his surrounds, frightened. His finger had never left his mouth.
Led back through dark alleys, small shacks and businesses forming a tunnel of shadow for the four to slip through. Finally they were ushered into a modest home made from a timber frame. The panels were filled with wattle, made by weaving Hazel twigs with the upright panels. The wattle had been daubed with a mixture of clay, straw, cow dung and mutton fat. The surface had been sealed with a mixture of lime plaster and cow hair.
"Evela?" the man called as they entered the two-room structure. A woman with black hair, a stripe of silver running the length, stepped out from the sleeping chamber. Merryn was surprised to see the sign of old age, when the woman was obviously young like she, herself. Shy blue eyes looked up at her before flicking to her husband. "We'v guests."
The girl nodded, rushing out the narrow door to the town beyond. Merryn looked around the home, amazed to see some sort of thatched covering on the floor, protecting the occupants from the dirt below. The house was scantily appointed- plank table with four chairs, plank top for cooking and sewing, small spools of threads and cow gut caught incoming sunlight from the stone-framed window above the work surface. Cup boards lined three walls of the house, stacked with wooden plates and mugs. The corners were stacked with burlap sacks of grain, flour and some spices.
"Me name is Ezra," the man said, tugging Merryn from her inspection of the room. She looked at him, seeing a smile almost hidden behind his thick beard.
"Merryn." She looked to the frightened woman who stood behind her, still clutching her son. "'Tis Tamara, 'n 't lad is Paul."
Ezra nodded at Tamara's shy smile. They were herded to sit, mugs of water placed before them. Merryn drank, grateful for the refreshment, and to be sitting. They'd been walking since sun up.
Evela came back in, hoisting a large, freshly plucked chicken. Immediately Tamara was on her feet, helping the young woman who offered a shy word of gratitude.
Without word, Merryn took Paul from Tamara, who basically dumped the boy in her lap. Surprised, she looked down at him like she'd just been given a rabid dog. Ezra chuckled. He eyed this girl sitting across from him, wondering what a young thing like her was doing wandering through Lancaster, unescorted, and dressed like a lad. And who was the mother and child? He decided to continue their conversation from the street.
"Not safe fer ya here, lassy," he said, drinking from his mug, eyeing the girl over the rim. "Word has it the Pope, hisself, leaves Avignon in terror."
"Clement VI 'tis a rat bastard," Merryn muttered, readjusting the boy on her lap. His eyes were growing heavy, head resting against her chest.
"Aye," Ezra nodded. "Fear grips this land." He leaned in, lowering his voice. With eyes wide and filled with fire, he continued, "They's begun murderin' those they suspect." He pointed to the wall of the house. "Drag 'em out their homes, kickin' 'n screamin', they are."
Merryn stared at him, surprised by his words. "What of the soldier's attacks?" she asked, her voice quiet, head somersaulting over everything she was hearing. If not for the bloody girl and her son, she'd be safe in the woods, or dead by now.
"Bah," Ezra waved her words away, sipping more water. He glanced over at the women who were working efficiently to make supper. "Edward 'tis weak. Lost his daughter to the black sickness, he did." He grinned. "Joan. He's run tail to the countryside, along with all the nobles. Bastards leave us here to die in their stead." He shared a quick glance with his wife, then continued, voice changing, becoming strong and sure. "People 'r fightin' back, Merryn."
The brunette looked at him, seeing the light in his eyes, unsure what he was leading to, but having an idea.
"People 'r takin' back the land, stolen from them by the royalty 'n their Godless line."
"'T rebels," Merryn said, a statement. Ezra sat back, though his surprise was short lived.
"Ye's seen 'm, then?"
Merryn shook her head. "King's men attackin' travelers, killed the lad's father." She flicked her eyes down to a sleeping Paul. Ezra followed her gaze, then met her own. She shook her head. "Want no part 'o this, Ezra."
Merryn grinned, hearing the tinkling laughter just past the small stand of trees. She redoubled her efforts, putting her long legs to use. A scream of surprise, and the blonde went tearing away from her hiding place.
The brunette took a sharp turn to the left, trying to head Cara off before she was able to reach the lake, which was the ending point of their race. There was no way she could allow the blonde to win! She wasn't about to do the cooking for an entire week.
She stopped, listening, holding her breath. The corner of her mouth quirked up when she heard a nervous giggle coming from her right. Peering through the leaves of the bush she hid behind, she tried to pick out gold amongst the green.
"Got'cha, lass," she whispered, her target in her sites as she silently moved around the bush, fingers flexing at her sides. She made her move, quick as the hawk swooping down on its prey.
Cara squealed in surprise as she heard the attack, trying to rush from her hiding place, but instead finding herself tumbling down to the forest floor in a mess of arms and legs. She was laughing so hard that she hardly noticed the rock that jammed into her left hip.
Merryn pinned her down, an evil smile spreading over her lips. She looked down into the face of Cara, flushed from exertion and merriment. Placing a small kiss on the girl's lips, she helped her to her feet, unsteadiness bringing the blonde into her arms.
"Steady, there, lass," she chuckled. Cara glared up at her.
"Ye fall on me like the Devil chasin' yer arse, and ye tell me ta be steady?"
Merryn chuckled again, putting an arm around the slight shoulders of the blonde. "Come, lass. My mouth is waterin' jus' thinkin' of what ye'll make ta sup on."
With a grumble, Cara walked along side her. The overhead sun was pleasant, warm without being hot. They walked on in silence, both absorbing the day and each other. Finally at the lake, Merryn released the girl, and turned to her water bladder, guzzling half of it in one go before tossing it to Cara, who took it with a grateful smile.
A rare treat of duck eaten and the bones buried, the sun began to slide from the sky. Merryn felt eyes on her as she leaned against the foot of a large rock, legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles. She glanced to her friend, who sat in a similar position against the tree across from their small camp. The blonde studied her, head slightly cocked.
"Ye doubt yerself," she said, as though she were reading the brunette's mind. Getting no response, nor needing one, she continued. "Ye c'n do this, Merryn. Ye've the strength of mind and heart." She met the intense blue eyes of her friend, the blonde smiling softly. "Biggest heart of anyone, ye have."
"Nay," Merryn murmured, gaze drifting off toward the dying rays sparkling on the water.
"Aye." Cara crawled over to the brunette, rising to her knees before her friend, hands cupping Merryn's face. She was but a breath away, her eyes looking into Merryn's with poignant intent. "Ye c'n do this, Merryn. Ye must."
Merryn started, eyes popping open. She didn't have time to think of what had awoken her as she looked around the home of Ezra and Evela. Tamara was also roused from her place on the floor, Paul tucked against her. Their eyes met briefly before another crash sent Merryn to her feet.
She looked in horror as the night glowed with fiery intensity, the smell of burning wood and grass filtering in through the window. The yelling voices of a frantic crowd shattered the nights stillness. Loud cries of Demon Jew! rushed into the home.
Merryn's gaze was caught again when she saw movement at the window, then something being thrown it.
"Blasted!" she yelled, realizing it was a torch. The fire took a mere heartbeat before clinging to the grass mat spread across the floor, the flames beginning to lick at the leg of the table.
"We must go!" Ezra yelled above the hysteria outside. He was tugging his tunic over his head as he spoke, his long hair hiding half his face.
Merryn followed as he yelled out instructions to the household, the brunette grabbing what she could, yelling for Tamara to get the boy out of there. Ezra herded them all into the sleeping chambers and down into an open cellar door, Evela already disappearing into its cool darkness.
Another crash, then an immense rush of heat as the walls caught fire, the main room engulfed in flames and victorious cries from the townspeople.
Breathing hard, eyes as wide as the could go to try and see into the earthen tunnel she was being pushed through, Merryn tried to get her bearings. She heard a loud pounding and the grunting of Ezra as he tried to kick through a wooden door that would lead up a set of dirt stairs, and into the night. Finally getting the wood to buckle, then splinter, he pushed his way through, tearing his hands and bare feet open in the process. Shoving his wife through, followed by Tamara and Paul, and then finally Merryn. He hissed in the brunette's ear, "Run for the woods!"
Merryn looked at the other two women, finger held before her mouth. They nodded, Evela's eyes clear and focused, while Tamara looked like she'd fall apart at any moment. Paul was sagging in her arms. She ripped the boy away, gesturing wildly for her to run.
Frozen in fear, Tamara didn't move. Merryn was grateful when Evela grabbed the stunned brunette, tugging her behind her as they disappeared into the dark of night. Merryn glanced over her shoulder once, hearing the tell tale signs of Ezra lodging the door shut before he, too, emerged into the night. Figuring he could fend for himself, she rushed toward the blackness of the trees, Paul bouncing in her arms.
She heard a hissed over here, hurried over to Evela's voice. The two women were held up inside a shallow cave, just barely able to hold their slight bulk. Merryn handed Paul off to his mother, and turned to see if Ezra had made it.
The rush of the crowd's frightened and misplaced vengeance could still be heard, Lancaster on fire making the night aglow.
Merryn was stunned, frightened, and out of breath. She looked to Evela for answers. The small woman looked at her, just as frightened.
"Jews," she whispered. "They blame Jews."
Merryn nodded, looking back toward the town in the distance, made further by cloak of darkness.
Soon a figure materialized out of the night, Evela throwing herself into her husband's arms in relief. "Alright," he breathed, gulping in lungfulls of air, trying to calm himself. "We go." Evela hugged him tighter.
The night was dark, and emotions were high. Behind them was Lancaster, filled with people who were raging with fear and anger at something that was untouchable to them, something they couldn't see, but felt the effects of every day as 300 people were buried before the sun set. In Ezra they'd seen a foreigner, enemy of God, the people who had crucified their savior, Jesus, himself.
It was unfounded and unnecessary, but Ezra and his wife was as good as scapegoat as any. And when Merryn and Tamara had arrived in their town, it was the perfect mix to get them riled with a taste for blood.
Merryn didn't think anyone from the town was following them, but the possibility was still there. They forged on through the night, knowing they could very well run into a worse enemy- soldier's. The four of them took turns carrying Paul, trying to keep the boy quiet.
The brunette felt a hand on her arm. Turning, she saw Ezra's face, not half a hand from hers. He sent her attention to the west with his eyes. Seeing what had garnered the dark man's attention, she turned back to him.
"C'n ye use that, Merryn?" he whispered, tapping the pummel of her blade. She nodded, though felt her stomach turning. Her use thus far had been born of luck, not skill.
Ezra grabbed a fist-sized rock in his left hand, thumb rubbing over the rough surface. He was relieved when he heard his wife pulling Tamara out of danger, keeping her and the boy quiet. He motioned for Merryn to flank right while he took the left. The tall girl nodded, her silent movement impressive, making the dark man wonder what her lot was in life.
Pale moonlight illuminated the night, Merryn hiding behind a tree, her intended targets just moving shadows. With the silent grace and focus of the mythic tiger, she moved toward them- two of them. They crouched as they moved, making no more noise than Merryn. They stopped, whispering, just a slight disturbance of night air, like a breeze. Merryn couldn't hear what was being said, but decided that it would be the right time to strike, while they were discussing.
Catching Ezra's gaze, she indicated her intent with the flick of her head. He nodded.
The two shadows gasped in surprise as both found themselves splayed out on the ground. One looked up, screaming with wide eyes as he saw a heavy rock coming down at his head.
Ezra stopped, mid-strike, his heart pounding in his neck. The man beneath him was whimpering, trembling at what could have been, and what could still be.
Merryn felt the adrenaline and blood pounding through her as she looked down at the wide-eyed man she straddled. Fingers wrapped painfully tight around the grip of her blade, she tried to control her heartbeat as she looked into his face. She knew that face…
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