Disclaimer See Part 1
The characters in the story are a product of my own imagination and hopefully have no resemblance to any living persons.
Sex: This piece is rated 18 and contains sex. Please, if you are not old enough to read this, move on to something more appropriate.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to my beta, rleef.
Constructive criticism is greatly appreciated, so feel free to drop me a line or two at email@example.com or chat with me on Facebook.
Sterling stiffened, but didn't make a sound as the arrow was yanked out. She fell back onto the bed instead, her mouth open in a silent scream. A warm, sticky wetness seeped behind her back, soaking the sheets she laid on.
“There is a lot of blood, Your Highness. I need to stop it. Would you like something for the pain?”
Sterling licked suddenly dry lips as she shook her head. “No … no medicines. Just stop the bleeding and bandage it well. I have to go back.”
“Go back? But … but …”
Sterling's silver eyes skewered the woman, who stood over her bed. Miriam was a great healer and a good friend. But like all healers she lacked the knowledge of warfare. How could she make this woman with the gentle hands understand that she needed to go out there again and fight? That the arrow she'd just pulled from her side was a Hurian arrow? Not only had her men seen her fall to an enemy arrow, but so had the enemy. The Hurians maybe barbarians, but they were the most cunning foes she'd ever encountered. Since her return to the frontline three months ago, she had experienced the most brutal battles ever fought in her life as a soldier. Her men were well-trained and excellent soldiers, but the Hurians were masters at brutality and mental warfare.
As expected, the death of Commander Farah and the power vacuum left by his death, had caused a battalion of Hurians to cross the border pushing the Royal army further back into Karas territory. Some of the smaller villages close to the frontline were the first to feel the brutal presence of the barbarians as they pillaged, raped, and killed their way in their quest for control. Captives, mostly women and children, were slaughtered like cattle and bled dry, as part of the Hurians war ritual meant to break their enemies. Rattled by such ruthlessness, many of her younger soldiers lost their nerve, making fatal mistakes on the battlefield and paying with their lives.
But loyalty to the Crown and her own presence alongside them brought a semblance of stability to the men and together they have gradually pushed back the intruders. With sheer determination she had whipped her men into a frenzy of revenge. The brutality that ensued left her returning to her tent drenched in enemy blood after every battle.
She needed the Healer to understand that the men out there were fighting a war so that Miriam and her family could grow old in peace. She, Sterling of Karas, was the hub around which these men had built their hope of winning this war again.
“My country and my men need me out there, Miriam. We are so close to pushing them back. My absence could reverse it all. Now do as I tell you and let me join the battle.”
Understanding and fear warred in Miriam's eyes, but she did as she was told. Half an hour later, Sterling gritted her teeth against the pain in her side, as Miriam helped her pull on her armor again.
As soon as she picked up her sword, she read the words which were lovingly engraved on the blade— Revendi at Me. With a faint smile she nodded. Yes, my love, I will return to you and no barbarian will stand in my way of keeping that promise to you.
A loud cheer sounded as she ducked out of her tent and lifted her sword above her head. Her horse trotted over to her and after patting it lovingly, she swung up into the saddle.
“You need to eat more, my child. You are wasting away.” Lima pleaded softly. “You surely do not want her to see you this way upon her return.”
Orla sighed deeply. Does her mother not understand? It is so painful to continue with Sterling. The first three months since her wife had been gone, she still had hope that she might return. Now half a year later, news from the Wasteland was few and far apart. Sterling wrote as often as she could, but kno wing that someone else would have to read the letters for Orla, she tried not to keep them too personal. It was only later at night that Orla would take the letter to bed with her and trace the letters with her finger that imagined the love and desire Sterling must've felt as she wrote these words
A shadow filled the shed, breaking her reverie. The man looked haggard as he stumbled forward. Orla could see a thick layer of dust on his clothing and knew immediately that he was a messenger. Only a man riding hard for days would look like this man did. Immediately her thoughts went to Sterling and her heart turned cold.
“Milady, the Queen requests your presence urgently.”
Orla threw a quick glance to her mother and saw the same fear reflected in her eyes. She hastily shrugged out of her apron, leaving it where it fell and pushed her way past the man. Her long legs cut down the space between her and the castle as she ran to the throne chamber. She burst through the double room, not waiting for the guards to open them for her. She came to an abrupt stop at the sight which greeted her. The Queen was not alone. Standing before her was the Crown Prince of Arnat. The Queen looked at her and waved her closer.
“Come closer, Orla.”
Orla hastily bowed before her sovereign, her heart hammering in her chest. “Your Majesty?”
Mesmeria inhaled deeply. “We have a problem, Orla.”
Orla felt the air got stuck in her throat. “Sterling?” she croaked.
“No, Orla, not Sterling … worse.”
Not Sterling? Orla felt herself gradually relax. If Sterling was fine then nothing could be any worse.
“How may I be of service, Your Majesty?”
Mesmeria turned to Cybralle who stood silently next to the throne. “Cybralle?”
The Queen Consort stepped down the few steps towards her. “Prince Halen brought us disturbing news. A plague is ravaging the Kingdom of Arnat and they request our assistance.”
“How … What can I do to help, milady?”
Cybralle looked at the young Prince and back at her. “We need weapons, Orla, and you are the best there is.”
Orla nodded slowly. “Anything specific, milady?”
Cybralle's face was unreadable. “We need something unique. But let us first make our guests comfortable, before I fill you in.”
“You have reopened the wound. Not to speak of the new one you have sustained today.”
Sterling grinned at Miriam. She was too happy to let Miriam surliness spoil it for her. Today's victory was theirs. The barbarians were back across the border where they belong and their numbers have been reduced significantly.
“It was all worth it, Miriam. Victory is ours today,” she murmured lazily. She took another sip from their goblet. “The barbarians will remember this day for generations to come.”
Miriam tsked as she rolled Sterling over to reach the wounds in her back. With a sharp dagger she cut away the bloodied shirt. “You are lucky that these wounds are not serious.”
Sterling felt Miriam's hands gently pulled away the shirt and stopped suddenly. “Sterling?”
“What are these marks on your back?” Miriam asked slowly.
Sterling sighed. Miriam could be so exhausting at times. “What marks?”
She felt Miriam touch a few spots on her lower back and Sterling was ashamed to feel a pleasant shiver race up her spine. It has been so long since she was touched and her lower back was a very sensitive spot.
“They look like bite marks. Have you been attacked by the camp dogs recently?”
Sterling frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“You have been bitten. Were you playing with Greer and Vinion again?”
Sterling's frown deepened as she carefully shifted through her memories. Her eyes suddenly widened and she blushed. Orla! She was taken back to their last lovemaking session just before she had to leave. Orla was ravenous. She vaguely remembered the blacksmith licking her whole body, taking playful nips.
Sterling cleared her throat uncomfortably. Should she tell Miriam? Maybe she should, because knowing Miriam; the woman would not let her rest.
“Ah, it was not the dogs,” she mumbled, glad that her face was hidden from the healer.
“Then what could have caused these …” Miriam's voice suddenly faded away. “Oh! Ah … I … I … uh …” Miriam inhaled deeply. “As I said, you are lucky that your wounds are not serious. I will clean them and replace the bandages.”
Sterling saw the Healer's legs as she walked away towards the medicine chest to retrieve whatever she needed to take care of her injuries. Turning her head slightly she could see the Healer bending over the chest.
“Do you want me to put something on the … uh … bites too?” Miriam asked.
Sterling grinned lecherously. She was getting drunk. “No. Leave them be. They are a good luck charm.”
Miriam turned from the chest, her blue eyes somber. “After six months these marks should have been healed already, Sterling.”
Sterling sighed as she gave Miriam an irritated stare. “They do not bother me. Now finish up so I can join my men outside. We have a lot to celebrate.”
Miriam shot her a suspicious look before she slammed the chest shut and returned to the bed. “Your wish is my command,” Miriam said stiffly. Sterling ignored her.
The next twenty minutes passed in silence as the Healer cleaned and dressed her wounds. They only spoke again when Miriam helped her into her shirt.
“Your wife …” Miriam began carefully, but stopped again.
Sterling looked up at her from where she was busy pulling on her boots. “What about my wife, Miriam?”
Miriam didn't meet Sterling's eyes as she kept herself busy packing away her medicine. “She seems to be a wonderful person. You must love her a lot.”
Sterling sat up straight, her eyes sharp as they watched her friend. “I adore my wife. Why are we talking about her?”
Miriam looked up quickly, her blue eyes hooded. “She seems like a nice girl.”
As much as she tried, Sterling couldn't keep the smile off her face. “She is an angel.”
“How well do you know her? You got married …”
Sterling pushed to her feet, towering over the petite healer. “What is it you really want to say, Miriam?”
Miriam lowered her eyes. “I wish I could be so fortunate to meet someone like her one day.”
Sterling's eyes were pensive as they rested on Miriam's bowed head. That was not what Miriam wanted to say. She could sense the other woman's discomfort. “What about Orla, Miriam.”
“Nothing, Your Highness. I just wanted to congratulate you on finding such as wonderful wife. She grew up before me and she is very popular amongst the people. She once helped my grandmother to rebuild her pigpen after it was vandalized by rowdy youths.”
Sterling wasn't appeased. But for now she was going to let it be. She fastened the strings on her shirt and nodded. “She is a caring person and I love that about her.” Grabbing her cloak she ducked out of her tent, not seeing the strange look that crossed over Miriam's face.
Cybralle swung the blade and smiled as it cut effortlessly through the air. She turned to Orla.
“It has good balance. Not too light and also not too heavy. How many do we have now?”
“Two hundred and one with the one you are holding, milady.”
Cybralle smiled, but her eyes had a hard edge to them. “Good. I knew I could count on you.” She replaced the sword on the table. Since the arrival of the Crown Prince a week ago, she'd been restless. Arnat was her home and the home of her family. It was her duty to protect her people even though she was the sub-ruler of another kingdom. Her eyes fell on the sacks in the corner. “How much do you think you could still finish before we leave?”
She saw the blacksmith estimate the capacity of the sacks. “Probably another hundred if I get two more helpers.”
Cybralle nodded. “That would suffice. King Parlin is sending over three hundred men to accompany us to Arnat.”
She saw the confusion on the blacksmith's face. “You are also going?”
“ We are going, Orla. I am taking you with us. To win the war against this plague, we will need more weapons. You are the only one who possesses the craftsmanship we need.”
Cybralle saw the emotions warring on her daughter-in-law's face and she knew what she was thinking about. “Sterling will join us there. I will send a missive to her before we leave.”
“Then I would be honored to join you, milady.”
Cybralle smiled at the blacksmith. “As a precaution, I want you to join us in training for the next three weeks before we leave. To reach Erfolk quickly, we will travel through dense forests. I want you to be able to defend yourself in case we are ambushed.”
Orla smiled. “You need not burdened yourself too much over me, milady. For the past five years I have been a student of Memphi. My mother insisted that I should learn the art of war just in case I was called upon to join the Royal Army like my father.”
Cybralle's face split in a wide grin. Even better, she thought. Memphi was one of the best warriors in Karas. Old age had sidelined the old master, but he still was a force to be reckoned with when sufficiently provoked. She herself had sent Sterling to study under the warrior at a very tender age and Sterling was a great example of the man's expertise.
“You have just settled my heart greatly, my daughter.” Cybralle placed her hand on Orla's broad shoulder. “I must tell you again, how glad I am that my daughter chose you. I doubt she would have found a better mate in all of the kingdom and beyond. I will leave you to your work then. See you at supper time.”
The dark head turned slowly and eyes, holding a feral look, met those of the newcomer.
“What can be so urgent that you forgot my directive not to be disturbed,” the large man growled as he slowly pushed to his feet. He saw the messenger paled as his eyes moved beyond him to the remnants of his meal. “Speak up, man!”
The man swallowed and nodded nervously. “A large entourage of Arnati soldiers is making their way to the Karas border.”
The news grabbed the leader's attention immediately. “How many men exactly, Humud?”
“An estimated three hundred, milord.”
Humud watched as his Master processed the information. After more than 12 years in the service of this man, he still felt uncomfortable in his presence. Not because he was a cruel Master, no. He was probably the most just man he'd ever known. But his size and those peculiar eyes of his was what made men shake in their boots in his presence.
“Do we have any news on Ridat?” The Master's deep voice shook him from his reverie and he quickly nodded.
“His scouts were spotted dogging the convoy.”
The large man scowled at that, but for a few moments he just stared into nothingness a strange look on his face.
“They are going for help.” Those spooky eyes lit on him again, and this time Humud felt a shiver go down his spine. “Send out fifteen men to trail the convoy as protection. They may not be aware of it, but we are fighting on the same side.”
The candle flickered wildly as a slight breeze disturbed the air in the room. Stealthily, Cybralle's had moved to the hilt of her sword. She was so deep in thought the she hadn't even heard the door open. Thanks to flickering candle, she knew she was no longer alone.
“Who is there?” she asked sharply. Since the arrival of Prince Halen, she'd been suffering from extreme bouts of paranoia. She was jumping at her own shadow, something she'd never done before.
“Your wife,” came the soft reply.
Cybralle sighed deeply and turned her head to locate her wife. “Then come to me, my wife. I have need to rest my head against your bosom. I need to hold onto you to ease my worried thoughts.”
Mesmeria stepped out of the shadows. She was already dressed for the night, her body visible through the sheer material of her nightgown. Mesmeria settled herself on Cybralle's lap. Cybralle moaned in pleasure as the Queen's hands pushed through her short hair and pulled her head against her breasts.
“You have been restless during your sleep. Are you not tired?”
Inhaling the soft citrusy scent of her wife, Cybralle nodded. “I am exhausted, my love, but unless I know what is happening in Arnat, I will not find peace.”
Gripping the cool dark strands in her hand, Mesmeria pulled Cybralle's head back so she could look see the handsome face.
“I will not send you away from me looking as ragged as you do now, Cybralle.” The green eyes were serious. “As your sovereign I have the right to refuse to send my best warrior. Unless—“
Cybralle felt her ire spark. “Unless what? How can you be so selfish?”
The green eyes widened in shock and then a flash of intense pain crossed over the beautiful face. Mesmeria slowly got off Cybralle's lap and on silent steps left her wife sitting alone like in the candlelit room. Cybralle shook her head slowly. What just happened? She pushed both her hands through her hair and groaned. She didn't doubt that what just transpired was more her fault than Mesmeria's. With a heavy heart, she climbed to her feet and walked down the long hallway to their set of rooms.
She slowly opened the door to their chamber. A quick glance at their bed proved that Mesmeria has not retired for the night yet. Closing the door behind her, she walked through to their personal lounge. Her heart felt heavy when she found her wife sitting quietly before the fire place, a book open in her lap.
“My love …?” When there was no answer, she slowly made her way over to the chair and squatted next to the chair. “Please forgive me.”
A soft sigh sounded and Mesmeria turned to face her. “You are forgiven, Cybralle.” The green eyes were cloudy as they studied her and Cybralle reached for her wife's hand and brought it to her lips. “You seem to forget that I have too much to lose if you do not return to me. You are exhausted and I cannot take the chance of sending you from my arms into a dangerous situation knowing the chance exists that I might not hold you again.”
Cybralle hung her head in shame. This was what Mesmeria wanted to say to her earlier and instead she … Cybralle groaned inwardly. She felt a soft touch on her head, small fingers combing through her hair.
“I know and understand why you are acting this way. You are the most honorable person I know and that is one of the many reasons why I love you. I will never stand in your way of helping others, but I love you too and am scared of losing you. Thus you were not wrong when you called me selfish.”
Cybralle's head jerked up. “No, I was wrong to call you that. I totally misunderstood.”
Mesmeria's eyes were warm as they looked into hers. “I do not think so, my love. When it comes to you I am selfish wife. I have worked too hard to win your love.” Mesmeria lowered her head and Cybralle sighed softly as her wife's soft lips touched hers.
When the kiss ended, Cybralle swallowed hard. “Next time I act like an oaf, have me dragged out into the Square and have me whipped.”
Mesmeria giggled. “How dramatic, beloved. I will use that as a last resort, but I know of more pleasurable ways of handling you.” The Queen rose to her feet. “Come to bed with me. Until the convoy arrives, I will make it my duty to ensure that you get enough rest.”
Cybralle came to her feet and allowed herself to be led to their bed. With infinite tenderness, Mesmeria helped her out of her clothes and into bed. She eager pulled Mesmeria into her arms and held her close.
“I love you, my Queen.”
“I love you more, my Consort.” Mesmeria placed a small kiss on her chin. “No try and sleep. I will watch over you.”
The cave was dank and dark, the stench of fear and death hanging heavy in the air. In the center of the cave stood a tall thin man, his hair hanging limply over his face, hiding his expression. His hands were folded behind his back.
“How many new ones have we recruited so far?”
A man shuffled closer, his eyes deep-set in a scarred face. “We have fifty new ones, Master. More will soon find their way over here.”
The thin man turned to the speaker. “Good work,” he said in a soft lisp. “I need more though. Sent out more recruiters.”
“As you wish, master.” The man turned to leave.
The man turned. “Yes, Master.”
The Master's head lifted and Brodin met the pitch-black gaze. “Do you know why Peron is always one step ahead of us?”
The servant swallowed, scared of not knowing the correct answer nor the answer his Master desired.
“I ... I have no idea, Master. We have a bigger army than his.”
The man took a small step forward, making the servant cringed inwardly. Obviously his answer was not the one sought.
“Even then, we are still losing more troops to him.” The black eyes flashed. “I will tell you why.” He cocked his head to the side, causing his black eyes to glint menacing in the flickering candlelight. “Peron is selective about who he recruits. Whereas,” the black eyes flashed again. “you and your men recruit paupers and farmers, he recruits warriors.”
Brodin shivered at the cruel look that came over the Master's face. The last time he'd seen that same look on Ridat Clemel's face was also the day he was recruited … brutally.
“We will recruit the best we find from now on, Master,” he choked out softly, lowering his eyes. When he looked up, he found Ridat smiling at him.
“Yes, you should do that. Now leave and keep me informed about the convoy.”
Lima shuddered as she looked at her daughter as she ate her meal. She was worried about Orla. These past weeks, Orla had almost wasted away from lack of proper eating and then suddenly about a week ago her daughter had showed an unexpected appetite in food again. She should've been happy by that, but it seemed to worry her more. As she looked now at her daughter as she ate, Lima couldn't help but feel that there as something amiss. It was not so much the near orgasmic look on her daughter's face as she ate, but it was more what she was eating.
Of late Orla had taken to eating meat. An unsettling amount of it too. She swallowed uncomfortably as she looked at what was on her daughter's plate. The plate was almost swimming in blood, causing a stomach-churning tableau of red-rimmed vegetables and blood soaked bread.
“I cannot understand how you can even eat that,” she whispered, looking away as Orla looked up from her plate, a streak of bloody sauce running down her chin. She sighed when Orla reached for her napkin and wiped her mouth. For as long as she could remember Orla had always had an acute aversion to blood. As a child she would close her eyes tightly when she sustained a scraped knee so she couldn't see the blood. But now it was almost as if Orla reveled in the sight and taste of it.
The blue eyes were clouded as they studied her.
“It is quite tasty mother. You should try some.”
“No thank you, daughter. I can hardly look at you eating that raw meat without my stomach doing summersaults.” Orla grinned. So many things have changed of late. Orla seemed different somehow. Her beautiful blue eyes had a sharpness about them that was not there before and she seemed almost … larger than she was before.
Lima shook her head slowly. “You have changed.”
Orla reached for the blood-soaked piece of bread and took a bite. “For the past months you have pestered me for my lack of eating. Now that I do, you feel like vomiting.” Orla took another bite. “You even dragged me to the Healer.”
Lima's sighed again. “I am just worried about you.”
“You need not be mother. You heard what the Healer said. My lack of healthy eating has caused me to crave more protein in my meals. She said it was not uncommon for me to eat this much meat. The bloodier the better, she added too.”
Lima scooped up a piece of carrot and ate it. “And what about your vegetables?”
“Ah, Lima, stop pestering the girl already,” Cybralle cut in. “Look at her. She is in perfect shape for our journey to Arnat. I believe she's in much better shape than all my men together.”
Lima smiled weakly before turning to look at Cybralle. “A mother never stops worrying about her children. As a mother I am sure you know what I mean.”
Mesmeria chuckled. “Yes, my love, you of all people should know that. You are like a mother hen when it comes to Sterling.”
Cybralle grinned apologetically at Lima. “You are right, Lima. No matter how old they get, they will always be our little girls.”
Lima bowed her head and threw a sharp glance at Orla. “Now eat your vegetables too. They are good for you.”
Pouting slightly, Lima watched as Orla, warily began to eat from her vegetables. It was utterly strange to see Orla like this. It was as if a stranger was sitting opposite her. She lowered her eyes to her own plate and for the first time in a very long time she wished for Gentro to be here. Maybe he would've been better at dealing with this. He was always so calm and thoughtful. He was never one to panic easily. She missed him.
She took another bite from her bread and looked up. She blinked in surprise to find Orla's eyes studying her intently. The blue eyes so like Gentro's seemed to be looking right through her. What was going on behind those unreadable eyes?
Orla leaned against the trunk of the tree and closed her eyes. She was scared … no … terrified. Something was not right. She could feel it. Her body was foreign to her. It was almost as if something bigger than herself and more powerful had nestled inside of her. And then there was the itching, her skin felt as if it was in fire from the inside out. She took a shuddering breath. She felt as if she was ready to explode.
“It is a pleasure to meet you again, milady,” a quiet voice said behind her and Orla spun around, her large body in a battle stance.
She cocked her head to the side as she studied the man. He was familiar, but she knew he wasn't from the village. She was vaguely surprised that she hadn't heard him coming nor that she smelt him. With this many changes in her body, her sense of hearing and smell has been amplified. That was one of the reasons she found herself spending more and more time in the forest away from the village and its many overwhelming sounds and smells. She took a tentative smell at the men and her gaze narrowed. She still couldn't smell him because he was standing upwind. It was almost as if he knew. The idea was unsettling.
“Who … who are you?” she croaked. She didn't detect any aggression from him and slowly relaxed her muscles until she was standing up straight again. She saw the man's eyes widened as he took in her size and she unconsciously rolled her shoulders.
“I am your loyal servant, milady?”
“What does that …?” She took a step closer, causing the man to stiffen. “I know you. You were at the church on the day of my wedding. What do you want from me?”
The man relaxed gradually. “I am your servant, milady. Whatever it is you need done, I will do it for you.”
Orla slowly looked the man up and down. He wasn't dressed like a peasant. Just like the day at the church, he was dressed in casual but obviously expensive clothing. He wore a leather jerkin and pants. She searched him for weapons and shook her head when she found none.
“What kind of fool are you to walk around unarmed, especially with the type of clothing you wear. You are an easy target for thieves.”
The man smiled broadly at that, confusing her even further. “I have no need for weapons, milady.”
Orla snorted. “Then you are surely a fool.”
“Not in the least, milady. I fear no one here and the only one I fear in not my enemy.”
Orla blow out a frustrated breath at hearing that. Can the man be any more confusing? First he sneaks up on me, calls himself my servant, walks around unarmed and then sprouts some foolishness. She needed to get away from him. It was obvious that he was addle-brained.
“I have no need for a servant, especially not one that is foolish enough to believe himself invincible.” She turned to walk away.
“I know what you are going through, milady. I am here to help you through it,” the man said quietly.
Orla turned back slowly, her eyes intense as they pierced the man. He knew what was going on with me? The man's dark blue eyes were serious as they looked back at her. For the second time in a few minutes she couldn't shake the feeling that the man indeed knew what was wrong with her. His eyes were open and his posture relaxed.
“What do you know about me?” she growled, surprised when the sound echoed into the silence around them. She looked around, startled by the deep vibrations. When she looked at the man, he smiled.
“It will all make sense very soon.”
The words sounded familiar and she raked her mind to place it. He'd said the same words to her in the church. He knew then already. She nervously licked her dry lips and swallowed hard.
“What is this? What is happening?”
The man stepped closer and she quickly reached for her sword. She began wearing her sword lately for two reasons. The forest was populated by bandits and she didn't want to be caught unarmed and outnumbered. The other reason was her need to get used to carrying her sword as she will be traveling to Arnat soon. King Palin's troops were but a few days away. Her hand tightened on the hilt of her sword.
“No need for that, milady. I am no match for you. I simply want to introduce myself to you.” He bowed deeply before her. “Romulus Harpon at your service, milady.” He quickly came upright again, his dark blue eyes twinkling. “My friends call me Rom.”
Orla watched him, still a bit wary of his intention. The man shrugged and smiled at her.
“I take it you do not recognize the name, milady. Maybe your mother would, but I would not encourage you to enlighten her about my presence.”
Her mother? What does this have to do with her mother? She pushed her fingers through her hair, her frustration growing as did the burning feeling inside her chest.
“Tell me what you are here for and get it over with. I am growing weary of your riddles,” she snapped.
“Ah, but I cannot tell you about it. My task only comes in once you have braved the transformation.”
Orla stared at the man for a few moments, before she turned on her heel and walked away. The man was of no use to her and she had wasted valuable time with him.
“You know where to find me if you need to, milady,” she heard the man call after her, but Orla didn't break her stride as she put as much distance as she could between herself and the infuriating man.
She was still seething when she walked through the gates of the castle and to her shed. As she passed the stables her eyes fell on the strange horse being brushed down by one of the young grooms.
“Felton, whose horse it that?”
The boy bowed quickly. “A messenger from Arnat, milady. He arrived a little while ago.”
She nodded and turned toward the castle. The horse had been ridden hard. It could mean trouble was brewing. If the army was as close as expected then the urgency with which the messenger arrived was totally misplaced. She lengthened her strides and within a few minutes she found herself in the throne room. Cybralle was standing in front of the throne facing a frowning Mesmeria. It was Mesmeria who caught her standing in the door.
“It is good that you are here. I was just about to send for you. We have received some news.”
Orla bowed deeply before Mesmeria before she straightened to hear the news. She threw a quick glance in Cybralle's direction and found the Consort's troubled eyes resting on her.
“The Arnati troops came under attack just as they were about to cross the border. They have suffered heavy losses.” Cybralle's voice was flat as she relayed the news. “We will leave within the hour. I have already called the troops to arms.”
Orla nodded. “I am ready.” She looked at Mesmeria. “Who attacked them?”
Mesmeria shook her head. “The messenger could not tell us specifically. It was dark. He suspects it were wolves. He was sent out before they were completely surrounded.”
She caught Cybralle's eyes. “If we leave now and ride through the night we can be there within two days.”
“I will make sure the weapons are packed and ready for transport.” She bowed again. “I am not sure if we will be back before you send another missive to Wasteland. May I petition you for a favor, Your Majesty?”
Mesmeria smiled. “You may, Orla.”
Orla blushed at the knowing look on the Queen's face. “Please tell her that I love her with all my heart and that I cannot wait to gaze upon her beautiful face again.” She lowered her eyes. “Also remind her to keep the faith until we meet again.”
When she looked at the Queen there was a soft look in her eyes. “I will write her a letter myself and convey your message.”
With curt nod, Orla left the throne room.
“You better make sure that she returns unharmed, my love. I doubt our daughter would appreciate it if something was to happen to her.”
Cybralle's eyes followed her daughter-in-law as she walked away. She doubted Mesmeria has any idea how what she'd just said terrified her. Not many of the men know what they are letting them in for. If what is plaguing Arnat was true they are walking into a very dangerous situation. Maybe she should reconsider taking Orla with her.
“Do you think she will be offended if I asked her to stay behind?”
Mesmeria shrugged. “I do not have an answer for you. The only other person who knows her well is Lima. Maybe you could ask her.” Mesmeria held out her hand to Cybralle and pulled her closer. “Do you really think it will be dangerous for her to go with you?”
Cybralle grimaced. “Going to war is a dangerous venture in itself. Fighting giant beasts that reportedly rip men apart … I do not know. It just seems more perilous to me.” Mesmeria's hand brushed through her hair and Cybralle leaned into the touch. “It will be dangerous for every man who follows me to Arnat, but Orla is a different story. It will break Sterling if something happened to Orla. I doubt I will be able to live with myself if I break our daughter's heart.”
“Do not fret so much, my love. You said yourself that she is a great fighter. With her size and skill I think she will be able to hold her own.” Mesmeria said gently. “By the way, they are soul mates and I doubt destiny would have brought them together only to tear them apart so soon.”
Cybralle's thoughts were jumbled even as she listened to Mesmeria's argument. Prince Halen's graphic rendition of the attacks still gave her nightmares. He described blood-thirsty beasts, standing taller than a grown man with glowing eyes and long teeth. The creatures' only weakness was silver. That knowledge only came to them by chance. Rumors reached the Arnati Royal House that a desperate farmer, trying to save his daughter from the claws of one of these creatures, had stabbed the beast in the chest with a lance furnished with a silver blade. The beast had screamed in pain, running off into the forest. Scared to follow the retreating fiend into the night, the villager rounded up a group of men and searched the forest the next morning. The beast was nowhere to be found. All they found was the corpse of a man, presumably another victim of the beast.
A mass production of silver weaponry was started, but it was found that suitable craftsmanship lacked. The weapons were crude and weak posing more of a risk than an advantage. That is where Orla came in. She was renowned for her skill in taming any type of metal. Cybralle had tested and compared the blacksmith's swords and arrowheads to the ones brought from Arnat by the Prince. The difference was remarkable. Orla's swords were lightweight and the blades tempered to a sharp finish as opposed to the heavy brittle blades from Arnat. Orla's job was done. Was it really necessary to take the blacksmith with them?
She pulled away from Mesmeria, giving her an apologetic smile. She needed to find Orla, but knew that Mesmeria, although she wasn't verbal about it, craved some intimacy. Mesmeria had always needed physical comfort when Cybralle left for war or even embark on a short trip within the kingdom. She saw the hidden fear in the green eyes.
“You will come back to me, will you not?” Mesmeria's voice sounded small.
“I promise to be careful, my love.” She placed a soft kiss on Mesmeria's lips. “We still have to raise our grandchildren and I will not miss that for the world.”
Mesmeria smiled weakly. “You better keep that promise.”
The music was lively and the wine was flowing freely. The cold was kept at bay by large fires around the camp. Sterling was seated in the shadow of her tent, watching the revelry. Today she had given them leave to celebrate. Today had been a grueling day, but a victorious one. The Hurians were pushed back into their desert, every last one of them. She took a sip from the goblet in her hand as her eyes carefully touched each and every men sitting around the fire. Their eyes were riveted on the swaying hips of the dancing women she had brought in from a nearby village.
They deserved the break. Two months of heavy fighting followed by the somber atmosphere of burying their dead. They had lost many good men. Four thousand men were absent from tonight's celebration. She rubbed a hand over her face. The most painful task still lay ahead for her. No one liked imparting bad news, but it had to be done. Mother, wives, sisters and girlfriends will be waiting with bated breaths as the army returned. She took a generous drink from her goblet.
“She asked about you?”
Sterling raised her head slowly and looked up into the eyes of Miriam. The Healer stood next to her.
“The dancer.” Miriam took a sip from her cup. “She wanted to know if she could spend the night in your tent.”
Sterling smiled and looked past the Healer to the dancing women. A beautiful brunette caught her eyes and held it. She smiled at the woman. She could so very easily become Orla in her arms. She had the colouring, but she lacked the size. No, she wouldn't do. She wanted Orla and nobody else.
“I am married.”
Miriam snorted into her cup. “So are half of the men ogling her.”
Sterling smiled at Miriam. “But they are not married to their soul mates, it would seem.” She emptied her goblet in one swallow. “I want my wife and no one else will do for me.”
Miriam looked at her over the rim of her cup.
“You have changed, my friend. A few months ago you would have taken all the dancers to your tent and have your way with them.”
Sterling climbed to her feet. “And then I got married to the most beautiful woman in the world. I like it that way.”
“We all know your appetite, Sterling. I doubt someone as hungry as you can handle celibacy for so long. It is almost seven months now. ”
Sterling grinned. “Well, then you will have to wait and see for yourself.”
Sterling watched as Miriam studied her carefully. The Healer's eyes kept on straying to her hand where her wedding band glinted under the candlelight. She couldn't help but shake the feeling that Miriam knew more than she was willing to share.
“What is it about my wife that fascinates you so, Miriam?” Sterling's eyes sharpened. “If your interest is romantic, then I have to warn you that I am not sharing her.”
Miriam blinked. “Interested in her? No … no … Orla is way too much woman for me. Her size alone scares me off.”
Sterling smiled, a distant look in her eyes. Everything about Orla was perfect to her. She loved her beautiful eyes, the muscled arms which made her feel safe and her kisses which paralysed her. Looking over at Miriam she shrugged. “She is just perfect for me.” She drained her glass. “I think I will go to bed now for tomorrow we will drive the Hurians even deeper into the desert. The sooner we do that the sooner I can be back in my wife's arms.”
“Newlyweds,” Miriam teased and held out her hand to take the empty goblet from Sterling.
“Besides that, I am eager to start a family.” Sterling chuckled at the horrified look on Miriam's face. “What? It is expected of me to birth the next Royals.”
Miriam raised a shaky hand to her throat. “With … with Orla?”
Sterling cocked her head to the side. “What a strange question, Miriam. She is my wife after all.” Miriam's eyes darkened slightly, making Sterling frown. “What is this all about, Healer? You seem to know something that you are not telling me.”
“You are imagining yourself, Sterling. Is it so strange for a friend to ask a few questions?”
Sterling watched Miriam closely. She was hiding something. Miriam was never good at lying, but she was better at hiding something. She was too tired to delve into the mystery that was Miriam right now. Maybe tomorrow she could sit the woman down and question her thoroughly.
“We will talk about this some other time. For now, I need to sleep.” She entered her tent, but turned back to look at Miriam. “I know you too well, Miriam. You are hiding something from me and I will find out what it is.”
“And you are sure that it was her?”
For a few moments silence reigned.
“Get everyone ready. I will be leaving with you in a few hours.”
Unable to hide his shock, the servant stared at his master. “I … I …”
Eerie blue eyes met his. “Was there something more you wanted?”
“No, milord. Your horse will be ready and waiting for you.”
Cybralle brought her horse up alongside hers and Orla acknowledged the Royal's presence with a curt nod. Cybralle looked formidable in her black body armour. Her large frame was bulked up some more and the black helmet did little to hide her steely silver eyes. Gone was the smiling façade the warrior kept around the palace, replaced by this flint-eyed warrior. Orla watched as Cybralle scanned their surroundings before turning back to her.
“We have made good time today. I believe that we will meet the Arnati camp by noon tomorrow if we keep the same pace.”
Orla looked at the sun. It was almost dusk now and they would be crossing the border within the next hour or so. This will be the first time that she leaves Karas. She rarely travelled. Instead people travelled from all over to her shed. If the work came to her than there was no real reason to leave the shed, she'd told herself a long time ago. But as she thought back to the past two days of travelling and the beautiful sights she'd seen, she must admit that she'd done a big disservice to herself. The feeling of riding on the back of a horse and even sleeping on the hard earth at night was incredibly liberating. There was nothing predictable about this. The landscape changed every day as they made their way toward the renowned mountainous kingdom of Arnat. She turned to Cybralle.
“I heard that when the gods moulded Mount Olympus, they threw all the waste rock on Arnat.”
Cybralle smiled at hearing that and cleared her throat softly. “I cannot attest for something that I had not seen with my own eyes, daughter, but many people accepted it as the truth. Seeing the rock creations, it looks indeed as if these rocks fell from the sky.” The silver eyes were twinkling as they looked at Orla. “But what would it say about the gods to fling such big boulders from the sky, not caring if it could crush their subjects. As you can see, I have been thinking about it too, but never came to a satisfying answer.”
Orla chuckled. “Is that the only reason why you do not ponder the origins of the mountains?”
“Partly, yes. But most because I find that by trying to question the origins of these rock formations, one fails to truly enjoy their beauty. If it is indeed a work of the gods, than I would think it should be enjoyed for the gift it was intended to be.”
Orla grinned. “I think you are right.” She returned her attention to the passing landscape.
“Are you happy with my daughter?”
Orla slowly turned to look at Cybralle. That was such an easy question to answer.
Cybralle's silver eyes were intense as they looked at her. “Then please do not die on this mission.”
“I do not have any plans to die soon, Cybralle.”
The Royal smirked at that. “Good. Mesmeria and I are expecting you to make us grandparents very soon.” Orla felt her face heating up and heard Cybralle laugh softly. “You did know that it would be expected of you, did you not?”
Orla reach for her water skin as a ploy to keep herself from having to look at the Royal. She doubted she will ever feel comfortable enough to discuss sex with anyone who was not her wife. She was aware that she will be expected to produce children with Sterling, but she lacked the confidence to ask Sterling how they would go about it. When she was younger she heard rumours of how the Royal pair had conceived, but for her young mind, it was still too much to process. Thinking back on what she'd heard then, she couldn't help but feel her body react to it. She could see Sterling's silver eyes ablaze with passion, her body taut in release and her mouth gaping. Orla sneaked a quick look at Cybralle and blushed when she found the Royal Consort looking at her. The knowing look in the silver eyes told her that her thoughts were not as hidden as she'd thought them to be. She was relieved when another warrior joined them.
“We are about to cross into Arnat, milady. I have instructed the men to stay together and keep their eyes open.”
Orla watched as the playful demeanour of Cybralle evaporated. The silver eyes which were twinkling only a few seconds ago grew hard.
“I will take up the lead now.”
The warrior shook his head quickly. “If milady would allow me, I would like to do that. I have selected the best men to surround you at all times.”
Cybralle's hand shot out so fast, that Orla could only blink, and grabbed the warrior closer. “Germi, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but you should not forget that I am a warrior just like any of these men here. I did not come on this trip to be coddled. Now, as your Commander, I relieve you from your position. Until we reach Erfolk, I will lead the men. Understood?”
The man swallowed hard and nodded. “Understood, milady.”
Orla saw Cybralle turn to her. “I want you to stay within the group. If something should happen I want you to be protected.”
“I am not letting you out of my sight. I am going where you go and I will be fighting alongside you.” Orla saw the silver eyes blaze with anger, but she refused to be intimidated. Cybralle will have to get physical with her to get her to back down. Judging from their sizes, they were evenly matched. Cybralle might have experience over her, but she had youth on her side.
“That was not a request, Orla,” Cybralle said through her teeth.
“I know, milady. However, I still refuse to follow that particular order.”
With deep growl, Cybralle flung herself at Orla. Orla grunted when the large frame crashed into her, slamming her hard against the ground. She was dazed by the landing and when she managed to open her eyes, she found Cybralle's face very close to hers. The silver eyes were glowing with fury.
“You will do as I say if you want to live to see your wife again. If not, I will send you home right now.”
Orla shook her head. “I will not leave your side, Cybralle. We both have a better chance of returning alive if we stick together.” She exhaled softly. “I do not desert family.”
She saw the silver eyes lose some of their heat, but still the anger remained. “Do you want my daughter to hate me forever if something happens to you?”
“Do you want the Queen to die of a broken heart if you do not return to her?” Orla saw the anger dissolve at once. “Sterling is young and could probably still find someone else. Not that I wish it to happen. But the Queen … she will die without you. Karas is not ready to lose their esteemed Queen.”
Cybralle climbed to her feet and reached out a hand to Orla. Taking a deep breath now that the pressure was off her chest, Orla reached for her hand. When they were both standing nose to nose, Cybralle pulled Orla into a crushing embrace.
“Do not die, daughter, for I know that Karas will never be the same without you too.”
They parted, both embarrassed by the public display of emotion. Cybralle turned away quickly.
“Germi, I will ride out front with Orla. Make sure that we have a row of archers, just behind us.”
Orla touched the back of her head lightly. Maybe she should wear her helmet too and maybe she should also stop to underestimate Cybralle too. The Royal was as strong as an ox.
Hidden in a tree above, having witnessed the exchange, dark blue eyes studied the retreating figure of Cybralle. Rom inhaled deeply soaking up the scent of the warrior. He sat in the tree long after the group had moved on. Sniffing the air, he felt his hackles rise. It was a full moon tonight.
He jumped down and was just about to blend into the thick green foliage when he picked up a familiar scent. Turning slowly, he stared at the large man who had crept up on him.
“I have everything under control. I will not let her out of my sight.”
Without a word the man walked away.
Cybralle's hand moved to her sword as she scanned the area around them. She had intended for them to ride through the night, but the area was too rocky. There were way too many caves in the area for their enemy to ambush them. She held up a closed fist. Germi was immediately at her side.
“It will be too dangerous to cross the pass through the mountains at night. We will make camp here tonight. Let the men make large fires around the camp. We will all keep watch tonight from within the circle.”
Earlier she had the men collect piles of firewood. They were well-trained not to question her, but she could see the confusion in their eyes. She turned to Orla to find her already helping the men lug the lumps of wood from the wagon which carried their provisions. She stood a head taller than most of the men. Orla's height will help her in keeping an eye on her. The dark head turned and light blue eyes met hers. Cybralle made a promise to herself at the moment that she would protect the girl with her life. She was too important to the future of Karas.
“Come on, men, I want the fires burning before moonrise.”
An hour later, a sweaty Orla came to sit next to her where she was sitting on a rock, talking with her Generals. The blue eyes gave off an eerie whiteness in the light of the fires. Cybralle quickly finished her meeting. She pointed to where a small tent was put up.
“You will sleep in there,” she said quietly.
“And where will you sleep?”
Cybralle felt a spark of anger. It has been more than twenty years since anyone had questioned her actions like this. But then this was no ordinary person. “I will sleep outside in front of the tent.”
Orla shrugged. “Then I will be sleeping next to you.”
“Orla …” Cybralle began, but they were interrupted by the camp cook who held out plates with cold meat cuts and bread out to them. With a quick nod they accept their food. “Stop questioning my every action, blacksmith. You seem to forget that I represent your sovereign and demand absolute obedience.”
Orla looked up from where she was studying her plate of food. Cybralle saw the blue eyes look at her plate and then back at hers. With a sigh, she speared her slices of meat and placed them in Orla's plate. She shook her head at the bright smile that came over the dark face.
“Did you hear what I just said?”
Orla was already tearing into the meat. “I did, but no matter what you say, I will not change my mind. We are bound at the hip, Cybralle.”
Cybralle wanted to respond but instead looked away. She was not going to get through the girl thick brain. She was even more stubborn that Sterling . Was this what they had to look forward to? Stubborn grandchildren? A slivery light poured over the tree tops and she slowly came to her feet, reaching for her hilt of her sword.
She looked at Orla and almost shuddered at the way the girl's eyes blazed in the light of the fire. Instead of the irises expanding, the girl's were shrinking, making her eyes look colourless.
Orla put her plate aside and rose. “What is making you so nervous? I know we are here to fight beasts, but I doubt they will break through the circle of fire.”
Cybralle looked away. Could she trust the girl with what she knew? Her gaze touched the tree tops again. She had a right to know since she was putting her life on the line . She sighed, having made up her mind.
“Let us sit and I will tell you,” she said quietly. She slowly lowered herself rock next to Orla. She threw a careful glance around her to make sure no one was within hearing distance. “I grew up with my grandmother after my mother died in childbirth.” Cybralle smiled at the memory of her grandmother, missing her more now than ever. “She was the best storyteller in the whole kingdom and all the children in the village used to come to our hut to listen to her stories.” Years of keeping to herself and not talking about her past made her pause, wondering if she should continue. She did when she saw she had Orla's full attention. The girl was looking at her intently with those strange eyes of hers. “She, however, left the good ones for me. At night we would sit in front of the fire as she brushed out my hair and she would take me to faraway lands. One night she told me a tale of this powerful clan who ruled a distant land. They were there since the beginning of time. Some people said they were there when the earth was created. They were seen as the keepers of the earth, spoken for by the gods. They were just and noble.”
The sound of the men joking nearby interrupted her and she looked at the sky, seeing that the light was travelling slowly down the trees. She felt for the hilt of her sword again.
Cybralle released her hand on her sword and cleared her throat softly. “To be able to guard mankind against evil, they were given a special gift by the gods. The gift would set them apart from humans.” Cybralle rubbed over her eyes. “They could shift into wolves.”
Orla chuckled. “Wolves? How?”
Cybralle considered stopping the tale, but thought against it. Orla might not believe her, but whatever little detail she believed of the tale might save her life in the end.
“That is perhaps a question you will have to ask the gods one day when you meet them on the bank of the Great River. All I know is what I was told. Now keep quiet and let me finish the story. They could change at will, but when the moon was full they were said to change into man-eating beasts, killing indiscriminately.”
Cybralle paused, reliving the fear she'd felt when her grandmother told her the story. It was an echo of the fear she'd felt when Prince Halen had told her about the scourge plaguing Arnat. Beasts that stood taller than a grown man with fiery eyes and large teeth which tore through flesh and bone.
Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Orla look at her. She looked at the girl. “You probably wonder why I am telling you this.”
“Yes, I do.”
She captured the girl's eyes and held them. “I believe they are the ones plaguing Arnat.”
“No,” Orla shook her head. “You said yourself it was a story your grandmother told you.”
“I cannot tell you how, but I just know it is them.” She looked at the sky again. The light had moved lower. “I know it is the Ulvs.”
“Ulvs? What does that mean?”
“It is the name of the Royal House of the Clan. It means powerful wolf.”
Cybralle watched as Orla reached for the goblet that the cook had sent over after delivering the food. “But why would the gods put a beast in charge of their subjects if the same beast will destroy mankind?”
“That is another question for the gods.” Cybralle came to her feet. “It will be full moon tonight. Keep your weapons close.”
A dark shadow tore itself away from the trunk of the tree. A bright smile lit up the dark face, making blue eyes light up as it made its way away from the circle of fire and into the darkness beyond.
As shaft of moonlight pierced through the dense tree branches and caressed the man's dark head. With a soft sight he lifted his face and look up at the silver-hued treetops. A small sound on the right made him stiffen as he sniffed the air. He was never alone, but he still hated being surprised like this. But tonight was different. He would not take a chance with her safety. It was the first time in almost two decades that he's seen her again. She was truly magnificent. Her mother had done great in raising her.
“How far are they from here?”
Another shadow stepped closer. “About a day or so, sire.”
The man's eyes strayed in the direction where the camp lay. He wasn't going to leave her sight tonight. “Make sure the Arnati troops are protected. I will stay here just in case something happens.”
“Yes, sire. I will leave immediately.”
The man settled himself against a tree. He will keep watch from here. No need to prowl around the camp and cause any more panic than was needed. He closed his eyes, but they fluttered open almost immediately. Maybe he could sneak just one more peek at her. He gracefully came to his feet and stealthily made his way toward the camp.
Orla turned over onto her back with a soft groan. The camp was quiet with a few snores sounding here and there, but she knew everyone was awake. After supper the Generals had divided the troops in groups and informed them about what they could expect. A frenzy of weapon scrubbing had ensued and just as quickly the camp had settled down. Orla raised herself onto her elbows and studied the expanse of the camp. The fires were still burning high, but she doubted they would keep throughout the night. She looked to where Cybralle slept and found the silver eyes alert, studying the area.
Orla lay back down on her sleeping furs. Supper was a few hours ago, but she was hungry again. She would trade her shed for a side of beef just about now. She let out a frustrated sigh. Her eyes widened suddenly and she threw a quick glance at Cybralle. The silver eyes were focused on a spot on the other side of the camp. Was it possible that the warrior hadn't heard the soft footfall? It sounded very close. The hair at the back of her neck rose suddenly. Someone was there, looking at them. She looked at Cybralle and this time found the woman looking back at her.
What is it ? Cybralle mouthed.
Someone is watching us, she mouthed back.
Cybralle slowly pulled her sword closer. Are you sure?
I can just feel them looking at us.
Orla watched as Cybralle gave a fake snore and turn over onto her other side.
Cybralle pierced the darkness behind the ring of fire. After a while she turned back to face Orla. The girl was right. She couldn't see anyone or anything, but they were definitely being watched. Even now she could feel eyes on them. She looked over to where Germi lay so she could warn him. Just beyond where Germi laid she detected a slight movement. Her eyes sharpened as she tried to make out the shape. Her heart stuttered to a stop as the shaft of moonlight shot through the three branches. She watched in stunned shock as blood red eyes came into view.
“Take up arms, we are under attack! Take your positions! NOW!” She was on her feet rushing towards where she'd seen the beast. As she came closer more red eyes sprang out from the dark. She had to give her men credit, for they were immediately armed and assuming battle positions. She lifted her sword just as large dark shape hurled itself at her. She was winded as she landed on her back, a large wolf straddling her.
Cybralle had never feared for her life, but looking at huge beast, teeth barred sitting on her chest, she felt herself saying a quick goodbye. The wolf growled deeply as it lowered its head towards her. She turned her head away, closing her eyes as she waited for those long canines to tear into her. The beast was so close to her face that she could smell its breath. When nothing happened, she turned her head slowly to look at the wolf. The wolf's eyes were dark now as they studied her and Cybralle was shocked to find them to held intelligence. She lifted her sword slowly, hoping to catch the beast by surprise, only to have it slapped out her hand.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw booted feet coming closer. That was when she realized that everything had happen to fast, probably seconds, because knowing her men would not take minutes to react to a threat to their Commander. The wolf backed off her, its fur standing on end as it snarled at the men. Cybralle took that time to spring to her feet and dive for her sword.
She heard the sharp twang of arrows being released and the wolf growled as it stormed into the men, flattening them with its huge body as it made its way through the throng of soldiers. With her sword in her hand she made for the wolf only to be brought up short, by a scream, which quickly ended in a death rattle. Swinging around, she saw another large wolf viciously tearing at one of the men. The beast lifted its head, its face stained red with blood. More wolves penetrated the fire circle, making for the men.
Even with all the chaos around her, she remembered Orla and pushed through the fighting mass to get to the blacksmith. She sighed in relief when she found the blacksmith engaged in a fierce battle with one of the creatures. It was huge and outweighed her by far, but Orla expertly dodged its claws. Every now and then she moved into small openings, piercing the beast with her sword, making it howl in pain. Cybralle weighed her options. She could return to her men and help them out or she could stay and keep Orla's back. Turning to look at her men, she saw that quite a few were down, but so too were a few of the beasts. She was proud to see how her men worked in tandem as they took down another creature. She was just about to turn back to Orla when she saw a strange occurrence.
The wolf which attacked her earlier pushed another wolf to the ground, ripping out its throat. With a deep growl of satisfaction it rose on both hind legs and in an upright position made for the closest wolf which was engaged with group of soldiers. Using its bulk it pushed the soldiers to the ground. With a swipe of its claw, it flung the wolf to the ground; not giving it a chance to recover it bore down on it. Taking both jaws in its claws, it pushed it apart, causing them to dislocate with a sickening crunch. She saw her men come to their feet, eyeing the wolf warily. The wolf swung it shaggy head in their direction and growled before lunging for another creature. The men seem to get the idea and within a few seconds a hesitant partnership was formed. When she saw her men all find protection behind the huge wolf, Cybralle turned her attention to Orla. What she saw made the air explode from her lungs. A soft keening sound reached her ears and it took her a while to realize that it was coming from her.Cybralle dropped to her knees, doubling over as she retched violently.
To be continued...
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