Blood and Honor
Zee: By an American and a Canadian well mostly the Canadian, it's her fault.
Windstar: Zee is, as usual, making things up. This story is completely her fault and a result of her imagination only. I claim no responsibility for this at all.
Feedback is always welcome at: email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Many years ago.
It had been weeks since Nix had spent that surreal night in the woods with Selene. Nix sighed as she thought the name. 'Selene.' There was just something about how the name rolled off the tongue. After a moment of reflection, she frowned. Nix had not heard from the woman and had only seen her from afar when she had come by to supervise the construction going on. Nix would have approached her but standing at Selene's elbow was Laurel.
Nix had nothing against Laurel. The woman was just the epitome of perfection: not too tall and not too short, fit, intelligent, well spoken, could read and write, was an excellent warrior and had a beautiful voice. She, on the other hand, was too tall and muscular, not very intelligent, couldn't read or write, and sounded like an Alcen that had stepped on a thorn when she tried to sing. The only thing she could remotely do well was the warrior thing, she mused. She knew she could pound people with her hands or a hammer if she needed to.
Nix's frown deepened, she didn't know why Selene spending time with Laurel bothered her. But, it did. A lot.
As the sun sank away giving the Goddess reign in the night sky, Nix removed the protective cloth from her eyes, rubbing them as she yawned. She slowly went about closing up her metal workshop for the night. It had been a busy day. They had needed her size and sheer strength today, not her smith skills. She had hefted beams for the roof of some building in the center of the city. Settling her large frame back into a nearby chair she gazed around her workshop until her eyes fell on the silvery stone halves that had fallen from the sky. The mysterious orb they had protected was now in Selene's able care, but she had not been able to leave the remaining stone halves behind. They were still important. Nix felt it in her bones.
She got up and made her way to the broken stones. With her heavily callused hand, she picked one of the halves up. It was heavy and cool in her hand.
She eyeballed it for a moment and then muttered, "What is your purpose?"
As she stared at it, she suddenly realized that it wasn't really a rock but more like metal ore. 'Hmmm,' she pondered. 'Perhaps I could melt it down and make something... jewelry, a crown, or... something.' There were so many possibilities.
She picked up the other half and carried them to the back of her shop where the bellows sat like a sleeping dragon.
With a nervous cough Nix ran the polishing cloth over the blade one more time. She eyed the sword. Not quite what she had in mind when she had taken the moon rock back to the fires three nights ago.
She dropped the cloth and picked the sword up gently and then set it down into a long, wooden box she had made just for it. A sword had been the last thing on her mind when she had gone to her forge but somehow that was what had been made. Thick fingers closed the box. Then blue eyes focused on the other object. She'd had just enough of the molten liquid left to fashion a small headband.
She wanted Selene to have a gift of beauty and she thought the headdress would make the woman stand out like the leader all the women saw her to be. Picking up a brown soft cloth she wrapped the circlet in the cloth, smiling one last time at the delicate winding vines that came together in the front to cradle a full moon. Nix was always surprised that her large hands could do such delicate work.
Nix stood and wrapped the protective cloth around her eyes, grabbed both the box and the cloth and left her workshop.
Selene wiped a dribble of sweat from her forehead and surveyed the progress they'd made with approval. She'd been helping a group of women set up farm plots to sustain them through the next long winter. She sighed tiredly. There was too much to do and too few hands to do it. Trying to dust off her dirty hands she finally gave up and simply rested in the shade of the large tree as the long summer day ended. She watched the sunset as it lit up the western sky. With an effort she brought her gaze back to the working women.
"Natasha" she called to one of the nearby women, "have you seen Laurel?" The other woman, a scullery maid before the Exodus, shrugged her permanently hunched over shoulders. "Not since lunch, m'lady."
Selene sighed again, both because of the title and the fact that her supposed suitor had again slipped away during the work period.
Selene pushed herself off the ground. The humid heat was oppressive and she suddenly had an urge to swim in the cool clear waters of the river someone had decided to call the Winderling. She wasn't sure why. Probably, she thought idly, because it winded its way through most of the countryside after it left the mountains to the south.
"We can try to get the rest of the gardening done tomorrow," the blonde called out to the group of women, who waved their understanding.
Nix had stood in the shadows of the trees and the setting sun, watching the women garden, noticing one in particular. It looked rather hard and sweaty work. But Selene, she decided, made sweaty hard work look rather appealing. Nix blushed as she realized where her train of thought had taken her.
After taking a moment to put her thoughts back on track, she happily noticed Laurel was nowhere to be found. She stepped out of the shadows and approached Selene,
"Um, my lady," she said softly.
"... gardening done tomorrow." Selene started from the nearby voice and she turned around looking up to meet Nix's face.
With a bright smile the blonde moved closer to the other woman, touching her arm. "Nix! I haven't seen you since, well, you know." She'd wanted several times to go see how the smith was doing, but somehow Laurel had always managed something else for her to do.
As Selene touched Nix's arm, the tall woman's blush came back and she ducked her head. "I understand. You're busy, lots of people and things to keep track of."
"Still, I should have made time and come and seen your smithy." Selene took hold of the taller woman's arm and tugged her toward the path that led down to the river. "Come on, I was just about to take a swim."
Too stunned to object, Nix let the woman lead her. "Oh... okay, are you sure you want me to come with you?"
The blonde squeezed the hard muscles under her fingertips and nodded. "Why wouldn't I?"
"Um... well... because I don't know how to swim?" she stammered.
Nix had almost said 'because Laurel might be upset', but decided not to ruin the moment.
"Well then, you can keep watch and protect me from any marauders," Selene said teasingly, keeping a hold of Nix's arm as she led her down to the river. Pulling Nix down with her, she sat on the grassy bank and undid her boots, setting them to the side. And she started on the rest of her clothes.
Nix carefully put the box down beside her and held onto the wrapped circlet. For a moment, she closed her eyes trying to find the right words. Turning her head toward Selene she took a deep breath and blurted out. "I brough... You're naked!"
Nix quickly turned her cloth-covered eyes away from the shapely flesh in front of her.
Selene laughed, stood up and dived into the water sighing with relief. The sweat and grime of the day washed off in the cool refreshing water. Coming up for a breath she shook her head, sending water flying. "That's what generally happens when you go swimming." she called to the woman on the riverbank.
'I've been missing out by not learning how to swim, I see,' the smith muttered to herself.
"I showed the orb to Willow. She agrees that it's a sign from the Goddess," Selene called out, floating on her back for a moment before diving under the water and surfacing again.
Nix tried to look everywhere but at Selene's body. "Well it's good that we found it then," she responded, self-consciously wiping ash from her leather pant legs.
"Before we fled, swimming was the only time I felt free," the blonde said suddenly, treading water and staring up at the sunset hued sky.
Nix looked up, surprised by the admission. "Really? Before the Exodus, I'd never seen water that didn't come out of a bucket. Actually, I'd never seen the sky either. It still frightens me, all the emptiness." She shivered thinking about it.
"Then I'm glad we left. Now you get to see the sky and the rivers, and best of all, we are free," Selene said simply, wading to shore.
"Being free is good. Now I can make the things I want, not just dig for gold and make weapons. Oh!" Nix remembered the gift that she was clenching.
"I made you a gift... well, gifts rather..." She trailed off as she watched the approaching woman. "Um, you're naked again." 'Was it really this hot?' she wondered. Maybe I should try this swimming.
Selene pulled the cloth shift over her head, grinning at the red-faced smith. "Well, I had to get out of the water to find out what you've been holding onto so tightly."
For the third time, Nix blushed, "Oh, um, sorry... here." She dumbly thrust the wrapped circlet at Selene, then grabbed the box and shoved it toward her.
Blinking in surprise the blonde found her arms full of a long box and a cloth-wrapped present.
Not really wanting to see Selene's reaction, she walked toward the river and stared at abundant liquid.
Bending over, she trailed her hands in the water. She was fascinated by the shell that seemed to separate the air and the water, and she spent moments playing with the surface tension.
Behind her Selene lay the heavy box down on the ground and opened it first, saving the cloth wrapped object for last. With a gasp she fingered the hilt of the blade, which shimmered from within at her touch. "It's beautiful," she whispered. "I don't know how to use it, but it's simply gorgeous."
Next she opened the cloth bag and took in the circlet, gasping at how exquisite it was. "You made these, for me?"
Nix blinked and turned around. "Yes, I made them for you. I wanted to make you something special. I didn't intend to make a sword but that's what the moon rock wanted to be. I had just enough metal left over to make you the circlet. I think you're beautiful and should have beautiful things." Nix cringed inwardly at her boldness. Saying such things was probably crossing a line. She turned back to stare at the moving water.
Selene stared at Nix in shock, and then looked back down at the circlet in her hands. Moving closer to the muscular woman she held it up. "Help me put it on?" she asked softly.
Nix turned around at the request. "Oh, of course, my lady." Gently she took the round silvery metal out of Selene's hands and carefully placed it on the smaller woman's head.
Selene captured those hands and leaned upward, pulling Nix downward so she could meet the taller woman in the middle. "They are as beautiful as the one who crafted them," she whispered, brushing her lips against Nix's.
The dagger sliced through the neck of the northerner with a satisfying, wet slurping sound. Blood splattered her chest and arms as the woman's heart continued to pump blood. Smiling serenely, Khelin watched the life fade from the woman's eyes. Casually she shoved the body aside towards the dark priestess gathered near the throne she had claimed for her own.
"Here. Read her entrails."
In the torch light, shadows flickered around the room giving the priestess additional strength. She nodded her shaved head at Khelin as she approached the body.
A terrified servant cautiously approached with warm water and a towel for Khelin. She cleaned herself off absently as she watched the priestess open the woman up to read the future in her organs.
Closing dark brown eyes, she shoved her hands into the bloody opening letting the warm blood envelop her hands. The woman went still and then her head shot up and her eyes darkened until they were completely black.
Khelin shoved the servant aside, expectantly leaning forward on her throne to listen to what the priestess had to say.
A voice too big for the priestess's skinny body boomed from her throat. "The two Chosen of the Mistress are dead. Both are incased in ice. They are nothing but food for scavengers and additional proof of your failure. The Dark Lady is displeased." The priestess's helpers looked around nervously fearing that their deaths would come soon.
With a furious snarl, Khelin stood from her the throne in Abnoa. "Their failure is not my fault." She sneered stalking around the priestess and the body she was bent over.
The priestess swayed from side to side but her hands never left their bloody resting place.
"The Moon hides the Mistress's eyes but she can hear rumblings in the North. One has come who will lead. One has come whose bloodline will sire a line of Queens and the castle will be filled with life again. On a razor edge do both sides sit and when spring comes, Vladlin will have his fill of blood. But the Betrayer will awaken the spoils of the Gods and from her will, Queens be made and destroyed." The Priestess closed her eyes and with a shudder fell back. Her helpers quickly rushed to attend her.
With a growl Khelin turned her back on the priestess. "Prophetic rubbish," she muttered, her thoughts whirling as she tried to make sense of the priestess's words. She sat back down on her throne. The problem with prophecies was, you never really knew what they were about until it was too late.
"Get me my pets," she called out, impatiently rapping her fingers on the granite arms of the chair.
The four women who entered the hall looked normal enough, but all of Khelin's generals, advisors, and staff knew enough about these four to keep a very healthy distance.
The priestess whispered harshly,"If you insist on killing off the Mistress's Chosen, you will find her goodwill taken from you."
The dark-haired queen smiled slightly, glancing dismissively at the priestess.
"Are you telling me four of the Mistress's Chosen can't take care of a little upstart?"
"Your obsession with this Luna has killed two already. And now you send them into the enemy's camp," the priestess snarled.
The assassins looked over at the priestess coldly. They were the best. Nobody doubted them, especially a Priestess of the Mistress.
With a smirk toward the assassins, Khelin levered herself up off the throne. Ignoring the priestess's warning, she languidly walked around the four, smiling at them. "You are the best, aren't you?" The Queen trailed her fingers along their shoulders and arms, much as if she were examining a new horse for flaws.
Each one nodded, proud to belong to such a powerful owner, one who was favored by the Mistress. One spoke up, "We are the best. Those who have come before us showed you dishonor in their failure. Allow us to put this grievous error right." Her black eyes looked at the floor.
Khelin patted that one on the cheek. "I have no doubt." She turned, squatting down to face the priestess on the floor. "There you have it. They won't fail."
With a flick of her wrist, Khelin pulled the dagger at her waist and drove it into the Priestess's chest, twisting it with a crunch of bone. "Unlike you." With her face a sudden mask of rage, Khelin stabbed the fallen priestess again and again until she was once more splattered with blood.
Only then did she stand up, smiling once more serenely at one of the horrified priestess's assistants, and returned to her throne. "Find this new leader. Kill her and her council. Then," Khelin leaned forward, her eyes reflecting insanity, "find Luna and kill her, slowly. Very slowly."
Each one of the four looked up at her, murderous hunger burning bright in their eyes. One by one they nodded and left, none sparing even a dismissive glance to the dead priestess on the floor. The last one spoke before leaving.
"Your will is our will."
"Yes it is, isn't it?" Khelin purred.
"How many Rangers have answered so far?" Luna asked, staring down at the map of the northern lands that was rapidly consuming her life. They were once again in the library of the Queen's Castle pouring over possibilities for the spring and the inevitable attack by Khelin. Ever since her disastrous talk with Torrin, Luna's days and nights had not been her own. She'd met more people during meetings and planning sessions in the last few days than she'd known existed in the entire North.
Tasha yawned, leaning back in her chair. "Two dozen. We'll probably get more during the spring time, hopefully before Khelin moves."
Luna nodded, rubbing her eyes and turning towards Alyssandra. "Ship's?"
Before she could answer, angry mumbling drifted through the closed doors. Then a voice was very clearly heard ordering the guard to open the door. That was their only warning before the door jerked open by a very scared looking guard. Tasha's chair hit the floor with a thump as her mother stalked angrily into the room. She gulped nervously, looking around wondering who in the room had earned Tyra's anger. She shrank back as she realized that her mother's gaze was directed at Rhain, Luna, and herself.
Luna blinked and looked up from the map in surprise as Tyra barged into the room and marched toward them with the apologetic guard helplessly following behind her "Tyra? What's wrong?"
Her head held high, back ramrod straight, and gray eyes blazing, Tyra glared at the women gathered As her gaze swept over everyone in the room even Magda looked down at her lap ashamed for something although she wasn't sure what. Finally Tyra's eyes found the ones she was looking for. "Which one of you is responsible?" Her voice was quiet, but it dripped with menace.
Luna had the urge to find a shield. "Responsible for what?" the blonde asked, carefully, not sure if she should be finding cover yet.
"Which one of you is responsible for driving her away? She's gone, and I know it's one you," Tyra nearly growled.
Tasha shrank back in her seat, as her mother pointed at the three of them. 'Goddess,' she thought, 'her mother was pointing at them...she is really upset.'
Rhain remained still and concentrated on looking just as confused as everybody else. 'Goddess...,' she could just dance though. 'It had worked,' she thought gleefully, 'the Betrayer was gone.'
"Torrin?" Luna asked, rising to her feet. "Torrin's gone?" Slow but mounting dread curled through her gut. She had brushed the mercenary off the last time she'd seen her, still angry over the fight they'd had earlier.
Tasha blinked, "Mom? Is...? She has a guard... she couldn't have gone far..." She was interrupted by Rhain's smug voice. "I told you she should be locked up, she's probably half-way back to Abnoa to report to Khelin."
"Shut up, Rhain," Luna hissed, quickly walking away from the table and headed toward the Healer's hall. She nearly ran over the guard outside the doors in her haste.
Tasha noticed the others in the room seemed very interested in the discussion, and so she growled at Rhain, "Not here! This is a family matter."
Their mother's blue eyes grew even stormier."Since her return, both of you have gone out of your way to make your sister feel unwelcome. You..." she pointed at Rhain, "with your threats. And you..." looking at Tasha, "by pretending she's not here." Tyra pointed at Luna's retreating form. "She at least tried." With that, she turned and followed after Luna.
Luna took the stairs two at a time, her fast walk becoming a run as she neared the hall. Bursting through the doors she skidded to a stop. The room was empty. A pile of clothes and a small leather bag on the neatly made bed were all that remained. Swallowing hard, the blonde gingerly picked up the leather bag, untied the drawstring and emptied its contents. Gleaming gold coins spilled out onto the clean linen.
Tyra paused at the door for a moment. "Those are southern," she said quietly as she moved into the room. A lump formed in her throat. When she first came in and found the room empty of her daughter, she became angry. But now, tears came to her eyes. "Her pack is gone...that's how I know..." She trailed off looking around, for the first time noticing the mess, and the broken chairs.
Luna lightly touched one of the gold coins with a finger tip. Then, with a snarl, she shoved them away, sending the coins scattering across the stone floor. "Where's the guard?" she asked, closing her eyes and tried not to feel sick.
Standing next to Luna, Tyra spied the torque lying on the bed. She reached out and traced the lines that made up the silver dragon. "I don't know. I didn't come in past the doorway really."
Panting with exertion, Rhain and Tasha pulled up short at the door, not sure whether or not to come in. Rhain's face paled upon seeing the chest of gold on the floor.
Just as Luna was going to confront them, she spotted something on the other side of the bed. Leaping over it, she pulled up the bound and gagged guard. "I found the guard." Luna said. Quickly she undid the bonds, relieved when she was certain the guard was breathing.
Rhain glared triumphantly at Tasha. "See? How much more proof do you need to show you that she's dangerous? She is the Betrayer. She destroyed Abnoa, and now she's going to destroy us here and put that Khelin on the Queen's Throne."
Tasha waved Rhain's outburst off and moved into the room to check the guard. She crouched down next to Luna. "Wow, she's out cold," she said as she touched her face.
"How do you know that?" Luna asked coldly. She stood up from examining the guard. "How do you know what happened at Abnoa?" Taking a step forward toward Rhain, murder in her eyes, Luna growled, "You weren't there. Who told you what she did?"
Rhain took a step back flustered by the sharp questioning. She didn't know why Luna was so fond of Torrin, or why any of them were so blind to her traitorous sister. She was quickly trying to think of what to say. Quinn had told her not to mention her ghostly visit. She squared her shoulders and stammered, "I-I, have my sources."
Luna got in Rhain's face, her nose less than a hair's breath from Rhain's. "What have you done?" Luna spat, her hands clenched into fists.
"My duty to the Castle and the people here," Rhain shouted back at Luna."Something you all seem to have forgotten. Tell me she isn't a mercenary? Tell me I'm wrong about her opening the gate for the Southern forces. Tell me she won't turn around and try to kill us all if some one offers her just the right amount of money. Tell me..."
Luna backhanded Rhain hard. The move surprised Luna almost as much as Rhain. The warrior reached for the hilt of her sword when she heard Tyra gasp. Then she realized what she was about to do and dropped her hand. "Get out!" Luna snarled. "I don't ever want to see you again! GET OUT!"
Tyra rushed to Rhain, grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room before she lost another daughter.
Luna had never wanted to kill a Northerner before. Only Tyra's presence kept Rhain from being slain. With Tyra and Rhain gone, Luna numbly sat down on the bed, staring at the gold coins spread across the floor. "I never got to tell her 'thank you'," she muttered hoarsely.
Tasha heaved the guard onto the bed. Looking over at Luna, she asked mildly, "Thank her for what?" She returned her attention the guard. She was totally at a loss for why the woman was out cold. There wasn't a mark on her.
"For saving me," Luna whispered while staring dully at the coins on the floor, her anger having drained out of her.
Tasha gave up and sat down next to Luna. She frowned as she heard paper crinkle. Reaching under the bed, she found a small piece of paper with Luna's name on it. Without reading it, she handed it to Luna who just put it in her pocket. "Well, I'm not trying to put a bad light on my sister, but why would you need to thank her? You paid her to save you. Wasn't she just doing a job?"
"I never paid her," Luna said with a ghost of a smile as she kicked at one of the mocking gold coins that lay nearby. "I didn't... I couldn't bring myself to," she sighed. Just another reason she had been avoiding talking to Torrin for the last few weeks. She'd feared that the mercenary would ask for her money and then leave.
"Oh..." Tasha scratched her nose in thought. "I saw the ...," she pointed to the small chest on the floor just visible under a smashed chair. "I just assumed that was the real reason she left. Of course, it still doesn't explain the temper tantrum someone had in here, and the southern coins, and clothes." She paused as she looked around."This room is turning into one big mystery." Tasha sighed, rubbing her face. "Can I go back to bed and start this day over?"
"Me, too," Luna said, standing up and looking back at the guard who was slowly showing signs of waking up. "Do you think I could find Torrin if I went after her now?"
Tasha looked shocked. "You can't leave the meeting now! You're the only one anybody will listen to. If you leave, everyone will go back to fighting and nothing will get done."
Luna closed her eyes. She didn't want to hear what Tasha was saying. What the ranger truly wanted to do was leave the city, track down Torrin and apologize and try to make things like they were. 'What chance do I have? She probably hates me now and thinks I had something to do with whatever Rhain did.' Sighing, she glanced once more at the coins and reluctantly nodded at Tasha, and then abruptly left the room. The questions still lingering in the air, unanswered.
Nearly frozen from traveling all night and most of the day in the cold and snow, the mercenary stumbled upon a run-down tavern. Drunken laughter echoed out of the building. As she approached, a few shaggy beasts lifted their dangerously spiraled twin horned heads and stared at her with curious brown eyes.
The steps up to the door creaked under her weight. She took a moment to knock the snow off her feet and then opened the door. Torrin's nose was assaulted by the musky smell of people. For a moment, everyone paused to take in the newcomer but then they went back to their cups.
Pulling off her fur lined gloves, Torrin went to sit at far end of the bar. The women here all had a rough-and-tumble feel to them. They all had a similar look to them as well. Unlike Luna and the Tribe of Earth, these women were shorter and thicker. They had reddish hair, blue eyes, and broad shoulders, thick arms and legs. Torrin had to smile. She felt like she was back in her mercenary camp. These women were scrappers, definitely in-your-face, steel fighters and not lean-bodied rangers.
"You're a new one?" the young server asked.
Torrin snorted,"Yeah, I would say I'm new since I've never been here before."
"You a southerner?"
"What gave it away? It's the hair, right?" she said sarcastically.
"Eh, no need to be cheeky. I can have my mum throw you out any time," the woman retorted.
Torrin nodded at the girl."Warning received."
The woman acknowledged the concession."Good. You know this tavern is owned by Wooten of the Fire Clan. Normally only those of the clan come here. They tend to think of it as their own place."
"You telling me to leave?"
"Nah, just giving you another friendly warning. They may give you plenty of shit for being here."
"Thanks, but I'm more than capable of taking care of myself."
The server looked the stranger over and nodded at what she saw."Yes, I bet you can. So you want the stew and ale?"
Torrin grinned."Sounds good."
She sighed happily as the ale was placed before her. As she took a sip, she tried to ignore the person who sat down next to her.
"Hey, we got ourselves a girlie here," the woman said with a laugh as she looked at Torrin's dark, short hair."She doesn't even have a braid."
Torrin gritted her teeth, took another sip and continued to ignore the loud woman.
"Hey, pretty thing, your mama know you're out playing with the big bad warriors of the Fire clan?"
Torrin took another swallow, but broke her vow to ignore the woman when she seized her neck and in a quick move, grabbed the woman's offending hand and snapped it back at the wrist. Twisting it to make sure she had the woman's attention, she quietly hissed,"Don't touch me. Don't ever presume that you can just take liberties with my person without being invited. You got me?"
The woman nodded her head stoically as she held back a scream of pain.
Two other women appeared."You braid-less baby, how dare you attack one of our sisters?"
Torrin let go of the woman's wrist and turned around on the stool."You want to know why I keep my hair short?"
Both women quirked eyebrows at the question.
In another quick movement, Torrin grabbed them, a braid in each hand, and slammed their heads together.
The Clan of Fire, true to their name, quickly leapt into the conflict. Before Torrin knew it, she had started a bar brawl of epic proportions. A stool flew over her head and she sidestepped a kick. Bare knuckles cracked on her cheek and she slid back. Ducking under another swing she sent and uppercut into a thick woman's chin, with a grin, she watched the woman's eyes roll up into her head. Turning, she jumped into the fray with a joyous grin. She had a feeling she was going to get along well with these women.
The bar was a shamble of broken furniture and broken limbs. Around a table propped up with a broom and a stool, 15 women drank ale. Torrin found herself with a black eye and a split lip, squeezed in between two stout women, singing dirty songs and passing a mug around. Feeling a tap on her shoulder, she turned, coming face to sternum with an older woman. The woman was huge with fleshy jowls, gray hair capping her head in wild curls, and angry blue eyes staring back at Torrin.
"You wrecked my bar." The woman stated barely on this side of calm.
Torrin looked around as if seeing the tavern for the first time and she winced at the damage."Yes, it looks like I did."
"Ah, Wooten, give the girl a break," someone at the table called out."She's been having a rough time of it. Look at that face. All I have to say is it must be a woman."
The rest of the women at the table chimed in with,"Because it's always about a woman."
Torrin flushed at the implication but apologetically said,"I don't have enough money on me to pay for the damages but if you can spare me a place to sleep, I'll stay and work it off."
Wooten stared hard at the girl. The dark hair and short stature gave away her southerner heritage, but the gray-blue eyes and pale skin showed a hint of a northern mother in the mix as well."Let me see your hands."
Obediently, Torrin held them up. Wooten grabbed a hand feeling the strength in it as well as the rough calluses. This one was no stranger to a sword. Examining the other one, she paused at the bandage. Ah, a warrior with a wounded wing... that might explain the lost look in the girl's eyes."Very well, at least your hands aren't lily soft. You stay here two weeks, fix the damage and do the odd jobs I tell you to and we're square. Okay?"
Torrin nodded her head."Okay."
Luna stared moodily out of the Castle window and watched the increased activity in the streets below. With agonizing slowness, the clans were beginning to work together for the first time in generations. The streets of the Queen's City were once again filled with members of all clans and not just the Wind Walkers. This now was causing its own problems.
With a sigh, Luna glanced sideways towards Magda, and raised an eyebrow. "Why did your warriors decide to brawl with the Wave Dancers again?"
Magda tried not to wince. She would have to lecture her youngest about who she bedded and why she shouldn't bragged about it. "It seemed like the thing to do at the time," she said with a shrug of her large shoulders.
"Allysandra wants the head of whoever it was that started it, you know." Luna was inclined to agree with Magda on that answer. The Fire warriors weren't exactly known for their patience in working out problems. She had a few ideas about how to deal with it, but Luna first wanted to deal with the current issue at hand.
Magda rolled her eyes. "Well, that's Allysandra for you. She always makes things seem bigger than they really are. It was nothing, just some young ones testing each other out. Once they get it out of their system things will settle down." Magda didn't understand what the big deal was. This was normal behavior for the Clan.
"Magda, four of her people are in the Healer's Hall and two of them are going to be lucky if they are healthy enough to join us at Ellris Pass."
Magda cracked her knuckles. Sheesh, another talk with her youngest. That damn girl and her mouth, though Adrian really should keep her hands off of anyone from Allysandra's clan.
Luna eyed the other woman. "Do you really want to shatter whatever trust exists between the clans? Because, if your people keep this up, that's exactly what's going to happen. Then we might just as well hand Khelin the throne on a platter."
Magda looked down like a chastised, unbraided girl. "No, I don't want that southern bitch on the throne." She sighed, "Fine, if it will make ya happy, I'll rotate them out so some are staying at Wooten's Tavern. That way not so many of us are underfoot. We wouldn't want to disappoint the North yet again," she muttered under her breath.
Luna clapped the shorter woman on one broad shoulder. "I know you don't." Suddenly changing topics, Luna motioned towards the southern bank of the river. "I have something I wanted to talk to you about. Your people are getting restless and so are the Rangers. I'd like for squads of your people, with Rangers attached to them, to begin patrolling the woods."
"That should help your people get used to us." A memory of the attack by marauders on the way to the Queen's castle crossed Luna's mind and she added,"and at the same time, help make the roads safe again."
Magda nodded. She liked the idea. "Good thinking." She slapped Luna on the back." We'll cut down those miserable excuses for Northerners."
The tall blonde winced, nearly stumbling from the stinging slap. "Only those who won't surrender," Luna hastily corrected her. She didn't want Magda to get it into her head to wipe out the roving bands. "We'll offer them amnesty if they agree to fight with us."
Quickly she continued, seeing Magda beginning to frown. "Magda, you know we'll need every bow and sword we can get if we are to have a chance at holding the Pass."
"Oh right, I suppose there's some wisdom to that thinking. I guess that's why you're the leader." Magda grinned and slapped Luna on the back again before turning to go.
Luna stared dumbly at Magda's wide retreating back, blinking a few times before shaking her head. She wasn't the leader. She was just helping out where she could. "Fire warriors," she muttered, rolling her eyes and then turned to look back out the window.
Wooten covertly stared at the young woman fixing a table over in the corner. It had been a little over a week since the stranger had entered her place, and yes, she was just a girl. Thanks to her talkative daughter, Weslen, she had found out a plethora of information on the new arrival that had nearly wrecked her bar. The most surprising fact was the girl was only 22, and if Wooten wasn't mistaken, the girl had seen way too much of life for someone her age. She doubted if Torrin had ever lived normally. She had noticed how surprised the girl always acted when one of the warriors would invite her to join a table for a drink, and the guarded look she got when she sat down. It was like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for the chair to be yanked out from under her at the last moment.
However, what Torrin failed to realize, Wooten mused, was since the moment she beat up most of the women in the bar, the Clan of Fire had accepted her as a sister and toasted the happening with a drink and a few bawdy songs.
The only thing Wooten's daughter had failed to learn, was why Torrin seemed so sad and forlorn. Wooten finally had enough moping and had decided to plunge in. So after closing one night, she had just come out and asked the girl point blank.
Torrin stared into the wooden mug as if looking for the answer. Wooten sipped her own ale wondering if the girl would reply. She hadn't missed the guarded look that had slipped over those gray eyes. Taking another sip, she mentally sighed and wondered if the one of the girl's mothers hadn't been from the Tribe of Fire. The only way to get a warrior to chat was to get them drunk.
"I did something so bad no one will ever forgive me for it."
It was said so quietly Wooten wasn't sure she even heard it. She remained silent another beat. Then she asked,"Is that why you're sad and unhappy?"
Torrin blinked, absorbing the question."I use to be a mercenary. I belonged to Rya's Hawks, that probably means nothing to you, but they are some of the best." She cleared her throat taking another drink and Wooten remained silent.
Torrin continued after a moment."I've been around here a couple of days and I know how you Fire types feel about mercenaries."
"Well, because my Muanya was a Windwalker, I've learned things aren't nearly as black and white as most Northern type warriors like to think." She and Torrin shared a smile over that.
Torrin took another sip."I won't deny most mercs can be..." she shrugged,"a bit cruel and unhonorable, but the Hawks are different. By being a Hawk, I felt worthy. I was always proud of my skills."
Wooten didn't miss the dark look on Torrin's face."So what changed?" she asked quietly as she refilled the mugs.
"There was this woman ..." Torrin started taking a sip.
Wooten snorted and automatically replied."Because it's always about a woman..."
Torrin snorted,"Yeah, yeah... and she offered me a job." She took a sip."It should have just been another contract. But at the end of it, I found myself so different than when I started and it wasn't about fulfilling a job anymore."
"Oh, so you went and fell in love with her," Wooten cackled.
Torrin looked back indignant."I did no such thing."
"Uh huh," the older woman replied unconvinced.
"I..." Torrin licked her lips and looked into her mug for the words."At the end of the job, I was so beat up... my hand, my eye. I'm not sure I can go back to being a mercenary, but that's the only thing I know how to be. But what's worse than that is I'm not sure I want to go back and even be one again. I want to feel worthy..." Torrin scowled into her mug.
Wooten laid a hand on Torrin's arm."We all want to feel worthy. We all want to belong."
Torrin blinked back a tear."I've never felt that way. I thought I did with the Hawks but that seems hollow compared to what I felt with her. I had to keep reminding her what I was, but she just treated me like a person. Then she found out about that bad thing I did and then I think it hit home for her. I finally got what I wanted, for me to just be a merc in her eyes, and it hurt."
"Torrin, I know you've had a hard go of it, but trust me. To these girls here, you're a sister to them, although, some wouldn't mind taking you to bed either." She laughed at Torrin's blush."You've got to learn to trust them. If you let them, they'll be your family. They don't care if you've got southern blood in your veins."
"They won't want me as family once they find out that bad thing I did," she whispered into her mug."I don't know if any Northerner could."
"Someday we'll talk about that bad thing," Wooten said patting the girl's arm."But now wash these mugs and get your ass to bed."
Wooten smiled, wiping away another spot on her bar. It didn't take a heavy thinker to put two and two together. She knew that Abnoa had fallen and if Torrin was a mercenary in the Southern army, she could guess what that bad thing was. However the Clan of Fire was not one to throw stones, they too had made a costly error in judgment years ago and were still paying for it.
Luna sat on the edge of her bed staring at the small leather bag and crumpled note that sat on her makeshift dresser. They had sat there since the night Torrin had left the Castle and Luna had often found herself staring at them wishing things hadn't turned out this way. The note had hurt, but she deserved it. She had made such a mess of things with Torrin.
Rhain had avoided her, which was good considering Luna was still furious with the other woman. Tasha was acting quiet and withdrawn ever since and Luna's visits with Tyra had been sad affairs. Night had fallen hours ago but sleep had been elusive.
Feeling confined and edgy, the blonde grabbed her sword belt, pulled on her boots, and headed out into the hallway intent on prowling the halls. She decided to once more scout out the unused portions of the Queen's Castle, but decided to stay away from the towers this time. Instead, she found herself crossing through darken grand ballrooms that had thick layers of dust in them, empty feasting halls, countless bedrooms, offices, and kitchens that could feed an army.
Instead of being apprehensive from the deathly still Castle, Luna found the empty corridors and rooms strangely comforting. The peace and quiet calmed her nerves, relaxing her mind and body. She let her feet decide the path, wandering aimlessly through the Castle's silent and dim hallways.
After descending a flight of stairs, she came upon a torch-lit hallway that held no windows or exits other than a simple iron bound oak door at its far end. Cautiously, Luna advanced toward the door. Gripping the iron pull ring, the Northerner heaved the heavy door open, and peered inside the room beyond.
Two women stood in front of a plain wooden chest with faded writing swirled on the wood. They stood still and silent like statues in a glowing light. One held a spear while the other a short sword and thick leather shield. Eyes that flicked toward Luna were her only proof they were not life-sized statues.
With her hand resting on the hilt of her sword and frowning in confusion, Luna stepped into the room. How many guards were there in the supposedly abandoned Queen's Castle?
The one with the spear turned her head. Her long gray hair shifted and spilled over her shoulder as she looked at the newcomer. "You should not be here," she said.
"Only one who is Queen may come in here," the other one chimed in. Both voices were rusty from disuse.
Luna shook her head in exasperation. She really had to sit down with Athena and see if the Wind Walker clan chief knew anything about these old warriors who seemed to think they were still on guard duty. "I'm sorry, grandmothers." She nodded respectfully."I was exploring the Castle and saw the light." The tall blonde said as she motioned toward the lit torches. "May I ask what is it that you guard?"
"We guard the Light that fell to earth to help the first Queen," the one with the spear replied. The other warrior squinted at Luna and took a step toward her but was stopped by the other one, and grumbling, returned to her original resting place.
Blue eyes widened at that. "The Orb of the Goddess?" She had known it was here, somewhere, but had always assumed that Athena and her Wind Walkers had it hidden away somewhere.
"She's here too soon," the one with the sword and shield complained to her partner. The one with the spear smiled, "But at least she's here." The other just rolled her eyes.
The one with the spear spoke to Luna. "Yes, young one, it is the Orb. But only the Queen or the Betrayer may touch it. Time is moving quickly now. The Gods are positioning themselves for battle. Will you be ready for what is to come?"
Luna frowned in confusion at the old warrior. "What is going to come? Do you mean the war with the Southerners?" She was prepared for what was going to happen on the top of the Ellris pass. She knew she wanted to kill Khelin more than she had wanted to kill anything in her entire life, but did that mean she was ready? Luna wasn't sure what the old woman meant.
The guard with the sword and shield frowned. "She shouldn't be here, she's not ready yet." She hated it when Jess talked mumbo jumbo.
Jess just snorted and smacked Adia with her spear. She turned back to Luna. "The actually fighting is but one thing, what comes after it is more important. This war will change everything. Things will be done which cannot be undone."
"Are you certain you aren't a Priestess?" Luna asked curiously. The words the one with the spear was saying sounded a lot like those a priestess would say.
The one with the sword and shield snorted. "She was supposed to be but her Muanya pressed her to be a warrior. Then again, we stand around for decades guarding this sacred rock. I think maybe some of its mystical vibes have rubbed off on us." She dodged a smack from Jess's spear.
"Well, I'll leave you to your, um, guarding then," Luna said backing away from the two strange old warriors. Athena better have some good answers about why the Orb of the Goddess was being guarded by these two.
"Would you stop that?" Adia groused at Jess as Luna backed away.
"Well, you scared her off." Jess replied poking Adia.
Luna closed the door on the two bickering old women, chuckling as she heard the comments.
"Great. I'm stuck for eternity guarding this rock with you. I wasn't even supposed to be on guard duty that night. I traded so Fritz could see her woman."
Luna, blue eyes widening, froze on the other side of the doorway as she heard the complaint. Puzzled by it, she stood by the door for a moment. Shaking her head,"I'll have to find replacements for them," she mused and retraced her steps back to her chambers.
Torrin sighed her feet propped up by the fire. It was an oddly, quiet night. Most had stayed away because of the storm that had blown through. Many had not wanted to risk the cold for their nightly ritual at the tavern. There was a couple seated in the back shadows and if Torrin's hearing wasn't mistaken, they were trying to create little ones ... vigorously.
Standing up slowly, she made her way to the backroom where her pallet was laid out. She dug through her pack and pulled out her mother's fiddle. She hadn't wanted to give it up since it held so many happy memories for her. She pulled it out and quickly scanned it. It had a nick here and there but, surprisingly, it had survived the journey. She returned to the nearly empty main room and poured some ale into a mug. Sitting down again by the fire, she softly tuned the instrument and then when she was happy with the tones, she began to play.
Wooten paused hearing an unfamiliar sound in her place. She looked in question at her daughter who just shrugged. They exited the kitchen and found all the fierce warriors in the place trying to hide their wet eyes from the sad song being pulled from the fiddle. When it was over, Wooten clapped her hands in appreciation."By the Goddess, girl, that's a talent."
Torrin blushed when she realized that she now had an audience of seven listeners.
"But enough of the sad stuff, play us something to warm us up on this cold winter's night."
Torrin nodded and placed the bow onto the strings. She held it there for a moment. In her head, she saw the notes form for a southern jig that was often played in the marketplaces. She took a breath and as she breathed out, her hand began to move on the strings. Soon the women in the tavern were clapping along.
After that, Torrin started playing one hour a night in the tavern. Slowly without realizing it, a month had nearly passed. Her hair had slowly grown longer. After one drunken night she woke up to find it had been braided. She scowled and undid it. But it had become a game with the women and frequently after a night of heavy drinking, she would wake up her hair braided. Torrin kept threatening to just cut her hair, but for some reason, never got around to it.
It was starting to feel like spring. The day was one of the warmest since winter had begun, full of sunlight and barely any wind at all. The snows from the recent storms were starting to melting, and the streets were filled with people who were simply enjoying the respite. It had been a long, hard winter and the future was grim, but today the Clans were content to enjoy the weather.
Luna had escaped from the Castle's council room, fleeing from another series of complaints between Clan members. How she had somehow fallen into the role of an arbitrator was a mystery to her. All morning she'd been meeting with group after group of Fire, Earth, Water and Wind clan members. Each one had a grievance, and each one demanding justice from her. Dealing with them had taken its toll on Luna, and she had been determined to slip away during the midday meal to wander the city.
There were even more people out on the streets now than there had been only a few weeks ago. Earth clan members seemed to be appearing out of the very woodwork itself, which was typical for the Rangers. Fire clan members were assembling in the city, mostly filling the taverns, as well. There weren't that many Wave Dancers yet, but as soon as the Winderling thawed, she was sure there would be more.
As she wandered down the snow and ice-free avenues of the city, she felt herself beginning to relax and her mood improving.
Crossing the central market square of the old city, with its non-functioning fountains and mostly empty shops, Luna headed northward, away from the Queen's Castle itself, towards the docks. She had in mind a trip to see more Wave Dancer ships.
Children's laughter caught her attention though, and she found herself following it into one of the parks.
"Watch, Chrissta, you have to put the arrow here, and then pull back."
Taking a seat on one of the ancient granite benches, Luna watched the scene with delight. A group of children, none having reached their first decade of life, were learning to use a bow.
Several older women, obviously mothers of the children, were helping them aim toward a set of bundles of hay that were the targets. So far, none of the children had actually managed to get an arrow to reach the targets.
Luna smiled at several of the Ranger mothers she vaguely recognized. She had done her own apprenticeship with some of them.
"Look, Mother! I hit the target!"
"Good, Luna. Now, you have to hit the center."
"How many times?"
"Every time, Luna."
The memory snuck up on her, and Luna's thoughts turned sad at the memory. Mezzarna had been the primary one to teach her to use the bow. Her mother had been an expert at the bow and she'd drilled Luna relentlessly until the young girl had been able to hit anything that moved.
She had thought she was the best. By the time her apprenticeship came, she was an outstanding markswoman with a bow.
Luna had excelled during her apprenticeship and loved every rotation, even the ones that had sent her into the far north. Everything seemed to come easily to her and she'd never once believed she could fail.
Even when Quinn had asked her to go to Thulis and scout out this new southern leader, Luna believed she was infallible. Against her mother and Muanya's warnings, she'd accepted and went into the southern regions.
Her parents had been right, though, she wasn't ready for what she found.
The culture was different, far different than what Luna was accustomed to. Although she had half expected that, it was Khelin she wasn't prepared for. The new Queen of the South had needed only a day to seduce Luna and then blind her to the truth.
Luna shook her head, trying to avoid her memories of that awful time and of the horrific things that Khelin had done to her.
She'd come back to her home a changed woman. Although, Khelin had nearly broken her and scared her in ways that she would never admit, Luna had always clung to the fact that she had done nothing wrong and that she considered herself to still be one of the best. Hadn't she brought the warning to Abnoa about Khelin's ambitions?
The Ranger had been home for only a week before the Southerners had appeared.
Their brown eyes were hard and cold. They had been sent in ahead of the army to get a lay of the land around Abnoa. They were vile, twisted women, little better than murderers. The only difference was Khelin had hired them to spread terror, so by the time her troops marched in, the people broken and ready to be conquered.
They had almost missed the small cottage, but one of them had smelled the smoke of a fire, and the scent of dinner cooking.
Fengold had been in the meadow gathering wild herbs to be dried and used during the coming winter. Her Muanya was armed only with a small knife. She'd looked up as the first of the six southern riders had cantered into the far end of the meadow. It had taken her only an instant to realize they were strangers. She had abandoned her things and started to run back toward the cabin, yelling.
They had cut Fengold down halfway to the foot of the hill, chopping at her ruthlessly until she no longer moved and the grass around her stained crimson.
Grinning at the blood, they moved on to see what else they would find. Their drawn swords wept warm red blood onto the ground. The leader motioned for two to dismount and explore.
The first arrow caught one of them in the throat, sending her sprawling to the ground. The second arrow caught the other one in the left eye before the southerner realized she was dead. Luna, her face a mask of fury, reached for another arrow as she stood on the porch of the cabin. Mezzarna had been in the barn, tending to the livestock when she heard the commotion outside. Emerging from the barn with a scythe she was greeted by the carnage outside.
The leader let out an animalistic howl when she realized what had happened to two of her people. Kicking her horse, she galloped down the hill while she motioned the others forward, her eyes firmly fixated on the new threat.
Luna's bow sung. Arrow after arrow flew down the hill, sending warriors tumbling from the back of their horses. Mezzarna let out a scream as well, running toward the oncoming southern leader.
The leader ducked a swing from the scythe and slashed out with her sword. Growling when she realized that her height on the horse was a disadvantage, she leapt from her horse swinging her sword in crude vicious cuts at the woman in front of her.
Luna sent the last of the mounted warriors to their death, then drew another arrow, and aimed down toward the barn. She hesitated, her aim wavering as she watched Mezzarna and the other raider duel. She couldn't find a clear shot. With a growl of frustration, the blonde leaped off the porch and ran down the hill, bow and arrow still in hand.
Mezzarna fought with a deadly silence, trying to keep away from her by using the unwieldy scythe. The older woman's eyes narrowed as she saw the blood already on the raider's sword and feared what that might mean.
Grinning manically, the woman blocked a blow from the scythe and punched the older woman in the face and licked a splatter of blood that landed on her cheek.
"Mother!" Luna yelled, trying to run faster down the hill.
Mezzarna's head whipped back from the blow. With a growl, the older ranger tried to tackle the raider. But she had danced away and resumed her attack.
"Bitch! I can't wait to see your blood on the ground too!"
Things blurred after that. Somehow Mezzarna managed to get a hold of the warrior's sword. In her wrestle for it, Mezzarna lost her scythe and the sword went flying away from them. By the time Luna reached them, the leader had an arm around Mezzarna's throat and a dagger pressed to her skin as well. Arrow notched and ready, Luna kept her aim on the Southerner's face, the tip wavering slightly as she looked at the expression on her mother's face.
The leader looked the woman over, pressing the dagger against Mezzarna's skin. "You're not that bad looking. Perhaps, I might spare you." She licked the throat in front of her then frowned at the lack of fear in the taste.
Luna bit her lip while trying not to let her panic take over. "Let her go," she ordered. She matched the leader step for step as she dragged Mezzarna backward toward the barn doors.
The leader stopped, turned her head but didn't move the dagger and growled, "Or you'll what? I can slit her throat before you get me with your arrow." Her eyes roamed over Luna."Perhaps a trade, though. Not that she..." The woman laughed and moved the dagger slowly into the skin until a thin line of red appeared."...wouldn't be fun, but I do like 'em a tad younger, like you."
The tall blonde took a step forward, her eyes furious, drawing the arrow back even further, her bow creaking in protest. "I'll kill you," she hissed.
The woman grinned, "And I'll kill everything you hold dear. In the end I still think I'll be the winner." She licked dry lips and leered back at Luna.
Mezzarna met her daughter's eyes, forcing a brave look on her face. Fengold was dead, she didn't know how she knew it, but she was certain of it. Now their daughter was in danger. If she didn't do something soon, she knew Luna would let the Southerner use her in a misguided effort to save her mother. She tried to convey how proud she was of her daughter and how much she loved her. Then she slammed her foot down onto the Southerner's boot.
Luna saw her mother's motion and knew it was her chance. In that split second, she took aim at the Southerner and let loose the arrow. It sailed through the distance between them and slammed into the raider.
The woman howled like a beast, and in her anger and pain, slit the Mezzarna's throat and stabbed her in the chest.
Luna looked on in horror. She had missed. She aimed for the southerner's face and hit her shoulder instead.
The shock of her miss kept her frozen in place long enough for the southerner to finish driving the dagger up inside Mezzarna until it met resistance from the door behind them. Suddenly, she snapped out of it and screamed in rage, closing the distance between them and swinging her bow like a staff. Again and again she slammed it against the southerner, not stopping when the bow broke, not stopping until her fury was drained and all that was left were the bodies.
"Are you all right?"
Luna jerked back to the present, wiping at the tears that ran down her cheeks. Surprised and ashamed, she glanced around the park and then offered a weak smile to the woman in front of her.
Luna fled the park, leaving another generation to learn how to shoot and miss.
Torrin took a healthy puff of the pipe and felt the heady Karo weed relax her body. She was supposed to be outside chopping wood. Instead, she and a few others were goofing off.
"Eh, come on, Torrin, the Southern army can't be that good."
Torrin passed the pipe to the next woman."I'm not saying they are, but I am saying they're going to wipe you Northerners off the face of any map."
Another woman frowned."No way. Sure they may have taken out those silly archers at Abnoa, and they'll probably take out those weakling Wind Walkers, but not us."
Torrin rolled her eyes."You don't get it." She paused, taking back the pipe."Khelin's going to wipe you out because you refuse to come together as a solid, united Clan and fight as one. You remain separate tribes and assume that Khelin is somebody else's problem. I hate to break it to you but she's already your problem. She wants every last Northerner dead and she has an army to back up her wish. So, all I'm saying is, until you Northerners learn to come together as a single force, she's going to annihilate you all." She took a puff, holding the smoke in her lungs, and then exhaled. Torrin leaned back as arms wrapped around her. Looking up, she saw it was a recent newcomer to the tavern. The woman whispered an invitation into Torrin's ear. Torrin looked the woman over. She was tall, lean-muscled, blonde, and blue-eyed. Torrin shrugged and accepted the invitation.
The woman smiled sheepishly as her friends whistled at their leaving. She leaned over and said,"I'm called..."
"Nothing personal, but I don't care what you're name is. And in all honesty, you're just curious if I really did all those things to that stuck up daughter of the leader from your tribe."
She grinned evilly remembering Adrian. The woman had been an ass, thinking she was the Goddess gift to sex and any woman should feel honored to be taken to bed by her. Finally, after having the woman hound her for almost a full day, whispering all the things she would do to Torrin or make Torrin feel, Torrin reached her limit. She told the woman to go get ready and she would be up in a moment. She grabbed her pack and went to the woman's room minutes later. The next morning Torrin left the woman passed out and tied up to the bed.
"That's the only reason you approached me," Torrin smirked.
The woman blushed at Torrin's accurate assessment.
"Goddess, you all may act tough, but you're just a bunch of submissives waiting to be released," Torrin muttered as they climbed the stairs.
Luna didn't know much about ships, but the Osprey was a beautiful vessel and the ship was larger than she had expected.. The tri-masted schooner had the lean lithe lines of a runner. Luna could almost feel the ship's speed even as she lay in dock surrounded by the frozen waters of the Winderling.
"She's the fastest ship in the north."
Luna had little doubt of that. "Are there more like her?"
Allysandra leaned back against the deck railing, negligently fiddling with a small carving dagger.
"No. She's the largest one in the north as well."
Luna shook her head, sliding her hands along the first of the three masts, enjoying the solid feel of the oak. The ship was armed with an impressive array of ballistae and catapults.
"Too bad. We could use them. Still, we can hold the river banks with her while we ship people to the base of the Pass. If things go badly, you might be able to take some of our people away to a new land with them."
Allysandra nodded, watching the blonde carefully as she looked around the deck. Most of the Wave Dancers were in the city for the winter, but a skeleton crew remained on board to take care of the ship and prepare her for the spring thaw.
"How many of your people's ships can we expect come spring?" Luna asked at last, turning to face the head of the Wave Dancers.
She'd been edging her way around the subject ever since she'd asked Allysandra for a tour of the Osprey. The Wave Dancer chief had yet to reply to that question during any of the war meetings. Blue eyes met blue and Luna raised an eyebrow waiting for the tall, sandy-haired Wave Dancer to answer.
The other woman finally snorted and returned her carving knife to a small sheath on her belt.
"You don't give up, do you?"
"I've sent word by messenger falcon to the other wintering spots. As soon as the ice breaks, another dozen ships will be here. More afterwards, but those ships put in for the winter farther away. It could take them days or weeks to get here."
Luna nodded thoughtfully, trying to estimate how many they could ship up at a time. Together with the dozen ships that were already at the Queen's City for the winter, there should be enough to shuttle quite a few people up to the base of the Pass.
"Good. How close to the base of the Pass can you get us?"
Allysandra shrugged, shoving herself away from the deck railing as a blast of cool air swept across the frozen river and up over them. Luna shivered a little, but the sun was out and without the wind, it was still fairly warm.
"Probably an hour's hike. There are some nasty sandbars close to the shore of it. Those used to be dredged out but..." The Wave Dancer shrugged and Luna nodded in understanding. Such things had stopped with the assassination of the last Queen.
"Thank you for the tour."
The sandy-haired woman grinned suddenly."I always love showing her off." Allysandra swept her hand in a motion to encompass the entire ship."My first love."
Luna smiled."Careful, don't let your partner hear that."
The other woman shrugged and walked alongside Luna toward the gangplank.
"She already knows."
Wave Dancer ships were handed down from mother to daughter thus staying in the control of a few families in the Clan. Luna found it an odd way to determine who was the captain, but it seemed to work for them.
The Earth warrior had only just begun to walk down the fairly empty dock back towards the gate into the city when a woman called out to her.
Since there was a standing joke that in any crowd there was bound to be at least three Luna's, Luna glanced around to see if it was someone else who the woman was calling. When there didn't appear to be anybody nearby, she turned to face the caller. She smiled as she recognized the person.
The other woman met Luna at the foot of the dock, the two of them hugging each other enthusiastically.
"Dear Goddess! It is you. I thought you were dead!"
Janice smiled but a nasty scar on one cheek turned the smile into a grimace.
"There were a few dicey moments after the raid. I got myself cut up pretty bad. That's why I wasn't able to get back to the Castle before that bitch took it. Sorry I wasn't there to help you."
Luna shook her head, patting the other Ranger on her shoulder.
"Don't be sorry. If you'd been there, you would have died. There wasn't anything you could have done."
Janice shrugged, still looking faintly embarrassed.
"I heard about what Khelin did to you. You all right?"
Luna shrugged. She thought less about her torture on the walls of Abnoa than she did her time in the South at Khelin's court.
"It's over. What happened at the ambush?"
The two started walking back toward the City gate. The two Fire warriors on duty let them pass with an acknowledging nod.
"You remember how you told me I shouldn't go?"
Luna nodded. She'd told Janice that it was suicide, but the other woman hadn't wanted to listen. Luna had prayed to the Goddess she was wrong, but when word had come that Quinn had failed, she'd been certain her friend was dead.
"Well, you were right. We destroyed the first group of Southerners, but the rest of Khelin's army just ran right over us. That's where I got this little souvenir." Janice pointed at the still red scar on her face.
"I found a small group of Rangers trying to make it over the Pass. Thank the Goddess or I would have frozen to death trying it alone. But we can talk about that later. I have some news that you might find interesting, Luna."
"And here I thought you had tracked me down for old time's sake, Janice," Luna teased her friend.
The other woman grinned."Well, we can go get drunk later. I ran into Tasha today who let it slip that it had been her younger sister with you when you came north?"
Luna slowed to a stop, turned and faced her old friend."She helped me escape from Abnoa before Khelin could burn me alive." Janice nodded, apparently already knowing much of the story.
"Well, you know that Fire Clan inn on the South road?"
Luna nodded. Magda had kept her word and had been rotating platoons of warriors out there.
"Well, you'll never guess who I heard playing the fiddle a few nights ago."
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