Disclaimer: This is going to be a long story. The longest that either of us have ever written. So if you want a little PWP, you might want to look elsewhere. This story will have violence, sex between consenting adults who just happen to be female, and a few swear words. In Canada this would get you a rating somewhere around 13+, but I think it would get an R rating in the States. We crave feedback. Please send any constructive criticism or just a note to say hi, to: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Zee: Welcome to a little ditty we like to call Blood and Honor it only consumed Windy and my lives for over a year. This is purely Windstars fault, i bare the blame of saying "sure no problem. Sounds like a neat concept, lets start writing." One should just say no and not let problems follow. That being said this has been a lot of fun and this universe we have created has only spawned more stories that sit in our heads waiting to be told. I hope you enjoy.
Windstar: When Zee says that this story consumed our lives for a year, she isn't lying. We've been writing this monster together for nearly twelve months now. It has been completed, but we've given our poor beta reader, Claudia, fits with the sheer number of pages she has to go through. A big thanks to her for her never ending help! We'll post the novel in parts as its beta'd. I hope you all enjoy it.
~Book of Exodus
Contained in these pages is the story of our People The story of our Beginning, our birth. The story of our Exodus from slavery to freedom. This story is our History and our Future.
In the beginning, we were slaves. This is good for us to know. For now, this knowledge can prevent us from ever falling back into those dark, cruel times…
Blood coursed down her face from where the foreman had hit her and she cowered in the dirt as he taunted her. She didn’t have a name, none of them did. There were too many of them. Slaves not used for breeding purposes were just considered as work animals.
She felt the loose dirt move around her and knew he was coming towards her again. As she curled into a ball, she threw her arms over her head for protection as the blowsresumed. Pain blurred and faded away into numbness, as did the names and curses he hurled at her.
When darkness came, the other work slaves were herded back into the pens. They refused to look at the fallen woman and gave her motionless body a wide berth. The heavy clouds that had been threatening to burst finally did and the rain fell hard. The cold liquid slid down the curves of unmoving flesh and blended in with the blood and dirt to create a red mud that flowed off the body to the ground.
“My poor child.” The words whispered into her consciousness like the weak light of a torch wavering in a breeze.
Weakly, she raised her head, peering into the rain- filled darkness. At first, she thought she had dreamed the words. Then she saw Her. Emerging from the darkness and glowing with a pale white light, the woman walked slowly towards her. Even though the rain fell in torrents around Her, the beautiful white robes were untouched by rain or mud. Gracefully, the woman knelt next to the cowering woman in the mud.
"My poor child. I have come to bring you and your sisters to freedom."
Looking through swollen eyes, she tried to speak but coughed up dirt and blood instead. Finally she croaked out a single word, "Freedom?" The word tasted funny on her tongue. Fear filled her chest. What trick was this to dangle such an illusive, hopeful thing in front of her? A cruel joke, perhaps?
A strangled laugh that sounded closer to a sob burst out of her and she spit out, "There is no such thing as freedom."
"You're right, my sweet one. There isn’t any in this land for you or the rest of my children." Deep sadness seeped into the glowing woman's voice. Then gentle hands helped the beaten slave up to her knees. "But there is freedom elsewhere. Far from this land of Men and their Gods."
Desperately, she tried to shield herself against the woman's words, but they flowed through the thick walls she had created for survival, and hope began to spread inside her breast, her numbed heart feeling unfamiliar warmth.
"Freedom," she said, tasting the strange word again.
Where the glowing woman's hands had touched the slave, the injuries that had been inflected on her, both old and new, healed. By the time the slave was helped to her feet, the last of the wounds from the foreman’s fists were gone, disappearing as if they had never existed in the first place. Wiping a thumb across a newly healed lip, the woman smiled.
The Goddess's pale white light illuminated the darkness around them, making even the rain seemed warmer as it fell on the slave's bare shoulders.
"Would you be willing to lead your Sisters from this place to a place where they shall never fear a man's anger or follow his orders again?" Her voice held a wisp of a promise. "It is a long, hard road. But if you travel it, I will help you as much as I am allowed.
Hope burned brighter in her heart and for a moment, as she looked deeply into the strange Goddess's shining eyes, she found herself lost in a swirling vortex. Pulling away with a gasp, she shivered and just as quickly, her mind slid away from the secrets too complex for a mortal's mind. She bowed her head. "I am, my Lady. I will do my best to lead them away from this place. I put my services in your hands."
Those gentle hands once more touched the slave, this time tracing a perfect circle on her forehead. The skin inside the circle lightened and became silver-colored. "Then you are my first Priestess. I will name you Selene."
She breathed in a quick breath and tears prickled her eyes, she had been given a name. "Selene." She spoke the name in wonder. "Thank you, my lady. Thank you for such an honor. I’ll try to never let you down. Ever."
With a soft smile at her words, the glowing lady gave her a small push towards the slave pens. "Now go, free your Sisters. The foreman and his guards are playing dice. They will not notice that you are gone for hours. Go quickly and follow the moon."
The clouds above them began to dissipate as quickly as they had formed, revealing a full moon hanging low over the eastern horizon. As the first of the moon's rays struck her, the glowing woman disappeared, leaving Selene alone in the muddy courtyard.
Some were afraid. Some doubted Selene’s words. But others, their skin a map of bruises and wounds, took her words to heart and felt not fear in their hearts, but hope. Gathering their last bit of courage, they fled the slave pens and followed the moon…
Freedom’s Passage: From the first book of TheBook of Exodus in the Queen’s Castle.
A Brief History
Selene and those who had followed her in the Exodus, as it became known, traveled far from the lands of Men. They crossed the continent traversing lakes, swamps, thick forests and fiercely jutting mountain ranges, to reach a place where no human had been before.
One group stopped in the South giving into the warmer and more fertile lands. They founded towns, cities, and eventually nations that gradually grew in power until they rivaled the most powerful of the nations of Men.
Worship of other Gods and Goddesses arose in these places.
Others straggled northward. Those tribes followed the way of the Moon Goddess. The Northern People never truly stopped wandering, they were, for the most part, nomadic, and few had any use for such things as cities and towns. The original descendants of Selene’s line ruled from the High Queen’s city, governing the diverse Northern tribes in accordance with the wishes of the Moon Goddess. Until, during a waning moon, the last of the High Queens was assassinated on her throne leaving the Northern clans leaderless for many seasons.
The itinerant tribes were roughly divided into four clans, offspring of the original families who had chosen to stay in the wild North.
The clans of Water followed the currents in the mighty ocean, it was even rumored that some were born with gills and fins. They were sailors and traders, experts at navigating the ocean.
The Fire clans were fierce and bloodthirsty. They traveled in the harshest parts of the upper northern climate, building up their strength. They had even tamed the fierce Alcens, a large shaggy relative to the deer with two sharp spiraling horns that sprouted out of its forehead. The fiercest of the Northern warriors came from this tribe, and it was said that the Goddess blessed each of them with the soul of a warrior upon their birth.
The artists were from the Air clans. They were less nomadic than their sister tribes, tending to stay in the ruins of the Queen’s castle, but often members of this clan traveled to the other clans to spread news or to give a performance.
The last of the four Northern clans was the Earth tribe. They lived in the pass that separated the North from the Southlands, and unlike the other tribes, they had taken the duty of guarding the North and the way to the Queen’s castle. To do this, the Clan of Earth had built the Castle Abnoa and resided in the more temperate forests surrounding the Castle. Many of the clan were Rangers, living outside the Castle walls and in the woods. Uncountable moons and seasons passed and yet, there was never a need for the Castle’s Warriors. However, the Earth clan still persisted in their duty for they believed the Goddess entrusted them to protect the others and they would be needed someday.
Generations passed peacefully, until one day, rumblings came from the South of a new leader. Gossip spread into the North of her dark, underhanded ways, and how the Southern tribes fell under her sway. Some whispered she was the bastard child of the Goddess of War, while others whispered even darker rumors, that she was a child of the Mistress of Shadows.
When the Ambassadors and traders from the South stopped coming to the North, the leader of Abnoa sent Rangers south to find if there was any truth to these dark rumors. Some returned, others didn’t and before the Clan of Earth knew it, they had a Southern army marching towards their lands. Attempting to ambush the Southern army before they could reach the Castle itself, the head of the Castle’s Warriors marched a troop southward.
It failed and the Southern army, with its hired mercenaries, pushed through the Clan of Earth’s lands, slaughtering all who tried to stop them.
With the death of the head Warrior, those left behind did the best they could to prepare to defend the Castle. All of the non-combatants Rangers were sent north to hide, fleeing from the Castle long before the army came within striking distance.
The remaining women of the Castle waited. As the Southern force crept closer, their spirits fell and a dark cloud of despair settled over Abnoa.
“When the light of the dawn crests that ridge, the enemy will charge our position. And we will defend it to the last woman!"
A roar loud enough for the Goddesses to hear came from the crowd of Rangers gathered on the stone walls protecting the Castle.
“We shall make them pay dearly for every inch of our lands taken. The fields shall run red with their blood!"
Another cry rose from the crowd, filling the night air with energy. The bonfires blazing in the Castle's courtyard sent burning embers spiraling into the air behind them. Despite, or perhaps because of the invading army that would roll over them in the morning, the gathering held a festive feel to it. Rangers who had not seen each other since their naming ceremonies greeted each other like long lost sisters.
Song and dance filled the night air and bodies swept through the darkness in a blur of flesh and armor. The shadows were filled with those desperate to make the most of what might be their last night.
The leader moved through it all, detached from the women she would command come the morning. She called out to them, often stopping to chat and encourage them, but she never stayed long. Endlessly and restlessly, she prowled the courtyard and walls of the Castle.
Across from the Castle, beyond the open, empty plain that skirted the gray, stone walls, the Southern army camped among the trees. So sure of their victory, wine, as well as other indulgences, flowed generously. Nestled next to the army’s camp, the Mercenary band hired by the Southern Leader rested. There was no merry making in this camp, only combat planning. Winning battles were never a sure thing; sometimes the one with the bigger army didn't win. These fighters were veterans of bloodshed and the horrible face of war. Some talked quietly while others slept. One, however, had crept through the trees to the edge of the woods and with gray eyes straining, silently watched the castle. The figure stood motionless, taking in the reflected gleams of light off the stones from the Castle fires and the shouts of celebration. Quiet breathing streamed out white in the cold night air.
Torrin wondered what was the point in this last gasp of joy by the Northerners. Tomorrow would come too soon and both sides would meet in a bloody clash. Most, if not all, of their friends, sisters and mothers would be lost.
Squinting up at the battlements, Torrin thought she saw a figure highlighted in the faint light of the sliver moon. Focusing on the wall, the figure became sharper against the night sky. With a cruel smile, she drew her bow back. 'So easy' she thought, and then she paused, letting the bowstring relax. She might be a mercenary, but even in that, there was honor and a code to be followed. She was not being paid for her services until the dawn came. There would be no money in this kill. She watched the figure move away. Part of her was sad to be here again, but she also found it somewhat fitting.
She would help destroy this place of childhood pain.
Following on the coat tails of a night filled with tension and pre-battle anxiety, the dawn came far too soon. None of the warriors in the Castle had really drunk that much during the night, knowing fully what was to come. Few had slept much and it was with grumbles and many halfhearted jests that they willingly climbed up to the battlements as the false dawn lit the east. They had weeks to accept the fate awaiting them this day.
Archers bent their bows, tested strings, and prepared arrows. Blade mistresses drew daggers, and short swords. Others drew wicked, long swords, twirling the edged weapons in the cold predawn air. The leader stood upon the battlements above the main gate, adrenaline coursing through her body, and her sword weighing heavily in her calloused hand.
She tried to quiet her thoughts but they surfaced anyway. ‘How did I failed my people?’ Then another popped in. ‘A last stand.’ Followed by another. ‘Was this all I can offer them? One last glorious battle?’
In the forest surrounding the Castle, another group of fighters were getting ready. The Southern warriors grumbled a bit, regretting indulging the night before, but all were restless. This easy assault was not worth their time and they wanted it over quickly.
The Mercenaries stood lined up in a flanking position to the left of the main forces. Even in war there was a class system. They were the mongrels not to be seen with the honorable, purebred warriors. And like flea-bitten curs, they would sneak around to the back and attack from there.
Expressionless gray eyes watched the Southerners as they primped and preened like giant, metallic Birds of Paradise. She snorted, and then returned to checking her own gear. Her heavy pack, as well as her bow and arrows, was stowed away in the mercenary cache not far from the main camp. For today’s task of villainy, they would need to travel swift and light. Weight would be an enemy. She checked her sword and then her light armor. Retightening the leather strap to her left grieve, she stood and looked at her leader.
The Mercenary leader was short, squat woman with muscles to spare. Her nose was crooked and a multitude of scars were proudly displayed. In a gravely voice Rya growled out to her Hawks, " 'kay, ladies, we've been paid good money here to help these prancing nannies win today. So while those honorable folks are storming the front, we’ll be sneaking in the back way and opening that gate. We‘ve gone over the plans repeatedly, but if anyone is the slight bit unsure of them, speak up now." Rya’s brown eyes traveled to the faces of each one of her Hawks trying to find something that would show weakness. Happy at what she saw, she nodded at them.
The women of the mercenary band nodded back. Their faces now slipping into blank masks.
Standing in line with her Pack, Torrin’s mask slipped on and her mind focused on the upcoming battle. A hand on her shoulder startled her and she swung her fist. With a barely audible smack, flesh met flesh and her fist was caught in a vise-like grip. Her flashing gray eyes met the muddy browns of her leader.
"Torrin, you going to be okay?" Rya asked, eyeing the shorter woman critically as she leaned into Torrin so their conversation would remain private.
Torrin nodded, her gray eyes frosting at the inquiry.
Rya squeezed her hand harder. "No. I need to know you can do this. This was your home, once. I won‘t have any screw ups on this."
Torrin’s eyes became even colder. "Yes, it was my home. Once. But not anymore."
The leader nodded, contented with the answer, and then motioned for the band to move out before the main body.
From her perch on the Castle battlements, Luna watched as shapes began to appear out of the trees. The enemy was advancing towards the Castle in a wide line, outnumbering her warriors by at least forty-to-one. In the dim light, she could just make out the large war machines being moved down the road behind the first lines. ‘If only the first ambush had been successful on these Southern monsters. If only winter had come more quickly. If only there were more of her people.’ There were so many missed chances.
Her people were better equipped for the winter and perhaps the bitter cold of the north would have driven out these invaders. But instead, the weather had stayed mild, only now beginning to grow cold.
“Here they come!" The shout came from down the parapet.
“Hold your fire!" She yelled in response, unsheathing but not yet raising her sword.
Because of the first failed ambush, they were short on arrows as well as warriors. It was one of the reasons that Luna had decided against using a bow in the coming engagement.
In a moment heavy with anticipation, everything seemed to slow down: the first rays of sunlight sweeping over the besieged castle, the black and silver flags snapping in the brisk morning breeze, banners proudly defiant in the face of the avalanche of gold and blue flags carried by the invading army. The Castle warriors tensed, held by a thin thread woven between the moment of non-action and action.
Luna’s grip tightened on her sword, fingers flexing as she closed her eyes and savored the feel of the sunlight on her skin. How often had she taken such things for granted before, she wondered and then she had no time for such thoughts as the first rain of arrows from the invaders swept across the Castle fortifications.
Like Vladlin's deadly hounds of war, the mercenaries, in three packs of ten, swept silently over the ground. The trees hid their approach until suddenly, there were no more trees in front of them. For a moment, they paused in the shadows of the mighty pines, waiting for the signal. It wasn’t long before the horns sounded. The war had started. Moving furtively, they blended in where they could and moved quickly where they could not. As each one reached the rough stones of the Castle’s foundations, they snapped climbing claws on their hands and feet with quick practiced movements.
Anyone could be a crude and rough mercenary living on the glut of battle and death. But to be a mercenary under Rya was to be more than a paid killing machine. Those who served under her were graceful, efficient and yet, extremely deadly. They were Rya's Hawks and they were the best.
The mercenaries went unnoticed by the warriors stationed on the Castle walls. Their attentions were focused on the war machines and the swarms of enemy approaching the walls with ropes and ladders. A storm of arrows took down a handful of Luna's already depleted supple of warriors and she gritted her teeth in fury. Steadily the army moved closer until they crossed an invisible line in her mind.
“FIRE!" Luna yelled, thrusting up her sword to signal her archers.
This was where her people excelled … archery. Every arrow found its mark, with every shot bringing down an enemy. She wished that she had more arrows and archers. From the imposing stone walls, her warriors could have bled this army so dry that they could have never taken the Castle. They didn't though and even as her warriors dropped foe after foe, the first of the massive siege towers pushed into place against the walls. The top flipped down to reveal row upon row of warriors within who jumped out onto the walls. Suddenly everything was chaos, blades, blood and bodies falling.
Torrin hung from her metal claws embedded into the slanting stone overhang, feet dangling into the air and waited for the guard to pass. Then with her shoulder muscles bulging, she powered her way up over the wall. With a soft metallic clink, she landed on the ramparts. The guard in front of her turned sharply at the noise and she saw the mouth opening to give the alarm. Torrin buried the claws of her right hand into the guard’s throat, silencing any warnings. She helped the guard softly to the ground and then removed the claws, absently wiped the blood off them before storing them in a small pocket. Pulling out a dagger and her sword, she cautiously followed her hunting pack down the stones steps.
Battle fighting is repetitious - block, strike, cut, stab, dodge, and back to block. There was a part of Torrin that hid deep inside of her mind, horrified at the life she had chosen, but another part hungered for it, shutting all feelings down in order to feast off this horrible dance between life and death. Blood splattered on the stone as her sword cut into another soldier. They weren’t people. They were just things that got into her way. Torrin didn't think about anything else other than the slicing movements of her sword and the path leading to the gate. She didn't think about how she had once called this her home. She didn’t think about members of her immediate clan being on the receiving end of her sword. The only family she wanted now was her mercenary band. Here, in this place, she had been a bastard. Here, her dark hair and short height had been the constant reminder of her birth mother's infidelity. Here, she had been nothing. Blindly swinging her sword, she continued to move towards her goal.
Luna’s blade moved in a blur. Her body reacted without thought from long, engrained practice. Thrust, block, and slash. The front of her armor covering dripped with other people’s blood as she cut her way through the bodies in front of her. Her Warriors rallied to her side, driving enemy after enemy from the ramparts, and sending them to their deaths below. Incredibly, she could feel victory on their side. They just might be able to drive the enemy back from the castle! As she raised her sword, she screamed out her defiance and rushed towards another knot of incoming enemy soldiers.
The Warrior’s blood-spattered blonde hair looked copper in the sun’s rays. Her People's chain mail wasn't as high quality as the armor of the Southerners, but the thick animal hides they wore over them for warmth added protection. Still, many of her sisters fell to the weapons of the enemy. Luna’s voice was raw from screaming as her people dropped. Her Warriors screamed right along with her as they fought and died.
A shrill whistle that could be mistaken for the cry of a hawk caught Torrin’s attention, and she quickly moved to seek out Rya. Back to back, they twirled their swords keeping the enemy at bay.
“Where's the gatehouse?" Rya yelled.
"On the other side of this throng of Northerners," Torrin hollered back.
"Fine. Get ready to fly!" With another shrill whistle, three other mercenaries came to fight at their side. As soon as Rya saw an opening, she bent down and Torrin placed her booted foot into Rya's palm. Quickly, the leader stood, her muscles bulging, and shot Torrin into the air over the heads of the enemy warriors. She flew in a graceful arc, twisting her body as she landed crouched on her feet, sword at the ready.
It was only by chance that Luna glanced down into the courtyard below. It took her a moment to realize what was happening, but by then, it was too late. A group of enemy fighters had made their way into the courtyard. How had they gotten there? Had the walls been breached? It didn't matter. Luna battled her way towards the nearest stairs to the courtyard. She yelled an alarm, hoping desperately to salvage the day’s efforts, “Enemy in the courtyard! The enemy is in the courtyard!"
Others heard her call and tried to force their way down the stairs as well, but the remaining enemy on the battlements slowed their progress.
Torrin was on her feet and sprinting for the gatehouse, ignoring the cries from behind her. An arrow pierced the unprotected flesh of her arm. She gave out a small cry, but channeled the pain and kept moving faster. More arrows came raining down on her, but it was too late, she could taste victory.
As her hand touched the latch, Torrin ducked, catching the sound of a sword stroke behind her. With a loud “thunk”, metal embedded itself into the wood of the door above her head. Flipping her own sword in her hand, Torrin stabbed backwards. Her sword met resistance but after a moment, pushed through it. Not stopping to watch the woman die, she crashed into the gate room leaving her sword hilt hanging out of the body. Massive pulleys with ropes and chains wrapped around them filled the room. Smiling, she untied a knotted rope and pulled one of the larger handles downwards. The room began to shake as the chains and ropes started to unwind. Faster and faster they unraveled until, with a loud boom, the gate crashed open.
Luna was still screaming for someone to shoot the small dark-haired woman when the front gate fell and a tide of Southern warriors burst through it. Relentless and contemptuous, they brushed aside the few defenders they found in the courtyard. In that moment, she knew the Castle was lost but she didn’t care. With a scream she led the charge down the stairs towards the fresh mass of enemy.
Once in the courtyard, Luna managed to kill a good number of Southerners before a warrior slashed her side open. Gasping in pain, she barely deflected the next stroke, but the impact of the two blades loosened her grip. The long sword tumbled from fingers too weak to hold it. With a hand on her wounded side and blood leaking between her fingers, she went down to her knees, struggling to breathe as she fell. Her eyes closed as she asked the Goddess to forgive her for her failure.
In a last, violent clash, the Northern warriors made their final stand. But outnumbered, exhausted and with most of them wounded, it didn’t last long. Against the flood of fresh enemies, all were swiftly cut down.
From inside the gate room, Torrin heard the army storm into the Castle. A small part of her told her that she should care and be ashamed of what she had done to her place of birth, but she couldn’t feel anything. Her part was done; the gate was opened. Numbly, she broke the arrow shaft in her arm off, making a mental note to have the healer dig the tip out. The sounds of battle were winding down. In an hour or so, her purse would be full and the mercenaries would move on to the next war where she would fight again.
She exited the gatehouse, pulling her sword out of the dead woman and cleaned it as she glanced around for the Hawks. She spotted the women easily, although, most people would fail to see them hiding in the shadows, out of view. But she had an advantage since she knew where to look.
As she moved quickly to rejoin them, Torrin noticed the leader of the Southern army striding into view, her armor shiny and clean, untouched by the day’s horrors. Torrin snorted in disgust, but she was not surprise as she had heard many unflattering things about the South’s new ruler.
Quiet as wraiths, Rya's Hawks moved out of the way of the Southern warriors and watched the pillaging and plunder of the Castle. Feeling a squeeze to her uninjured arm, Torrin looked back at her leader.
"If there are any family mementos you want to keep, go and retrieve them now before the snakes make their nests," Rya said quietly.
For a moment she hesitated, unsure, as painful recollections flashed through her mind, but then she reluctantly nodded. Torrin wordlessly slipped away from the Pack. With help from old memories guiding her through the twists and turns of the hallways, she found her way into the belly of the Castle. She traversed the unlit hallway that led to a small section of Abnoa reserved for the families of the Castle's Advisors.
She contemplated the plain solid wooden door in front of her and took a deep, ragged breath in an effort to handle her distressed composure. Slowly she opened the door to where she once lived. It had never felt like a home to her. Instead, it was a place of sadness, hurt and shame.
As she gazed around the room, she wondered what she was looking for. Above the fireplace was a family portrait. Four figures were painted on it: her birthmother Tyra, with her light blonde hair and solemn gray eyes, her mother's partner Quinn, whose cold blue eyes even seemed to judge her from the canvas and finally her two older sisters, Rhian and Tasha. She, of course, was not in the painting. Quinn wouldn’t allow for it saying she really wasn’t family. She remembered where she had hidden during the sitting, not letting anyone see her tears because her mother hadn’t corrected Quinn.
Moving past the picture and toward the living quarters, she paused for a moment at her mother's door, and then slipped inside. Looking around, she noticed the old fiddle her mother had played laying on a table. When she had gotten old enough, her mother showed her how to hold it. This was one of the few, happy memories she had. She would sit in this room learning to play, sharing the love of music with her mother. But as usual, when she found out about the lessons, Quinn had taken that joy away by forbidding her to touch the instrument. Now, in defiance, she lovingly tucked it under her arm. As she turned to leave, something caught her eye. There, sitting on the pine-hewn dresser was the silver torque of her mother’s family.
For a curious moment, she found she could not stand the thought of a Southerner handling it. Fingers touching the delicate silver engravings, she traced the carving in the shape of a dragon breathing blue fire. She had loved this piece. She wondered why her mother had left it. Without realizing it, she tucked it in her pocket along with her climbing claws as she softly closed the door and went to join her Pack.
Strong arms grabbed Luna’s shoulders, shaking her to consciousness and then yanked her to her feet. She bit her lip to stop from crying out in pain as they forced her to stand. All around her she smelled death, her sisters dead on the cobbled courtyard. Blood stained the stones red. Another shake cleared her thoughts as the women shifted behind her as a shorter Southerner entered the courtyard, the morning light glinting off her clean armor.
"Khelin," Luna croaked, barely recognizing her own hoarse voice.
The shorter woman smiled, her teeth gleaming white in the sunlight. Her expression reminded Luna of a snake slithering through the grass.
"Miss me, love?"
The women holding her up snickered.
Khelin’s fist caught the unaware Luna on the side of her face, breaking her nose and driving the taller woman to her knees once more. Blood spurted out and spilled down her face like a crimson waterfall.
As her own blood choked and gagged her, the laughing women on each side of her hauled her back up onto her feet. She gasped for breath and watched through pain-filled eyes as her Warrior sisters were stripped bare, dragged outside like kindling, and tossed into a mass grave. Then focusing on Khelin's smirking face, Luna did the only thing she could; she spat. Her blood and saliva dribbled down the Southern leader’s dark-skinned chin. Luna smirked, enjoying the stunned expression on Khelin's face. For all of two heartbeats.
The shock turned to fury and the first punch landed swiftly. The warriors that had been holding her up dropped her to the ground and added their kicks to the punches. She faded in and out of awareness as the beating went on until she forgot everything and felt only the pain. Then cruel hands grabbed and stripped her of her armor, weapons, and most of her clothes. Semi-conscious, they dragged her up the stairs coated in her sisters’ blood to the top of the parapet. There, they tied her around one of the pendant masts, limbs stretched out, her hands bound behind her, for all to see. Exposed to the elements in the ancient torture of her own People only added to her humiliation.
Strong fingers grab her chin and force her to look down into angry brown eyes. "Where did your people go? Where are they?" Khelin demanded, her voice as harsh as the northern wind that whipped around them.
Luna managed a sneer and whispered between teeth red with blood, "...never find them." A punch to her ribs would have doubled her over if she hadn’t been tied to the flagstaff. The Southerners had already run up their own colors on the poles, tossing the Northern flags onto fires.
"We'll see what you think in a few hours. Feels like it will be a cold day, doesn't it, Luna?" the Southern leader spat before storming away with her lieutenants. The tall blonde was left strung up on the battlements, her broken body exposed to the biting cold wind as the first cold day of winter arrived.
They left her suspended throughout the day, her breaths coming in gurgling rasps, her ripped side and joints aching and with a high-pitched whine in her throbbing head. The bitter wind tugged at her torn and bloodied body but the sun was warmer than Khelin had expected and Luna survived in a dazed state, passing in and out of consciousness.
The Southern leader returned often, rousing her with slaps or punches, trying to force Luna to tell her where the rest of the Northern people had gone. Luna never said another word.
Khelin, her armor long since removed and replaced by expensive silk robes, came again just after the sun had set. It had been a clear day, without a cloud in the sky and it appeared the night was going to be the same.
“It's going to freeze tonight, Luna. This is your last chance to tell me."
Luna gave her a bloody smile, wishing she had some spit left.
Khelin looked intently at her for a long time. "Too bad. You were fun in bed." She traced a finger along a swollen cheek, smiled faintly, and then turned away, leaving the Northern commander to her hanging death on top of the walls.
Below in the courtyard, the Hawks stood silently in the shadows as Khelin and Rya talked in the fading light. They frowned, shifting for their weapons as their Mercenary leader became angry. Around them, everyone stilled. While they may look down on the Mercenaries’ status, nobody really wanted to incur their wrath.
Moments stretched out and then Rya finally smiled as a large purse was pressed into her hands. Laughing, she came over to her pack, "Lazy- assed Southerners. They want us to track down the rest of the people from the Castle."
Torrin frowned, as well as others of the Pack. They rarely attacked innocents, and then, it was only in the course of a battle. To purposely track down those who were not warriors was beneath their honor.
"I tried to explain to the high and mighty one that we don't do that, but then she reached a money amount I couldn't say no to. If some of you would rather sit this one out, there will be no penalty." Rya nodded to them, then left to let her Pack think it over.
Night fell and from inside the Castle, the sounds of revelry could be heard. Drunken laughter echoed against the stones and shadows created from fires made bizarre and grotesque shapes. The Hawks sat around their fire drinking quietly and telling tales, each one boasting of some great feat in battle.
The longer Torrin stayed inside the castle, the more restless she became. She wanted to be moving on, away from this place, away from the dark memories. She could still hear the taunts echoing in some places when she walked by them. She scratched at the bandage on her arm, and frowned as another Southern lout walked by, proclaiming her greatness and how she, single handedly, was responsible for the day’s victory. Torrin was use to the Armies they worked for never thanking them, but the arrogance of Khelin's troops was too much to bear. Without a word to the others, she slipped into the shadows and went up to the ramparts to find solitude.
As she sat on top of a ledge, her feet dangling into space, she quietly tuned her mother's fiddle. Then, as she had often done as a child, she played a mournful tune for the stars above.
"I know that song." The words were barely above a whisper of a sigh, but in the quiet of the night, they were loud enough for Torrin to hear. The words seemed to come from the shadows on her right.
Surprised, Torrin cursed herself for not being more aware. She slowly stilled the bow on the strings. "I don't see how you could. It's from my mother's clan." Then she cursed herself even more for revealing that much about herself.
There was a stunned silence followed by a low, wheezing voice, "I know you. You're Tyra's youngest daughter, aren't you?"
Quickly, Torrin gathered her things to leave. Then for a moment, she hesitated and gave a small humorless laugh. "Actually, I'm the child Tyra never had."
The cold air had slowed her bleeding and most of her body was so numb, Luna couldn't feel the pain. It would be only a matter of time before she would succumb to the cold. The thought held no fear for her; she looked forward to meeting her sisters in the halls of their ancestors.
Her right eye was swollen shut, but she managed to force her left one open enough so she could see the small woman lit by the moonlight. Her teeth were still chattering, so she knew she had a while left. It was when you stopped shivering that the cold killed you.
“I remember when you disappeared. Everyone went looking for you." Luna coughed and then continued hoarsely, “Tyra searched the longest."
Torrin peered into the dark trying to get a good look at the mystery woman talking to her. Her breath caught when she saw her hanging on the pole. No matter how she felt about her home and her people, no warrior honorable in battle should be left to die in such a way. This was a death for a traitor or for a coward.
Then as Luna’s words penetrated her thoughts, she went still, although part of her screamed at her to flee, another part grew very angry. "You lie! Nobody searched for me. Nobody cared about me at all."
“Your elder sister..." A long pause as Luna lost her train of thought, and then with visible effort, she got it back on track. “Your elder sister, Tasha, she went looking too." The tall blonde licked bloodied lips, her body convulsing in shivers, “No sign." Her mind wandered back to that time, “We found no sign."
Frustration burned in her gut. Torrin had come up here to get away from her past and now found herself arguing with a ghost from there. She peered at the woman again, but still didn’t know who she was.
Vehemently, she hissed back, "Tasha? Tasha's the reason I left. She was always getting out of trouble by claiming it was my fault. She had been messing with the new sword Quinn had gotten her for Guard training. She swung it in a big circle and caught Quinn's family crest. Knocked it right off the wall and shattered it. She told Quinn it was my fault." Eyes darkening at the memory, "I still have the scars on my back from that beating. It was then that I decided I had enough of being the scapegoat and left. Of course you found no sign. Do you really think the bastard who was always looking for a place to hide from the bullies wouldn't know how to disappear?"
Luna's lips moved but no sound came out as she tried to whisper something. Licking her lips she forced her one good eye open and tried to focus again on Torrin. "Quinn..." Her voice trailed off and she lost consciousness.
"What? Quinn what? Dammit, you can't just go prying into my life, make me think about things I’ve try to bury and then die before giving me answers." She fumbled with her cloak, took it off and then wrapped it around the still body. She knew this was another bad idea, but she pulled out a water skin and held it to the cracked lips. Torrin kept her senses on high alert knowing that if any of Khelin's troops found her with the prisoner, it would not be a good thing.
Luna suddenly coughed, her left eye fluttering open at the taste of water and the warmth of the cloak around her. She drank greedily taking in as much water and tried to absorb as much heat as possible.
"Quinn's dead," she managed to say after she'd swallowed as much water as she could tolerate.
Stunned, Torrin stood. "She's what? Nothing could kill...” Hearing the woman sputter, she pulled back the skin before she accidentally drowned her. "And my mother?"
Luna either didn't hear the question or didn't want to answer it. Instead, her gaze drifted towards the large burial pit that Khelin’s warriors had tossed the bodies into. "Quinn tried to ambush the Army, on the road," Luna managed to say, her head sagging, her strength almost depleted.
The stealthy tread of booted feet on stairs alerted Torrin to her dangerous situation. "I'm sorry," she whispered taking her cloak back. She reached inside the pocket, grabbed the hand claws and dropped over the side. She speared the softer stone with the claws and jerked to a stop, suspended in space. She bit off a scream of pain as she forgot about the wound in her arm.
Luna nearly cried out as the warm cloak was removed. Then she realized why as Khelin slid out of the darkness and faced her, a malicious smile on her face. "Oh, my, my, you're still alive."
Luna shuddered and not just because of the cold. Khelin's smile widened. "Oh and you know what’s going on around you. This is better than I could have expected."
Her smile turned even darker. "I have a present for you," the Southern leader said in a stage whisper, flicking her hands down towards the courtyard where the Southern warriors were building something. "I've decided that leaving you up here all alone isn't very entertaining."
Khelin's lieutenants laughed and nudged each other.
"So I'm going to make you the night’s entertainment. Isn't that great?" Khelin traced a finger up Luna's chest. With a smile, she dug her fingertips into the deep cut in Luna’s side, ripping it open again. Luna screamed in pain as Khelin laughed. Still giggling, she touched her red fingertips to her lips.
“Just wanted to make sure you can still feel pain." Then she turned and left, going to get another glass of wine and to make certain the pyre that her warriors were setting up was done to her liking.
From her position hanging on the outside of the wall, Torrin listened with trained ears until she heard Khelin’s steps fade away. With a small grunt, she heaved herself back over the side. Her left arm trembled and the white bandaged was stained red. As she stared down at the courtyard below, she felt something sick inside her gut. And the Southern warriors called the mercenaries ‘savages’ because they demanded payment for fighting. This humiliation and torturing of a respected warrior was the true savagery. She and her Pack would never do anything like this, not even for a hefty amount.
She paused and wondered about that train of thought. Hadn’t Rya just taken money to hunt down those who were not warriors who had fled before the battle? So maybe there was always a price.
For a moment, she thought about saving the woman. She frowned in disgust. She was a Mercenary. She had sworn an oath that said her Pack, her leader, and the value of money was above all else in this world. No good deed could be given without a transaction. Mercenaries could not be selfless. Her family was the Hawks and to do such a thing would be betrayal of her oath to them and the Mercenary Guild. They would never welcome her again.
She turned back to the woman tied on the pole and softly asked, "Tell me this. Where is my mother? Did she go home to her clan or is she with the others that fled from the castle?”
Luna was silent as her fogged-covered brain processed the words. Then she struggled to answer, “I… I don’t know. It’s possible she returned to her clan. But its more than likely she is with the others from the Castle.”
Torrin bit her lip, her loyalties torn. Her mind raced to follow her scattered thoughts as she tried to figure out the puzzle of her future. She should risk everything to find her mother. But to give up her vows and oath to the Mercenaries would mean banishment from the only family that had accepted her as one of them. There had to be a middle ground. “What can you pay me?" she whispered suddenly, surprising herself as much as the bound woman. "If I free you and get you to safety, what can you pay me? I can't do this from the goodness of my heart. Remember, I'm a mercenary. Giving assistance can only come from money or a trade of something valuable."
Luna watched the shorter woman stare down into the courtyard behind her. The tall warrior couldn't see what Khelin's people were doing, but she could guess easily enough. For a moment, the warrior’s words made no sense to her. Then, they penetrated the fog of hurt and pain that surrounded her, and for the first time since the invaders had come, a small spark of hope ignited in the Northerner’s chest. "So, what’s your price?"
Torrin licked dry lips, calculating the risk involved. "Well, I'm going to have to spirit you out from under the nose of the whole damn Southern Army."
Luna gave a coughing chuckle, her head bowed. For a moment, she said nothing, then with wet, gurgling snort, "I offer you the treasure that Khelin is seeking."
Torrin whipped her head around. "All this bloodshed? This is for a treasure?” This shouldn’t have surprised her. She had been in enough battles and wars to know what people would kill each other for. “Who knew the Northern barbarians had anything so valuable."
"Valuable?" Luna wondered, as she lost focus of her thoughts for a moment. Then it came back to her and she whispered, "Yes, a treasure. You can have it if you help me escape."
The shorter woman bit her lip, deep in thought. Time was ticking down; soon the guards would be coming for the prisoner. If she was going to act, it would have to be now or else she might as well just return to the camp below.
In a blur of motion, her dagger sliced through the air cutting the cords that held the woman. She grabbed the cold flesh and eased the taller woman down to the ground. As gently as she could, she rubbed the warrior’s hands and arms trying to get the blood to flow again. She let the woman sit for a moment as she began to mentally prepare for what needed to be done. Pulling a coin with a hawk stamped on its face out of her pocket, she made two quick slashes in the stone and then set the coin on them. She turned to the near-dead woman and asked, "Can you hold onto me?"
"I'll try." She gasped, trying to stay alert, but the pain from the hits to her head made it difficult. Although the tall blonde's arms no longer worked properly, she did her best to wrap them around the shorter woman. The warrior bit her lip hard enough to taste blood again as her body cried out in pain from the movements.
Torrin growled in frustration, "If you can't, you're going to fall to your death." She pulled her cloak off. Quickly, she twisted it until it resembled a rope. Then, she tied it around their bodies hoping it would help some.
Luna needed all the help she could get. Her tightly bounded hands now felt like large blocks of ice. Clumsily, she held onto the shorter woman, focusing all of her rapidly fading strength into that one action.
Climbing claws in place, Torrin gave a brief prayer to the Mistress of Shadows for her injured arm to hold, and then slid over the Castle wall.
Silently moving down the rock fortification, she focused on crawling slowly and carefully, hands and feet stabbed repeatedly into the stones. She ignored the pain in her arm and the sweat that poured down her back. She just concentrated on the placement of her hands and feet. The dark-haired woman hoped the warrior would be able to move a little on her own once they hit the ground.
The climb down lasted an eternity to Luna. Even though it was Torrin that was keeping them from falling, Luna felt as if her entire body was on fire from the effort of hanging on. The Warrior’s strength failed her just before they got to the base of the barrier. She slipped through the makeshift rope and limply fell the ten feet to the ground below, landing a dozen feet away from the wall. The blonde gasped in agony and struggled for her breath.
Above them, on the top of the castle buttresses, a commotion broke out when she was spotted. The bright moonlight gave the few sentries on duty more than enough light to see Luna's fall. The cry rang out, "The prisoner is escaping!"
Torrin gritted her teeth, next time she would pray for wings. For a moment she hesitated, it wasn't to late to go back and pretend she had never taken this path. She mentally shook her head. No, that wasn’t right and she knew it. The contract had been made and she would honor it. She pushed away from the wall, easily falling the 10 feet removing her claws on the way down, rolled back up to her feet and ran to the fallen woman's side. Torrin knew they were sitting ducks for anyone with a bow. "Quickly," she urged.
Weakly, Luna struggled to stand up, but was barely able to move her arms. Only with Torrin's help did the wounded warrior get on her feet and with her arm draped over Torrin's shoulder, managed a staggering walk towards the dark forest. In the open, under the full moon, they were as good as dead, but among the trees, they had a chance.
Behind them the castle was in an uproar. Crowds of people were rushing up onto the castle walkways, yelling and pointing to where the two women were moving towards the trees. The profuse celebration drinking slowed their response, but still, it was only a matter of minutes before Khelin started yelling for the gate to be opened and began assembling her warriors for pursuit.
The gate of the castle drew open with a rattled clank of chains. Inside the courtyard, Khelin bullied her drunken warriors out into the cold winter night, shouting at them "Bring me that bitch! Bring her back!"
Torrin growled at the activity, but said nothing. Instead, she focused on getting them into the darkness. Her breaths came in rapid, white puffs. Luna struggled to keep up with her. Even with Torrin’s support, it was hard to stay on her feet. The path they were following made it even more difficult for her. They were passing through the area where the Southerners had charged, and the ground was littered with their dead. Bodies that they had to detour around.
Above them, the first faint wisps of clouds began to drift in front of the bright moonlight, spreading darkness just as the first arrows began to whiz through the air around them.
“Snow," Luna panted as she hobbled forward. "It's going to snow."
"Goody,” Torrin mumbled.
She hated snow. Snow reminded her of her childhood. This place. She should have sat this campaign out. Rya said she would have understood if she wanted to pass on it. But no, she said, she didn't want to let her Pack down. Dark shadows of the pines loomed in front of them, and Torrin let out a breath in relief. Suddenly, just inside the line of trees, she pulled the taller woman to her and fell down to the ground as several arrows passed overhead.
Spent from the desperate rush toward the tree line, Luna flopped over on her back and focused on trying to breath. When she was pretty sure she wasn't going to pass out, the warrior struggled to sit back up. "Khelin will be coming after us."
Torrin stood up and after a moment of thought, unfurled her cloak and placed it on the barely conscious woman. The cloak was better than nothing, but it wouldn’t keep the wounded woman very warm.
"We need to keep moving. If we can make it to the where the army camped last night, we might be able to find some discarded clothes that we can use."
"I don't know if I can," Luna confessed, as she tried to get back up to her feet. The wound in her side was bleeding freely again and she was starting to feel dizzy and lightheaded. Even though the cold was helping to keep the bleeding and swelling down, everything was painful for her, even breathing.
Torrin scowled, "You can't die. You owe me a treasure. So get up and get moving." She barked the last as a command. But she frowned, knowing the woman was on her last reserve. "You can either try or be that bitch's plaything. So what is it going to be?" she asked, holding out a hand.
"I won't be taken alive back to her," Luna replied, a quiet determination in her voice as she took Torrin's outstretched hand. Torrin hid a smile of admiration for the warrior’s resolve as she helped her up.
The warrior concentrated on one thing at a time. First, she struggled to her feet. Then, it was the placement of one foot in front of the other. Even though the sounds of pursuit were growing closer, she blocked them out, forcing her abused body to move.
Torrin already had her mind whirling back to her childhood memories trying to remember all her old hiding places. She would often run out into the woods to escape Quinn, her sisters, or the other children of the Castle.
"Not far from here is a burrow covered in a thicket of briar and thorns. However, if you know the right place, there's an entrance to it, but it’s hard to see. In the dark, there's no way these half drunk soldiers can find it. I'll help you there, then I'll go lay down a false trail and try to get you some clothes as well." She wrapped an arm around the woman's waist and led them deeper into the trees.
Luna really had no choice but to trust the woman. Instead of worrying about something she couldn’t change, she bobbed her head in a slight nod of agreement. As they traveled deeper into the dark forest, the bitter cold wind started to kick up the dead leaves around them. Clouds boiled overhead, obscuring even the faint light provided by the full moon and stars. Wet, full flakes of snow began to dance through the air upon the gusting wind.
“Blizzard,” Luna panted. All her senses warned her of the pending blizzard.
"Even better. The snow will do a better job of hiding our tracks than I could. But you still need food, clothes, and probably medical attention.” She paused looking around to the right, "Almost there, hang in there."
Luna grunted something that might or might not have been a response to Torrin's words. The snow would also hopefully cover up the blood trail she was leaving behind.
She moved them down one small hill and before they climbed another slight rise, they came to low spot between the hills covered with briars. It was still dangerous and dark looking but as a child, she had sat watching coyote pups crawl in and out of the thicket.
With the northern winter upon them, the coyotes would have moved on to warmer climates and better food runs. She slowly lowered Luna to the ground in front of the opening. The mercenary doubted the woman was strong enough to wander off, but she cautioned her anyway, "Wait here, I need to make sure no large animals are using it as a den."
Luna couldn't have argued with her even if she had wanted to. Stars danced in front of the injured warrior’s eyes and she curled around the aching gash in her side, trying to stop the pain. Her world seemed to only be made up of endless cold and hurt. She whimpered when the warm body that had been holding her left to go check the burrow.
Torrin crouched down and searched around in the darkness until she found the opening, the only place in the briars and thicket an evergreen flourished. On her hands and knees, she pushed the fragrant fronds aside and squeezed inside. She didn't remember it being so small, but she supposed she had gotten larger since the last time she had used it. She carefully listened for sounds, but sensed only the dark; there was no soft breathing of another living thing.
Assured it was safe, she wiggled the rest of the way inside, moving bones and rocks out of her way. After clearing a patch, Torrin gathered a few small twigs, pulled out her flint, and a few tries later, had a small, feeble fire going. Just enough for light, nothing more. As she looked around, she confirmed what she already knew; other than herself, there was nothing else in here. Letting the wispy fire continue to smolder, she squeezed back out and returned to the warrior.
Luna lay curled up on her side where Torrin had left her, the dark cloak draped over her still form. Only the rapid, shallow rise and fall of her chest gave any hint that she was still alive. The snow was beginning to come down harder, filling the air with large, wet flakes that stuck to everything they touched. Luna was already coated with them.
Lightly shaking her, Torrin spoke quietly, "Come on. I've got a place for you to rest. You've just got to get in there. It will be a tight fit, just think small thoughts. For a Northern barbarian that shouldn't be so hard."
The blonde managed a feeble grin at the joke as she crawled towards Torrin. There was only a little room inside the small depression, but at least it was protected from the elements. Luna collapsed as soon as she was inside, drawing her legs up into a fetal position and tried to still the chills that shook her body.
Her teeth were chattering so hard she feared that Khelin herself might hear them. It was only then that she realized she could no longer hear the sounds of their pursuers. The snow had dampened the noise.
Torrin followed her in shortly after, draping the cloak over the woman and depositing her stuff on the ground.
"If you keep feeding the fire, you can use it as heat. But don’t add too much, the light might give us away." Then she left again.
The blonde lay on the ground, blue eyes opened wide, staring at the small fire as she trembled with cold. One trembling hand reached out from under the cloak to pick up a twig. Her hand was shaking so badly she completely missed hitting the fire with it. It took two more attempts before she managed to feed the fire. After scooting as close to the flames’ warmth as she dared, the blonde's eyes finally fluttered shut. The day’s injuries claimed her as she fell unconscious, swept into the darkness of her mind.
Torrin moved silently over the ground. Unlike the others out on the snowy field, she had the advantage of being familiar with the landscape. Happily, she noted, none of the forces were looking in the area of the burrow. Unfortunately, though, they were searching the road and in the direction of last night’s base camp.
She made her way to the encampment quickly, sliding through and between the trees, and once, up in them as troops passed below her. By now, the cold and wet had crept through her light fighting gear and she was anxious to find heavier, dry clothing.
As she approached the camp, Torrin circled around it until she came to the mercenary’s cache. Removing the snowy branches that had covered it, she found her heavy pack, bow and arrows. She thought about leaving a note for Rya, but figured her message left at the Castle would be enough. Shrugging the pack onto her shoulders, she entered the abandoned base camp for more supplies.
Seething with fury at the possibility of her plaything escaping from her, Khelin lashed out at her warriors. The insane leader screamed and threatened them to search faster and farther for the fugitive prisoner. "I wanted to watch her roast! And if she doesn't, one of you will take her place!" she screeched into the blowing snow and howling wind.
The snow kept falling, harder and harder, until the air was white with it and the ground completely covered. Still the snow continued to fall, whipping through the air on the gusts of wind that roared through the forest. Faced with the fury of the blizzard and with some of her warriors having gotten lost, Khelin was finally forced to draw back into the Castle.
Rya stood on the rampart, watching the chaos in the forest below. Behind her stood all of her Hawks, except one. Wet flakes hissed as they landed on the torch she carried. She turned around and searched the area where the prisoner had been bound. A flash of gold reflected back at her. Bending over, she picked up the coin and saw the markings scratched into the stone face below it.
For a moment, she frowned, and then her mouth broke into a wide grin. Damn, her little bird had guts. She’d gone and pissed off the whole Southern army. Rya hoped the pay was worth it. Pocketing the coin, she gestured for the Hawks to return to their warm fire.
Torrin grumbled as the snow fell harder; it stuck to her hair and clothes. With her teeth chattering, she stood for a moment in front of the briars, trying to judge the rate of snowfall. It would only take minutes for her tracks to be erased. She shoved her heavy pack inside the burrow and then followed after it. The warmth of the den pleasantly surprised her.
Inside the burrow, Luna laid unconscious next to the tiny fire. Her body shook and her teeth chattered as the wounds she had taken earlier in the day finally began to make themselves known. Her skin was covered in a thin sheen of sweat and her breathing was rapid and shallow.
Torrin frowned as snow melted in her hair. Feeding a few more twigs into the fire, she unpacked her bedroll. Placing it on the ground, she then unpacked the sparse medical supplies and clothes she had taken and laid them next to it. "Come on. I can't have you sick on me. We have an army looking for us.” She dragged the shaking woman onto the blankets.
"Momma?" Luna whispered weakly, eyes fluttering open, then slipping closed again as she settled back on the bedroll.
Torrin chuckled. It came out loudly before she could bite it off. For a moment, her belly shook as she fought kept her laughter silent.
Wiping the tears out of her eyes, she reflected how good that moment of amusement had felt. "I am most definitely not your mother." Then she pulled out her water skin and helped Luna sit up, "Here, drink. You’re probably dehydrated."
Luna managed to rise a little and but only remained sitting up by leaning heavily against Torrin. The water helped rouse her from her dazed state and she drank greedily from the water skin. The injured woman also covetously soaked up the body heat granted her from being held by the smaller dark-haired woman.
"How are you feeling?" Torrin asked quietly. She set the skin down and grabbed hold of the medical supplies. She leaned over carefully, so not to disturb the woman too much, and removed the blood-soaked cloak. Torrin stared at the gaping wound in the Northerner’s side. Picking up and opening a vial, she dumped some of the contents on a clean cloth. Cautiously, and as gently as she could manage, she began to clean the deep gash.
“I fought a major battle, I have a hole in my side, and was left hanging outside, naked, for a whole day." Wearily, she closed her eyes. "I feel great," the warrior muttered, wincing as Torrin scrubbed the gap in her side.
"I should charge more," Torrin muttered as she placed a bandage on the wound. It probably needed to be stitched, but at the moment, she didn't have steady enough hands to do it. In the morning, if it still looked bad, she would attempt it.
Easing out from under the woman, she gently laid her back down and looked at her. Torrin’s eyes stopped on the face, scanning it closely. She was about her age; blonde and blue-eyed like so many other Northerners. She searched her memory but she still came up with a blank on who she might be. Which, in a way was good, since it meant this woman had not been one of her tormentors while growing up.
Forcing her eyes off the Warrior’s face, she looked over the body for other wounds that needed attention. Her hands and feet were marked with ugly bruises, but she was happy to see that the skin wasn’t blue, indicating that the circulation was okay.
Torrin covered her with a clean cloak.
With fatigue rapidly drawing her down into its sleepy embrace, Luna struggled to remain awake just a bit longer. "My name is Luna, daughter of Mezzarna and Fengold," she whispered through cracked lips. Her blue eyes opened into tiny slits so she could watch the mercenary’s face.
"Well, Luna, daughter of Mezzarna and Fengold, it’s very nice to meet you," Torrin said, still racking her brain for a memory of those names. Still, nothing came to mind. She decided they must have been Rangers living in the forest.
“It’s nice to meet you, Torrin, daughter of Tyra and Quinn,” Luna whispered again, closing her eyes as she slipped into sleep.
Turning away, Torrin threw a few more twigs into the fire, "Actually, it would just be ‘daughter of Tyra’.” She cleared her throat, “So, should we try to get clothes on you or do you prefer to sleep naked?" She turned back and gazed at the sleeping woman, wrapped only in her thick traveling cloak. She blinked, "Well, naked it is."
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