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 Adarkbow@yahoo.com
Chapter 10 Intro
The Fall of the Last Queen
Ella, Captain of the Queen's Guard, was huddled under a tree, wet and miserable. The woman clutched a long sword to her chest, blue eyes staring but not seeing the river in front of her. Her only companion this night was the rain as she sat beneath one of the large fir trees that lined the Winderling's banks.
In the distance she could just barely make out the lights of the Queen's city. Mocking her. Taunting her with the promise of something she could never have.
The rain had turned the Fire warrior's blonde hair dark like the color of old blood. Irritably she wiped a long strand of it out of her face and closed her eyes as she remembered the past…the days when her Cassie had been hers alone, before she had become Queen Cassandra. The good times before the Queen had invited others into her bedchambers.
Scarred fingers tightened about the hilt of her sword as Ella thought about all the women she had tossed from the Queen's bedchambers. She hadn't wanted to believe that Cassie would change so much, but she had. Or maybe she hadn't. Maybe the young Queen had always been like that and it was Ella who had seen things that were not there.
Love, for example.
"Love." The voice in her head was cold and mocking. "There was no love. You were only a thing to be used and now Cassie has no use for you." The voice chuckled, "Not when she has so many others to warm her bed."
As the voice spoke, Ella's hand gripped the pommel of her sword tighter and tighter until her knuckles turned ghostly white.
"She has no right to be Queen. She makes the throne room into a whorehouse slandering the names of all who came before." The voice was sly and coaxing. "Something should be done. Someone should remove this disease before it spreads through the Castle like a plague and into the land."
Ella nodded. It was her duty to protect the people. Maybe it was even her duty to protect them from an unfit Queen. As the voice spoke, her thoughts twisted round and round until only one thing made perfect sense. She rose up wet and dripping from the shadows of the trees. The voice stilled inside her head and with steady measured steps, she entered the Castle.
She passed her guards nodding and smiling tightly to them. The second in charge of the Guards, Shamira, stopped her as she tried to make her way into the Queen's room. "Ella, you have to stop doing this to yourself."
"I swear. No more after this." She smiled reassuringly but the smile only seemed to make Shamira more uneasy.
"Promise me that this is the last time, Ella. You have to let her go. No matter how spoiled a child she's being, she is still our Queen. Give her some time she can still grow into the woman we know she can be." Blue eyes searched her Captain's determined face.
"Ella, please," she pleaded.
"Last time, I swear."
The guard knew she shouldn't but she nodded anyway. "All right, I'll stand over here. Okay?"
Ella nodded and strode toward the door.
She entered silently and saw them intertwined like vines. It was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. She felt her gut twist and a fire born on anger's wings alight in her breast.
She unsheathed her sword and with a cry of pain and rage, rushed forward. The blade lifted high and brought down quickly. The lovers too startled to react were impaled together. With such force was the blow given that the blade sank deep into the stone. When the Captain of the Guard tried to lift again, it broke at the tip leaving an inch embedded into the stone.
The Queen and the Captain's eyes met. Both held anger, sorrow, and pain but no longer any love. It had been pushed aside by their actions.
The door was being forced open by the guards, their panicked voices shouting loudly. Horrified, the guards stopped as they saw the one woman they had trusted beyond all others betray what they all had stood for.
The room became chaotic with the stench of vengeance hanging heavily.
The Queen's mouth opened. "You," she hissed blood dribbling down her chin.
"You all shall pay for this failure," the queen spoke raggedly as her breathing became labored. "I curse you all to remain here during life and in death until once more the line of Queens is returned to the throne."
" You, my Deceiver," dying blue eyes turned to her one time lover. "You shall never again be known by your birth name. Your name shall be stricken from all records. People will spit at you and remember only the horrible thing that you have done. And after your death? Your ghost shall be cursed to roam these halls… never to pass over."
"No more lies from your faithless lips!" Ella roared and swung her blade again. The Queen's head fell landing on bloodied stones. Still her eyes remained open and her mouth moved. " Never"
She was in a warm comfortable place.
Luna moved closer to the warmth, pulling it closer to herself and holding it there. Warm skin pressed against warmer skin. Slowly, her eyelids fluttered open to reveal contented blue eyes. Yawning, Luna stretched pressing her front against the warm back of the person she held. The blonde froze as her brain caught up with the actions of her body.
Torrin was trying desperately to seem like she was still asleep. Luna was only doing this because she was asleep and thought that Torrin was someone else. Torrin held no illusions that Luna would ever be more than her friend, no matter how much her body wanted to be more than that at the moment.
Slowly Luna let go over the firm flesh she'd just been groping, her face so hot she feared she would burst into flames at any instant. Hoping that Torrin was still asleep she tried to shift away, which was difficult because Torrin seemed to be laying on one of her arms.
Torrin swallowed and wondered why Luna wasn't moving. She wasn't sure how much longer she could play this game, she had bit back a moan as Luna had slowly let go of her skin. Then she realized she was using Luna's arm as a pillow.
A pounding on the outer door announced a visitor and gave Luna the opportunity to slide her arm out from under Torrin as she got up to answer it.
Muttering a good morning and trying not to let the dark-haired woman see her face, Luna pulled a blanket up over her shoulders and headed for her room to put on some clothes. More pounding on the door caused her to hurry.
"Luna?" A voice called from the hallway.
Hastily pulling on a clean shirt, pants and boots, Luna strapped her new sword to her side. It felt right there, and she spared another thankful prayer to the Moon Goddess for Torrin's presence yesterday. The outer door swung open just as she finished buckling the belt.
"Luna, are you... oh. Sorry, I wasn't sure you were here." Eve stammered a bit, smiling as she spotted the tall blonde.
Eve looked a lot like her mother, the same blonde almost white hair, fair complexion, and high sculpted cheek bones. However, where her mother had given the impression of aloofness, Eve always gave Luna the impression of a scholar not certain how to deal with the real world.
"Good morning, Eve," the ranger said.
"I know it's early, but I wanted to let you know that I've officially been made the head of the Wind Walkers."
"Congratulations. I wish it were under better circumstances, but you
will make a good leader for your clan." Eve was positively beaming. Luna
hoped the Wind Walker wasn't going to ask for something else from her.
"I would like you to come to the ceremony with me, if you can that is?" Eve asked, foiling Luna's hopes.
"Ceremony?" Luna asked a bit weakly.
Eve nodded somberly. "Mother is going to be burned and I'll be fully instated as the head of the Clan."
Torrin had given a small whimper as she rolled over to watch Luna leave. Fate was a cruel bitch some times. Sliding out of the bed she pulled on her clothes from yesterday, black would be oddly fitting after the deaths of yesterday.
As Torrin slipped the shirt over her head she wondered if she was up for the task of protecting Luna. Without a doubt she knew Luna would need protecting, although after last night Luna might need protection from her. She blew out a breath and ran fingers through her lengthening hair. She needed to cut it, but for the moment, settled for tying it back in a horsetail. Hearing voices she moved into the other room and saw Eve talking to Luna.
Torrin unconsciously scowled at the young woman, seeing the way she looked at Luna. 'Luna's apparently a dying woman's meal and that girl is dying,' she though.
"Goody," Torrin mumbled as she heard the Wind Walker's news. Fortunately she had said it too quietly for it to be heard.
Torrin was actually proud of herself as she bit back another nasty comment. She gave a small cough to announce her presence in the room but the girl was quite happy to pretend she didn't exist, her eyes never once leaving Luna.
"The other Clan leaders will be there, Allysandra, Tasha, and all of Magda's children. The Fire warriors said something about starting their Rites of Passage afterward."
Luna winced. That meant the Fire warriors would be choosing their own leader after Eve's ceremony. The Rites consisted of every warrior who thought they were strong enough to challenge for the position of leader. The one standing at the end of the day was the leader. It was brutal but effective.
"Give me a moment, Eve?" Luna asked the girl and moved over to where Torrin was standing.
"What do you think?" She was more the aware that Eve was ignoring Torrin as if she didn't even exist.
Torrin's ears perked up at the Rites of Passage, and then she frowned. Adrian would no doubt be going for the leadership of the clan. She blinked looking up at Luna. "What do I think about what?"
A pale eyebrow rose. "About attending this ceremony?"
With a grin she placed a hand on Luna's hip, not missing the scowl the girl in the doorway gave her with that action. "Oh that? You should go. People will be disappointed if you don't. Plus, as the City's Leader, you will need to make the new Clan chiefs feel welcomed as they step into their new roles." Then she muttered, "But not too welcome, I hope," as she gave Eve a glare of her own.
Luna stared at Torrin as if she had lost her mind. "What?" She'd missed everything Torrin had said after the shorter woman had put her hand on her hip.
Torrin looked back to Luna thus breaking her glaring contest with Eve.
She gave Luna a smile. "Hate to break it to you, but somehow you're the big chief to all these women. You have to go. You have to welcome the new Clan chiefs. It would look bad for you and to them if you didn't."
"Are you out of your mind?" Luna asked incredulously, turning to look toward Eve who was nodding enthusiastically. Turning back to Torrin she shook her head. "Oh no. No way, not possible."
Eve smiled at Luna, "You'll come then, good" and then frowned at Torrin as she backed out the door and headed off to get ready, leaving Luna staring at Torrin in shock.
"What?" Torrin looked puzzled at Luna.
"I'm not a big chief! I'm just a ranger." Luna stepped away from Torrin, gesturing towards the doorway. "And what was that all about?"
Torrin looked back innocently, "what was what all about?"
Blue eyes narrowed. "You know full well what I'm talking about. Did Eve do something to you to make you dislike her?"
Torrin started picking up her throwing knives and securing them. She frowned. She would need to get her stuff back from Wooten and buy a new sword. Rhain probably would pretend she had no idea what she was talking about if she demanded hers returned.
Luna stared at the woman who was calmly strapping on her knives and crossed her arms over her chest. "Are you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what? That, yes, you are the big chief whether you know it or not. You maybe a ranger, but somehow you've become much more than that here. Or, that Eve was flirting with you and wanting me very much gone so you could give her a big old welcome." She made a face at Luna.
Luna blinked, started to say something, stopped, stared at Torrin, then shook her head and went looking for something a bit more formal to wear. "I don't even know where to start correcting you on that."
Torrin laughed. "Luna, you're very attractive. Trust me, the women around here and at Wooten's tavern noticed. I thought I was going to have to bust some heads at the tavern. You need to be careful, okay? Some women are going to be only interested in you for your power." Torrin wasn't even going to argue the leadership issue. Luna was their new leader. She couldn't stop leading the women here even if she wanted to.
Luna paused, holding up the only shirt she owned that could be considered somewhat formal. Mezzarna had done the embroidery for it herself. "You think I'm attractive?"
"Of course," Torrin said absently as she looked at the bruise on the side of her face in the lone mirror in the room. She paused as she realized what she'd said.
Luna gave her a dazzling smile then turned her back and changed her shirt. "You don't look so bad either," she said, turning around to survey Torrin from head to toe. "We better go see about finding breakfast before this ceremony starts. If it's like any other Wind Walker ceremony, it's going to be long and pretty boring."
Torrin blushed and squirmed. She wasn't use to that kind of attention. Sure people checked her out but normally it was judging her strength for fighting. "Um, okay, thank you. Are you sure you want me to go with you?"
She was trying to get her balance back after Luna had taken it out from under her.
"You aren't getting out of this so easily." Blue eyes blinked at her innocently. "Besides, aren't you suppose to be protecting me?"
Torrin sighed. "Yes, I am. Do you want me to protect you from Eve? She could have dangerous, grabby hands."
"Eve's harmless, she was just being friendly," Luna retorted, waiting for Torrin to finish getting ready.
Torrin rolled her eyes. "Yeah and she'd like to get really friendly with your body," she muttered.
Luna pretended not to hear her. "Are you coming?"
"If I must," Torrin sighed.
Luna began to feel uncomfortable as they walked down the streets toward the Temple of the Moon Goddess. After they grabbed a quick breakfast, Luna had decided that they should talk to the Head Priestess as soon as possible. As they walked there, it was obvious that word about the assassinations had spread throughout the city. Luna had expected that. What she hadn't expected were the looks they were getting as they walked down the street. "This is strange," she muttered, watching as another group of women nodded toward her, all of them going silent as the tall blonde and the shorter dark-haired woman passed by them.
Torrin shrugged. "It's respect," she stated. But it was making Torrin nervous too and she kept finding her hand inching for her sword that wasn't there. Her eyes kept sweeping around them, cataloging each avenue that could be open for an attack on Luna. She quickly scanned each person they passed and filed their faces away to be remembered if needed.
"Whatever it is, I wish it would stop." The bubble of silence that surrounded them as they moved was starting to spook her a little. It was with considerable relief that she spotted the soaring spires of the Temple ahead of them.
Torrin began to have second thoughts as they closer to the Temple. "Is this necessary? She was just a ghost. A very miserable ghost and anyway, the sword was a good thing, right?"
"There's more going on than we know about. I'm sick of ghosts knowing more about what's going to happen than I do," was Luna's simple answer as she climbed up the steps toward the entryway, nodding to the two guards who stood outside. "I want answers, no more cryptic stories."
Torrin sighed. "Joy." She followed Luna into the building.
For a moment, Torrin froze just inside the entrance. She hadn't been in one of the Moon Goddess' temples before. Quinn had never allowed her to go to the rituals saying it was 'sacrilegious' for her kind to be there. Her eyes swept over the carved stones and the artwork.
The Temple staff was already preparing for the ceremony that would establish Eve as the head of the Wind Walkers. Acolytes were busy cleaning and setting up the ceremonial candles. Tomorrow would be the burning of the bodies, when both Magda and Athena would be returned to the heavens.
Luna stalked passed them all and headed for the back of the Temple and the Head Priestess.
The old Priestess that Luna had met was kneeling by the altar. Leaving Torrin lagging behind her, the Ranger headed directly for the old woman who straightened up from her prayers. Luna came to a stop at the base of the altar and drew her sword. "What is this? Why did Torrin get it from a ghost?" Luna wasn't going to mince words.
The Priestess held up her hand to reassure the approaching Temple guards that everything was all right. "Child, it looks like a sword. And who is Torrin?"
Luna gave the old woman a scowling look and glanced behind her to find that Torrin was still back at the entrance. "That's Torrin." Sheathing the sword she made a motion trying to get the shorter woman's attention.
Torrin noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye and looked over at Luna. She quickly moved over to where Luna stood with another older woman.
"Torrin this is..." Luna paused, suddenly realizing she didn't know the old woman's name. The Priestess smiled and stepped down from the altar and touched Luna's arm. "My name is Lucinda. Well met, both of you."
Torrin gave a short formal nod. "Nice to meet you."
Lucinda smiled at the shorter, dark-haired woman. "So, you're Torrin."
Torrin nodded. "Um, yes, uh, I would be Torrin."
"We need to have a talk, now," Luna stated bluntly and then frowned as the first Wind Walkers began to filter into the Temple. They didn't have as much time before the ceremony as she would have liked.
Sea green eyes turned to Luna. "Yes, of course. Follow me, please." She turned and started walking towards now empty teaching rooms.
Torrin snickered and bumped her shoulder against Luna. "Weren't you the one who told me to be respectful?"
The blonde glanced at Torrin, smiled and shrugged. "Aren't you the one who's sick of ghosts and gods?" she said as she followed the Priestess.
"Well, yeah I am sick of the cryptic shit. But relax. You're only going to give yourself stomach pains if you keep this up." She reached up to rub Luna's back gently. "At least you're not a ghost magnet like I am."
Luna thoughts flickered back to the three old women she met standing guard in the Queen's castle. "I'm not so sure of that," she muttered. Her back was warm where Torrin had rubbed it. She did feel calmer as they moved into the small teaching room with its simple wooden chairs and desks.
"Now Luna, may I see the sword?" the Head Priestess asked.
It sang as she drew it and then she reversed it so she was offering it to the Priestess hilt first. "A ghost that called itself the Deceiver gave it to Torrin."
The Priestess grasped the handle and carefully lifted it out of Luna's hands. She sucked in a breath. "By the Goddess, it's the Queen's sword. We thought it had been lost." She respectfully handed it back to Luna and turned to Torrin. "Tell me everything, child."
Luna hesitated then carefully took the weapon back. She studied the blade as light flickered along its edge. It had only looked like a beautifully crafted sword in the old woman's hands. Frowning she sheathed it and leaned back against a wall to listen to Torrin. It was the first time that she had heard to the entire story.
Torrin rolled her eyes, but started from the beginning when she snuck into the Castle. As she finished her story, she looked at the Priestess for a sign that she believed her. But the woman's face gave nothing away.
"I see, and how did you know when to give the sword to Luna?" the priestess asked, her eyes studying Torrin's.
Torrin opened her mouth, and then shut it. "I dunno," she finally mumbled. "The Assassin knocked her sword away and she needed one...and…." She blew out a breath. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time," she said defensively as she crossed her arms over her chest.
Luna pushed away from the wall to stand next to Torrin. She touched her arm in reassurance and felt Torrin relax slightly. They both stood there looking at the old Priestess…waiting.
The woman nodded and her eyes seemed far away. "So, Luna is the one you protect?"
Torrin shrugged. "Well, that's all I seem to do." She blanched thinking how that must have sounded to the warrior. "Umm, well, I mean, not that Luna isn't capable of taking care of herself, but you know she just..." Torrin decided silence was the best answer.
A low chuckle from her side, along with a warm touch to her shoulder let Torrin know that Luna hadn't taken offense to her words.
The Priestess nodded in understanding. "Well, over the years, several of the Priestesses have been stricken with a madness and in this state, prophecies been made. Hmmm... I will need to do some research. But if my memory serves me right, the Deceiver came to Torrin because she sensed a kindred spirit."
Blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "Torrin isn't a deceiver."
Torrin's hopes deflated at the Priestess's words and she looked at the far wall trying to fight off stinging tears. Being called a Deceiver was engrained in northern society as being the worst kind of scum and murderous backstabber.
"I'm not positive but I would guess that Torrin is the Betrayer." Lucinda cleared her throat, her old eyes losing their focus as she sought to remember the passages from the Codex of Madness. "I'm not sure I remember the passage…" Her voice took on a sing song cadence as the old words came back.
"The first, deceived by love and through deceit, shall extinguish the line of Queens. From her violence shall the Castle grow dark and all flee from its embrace. She will curse her sisters to life beyond death and none shall leave the Castle until Northern blood once again sits on the throne. Her name is forgotten, but she will be known for all time as the Deceiver."
The Temple seemed to hold it's breath as the Head Priestess continued, her words filling every corner with their power.
"The second shall hold within her the balance of light and dark sitting on a sword's edge. Two possible destinies sit within her breast. From an illicit union she shall be born. She will exist of two worlds yet belong to none. She will crumble the earth and through her will, Queens will be created and destroyed. She will be known as the Betrayer."
Luna shivered, the sword at her side feeling heavy for the first time since
Torrin had given it to her. Wordlessly she turned to look at her friend, worried
blue eyes studying the shorter woman's face but Torrin refused to make eye contact
Torrin wasn't sure what to feel. Her chest felt heavy and she remembered her nightmare of the dead screaming for blood and vengeance.
In a hollow voice, she said. "I betrayed my home and brought Abnoa to ruin. So, I guess you could make an argument for the crumbling of earth part since it was the home of the Earth clan."
"This prophecy, who made it?" Luna's voice was hard. Her hand came up to rest on Torrin's shoulder, giving what comfort she could. The Ranger refused to think what else that might mean to her.
Lucinda's forehead scrunched in thought. "She would have been a Priestess,
a Chosen of the Moon Goddess, but a specific name I don't know."
"Luna!" Eve called from the doorway, bursting in onto the scene. The wind walker was radiant in a silken gown. "Oh good, you're already here. I was worried I might have to go looking for you."
Torrin shifted away from Luna's touch, her gray eyes shuttered. She felt even more lost. Stupid prophesies. Life, she decided, had been simpler when she had just been a lowly mercenary. Maybe not better, but definitely simpler.
Luna's thoughts were much the same. Her life had been considerably less complicated when she had been in training as a ranger. She let Torrin pull away from her, forcing herself to nod in greeting to Eve as the other woman entered.
There was a carefully hidden sadness in the Wind Walker's eyes as she gazed at three women.
"All the Clan representatives are gathered," Eve politely informed Lucinda.
Luna could see the close resemblance between Eve and her mother, Athena, at that moment. Both had been tall and thin and had almost the same respected attitude.
The Head Priestess nodded. "Then it is time to begin. I'm very sorry for your loss, Eve, but I know you will do her memory justice. Your mother raised you well," the old woman said as she left to prepare for the ceremony.
Ignoring Torrin completely, Eve stood in front of Luna. "Will you do me the honor of taking part in the ceremony?" Blue eyes widened in shock and Luna wondered if she could manage to flee from the room or if it was too late for that.
Torrin, was again proud of herself as she kept in a nasty comment, but thought
she was going to be ill at all the eyelash fluttering. Grudgingly, she did have
to admit that Luna and Eve would be a beautiful couple. With a scowl she pushed
past Eve and made her way into the Temple. Sitting down in a back row, she stared
gloomily at one of the stained glass windows.
The ceremony was a simple one by Wind Walker standards. The Head Priestess called the gathering to order and then asked for proof that the former head of the Clan was dead. Solemnly, those gathered rose to their feet as an Honor guard from both the Fire and Wind Walker clan carried in the bodies of their fallen leaders. As they were brought in front of her, Lucinda touched their foreheads briefly.
"As is written, the Clan chiefs shall be chosen by their Clan rituals. Fire Warriors, those who wish to be named Chief will challenge each other for leadership. I shall see the victor in three days at moon rise." The old priestess turned away from the grim and silent warriors and toward the gathered Wind Walkers.
"Wind Walkers, is the eldest daughter of Athena present?"
There was a pause in which Eve elbowed Luna in the side.
"Um, she is," Luna called out from the side room, stepping out into the main Temple aisle along with the beautifully dressed Eve.
Torrin studied the Fire clan members. She was familiar with many of them from the bar. She saw Adrian's smug look even in this time of sorrow. Her thoughts broke away as Luna and Eve made their way to the front of the Temple.
Eve was delicate and fair, her face held a bookish wisdom to it. With a sigh, Torrin admitted to herself that Eve was everything she was not.
Not entirely certain how she'd been roped into participating, Luna walked Eve to the front of the altar where Lucinda and the other senior priestesses awaited them. "Eve, daughter of Athena, daughter of Claire, you have been called upon to bear a heavy burden. Being a leader of a Clan is not an easy one and demands many sacrifices." Eve nodded in understanding while Luna tried not to fidget. With a gesture Lucinda summoned forth the Temple guards who carried between them a large wooden box.
Setting it down next to the altar, they lifted off the polished lid. Gently, Lucinda reached inside and lifted up the book that was its cargo.
Luna sucked in a breath as she spotted the hide-covered book. It was old, the oldest book to exist in the north. "This, the original sacred words of the Exodus, written in Luna's own hand, is entrusted to your safe keeping, as your mother did, your mother's mother, and throughout your line."
Torrin watched the ceremony with interest, a small smile coming to her lips as she saw how nervous Luna was. Her eyes, though, never stopped moving around taking in everything around her in case Khelin had sent more Assassins.
She noticed how everyone's eyes got big seeing the book. "Sheesh," she thought rolling her eyes, "it's just a book for crying out loud." Books were not among her favorite things. Perhaps it was all the quoting from them as she was growing up. Quinn made sure she knew she was an abomination.
With utmost care the Priestess lowered the book back into its resting place. It was never brought out except for the most special of occasions.
The Priestess touched Eve's shoulder, "Care for it and your clan well," and then she stepped back, allowing the new leader of the Wind Walkers to greet her people. As soon as she could, Luna slipped away from the sudden press of people. Many of the Fire warriors were doing the same, eager to get started on the challenges that would allow one of them to become the head of the Fire Clan.
The Ranger watched Adrian stare longingly toward Torrin, and then purposefully stride out of the temple. She prayed Adrian wouldn't win.
"Let's get out of here. There are too many people."
Torrin got up quietly and followed Luna out. Outside she blinked at the bright sun. The air was warm and much of the snow in the city had already melted. "How much longer until Khelin can make for the Pass? A month, two?" she asked.
Luna nodded slowly, staring up at the blue sky. "A month at most. The Pass will be open by then. The Winderling will be open in a week, perhaps two at this rate, unless there is a cold snap."
Luna sighed. "The Fire warriors and Rangers that were up at the top of the Pass were found dead by their replacements yesterday. A messenger falcon arrived this morning with the news. Valerie told me when we were leaving the Castle."
Torrin nodded her head sadly. She knew what had happened. The Assassin's memories had shown her the whole violent event.
"But you already knew they were dead," Luna said quietly as they started to walk back towards the Castle.
"Yeah. Um, when I touched the Assassin …." She shivered. There were other darker things seen, but Luna didn't need to know of them.
The tall blonde licked lips that had gone dry. "What else did she show you?" She was upset she couldn't keep the tremble out of her voice.
Torrin looked at Luna. Her eyes were vacant and haunted with the violent memories. "More than a person should see."
The blonde nodded and continued to walk slowly down the crowded street. "Khelin was attentive, sweet, and so very charming when I first arrived in Thullis," Luna said quietly. "It only changed later, after..." She shivered.
Torrin grabbed Luna's arm and gently pulled her away from the prying eyes and ears and into the shadows of an unused side street. She placed a finger on Luna's lips. "It's not my business, Luna. But to me, I see a strong, compassionate, intelligent woman, who, despite being knocked down a few times, still gets up to do the right thing. Whatever Khelin did, doesn't make you less of a person. It just makes her less of one. Okay?"
Luna slowly let out a sigh of relief with a spark of gratefulness showing in her blue eyes. "You are a good friend, Torrin. You know that?"
Torrin blushed, shrugged her shoulders and then looked at the ground. "I try. I'm not use to being a friend or having any," she admitted. "The other mercenaries and I, well, we weren't really friends. It was more like we respected each other. But it's hard to let yourself have friends when you or them might die in the next battle."
Blue eyes studied Torrin intently and then she slowly smiled. Taking a hold of Torrin's hand she pulled her out of the alley. "Come on, your mother wants to see you."
"Okay." Puzzled at the change in topic, Torrin let herself be dragged off.
Tyra's family home was a small yet elegant two level near the artisan district. The bottom level of the home was primarily an artist studio. If she remembered correctly her grandmother had been a sculptor. The top level held the sleeping rooms. Two trees in the small front yard seemed to embrace each other. The smell of food drifted out of an open window. As they stopped in front door Torrin paused, unsure if she should knock or just go in.
Luna already been here several times, but the Ranger was well aware this was Torrin's first time to her mother's house. She grinned and gave her a playful shove toward the doorway. "What's wrong? Go on in."
Torrin swallowed nervously
and opened the door. Entering slowly she stared around before remembering to
announce herself. The room had several small clay and stone works in it. "Mom?
It's me, uh, Torrin. Oh, and Luna's here, too."
The taller woman chuckled behind her at that, following her into the house. Appreciatively sniffing the air, she called out, "Hope you made enough for two more, Tyra."
From another room the shuffling of feet were heard and then. Tyra's head peaked out of the doorway. Her face broke out into a wide grin. "Ah, there is my little one."
"And Luna, nice to see you. I heard you all had some problems the other day."
Luna grinned and nudged the scowling "little one". "Nothing your daughter couldn't handle."
"Come on in. I'm just finishing up making biscuits and stew. Oh Luna, if you want to check on Tasha, she's upstairs." Tyra smiled again at them and then ducked back into the kitchen.
"Thank you, Tyra."
Lowering her voice Luna whispered to Torrin. "Will you be all right down here if I go see how Tasha is feeling?"
Torrin gave her a nervous smile. "Yeah, it's okay. Go on."
Luna gave her pat on the back and headed up the small staircase to where Tasha was recovering from the vicious hit to her head.
Torrin took a deep breath and walked into the kitchen in time to watch her mother place a pan into the bulky black stove. Tyra wiped her hands on a towel and turned looking at her youngest. Her blue eyes took in the bruises on her face and the dark shadows under Torrin's eyes. Tears sprang into her eyes. Rushing across the room she gave Torrin a fierce hug. "Oh, my little one. I'm so sorry."
Stunned Torrin just patted her mother's back.
After a moment Tyra pulled back and gently touched the bruise on the side of Torrin's face. "How?" she asked.
Torrin shrugged not sure how to answer her. How could she tell her mother that her own flesh and blood caused them? "Fighting with some unfriendly folks," she finally answered.
Tyra nodded but her eyes reflected she was aware the whole truth had not been given. She gave her another hug and walked to the pot of stew that sat on the stove.
Torrin stammered, "Uh, here, uh, let me help. You just sit." After a moment of staring at the pot she looked at her mother. "Was there something specific that needed to be done to it?"
Tyra started laughing. "No, just stir it so the bottom doesn't burn."
"Oh, okay. I can do that." Relieved, Torrin started to stir.
Tyra watched for a moment, happy to have her youngest with her again after all these years. She sighed, if only Jinete was here to see their child. She couldn't shake the sense of unfairness. If things had only gone like they had planned, Jinete would have gotten the chance to see their little girl grow up. She had wanted to go with Jinete, but Quinn would not allow her to end their marriage. But regardless, they had no one but themselves to blame for the burden they had placed on their child. She sniffed back her tears and wiped her eyes. What a horrible mess her life had ended up being. A mess she had trapped her daughters in, too.
Torrin dutifully stirred the stew. She was aware of the distress her mother was in but wasn't sure what to do. Should she say something? Offer comfort? Pretend not to notice? Fortunately, Tyra broke the silence.
"In the spring, if we survive this war, I want to go to the Abby with you. I want to help you to take Jinete back to her homelands."
Torrin looked back at her mother, startled but pleased. "If that's what you want. I would love your company and I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
Torrin still had a hard time reconciling the fact that the smart mouthed ghost in the Abby was her Muanya. She supposed she should feel sad that she never got to know the woman or to be angry at Quinn, whom she was positive, was responsible for Jinete's murder. But she just felt detached from it all. Maybe when it came time to return her Muanya's remains, it would affect her.
Tyra smiled with relief.
Luna took a seat in the chair by the side of the narrow bed that Tasha was asleep in. A white bandage was wrapped around her head, evidence that the healers had been by recently.
Tasha's eyes fluttered open, and she gave a weak smile at her friend. "I take it, we won?"
The Ranger grinned. "Well, we didn't lose. How are you doing?"
Tasha tried to shrug but
ended up grimacing. "I've been better. My head is ringing like it's
Evenstin Day. By the Goddess, that was some kick."
"I brought a visitor..." Luna started then stopped, shaking her head as she realized what she had just said. "I mean, I brought your sister back. She's downstairs talking to Tyra."
Tasha smiled. "Good, Mother was worried. She's been hearing all sorts of rumors in the marketplace." Tasha frowned as she thought about how to phrase something she wanted to ask Luna. She decided just to say it. "Did you really punch Rhain out?"
Both pale eyebrows went up at that. "What?" Luna laughed. "No, I didn't punch her out." She glanced sideways and smirked. "I did punch her, though."
Tasha's eyes got huge.
Luna cleared her throat. "And I think I broke her nose."
Tasha closed her eyes. "Please tell me you had a good reason for that?"
"She's an idiot. Isn't that a good enough reason?" Luna said plaintively.
Tasha just sighed and rolled her eyes.
"All right. She beat up Torrin and then tossed her into a cell when she came to the City to warn us about the Assassins."
Tasha raised an eyebrow. "That's a pretty serious action. Do you know why she had Torrin tossed into a cell?"
Luna remained silent but shook her head slightly.
Tasha let her head sink back into the pillow. "Okay, we need to cut Rhain's power off or she's just going to keep undermining our efforts. Those women that follow her? They all lost a loved one at Abnoa."
"I know." Luna finally found her voice again. "We'll think of something to stop her." The tall blonde patted Tasha's shoulder. "Get better. I'm going to go see how your mother and Torrin are doing."
Tasha yawned, nodding. "Okay. Tell Torrin 'thanks'. Oh, how did she know we were going to be attacked?"
"Not sure," Luna hedged as she stood up. "I'll bring you up some food." Giving Tasha a quick smile, she went downstairs to see what Torrin and Tyra were up to.
Tyra was sitting at the table laughing as Torrin attempted to pull the biscuits out of the stove without burning herself.
"You're going to need to find yourself a woman who knows her way around the kitchen," she remarked.
Torrin stuck her tongue out then nearly dropped the pan when she burned her forearm on the top of the stove. "Vladin's balls!" She juggled the pan and caught it before it spilled.
"Ah, language, young lady," Tyra mock-scolded Torrin while she tried not to laugh at the same time.
Torrin stuck out her tongue again. "I try to be nice and let you take a break and you mock my pain." She held up her arm, "Look at that. I think it might even blister."
"Does that rule me out?" Luna called from the doorway, watching the scene with veiled amusement. Torrin certainly didn't seem to fit into the kitchen scene.
Tyra turned to Luna. "Does what rule you out, dear? Did you have a good visit with Tasha?"
Luna nodded and went to take a seat. "She looks a lot better. What did the healers say?" Then Luna tisked at the sight of Torrin's burn. "Do you think it's life threatening?" she teased. "The Fire warriors will love it if there's a scar. Adrian, let's say for example?"
Tyra's eyebrows went up in question. "Why would Adrian like a scar on you, Torrin?"
"Yes, Torrin, why?" Luna asked innocently.
Torrin became very interested in making lunch. "I have no idea," she mumbled.
Tyra looked between Luna and Torrin, "I probably don't want to know, do I?" Focusing back on Luna she patted the woman's hand. "Tasha will be just fine. The healers say she will be up and back to normal in a day or two. She just got her brains scrambled."
"Good, I was worried. A good thing your daughters have thick heads, Tyra."
Torrin blew out a breath. "Hey,
they get it from Quinn. You can leave me out of that statement."
Tyra gave a bittersweet smile at Torrin's back. "Oh, your Muanya had a thick skull as well, young lady."
Torrin looked back at her mother, "As well as a sharp and quick tongue."
Tyra laughed. "That
she did, something you did not get, but the thick head, definitely."
Torrin huffed, she couldn't win.
Luna snorted, trying not to laugh out loud.
"Don't pick on the cook," Torrin warned. "I could add a something to give you the runs."
Tyra laughed. "I cooked it, dear. You're just the server."
"And you're supposed to be protecting me, not threatening me." Luna teased right back, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. It felt… it felt like a home.
Torrin sniffed and rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine. Food's ready." She placed two bowls on the table before going back for her own and the biscuits. Torrin sat the plate that held the biscuits down in the center of the small table. She ate in silence but aware of an odd undercurrent at the table.
She occasionally snuck a glance from her mother to Luna. Her mother seemed to have something on her mind and she hadn't failed to notice the blush to Luna's cheeks. She wondered what that was about.
Luna ate the stew appreciatively, it was better than what she'd managed to snag from the little used kitchens inside the Castle. Blue eyes glanced up from time to time to study the other two, not quite certain what to say now that they were eating.
Mopping up the last of the gravy with her bread, Luna sighed with pleasure. "Thank you, Tyra, this was delicious." She offered Torrin a grin as well. "Torrin seems to be capable of cooking, something I'll have to remember."
Torrin laughed, "Yeah, I'm quite the cook, all right. I just placed everything on the table.
Tyra smiled. "Torrin, would you take some up to Tasha? I'm sure real food would be appreciated."
Torrin frowned. "Um, wouldn't Luna..."
Tyra cut her off. "You two need to stop acting like strangers. You are family. You need to act like it."
Luna glanced uncomfortably from woman to woman, not entirely certain she wanted to be left alone with Tyra right now. To her surprise she was a bit afraid of what Torrin's mother might ask her.
Torrin hung her head and got up from the table without a word. "'kay," she mumbled. Her shoulders were tight from being lightly chastised, but she gathered up a bowl of stew, a few biscuits and left the room without another word.
Luna watched her go, jerking her head away when she realized exactly what part of Torrin she was watching.
Tyra sighed. "Those two. Tasha is filled with guilt and Torrin is full of anger. Now they are at an impasse. Stubborn." She gave a smile waiting for Luna's eyes to come back to her.
"Those black leathers do make her look rather... intimidating. Or perhaps you like the way they highlight my daughter's ass." She laughed as Luna turned bright red.
After a moment, Tyra caught her breath. "You know I was starting to consider you another daughter, but perhaps daughter-in-law would be better."
Slightly panicked blue eyes looked up at that and Luna started to shake her head. "I don't... I mean... she doesn't even..."
Tyra leaned over and patted Luna's hand. "Breathe. That's it, nice deep breaths."
The blonde took a few deep steadying breaths then tried to form a normal sentence. This was turning out worse than she'd thought.
"Her Muanya had a quick and clever tongue and I was smitten despite myself. She made it impossible not to be. Torrin, I think, maybe a bit slower than her Muanya, but that I think has more to do with all the guilt she carries around. You see it in her eyes don't you?"
Playing with the spoon she'd been using, Luna avoided looking up at Tyra. "Yes." She said slowly, not wanting to lie to the other woman. "I see it in her eyes sometimes." There were other things that Luna sometimes thought she saw in those gray eyes, but she wasn't certain if that was simply wishful thinking.
Tyra nodded in understanding. "She cares very much for you. Why else would she come back here to face four Assassins? She didn't do it for anybody else in that room." She studied Luna's face. "But she won't ever do anything about how she may feel for you. She doesn't feel worthy. From the moment she was born, Quinn made sure she knew she was less than everybody."
"Why didn't you stop it? How could you let Quinn do those... things to her?" Luna asked before she could stop herself. Her blue eyes darkened as she remembered the pain she'd seen in Torrin's face at the mention of Quinn. "Now, Rhain thinks the same way and is trying to do the same things as Quinn did."
Tyra gave her a sad smile. "Luna, who was in charge at Abnoa? Who did everyone look to? Who was the best fighter there ever was? Before I met Torrin's Muanya, I had tried to leave Quinn. I went home. I came here. When Quinn realized I wasn't coming back, she found me and dragged me back. Said I made her look foolish and weak to the other leaders. You can think ill of me if you wish, but I did the best I could, but I'm no soldier, Luna. Quinn was unmatched as a warrior."
The Ranger understood the truth in Tyra's words. Quinn was a feared and formidable warrior. But her heart still questioned how Tyra could have watched Quinn subject her daughter to the cruelties Luna had pieced together from Torrin.
With a sigh the blonde shook her head. "I wish I'd known. I would have..." Luna paused, realizing she'd only been a child then as well. Even now she wasn't certain if she could have taken Quinn in a fair fight.
Tyra placed a hand on Luna's shoulder. "I know you would have, and that's what really matters now. Torrin needs people like you in her life."
She took a deep breath as her thoughts turned to Rhain. "Rhain is Rhain. I don't know what's happened to my little girl. I see her turning into a copy of Quinn. All she wanted was to feel loved by Quinn. She went out of her way to get Quinn's approval."
The Wind Walker sighed, "But Quinn had Tasha in her sights to follow in her footsteps as a leader. So, Quinn ignored Rhain. After Quinn's death, she seemed to retreat in to herself. Then after you and Torrin arrived, she became this brooding, wounded creature."
Luna did her best to avoid reacting to Rhain's name, but her lips pressed into a thin line of distaste anyway.
"She's going to get herself hurt if she keeps going as she is," Luna finally said. She was hoping that Rhain's mother might get through to her to leave Torrin alone.
Tyra nervously tore apart a half eaten biscuit. "I know it seems like I don't know what's going on with my children, but I do. I know Tasha is filled with guilt and can't stand to be around Torrin. She relives what she did to her with her lies. Rhain hates Torrin because, for some reason, I think it helps her feel close to her Muanya."
She looked up at Luna. "She came in last night ranting that you hit her. I want you to know that I don't hold that against you, but you need to address Torrin and Abnoa soon. That will take the wind out of her sails. The Fire Clan will back Torrin. She's almost one of them."
Luna leaned back, surprised. She truthfully hadn't thought that Tyra knew so much about what was going on. Of course, most of it was common knowledge after yesterday's events.
"How do you suggest I talk about what happened with Torrin at Abnoa?" She was still cautious about saying what Torrin's exact role in the fall of the Castle had been.
Tyra got up and started clearing the table. "I know she opened the gate, Luna, and so does Rhain. What Rhain and others don't realize is that if Quinn failed with the ambush that she had set the leader of the Castle to fail as well.
Luna frowned at that. "What? Quinn wouldn't have set me up to fail." But a thread of doubt was already working its way into her mind.
Tyra laughed bitterly. "Do you really think we needed so many guards with us to escort us to the Queen's City? We needed maybe 10 yet we had 38. Oh, Luna. You are so trusting. Yes, she did. She set you up to fail so Tasha could regroup here and gather the other Clans. Then she was to lead them to victory over the south. Quinn was very optimistic that Tasha could succeed."
The Ranger stared at Tyra, a denial dying on her lips as she thought about what the older woman had said. Bitterly, she bit back her words and shook her head wordlessly. To have failed was one thing; to know she had never been expected to win was quite a different aspect.
"Quinn left us to die there," Luna whispered. Looking up at Tyra, she frowned. "Wait, how does Rhain know about Torrin? Torrin thought I had told her, but I never mentioned it to anyone."
Tyra shrugged. "I don't know. Whoever her source is, she's keeping it a secret. I confronted her after a visit to that tavern where Torrin has been staying. Rhain told me what Torrin had done in hopes to sway me into hatred, but I've seen what comes from hating. Quinn despised Torrin, and in essence, brought about Abnoa's doom since she created the hatred in Torrin. So much hate that Torrin was willing to bring down her own place of birth. Hatred does nothing but bring ruin." Tyra finished bitterly.
Luna briefly considered her own loathing toward Khelin. It was different she decided. "I don't know how to broach the subject of what Torrin's done. There will be those, like Rhain, who will want her killed for her role." Luna knew the names of many of those already. They were the women who had lost family and loved ones at Abnoa.
Tyra shrugged. "You may have to punish Torrin for it."
Luna looked away, her eyes troubled and her expression unhappy with even considering such a thing. She sighed mentally, why did she have to deal with these things?
"Punish Torrin for what?" Torrin asked coming into the room.
Tyra replied without missing a beat, "For leaving me to clean up this mess."
Torrin sighed in exasperation. "Mom, you told me to leave, remember?" She sat down at the cleared table.
Relived by Tyra's quick thinking, Luna asked, "How's Tasha."
"She's fine. We had a fascinating talk about Fire warriors for some reason."
Luna hid a grin and stood up. "I should be getting back to the Castle. Now that the Fire warriors are competing, the City is going to turn into a virtual war zone with the spars happening everywhere. Then there is the ceremony tomorrow to say goodbye to Magda and Athena."
"Okay. Don't be strangers. My door is open to both of you," Tyra said. She hugged Luna and then Torrin.
"Tasha talked to you about Fire warriors, hmm?" Luna asked casually as they made their way back toward the Castle as the sun was slowly setting..
"Hmmm, yeah we talked about Fire warriors. Which was odd, but I guess a safe ground for us. She wanted to know if Valerie was at Wooten's tavern a lot." She shrugged. "Then she wanted to know what they were like when they weren't being all big with the warrior thing."
Luna suppressed a grin, knowing full well what Tasha's interest in Valerie was all about. "Your sister has a bit of a crush, I think."
Torrin blinked as her brain digested what Luna had said, "She has a crush on... really? Huh, I figured her for a quiet artistic girl. Guess she likes rough and tumble, er, women."
Luna just laughed. Suddenly Torrin stopped walking.
"Oh, Vladlin's balls! I left Weslen's Alcen tied up near the front
gate. You think I could borrow a Fire warrior to take it back to Wooten's and
get my stuff? I don't want to leave you... um, cause, well..." She blew
out a breath, thinking quickly. "Um, you seem to attract trouble and all.
Plus, I need clothes. I can't keep wearing this. I'm freezing."
Luna's glance appreciatively took in Torrin's current wardrobe although she had to agree, it probably wasn't the warmest. "Come on, clothes first and then I'll find someone who can take care of the Alcen."
Luna led Torrin towards a row of shops that was on their way back to the Castle. Leaving the ex-mercenary inside with the seamstress, the blonde grabbed the first person she spotted outside.
After a few moments she entered the shop with a smile. "The Alcen is taken care of. I found a Fire warrior who just lost her challenge and will take it back to the Inn for you."
"Thanks," Torrin said as she slapped the seamstress's hands away from her chest. "Stop that. You don't need to measure it again."
The woman rolled her eyes. "You're smaller than most of the women I clothe. I will need to make alterations for you."
Luna managed to turn her laugh into a cough, her sides shaking.
Torrin huffed, "Fine. Apparently I'm not as well endowed as most Northern women."
Luna did laugh at that.
"I think you're just perfect, Torrin," she said, her laughter dying away as she realized what she'd said. The blonde busied herself looking at a selection of clothes to keep the shorter woman from seeing her blush.
The seamstress sighed and poked her difficult customer with a pin. "Be quiet and stand still."
Torrin yelped and missed hearing Luna's comment.
While she wasn't as concerned about the pants, leather wiped clean pretty easy, her old shirt was stiff in areas with things she didn't want to think about. After getting stuck one more time, Torrin was happy with a new shirt to put on.
Luna watched with amusement as the seamstress efficiently began making alterations on another set of shirts and pants for Torrin. Glancing at the other woman, she grinned. "You don't have to look so disgruntled. You're the one who said you needed new clothes."
"I will send the trousers and a few more shirts to the Castle," the woman said as she bent to her task.
Torrin glared back at Luna. "I'm not use to being trussed up like a goose, and poked with pins, and... and... so there." She stuck out her tongue.
Luna shook her head in mock dismay. "I just can't take you anywhere, can I?"
Torrin laughed as they walked out of the shop. "Nope. I have no sense of decency." Quicker than the eye could follow, she stole three apples from a basket being carried by a dour looking woman. As the woman disappeared around a corner, Torrin began to juggle them.
Blue eyes widened in surprise and Luna leaned closer, hissing. "You did not just steal those in front of me!"
Torrin winked. "Did you see me steal them?"
She grinned broadly. "Besides, they were begging for liberation, trapped in that miserable basket. Plus, oddly enough, that unhappy woman will find a copper coin in her basket when she gets home." She tossed an apple to a child who was watching her.
The child squealed in delight and grabbed the apple.
Torrin laughed again and tossed one to Luna before catching the last one in her mouth and taking a bite.
Luna snatched the apple out of the air, groaning at her friend's antics even as she smiled. Polishing the winter apple, she bit into it, glad that they kept so well in the cold. A crowd ahead of them caught her attention.
"I wonder what that's all about."
Torrin stopped chewing. "Looks like pre-fight posturing," she mumbled, her mouth full.
Moving closer, Luna caught sight of the two fighters currently preparing to make a go at one another. She frowned when she recognized one of them.
"Let's go around, "the blonde said with a scowl.
Torrin leaned into Luna and whispered into her ear so only she could hear her. "All right. But you should watch some of the fights and not just the final round. It's good for morale."
"Fine, but not this one," Luna whispered back, fully intending to
tell Torrin that no one really cared if a simple Ranger was around for a spar
or not. Too late, she winced as she tried to steer the smaller woman farther
around the crowd. She knew the second Adrian spotted them by the way the Fire
warrior had puffed up. "Great."
Adrian's face lit up and she squared her shoulders, but then her hands clenched into fists and she scowled when she saw Torrin lean into Luna's body.
"What did you say?" Torrin asked taking another bite of her apple.
"Your obsessed Fire warrior is headed this way." Luna nodded toward Adrian who was moving through the crowd, obviously intent on reaching the two of them. It was too late to avoid what Luna feared was to become a nasty situation.
"Huh? Oh! Well, Alcen dung." Torrin grimaced.
Adrian brusquely pushed her way through the people. "Torrin!" she bellowed. "So, you've decided to be seen with a winner," she said giving Luna a sneer.
Luna bristled, her lips curling as she took a step towards Adrian.
Torrin shrugged and took another bite into her apple. She wrapped a hand around Luna's waist and pulled her back to her side.
Adrian's nostrils flared in anger and she sent daggers to the hand on Luna's waist.
The sneer disappeared from Luna's face as she spotted Adrian's reaction. She smiled and deliberately slid an arm around Torrin's shoulder, pressing up against her. "Are you fighting today, Adrian?"
Torrin sucked in a breath and choked with her unexpected reaction from Luna's touch. After a moment she got the piece of apple out of her throat and looked at Luna.
Luna smiled directly at Adrian as she slid her hands up and down Torrin's back and side.
Adrian growled. "Yes I am. Just ready to start." Her gaze narrowed trying to figure out what Luna was doing. "Torrin, you want to be standing on the winner's side?"
The Ranger smiled sweetly at the Fire warrior as she leaned down to whisper into Torrin's ear, her voice purring, "I thought you were taking me back to the Castle?" She made certain her voice was loud enough for Adrian to hear.
Torrin's eyes widened as Luna touched her side and back. As Luna breathed into her ear, her only thought was she should have waited around for the less tight pants. "Um, Castle..."
The blonde smiled seductively, standing up straight and pressing tighter along Torrin's body. "We should stay and watch your friend's," she gave a slight stress on the word "match." Her blue eyes danced with amusement at Adrian's glare. Then her eyes traced a path up along Torrin's thigh, hip, stomach and chest. "Then you can show me your...mmm… room."
"I have a room? Um, I thought I was sharing yours." Torrin stammered, confused.
"Adrian!" her opponent yelled out. "You going to play with the girls or are you ready to fight?"
"In a minute!" she yelled back. Her eyes narrowed at Luna. "Torrin, come on, stand on my side."
Torrin shook her head at her and looked at Luna. "Um, we can stay or go. Whatever you want, Luna." Her voice was low and thick. She cleared her throat nervously.
Luna stroked a hand up Torrin's side, licking her lips. "Okay, Torrin, come on." She pulled the dark-haired woman tightly against her side and looked up to meet Adrian's gaze. "Well. I think you have your answer."
"This isn't over!" Adrian glared at Luna, and then turned on her heel and strode into the ring. She screamed for the competition to start.
Torrin dropped her apple and turned to look at Luna. "Um, what just happened?" Realizing that Luna's hand rubbing her back was causing some rather pleasant tremors to her body, she grabbed it. "Please don't do that," she pleaded.
"We're going to watch your friend's match." Luna smiled innocently and pulled Torrin toward the ring of spectators, pushing her way through the crowd until they were in the front row. Then she stepped behind Torrin and pulled the shorter woman back against her. "Don't do what?" Luna whispered, sliding a hand across Torrin's stomach, quite aware that Adrian could see them both.
Torrin shivered. "Um, what's with all the touching?" she asked in a shaky voice.
A red cloth was dropped. As soon as it hit the ground the two combatants were all over each other.
"You don't like the touching?" Luna asked quizzically, her fingers just lightly touching the cloth covering Torrin's stomach.
"They don't have a lot of finesse without their swords," Torrin said as her breath hitched. "Um, I'm not saying that I'm not liking it, but you haven't really been touchy feely before."
Luna bent down a little so she could rest her chin on Torrin's shoulder as she watched Adrian and her opponent punch and kick each another. Turning her head, she studied Torrin's face, and then whispered into the nearby ear. "Does that mean you want me to stop?"
Adrian lost focus as she saw Luna touching Torrin. A fist slammed into her stomach. As she doubled over, she barely avoided the following kick.
Luna grinned as she watched Adrian get hit. "She's not doing very well."
Torrin nodded and very glad for the change in topic so she didn't have to answer the question. It was a toss up between yes and no. No, she didn't want Luna to stop touching her. And yes, she did want Luna to stop touching her before she did something to embarrass herself. "Uh, no she's not."
The blonde tilted her head, momentarily forgetting the fight as she studied Torrin's face. Her friend was exotic and gorgeous. "Has anyone told you that you're beautiful?" Luna asked. Her voice was different than it had been a moment before as she forgot that she was only supposed to be playing a role.
Torrin blushed and tried to squirm out of Luna's hands. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Adrian take another hit. "It's a good thing Adrian is losing. She maybe strong and a good fighter, but she's still just a body with no brains to direct it."
Luna blinked, directing her attention back to the fight. Straightening up she pulled Torrin back against her, so that the smaller woman was fitted against her front. It felt better than Luna had expected, and the blonde bit her lip for a moment before answering. "Um, she's not concentrating." Her long fingers slid along Torrin's side, feeling the tense muscles beneath them.
"Relax," Luna whispered.
Torrin whimpered quietly and closed her eyes. "You're making it really hard to relax," she muttered as everyone cheered when Adrian's opponent scored another hit. Finally, she willed her body to loosen up, cursing her traitorous libido as it enjoyed Luna's body pressed into hers.
Long arms strengthened by years of archery and sword practice wrapped around the shorter woman's midsection, holding her tight against her chest. Luna pushed back a flood of emotions and looked up to watch the rest of the match, wincing as Adrian took a fist to the head.
"Right where I already hit her," the blonde muttered, shaking her head. "That must have stung."
Torrin turned in the arms that held her and looked up at Luna. "What? Did I hear that right?"
The taller woman blinked. "Hear right about what?"
Torrin frowned and pulled Luna's face down to look at her. "Did you just say you hit Adrian?"
Luna swallowed, and then nodded.
"Why?" Torrin asked impatiently.
Luna's eyes dimmed as she remembered the comments Adrian had made in the Castle. Suddenly uncomfortable with how close Torrin was, Luna tried to loosen her hold on the other woman as she replied, "She followed me into the Temple."
"What? You're shy all of a sudden?" Wrapping her arms around Luna, she stroked the taut back muscles. "What did she do?"
Despite herself Luna felt her body lean into the embrace. "She said things." Luna frowned. "Then she took a swing at me after I goaded her. I hit her and she left. That's all."
Torrin smiled. "See that wasn't so bad." She hugged Luna. "Adrian's good at saying things, 'cause she believes she has to be seen a certain way. Her insecurities make her a big, bragging bully. Whatever she said was for her benefit, to make herself feel more important than she really is."
Oblivious to the glances they were getting from the spectators and especially from the furious Adrian, Luna returned the hug. She only reluctantly let go when the fight behind them ended with a spectacular series of punches and kicks that left Adrian down on the ground, unconscious and bleeding.
Torrin looked around as a cheer went up. "Looks like she lost." Torrin pushed Luna out of the way of the cheering people who were stampeding to congratulate the winner. "You okay?" she asked Luna.
The blonde studied the shorter woman, and then suddenly smiled. "Yes. I think I am." Taking Torrin's arm she led her away from the crowd, never once looking at Adrian. "Come on. We have better things to do."
Torrin laughed. Luna was always dragging her somewhere. "A bath perhaps? Not as stimulating as the hot springs, I suppose," she said with a leer. "But just as fun with the right companion."
Torrin was happy that she merely had to stare down the young woman in charge of the bathhouse until she got the private room she wanted. She wasn't above public nudity and bathing with others, it was just she was cautious. She really wasn't sure who was a buddy of Rhain's and who wasn't. So for the sake of not getting beat up again, she wanted to bathe alone.
When they got to the baths, Luna had blushed and then begged off, spouting something about an errand. This was also fine with Torrin. After Luna's sudden need to get all touchy feely, some solo quality time was definitely required.
She drifted down farther into the steaming water and sighed as she felt her muscles loosen. Again her mind drifted to the fight and Luna's hands touching her. She was puzzled that whole thing seemed out of character for Luna, and she felt like she was missing something. Perhaps, she reflected, Luna just needed reassurance after her run in with Adrian in the Temple. Luna had been rather evasive about what Adrian had said. Her eyes narrowed at the thought of Adrian upsetting Luna.
Her lips drooped into a frown and she gave a melancholy sigh to the steamy room. That must be it. Luna just needed some sort of physical comfort while being around Adrian again. Closing her eyes she leaned back against the back of the tub. Happily, she was smaller than most Northerners so she fit with room to spare in the tub. Lazily, she let her hands roam down her body trying to excise that last bit of tension that no amount of hot water could get rid of.
Torrin started out with a generic fantasy, a faceless woman. But that hadn't lasted but for a few touches. Somehow it became a naked Luna draped across her hips. She had seen enough of her at the hot springs to complete a mental picture. Her fingertips sunk into the flesh of Luna's hips, while naked thighs draped over her equally naked hips. Dizzying, delicious friction and wetness came from where their bodies touched as they joined together.
In reality, it was her wetness mixed with the bath water and she caused the friction. But in her mind, it was Luna. A dream where there was a possibility of more than friendship, where there was no war looming over the horizon, and no guilt chewing at her gut.
Neck muscles straining, and her teeth gritted, she began to make soft whimpering noises as she felt herself move closer and closer. "Oh, Goddess," she breathed out. Then it washed through her making her skin buzz and her heart stagger for a moment. She breathed out a single word softly like a prayer, "Luna."
The idea of sharing a private bath with Torrin had been more than Luna could handle. What had started out as a game to infuriate Adrian had turned into something more. A line had been crossed and Luna wasn't quite certain where the new line was. Leaving Torrin at the door to the baths, she wandered the busy streets in an effort to work off the excess energy she now found herself with.
She sat down on a bench in one of the main parks and watched a group of Fire warriors work each other over, wincing at the brutal hits. The spars looked like they were going to go on all afternoon and well into the evening. She was just standing back up to go and see if Torrin was done her bath when she heard her name.
Turning around, she spotted Valerie walking in her direction across the grass.
"You sparing as well?" she asked.
The Head of the Castle guards shook her head, her red braid swinging back and forth. "No. That's a young woman's game. Besides, what would I do with the leadership? Bah, I have enough to do with keeping up the guard patrols."
Luna nodded in understanding while she played with her tunic sleeve.
Valerie studied her for a moment, noticed the unaccustomed fidgeting, and then smiled.
"Did you want to spar?"
Luna paused, and then smiled as well. "Swords?"
Valerie nodded. "Swords."
By the time Luna made her way back to the bathhouse, she was sporting a few scratches, a large grin, and the beginnings of a spectacular black and blue eye. The workout, she decided, was exactly what she had needed.
Torrin was waiting outside, leaning up against the building. She had her face tilted up and was enjoying the sunshine that fell on it. Her hair was clean and tied back again in a tail.
"Torrin," Luna called out, limping only slightly as she approached the other woman. Her breath caught in her throat as she studied the dark-haired woman's slight form. The restless energy she'd thought she had vanquished returned in full force.
Torrin opened her grey eyes and turned to look at Luna. She sighed and shook
her head. "See? I leave you alone and you find trouble." She moved
down the steps to Luna's side. Scooping a hand around her friend's waist
she supported some of Luna's weight. "Let's get you back to your room,
and get you cleaned up. I see a trip to the healer's room in your future."
The feel of Torrin's body pressed against hers stirred a reaction that Luna hadn't felt since her time in Thullis. Gulping, she hastily moved away from Torrin and toward the bath house.
"How about I meet you back at the Castle? I mean, I should take a bath, right? Then come, I mean, to the Castle." Luna knew she was babbling as she backed up to the bath house entrance.
Torrin frowned in confusion. "Yeah, I guess you should..." Luna was acting stranger than normal. She wondered if she had done something wrong. She gave a weak smile. "Sure, I'll meet you back at your room."
Luna limped quickly into the bathhouse, intent on some quality solo time before she did something foolish.
Torrin frowned, "Women, what odd creatures" as she watched Luna disappear into the house.
Luna made her way back to their rooms at the Castle after a very pleasurable bath. The warm water and creative use of her fingers had left the warrior feeling relaxed and sleepy. Opening the door she slipped into the room.
Torrin was snoring lightly on Luna's bed with a few medical supplies lying next to her slumbering form.
The blonde considered waking her friend up, then yawned and decided against it. It had been a long day, and neither had slept long last night. Undoing her sword belt, she carefully set her sword aside, pulled off her boots, and crawled in next to Torrin. Her last thought was that she'd just rest for a little while before dinner.
Torrin awoke to the sound of someone moving outside the door. She tensed for a moment wondering where she was. Feeling an unfamiliar weight on her body she looked down into blonde hair.
"I'm damned," she murmured. Letting her head flop back down to the pillow she looked outside and was happy to note she had slept for quite a while without suffering from a nightmare.
Luna muttered something in her sleep, shifting her arms so she was holding Torrin against her securely. One hand possessively cupped a soft breast and a long lean leg tossed over Torrin's hips.
Torrin nearly shot off the bed. She so should have waited for the new pants. Tight leather and being groped would normally have been a good thing, but right now it wasn't. Crap, someone was going to have to protect Luna from her in a few minutes if she couldn't get free. She tried to be stealthy and wiggle out of Luna's hold.
But Luna tightened her arms as Torrin started to try to move away. A low moan made its way from the blonde's lips as she stretched. Her legs slid down along Torrin's as she slid her palms along the other woman's chest.
Torrin groaned. "You can't do this to me. It's just not fair. It's like I'm being punished." She bit her lip, stifling a moan. After a moment of internal struggle with the darker part of herself, she finally got her body out from under Luna's. She sat trembling on the edge of the bed.
Blinking sleepily, Luna looked up, squinting until she could make out Torrin's form. "Is it time to get up?" she mumbled, her voice hoarse with sleep. The Ranger had been having the most wonderful dreams.
"Um, I don't know. Maybe?" Torrin's voice cracked. A glance to the windows confirmed that it was dark outside. How long had they been asleep?
Oblivious to Torrin's problems, Luna got up and stretched her arms over her head. The tunic she wore slid upwards to expose a good amount of skin. "That was a good nap."
Torrin turned to respond and ended up gulping. Celibacy was definitely over-rated. She tried to focus on the bruises and scrapes on her friend's body. Oddly enough that helped control her feelings.
She reached out touching a bruise on Luna's side. "So how did this happen?"
Trying to open her eyes again, Luna winced. Her right eye was slightly swollen and a bit painful. "Do I have a black eye yet?" Luna sucked in a surprised breath at Torrin's touch. "I spared with Valerie."
Torrin looked up at Luna like she was insane. "And you did this because, why?"
"Because she asked if I wanted to spar." Luna said, as if that should explain it all.
Torrin got up and lit a lamp near the bed so she could see the black eye better. She rolled her eyes at Luna's answer. "Of course, silly me. And yes it's a nice, big, fat, black eye. We should get some ice on it."
That got a smile from the blonde. "That at least is something we are not lacking in." Stretching one last time to pop her back, Luna smiled at Torrin. "Want to go see what we can scrounge up for food? Dinner's probably long gone."
Standing next to Luna, Torrin reached up to touch the flesh around the eye, happy that there didn't seem to be anything broken. "Barbarians," she tsked.
"Are you calling me a barbarian?" Luna whispered, leaning into the touch despite the fact that the flesh around her eye was tender.
"Uh, huh," Torrin said, grinning. "You know, people who run around in furs beating each other up. You Northern types." She stopped checking the bones around the eye and gently cupped Luna's face in her hand rubbing her thumb delicately over the skin. "I hate to see you hurt. Perhaps I will have to go spar with this Valerie."
"Don't beat her up too badly," Luna said, gently smiling. "It's the same Valerie that your sister has a crush on." Blue eyes locked with gray and Luna found herself leaning forward slightly. Her chest felt constricted and it was hard to focus.
Torrin grinned wickedly. "Really? The same Valerie? Hmmm, makes it that more tempting." Torrin's grin slipped a little as she got lost in Luna's eyes. Her heartbeat drummed in her chest, and she licked her lips. "Luna... I..."
Realizing she was about to do something very foolish, she dropped her hand and stepped back. "I… we should go see about food. Yes, food. Good idea." She turned to grab her boots.
The tall blonde stood where she was, swaying slightly, her eyes slowly focusing. Licking her lips she nodded, not trusting her voice, or her legs. "Food," she managed to say. "Sure."
Torrin opened the door and found that the rest of her clothes had arrived. Gratefully, she pulled them inside and placed them on a small table. "Ready?" she asked.
Luna blushed as she was caught staring at Torrin's tightly fitting pants. Mutely, she nodded, not trusting herself to say what exactly she was ready for.
Torrin raised an eyebrow as she walked out of the room. "Is there something on my back?" She brushed a hand on her back trying to find something.
"Your back is fine." Luna winced. "I mean, there's nothing on your back that shouldn't be there."
"Okay." Torrin shrugged. Then forgot Luna's weird behavior as her stomach growled loudly.
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