Blood and Honor
By Windstar and Zee
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
A timid, young woman, who had chosen the name Willow for herself, dreamed one cold night. While her slight body shivered, wrapped in her thin blanket on the ground, in her dream, she wandered among the heavens.
Her expressive, brown eyes watched stars and galaxies birthed from nothing into Creation. They witnessed wonders upon wonders as she walked. Only recently had her people learned that the dreaded Dragon God was not the only God. There were many other Gods and Goddesses now being worshipped. Slowing her steps, she knew she should be afraid to be in a place where these deities tread.
"Hello?" She asked tentatively. "Why am I here? She spun around in a circle but stopped when she grew dizzy. “Why are you showing me all this?"
"Look around you. Do you not see the miracle of Creation? Life where once there was none?" The voice was quiet and surrounded her.
Her dark eyes growing wide Willow spun around in another circle, all the while, searching the heavens. "Who are you? Where are you?" she called out fearfully.
"I need to ask something of you, Willow. There was a hesitation, and then the voice came again, “ I've freed your people, but only to lead you down a path with no future. For the survival of your people, I need your help."
Willow tensed. This must be the Goddess that Selene was always speaking about.
"Me? Her eyes got huge 'how could she help a Goddess. “Um, what can I do?"
"I would like to bestow a knowledge upon you. The comprehension for what you see happening all around you in this place."
"Um, Goddess? Are you sure I'm the one you want to give that sort of knowledge too? I'm just an ordinary worker. I only know how to till soil, dig holes and plant stuff."
The voice laughed and Willow felt comforted by the sound.
"No child, you are exactly the sort of person who should have this understanding. But unlike the stars, you do not need to create something from nothing. You merely need to combine the essence of those who will come to you for assistance in starting a family. You will help them create a new life."
"Me?" Willow squeaked out in response. "I don't... What about Selene?"
"Oh, child! First Chosen Selene has many things to keep her busy and she is not appropriate for this particular duty. But you, Willow, you were meant to be called my First Priestess. Through you, new life will be born."
Willow frowned in thought, she wasn't sure if the voice was right about that. She had never had much hope for herself. She'd always been too afraid of living. "I don't know, being a First Priestess sounds too important for me."
"It is important, child. But, believe me, you are the right person. But only accept this if you are sure you can accept the consequences. For, while you generate life for those around you, should you ever take a mate, you will be unable to create a new life for yourself."
Willow frowned harder as she thought over the Goddess's words. She was unaccustomed to making decisions. She found it easier to let others make them for her. Finally, after much deliberation, she straightened her slender frame and announced, "I will do this. I understand the price for me but helping others to have children is of a greater importance than my own need.
"Very good, Willow," said a nearby voice.
A hand on her shoulder caused the young woman to turn. Before her, stood a beautiful woman seeming both young and old at the same time. She trembled at the touch.
"Close your eyes, Willow."
Willow did as she was asked and felt a fingertip gently placed on both of her eyelids. At that moment, she felt like she had been struck by lightening, and words of power flowed into her mind as the secrets of Creation poured into her.
Then all went black.
Her body jerked in her blanket. Others rushed over to the seizing woman.
"Willow!" Some of the women shouted, unsure of what else to do.
Willow went still and then opened her eyes. Eyes that were now a brilliant green.
Khelin was sprawled out onto the simple wooden throne that adorned Castle Abnoa's great hall. The remnants of last night's feast still littered the multitudes of tables spread out in the hall. A dozen of her most loyal warriors stood on guard behind her, spears and ceremonial armor polished to a brilliant shine. Yawning, she glanced at the woman in front of her.
"I have a task for you, my pet," the Leader of the Southern tribes purred.
The woman stood silently in front of Khelin, her head slightly bowed, her short, dark hair falling forward to hide her face.
She tried not to appear too eager but it had been too long since her Mistress had given her a task. Licking her lips, she responded neutrally, "I serve your will, My Queen. I am your instrument."
"Yes, you are," Khelin smiled brightly, sitting straight up in the throne and clasped her hands together like a little schoolgirl. "I want you to go after my Luna. Bring me back her heart, and the heart of whoever helped her escape." Someone else had been spotted running towards the woods with the Northern warrior, but Khelin wasn't certain who it was yet.
The Assassin's eyes dilated and her nostrils flared … a hunt. Her skin tingled. Prey and a hunt. "By your will, it will be done."
"See that it is, my pet." With a wave, Khelin dismissed her servant, then reclined in the throne once more.
The Assassin nodded and then turned, gliding out of the room noiselessly. No one, not even the guards would meet those dark eyes and watch the dark figure leave. They had heard too many rumors whispered about the Mistress of Shadow's Chosen for them not to fear her.
Lolling her head to the side, the Southern Queen stared at the tapestry that hung against the nearby wall. A map of the Northern reaches was laid out upon the wall hanging. Khelin grinned as she studied it. To the north of her lay the Ellris Pass, the only way through the towering mountain range. On the other side, she would simply follow the Winderling River down to the Queen's City.
There… her smile turned deadly. There, she would find the Orb of the Moon Goddess. Once that was in her possession, nothing could stop her. She would rule this world, bleed it dry and then become a Goddess herself. After that, her mother would then understand who was Mistress and who was the servant.
Torrin slipped on her boots as quietly as she could and made for the door. There was only so much brooding and moodiness that she could take. With Luna's fever, cough and foul attitude, the mercenary decided she would be safer outside hunting for food or sweeping the heavy snow off the roof. Yes, Torrin thought, she was much better off freezing certain body parts then staying in the small cabin any longer.
Opening the door Torrin breathed in the coldness and gave a shiver. She missed the lazy winter sun of the South and the cool, crisp nights filled with flickering lantern flies. Shouldering her quiver of arrows she stepped outside.
Luna glared up at the ceiling above her. She was lying in the bed she'd occupied ever since the first night they had arrived at the cabin. The fever had fully set in by the early morning of the next day, causing her to be freezing one moment then burning up the next. Most of the following day had been a confused haze of delirium aided only by the fever herbs Torrin had made her drink.
Now though, two days afterwards, the Warrior Ranger was reaching a point where she was going stir-crazy from the inactivity. Her body, unfortunately, was still as weak as a newborn kitten. The only good news was that the wound in her side no longer looked infected.
"Torrin!" Coughing from the exertion, she tried to sit up, then dejectedly flopped back down when she failed.
Snow was falling softly around her as she placed a hand on the door to shut it. As her hand touched the wood, her shoulders slumped in defeat when she heard her name shouted. Going back inside, she pulled the door shut and set her bow and arrows down. Goddess! She felt like she was hand-fasted to the woman.
Walking down the hallway she poked her head inside. "You bellowed?" She almost ended the sentence with ‘dear' but felt it would just stir up Luna even more.
The Northerner knew she was acting like a child, but she wanted out. Wanted to be outside in the forest where she belonged. Not stuck in bed doing nothing.
"Torrin, I know I've been a little difficult," trying not to look at the space where she had thrown a dish at Torrin last night. She continued, "But I just thought of something I could do while trapped in this stupid bed."
"Okay, Torrin said quietly while staying in the safety of the doorway, reluctant to move any closer. Luna may look like death warmed over, but she still had a wicked aim.
Luna finally managed to sit up. With a glare at the woman standing out of harm's way in the doorway, she snapped, "Give me a dagger."
She immediately realized her mistake when she saw Torrin startled face. With a deep breath, she did her best to reign in her frustration and softened her tone, "Please? And I need the old leather bag of stuff that's next to the fireplace."
Torrin hesitated a moment, thinking perhaps an evil spirit was possessing Luna. "Are you sure you should be handling...?" she trailed off at Luna's glare. " Right, I'll get them."
Luna glowered at Torrin's back, and grumbled about the comment, ‘should you be handling weapons?' I'll have her know I've been handling daggers before she knew what a dagger was.
Torrin raised an eyebrow at Luna's muttering when she returned. Checking to make sure Luna's hands were free of anything that could be used as a painful projectile, she set the bag and the dagger into Luna's held out hand. Duty done, Torrin retreated back to the door.
Luna slightly winced when pulled the skin around the still healing wound on her side as she stretched out her arm.
"I need to see your foot, too."
Torrin's eyes widen. "Uh... I... um..." By the Goddess! She was a fierce, horrible mercenary and wasn't scared of anything or anybody. Right. Feeling slightly bolder after her internal pep talk, she lifted her foot slowly.
Luna rolled her eyes as she set the dagger within easy reach and from the bag, pulled out a bundle of leather strips along with curved pieces of wood.
"You need to come closer than the doorway, Torrin," Luna grinned at the uncertain Mercenary. She was amused for the first time in days.
"I knew that." She moved forward silently. "It's nice to see you smile. Not that I care or anything. Um, what are you planning on doing with my foot?" she asked as she raised it up again. Only this time, Torrin was standing next the bedridden woman.
The foot in question was grabbed by Luna's left hand to keep it steady. Pale blonde eyebrows lifted mischievously as the Warrior studied the Mercenary. "What do you think I'm going to do?"
Torrin watched nervously, her gray eyes still slightly large. "Honestly? The way you've been acting, I have no idea. But I don't think I've done anything to piss you off recently. So I'm fairly certain I'll be getting my foot back the way I presented it to you."
'Way to be blunt Torrin', she chastised herself. 'Now she'll take a toe just to spite you.'
"You shouldn't make assumptions like that," Luna said, still grinning, as she used a long leather strip to measure the size of Torrin's foot. After measuring both the length and the width, she nodded and let go of the Mercenary's foot. "This time you got lucky, I guess."
Letting out a breath in relief, Torrin lowered her foot back down. "You need the other one? I'm fairly certain they're the same size. What did you need them for?"
Dumping out the contents of the large leather sack, the warrior started sorting through the leather strips.
“No, you can go and flee the cabin now," said with a note of bitterness in the laid up Warrior's voice. "I'm going to make us snowshoes. Hopefully, you can practice using them before we have to leave."
Torrin backed up towards the door. She had heard the note of resentment and decided to answer cautiously. "Yeah, snowshoes will help out a lot. Thanks. I'm just going to go see if I can catch us some fresh meat for dinner."
Having made it to the doorway, she ran for the outer door. Snagging her bow and quiver again as she ran by them, she made it outside, letting the door bang behind her.
Luna glanced up at the sound of the slammed door, sighed, and went back to work on the snowshoes. She had lost her own back at Abnoa, so she would have to make both of them a pair. Thankfully, Mezzarna believed in having enough material around to make pairs for all three of them, so two sets wouldn't be a problem. Deftly, with fingers that had done the same task many times through the years, she began threading the sinew and leather strips together.
As she picked her way down the hill, Torrin lost her footing and, cursing the North in general, tumbled the rest of the way down and landed in a heap at the bottom. Gritting her teeth together, she staggered upright, brushing the snow from her clothes and searched her bow for any damage. She was positive that, somehow, this was all Luna's fault.
While wiping off her face, Torrin noticed something next to the hillside. Blinking the snow out of her eyes, she could just make out an outline of another building covered in the heavy snow. She struggled through the snowdrifts to get closer. To her amazement, it was a horse stable. She whistled in appreciation at the craftsmanship used to construct the building to blend in with its environment. Although, parts of the wooden corral had fallen down during the past few months, the barn itself looked intact. A small well next to the barn supplied both house and barn with water. The dark, weather-beaten wooden doors to the barn were latched from the inside, but cleverly, a drawstring allowed the latch to be opened from the outside.
She noticed two score marks in the wood that looked more recent than the rest. Torrin gently touched the door, a horizontal slashing mark about head height on a Northerner, and a puncture mark next to it that might have been from an arrow. The wood below both was stained darker than the rest of the door
The mercenary frowned in puzzlement. What had happened here? Although, she could guess some of it from the signs left. What she didn't know ‘why‘. Torrin knew the look of a sword slash and the jagged hole was obviously where an arrow had been embedded. And, wood never looked the same after it had been stained with blood. Nothing, she reflected, looked the same after blood had sullied it.
Pulling on the latch, the door creaked open, sounding ominously loud in the quiet snowy landscape. There were no sounds of movement inside, only the stillness that comes after a long abandonment. The temperature felt the same as the outside, cold. Only the stacks of baled hay gave any indication that the barn had ever been used. Nothing she saw gave a clue to what had happened here in the past. Pensively, Torrin shut the door, and melted cautiously into the pines to hunt.
Hopefully she could find a rabbit barrow or some of the dappled deer that lived in the forest. Fresh meat would be very welcomed. She had just about had it with stew and rations. Plus, with every day that passed, the stew was getting closer and closer to resembling a thin soup.
Torrin moved silently, warily weaving through the thick tree trunks. Faintly marked in the snow were the tracks of the deer as they moved towards the river. Because of the visible prints, she knew they couldn't be that far ahead of her. Careful to keep the wind to her front, she slowly crept around some bushes and found her prey. Notching an arrow, she pulled the string back, the wound in her arm stinging at the effort. She aimed at the older deer trailing behind the herd. Breathing slowly, she waited for the silence in between the beats of her heart then released, praying for a clean kill.
At the sound of the whistling arrow, the other deer startled and bounded for the low flowing river, leaping through it. Torrin stared at her kill for a moment then slid down the small rise, to her prey. The deer was twitching, its eyes growing dim. With one last jerk of its legs, the deer lay still in the fresh snow. Around its neck where the arrow had hit, vivid red blood stained the white snow. A gust of wind sent snow down Torrin's back, as once again, snow began to fall from the sky. When winter hit in the north, it hit hard.
Shivering, Torrin cursed the cold and the snow again. Grabbing the two back legs, she began to drag the deer back to the house. With the winds picking up again, she didn't want to be caught in a white out. She decided the well-protected stable would be a perfect place to gut and clean the deer.
Silent as the shadows she hid among, the Assassin watched the woman drag the deer carcass through the wooden doors into a barn cleverly carved out of the hillside.
There was something about the woman, the way she carried herself that reminded her of others like her, bloodied in the art of secrets, shadows, and murder.
Uncharacteristically, she bit her lip in thought.
Her mind drifted to the past as she devised a plan for dispatching this woman and then killing the one her Mistress really wanted. Briefly, she remembered the moment she was Chosen. Her trainer had hauled her naked, screaming and kicking through the long halls to a black, iron door where the carved faces of figures on it seemed to be squirming in torment. Then the door opened and she was shoved inside. She remembered feeling her terror because it was the last time she had ever felt the emotion.
The room was empty except for a huge fire in the center that burned with black flames that reached to the ceiling. She stood trembling before it. After a moment of silence, a quiet voice spoke, 'Worship me. Be worthy of me. Walk in me and be Chosen.'
She remembered hesitating in front of the fire when an ember shot out from it and landed on her naked breast. It burned fiercely for a bit and then disappeared, along with her fear. She boldly walked through the roaring flames and had been changed forever. While in the fire, embraced by her Goddess, the secret of the Shadows had been given to her as well as other dark, horrible knowledge. She accepted it all.
Now, all but the mightiest of Gods feared her.
A snowflake landed cold and wet on her nose breaking her out of her thoughts. She shivered, not use to the cold of the North. She wanted to kill both women quickly and leave this dismal place. With that in mind, she decided on a more direct course of action. She'd get the smaller woman to come to her. She crept forward using the shadows to hide her and unlatched the doors. Now, a strong burst of wind would bring her victim to her.
Torrin was elbow deep in removing the internal organs of the halfway-butchered deer when the doors to the barn, caught in a gust of wind, whipped open. They slammed against the side of the barn and bounced back closing, only to be flung open again by another gust.
Torrin crouched on instinct, her hand going to where her sword should be, and then silently cursing the fact that she had left it inside in favor of the bow.
The wind continued to batter the barn doors back and forth against the side of the barn while sheets of white snow fell beyond.
The blood on her hands ran down her sword hip, as she was slow to move it away. She blinked at the doors. She had latched them when she entered, hadn't she?
Wiping her hands on the old straw, Torrin moved to the frantically swinging doors. She stood in the doorway waiting for the doors to swing back her way so she could re-latch them. Briefly, she stood absolutely still. In front of the barn, she saw a second set of prints in the snow. The wind hadn't had enough time to wipe them away.
Her heart beating frantically, Torrin dove to the side. She waited for an attack, but nothing happened. Looking frantically around, she sprinted over to the torch that hung in a metal ring. As she ran, she could feel an itch between her shoulder blades.
Eyes completely black, like pitch, as were all of those who had walked through the Mistress of Shadow's dark fire and been accepted, watched as the barn plunge into darkness as the torch was extinguished.
As the snow fell harder, she waited in the shadows until she was certain that her prey had been spooked and she knew she wouldn‘t have her easy kill. The Assassin wasn‘t sure what had given her away, but she would soon have her kill. Then the Assassin was not there anymore, flowing through the dark shadows, invisible to everybody.
Inside the small cabin, glad to have something to occupy her time with, Luna worked on the snowshoes. She would have much rather been outside but at least this way she wasn't completely useless. Finishing one of the snowshoes, she set it aside and glanced towards the falling snow outside. How long had Torrin been gone? Had the Mercenary gotten lost or hurt? The area was tricky to hunt in if you didn't know it very well. Disturbed by the thought, Luna forced herself upright and started the struggle to stand up.
Using the makeshift cane by the bedside, the blonde warrior staggered to her feet. Cursing how weak her wounds and the subsequent fever had made her, Luna slowly started to make her way towards the front doorway to check for any signs of Torrin.
Torrin crouched on the other side of the hay bale she had been using as a make shift table to clean and gut the deer. Hopefully, the slight dripping of blood might mask her breathing and her scent. Especially if she was correct about who was out there. It had to be an Assassin. Soldiers would have just burst in and attacked. She should have known Khelin had one with her. Torrin wished she had her sword. The bow and arrows were useless in this situation.
Closing her eyes, Torrin reached out with her other senses. Her heartbeat slowed, as did her breathing, her right hand pulling a long thin dagger out of her boot. Among the Hawks, there had been a bet going as to how many daggers Torrin had on her body at any one time.
The Assassin slipped through the shadows. Outside the barn, she slipped into the shadow of a tree and then emerged in the back of the barn from the thick shadows that lingered there. She had no need for doors, none of the Chosen of the Mistress of Shadows did. Silent as death, the Assassin moved through the barn.
The barn was completely dark, robbing the assassin of a favorite tactic. With no light to cast shadows, she had no way to leap from shadow to shadow. Still she was trained to fight in the dark. Slim hands gripped poisoned blades as she moved towards the smell of blood. Her prey was here, she just had to find it and kill it.
The Mercenary's ears perked as the sound of something wet touching the floorboards flowed into her ears. Silently, she shifted her weight.
Torrin smiled. She had put the light out so she would be on an equal footing. There were no dancing shadows for the Assassin to lunge out of. Assassins were always so cocky in thinking they were the Mistress's Chosen few.
The killer would be coming from the outside and therefore, her presence would be cooler than the air in the barn. Bracing herself, she felt the change of temperature in the air. Waiting silently, Torrin let her mercenary numbness sweep inside her, taking over, schooling her face into her killer's mask. Staying low, she lunged out from behind the bale of hay, stabbing upwards as she moved.
Tracking the scent of blood permeating throughout the barn, the Assassin drifted between the bundles of hay. She was only a foot from the deer carcass resting on the hay bale when she felt the air shift to her side. With long-practiced reflexes, the Assassin dodged the upward thrusting dagger, and kicked outwards with a booted foot.
Torrin remained silent as the booted foot connected with her wrist, gritting her teeth as she tried to keep a hold of her dagger but failed. As she moved with the kick, she let her body go to the right. The dark-haired mercenary felt the air move to her left and shuddered, knowing that she just missed being impaled with a poisoned blade.
She rolled to her feet only to receive a very solid round house kick that sent her flying into the wooden wall of the barn.
The Assassin threw a poisoned blade towards the sound of where Torrin's body had hit the wall. Even as she threw the first dagger, she leapt towards the sound, slashing through the dark air with her second dagger.
The wood groaned as Torrin hit it, and she bit back one of her own as her nose smashed on the wood. Going limp, she fell heavily, dully noting the sound of metal hitting the wood above her. Spinning around, she managed to get to her feet and lashed out with a kick of her own as she felt the air behind her move.
The Assassin folded around the kick, soundlessly absorbing the energy as best she could. Another slash of the dagger forced Torrin backwards, barely avoiding the dangerous blade. They danced through the dark barn, fighting in pitch darkness as snow continued to fall softly outside. Their labored breathing guided each other as the fight continued, with the Assassin pressing Torrin more and more into the defensive.
"Give up," she whispered in the darkness, as the two dark-haired women circled each other, sound as their only guide.
Torrin tasted blood in the back of her throat. Her wounded arm and nose throbbed in time with her heartbeat. Her response to the Assassin's taunting was to hock a wad of spit and blood towards the voice.
Her move of defiance nearly ended her life. The Assassin's poisoned blade sliced through the air only a hair's breath from Torrin's neck. Snarling as she failed to connect, the Assassin blindly swung her arm and backhanded the wounded mercenary across the face.
Torrin stumbled backwards, tears burning in her eyes; lucky she wasn't relying on her vision. With a growl, she feinted with a punch, and then at the last second, twisted her body for a spinning hook kick aimed at the Assassin's head.
The move and following kick caught the Assassin by surprise. It landed on the side of her head and sent her flying backwards, and tumbling in a bale of hay.
Twisting back around to her feet, Torrin didn't waste any time and leapt at the Assassin. Wrestling with each on the floor, they tried to pin or get a chokehold on one another. The Assassin grinned as she got her arm wrapped around the front of Torrin's neck and in a quick move, pulled the woman into her body. Using her other arm as a brace, she began to choke her. Torrin flailed in panic for a moment, knowing she had about 12 seconds before she would lose consciousness. With 10 left, she began to search desperately around her for something to use as a weapon.
"Torrin?" Luna pushed open the still unlatched doors to the barn, letting dim light flood the darkness inside. The Assassin hissed in reaction to the sudden intrusion, giving Torrin the distraction she needed. The Mercenary rammed her elbow downwards into the Assassin's midsection and squirmed out from the chokehold.
While gasping for breath, Torrin saw one of the Assassin's daggers lying on the ground. Frantically, she scrabbled for it, needing to reach it before the assassin regained her footing and start using the shadows again. If that happened, both she and Luna were dead.
Luna's eyes widened as she saw the figure struggling with Torrin. "Torrin!" she yelled just as Torrin's borrowed dagger found a home in the Assassin's chest.
The Assassin jerked once, her mouth moving but no words coming forth, and then she fell to the floor. Luna stared at the dead woman, then looked to Torrin. As quickly as she could manage, she limped her way to the shorter woman's side.
“Are you all right?"
Torrin flopped on to the floor and watched her hands clench and relax, unable to stop them.
"No, I'm having a moment that resembles that one day you had. You know the one." With adrenaline still pumping through her system Torrin was too high to make much sense.
Wincing from the pain in her side, Luna reached down and grabbed Torrin's arm, pulling her back to her feet. Slipping one arm around the dark haired woman's shoulders, she began leading her back towards the barn doors, sparing the dead Assassin a single, disgusted glance.
"Come on. Let's get you inside."
“Oh, Goddess, I just killed a Shadow Assassin," Torrin mumbled to herself, letting Luna lead her. "Luna, I think my nose is broke. But I got a deer, there's fresh meat in the barn, oh, and a very dead assassin." Torrin babbled.
In the entrance of the barn, snow swirling around their feet, Luna paused to examine Torrin's nose. Probing each side of it, the Warrior nodded, "You're right, it is."
Ignoring the rest of younger woman's babble, Luna let go of her cane to grab onto the sides of Torrin's nose with both hands. With a quick sudden move she straightened the nose, producing a cracking sound.
Torrin jumped backwards, cursing, "Oh for the... you bitch... you could have warned me.... ow, ow, ow!"
After finishing her tirade, Torrin scooped up some snow, balled it up and placed it over her nose. "I don't like you," she said with a glare.
"You wouldn't have held still for it if I had told you what I was going to do, she retorted. “ Now, come on, let's go inside."
Carefully, Luna bent down and picked up her cane from the ground. Her eyes were worried even as she held out her hand to the cursing mercenary. Torrin eyed the hand warily, afraid it might try and sneak in and reset some other body part. After a moment of hesitation, she took the offered hand, knowing they would probably have to help each other up the hill, anyway.
Luna cast one last glance backwards towards the dead assassin, and then slowly started back towards the house. It would have been slow going even without the wind and snow, as it was, they struggled laboriously back up the hill.
"We'll have to leave soon, won't we?" the warrior gasped as soon as she had shut the door behind them, blocking out the driving snow as the blizzard howled outside, the temperature dropping as night approached.
Torrin frowned in thought, absently letting Luna guide her towards a chair. "More than likely," she sighed. " Khelin probably only had one Assassin. They are expensive and hard to come by. But, if she has another one, it won't have any problem following the trail of the first one."
Luna studied Torrin's face, and then nodded, frowning. "I was afraid of that. We really can't leave before the blizzard breaks, but we must head North as soon as it does. Hopefully, it won't last too many days." Dragging a stool over to Torrin, she sat down heavily, winded and tired from the simple trip down the hill and back. Using her cane, Luna dragged over a bag of healing supplies. "Did she hurt you anywhere other than your nose?"
Unconsciously, the smaller woman kept clenching and relaxing her fists, and her right foot kept tapping a nervous beat on the floor. "I'm afraid I'm going to be a big bruise tomorrow. I don't think any thing is broken but I'm still too hopped up on my own adrenaline to be able to tell."
"Hold still." Her tone, oddly gentle, as the blonde warrior grasped Torrin's fists, stilling her nervous movements. Meeting her dark eyes, the Warrior mustered a small smirk and recited, "You're alive, your enemy's not, you can smile, they cannot." It was part of an old Northern song taught to children as they grew up. Releasing Torrin's cold, but now unmoving hands, Luna turned and added wood to the fire. "I'll get us some of that thin stew, then, I think we should both rest."
Limping towards the small kitchen, the blonde paused and glanced over her shoulder towards the Mercenary.
“You fight well."
The complement was simple and starkly given, as was the Northern custom. Luna passed into the kitchen to see what she could do for food without the deer meat.
" ‘You fight well'... ‘You fight well', she says!" Torrin snorted. "I fight ‘lucky'. You know how many people survive an assassin of the Mistress? I'd have to say, probably none." Torrin realized that she was babbling, and worse than that, babbling to herself. Easing back into the chair, she willed the muscles in her back to relax. A twinge of pain from her arm attracted her attention. Picking at the ties of the dirty bandage, she removed it and sighed. At this rate, the arrow wound would never heal.
"Well, here's to another scar that a bar wench might find sexy," she muttered.
"Do you often talk to yourself?" Luna called from the kitchen, then returning with two mugs of old apple cider she had found in the back of a cupboard. There was a precarious moment when she moved to sit down, but she managed to set the mugs down without spilling anything.
“I just used the last of the rations in the soup. It's good you caught the deer, we're going to need it." There was still a touch of bitterness to her voice since it was Torrin and not her who killed the deer in her own backyard. Luna tried to remove it by taking a sip of cider.
"No, I don't normally... it's just so quiet, I'm not use to it. Sorry." Torrin picked up a mug and quickly took a sip to hide her floundering.
Relishing the flavor, she gave a small smile; the South didn't have apple cider. It reminded her of time spent with her mother. Everyone would be busy working away from their small rooms in the Castle and it was only her mother and her in the area. Her mother would then tell her tales and stories that would just be about the two of them.
Luna found herself studying the other woman. She was doing that a lot these days. The Warrior wasn't used to another person in her parent's cabin. It had been years since the last guest had ever visited.
“You get used to it." At Torrin's questioning look, she elaborated, "The quiet. You get used to it."
Torrin gave Luna a smile, "I had forgotten the North was so quiet and clean, no sweaty bazaars filled with unwashed people trading and selling. No homes packed on top of each other. The grass lands aren't so bad, but watch out for the Horse Lords."
Realizing she was being chatty again, she changed the topic. “Um, tomorrow, I'll finish dressing the deer and smoke the rest of the meat so we can have it for travel."
Luna was sorry that Torrin had stopped talking about her life in the South. Stretching her legs towards the fire, she gestured towards the other woman with her free hand, taking a sip of cider from her cup before asking, "Please, go on. What are the Horse Lords like? I never made it further south than Thulis." Feeling she had to clarify the request for some reason she licked her lips and explained, "We have time before the soup is ready."
"Uh, well, okay... it's too bad you didn't make it any farther than that. Thulis is kind of a cesspool." Torrin looked at Luna's face, somewhat surprised to see the other woman looked genuinely interested.
The blonde nodded, having thought that the capital city from which Khelin had ruled had indeed left a lot to be desired.
"What is it like further south? I heard stories but before I could go see for myself..." Her words trailed off, and Luna uncomfortably looked towards the flames. She wished she could cleanse her memory of Khelin.
"Did you know the Horse Lords worship a male God? And there are a few other minor male gods as you get into the deserts and closer to the Inconcessian Mountain range."
The Mercenary took another sip, thinking back to the first time she met one of the wandering tribes. "The Horse Lords are a lot like the Northern tribes. They are largely nomadic and follow their herds across the grassy plains. They are fierce warriors who can sweep down on their horses faster than the blink of an eye. Some cut their hair until they have one single long lock of dark hair in honor of their horses. Actually they remind me of everything my mother ever told me of the Northern tribe of Fire. Their horses are like the Alces they ride, only without the horns and the shaggy fur. Instead, they are sleek and swift, beautiful to watch."
Torrin sighed as she remembered the one time she had been allowed to ride such a beast. She had never forgotten it. The People of the Horse had joked that maybe her Muanya had been one of them. The power and freedom she had felt on the beast had been something she had never forgotten.
Luna could almost picture it in her mind. What she would have given to see such things! Unfortunately, her scouting mission had ended in Thulis, as had many other things. With a regretful sigh, the taller woman forced herself back to her feet and limped to the kitchen to check the soup.
“The soup is ready. It's not great, but it will keep us warm. I wish you could have tried my mother's soup." The last part had slipped out without her conscious consent and the Ranger scowled at the soup pot as she realized what she'd just said.
Snapping out of her memories, Torrin caught the reference to Luna's mother. "What happened to your mother and Muanya? I maybe only an obtuse mercenary, but even I can see, it hurts you to even think about them."
Torrin tried to get up and follow so Luna couldn't dodge the question, but found herself groaning as her abs shot pain back into her body. Tearing off her bloody outer tunic, she dumped it on the ground. Lifting up her lighter Southern shirt, she groaned at the sight of bruises starting to form on her stomach and ribcage. Poking at her ribs, she was happy not to find any thing feeling spongy or broken.
It was quiet in the kitchen, as Luna stared down into the bubbling soup. No matter how hard she tried not to, she remembered. Her lips twitched and she replied, "It was late in the summer. I had just come back from Thulis that night. It was a full moon. I can remember how light it was outside, almost like day." Moving over to the cupboard, the warrior fetched two bowls.
Trying to keep her voice level, she continued, "There were a dozen of them. A Southern scouting party." Her voice cracked despite herself, "They found Muanya in the south field, with our ox." Luna had found Fengold's body stretched out in the meadow. "Mezzarna had killed four of them before their leader pinned her to the barn door."
Luna's hands were shaking at the recollection. "She was using Mother as a shield." Setting down the bowls, she leaned against the countertop, closing her eyes against the memories. "I missed." Her words were a bare whisper.
Torrin stopped poking her ribs. Luna's story didn't surprise her. The Southern soldiers under Khelin were known for their lack of control. It wouldn't be unusual for a scouting party to do more than scout; they would probably have dabbled in some pillaging, raping, and murder.
"I'm sorry," she called out. There were other things she could say but she was afraid she would seem false and hollow. Besides, as she had learned, a simple response sometimes said it all.
Luna let out a breath; squeezing her eyes tightly to force away tears she could not bear to cry again. Filling the bowls with the hot soup, she brought them back to the sitting room, thrusting one in Torrin's direction. Wordlessly, she sat down and began to eat.
Surprised by Luna's sudden presence in the room, Torrin barely had time to drop her tunic and grabbed the soup bowl before she ended up wearing it.
Without another word for the rest of the evening, as if the story had drained her of them, the Northern Ranger Warrior finished her soup, silently tossed more wood onto the fire, gave a simple nod to Torrin, and limped to her room to bed.
Torrin set her own soup bowl down and started poking at her bruises again. She hadn't even tried to speak to Luna, but just let the warrior dwell in her emotional pain, alone. Leaning back in the chair, she drifted off to a fitful sleep.