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: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Several years in the past.
The city state of Galia, unlike Thulis, was located far away from the seacoast. Since it depended less upon the military than Thulis, walls protecting the city were absent. It was, Khelin reflected as she politely took a bite of plum, ripe for the picking.
She languidly noticed the large banquet hall was full of diplomats, military officers and assorted civilians. A full band played discreetly in the corner for the dinner guests. On one entire side of the long formal table were her people from Thulis, the other side, Galia's people. Forcing herself to smile, she raised her glass of wine as the leader of Galia, her cousin Khandra, as she rose to give a toast.
Political politeness engrained into her, Khandra hid her grimace behind her wine cup. She hated Khelin. The most polite word she had to describe her dear cousin was... sociopath. With a silent sigh, the leader of Galia lifted a bony arm. As she raised her arm the room went quiet. Her dark brown eyes glanced from face to face freezing for a moment on Khelin's.
The leader of Thulis did her best to school her features into a comforting smile for her elder cousin. Her thoughts were far from calm though as she mentally sneered at how weak Khandra looked.
Khandra hid a shudder. Her cousin’s smile wasn't fooling her. The woman was a barely restrained monster reeking of bloodshed, she thought. She was very nervous about her cousin's presence in her quiet city. Galia was primarily an agricultural community. They provided food for most of the south. There was no military troops to talk about, just the local volunteer militia. But Khandra had no illusions about her ability to protect herself. She had been born a painfully skinny child who had grown into a painfully skinny woman. Therefore, she had surrounded herself with the best guards that money could buy.
She gave her a small smile and let her eyes drift away from Khelin. "A toast."
Khelin kept her glass of wine up as all eyes turned to the leader opposite her at the table.
After waiting for everyone to lift their glasses, she continued. "To our dear cousin from Thulis. We welcome you to our humble community. While we are not the military might that you are, we do pride ourselves on keeping the warriors going by providing them with our food. We hope that your time spent in Galia will be fruitful. We praise the Pantheon of Southern Gods for our good fortune and pray for continued peace within our city-states."
Khandra raised her glass then sipped her wine.
"Praise the Gods!" the others echoed before drinking.
As the cheering died away Khelin stood, her thin smile widening as she stared directly at her cousin. Raising her own glass again, she gave her own toast. "I thank you, my cousin, for such a warm welcome. To open your doors to us and to this wonderful banquet."
Khandra nodded politely.
Contrary to proper etiquette, Khelin's warriors then rose to their feet as well, and set down their own glasses.
"I especially thank you for hiring personal guards." The smile twisted as she lifted her eyes to the row of guards behind her cousin.
Three of those guards disappeared into the shadows, melding into them with a peculiar twist of reality. Khelin's smile grew as the Chosen of the Mistress of Shadows went to work on the rest of the guards loyal to her cousin.
It was over quickly and silently.
Khandra looked puzzled. “What concern are they to you?" Then, uneasiness began to blossom in her stomach. "What rudeness is this?” she demanded.
"Rudeness?" Khelin purred, "Rudeness was when you rejected my offer for an alliance between us." The Thulis warriors quietly drew their blades as the leader of Galia stared at her cousin as Khelin started to walk around the long table.
Khandra scoffed, "Alliance? What alliance? You rule and I become a glorified advisor.” Arrogantly, she proclaimed, “I am Queen here, and Queen I shall remain."
"Very well, dear cousin." Khelin grinned manically.
Blood sprayed the walls swords emerged from shadows slicing necks and exposed flesh of Galia’s court.
Khelin held out her hand to a shadow from which the hilt of her blade emerged. Taking it from a Chosen, she drew forth the dark blade, holding it high as she crossed toward Khandra.
"You are Queen until your death."
"Guards!! Khelin, why are you doing this? Guards!!! You are no farmer. What do you know of growing food? Khelin... don't do this. Guards!!!!" The skinny woman fell out of her seat banging her limbs on the table and chair legs.
"An army needs to eat, dear cousin," Khelin answered with a shrug. "I need your food under my control if I am to conquer the North," she smiled simply.
Khandra cried out, “Please, Khelin, it’s yours!”
Khelin paused and then granted her childhood friend her wish.
With a single swipe the dark blade cut through Khandra's neck, sending her head tumbling to the floor. At least she could give the Queen, her cousin, the boon of a clean death.
The patrol found their huddled forms on the bank of the Winderling. A tall blonde was curled around a small body in what looked like an futile attempt to shelter themselves from the biting cold, snow and wind.
Inside the city a rumor began to float through the packed city that one of the frozen strangers found near just outside the city had dark hair. Dark like a Southerner’s. Most were not worried, but those women who had fled Abnoa were on edge. The WindWalker peacemakers found themselves soothing tempers and controlling irrational fears.
Tasha, with her younger sister Rhain following quickly at her heels, strode through the city to the Queen’s Castle. Her Muanya, Quinn, had given her the responsibility for the safety of the people from Abnoa as they fled from the invaders. Tasha still felt that it was her duty to check out these rumors bombarding her once she had returned from patrol. If the truth was to be known, she hadn't wanted to be in charge of the evacuation. She wanted to stay and fight at Abnoa. However, she knew Quinn had sent her away because the advisor had known the situation at Abnoa was hopeless and, Tasha thought bitterly, Quinn would not want that sort of failure on the family's name.
The sisters slowed their pace as they reached the Castle walls and eyed the contingent of guards in front of them.
After the death of the last Queen decades ago, most of the Queen’s Castle still remained unused and abandoned. However, due to the influx of the refugees from Abnoa, the old soldier barracks had been re-opened and converted into living quarters so the newcomers could have shelter from the Northern cold.
The healer had taken up residence in what used to be another set of guard barracks. Standing outside of the hastily converted healer’s chambers, the head of the Castle Guard talked quietly with the guards who had found the frozen strangers. Catching sight of the two sisters, the Fire Clan member eyes widened and she dismissed the four guards with a motion and the parting words, "Good job. Now, get some rest." With a bow, the four guards left, giving a quick glance at the approaching women.
The short, redheaded Captain stepped in front of the healer’s doors and blocked the sisters’ path. "Ladies? Is there something I can help you with?"
Rhain scowled, she was not use to being questioned about anything, but Tasha smiled pleasantly at the head guard and answered, "Hello, Valeria. My sister and I just wanted to check on the rumors. I have a lot of worried people out there who think the Southern army is now camped at our doorstep. I just would like to ease their concerns."
The Captain glanced at the one sullen Earth Clan member sharply. “Not to mention your own?”
Rhain stiffened. "If there is a Southerner alive here, we have a right to know that and then deal with her."
"No one's dealing with anyone unless I say so. Got it?" Valeria glared at Rhain, making it perfectly clear which sister she was addressing.
Tasha frowned at her sister. "You'll have to forgive Rhain. She's still angry over the death of our Muanya by the Southerners." She looked back at Valeria and said apologetically, "I just want to be able to go back to my people and soothe their fears."
The head guard was certain that ‘soothing fears of the Abnoans’ wasn't the only reason they were there, but she dismissed the thought with a shrug. Politics wasn’t her thing. " They were almost dead when the Patrol found them. One of them is yours. The other is still unconscious. The healer is working on her, but she looks like she has Southern blood. Luna's the name of the other one.” Since ‘Luna’ was such a common name, she wasn't sure it would mean anything to the two sisters.
"Ours?" Tasha looked puzzled.
Rhain just tossed her head and asked rudely, "Why would one of ours be with a Southerner? Do you think she was attacked by her?"
Valeria snorted. "Not from what the guards tell me. They say that this Luna was trying to carry the Southerner to the Castle and collapsed a mark from the gates. She was found covering the small one with her body. From their injuries, it looks like they had trouble on the roads." The guard’s mouth tightened as she said that. She knew her patrols were doing as much as they could, but there seemed to be more and more outlaw bands every year.
Tasha knew the Fire Clan took their duty seriously. They were personally affronted whenever the outlaws struck. "I’m sure your troops have done all they can under the circumstances. Tomorrow I'll send some of my more experienced archers out with your patrols. Hopefully that will help you some.”
The Captain gave Tasha a quick nod and a small smile. Continuing, Tasha asked, “Can we see this Luna? I have an idea who it might be, and if it is, I will need to speak with her."
With one last warning look at Rhain, Valeria reluctantly stepped aside and let them enter the chamber.
The sisters saw a woman sitting on the first occupied bed staring down the hallway.
Tasha sucked in a breath. This wasn’t the woman Quinn left in charge. Her next thought was that she should have been the one to have stayed and fought at Abnoa instead of Luna. But she shook her thoughts away. She and Luna had been friends and she knew that the woman was a good leader and would have done all that she could to stop the Southern army.
"Luna?" Tasha spoke quietly.
Luna was sitting and staring down the hall toward where the healer and her apprentice worked on Torrin. Wrapped in a blanket and with a hot cup of cider, she felt warm for the first time in what felt like forever. She stiffened at the voice but didn't turn around, her gaze still on the action at the far end of the hall.
"I lost the Castle." Luna raised the cup of cider to her lips, her hand shaking slightly. "They all were killed."
Tasha saw Rhain’s posture stiffen and her face grow angry. She knew a scene from her temperamental sister was imminent. Quickly, Tasha glared and gestured for Rhain to stand down.
Then she stepped quietly over to her old friend's side. "I'm sure you did the best that you could. Quinn would not have named you to be in charge in case her ambush failed had she not believed that you would do everything you could to defend Abnoa." She placed her hand gently on top of Luna's shaking one.
Blue eyes gazed down at Tasha's hand, as if confused that it was there. Slowly she withdrew her hand, freeing it from Tasha's comfort.
"Khelin will cross the Pass come summer."
“But all is not lost,” Rhain blurted out. “The winter will slow the Southern dogs, and we have you here. Since you've had a first hand look at the army, you'll be very helpful in preparing for the upcoming battle."
Then Luna turned, her haunted eyes looking at the two sisters. She smiled faintly, "But you will have a family reunion at least."
It took Tasha a moment for Luna’s words to penetrate. Then she frowned. "What do you mean a family reunion? We know that Quinn is dead, there's no way she survived."
Rhain's face grew dark as she realized what Luna meant. She remembered the dark-haired woman who had come one year and stolen her mother's attention. The looks her mother had shared with the woman and the bitter fights that had erupted in their house. She also remembered the dark-haired sister that had come and how their family had never been the same after that.
Luna glanced toward the other room, then back at Tasha and Rhain. The warrior still exhausted and emotionally numb from the last few days, simply said, "Torrin."
Tasha gasped. "Torrin's alive?"
She swallowed trying to fight away the sickness of guilt that had sat in the back of her mind for years. She thought back to the day Torrin had run away. She had forgotten her training shield and returned home when she had heard Quinn's angry, hateful words and Torrin's screams. She had loved her Muanya but Torrin was only 11 and small for her age. No one should do that to a child. After that day, she no longer cared about Quinn’s approval.
"I tried to find her, but she was gone. No sign. "I always hoped she was...” She stopped as she watched Rhain stalk angrily from the room.
Luna sighed and looked down at her hands. "She saved me from Khelin," the blonde said.
She decided to ignore the rest of what the dark-haired mercenary had done for the moment. She wasn't sure what to do or say about Torrin’s part in Abnoa’s fall. Everything up until now had been about getting to the Queen’s City quickly and safely to warn them about the South’s advancing troops. Now that she had done that, she wasn't sure what to do next.
Luna flinched when Rhain slammed the door shut and heaved another sigh. "I guess she's not happy?"
Tasha nodded. As beautiful as Rhain was, her spirit had always been quick to anger and slow to forgive.
"She's taken Quinn's death hard. Sometimes I wish Mother would just throw her over her knee and spank her, but I guess she's too big now." Tasha gave a weak smile. "Sometimes I'm afraid there's too much of our Muanya in her and not enough of Mother."
Luna looked up at Tasha. “Is your mother well?" She suddenly realized she didn't know how many of her clan had made it north.
Tasha pulled over a stool and sat next to the bed. "Oh yes, Mother is well. Secretly, I think she's happy to be back home." She looked speculatively at her friend. "So tell me, how did my half-sister end up saving you?"
The warrior's glance drifted away from Tasha and back to where the healer worked. Closing her eyes, Luna took a deep breath, trying to clear her thoughts. She was weary to her bones and her body was demanding rest.
"After Khelin took the Castle, she strung me up on the battlement, naked." Her voice was colored at shame at that memory. "She kept on demanding to know where the rest of our people had fled. Torrin saved me before Khelin could burn me alive at that night.”
Tasha frowned trying to mask her horror at Luna's words. To be treated in such away was disgraceful. Being burned alive was a punishment reserved for traitors. She put aside her disgust and started to think about what else Luna said. "My sister just happened to be in our Castle that had just been taken by the enemy?” Parts of her story weren't making sense. “ So how did Torrin end up here?”
The warrior paused, stifling a yawn, uncertain as to how to continue. Then the warrior shrugged. " I engaged Torrin’s services in order to stay alive so I can go back and kill Khelin."
From down the hall yells erupted and a young assistant to the healer came running out of a room, a hand held to her face trying to stop the flow of blood from a broken nose.
"Valdlin’s balls!" Luna cursed, jumping to her feet and rushing down towards the end of the hall where the commotion was taking place.
Tasha hurriedly followed after Luna although she really wasn’t ready to see her half-sister.
Torrin struggled through the layers of fog that clouded her mind. As she came back into her body she was aware of people surrounding her. Holding her down. Struggling against the hands that held her, she screamed, bringing her elbow up and crashing it into someone's face.
She was lost to her fever and the people that surrounded her looked distorted and monstrous. "Where is Luna?” she raved slashing at people with her dagger when they came too close to her. “What have you bitches done with her? I won't let you take her back to Khelin!"
"Torrin!" Luna called out as she entered the room, holding up both hands in what she hoped looked like a placating motion to the distraught mercenary. It was obvious that Torrin was hallucinating. She noticed the healer was cowering in a corner, her left arm cut from Torrin's knife.
The warrior part of Luna wondered what fool had forgotten to remove the wounded mercenary’s weapons.
Torrin’s feverish eyes looked around the room for Luna. “Luna?” she called out again.
"I'm here." A quickly raised hand stopped the two guards who had entered the hall from coming any closer. Slowly, as if she were approaching a wounded animal, Luna slipped closer, keeping her voice low and comforting. "You saved me, remember? We're at the City. We're safe."
"We are?" Gray eyes blinked as she tried to process the words. "I thought I failed. I thought Khelin got you again." She coughed again and her arm dropped down to her side. She reached up to touch Luna's face with her other hand. As her fingers touched the skin of Luna's cheek, she knew she wasn’t dreaming.
"Khelin will never have me again." Luna caught and held Torrin's hand, keeping it pressed against her cheek ignoring the puzzled look from the healer and hoping that Tasha wouldn't ask any more questions. Luna stepped up close to Torrin. "You have to put down the dagger, Torrin," she said softly.
Rhain entered the healer’s chamber, standing behind the two guards. Whispering harshly she insisted. "This woman is dangerous. So why are you just standing there? She should be restrained at once."
Tasha turned and glared back at her. "Rhain, the situation is being handled."
Torrin had flinched at Rhain’s tone of voice. "Are you sure, I have to put it down?” She whispered the last part. “I'm not sure they like me. I have dark hair."
That bought her a bittersweet smile from the blonde as Luna gently brushed dark bangs away from Torrin's face. "I like you." She said it before she could think about it
Scowling almost immediately after the words left her mouth. Why would she say she liked someone that helped kill all of the women in Abnoa? She would not, could not, deal with the thought of Torrin being the person who had caused Abnoa's downfall right now.
Luna asked again but a bit more demanding this time, "Put down the dagger, Torrin. Let the healers help you. Okay?"
Torrin frowned, looking away from Luna and down at her hand. She dropped the dagger and as it hit the floor with a hollow thud, people began to move closer to her.
"I like you too, Luna. You're much nicer than everybody else. I wish..."Torrin coughed roughly, nearly doubling over.
Reluctantly Luna stepped aside, letting the grandmotherly healer, along with her newly summoned apprentices, help Torrin back into bed. They managed to get Torrin to drink another sleeping potion and she slumped back onto bed.
At Luna's questioning look, the old lady smiled and patted her hand reassuringly. "It will keep her calm until she's had a chance to start to recover. A full night’s sleep will do her wonders." The healer gave Luna a hard look. "She isn't the only one who it would do wonders for either." With a wry smile and a nod to acknowledge the healer’s words, Luna, nonetheless, waited while a guard searched Torrin and relieved her of her weapons.
Rhain, after watching the display, looked hard at Tasha and growled, "She needs to be tied down. Look at her; she's a Southerner through and through. She’s already attacked an innocent person."
Tasha, wanting to smack her sister, just gave an exasperated snort. "By the Goddess, Rhain!!! She's sick. Everyone in this room can see that she's out of it."
“I don’t care! She’s dangerous and should be locked up.”
A guard went past them chuckling. Tasha looked at her in question and she grinned and held up five small throwing knives and one dagger. "Took ‘em off the patient’s body."
Rhain looked back at her sister feeling smugly justified.
"Rhain just go. And if you can manage it, would you tell Mother that Torrin has finally come home?" Tasha watched her younger sister’s face turn red as she stormed off. Tasha frowned, sensing bad things to come from her. She turned, coming face to face with Luna.
Luna had waited until Torrin's breathing had evened out before leaving the room. She felt on edge and disoriented. The healer was right. Sleep was what she needed, lots of sleep. Then, in the morning she would be able to think clearer. She entered the hall just in time to catch Rhain’s words about Torrin and she let out a frustrated sigh.
Tasha took a quick look at the Luna’s tired, grimacing face and reached out to her. "Here, let's get you back into bed." She gave Luna her arm and helped her to her room.
The blonde warrior gave her a pathetically grateful look. She could hardly walk without assistance.
"Keep an eye on Torrin, will you?" Luna managed to say, watching the retreating back of Rhain. "There might be trouble."
As she helped Luna back to her bed, Tasha sat on the stool next to it. "Luna, please get some rest. We'll talk more in the morning. But understand this, I don't want to know why my half-sister has more cutlery on her body than a cook. And I will not be asking any more questions as to how she happened to be at Abnoa to help you escape."
Luna rubbed a hand over her face and sighed in relief.
Tasha then took Luna's hand and squeezed it gently. "Trust me, I’ll keep an eye on her, too. I owe her a debt that can never be repaid."
"I think a lot of us do." Luna whispered, her eyes slipping shut. Then the warm bed and her body conspired to lure her into a sleep from which she would not awaken until late the next day.
Tasha patted Luna's hand and left to find her mother, knowing that Rhain would not have done what she had asked her to do.
Luna awoke from a strange dream.
She had been standing at the edge of a grand ballroom that was filled with people and a band had been playing. Everyone had stopped dancing and had turned to stare at her, watching as she stepped inside.
Disoriented and disconcerted by the dream, Luna gained her bearings slowly. Wincing at the light of day, she rubbed a hand across her face, pushing herself up into a sitting position. The bed had been the first she'd slept on in days, and from the looks of it, her body had taken advantage of it. It was well past dawn outside, probably well into midday.
Blinking away the gunk in her eyes, she stretched, wincing as she pulled the wound in her side again, and then staggered to her feet. Some kind soul had left a washbasin next to her bed that she used gladly. More awake, the blonde strapped on her sword, slipped on her boots, and made her way to the healer’s hall where Torrin was.
The healer was just finishing up. She wiped Torrin’s sweat-covered brow one last time and then moved to the hand that had been stitched up earlier. Happy to see that there was no sign of infection, she rewrapped it and gently set it back down on the bed.
"I'm sorry about your arm, grandmother." Luna said from the doorway, motioning towards the old woman’s arm that Torrin had cut earlier. Stepping inside she watched Torrin's even breathing, noting how young she looked at rest. "How is she?"
The old woman looked up and smiled at the woman in front of her, happy to see her looking better. "I'm fine and I think the apprentices have learned a thing from last night. Size doesn't matter, a small person can be just as dangerous as a tall one."
She patted the stool next to the bed. "Have a seat.”
Luna took the offered seat, pulling the stool closer to Torrin's bedside before sitting down.
“Your friend is better, but still not out of the woods. She has a fever and fluid has built up in her lungs. We stitched her hand and I suspect with some basic therapy she will regain full use of it. But, I'm concerned about the knot on her skull and its placement. The fact that I checked her pupils and the left one didn't track has me worried. Once the rest of her body heals, she may have reduced vision in that eye. Which, for warrior, will be a problem."
The tall blonde looked worriedly at the healer. "She will recover though?"
The woman patted Luna's arm. "She will. She's a tough one." The healer picked up the basin and the cloth. "I’ll leave you to sit with your friend. Talk to her. Let her know that you're there. Human contact is a far better healing agent than many give it credit for." With another smile the woman left the room.
Luna felt ill at ease as she watched the healer leave. Her own feelings were confused and mixed-up about the last few weeks. What was she supposed to say to the injured mercenary? She turned back to watching Torrin. Licking her lips, Luna gently touched the bandage covered hand and tried to put her feelings into words. "I can understand why you did what you did at Abnoa. She paused for a moment and stroked the hand. “I can’t forgive you, but I understand. I think."
The blonde hesitated again, and then plunged forward with her thoughts. “You think you don’t have a place up here, but you do. You are a Northerner, Torrin, whether you like it or not.” Luna fell quiet again, frowning, as she tried to sort through conflicting emotions. There were things she had to ask the Mercenary, more questions than she had answers for.
Finally, awkwardly, Luna brushed dark hair from Torrin’s face. “Get better.”
Then she fled the room ignoring the troubled questions raised in her mind. She wanted to be angry with Torrin, wanted to be furious with her, wanted to hate her for what she did. Instead she was finding things less clear-cut than she had ever believed would be possible.
Moaning in her bed, Torrin twisted and turned, her body soaked with sweat as she dreamed.
Torrin stared into the roaring fire pit. It almost took up the whole room. The room was dusky, in the shadowy half light that only exists where light and dark meet. The fire was not a happy crackling orange; it was ominous, black, and ebony flames danced silently. Flames so dark they almost looked deep, midnight blue in places.
"Walk through me and be worthy of me." A voice whispered all around her.
The muscles in her legs tensed and slowly her foot raised but then she froze. Somehow, it wasn't right. As much as she wanted to walk through the fire, she couldn't. The voice began to rise, becoming louder and louder until Torrin placed her hands over her ears and screamed.
As she woke herself up, heaving to catch her breath, the final words stayed with her.
"You have my mark. No matter what you do, you still belong to me."
Alarmed, she looked around the room trying to figure out where she was but the drugs they had given her were powerful and quickly had her eyes drooping as she fell back into an uneasy sleep.
Luna had never been to the Queen's Castle. She'd heard of it often enough, though, from her Mother and Muanya. Listened to tales from the past, all away back to her grandmothers’ day when the Queen still ruled from the all-clans City before she was assassinated on her throne.
She had stopped by the healer’s hall early that morning to check on Torrin’s condition. There had been no change since the day before and Luna felt an unfamiliar tickle of fear for the dark-headed mercenary’s recovery. She sat by Torrin’s side until she couldn’t take Torrin’s pale face and quiet moans any longer.
It was the Northern Warrior’s curiosity that drew her from the healer’s rooms and sent her exploring through the towers, walkways and rooms of the Castle.
Unlike Abnoa, this Castle was barely used. The Wind Walkers had abandoned most of it when the last Queen had died, choosing instead to build a city around the Castle walls.
It was at least a hundred times larger than Abnoa, and she had often thought Abnoa to be the largest castle she would ever see. Soon her wanderings got her turned around and lost. Luna found herself in a section of the Castle that hadn't seen use in many years, if the layers of dust she found were any indication.
Now searching for a way back to her room, Luna prowled the unfamiliar corridors. They had once been richly adorned, but time had taken its toll on them, reducing rich tapestries to shadowed pieces of fabric cloaked in dust and cobwebs.
She let out a sigh of relief when she found a recently traveled path through the dust at one of the corridor intersections. Someone had been through here recently. The warrior turned and followed the path through the dust, which lead her to a spiraling staircase that obviously led up into one of the Castle's many towers. Curious, the blonde followed, climbing up floor after floor. She finally arrived at the top of the tower, and jerked to a surprised stop as she realized she wasn't alone.
An old woman, her hair white, skin wrinkled and dark, stood in front of a simple wooden doorway. She was dressed like one of the warriors from the Fire Clan, and her gnarled fingers gripped a ceremonial spear. Luna was amazed the old crone could stand under the weight of the armor she wore. Taking a step forward, she noticed the old crone's eyes were milky white with blindness.
"Who goes there?" the old woman demanded in a sharp voice, swinging the spear around wildly.
Luna barely had time to duck as the spear point sailed above her head. "Easy, old mother! Easy! I mean you no harm!"
The woman might have been blind but she turned toward Luna like a hound following a scent. "Only one who is Queen may be here." She spoke with a firm, quiet voice. A gnarled hand then wrapped around the handle of the short sword at her side in a visible threat.
Luna kept her distance from the blind woman and the door she was obviously protecting. "Easy, old mother, I mean no harm," she repeated, hoping to avoid any more wild attacks. "I’m lost and I've been trying to find my way back to the barracks. I didn't mean to startle you."
The woman's white eyes stared into Luna's blue ones. Slowly, the eyes dropped and seemed to be judging Luna. "What appears on the surface of things doesn't actually show things as they are. Perhaps you're not as lost as you think." The gnarled hand slowly withdrew from the sword.
The blonde raised an eyebrow, her expression doubtful as she watched the old warrior. Not quite certain how to take that, Luna decided on what she hoped would be a neutral question, still curious as to why the old woman was up here all alone. "My name is Luna, daughter of Mezzarna and Fengold. What is your name?"
The woman scowled, "I do not have a name as it has been struck from all records and history.” Her face softened. “But, well met, Luna, noble daughter of Mezzarna and Fengold.” The old woman gave a half bow, her armor rattling as she did so. “Luna, that is a popular name." The old woman mused. "How are you lost, Luna? Are you physically lost, is your heart lost, or are you lost in spirit? There are many ways to be lost."
The younger woman frowned in confusion and watched the old lady carefully in case she became irrational and decided to use her sword after all. “I'm lost, physically. I'm trying to get back to my room. It’s in the barracks." That seemed like a safe answer. "Are you certain you are not a Priestess, old woman? You sound like one.”
The woman chuckled heartily, "No, I am not a Priestess.” The woman wiped her eyes. "I thank you for that it’s been so long since I've laughed. Her face saddened. "Once, long ago, I was a warrior, a guard in this very tower. My duty was to protect the most precious thing in this world and I failed." She pointed to the stairs that Luna had just come up. “To go where you need to be, go down the stairs. When you get to the bottom, take a right; go through the war room and the ballroom, and then down set of short stairs. You will find yourself back where you started. As for your heart, you'll need to ask someone else about that." The woman smiled a secret smile.
Convinced that age and senility had taken its toll on the woman's mental health and forgetting the other woman was blind, Luna produced a smile for her. "Thank you. I'll just leave you to your guarding then." The younger woman turned to leave, then paused. Biting her lip, she thought for a second, then turned back around.
"What is it that you are guarding?" she asked.
The woman cocked her head as if weighing her answer. "Right now, I guard a memory. This is where the Queen's chambers are. Someday, soon perhaps, when another Queen comes, my sisters and I will be released from our duties."
Luna opened her mouth to ask another question, but thought better of it and started down the stairs back the way she had come. "Thank you, old mother," she called out. Shivering slightly from a sudden cold draft of air, she quickly went down the stairs. She would find Tasha and ask about the old woman and perhaps that would get her some answers.
Luna, after getting turned around a few times, managed to escape the Queen's castle, seeking fresh air after her encounter. Something about the old blind woman had made her uneasy. Tilting back her head, the blonde smiled as she felt the weak winter sunlight strike her face. In a little while she would go see if Torrin was any better, but for now she wanted to take a walk in the city, outside in the cold air.
Tasha sat on a stone bench in the courtyard messing with the fletching on her arrows. She had gone by the healer’s room to check on Luna but the woman had left. She was, in fact, now enjoying the warm winter sun and the lack of snowfall. Perhaps if she were lucky, Valeria would walk by on her way to guard duty. And perhaps, if she were feeling really brave, she would ask the head guard if she would like to get a drink with her when she got off duty.
Tasha gave a sigh, “Right and pigs can fly.” But, it was nice in theory.
Luna had scarcely taken two steps outside the Castle when she recognized a familiar figure sitting on one of the stone benches across the courtyard. "Tasha!" she called.
Tasha's head whipped up and she smiled when she saw Luna. "Hey,” she said as she waved at Luna to come join her. “ There you are. I came looking for you at the healer’s room but you weren’t there." She set her arrows back into the quiver and nodded at the entrance behind Luna. "I see, you too, couldn't escape the lure of the Castle. Have fun looking around?"
Not sure how much she wanted to say about her conversation with the old woman, she hesitated a moment before answering. "It was interesting," she answered vaguely as she joined Tasha on the bench. "Have you ever gone exploring?"
Tasha laughed. "How could I not? A castle, dark and mysterious, that everybody talks about but nobody actually lives in? The WindWalkers take care of it, but other than the library, they don't really use it either."
Luna shifted uneasily, glancing up at the gray walls that loomed over them. "Have you ever met an old lady? Up in one of the towers? She was guarding a door. I think she was blind."
Tasha looked intently at Luna, "No, I can't say that I have. She was guarding a door? How odd. Perhaps she’s an older, retired guard who got confused and lost. I can talk to some of the WindWalkers about her, but Luna, I’m fairly certain no one actually lives inside the Castle. I think it’s forbidden until there is a new Queen."
Luna's eyes were troubled as she stared up at the Castle, but she forced a smile as she glanced back at her old friend. "Well. How about you show me the city then? You’re being a remarkably poor host, Tasha,” she said good-naturedly. She looked around and spread out her arms. “I've never been here before, you know." When there was no response, Luna looked over at Tasha who was staring across the courtyard.
As Luna was talking to her, Tasha noticed Valeria walking by with a few of her fellow guards. There was just something about the way she looked in her armor that drove Tasha to distraction. "Huh, what?" She blinked at her friend while slowly dragging her eyes away from Valeria's backside.
"Ooh, a Fire Warrior? You're just asking for pain, aren't you?" teased Luna, thankful to put things on a lighter note for a little while.
Tasha just blushed. "I don't know what you're talking about." At Luna's skeptical look, she just sighed. "Yeah, yeah. But there's just something about her. I know Fire warriors have a certain reputation, but I’ve talked to her a few times and she's actually rather nice… once you get past that prickly front she presents to the world."
Luna continued to look doubtful. "If you say so. Isn't she the head of the Castle guards?" Luna vaguely remembered her taking them into the Castle. "I'm surprised they still have Fire warriors here after..." Luna paused, not sure how to continue.
"Yeah, she is Captain of the Guards which is the only reason I've gotten to speak to her, I doubt she'd have much to do with an archer any other way." Tasha cleared her throat. "Yes, well, the WindWalker Clan is slightly more forgiving than the rest of us. Plus, it’s some sort of debt of honor for them. The tribe of Fire continues to send a detail of warriors to guard the City and Castle as a way of making amends for their failure so long ago." Tasha shrugged. "It’s politics, think about it too hard and it will give you a headache."
"Politics." Luna rolled her eyes, remembering the vague disgust that had been in both her parents’ voices whenever they discussed the subject at home. Shaking away those memories, Luna nodded toward the city. "So are you going to show me around? Or do I have to go ask your Fire warrior for a tour?"
Tasha sputtered for a moment. "No, no. No need to ask the Fire warrior for a tour. Let me get my stuff." Tasha picked up her quiver and bow slung them over her shoulder. "You're a mean woman, Luna,” Tasha said bumping her shoulder with Luna. "I remember when you were a shy, sweet Ranger."
"I still have my moments," The taller woman muttered, bumping right back with a smile.
Tasha had been her one true friend at the Abnoa, and it was nice to be able to pick that friendship up again. She had feared that the other woman would resent her after Quinn had put her in charge and not her eldest daughter. In companionable silence, they began walking away from the main Castle courtyard with Luna avidly taking in the sights around her. This wasn't the first city she'd been in, but it certainly was cleaner than Khelin's capital city of Thulis.
"Are there more people here in the summer?" Luna asked as they walked down one of the broad central streets. Although there were people hurrying from one destination to another, it was nowhere near as many as the size of the city suggested.
Tasha shrugged, "You know, I don't honestly know. I don't think so. Mother always talks about how the WindWalkers are the least nomadic of the tribes. So I think what we see is what we get." Tasha sidestepped a small child that was running down the street.
She cleared her throat pondering how to phrase what she felt needed to be said. "Luna, I... well.... you..." She stopped, frowning. "Okay, let me try again. Luna, I don't blame you for Abnoa at all. Actually, I feel guilty. Like I should have stayed. Quinn shouldn't have put you in that position... Goddess, that didn't come out right." Tasha berated herself. Why couldn't she have her mother's way with words?
The blonde she was talking to just kept walking, her gaze riveted on the city ahead of them. Only a slight twitch of her mouth indicating she heard her at all.
"Luna, I feel like I should have been there with you to help defend Abnoa, instead of helping the refugees across the Pass." She stopped talking and looked at her feet. It was probably as close as she going to get to telling Luna about Quinn's underhanded tactics.
The Warrior stopped, watching the children playing in the street. Without looking at Tasha, she quietly stated, "I failed Quinn and my sisters at Abnoa."
Her back straightened. "I won't fail again." With a sigh she turned around and faced the archer. "Tasha, you did your duty. There had to be warriors to escort the refugees here. It's a good thing you did, or..." Luna faltered, searching for the words, "or else our entire tribe could have been wiped out."
Tasha tried again to say the right thing to Luna. "I don't doubt for a minute you did everything you could.” She shook her head and gave Luna a brief touch on the shoulder. “Enough about what happened in the past, we can't change it. Just learn how to live with it, I guess." Luna gave a brief nod and turned away to stare at the playing children.
They started walking again down the path. Tasha looked around and remarked to the silent warrior, "Mom says, ‘cause they stay in one place, the WindWalkers are big on public art. In the summer time they have fountains going with musicians, and stuff." She appraised the buildings. "I don't know. Sure, they’re pretty and all, but I’m not sure how these buildings would fair in an attack."
Luna stopped and glanced behind them, back toward the walls of the Queen's Castle. The city was crouched at the base of those walls, looking like a child, trusting in their mother to protect them. Then her gaze turned toward the edge of the city, where the houses met the river’s edge, and then to the docks that ringed the island.
"Khelin's troops will burn it to the ground.”
Shaking her head at the thought, Luna caught up with Tasha. “They'll force us back up into the Castle. They won't even have to land here to do it, just attack us from the far shore. The Winderling isn’t wide enough to stop a good barrage of arrows and the Southern army has more than arrows on its side,” she said as she remembered the brutal assault on Abnoa.
Tasha grimaced as she agreed with Luna's assessment.
Not wanting to think any more about the Southern advance, Luna asked, "How is your mother handling all this?"
“Oh, she's Mother. She's happy to be home. She hasn't liked living in Abnoa for quite awhile. And she's overjoyed that Torrin is finally back. You know,” she confided to Luna, “I think she was the only one who never gave up hope that Torrin was still alive. Me, I didn't think she would have lasted the first night, not with all that blood..."
Tasha's face drained of color when she realized what she said. Quickly, she added, "Uh, but Torrin's always surprising everybody. Probably a trait she inherited from her Muanya."
Luna glanced sharply at Tasha’s slip of the tongue, her blue eyes hardened, her lips pressed to form a thin line but then, she looked away without commenting on it. She walked a few strides before she said, "I'm glad to hear your mother is happy here. I always loved hearing her play at the Castle, although her music was always so sad."
Tasha sighed in relief at the observation as she felt the blood slowly return to her face. "It was. I remember, when I was little, her music was happy and more upbeat. But now that I'm older and think back on it, I realized it started to turn sad when she and Quinn drifted apart. Then when Jinete ran off, it became really sad and when Torrin disappeared, she just stopped playing."
Luna wasn’t sure what to say to such a revelation, so she just murmured, “ Well, maybe things will be different now that Torrin is back.”
“Hmm, I hope so.”
Leisurely, the women continued walk around the city, each lost in their own thoughts.
Luna's lips crept up into a smile as she spotted a building tucked behind an interesting piece of artwork. "Looks like we’ve reached the “tavern district”." Some of the buildings looked like legitimate inns and taverns. However, a few were little more than pleasure houses. Luna's eyes sharpened as she spotted a particular sign over one of the buildings.
"I need a bath."
Tasha grinned at Luna. "I agree.” Then she laughed as they went around the corner. “I’ve heard that this is considered the seedier side of the city, but I wasn't sure they had one. I guess even the artists like to get toasted and laid every once in awhile.
Luna smiled at observation.
“I was talking to some of the Fire clan warriors. They tell me they have a tavern outside of the city, a day or so ride, where they all go. If you're game, we should go check it out. It will be just like old times." Tasha gave Luna a devilish grin.
The taller woman groaned, remembering a few of them. "I don't think I can survive reliving some of those times." Luna started to walk towards the bathhouse. "Bath first, then we can head back to the Castle. I want to check on Torrin." She gave Tasha a smile. "Then maybe later we can see about finding a tavern."
Tasha smirked at Luna. "So what's up between you and my little sister? That was quite the show she put on in the healer’s rooms when she thought you were in trouble."
"I don't know." That was the truth, but Luna's voice betrayed her confusion on the subject of Torrin.
“Uh, huh. I saw the way she reacted to your voice and how you held her hand, ” she teased.
Luna turned away from her. There were too many issues left unresolved for her to know where she and Torrin stood. Were they even friends? Did Torrin really like her or was she just considered a mercenary contract to her? Instead of trying to reason it out, Luna pushed her doubts aside and ignored Tasha’s joking words. She started toward the bathhouse, deciding she needed to get dirt free after the long trek to the Queen’s City.
Tasha frowned and then ran after her friend. Tugging on Luna's arm she looked sheepish, "I'm sorry. It's none of my business. But if you ever want to talk, I'm here." Then she patted Luna’s arm and smiled. "Go enjoy the baths."
Luna gave her friend a grateful smile, surprising both of them by tugging Tasha into a swift hug. "Thank you."
Letting go, she took a step towards the front door of the baths, and then stopped. "Tasha? Despite what Torrin might have done in the past, I wouldn't have survived in getting here without her."
Tasha looked back very seriously at Luna. "Luna, I'm not dense. I just don't want to know because then I'd have to feel obligated to do something." She thought for a moment and then continued, "Luna, whatever you do, don't discuss Torrin, or how you got here with Rhain. She's...um, just don't. Promise?"
Luna nodded and headed into the bathhouse, hoping to escape her doubts and confusion for a while in a tub of hot water.
Tyra sat next to the bed studying her daughter. Yesterday she had cried. Cried enough tears that she could have flooded the Winderling, but today she was determined there would be no more crying. She had rushed to the healer’s chamber the moment the news had left Tasha’s mouth. The older woman had been stunned by the changes in her daughter. Gone was the slightly chubby eleven year old who had been on the edge of growing into her body. The woman lying injured in the bed was almost a stranger to her. Yet, she could see hints of her little girl.
Torrin murmured and moved restlessly, her legs thrashing. Tyra leaned over and stroked the sweaty hair, which seemed to calm Torrin. She smiled fondly and drew the loosened covers back over her daughter. She smiled in remembrance. As a little girl, Tyra had an awful time trying to keep Torrin clothed. She would get the girl dressed only to find, not a minute later, Torrin naked and streaking around the castle.
It seemed that this was a trait Torrin still possessed, she observed. She probably inherited it from her Muanya she mused. Smiling wistfully, she recalled how easily Jinete seemed to lose her clothing. She leaned over, picking up the sleep shirt that Torrin had some how wiggled out of again.
She thought for a moment about putting it back on, and then set it at the end of the bed. If her little girl felt better naked, then let her be naked.
Tyra began humming a song as she picked up a washcloth out of the water basin and rung it out. Coming over to the prone figure, she gently washed the sweat off Torrin’s forehead. Inching the sheet down Torrin’s slight frame, she wiped her neck and slowly moved to her arms. She took in every scar and every bruise. And barely, she kept her tears in check.
"Oh, my little one, this is not the life I wanted for you. I had always hoped you would become a musician. You have such a talent with the fiddle." She moved to the other arm and froze at the brand.
Jinete had told her many stories of the South. She knew what the black serpent meant. It was a mark of the Mistress of Shadows. If she remembered Jinete’s words, she was a Goddess of dark deeds.
Tyra burst into tears and pulled the sheet back up, covering her daughter’s shoulders. She wept for the little girl she had failed. If only she had been stronger. If only she had been better able to protect Torrin from Quinn. If only Jinete hadn’t left her.
"Oh, my little one, I’m so sorry." She held Torrin’s uninjured hand and wept.
The bath had done Luna a world of good and even though she'd been shy around the bath girls, she had enjoyed the scenery. Feeling more relaxed than she had since the hot springs, the warrior stepped into the healer’s hall. Intent on checking up on Torrin, she paused as she realized that the mercenary had company.
Feeling awkward and uncertain on what to do, she shifted from foot to foot in the doorway and helplessly watched Tyra sob over Torrin.
Tyra sniffed and wiped her eyes. Noticing Luna standing somewhere between entering and fleeing, she waved the poor girl in.
"Never mind me, I’m just being a mother." The woman gave a watery smile.
"Lady Tyra," Luna said and nodded. She still felt like the awkward youngster she had once been. "How’s Torrin?" she asked while staying in the doorway, uncertain if she was welcome.
"She's doing well. The fluid in her lungs seems to be clearing, but her fever hasn't broken. And call me Tyra, child. I'm not a Lady. Not here, nor do I ever want to be one again." Tyra pointed at the other chair in the room. "Come sit, I don't bite and although Torrin use to as a child, I'm hoping she's out grown it by now."
Hesitantly, the blonde took the offered chair, lightly touching Torrin's shoulder as she sat down. It was a touch to simply reassure herself that the mercenary was still with them. She glanced up to Tyra’s questioning look.
“She went through a lot to help me get here," Luna explained, looking back down at Torrin's pale face. She looked so young and vulnerable without the nervous, wary energy that filled the dark-haired woman when she was awake.
Tyra smiled sadly and stroked Torrin’s hair. "You know I always hoped Torrin would come here. I just thought it would be as a student. She had such a gift for music. She could hear a piece of music and then copy it exactly. But I never thought my little girl would enter the city like this."
She gave Luna a piercing look. "I know what that brand on her shoulder means, but regardless, I'm thankful that you've brought my little girl back to me." Tyra looked away while wiping a few stray tears.
Luna frowned slightly. Studiously, she avoided looking at Tyra to give the older woman time to compose herself.
"Does her past matter?" Luna found herself asking, not sure of the answer herself.
Tyra thought the question over while sensing there was more to Luna's words than just a simple question. "Should the past matter? No, it shouldn't. We all make mistakes, we all get thrust into things that are out of our control, and we deal with them the best we can. The past makes us who we are.” She watched Luna’s reaction to her words.
She asked Luna, “Can you honestly say that you would have made it here without Torrin's help? If you say no, then her past was helpful. However, we can't let the past weigh us down. We have to acknowledge it and accept it, even if our past is less than pretty. But then, we have to let it go. Or we never grow and move on. We just stay stuck in the past lamenting things we can’t change. "
She gave Luna a poignant smile. "We all have things in our past we wish hadn't happened, or that we had never done."
Luna shifted uncomfortably, not sure how to answer to Tyra's words. To be honest, the warrior wanted to simply steer clear of dealing with the entire dilemma of Torrin and what had happened in Abnoa. With a sigh, she studied the dark-haired woman's face certain that avoiding the problem wasn't going to make it go away.
She changed the subject anyhow. "I'm glad you made it here safely, you and your daughters. I know the Ellris Pass wasn’t completely snowed when you left, but you can never tell what the weather will be up there.” It still had been late enough in the season to worry about it when the non-combatants had evacuated Castle Abnoa.
Torrin, thrashing in her sleep and mumbling for Luna interrupted Tyra’s reply. Twisting, Torrin pushed the cover away. With a small smile Tyra pulled the covers back up. "She does that a lot... calls out for you in her sleep."
Luna blushed but still reached out to touch Torrin’s arm to calm her.
Ringing out the cloth, Tyra wiped Torrin's forehead again. "Thank you again for bringing my baby back to me. And Luna, I'm glad you made it here safely, too. I know it’s probably a hard thing for you to be alive while those you were pledge to lead didn't make it. But, I’m grateful you did."
Luna's smile was strained in response as she watched Tyra care for Torrin. Feeling like an interloper, although not sure why, she started to rise from her seat. "I just wanted to see if Torrin was doing any better. I should go."
Tyra examined the young woman fidgeting in the chair while she cooled Torrin’s fever. The Ranger had been not much more than a young girl the last time she had seen her. Now there was something different about her. Maybe it was the way she carried her body or it was in her eyes, eyes that had seen things nobody should. Yes, she decided, there was definitely a new growth, a deeper layer to Luna now.
“You need to enjoy being alive. There is a reason for it, just as there is a reason why Torrin happened to be at Abnoa. Who knows? Maybe the Goddess placed Torrin there to do just what she did."
Tyra sighed as Torrin threw off the blanket again. She pulled the cover up over Torrin. "Did you know, as a child I couldn't keep her clothed? Much to my embarrassment, she streaked naked all over the Castle."
The warrior hesitated, and then sat back down, her smile more natural this time. "Torrin streaked through the Castle?" Grinning, Luna tried to imagine that.
Tyra laughed. "Oh, yes! She was such a curious child, and fearless. She apparently felt the need to be curious and fearless while naked. Why, I remember the time when we were having a meeting of the four Clan chiefs. Quinn was having a trade meeting with the Tribes of Water, Air, and Fire and Torrin ran stark naked right into the middle of the meeting."
Tyra chuckled, "I thought Quinn was going to choke on her tongue. Before anyone could do anything, she climbed up on to the lap of the Clan Leader from the tribe of Fire and called her a pretty lady. Do you remember Magda's mother? ‘Pretty’ is not a word I would use."
Luna laughed at the mental image, laughing hard enough that she had to hold her side or pull her wound stitches. "Oh, by the Goddess!" Wiping her eyes she smiled at Tyra. "Thank you. It's been... a long time since I‘ve laughed like that."
Leaning back in the chair she smiled fondly at the woman lying on the bed. "You better wake up, Torrin, or your mother’s going to tell me some more embarrassing stories about you."
Tyra laughed some more. "Ah, yes. I have quite a few stories I can tell." They were interrupted by a quiet knock at the door.
Tasha’s head peeked around the slowly opening door. “I thought I would find you here. Mother, dinner will be ready shortly. Luna, would you like to join us?”
Luna turned in her chair to look at the door, grinning as she spotted Tasha. "Only, if you have enough food."
"Of course, especially since I can't find Rhain anywhere."
Tyra grinned feeling much better than she had in days, "Yes, you should join us. I have plenty of embarrassing stories about all my children." She gathered the used wet cloths and started for the corridor.
Luna stood up, placed a hand on Torrin and leaned down to whisper, "Wake up soon, Mercenary. We need to talk." Squeezing Torrin's shoulder, Luna stood upright and walked toward the door.
Tasha fell back with Luna as they followed Tyra down the hall. "I'm glad I've found you again. I wanted to ask... um, well falcons were sent out to the Clan chiefs. We've been trying to have a war meeting." Tasha gave a sour look. Using the word ‘meeting’ was being generous.
"I would like for you to join us."
Luna glanced sideways at her friend, making a face. "You want me to attend a war meeting?" She mockingly shuddered. "Don't you all just scream at one another?"
Tasha sighed. "Pretty much. I'm hoping, somehow, we'll be able to pull together but I'm not holding my breath. I'd like you there. Like Rhain said, you have a first hand account of Khelin's troops and fighting style." She put a hand on her friend’s arm. "You don't have to, and I will understand and respect your decision if you don't, but I think what you can contribute would be very helpful."
Luna did her very best to avoid thinking about her own personal, first hand experiences with Khelin. Her happy mood from moments before vanished at those memories. "I'll come,” the warrior said softly. "They should know what we're up against."
Tasha squeezed Luna arm. "Good. Now, come on. I'm sure my mother can't wait to tell more embarrassing stories about us.”Return to Main Page