It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.

Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.

Thank you.

 

Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.

 

Falling: An Epic Fantasy

page: 3
19
<< 1  2    4  5  6 >>

log in

join
share:

posted on Apr, 1 2017 @ 01:28 PM
link   
24 - An Interview

“I don’t know much, lady. Just that Jedron was a good lad. Always tried to do the right thing, always true to folks. Don’t know why someone’d want him dead.”

“How long had he been working at the palace?”

“Oh, just a couple of months, lady. Should have seen him, he was so proud. Looked so handsome in his uniform, I almost Bonded him that day.”

The girl’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, and they welled with tears at the memory. Siere’s heart went out to the girl, but there was nothing she could do.

“My lady, will you tell me something?”

“If I can, I will,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“How did he die? Those guards at the palace and that man, ah, Thallel, he won’t tell me anything. I don’t even know what happened to my Jed. All they tell me is he’s gone and now I’m alone.” Tears rolled down her cheeks now, and she looked at the floor.

Siere hesitated. She knew enough of what Syna was going through to recognize there was no point in twisting the knife that was already in the girl’s heart by describing the gruesome details of young Jedron’s death.

“I’m afraid I won’t be much help with that, Syna. It was murder, I can confirm that. As for the details, well, the Royal Guard are quite stingy with what information they have, as you can probably imagine.” Syna nodded, as though she had expected as much. Siere was relieved to have managed a satisfactory answer without directly lying to the girl.

“Thank you, my Lady.”

“Take care, child, I will be in touch if I hear anything.”
edit on 4-1-2017 by PrairieShepherd because: Chapter number




posted on Apr, 1 2017 @ 01:29 PM
link   
25 - Detour

“I can find my way to the Temple from here, Corporal, I have been there many times now,” she said as they left the inn near Market Square where Syna was employed as a scullery maid.

“I’m sorry, my Lady, ah, Lady Seeress Meron, he ordered me to stay with you.”

“He? Lord Braeghe?”

“Aye, Lord Braeghe told me I’d man the Bastion gate tower for the entire winter if I let you out of my sight.”

“I shall have a word with Lord Braeghe, this is really not necessary.”

“Beg pardon, my Lady, ah --”

“Seeress will do, Corporal.”

He looked relieved, and nodded slightly. “Beg pardon, Seeress, not sure it will do much good. See, I heard that Lady Macosai herself assigned the Shield. That is, ah, Lord Braeghe’s Color, to make sure you are safe as long as you are here.”

“I’m aware of that, but I am not a helpless girl.” The constant shadow was beginning to infuriate Siere. There was simply no reason for it, and she had better things to do. Things even Lady High Commander Macosai had no business knowing about.

She glanced up at the young soldier only to discover that he was not paying her any mind whatsoever. His gaze was scanning the market ahead, and the throng of people. They reached the edge of a crowd milling about aimlessly at the Castle Arch – the eastern entrance to the market.

“We should go around the market,” he said seriously.

“Around, whatever for?”

“Those are Avaanse Peacekeepers. Looks like an overturned wagon, right in the arch. Aomm only knows how that happened. But they won’t get this crowd moving for a good while yet. Never a good idea to be trapped in a crowd.”

“You can’t be serious. Even if someone was trying to harm me – which I doubt – I can defend myself!”

“Cannot defend what you cannot see, my, ah, Seeress. No, we are going around.” He looked to the alley on the left. Siere saw a full wagon of wine and brandy being unloaded behind a tavern by several men. He swiveled to the right. Siere followed his gaze and saw the alley was open except for one figure down at the far end. “This way,” he said, chivvying her toward the alley.

“Enough!” she snapped in irritation. She resolved to speak with Lord Braeghe about the caliber of men he was assigning to her security detail. She was so exasperated that she had a fleeting thought of giving the man a Command. His kir was clean, a circle of bright silver embedded in his forehead. I do not need some device to get a man to do what I need him to do, she thought fiercely.

They proceeded forward at a steady pace, but Corporal Baeler seemed ill at ease. “Stay behind me,” he growled low.

“I will not!” He ignored her.

Siere began rehearsing the reprimand she intended to give Lord Braeghe.



posted on Apr, 1 2017 @ 01:30 PM
link   
26 - What You Can't See

The sun shone bright into the end of the alley, causing a glare and deepening the shadows along the sides of the alley. Baeler continued to scan the alley, even though there was no one except the man – no, now there were three men – at the end of the alley, just past stacked barrels and piles of large baskets. Two were squatted down, one was leaning against a wall, watching them. As she and Baeler approached, the men on the ground stood up, and all three came forward to block their path. Siere noticed they were not hawkers for the market, they looked more like merchant guards. One was tall and burly, with rough blond stubble on his jaw and a flat look in eyes that made him seem permanently squinted. The other two were similar in appearance and build – both brown haired, stocky, and shorter than the man in the middle. They all had the tan, lined faces of someone who is outside a great deal.

“Now, what’s a Bastion Lanceboy doing in an alleyway with a lovely young Temple girl? Meeting in secret, are you?” His western brogue was thick, and he leered at Siere. She glanced at Baeler and caught his right hand stealing across his body toward his scabbarded sword.

Siere’s irritation flashed once again. After all that she had to put up with, now this as well? She began to gather tamborae around her to teach the man some manners.

“I advise you to mind your tongue.”

“Your advice is noted, girl,” the tall man growled, looking directly at her. She felt a momentary flash of rage at the man’s insolence, and as she stared daggers right back at him a nasty smile spread slowly across his face. “Perhaps after I kill your loverboy here, I’ll take you myself. Never had me a Lady before, and a Seeress to boot.” His eyes ran over her figure hungrily.

That was too much. She gave the man a Correction.

Nothing happened.

He has no kir! she thought desperately. He gave her a wicked grin.

“Tried to Correct me, did you? Where’s your power now, you filthy Temple whore?” he snarled.

She only had a moment’s warning – his eyes broke contact and swung up to look behind her. Siere started to twist toward movement coming from where he glanced, then screamed as something pierced her ribcage and blinding pain exploded from her side. Tamborae scattered as a voice in her ear said, “Shouldn’t have stuck your pretty little nose where it don’t belong, witch.”

~-*-~



Baeler cursed himself. Lord Braeghe would have his head for this. The Seeress lay on the ground, a crimson blossom on her white robes, spreading from the knife in between her ribs, but still trying to get up. He stood his ground in front of her, sword flying. The man who stabbed her – after coming from behind the piles of baskets – lay a couple feet away, his life draining out from the gash Baeler’s sword put in his throat.

His attention was on the three men in front of him. He stayed defensive, waiting for one of them to make a mistake. His Bastion training flooded his head. Multiple attackers. Wait for the opening, don’t force it. Stay on your feet, stay balanced.

He scored twice, dancing around the Seeress, who had collapsed and was now still. Focus. You cannot do anything for her but kill these men. He went on the attack.



posted on Apr, 1 2017 @ 01:31 PM
link   
27 - Lives Given, Lives Saved, part 1

Cons Tolin heard the ring of metal on metal and cursed. His eyes flicked up toward the alleyway on the other side of the road. Master Cons Remmen had sent him and Cons Loerval outside the gate to disperse the throng and redirect them to the other arches into the market.

He edged through the crowd until he drew far enough back to see around the corner into the alleyway. A Bastion Lanceguard was locked in combat with two men, and three bodies lay on the ground.

“Oh bloody -- Loerval!” He shouted. Hoisting his spear, he sprinted toward the alleyway just as the taller of the two men got inside the Lanceguard’s defense. Tolin watched as he slashed at the Lanceguard’s leg, nearly severing it. The guard went down, and the tall man’s blade came around viciously to finish the Lanceguard off with a thrust through his neck. The men turned away, starting down the alley away from Tolin and Loerval.

Tolin felt more than heard Loerval behind him as they dashed up the alleyway. “In the name of the Queen, halt! Drop your weapons!”

The two men stopped, then turned and advanced on them, swords still drawn. Just past the dead bodies – he noticed one seemed to be a woman in white– he and Loerval took position. He spread his stance, threw his cloak back, and set himself in a crouch. The tall man grinned.

“You want to die too, then, eh?” He had a malicious glint in his eye, as if eager for the fight.

“Galphan, we need to get out of here,” said the shorter man.

The taller of the two – Galphan, apparently – shot the other a nasty look, then suddenly lunged at Tolin while the shorter man went after Loerval. Tolin was surprised at the man’s skill with his blade, and immediately went on the defensive. The man pushed Tolin back toward the bodies on the ground, and out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Loerval moving back as well. The tall man got past his defense and scored a glancing blow, but a plate on his chain link armor deflected most of the hit. Still, Tolin knew he was going to lose this fight.

The tall man was frighteningly fast. With quick reflexes he knocked Tolin’s spear aside, darted in and swung hard. Tolin brought his buckler to bear just in time to catch the brunt of the cut, but his buckler only redirected the sword blade to glance off his helmet and Tolin went down. Head ringing, he tried to clear his vision, find his weapon, and pick himself up off the ground. Through the fog he dimly heard Loerval shriek.

Just as the tall man brought his sword around to kill Tolin, another concussion rocked him and he felt his cheek hit the dirt of the alley floor. Dazed, he pulled himself up enough to see both attackers sprawled several feet from where they had been fighting. He turned his head the other way and was stunned to see the woman – whom he had presumed dead – standing above him. One entire side of her torso was soaked red. She dropped a bloody knife from her hand, swayed slightly, then fell to all fours. Chest heaving, she spat blood on the ground, then lifted her head and reached for him. She gripped his cloak in her fist.

“Help me get to the Temple, Keeper,” she panted. “Must see,” she gasped, “Poliara.”

What in the bloody Abyss is happening here? His faculties were steadily returning, and he reached toward the woman. He glanced at Loerval, but his friend’s glazed eyes stared blankly into the sky. He helped the woman to her feet.

It all fit together then, and Tolin reconsidered everything that had just happened. The woman – the Seeress, she had to be a Seeress, despite looking barely older than a teenager – moved a few steps down the alley, but her legs seemed to give out and she pulled on him as she went down. He looked quickly back down the alleyway, now empty except for the four bodies on the ground. Gently he picked her up, and she relaxed as he carried her from the alley. “Take me to the Temple!” He felt a Command. Weak, but it pulled at him.



posted on Apr, 1 2017 @ 01:36 PM
link   
28 - Lives Given, Lives Saved, part 2

“Keeper,” she whispered.

“Yes, my Lady?” he panted, winded from the fight and now carrying her.

“Tell Lord Braeghe what you saw,” she coughed, spraying blood. It dripped from the corner of her mouth down her cheek.

“Please, my Lady.”

Her eyes flashed at him. “Listen, Keeper!” She paused for breath, then closed her eyes. She was unconscious.

Tolin reached the mouth of the alley at a trot. “Make way! Make way for the Keepers!” He pressed into the throng at the gate as it parted, people shouting in alarm at the sight of the woman’s bloody form. Pushing through, he reached the Keepers working the overturned cart.

“Master Remmen! Master Remmen!

The grizzled old man in red and gold Keeper livery turned from his argument with the cart driver. Seeing Tolin, his eyes widened and he walked swiftly over. “What is the meaning of this, Cons?”

“This woman is a Seeress of the Temple. She was attacked in the alleyway --”

“Use your head, boy,” Remmen interjected. “This girl is no Seeress. Have you ever even seen one? Not a one of them is less than twice my age. She’s probably a Bearer who --”

“Sir, Loerval and a Bastion Lanceguard are dead in that alley. I’d be with them if not for whatever this woman did. One moment I was about to get a sword across my throat, the next, those two got hit by -– by something. Knocked them clear back into the dirt sir. She must have,” he gestured toward her, “she,” he shrugged helplessly, unwilling to speak about Aomm’s Gift. “Sir, she gave me a Command. I have got to go!”

Remmen’s eyes narrowed. He looked down at the girl, then gently pushed the dark hair on her forehead aside. There lay a simple circlet of silver with clear gem in the center.

“Bloody Abyss,” Remmen swore under his breath. “Silnae! Juvaen! Get over here!”

Two Keepers came over toward them from near the cart. Tolin noticed the cart bore a sigil he hadn’t seen before – a white seabird in a diamond-shaped field of blue. “Get Tolin and this woman to the Temple. Double trot!”

“Master Remmen,” Tolin said, “that Lanceguard, he was wearing Braeghe Color. He killed two of them. She told me to inform Lord Braeghe.”

Remmen paused for a moment, then nodded curtly. “Silnae, get to the Bastion and tell Braeghe. You’re the fastest one here. Run the message, son, I don’t want Braeghe finding out from some peasant out here in the market. Tolin, get on with you to the Temple then. Report back to me at the Keep when you are through. Yunil! Hardangat! Leave this idiot to clean up his own cart. We’ve got work to do!”

Remmen and the remaining Keepers headed toward the alleyway Tolin had directed them to.

Tolin, accompanied by Cons Juvaen, turned to head toward the Temple of Aomm in search of a cart driver to help them carry the woman. Behind him, he didn’t see the dark look on the cart driver’s face, or when driver snapped his fingers at the other men with him, and they immediately righted the cart and began cleaning up the cart’s cargo from the market roadway.



posted on Apr, 1 2017 @ 01:38 PM
link   
29 - News Comes to the Lord Captain

“If he makes it this far he will break his teeth at the southern gate,” Pathon growled.

“We can hope, Merkum. However, it will be a dark day indeed if the Emperor makes it to the walls of Avaanse, for that will mean the Prince has failed.”

“Do you think he would have a chance, my Lord? For the Makata to invade, they would need a huge army. The Prince would likely be vastly outnumbered.”

“I wouldn't need Prince Taarvaes to destroy the Makata, just slow them down. Anyway, we all need him to survive.”

Sir Pathon nodded in agreement, just as there was a knock on the door. To Gaalen’s surprise it creaked open without invitation.

“What is it, Joen?”

“There is a City Keeper here to see you, sir. He claims it is urgent.”

“What do the Peacekeepers want with me?”

“I’m sorry sir, he did not say.”

“Alright, show him in.”

The Keeper Joen led in was younger than Gaalen, and taller. He had a gaunt look about the eyes, and the white-blond hair that escaped from under his hood was damp with sweat.

“I am Lord Braeghe. What is your name, Cons?”

“Yuegen Silnae, Lord Braeghe.” A Silnae in the Keepers? He did have the look, though, vaguely.

“Have you run here, Cons?”

“Yes, my Lord. I was instructed to.”

“Very well Cons Silnae, what brings you all the way from the City Keep?”

“A young woman was attacked near the Market today, sir. She was taken to the Temple for her injuries, but she insisted that you be informed of the matter.”

“Why would I be informed of,” he broke off as it came to him. Cons Silnae continued.

“I only saw her for a moment, my lord. She had dark hair and wore a white cloak and robes. Apparently she claimed to be a Seeress, but she looked too young. There was a Bastion Lanceguard wearing Braeghe Color involved in the attack as well. I’m sorry, my lord, he did not survive.”

Gaalen froze as his heart skipped a beat. I’m sorry, my lord, he did not survive. Calmly, he turned to Sir Pathon. “I regret we must continue later, Sir Pathon. I will send Joen for you when this is dealt with.”

The grizzled soldier rose and left the chamber without a word.

“Cons Silnae, You may return to the City Keep with my gratitude. Please inform Lord Orendar I would like the Lanceguard’s body and possessions brought to the Bastion, and that I will call on him later.”

Joen returned with Gaalen’s cloak and sword as the young Cons left.

“Thank you, Joen.” Still gritting his teeth, Gaalen turned to the serving woman and began buckling on his sword. “Aeselle, would you excuse us?” He watched her curtsy and leave. Rage exploded in his head, and he pounded his fist on the table. “Damn!”

He turned to a pale Joen.

“Take a message to Lady Macosai. Deliver it to her yourself. Tell her Seeress Meron has been attacked and a Lanceguard is dead. Speak of this to no one else, Joen. I’m going to the Temple.”

Grabbing his cloak, he turned to leave. At the door, he paused. “And Joen, find out who was on Lady Meron’s detail today, then attend me at the Temple.”



posted on Apr, 1 2017 @ 01:38 PM
link   
30 - Lowaeren

“A few days rest and you will be good as new, Seeress.”

“I feel fine, Seer Lowaeren, thank you. I would not burden you any further.”

“I insist.”

The Seer continued as he returned to the bedside with a tray of dates, grapes, and almonds, but Siere let the words roll over her. In truth her wounds did still hurt, and her head felt as though the tall man’s sword had indeed split it in half. No doubt an aftereffect of the last surge of tamborae she had Worked to disable the attackers, or perhaps the style of healing they used here. Tamborae was powerful, but Temple healings for serious wounds like she had been given only brought the patient out of crisis. “The body knows best how to heal itself,” her mentor, Meioshi Caran, had told her over and over again.

Seer Lowaeren had begun talking about an obscure part of the Book of Voices to make a theological point when they were interrupted by a timid looking Bearer. She stood nervously by the door, eyes downcast.

“Stop fidgeting, lass,” snapped the Seer. “Why are you here?”

“Your Grace,” the girl mumbled, bowing her head.

“Speak up, girl! Honestly.”

“I’m sorry, your Grace,” squeaked the initiate, “Lord Gaalen Braeghe is here to visit the Seeress.” She looked wide-eyed at Siere. Seer Lowaeren raised a dark eyebrow at the news.

“I sent for him, your Grace. It was his man that was killed today trying to protect me.”

“Foolish notion, that a Seeress of the Temple needs protection by armsmen,” grumped the Seer.

“In Lord Braeghe’s defense, I was in fact taken by surprise. If his man hadn’t been there, I would likely have been killed.”

Seer Lowaeren grunted quietly, but declined to respond. Instead he turned to the Bearer. “Well, send him in, child! What are you waiting for?”

~-*-~



Lord Braeghe's face was set when he entered, the muscles on his jaw popping out as he clenched his teeth. Seer Lowaeren stood.

“Lord Braeghe, we are honored to receive you. Would you sit?”

“Thank you, no, Seer. I have business elsewhere today and cannot stay long. How are you feeling, Seeress?” he said, turning to Siere. The man was a simmering pot ready to boil over.

“I will recover, thank you, Lord Braeghe.” She felt as though she should say more, but nothing came to mind.

Gaalen nodded tightly. “Good. What happened?”

Siere was somewhat taken aback at his abrupt manner, but she began to relate the details as best she could. You Corrected him, he has cause, she thought. Her head hurt, her side hurt, and her thoughts kept scattering. She found she could not look directly at him. His intense brown eyes, catching the flickering light, made her uncomfortable. He asked pointed questions, always in that same clipped way of speaking, always with an edge to his voice that just missed harsh. She found herself remembering more details than she expected, guided by his questions, but it was still very little and nothing really specific. His stony demeanor wore on her, and she began to feel tense and more than a little annoyed. He looked as though it might explode into violence at any moment, and she considered giving him a Correction to remind him of how things should stand between a woman and a man.

“Lord Braeghe,” Lowaeren cut in while she was fumbling for yet another hazy memory, “is this really necessary?”

Gaalen glanced at the Seer, then returned to Siere. “Tell me about the tall man again. Can you remember anything else? Any marks, a scar, a tattoo? Or what about his sword?”

Siere had enough. “His sword? You mean while it was swinging at my face? No I'm afraid not,” she snapped, sharper than she intended.

Lord Braeghe's eyes narrowed. “Well, then, what about his--”

“Lord Braeghe, I really must insist. The Seeress has been through quite enough today,” Seer Lowaeren cut in.

“Jenathal, please,” Siere held up a placating hand to the Seer. “Lord Braeghe, why are you so upset with me?”

Gaalen paused a moment, looking at her without expression. “Why am I upset? Did you know Corporal Baeler, Lady Meron? Did you know anything about him? I did. He is two years my junior. His family still grows olives not a league from Braeghe estate, around the shore of Lake Naonn from us. His father rode to Estaelan with Braeghe Color, and his uncle took an arrow through his neck saving the life of my father. Corporal Baeler's wife is Jillan, who owns a bakery. She is a lovely woman who makes sweet rolls for his squad at the Bastion once a week on Highday. He told me once that she had never Corrected him, not a single time in their entire marriage. His son Taliar dreams of riding as a scout with Lord Robaer, and celebrates his sixth Ring in two months.” He clenched a fist. “You women may not care much about a man’s life, but I lost a good man today, Seeress Meron, and all I have to go on to find the one who did it is that he was tall!” He hesitated for a moment, then turned to leave.

“Lord Braeghe,” Siere called, “I am sorry about Corporal Baeler. Had it not been for his courage, I would likely be dead. He died with honor, and I assure you I will see him recognized for it.”

Gaalen nodded sharply, and his face softened. It was just a fleeting moment, but she saw a man who was weary, whose cares weighed heavily on him. Just as quickly, the steel mask returned, however.

“When you are recovered fully, please visit me at the Bastion. In the meantime, I will have additional men sent to the Temple as your escort. Good day Seeress, Seer.”



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 09:35 AM
link   
31 - An Unexpected Visitor

“I warned you I would call, Lord Captain,” the gray lady said.

Gaalen stood before Elder Poliara while she sat in one of his two chairs. Even a Lord Captain’s quarters were sparse in the Bastion. It had been a very long and trying day. His interrogation of Seeress Meron wore on him. He knew he had been sharp with her, but a part of him simply didn’t care. A man was just a tool to most women, and going by her previous behavior she was no different. Her last words to him rang hollow. I will see him recognized for it. What good would some Ngak-blasted medal do for Baeler’s boy Taliar? A child needs his parents.

Too many dead, and too soon. It was always war with the creatures of the world. No building stood for long undamaged. Even the Tulvar and the Elver, the great keeps of the Bastion, had been attacked and damaged by a mi’sar that came up from the bay over the Water Wall not far from Gull’s Roost. Not enough people were left to keep the city in repair. Parts of Avaanse were rubble, and entire villages had been laid waste out in the country. We are slowly dying off. Soon, we will be just a memory, and our homes only haunts for crows and ghosts.

After his visit to the Temple, he had gone to Jillan Baeler’s bakery to inform her of her husband’s death, then to call on Lord Orendar, and finally back to meet with Macosai.

“Indeed you did warn me, Elder. How may I be of service?” he replied, warily.

“What I’m about to tell you, you must not speak of to anyone. Do you need a Command for that?”

“That depends on what you wish me to do with the information, I suppose.”

She grunted lightly. “That is fair,” she nodded curtly. “Tell me about the murder in the Palace.”

Gaalen related the story as best he could. He chose not to add Uwen’s theory about a demon, instead sticking with the facts as he knew them.

Hauerdred,” she mused.

Gaalen grunted and shook his head slightly.

“Your cousin mentioned it, didn’t he? Takes after his father, that one. Sendal Clane’s Hauerdred, and the skinghost in it. He told you about it, didn’t he?”

“What is a skinghost, Seeress?”

“A demon, boy. And a nasty, vengeful one at that.”

“A bleeding apparition? Are you saying that thing is real?”

“So you do know what I’m talking about,” she looked him in the eye.

Bloody Abyss, he thought. “Uwen did mention it. He and I thought it was more likely some woman had copied the murders from the story, rather than there actually being a demon wandering around killing undervalets.”

She didn’t respond right away, but instead studied him for a moment.

“If you live long enough you start to see past faces to what’s inside,” she said slowly, “so I know you’ve seen darkness, boy. But there is an entire world of chaos, hate and death that you haven’t seen yet. You and your cousin may be right about someone copying the story, but that doesn’t exclude other possibilities. Don’t underestimate Ngak, boy.”

“Ngak. Ngak is a myth.” Gaalen wasn’t necessarily certain of that, but insolence was irresistible to him around this woman.

“If you believe that, you are more foolish than I thought.”

Gaalen said nothing, but gritted his teeth.



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 09:36 AM
link   
32 - A Dangerous Game

“There’s something going on, boy. And I mean to get to the bottom of it. That undervalet wasn’t killed for sport. That kind of murder is deliberate, and took power, skill, and planning. If it is a skinghost, it was someone with power, because you would have to be a blind mutton idiot to summon one and not keep it tightly under control. You wouldn’t be an idiot for long anyway, because you would be its first victim. Someone, or something, needed that boy dead, and whoever they are, they are not to be trifled with.”

“What aren’t you telling me, Elder?”

“What I choose not to tell you is none of your business, but I will tell you this: someone in the Temple is planning something terrible, and it connects to both the Palace and the Bastion. This is what I want from you: you are to keep me informed. Your men are going all over the city with the Seeress you’re protecting. I want to know what you know, what they see. Make it happen, Lord Captain.”

“Why should I agree to this, Seeress? Collusion between the Temple and the Bastion is a direct violation of Queen Haertis’ Decree of Separate Concerns.”

“Are we colluding, Lord Captain? Or are you just doing what you’ve been told?”

“You have no authority to issue orders to Bastion personnel. You know that. And what would happen if you Commanded me or Compelled me? If it gets out that you forced me to do your bidding, you pay the price, I won’t. But you know that, don’t you? So I’ll ask you again, why in Aomm’s Garden should I agree to turn my men into spies for you?”

“Because of the girl, boy.”

“What girl? Seeress Meron? What of her?”

“Interesting,” she mused. “Because if you want to follow the Lady High Commander’s orders to keep her safe, you need to help me. I want what I think you want – for us to survive. I know you see it, perhaps more than most. We are not thriving, we are failing. More die than are born each year. Men and women fall every week to gith-gesaarm, or rochfendre, or alkasanni or any of a dozen other horrors that exist out there. If I am right about what might be happening, we need to stop it or we will all be sorry.”

Gaalen thought for a moment. What does this woman know?

“Alright Elder. I’ll do what I can for you. But I warn you, if I get one hint that you are playing me false, I will shut this down immediately and detail this conversation to the High Seer.”

“A man giving a warning to a Seeress is one who is playing a very dangerous game, boy. Be sure you know what you’re doing.” The moment stretched, but Gaalen was defiant. He didn’t like to be pushed around. He suffered the kir because he had no choice, but this was different – he had some leverage on her, however small. Abruptly she stood.

“I will show myself out, Lord Captain. You will receive a parcel from one of my Bearers before tomorrow morning. See that you put it to good use.” And with that, she left.



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 09:37 AM
link   
33 - Jutaera Baeler

Seeress Meron had called early in the morning. He was not even dressed when Joen popped his head into Gaalen's bedchamber to announce that she was waiting for him. Gaalen dressed quickly and headed out to meet her, dismissing her guard who managed to look overjoyed and embarrassed at the same time. Still slightly disheveled, he escorted her down the hallways and stairs to the lower levels.

“Lord Braeghe,” she said as they walked, “where are we going?”

Gaalen glanced at her. “To the armory.”

“The armory? What for?”

“I have some things to show you that may help if you find yourself in a difficult situation as you did yesterday. I do not think you were attacked by common thieves, Seeress Meron.” His face turned serious. “Not just anyone gets past a Lanceguard so easily.”

“There were four attackers. Even an experienced swordsman may fall to those odds.”

“I beg your pardon, Seeress, but you do not understand. Please, allow me to show you.”

He led her down a crossing hall, turned once, then again. Shortly they found themselves in a huge open chamber. Off to their right worked three groups of youths. In one, a young woman – Lady Eilana Itaericae, a liege of House Rivercross, and a protégé that Kaena had taken a keen interest in – led adolescent boys in the a’karana with practice swords and maar staves. In another, Lady Hiraen Thorowen – a severe lady with permanent lines in her forehead and a mouth that appeared to always be frowning – barked out sharp commands for a set of older youths. She singled one out, dressed him down, and gave him a brutal Correction. The boy got up with alacrity, though, shaking it off and beginning again.

Lady Eilana called out new drill, this one in tempo. As she started banging her sword on her buckler in time, Seeress Meron cried out and flinched.

“Are you alright?” he said in surprise.

She looked at him wild-eyed for a moment, then her mask returned, and she straightened. “I am fine, just startled, that is all.”

Gaalen hesitated a moment, then nodded. “As you say, Seeress.”

He pointed to the third group. One young man danced and spun, sparring in a circle of six others, his wooden practice sword moving almost too fast to see, Lady Captain Silnae watching on silently.

“There. They call it The Well. That drill was his specialty,” Gaalen said quietly. “My men refer to – referred to Corporal Baeler as Jutaera.”

“Jutaera. From the Book of Voices? The man who defeated a thousand warriors by himself?”

“Yes. That Jutaera. When I last saw him defeated in The Well, Baeler was not shaving his beard every day yet. He knew how to fight four men, my Lady. In a Market alleyway, that man was capable of holding off forty. You were attacked by a master swordsman, and I intend to find out who he was.”

“Is this why you brought me here?”

“That, and one other thing. Would you follow me?” He tried not to smile, and she threw him a distrustful look as they headed out of the training chamber toward the yards on the north side of the Bastion.



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 09:37 AM
link   
34 - The Kala Ratoen

Sometime later, they stood facing each other, wooden practice swords laying off to the side.

“This really is not necessary. I will not so easily be surprised again.”

“Seeress, I know nothing of your tamborae, nor do I wish to. But I will not suffer to see you injured again while I am still charged with your protection. By your own account, you were taken by surprise and your talents rendered useless, at least for a time. I fear that the time may come again when you cannot work your magic. I intend to see you prepared for such an event.”

Siere chuckled.

“Something amuses you, Seeress?”

“Magic. Tamborae is not magic. There is nothing magic or supernatural about it. In fact, it is the natural world that gives tamborae its power, although it was Aomm who revealed it to us and gave us the ability to use it.”

Gaalen let the comment go. He had no need for such nonsense. Aomm’s Gift or no Aomm’s Gift, a person should be able to keep themselves safe with quick wrists and good steel. After a short time, he launched into a version of Lady Captain Thorowen's basic swordsmanship lecture.

Kala ratoen is a martial discipline. It is comprised of several facets – ro-ti, a’karana, taa onáa, mishi-tae, and hala mokaeto. Ro-ti is knowledge of yourself. It is mostly about being aware of what your own natural strengths and weaknesses are. For example,” he said, raising his arms and putting his fists together, knuckle to knuckle. “Try to pull my hands apart.”

Siere looked at him quizzically. “You must be joking. You are much stronger than I.”

“Am I? Perhaps, but you will not know for certain until you try.” She looked at him flatly for a moment, pursing her lips on one corner of her mouth.

“Very well, if it will appease you.” Taking a breath, she gripped his forearms and pulled. Gaalen had never noticed before that she smelled vaguely of roses. Her face had begun to flush slightly when she gave up. Gaalen’s fists had not moved at all. He smiled. Seeress Meron looked as though she would give him a Correction. Or simply hit him. His smile faded a bit.

“I told you that was not a fair test.”

“Ah, but I am not through yet. Nor was that a test.” This time he held his forearms shoulder-width apart. “Now, try to squeeze them together.” Siere gave him a skeptical look, but once more she took a breath and put her hands on his arms, again filling his nose with the scent of roses. She exerted considerable effort, but she pushed his fists together. Gaalen nodded at her.

“Good. The muscles that push in a person’s chest are usually much stronger than the muscles that pull in your upper back. It follows, then, that a forehand strike will be more powerful than a backhand strike. You see? A small thing, but something that could save your life for knowing it. Now then, pick up the practice sword and hold it with your arm straight out.”

Siere held the bundle of laths straight out. They were weighted, though not particularly heavy, but it only took seconds before her arm began to quiver, and the tip of the training sword dipped ever lower. “Hold it up straight now,” Gaalen chided. Her eyes flashed at him, but she furrowed her brow in concentration, and the muscles of her jaw hardened as she redoubled her effort.

“Excellent, you can let it drop. Now, try it again, but bend your arm at the elbow and hold it in to your side, like so,” he demonstrated. She obeyed once more, easily holding the laths steady.

“Again,” Gaalen explained, “it’s a matter of which muscles you are using. Holding the sword straight out, you use only the small muscles in the shoulder, and the lever formed by your arm and the blade is very long. Keep your elbow in close and bent, and the bigger muscles in your upper arm, your back, and even your chest support those in your shoulder, and you hold a shorter lever. You will not tire as easily in a fight.” The corner of her mouth turned up ever the slightest. Gaalen thought just for a moment that he may have actually impressed the woman – a thought that remained oddly buoyant in his mind – but that notion was quickly dispelled.



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 09:38 AM
link   
35 - The Proper Maintenance of Balance

“You can set the laths down. Good. Now, push me, as hard as you can.”

“I will not!” her expression darkened instantly.

Gaalen shook his head. “Etiquette has no place here. If you ever need to use this training, Seeress Meron, you’d best ignore all semblance of propriety, else you will be well-mannered and dead. Now please, I insist. Push me.”

If his reprimand offended her, she gave no sign, other than to knock him completely off his feet as she rammed into him, both hands balled into fists that she planted solidly on his chest. Gaalen hit the ground with a thud, and sat up chuckling. Siere maintained an icy stare for several moments, but his laughter must have infected her. A small smile crept on her face and she began to look a bit sheepish.

“Now that,” Gaalen grinned as he stood up, surreptitiously rubbing his chest, “was excellent!” She was actually quite strong for one so slender. Picking up the laths, he spread his feet apart, one slightly back from the other, and bent his knees into a crouch. Next he traced a line in the dirt around the toes of his back boot and tossed the laths aside. “Now, I beg you, please do it again. Just as hard.”

He thought he saw a hard knot of determination form in her eyes, which narrowed slightly. Then she rushed forward at him, but this time her blow hit center and slid to the side as he twisted his shoulders slightly. She lost her footing and tumbled to the dirt just past him.

For a moment, she stayed on all fours, looking at the ground.

“Well done. I could not have demonstrated better myself.”

“And what exactly was the point of that, Lord Braeghe?” she asked acidly. The look as though she would hit him had returned. She pulled her hair back over her ear, and tried to wipe dirt off her cheek. She succeeded only in smearing it further with the dirt on her hand.

“Balance. Always maintain your balance. Knees slightly bent, weight off your heels. In a fight – any fight – if you find yourself on the ground, you may soon find yourself dead.” He pointed down to where he had drawn the line in the dirt, still hugging the outline of his boot. His foot had not moved. “Proper balance can often repel or deflect a rush attack with ease.”

They worked for the better part of an hour, with Gaalen going over the fundamentals of ro-ti. Gaalen was not a master of the discipline, but he was competent and had instructed cadets before. Seeress Meron was in excellent shape, with surprising stamina. She was passable in most of the drills on the first or second try, and did not make mistakes more than once.



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 09:40 AM
link   
36 - Flashback

Gaalen agreed to set aside time after his morning routine to instruct the Seeress each day, and they began to work on several areas of Bastion discipline. Seeress Meron took to the a’karana well, as she was already quite fit, although she suffered some on exercises that demanded brute strength or concentrated force. Where she truly shined was in taa onáa, or “strength of faith”, and especially mishi tae, “strength of mind.” Gaalen discovered she was extremely intelligent and her problem solving skills were excellent, so they advanced quickest through the principles of mishi tae.

Her weakest area was in hala mokaeto, however – “skill with weapons,” in the Graytongue. She was as raw as a scared cadet. She was tentative with the sword and spear, quick to lay them down after each drill, as if they were poisonous. With her powers of concentration, her bow work was at least adequate, but the first time they sparred with weighted wooden training knives back in the practice chamber was an unmitigated disaster, and Gaalen wasn’t entirely certain what happened.

Gaalen danced aside and thrust. The Seeress dodged and swiped awkwardly high, missing him. He ducked low and slashed across her middle. If it had been a real blade, it would have been a mortal wound. To Gaalen’s astonishment, she clutched her stomach and collapsed to the floor, wailing.

“Seeress! Did I hurt you?” He rushed to kneel at her side, heart thudding in his chest.
How could he have been so stupid? Protect her from assassins only to see her hurt in a practice chamber? He was a fool.

Tears fell and the slender woman whimpered, curled in a ball. Gaalen was at a loss. Hesitantly, he reached up to touch her on the shoulder and she flinched as though he would hit her.

Then, almost quickly as it started, her crying slowed and she took a deep breath. She appeared to relax, then sat up, looking around silently for a moment. She actually seemed confused at first before the sharpness returned to her gaze.

“No, I am not hurt. I apologize. Please, let’s continue. We’ve only just started.”

“Seeress,” he said slowly.
What is going on here? Just like that? She’s not hurt? “We don’t have to do this today, if you are not well.”

In answer, she stood, picked up her training knife and faced him. “Again, Lord Captain.”

They danced and dodged, the Seeress swinging clumsily and Gaalen evading easily, calling out instructions to her as they moved. She swiped hard and the momentum caused her to spin away from him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and brought the practice knife up to her throat.

“Never turn your back on your opponent, Seeress, unless you know they are no longer a threat.”

Suddenly she flipped the knife grip, jabbed him brutally in the ribs, bit his arm, and jerked her head back, smashing into his lip. Surprised, he let go, and she turned and rammed into him, knocking him down to the ground. He grunted as she brought the knife down to his chest with a roar. Wild fury blazed in her eyes with a look of intensity he had never seen before. She raised the practice knife again and Gaalen’s survival instinct took over. He grabbed her wrist with one hand and put the other under her upper arm. Using his larger size he pulled her arm down and rolled in a classic
ro-ti move, flipping her over onto the padded practice chamber floor. He pinned her arm to the floor and put her in an immobilizing hold. Rational thought came back and he took a breath, looking at her flushed face.

She turned her head to look away from him, and he felt her chest spasm as though she was trying to stifle a sob.

“I’m sorry Seeress, I -- you were more aggressive than I expected. I’m sorry if I was too rough.”

“You do not need to apologize, Lord Braeghe. Please release me.” She spoke softly, and it seemed her control was back, but there was something underneath it now, a tension he felt that he hadn’t before.

He complied, and she pushed herself up, her dark eyes rimmed with red.

“Seeress, what happened? I know that look.”

“What look, Lord Braeghe?”

“Like you wanted to kill.”

She turned her head away again and drew a short, shallow breath. “I think I should go.” Her voice was thick. Without looking at him, she stood and walked out of the chamber.


He thought his effort to train her in the martial arts had failed, but the next morning, there she was outside his door, dressed in training clothes ready to try again. Admiring her tenacity, he led her to the practice chamber. On the way, he decided perhaps they would wait on sparring for now.



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 09:43 AM
link   
37 - The Bearer

So heres the deal with this episode:
Its subject matter is basically R-rated/TV-MA. The gist of it is that Elder Poliara sends a Bearer to drop off a package for Gaalen, like she said she would in the episode 32, "A Dangerous Game". The Bearer arrives to drop off the parcel, but something quite unexpected happens. Kaena is out in the field overseeing training maneuvers. She returns a few days later, and doesn't have any idea what happened. She quickly figures out something is wrong, however.

If you are OK with not knowing exactly what happened, great - the next chapter is the beginning of its aftermath.

If you would like to read the unposted scene, please PM me and I will send the scene to you however you wish. I realize that we all have different threshholds for what we consider mature content, so some of you might be quite shocked.
Others will think it's nothing and you'll wonder why I'm making a big deal of it.

Both are fair enough. Hopefully you'll understand it's place in the larger story, and my hesitations for posting it if you choose read it.



posted on Apr, 3 2017 @ 02:26 PM
link   
Came into to sprinkle stars and let you know I will still be around following your story. Great job! Carry on!



posted on Apr, 4 2017 @ 11:53 AM
link   
38 - The Cipher

As she had promised the night she visited his chambers , the Elder Seeress had sent a Bearer to bring him a package. She had told him it would arrive that night, but the Bearer arrived a few days later instead. Luckily, Kaena had stayed in her own quarters that evening, exhausted from a long day in the field and needing to be up again before dawn the next day for more. Usually when she was out on maneuvers and needed to be up she stayed in her own quarters. There was too much temptation to find other things to do besides sleep, and usually too much wine consumed to make getting up in the morning easy.

The Bearer who brought the package was a bright-blue-eyed, perky and attractive young woman with light brown hair. She arrived quite late in the evening, just about the time Gaalen had decided to get some sleep. He recognized her from his time in Poliara’s office as the one who had written in the book.

NOTE: This is where the unposted scene,"37 - The Bearer", would be.

Inside had been a copy of the Book of Voices, a thin sheet of metal with several small holes cut into it at different places, an ink pot, and a well-crafted pen. It was a template for decoding or encoding the key to a cipher. Of course, the Elder Seeress wanted their communications private. He had had enough experience with military communications to know the fundamentals of placing messages in cipher code. He would need to encrypt each one, and clearly she wanted it to be at a minimum a substitution cipher, if not both a substitution and a transposition. But why send a pen and ink?

He studied the inkpot and the pen. They both seemed perfectly normal, the pot sealed with a cork and wax. Grabbing a piece of parchment from his desk, he opened the bottle, dipped the pen in the ink and began to write.

Elder Poliara, Seeress of the Temple of Aomm
From Lord Captain Gaalen Braeghe


The ink was black, but with a pearlescent shine to it. To his astonishment, as he watched the ink dry it faded from sight. He understood, and was reluctantly impressed.

It was one thing to encode a message in a cipher, but anyone finding it would know the message was there. Steganography was incredibly difficult and time-consuming, so she had provided him a way of hiding the message. She must have some way of causing the ink to become visible on her end. He shivered, suspecting the method she used had to do with tamborae. It all fit, though. He would write a simple greeting letter, on one side of the page, then put the ciphered messages on the other side in the disappearing ink. She would need the page number of the book to know where to use the template, so he would need to include a number in the plain-text greeting. If she was clever enough, he could include a second number that told her what the transposition amount was as well.

This was quite sophisticated for simple surveillance. Poliara seemed to want to take no chances. Gaalen began to wonder what on Geaomm she was so afraid of. To go to these lengths, she had to have been spooked by something. Either that or she was unreasonably careful.

In order to hide what had happened the night the Bearer arrived, he had not attended his training with Seeress Meron since. Instead, he had Joen go to lead her in the a'karana and several exercises of mishi tae and taa onaa. For the next couple days he worked on the cipher, practicing with random pages of the book. The idea was that the template, when laid over a page of the book, would produce a set of words which could be used to create a running key. The reader would need the template, the book, and the correct page number to decode the message. Adding a transposition factor would increase the complexity further. With Poliara’s disappearing ink, they would also need a way to determine if the message even existed.



posted on Apr, 4 2017 @ 11:54 AM
link   
39 - Kaena Returns

He sat at his desk on the second day after his visit from the blue-eyed Bearer, fighting with the cipher. He was trying to commit it to memory, to make it easier to encode the messages he sent to Elder Poliara. His guardsman had given him an overview of Seeress Meron’s activities of the day, and he was painstakingly performing the substitution of the key.

The door opened and Kaena walked in, still in full field dress. She walked straight to his table, poured herself some wine from the decanter, and took a deep draught. Immediately he was conscious of the still-healing wound on his thigh, and it seemed to start to ache.

“What are you working on?” she asked without preamble.

Gaalen hesitated. “I’m trying to determine whether I can have the Braeghe Color lieutenants commit a cipher to memory. I figure if I can do it, so can they.”

“Interesting. Something wrong with the Bastion standard code?”

“It’s too easy to break. All you have to do is know some common Graytongue words and you have a good start on cracking it.”

She looked over at his table. “The Book of Voices? What are you using scripture for?”

“To construct the key. Most of my lieutenants have a copy in their quarters, so it makes a good resource for constructing a running key.”

“Mm,” she responded noncommittally. “Help me with this?” she asked, struggling to untie the straps of her boiled leather breastplate. Gaalen stood up and assisted her, trying not to limp. He removed her armor piece by piece and set it neatly aside. Next he unstrapped the padding she wore beneath the armor, and set that aside.

Now just in breeches and a light undershirt, she turned to face him. “And this,” she said, holding up the laces on the side of her breeches. He pulled gently on the laces and they came loose, then he slowly slid them down off her legs. He fought down a wince when the burn on his thigh broke open as he squatted to the floor to pick them up, carefully fold them, and put them by the armor. He could feel it weeping into the bandage.

“And I didn’t even have to give you a Command, Lord Captain,” she teased. Gaalen tried not to react, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. As he stood back up, her eyes narrowed for a moment, but then she held up the laces to her shirt. “Now this,” she said softly. Before Gaalen could completely untie it, she was kissing him deeply and maneuvering him back to the bed, tugging at the tie on his breeches. “I’ve missed you,” she said breathlessly.



posted on Apr, 4 2017 @ 11:55 AM
link   
40 - As Good as a Death Sentence

Gaalen slept soundly, his soft breathing deep and rhythmic. Kaena lay awake, her mind spinning in circles. The Greatmoon was up high tonight, First Moon and Second Moon had both fallen below the horizon, bathing the room in purplish light that shined on Gaalen’s chest, gently rising and falling. She loved him more fully than anything else in her life. She knew his heart, and the pain he had been forced to endure.

At one time in her life, she had thought she wanted an estate, and a title, a handsome Lord to give her daughters to pass her legacy on to. But this world had taken that from her.

Kaena grew up on the Milaener Estate, just around the shore of Lake Naonn from Braeghe Estate. Their maarke was small compared to Braeghe Maarke, but it was old – older than Braeghe even. A Milaener had worked the land on the shores of Lake Naonn before Aavelae even kept records, long before Easaera, the first Queen of Aavelae, had carved a village called Avaanse out of the forests and bogs near the mouth of the Ash River. Milaeners were as Aavalaen as a family could get.

Lady Raea, her mother, had taken her to see the local Meioshi, Seeress Benna, when she was a teenager. She had been bitten by a kinnic as an adolescent, and had barely survived the resulting fever, convulsions, and seizures. However, by the time she was a teenager, her cycle was too short – only about twelve days, and her courses lasted a day, sometimes only hours. The Seeress had examined her, and done something with tamborae – Kaena remembered the strange warmth spreading through her whole body as Seeress Benna gently touched her belly over her womb. She pronounced as much as a death sentence that day. “I’m sorry, my Lady, your daughter will never bear children.” Kaena thought her world had ended.

Her mother had tried to console her, but it was hollow. Lady Raea changed that day. Kaena was no longer the hope of the House. She could not have children, so she would never produce a female heir to pass the title on to. Kaena knew she could get a husband, she had been certain of that. She was still a noble after all, and although she attached little importance to her appearance, she knew men did, and that if she tried, she could land just about any man she sought. It wouldn’t matter if she was barren, though, she would always take second place to one of her younger sisters who could produce a daughter.

She had gone out that afternoon into the heat of late Spring, unarmed, wearing a simple blue and white dress. There were ges’etaaken to the southeast. Her death would have been quick, with no loss of honor for her House. She remembered climbing to the small clearing on the high hill that marked the corner boundary between Braeghe Maarke and Milaener Maarke, hearing faint voices in the distance but paying them no mind. It had been a perfect evening, the Greatmoon rising as the sun set. The colors in the sky were unbelievable, and for a time, she just stood and watched, taking in her last moments. In the fading light, she sensed she was not alone. She turned, and there was her death, a slick black ges’etaaken, the gleaming black claws on its middle legs flexing and flashing, its eyes starting to shine in the dying light.

It circled her, growling and hissing at her. They were quick and vicious, but they didn’t let their prey linger on like gith-gesaarm. Death from a ges’etaaken was almost immediate. The creature began to settle, adjusting its hips for the lethal pounce at its prey. She stood still, watching, strangely calm.

Its ears had perked then, and it snapped its head to the side and hissed.

“Kaena! Everyone’s worried about you! What are you doing up --”

It was Gaalen. Always Gaalen.

“Kaena run!”

He hefted a short spear and attacked the ges’etaaken. “Gaalen no!”

But she couldn’t stop him. At sixteen, she couldn’t even fully control a kir yet. He stabbed the creature in one of its middle legs, then again in another shoulder, as it snapped and swiped at him. He was nimble and muscular, a beautiful young man two years older than she was, just coming into his full strength. The creature pounced and knocked him down, breaking the spear. She had screamed then, and that still upset her. What a weak thing to do, when Gaalen’s life was in danger. She was not that scared girl any longer.

He had kept his legs under it when it jumped him, keeping its claws away from his belly, which was how ges’etaaken usually attacked – slicing prey open with their middle claws, then finishing them off by tearing out their throats. He shoved hard and launched the snarling creature backward over his head into a tree. It was dazed for a moment, giving him time to roll into a crouch and pull his knife out. Then it came back at him and Kaena finally reacted. She might serve her House best through her death, but she refused to stand by and let that creature kill Gaalen, not when she was the reason he was up there in the first place. She found steel inside herself that night.

She picked up a thick fallen branch and ran toward it, trying to hit its skull but instead connecting with the spines on the back of its neck. It turned and swiped viciously at her, slicing deeply through her dress across her stomach and hip. It bared its fangs, growling and hissing horribly at her as she brandished her pathetic stick toward it, one hand pressed to her side. She would die honorably, at least, defending the one person she realized she actually did care about.

But there was Gaalen. Seizing the opportunity, he leaped onto its back, wrapping his arm around it with his hand under its jaw. With a savage yell, he yanked its head back and slit its throat with his belt knife, spraying her with blood that fountained out of its artery. It spasmed and thrashed as they both scrambled clear of its death throes.



posted on Apr, 4 2017 @ 11:56 AM
link   
41 - A Vow by the Lake

She had become lightheaded, and sat down on a fallen tree, finding it hard to concentrate on anything. The entire side of the bodice of her dress was soaked now. She was losing more blood than she at first believed. So I'll be free after all, she thought. Gaalen, glistening wetness on his leg, and on his shoulder where one of the neck spines had pierced him, limped over to her.

“Kaena, are you hurt? You’re bleeding!” he inspected the wound on her side. “Let’s get this bandaged and get you home. Do you think you can walk the distance?”

"Leave me, Gaalen. Get yourself away from here."

"What? No, don’t be ridiculous," he said dismissively.

"I can’t make it back, and you’ll get attacked if you try to carry me. Just let them have me. Better for everybody if I’m dead anyway."

"Look at me!" He put his hands on her shoulders, strong and gentle. “It’s not better for me if you’re dead, Kaena. I am not leaving you. If you die, we both die because whatever comes will have to go through me first."

He cut his shirt into strips and made bandages to tie around her slender waist. She became acutely aware of him, so close as he tended to her. Her heart started to pound, her breathing became shallow, and her body seemed to hum with energy. She had an overwhelming urge to kiss him then, but the evening closed in on her, and the last thing she remembered clearly was being scooped up in his arms as he started down the hill, now shirtless and still limping from the gash in his leg. Later, she only remembered flashes of his league-long hobbled journey back to her family’s estate, carrying her, his sweat and blood soaking into her dress and matting her long hair. She remembered a strange feeling of contentment, somehow she knew he would get her to safety. He had saved her life that night, in more ways than one.

While she recovered, he had visited her every day for two weeks, sneaking sweets and wine from his parents’ estate to her. He didn’t try to woo her like the other young men did, showing off and pretending they were something other than what they were. He was genuine.

It had been blind luck that he had shown up that night. He was on an unexpected leave from the Bastion, and had come to call on her. When they had looked for her, her servants had said she’d been gone the whole afternoon. Lady Raea had guessed her thoughts and rallied the family and servants to find her, but she hadn’t even noticed until Gaalen called and asked after Kaena. It was Gaalen who knew her, knew where she had gone. It was Gaalen who had sat talking with her on that hill. It was Gaalen who taught her how to tell when the ges’etaaken were active, and how to avoid the sutrean, the kinnic, and other flying creatures in the region. He had to have known what her intentions were, climbing that hill during the creatures’ daily hunting period, but he never brought it up. He never asked her about it, and when she finally told him about Seeress Benna’s diagnosis, she asked him, “You knew, didn’t you? Why I was out that day? You never said anything.”

“I figured you’d tell me when you were ready. I had a guess as to what it is. You knew better than to go up that hill at dusk, but you left a trail a child could follow, even in bad light. Something pretty serious had to have driven you up there.”

Their first kiss was by the lake. She had been teasing him about how he always obeyed the rules. She dared him to break a rule, any rule, but he refused. It had been a hot summer day, and the heat had lingered into the evening.

“What if I Command you to disobey?”

“You wouldn’t do that,” he said, simply, and shrugged.

“So I have to entice you instead, then,” she stated. “Fine. Turn around.”

He turned around, and she undressed down to her undergarments.

“What are you doing, Kaena? Can I turn back around yet?”

“Not yet. And close your eyes!” She put her cloak back on.

“What’s going on?”

“Here are my rules. You may not turn around or open your eyes. If you turn around and open your eyes, you must do the next thing I say. So if you want to know what is going on, you have to break my rules and pay the price.”

Gaalen hesitated a moment, then turned around and opened his eyes.

“Tsk tsk,” she said softly, “Now you are under my power. You must do the next thing I tell you to do.”

He stepped close to her, leaning in toward her face. “And what, may I ask, is your command, Lady Kaena of Milaener Maarke?”

“Kiss me,” she said with a mischievous smile, “but you have to catch me first.”

With that, she shed the cloak and ran toward the water, sand from the beach flying up behind her bare feet. He had caught her in the water and they kissed for what seemed like hours. They were careful not to let it go much further - Gaalen was an obedient young man, and they both knew the consequences would be severe if they went too far. She had discovered his scars that night - pale welts and smooth streaks that her fingertips found as they caressed his back. She had wept over them then. Worse almost than the scars themselves was how emotionless Gaalen was over them. His mute acceptance of them and how he obtained them broke her heart. That was when she vowed to herself she would protect him, she would never let that happen to him again. Somehow, she would find a way.
edit on 4-4-2017 by PrairieShepherd because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 4 2017 @ 11:57 AM
link   
42 - A Bottle of Ink

She had followed him to the Bastion after the night on the hill, with her mother’s full approval of course. Unable to produce an heir, a Bastion title to go with her family title might at least land her an advantageous marriage once her commission was over. Or, the Bastion would provide a handsome sum to Milaener Estate if she were to fall in battle. Either way, the House won. She had decided that night that she would be with Gaalen. Maybe they could marry – marrying a Braeghe, either Gaalen or his elder brother Gesaert – would have been a good match. Braeghe was powerful, wealthy, and untarnished by scandal. Lady Isara was the Queen’s Counselor; a daughter-in-law of Braeghe would have access to the Crown itself. Plus Gesaert was the elder, so he would have the greater duty of producing a daughter.

So foolish. She had long since lost the dreams of youth in a haze of blood and death. Teenaged fantasies of a quiet life with Gaalen had given way to brutal reality. They would both die serving the Bastion, either at the claws and teeth of savage beasts or at the hands of savage people, she knew that now. She was not sure which was worse. Someday, in the unlikely event they both survived, they would escape. Live in the wilderness, some place where there were enough patrols to make it possible, but away from the Bastion, the Temple, and all the manipulation and deceit of the court. She hated all of it. The only reason she stayed was Gaalen.

She slipped out of bed. She wanted to wake him and make love again. She felt more complete when their bodies were joined, closer to him. At times, when he held her, she wished she could melt into him, that they could be truly one being, never to be separated. Sometimes, she just could not get close enough to him. But tonight, when he made love to her, there had been a distance. He had purple and yellow bruises that hadn’t been there before she left, and some wound on his thigh that he would not talk about or let her change the dressing on. He was different tonight, more brooding than usual, and she needed answers.

That distance had kept her up long past when Gaalen had fallen asleep. He had hidden something from her, more than the strange bruises and the bandage on his leg he wouldn’t talk about. She didn’t know what was going on, but she would find out. She loved him and trusted him, but she knew him better than he knew himself. He was hiding something, and the only reason he would ever hide anything from her – with all they had been through together – was if he thought it posed a danger to her. Noble, but foolish. Kaena was no longer afraid of anything.

Pulling a silk robe over her shoulders, she walked to the fireplace, the embers now burning low. In short order she had it stoked and putting out warmth again.

She found the cipher he had been working on, and studied it in the firelight. It was a simple template to create a running key for a substitution cipher. She flipped through the copy of The Book of Voices, but it was just a standard copy from the Temple. He pulled out the ink bottle Gaalen had kept with it. The ink was strange, but it may just have been the firelight. She uncorked it and smelled it, but it was odorless. On a whim she grabbed his pen and dipped the tip in. Not wanting to make any noise, she put the tip of the pen to her forearm and wrote. As it dried, the ink started to fade, and it was gone.

Only one thing she knew of could perform that feat. Common disappearing ink smelled of acid, or had a pungent odor. Or, it was milky white, not this pearlescent black. Whatever was going on with Gaalen had to do with the Temple.

She considered how to proceed next, and formed a plan. Just because she hardly ever practiced seduction didn’t mean she wasn’t any good at it.




top topics



 
19
<< 1  2    4  5  6 >>

log in

join