Authors: Ruth Anne Scott
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Copyright 2016 by Ruth Anne Scott - All rights reserved.
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The Alien’s Bliss
TALES FROM ANGONDRA
Book # 6 (Finale)
By: Ruth Anne Scott
Table of Content:
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Aimee Sandoval stuck her head through the door and called. “Are you ready to go, Marissa?”
Marissa stood up from her place by the fire. “I’m ready. You don’t have to shout.”
Aimee looked her up and down. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“You could see me if you looked around,” Marissa pointed.
Aimee’s head whipped around. “What’s the matter?”
Marissa walked away into the Lycaon village. “Nothing. Let’s go.”
Aimee fell in at her side. At the edge of the village, Aimee crouched to bound forward, but Marissa laid a hand on her arm to stop her. “I don’t feel like running. Let’s just walk.”
Aimee’s mouth fell open. “What? It’s ten miles up into the mountains.” She pointed to the summit towering over them. “It will take all day to walk up there.”
“Half the day, maybe,” Marissa replied. “Anyway, I don’t feel like running. Let’s take our time. Besides, we won’t be able to talk if we’re running.”
Aimee blinked at her. Then she shrugged. “Okay. I thought you would want to run to get there faster, but I guess we can walk.”
They set off through the trees at an easy pace. “Are you in a hurry? Do you have to get back soon to join the warriors?”
“I don’t have to get back,” Aimee replied. “I’m on leave for the next three days.”
Marissa eyed her. “How did you manage to take three day’s leave? The warriors needed every hand right now.”
“They’ll be all right without me for a few days,” Aimee replied. “I wanted to take time for this visit without rushing back.”
Marissa threw back her shoulders. “Good for you. This visit means a lot to me, too.”
The leaves around them showed their bright colors with the changing seasons and fluttered in a brisk breeze. Cold weather would settle in soon. “Have you heard from Chris since she moved back up the mountain?”
Marissa shook her head. “She hasn’t been down, but Turk came to visit Caleb. I wasn’t there. He had something to report from the border. I didn’t ask what it was.”
“It’s nothing we haven’t talked about already,” Aimee told her. “All the factions are cutting their border patrols. The Ursidreans have almost no one on the border anymore—certainly no armed patrols. Only the Avitras keep a full complement of Guards on the border, and I don’t see how they can keep that up for much longer.”
“That explains why the warriors don’t need you right now,” Marissa replied. “Soon they won’t need you at all. What would you do with yourself then?”
“I wouldn’t mind.” Aimee ran her fingers through her short auburn hair to comb it out of her eyes. “I only joined because they needed me. I’m sure I’ll find something to do.”
Marissa shot her a sidelong glance. “Your hair is growing back.”
Aimee blushed. “I meant to cut it again before we went up the mountain, but I let it slip.”
“It looks nice this way,” Marissa told her. “You looked so severe with it shaved.”
Aimee smiled. “Emily sure was surprised when she saw me.”
“Is that why you did it?” Marissa asked. “To shock your relatives?”
“I did it to keep it out of my way when I went on patrol,” Aimee replied. “It’s so much more convenient that way.”
“You looked nicer the way you were before,” Marissa told her. “When you first came, you had your hair down to your waist. You were softer around your face, too. Now.....”
Aimee studied her. “And now?”
Marissa turned away and shook her head.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Aimee went on. “I was fat and soft then. Now I’m hard and lean and dangerous. I discovered a different part of myself when I joined the warriors. I learned to run and fight and hunt with them. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the way I was before.”
“What if you find a mate and have children?” Marissa asked. “What will you do then?”
“Why can’t I have a mate and children the way I am now?” Aimee returned. “I’m still me, whether or not I have hair on my head. I’m just a different version of myself. I can still love. My heart hasn’t changed. Besides....”
“Besides,” Marissa interrupted, “you might find a mate on the warriors.”
Aimee didn’t take up the joke. “Is that why you think I joined the warriors—to find a man?”
Marissa dropped her eyes. “No one is saying that.”
“But you’re thinking it, aren’t you?” Aimee asked.
“No one thinks it, either.” Marissa replied. “Everybody knows you joined the warriors to help our faction, and we all appreciate it.”
Aimee followed her gaze into the dense foliage. “Right. Everybody thinks I shaved my head and joined the warriors to avoid finding a mate, but that’s not the reason, either. I wasn’t happy with myself. I was useless. I couldn’t run. I was so weak and out of shape I couldn’t even haul firewood. I couldn’t stand myself.”
“You’ve been happy with the warriors,” Marissa replied. “Everyone can see that. You’re different, but you have a strange fire burning in you now that wasn’t there before. Everybody can see you’ve found your place.”
Aimee beamed at her. “Thanks. That means a lot coming from you.”
Marissa stretched. “Now let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about Chris.”
“I’m sure she’s happy now, too, since she moved back up to her beloved mountain,” Aimee replied. “I’m surprised she stayed in the village as long as she did. You could see she wasn’t happy there.”
Marissa laughed. “Ever since the twins started running, she couldn’t keep her eyes off that mountain. She never belonged in the village at all.”
“Is Turk happy up there, too?” Aimee asked. “I can never tell if he’s happy to be back in the village with his family or if he’s itching to get out on the trail again.”
“He’s just like Chris,” Marissa replied. “He loves his family and the village community, but his heart is on the mountain. I understand why those two spent almost a year out there before they came down to have the twins.”
The sun broke over the mountain rim, and a fan of sunbeams shot through the trees. The leaves glowed golden, and steam rose from the damp earth. Marissa lifted her face to the light.
Aimee peered at her. “Are you sure you don’t want to run?”
Marissa turned red. “I can’t.”
Aimee’s eyes popped open. “Why not?”
“I’m pregnant,” Marissa told her.
“That’s wonderful!” Aimee paused. “That doesn’t mean you can’t run. Chris ran when she was pregnant, and I know some others who have done it, too.”
Marissa shook her head. “It isn’t that. I just don’t have the energy for it. I’m tired all the time, and I feel like I’m going to pass out every time I exert myself.”
Aimee sighed. “All right. I understand now. We’ll take it slow.”
Marissa hooked her arm through Aimee’s elbow. “Thanks.”
A little hut perched among the high cliffs with the wind howling through the branches of its roof. Two twisted trees clung to the rocks with gnarled roots, and their tortured trunks formed the tiny structure’s twin backbones. Bundles of thatch tied onto their branches kept out the wind and rain.
Aimee and Marissa found Chris Sebastiani standing in the doorway. She shouted toward the shadows where the forest undergrowth swayed in the wind. “And don’t go too near the cliffs. And be home by dark. Your father will be back tonight.”
Aimee glanced toward the forest. “Was that the twins?”
Chris nodded. “They disappear at dawn and don’t come back until after dark most days. I hardly see them anymore.”
“They must be growing up fast,” Aimee remarked.
“I was hoping to see them,” Marissa told her. “I haven’t seen them since you moved up here.”
“None of us have.” Chris waved toward the door. “Come inside and sit down. What took you so long to get here? It isn’t that far to run.”
Aimee and Marissa exchanged glances. “We didn’t run. We walked.”
Chris’s head whipped around. “What for?”
Marissa hesitated, but Aimee replied, “Marissa didn’t feel like rushing. The woods are so beautiful at this time of year.”
Chris went back to her work. Aimee and Marissa sat down in two chairs opposite the little fireplace in the back wall of the house. “How have you been, Chris? I can see the mountain air agrees with you.”
“Everything about it agrees with me,” Chris replied. “It agrees with me, and it agrees with the twins. I don’t know how I stayed in the village as long as I did.”
“That’s what I just said,” Aimee told her. “You never should have come down in the first place.”
“Yes, we should have,” Chris countered. “Turk’s mother is getting old. If she hadn’t seen the twins when they were small, she probably never would have seen them. Now that they are running through the woods all day, they don’t want to sit around the village. Besides, it gave me a chance to get to know Turk’s family. I won’t get that chance again.”
“How is Turk?” Aimee looked around. “Where is he?”
“He joined a patrol to the Ursidrean border,” Chris replied. “He still has duties with the warriors even though he lives up here.”
Aimee frowned. “I wonder why I didn’t hear about that.”
“He’s on his own assignment,” Chris told her. “He doesn’t travel with a detachment of warriors the way he used to. He travels alone most of the time and answers directly to Caleb.”
“What does he do out there all by himself?” Aimee asked.
“He carries communications from Caleb to Donen and back again,” Chris replied. “He meets Faruk, who is Donen’s right hand man, on the border. Faruk hands off Donen’s messages to Turk, and Turk carries them to Caleb. Then he carries the answers back and delivers them to Faruk, who carries them to the Ursidrean capitol to give to Donen.”
“That’s an awfully complicated way of communicating,” Aimee remarked. “There must be a faster way.”
“Do you mean like whipping out your cell phone and sending the person a text?” Chris asked. “This is Angondra, not Seattle. The Ursidreans have advanced communications technology, but the Lycaon don’t, and none of the other factions do, either. If they want to communicate, they have to do it the old fashioned way, and Lycaon runners are the fastest on the planet.”
“Don’t forget,” Marissa added, “these factions have been at war for centuries. They’ve never communicated at all before. Maybe when the peace negotiations get a little farther advanced, the Ursidreans will share their technology with the rest of us to make communications faster.”
Chris prepared them a meal, and they caught up on news from the village. “Carmen is pregnant now,” Marissa told her.
“Really?” Chris exclaimed. “I hadn’t heard.”
Marissa laughed. “How could you hear? You’ve been in self-imposed isolation up here for who knows how long.”
“I haven’t been in isolation,” Chris argued. “I’m just not living in the village where every tidbit of news gets passed from hand to hand in seconds. How did you find out?”
“Caleb told me,” Marissa replied. “He found out from Faruk, who found out from Donen, who is in negotiations with Renier.”
Aimee laughed. “Now that’s what I call the bush telephone.”
Marissa smiled. “Don’t laugh. He also told me your cousin Anna is with the Ursidreans now. She’s mated to a friend of Faruk’s named Menlo. She’s with Emily in the Ursidrean capitol.”
Aimee gasped. “How did that happen? Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“We were too busy talking about Chris,” Marissa replied. “And I only found out this morning. The Avitras captured Menlo off the Ursidrean border. They were going to hold him for ransom and then kill him. Anna helped him escape, and they traveled together back to Ursidrean territory.”