Authors: Frankie Robertson
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #fullybook
“Your mother sounds like a remarkable woman. I wish I could have had the honor of knowing her.” Sorn said.
Lady Celia smiled at him.
Score another one for Sorn
Lord Dahleven set an easier pace for the afternoon’s leg, and Cele found herself wondering about the world she’d fallen into and worrying about the one she’d left behind.
She didn’t like being regarded as defective.
Apparently, everyone here had something called a Talent. What it was—psychic ability or whatever—she didn’t know, but not having one marked her a cripple.
. Well, she was fine without one. They’d just have to get over it.
Elaine would have called Search and Rescue nearly two days ago. Cele hated to think of them climbing the hills, searching for her to no good purpose. How long would they look before they called off the search? How many days would she be featured on the evening news, with the anchor solemnly intoning, “…and still no sign of the missing woman”?
In a month, I’ll be a face on a milk carton
Would she still be here in a month? A year? Would she ever get home? And if she did, how would she explain where she’d been? What explanation could she offer that didn’t sound crazy?
No one believed Dorothy, either
Maybe it would be like in the fairy tales. She’d get home and find that no time had passed at all. Or maybe she’d be a real, live Rumplestiltskin, and twenty years would have flown by in a night.
Dahleven looked back at Sorn and gestured for him to come forward. Sorn jogged past her to join him. The gray-eyed leader had surprised her. He’d been brusque to the point of rudeness this morning, and he’d made her feel like she was walking around half clothed. But then in the cave he’d been civil, nice even.
Sorn was another matter entirely. His kindness kept this wacked-out weirdness from getting to her. She wished she could introduce him to Elaine. Her roomie would love him. A flare of embarrassment made Cele roll her eyes. She sounded like a sister, trying to fix up her brother with her best friend. From the sound of things, Sorn didn’t need another sister.
Cele looked ahead to where he walked with Dahleven. Sorn had a runner’s build: lean and wiry. His dark brown hair just touched his shoulders.
He’d be perfect for Elaine
. Dahleven’s muscular frame was more to her own taste. His broad shoulders tapered down in a classic “V” to a narrow waist. Dahleven might be confusing and annoying, but he did have a really nice ass.
“Do you believe her tale?” Dahleven asked without preamble, when Sorn joined him. “Is she truly ignorant of Talent and all the rest?”
Though Sorn was younger by two years, Dahleven had always trusted his opinion. Even when they were boys, Sorn saw through the mess that obscured most complex questions. And, his romantic life notwithstanding, Sorn understood women. Something Dahleven, as most men, didn’t even try to lay claim to.
“Yes, I believe her. And so do you. That’s what scares you. Lady Celia’s presence is an omen of change.”
“Indeed.” Dahleven gave Sorn a tight, lopsided smile. “How did she get here? Who brought her?”
Sorn shook his head, his own worry showing in the tightness around his eyes. “Whether it was the gods or a Great Talent, the Lady is here unwilling. She deserves some consideration for that, no matter which way that wind blows.”
Dahleven looked over at Sorn. His friend raised his eyebrows in gentle challenge, as if to say,
You know I’m right
Dahleven inclined his head, silently acknowledging the criticism. Then he grinned. “That’s why I put you in charge of her, Sorn. I don’t have time to coddle a lady right now, but I know she’ll be safe in your care.”
Sorn rolled his eyes and shook his head. “It’s easy duty. She’s pleasant and funny and proud and honest. You’d know that for yourself if you did more than growl at her.”
“I’ve noticed.” He wasn’t blind and deaf. He’d noticed, all right. He’d noticed that Lady Celia’s green eyes flashed like razor-edged emeralds at him, but softened like a meadow on a spring day when she looked at Sorn. He’d noticed she had a distracting shapeliness and an honest character to be admired. He’d noticed it would be too easy to spend time thinking about touching her instead of getting his men home safely.
Dahleven jerked his head. “You’d best get back to her.”
Cele trudged onward as the sun dropped lower in the sky. At least her feet didn’t hurt much anymore, since Ghav had slathered her blisters with his ointment. The terrain opened up a bit and then the footing became soft, as Dahleven led them through a dry wash. Steep banks rose to either side, though a tumble of large boulders had broken from the right, narrowing their path for a short way. Sorn turned and waited for her. Fendrikanin passed him. She was nearly even with Sorn when his head jerked up and his attention focused on the hills to Cele’s left.
Then all hell broke loose.
An arrow whizzed by Cele’s left cheek just as Falsom’s shout, “Tewas!” cut off abruptly.
The next instant Sorn pushed her between two boulders and a thorn bush. “Stay there!”
The rock scraped Cele’s shoulder and knees. Screams and shouts of battle surrounded her, piercing like the thorns clawing at her back. An arrow skittered off the rock above her head and rebounded into the tangled branches of the thornbush.
She had only a narrow view of the fight—mostly of Sorn’s back as he lunged and danced away from his opponent’s attack. Dahleven’s voice rose above the chaos. “Back against the banks! Into the rocks!”
Ululating cries rose from several places on the wash’s banks above them. Hair rose on Cele’s arms and the back of her neck and her hands felt clammy. No battle cry in the movies compared to hearing one first hand.
Cele craned her neck, trying to see what was happening. The thornbush at her back stuck sharply into her shoulder and scraped her cheek. She flinched back, ducking her head again. Over the pounding of her heart, she heard metal ring in a quick slide across stone, and a sharp
! of splitting wood. Grunts of painful effort joined thudding footfalls, adding to the din as the second group of Dahleven’s men joined the fray.
The gut-wrenching cries of pain made her skin feel too tight. She’d heard terrible things over the phone lines as an emergency response operator. She’d listened to people in pain and danger, even people dying, but nothing compared to this. Men screamed and fought only two feet from where she stood, wedged between two rocks.
With a shout of effort, Sorn pushed his opponent back to the left and out of her field of view. Then, from the right, a brown-skinned warrior with a bladed club rushed at him. Sorn couldn’t see his danger.
“No!” Cele’ reacted without thought, surging from between the rocks. The warrior was side-on to her, his club raised and ready to come down on Sorn’s head, when her snap-kick connected with his knee.
The enemy warrior shrieked and collapsed on the sand. Sorn turned at her shout, but he didn’t thank her for saving his life. His eyes widened and he pushed her back toward the rocks as he faced another foe coming close behind the first. The new opponent didn’t have time to check his momentum in the soft sand. He seemed to fold almost gracefully over Sorn’s blade. Sorn shifted his weight, trying to turn back to the bloody enemy he’d left behind him. But the deep sand betrayed Sorn, shifting beneath his feet. The warrior’s bladed club caught him full in the belly.
“No!” Cele swept up Sorn’s fallen sword with both hands and lunged at Sorn’s attacker. The blade was horrendously heavy, but her horror and anger gave her strength. He looked surprised when the steel sliced the side of his neck, but he dodged backward, knocking the sword out of her hands with his club.
She was going to die.
Then Fender was there and his blade was between the warrior’s ribs.
The fight ended abruptly. One moment the clangor of battle surrounded her, a moment later all she heard was the pounding of her heart in her ears. She fell to her knees beside Sorn.
An instant of silence was broken by Dahleven’s voice. “Halsten, find out what happened to Falsom. Knut, up on the banks. Keep your eyes sharp. Fender, see to Lady Celia.”
Despite the warning, Cele jumped when a hand touched her arm and pulled her to her feet. Fendrikanin grasped her tightly by the shoulders, turned her this way and that, looking her over.
“She’s unharmed,” he said over his shoulder.
Cele pulled away from his grasp, intent on getting to Sorn’s crumpled form, and Fender let her go. She took a step, then her vision narrowed. Black dots danced in her eyes. The young warrior caught her as she started to topple. He pulled her aside to sit on an outcropping.
Too much adrenaline
, a fuzzy part of her mind observed. She put her head between her knees and closed her eyes. That made it worse, giving her the sensation that the rock was turning beneath her. Cele opened her eyes again and stared at the sand between her feet, the sounds of death echoing in her mind.
Her head cleared enough to let her sit up, but her stomach churned. Cele clamped her jaw tightly, taking shallow breaths, refusing to throw up. She hated feeling weak.
Cele’s awareness of her surroundings returned slowly at first as she noticed the small, immediate things. The rock she sat on was warm. There was a fine grit in the hollow where her hand rested. The edge of the rock was sharp.
Abruptly, the rest of the world snapped into focus with awful clarity. Lindimer was binding Kepliner’s arm. Knut stood above the wash, tense and alert. Five men with dusky skin and black hair lay dead, face down in the sand.
The dead men were dressed in leather leggings and sleeveless shirts, details she hadn’t noticed during the frenzy of danger. Their limbs sprawled at odd angles. Blood soaked the sand beneath the nearer one. The one Sorn had saved her from. Cele looked away.
“Better now?” Fender asked, his voice sounding oddly thick.
She nodded, unable to speak. Only a few steps away, Dahleven knelt by Sorn while Ghav examined his wound.
! Cele stood and found her legs surprisingly steady. Moving to Dahleven’s side, she asked, “Can I help?”
“Good, you’ve got your wits back.” Dahleven rose. His voice was rough and he had a bloody scrape on his neck and a pinched look in his eyes. “Yes, you can help.” He cleared his throat. “Ask Ghav what to do. We must move, and quickly, and it will be hard on Sorn. Ghav may have his hands full with all of us tonight; the Renegades sometimes foul their claws.”
“And so saying, you should be cleaning that hide of yours,” Ghav said. “Come here, Lady Celia, and I’ll teach you the ways of tending a belly wound.”
Dahleven took a step back, making room for Cele. He looked at Sorn a moment longer with a tight expression, then straightened and walked away.
Sorn’s clothing was ripped and drenched with blood, more blood than she’d ever seen before. This was her fault. If she hadn’t shouted, Sorn wouldn’t have been distracted. He wouldn’t have been vulnerable.
He wouldn’t have seen that third warrior, either
. One of them would have killed him. Or her. But guilt and doubt still choked her.
“Lady Celia?” Ghav’s voice jerked her attention back to the bloody scene before her.
Self-recrimination wouldn’t help Sorn. Cele forced her thoughts into professional mode, wrapping herself in calm detachment. Her medical knowledge consisted of first aid training and what she’d learned from flipping through the medical flowcharts while on the phone with panicked callers. Nevertheless, she knew that the smell rising from Sorn’s wound meant his bowel had been perforated, and that was bad news. Very bad news.
He needs surgery and antibiotics
. She wanted a cell phone and a Medevac helicopter.
“Lady Celia.” Sorn’s voice was tight with pain.
“I’m here.” She knelt and took his hand, her professional detachment cracking. His touch released too many feelings.
“You are…uninjured?” Sorn’s breath came out unevenly.
“I’m fine.” Cele tried to keep her voice steady. “You saved my life.” Her feelings jumbled together. In only a short time, she’d started to rely on his kindness and humor. What would she do without him? No one had ever risked his life for her before. How dare he put that burden on her?
She looked at Ghav. She couldn’t keep all of the accusation out of her voice. “He’s in so much pain! Can’t you do something?”
The expression on Ghav’s weathered and lined face flickered at Cele’s tone, but he answered with a calm voice. “I’m blocking as much of his pain as I can, my lady. Beyond that, I can only use my knowledge and skill to help him.”
Cele dropped her eyes and pressed her lips together. Ghav was doing his best, but that wasn’t the answer she wanted.
“Sorn, I must hurt you more if I’m to help you at all.” Ghav bent over Sorn so he could look directly into his eyes. “Chew these leaves. They will dull the pain somewhat.” The Healer pulled three leaves from a small clay pot filled with oil and stuffed them into Sorn’s cheek. “Chew,” he commanded and waited to see his patient’s jaw begin to move before he continued by unrolling a leather pouch filled with obsidian knives, metal tongs and tweezers, what looked like finishing nails and twine, needles and thread.
Ghav untied Sorn’s breeches and began to pull them away from the bloody gashes in his lower abdomen, then paused. “My lady, this will be an ugly business. I must clear his wound of clothing and I cannot pause for a lady’s delicate sensibilities.”
What’s he more concerned about, my reaction to the wound or Sorn’s privates
? All she said was, “Get on with it.” Cele glanced at Sorn’s face. His breathing slowed a bit and his eyelids drooped over glazed eyes.
Ghav folded the front flap of Sorn’s pants down all the way, not quite revealing his genitals. Four gashes bled profusely, but only one appeared deep. That wound was enough to threaten Sorn’s life. Ghav pulled the obsidian knife from its sheath and started to set the tip to Sorn’s belly.