LITTLE BIRD AND THE HAWK

Chapter 8 - Fighting Back

Two strong arms enveloped her as she struggled furiously “hush; hush now - it is only me.” Tristan’s voice soothed her. “Pax, Bird; your hawk did not mean to scare you so."

Immediately she quieted and turned to snuggle into his chest; the one place in the entire world where she truly felt safe.

She had dropped the tablet and stylus in her fright, so he released her to pick them up. However, she did not release him; she hung onto his arm until he straightened and then she all but burrowed into his chest once more, causing his arms to almost involuntarily wrap round her again.

He could feel her shivering, and mentally berated himself for being such a dolt as to not realise that she might not have heard him behind her. He should remember how silently he moved without even trying to be quiet.

“Did you see him?”

He felt her shake her head.

“He will be in the stables then. Do you want me to come with you? I could wait outside if you wished to speak alone.”

She nodded.

As they walked; they heard a loud shout. “Oi! Look who it is! Let us see if those two are so brave without the rest of them arsehole Sarmatian pigs!” It was the soldier from earlier, only now he was drunk and he had drunken company with him.

“Oh, a nice bit of arse for afters boys! Of course I get first turn! Ye Gods, the face is a mess – still with her skirts up over it I doubt I will care overmuch!” They all roared with laughter.

Tristan pushed Jules behind him; he sent out a low whistle, as he did so he heard light footsteps, then a swish of air past his ear as one of his daggers buried itself in the soldier’s throat. It was a perfect shot; the man was drowning in his own blood as he hit the floor.

The other soldiers backed up when they saw Arthur and the other knights running towards them. One lunged at Jules and before anyone could react she had snatched Lancelot’s blades from his hands as he had approached from the stables, and cut the man’s head off with a precise scissor action as he came at her.

The others had rapidly vanished, this was not what they had come along for. A bit of drunken fun mayhap, but not death; they quickly scattered, leaving their dead fellows on the ground.

All eyes now turned to Jules who had collapsed shaking to the floor. Tristan went straight to her, as Lancelot carefully removed his blades from her shaking hands – both had seen the undisguised fury in her eyes as she had dealt the death blow.

It would seem the little bird had claws as sharp as her hawk.

Bors retrieved the dagger out of the throat of the first corpse. “Did you throw it? It did not look like you had.” He asked Tristan.

“Nay, Jules did.”

“It was a perfect shot - missed your ear and everything.” He grinned.

“She took his head off with one clean strike…” Galahad spoke with awed admiration.

“She was not jesting when she said she could use twin blades” Murmured Lancelot to Tristan “I have never seen anyone use these blades that effectively before, except for myself.”

They all looked at the dead men “Of course it would have helped if she had only maimed them….” Whispered Jols to Vanora.

Arthur came to a decision “Jols get the blood cleared up, I want no trace of it left. Bors, you and Dag get the bodies into the woods. As far as anyone is concerned they were attacked by Woads or the like.”

“What about the others?”

“They will not admit a woman terrified them enough to run – especially one such as Jules. It would belittle them in the eyes of their comrades. Tristan take her back upstairs, I will be along shortly.”

The scout nodded and picked the silent woman up into his arms.

Lancelot followed and handed Tristan her tablet and stylus. “I think she is winning.” He smiled at the scout.

“Mayhap; either way, it is a start.” Tristan shrugged. But deep down he agreed with his friend; she was beginning to fight back.

++++++++++++++++++

They reached the room and once again Tristan found himself kicking open the door and laying Jules on the bed. Only this time he did not leave.

“Are you with me?” He knelt in front of her, she was still staring vacantly into space “Little bird, are you going to talk to your hawk?” He lifted her chin with his finger.

She looked into his dark brown eyes, and then flung her arms round his neck; burying her head in his shoulder, she clung to him.

He hugged her tightly to him. Murmuring nothings into her ear; calming her, soothing her – just trying to let her know it was alright; that she had done naught wrong.

After many minutes like this he was once again the one to break the embrace. “Are you well?”

She picked up the tablet -

I thought they would hurt you.

I could not allow it.

“And of what of you?”

I do not matter.

I was only concerned for you.

I -

He put his hand over the tablet “You do matter, how many more times will you have to be told?”

I matter not as much as you do to me.

He smiled and leaned forward; enveloping her in a hug. “Well, you matter to me also – so enough of this.”

She pushed him gently away -

Have I caused much trouble?

I did not think about what I was doing.

He brushed the hair out of her eyes “Not as much as we would have if they had stayed their ground. There would have been a lot more bodies to be rid of.”

Will Arthur be very angry?

“He would not be disposing of the bodies if he were. We would all be made to face the consequences.”

What of the others?

“He thinks they will not let on they were scared and two of their number killed by a beaten woman.” He smiled again “Who taught you to throw a dagger and wield two swords like that?”

My father.

He was the best in our territory.

Many came to learn from him: Aorsi’s, Alan’s, and even some Rhoxolani’s.

He could almost hear the pride.

“Was your father called Alim?”

Aye, he was.

“He was a good man and a fine teacher. He tutored some from my village; they returned as excellent warriors. I never met him, but heard stories of him.”

She patted his cheek -

Thank you, he would be proud to hear you speak so.

I still miss him. I miss them all.

A few moments later there was a knock at the door. Tristan let Arthur in. The commander saw the look of trepidation in her eyes and held up his hands “I am not angry Jules. But I do need to know what happened.”

She left out about bumping into Tristan and getting upset, in case Arthur got cross at him; she told them how he was escorting her to see Lancelot when the soldiers came at them.

“What do you mean?”

Tristan intervened and told him what the first soldier had said. “I let out the whistle to call you; I heard you come running and then my dagger whistled past my ear, followed a few minutes later by the head of the other soldier rolling across the ground in front of me.”

I thought he would hurt Tristan.

I could not allow that.

I saw Tristan’s dagger in his boot, so I threw it.

The other one lunged at me, and so I took Lancelot’s swords.

“I see; then their fate was well deserved. My thanks to you.” he smiled ruefully “there will be no more need to worry; I doubt the others will tangle with us again.” he left.

Tristan turned to her “See?” She nodded and yawned. “You are tired. You should rest.” He pushed her gently back onto the bed.

She clutched his arm -

You will not leave?

“Nay, not again.”

He went to sit in the chair; she grabbed his hand shaking her head -

Why not with me?

“You should have your space.” He would not admit even to himself that his feelings for her were changing. Slowly, inexorably, they were changing into something deeper; something he could do without.

Being pressed against her warm body night after night, feeling her breathing as she took comfort from his closeness, smelling the scent of her all night; it was becoming more than he could stand.

But she looked so imploringly at him that he sighed and lay down; trying to keep some space between their bodies. But Jules would have none of it.

She turned to face him burrowed into his arms and rested her head on his shoulder, her mouth just inches from his. Tristan let her snuggle against him, held her tight until her breathing slowed and she slept.

He closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep, but her warm breath fanned his cheek; he tried to ignore it…..but there it was - cool air in, warm air out - moving over his skin. He tried to move his head, but she was clamped to him.

He looked at her sleeping face; despite her injuries he could see she was a pretty woman. Younger than him mayhap; but so much suffering, and yet still she trusted him.

Trust was hard won with Tristan; the only things he trusted in this world were his brother knights, his horse and his hawk, and not necessarily in that order.

So to know she trusted him above all others, felt comfortable with him; it made him…..What? Content? Aye, that was a good word for it; he would not think of others.

Look at them now, her cradled in his arms when the others could barely pat her hand or approach her.

He looked at her - studying her face; every mark, every bruise. He saw she had a scar at the edge of her right eye, which pulled it down slightly. His lips were so near it………..they very gently touched the little white line. She shifted slightly; he thought she would move away, but if anything she moved closer.

His lips were now at the corner of her mouth, all he would have to do was…… he snapped himself back; this was madness!

He had known her four days; just four days. This was only sentimental rubbish - but she touched him, to his very core and in a way he could not explain. It did not feel like it was only four days, mayhap it was because they had hardly been apart in that time but……

But…..he could no more resist the urge to kiss her than he could stop the sun from rising on the morrow. His head seemed to turn of its own volition; his lips brushed hers in a feather light touch, twice. She moved again, he froze.

She smiled in her sleep, her mouth making soundless words; but he was close enough to see them form one word in particular: Tristan.

For the first time in three nights, she had no nightmares.


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