The morning air was cold, the wind cutting through every layer of clothing. Torin poured water over the fire, patting dirt over the ash. It was silent, the soft songs of birds whispering in the trees behind him. Kiaran stood at the river as the horse rehydrated. Her hand rested on its neck, the muscles beneath its skin twitching.
Against her will, she looked over her shoulder to Torin. He stood rather limply, holding his bag over a shoulder. She clenched her jaws as she looked back to the horse’s dark eyes. She hesitated, but pulled her glove off to feel her mouth. It felt as though his lips were still there.
“Let’s go,” Torin’s voice broke in, causing her to jump slightly.
She put her glove back on while he tied his bag to the saddle. Mounting the horse, he kept his eyes forward. Tentatively, she climbed on behind him.
The horse moved forward, through the river and beyond, heading to the mountains. She watched his hand move to his stomach. Her heart twisted, but she could not bring herself to speak. Her hands rested on her thighs as she looked to her dominant hand. She quietly sighed and closed her eyes.
It was not until that evening at the base of the mountains that someone spoke. Kiaran looked past the flames to Torin. “I am sorry,” she forced her voice through her lips. He looked at her rather surprised. “I should not have done that.”
He could see it was hard for her to say it. The words she spoke were true, it was apparent on her face. “I…am not upset with you,” he replied at a whisper. His eyes lowered, and he said, “Nathanial killed your heart. You have nothing to apologize for. I do, and I am sorry for breaking our trust.”
Her lips twitched at the corners, but she could not smile. Instead, a tear fell and she quickly swiped her hand over it. Sniffing, she said, “I forgive you, and I still trust you…I would appreciate it if we could skip a night of sparring. I need some rest.”
Nodding, he lied down and wrapped his blanket around his body. “Good night,” he mumbled.
She, too, curled up in her blankets and gazed into the night sky. White clouds rolled in, covering half the dark blue sky full of speckles of stars. It seemed as though something moved through the stars, gliding into the clouds. Blinking her eyes, she figured it was just her sight. It did not take long before she fell asleep.
Late into the night, she was jerked upright, waking her from her sleep. She swung a fist and Torin blocked it as he yanked her to stand with him. An impossibly thick fog muffled their sights. It felt as though it filled her lungs, seeming like it was squirming its way back out.
He blindly led her to the horse, feeling his way to the saddle. He moved quickly, as if something horrible was about to happen. Her heart raced as she pulled her arm from Torin. Squinting, she looked around them, finding what had alarmed Torin. She cursed as she drew a sword.
Silver figures walked through the fog, appearing to be spirits trapped in the forest. A pair of eyes met with hers and her knees nearly gave way. Torin’s hand grasped her elbow again, holding her up. The eyes were so cold and real, full of anger and hatred.
“You,” it said as it pointed to her, “are trespassing.” Suddenly, his figure was more obvious. He was an old man wearing armor, broad but not very tall. He was still translucent and white. “These mountains are ours.” His voice rumbled like a bear’s roar. Behind him stood an army of spirits glaring, at them.
“We are only passing through,” Torin replied coolly.
His eyes flickered to Torin in pure disgust. “Shut up, boy,” he howled, “I wish for the woman to speak. Her soul is stronger…nearly…foreign.”
“We are merely passing through. Your territory is simply in our way,” she said sternly.
His laugh boomed through the landscape. “You make your way around the mountains or you die,” he said harshly.
“I’d think not,” she growled. Torin glared at her, knowing they were doomed. “Time isn’t exactly on our side.”
The spirits seemed to thicken the fog around them as they blended into the air. “You cannot harm us,” he said with several voices as he, too, vanished.
The fog swirled, wind pushing through them and hail and rain beating upon them. Their horse raced off, leaving the two behind. Kiaran grasped Torin’s flexed forearm, squeezing it. The wind tore her sword from her other hand, flinging it from their sights. His hand rested on hers while her free hand grasped the shirt at her chest. Her insides became weak and she felt real fear.
The wind pushed them backward, the hail pelting their skin. He pulled her aside, fighting the wind, rain, and ice. Two trees were growing side by side, just enough room to fit them. The trees were surrounded by tall brush, allowing for perfect shelter. Quickly, he took her into the brush, away from most of the elements. He pushed her back against one of the trees as he covered her body with his.
Her heart was in her throat, choking her. She was terrified of storms; she wasn't always in control of her surroundings, but at least she could foresee the outcome…but the elements? Storms? There was nothing she could do about it.
Tears ran down her face as she closed her eyes. Torin wrapped his arms around her tightly, his hands on the rough bark behind her. Branches fell on them, wind knocked them around, and ice stinging their skins. He rested his forehead on her shoulder, protecting his face from the wreckage.
The debris ripped through his shirt and cut at his skin. Hot blood fell onto Kiaran’s face, bringing her mind back. She wrapped her fingers around the hilt of her remaining sword, her thumb pushing it from the sheath slightly. Torin’s hand shot to hers and she stopped. “Emmet,” he shouted.
The wind stopped and the hail and rain fell straight to the ground. Everything was still. The spirits reappeared and Torin climbed from the brush, Kiaran at his side. The spirit glared at him, but he continued to walk to him.
“The Armogot were not forgotten,” he said, “Your people were killed for the resources here. I apologize for the torture you’ve endured.” Kiaran watched him, his eyes soft and compassionate. The spirit calmed slightly as he continued, “Your young ones were even killed--that is wrong. Our past king was a horrible man, and so is his son. I swear to you, justice will be done. The king who did this to you is dead, but his son rules on with the same intentions. We aim to stop him.”
The army behind the spirit turned into women, children, and men of just a simple village. They watched him with fear and anxiety in their eyes. The spirit called Emmet seemed to smile. “We are at your service,” he said. They bowed to him and faded into the fog and the fog lifted.
Kiaran gazed at Torin, his wet hair plastered to his forehead. He was able to keep himself under control and solve their problem. She wiped the water and blood from her face as she became ashamed of herself. His eyes moved to her; her hair was wild and her bandages half unraveled. He smiled and she only reacted to it with a stern gaze.
As they walked to find their runaway horse, Torin snickered. “Afraid of a little rain, are you?” She shot him a glare and he said, “There is no shame in a little fear.” It was clear on her face that she thought otherwise. “I am afraid each day that passes.” She faced him, listening closely as he continued, “Every morning I worry that one of us will die. I am horrified that one day we’ll be attacked and killed.” She watched him through the darkness, his green eyes looking about. “I want to settle down…begin a family before I die.” She remained silent; they slowed their walk as he continued, “Emmet was right. I do have a weak soul. I have nothing to lose, and yet I fear everything.”
“You are not weak,” she retorted, “You have saved us tonight.” She unwrapped the bandage from her neck, looking at the brown bloodstains. “I panicked and that nearly ended us…Thank you.” He smiled and she added, “You are good, Torin.”
The moon glinted off her missing sword, catching their attention. The black blade was wedged into a tree trunk by several inches. “Wow,” she breathed. The storm was so intense it was able to do that. She was impressed…and nearly horrified. Grasping the hilt, she put a foot on the tree and pulled. She looked over her shoulder, still pulling, and said, “I need your help.”
Laughing, he yanked it out with both hands. “I suppose we are lucky it did not impale one of us,” he said.
“Aye,” she snickered.
He handed her the weapon. Cuts on his hand were bleeding and her stomach churned. Sheathing her sword, she looked into his eyes. He was smiling; his eyes were smiling. Small cuts lined his strong face, blood running with the water from the earlier rain. Her heart told her to tend to his hand, it was the least she could do. Whether it was his kindness toward the Armogot or protecting her, she felt much closer to him. Her hand slowly inched toward his, but she dropped it back to her side.
“There are our blankets,” he pointed.
One blanket hung from a tree, the other bundled up against a few rocks. They each retrieved one and made their way back to the clearing. The sun began to break through the forest on the far end of the field. The sky was pink, purple, and dark blue, smeared together up into the starry sky. The moon still shined brightly on the opposite end of the sky, facing the sun.
Kiaran gestured toward the river where their horse stood nervously. “There he is,” she said softly.
“Let’s get him and be on our way, shall we?” he sounded energized as they moved toward the large, brown animal.
She slowed to a stop, Torin turning to her. “Listen,” she sighed, her eyes everywhere but looking to him. “I am a recluse, I have always kept my emotions at bay…I had to.”
“No,” he cut her off, “You do not need to explain. I understand.”
Shaking her head and clearing her throat, she said, “I…I just want you to not give up on me.” His brows lowered and he grew more serious. She flushed, but continued anyway, “I may be a fighter all over, but…I am still…me…I am still Kiaran. I want to be a woman one day…but it may not be soon.”
He could see it was extremely difficult for her to say. “What does that mean, exactly, Kiaran?”
“I-” she sighed sharply, “I don’t wish to be only a warrior. Don’t…don’t forget me when this is all over. Don’t forget I am a human, although I seem impassive.”
A corner of his lips curled into a half smile. He patted her arm and sighed. “I could never forget something like that,” he said, “You are a dear friend.”
Nodding her head, she took a few steps and then bolted forward. With a confused laugh, Torin ran after her. She was amazingly quick and rather elegant as she zipped through the tall grass. They reached the horse and they dropped into the grass, resting. Torin stretched out onto his back as he gazed at the sky, grinning as he caught his breath. Kiaran sat beside him, hugging her knees. She stared at the mountains, still surrounded by a light fog.
“I am almost upset we must leave here,” he said.
“Perhaps we could stay one more night,” she suggested. They looked to one another and she added, “They most likely believe we are running to your brother.”
Wolves howled in the far distance, seeming to be a soft echo as it reached their ears. It reminded her of the dogs she had trained for years. Lowering her gaze to her hands, she sighed. “I trained several dogs for Nathanial,” Kiaran began, “They are very intelligent and powerful. I can only imagine how it would be to train wolves.”
Torin inspected her thoughtful face and he replied, “They may be more loyal…seeing you as a pack leader.”
The cold air hit the healing wound on her neck and she flinched. Gently, she touched it and tried not to grimace. Torin watched her, his mind tracing back to when he held her in the storm. He felt like her rescuer and he felt brave. Sitting up, he scooted over to her. The tips of his fingers touched her chin and turned her head. His eyes flickered to hers, but he quickly inspected her wound. It was scabbed up, but still bleeding through small cracks in the scabs.
Removing his hand from her face, he said, “It needs to be wrapped back up. But it is healing well.”
He stood and made his way to the horse, rummaging through the pack. Kiaran walked to him, her eyes on his cuts and bruises. “What about your wounds?” she asked softly. He simply shrugged. Her hand touched his arm and he paused. She pulled him away from the supplies. She looked over him and he grew uncomfortable, awkwardly glancing around. Suddenly, she wondered how it would feel to embrace him. His grip in the storm was comforting…what would it be like to simply hug him?
“What?” he chuckled nervously.
She cleared her throat and looked away, her hand still on his arm. Her eyes moved back to his and she was unable to force herself to speak. Thrown by the strange feeling, she let go of his arm, embarrassed and ready to walk away. He snatched her by the elbow and pulled her into a warm embrace. Her cheek rested on his chest, his heart thumping against her. It was as if he knew what she was to ask. Hesitantly, she wrapped her arms partly around him, holding onto his sides.
She grew to enjoy the hug just as he pulled away. Her heart jumped as she watched his smile gleam on his face. He was becoming more like his brother, stronger, and less anxious…And yet, he was still very much himself.
Slowly, she turned back to the horse and retrieved the bandages. “Tell me of yours and Davin’s childhood,” she said softly.
“Alright…” he thought as he took the bandages from her, “Davin is a year or so older than me. He was always the soft spoken one while my mouth never failed me. He was gifted in nearly everything, especially girls, it seemed, though he never actually pursued any. All he needed to do was look at one and she would fall over.” He laughed as he said, “I only attracted animals. At one point I had eleven cats, two birds, and a dog hiding in our barn. I rescued the baby birds from a fallen nest and returned them to the wild. The others…eventually got out and ran away. Davin always said I coddled them.”
They sat beside one another on a blanket as he unraveled the bandages. He began wrapping her neck as he continued, “Davin liked books and artwork. Our father seemed to force him into knighthood. He didn’t enjoy it for some time, but now it is his whole life.”
“Davin was in the military for a year or so and I envied his attention. So…I tried and failed. But when they handed me a bow, I turned into a legend,” he lifted a brow as he smiled.
“Hm, I’ve never heard any stories,” she mocked.
“Funny,” he sneered.
“I’ve heard some stories about Davin,” she spoke slowly. His eyes flickered to her and she said, “He is important isn’t he? I’ve heard he’s gone on many journeys for the king.”
“He and Alana, yes,” he nodded. “I was told that he had killed just a few over two hundred in a single battle. So I asked him if it was true...and he never answered me.”
It grew quiet as he finished tying the bandage. He leaned back and inspected his work. “I believe we should nap now, after our little escapade,” he said.
“I agree,” she nodded.