Dragonbound: Redemption (Book 1)

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Chapter 9

Davin stood beside Alana, their armor glistening in the lantern’s light. His hands rested on the large table, several men encircling it. The messenger stood among the large warriors, his clothes simple and only a dagger on his belt. Alana wiped a hand over her face and sighed. Davin glared at the boy who was very intimidated.

“What exactly happened?” Davin asked the messenger angrily. He clutched the poster of his younger brother and Kiaran in his gloved hand.

“King Murdock, Sir, he said that they have committed treason,” he answered, his voice choking in his throat. He cleared his throat so he could continue. “The woman threatened his life and Torin Holloway was with her. Then, I suppose when they were being arrested they fought victoriously, and ran away.”

He sighed and brushed his fingers through his hair as Alana said, “Be gone.” The boy raced away, the door closing loudly behind him. “This is difficult to believe,” she said.

“My brother is not a traitor,” Davin bit. “A fool, perhaps. If he fell for that woman, he’d do nearly anything.”

Alana’s sharp eyes shot to him, her face stern and angered. “Give your brother some credit. He is no idiot. Kiaran has a good mind, it is the king we must worry about,” she said. Eyes widened and shock spread across the room like a wildfire. “Go back to your stations, men,” she ordered.

Once the last man was gone, Alana and Davin exchanged very angry glares. “How could you honestly trust a stranger, much less a murderer?” he snapped.

“You cannot say you haven’t connected to her somehow,” she argued. “Murdock is corrupt, always has been. Do you truly believe Kiaran to drag Torin into something like this? Do you think he is foolish enough to join in?”

He uncrumbled the drawing of the two and stared at it. Sitting it on the table, he slowly inhaled and said, “You are right...I am sorry.” He closed his eyes in utter disbelief. He didn’t think it was possible for his little brother to get into trouble...it was wrong of him to blame Kiaran. “What do we do?”

“We go to battle in the north with the Avestitians as planned. Afterwards, we send men we trust out to find them. If we find them, we go where they are and find out what to do from there,” she answered stressfully.

As Alana sat down, Davin walked to the window and blankly faced outside. “Damn,” he sighed.

“They can take care of themselves,” she said. “Things will turn out fine.”

“This is serious, though,” he frowned.

“It always is,” she breathed.

That night, Davin rested in his bed, awake late into the night. He stared at the ceiling, Torin’s playful voice speaking to him in memories. To Davin, he was still a young boy wishing to play in the field near their house. Each time he closed his eyes, images of Kiaran’s broken eyes kept him awake. Exhaling deeply, he held his hands over his face and whispered, “Please, my god, protect them.”

Finally, he fell asleep only to be haunted by an odd dream. He saw a very young girl with Torin’s green eyes and Kiaran’s black hair and darkened skin. She looked like Torin as a child, but had many similar features to Kiaran. Suddenly, the child was gone and he saw Torin holding Kiaran as they intimately kissed. Her hair draped over her sunkissed skin. His heart rose into his throat and his voice was caught by it. A feeling of rage boiled within and he yanked Torin back and she disappeared. Looking around, he awoke before finding her.

The cold air chilled him as he sat up. Of all the things to worry about, he dreamed of that. Trying to ignore it, he got dressed and made his way to the room where he had first heard of the news. Opening the door, he found Alana reading a letter as a smile slowly stretched upon her face. He closed the door behind him and gazed at her.

“This will be easier than I first thought,” she laughed. “This letter is from Walter…He sent them to Eava’s Drop and they are not traitors. Have faith in your family, Dear.”

He smiled brightly and said, “That is good.”

“Aye,” she nodded, “it is.”

She kept her eyes low, a second paper in her other hand. She was gazing at it, however, and with a softer look. “What is that?” he asked, pointing to her other letter.

“It is from my husband,” she said with a soft, weak smile. “Did I tell you I am going to be a grandmother?”

“No,” he lifted his brows in surprise.

“I am,” she slowly nodded. “I am getting old, Holloway,” she laughed.

He laughed with her and said, “I suppose a congratulations is due.”

“I suppose so. Thank you,” her smile widened.

Kiaran awoke in the early afternoon, refreshed and relaxed. Sitting up, she held her cold feet as she crossed her legs. Her shirt had thin straps over her shoulders rather than sleeves. The shirt reached just to her thighs. Against the white cloth, she looked rather dark--nearly bronze. The sound of happy, playing children stretched her lips into a smile. Looking to her naked wrists, her heart thudded. The blue ribbon was missing. She took a deep breath and sighed. It was only a ribbon; she could remember Grace regardless.

Her feet touched the cold, wooden floor as she stood. She kept the blanket wrapped around her for warmth. Snatching up her pants, she pulled them on. Then, she did stretches to wake her body. The sounds of a thriving tribe pulled her gaze to the window beside her. They were busy, rushing about with their chores and jobs.

Quickly, she put on her old cloak, gloves, boots, and belt. Luckily, her shirt and pants were new, but it would take no time to ware them down.

It was unwise to travel weaponless in an unfamiliar town while the king was after her. After staring at her swords for a short moment, she attached them to her belt.

Voices perked her ears as two people walked into the small house. “She may still be asleep,” Raven said. “I will be back.” She pulled the blanket from the doorway of her room to see Kiaran was awake and dressed. “Your friend is here.”

Nodding, she followed her to the main room. Torin turned to her and smiled. “Good afternoon,” he said.

“Hello,” she replied. “How was your hunt?”

“It went well,” he smiled. Looking to Raven, he continued, “Fargo said we were to come to you for clothes.”

“Yes, well, we are low on supplies this winter,” she explained. “So you will get very little clothing. However, if you each hunt your own deer, you will have plenty to work with and we will all have food.”

“We will do that as soon as possible,” Torin lit up.

“Until then, I believe these shirt and pants will do,” she handed him the clothing and led him to a room to change.

He shortly returned with a white, long sleeved shirt and black pants. He was pulling his dirty coat back on as he said, “It is nice to have clean clothes, aye?”

“Aye,” she nodded. They stood still, wondering what their next move was. They simultaneously looked to Raven as she returned. “What should we do now, Raven?” Kiaran asked. It was out of character to talk so carefree. She was out of character for some time, however.

Shrugging, she said, “Speak to Fargo if he is well enough.”

Torin followed Kiaran outside, the cold wind cutting through them. The wind whipped her cloak aside, revealing her naked arm, the white shirt accenting her skin tone. He quickly looked aside, ignoring her subtle beauty. Quickly, she wrapped the cloak around her frozen body and walked onward. Eyes were glued on them, and she easily ignored them. However, Torin noticed and it was apparent.

“Do not give attention to their gazes,” she whispered to him.

They reached Fargo’s home and paused at the blanket. As Kiaran reached out, Kane burst from inside. His sudden appearance made her nearly jump out of her skin. Stumbling back against Torin, she almost fell down the stairs. He laughed as he held her arms for support, helping her stand upright again.

“What is it?” Kane asked flatly.

“We were hoping to speak with Fargo,” Torin said. He was too soft; Kiaran knew she could handle Kane better.

“No.” He began to reenter the house, but was interrupted.

“We will see Fargo if he wishes,” Kiaran said strictly.

“Your attempt of intimidation will not work,” he said dismissively.

“I do not wish to intimidate you, for I know I cannot. You see a woman; you have not witnessed my abilities. Now, we need to see Fargo. Is it not up to him who he wants to see and when?”

He glared at her and then disappeared inside. Torin huffed, “You angered him and now we won’t get to see him.”

Suddenly, he returned, holding the blanket aside for them. “Make it quick. He is not doing well today,” he grunted.

Her silver eyes glided to Torin’s as the corner of her lips curled into a concealed grin. Slowly, quietly, they entered the room where Fargo was. He rested against his numerous, colorful pillows, blankets piled over his brittle body. His darkened, sunken eyes looked to them and he smiled. She reacted with a smile, although he was rather depressing to look at. “Sit, please,” he said weakly.

They sat in the same chairs from the first night they met him. The chairs were so close together, that their arms were pressed tightly against one another. Torin felt sympathetic for Fargo, but was too uncomfortable to say or do much. It was awkward for him…He shifted his weight and kept his eyes from the old man.

“What is it you want?” he asked kindly.

“We need to know what we must do next,” Kiaran answered.

He coughed heavily into a red and golden cloth. Once he stopped and caught his breath, he said, “Your caretakers will teach you our customs, and I understand you wish to be useful. I appreciate that. So, I heard rumors of two wolves stalking us from the nearby woods. They have detached from their pack to begin their own…” he coughed once more. “Gather what information you need and figure out whether these wolves must be hunted or left alone. If they must die, then be rid of them as soon as possible.”

They nodded and Kiaran asked, “Is there anything else I could do for you?”

“You are too generous, girl,” he chuckled. “Perhaps you could train the young warriors in your spare time. I take it you are a fine fighter if you escaped the castle unscathed.”

She smiled and Torin saw happiness in her eyes. “I will do so, Fargo.” They stood and she said, “Get well.”

“I plan to,” his laugh turned into a cough and then deep breathing. As they were leaving, they heard him speak to Kane, “I like her.”

They slowly walked through the tribe, kicking up the light snow with their boots. Kiaran watched her feet as small snowflakes fell to the ground. “I wonder how my brother is,” Torin said softly.

“I am sure he is fine,” she replied. “You will see him again, don’t worry.”

He forced a smile and said, “I believe that.”

Dogs barked excitedly, gripping their attention. Looking at one another, Torin smiled and they followed the sounds. They came across a kennel surrounded by a fence with several dogs rushing to their fresh meal. The man inside the fence tossed meat to the animals. Kiaran inspected the large dogs as they ripped into their food.

“What do ye want?” the plump man huffed.

“Are your dogs trained for anything?” she questioned.

“No, they aren’t good for much other than barking and scaring off predators and enemies,” he replied.

“Are you interested in them progressing?” Kiaran asked.

“They already do what they need,” he scoffed as he climbed out of the fence.

“What would that be?” she asked, unconvinced. They were out of control and had no pack leader. They fought amongst themselves, confused and lost.

“They keep the wolves at bay,” he growled. “What good are they? They be mere animals, girl, nothing more.”

“They can fight in battles and hunt for food,” she stared at him with daggers for eyes.

“That is a waste of energy. We need them here to keep any animals away, not to die in battle or get lost in the mountains.”

“They are powerful animals, not to mention they would intimidate the enemy,” she argued.

“Trust me, Sir,” Torin cut in, “she knows what she is doing.”

His eyes shifted between the two of them, aggravated by their mere presence. He sighed heavily and huffed, “Yeah, do as ye wish--they’re your burden now.”

As he turned to leave, Torin asked, “The rogue wolves, do you know much about them?”

“Only that they have killed three of our sheep two nights ago and left their carcasses uneaten,” he replied. With that, he walked away.

Kiaran faced Torin, saying, “Wolves do not kill for enjoyment, but to eat.”

“Sounds to me like they are losing their sanity,” he replied lowly.

“We must hear some more to see if it is a simple rumor or not,” she said.

They moved into the crowd of people, working by a fire. They were either stitching up clothes or knitting blankets or gutting fish. They grew silent and watched them with censorious eyes. She could see Torin squirm under their gazes, where she remained stern.

“I am here to ask if any of you have seen the rogue wolves,” Kiaran said.

Behind everyone was a short, skinny man with gray, scraggly hairs standing every which way. He wore a long, wool vest and he carried a tall staff. Raising one of his small hands, he said, “I’ve seen ’em.”

Torin followed Kiaran through the crowd to him. He sat back down on his little stump and rubbed his chin covered in sharp hairs. “One white wolf, and one gray one, they are,” he began.

Pulling a pipe from his pocket, he filled it with dried tobacco. Puffing on the pipe with his toothless grin, he continued, “I be sitting in the field with the sheep, the sun rising late that morning. I heard some dogs fighting to the right of my flock. Rushing over, I see it be only two of those brainless dogs of Erl’s. Anyway, while they be fighting, I hear my sheep screaming and running my way. The white wolf had a mouth full of a sheep, two others dead beside the gray wolf. I tell you, woman, they had eyes as orange as the harvest moon. They stared at me…glared at me…before I ran with my sheep back home.”

Kiaran’s eyes narrowed and she asked, “Did they eat your three sheep?”

“Nay. Once I came back, their bodies were still there. They be blood covered, but still intact…for the most part that is,” he answered.

She rested a hand on her hip as she shifted her weight to one leg. Running her fingers through her loose hair over her eyes, she sighed. Torin rubbed the back of his sore neck and asked, “Should we hunt them?”

“Well I’d say aye, m’ lad,” he answered quickly. “Before they decide to take a bite out of one of our own.”

She turned to Torin and nodded her head. “I agree. It is out of character for a wolf to do that…they should be hunted.”

The moon stood high above Kiaran and Torin as they sat against a tree. The sheep grazed in the field ahead of them. The lambs slept near their mothers beneath the starry sky. It was so serene and beautiful. Kiaran rested her head on the frozen tree trunk and smiled. The smells of snow and frozen leaves were relaxing. Torin, on the other hand, was shivering and holding himself tightly.

“Do you think they will show up tonight?” he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders, keeping her eyes on the flock. “These animals are smart. I suspect they will not return for a few nights.”

Kiaran was correct. The following three, consecutive nights were long and grueling, with no sighting of the wolves. During the day, after she slept, Kiaran would train her new dogs. On the fourth night, she and Torin sat beneath the tree with three, large dogs. It was colder that night, the grass frosted over before the sun began to set.

The sheep gathered closely together, becoming restless. Kiaran leaned forward, her eyes narrowing as she stared at the flock; her hand slid down her spear. The dogs’ ears perked up, watching the flock with her.

Torin’s hand tightened around his bow as he gently rested his fingers on an arrow in the quiver slung across his back. Her gray eyes glided over the sheep, looking for fur that did not fit in. There it was, a white wolf sneaking to them. Lifting a hand, she pointed in the direction of the wolf.

Torin drew back his arrow and aimed at the creature. She held her hand in the air, gesturing for him to wait. She continued to search for the gray wolf. Chances were that it was stalking in the tree line, waiting to leap out at any runaway sheep. Finally, she noticed very faint movement in the brush and pointed that way as well.

As she nodded her head, he let the arrow loose. It pierced straight through the white wolf’s head. It ran for a short distance before falling over, dead. The sheep rushed around, screaming. The gray wolf lunged from the brush and, instantly, Torin was able to shoot it as well. The arrow lodged into its shoulder. The wolf raced back into the woods.

“Damn it,” he breathed.

Kiaran stood, the dogs following suit. “Wait here,” she ordered Torin.

She ran after the wolf, the dogs following her easily. She bounded through the brush as if it were nothing, weaving between trees and dodging branches, until she caught up with it. It was sitting still, panting as blood stained its gray coat. Their eyes met as she lifted her spear. Something in her refused to kill it…It seemed rather unfair to hunt such a beautiful creature that was already wounded. It had no chance.

Suddenly, it lunged at her and she swung the spear. She missed it and its teeth sank into her upper arm. They fell to the ground together. She growled as she punched its wound. Whimpering, it backed up but kept a tight grip on her arm, dragging her about a foot. She punched it again, knocking the arrow to the side.

It released her just before jumping at her face. Instantly, she shielded her face with her arms and squeezed her eyes shut. The warmth of the wolf’s breath melted the snow on her arms, but its teeth never came in contact. One of the dogs tackled it to the snow before its razor teeth could cut into her. Their snarls filled the air as they fought.

Hot blood ran down her arm, staining the snow. The second dog stood beside her, watching restlessly. Yelping replaced the snarling of the wolf. Kiaran sharply shouted and the dog backed off. Taking her spear, she approached the wolf as it lay on the snow. Lifting her weapon, the moon glinted off the blade as she brought it down swiftly. She had to grip the spear tightly as the wolf struggled momentarily. Her warm eyelids closed as she turned her head away.

Torin’s soft voice broke the silence, barely reaching her ears through the weak wind. “Are you alright?” he asked.

She lifted her gaze to him as he neared her. She could feel her body growing heavy, swaying around to face him. Her wounded, bloody arm was pressed against herself, bent at the elbow. The sky cast dark shadows over his body as he stood several feet away. He appeared to be a stranger as he watched her. But she could still see it was him in his stance. He stood differently from the others. His feeble confidence seemed to bleed into his posture as he stood less erect and he always had his arms crossed or resting on his hips. He rubbed the back of his hand over his forehead as he walked to her.

She watched him closely as his hair fell back into his eyes. The only thing that seem to compel her at the time was the length of his hair. He leaned in slightly to be eye level with her, his brows creasing slightly. “Are you feeling well?” he asked again.

Nodding, she said, “I have realized your hair is getting long.”

“That tends to happen when it is not cut,” he replied. There was no mock to his voice. He pulled her wounded arm forward. Squinting, he looked at the bite.

“It is not as bad as it seems,” she reassured him as she turned away, pulling the spear from the wolf’s head. “We can wrap it when we return.”

The dogs noticed his agitation and fidgeted where they stood. Rolling her eyes, Kiaran lifted the wolf, resting it across her shoulders, and walked away. All Torin could muster up was a sigh as he followed after her. She staggered slightly and he took the wolf from her. Walking through the pasture, he picked up the other dead wolf, carrying one on each shoulder.

Once they entered the village, a small number of early-risers saw them. They raced to the hunters in awe at the two wolves. They thanked them and cheered as a few of the women raced away to begin a feast. Torin tossed a wolf carcasses to the ground. Pain surged through Kiaran’s arm and her hand shot to the wound, her brows creasing slightly.

The crowd became larger and Connie emerged from the sea of people. She gazed in wonder at the wolves as she slowly advanced to them. Then, the blood running down Kiaran’s arm caught her attention. “You are injured,” she said softly. Kiaran nodded and she continued, “Follow me; I’ll patch you up, Dear.”

As she pressed her gloved hand over the bite mark, warm blood smothered the leather. Torin hesitated to follow after them, but remained behind as the crowd thickened around him. The sky grew a faint orange as the sun began to peak over the mountains. Soon, they reached her house. Connie drew back the heavy blanket, the heat from inside bursting through her. She shuttered as she walked to the chair in the main room.

The only sounds in the room came from the fire crackling in the corner. Connie left to gather some supplies as Kiaran waited for her. The beautiful voices of the tribe filled the air as they sang songs of victory.

Beads of sweat slowly began lining her upper lip and shining across her forehead. She limply grasped the fingers of her glove and pulled it off of her right hand, the uninjured arm. Wiping the back of her hand over her forehead, she exhaled deeply.

Connie returned with a bowl of hot water and clean rags. She helped Kiaran remove her coat. No matter how gentle she was, it still was very painful to peal the cloth from her torn skin. She softly wiped down the wound, and dipped the rag back in the water. Blood clouded within the bowl and she wiped her arm again.

Kiaran closed her eyes, breathing steadily. Someone was tending to her wounds…Her wounds? Her eyes opened again, staying low. Fighting for years, earning Nathanial money, but he never once looked her wounds over.

“Your wound is infected,” Connie said softly, her words spoken uneasily. Her cool fingers touched the edges of the tears in her arm. She looked at Kiaran, seeing the weakness in her face. “It should not be too bad,” she assured her. She wrapped it tightly and quickly knotted it up. “Come and rest, Dear, and I will find you some herbs.”

The room was small, a little cot sitting in the center of the room, the blankets neatly kept on the mattress. Connie pulled the blankets down and Kiaran sat on the bed. Kicking her boots off, she pulled off her over shirt and rested on her back. Connie pulled the blanket up and laid it atop her, her wounded arm resting above the blankets. Kiaran fought her eye lids as they fell heavy.

“It is alright to rest,” Connie said softly. “I will return shortly.”

As she fell in and out of sleep, her emotions became wild. Glimpses of Nathanial and the things he had done to her caused her to pant and cringe and growl in pain. She was hardly awake but for a few moments while Connie tended to the bite. Then her dreams turned toward warmer memories.

The sight of Davin from within her cell was clear and her heart sank to her very toes. She reached her hand through the bars and touched his arm. Her lips moved but no words came out….Not a single sound…Nathanial’s fingers lingered at her shoulders and neck, gripping her nastily. She grabbed Davin’s shirt; her eyes pleaded with him where her words could not.

He wrapped his strong hands around her wrist and pulled her against the bars.

Torin was sitting at her side, his eyes low, his hand on hers. Her eyes met with his for a moment and he smiled weakly. Inhaling deeply, she couldn't muster up enough energy to say anything. Then she was asleep again.

The cold bars felt like ice on her face as he pulled her harder. She began to cry.

Tears ran down her hot cheeks and she clenched her jaws. Turning her head away from Torin, she fell away again.

He wrapped his strong hands around her arm just below the elbow and pulled her against the bars, nearly squeezing her through. Her shoulder was on fire.

Torin was still at her side, his gaze at his hands. No matter how badly she wished to stay awake, she couldn’t. Her eyes rolled back as she fought the sleep, but she was asleep once more.

She was sitting in a small clearing, trees surrounding her and the fire in front of her. Her knuckles were scuffed up from fighting. The heat from the fire radiated powerfully. Across the flames was Torin, his eyes on her hands. “You should be more--”

“--careful,” he said softly as he stood.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered.

He stood still, caught in her gaze. “You need to actually listen and not just hear what I am saying. Next time, you may be dead.”

Lowering her eyes, she sighed, and fell back asleep. He wondered if she was ever even awake. Torin finally took his hand from hers and shook his head. He looked to Connie in the doorway, and she said, “She shall be fine, Holloway.”

“I’m sure,” he agreed. “But what about next time?”

“She is reckless?”

“Absolutely,” he nodded. “But that is Kiaran for you.”

He left the house and returned to the celebration around the fires. A few girls near his age smiled at him as he walked by. He nodded his head as a hello and continued forward. Kane met with him, resting his large hand on his shoulder, he nodded in what seemed like pride or acceptance.

“You did well,” he said. “How is Kiaran?”

“She will be fine, but she has a high fever from the infection,” Torin answered.

“I am sure Connie will do a fine job stabilizing her.” He looked toward the sky as a large bird flew over them. The clouds were thickening, snow heading their way. “We are impressed with your aim, Torin,” he said. “You are a great archer, and I believe you should train our men.”

“Oh,” he said, stunned from the compliment. “Well thank you, I suppose I shall do that.”

They walked along side each other through the small tribe. Young trees lined the way, the light shining beautifully on the frosted bark. Kane kept his eyes forward, his large shoulders back and his chin high. He glanced to Torin who watched everyone as they walked by. He was intrigued by their clothes, their hair, their culture. It moved Kane; he felt proud as he walked beside the young man; he was a representative of his people. What greater honor was there?

The young girls watched Torin again with engaging, bright eyes. They kept their smiles at bay as they glanced to Kane. One of the girls, in particular, kept her eyes lower than the others.

Her arms were folded across her chest. Long, dark red hair feathered across her face, lining her brows. Her soft lips curved slightly as his gaze landed on her. She gently touched her thick braid that rested over her shoulder, stroking it as she looked away.

Kane rested against a large tree trunk, crossing his arms. “Most of the men are gone for battle,” he spoke lowly. Torin looked to him as he continued, “Avestitia is a threat to us, for our land is rich and a good place to settle down. We’ve had some disturbances a few miles south, so we sent a brigade to see what was happening.”

“How long have they been gone?” he asked.

“A week or so,” he sighed. “I am afraid we’ve lost most of them.”

Torin looked back to the young women. The beautiful red-head stood, her hand on her arched back. Her belly hung low and massive. A small baby was growing within her, and his heart sank. She brushed her hair behind an ear as she huffed. A line of delicate dots were tattooed under her eye, meeting with her ear.

“Her husband is a farmer. He grows some of the vegetables around here. Lianna,” he nodded slowly. “A sweet girl.”

“What are the chances that he’s alive?” Torin whispered.

“Low,” he closed his eyes.

Kiaran finally awoke, her body allowing her to stay alert. Sitting up, she rubbed her hands over her eyes as she yawned. “You are finally up,” Connie smiled from the doorway. Walking to her, she continued, “They threw you and your friend a feast for your deed. Because you were unable to join us, Torin got most of the glory.” A snicker escaped her lips, “He is a good boy.”

Nodding slightly, she felt nearly nauseous. Fresh air was all her body ached for. She needed solitude, cold air to run over her skin, soft grass to touch her feet. Her hair was let down, cascading over her shoulders and hiding most of her face. Running her fingers through her hair, she breathed deeply, saying, “Thank you for your help.”

“You are welcome,” she smiled warmly. “You are welcome here whenever you need. I understand if you wish to go back to your room at Raven’s home.” Nodding her head, Kiaran stood and retrieved her belongings.

She made her way to the lake that shimmered beneath the moon. Sitting alone, she removed her boots and socks, feeling the frosted grass with her toes. Her knees were drawn to her chest, her arms wrapped around them as a finger played with a blade of grass. The sounds of the water were soothing. Her eyes shifted to the lake and she smiled, resting her cheek on her knees.

Boots crunched behind her as Torin neared. Sitting beside her, they remained silent. It was beautiful.

Finally, after a long time of quiet tranquility, Kiaran spoke first. “You care for me?” she seemed to state.

His eyes narrowed as he looked to her, stumped. “Yes?”

Embarrassed, she turned her head away, playing with her hair absently. “I have never had that before,” she finally said. “It is a new feeling…That--I’m not sure how to handle.”

“It shall come to you,” he rubbed a hand across her back, patting her.

The touch was a simple, relieving gesture, but it warmed her whole body. “I care for you too,” she said softly.

He smiled widely as he rested his elbows on his knees. “I think…” his thoughts seemed to shift as he spoke, as if changing the subject in mid-sentence, “we should check into the battle the men were sent into. I think they may be dead.”

“Aren’t you noble?” she grinned.

Her eyes moved to him and he froze for a moment, basking in her splendor. He touched his hand to hers, moving it from the blade of grass, wrapping his fingers around hers. The heat from his skin melted into her and she blushed, her stomach churning. Her smile dissolved away. Glancing from his eyes to his lips, she turned her head toward the body of water ahead of them.

There was no way she could ever understand how much he cared for her. Perhaps she would understand one day, but that may be the scariest thing yet. Avoiding the thought, he loosened his grip on her hand. He hesitated but forced himself to place a quick, and yet, gentle kiss on the top of her head before he stood and left. Walking away, he smiled at his courage.

She watched him leave, her hand still warm from his grip. Her lips curled into a small grin as she rested her forehead on her knees.

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