Feathers and Flame

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Chapter 3

Faye dropped the bird in surprise and annoyance but there was nothing she could do with the knife pressing against the back of her neck. She had hoped seeing a Guardian would shock the men into keeping still for a little longer, give her a chance to get her things and get out of there. However, she had allowed herself to get distracted, again.

“Lorcan,” said the man, “Get the rope.”

“This isn’t very smart,” said Faye. The man put a little more pressure into the blade so Faye could feel it pressing against the bones of her spine just below her hairline. She turned slightly so that she could see his face, look into his eye.

“Shut up. You stay still, and quiet, while we tie your hands. Or I kill you.”

“I just saved your life, you ungrateful-” she started to say, when a hand reached around and grabbed her throat and cut her off.

“I hear one more word and I start cutting. Nod if you understand.”

He released her throat, allowing her to nod stiffly.

“This is a terrible idea,” said Colm still behind her. The man who held the knife glared at him.

“Lorcan," he said while glaring at Colm, "if you can’t shut your brother up, I will. Where’s that rope?”

Lorcan walked in front of her and knelt down without saying anything. Faye stared at his face as he tied her wrists, daring him to meet her eyes. She didn't need to look at his aura to see that he was tense and angry, but he remained silent and did not challenge the man who had just threathened his brother.

She had been wrong about him being the leader. Something else was going on here, she just didn't know what yet. She checked Lorcan’s aura to make sure, and the patches of anger, restraint and sadness confirmed his feelings. She didn’t look for long; the swirling colours of his aura made her dizzy, and there was nothing there she hadn't expected to see. Instead she turned her attention to the unconscious hawk, and wondered if the men were going to leave it there. Doing so might make the Aed think that she had rejected its gift, and put everyone for miles around them in danger.

Colm noticed where she was looking and cleared his throat.

“Are we taking the bird?” he asked, “Or...It's just that I don’t think that…that deer-thing wanted it left here.”

“It might be worth something,” Lorcan pointed out, "Or at the very least give us something to eat."

“Fine,” said the man with the knife, “Shove it in a sack. I want to get out of here.”

The pressure from the back of Faye’s neck vanished. The man caught her hair and pulled her to standing. Then he caught the rope tying her hand and used that to pull her forward, then they hurriedly walked back to the path. All of them turned their heads left and right as they walked, and Faye did so as well. She did not want to be caught by surprise by anything else in this forest, especially with her hands tied. She relaxed a little when they reached the path, and saw the shoulders of them men relax and drop slightly as well.

They traveled along the path until it was dark, then stopped to rest. They pulled out supplies instead of trying to hunt game in the forest. So they weren’t completely stupid then. She didn’t point out that there was food in her pack. Let them waste their own food feeding her. Besides, she would need that food again once she got out of her bonds and escaped.

She was tied to a tree as they ate, and they let her have one hand free to eat. Colm was ordered to bring food over to her. He stayed with her while she ate, and tied her free hand once again once she had finished.

“I’m sorry about this,” he whispered. Faye chose not to respond.

“We’ll make sure you are treated well,” he told her quietly, “At least until we get back.”

Faye smirked and rolled her eyes. She didn’t need cowards on her side.

“Please don’t hate us,” he said, “They aren’t giving us a choice.”

Faye looked at his aura, and saw the telling waves she expected.

“Don’t lie to me, little boy,” she said, “I can tell.”

He flinched, dropped some of her food and drawing the attention of the others.

“It’s not a lie,” he said, “They have our sister. We-”

“-Colm!” snapped Lorcan, “Get over here. Now.”

Colm put the food down next to her and scampered back to his brother. Faye put some fear into Lorcan as he glared at her, and slowly smiled in what she hoped was a really creepy way. To his credit, Lorcan didn’t look away until Colm reached him. Then he turned to his little brother and started whispering harshly.

The sack that held the hawk was still but Faye could see a slight, sleepy aura, so it wasn’t dead. She wasn't sure if she should be happy or disappointed that it was still alive. It had touched an Aed, and she couldn’t let it go without knowing if it had been affected. So that meant she had to keep it, at least until she got it to the council and that she would need to take it when she escaped. She would probably have to name it too.

Wait, would it count as one of her three Finds?

She shook the thought away. She couldn’t know that until... Probably after she had trekked all the way to the council. Naming it was something she could concentrate on. Animal auras were different, so watching it for a few days would tell her very little about it’s temperament. The colour and patterns were completely alien to her. One colour could mean up to six things in a human depending on the shape and texture it took. Reading an animal would be a useless waste of time and energy. So, what would a normal person name their animal? What would be a good name for a hawk?

She could just call it Hawk, but that would be giving up. She didn’t think a name like Tricky suited such a brave, vicious thing. Maybe she would call it Killer, or was that just lazy? She leaned back against the tree, deciding that she would have plenty of time on the way to the ‘boss’ the men had been talking about earlier.

She still had two names to learn. She could affect Colm and Lorcan from a distance, put changes into their auras. She could give them nightmares when they fell asleep, but she didn’t see the point when they clearly weren’t even in charge. Lorcan had a natural presence that made the other two listen to him, even as they controlled him. That was a rare quality, and Faye wondered briefly whether she could use it to her advantage.

Or she could just wait until all of them had fallen asleep and slip out of the rope. It was tied tight enough to mean she would have to dislocate a wrist to wrangle out of it, which was damn annoying but workable. It wouldn’t be the most pleasant way to go about escaping. She would have to be quick and quiet, and remember to grab the bird. She smiled, thinking about her training.

Her teacher had insisted that she would be glad she knew how to do it. At the time, she had hated him and didn't want to listen to anything he said. That didn’t mean much though; she had hated everyone back then. If he could see her now, he would smirk and crinkle up those islander eyes and laugh at her. As it turned out, he was right. She was glad she could do it, even if it fucking hurt. That meant she owed him some meat the next time she ran into him.

Though it turned out that she had underestimated the men who had captured her again, however, and never had a chance to put her plan into action. They were better trained that she would have guessed, and used to watching people. They took turns to sleep and watched her throughout the night. Given their attitudes, and lack of respect and discipline; Faye decided that they were probably slavers, or banished men who joined a gang. Warriors who deserted stood straighter, took better care of their hair, beads and weapons. It wasn’t even a pride thing with most of them, although the majority of former warriors she had known had a lot of pride. Breaking habits are harder for some than leaving a life behind. Eventually she gave up waiting for them to give in to their tiredness, gave into her own and slept.

She kept sleeping until she was roughly shaken awake and some food was shoved into her face.

“Eat,” said one of the men whose name she didn’t know. It wasn’t the one who had held the knife to her neck.

“Good morning to you too,” said Faye.

“Shut up bitch.”

Faye snorted at being called a bitch and sat back. He didn't untie her hands so she eating was awkward, but not all that difficult. He was a little afraid of her and very angry about it. Faye didn’t need to see his aura to be able to tell that. Looking at his aura only told her that anger was a permanent state of being for this man, the only change being the amount of rage he felt. He stood over her as she ate, so she chewed slowly to annoy him. He tapped his foot, so she matched the speed of her chewing to that. He yelled at the other three, who were packing up, to get a move on.

When she was finally finished, he cut the rope tying her to the tree.

“Get up,” demanded her charming bystander. He grabbed the sack with the hawk and slung it over his shoulder. The hawk made no sound, but Faye could tell it from the movement of the sack that it was awake and not very happy. He caught hold of the rope tying her hands together with his other hand.

Faye stood up, walking next to the man instead of behind him while making their way over to the others. She smiled and hummed as well. Her calm confidence confused the man, who was used to dealing with frightened and timid people. Faye hoped her attitude would throw the men, make them second-guess everything and therefore more likely to make a mistake. Faye smiled and waved to the other men as they reached them.

“What’s going on, Ger?” asked Lorcan. Faye’s smiled widened. Now she had three names.

She was also close enough to Ger to touch his aura. She was much better at close range and her touch was no longer light but strong enough to force a feeling to spread to all of her target almost instantaneously. She used his natural anger, just increased the level of it until she could see his nostrils flaring.

“What do you think is going on,” said Ger through gritted teeth, “I’m good to go. Are you ready to go or not, you blithering idiots?”

The other man grunted and walked away. Faye didn’t look at him or Ger. Anger was an unpredictable emotion, and impossible for her to direct. She didn’t want it going wrong and have Ger lashing out at her.

They walked until they came to the edge of the forest. Faye got a little panicky until she noticed that they was another one in sight. She hadn’t left her territory. Most likely the gap existed because of the town they were heading towards. As they came closer, Faye saw something that made her go cold all over and formed a pit in her stomach.

There was a large hole in the boundary wall. Some of the stone around the hole looked scorched, the rubble was on the inside of the wall.

“What happened?” asked Faye, slowing down to stare at it.

Ger turned around and slapped her.

“Next time you open your mouth, I’m going to knock out your teeth,” he said.

Faye glared at him and imagined hurting him in various ways, but said nothing. Lorcan took a step towards Ger.

“Hit her again and I’ll hit you,” he said, getting into the older man’s face. Faye watched with interest. She didn't exactly know or care what reasons the young man had for standing up for her, but it could be useful. This could be her chance.

“That a threat, pretty boy?” asked Ger.

Colm surprised everyone (including himself, by the look on his face) by stepping between them.

“We’re almost there,” said Colm, “Soon we won’t ever have to see each other again. So, let’s just get it all done and over with.”

Lorcan grabbed the rope from Ger’s hands and pulled Faye towards the town. Colm ran forward to walk next to his brother. The nameless man laughed.

“That’s right,” he called after Lorcan, “Be nice to the witch-girl before you give her away.”

He didn’t expect Faye to laugh, and when she did all of the men startled.

“Are you all right?” asked Colm, recovering and staring at the red mark on her face.

“Don’t talk to her,” said Lorcan, pulling her forward again.

Entering the town, Faye noticed the broken windows and doors of the buildings and the burnt crops. She began to hear something loud and out of place. She could hear cheering, drums and singing. Faye buried the disgust she felt as the realization came, and fixed the smile on her face.

They walked through an empty village to a crowded square. There was a bonfire, made up of bits of houses and furniture. Many tables were pushed together to form a mockery of one long table like the kind they had in the meeting places and large Halls. These tables were heavy with food. The Hall loomed over it, and Faye saw that the main door was boarded up and there were frightened faces peering down at the crowd from the high, narrow windows.

Colm stopped walking when he saw the food that was on the table.

“They killed all of the cows,” he said. Lorcan put a hand on his brother’s shoulder and pushed him forward.

“We can get more cows,” said Lorcan.

At the head of the tables sat a beast of a man, tall and bulky with short hair. Faye noticed the brand on his scalp before she took in the rest of him. He had scars, and showed them off. A former clan warrior, who had been disgraced was her immediate guess. The fact that he he been branded though, as well as having his hair cut, told her that he wasn’t just a coward. The man was someone the Council named a traitor and her enemy.

Apparently this traitor had decided to try his hand at being a slaver. Behind him, where it could clearly be seen by the people holding out in the Hall, was a cage full of people who hadn’t been quick enough to get away. None of the food from the tables was being offered to them. Sitting on the floor next to the man, with a chain around her neck, was a young girl. Her arms were also tied to one of the table legs. She had a bad bruise on her neck, a split lip and a black eye. Faye dropped the smile. It wouldn’t work anyway.

“Sorcha,” said Colm, walking towards the girl on the floor. Some men stood in his way and he stepped back. Lorcan stood in front of his little brother, and came very close to the other men, his chin out and his chest high.

“It’s okay,” said the girl, “Don’t fight.”

Lorcan nodded to her and stepped back. The traitor at the head of the table leaned into the girl and pleasantly asked, “Who the hell said you could talk?”

Faye noticed how the girl fliched at the sound of his voice, even though he spoke quietly and gently.

“Who the hell said you could hit our sister?” growled Colm.

“Try hitting her again,” said Lorcan, daring the man, "While I'm here."

He pulled Faye forward and held a knife to her gut. Faye was almost flattered. The traitor regarded her, curious and confused and no doubt wondering why the hell he should care if the boy stabbed her. Faye winked at him, which made him laugh.

“Who’s that?” he asked Lorcan, “But calm down before you answer, yeah?”

“She’s a witch, Boss” said Ger, walking up and nodded his head in respect to the ‘Boss’, “We found her in the woods. She called out a Guardian.”

“A Guardian?” asked the traitor, leaning forward, “How? What was it like?”

“She spoke from many places and it came. It was… it had… I can’t remember. Lorcan?”

“I don’t know,” said Lorcan, “Except it was loud.”

“And big,” said Colm.

“Did you fools not think that it might have been a trick?” asked the traitor.

“Ah!” said Ger, and dumped the sack with the hawk on the table. The hawk squawked in outrage.

“It had a fight with the bird,” said the nameless man. Ger nodded. The hawk struggled against the beads wrapped around it and screeched. The beads amplified the screech, and most people had to cover their ears. Faye grimaced.

The traitor leaned forward and poured the hawk out onto the table. When he tried to touch the beads, the hawk tried to eat his fingers. Faye tried to send some calm into the bird. It twirled around to stare at her with it’s big, amber eyes. Then it threw the calm back at her. Faye was so surprised she couldn’t help but laugh, and everyone looked at her.

“Shut up!” snapped Ger, raising his hand as if he would hit her again.

“She had this as well,” said Lorcan, glaring at Ger and bringing out her fake ornate sword. The traitor whistled.

“So, what will this witch tell me?”

“Tadhg,” said Ger, “It isn’t the wisest thing to let a witch talk. Everyone knows that’s how they curse people.”

Faye smirked. So that was why the idiot was afraid of her.

The traitor, Tadhg, stood up and walked over to her. He gently caught her chin in his hand and smiled into her face.

“That’s if she isn’t just a fraud,” he said, “Why don’t you show me what you can do then, sweetheart?”

Faye shook free and held up her tied hands. Tadhg shook his hand.

“Do your best with them on.”

Faye sighed and pouted dramatically, then lay her head on Ger’s shoulder.

Then she gave pain.

There were certain limits on her abilities from a distance and Faye was much better at close range. However, if she was touching someone and knew their name, there was wasn’t much that she couldn’t do to them. Ger was screaming loudly into her ear, but Faye kept her face in the dramatic pout. She locked up the muscles in his back and legs so he couldn’t fall away from the touch of her cheek.

It was only when someone aimed an arrow at her that she lifted her head off his shoulder and allowed him to tumble, whimpering, to the floor. The pain had vanished the second she broke the touch, but Ger stayed on the floor. He was trembling out of shock. Faye bent down and caught his chin the way Tadhg had caught hers.

“Who the hell told you I had to say anything to hurt you?” she asked.

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