Chapter 14 - Challenge
“Marcus, please take a walk,” Alena suggested forcefully, and she sensed the tension in Marcus at her request, she never dared disrespect him so many times in one day. Their change in circumstances made him concede to her will. They were far from home and their people, and he suspected Rowan didn’t care about their hierarchy. His assumption wasn’t entirely factual.
Rowan didn’t think the way Marcus treated Alena was fair. Her sister wasn’t just another one of his subjects, but a pureblood princess, she deserved respect. Rowan barely credited that the thought entered her mind and she would never admit it to either of them. This odd possessiveness toward Alena confounded her.
“If it’s there, I will have to see it,” Marcus reminded with far less anger than Alena expected. He was a practical man, and he didn’t waste either time or effort on senseless things.
“If it’s there you will,” Rowan conceded just to make him leave. She hadn’t expected this much courtesy, but his intense gaze caused an overwhelming consciousness of him. She didn’t want to take off her undergarments in his presence; it was way too intimate an act.
A few more moments passed before something altered in the silence between them. Rowan sensed that Alena found the mark. Her breath caught in her throat, her tension became unbearable, turning her stomach cold and hollow with trepidation.
The physical evidence of Victor’s adultery hit Alena like a rockslide. It decimated whatever denial she might have still harbored in her soul. Until she discovered the mark, the knowledge that Rowan was her sister was real but disconnected from her reality. The fragile delusion of distance shattered with the proof of their bloodline.
Rowan tensed, but instead of just calling Marcus, Alena slid Rowan’s pants up, as far as possible, without obscuring the birthmark on her left butt cheek, which had the clarity, and quality of a tattoo.
“Marcus?” Alena called out, and when he arrived, Rowan deduced from their silence that it was worse than expected. She didn’t like not being able to see the mark for herself and failed to understand why no one noticed it before them.
“Do it,” Marcus ordered, and Rowan tensed. Do what? She wondered, but something kept her from speaking. Perhaps the shock of discovering that it was all true. His voice sounded odd, abrupt, and she tensed out of instinct, sensing something in the air which unsettled her.
“Relax, if I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead,” Alena didn’t hide her concern or anger well. Rowan understood her sister’s reaction. Things just became real for them both. Undeniable. Indisputable.
“Hold your pants, don’t pull them up,” Alena requested, and Rowan frowned. Her premonition that the mark somehow branded her for death, overwhelmed her concern over their intentions. Her peripheral awareness picked up on a malignant presence watching them with gleeful anticipation, and it made her almost dizzy with its single-minded intensity.
The sound of a knife pulled free of its sheath, resettled Rowan in reality, but even as she tensed to fight, the smell of blood came from behind her. Alema smeared her blood over the mark, and Rowan jerked in reaction when the hot liquid touched her skin.
Something odd happened without warning, and it kept her still instead of questioning or moving away. The growing connection she fought since the moment they met, bloomed into existence inside of Rowan like a pulse in her blood. It became an awareness, unlike anything she experienced before or even knew existed. Did Alena feel the same thing? She wondered in startled consternation.
“Give me a piece of your undershirt, Marcus,” Alena asked, and Rowan heard tearing. She did not understand what they were doing, but the magnitude of this new sensation still overwhelmed her. Alen felt it too; she was sure of that now. When Alena spoke, she detected the slightest tremor in her sister’s voice and the echo of her responses in Alena. It was a door that swung both ways.
Alena touched the cloth strip to her skin and smoothed it down with a firm strength in her hands that warned you this was no ordinary woman; such power came from handling weapons. She removed the cloth after a few moments, and Rowan found her curiosity stirring. What were they doing? She wondered, but trepidation made her silent.
“Hand me that flask?” Alena asked in a distracted tone of voice, and Marcus must have hesitated.
“This is blood Marcus, and it will dry,” Alena reminded him with a woman’s concern over such matters. Marcus did something, and Alena chuckled. It was so strange to hear the woman laugh, short-lived as it was. Rowan found it hard to think of Alena as a person who did such ordinary things. She only ever pictured Alena in her mind as the haughty princess and the cold warrior.
“I have water in my pack, and I will clean...” Rowan was about to insist on her ability to clean herself, but Alena didn’t allow her the opportunity.
“Stand,” Alena ordered with terse impatience and it didn't take long for her to return with the water.
“What is that?” Alena asked with genuine curiosity as she touched the thin white line that started just above Rowan’s left hip and crossed her back to below her ribs. Apart from that scar, and the birthmark, Rowan’s skin was perfect, strong, and healthy.
“Nothing,” the word came out more defensive than Rowan intended and Alena almost took umbrage, but then Rowan bend down to retrieve her clothes, and Alena caught a glance of her face. A haunting sorrow and deep pain darkened Rowan’s eyes, and instinct made Alena backed off. She reasoned it would be wiser to leave the matter for another time. Perhaps when they knew each other better, and if Rowan remained come sunset.
“Dress, we’re done,” Alena instructed and turned away to give Rowan room to collect herself. Alena wondered why the fleeting expression unsettled her so, but she did more than see it, she experienced a similar echo in her soul. The moment her blood touched Rowan, something happened. An undeniable bond established itself between them.
Rowan picked up her clothes and made her way into the darkness while Alena pretended to study the bloodied piece of material, but she was avoiding Marcus. He was way too perceptive, and he already sensed something different about her. Marcus would know soon, it was the nature of their affiliation, but for now, she needed time to analyze what happened. He watched her intently, but she pretended ignorance.
When Rowan rejoined them, they sat at the back of the cave. She composed herself before she faced them again. So much happened in so little time, and she needed a moment alone. They stared at the piece of cloth with concentration, and Rowan found herself curious, but also reluctant.