Chapter 7 - Spared
Rowan hesitated before she knelt beside the animal. Her instincts said their enemies left, but she didn’t trust them much after what just happened. She put her hand gently on its side knowing that she could do nothing to save it. Her face contorted with some strange emotion and when that sentiment cleared, only a glittering hardness remained in its place. Rowan shifted her position and adroitly avoided the straggling hooves. With one swift movement, she turned its head and broke its neck. The struggle seized, but for a few more jerks and spasms.
A deafening silence followed in the wake of this last act of violence, but for the sounds of the night, and the horses’ breathing unevenly. They shivered nervously at the smell of blood, and with the distress of what came before, but Striker calmed down quickly. His ears shifted every now and again as he listened, but Rowan found reassurance in his composure.
Rowan had almost forgotten about Marcus and Alena. She strode over to where they stood closer to the doors, where they must have taken refuge earlier, and she noticed the expression on their faces: the concern, suspicion, and fear. She never expected to see fear on the faces of such as they. Marcus made his way to the bottom of the shallow stairs. His posture was that of a warrior and a strong one; even though he had no weapon. Everything happened so fast they could barely react, but it also felt as if it all happened in slow motion.
“Who was the man...” Marcus asked, and Rowan rudely interrupted him.
“Where are your guards?” She demanded urgently, and Marcus frowned, he wondered the same thing. His eyes grew dark as he scanned the empty parapets and the towers. They were silent, quiet, unattended, and he already knew what happened to them.
“Terri? Clark? Mason?” Marcus called without expecting an answer, and no response came from the darkness. He asked again, louder this time, in a demanding tone of voice as he called out to the ten men he stationed here. Nothing happened. He found himself relieved that the rest of his men and the other inhabitants of the castle were at court for the summer.
“They took them while we stood here,” Marcus heard the anger in his voice, but he also perceived a note of fear.
Rowan saw his fear, and it was a powerfully unsettling emotion. A man like him didn’t fear much of anything in this life. His eyes wandered to the open gate, the trail of human blood crossing the puddle of horse blood, the animal and his nostrils flared as his jaw set into a firm line.
“They could have destroyed us all. They killed your men, my people, and apparently those at our camp. What leads you to believe there’s anything you can do?” Rowan asked almost as if she blamed him for this.
Marcus glanced at her, enraged by her intonation and yet, guilty that his arrogance in bringing her here, caused so much death. He could not help wondering why someone would go through this much trouble to send a message; if they hadn’t stumbled onto something of import, and why not just kill them?
“I can do nothing to stop this,” Rowan assured him, and Marcus suspected that the intense emotions she kept so rigorously in check, were perilously near the surface. Her grief for her humans showed in her eyes, but her guilt was even more evident as if she caused this unfortunate situation.
“Maybe we can do something,” Marcus admitted, and Rowan frowned when she realized he sounded almost uncertain of himself. It seemed uncharacteristic to her, but then he squared his shoulders. He wasn’t a man who faltered or who knew neither fear nor defeat well.
“How many men do you have?” Marcus demanded of Rowan, and a stillness came over her face as her glance darted to the gate. He knew the answer before she spoke.
“There were ten here and another fifty at camp,” she answered without hesitation. The certainty in her voice came from experience, and he moved to speak, but Alena understood Rowan better.
“They’re all dead, all of hers and all of ours,” Alena clarified. Marcus grew quiet and frowned as his eyes wandered to the disembodied head.
“So why are we still alive?” Rowan asked the one question which preyed heavily on all of their minds. She shivered slightly and folded her arms across her chest as if to ward off a chill.
“Our efforts amuse him,” Alena revealed, and both their glances raced to her and then darted away. They were even more uneasy with the silence after those words. Her insight, if it were the truth, and it felt like the truth, was a chilling and haunting thought.
“Him?” Rowan asked, and she could sense something unsettled the other two. The emotion was easy enough to interpret as their eyes kept finding their way to the open gates, where a soundless, unseen enemy took both man and vampire.
“I suggest we move inside, and then we can speak of him,” Marcus decided with his eyes still settled on the gloom, but continually shifting with the expectation of a danger that could come from everywhere and nowhere.
“They’re gone,” Rowan assured him as she approached them, her stride businesslike and purposeful.
“How do you know that? We can all see in the dark and yet we did not observe them?” Alena asked with a touch of testiness born of reaction. Marcus understood that, and he could only hope Rowan would too.
“I just know,” Rowan answered with equal testiness and no trace of doubt in her voice. How could she explain to them that the oppression she felt in the air and a sense of foreboding had gone? She should have paid more attention to the feeling that someone watched them. She had trusted too much in her senses and skills: it got her friends killed.
“But you didn’t know they were here when you came?” Alena demanded almost bitingly.
“I knew someone was watching us. I thought they were yours and you were just taking precautions. I am a mercenary, and you have enemies,” Rowan revealed no emotion when she said those words, but her eyes betrayed a brief glimpse of her pain.
“You stayed anyway?” Alena scoffed. Freely admitting to herself that she would not have. She wouldn’t expose herself to an enemy in such a way.
“You wouldn’t kill me if you needed me,” Rowan answered with no discernible emotion. She was conquering her pain and burying it inside herself. There would be time enough to mourn later.
“And if it was just a trap?” Alena challenged again, intrigued despite herself. Rowan and her existence had been a part of her life for so long. She often wondered about the halfling, sometimes hating her and yet curious about in equal measure. Most of her negative emotions toward Rowan came from her mother and then there were also the consequences of what happened to Carla.
“Then I would be dead,” Rowan answered, and it didn’t appear to be something that would bother her. She had no fear of death. She lived in its shadow most of her life, and sometimes, she would have welcomed the release it offered.
“And that was the only reason?” Alena demanded, still slightly annoyed. Had Rowan even wondered about her, her life? Did Rowan hate her? She didn’t like that she felt hurt at the idea. How could the woman not hate her?
“No; hope and curiosity,” Rowan admitted, and Alena froze in mid-stride, unsettled by Rowan’s honesty. She didn’t play games, and she didn’t pull punches, that much was easy to see.
Rowan knew the truth, and still, she came here, despite what they could do to her. Alena found the thought disconcerting, and it made her uncomfortable. Rowan didn’t fit the mental picture she forged for herself.