When they finally made camp late that evening in a dark wooded copse deep in the forest they had much to discuss. They fed, watered and tethered the horses, then ate their fill of the delicious soup Tarienne had made with some root vegetables they’d dug and herbs from her stock finishing off with dried bread and cheese. A relative feast.
Their hunger sated they settled down to discuss the next step of their journey. Tarienne piled the dishes next to the fire while the water heated to wash them and settled down beside Daien, snuggling into his warmth. Daien’s arms snaked around her hauling her close the thudding of his heart against her back. Smiling she tipped her head back planting a chaste kiss on his lips. He groaned softly tucking her tightly against him as she turned back to Raef to discuss their plans on how to deal with the Weres.
“The Changelings won’t give up so easily. When they regroup and find a new leader they’ll be on our trail.” Raef leaned forward and filched another piece of bread. “We need to do something about what they used to negate our magic, otherwise, next time, they will take us as easily as they did the first time.”
Tarienne leaned into Daien memories of her capture threatening to overwhelm her. Daien tightened his arm around her dropping a kiss onto her hair. Aidan grabbed her hand clasping it in his as if willing his strength into her. Tarienne smiled gratefully.
Aidan had been her strength when she needed him most. This was why he was such a good King, compassion, strength, dependability, loyalty and above all, love. Emerging from her thoughts, she remembered the wristband Lacas wore. She’d thought the markings on it, unusual.
“I believe the magic may have been contained within the wristband Lacas wore. I noticed all the Weres had one.”
Raef nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, that was what I suspected, too. When we were far enough away from them, I contacted Elyssia with the details of the one I took from Lacas’ wrist. She spoke with her brother, Feinn.” Raef added, for the benefit of the others. “To see if he could determine exactly what sort of magic it contained. Feinn scoured the tomes in the Library at Darewood and let me know this morning that he was certain this was the cause of the magical pulse we felt. He provided information about an ancient spell that he believes will dampen the potency of the incantation.”
Raef withdrew one of the black, leather armbands from his pack. Etched with odd shaped symbols it was covered in dried blood. Tarienne shivered. Poking at the band tentatively testing its effect, she could detect only a slight magical hum.
“Why doesn’t it affect us like it did when they captured us?” she asked, frowning.
“Likely, because all the Weres that arrived in the second wave, had one, I’m guessing that the spell is amplified by the number wielding it.”
Tarienne shuddered involuntarily. Daien anchored her to him his arm around her shoulders. Raef set the band on the sandy ground in front of them.
“Sweetling, you’re stronger with this type of magic, I’ve written the spell down, could you read it so we can see what happens?”
Tarienne nodded, nervously moving closer to grasp the parchment Raef held. Her heart pounded and a light sheen of perspiration dampened her skin. Daien scooted up closer, encircling her protectively both arms around her. Looking over her shoulder she smiled, noticing that Aidan was also crouching close lending his support. Raef nodded his encouragement.
Sucking in a deep breath Tarienne read the spell written in Raef’s long, flowing hand.
“Amoveo ea meiv sina templa KUILE!”
The armband was instantly consumed by flickering, blue flames but did not burn. The flames disappeared the leather appearing unchanged. Carefully, Tarienne picked it up examining the band.
“Did it work? I can’t feel the hum of magic anymore.”
Raef gently plucked it from her hand.
“Hmmm, you’re right. Good. We’ll both need to memorise the spell in case the Weres catch up with us. We’ll have to use it quickly if they come before the magic takes the three of us out.”
Tarienne shivered at the thought of the Weres returning. She was terrified that she’d be paralysed with fear if they did and unable to remember the spell.
Raef handed the armband to Daien, who turned it over in his hands.
“I can’t feel the usual tingle when there’s magic in something.”
Daien passed it on to Aidan, who shrugged returning it to Raef.
“I can’t tell the difference, but I’m the only one here without magic.”
“If this spell doesn’t work, then you’re the only one here who might be able to save us.”
Tarienne reminded him, wanting to reassure him of his importance in the group, magic or not. Turning to Raef.
“How far from the caves are we?”
“I’d say another three days ride. The closer we get, the more of Rantar’s soldiers and creatures we’ll likely encounter. We need to be especially vigilant from now on and only stop for short rests and brief food breaks. I’ll take first watch. Get some rest, we leave before daybreak.”
“What sort of creatures are we talking about?” Aidan rose to his feet, frowning.
Tarienne took in Aidan’s expression while he listened attentively. It was easy to forget that Aidan had no experience with any of this. He accepted everything as though he’d been born to it. Briefly she wondered what Eldian would have done in his place and she was suddenly grateful that Aidan was very unlike his father.
Raef’s voice broke into her thoughts. “I’ve seen Weres that are not wolves but viciously clawed bears and black crows. Creatures that are part human and part animal. Each and every one is foul smelling, possessing an evil mind. Some are empowered with magical artefacts. Their plan is no doubt to prevent us from retrieving the golden stone and they will stop at nothing to do so.”
Raef settled down to take his watch while the others lay on their bedrolls to grab as much sleep as they could. Daien snaked his arms around Tarienne drawing her close. He was soon snoring softly but her back was still sore and kept her awake. Slipping out of Daien’s embrace Tarienne joined Raef, gracefully dropping to the ground beside him.
“Can’t sleep, Sweetling?”
Raef draped his arm loosely around her shoulders, muttering an incantation. Immediately, Tarienne felt the pain ease. She leaned into him.
“Thank you, Toror, my brother.”
Resting her head on his shoulder Tarienne began softly singing a Fae blessing that wished safe travel and a speedy return. Her voice was sweet and full of emotion. Raef kept watch and listened, soothed by the beauty of the words and the sweetness of his sister’s voice.
While she sang his thoughts drifted to home and Elyssia. He missed Elyssia so much it was a physical ache in his chest. However she wasn’t like Tarienne she’d never survive what had happened to his sister. He shivered at the thought tightening his grip around Tarienne. It had nearly killed him to see what Lacas had done to her. His vision had clouded, his blood had pounded in his ears. He’d flown into full battle fury when he’d seen Tarienne strapped to the bed, naked. If it had been Elyssia, Raef knew he would have lost control completely. As it was he’d barely clung to the last shred of sanity, when he’d walked into the tent to see Lacas intent on raping her. He’d wanted to hack Lacas to pieces, had been close to doing just that.
Only Tarienne had seen this side of him. It terrified Raef that Elyssia might walk away from him if she witnessed an out of control battle rage. He sighed returning to the present and dropped a kiss onto Tarienne’s cheek.
A short while later Tarienne sent Raef to get some much needed sleep. Her eyes drifted over their surrounds, keeping watch. Without warning, a surge of magic swelled around her. Finding it difficult to breathe her chest constricted with fear. Tarienne rose sluggishly to wake the others the potency of the magic already weakening her.
Panicking, her mind went blank. She couldn’t remember the incantation. Her throat tightened. Her heart thundered against her ribs. Like a lantern in the darkness of her dread Aidan moved up beside her clutching the parchment on which Raef had written the spell. Looping his arm around her waist, Aidan voice was soft and reassuring.
“Ren, I’m here. Just like you were for me when my father died. Let me help you now. I need you to focus to be strong for all of us.”
Gently urging her into action Aidan tightened his hold on her.
“I don’t have magic, you know I can’t do this without you.”
Her eyes flicked to Raef and Daien, struggling against the enchantment, then back to Aidan.
“I ...I can’t. What if I fail them?”
Panic threatened to overwhelm her when she considered what might happen to Daien and Raef if she failed. Her breathing escalated remembering what Lacas had done to her the last time she was captured. She couldn’t go through anything like that again. Her knees buckled. She was certain she was going to pass out.
Aidan pulled her hard against him firmly turning her to face him. He met her eyes his expression filled with compassion but the King’s voice held authority.
“Ren, you can do this. Only if you don’t try will you have failed them. Read the words, Ren. I have faith in you, my sister.”
His words, his declaration of trust pulled her back. Her eyes misted with tears. She hauled in a deep breath, leaning into him.
“Amoveo ea ...” She paused and Aidan squeezed her reassuringly. ” ...meiv sina templa KUILE!”
The Weres approaching in their human form roared as their magic infused armbands erupted into flames. Chaos ensued while they attempted to rip the bands off before their clothes also went up in flames. Raef and Daien roused quickly as the magical effect of the bands was negated. Tarienne dropped a kiss onto Aidan’s cheek.
“Thank you, Aidan, my brother. You saved us.”
Aidan grinned. Drawing his sword he brought the flat of it to his forehead mouthing a tribute to his father. Daien joined Aidan taking advantage of the confusion, cutting a bloody swathe through their assailants. Raef and Tarienne joined hands weaving the Spell of Retribution. Before they spoke the last words, they shouted to Aidan and Daien.
Though the spell wasn’t directed at them, neither Raef nor Tarienne were sure what effect it would have on Aidan or Daien if they were in its path. The trust between them implicit, Aidan and Daien dropped to the ground, moments before Raef and Tarienne shouted the final words of the enchantment.
The Weres screamed as the power of the ancient magic blasted them searing their skin. Those who weren’t able to escape dropped to the ground writhing in agony, dying a rapid but painful death. Raef and Tarienne shook with the effort of weaving the ancient spell. Tarienne gripped Raef’s fingers swaying against him her eyes sweeping across the devastation they’d wrought.
Aidan and Daien rose staring in amazement at the many bodies surrounding them half phased between wolf and man, dying before they could complete their form shift. Many had blood oozing from their ears and eyes. Tarienne averted her eyes from the gruesome sight sucking in some much needed air to settle her churning stomach.
Stepping over twisted, bloody bodies Aidan and Daien moved closer to check on Raef and Tarienne.
“Are you two alright?”
Aidan asked, concern lacing his voice. Raef nodded. Tarienne approached Aidan, placing her hands on his shoulders and kissed him on each cheek.
“Thank you, Aidan, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Hugging him briefly Tarienne move to stand in front of Raef surreptitiously scanning him for injuries. A weary grin lit Raef’s face.
“Well, at least we know the spell worked.”
Tarienne shrugged and slipped her arms around Raef’s waist, hugging him tightly. Raef wrapped her in a gentle embrace, resting his chin on her head.
“Well done, Sweetling. I knew you could do it.”
Tarienne’s heart lifted and a little of the hurt she’d carried since her capture eased knowing that with Aidan’s help she’d been able to do what was needed. Tears moistened the corners of her eyes. Finally she slipped back into Daien’s embrace her arms sliding around his neck. She ran her fingernails lightly up though his hair evoking a low groan from her warrior.
“My Melar, my love"
She pressed herself into his hard, hot body. Daien shivered, unable to resist lowering his lips to hers for a long, passionate kiss. Eventually Aidan cleared his throat loudly.
“Let’s get moving.”
Sighing in unison they strolled over to their tethered horses and mounted up without further conversation. Tarienne allowed her gaze to linger on each of the men she travelled with. She loved them each in a different way, but equally.Riding up beside Daien she sent her thoughts to him.
Did I tell you today, how much I love you, my Daien?
Daien’s warm dark eyes met hers.
Yes, but I never tire of hearing it. I love you too, my beautiful, Fae Princess.
He lifted his hand, fisting it over his heart and held it there. Her heart did a little back flip. She returned the gesture. He held her heart too. They rode on and were soon close to the cave where King Eldian had buried the magical artefacts once stored in the keep at Castle Therin. Tarienne noticed that except for a few distant snarls and growls there were none of the usual sounds of the forest.
No bird song, no skittering animals, no mating calls, not even the trees made a sound and without understanding why Daien had become restless. His Druid blood called to the trees and there was no answer. The balance of magic was failing.
Tension filled them all. Tarienne noticed that Raef, Aidan and Daien, surrounded her whenever they were able. Daien rarely left her side. Raef was quiet and watchful. Aidan’s eyes constantly scanned their surrounds, occasionally flicking to Tarienne and sending her a small reassuring smile.
The group stopped only when it was necessary to nap or eat. The playful banter and idle chatter of the early days of their quest was gone replaced by a quiet sense of foreboding. They could no longer light a fire when they made camp for fear it would draw attention to their whereabouts. They dared not separate to hunt for fresh meat even though their food supplies were running low. Tarienne knew it was time to spare a little magic to steep some medicinal, herbal tea.
They’d just finished a meagre meal of stale bread, cheese and dried fruit when Tarienne retrieved her pack from her saddle. She opened her satchel of herbs selected a few and dropped them into a pot which she then filled with fresh water. Raef, Aidan and Daien watched with curiosity. Smiling she, pulled out four, metal mugs. Murmuring a few words in the ancient language she heated the water. Straining the liquid through a thin piece of cloth removing the herbs Tarienne poured the steaming tea into the mugs and handed one to each of the men. Raef sniffed the concoction suspiciously, pulling a face at the smell wafting from the liquid. Tarienne couldn’t stifle a giggle.
“It’s St. Johns Wort, Milk Thistle and Gingko Biloba to help your mood, with dried berries and ginger for flavour. Try it, you big baby.”
Raef raised his eyebrows and sipped. Everyone watched expectantly.
“Hmmm, not bad, if you can get past the smell. Phew.”
Tarienne swatted him playfully, chuckling. Aidan and Daien tasted the brew making little appreciative noises. Tarienne smiled settling next to Daien. Daien swapped the mug into his other hand and slipped his free arm around her waist tugging her closer both craving the comfort and closeness of the other.
Too soon, they were packed again and on their way fearful of staying in one place too long. Tarienne felt the physical separation from Daien as an unyielding ache that spread through her and settled in her chest. Riding as closely as she could to him and communicating through mind speak only slightly relieved it but that would have to suffice for now. She sighed and Daien winked at her, puckering his lips into a kiss making her giggle.
Three days after their last encounter with the wolves they came upon a large grassy plain with no cover for them to ride under. Reigning in their horses they peered out from the cover of the trees. In the distance there was a great deal of activity in what appeared to be an encampment. Smoke rose from huge fires and even across the great distance between them they could hear the din of the army. An army of evil men and creatures spawned in the darkest places of the earth.
“Now what?” Tarienne asked, looking around at the others as they pulled their horses up beside her. Her heart sank. She knew what their next step had to be. She wished she was anywhere else. Anywhere else, with Daien. Dragging in a deep breath Tarienne waited for the answer leaning across Lacey to slip her hand into Daien’s. For a long moment no-one responded. It was Raef who finally answered
“We must cross the plains to the left of the army to reach the caverns where the stone was buried.”
“How do you propose we do that?” Aidan asked, a frown wrinkling his brow.
“Let’s take a short break and discuss the best way to cross.”
Dropping smoothly from his horse Raef patted the stallion speaking quietly in his ear to soothe away the agitation the horse was displaying. Aidan did the same, pulling half a semi-dried apple from his pocket. His steed happily took it munching contentedly, it’s restlessness momentarily forgotten.
Daien slid casually from his stallion. Walking around to Lacey he held his hands out to Tarienne to help her off the mare’s back. Even though she didn’t need it she accepted Daien’s hand slipping gratefully into his waiting arms. Her hands went to his shoulders as his large hands circled her waist possessively. Pulling her close he let her slither down his hard, muscular body the hunger in his eyes taking her breath away.
Daien lowered her feet very slowly to the ground, ensuring their bodies were pressed together as long as possible then swept his arms around her capturing her lips in a searing kiss. Despite the cold, her body warmed and softened for him her hands snaking around his neck, sliding up into his luscious, chocolate brown hair.
Too soon Daien broke the contact and a sense of loss washed over her. Seeking his hand she interlocked her fingers with his. He smiled reassuringly and the contact chased away the unwelcome feeling of impending doom stalking her senses.Raef grabbed a chunk of dried apple from his pack and began munching on it.
“We need to cross to the left of the encampment. They’ll likely have scouts spread out in the forest surrounding the plains. Any suggestions?”
While Raef addressed everyone he focused on Aidan given that he had the most experience in strategy. Aidan had proven his ability to read a situation as both the Prince and King of Therin. Aidan paused thoughtfully before he spoke.
“I believe the only course of action is to take the path through the centre of the plain. To ride as fast as we can and hope that we outrun them because they will certainly have sentries placed around the tree line. We’ll need to decide whether to stand and fight or continue pushing the horses as hard as possible if they catch up to us, especially if there are changelings in the army.”
Raef nodded, his eyes scanning the Tarienne and Daien’s reaction to Aidan’s suggestion. Daien joined in confident in his opinion. Pride swelled in Tarienne’s chest.
“I’d normally say stand and fight but they’d quickly outnumber us. So I agree with Aidan, run and continue running as fast and hard as we can in the hope of reaching the caves before they do. Hopefully we can get in and out with the Golden Stone before all hell breaks loose.”
Tarienne nodded her agreement.
“Yes, I believe that’s our only chance.”
Moving closer to Daien, the possibility of losing him made her chest tight with fear. Breathing as evenly as she could she fiercely clasped his hand. Daien turned to her, a tiny frown creasing his forehead as she gripped his fingers. He sent her another reassuring smile and Tarienne forced herself to smile back through her worry. Dropping her hand, Daien tucked her close into his side, sensing her need.
“So we’re all agreed.” Raef strode to his horse, removing his pack. “Let’s rest and eat something and we can discuss the plan further.”
To Tarienne, he sent a confident smile. Do not worry, Sweetling, we have the power of Prophecy with us. We are equal to this battle, all of us, including Daien and Aidan.
Aidan’s gaze flicked between Raef and Tarienne a small frown creasing his brow as though he’d heard their mind speak. Turning away he busied himself brushing his stallion down. Tarienne wondered what was wrong.
Raef sat cross legged on the ground while Daien grabbed his pack and slid down to the soft grass. His back rested against an old gnarled tree with branches that spread wide and high up into the leafy canopy. Tarienne suspected that his Druid heritage drew him to the trees for comfort on a visceral level. Smiling she joined him leaning into his lean, muscled torso his heat chasing away the cold. Daien’s arm slipped around her waist. Aidan sat on her other side linking his fingers with hers, both seeking and giving comfort. He grinned, his handsome face slightly drawn, his eyes a little too bright.
Tarienne leaned over to drop a kiss on Aidan’s cheek. She loved this man. He was her brother, not by blood but her brother nonetheless. Aidan surprised her when he leaned close and whispered.
“Do not fear for myself or Daien, we have trained all our lives for something like this.”
Squeezing his hand, Tarienne wondered how Aidan had heard her conversation with Raef.
Sharing some rather dry bread and cheese they washed it down with fresh water and discussed what to do if one of them should fall behind or be captured. All were in agreement that if they were to die they would die together, fighting back to back. Raef and Tarienne would draw on an ancient spell requiring the combining of their magical strength if the need arose. Should that be the scenario Daien and Aidan would ride beyond the tree line as far as they needed to be safe and await Raef and Tarienne’s arrival. Aidan and Daien strenuously argued against this. They wanted to stay and fight to protect Raef and Tarienne.
Raef eventually convinced them that it was the best course of action explaining that if they were in the path of the spell when it was unleashed he wasn’t certain they’d be safe. It would cost Tarienne and himself more energy to shield them magically which could impact on the potency of the incantation. Aidan and Daien reluctantly acquiesced.
Daien struggled with the possibility of leaving Tarienne to face their enemy. His warriors blood pulsed like a drum. It felt wrong to leave them despite Raef’s explanation. Daien had promised to protect Tarienne. He’d failed her once, he wouldn’t allow it to happen a second time.
He knew she was nervous about the battle. It wasn’t caused by a lack of skill with her weapons because she was fierce and talented with her sword and twin knives, however, she’d been robbed of her confidence by Lacas. Raef’s power was immense but two against an army? Daien glanced at Aidan who sent him a look of resolve clapping him on the back as he passed. Daien slowed his breathing reaching for the calm that he needed. Tarienne’s intoxicating scent of vanilla and cinnamon teased at his resolve. He drew it in allowing it to soothe him. The corners of his mouth twitched up into a smile.
Finishing their meagre meal in silence they rested for around an hour they prepared to leave. Daien drew Tarienne to him for a long, tender kiss.
“No matter what happens, never forget how much I love you.”
Tears welled in Tarienne’s eyes and she caught a sob, before it escaped.
“Don’t you leave me, Daien. I love you so much. I’m not sure I could go on without you.”
Daien sighed. “Nor I you. You are the very air that I breathe and I plan to spend forever loving you.”
Tarienne’s heart felt brittle just thinking about the possibility of losing Daien. Pulling herself together she smiled through her tears.
“See you in the forest on the other side, my love.
“Daien kissed her again, a long, sweet kiss, one she never wanted to end. Eventually they pulled away and Raef and Aidan pulled her in turn into huge bear hugs. They saddled up and Raef motioned them up beside him.
He held Tarienne’s eyes for a brief moment. The usual vivid blue of his eyes had turned dark like an ocean in a storm. His battle fury, barely contained.
Urging their horses into action they erupted from the cover of the trees thundering across the very centre of the grassy plain. Tarienne leaned low over Lacey whispering into her ear.
“Run like the wind, Dear heart, our lives depend on it.”
Seeming to understand the dire need Lacey’s hooves flew across the fresh green grass keeping pace with the larger stallions. The horses snorted their chests heaving. The companions pushed them as hard as they dared.
Halfway across the plain riders broke from the forest. The small army thundered toward them on horses covered with black armour, white painted markings streaked along their steeds sides. Not one of the approaching riders was human. Aidan’s, Raef’s, Daien’s and Tarienne’s horses bolted forward as the disfigured creatures bellowed and shrieked their approach.
The rhythmic thud of their horses streaking across the flattened grass of the plain created the sensation that they were all moving in slow motion. Assessing the situation, loose tendrils of her hair whipping around her face, Tarienne released her bow from its clasp, ripped an arrow from the quiver on her back and loosed it at the closest of the beasts hurtling toward them. As it thumped straight into his chest black-red blood bloomed around the arrow. The creature fell and was trampled by its own steed. Lacey didn’t break stride and Tarienne refocused on keeping up blessing her stubborn and hardy, mare.
Now flanked by the armoured horses they were too close for her to use her bow. Slinging it across her shoulder Tarienne lay low across Lacey’s back. The beasts leaned forward brutally whipping more speed from their horses,raising long, cruelly curved swords in their enormous, hairy hands. Tarienne lifted her eyes. Her heart slammed into her throat as a wall of archers unleashed a barrage of arrows in their direction. She screamed above the din, “RAEF!”
Raef looked up. Swearing under his breath he slowed his horse a fraction. Time stood still as he stood in his stirrups hooking his reins around the pommel. Tightening his knees against his stallion’s flanks to prevent himself from falling he raised his arms chanting a spell to divert the arrows. Aidan, Daien and Tarienne closed in around himprotecting him as he gathered the magic. The arrows slowed in the air, dropping harmlessly to the ground. Raef let out a long, heavy breath of relief.
The rabble whooped as their quarry slowed assuming they were close to defeat. Surrounding the companions they forced them to a halt. Raef let the battle fury build within him. Holding it tightly in check he grinned wildly. Everything was going to plan. Thus far.
The stallions snorted and stomped nervously trapped in a circle of evil. Lacey stood completely still her nostrils twitching, smelling the danger, her ears back. Terror threatened to consume the mare. Tarienne leaned low over Lacey’s back whispering a calming spell in her ear. She settled immediately moving into position with the other horses, facing outward toward their aggressors.
Tarienne stood in her stirrups. Raising her arms she joined Raef’s chant which had shifted to the ancient incantation they’d discussed. The power coursed through her throwing everything into sharp focus. The ancient magic pulsed in her veins fuelling her resolve, escalating her power.
Aidan and Daien sat, unmoving their swords raised. Their faces a mask of determination, their battle fury temporarily held in check. Their assailants smirked at their quarry’s attempt at magic not yet realising their peril. Their horses sides heaved, flecked with foam from their frothing mouths.
Battle calm coursed through Aidan. He breathed evenly focusing on the faces of the enemy, distantly registering the unfamiliar words flowing from Raef and Tarienne. Their magic shimmered through the air buzzing in his ears like a swarm of angry bees. Pushing the sound to the back of his attention he raised his sword aware of Daien doing the same beside him.
Raef continued chanting, speaking into Aidan’s mind as he wove the spell with Tarienne.
When we release the magic and clear a path push your horses as fast as you can. Don’t look back or stop, no matter what you hear.
Raef’s voice was commanding, his eyes slid between Daien and Aidan. Aidan nodded, turning to Daien, knowing he wouldn’t want to comply despite their earlier agreement. Daien started to protest but Tarienne turned toward him pinning him with a powerful glare. Her green eyes iridescent she wore the magic she held like a mantle. Tarienne shook her head almost imperceptibly. Reluctantly, Daien acquiesced.
Daien beheld her for the briefest of moments, her body glowing with the immense power she held. His thoughts slipped to another time when she’d glowed naked beneath him in the moonlight. He wrenched his mind back to the present, this was not the time for desire to distract him. He allowed himself another second to memorise her breathtaking beauty.
In contrast, Raef was terrifying as the power built within him. His body radiated sparks as the magic grew fed by the lilting Fae words unfamiliar to Daien’s ears. A deep blue-red glow grew like a fireball between Raef and Tarienne’s hands. Daien realised why they wanted he and Aidan to leave. How could he battle against such a force with naught but his sword? He fervently hoped that if the need arose he’d find something buried within to fight an opponent who possessed magic.
The enemy suddenly realising their mistake in assuming the group were weak and cowed began wheeling, scrambling over each other to retreat. Daien sent up thanks that the Fae were on his side as the power flowed between them, the air crackling like a lightning storm. Daien nodded in Aidan’s direction. Riding away from Raef and Tarienne would be one of the hardest things they’d ever had to do
Raef’s battle cry rang out across the plain when he and Tarienne completed the powerful, ancient incantation. The surrounding beasts parted attempting to retreat, crashing and bumping into each other chaotically in their terror. Aidan and Daien exploded out of the centre of the confusion their swords cutting a swathe of death and destruction through the riders too slow to escape.
Daien risked a glance back over his shoulder to see Raef and Tarienne sparking and crackling with the power of the enchantment they’d unleashed. The cloud of magic crept toward the terrified creatures and their mounts. Dragging his attention back to their escape with a supreme effort Daien pushed forward. He jumped as Tarienne’s voice reached Daienhim on the wind above the clamour of the battle.
Stay safe, my love, and keep Aidan safe too.
Urging his stallion on Daien kept pace with Aidan. His heart torn in two he had to force himself to keep moving away from Tarienne. He whispered back.
I love you, Ren, hurry back to me. We’ll be waiting.
Now he knew how she’d felt when they rode away to battle Lemere. He swore at that moment that neither of them would ever feel that way again.
Aidan and Daien broke free of the rabble driving their stallions almost to the point of exhaustion before they dared slow their pace. Finally they stopped dismounting beside a small waterhole, breathless and filled with dread for Raef and Tarienne. Allowing the horses to graze and drink freely they brushed them down quickly before they made camp in a leafy copse of young trees close to the water’s edge.
Collapsing on the cool, damp grass they drank deeply from their water bottles listening for signs of pursuit and any indication that Tarienne and Raef followed. Daien’s heart thumped loudly against his ribs and he fought the urge to go back. He turned to Aidan, agitated, jumping to his feet and pacing around the camp site.
“This doesn’t feel right. We’re trained as warriors, to stand and fight. Damn it, Aidan, I can’t wait here while Gods knows what is happening to them out there.”
“You’re making me dizzy, Daien. Sit down and breathe. Do you think I liked leaving them? We’ll wait for awhile and then decide whether to go back. Give them a chance.”
Daien responded to Aidan’s commanding tone without question. He’d been a King’s Guard so long that it was second nature to obey his King, but that didn’t stop the growl that rose from within him. Aidan’s eyebrows rose in surprise, but he refrained from commenting.
When they knew that Aidan and Daien were safely out of range Raef and Tarienne unleashed the power they had gathered. The soldiers panicked trampling their comrades who had tumbled to the ground when their horses reared. Horses screamed in terror their riders struggling to maintain control to save themselves. The bolder beasts amongst their ranks continued their approach seemingly unafraid. Several groped and clawed at Tarienne’s feet and legs attempting to pull her off Lacey.
Withdrawing her long knives the battle fury burned through her like wildfire. She quickly despatched the creatures grasping at her ankles slashing their necks with a wide arc of her twin blades. Thick, black blood, spurted onto the ground as the hideous creatures gurgled, surprise registering on their disfigured faces before their lifeblood slickened the trampled grass.
Raef had jumped to the ground where he was able to wield his sword more easily. What a magnificent warrior her brother was. His blade was drawn, his eyes were wide and azure blue, his body tense like a predator ready to strike. Raef circled spinning his weapon easily in his right hand, snapping it into his fist in readiness for the next attack. His sword was also covered with the black blood of the creatures whose heads he had hacked off.
A vile smell rose from their dismembered carcasses. The stench and grisly sight momentarily caused Tarienne’s stomach to revolt. She swallowed hard refocusing her attention on Raef and the power they still held pulsing between them, straining to be released.
Swinging himself back onto his stallion Raef moved closer to Tarienne to maintain the enchantment as long as possible so that Daien and Aidan could escape. Unbelievably their power escalated yet again even though it seemed as though they had been fighting for hours. Exhaustion threatened to claim them but they fought on holding onto the incredible potency of the spell.
When Tarienne thought she might collapse such was the drain on both her magic and her body the air suddenly pulsed and close to three quarters of their attackers died. Raef had opened himself up to the power coursing through him allowing his immense strength to combine with the ancient magic. Tarienne wondered how he’d had anything left to give when she was ready to collapse. She watched as those caught in the blast slammed to the ground, writhed momentarily then disintegrated into a bloody mess. The remainder of the fell army ran for their lives seeing their companions decimated.
Relaxing a fraction Raef and Tarienne settled back down in their saddles trying to catch their breath when a black cloud swooped down toward them. Tarienne gasped, exhaustion etched across her face.
“Saints preserve us, crow changelings.”
“Courage, Sweetling, we still hold the ancient power. Focus on me and recite the words to reinforce the spell.”
She sighed but Raef watched her rally her strength proud of the strength and determination of his sister. Neither of them could wield the magic they had called alone. He knew that she was close to exhaustion because the strain of holding the ancient magic for so long had sapped most of his energy too, but still she rallied. Calling on his reserves they loosed the last of the power they held.
The giant, coal black creatures swooped in plummeting from the sky with their razor sharp beaks aimed like arrows at their prey. One managed to break through Raef’s defences. A cry of pain broke from his parched lips when the creatures’ fell beak slammed viciously into his right shoulder. His sword clattered to the ground his arm limp and useless. An arrow whizzed past him straight into the bird’s throat. It’s huge, black feathered body dropped to the ground, lifeless. Fighting exhaustion and pain he held onto the power long enough to destroy what was left of the flock. FInally his gaze drifted over Tarienne, her bow in hand, her eyes wild.
“Thank you, Sweetling. You fought like a true Fae warrior.”
Breathless they sat silently for a moment wondering what else would come. When it became apparent that for now at least they were victorious Raef slipped to the ground, bending awkwardly to pick up his sword. Lifting it’s weight with his left hand he wiped it clean on the grass, re-sheathing it with a wince at the pain in his shoulder. Tarienne dismounted also wiping her blades on the grass before returning them to the twin leather scabbards on either side of the belt loosely clasped around her waist.
With what little strength she had left she moved to Raef’s side to examine his wound. It was deep and looked filthy from both the dirt and sweat of their battle and the foul matter from the carrion crow’s beak. When Tarienne reached out to place her hands over the wound Raef pulled away.
“Not here, Sweetling. We’ll need all of our remaining strength to ride to safety.”
Meeting his gaze Tarienne nodded too spent to answer. Raef swayed slightly. Tarienne rushed to his side to support him and they hobbled slowly back to their horses. Sighing as she settled back into her saddle Tarienne leaned down and whispered her thanks in Lacey’s ear.
“Thank you, Dear heart. Do you have the strength to take us to the trees, where we can all rest?”
Lacey snorted and trotted off toward the tree line as if offended at the suggestion that she was tired. Tarienne managed a tiny smile at the stubborn pride of her mare. Turning to see Raef’s stallion following slowly with her brother slumped slightly in the saddle Tarienne tugged gently at Lacey’s reins to slow her, waiting for him to catch up. She’d never seen him so fatigued. Concern stabbed at the edge of her thoughts. Could she protect him if she needed to? Keeping Lacey close to Raef’s stallion in case he fell, they moved so slowly that Tarienne’s impatience to tend Raef’s wounds stabbed at her through her bone deep weariness.
When they finally reached the forest they didn’t have the energy to move too far in. Thankfully their horses thirst had lead them to a small waterhole close to the edge of the heavily wooded forest. They slid from their saddles, exhausted.
Raef barely managed a few steps before collapsing onto the cool grass. Tarienne checked him anxiously, his face was flushed and she feared his wound was already infected. Shaking him gently she managed to turn him over with his co-operation. Seeing that his eyes were slightly glazed concern rippled through Tarienne again. Barely able function herself she needed to tend to his oozing wounds before she allowed herself to rest.
Handing him his water bottle she lifted his head and encouraged him to drink deeply. He complied with a groan falling immediately back onto the grass. Tarienne grabbed the bottle before it dropped and spilled over him. Her heart clenched with fear, Raef had always looked after her. Tears pooled in her eyes as she stared at her brother vulnerable as she’d never seen him before. Dashing away the tears she chided herself. Stop being such a baby. Bending to kiss Raef’s cheek she rallied the last of her strength.
Knowing she couldn’t move Raef on her own she retrieved his bedroll and rolled up a soft cloth to serve as a pillow. She lay his bedroll out beside him and shoved him until he responded rolling onto it, a groan sliding from his lips. Covering him with a blanket to ward off the chill of the evening air she kneeled beside him, barely able to force herself upright.
They must have battled the creatures for hours because the moon was rising in the darkening sky. Raef heaved a deep sigh falling into a fitful sleep. Tarienne fetched some water warming it magically and steeping a pinch of the herb, Goldenseal in the water. When it had cooled she cleansed his wound to start the healing process then placed a clean, damp cloth on his forehead and lay down beside him on her bedroll too tired to keep watch any longer.
Managing a brief spell to conceal them she closed her heavy lids. The trees rustled around them, whispering to each other. Tarienne strained her ears for a brief moment attempting to decipher their words before exhaustion claimed her and she drifted off to sleep with her hand protectively across Raef’s chest. Her last thoughts before her eyelids flickered closed were of Daien and Aidan. She prayed that they were safe.