Aidan awoke with a start unsure for a moment where he was. Daien still slept his back resting against a young oak tree, it’s thin lower twigs covered with tiny leaves brushing at the top of his head.
Aidan crawled over and shook him. “Daien, wake up.”
Daien opened his eyes rubbing them, trying to focus. Looking around he was bewildered for a second before he jumped up, agitated, pacing around Aidan.
“Where are they? Damn it, I fell asleep waiting for them. Aidan we have to go back.”
Aidan stood, resting his hand on Daien’s arm.
“Calm down. Let’s eat, then go back and find them.”
Despite his outer calm, Aidan’s heart thumped hard with fear. Tarienne and Raef should have found them by now, unless ... He couldn’t allow himself to follow that train of thought.
“Why don’t you try to contact them using your mind voice?”
Daien visibly calmed.
“Yes, yes, forgive me. I can think clearly in battle but I’m an idiot where Ren’s concerned. I think about her and any sensible thought completely flees.”
He looked pointedly at Aidan, who grinned back. His friendship with Daien had strengthened since Tarienne’s capture and Aidan treasured the bond they’d forged. He reminded himself to tell Daien that when the opportunity arose. Aidan listened in while Daien concentrated on both Tarienne and Raef knowing that Raef was more likely to pick up his mind voice if they were a long way off. There was no answer. Daien shook his head.
His face held a sadness that Aidan understood.
“They’re likely exhausted and asleep somewhere safe. Come on, we’ll eat as we ride. We’ll find them, my friend.”
Resting his hand on Daien’s shoulder reassuringly, Daien met his eyes and nodded, pulling in a deep, calming breath. They strode over to saddle the horses and fished some dried biscuits out of their packs, munching on them as they rode through the forest. The trees rustled and their branches swept around Daien seeming to reach out attempting to brush him as they passed.
After awhile Aidan spoke, concern threading through his voice.
“Daien, stop for a moment.”
Daien pulled his horse alongside Aidan his hand automatically settling on the hilt of his sword.
“Do you see how the trees move?”
Daien wasn’t sure what Aidan was talking about.
“It’s the wind ...isn’t it?”
His heart began an erratic rhythm. Focusing on the trees, his gaze swept around, his voice an awed whisper.
“There isn’t any wind!”
He concentrated on the whispery sound they made and was stunned to hear a soft breathy voice.
“Follow me ...”
An ethereal figure appeared, beckoning. Aidan and Daien jumped, but held their tongues for fear of startling her. Tall and willowy with wispy green hair trailing almost to the ground, glossy leaves twined around her arms and legs and pristine, white flowers wove through her hair. Daien whispered, in awe of the creature he’d only heard of before this moment.
“A tree spirit.”
The spirit turned, her whisper little more than a rustle of the leaves.
“Come friend, Daien. I am a Dryad of the forest. Follow me, your Fae have need of you.”
Daien turned to Aidan who nodded his silent agreement. Daien wanted to ask if Tarienne and Raef were alright but dared not. His heart thumped erratically, a drum beat in the sudden stillness of the forest.
They followed silently moving more slowly than they would have liked, frustration nipping at Daien’s patience. Even the horses barely made a sound in the quiet calm of the heavily treed forest. The thick canopy above protected them from the weather. Sweetly scented flowers and the subtle crispness of leaves revitalised them filling them with a pure, clean strength that cleared and enhanced their senses. Calm infused them, soothing their fears, reassuring them.
Almost an hour later the Dryad faded and disappeared. Daien called softly to her.
“Lady of the Wood where are you?”
Drifting to them from the surrounding trees her voice wavered.
“Forgive me friends of the forest I can take you no further. The evil is too strong. Continue north to the waterhole near the forests edge. Do not give up, their lives depend on it.”
Trailing off her words were almost blown away on the soft breeze. Daien strained to catch them. He shoved the fear that threatened to overwhelm him aside knowing that it wasn’t helping the focus that they both needed to find Tarienne and Raef.
Unwilling to waste another moment they urged their horses on bolting through the forest as quickly as they dared. Parting for them the trees seemed to guide their way. When they reached the edge of the forest and gazed out over the plain at the destruction Daien’s heart pounded with fear.
“How could they have survived this?”
His eyes met Aidan’s and he witnessed his own fear reflected there. Sitting motionless atop their snorting mounts, the stench emanating from the dead beasts unsettled the horses and made the men wrinkle their noses in disgust.
Turning back toward the forest they silently resumed searching for tracks. There was no need for words between them as they dismounted. Daien’s eyes cast around for any sign of the two Fae. Their frustration was rising when Aidan called out.
Pointing at two sets of tracks one lighter than the other indicating a smaller horse, Aidan crouched over the indentations and confirmed the question on Daien’s lips.
Daien’s spirit lifted.
“They can’t be far.”
Mounting their stallions again they moved slowly, their eyes glued to the tracks. A horse nickered softly and their heads snapped up. Lacey trotted over to them in greeting, her saddle still on, snorting at the stallions as if to say, Well about time.
Scanning the area Daien’s gaze finally settled on the outline of Raef and Tarienne in a nearby clearing beside a small water hole. Relief washing over him, he leapt off his horse sprinting over to where Raef and Tarienne lay motionless. Quickly examining them Daien noticed dried blood on Raef’s shoulder and a deep open wound, surrounded by some fiery redness. A quick check of Tarienne showed no visible wounds. A little of his tension drained away.
Daien crouched beside Tarienne shaking her gently. She did not respond immediately then leapt up in fright drawing her knives.
“Ren, it’s me, Daien.”
Holding his hands up palms toward her in a gesture of submission Daien waited. Slowly, Tarienne registered that she was safe, her knives clattered to the ground and she fell into his arms. Warm relief flooded through Daien. Drawing back slightly she pulled Aidan into the embrace. Aidan slid his arms around her and moved into the three way hug.
Without warning, she pulled away again their ordeal spilling from her lips.
“Raef was injured and we were both exhausted after holding the spell for so long, we couldn’t ride any further. Thank Gods you’re both here and unhurt.” Glancing down at Raef, “I need to help him heal he’s burning up.”
Aidan bent down, placing his hand on Raef’s forehead taking charge without realising he did so.
“Daien could you light a fire and fetch some water please? Ren, fetch the herbs out of your pack to help with the infection then rest beside Raef while I cook some food for you both. You’re going to need your strength to heal him.”
Daien grinned and mouthed.
Tarienne chuckled, smiling warmly at Aidan. Grabbing her pack Tarienne sank onto the cool grass beside Raef. Daien passed her a fresh, damp cloth which she wiped over Raef’s forehead washing his face. When the water had been heated over the fire she made a tea with herbs she had selected and chanted a healing spell over his wound.
Daien slipped in behind her, his knees either side of her providing support as she worked. Aidan prepared a stew with the last of the meat and a few dried vegetables. He’d asked Tarienne which herbs would enhance the flavour and added those too and the aroma wafting from the cooking pot made her mouth water. Realising how hungry she was she tried to remember how long it had been since they’d last eaten.
Tarienne finished the incantation and cleansing Raef’s wounds. The tea had finished steeping so she called to Raef to wake him.
“Toror, come back to me. Open your eyes my brother.”
A few moments later Raef stirred and a collective sigh of relief rippled through them. Raef opened his eyes taking in the three pairs of concerned eyes scrutinising him. His throat dry, his words came out as little more than a croak.
“How did we do?”
Tarienne rolled her eyes holding out the tea for him.
“That’s the first question you ask? Sit up and drink this, Dear heart.”
Answering his question, she watched as Raef sipped at the hot tea.
“We won the battle, took out three quarters of the army and would have gotten away unscathed if the crow changelings hadn’t attacked. One crow somehow penetrated our defences and drove its beak into your shoulder but you managed to hold onto the magic and we threw everything we had left at them. They were falling from the sky half changed, it was disgusting.”
A shudder passed through like a chill wind making her wrap her arms around herself.
“We managed to ride the horses into the forest and stop here. That’s the last I remember until Daien woke me.”
Tarienne jumped up wrinkling her nose.
“I need to bathe.”
Aidan smiled conspiratorially. They’d been through a great deal.
“I’ll sit with Raef, you two go freshen up. When you’re finished, I’ll bathe.”
Tarienne and Daien wasted no time disappearing into the bushes heading for the other side of the watering hole. Raef and Aidan shared a grin and settled down to chat about the events of the last few days as Raef ate a little more stew.
When they were out of hearing distance Daien swept his arms around Tarienne kissing her passionately, allowing the fear he’d held for her to drive his actions. Plastering herself against him Tarienne kissed him back with such desperation that a long low growl rumbled through him. His arousal was so hard it was painful but he knew how tired she was and with a supreme effort pulled back a little.
“Sweetheart remove your clothes and I’ll help you wash.”
Through her exhaustion Tarienne managed a cheeky smile.
“Only if you take yours off too.”
“Alright, but I’m just washing you, you’re exhausted.”
Undressing, they walked into the cold, waist deep water. Tarienne stood passively while Daien soaped her, a testimony to how tired she was. Sliding the soap across her skin Daien barely contained the urge to slip his hands into the vee between her legs. His resolve hanging by a thread, his voice husky with desire, he ordered her to turn around so he could lather her back. When she complied, his soapy hands slipped over her soft skin and he was incapable of stopping his hands caressing her breasts as her slipperybody slid enticingly against his.
Daien grabbed her around the waist, holding her upright when she swayed into him.. Pulling her down into the water, he rinsed her off and sweeping her into his arms carried her back to the bank. Desire threatened to him but he forced it aside, concern for her winning out.
“Can you dry yourself, Sweetheart while I quickly wash?”
Tarienne nodded admiring the rippling muscles of Daien’s backside as he strode into the water. When he began soaping his lean, sculpted body, she fervently wished she had the strength to do it for him. The cloth she held to dry herself hung limply from her hands.Her mouth was suddenly dry.Her heart thumping wildly as he dipped under the water, warmth flooding her despite the cold. He walked toward her, his arousal jutting out over his washboard stomach.,. She licked her lips as Daien’s eyes darkened. Without drying himself or dressing he sank onto the soft grass pulling her with him. His body half covering hers he leaned in for a tender kiss. Despite her tiredness she wanted him so much that her body thrummed with need.
Daien held his breath when Tarienne’s hands drifted down wrapping around his hard silkiness. Pulling in a long breath he gently lifted her hands up to his chest. Daien moved over her supporting his weight on his elbows, his arousal pressing into her. Bending down to kiss her, hearing her whimper as she greedily devoured his lips he fought an inner battle against the powerful love and desire assaulting his wavering control.
Would it ever be any different? She loved him more than she could have believed possible. Groaning, Daien moved flexed his hips, hunger darkening his eyes to near black. He lost control when she pushed her hips up wrapping her legs around his waist.
Lifting himself, Daien knelt between her legs leaning his hands either side of her shoulders. His rock hard length nudged at her entrance before plunging into her core. Meeting his fierce passion with her own she couldn’t hold back a groan as he dropped kisses across her breasts, his hips circling and thrusting. The heat of his mouth and the rhythm of his body filling hers sent waves of heat spiralling through her core. When he pulled her nipple into his mouth she arched into him moaning loudly.
Daien straightened over her watching their bodies join intimately. Thrusting faster a groan slid from his lips. Resting on one powerful arm he massaged her sensitive nub with the fingers of his other hand. Tarienne’s climax hit hard a tidal wave of pleasure shattering her into a million tiny shards of exquisite pleasure. He smothered her cries with a deep kiss then soared to his own crescendo crying out her name as he pumped his hot seed rhythmically into her.
When they both stopped panting Daien smiled his handsome face filled with love for her alone.
“If that’s what you can do to me when you’re exhausted I can’t wait for you to be fully rested!”
Chuckling she swatted him playfully.
“We’d better clean up and return to camp, to check on Raef.”
Reluctantly he lifted himself, his gaze sweeping her body appreciatively as he did so. When they’d washed off the evidence of their lovemaking and dressed to return to the campsite Tarienne turned to him looping her arms around his neck. She pressed a kiss to his lips.
“I didn’t realise until today that I draw strength from you in a physical way. It must be something to do with your Druid blood.”
Daien snagged her hand, bringing her fingers to his lips. Suddenly he remembered the Dryad who had helped him find her.
“With everything that has happened I forgot to tell you. A Dryad appeared to us when we were in the forest looking for you and Raef. She helped us find you.”
Tarienne stilled. Her expression one of amazement.
“Daien that is incredible news we must tell Raef. This means that the balance of magic has tipped back our way.”
Grabbing his hand she pulled him with her to tell Raef. He grinned at her enthusiasm and let her take the lead. Gods, how he loved this woman. As they entered the campsite Tarienne’s words tumbled out in a rush.
“Raef, Daien and Aidan saw a Dryad, she helped them find us. Oh, Raef, this means the balance is shifting doesn’t it ...”
Raef chuckled and as she drew a breath he took the opportunity to speak raising his eyebrows suggestively.
“Yes Sweetling,it’s a good sign. I gather you enjoyed your bath?”
Blushing she finally grinned.
“Yes, we did thank you.”
They all chuckled relaxed in each other’s company. Tarienne wondered if they were sometimes a little too relaxed. Danger stalked them, they’d proven that many times over the course of their journey. Her light mood sobered a little wondering what would their next challenge be.
“I think I’ll freshen up now.”
He gathered some clean clothes, a cloth to dry himself with and disappeared through the trees. Raef lay back on his bedroll wincing slightly. Noticing his pain Tarienne kneeled at his side placing her hands over his wounded shoulder. Raef pulled away but she anchored him with a determined glare. Chuckling he acquiesced visibly relaxing as her ministrations eased the pain. Daien poured a drink handing it to Raef who downed it thirstily.
“Is there any stew left?” Raef asked, sitting up.
Beaming at her brother’s recovery she hastened to retrieve a bowl of the tasty stew Aidan had prepared. Raef ate with surprising zeal and when Aidan returned from his ablutions they all settled down to sleep confident the wards that Tarienne had set would keep them safe until the morning.
Tarienne went over the spell in her mind as she cuddled into Daien’s embrace. Yes they’d hold...wouldn’t they?