Tarienne called out, her heart pounding with terror as she searched the battlefield for Aidan and Daien, unable to find them in the aftermath of the bloody conflict. Her stomach churned at the sight of broken and bleeding bodies strewn across the battle field. The river ran red with the blood of the dead and dying. Her face dripped with tears shed for the soldiers she knew, their limp, lifeless bodies crumpled on the muddy ground. Never to return to their loved ones. Was anyone left alive? Suddenly she spotted him, the lifeless body of Daien, his battle garb slick with his own blood, his brown eyes open, empty of the warmth and laughter that had lived there. She cried out rushing to him almost slipping in the slimy mixture of blood and mud as she navigated around the corpses. The stench of death threatened to overwhelm her as she sank to her knees at Daien’s side. Her body racked with sobs as she grasped at his now ice cold hand. Flinging herself over his chest.
“NO, NO, NO.” She screamed and couldn’t stop.
Tarienne woke in a cold sweat her heart pounding. Sitting bolt upright in bed she fought to retain the contents of her stomach. Her breath coming in short gasps it took her a few moments to realise it had been a nightmare. Not real. She shivered despite the first shafts of warm sunlight peeking through the edges of the heavy curtains that covered the thick glass windows. Wrapping her arms around herself she shook her head to dispel the disturbing images. A tear escaped, trickling down her cheek.
It had been two weeks since King Eldian and Prince Aidan had marshalled the Army of Therin and thundered through the gates to battle the blood thirsty warlord, Lemere. Why hadn’t she heard any news? Time should have passed quickly given that she’d been tasked with total responsibility for the day to day running of the castle. She all but collapsed into bed each night exhausted from meeting with the villagers to hear their grievances, managing the servants, visiting the sick and checking on food stocks. Howeve, sleep still did not come easily. She couldn’t dispel the feeling that something was wrong. Gods, let them be safe.
Desperately wishing for news Tarienne stomped into the great hall. She had risen early unable to sleep after her nightmare. Her gaze swept the hall and she was unable to suppress a shiver at the cold emptiness of the huge room without Aidan and his guards. The staff busied themselves thumping the huge tapestries that hung on the walls, dislodging the dust that clung to them. Tapestries that told stories of the kings of old and their final battles. Tapestries that had hung on these same stone walls for hundreds of years and through many generations of Therin royalty.
A movement outside the window facing the courtyardcaptured her attention. A lone rider thundered across the cobblestones skidding his horse to a halt. The steed’s heavy breaths blew white clouds into the cold Winter air. The rider leapt down, his feet barely touching the ground before he began sprinting up the wide, stone stairs to the Castle’s inner sanctum. His long maroon and gold cape, flowing behind him told Tarienne he was one of the King’s Guard. Not Daien.
Tarienne’s breath hitched as she turned waiting to receive the news he brought. Her heart thudded and she struggled to stop herself rushing to meet him. Hurtling toward her through the corridors he finally clattered into the great hall. Immediately recognising him Tarienne rushed forward.
“Orien, what’s wrong? What has happened?” Fear gripped her. Don’t let it be Aidan.
Several, long moments passed until Orien caught his breath. His face creased with worry.
“The King has been gravely injured. Prince Aidan has asked that yourself and the healer, Garneth, return with me. Time is of the essence, My Lady.”
“Dear Gods, I knew I should have gone with them. Is Aidan injured?”
Fear slid through her, her heart thundered, pounding in her ears. She waited for Orien to reply, wringing her hands, her brow furrowed, tears pricking the backs of her eyes.
“No,” he managed, struggling for air.
Leaning over he braced his hands on his knees, sucking in deep breaths. Tarienne’s hand drifted to his back offering comfort, allowing a tiny trickle of healing essence to flow through her fingertips to ease his distress.
“Thank you, dear friend. Have some food and rest awhile as we prepare to leave.”
Shifting into organisation mode she called orders to the staff. Her mind raced, considering all the necessary preparations for them to leave. All the while her fear for those she loved grew, threatening to overwhelm her capacity for rational thought.
Summoning one of the passing servants she asked him to find Garneth and have him prepare to leave. Reluctantly Tarienne left Orien to recover as best he could. Passing the kitchen on her way upstairs she diverted asking the cook to prepare something for Orien, plus some provisions for the journey.
Lifting the hem of her pale blue dress off the floor a little so it did not trip her as she hastened up the winding stair to her chamber, her thoughts tumbled over possible scenarios. Her heart ached for Aidan and she desperately wanted news of Daien but dared not ask.
Quickly changing into her riding clothes, her hands shook so much that she fumbled with the buttons of her soft, rust coloured blouse. It was her most comfortable blouse and she knew they’d be riding for some time, so comfort and warmth was paramount. Hastily yanking several changes of clothes out of her wardrobe she grabbed her precious satchel of healing herbs. Dragging in a few deep breaths to calm herself she stuffed the clothes into a soft leather travel pack and slung it over her shoulder. At the last minute she retrieved her dagger, sliding it into the top of her boot within easy reach should she need it.
Her thoughts returned to Orien’s words. If Eldian’s injuries were as grave as Orien had reported the only thing that would likely help him would be magic. Eldian would never willingly accept help in the form of magic. If he discovered her gift she would be banished at the very least. If he lived. She may not always have agreed with the way he ruled but overall Eldian had been kind to her. She certainly did not wish him dead and his death would devastate Aidan and make Aidan King.
While she gathered what she needed for the journey she called on her Fae magic to contact her brother at Ferngrove. Raef’s deep, calm voice slid into her consciousness, soothing her. She briefly wondered if he’d done it intentionally or if just being in contact with him was enough as it had been when they were children.
Explaining the situation to Raef she was unable to keep her worry from tumbling through her thoughts. Raef counselled Tarienne to contact him again when she knew the full extent of King Eldian’s injuries. Raef would project his considerable magical strength adding them to her abilitiesin an attempt to heal the King’s wounds. His presence eased from her thoughts and Tarienne fervently wished that her sister, Arivaelle wasn’t so far away. Arivaelle possessed the strongest magical healing abilities anyone had encountered over the last few centuries. Gods she missed Rivi.
Their home at Darewood was too distant to reach Arivaelle through mind speak. Tarienne would have to work with what she had. Raef’s and her own abilities combined were powerful but would they be enough? She considered how she might use that power on the King without anyone’s knowledge. Her hands began shaking again. She pushed her worry aside focusing on what she needed to take with her. There would be time enough to think on how to use her magic undetected, during the journey.
Several hours later, their horses were saddled and the supplies strapped on. Orien, Tarienne and Therin’s healer, Garneth mounted their steeds and thundered through the castle gates. Small white clouds puffed from the horses nostrils in the chill air, their hooves crushing the grass as they carried their riders on a mission to save Eldian, King of Therin.
Tarienne desperately wanted to ask if Daien had been injured but instead asked, “How bad was it Orien? What happened?”
Orien shook his head, “We rode into a trap. Without Aidan we’d all be dead. They had a sorcerer with them who struck without warning, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d say about one third of Therin’s army are dead or injured ...” he dropped his head trailing off then adding quietly, sadly, “We lost three King’s guards.”
Tarienne yanked on Lacey’s reins almost causing her mount to rear in fright. “Three!” Her hand clapped over her mouth. Not sure if she truly wanted to know, her voice quavered, “Who?” She waited for Orien to answer, her heart pounding, her chest constricting with dread.
“Enidar, Janek and Rouan.”
She knew them all well. Her body shook with the effort of holding back tears for the loss of three brave men, three friends. Tarienne bit back a sob. Enidar was a big, friendly man, a formidable enemy and fiercely loyal to all those he called friend. Janek, was a smaller, wiry man, always smiling, the best hand to hand fighter she’d ever seen other than Daien. His loyalty too had been unquestionable.
“Rouan, dear Rouan.”
Sadness welled up inside her at the thought of never seeing them again. Rouan had not long married his sweetheart. They were expecting their first child and had been so happy. He had talked to Tarienne endlessly about his dreams for their life. Grief clenched at her heart, her mind was numb, her head throbbed. Despite her best efforts a tear escaped, rolling down her cheek. She dashed it away. There would be time enough for mourning later, now she needed to concentrate on reaching those she may be able to save. With great effort she stored the anguish away. She would deal with it later.
They pushed the horses and themselves long into the evening eventually stopping to rest. Tarienne harboured deep concern for Orien. He’d travelled hard and fast to reach Therin, now they raced back at a punishing pace in a bid to save Eldian’s life. Despite Orien being a hardened warrior Tarienne convinced him that they should catch a few hours sleep then press on so they would reach the encampment at first light. Tarienne drifted into a fitful sleep, her dreams haunted with visions of the bloody battle and the deaths of so many, their once bright eyes, now empty and lifeless.
Several hours later, long before they’d had sufficient sleep, Orien woke Tarienne and Garneth. Tarienne wondered at Orien’s stamina when tiredness hampered her own thoughts and movements. Gathering her belongings, she prepared to leave.
Garneth rose stiffly, shuffling toward his horse. He pulled his coat tight against the cold. He would never complain but Tarienne sensed his struggle, his age working against him in the bitter chill of the early morning. Wrapping a woollen shawl around her shoulders Tarienne moved up beside Garneth. Dropping her hand lightly on his arm she sent a gentle stream of healing magic trickling into him to help his journey, chatting to distract him from her ministrations. Lifting Garneth’s heavy leather medical bag onto his horse after him Tarienne patted his hand seizing the opportunity to impart one last pulse of healing magic.
Tarienne’s thick, green, woollen shawl helped ward off the damp cold, but did nothing to dispel the shivers of fear racking her body, fear of what she’d find when she reached the camp. They set off, sleepy, dirty and hungry, having decided they needed to reach the camp more than they needed to eat.
Tarienne was glad for the warmth of the animal beneath her though her upper body was quickly turning into a lump of ice with the biting wind whipping around her. Garneth bent over his mount attempting to prevent the wind from chilling his body. They must make haste before the King’s condition worsened and before the bitter weather claimed one of them.
The fresh, pure scent of the forest reached Tarienne’s nostrils as they galloped through its leafy cover. Many varieties of trees in multiple hues of green hugged the well worn track. The rising sun revealed a multitude of sweetly fragranced flowers, the last before Winter, adorning the bases of the trees and spilling over the edges of the trail. Tarienne smelled lemon balm, lavender and grass, freshly crushed under the pounding hooves of their horses. Birds sang their sweet melodies and small animals skittered out of the way lest the sharp hooves of the horses injure them. Tarienne inhaled deeply allowing the calming aromas to soothe her.
After many hours of hard riding the scent of damp, rich soil reached her heralding the distant echo of the falls that fed the River Arnon. Despite the urgency of their journey a tiny smile curved her lips at the mingling fragrances. Images of her childhood in the beautiful forest of Darewood where she’d played happily with her siblings, crept into her thoughts.
The sounds of the army of Therin, pulled Tarienne back to the present. When they entered the campsite a wave of misery struck Tarienne like a physical blow to the chest. Slowing Lacey Tarienne gazed around trying to identify the origin of the despair washing over the men.
A few soldiers tended others with minor injuries some busied themselves feeding and grooming the horses and others cleaned their weapons despondently. Death hung over them, their movements were sluggish without real focus. She struggled to categorise the feelings radiating from them. They seemed directionless, without hope. Tarienne fought the misery, its groping fingers threatening to pull her down to the murky depths of despair along with the men. Could magic be at work here? She didn’t have time to ponder that thought further.
The main tent loomed into sight and the melancholy intensified. Tarienne dismountedsnagging a passing soldier to take care of her mare, Lacey. His eyebrows raised in surprise when he recognised her, managing a tiny smile of acknowledgement that didn’t reach his eyes. Tarienne patted Lacey affectionately, scratched behind her ears for a brief moment and whispered her thanks as was her custom after any ride. Turning toward the King’s tent, Garneth followed close behind. Her heart heavy with dread Tarienne could barely form a clear thought. She moved the tent flaps aside and her breath caught in her throat.
Fisting her hands at her side to force herself to appear outwardly calm her heart thumped and her chest tightened. Fear ripped through her. Blood covered the King’s body. Barely an inch of clothing or skin remained unstained by the King’s deep, red, viscous lifeblood. The heavy odour of perspiration and unwashed bodies permeated the air.Gods. She didn’t know where to start.
Pulling in a deep breath she managed to calm herself a little. Her eyes slid to Aidan crouching at the head of his father’s makeshift bed. She hadn’t realised he was there. He hadn’t made a sound. His face ashen, Aidan appeared not to have slept or eaten for days. Tears welled in her eyes. Never before had she seen Aidan so distraught, so vulnerable. It broke her heart.
She bent, mopping up Eldian’s blood as best she could with a clean, damp cloth from her pack and water from her drink bottle. Withdrawing the knife from her boot she cut more of Eldian’s clothes away. Though she doubted Eldian was aware of her she apologised to him as she bared his upper body, explaining that it was necessary to allow her to tend his wounds properly. She gasped when her ministrations revealed a deep, gaping wound in his side. Yellow fluid trickled from an arrow wound in his shoulder and dark blood oozed from a viciously deep cut in his thigh, probably inflicted by an axe. Tarienne shuddered involuntarily.
Rising unsteadily, Tarienne left Garneth to assess Eldian’s wounds. She pulled in every speck of control and calm she possessed and crouched beside Aidan, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. He turned to her, his eyes hollow, dark and full of despair. Anguish washed over her when Aidan’s shoulders shook with the sorrow that consumed him. She barely managed to hold herself together when Aidan stood, pulling her up with him. His arms snaked around her in a crushing embrace. An embrace borne of desperation. The proud and self assured Prince, broken.
Aidan buried his face in her shoulder. Feeling the dampness of his quiet tears through her blouse, she held him tightly. Eventually pulling back she brushed the mud caked tendrils of hair back from his face. Tarienne’s words were quiet, laced with compassion, yet commanding.
“Aidan, I know this is terribly difficult but you need to clean yourself up. Show your people that they have someone to lead them. Garneth and I will tend to your father while you bathe and eat something. I love you Aidan, you are like a brother to me. You need to do this, for your father. I promise I’ll call you if anything changes.”
Aidan stared blankly at her for a long moment, then turned, scuffing despondently from the tent. Tarienne poked her head through the tent flap, motioning to Orien.
“Would you make sure he cleans himself up and eats something, please?”
Orien nodded, trailing quietly after Aidan.
Tarienne turned back to Garneth. Meeting her eyes he shook his head. His expression betrayed his distress.
“Thank you, Garneth, could you leave us please? You may be able to help others.”
Bowing slightly, Garneth nodded, leaving to seek out the many injured they’d seen as they rode in. Tarienne contacted her brother as the tent flap closed behind him.
It’s bad Raef, I’m not sure we can help him.Tarienne pushed her thoughts out to reach her older brother over the great distance separating them. She carefully lifted Eldian’s eyelids. He was unconscious, the skin surrounding his eyes sallow and dehydrated. It would be easy to let the panic and gloom overwhelm her. Mustering all her courage, Tarienne knelt beside Eldian, laying her hands gently over the wound in his side.
She breathed deeply and began silently chanting the healing spell. The warm tingle of Raef’s magic infused her, simultaneously strengthening the spell and filling her with a gentle, determined calm. Moving from the injury in his side, Tarienne’s hands hovered over Eldian’s ravaged thigh, beginning the spell anew. Through her focus, Raef’s voice pushed insistently at her thoughts. Forcing her attention back to Raef his words told her what she didn’t want to hear.
Sweetling, his injuries are too severe. The King is dying.
No, Raef. I must help him. I have to do this for Aidan.
Panic laced her thoughts. She couldn’t let Aidan down.
Ren ... his wounds are too deep and the blood loss too great. We won’t make any difference. You know that deep down.
Raef’s voice was gentle. Compassion flowed down their connection. A sob escaped her lips but she gritted her teeth pulling herself together for Aidan’s sake.
Thank you for trying, Raef.
Be strong, Sweetling. I love you.
...and I, you, Dear heart.
Their connection dissolved away and sorrow pulled at her. Her throat ached with the effort of holding back tears.She knew what must be done. Brewing a herbal tea to ease Eldian’s pain, she softly chanted a spell to help bring him to consciousness. Exiting the tent to find Aidan, she found Garneth nearby and asked him to tend to the King until she returned.
“Please give him some of the herbal tea cooling beside the bed, if he wakes,” she instructed, “I need to find Prince Aidan.”
Garneth nodded, entering the tent as she bid. Tarienne found Aidan bathed and gripping a small mug of broth. Daien and Orien sat watchfully nearby. Her heart clenched for Aidan sitting dejectedly with his back against a tree, his elbows resting on his knees, his eyes downcast. Tarienne felt guilty at the relief that flooded her when she saw Daien. She barely managed to stop herself from running into his arms. His gaze met hers and his lips curved in his familiar tiny, reassuring smile. Even he appeared fatigued, jaded. Tarienne returned her attention to Aidan.
“Aidan, you need to come with me.”
Curling her fingers around Aidan’s hand she gently urged him to follow her. Aidan’s eyes sought hers. The hollow sadness that she saw there made her heart ache. Aidan’s chest heaved in a deep, sorrowful sigh.
“Were you able to help him?”
The grief in Tarienne’s eyes told him the answer. Aidan swallowed hard fighting the urge to cry out in his desolation. Holding onto Tarienne’s hand as if it were a lifeline, he allowed her to take him to where his father lay, dying. Denial consumed him. This could not be happening. Aidan struggled to comprehend how quickly everything had changed in only a few days. His chest tight, his heart aching, he could not form a rational thought. How could he be King if his father died? His father had always been thereat his side. Aidan didn’t always agree with his father but they’d always talked things through. How could he do this without him? He bit down a sob. He didn’t feel like a King. Instead, he felt like a small boy, alone and afraid. Alone, yet surrounded by people who would look to him for direction. I can’t do this.
Tarienne led him into the tent. Aidan immediately recognised the odour of death pervading the air. He kneeled down beside his father unsteady as grief tugged at him. Eldian opened his eyes.
“Aidan,” he gasped weakly, grabbing at Aidan’s hand, holding it tightly. “My son.” Eldian coughed. Specks of blood stained his spittle.
Aidan looked up questioningly at Tarienne. She leaned down to wipe Eldian’s face with a damp cloth. Shaking her head almost imperceptibly, Tarienne lowered her head, tears dampening her cheeks.
Aidan turned back to Eldian. “Father I ...”
“Shh, Aidan, I need to tell you some things ... before I die.”
Aidan started to protest, but his father silenced him again.
“Aidan, I am very proud of you, of who you are and who you will become. Please do not forget that. I’ve never been very good at expressing my feelings but I need to tell you that I love you, my son. You are ready and will be an excellent King.”
Aidan rubbed his sleeve across his damp face. This fragile, broken man, dying in front of him was, only a few days ago, a proud and formidable warrior. Aidan had seen men die before. He had experienced sadness and compassion for them and their loved ones but nothing could have prepared him for this. For the loss of his mentor, his father, his King. Aidan choked back a sob of despair.
“No, I can’t do this without you. I need you. I love you, Father.”
“Yes, Aidan, you can and you will. You are strong and the people need you.”
Eldian’s entire body shook with a deep, hacking cough. His face contorted with the pain and the effort of remaining conscious. Eldian’s eyes sluggishly lifted to meet Tarienne’s.
“Promise me you’ll look after him. Help him be the King he can be, the King he needs to be.”
Tarienne’s voice was barely a whisper through her tears. “I promise.” Turning to Aidan, her voice wavering, she asked, “Shall I leave?”
Aidan nodded, unable to speak. Tarienne held his gaze for a moment, the unspoken support and love flowing between them. Aidan could not express how grateful he was for her presence. He had no idea how he was going to get through this, but he at least knew that Tarienne would be there for him. His chest ached from the intensity of the emotions swirling through him. It was difficult to form a clear thought. He reached down, hugging his father, for the last time.
Tarienne bent to kiss the King’s hand then walked silently out of the tent, a deep sadness threatening to overwhelm her. She stepped between the flaps and her knees buckled beneath her. Daien sprinted to her side, his strong arms snaked around her arresting her fall, pulling her close. She leaned into him, uncaring of who saw them together, violent sobs racking her body. Daien’s arms tightened around her, cradling her against his warmth. He stroked her hair, muttering soft words of comfort.
Finally, gaining control of her emotions, she leaned back slightly, looking up into Daien’s eyes. He scanned her, worry swirling across his face. The maelstrom of emotions rocking her body set her shaking involuntarily. She shivered, the spectre of death chilling her. Leaning his forehead against hers he rubbed his hands up and down her arms. Her arms wrapped around Daien’s neck seeking solace in his warmth.
Aidan emerged from the tent and whispered, “He’s gone.”
Tarienne flew from Daien’s arms to comfort Aidan, suppressing her own sob as she held him. They stood quietly for a long time, Aidan’s face buried in her hair, his shoulders shaking with grief. Daien and Orien waited silently. Finally, Aidan stirred. He spoke, his voice flat, devoid of any emotion.
I need to tell the people.”
Tarienne knew that his heart was broken, but duty called. Aidan was now King. He must show strength and leadership now, no matter the circumstances. Tarienne did not envy him at that moment.
Aidan clumped away to gather the people, to inform them of his father’s passing. Daien moved up beside Tarienne wrapping one arm around her waist. She leaned into him absorbing his strength and compassion, for now unable to voice how much the contact and his unspoken support meant. She ignored the tears that slid down her face, wetting his sleeve. Daien turned her to him, tenderly wiping her tears away with his thumb. She’d never needed anyone’s support as much as she needed Daien’s right now. She was numb and so cold.
Wrapped in Daien’s warmth, her shivering eased. They made their way to where Aidan was gathering the army to address them. When the crowd quietened Aidan spoke in a loud, strong voice, so everyone could hear.
“You are all aware that my father, your King, was gravely injured in the battle ...sadly, he has passed on.”
Aidan paused while the murmurs of disbelief rippled through the crowd. Tarienne watched his struggle to maintain his composure. She pushed a tiny pulse of magic his way. Just enough to help him through. Aidan straightened, pulling in a deep breath.
“My father’s was not the only life lost in this battle. Many have died for us to defeat Lemere’s army. You have all done well. Be proud of the valour with which you fought. Sleep well tonight for tomorrow we ride for Therin. In the days that follow we will mourn and bury our dead.”
Aidan made eye contact with many of those close to him and waited, his back ramrod straight, until the crowd began to disperse.
Tarienne knew what it must have cost Aidan to speak to his soldiers so soon after his father’s death. She let him pass but ran her hand through his as he returned to his tent, alone. Aidan needed time to accept Eldian’s death and that he was now the King of Therin. Aidan pushed through the opening of his tent his shoulders slumped.
Tarienne turned toward Daien then whirled around when the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. A tiny sliver of magic tingled across her awareness. Her eyes snapped back to Aidan’s tent as she searched for its source. Deciding after a few moments that she was merely tired and overwrought, she turned back to Daien who watched her, concern etched across his face.
Daien captured her in his arms,willing his strength into her body. She seemed so vulnerable and fragile. Her skin was paler than usual, almost ethereal. Despite the circumstances his body reacted to her closeness. She sagged against him utterly spent and ready to collapse. Chiding himself, he slipped one arm under her scooping her up into his embrace. Too tired to protest she simply looped her arms around his neck resting her head on his shoulder.
Daien carried her back to the fire. Lowering himself to the ground, he rested against a small tree with Tarienne still in his arms. She snuggled into him lifting her head to place a tiny, tired kiss on his lips and murmured.
“Thank you, my Daien.”
Daien’s heart thumped in response. He dropped a kiss onto her hair, a smile playing across his lips. A soft, ladylike snore escaped her mouth moments later. She slept, cradled in his arms. Despite everything that had happened over the last few days, this woman curled up on his lap was the best thing that had ever happened to him and he had no intention of letting her go.
Daien closed his eyes, contentment seeping through him. He slept with her plastered against him until the light broke the next morning. He smiled, tenderness for the amazing woman snuggled in his lap washing over him as he watched her sleep. When she finally stirred, Daien unlocked his arms from his protective hold around her soft, warm body. Looking up at him with sleepy eyes and mussed up hair she looked incredibly sensual. When she smiled his pulse skittered.
“Good morning,” she whispered, close to his lips.
His heart did a back flip. It took all of his resolve not to dip down to kiss those sweet, damp lips. Despite the fact that they had slept cuddled together he wasn’t sure she’d be pleased if he kissed her in plain view of everyone.
Moving out of his lap she stretched like a cat, ran her fingers through her hair and scrubbed at her face. Daien stood arching his back to loosen his tight muscles. Capturing her hand he kissed it then curled his fingers around hers. She smiled, stepped closer and touched her lips to his. His heart slammed into his ribs. Once again she’d surprised him.Her eyes held his for a moment then she ran her fingers along the stubble on his chin.
“I need to check on Aidan.”
Daien watched the sensual sway of her hips as she moved away, gliding like a swan on a lake. His body tightened and he shifted his stance attempting to relieve the sudden tightness of his trousers. Grinning, he began packing his gear.
Tarienne found Aidan in his tent, packing for their return home. He looked up as she entered, his sad eyes tearing at her heart.
“Thank you for coming, for trying to help father. I couldn’t have gotten this far without you.”
He opened his arms and she walked into his embrace without hesitation.
“I will keep my promise,” she whispered close to his ear.
He pushed her back slightly, managing a small smile.“At least you won’t have to pretend that you love me anymore.”
“Aidan, I do love you, you know that, but like a brother, not the way your father wanted me to. I’ll always be here for you, whenever you need me.”
“Thank you. I’m going to need you all.”
“Your people would follow you into the depths of hell itself, Aidan, you must know that.”
“They already have.”
His voice was strained and filled with emotion. Tarienne watched him leave the tent, realising just how far he’d come since she’d first met him. He would never have sought comfort in her arms or anyone else’s, then. If nothing else, she had given him the gift of touch.
She walked outside into the gloomy grey day to gather her belongings and find Lacey for the journey back to Therin. A myriad of emotions swirled through her. Bone deep sadness blended with pride at the way Aidan had rallied for his people. That and the burgeoning affection between Daien and herself combined to make her fragile and exhausted despite the dreamless sleep she’d managed in Daien’s arms last night. A shiver of pleasure trickled unbidden down her spine.