The group traveled for many miles along the roughly marked well worn roads. Tall, straight trees flanked their path waving their branches majestically in the wind. The smaller branches dipped and swayed, the leaves whispering, telling their secrets to the passing travellers. Tarienne strained to listen certain that she could hear words on the wind. Unable to catch what they said she slowed Lacey her brows furrowed with concentration.
Raef dropped back to ride beside Tarienne. “What can you hear, Sweetling?”
“I can’t make it out. I feel as if I almost understand the words, then they slip away as though they are just the sounds of the forest. What do you think it is, Raef?”
“It could be that the Dryads recognise Daien’s Druid blood and are trying to make themselves known to him. Let’s rest and see if Daien can tell us anything.”
Daien and Aidan caught up and Raef motioned them to the side of the road for a rest break. As they dismounted Daien caught Tarienne’s eye and she moved to lean into him. Wrapping his arm around her he kissed the top of her head. Their love was so new just being near Daien sent her emotions spiralling out of control. Looking up into his eyes she had to clear her throat to ask him.
“Did you hear anything as we rode?”
“I thought I heard something maybe voices and then it disappeared but I did feel as if something has been following us for the last few miles. I haven’t seen anything. Do you have any idea what it could be?”
Raef appeared beside them with Aidan.
“I believe it to be the Dryads trying to make contact with you, Daien.”
Aidan sent them a bewildered look.
“Dryads? Trying to contact Daien? What on earth is going on?”
Tarienne smiled, Aidan was on a very steep learning curve and he was handling it incredibly well.
“We have discovered that Daien has Druid blood. Raef believes that the tree spirits recognise this and are trying to call to him. However, the balance of magic has tipped so that the Dryads are unable to show themselves. Their words are so faint they are lost in the wind.”
“What would they be trying to tell him do you think,” Aidan asked, a thoughtful expression crinkling his brow. “I suppose we’ll never know unless they manage to make their words clear to him. Let’s rest for awhile.”
Shades of regal command flickered through Aidan’s attitude. Tarienne supposed it would take him a while to relinquish it.
Raef, placid as always stretched himself out on the ground under a large shady tree taking a swig from his water skin. Daien tugged at Tarienne’s hand and dropped to the ground beside Raef pulling her onto his lap with a mischievous grin. Aidan plopped down in front of them cross legged, drew a deep draught of water, resealed the container and laid it down beside him. He eyed Daien curiously.
“Druid blood, eh, does that mean you have magic too?”
“I have no idea.”
Tarienne watched Daien struggle not to add ‘Sire’ to the end of his comment. She squeezed his hand and his eyes flicked to hers before returning his attention to Aidan.
“I only found out yesterday after Raef looked at the ring. He took a little trip through my memories to determine my heritage.”
Daien’s cheeky grin made them all laugh. Tarienne rolled her eyes at him, snuggling happily into his lap. Raef rose, stretching his long, muscular, legs and retrieved his saddle bag.
Tarienne laughed. “Do you know these two at all?”
Daien pouted at her playfully and Aidan let out a reproachful, “Hey!”
Chuckling, they ate the meal of fruit, bread and cheese in the dappled shade of a tall tree as though they were on a friendly picnic. Tarienne couldn’t help wondering how long the calm and quiet would last.
When they resumed their journey Daien took the lead with Tarienne and Aidan in the middle and Raef keeping guard at the rear. Aidan was in a thoughtful mood and Tarienne was happy to ride silently beside him as they rode up into the foothills of the minor peaks of Mount Avalon. The mountain stretched out for many miles to the west of Therin. Tarienne gazed at them lost in her own thoughts as she rode.
The rest of the day was happily uneventful. When the sun dropped low in the sky they stopped to set up camp on the edge of an outcrop. Removing their horse’s saddles they rubbed them down loosely tethering them so they could eat their fill of the lush, green grass.
The site overlooked a small waterfall and lake that was the beginning of the River Arnon. The valley below was rich with vibrant green plant life. The pounding of the water on the rocks sent a fine spray half way up the smooth rock wall and over the surrounding vegetation causing it to glisten like red jewels in the waning sunlight.
Tarienne stood at the edge of the camp enjoying the cool evening air and the beauty of the sunset. Daien’s arms slid around her from behind. Melting into his warmth she wrapped her arms over his the glory of the contact rejuvenating her after the long day riding before they began searching for firewood.
Searching the edges of the forest they managed to collect a few twigs and small branches to light the fire while Aidan and Raef hunted for small game, so they didn’t deplete their food stocks. They returned with two wild rabbits cleaned and ready for cooking.
Daien and Raef took charge of cooking tossing the meat into a large black pot with some wild carrots they’d found and a sprinkling of Tarienne’s herbs for extra flavour. Tarienne watched Daien as he stirred the delicious smelling stew loving that a King’s Guardsman could cook and wondering where he’d learned. What an amazing contradiction he was. She smiled and Daien winked playfully at her as Raef handed him the bowls to serve the food.
They ate, chatting companionably. After the meal Raef rose to retrieve his water container.
“We’re close to the border of Therin. I think we should take turns on watch given that we’re not certain how far this evil has crept. I’ll take the watch from midnight to dawn if everyone agrees.”
Tarienne nodded. “I’ll take the one before.”
Daien appeared as though he was about to disagree when she pinned him with a determined look. He held up his hands in surrender turning to Aidan.
“I’ll take the one after Raef if you’re happy with the first shift, Sire.”
Tarienne’s eyes flicked to Daien then to Aidan at Daien’s use of the royal acknowledgement. Aidan responded instantly.
“I’m happy to do whatever suits everyone else but while we’re on this quest, I am just Aidan, one of you. Not the King, not Sire,” he looked around the group, adding earnestly, “Please?”
Yes, S ...Aidan,” a mischievous look played across Daien’s face, “Then perhaps you could do the dishes?”
Tarienne’s eyes widened and she bit her lip to stop herself from laughing. Aidan paused about to say something then simply collected the plates. He headed down the steep path to the lake below with the bundle of dishes in his hands.
Tarienne jumped up, calling out, “I’ll go with you, Aidan. Wait for me.”
She caught up with him halfway down the rocky path that wound itself around the wall to the left of the waterfall. The mist rose from the lake moistening her skin and chilling the air. Tarienne’s Fae vision allowed her to see clearly in the dark but the moon was bright and clearly showed the path so she decided against creating a magical ball of light to guide their way. Tarienne followed Aidan down to the edge of the water, taking the plates from him, while he filled the large, leather, waterproof container they carried, with fresh water. She began to wash the plates in the cool water.
Aidan squatted down beside her.“I meant what I said you know.” He took the remaining plates from her and began washing them. “I don’t want to be the King on this quest. It might be the last time I can be just me. You’re all my friends ...“. He raised his eyebrows. “Even Daien. Who’ll get his payback for this, by the way.”
He lifted the plate in his hand chuckling softly. Aidan lowered his eyes back to the dishes. Tarienne leaned into him tilting her head so it rested on his shoulder. Dropping down onto the damp grass Tarienne’s eyes travelled to Aidan’s knowing that it was important to tell him how much he meant to her. He was feeling the odd one out of the group and she didn’t want it to continue.
“I need to tell you, Aidan, that I’m not sure I would have survived in Therin without you.”
Aidan paused, watching her intently a slight frown creasing his brow as he listened.
“Fae need to be touched, to be loved and though you were reluctant initially you often hugged me when I needed comfort. Even though we were pretending for your father’s sake I loved being by your side, holding your hand, sharing your life with you. You have become like a brother to me and I don’t want that to stop. I have room in my life and my heart for all of you. Do you understand?”
Aidan held her eyes for the briefest of moments then stood grasping her hand, pulling her up with him. Gently wrapping his arms around her he whispered.
“Thank you, for everything.”
Slipping her arms around his waist, Tarienne squeezed him softly. She knew without looking that his eyes were moist with tears. After a while Aidan stirred and pushed her back a little dropping a light kiss onto her forehead. Running one hand through his short blonde hair as he often did when he was thinking.
“We’d better finish the dishes and get back or they’ll think we’ve been eaten by something horrible.”
Tarienne smiled up at him, easing herself away to collect the dishes from the damp grass then turned back to face him.
“You know, Aidan, I believe you crave touch almost as much as the Fae.”
Aidan eyed her thoughtfully. “Mmmm, you could be right.”
In the light of the moon with his iridescent, blue eyes, light blonde hair and pale skin she thought again how much he resembled an Elven prince. She made a mental note to speak with Raef about investigating Aidan’s heritage.
Heading back up the path, they stepped carefully lest they lose their footing on the slick path. When they reached the camp Daien and Raef had packed away everything but the pot with the left over stew which they’d placed a lid over and moved it away from the now blazing fire. They were both stretched out on their bedrolls discussing Dryads and Druids. Raef made eye contact with Tarienne. She nodded almost imperceptibly and he settled back down to his chat with Daien.
Aidan wasn’t one to talk overly muchunless he had something specific to say but he joined in asking questions about the Druids and their association with the Dryads. Tarienne smiled, pleased that ‘just Aidan’ was finding his place in the group.
It wasn’t long before they became drowsy and Aidan took his place to watch over them for a few hours. Daien beckoned to Tarienne and she plopped down on her bedroll beside him. He slid his arm around her pulling her closer. Her heart skipped a beat at the heated look he sent her.
Snuggling into him she wiggled to get as close as she could. A barely audible groan reached her ears just before Daien swooped in for a passionate kiss his lips moving insistently over hers. His tongue sensually stroked hers setting her body on fire. They broke the contact after a few short moments even though they both wanted much more. Daien locked his arms around her, moulding her to him and they settled down to sleep, however Daien had other ideas.
Nuzzling Tarienne’s neck, Daien ran his tongue down the sensitive area from her ear to her throat and tightened his grip pulling her hard against him. Daien’s strong and sculpted body pressed into hers his arousal against her back. Her body ached with a need she knew she couldn’t fulfil right now.
Self consciously flicking her gaze across to the others she smiled as a soft snore escaped Raef’s sleeping form. Aidan was turned away keeping watch. Tarienne swivelled in Daien’s arms to face him. Immediately he captured her lips in a searing kiss that swept her away into a place where only she and Daien existed. Finally they broke the fiery kiss and for a long moment gazed into each others eyes, breathless, knowing they couldn’t take their need any further. Turning with a sigh Tarienne snuggled her bottom into his groin moulding her body to his again and whispered.
“I love you, my Daien.”
Sweeping her hair from her neck he kissed and licked her pulse”
...and I love you, my beautiful and amazing Fae Princess.”
Silently Aidan moved to the edge of the outcrop providing the best vantage point to watch for anything unusual and keep guard over the others.
“Wake me when it’s my turn, Aidan.” Tarienne reminded him.
Nodding Aidan made himself as comfortable as he could sitting on the cold, rough ground. His mind drifted back over the last few months of his life while his eyes scanned the landscape. Not that long ago he’d been a Prince preparing to one day be King. Therin had been free of magic due to his father’s decree, or so they’d thought. Aidan’s only real concern then had been to stop his father presenting him with possible brides. Smiling he recalled his ruse with Tarienne and their role play as lovers. He did love her but it was brotherly love. The intensity of Tarienne’s feelings for Daien raised tiny pangs of jealousy but Aidan knew that it was because he enjoyed the closeness, the comfort of her touch, just as Tarienne had suggested earlier today.
Wishing that he could remember his mother and the love that he was certain she bestowed on him, a vague whisper of recollection teased the edges of his memory telling him she’d been slender, honey blonde with blue eyes like his and very tactile and affectionate. He wasn’t totally convinced that the memory was real or created from the way he wanted to remember her.
Now, he was the King of Therin and the Castle had been attacked by magical creatures, Gargoyles, no less. He’d learned Tarienne was a Fae and possessed powerful magical abilities and his faithful King’s Guard and friend, Daien, was a Druid. To top it all off, they were on a quest with Raef Tarienne’s older brother to retrieve the Golden Stone which he was told would return the balance of magic to the world. Until a few days ago, he hadn’t known there was magic in his Kingdom let alone a balance that he needed to restore.
Aidan’s head swam for a moment. He knew he was doing the right thing but had no idea how to achieve their purpose. Reaching for the sword strapped to his side he rested his hand on its hilt allowing the familiar chill of the steel against his palm to comfort him. Even without magic he could still protect his friends and his people. He knew it in his heart. His worry settled. Aidan’s gaze slid over the sleeping forms of his companions, coming to rest on Daien and Tarienne bound together by Daien’s arms looped over her sleeping form. He wondered if he’d ever find a deep all consuming love like theirs.
It seemed only moments since she and Daien had drifted off to sleep when Aidan was gently shaking her awake to take her turn as sentry. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes Tarienne slid out of Daien’s embrace careful not to wake him. Briefly hugging Aidan, she walked to the grassy ledge and dropped cross legged to the hard ground. Before long Aidan’s soft snores reached her ears. Focusing her attention on the surrounding area and the grassy plains beyond the lake her eyes swept carefully, checking for any sign of danger, her ears tuned to pick up anything unusual.
After several hours, she noticed movement in the distance and strained her eyes and ears for a clue on what it could be. Her pulse skipped, nervous tension tightening her muscles. It wasn’t long before Raef woke to relieve her. Tarienne pointed out the distant activity.
He reassured her after whispering a soft spell to enhance his senses temporarily.
“Whatever it is, it’s a very long way away. I’ll keep watch now. Why don’t you try to get some more sleep, Sweetling?”
Tarienne nodded, hugged Raef and moved quietly back to snuggle into Daien however sleep eluded her and she finally slid out of Daien’s embrace again plopping down next to Raef. Wrapping her arms around her knees she gazed out into the darkness. There was no need for words between them. Tarienne loved all of her family dearly but she and Raef were especially close. Raef pulled her to him to ward off the cold and she leaned into him, both drawing comfort from each other.
“You miss Elyssia.”
Raef nodded, his eyes sparkling with emotion.
“When I see how happy you are with Daien I miss her even more but she is not like you, Ren. She would not be happy nor safe with us on this quest as much as I wish she could be here.”
“She is a lady, soft, elegant and very beautiful. She is perfect for you,” Tarienne’s voice softened, ” I miss her too. Her gentle ways, her friendship.”
She pulled away from Raef a little, enough to look up at him. “When this is over, do you think Lys will come to Ferngrove?”
Nodding, he smiled conspiratorially. “I will ask her to be my life partner, to marry me.”
“Oh Raef, that’s wonderful.”
Tarienne wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him noisily on the cheek. They sat like that for a while taking comfort from each other. She was so incredibly happy for Raef. He and Ellysia deserved happiness together. They’d both been through so much.
After a while, Tarienne spoke, “I think I’ll freshen up in the lake.”
Raef watched as she gathered a soft cloth to dry herself and fresh clothes. She disappeared down the path and he refocused on keeping watch though his senses had been on alert all the while they’d been talking. Thoughts of Elyssia slid across Raef’s consciousness. He wondered if it was because she was thinking about him too. Knowing his mastery of mind speak was strong enough to reach Elyssia across the distance separating them he silently called her name. His gaze continuing to sweep the area for any signs of trouble as her soft, breathy voice caressed his mind. Raef sighed.
Elyssia, my love!
Daien awoke rubbed his eyes and yawned as he surveyed the area. His body was chilled without Tarienne’s curves against him. Rising he slaked his thirst from his water bottle then plonked down beside Raef, his eyes scanning for Tarienne. Raef motioned toward the lake where Daien could just make out her silhouette in the moonlight. His breath caught in his throat.
“She decided to freshen up. It’s not time for your watch yet. You could freshen up too if you wanted.”
Raef raised one eyebrow speculatively. Daien grinned. He grabbed his pack and trotted down the path his body hardening at the mental image of the woman he loved, naked and wet. Tarienne stood knee deep in the cold water soaping herself when Daien prowled up behind her. He slipped his boots off and waded into the water as quietly as he could. When he snaked his arms around her naked body from behind a throaty chuckle escaped her lips and she leaned back into him. His voice husky, he whispered close to her ear.
“Did I tell you how exquisitely beautiful you are. Gods, Ren, your body is glowing in the moonlight.”
“All Fae glow in the light of the moon,” she breathed, moulding herself to his hard, hot body.
Turning her slowly in his arms, Daien held her just inches from him, “You appear gossamer, ethereal, I have never seen you like this before.”
His body ached with need. She was his entire world and could bring him to his knees with nothing more than a kiss from those sweet, moist lips. A soft, possessive growl rumbled through him.
Daien’s eyes were wide, almost black with desire. Tarienne plastered herself against him unable to get close enough to her powerful warrior. His strength, the muscles that rippled across his body, filled her with an almost overwhelming sensual heat. She reached up to taste his lips, kissing him with all the passion she possessed for him.
Daien groaned against her lips. She broke the kiss turning to lead him out of the water. When Tarienne pulled him down onto the soft, mossy bank, Daien resisted long enough to yank his shirt over his head. Settling in beside her, he ran his eyes over her nakedness, his lips curving appreciatively. Tarienne’s heart hammered. Her body quivered in anticipation of Daien’s touch.
Up on the outcrop Raef turned away slightly so he did not intrude on their privacy. His thoughts turned back to Elyssia. His body hardened with the memory of her soft, sweetness beneath him. He’d sent his thoughts across the distance between them because he needed the contact with her even if it wasn’t physical contact. The sound of her voice so happy, cheered him more than he believed possible.
I love you, Lys. Gods, I miss you so much.
Her tinkling laughter and soft voice across his thoughts tightened his loins as effectively as if she’d touched him.
Tarienne and Daien made love until the world shattered into sparks of pleasure so intense that Daien captured her mouth to dampen her scream. The waves of indescribable pleasure gradually subsided while Daien’s entire body hummed with the intensity of his release. Lifting himself up on one elbow so he wasn’t resting all his weight on her, he gazed down at his beloved Tarienne wearing nothing but a satisfied smile.
“You’ve never glowed like that before, when we’ve made love!”
“You’ve never made love to me under the stars before.” She chuckled.
Still buried within her moist heat Daien felt his body harden again. He rolled over not breaking their intimate connection, so that she straddled his body.
Tarienne smiled, caressing the side of his face with her fingers. The stubble on his chin, deliciously scratchy.
“Hmm, note to self, our house will have no roof.” His face split into a heart stopping smile.
Gods she loved him. Tarienne laughed. She loved his humour, she loved everything about him.
“We’d better clean up and get back. It must be nearly time for your watch.”
Daien sighed, lifting her, his powerful hands circling her waist breaking their physical connection. He stood, offering both hands to pull her to her feet, taking the opportunity to plaster her against him again and plunder her mouth. They indulged in exploring each other’s bodies a little longer in the contrasting coolness of the water then dressed and returned to the camp.
Raef said nothing as they returned. Looking suspiciously pleased with himself he yawned, stretched and laid down on his bedroll. In moments he was asleep a smile playing across his lips.
Tarienne lay curled around Daien for a while as he took his turn to guard them, then retrieved her bedroll placing it beside him so she could sleep. Snuggling into his side, her deep, red tresses fell across his thighs. Daien’s heart sang. Wondering if she realised how much she destroyed both his control and the concentration he prided himself on. He smiled to himself.
Running his hands softly through her hair while she slept he kept watch. He’d never dared to dream that he could love, or be loved, with such intensity. His gaze drifted over Tarienne for a moment. She was so beautiful his heart clenched with the strength of the emotions swirling within him. Emotions he’d held in check until Tarienne had arrived in Therin. She’d broken through his tight control the very first time they’d met. She’d saved his life and stolen his heart.
When he had finally healed he’d escorted her to her chambers after he’d chanced on her in the great hall. She’d chatted animatedly with him on the way, her arm casually linked through his, asking questions about Therin. When they’d reached her rooms she’d thanked him and gifted him with a heart stopping smile that had made his knees weak. He’d been lost from that moment, ensuring he was near her whenever possible.
The first time she’d leaned into him had almost unmanned him. He’d been forced to fist his hands and grit his teeth to prevent himself from wrapping his arms around her and hauling her to him to taste those sweet lips. After that he’d sought every opportunity to be close to her, to touch her, to talk with her.
Daien’s mind drifted to the images of her naked and wrapped around him at the lake earlier. Desire slammed into him like a punch to the stomach. She was his. He struggled to believe it. He’d fallen in love with her never believing they could be together. She had caused him to bathe in cold water so many times after just being near her, he’d lost count. Now they made love with such fire it stole his breath. He treasured the thought of forever with Tarienne, had confidence in his ability to look after her always. Daien leaned over touching his lips to hers as she slept. He loved her so fiercely it hurt.
It seemed like no time at all had passed, when Daien woke her, so they could be on their way. Pulling her up into his chest, Daien indulged in a long, sizzling kiss that brought her fully awake. He roused the others while Tarienne lit the fire with a quick spell, warming the remainder of the stew to break their fast.
Daien collected his bowl settling himself behind Tarienne, his legs either side of her. Scooting backwards, she pressed up against him hearing him hiss at the contact. They ate in silence revelling in the close contact. This time Daien washed the bowls in the lake, retrieving more fresh water for the next leg of their journey. By the time he returned everyone was ready to leave. He stowed the bowls in his pack and looped the leather water bottle over the pommel of his saddle. Mounting their steeds they cantered back onto the road.
Aidan seemed much more himself today, chatting amiably with both Daien and Raef. When they stopped briefly for lunch, Tarienne decided it would be useful to explain how they communicated by thought. Aidan quickly understood the concept and much to their surprise was, like Daien, able to join in when they communicated.
They all laughed at the intense look of concentration on Aidan’s face when he attempted to project his thoughts. His mind voice was weaker than Daien’s but nonetheless he could make himself heard and that was enough for a warning, or, to request help if needed.
After lunch they rode on communicating via mind speak as practice for Aidan, teasing him and laughing loudly together. Wishing they could stay like this rather than head into danger Tarienne sighed.
The next few days passed in much the same way without incident, quickly settling into an easy pattern of camaraderie and respect for each others’ ways and needs. Tarienne was pleased to see that Aidan had eased out of his authoritarian persona and into ‘just Aidan’, who turned out to be very sweet, considerate and accommodating. Who knew? Tarienne chuckled to herself.
On the fifth day of their journey around mid morning, Daien noticed that they were being followed. He projected his thoughts to the others, asking if they’d noticed. They all had.
Does everyone agree that we continue on and see if they mean to intercept us?
Raef rode high in his saddle as he sent his thoughts out. Tiny, almost imperceptible nods indicated agreement from everyone. Spurring their horses fasterit became obvious that the trackers were intent on a challenge. The riders squickly swooped in around them, loosing an arrow that whizzed over Raef’s head.
Daien watched as Raef ducked low on his mount at the next thwang of the bow string. All four yanked their horses to a halt, leaping to the ground and drawing their weapons. Instinctively backing up together they faced outward toward their assailants. Daien glanced sideways at Tarienne, her expression was fierce. He had witnessed her skill with a sword nonetheless he wished she didn’t have to fight. Dragging his focus back to the approaching riders he assessed them as they dismounted, stomping threateningly closer.
There were twenty men, all heavily armed. Each wielded a viciously curved blade and were dressed in filthy, black clothes that appeared to have once been fine leather. Long, matted, furry boots crushed the fresh grass as they approached. The stench of them reached Tarienne’s nostrils and she almost retched. Her heart pounded in her ears. Her hands shook slightly around the hilts of her twin Fae long knives. Tightening her grip she dragged in a deep breath. The brush of Daien’s arm against her restored her courage and she raised the knives crossing them low in front of her in readiness of the first strike.
It was obvious that the attackers thought the four riders were going to be easy prey,that was until Raef let out a war cry that had them pausing mid stride. Daien, Raef and Aidan stepped forward. Their swords flashing and twirling they took down four men before they had time to retaliate.
Tarienne spun with her twin long knives slitting one man’s throat, relieving another of his sword. As he groped to regain his weapon, Aidan plunged his sword through the man’s heart, withdrew it quickly and continued fighting. Aidan was an incredible swordsman, someone you wanted at your back in a fight. Tarienne nodded her thanks. Aidan spared her a wink as he brought the hilt of his sword in an upward arc sending one man flying backward into several others, forcing them into in a crumpled heap.
Refocusing on the battle, Tarienne noted Daien keeping two attackers at bay to her left and Raef to her right cutting a swathe through the wall of men lunging and swiping at him. Tarienne spun low, booting one man between his legs. He went down hard clutching at his groin. Tarienne slashed his throat without pause continuing her spin to end up at Daien’s back. Drawing her sword and holstering her knives in one deft move she emulated Daien’s style, just like he’d taught her. They became as one, slashing and stabbing, breathing hard as they spun and ducked, confusing their attackers with their double team attacks.
Only three of their assailants were now left alive and they took flight to escape the vicious onslaught of the four warriors. Looking around at the carnage Raef, Daien, Tarienne and Aidan finally lowered their swords. Before they could catch their breath there was an enormous pulse of power. Throbbing through them the intense wave of magic filled their ears with a deafening drumming. The earth itself seemed to shake. Tarienne fought against it, flinging her hands out to Daien in a silent plea for help. While she attempted to chant a counter spell her mind blanked and blackness took her.
When Tarienne woke her ankles and wrists were tied so that she was face forward against a thick wooden post. The knots on the ropes around her extremities were viciously tight and cut in to her skin. Congealed blood marked her struggle against her bonds.
Daien was unconscious lashed to the post beside her, his head lolling to the side. Dried blood spattered down the side of his face. Panic filled her. Was Daien dead? She sucked in a few deep breath attempting to calm herself. Her heart continued to thump erratically. Closing her eyes, Tarienne focused on Daien’s life force sighing with relief when he let out a quiet groan. Reaching out with her thoughts,she attempted to wake him. Yanking on her bonds again she managed to lean against him. Her head cleared a little at the warmth of his skin.
The words of a healing spell formed in her thoughts disappearing before she could utter them. Frustrated, she tried again. Something or someone was blocking her magic. She dug deep and held on to the words long enough to allow a tiny trickle of magic to seep into Daien. The effort turned to pain and she was forced to release the incantation, her head pounding and spinning nauseatingly. There was no doubt that someone with powerful magic held them captive and was probably responsible for the intense magical pulse that had taken them down.
Twisting around, Tarienne searched for Aidan and Raef. Thankfully, there was no sign of them. She could only hope that meant that they had not been captured. Sweeping the area with her gaze she noticed that they were in the middle of a compound surrounded by heavy brown tents, mostly small although a few were larger and more highly decorated with brightly coloured cloth. Tarienne memorised every detail.
Men dressed in the same garb as those who’d attacked them leered at herbut had obviously been told not to touch because they steered clear, going about their business. Tarienne observed their movements in the hope of gleaning something that might help them escape. Daien finally began to stir. Her focus flicked back to him. He coughed and winced, a blackening bruise visible on his right side through his torn shirt. Someone would pay for that.
Daien shook his head, his hazy focus finally settling on her. “Damn, Ren, what hit us?”
“A very powerful pulse of magic I think, but I have no idea where it came from.”
Tarienne’s eyes moved over Daien, assessing his injuries.
A sudden commotion to their right saw everyone in the camp rushing to its source. Tarienne sensed fear and was curious why, until a chilling howl pierced the air.
“Saints preserve us.” She turned her head to Daien, fear lancing through her. “They’re Weres.”
“Weres? As in Werewolves?” Daien asked, disbelief in his voice.
Nodding, Tarienne drew in a deep breath to steady herself.
“I’m going to try to use my magic to help us escape.”
Closing her eyes, Tarienne whispered a spell to set them free. Nothing happened except the blinding pain that lanced through her skull. The pain subsided a little after a few moments, enough at least for her to let out the breath she’d been holding trying to deal with the agony searing through her. Opening her eyes to see Daien looking at her, concern etched across his face she forced a smile.
“My magic appears to be, suppressed.. I can feel it, but I can’t seem to reach or use it.”
She refrained from mentioning the pain that her attempt at magic had caused her.
“What about trying mind speak to contact Raef?” Daien suggested, his eyes locked on what was going on over the other side of the camp.
Projecting her thoughts as strongly as she could she called to Raef and waited, gritting her teeth against the excruciating agony stabbing into her brain. Shaking her head, as much to dispel the pain as to let Daien know the result of her efforts, she whispered.
Before she could say anything else a tall, powerfully built man strode toward them. He was quite obviously in charge, a few of his followers cowering behind him as he strode confidently closer. He was incredibly handsome with piercing, hard, ice blue eyes and black hair hanging rakishly down partially obscuring one eye. He raked one hand through his hair as he approached and Tarienne gasped at the cruelty etched into his expression.
Scowling when she sensed the glamour emanating from him in waves she steeled herself. He moved up intimidatingly close so that she could feel the heat of his body, smell him. Wolf! But she refused to flinch.
“Well, well, Tarienne, Princess of the Fae, it is an honour to meet you.”
Bending low in a mock bow he laughed as his gaze raked over Daien.
“And who is this, your human pet?”
Daien betrayed no sign of irritation, calmly meeting the man’s stare while Tarienne wondered how this wolf knew who she was.
“Lacas the pack master of these people and this army at your service. Now tell me, what you are doing so far from home little one?”
Neither Daien nor Tarienne spoke, or even acknowledged his question.
Lacas snarled impatiently.
“You will answer me, whether it is now, or later.”
Lacas pressed himself against Tarienne. She struggled to move away however her bonds held her in place. Without warning he slammed his lips down on Tarienne’s so hard that it forced her head back. Daien jumped straining at his bonds his face taut with fury. When Lacas pulled back Tarienne spat, trying to rid herself of the taste of wolf and the blood where he’d bitten her lip.
“Ahhhh, your little pet cares for you.” To the guards around him, he snapped orders. “Untie her and take her to my tent.” He looked pointedly at Daien, a cruel smirk on his face. “Then strip her and secure her limbs to the four corners of my bed.”
Tarienne’s heart pounded in her ears. Icy fear lanced down her spine. Tears welled in her eyes as she twisted against her captors daring one last glance at Daien as they dragged her away.
Lacas stayed just out of Daien’s reach, taunting him with his plans for Tarienne. Daien’s rage consumed him as never before and he continued to strain and jerk at his bonds barely noticing the blood trickling down his wrists.
Lacas laughed until Daien spat in his face, snarling.
“When I get my hands on you, you’re dead.”
Lacas strolled away seemingly unaffected by the threat, laughing.
“I’ll bet your Fae is a tasty little morsel!”
Daien wanted to scream as the fury rolled though him sending him into something akin to a battle rage except this time a gut wrenching nausea sliced through him too. Sucking in a sharp breath in an attempt to calm himself he realised that he would not be any help to her if he didn’t calm down and think rationally. He turned his focus to working the knots binding his hands. Darkness fell and he continued to pick at the ropes. His wrists were painful and bleeding. He was consumed with fear for Tarienne. Without her magic, how could she protect herself? Jerking violently against his bonds. he then began to chew at the ropes at his wrist. Anything to get to her. He’d promised that he’d keep her safe. Damn it. Pulled out of his despair by a soft rustling sound behind him Daien froze.
Tarienne writhed, kicked and bit at the men dragging her to Lacas’ tent. They laughed discussing how Lacas liked them rough in bed and how much he was going to enjoy this one until she managed to spin around and kick one of them between the legs. The changeling went down hard. Good. The other one yelled obscenities at her punching her viciously in the stomach. Winded she couldn’t breathe, sucking in panicked breaths of airtrying to fill her screaming lungs.Lacas stormed up, berating the men.
“You can’t even manage to take a woman to my tent, you useless idiots.”
He lashed out malevolently with his boot at the man on the ground catching him in the head. The man cried out then became quiet and still. Tarienne thought he may be dead but felt no sympathy for him. Turning her attention back to Lacas she struggled furiously as he dragged her toward his tent. Turning, he pinned her with a black stare.
The sharp increase in his glamour became a physical pain streaking through her. When he spoke in a hard and compelling voice.
” You will STOP struggling and you WILL do as I say,”
Tarienne could do nothing but obey, such was the power of his magic. If only she could access her own magic she’d tear him to shreds. Trying to draw on it she whimpered as white hot agony lanced through her head. Lacas shoved her roughly through the flap of his tent stepping in after her. Grinning cruelly as she sprawled on the floor.
“Strip and wash yourself.” he commanded, indicating a wash bowl and cloth on the table beside the bed.
Although her brain screamed for her to stop, she could not. His eyes raked her while she undressed. Blatantly watching as she washed herself his tongue flicked lasciviously over his lips. Tarienne shuddered fighting every moment to break through the compulsion that held her. Tears pricked the corner of her eyes when she couldn’t.Picking up her dusty trousers, she bent to pull them back on.
“No!” Lacas commanded, “Lay down on the bed.”
Tarienne reluctantly lay face up on the bed her will not her own. Shock filled her at the power of Lacas’ glamour. How had he become so strong? Mentally struggling, pushing against the barrier a sharp increase in the potency of the magic snapped through her, sending excruciating pain lancing through her again.
Her chest tightened with panic when Lacas stalked slowly toward her with several pieces of rope. Tarienne gasped but was unable to move, could barely breathe. Tying each of her limbs to a corner of the bed he had her spread eagled and vulnerable.
Lacas approached the bed removing his shirt. Tarienne’s body trembled. She’d never felt so threatened, so exposed, so helpless in her entire life. Lacas began in a soothing voice upping the glamour again. Her mouth was dry, her chest heaved and it felt as though she was breathing through treacle.
“Why are you shaking? You want me, don’t you? I can feel it, I can smell your arousal. My wolf sense can smell everything about you. I can even smell that human on you. Does he pleasure you, Tarienne? You have never known pleasure until you’ve been with a wolf. Look at me, Little one.”
His lips curled in a snarl.Her body betrayed her as a smile pulled at her lips. Unable to resist, even as her mind screamed at her to fight her traitorous body responded to his touch. When he cupped her breast and rubbed her nipple between his fingers her body arched into his hand.Tears trickled down her cheeks as her body defied her attempts to fight the glamour holding her captive. Lacas moved down her body exploring her feminine folds, she groaned and bucked, desperate for his fingers to delve deeper even while nausea tightened her stomach and tears flowed from the corners of her eyes.
“Yes, that’s it, Little Princess, you’re enjoying it aren’t you,” he purred.
“You’re delicious, little one. I can see why your human is so addicted to you. I’ve long heard of the sweetness of the Fae” He licked and sucked and bit at her nipples his fingers pounding into her feminine folds until her recreant body balanced on the edge of a climax. Withdrawing his fingers Lacas stood unbuttoning his trousers. Tarienne moistened her lips. She had never felt such fear, such frustration at not being able to help herself. A moment of utter hopelessness stilled her threatening to plunge her into blackness. Lacas moved closer unleashing his erection.
“Would you like to taste me, Little one? Hmmm, I’m not sure I can trust you not to bite. Will you bite me, Little Princess?”
Lacas straddled her belly not caring that he rested his ful weight on her. Her breaths came in short gasps, unable to fill her lungs with Lacas weight on her coupled with the sheer terror of what he was about to do to her.
Observing her briefly he slid his body down so his hips rested between her thighs, his erection straining to enter her. He shoved her legs apart circling his hips against her hyper sensitive nub, growling like a rabid dog. Bringing his lips down on hers he kissed her hard, biting at her lips, drawing blood, then licking it away. He pushed his hands underneath her his claws protruding further through his fingers as his arousal increased, tearing into her back. A mistake. A tear trickled down her cheek. The tiny stream of water tugged at her free will, the intense pain of the torn skin down her back cleared her head a little.
Tarienne registered somewhere deep inside her brain that something was wrong. She tasted her own blood, felt the pain and became aware that sticky fluid was trickling down her back. The searing agony finally broke through her magic induced stupor. Bucking beneath Lacas she fought the intense glamour he was using to keep her compliant. Lacas interpreted her movements as eagerness for him to enter her. When he jammed himself hard at the entrance to her body Tarienne screamed so loudly that Lacas leapt off her in shock.
“How the hell did you break through my glamour?”
Snarling his body tensed, readying himself to pounce on her to satisfy his sickening lust. Tarienne steeled herself for what would come next. She would fight Lacas every second she was forced to endure his intrusion and would likely die for her efforts.
Her thoughts jumped to Daien. If only she could hold him, one more time. A tear escaped and trickled down her cheek. Her magic was suppressed, she couldn’t even tell Daien how much she loved him, that she was sorry. Her attention snapped back to Lacas when a gurgling sound bubbled from him, wondering what fresh horror he had in store for her. Surprise jolted through her when a sword sliced straight through his heart and out the other side. Lacas fell.
Raef panted, holding his bloodied sword, both terrifying and magnificent in his battle fury. Relief washed over her, tears tumbled down her cheeks. Quickly Raef sliced her bonds and threw her pack beside the bed.
“Get dressed,” he ground out, barely contained battle fury evident in his stiff posture. “We must get out of here quickly, the wolves are coming.”
Sickened by what Lacas had done to her, by her inability to fight his magic Tarienne’s stomach revolted. Rolling off the bed she retched losing what little food was in her stomach plus the blood she’d swallowed. Her belly clenched painfully over and over. Raef moved to gather her hair back from her face sucking in a sharp breath at the sight of her bloodied back. When she’d emptied her stomach he knelt in front of her offering his water bottle. Accepting it she rinsed her mouth then swallowed a small sip.
Raef’s voice softened with emotion, “We don’t have time for me to help you now, Sweetling. Forgive me? As soon as we are safe ...”
Tarienne nodded, gasping with pain when she pulled on the softest shirt she had which still felt like rough cloth on the slashes down her back. Yanking on her trousers and boots she scooped up her pack to follow Raef. Only then did she dare ask about Daien and Aidan.
“Are the others alright?” Her voice sounded small and scratchy, even to her own ears.
Raef responded with mind speak. They are despatching the guards to the right of the compound to ease our escape, Sweetling. Can you run?
Her answer was clipped. Yes.
Exploding into a run that no human could hope to keep up with Tarienne desperately hoped that the wolves couldn’t either. For several miles they bolted through the forest, weaving, climbing, splashing through water, anything to disguise the scent of their trail. When Raef noticed Tarienne lagging behind he slowed to check on her. What he saw had him chastising himself vehemently. His voice was laced with anger, at himself, not at his precious baby sister.
“Damn it, Ren, you should have told me.”
Blood flowed freely down her back and had seeped down her trouser leg into her boots. Tarienne stopped, lifting her chin. Raef knew she’d been stung by his tone and that she was too stubborn to admit defeat. She snapped back at him, her eyes too bright.
“I can run as long as we need to.”
Raef closed his eyes, seeking inner calm. She needed his help, not his anger borne of self deprecation. When he opened them again Tarienne was staring at him, tears trickling down her reddened cheeks. Her pain hit him like a punch in the gut.
“Oh, Sweetling, forgive me. Come here. We have run long enough, I need to begin healing your back.”
Raef’s stomach roiled with anger and disgust at the damage Lacas had caused to Tarienne’s back. He struggled to tamp down the battle fury that made him want to go back and cut Lacas into tiny pieces. He wanted to cry at the pain she must be suffering, wishing he’d managed to reach her earlier.
Tarienne acquiesced biting back the sobs that lurked beneath the fragile thread of her control. She reached out for Raef’s hands desperate for his touch. He urged her closer touching his forehead to hers, whispering calming words. Her breathing evened a little and Raef turned her to remove her shirt sucking in a sharp breath at the damage inflicted by the wolf’s claws.
Leading her to sit on a large rock nearby he rummaged through his pack for a soft cloth and his water bottle.
“This is going to hurt, Sweetling.”
His voice cracked. She didn’t dare turn to look at him so she nodded, afraid to speak lest she unleash the full force of her distress. Moistening the cloth, Raef cleaned the blood from her back as gently and carefully as he could. Tarienne had no idea how she held herself still as Raef worked, the wounds burning like fire as he touched them.
Clutching her shirt to her breast she felt exposed and vulnerable, again. She heard Daien and Aidan speaking softly as they approached. Her heart jumped. Daien would hold her. She could fight again now that Daien was here. She saw their eyes widen in horror at the slashes on her back.Tarienne watched Daien expectantly, waited for him to come to her. Instead, Daien took one look, blanched and snatched up Raef’s empty water bottle.
“I’ll go fill this up.” He growled over his shoulder.
Raef and Aidan exchanged questioning glances. Raef frowned, shook his head and continued cleaning Tarienne’s wounds. Aidan moved to crouch in front of her, capturing her free hand and kissing it tenderly.
“Would any of your special herbs help with the pain?” He asked softly.
Smiling wanly at him, she managed to speak. “The one in the red bag, a pinch, steeped in boiling water as a tea, would help.” Then croaked weakly, “Can we light a fire here?”
“Yes, Ren. There’s no question. I’m lighting it to make the tea, for you.”
He smiled at her. A smile holding such love and compassion that it brought her undone. Her shoulders began to shake with sobs that she couldn’t hold back any longer, sobs that racked her entire body.
Aidan turned, dropped to his knees and slipped his arms around her waist avoiding her wounds, pulling her to him. He looked at Raef over her shoulder, who shook his head sadly and continued cleansing her wounds, muttering a spell as he worked. When the sobs subsided, Aidan eased back and lifted her chin, he wiped away her tears with his thumb and kissed her on the nose.
“I’m going to light a fire now and make you that tea, alright?”
Aidan was incensed by Daien’s behaviour. How could he treat this incredible woman this way? Her sobs had almost brought Aidan to tears, how could Daien be unaffected when he professed to love her? And where the hell was he? Busying himself steeping the tea for Tarienne he struggled to contain his ire. When it was done he squatted in front of her holding the cup. She reached out, wincing as she moved, accepting the brew.
“Thank you, Aidan. I ...”
Wrapping his fingers around the hand that gripped her shirt he leaned in to drop a tender kiss on her cheek. She shivered. Every protective instinct he possessed urged him to hold her so he gave in to it carefully pressing in close. Tarienne sighed. This was what she needed, how he could help her. He held her silently until Raef had finished bathing her wounds. Aidan’s heart ached for her. His anger at Daien stoked by every minute he was absent.
Eventually Daien clumped back between the trees dumping the water bottle beside Raef.
“How far was that water hole?” Aidan asked, anger lacing his voice, “Bring me some wood from over there for the fire, would you?”
Daien did not respond, grabbing a few pieces of wood and throwing them at Aidan’s feet. Aidan glared at him then thought better of starting something in front of Tarienne in her current state and continued tending the fire.
Tarienne’s eyes followed Daien as he dropped to the ground in front of a dead tree stump. Glancing in Tarienne’s direction he looked away when her eyes met his. She turned away, her eyes filling with tears, the pain of her wounds nothing compared to the agony of Daien’s rejection.
Daien knew what Lacas had done and couldn’t even bring himself to look at her. Hell, why should he, she couldn’t accept it herself? Another tear escaped and splashed to the ground. Sipping her tea the pain of her wounds eased a little. Tarienne did not speak when Raef finished the healing just carefully slipped her shirt on and curled up on her side on her bedroll. Closing her eyes she pretended to be asleep so she didn’t have to deal with Daien’s disgust. Aidan gently dropped a blanket over her and she closed her eyes so she didn’t have to speak.
Daien slept near the tree stump his soft snores reaching her ears. Aidan and Raef moved away discussing Daien’s reaction and what to do next. Hearing their whispered conversation with her heightened Fae hearing Tarienne couldn’t bring herself to care. Her world was shattered. The stress of the day and the pain had taken its toll. The herbal tea had eased the pain enough that she finally gave in to the bone deep exhaustion drifting into a fitful sleep.
Nightmares of her capture and Lacas preparing to rape her woke her several times, cold sweat dampening her clothes. Each time she woke her eyes flicked hopefully to Daien. Each time her heart ached with an almost unbearable feeling of loss tears drizzling down her cheeks until sleep claimed her again.