ACHARIUS - Captain's Direction
Merwood, Dread Hideout
“Acharius!” Bast shouted. Walking numbly through the trees.
“Ssh!” Acharius stepped from a clump of trees. Tossing a furtive look in the direction of Meredith House. “She’s been checking for me nearly daily.”
She’s certainly persistent.
And lonely… Acharius thought sympathetically. So am I.
“I thought you were at the Isle?”
Helping Lucien with his quarry.
“And you didn’t win?” Acharius tilted his head sideways.
“Of course not.” Bast shook his head. “She’s Lucien’s. We all know we’re just meant to provide hearty competition for him.”
Acharius frowned. “I didn’t know that.”
“You do now.”
“Thanks.” Acharius said dryly.
“I’ve brought you something.” Bast drew a rolled bit of parchment from inside his billowing shirt. “Where are we going?”
“I have a different den.” Acharius ducked inside the narrow entrance.
Bast on his heels. “To avoid the woman?”
“She’s hard to avoid.”
Damn hard. She’s everywhere. And I want to go to her.
“Good for her.” Bast gave him an assessing study when Acharius faced him with an outstretched hand.
For the first time, Acharius realized what Bast’s voice sounded like with no hint of humor.
“How are you?”
“Hollow.” Bast said dismissively. Slapping the parchment in Acharius’ hand. “Read that. It’ll make me feel better.”
“What is it?”
“Word from the Captain.”
“You spoke to Deragan?”
“I told you I would.” Bast sighed.
You did. And you always keep your word.
“It was a risky move.” Acharius eyed him.
He could’ve bloody well beat you for asking him to rescind his order.
Bast nodded thoughtfully. “Read it aloud so I know if it was worth it.”
“What do you think he wrote?”
“No idea. He made me vow not to read it.”
Ouch. Acharius winced.
“Must’ve damn near killed you.”
“It did until…”
Until you were overcome with your recent sorrow.
“I’m surprised you didn’t take a peek.”
“He’d have known.” Bast remarked on a scoff. “You know he always does. And there’d have been hell to pay.”
Acharius held his breath as he unraveled the tiny scroll. Holding it toward the light to read the Captain’s small, decisive, script. He lowered it with a sigh.
“What’s it say?” Bast asked blandly. None of his usual eagerness entering his voice.
He really does feel desolate. Acharius was trying to keep the pity from his face. I hate seeing him this way.
I’ve never seen him look so shattered.
“Says I’m to protect her.” Acharius breathed.
“Course it does.” Bast nodded slowly. Exiting the cave.
No time wasted visiting today.
He doesn’t have it in him.
“Yes?” He turned to look back at Acharius.
“Anything I can do for you?”
“Put me down.”
Like a wounded animal.
Acharius shook his head. “You know I won’t do that. Don’t be defeated. You’ll never win her back like that.”
“There’s no winning her back now.” Bast shook his head. Lips whitening.
To think of it. All of him looks pale. A shell of the Great Protector.
“You can.” Acharius said in a low voice.
“How?” He tossed his arms helplessly.
“She does love you. We all know it. She’ll circle back to you, given enough time.”
“I don’t think she will.” Bast shook his head. “I’ve lost her. For good this time.”
“You’ve never really had her, locked in that castle.” Acharius said sagely.
Bast pointed at him. “Don’t give me your wisdom now! It’s the last thing I want to hear.”
Acharius approached him so rapidly Bast reared back and threw up a hand in a block as though he was going to be struck.
Acharius ducked aside his arm and caught the man up in a massive bear hug as though he were no more than a child.
“I hate you right now.” Bast grumbled. Face smashed in Acharius’ tunic.
“I know. But you needed a large man-hug.” Acharius soundly plopped him back on his feet.
“I didn’t think Viking’s did that.”
I wouldn’t have back then.
“I’ve not been a viking a long time, My Friend.”
I’ve lost too much.
But now I get to go to Chastain.
Because of you. He gave Bast a grateful look.
Bast backed up and headed from the cave. Head hanging and shoulders slumped.
Not much of him left.
Acharius drew a breath. Fighting the surge of joy pulsing through him as he stepped out to see Meredith Manor. I can go back to her now.
But is it the right thing to do?
I’m getting dreadful sick of this inner debate. He grunted to himself.
You should. Bast’s voice broke into his mind.
Making Acharius wince as he put a palm to his pounding forehead.
I’ve lost mine. You still have yours. Don’t waste time. Bast insisted.
I hate when you do this. Acharius was snarling aloud.