CHAPTER 18 - DUTY
We hunt before sunrise.
Aragon’s voice echoed in his head like a constant mantra. If the decision lay solely on him, he would have hunted the damn thing now. Whatever it was, Sallow or Rogue, he wanted it dead. His fingers rubbed on his jaw feeling the subtle ache of his canines. He craved for blood like it was water. He hissed and bit down against his teeth.
The end of the Reaping marked the beginning of Spring Solstice. His body hardened every joint locked and stiff. He eased his shoulders in attempts to shrug off his meeting with the alphas.
How he could have let this happen?
A rogue running through his woods had already been a grave threat to his people. But, a Sallow. He flinched clenching his hands until they were pale and cold. He could not stomach such carelessness. The beast could have taken down any of his men, even devoured one of the cubs.
Snow was in those woods. The taste of wine made his lips bitter as his insides began to spill bile his throat. The sensation made him dizzy. His hands wiped cold sweat from his forehead. It was only then that he felt his hand tremble.
He couldn’t bear the thought of her in such danger. He clutched the trembling limb and fought back the thought.
A low growl heaved against his chest as he walked into the hallway to the armory. The scent of iron and creeping rust had this effect on him. The years of coming in and out of this room felt like second nature. There was a pattern to this. He told himself. The routine was almost comforting.
Torryn’s hand unbuttoned his tunic as the pale fabric landed on the floor. He reached for a set of daggers and began to balance one on his hand. Although, he was used to battle in his wolf form, a few weapons can serve him good right before he shifts.
He balanced a blade in his hand and once he found the perfect one, he threw the sharpened metal against a wooden target. The blade was too heavy. His force was too subtle. He missed the central target. Just as he hissed, a metal arrow landed on the red ‘X’ where his dagger should have been.
Torryn smiled as he smelled her.
“These arrows are heavy,” Snow said, just as she emerged behind him.
Torryn could not help but grin. He desperately suppressed the childish smile, but to no avail. His chest became light. Whatever heaviness it possessed a while ago, now vanished. The gums that ached at the base of his canines eased. Snow knew how to tame the beast in him.
“Who taught you that?” He asked.
“My father,” She replied, drawing another arrow to the target.
He walked towards her, balancing another dagger on his palm. The sharp tip stood on his bare skin. Her eyes widened at what he’s doing. She unstrung the arrow from her metal bow and rested her hands beside her legs. The green of her eyes was near a shade of blue as she glared at him. Her pupils widened in irritation. He stared back, raising his eyebrows to tease her.
Snow looked like a child. On the contrary, she still is.
Nevertheless, being near her gave him the comfort he has never felt before. He desired her, but no longer lusted for her body like he used to. Snow wasn’t just skin and bones. She was more than a vessel. Torryn realized it, the more he knew her. He grew undeniably drawn to her. The more Snow revealed herself, the more he wanted her near.
Then, Torryn found himself contented by just being around her.
“Stop,” Snow took the dagger from his palm as he chuckled.
Her eyes were still on him as she drew another arrow. She sent it flying over the target. The metal arrows clanged as a spark emerged from the two struck metal.
Snow hit the target twice.
“You have to teach me that,” He grinned.
“You’re too stiff,” She teased.
“Stiff?” He felt his every being harden. He smirked, feeling the growing need for her. The distance between them shortened. As he asked again.
“Do you love me?” He grinned. He was close enough to feel her radiating warmth. She wanted him too. Her cheeks flushed as she stepped back. She backed away from him until the stone walls pushed against her spine.
He walked towards her. His steps were slow and steady, like a predator for the kill.
Torryn consumed her energy, a match against a blazing flame. He was dominating her. Her submission tasted sweet. He stopped before her until her breathe brushed against his skin. He was unapologetic, being a glutton for her was his only sin.
Like a lightning bolt coursing through his chest, he sniffed her energy. She stared back into his eyes as she smiled. Snow ducked and moved to her side escaping his dominance. The verve of her wolf sent electricity to his nape, down to his back as her energy overpowered him.
“Stiff,” She giggled as she stood behind him. She was elsuive, like a cyclone of wind brushing dried leaves around its eye. Torryn could not put a hand on her.
“Alright,” He smirked, “What is it you seek, little bird?”
“What’s a Sallow?” She asked.
His body tensed as the weight went creeping back on his shoulders. He recalled what he was there for. He sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck.
“Who told you about that?” His voice was low and stern. He squinted his eyes and rubbed the inner corners of his lids. Whoever told her about the beast will be beaten as hell after their conversation.
“What’s a Spring Solstice?” Her voice was calm and innocent as the burning rage formed deep down his chest.
Torryn cleared his throat as he faced her. His face grew warm as his veins pulsated on his neck. He grits his teeth and began to inhale deep slow breaths. Who in the bloody heavens has been speaking to her about this?
“Who told you, Snow?”
He was growing impatient. His eyes almost turned red. He grabbed her arm as he nudged her close. As if the force that shook her would spill the answers out her lips. He felt the coldness of her skin, the fear in her eyes. Whatever softness he had towards her, now gone. And, she knew it, felt it.
She gaped the words. He smelled her fear as it powered him more.
“Answer.” It was a low growl interlaced between each breath. He need not demand anymore when she spoke
“You,” She answered.
His eyebrows scrunched. Shock made his lips part. The words failed him as he stood lack for words.
“I wasn’t calling for you,” Torryn grew furious, “If you dare lie to me -
“You were calling for me!” her green eyes widened as she spoke, “Your voice was distant, so I followed you here. It spoke of Sallows, Rogues and Spring Solstice. But I could not understand it -
A dagger flew from his hands, interrupting her as she spoke. She flinched, as the metal arrows fell on the marble floor. A small iron knife replaced where the arrows hit. She glanced at the target, but felt his eyes burn against her skin.
Torryn was certain, that she couldn’t have heard him. It was impossible. Their mark wasn’t as strong. He intended it to be that way.
“I’m telling the truth,” she pleaded. Although whatever she said would not convince him, she spoke the words anyway.
Torryn turned his back from her, walking away as weight made his legs heavy as stone. A low rumble reverberated from his chest as he called for her.
“Follow me. I have something to show you.”
The attempts to save her from the thought of danger was now long gone. Torryn only intended for her to stay within these walls until all of it was over, until all the monsters were dead.
It was too late. She already knew. Knowing too much, in itself, already put her at risk. She should not know this much. He will not allow it, for he knew she wasn’t a woman to just stay still. He knew what drove her every arrow, he felt her void, and witnessed all that she fought for.
Torryn cursed his thoughts. For whatever miracle made her hear him was the same miracle that will dig her grave. He only wanted her safe, her mind most of all. If it meant sealing off his energy, his emotions from her, he would.
If he could take back his imprint on her, he would.
Torryn was walking towards his chambers.
What could he possibly show her there?She thought.
Snow bit her lip as he faced his bare skin. His back glimmered in trickling drops of sweat. His heat radiated the cold air between the halls. She rubbed her fingers warm. But, they only grew colder.
He was different. The shadow on his face became shades darker as they entered his chambers. He led her far beyond the fireplace towards a dark corner where an unlit lamp stood. He took the torch against the wall and lit the salt lamp. Warm light blinded Snow as he followed behind him.
He brought her to a separate room where a wooden cradle stood in the middle. There was a bed right at the corner, beside it stuffed animals with eyes of buttons and mouth of sown wool. A table was perched to its side, stacks of linen adorned the wooden surface. The ceiling was painted a bright blue, clouds of white intricately painted beside cherubs with small fluffed wings.
It made her eyes water.
“Clara would love this, Torryn.” Her fingers found her lips as she stopped them from trembling.
Snow walked to the cradle and brushed her fingers against the soft linen. For a short while, he didn’t speak. She took the time to take it all in. It’s perfect, she thought. She heard him clear his throat as a growl of a voice made her freeze.
“This is not for her,” He said. Snow felt rock solid. She could almost drown in the hardness beneath her feet.
“I apologize,” She replied, searching for his face under the dim light.
“The elders have brought me word,” His jaw looked sharper, his eyes deeper, “It seems that both of us has forgotten the terms of our union.”
Although he left his dagger in the armory, she felt a sharp blade pierce her chest. It’s like his words threw a swift blade towards her and landed not on a wooden target but on her own heart. The chambered muscle was well and beating. She felt it as a hand rested on her chest. But no matter how hard it knocked against her fingers, Snow felt empty.
“With seven offsprings, the elders did not doubt your family’s ability to reproduce,” He couldn’t even look at her.
“I-I’m sorry,” That was all she could say. Her vision blurred as she swallowed hard. But as soon as she felt his hands rub her shoulders, tears began a forceful downpour. Under his touch, she found so little comfort. It only made the tears drip down her cheeks even more.
“Burnwood needs an heir,” His voice was soft but piercing.
At her young age, the world demanded so much from her. But she nodded her head instead, knowing that being ready was not the case. Burnwood and Grimlake was more than ready, both clans demanded a child, a cub that strengthened their bloodline. It was only now did she realize the weight of her status and the disappointment that dragged with each day that she fails to be pregnant.
Torryn’s fingers brushed the wetness of her cheeks as he spoke.
“So, can I please ask you to put whatever it is you heard aside?”
His hands were soft, she did not know how she deserved it. Snow nodded with her eyes shut. She could not bear to look at him. Her shoulders trembled, her lips parted as she began to shake with tears. Her soft sobs echoed through stone.
Still, he caressed her, showing her gentleness that she has never felt before. A warm rush flooded her chest as his lips landed soft kisses on her forehead.
How did she deserve him? Until now, the answer remained uncertain.
Shame sent another piercing blow on her chest as she pulled away from his lips.
A monster did not deserve such love.
“What should I do?” Her voice was brittle and cold, it shrilled like thin ice under the warmth of spring.
His lips brushed the cold skin on her cheeks as he leaned in to her. Torryn cushioned her body in an embrace as he spoke.
“I need you to stay here, where it’s safe,” Her cheeks met the warmth of his skin, “Spring Solstice is a feast for the Rogues. It’s somewhat similar to the Reaping. Now that ours has ended, it marks the beginning of the Spring Solstice. And the woods, even that encompass our territory, will be dangerous.”
“I understand,” Her arms found the concrete muscle in his back. Her fingers dug on his skin as he pulled herself closer to him.
“Promise me you’ll stay here,” Torryn said.
“I promise,” In his arms, she found comfort. It ever so quickly replaced the emptiness in her being. Snow clung to him, until her fingers slid beneath the solid curves of his skin.
“What is it that they hunt from our woods?” She asked.
Snow felt Torryn’s arms pull her closer, she could almost feel his heart pound on her cheek. His voice carried all the gentleness he could muster, but Snow could not help but smell fear. The hair on her arms stood as he answered.
“They hunt us.”
Snow tossed on the sheets as she held her abdomen. It ached like her body was split in two. Torryn made love to her just as he placed her down his sheets and it would usually end with her in deep sleep.
This time was different, she could not sleep. Though, she ached like she used to, after the deed was through. The apex of her legs were sore, cold and damp. She reached against the heavy softness of the covers. Her hands searched for him, but found nothing.
Then, she remembered.
Promise me you’ll stay here. His voice was a wakening reminder of the vow she gave. It was just now that she recalled his words.
Her hands stopped her search as she recalled that Torryn left for the woods. The alphas needed him there, and journey demanded he leave her.
The cold crept into her chest emphasizing the emptiness between the walls of her heart. Guilt and shame pulled her thoughts from peace, as she bit down her lip. Tears dripped the corners of her eyes wetting the sheets beneath her face.
She failed Torryn.
Snow held on to her belly as the skin grew warm beneath the covers. It was flat and stiff. How she wanted to feel just a subtle curve.
A cub with green eyes. She remembered her dream. Could it be?
Snow held on to the thought deeper and longer. If she was with child, why can’t she sense the growing cub? She longed to hear just a heartbeat. She wanted to hear him.
Hoping for a child was too much to ask, after all. But she hoped, like hope became an answer to every question, every doubt she ever possessed.
Snow’s ears were at bay, heading a sound, craving signs of life beneath her flesh. She only heard a different sound, when a bang on the wooden door made her body flinch.
She pushed against the sheets in one swift motion and felt her abdomen ache even more. Another knock sent her to her feet. She slowly walked towards the door. Her hands lifted the heavy metal lock the snapped the door shut.
As she released it, warm, bright light from a flaming torch made her blind.
“Snow?” before her eyes regained her vision. Snow already knew it was Margaux.
As color came back to her sight she saw her sister in her hunting robe, the one Snow wore in the reaping. She had a crossbow in one hand, a torch in the other. She had a leather satchel around her chest, small daggers adorned the leather strap of her waist. A hood cast a dark shadow on her face, but she did not need to look in her eyes to sense her fear.
“What’s wrong? Why are you in my clothes?” Snow asked.
“I need your help,” She replied.
“Margaux, I am forbidden to leave. I should --
“Please?” Her sister was in tears, sharp splinters of sorrow stung her voice.
Snow need not to answer, when her sister grabbed the leather satchel and pushed it towards her. At that moment she was confused who she was.
It was like standing in front of a forked road. One path led to her sisters and another to Torryn. She was both a sister and a mate and she stood frozen not knowing what she should be.
“Clara needs you.”
That was all, Snow needed to hear.
She took the satchel in Margaux’s hands. As she pulled her sister inside the warmth of Torryn’s chambers. She spilled the contents of the leather bag as a hunting tunic flowed down the ragged carpet. She met Margaux’s gaze and saw the redness of her eyes and the weight of her swollen lids.
And, it all became clear as she pushed her body into the leather armor. There was no fork in the road. There wasn’t even a road.
There was only a small shade under an oak tree, beneath it, her sisters.
And it’s them, she chose.