Before the two could speak more the sound of hoofbeats on the ground disturbed them, and Rafel looked up. Pasha and Toresh were racing towards them, and he stood hurriedly, reaching to catch Pasha’s reins. He only paused a moment before urging Tirena into the mare’s saddle. “Hurry! We must get back to the stronghold!”
Tirena did as she was told, letting him boost her up almost unladylike, then shrieked as he slapped the mare on the flank, sending her galloping towards the walls. “Rafel! What is wrong?” she cried, but he did not reply. She clung tightly to Pasha, trusting the mare to bring her back to the stronghold and hoping that Rafel was not far behind her. Continue reading →
The Marshal smiled and kissed her temple again. “You are most welcome lesha. You can ask me anything, and I will tell you whatever I know.”
“Why do I feel as if I’ve known you all my life, Rafel?” she asked. “Why does being with you feel so natural? Why is it so easy to, well, to care for you?”
He had been waiting for her to wonder that, and reached one hand to clasp hers in it. “If I told you it’s because we were destined to be together, would you believe me Tirena?” Continue reading →
Before he spoke Rafel looked out at the river, letting the rushing water help him to focus his thoughts on something other than the young woman sitting beside him. He cleared his throat, and looked to Tirena again. “We’ve told you a little of your parents, of Dom Talven and your mother Eiren, haven’t we?”
“Before you were born, the clans were warring with the humans whose lands border ours. The humans wished to eradicate us, calling us abominations of Nature. Your father was leading a pack against the village of Marona, and your mother, Jes keep her, would not be left behind even though she was very much pregnant.” Rafel paused then, frowning. “My father was part of that pack, and told me this story many times until he passed three winters ago.” Continue reading →
Tirena followed Rafel from the stableyard, getting used to the feeling of the mare beneath her as her appointed protector took her on a tour of the grounds. She saw for the first time how massive her father’s keep was – she had to remind herself this was her home now – and Rafel leaned close to nudge her when he caught her staring.
“Doma-sha. Are you even listening to me?” he asked, his voice low and soft. Continue reading →
Rafel guided her to the stables, a short walk from the keep proper, and an aging groomsman bowed slowly to her. “And who is this handsome fellow?” asked Talven’s daughter. Her attention made the man blush and she grinned.
“I’m Dor, doma. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Dor escorted them into the stables, which smelled sweet, like hay and fresh oats. Horses whickered and stomped their hooves against the broad planked floor, coming to the open half-doors of their stalls. Another groom led a large roan stallion to the yard, already saddled, but paused to let Rafel run a hand along the beast’s withers. Continue reading →
After breakfast Tirena returned to her room, where she bathed with scented soap in perfectly heated water. Lera helped her wash her hair as well, and once the clanlord’s daughter was wrapped in a dressing gown she spent time brushing and styling it in a fashion common to their people. Tirena admired herself in the vanity mirror, amazed at her reflection.
“In the village, I dressed not unlike the boys, really, except I wore long skirts instead of trousers,” she said when Lera laughed at her amazement. “I’ve never looked so pretty.”
“Well, you’re pretty now, doma. Now come and get dressed,” commanded the girl kindly. “The Marshal will come fetch you for your ride soon enough, and you don’t want him seeing you in your nothings.” Continue reading →
Morning was heralded by noisy roosters, hounds baying and the whickering of horses in the stables. Tirena realized her windows were open when she awoke to a cacophony not unlike what she would have heard in the village she was raised in, though upon opening her eyes she was reminded her entire life had changed. She frowned, certain that they had been closed when she went to sleep, and reached for the dressing robe laid at the foot of the bed. She realized then that someone had been in the room, for there were fresh flowers on the bedside table, and the fire had been kindled to warm the room.
Quickly wrapping the robe around herself she called out hesitantly. “Is someone here?” Continue reading →
Tirena readied herself for bed and doused the candles, leaving only one to light her way to the bed. Her bed. The bed that had once been her mother’s. The evening’s events whirled in her mind, conversations with Talven, with Dureil, and with Rafel especially replayed in her thoughts as she donned a sleeping shift and settled into the mattress. As her thoughts drifted more and more she realized that she hadn’t even thought of herself as Alanna, the girl from the village, since the night prior.
Rafel wandered the halls of the keep after leaving Tirena to her slumber. He had not wished the night to end, but knew he could not rush matters. Already it was clear, the growing attraction between them, but he dared not press the clanlord’s daughter. She was too precious to them both.
“You look as though you are lost in the stars, Rafel.” It was Dureil’s voice, and it brought him back to himself. He chuckled, smiling at her.
As Alanna walked through the open doors the room fell to a hush, and she felt every eye upon her. There were a dozen clanfolk, mostly older men but a couple of women also, seated at a large table that dominated the center of the room. At the far side of the room was another table, smaller, and there sat Rafel and Alen with another woman at his side, and another older man who stood slowly when she came in. Alanna found herself unable to move, staring at the man who she assumed must be her father. His hair was the same russet hue as her own, plaited at the temples but otherwise left unruly. His eyes were the same startling blue as her own as well.
“Tirena!” The clanlord’s cry was overjoyed, and he nearly stumbled in an effort to step around the table to move toward her. Dureil gently pressed a hand agains the young woman’s back, as though to urge her to go to him. She found herself unable to move at first, her gaze wandering a bit to the other clansfolk. When she caught Rafel’s gaze though she smiled, and with a steadying breath she moved forward. Continue reading →
Even before they reached the gates of the stronghold Alanna could hear the clamor within, news of her arrival being spread quickly. Men in leather and chain armor and dark hooded cloaks came out to greet them, bowing reverently to Alanna. Rafel urged her to keep moving, lest the crowd deter her from reaching her father. The way the clanfolk seemed to exalt her when none of them had ever met her was confusing, and a little intoxicating, and so it was good that Alen and Dureil kept the folk from coming close, and that Rafel took her arm and kept her moving until they reached the keep.
Her father’s home, as she assumed that’s what it must be, was a large stone building. Iron gates swung open and a heavy wooden door slid to one side to admit the four of them within, closing swiftly to keep the rest of the clan from following. Two young women approached then, speaking to Duriel in a language Alanna didn’t understand. The exchange was brief, and Dureil looked at Rafel. “Go and let him know we have arrived.” She turned back to the clanlord’s daughter and smiled. “Let’s get you a bath, and some clothes, and something to eat. Your father’s health has improved.” Continue reading →