Led the blind in search to find
A pathway to the sun
Saw the signs intertwine
And forgave me all my sins
-Opeth, The Devil’s Orchard
I could not sleep, not after telling Mavia of how my father had slain hers. I thought that perhaps I would have to bind her as well, leaving her and Chloe in the woods in some easy to find place on a hunter’s trail. The season was right for hart and it would be no more than a half day before someone came upon them. They would be cold, but neither of them would lose fingers over it. The girl Mavia, now a woman thanks to my desire to draw jealousy from Chloe, was upset. How could one not be? She had fared the tale well however, much to my surprise. She did not say it, but in her eyes I could see the sort of light lit by a tale big and grand that she could now be part of.
I pondered under the stars at how one could be so taken with their feelings that they would do the unspeakable; forgive me and my father what had happened and stay committed to remaining with me? Irony held me close as I sought Chiron in the sky. Was I any different? And if not then what should I think of myself given my estimation of Mavia’s intellect? In the last turning of the sun and the moon I had done things almost as foolish out of my feelings for another. Almost? I laughed at own understatement. I looked over at Chloe, shivering under the skin and fur of her blankets and wrappings in the cold night air. I pulled my fur collar tighter about my neck and moved quietly to cover her with my blankets as well that she might sleep in more warmth.
As I tucked them about her neck she woke partially and, seeing me through her sleep lidded eyes, scowled and kicked the new blankets to the side as she burrowed deeper in her own. I put one instead over Mavia and the other over my father and went back to my scan of the sky. The stubbornness of woman. The folly of man. Were it not too cold for the ink to flow well to the page I could pen this tale and be remembered for all time. I laughed to myself at Colm’s words the day before; ’I swear friend, I think you do this to yourself simply so you have something to write about.’
Were that true I could at least pat myself on the back for a job well done.
I found Chiron then, the star sign I had been born under. In the crisp night air the stars shone like perfect points of white fire. Chiron’s place in the Sky Tapestry was not one of the most prevalent, but it was important to the priests of the temple of Zihn. The Wounded Healer; the priests of Zihn held it to be true that those born under that star had great ability to heal those around them, but not themselves. I laughed softly at the lie of it. I had healed no one. All I had brought was pain. Except foolish Mavia, who seemed at peace with her new place in the world. She was perhaps a far more fitting mate for me than Chloe after all. Chloe had a sharp intelligence and to be with a man like me would be to shackle her to a millstone and ask her to pull.
I decided then that after the next night I would let her go. We would have gained enough distance from my father’s mistake with Farsh that by the time she returned to Marish we could have switched directions and made it unlikely that anyone would ever be able to find us. Our family’s name, dwindled already with the ascension of the temples of Zahn over Zihn, would be stricken from the Scrolls and that was fine. My father would never need to know, indeed would likely not remember even if I told him, and we could vanish into obscurity. Perhaps if we travelled far enough we would find a land where the Scrolls were not read.
Having a plan, weak but present, allowed me to slip into a fitful sleep wrapped tightly in my quilted hide jacket. I was awoken by the smell of toasting bread and cold fingers on my cheek. I opened my eyes into Mavia’s, her cheeks red and her smile dimpling her face.
“Good morning to you Shen Marth,” she said quietly. “I have stoked the fire higher and am preparing some food for us.”
“Hm? Good,” I said, standing to stretch. “We leave soon.”
She returned to the fireside to turn her bread and stir a pot. My father was stirring under his blankets. Chloe was awake, sitting on a log with her bound hands in her lap and her bound feet rubbing against each other to warm them. I removed the gag from her mouth and she merely stared into me with her cold eyes.
“Tomorrow morning when we rise I will turn you back. You will be free to go back to Marish,” I told her. She made no reply, only stared with eyes like blades.
My father rose and stretched his old bones and we ate and we packed and we left. As bets as possible we stayed back from the road, using it only when the woods were too thick for horses. We had brought good supplies from the home of my father and I, but fresh meat is better than dried and so when I saw sign of a hart I took my bow and left the women with my father to continue without me. Chloe was too gentle to harm him and he gave me his pledge he would not let her flee. I tracked the hart and felled it with one arrow, straight and true to its lung. I dressed it in the cold and gave silent blessing to Zihn as its soul escaped as mist from its body. In deference to those whose lands we crossed I left half the carcass to the wolves lest they take offence at me hunting on their tract and came for us in the night.
We would pass near to the town of Cotting that afternoon and so I led us instead across hill and field to skirt the place wide; I did not want Chloe knowing how close we had come so that on the morrow she could flee there instead of back to Marish, telling them of our crime and setting trackers upon us before we could gain more good distance. We rejoined the road on the other side and continued.
Mavia made conversation all day and my father was glad of it. He enjoyed speaking nonsense with others, and of nonsense Mavia seemed to have a bounty. Chloe, for her part, was quiet even without the gag and so I left her mouth free in case she should wish to say anything at all. She did not. We camped that night against a small cliff to shelter us from the winds that had come up from the east. As the meat of the hart sizzled over the fire my father jerked his head up from the small flute he was carving with his knife.
“A horse, boy,” he hissed, putting his hand on my forearm. “I hear a horse.”
I did not hear it, but my father’s ears were as keen as ahounds and so I did not doubt him. “Stay with the women.”
I strung my bow and drew my sword, creeping to the top of the cliff’s ridge to peer beyond. Near the road were two men, one on his horse and the other kneeling by his own. The one on his knees pointed in our direction and he mounted and they rode. They were some way off in the failing light, but ere long they would see the light of our fire below the ridge as they drew nearer. Cursing softly to myself I lay my sword in the skiff of snow and drew an arrow, putting it to string and hoping they were just curious farmers or rangers, wondering at who might be crossing their land.
As they approached, that hope fled. When they were close enough for me to take a shot I recognized Colm’s wide shoulders. I glanced down the slope of the ridge I had climbed to the fire below. Mavia and Chloe looked up at me, my father was clenching his sword hilt and swiveling his head like a cat trying to hear a mouse in the dark. I motioned for them to stay where they were and crested the ridge. The horses pulled up short some ways from me and I waved and approached, the arrow still loosely against the string of my bow.
“Shen!” Colm said when he recognized me. “By the stars, what are you doing this far from home Shen?”
“Colm,” I nodded in greeting, looking cautiously at the other man. Audin, Chloe’s brother.
“I asked what you are doing out here, Shen,” Colm said seriously. “There is trouble in Marish and all men are needed.”
“How did you find us?” I asked.
“Every time you left the road you cut a path through the new snow, Shen. Do you really mean that you were trying to hide?” Colm asked incredulously.
I cursed inwardly at my foolishness, but realized this new mistake could be turned to my advantage. They didn’t yet realize we were trying to be secret and hidden. “Only from game I suppose. My father and I are hunting, Colm.”
“You must return with us, Shen,” Colm went on. “People of our village have disappeared. Farsh and Mavia Hiven. And Shen…Chloe as well. Chloe Harver.”
Audin wore a grim expression and had his hair pulled back in a tail. His sword was inched free of its scabbard. “My sister is gone, Shen. I know you pined for her. Come and help us find them.”
“My father,” I said. “He is resting. Perhaps on the morrow…”
“No, Shen,” Colm said, shaking his head. “We must go now. We think raiders may have come. We need your father’s wisdom, such as might remain. And your arm. I should not even be out here looking for you but I convinced my own father I would find you fastest.”
Once again I found myself not knowing what to do. They thought raiders had killed or captured Chloe and Mavia and Farsh. That was a good thing at least; but what then now?
“You must have expected much game to take four horses with you on a hunting trip,” Audin said.
“Yes,” I lied quickly. It bothered me how well I was adapting to a life of lies. “My father, he is old. It is difficult to go hunting once more snows come. One trip, you see? To lay up supplies for the winter.”
“I did not know you had so many horses, Shen,” he said to me. “Last I knew you had but three.”
“We bought another. In Cotting.”
Audin looked at Colm with narrowed eyes. Colm asked him, “What is it, Audin?”
“They were four all the way from Marish, Colm,” he said.
“What are you doing out here?” Colm asked me, his tone wary and almost afraid at how I might answer.
“I told you,” I said smoothly. “We are hunting. The fourth…the fourth was our mule. We thought to use it to pack the game back but it threw lame and we traded it in Cotting.”
“Your mule,” Audin said, turning his horse to ride around me towards the ridge, “was in your barn.”
“Shen, what…” Colm began.
I turned on my heel and braced my feet as Audin rode to the ridge, drawing back an arrow and loosing it into his back. He jerked his head back, trying in vain to reach the shaft in his back as he slid from the saddle and died in the snow. New flakes were beginning to drift from the sky, landing and melting on his face where he lay.
“Shen!” Colm shouted in surprise, drawing his sword. “What in the Hells!?”
I held out one hand towards my old friend. “Colm! You don’t understand! It was a mistake!”
“You’ve shot Audin, Shen! Is this some…witchery!?”
“My father, Colm,” I said, trying to calm him. “He has slain Farsh Hiven in error.”
“What!?” Colm started, jumping from his horse and running to Audin’s body. “He’s dead, Shen!”
“Keep your voice down,” I said, coming warily to his side. “I do not wish them to hear you.”
“What’s happened to you!?” Colm asked, dropping his sword and standing to push roughly at my shoulders. As I stumbled he struck me across the cheek with his fist and I fell to one knee.
“Colm!” I said, letting my bow fall and holding my hands up between us. “Stop! I will tell you!”
And I did. He stared and shook his head and clenched his fists. The only part I did not tell was that Chloe Harver was with us. I could not, because though I knew she would be gone with the rise of the sun I could not bear the thought of parting with her any sooner. Fleeing with my father after his mistake, Mavia joining us; all of these things I knew Colm could stomach…if not now then with time. Kidnapping Chloe? This he could not. I knew my friend too well. It pained me to sew the lie tighter still but I felt I had no choice. He would know soon enough when she staggered back into Marish; I did not want him to hear it from me.
“Shen, this is a truly bad thing,” he said. “And now Audin. You’ve murdered the brother of the woman you love, Shen.”
“I know,” I said. The feelings in me were unfamiliar. I’d never fired an arrow at another man before, it did not feel right. “Like my father before me I must be a great fool.”
“You are a great fool, Shen,” Colm said, sipping at whiskey from a flask in his pocket. “And now once more it is to me to sort it out.”
“When you get back to Marish…tell them what I did. Tell them it was me that slew Farsh as well. Tell them whatever you want, but please do not make me go back with you. My father…he needs me, Colm.”
“I will not,” he said, handing me the flask. “By rights I should hold you bound by law and drag you back with me, but I cannot. We are like brothers, Shen. I will not see you hung.”
“So then what…?” I asked him.
“I will tell the village I found the raiders, and they had killed you and the others. I will tell them that Audin and I fought them and in that fight he was felled as well. I will tell them that the raiders are no more and that will be the end of it.”
“You would do this for me?” I asked him. “You are a truly great friend, Colm.”
“I am a truly great liar,” he spat. “If I do this, then you cannot ever return to Marish, Shen. You know this, yes?”
“Yes,” I said quietly. “I had not intended to return.”
“Help me put Audin across his saddle and bind him there. Then go to your father and Mavia and tell them all is well.”
We did. As Colm mounted his own horse and readied to ride we clasped wrists and he nodded to me as he spoke. “This is an ill omen, friend. I fear for where your path takes you. A terrible way for friends to part.”
More terrible still when Chloe returned to Marish and told the village the truth. I began to see that I could not let that happen. Colm was a good friend, and though the lie was like bile in my mouth I would not let it be revealed. Colm needed to know he had helped his friend when he was in an impossible spot; not that he had been fooled by one with a smooth tongue, betrayed by the trust he had in me.
“Farewell, Colm,” I said up to him.
“I cannot say the same, Shen. I fear that you will not fare well at all. It is not too late you know, to change your mind. Many did not have love for Audin Harver; we can keep that between us and let the village show your father mercy for Farsh. There will be shame on your family, but they are a good people. You know this. They will show mercy.”
I thought about it, but only for the briefest of moments. That may all be true but Chloe Harver was the part of the tale Colm was missing. What he suggested simply could not be.
“I cannot, Colm,” I said earnestly. “I must do this as I am doing it.”
“I will miss you, friend,” Colm said simply, and then rode off.
They were just woodsmen. Locals, curious who had hunted on their lands. At least this is what I told them when I returned to the camp. Chloe didn’t care, she was eager to go to sleep and leave for home in the morning. Mavia was impressed with how I told them I had handled the strangers. She gushed over me and when she lay down to sleep she moved her bedding closer to mine.
My father, back to carving at his flute, waited for the women to be asleep before doing anything more than nodding at my story. He picked up the shavings from his work and threw them into the low burning fire.
“I am old, Shen,” he said quietly as he worked the wood with his small blade. “Old and going blind and forgetful. Old and maybe confused most times. But I am not deaf, son. I hear quite well.”
“Oh?” I asked him, stretching my legs under my blankets and pulling them up tighter to my neck. “And what do you hear now father?”
“It is not what I hear, Shen. It is what I heard.”
I sat up, looking at him. Through his glazed eyes he was not making eye contact with me, but his face was turned my way and his lids were narrowed at me. “I heard what happened, Shen. I know what you did.”
“And?” I asked, ready to be upbraided by my father.
“And nothing, Shen,” he said, carving once more. “Just know that I heard. Our lives are written in the Tapestry before we are born under the stars, son. It is not my place to interpret the wills of Zihn or Zahn, nor how they place us in the world.”
“What are you saying, Father?” I did not keep the Days either, but my father had taken up piety from my mother.
“I am saying that I heard and that I know, nothing more.”
“You will tell these women what I’ve done?” I asked, worried.
“I will not. My tale is near its end, Shen. I would not try to change yours as it is just beginning.”
“You speak more…clearly…than normal tonight father,” I said, laying back down beneath the skins and furs.
“Maybe I do,” he said, feeling along the surface of the flute he was carving, blowing into its end to test it. “And maybe I just see that sometimes it is better to be thought a fool when that is what others expect of you.”
“Good night Father,” I said. “Get some rest, we ride at dawn.”
Soon he was asleep and as I was drifting off as well I heard a shuffling and felt someone nuzzle close to me. Mavia wiggled her warm body against mine and pushed her covers over us both. She whispered, “Hello Shen Marth…”
“Mavia, what are you doing?” I whispered back.
“Laying with my man,” she said softly. “Is this not proper?”
Her hands were moving about on my body and she found what she was looking for after short fumbling. Her fingers worked at the laces on my breeches and she giggled softly as she got them open.
“The others…” I said, thinking of Chloe waking and hearing Mavia sighing or moaning.
“The others are asleep, Shen,” she whispered next to my ear. “We will be quiet. And if not, they know you are my man now.”
“My father sleeps lightly, we should not be…” I started.
“I am not the simple fool you think I am,” she breathed to me. “It is not your father you are worried about.”
“No, it is,” I protested. “He thinks every sound in the night is a bandit or brigand.”
“It is sweet of you to lie to spare my feelings,” Mavia said. “I know it is Chloe Harver you do not wish to wake.”
She held my cock, stroking its underside softly with the palm of her hand while holding the base of it with her other. She kissed me below the ear, and then twice more down my neck towards my throat.
“Mavia,” I said, reaching to push her hands off of me. She held tighter. “Please…”
“Please?” she whispered. “Please what, Shen? Please continue? Please kiss lower?”
She slid down my body, her head disappearing under the fur. She crouched beside me under the blankets on her hands and knees and licked along my shaft once before coming back up near my ear with her lips.
“We will wake my father…”
“Your protests will wake her, that is a sure thing,” she said. “If you don’t wish to wake her then lie still.”
“It is not that,” I lied. “I do not wish to wake my father.”
“Did you think of her while you made me a woman, Shen?” Mavia asked coyly. “Did you think of her skinny body while you bedded me?”
“Mavia, what are you…?” I stammered.
“I know, Shen,” she whispered while she moved her hand up and down my solid rod. “The whole village knew how you felt about her. Did you think it a secret? You asked her father for her hand, after all.”
“You are being improper to speak this way while…”
“While stroking at your manhood?” she asked with a soft giggle. “To speak of Chloe Harver while I do this?”
Mavia slipped beneath the furs once more and placed her soft wet lips around my cock’s head. I inhaled sharply at the hot sensation and felt her flick her tongue back and forth across the sensitive underside of it. I felt her cheeks press in on its length as she slid more of it into her mouth. I moved one of my hands to the back of her head, thinking to pull her back but finding myself instead locking her thick dark hair in my fingers as her head bobbed up and down. With a sloppy little sound she popped me out past her lips and slid her body up against mine, her mouth back to my ear.
“Is that what you wish she would do for you, Shen?”
“A lady does not speak this way,” I said softly to her. I realized then she was not wearing her skirts nor her leggings nor anything else below her waist. She had her pelvis pressed against me and was humping at my leg.
“A lady?” she asked me teasingly. “I’m not a lady Shen Marth. But I am a woman thanks to you. A woman who knows that men think of other women.”
“You are barely more than a girl,” I said. My mind could do whatever it wanted, but so could my body it seemed. My hand had slid down Mavia’s back and was squeezing gently and rhythmically at the curve of the left side of her soft ass.
“I can be whatever you want of me, Shen,” she breathed into my ear lustily. “A girl…a woman…Chloe Harver.”
“This is wrong,” I said. “You are speaking like a whore.”
“I can be that too if that is what you please,” she said as she moved her leg across mine and lay atop of me. She pressed down with her softly haired mound and ground against me with small turns of her waist. “I just wish you to be pleased with me.”
“Mavia…” I started saying. The feeling of her atop of me was too arousing for me to finish my sentence.
“I’m your woman now, Shen,” she said, grinding harder. “You can do to me what you wish.”
I had maneuvered my hips so that my cock came from between us and stood up between her thighs. She reached down over her ass and pushed my head against her small opening. Mavia worked her hips up and down, rubbing me against her moistening slit. I felt her lips part around me as I slipped inside her tight pussy.
“If you wish to think of Chloe Harver I will not be angered,” she whispered. “As long as it is me you are bedding while you do it.”
I let out a long shaky breath as she grew wet enough for me to slide further into her. I was thinking of Chloe, despite how wrong I knew such a thing was. She was lying only four feet away. I looked over and in the dying light from the fire her blonde hair shone orange. I could scarcely make out the small curve of her waist under the skin and fur blankets she was covered with. As Mavia moved her hips in small motions I imagined my cock buried in Chloe Harver, my hands on her ass and her hair hanging in my face. I grew harder still and grabbed at the flesh under my hands and thrust upwards in time with Mavia’s movement.
“Is she as good as you hoped?” Mavia asked softly into my ear, laying flat on top of me with her hands on either side of my head playing with my hair. “Does her pussy feel nice, Shen?”
This was so very wrong. Proper women do not speak to their men this way. Only proper men get proper women though. I was not a proper man. I was a liar and a kidnapper and now a murderer. The tight, wet embrace of Mavia along my shaft was stealing me away from all propriety faster than I would have thought possible.
“Yes,” I whispered into her ear. “It does.”
Mavia lifted her head to look at my face and smiled the wicked smile of the succubus as she began flexing her whole body along with her hips as she fucked atop of me. She pulled the skins over our heads and trapped us beneath in darkness. She whispered, “It will be better if you cannot see me.”
As she rode me I thought only of Chloe lying mere feet away, asleep. It pushed me to a climax and I held tightly to Mavia’s ass, seeing Chloe Harver’s ass with my mind. Mavia lifted her pussy suddenly off my throbbing cock and slid quickly between my legs. She took my cock in her mouth and sucked the seed from me as I came. I saw with my imagination Chloe doing the same and I pushed the fur off my head far enough to look over at her again. She had rolled over and her hair fell across her cheek, her mouth open as she breathed deeply in her sleep. I pictured that mouth wrapped around me and I grabbed Mavia’s hair to keep her head there as she sucked and swallowed deeply. When she was finished, which is to say when I was finished, she crawled upwards to lay beside me, licking her lips and swallowing at my sticky fluid in her mouth.
“We should be careful that I don’t become pregnant,” she whispered, snuggling her body tight against mine. “At least until we are properly wed, Shen.”
“Properly…?” I asked.
“Wed, you fool,” she said. “You still intend to wed me, do you not?”
I moved my mouth to reply but could not. Instead I said, “This was improper.”
That’s not what it felt like to me,” Mavia softly said by my ear as she brushed her fingertips lightly up the underside of my wet and sticky shaft. “It felt very proper to me.”
“I mean what you were saying,” I said. “What I was thinking.”
“I am just glad I could be a good woman and please my man.” She sighed and lay her head on my shoulder with her arm across my chest to hold me tight to her. “A proper woman pleases her man as he wishes to be pleased.”
She was soon asleep with my arm around her. I however, once again, could not sleep. I stared up at the stars above and thought that perhaps I should turn Chloe loose when the dawn came after all. I was reminded of the tales in my mother’s old books that we had left behind; tales of men ensorcelled by witches and tempted by fey. Mavia was none of those things. Indeed there was little proof that those tales of the old ages were even founded on any truth, but I knew lying there with her body against me where men could find the inspirations for such stories.
I eventually fell asleep, and dreamt of Chloe Harver.
“Shen,” a voice said, waking me.
I leaned my head up, causing Mavia to stir and roll off of me. She rolled on her other side and pressed her naked bottom against my hip. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. The fire had burned low, dawn was almost upon us. Chloe and my father, they still slept soundly beneath their furs.
“Shen,” the voice said again.
It was a male voice, near but far away at the same time. I turned to look to the edge of our small camp behind me. There was a shape in the low shadows of the dense trees, near the horses. A man’s silhouette, darker in the gloom of predawn false light.
“Get up, Shen,” his voice said.
“Who are you?” I whispered. “How do you know me?”
The dark shape stepped from under the boughs shadows. It was Audin Harver. I gasped and then realized I dreamt still. This was not real.
“Get up,” Audin hissed at me. He turned to point through the trees and I could see the shaft of my arrow still in his back. “Someone approaches. Men. Several men.”
“This is a dream,” I said, shaking my head as I tried to wake. “You aren’t here.”
“Get your sword, Shen. Wake your father.”
“I won’t answer to a specter in a dream,” I said to him, lying back down and trying to slip from dream to sleep to awake.
“I do not do this for you,” Audin said in his distant voice. “I do it for my sister. Get your sword, Shen. Men approach.”
“Be gone!” I shouted. Mavia stirred next to me and rolled over again, opening her eyes.
“But Shen,” she said sleepily, “Can we not let our union be known? Your father and Chloe…they know about us.”
“Get up Shen!” Audin shouted hollowly.
“This is but a dream,” I said, pulling the fur over my head and squeezing my eyes shut. “I just need to wake up.”
“Silly!” Mavia chided at me. “You’re awake now, Shen.”
I pushed the covers back and sat up. My father had stirred and woken as well, Chloe doing the same.
“What is all the yelling?” my father asked, confused.
“SHEN!” Audin yelled again. “Get up!”
I laced my breeches and stood, Mavia fumbling to put her leggings on beneath the blankets. Chloe gave us a disgusted look as she sat up and tried to stretch in her bonds. My father cocked his head to one side, a look of alarm in his old, clouded eyes.
“I hear something, Shen,” he said, fumbling for his sword beside him.
“Protect my sister, Shen!” Audin yelled. I looked to him and watched him fade.
Then came the crashing of men through woods, the shouts, the drawing of steel. I glanced around as men came from each side of our camp but the cliff, yelling and stomping and threatening. My father was on his feet, sword in hand, waving it about menacingly at them. I lunged for my own but was met by a grizzled and dirty man, smelling of himself, putting a blade against my neck. Mavia shrieked and ran into the woods between them wearing only her hose and her blouse. Another had locked his arm around Chloe’s neck as she yelled and squirmed. My father disarmed one and then he too was removed from the fray as two more through a net over him and bore him to the ground beneath them.
“What have we here, eh?” the one with his sword to my throat rasped. “Hunters? Travellers?”
“You can take what you wish,” I said, scared. “Just leave them unharmed.”
“Oh, we’ll do that,” he grated though his dirty teeth, looking to the one who held Chloe. “We will indeed. And she’s already bound for us, thanks lad!”
“No!” I shouted. I went for him, but he pressed the blade harder against me neck and I stopped. “Don’t harm her!”
“Harm?” he asked. “That’s up to her, isn’t it lad?”
They were dragging Chloe back into the trees. The ones who’d taken down my father had knocked him unconscious and were tying him up. I looked to my sword beside my bedding a foot away and then felt the blade move on my throat again.
“Don’t be a fool,” the brigand rasped. “I won’t lose sleep to cut your throat, lad.”
“I’m after the one that ran!” another of them shouted as he tore off through the trees after Mavia.
Someone clubbed the back of my head as I was thinking about what the other had said. Don’t be a fool. It was a might late for that now. Had they come to my home two mornings past perhaps it would have served fair warning.
“Shen!” a voice said, waking me.
Someone slapped my face. I opened my eyes to see Mavia crouched next to me, shivering in the cold. She had a small knife and was sawing through the ropes that bound my wrists. I was surprised to be alive but I was not pleased for it. I sat up and rubbed at my wrists while she cut at the ones on my ankles. My father was lying nearby, struggling at bonds of his own.
“How did you get away from them?” I asked Mavia as she moved over to free my father. There was blood on the blade of the knife.
“My sister and I,” she said. “We have been hiding from each other in the woods for years.”
“Thanks to you,” I said.
I stood and looked about our camp. Swords gone. Arrows gone. Horses gone. Everything…gone.
“My sword,” my father said. “They took my sword Shen. And yours too. They took everything.”
“Except our lives,” I said to him. “I wonder why.”
“It takes a special wickedness to kill a man when he can’t defend himself I suppose,” Mavia said as she helped my father to his feet. I winced inwardly at her words, spoken to a man she didn’t know as well as she thought.
“We have to get Chloe back,” I said, looking about for something…anything…that the brigands may have passed over or left behind.
There as a glint under some branches piled next to where the fire had been. I kicked the firewood to the side to see one single arrow, its flights damaged and crumpled. I saw my bow as well, fallen forgotten against the cliff where I’d left it leaning when returning to the camp the night before.
“This and a carver’s knife,” I said dismally.
“We’ll take them by surprise, Shen,” my father said to me. He held out his hand and mavia gave him the knife. “We should hurry though, son. They won’t wait long to be using that skinny blonde girl, if they haven’t already.”
As I found their trail in the snow and moved as quietly as can be with a half-blind man and a farm girl in tow, I saw movement to my left through the boughs and flinched. Looking over I saw Audin keeping pace with us through the trees.
“You had better save my sister, Shen Marth,” he grated in that strange voice of his. “Or I swear I will find a way to kill you.”
The day was not a good one as it was. Things would be better for me if I was not going mad atop all else.