“Do you think we should start looking for somewhere to camp soon?” Portheas said, interrupting Karayana’s study of the many energy forms around her. She looked up and realized that it was already dusk. Marti marched on ahead, seemingly oblivious to his two companions.
“Marti.” Karayana called.
He halted, and turned to face her, his face a mask.
“It’s getting dark. We need to look for somewhere to stop.”
Marti turned and pointed to the right of the trail. “This way,” he said, striding off in a new direction.
“Is he alright?” Portheas asked in a low voice. “He’s been acting really weird since we saw those Knights.”
Karayana gave a small shrug. She couldn’t give away Marti’s secret, but at the same time, lying to Portheas did not seem right. Saying nothing seemed the best option. Portheas seemed unaware of her struggle.
“You’ve been slightly weird too. It’s been like walking with a pair of zombies all afternoon.”
Karayana laughed softly.
“There’s nothing wrong with me. I’ve just discovered that I can see and sense things that most people can’t. Ral said that the more I gathered my energy, the more remarkable my experiences would become. The trouble is, I wasn’t with him for long enough to find out what could happen. I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt before.”
She looked up at Portheas. He was regarding her sceptically, and she felt a tendril of anger that she quickly tried to subdue.
“Why do you do that?” she asked indignantly.
“Do what?” He frowned.
“Never believe in me.”
For some reason, she really wanted him to believe in her.
“I’m just not comfortable with all this talk of energies and people with strange abilities. I’m not sure that I believe in any of the things you do or say.”
“How can you not?” she spluttered, her voice rising slightly. “You have seen me use my energy with your own eyes. You have felt the strength of that energy when you were thrown into that wall. Perhaps Mica should have thrown you harder.”
Karayana stomped off in pursuit of Marti.
“Hey, you asked! I only told you how I felt. I didn’t deliberately try to annoy you.”
She turned back.
“It is obviously something we should not discuss.”
“Very happy not to,” he mumbled at her disappearing back.
Karayana breathed deeply, subduing the anger she felt. Did she feel disappointment too? Sometimes Portheas made her head hurt.
Marti had stopped under a stand of trees. A spring bubbled up in a small clearing just before the campsite.
“This couldn’t be more perfect,” Karayana said, instantly feeling happier again. “How did you know it was here?”
Marti shrugged. “I remembered it from scouting missions when I was training.”
He threw down his pack and cloak and slid his knife out of its sheath.
“Got a knife?” he asked Portheas.
Portheas shook his head.
“Here.” Marti threw a sheathed knife that he fished out of his pack. It landed at Portheas’ feet.
“We need branches about three and a half feet long. Karayana, we’ll bring them to you, you start lashing them into a grid. There’s some rope in my pack. Or perhaps you could use strips of your dress, instead of cutting up the rope.”
He got to work straightaway on some young trees. Portheas released his cloak and wrapped it carefully. He placed it with Marti’s things, glancing at Karayana as he did. She half-smiled at him. He nodded and then went to help Marti.
Karayana found what was left of her dress, and before long had started a grid of branches, as instructed. Within an hour, Marti had finished off the frame. Portheas gathered some dead wood for kindling and a fire was soon lit and blazing brightly.
“Karayana, see if you can subdue that fire a bit. We’ll be seen from miles away at this rate.” Marti spoke softly to her.
It’s amazing, she thought. If Portheas had said the same thing, she would have taken it as a criticism. She started guiding a few of the bigger logs to the edges and soon the fire was burning less brightly. Marti and Portheas tied the frame at an angle between two trees to create a sleeping area, and covered it with their cloaks.
“Won’t we need the cloaks for blankets?” Portheas asked dubiously.
“Probably. But we need shelter more. There’s rain in the air, I can smell it.” Marti answered.
Portheas did his customary eyebrow raise, which went unnoticed by Marti. They joined Karayana at the fire.
“I got the bread out of your pack, and some dried fruit,” she said, sharing out portions.
“I’ve picked a few berries as we travelled.” Portheas emptied his pockets onto the large leaves that Karayana was using as plates.
“So we have quite a feast then,” she said merrily.
Neither man looked at her and the meal was eaten in silence.
After a while, Marti took a small pan and filled it with water from the spring.
“Anyone want tea?”
“I’d love tea, and you Portheas?” she said cheerfully.
“Please,” he answered, looking at her as if she’d gone slightly mad.
Karayana sighed. “Cheer up you two. At least we’ve eaten something. We have shelter and a fire. I almost feel like singing.”
“Don’t you dare,” Portheas muttered.
Karayana could just make out a small grin on Marti’s face.
“It would be like old times, wouldn’t it, Mart? Singing round the campfire.” Karayana was enjoying winding Portheas up. He was looking alarmed now.
She leant across to Marti and whispered loudly, “I don’t think he can sing.”
Portheas glared at her.
Marti was stifling a laugh. “Leave him alone, Karayana. You don’t sing too well yourself.”
“What?” she pretended to be hurt.
“Actually her rendition of “Borden’s Men” is rather entertaining if you can stand to listen to a few notes off key,” Marti said to Portheas.
Portheas looked truly stunned now. “That’s a drinking song, where did she learn that.”
Karayana arched her eyebrows at him and smirked. “Drinking,” she stated.
“By all the Gods woman, you were dragged up.” Portheas said with contempt.
The atmosphere around the campfire suddenly changed. Marti spoke threateningly,
“Take that back.”
“No. I meant it. She was obviously given too much leeway as she was growing up. She is almost wild sometimes. And they want me to marry her.” Portheas shook his head in disgust.
Karayana stared into the fire, feeling ashamed, but unsure why.
“She is worth two of you,” Marti snarled. “And I would take it as a great honour to be offered her hand in marriage. Do not insult her more, or I will have no choice but to make sure you are unable to speak.”
Karayana felt like a thunderbolt had just struck home. Mona had been right. Marti was in love with her. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes as she watched him clench and unclench his fists.
The air around her became full of a dark buzzing energy that swarmed so intensely that she felt crushed under its weight.
“You dare to threaten me,” Portheas growled out of the encroaching dark.
Marti gave a small laugh. “You are an arrogant fool. You are above no one out here. Rank and station will not help you. It’s just you and me.”
Before she knew it, Portheas had sprung across the fire and grappled Marti to the ground. She jumped up quickly to avoid being hurt herself.
“Please stop. Don’t fight over me.”
It was as if they couldn’t hear her. The shock of violent energies whirling around almost made her sick. Marti loved her, and she knew she loved him too, but as more than a close friend? She didn’t know. The tears wouldn’t stay back.
“Both of you, stop!” she sobbed.
All she could hear were dull thuds as one or the other punched or kicked. How could she stop them? And then she knew. She stood, hands cupped at her belly, and summoned the energy, then, pointing at the two bodies writhing in front of her, she breathed calmly and waited for a small gap to appear. As soon as she saw it she unleashed the power. Marti and Portheas literally flew apart, and landed in two heaps.
There was silence apart from the crackle of the fire. Karayana didn’t know which way to turn. Neither one moved.
“What have I done?” she whispered in horror.
Fearing the worst, she went and knelt at Marti’s side first. He rolled towards her and groaned, just as another groan came from Portheas, followed by a string of curses. Karayana gave a small sigh of relief.
“What the hell happened?” Marti moaned.
“Can you sit up?” she asked, ignoring his question.
“No idea. God, I hurt.”
He winced as he rolled himself upright.
“Sit there,” Karayana ordered. She scurried over to Portheas.
He was struggling to sit.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” he snarled.
“I’m sorry. You were trying to kill each other. I had to do something.”
Portheas raised his head and she saw that his nose was bleeding.
“You and lover boy need to learn your place. And by the way, I won’t marry spoiled goods.” He turned away from her.
Why was he being so awful? She was ashamed of things she hadn’t even done. She rejoined Marti’s huddled form.
“Are you alright?” she whispered, trying to hide the tears.
“A bit dizzy,” he admitted. “What happened? I felt like a giant hand had pushed me. Hard.”
“It was me.”
She knew he was looking at her, but she couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“How can it have been you?”
“The energy I have told you about. I used it to break you up. You were killing each other. It was horrible.” She began to sob.
Marti put his arm around her, and pulled her close. She felt him wince as she leant on him and pulled back quickly.
“What’s wrong?” he muttered.
“You are in pain.”
“That happens when you fight. It sort of goes with the territory.”
She smiled and looked at him through bleary eyes.
“I’m sorry for losing it,” he said softly. “How is he?” He nodded in the direction of Portheas, who was dabbing his nose with a wad of her dress dipped in water.
“About the same as you, except he’s not apologizing. He thinks we both need to learn our place.” There was no point mentioning the rest. She didn’t want a repeat performance.
“He’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder, hasn’t he?”
Karayana leant carefully back against Marti and rested her head on him. The oppressive anger was now only a light buzzing around her.
“It’s not really his fault. He was brought up to be King. I don’t think he knows how to relax and just have fun. I shouldn’t have made fun of him.”
“I don’t think that was the real issue,” Marti said thoughtfully.
“Well what was?”
Karayana froze. Could it be that Portheas liked her as well? This was getting ridiculous. She pulled away from Marti and took his hand.
“Come over here.”
“Why?” he resisted her tug.
“I need to talk to you both, and there’s no way I’ll get him to come to you.”
“What about?” Marti seemed extremely reluctant.
“About the pair of you. Now come on!”
After a minute, he got gingerly to his feet and hobbled after her towards Portheas’ seated form.
Karayana sat in the middle, ignoring the scowls, and waited for Marti to make himself comfortable. Taking a deep breath, she began to speak.
“Portheas. I apologise for making fun of you. It was meant to be a joke, I’m sorry you took it the wrong way.”
Portheas stared at the dying fire.
“Marti. I know you defended me for all the right reasons, but I can stick up for myself now, as you have just found out,” she added ruefully. “So please can we just all try and be friends?”
“I can manage that if Portheas refrains from insulting you.” Marti said gruffly.
Portheas said nothing for a minute. Karayana looked up at him expectantly.
“Fine,” he said at last. He got slowly to his feet and limped away.
“Leave him,” Marti said grabbing Karayana’s arm before she could call him back. “He has a lot of pride to swallow.”
Karayana felt suddenly exhausted.
“I’m going to sleep.”
“I’ll join you shortly,” Marti said yawning.
Mica huddled under her cloak, trying to keep off the persistent rain. She had caught up with Karayana late in the afternoon of the day before, and now sat within the lower branches of a pine tree, where she could just make out the glow of the campfire. She was not in the best of moods. Cold and wet were not pleasant sensations, and she was sure that when she eventually left her precarious perch, she would suffer from chronic stiffness.
Dawn was breaking and she hadn’t slept. All had not gone well in the little camp and Portheas had spent the night lurking on the edges, at one time even leaning on her tree. She hadn’t dared to doze in case she gave herself away. She wasn’t sure what had gone on, but he did not seem happy. He had mumbled to himself constantly while within earshot of Mica, but she hadn’t been able to catch the words. About an hour ago, he had returned to the camp, and she strained for any sign of them leaving.
It wasn’t long before she heard their voices. She caught a glimpse of the threesome heading back towards the trail they had followed the day before. Well, they couldn’t make it much easier, she thought. Slowly she eased herself down from the tree, grimacing at the pain in her legs as she landed. Her stomach grumbled loudly, but apart from berries, she was unlikely to find any other food until they reached the town at the edge of the forest. She stopped at the spring and drank her fill, then filled up her water bottle before leaving.
The rain was constant and the forest gloomy. Mica allowed Karayana a five minute start, and then set off to follow. This was a boring job. She wasn’t used to skulking around, trying not to be seen. Normally, she would have gathered information and then seized the first opportunity to face her opponent, but instead she was growing more and more frustrated. She didn’t dare to get too close to the group, in case they became aware of her, but she couldn’t gather much information either. She just hoped that the rewards would justify the job. Skulking along, she wondered if her Master knew she was working directly for Deverous. She rather hoped he did; he might see at last what she was worth. It might take Dorien down a peg or too as well. Mica didn’t think much of Dorien. He had been a mercenary, who had come to their order in the mountains of Brem for healing. He was in a sorry state, and without the talents of their particular order, he would not be walking today. As he had nothing to pay with, her Master had extracted an agreement from him that he would work for them. He had gone into training when the Master found out of his Tor parentage, and proved to have talent. But he would never be as strong as Mica. She had been in training for as long as she could remember, and her talents were very strong. It irritated her that he was always placed in a position of authority above her. If she hadn’t been scared of the repercussions, she would have sorted Dorien out years ago. He always seemed so patronising, as if he felt sorry for her. Sometimes she caught him looking at her with pity, which made her seethe inside.
Mica’s parentage was unknown. She had been left on a doorstep belonging to a cleaner at the monastery. He had lost his wife and did not want the baby, and so the monks had taken her in and taught her from day one in the Art. She had worked hard too. Numerous daily chores were assigned for her on top of her studies, and they carried on growing, even as the studies became harder and more time consuming. Dorien had the opportunity to train constantly and had caught up with her skills quite quickly. But she knew he had reached as far along the path as he could go, while she was still learning and gaining in power. This knowledge kept her striving for more. One day she would be above him, and that would give her the power to use him as and when she wished. Perhaps Deverous could make that day happen sooner, rather than later. With this thought to keep her going, Mica began to feel better about the day.
The trail left on the damp forest floor was easy to follow, and she allowed herself to settle into a half meditative state as she walked. She felt herself tuning in to the energies around her and soon she was able to pick out the three people ahead. Once she knew their particular signatures, it was easy to keep on their trail. Suddenly, Mica realized that there was someone else approaching. A different energy was going to cross Karayana’s path. Quickly, she hurried to catch up and get a glimpse of whoever that energy signature belonged to. The other person was close now, and Mica stayed low to the ground, using as much cover as she could. It would do her no good to be seen first.
The group ahead faltered as a man strode into view. He was tall and carried a dead deer across his shoulders. His head was bent into the rain and he didn’t notice Karayana and her friends until he nearly crashed into them. Mica strained to hear the conversation that struck up, but all she could really tell was that it was friendly. After a couple of minutes, the group followed the man. Karayana strode at his side, talking away non-stop. Marti walked at her shoulder and Portheas took up the rear, head downwards. Mica could feel the tension in him and experienced a sudden feeling of camaraderie. She knew how it felt to be the outsider. That was one reason why she preferred to work alone.
As she began to follow them, she let her mind drift over thoughts of Portheas. She had liked what she saw in the tunnels, and half of her act had been real enough. She smiled to herself as she remembered his large hand at her throat, pressing her body against his. It would almost have been nice to give in to someone, let someone else be the strong one. And let someone close enough to hurt her. Mica shuddered, and shrugged off the sudden weakness that had overcome her. She hardened her thoughts and made herself despise the weak man walking with such a defeated attitude. Breathing deeply again, she emptied her mind and drifted back into her half meditative state.
Mona was in no mood for a fight. She had spent the night having dream after dream, involving a certain handsome Knight rescuing her from every imaginable danger. She felt exhausted. Maria was being adamant about how many dresses Mona could take, and Mona was being adamant about leaving any behind.
“Mona, dear. Your mother has stressed that we are to travel light. You would need five horses to carry your bags alone. You have only been allocated one.”
“Maria,” Mona shouted, hands on her hips, “ How can I be presented at my Grandfather’s court with only the one dress?” Mona shouted.
“I hear that the fabrics available in Tor are wondrous to behold,” Maria said, thinking fast. “The seamstresses actually incorporate small diamonds into their garments, so that they shimmer in a most flattering way. I suggest that as soon as we arrive, we have new dresses made for you.”
Mona was already imagining herself in a shimmering gown, being escorted into the ballroom on the arm of her Knight.
“That is a wonderful idea, Maria. I will just take the dark blue one.”
Maria gave an inaudible sigh and rushed to pack the dress before Mona changed her mind. Liasna peered through the door into her daughter’s bedroom, taking in the scattered piles of clothes.
“Mona? Are you packed?”
Mona appeared from behind a screen where she had been changing.
“Yes. Maria is just finishing off for me.”
“Good. We should go and eat before we go.”
“I’ll be there in two minutes.”
Liasna left and Mona hurried to the mirror.
“Will this dress do, Maria?” she asked, twirling her skirts, whilst checking every angle in the mirror. Maria stood up from her task of folding clothes in to saddlebags.
“That depends on what you want it to do for.” Maria answered, giving her a quizzical look. “For example, it won’t do for travelling in.”
Mona looked again at the low cut gown and the cleavage that she was very pleased about, peeping nicely over the lacy edge.
“Oh well, it will do for breakfast. I will just have to change after.” She glided elegantly out of the room, leaving Maria shaking her head.
Mona was sure that the Knights would be at breakfast. She didn’t even know their names yet. She was slightly annoyed that they had not offered them yesterday. Her stomach felt like a thousand butterflies had taken up residence in it, and as she entered the dining hall she was unsure that she could actually eat anything. As she had hoped, both Knights were already seated and eating. Mona took her place regally opposite them and smiled politely.
“Good morning, Sir Knights. I hope you slept well.”
The younger one smiled at her and her heart flew away on the wings of one of the butterflies that lived in her stomach.
“We did, my Lady. Thank you for asking.”
She was saved from having to speak again by a serving girl enquiring as to what she might like to eat. Her mother appeared with Briyden, and Mona cringed as her little brother scrambled onto a chair next to the Knights and started bombarding them with questions about their quest and what his role in it would be. Liasna sat next to Mona. She looked weary, Mona thought.
“Where’s Father? Is he not joining us for breakfast?” she asked quietly. Liasna smiled sadly at her.
“I hope so.” She patted Mona’s hand.
“Let’s eat. It will be the best part of a week before we eat anything very interesting again.”
Mona placed a small piece of bread in her mouth. It was like eating cardboard, but she persevered. If she ate enough, the butterflies wouldn’t have room to flutter.
“I hope you are going to change, Mona. You can’t possibly ride in that dress.”
Mona blushed, as she saw her Knight look across at her.
“I will change,” she whispered stiffly, making Liasna glance round in surprise.
It was then that her Father choose to join them. He raised his hand to gesture that the Knights should remain seated. Father had always enjoyed a much less formal table than a lot of nobles. He enjoyed his food and considered mealtimes to be a social and relaxed affair. His paper awaited him in its usual place, but he didn’t pick it up. He took Liasna’s hand and squeezed it, then turned to the Knights. Mona was aware of her Mother brushing away a tear and quickly forgave her the embarrassing remark about her attire.
“I give you leave, Sir Knight, to escort my family to Tor. I have provided an escort of my best bodyguards. They will be under your charge.” He looked away from Azti to the second Knight.
“And you, Sir, who are to stay with me here. I would first have your name.”
“My name is Zonta.” The Knight spoke clearly.
“Sir Zonta. I have arranged a meeting after breakfast with my neighbour, Lord Matheas, and my lifelong friend, Baron Corli.”
Mona was puzzled as to why her father spoke to Zonta, yet looked at her Knight.
“They are eager for information and feel that the sooner we discuss the matters in question,the better.”
“Your friends seem wise, my Lord,” Zonta replied politely.
Morden then turned to Liasna.
“I would see you and the children in my study after breakfast.”
He spoke quietly, and Liasna smiled and nodded her consent.
Once the Knights had finished eating, they left the hall, talking quietly to each other, and Mona watched them go with more hunger than she could find for her meal. She raced off as soon as she thought polite, to change into her riding clothes. Maria and her bags were gone, but her travelling clothes were neatly laid out on the bed for her. She smiled to herself, as she garbed the dark blue woollen skirt and matching fine knitted woollen jumper. The journey was almost upon them and she had a list of amusing and witty comments that she had stored away to use on her Knight. She hummed to herself as she noted her image in the mirror. The tightly fitting jumper showed off her shapely figure much better than any dress. She would have to take off her jacket if the sun was out. By the time they reached Tor, this man would be begging for her hand in marriage. She laughed softly and left her room without a backward glance.
Mona found everyone in her Father’s study. Briyden rushed up to her as soon as she walked in.
“Mona, look what Father gave me for my adventure!”
He held up a shining scabbard for her to see.
“And look what’s inside.”
He placed the scabbard down on the desk, and reverently drew out a small ornate sword.
“This was Father’s,” he said, “ and now it’s mine.”
Mona smiled at her brother’s expression of wonder.
“Come here, Mona. I have something for you also.”
She went to stand next to her Father’s chair and held out her hands to receive a beautifully bound book with a gold clasp. She opened it carefully and found that the inside of the cover held a small niche that contained a gold pen.
“It’s a diary,” she said.
“It is. I wish you to write in it every day so that when you return you will not forget to tell me a single thing.”
Mona smiled up into her Father’s eyes, and felt a sudden pang of sadness. She hugged him hard.
“I promise to keep it well.”
“Well, you should go to the stable yard, your mounts will be ready for you,” Morden said brusquely.
Mona looked from one parent to the other.
“Come on, Briyden. Our adventure begins.”
She propelled her little brother out of the door, leaving Liasna and Morden to themselves.
“Thank you for coming back,” Liasna whispered.
Morden walked around to the front of his desk and took his wife in his arms. They held each other tightly, neither one wanting to let go. He kissed the top of her head and held her away from him so that he could see her eyes.
“You are a brave woman, Liasna, and I am very proud that you are my wife. But letting you go is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. All my love goes with you.”
“And mine stays here with you.”
Liasna brushed the tears away and took a deep breath. Morden held out his hand and together they left the room.
<<<Chapter8 Chapter 10>>>