Slighted Chapter 13

--Yola--

We still haven't broken camp. It makes me edgy. Understandably, I would like to get as far away as possible from this place. Lonn assures me that Quin'alion has a constant spell running that will detect Ul-viska. He says we don't need to worry about Vassen or merenhil. Or rulcan. I find that hard to believe. Also, why didn't we have this detection spell running in the first place?

Lonn scuffed his toe and didn't answer.

So I asked him why we hadn't left yet. He said that the wounded needed time to heal, especially me. I snorted. I knew Quin'alion had to have another reason. I figured it was time to find out what it was.

--Dark Jade--

She sent me a note this morning curtly suggesting a time to discuss the spoils of the battle. The insolence of the message heartens me. She must be feeling better.

Predictably, she dispenses with civilities upon entering.

"I want the skins, Quin'alion. Both the rulcan I killed and any Vassen. Especially any Vassen." I can feel her adding, You owe me.

"There were none taken." I answer honestly. She looks surprised.

"What?"

"There were no Vassen."

She doesn't know what to say. I hesitate a fraction of a second before offering an alternative. "Perhaps the Ul-viska?"

She recoils. "I don't want it. Burn it." She pauses, and I can see the tremor of disgust ripple through her. I feel the same. "What have you done with its staff?"

"The mages examined it."

"Did they destroy it?"

"No. I have it now." She chews on that for a moment. I wait. She looks up decidedly.

"The rulcan hide, then. Tell your tanner. I'll help him clean it." I signal my assent.

She nods tightly in return, her eyes fixed to mine, gets up to leave. I stand up politely, then watch her spine stiffen a split second after she steps outside. And she doesn't scream.

--Yola--

I turn to look over my shoulder and my heart drops. The force of the charge and my own immediate adrenaline rush shatter the picture of the danger. Fragmented images of malice flash before my bewildered eyes. Clods of earth ripped up by taloned feet; dark shadows of straining muscle and sinew contrasting the daylight. Wide-fixed obsidian eyes, lashing tail, and a tongue curling in a deep red mouth. In seconds I fully envision hundreds of white pointed triangles latching onto my head. Sound reverberates towards me. The enormous Vassen shrieks in delighted anticipation, the sound echoing off of its gaping jawbones. It's closing in. I throw my hands up in impulsive defense, palms out. The energy field that booms from them makes the dust on the ground shift only slightly, but the charging Vassen is sufficiently spooked. He rears like a skittish horse, forcing the rider to pull sharply on the reins to keep his seat. Only now do I notice someone rides the scaly beast.

Quin'alion is beside me, stepping forward angrily, speaking elvish. I breathe deeply, trying to calm myself. It's not working. The rider yanks on the reins of the trained Vassen, subduing it and dismounting. I step behind the tent.

Keep walking. Keep walking. I'm trying not to cry. Breathe. Struggling shaky breaths. I look up to see the forest, and fear snakes down my spine. I pivot automatically and am walking back to the tent. I'm afraid of the camp, and the forest beyond the camp. What lives in the forest beyond the camp. The coldness and irritation I've shown to the elves has no effect on staving away my own uneasiness. I wipe my sweating palms on my pants pockets and debate what to do. I squat down against the back of the canvas tent, look down at the ground, concentrating on even breathing, on numbness. Nothing. I am nothing.

"Yola."

He is standing above me, his form blocking some of the light. I look up. Look back down at the dirt. Fuck off Quin'alion. I'm having a moment here with the dust.

He is eye level now. Amber eyes that draw my gaze up belong in a face I don't want to deal with. "The Vassen was trained; I'm sorry it startled you. Don't wander off alone again."

He's admonishing me, eyes nearly expressionless. Admonishing me. I wait for him to say something else. It feels like he's waiting for me. We have that odd tension strung between us again, of hard words unsaid, of hard questions unanswered. I hold his gaze, tighten my own. My body trembles. I am livid. My granite words come deliberately slow.

"How dare you tell me what to do. You have lost that right." Quin'alion is silent. I continue. "I will always govern my own life, and if I want to risk it in that goddamned forest, so be it. You've already take the liberty."

"You are not allowed to die, Yola!" he shouts. He grabs my shoulders in a bruising grip, his eyes fierce. I gasp a little, realizing how equally strong and angry he is, and a surge of surprise and fear rushes through me, a physical pulse. He jerks his hands away, eyes widening slightly. Quickly he regains his calm. I know he felt it. It's the same thing I did to stop the Vassen; it was much stronger when it overtook the Ul-Viska.

It's linked to him. He knows it too. I can read it in his eyes. And other things.

You are not allowed to die. The way he said it. The intensity of his gaze. Good lord.

He cares about me.

--Quin--

My heart lurched to see the terror on her face when the Vassen charged us. But before I could even shout a command or spell, she defended herself. Clumsily, instinctively, but she managed. Again. I was so proud of her, and so terribly relieved.

To see her look so small and pale as she huddled behind the tent had me worried. She looked hollow. Soul-spent. I considered calling for Lonntalthian, but changed my mind when I looked more closely at her. I saw it. She still burned. Quietly, distantly, but she was there. I could bring her back myself. I bent to be closer to her.

Then she said some nonsense about possibly killing herself in the forest, smacking me in the face with a retort that doesn't bear repeating. I'll admit I wasn't very logical after that. I was so afraid for her during the battle, so ridden with guilt afterwards, and now so relieved she fended off a Vassen. I didn't want to hear about her risking her life again. I would not hear of it. It was too painful to even consider. So I forbade it the crudest, harshest way possible. And somehow…she still understood me.

--Yola--

I stared at him incredulously. He had, in his own way, confessed something to me. In his own, super cryptic elven prince way, he had said something important, let something slip. I couldn't hate him anymore. I felt my anger, as legitimate and substantial as it may have been, just evaporate. I couldn't explain it, or stop it, just as much as I couldn't help the smile spreading across my face. And then, I just laughed, albeit a little hysterically. I could see the offense and hurt on his face as he started to stand up stiffly. Still laughing, I grabbed at his sleeve and tugged, trying to get him to stay. I think I felt kind of drunk on the after effects of adrenaline, anger, and fear. I just kind of…gave into it. I laughed until I started to cry. I pulled my knees up into my chest and bawled.

I felt him drop down next to me. He just sat there for a moment, motionless. Watching, maybe. Thinking. Then I felt him put his arms around me and tug with his considerable elven strength. I ended up in his lap with my face pressed into his collar and my hands pinned to his chest. His arms locked around my back and held me still as I continued to sob uncontrollably. Eventually, I ran out of energy for tears and the unsettling rush of adrenaline drained out of my system. My cries slowed and quieted until they finally stopped. I sniffed. And enjoyed being held.

He cleared his throat. I froze, then made a move to get up. His arms still secured me easily, as if he hadn't noticed I was wriggling. I stayed firmly held. He spoke.

"I think," he said softly. "We should talk." I felt his chest rise as he drew a deeper breath. He let it out in a rush. "About lots of things," he confessed boyishly.

"I—," I began.

"I know," he cut me off, "you have many questions. I should have addressed them before. I will now. Tonight. We will meet, and talk. Agreed?" He loosened his grip on me and pulled me away from his chest so we could see each other's eyes. His amber eyes were serious and sincere. And very close.

"Agreed," I whispered through dry lips. I ran my tongue over them self consciously. And saw his gaze flick to that movement. His expression changed. Back to that of a Prince.

"Tonight, then," he said finally, deep and low. "I will find you." He got up, brushed himself off, and offered me a hand. I took it and he pulled me up. Sketching an elegant bow, he let me precede him back into camp. And so with more civility than we'd had in a very long time, we went out separate ways.

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It's long after the evening meal, and I'm beginning to think he forgot about me. I'm disappointed, but somewhat relived. It's been a long, tiring day. My emotional fatigue on top of my physical weakness has taken its toll on my strength. I begin to pack up my space for the night, preparing for bed and perhaps a morning meeting.

"Are you ready?" a voice behind me asks. Again that feline stealth, that powerful grace. He is there, in a wine dark shirt, in dark, close fitting pants. The line of his silver unin lays at his side. With a jerk of his head he indicates we will be meeting in his tent. Which means crossing back across the field to the other side of camp. I can't help a flush of irritation.

His legs are long. I'm loping after to keep up. Again.

When we get there he sits at his desk. He rifles through some papers. The tent is dark except for a few glowing lanterns. I pull out the bundle I had tucked under my arm and hold it out to him.

"Here's your shirt back. Thanks for the loan."

He looks at the garment blankly, as if it were somebody else's shirt. "When we went rabbit hunting that first night," I prompt. He looks up at me.

"I don't need it." He doesn't take it from my extended hand, instead goes back to the papers in his lap. Awkwardly I lay it on a corner of his desk. I notice something else on his desk. Something very familiar.

"What are you doing with my daggers?" I ask him in a low voice as I move to pick them up. My motions feel dream like, unreal. These are artifacts from a hazy memory. Are these two simple weapons really what saved my life?

Quin'alion lays something else on the desk, softly thunking next to my hand. In my fatigue, it takes me a moment to recognize what he has placed there. Twin daggers nestle in the carrying cloth. They are identical in design to mine, but larger, suitable for his size and strength. He grips one easily, turns it over. The embossed crane crest shines from the hilt. And from his exposed wrist, a falcon.

"You," I breathe, staring at the dark tattoo on the inside of his wrist, the stylized symbol I'd found hidden on my own daggers. "Why.."

"My wife," he says calmly, "must be strong. She must keep a cool head. She must defend herself." He focuses his amber gaze on me. "I knew you could," he says simply. "Now I know you can. You did."

"You helped," I counter before I know what I am saying. "The magic.."

"Yes, it was channeled through you. But you willed it. You had to; I couldn't have projected my will from so far away. It was you who directed the magic, I only added the raw energy."

"But I—"

"There will be more." He gets up, coming around the table to be by my side in an inhuman instant. "I will tell you more, but not tonight. You are tired." He puts a hand up to the side of my face. I realize I'm exhausted— I'm overwhelmed again today. I sway just a little. He puts a hand to my hip to steady me.

"Come," he says, and taking my wrist, leads me not the entrance of his tent and across the green, but back into the shadowy recesses of his private rooms. Soft fabric brushes past my shoulders and forearms as he nudges aside the draped room dividers and pulls me through. He lights the wick of a small, dim oil lamp, giving me just enough light to make out outline of a bed. He helps me shrug out of my quilted jacket, sits me on the bed and unlaces the deerskin boots and stacks them nearby. I'm so tired I don't even think about arguing, a rarity for me. He must think so too, because he quirks an odd half smile at me, then deftly levels me with pressure on a few choice joints, and neatly slides me into bed. Before I know it, he's got the covers up over the bridge of my nose.

"Sleep well, fica bychanii," he says softly, as he leans over and blows out the lamp. His scent is carried on that faint breeze as the fabric shifts to mark his passing back to the main room. My eyes are already closing. I can hear him sit back down at the desk, the sounds of another lamp being lit. The shuffle of papers.

I'm well gone when I remember that I never asked him….what? I can't remember. Content, warm and comfortable, I don't bother to fight against unconsciousness.

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Glossary

fica bychanii – little fighter

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Thanks to everyone who reviewed: Shiegra, TwoPlusThree, TheTiramisuOfImpendingDoom, sleepy face, aleppine, Dirty Secret, Raine, turkishjane, and Mistress DragonFlame. Thanks for giving me the time and for writing down your two cents. Much appreciated. I have this story fairly laid out in my head, at least most of the turning points. I just have to write it down. Well, I don't know what happens at the end yet. So I'm hoping to write some more.