A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 05byTaLtos6©
***So, Selena is a girl who lives just on the edge of the law. She knows it's there and depending on her mood or purpose at the moment, she uses it to her advantage most times. Dahlgren is a lawful ranger on this world. His authority does not come from any human government, but for the most part, he's recognized as a "good guy" in the more lawless parts where there are no lawmen. They sorta like each other, a lot - sorta. 0_o
Book of the Merren Part 2
It was full dark, a few miles away from the now-alarmed little place where an old man's body lay in the courtyard of an inn along with six others, here and there, who'd had sections of their skin cut out. Everyone knew the reason for that. They'd been wanted men, somewhere. There was no shortage of men such as that in the place, though quite a few of them were trying to make a go of their lives here as honest men, though they'd always have to hide from somebody.
What had shocked them was that there had been a bounty hunter in their midst all afternoon long and they hadn't guessed, and no one knew the sort of man the ranger had been, or whatever he was, the one who'd come to meet her.
Whatever he was, he was now guiding his horse through the winter darkness quietly. Only one of the reasons that this one beast had such value to him was the way that he trusted his master to see for them both on a moonless night such as this one. They picked their way up a long and gentle incline, and knowing that someone had a small fire going nearby -- since he could smell it -- and the way that this rise forced him to use it as the only way up only told him who it was -- and what he could expect as a welcome.
But it didn't happen, and that surprised him. He knew that there had to be a reason for it. He just couldn't imagine what it was. But then, it was Selena, he thought, she was smart and canny. A quiet sigh escaped him as he thought of a few other words; beautiful, deadly and changeable were the ones which came to mind.
He thought quite a bit of her -- even before their meeting at the inn. She might have been about twenty-five at the outside, but she knew a lot about living out here. It wouldn't have surprised him a bit to learn that she'd set the fire as a trap to lure him. He stopped his horse for a minute to listen.
He was certain that this was Selena, given the way that it felt to him and also the way that he could hear little of the normal night sounds around him, father out to one side than the other. He could almost tell which direction that she was in by it. It wasn't as noisy now as it would have been if it were summer, but there were still a few sounds which perhaps ought to be here and were not.
It didn't matter much which method he used. He could feel that it was her and the direction came to him in a heartbeat.
In spite of the way that he felt, he smirked to himself. If he'd done something such as this, he'd have already sprung his trap by this point. The fact that Selena hadn't only indicated to him that there was likely a better place for it. But then he looked ahead and he stopped again. The fire was right there, just a few yards distant now. Was something wrong?
He found her sitting on a rock with her head on the palms of her gloved hands, looking down at the snow by her boots.
"What's wrong?" he asked her.
"What isn't wrong?" she said in reply." I didn't think to check my saddlebags. I just jumped on my horse and left. My bags are empty. They must have eaten my food. My bedroll is gone. The stupid bastard who stole my horse wrecked my bow! I can't hit a thing with it. Everything's gone. I've got nothing, and look at the sky. Feel that air. It'll snow tonight for sure. I really ought to be on the road right now. I'm just trying to get a little warm and then I'll go."
She looked up at him, "You ought to leave as well, Dahlgren. I'm very sorry, alright? I was being a disappointed bitch, that's all. I'd like to tell you that it's not like me, but, I guess it is. You were right to suggest that we act when we did. You'd better go. I'll -- "
"You'll just sit there and freeze to death," he said. "There's no moon. You can't see well enough in the dark to get back to the road without tumbling off into the night someplace, and you love your horse. So you'll sit and freeze waiting until morning. But you'll be dead by then."
She started to cry, and it was something which Dahlgren knew was very uncharacteristic about Selena. He got off his horse and sank to one knee beside her, carefully laying his arm over her shoulders. "There's more, isn't there?"
She sobbed deeply and the voice which came to him sounded so small that he had to listen closely. "I left the bottle with their markings," she said, sounding almost as though she was about to wail in her misery, "I needed those bounties. There's no way that I can live through the winter without that money. I'm such a fool," she said miserably.
"No," he said, "you were only upset because of me and what I said. From what I know about you, you always work alone, and so you're used to that. With me there, and with the way that I , ...
It's not as bad as that, Selena. Here. Here's your bottle, "he said, pulling the long thing from the pocket of his cloak.
She stared at it. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Wait, there's more," he grinned, "My packs are full. I've even got an extra bedroll that I found on the ground outside the stables. It might be yours, for all I know. I still have my little tent, and I had some time to think before anyone came back. I went to the kitchen and because of the way that I was wandering around, thinking of the bad way that I suggested that we begin with the men, I followed my nose. I've even got a few wine bottles."
She looked at him and sniffled with the beginnings of a smile, "I don't like wine," she said.
"Neither do I," he laughed, "that's why I poured it out and filled them up with dark ale. It took a while."
It actually made her chuckle a little, "Why have you done all this?" she asked.
"I might tell you that I did it so that I'd have something to eat and drink on the road, once I got free from the danger of one particularly beautiful horse thief, "he said, "but it wouldn't be true. You may not know it about me, but I can track very well. You tried to hide the signs of your passing, but I can feel you and where you are. I knew nothing about your troubles, but I knew that you needed the markings for the bounties.
Throw a bit more wood on the fire," he smiled, "and I'll do the rest while you get your feet warm."
He had his little tent up in no time and they sat and ate their fill. By the time that the snow began, their horses were staked under a tarpaulin of canvas under some of the few trees that were able to grow here. The tarpaulin was slanted to allow them a little shelter from the wind as well as from the snow. It was far from perfect, but it was a lot better than nothing.
They sat by the fire, drinking ale and laughing. "I always heard many ideas said over what you were," Selena said, "and I didn't believe a single one. But now I know that you are a mage, to have been able to do all of this."
Dahlgren stared into the flames for a moment, smiling softly. "I don't know, "he said quietly," I might have had a selfish reason." He looked at her sitting beside him, "I did some things which needed doing," he said, "out of a desire for your well-being."
He looked away into the night as the snowflakes danced, "I think that I was a little charmed one day a while ago when you came to help me in a fight. At first, I was a bit annoyed, not knowing who you were, other than someone who I'd caught glimpses of a few times in my travels. I thought that then, I'd need to have to protect you, but I was wrong. You really did help, so I had a need to thank you, but we were both a little dumbfounded, I think."
"I stood like a tree, not being able to move when you came to thank me," she smiled.
"I was little better," he said, "But that was when I tried to learn what I could about you. I know that you see me as some sort of paladin. It's a wrong impression that I give to some, I think. Now and then, it comes to me that there are some who are truly evil to others. I hunt those ones when I can."
"I'm not exactly a blameless soul, "she admitted, "I've done some things."
"Who hasn't?" he smiled, "All of us are only trying to live our lives, and I know that you sometimes must hunt others for the bounties. I hunt for a fee," he said, "when one who was wronged has the gold to afford to pay me for what needs to be done. As you said, there isn't much difference.
But today, I also acted out of a want in me."
He turned to smile at Selena, "I still want to know your name."
She smiled at him open-mouthed, "You did all this because you --"
"No," he said, chuckling, "I did this because you would need it, and you forgot your bottle. On TOP of that, I want to know your name." He laughed at himself a little, "I guess that I can be a little single-minded at times."
"Well, "she grinned, "I see all that you've done, and I am very thankful, but I'm afraid that I have to tell you that my price hasn't changed. You still have to give me a kiss for me to tell you my name."
He leaned over and was about to plant what Selena could see would be little more than a peck. For what he'd done for her, never mind how she felt, it just wasn't going to do at all. As soon as his lips touched hers, her hands were holding his head and she kissed him so that he'd remember it. After a second, she knew that she'd never forget it either as her fingers found their way inside his hood to slip into his hair.
It was a long kiss by likely anyone's standards, but it did wonders to get them past a few things. As she sat back, wiping her lips a little because of the cold and how wet they were, she grinned at him, "You were going to cheat me out of a good kiss, offering me only a little. Well, I'd call that good enough to get my name now."
He sat next to her in amazement. He was so shocked that he missed it. "What did you say?" he asked.
Selena rolled her eyes, "Hells, all of that, and you weren't even listening? That'll cost you."
"Cost me?" he said. Then he saw her two fingers as she held them up. "I've raised my prices."
It went on for a while, Selena getting her kisses and then doing her best to whisper her name so that he couldn't hear it. At last, he sat dazed with his arm around her, "Meadsbreath?" he asked, "Selena Meadsbreath?"
"Yes," she laughed a little, "though there's an 'e' after the 'd'. Are you sure now, or do you need for me to repeat it once more? Only five kisses?"
"Five?" he chuckled, "It keeps going up."
"Well they're good kisses," she laughed, feeling a lot better.
The storm had really begun and their little world turned into a white one. "It hardly ever snows in this whole area," Selena grumbled, "Why did it have to be tonight, and why here?"
"I don't mind it, "he said, "I just pretend that this is any other place and it would be snowing like this there, wouldn't it?" he said, going to see to the horses.
She looked at him from under her eyebrow, "You aren't one of those eternal optimistic types, are you?"
It made him laugh, "No. I'm usually grumbling, just like you. I just know how to deal with things. I'm usually not that quiet about it, though. I'm just feeling a lot better for the company, that's all."
He stood up and excused himself, saying that he'd return in a minute.
With him out of sight for the moment, Selena looked at the tent. How to do this?
She wasn't at all surprised at finding herself liking him a lot. She just didn't know how to handle their sleeping arrangements. This tent was small, only large enough for one person and some of their gear. How they'd both fit in it without lying right up against each other was going to be something of a problem for her. She got out the bedroll that he'd found and saw that it was indeed hers. She didn't want to think about the possibility that the dead jerk who had stolen her horse had slept in it for even the one night. But there was no place to wash and hang everything, and even if there were, it would freeze as hard as a plank. She unrolled it carefully and sniffed.
Thanking her stars, she knew that it hadn't been used. But she was still faced with the problem. There had been a few times when she'd taken a man simply because he was there and she was in the mood. It didn't happen very often, it just happened. She liked him a lot, more by the minute, but right here, they were at a crossroads, and he likely wasn't even aware of it. Selena was trying to be mindful of how her mood could change. She really hoped that he wouldn't ...
Dahlgren was back with that smile that she liked so much, and it changed her mood to the better a little. Still, there were things to be thought of. She looked up at him, "You haven't gone to pee, have you?"
He looked at her as though she'd grown another head for a second. "Yes, why?"
"Because I need to go now. I've been holding all of this ale for hours and my dam's fit to burst. If you went somewhere here, I'd at least like to know where, so that I don't sit in it. I pee a little differently than you do."
He looked down, and she could see that he was hiding a little grin. She was about to ask, but he spoke first, "I um, ... I thought of that," he said, "There's a place around the other side of that stone pillar where the snow doesn't fall much. It's pretty much clear, frozen ground, but --"
"You peed on the pillar, didn't you? Boys and men all have to pee against standing things," she said, "I'll never understand why, but I do know that."
He shook his head, "No, I uh, suppressed that urge, and I went a little farther on. Just follow my footprints in the snow until you come around the pillar. You can go there, if you need to. Just don't walk farther than the stone."
"I knew there was a reason that I liked you," she smiled as she walked past him.
He looked at the tent and the bedding that she'd been trying to spread out in it. He couldn't figure out what she'd been doing, spreading it out like that, unless she'd had another idea and he'd interrupted her. This was going to be a little sticky, he thought. He was cognizant of her feelings -- as much as he tried to be aware of them, but he had things of his own on his mind. He didn't know if he snored, for one thing, and that was the least of his worries.
"Hey," she said, on her way back. Dahlgren looked up questioningly.
"Well stand up," she said impatiently.
He stood up and she was in his arms, pressing herself against him, shivering.
"That was so cold," she said with slightly chattering teeth, "The spot was perfect," she smiled," but for one thing, and it was the reason that the place has no snow," she chuckled. "The wind there is murder, and there's only one way for me to squat unless I wanted my face against the stone."
He held her tightly and felt her shudder as the chill left her. "What happened?"
"Well I had to just grit my teeth and go, Dahlgren. There was no help for it, and I really had to go, so I did it, but that wind hits the stone and splits apart. That's why there's no snow there. I sat there peeing right into that icy blast. The wind gusted and it blew me back so that I was almost leaning against the stone. I almost went all over my pants."
She looked at him for a moment, "You're enjoying the picture in your mind, aren't you?"
He pulled her tighter so that her head was on his shoulder against his, "Only a little, and I wish that it wasn't so cold for you, that's all. I'm a little surprised that you'd tell me that."
"So am I, quite honestly," she said, hugging him tightly again, "but I guess it's just us -- two people here and we've got the climate to make the best of. That does bring another thought to mind," she said seriously, "How were you thinking of laying out the bedding?"
"I thought that we'd just sleep side by side, each in our own bedrolls. Some of me might be outside the tent, but it's the only way that I can see us managing it so that you have a bit of private space between us."
She pulled her head from his shoulder and she looked at him, "I can see that you're taking my comfort into account, Dahlgren, but while I appreciate it, I don't think that it's the right way to do it." She looked down a little uncomfortably. "When a party goes out into the wild lands, and there are both men and women, I think that there's some expectation in the men. I've never liked that for that reason, and it's a big reason why I always prefer to travel alone -- so that I don't have to deal with that because it can ruin friendships and make everything just that much harder and uncomfortable. Some men are fine like that, and others aren't."
"I know that, Selena," he said, "I didn't want you to feel that."
"I know," she said quietly with a nod before she looked up, "and I'm thankful for that. But I was thinking that it would be better to put one roll on the ground flat, and the other roll over us. We'd be warmer then. I don't mind us together like this, so I don't think it will be a problem lying down. We don't know each other all that well, but I think we like each other enough for that."
She reached up and touched his cheek, sliding her thumb over his cheekbone, "Besides, we seem to like to talk, and it would be nice to talk like that, I think."
He nodded, and let go of her to add more wood to the fire. As he placed the logs and sticks to his liking, hoping to build it so that it would last a while, he spoke to her. "I think the best way would be to sleep with me on the side away from the fire, and you closest so you'll stay warmer longer. When you wish to go to sleep, just pull the side of the tent down."
They were on their sides, facing each other, listening to the crackle of the fire for a few minutes. But it didn't last for very long. Selena couldn't overcome her desire to hug him and she moved closer to him so that she could manage it.
"You know," she said, "I'm a little sorry that I don't have any more information about myself that you'd want. I liked selling it to you for your kisses." She kissed him once lightly and drew her head back, "That one was free, by the way."
He smiled at her in the darkness between them, "free?"
"Uh-huh," she smiled, "It's to generate interest on the part of the customer."
"How much for you to tell me a little of your life?" he asked.
"Do you really want to know that?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "I only know a little of you. I know that you live alone, and the direction of your home from my own, that's all that I know about it."
Selena was a little shocked. "How do you know that?"
Dahlgren looked a little embarrassed for a moment, "I've told you. I can sense someone if I wish. I only know the direction and if they are far or close. It they are really close, I know how far, but for more than maybe a half a mile, no. I've gone outside and felt for you often, ever since the day that you helped me."
"Why?" she asked, "and if you can do that, why didn't you come? I don't think I'd have minded too much."
He looked even more uncomfortable. "I thought that it would be rude. I had no reason to, at least, not one that I could tell myself was one that you might believe, rather than thinking that I was there to hunt you for something. I don't think that you've done anything to anyone that would merit that, and you'd know that anyway. I just, ..." He thought about it for a moment, "I just wanted to know that you were there, that's all. I had no way to know, but it was the best that I could do to know that you were likely alright."