Fey World Ch. 01bymadam_noe©
It felt like we'd been running forever, and the end of the world was rushing to meet us. Here on the north shores we were closer to my homeland, where my people had once been plentiful, but now I was the last and I dwelled on the southern islands. My brother of bond, if not blood, was eight whilst I was twenty, and his blood was pure southern putting him at my hip. When we ran I would have to frequently carry him and it was wearing on me.
The tang of ocean was blending with the thick smell of the forest to our left as I ran full out, headed only for elusive escape. The boy in my arms was heir to all this and more, and he had to be protected at all costs. I, a princess, should have been the last choice for protector, and indeed I was. Our guards had been slaughtered three days before, and since then Pietyr and I had been running at night and as much in the day as we could.
These were no mere villains chasing after us, these men were half-human half-wolf, terrifying with snarling jaws and huge claws, and yet they rode on horses in this form. I had seen them in the daylight as mere men, all of them pale and blonde and beautiful, something about them inhuman in the eyes, but that hadn't dissuaded the local women.
Now there were at least two of them, and we were running for the cliff caves of Angor. My people had once been raiders of these lands, and we had landed at Angor, Balloct, and Merk in the night, stealing supplies into caves. It had been a hundred years since any raid but the cave locations were handed down every generation, lastly to me.
Suddenly my foot caught something and Pietyr and I went rolling, the sound of hoof beats drawing closer. I caught the glint of metal, silk, and something pink as I flipped to my feet and felt for my brother.
"It's two men and they're dead!" He picked up a sword and it was bigger than him. I took it from him and tested the weight, stepping back and flipping it.
"Pietyr, run to the end of the land at the point. To the left if you look over the cliff are some narrow stairs. Follow them, grasp the cliff wall at the knobs. The steps lead you to a cave. If you do not hear from me wait until morning and find the main road a mile north. Someone may recognize you so wait until you see a friar or a priest. Run, go, now, and no matter what you hear, don't look back!"
"Anni, I love you!" He hugged my leg and I ruffled his hair.
"And I you, now go."
The two men at my feet had long hair in pink and silver, their swords thrown clear but I saw no blood. "Forgive me, good sir, I am not a thief but a warrior without a weapon, so that I may borrow yours in these, most likely the last moments of my life."
I could hide, but that was not the way of my people. Instead I turned my body to the side, making it as small a target as a tall woman like me could get, and raised my sword for attack.
"Lo, there do I see my father," I began the ancient poem my people recited before battle, a prayer for a good and noble death. "Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters and my brothers. Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning. Lo, they do call to me." The hoof beats were like thunder now, and I could see the riders in their scant armor, their huge dark bodies braced for attack. "They bid me take my place among them in the Halls of Valhalla." They were close now and I felt my trembling fear turn to a dark rage. "Where the brave may live FOREVER!" I ducked their swords and caught one in the leg tumbling him from his horse.
I spun and shouted the war cry of my people and kicked the sword from his hand as he struggled to right himself. With the long sword I stabbed him in the chest and he screamed in death throes. The sword was heavy enough to have been silver, and as the body caught fire I discovered some of the ancient legends were true.
The second one rounded and I ducked, but his sword wooshed close enough to nick my ear. He'd drawn blood; it was a true fight to the death. He was bigger and stronger, and after several parries I was sweating while he was firm on his feet.
He was stronger but he relied solely on his strength. I was strong too, stronger than any of these southern women, and I knew he'd never met my kind. My people trained in warfare from birth, and the women were taught to fight with skill in the face of superior strength.
I found my dirk beneath my blouse as I passed the sword to my left hand. He snickered, then the dirk glinted in the moonlight and he snarled. The temper made him lunge, he didn't block but thrust. I drew his sword to the side and stuck the dirk in his chest.
For a terrifying moment we were nose to snout and I felt fear hammer loud in my chest. For that moment I could actually see my family waiting for me in the great hall in the sky, waiting to see if the battle was won or lost.
He jerked away and grappled for the steel dirk and I swung. I cut his hand off, but not the one bearing the sword and he lunged again, knocking my sword clear. I flipped back out of reach of his sword and grabbed at mine. His sword caught my calf and drew blood, but it was only a flesh wound, I was angrier about my leather pants.
I twisted and slashed his face, my feet following in a kick that drove the dirk deeper. He staggered back in pain and I landed, used the momentum to roundhouse again, and sliced his head off. For a moment the body stood as if to attack and then fell forward and caught a quick flame that reduced it to ash much like the other.
I knelt, panting, trembling, my adrenaline pumping hard still.
I looked up sharply and saw Pietyr running towards me. I dropped the sword and hugged him tightly, turning him away from the blood and death. "Damn it, I told you to hide!"
"The stairs have fallen away, a long time ago, how did you know they were there?"
"A family secret. Pietyr, you should have kept running. What if they had slain me?"
"But they didn't! If that is how you fight when dad has forbidden your learning how to, how would you fight with training?"
I ruffled his hair. "Silly boy. Though the Norse have all died, their slaves live on, men and women who know their ways and arts."
"Slaves?" His eyes widened.
"Er, um, well, you see-" I stopped when I heard a groan. Instantly I was back on my feet, sword raised, one hand pinning my brother behind me. But the wolves were gone. Instead it was the two men.
Silver was sitting up now, groaning, and Pinky was watching me from his feet. He had a lofty height, one that I had never seen since my people died. I was three inches taller than my father, the King, who was the tallest man in the land. Pink topped me by almost six inches.
"He's a giant!"
"Shut up, Pietyr. Do you know nothing of combat?"
Pinky chuckled. "I gather not as much as you. I am Elfgwyven, and this is my...associate Bornagold. Pleased to be at your service." He bowed with flourish and Pietyr tried to come to the front, to deliver the proper thanks the crown prince of Bellegaard and Angorland would. I pinched him, my right as the oldest princess of Bellegaard, Angorland, and Norselund, and he shut up.
"I am Anni, and this my little brother Pietyr. You are fairy."
Silver was up now and trying to focus. "You can lower the sword lady, and it's fey, not fairy. Humans," he grumbled.
"Can I? What are fey doing at the end of the island?"
"A practical joke," Pinky, er, Elfgwyven, said sheepishly. "We drank too much and our party dumped us here. There must be a main road nearby."
"One mile to the north. You go first."
He laughed as a horse whinnied in the distance. "Perhaps we could ride together."
"I don't think so."
"Madam, only one person in this clearing has killed anyone in the last half hour, and only person in this clearing has stolen a sword."
"You never answered my question. What are fey doing here, now?"
"We are in the area to celebrate the wedding of your Princess Hannah to our King. Celebrating when we were left here as a joke. Hmm," he toed a wolf's hauerbark, "are such monsters common?"
"I have only heard of them in myth, but apparently, they are real." And disturbingly they had blonde hair as humans. Only my people had blonde hair. I shuddered at the implication.
"You are cold," Elfgwyven said. With the flick of his wrist an invisible cocoon of heat enveloped us.
"Wow!" Pietyr said and broke my hold. "What else can you do?"
The two fey smiled to each other at the child's delight. Bornagold lifted his palm and fireworks, such as those we imported from the far east, spilled up into the night as if by magic.
Pietyr clapped his hands but the light allowed me to better study the men. The warrior saw Bornagold was three inches shorter than Elfgwyven, just as broad shouldered, favored his right leg slightly, used his right hip to hold his sword and his left hand for magic. Elfgwyven was young and lithe, showing no weakness, but his eyes were dark and watchful, there was the barest hint of lines at their corners, a man used to the outdoors.
The woman in me noticed both men were examples of perfection, but something about Elfgwyven made something deep and low inside me turn over. Perhaps life would not be so bad, I thought. In just a week I would be marrying their king, and tonight was the first time I had ever lain eyes on a fey. Perhaps my future husband was like Elfgwyven, with a square jaw, a straight nose, clear skin, gently pointed ears, and a mouth that could only be described as sensual. His body was all hard corded muscle, the kind of body I had grown up seeing on men.
For a brief moment I was home in the Norselund with my family, all sunny haired and smiling, our swords and cares cast aside at the shore for a day of play.
I shook it off and found Elfgwyven staring at me.
"I would be foolish to return your sword."
"You do know, don't you, that a fey's word is his bond? I cannot lie. I swear I will not harm you with the sword or any other weapon."
Pietyr kicked me and so I pinched him. "All right." For spite I wiped the wolf blood on Pietyr's cape and passed the sword, hilt first to the fey.
"Where are you traveling?" Elfgwyven asked.
"Barnarct!" Pietyr cried and I groaned.
"So are we. Maybe we could travel together, to make sure we are all safe."
"It's most improper, it's two day's ride."
"You have you brother for a chaperone. I had forgotten how prudish humans could be."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "Why should we travel with you?"
"Not that you are not a formidable warrior, but where I come from, a woman should never have to do battle. Our women do know how to defend themselves, but should any man be able to lend a hand, a woman should not have to defend herself or her kin."
"Sounds just as sexist as here," I snorted. "What do you get out of this?"
The two fey looked at each other sheepishly. "Direction. We are quite lost, the nature here doesn't speak to us."
I sighed, puzzled at the words but sensing their honesty. "We need to move on. There could be more of them and we cannot wait here for them to come."
Bornagold snorted. "Seemed to work for you."
Elfgwyven looked at him and the other man shut up. Well, we knew who the leader was there. "We need the horses. Pietyr is tired and I have carried him many miles, I can do so no more."
The fey looked at me for a moment and then nodded. "We will fetch the animals, do wait here."
That was said softly but something in it made me know not to disobey him. I nodded and watched them stalk into the night like air upon the grass.
"They are weird, Anni."
"I know, Pietyr. But they are legendary warriors, we could not ask for better replacements for our guards. And he did give us his word."
"Can they really not lie?"
"So the legends go."
"All these legends, how do we know they're true?"
I kicked a wolf's boot and ash fell out.
At least I could pick up the wolf sword that had my blood, wiped in clean on the boot, and then borrowed his scabbard. It was ridiculously big but I tied it around my waist and let it lean on my hips.
The fey came back leading the very nervous horses. I picked Pietyr up, though he yelled at me, and tossed him onto the back of one. I grabbed the reigns when Elfgwyven stopped me.
"These horses are already tired. If you ride with Pietyr then us two men cannot be on the other horse, it will not be able to walk very far."
"Then who rides with Pietyr?"
"Bornagold has the greater weight."
I stalked to the other man. "I want you to swear on your ancestral line that you will not harm a hair on my brother's head."
Bornagold looked past my shoulder and waited for something before looking back at me. "I swear I will not hurt your brother, so much as a hair on his head."
"It is done," Elfgwyven said and took the reins. I wanted to stare him down but I felt a blush coming up so I looked away, grabbed the pommel, and jerked up onto the horse.
Like fluid made ethereal Elfgwyven was up behind me and I stiffened. I had never ridden with a man behind me and it was most...intimate. Then his arms came around me and he brushed the sides of my breasts, even wrapped as they were, and my blush exploded. Thank Goddess he couldn't see.
"Shouldn't I be behind you?"
"No. You care too much for your brother."
I had buried nine of them and three sisters. He was all I had left now that his two sisters were both gone, one to the church as a nun after she fornicated with a swineherd, the other married to a duke in the far south. "I am replaceable. He is not." It was true. We needed the fey alliance but if I died then Edwyna would be called from the nunnery and made back into a princess.
He kicked the horse into movement and flicked the reins to lead the mount north. "Sleep," he breathed. The word was sensual and pulling, and I felt myself falling. Instead I snuggled into his warm, hard chest and sighed as sleep rose up to claim me.