tagSci-Fi & FantasyMate for Life

Mate for Life

byLadyArielle©

"We've got a new girl," Bran informed Daegon. "Cleric."

Daegon paused, looking at his companion in surprise. "I thought we were supposed to vote on new party members," he said mildly. He detoured from his path toward the tavern's door and strode to the bench where Bran sprawled. Bran waved him to sit. Daegon shook his head and stood, crossing his arms.

"She's a cousin of Glenna's," Bran explained. "And you were gone on your monthly commune in the woods." He shrugged as Daegon frowned. "She's a looker, too."

"All well and good, but can she handle herself in a fight?" Daegon reconsidered and sat, giving Bran a look of mild reproof. No use arguing, it was done; Daegon recognized the tone in their leader's voice. "Though a healer is always welcome," he offered.

"Sure. Glenna's good, and can bash with the best of them to boot. But never a bad idea to have more healing to hand." Bran signaled a passing wench to bring ale. The tavern didn't usually serve in the yard, but their party was well known and paid well. The curvaceous blonde smiled and hurried off. Bridgit, Daegon recalled her name, and quite cuddlesome. He'd had her in his lap a time or two after a run, but had never gotten around to sampling more of her charms. Mostly because her eyes tended to glaze when he tried to actually talk to her. He watched her hips sway teasingly for a moment, then turned when Bran elbowed him.

"Eh?"

"She's been cloistered for the last five years," Bran informed him.

"Who?" Daegon asked blankly.

"The new girl. Emily," Bran explained impatiently. "But Glenna assures me she's got experience, and is a damn good healer. We can always keep her out of the thick of things if we have to," he added thoughtfully.

"Okay," Daegon frowned, considering this. "Gods, not another one to babysit. We were lucky to keep Mendel alive long enough to be useful."

He accepted his ale as Bridgit appeared and patted her cheek, slipping a coin down her bodice. She giggled and accepted another from Bran, who chucked her under the chin and was rewarded with a kiss on the cheek. Bran waved her off and stood. She flounced off, pouting, as the men followed her into the tavern.

"Well that gamble paid off," Bran pointed out comfortably. "We've got one of the best mages around now. I've got a feeling Emily will do even better. Glenna's never been wrong yet."

"Good point."

Daegon automatically scanned the room, taking in the customers grouped around in clumps. The place was slow today, which suited Daegon fine. He spotted a woman in the silver robes of Selune sitting in a chair by the fire, the tavern owner's dog at her feet. He did a double take. That mutt was the meanest canine in the Realms; his one devotion was to his owner, Grundar. The only person besides Grundar that Spike seemed to like was Daegon himself, and that only after Daegon had worked considerable charm and a healthy display of dominance. Spike looked up, sniffing the air. He thumped his tail in greeting to Daegon, bared his teeth a bit at Bran, and stood to lay his head in the woman's lap. She petted him absently, her nose in a book. Spike's tail waved in ecstasy as she scratched behind his ears. Daegon stared.

"That's Emily?" Daegon poked his companion, who nodded. "You said cleric, right?"

"Yep," Bran confirmed. "Been a bit sheltered, but we'll get her up to speed."

"You sure about cleric?" Daegon asked, one brow raised.

"Yeah, she healed that boil Mendel's been bitching about for ages," Bran said, puzzled. "Even Glenna couldn't manage it. Why?"

"No reason," Daegon shrugged.

Spike was practically purring now, and one of the cats Grundar kept to keep the rodent population under control leaped onto Emily's shoulder. She started briefly in surprise, and the cat rubbed her head under the woman's chin. Spike didn't even twitch. Daegon frowned.

"Regretting your vow not to get involved with party members?" Bran teased. "Tasty, ain't she?"

"Yeah," he said absently. Well, it was true. Her robes didn't show her figure much, but the hair braided down her back was a dark red-brown, sparking fire where the light touched it. She had a heart shaped face, pointed chin with a suggestion of a dimple, and a small straight nose. Like many redheads, her skin was very fair. As they approached, she looked up and smiled, and he saw her eyes were deep green, almost the color of pine needles in bright sunlight. He took a discreet sniff and barely suppressed a growl.

She smelled like home. Cleric, his ass.

"Emily, this is Daegon," Bran tossed a thumb over his shoulder at the tall man a step behind him. "Our ranger. Daegon, Emily."

"How do you do," Emily said automatically, shrugging Spike off her lap. The dog had slavishly devoted himself to her almost the instant she had stepped in the door, much to her surprise. She wasn't used to dogs, but this one seemed friendly enough. She rose, Spike settling himself on his haunches slightly in front of her, grinning at the ranger. She held out her hand and Daegon hesitated before taking it. Instead of a handshake, he bowed and kissed her knuckles, and she curtsied in return.

"The pleasure is mine," Daegon said gallantly, not releasing her hand. Emily smiled up at him, close enough that she had to tilt her head rather uncomfortably to meet his eyes. She didn't mind being on the short side, but this man was taller than most, and she felt at a distinct disadvantage. His dark eyes seemed to be studying her. "A cleric, Bran says?" He sounded a little doubtful, and Emily stiffened, pulling her hand away and stepping back a pace.

"Yes," she said simply, eyes narrowing a little, her tone cooling.

He smiled, an easy grin that put her more at ease, and snapped his fingers at Spike. The dog hesitated, turning to brush Emily's hand before scooting forward to nose at the ranger. His gaze sharpened. "Spike doesn't usually like anyone," Daegon observed. "Seems you might have more talent than healing."

"Oh?" Emily was surprised, and looked at the dog in puzzlement. "I don't know about that," she shrugged, as Daegon patted Spike and the dog returned to her feet. "He seems friendly enough."

"Trust me," Daegon leaned toward her as if sharing a secret, "that dog hates everyone."

"He likes you," she observed.

"I have a talent with animals, especially canines," Daegon said without a trace of bravado. "And even so, it took a while for him to come around. I'm impressed, Lady."

"Please, call me Emily," she laughed. "Or Emmy, everyone does. Lady sounds much too formal."

"Emmy it is," Daegon grinned. "I hear you've made the party's day by healing Mendel. I hope you've been thanked properly," he chuckled, eyes twinkling.

"It was the result of a spell; I've spent the last few years specializing in spell-induced wounds and ailments," Emmy said modestly. "It wasn't that difficult when you know where to start. Glenna would have figured it out."

"Glenna's your cousin, I understand?" Daegon snagged a chair, sitting on it backwards as Emmy sat, Spike leaning on her legs. Bran grunted something about dinner and wandered off, satisfied that his ranger and newest party member didn't need him. "I don't recall her mentioning you."

"Not surprising; we come from a large family. There's a lot of us to keep track of," she smiled genially. "We were close as children and when I began adventuring, she was our other cleric," Emmy explained. "But we lost touch after our party parted ways."

There was a note of sadness Daegon didn't understand, and he looked at her thoughtfully. "May I ask why?" he probed gently.

"Not much to tell," Emmy said with another shrug. "I lost my taste for roaming for a time." She hesitated, looking at him, but his face was kindly and looked interested. "My husband was a fighter," she said quietly. "He was killed in our last mission, holding off a troll so the rest of the party could escape. We wouldn't run, and got the troll in the end, but too late to save him," she finished, her voice steady but her eyes sad.

"I'm so sorry," Daegon said simply, touching her arm, and she gave him a melancholy smile.

"Thank you." Her voice was soft as she nodded. "I was a mess. Glenna and our friends eventually found an order that took me in. I was grateful; I knew I was no good to my party anymore and didn't want to be a burden." She was quiet for a moment, then seemed to shake herself out of her sadness. "But time does heal when arts cannot. I started writing Glenna again, and eventually a letter or two found her, and after a time she started urging me to get out in the world again. She's quite strong willed, you know," she laughed at Daegon's emphatic nod.

"That she is," he chuckled. He peered at her, his face growing serious. "So she convinced you to leave the order?"

"Yes and no. I'd been thinking about it for some time. I'd learned much, but I was restless and....she was right." she smiled a bit crookedly. "Garrick wouldn't have wanted me to shut myself away. Once I realized that, I knew I had to come."

"He sounds like he was a good man," Daegon observed quietly.

"He was." Emmy was silent for a while, and Daegon signaled a passing wench for more ale, lifting a brow at the cleric. "Tea, please," she conveyed her order and they regarded each other for a moment.

"Are there any rangers in your family?" Daegon asked abruptly.

"Why, yes," Emily sounded faintly surprised at his tone. "My father was one, my mother a cleric. Why?"

"You seem to charm animals much like one," Daegon explained. "I wondered."

"I see." Emily considered this seriously. "My talent is healing," she said finally. "I've never been particularly drawn to a ranger's art, much to my father's disappointment," she smiled, remembering. "And while I like animals in general, I haven't had much experience with them. Dad trained my brothers; I was more content studying with Mother. But he died when I was very young, so perhaps my talent was merely overlooked," she added fairly. She smiled at Bridgit, who arrived with their drinks, taking her tea and setting a coin on the wench's tray.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Daegon said, accepting his ale with a nod to Bridgit.

She took care to bend low, offering a tantalizing view of plump breasts. Daegon smiled absently at the serving girl, peering around her to look at Emmy. Bridgit sniffed audibly and flounced off. Emmy considered bringing his attention to the girl's pique, decided it was none of her business, and merely sipped her tea, murmuring politely at Daegon's sympathy.

Daegon used several sips of ale to cover his interest in Emmy. She seemed sincere, and he couldn't imagine Glenna being fooled for long by a fraud, let alone a relative of hers being one. Certainly not a woman Glenna trusted enough to bring into the party. And yet, his nose had never been wrong; she smelled of outdoors and moonlight. Under that, the tangy scent of healing arts and.....he inhaled carefully, schooling his face not to show his surprise. Recklessness. That has an odor all its own, coppery, like coins and blood and the ozone of a lightning strike. There was much more to Emmy than met the eye.

"I see you two have met," Glenna's voice broke into his thoughts, and he turned to see the small woman approach. "Beware this one, Emmy, he's a charmer. Broken more hearts than a virgin disciple of Sune," she grinned wickedly at Daegon, grabbing a chair and sitting next to her kinswoman.

He scowled at Glenna, half meaning it, but she merely made a face back, unrepentant. He gave her a reluctant lopsided smile and tipped his mug at her before downing his ale. "I don't chase unwilling women," he defended himself with a shrug. "And I never lie to them."

"You're safe enough, Emmy," Glenna said cheerfully. "He doesn't pursue other party members. Smacks too much of commitment, I expect," she added blithely, ignoring Daegon's glower.

Emmy looked between them, amusement lurking in her half smile. "We were just talking," she offered, finishing her tea.

"So, Glenn, cousins, eh?" Daegon abruptly changed the subject. He hadn't really noticed how similar the cousins were in appearance until he saw them side-by-side. Both small and curvy, stopping short of sturdy-looking, with long lovely hands, fair skin, delicate features. Glenna's hair, cut short in a wild mop of curls that spiraled all over her head, was more brown than red, but with fiery highlights, echoing Emmy's dark red. Hers might curl; it was hard to tell with the braid, but they both had green eyes, though Glenna's were a lighter leaf color, tinged with gold. Despite the few differences, the family resemblance was remarkable. "You could pass for sisters. Twins, even."

"Thank you," they said in unison, looking at each other and laughing. "We got that a lot growing up," Emmy added with amusement. "Our mothers were twins."

"Explains a lot," Daegon said dryly, signaling for another tankard of ale.

They went on their first raid with Emmy two days later. Bran got word from a town councilman that a nest of kobolds had been waylaying travelers and attacking unwary hunting parties. They needed a party to scout and assess the size of the nest, and neutralize it if possible. An easy job, but one never knew; kobolds could be amazingly ruthless and clever. Still, Daegon agreed with Bran that it was a good mission to put Emmy through her paces, and get a feel for the new party dynamic. Emmy, no fool, knew very well why Bran had accepted a job so far beneath their party's capabilities, and took no offense.

Daegon scouted ahead. Locating the entrance to the kobald's nest was a snap. Getting a party of seven inside without detection, not so much. The ranger melted back into the shadows to report back.

"I estimate about forty," Daegon drew a layout of the kobold's den with a stick in the dirt. "I caught sight of both a chieftain and a shaman, and a few captives. They're chained together here," he pointed to a spot in the back of the cavern. "It's gonna be tricky, keeping them safe."

"Only forty?" Bran frowned. "Someone must have fought back."

"That's my thought."

Emmy leaned forward, looking at the makeshift map. "Are we thinking of rescue, then?"

Bran shot her a patient look that clearly said "Duh," but refrained from voicing it aloud. She nodded, intent enough on her thoughts to appear to not notice any sarcasm. "Well, we have a thief, a ranger, two fighters, two clerics, and a mage.....the magic users can stun most of the kobolds, allowing Daegon and Fitz time to free the captives, while you and Dehn can pick off any we haven't enchanted. Once the captives are clear, Mendel can fireball the cave."

Bran just looked at her, clearly impressed. "I was thinking much the same, good plan."

Emmy smiled grimly and inclined her head. Bran nodded back, grinning.

"Let's do it."

They got in without detection, partly thanks to a clever spell of Mendel's that silenced their approach. Fitz and Daegon positioned themselves forward and to one side as the clerics and Mendel prepared their castings. They made it halfway to the captives before the plan went all to hell.

About ten of the kobolds resisted the mage and cleric's spells. Fortunately for the party, most were too far back to effectively attack, but one near the front of the room picked up a large kettle of soup and hurled it toward the party, splashing the fighters and Mendel with hot, evil smelling liquid. Mendel faltered, giving the unstunned kobolds enough time to rush forward before he unleashed a spell that filled the room with an ungodly odor of rot and decay. Two kobolds shook off the effects and lunged at Bran and Dehn, who cut them down easily, despite gagging at the smell. Chaos erupted as Glenna and Emmy lost concentration and the kobolds charged. The fighters were hacking and slashing with wild abandon, barely keeping their feet as they were swarmed. Glenna swung her flail, bashing away, reptilian bodies flying, but more lunging forward eagerly.

Daegon and Fitz shielded their mouths and noses with their arms and dashed towards the prisoners. Further back, the smell was lessened and they efficiently picked the locks of the iron manacles. The captives followed them, gagging and choking as the full force of Mendel's spell hit them. Ranger and thief held their breath, dragging the three unarmed captives behind them. Daegon drew his sword with his free hand, slashing impartially at anything that moved, Fitz zinging daggers left and right. Then a stillness crashed down, and everything seemed to slow.

Emmy stood in the midst of the battle, arms outstretched, chanting, her face glowing. Every kobold in the cavern froze, unable to move a muscle. Without hesitation, Daegon and Fritz dashed for the party, captives in tow, and Bran, Dehn, and Glenna took down all the creatures within reach. Shooing the unarmed rescued to the back of the party, Daegon turned with Fritz to help his fighters. Then a shout from Mendel caused everyone to retreat.

Except Emily.

Cursing, Daegon ran forward and picked her up bodily, turned and ran for the cave's entrance, Mendel only a few strides behind as the fireball engulfed the survivors. He tossed Emmy at Bran, gave it a few beats, and cautiously crept back into the cavern.

The smell of death and burning reptile flesh was overwhelming. He peered through the smoke, assessing the damage. A living torch approached, keening, and Daegon sliced its head off.

Mercy, really.

Nothing else moved. He nodded, and returned to his party.

"Well," Fitz said conversationally, "That was interesting." She sat with her back against a log, one knee drawn up with her elbow hooked casually around it.

Bran looked at Emily, who, along with her cousin, was tending the wounded. Fortunately, there was not much to fix. Dehn and Bran had both suffered multiple slash wounds, which were healed easily enough. The captives were surprisingly healthy, if bruised, and grateful for food and water that didn't taste faintly of fish.

"You said it, Fizzy," Bran nodded and grinned. "Emmy, I've never seen anything like that. How did you do it?"

"No idea," Emily frowned as she seated herself by the fire and accepted a flask from Dehn. She took a deep swallow, and Daegon was impressed that she didn't sputter. Dehn was given to strong spirits.

"That was amazing," Fitz said, downing a healthy tot herself. "No offense," she said to Glenna, who grinned and shrugged.

"I won't say I told you so," Glenna nudged her cousin, smiling. "But I did. Emmy's a good one."

"I don't even know how I did it," Emily protested.

"I don't care, just do it again when we need it. Marry me?" Dehn grinned at Emily, taking back his flask and draining the contents.

Emily smiled sweetly and sat straighter. "You do me honor, sir, but I think we would not suit," she said formally. Dehn laughed. Daegon moved to sit next to her, and she smiled at him.

"You wound me, lass," the fighter clutched his heart theatrically and faked a swoon.

"You'll live," Daegon said dryly, handing Emily a slice of bread and cheese. She took it gratefully, suddenly feeling light headed. The food helped. Daegon touched her elbow, raising a brow. "You okay?" Emily nodded. "I'll take first watch, guys. Get some sleep." He peered at Emmy, noting how she was blinking and swaying, and not, he would bet, from Dehn's killer flask. "I think Emmy should be exempt tonight."

"I'm fine," she protested, but Bran waved her down.

"Daeg's right," the big warrior smiled genially at her. "That took a lot out of you, whatever it was. You earned it."

"I agree," Mendel said unexpectedly, his eyes thoughtful. "Impressive work, Emmy."

"Thanks," she seemed flustered by the attention, and fussed unnecessarily over her sleeping roll to cover her embarrassment. Daegon patted her shoulder and went to keep watch.

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byLadyArielle© 34 comments/ 61504 views/ 121 favorites

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