Trallis: Summer Storm Dancer

byxelliebabex©

It took him more time than it should have to notice the mercenaries and he cursed leaping to his feet trying to signal his mother but it was too late. At his startled movements the mercenaries screamed and charged. Rhys held himself ready trying to get into that place of peacefulness that was his ally in battle but his eyes held to his terrified sisters. Suddenly Kerys moved her hands directing the lightning at the attackers and Rhys found his peace in knowing she and she alone could protect her sister and mother better than he.

When the fight came to him it was just as he had always practised in the training yard, over and over again, their swords were long and he stepped close to use his sabre and tire them with his quick movements, he felt that rare joy in battle of besting his enemy a moment before a sword sliced through his side. Still he fought on determinedly, uncaring of the world, unseeing of it outside the small circle he had created around him. One by one they fell as the lifeblood ebbed from him and he found he was on his knees unable to bear his own weight.

Lightning crashed to the sand nearby and he looked up into the face of a madman and cried out to the wind that he had not been enough to protect them. He heard the anguished cries of his sister before all went black.

Lightning sizzled the air and the man dealing the death stroke to the horse warrior was fried in an instant. Kerys screamed her rage and lightning rained down around the body of her fearless brother. She and Dana rushed to his side but it was too late; his eyes had glazed over and he was barely breathing. Standing defiantly back to back the girls looked for their mother, abandoned as Kerys had tried to save her brother, Mowana was being held with a blade to her throat. Kerys was grief stricken, Rhys lay dead at her feet and she knew that was her mother's fate as well. She could not save anyone and she took a different tack.

Kerys yelled above the storm and looked to the man who had stepped forward showing that he was the one in charge. "Kill my mother as you killed my brother and you will seal your fate. We know it is me and my sister you want. We can do the storm-dance. We can bring you riches. She is nothing to you, kill her and I will never cooperate. Kill her and every storm out there has your name written on it in light. Kill my mother and you are doomed!"

Dana was surprised. It was normally she that spoke out not Kerys but all she could see was Rhys lying in the sand beside her looking sightlessly up into the sky. It had not occurred to her that the storm had passed its peak and no more flashes of lightning lit the sky. Reaching behind her she clutched at Kerys hand giving her support as she spoke up again.

"It may not be tonight but your face is written there and if you do not let me and my family go, you can be sure this summer's storms will be your last," her voice was hard and brittle and she squeezed Dana's hand hard enough to make her squeak in protest.

A very low whisper, as if carried on the winds came to Dana's ears, "Squeaker, do not worry I will find you." Tears falling to her cheeks Dana looked down at her brother who had fought so valiantly against so many, believing him dead she wondered how he would never find her again.

Kerys for once was glad that she was not as caught up in the emotions that plagued Dana and she calculated that of the man holding a knife to her mother's throat. He seemed uncertain and looked to his leader who had closed the gap between himself and the twins.

"Kill her," the leader growled to the man holding Mowana, "and let's get out of here quickly, the storm has passed."

In shocked silence the girl's watched their mother crumple to the sand and the remaining few men surround them. They were quickly subdued, bound to the bounty hunters mounts and taken from their clan. Several of the older guards had tried to stop the riders from leaving the village but they had been mown down and all the girls could do was close their eyes to block out the horror of the night.

*****

Horrified by the news of the ambush, the evil Zira had blurted in her selfish anger, "Idiots! They were only supposed to kill Haydar and his brats." The village as one turned on her then and she was imprisoned within her own home, bruised and battered, to await the return of her husband and son from the Council of the Nine Realms.

Baden, upon hearing the tale of what had happened in the village, had rushed out of the long house to the lake shore finding his mother murdered and his brother barely clinging to life, with no sign of his sisters he scoured the sand for evidence of their escape. He followed the trail realising they had been captured probably by slavers. Hohepa had followed him and knelt beside Rhys trying to staunch the bleeding knowing it was far too late to save the man but trying none the less.

Baden carried his brother back from the beach and laid him in the long house, "Zira's petty jealousies have cost me my family tonight, my sisters have been taken, my mother and father are dead and my brother lies clinging to life. Should I ever return to this clan..." He left it hanging in the air with a pregnant pause, "Trust me it will be with retribution if I do not find my brother alive!" Baden stormed from the longhouse and took up the reigns of his horse following the wide trail left by the bounty hunters.

Hohepa's mother rushed to where he knelt beside Rhys and looked at them both with worried eyes, "Bring him to our home, I will do what is needed." The woman hurried ahead of her son entering the home and banking up the fire pit that sat in the middle of the main room floor. She gathered together a variety of jars and bunches of dried herbs and she began to paint her face with ritualistic symbols. As Hohepa entered he realised she meant to dance with the spirits and turned pale. The old dark earth magic of the healers dance was rarely practised anymore as the toll it took on its practitioners was great and the peril to the one being healed was greater.

"I will go get a kid," Hohepa mumbled after looking down at Rhys again. He knew his mother was taking the only path that could possibly save the man and he left the house looking in the direction he had seen Baden riding briefly before opening the goat pen and lifting a small kid from where it lay with its mother. The dance would be long and costly to more than just this kid, but he prayed they could save Rhys if for no other reason than his love of Baden and his hope that he would return soon to the village. He looked again in the direction Baden had gone and wished he had been brave enough to go with him.

Baden meanwhile, raced with the moon, he had no idea how far behind the men who had abducted his sisters he was but he was determined to find them. "And then what?" He asked himself out loud acknowledging that Rhys was the better fighter of them and look what had happened to him. He needed to get to the council of the nine realms before the bounty hunters did and speak with Akaton or Lord Haef and gather the horsemen there.

The grasslands were flat and for the most part treeless and Baden gave his horse free reign. As if sensing the urgency in his rider the large roan sped toward the wooded ridge at the edge of that bordered four of the nine realms of Trallis. Before the setting of the sun the following day Baden rode into the fair and sought out the tents of the horse lords. Finding only the guards there he ranted and raged in his need to find them and explain the situation but the guards took him into the tent and sent a runner to the council deliberations with the boy's message. Unable to be held back Baden burst from the tent and ran with the messenger into the council. Seeing his sisters chained and terrified he cried out, and leapt at the bounty hunter, "Is it not enough you killed my mother and brother now you must sell my sisters in chains?"

The many men at arms in the tent rushed forward and prised Baden from the bounty hunters and held them apart while Ragnar stood and roared, "Barbarians! The horsemen continue to insult us with their lack of respect in council deliberations."

"Sit down Ragnar," Iken said softly, "I for one would be genuinely interested to hear why this young man has seen fit to interrupt us and add to the story the girls have been weaving for us. Sit down Horse Lord," Iken appealed to Haef who had stood with his hand on his sabre ready to defend the young man and the honour of his clan.

Camille the softly spoken Lady of the forest people spoke up, "I too would like to hear the boy's story. Release the boy so he can talk, he will make no more threats will you?" She smiled at Baden.

Baden shrugged off his captors and took a step forward acknowledging Lady Camille with a slight tilt to his head before looking sadly at his sisters and moving to them before turning to address the assembled Lords and Ladies of the nine realms. In a steady unemotional voice he told his tale of treachery and betrayal leading to the ambush and slaughter of the men of his clan by the mountain warriors, of the bounty hunters equally callous slaughter of his mother and old men as they kidnapped his sisters and left his brother, the best of all of them, barely clinging to life.

As more information came forth adding to the tale the girls had told there were gasps and cries from those gathered. Akaton looked ill, as he heard of his wife's treachery, he had known she was mean spirited and wracked with spiteful jealousy despite her rank within the clan but to do this, to plot his brothers murder in such a way as to cost them all of the warriors of the clan was just unfathomable in his mind, it could not possibly be true.

Haef had listened intently, the boy had not raged at the mountain men but rather firmly laid the blame for what had happened at the feet of Zira and Akaton. He considered the young man and what the telling of that story as he did without crying for vengeance must have cost him internally but he had stayed to the facts and left his own great loss for all who heard it to judge for themselves. He found it difficult to blame the mountain warriors for his people had encroached into their forest and he knew what he must do. He stood and noticed Ragnar surge to his feet in readiness for his attack but he held up his hand and stilled the man.

"I put no blame before you Ragnar," he said his voice steady, "The men were in your realm albeit only just, but the treachery for that ambush came from our own people and will be dealt with accordingly." Akaton had paled visibly, and although he wanted to rage at the Mountain Lord for the loss of his people he stayed silent plotting to seek his own revenge on the perpetrators of this massacre.

Ragnar huffed and sat down conceding the floor of the council deliberations to the Horse Lord. "I feel in light of all of the events that we have heard tonight that to deprive this boy of his only living kin would be a travesty. The bounty hunters have done a mischief in killing their mother, an unarmed woman alone without her husband and their brother, a boy younger than the one sitting before us and their bounty in that light should be forfeit."

"Killing unarmed women and young boys with practice swords is in itself a crime that should set a bounty upon your own heads," Lord Gabriel agreed in his deep rumbling voice. The people of stone were known to live strictly by the code of conduct that had brought about this council in its early days. The bounty hunters looked less sure of their own welcome within the council at that point and took a step backwards finding the exit guarded.

"Perhaps Lord Gabriel , as your tent is closest to the council you could offer this small family some refreshment and rest while we deliberate on their stories. I am sure no one would object to his knights of stone guarding the trio?" It was once again Camille who spoke softly and looked around the room to gauge the assent.

Haef had agreed but he stood and approached Baden and his sisters as they were being herded away, "Do not let your youthful rashness take hold, should you run they will take the girls for sure, but give me time and I will do my best to see you are all returned home, together." Baden said nothing, just nodding and walking away under armed escort the two girls clinging to him.

The debate had raged through the night with the leaders of each clan expressing their own views. Rather than receiving a reward the bounty hunters were freed on the understanding that should they ever be found in the grasslands again their lives would be forfeit. As to what would be best for the storm-dancer and her sister, the leaders could not agree.

It was the mischievous and perpetually bored Lord Nadra who finally grumbled, "Let her spend the summer with Toka and the rest of the year at home on the grasslands. Now can I have another drink before I lose what's left of my mind listening to you all grumble about one scrawny woman?" He waved his empty goblet about hoping to catch the attention of one of the attendants holding the wine that came from the people of the Great Lakes Realm.

"That might actually work," Iken said rubbing his brow, "and satisfy both the Storm-dancers Pact we have and the moral compass some of us have that is inclined to keep what is left of the small family together."

*****

The summer of their twenty-first year Dana had travelled with Rhys and Hohepa to escort Kerys back to their clan. Dana was helping Kerys organise her few belongings when she noticed, Kerys sitting on the bed watching her with an odd melancholy expression. Going to sit with her Dana took her hand, "Tell me what it is, you know I can tell when something is not right with you."

"I am not coming home with you," Kerys said suddenly. "I am happy here, I have a place here. I am not treated like a freak here." There was sorrow in her eyes again as she looked at Dana's shocked expression. Dana said nothing her emotions tumbling. Her whole life had been about looking after Kerys what would she do if Kerys left her.

"I want you and Rhys and Baden to have the lives you deserve, get married and have babies," she grinned at Dana knowing that was a dream of hers. "I know you want to move away from the nasty whispers of the village idiots, go with Baden to Lord Haef's clan where you can just be a normal girl and find a husband who loves your sweetness and beauty." She hugged Dana fiercely, "I want that for you and I think I have found that here... For me."

"You're in love?" Dana looked up at her sister who had produced a goofy smile with her admission and nodded. Despite her concerns for her own future Dana was truly happy for Kerys and hugged her in return. "Can I meet him before I have to leave?"

"You know him silly," Kerys grinned and Dana's eyes widened, Keharn, her friend from the storm-dancer's guild had almost been inseparable from Kerys all summer and the summer before, yet it had never occurred to her until now that he may look at Kerys any differently from the men of their own village, who looked at her with worried eyes that she might blow them up if they got close to her, like she did to the men on the beach the night her mother died.

Dana put on a brave face, since the council became involved in the hunting of storm-dancers that night three years before, questions were raised about the treatment of the storm-dancers and what they would be sending the girl to if they gave her to the Lord of the seas. Several diplomats from four of the nine realms had set up residence in the main coastal town and helped the dancers to create the storm-dancers guild. This helped to end the bondage that storm-dancers were forced into and they began to live as the other people of the sea clan. They worked hard but were just as equally cared for by physicians and trainers, so that the frequent loss of life from exhaustion and mistreatment no longer occurred. Dana wanted Kerys to be happy and she laughed with her as she spoke about the man she had fallen in love with during her summers here.

"You could stay here too if you wanted, you know," Kerys said softly, "I won't ask you to because I know you are not happy here, but you could grow to like it."

"You will be well looked after I am sure. You don't need me anymore to watch over you. I will go home with Rhys, he is healed but I feel he still needs someone who will let him look after them," Dana smiled.

"Oh, Dana. Find what you want to do, what will make you happy! Do not worry about me or Rhys or Baden anymore. What is it you want?" Kerys took her sister by the shoulders and looked into her eyes seeing the lost look there.

Rhys walked into the room and smiled, "Unpack again squeaker, seems we will be staying another week or two to watch the princess get married." Kerys squealed in delight and jumped on Rhys hugging him tightly. "I don't know that Baden would approve," Rhys said thoughtfully, "But he isn't here to disapprove." His grin was infectious.

Baden had fast become a valuable member of Lord Haef's inner circle and was often away from the clan so it had fallen to Rhys, who had over time regained his health and strength under the watchful eyes and medicines of both Hohepa and his mother, to accompany his sisters to the coast. He hoped he was doing the right thing for everybody but as he looked at Dana's face as he hugged Kerys back he could see the pain this separation would cause her floating just under the surface. He loved his sister's sweet disposition, Dana could have been jealous and spiteful towards Kerys but instead she was protective and considerate, she could have been self-pitying and sullen but she smiled and danced with her sister for the joy of dancing. She was the most beautiful of women inside and out.

The following days went by too fast for Dana who had been swept up into the frenzied planning of Kerys's wedding. Keharn as it turned out was the nephew of Lord Toka and the wedding itself became a big affair with dignitaries from several realms all making the journey to the coastal realm of Solaris. There were numerous banquets and occasions to attend and by the fourth day Dana, who was more at home in their small clan, needed to escape the festivities and wandered from the banquet hall out onto the great sea wall.

It was here, that Dana had spent many summer nights watching her sister dance below on the sand with the other storm-dancers wishing once again that she could join them as she used to join her sister and mother down by the lake. Everything she had known from the age of fifteen was being taken from her and she once again found herself wondering what would become of her. A figure appeared beside her and she squeaked in fright, backing away slightly.

"No need to be afraid of me little mouse," the mountain warrior smiled. "I just came out of the stuffy hall to get some fresh air and thought you may have felt the same need. Perhaps we could walk together, my intentions are honourable I assure you. There is nothing to be afraid of."

They walked and talked in the fresh sea breeze, he had thought to find a kindred spirit in the sister of Kerys. But she was not resentful at being the lesser of two siblings like himself, instead she spoke with love and deep affection for her sister and her well known brothers. Since the council of the nine realms three years earlier tales of the brothers heroism and the girls plight had been told over and over again. The tale eventually picked up by minstrels until it was distorted all out of reality, or so some thought. Dana herself became not more than a footnote in the tale as the sister of a storm-dancer, not even her beauty was added to the tales and as he looked at her it shone from her that she was as graceful as a swan princess from fables themselves.

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