tagCelebrities & Fan FictionWhere the Roses Bloom Pt. 05

Where the Roses Bloom Pt. 05

byfreya_38©

Chapter Five

THE RAVINE (Ruby P.O.V)

We'll be arriving at the north bridge in two days and the landscape has already changed: it's rugged, barren and wild so less people live here; forest areas are rare but darker and thicker. It's also colder.

Three days ago a watchtower garrison gave us two horses which have allowed us to make good progress although I miss my talks with my companion while walking. Iselen rides her horse with ease behind me while I'm looking for a clear track. It's difficult due to the unevenness of the ground and the dark clouds that block the sun light. I can't see the bumpy route clearly. Frequently, small gullies appear on either side: one false move and we'd fall. They aren't that deep but the last thing we need now is an injury. Is getting late and I should look for a place to camp. I stop, standing up on my stirrups to look around: I can't find anything sheltered enough. I turn around slightly on my saddle:

- What do you think? -- It's weird for a Shadow used to work alone to take into account the opinion of others but I respect my companion's judgement. I'm starting to think that the Goddess knew what she was doing when she brought us together for this mission. Maybe after all this is going to work.

- We have to keep moving and take advantage of the daylight we have left. We can't stay here out in the open. This place gives me the creeps. How are your butterflies doing?

To be honest not well but I won't say it out loud. The closer we get to the north, the more anxious I feel. I'm having trouble distinguishing between what is real danger and what is nervousness about being in uncharted territory. The lack of light is also stressing the animals out because they don't know where they're stepping. We need a safe place to camp and we need it now. Suddenly, I feel the urgency of providing Iselen a refuge and comfort, I need to keep her safe...

A howl makes me jump on my saddle. It sounds close but not too much. We stare at each other in silence, remembering stories about wolf attacks in this area. It's time to move faster. Keeping my nose close to my horse's neck I look at the path under me, moving as quickly as possible amongst potholes and stones. It works for half an hour until it gets dark, then our progress is so slow that we'd better get down from the horses and guide them by the reins. A new howl can be heard as dusk falls: it sounds closer. I take a deep breath trying to calm down, I have to think of something before they arrive: she guides me through the mountains and I keep her safe, that was the deal but for the first time in my career I'm worried for another person and that clouds my mind. Remember your training Ruby... I open my eyes slowly and I see it.

- There's a less deep gully ahead and it seems to have a flat area at the bottom with a path that borders a stream and sturdy bushes. How about going down this side and use the path to progress faster? If wolves try to chase us we should be able to see them coming, there're caves where we can hide and those bushes will prevent a direct attack. Anything is better than stay here helpless.

Iselen doesn't argue with me and gets close to the edge looking for the best place to go down. Finally, she gets off the horse and, shaking her head, loosens the straps and takes her bag from the rump.

- They'll never make it down and, frankly, I don't think they'll confer us any advantage in terms of speed in this environment. Let them go. Horses are intelligent: they'll find the way home while they leave a trail that wolves could follow.

She doesn't seem hopeful that it happens. We both know that predators are going to pursue us if the stories we've heard are true but luckily the horse trick might be successful and it will slow them down. I free the animals and follow her down the gully, weaving from rock to rock as I go down till I reach the mountain stream. Once I get there, we start running as fast as we can... maybe we can lose them after all.

Up on the rock wall on my left a shadow is moving, a stone rolls down and I can hear a growl, shiny eyes are glaring at us. I keep running while I loosen my knives in their sheaths: if those wolves intent to harm Iselen they will go over my death body. She's running fast in front of me without bothering to direct her gaze to our hunters, knowing that I got her back. She trusts me and that makes me feel overwhelmed, at this point I know her enough to understand that she doesn't trust easily and this is an invaluable gift. She's very special for me... she... has vanished into thin air?!?!

I realize in panic that she's has fallen down by a fissure to another gully. Has she jumped on purpose? I can't know that for sure, I can't yell her asking if she's fine because that could attract wolves and probably I couldn't hear her from up here so I do the only thing that makes sense: jump in after her.

I land cleanly on a group of bushes and, for a few seconds, my mind has gone blank: I'm not able to accept that I'm not dead and my head isn't broken. Next thing my brain remembers is that I must find my girl but it's very dark here so I spread my arms, no matter if brambles hurt my hands. I find her with my right hand lying on the ground: I touch her arm, her waist, her breast and finally I put my hands on either side of her face while I'm praying in silence: "Please, please, you must breathe, please".

- I'm fine -- I've never been so happy to hear someone whispering in my ear in my entire life- the shock of the fall and the blow left me breathless for a moment. I think we've lost them, they can't track us down here.

- Have you jumped on purpose? -- I whisper into her ear but, in fact, what I want is to scream it and shake her furiously. Unfortunately, screaming is out of question due to the wolves and shaking her could be a bad idea if she's broken something with the fall.

- I thought it was a good idea, anything is better than being caught by a wolf pack, even if the alternative is to break your neck.

- Who do you think you are? A little bird? -- I'm torn between getting mad at her or hug her crying.

- What have you called me? -- Iselen's muscles become tense under my hands -- Fuck! Shit! I hate you right now grandma. You could have warned me, couldn't you? I can't believe this, after all this years...

- What are you talking about? -- I fear she's bumped her head.

- I'm talking about how much I hate fortune-tellers! That air of superiority...

- Really? I hate their cocky smirks too.

LITTLE BIRD (Ruby P.O.V)

No matter how much I love the idea of having something in common with her we still have to find a refuge. My eyes are already getting used to the darkness of the ravine and I can see a cave a few metres from me. After exploring it I decide that is perfect for us, it isn't very deep but it has a curve at the back that can keep us out of sight. Iselen swears that she hasn't anything broken and hasn't bumped her head because her bag cushioned the fall, although she's going to have a big bruise on her ribs tomorrow. She insists that she can walk a few metres but she staggers when she stands up. I leave her against the rock wall while I light a candle and then I go out to make sure that it can't be seen.

When I come back, she already has few things out of the bags. I force her to sit down angrily while I take care of everything. I spread out a couple of blankets on the ground and I offer her some bread and cheese and the water bottle. Even though she chews it unwillingly she manages to eat few bites. Good girl. This cave is comfortable and it's warmer in here but, just in case, I spread out my cape over the blankets too and I ask my companion:

- Could you get undressed from the waist up and lie down here, face down please?

The fact that she doesn't answer with one her impertinences makes me worry. My question was perfect to let out one of her witty and racy remarks but she simply unbuckles her brigandine and starts undressing. When she's going to take off her undershirt I look away respectfully though, to tell the truth, I have an extraordinary peripheral vision that allows me to get a glimpse of her pale breast. Once she's face down, with her shirt as a pillow, she asks me with a provocative tone of voice:

- What are you doing to me? -- I can't help smiling; my girl is back to her sassy self despite she's exhausted and in pain.

- Calendula -- I answer putting a little bottle on the ground in front of her face -- the flower oil is a painkiller, a wound-healing agent, an anti-inflammatory and an antiseptic. In short, it will heal your wounds and bruises and won't let them to get infected. Shadows use it all the time because, in addition to this, it has a subtle perfume. What's the point of approaching your enemy from the back if he can smell you from miles away?

- I know... I mean that I had noticed your floral scent. It's very... pleasant. No, to be honest, it's a very effective "panty wetter."

- Fine, I'm glad that your shameless self is back but don't overdo it -- I try to scold her but actually I can't help laughing - Now with your permission...

- You have my permission for whatever you have in mind as long as it involves that oil, your hands and my skin.

After rolling my eyes, and still laughing, I start to rub oil on her arms and hands, relieving the discomfort caused by the thorns and making sure her skin absorbs it all. She's hesitant for a second but then she relaxes by my side. Given that she gave permission for whatever I have in mind I don't bother to ask again and pull down the waist of her pants from her hips to the upper buttock area. My knuckles graze slightly her skin making her hold her breath. Then I climb over her butt, sitting astride, looking down to her back. Iselen tenses her muscles... What the... are those lash marks?

Taking a closer look to the scars they definitely seem to be but obviously she doesn't want to talk about them. I don't care: sooner or later I'll know who was responsible for that savage beating and that person will die but now my priority is to relieve her ribs pain and take care of scratches and bruises.

- It's beautiful -- She seems surprised by my compliment, maybe she expected other kind of comment -- The bird... it's a very good tattoo. The artist must be wonderful. Why you chose a raven?

- Because of my grandma. I loved her and she used to call me "Little Bird" but, when it came time to pick one out, I didn't want anything too feminine.

- Well Little Bird, you've almost flown today.

- I know and, believe me, my grandma knew it too. Damn clairvoyants!

- They're hateful people, aren't they?

During our conversation I've rubbed oil over her skin, sliding my hands down her back over and over and, above all, rubbing her bruised side. Slowly up and down, my fingers pressing down gently her shoulders and the back of the neck and almost caressing her upper buttocks. Sliding my hands on her ribs, with my fingers brushing against the curves of her breasts, then going down till my thumbs rub her lower waist. I can feel Iselen's body relaxed under me and I've even heard her moaning. I'm also enjoying my hands touching her skin so much that, even if the oil has been absorbed completely, I keep rubbing her back like I'm in a trance. I should stop, but I'm not ready to do so.

- This is weird -- I hear her mutter -- I've never exposed my bare back to anyone strong enough to attack me. In fact, I've only exposed it to my tattoo artist and, at that moment, pain keeps me focused. Did your tattoos hurt too?

- I should lie -- I answer smiling -- pretending to be a tough Shadow that can bear anything but yes, some of them hurt like a bitch.

I accept that it's time to stop massaging her but I can't help to trace with my fingers some of the deepest scars. Iselen's muscles are too relaxed to get tense right now but I can feel she doesn't like what I'm doing. Lying down on the blankets with half of my body almost on top of her, my thigh on her legs and my head on her shoulder, I take her cape to wrap us up and keep warm. I put my arm on her back and stroke her hair:

- Talk to me, please...

Iselen gets closer making herself comfortable, fitting herself better into my embrace, seeking solace. I feel her breath grazing my hair when she starts talking:

- When my grandma died, my mum didn't feel obliged to look after me anymore even if I was still a child. She decided that my best option for the future was to learn a trade so she... mmm... sent me to a tapestry weaver workshop. To be honest I think she sold me even if, as a daughter of a free woman, I couldn't be slave... but I didn't find out until years later.

Why's she frowning like that? It seems that her mother'sactions still hurt her. She was an awful person and doesn't deserve to be remembered.

- From seven years old to fifteen years old I worked from dawn to dusk, not only weaving but also moving heavy tapestries and carrying huge skeins of wool. If you didn't meet the owner's expectations, you were lashed. If you slept late, if you got distracted, if you went to the market and came back late you were lashed even if it wasn't you fault that they were a lot of people in the marketplace. By the time I was sixteen, both the master and his son took turns in my bed and I never thought that I had right to complain.

I wince when she describes her childhood, it was worse than Josh imagined.

- One day I got beat up really bad for no reason and I realised that I was going to die young so I tried to figure a way out. The only way to escape from slavery is joining the army voluntarily. Thanks to my grandma I did learn to read and write and I used my little free time to sneak in the owner's library and study. Then I found out by chance in a law book that, after all, I couldn't be a slave. I talked with the lady of the house, a girl from good family that had married the owner's son; apparently he aspired to rise up in high society.

That makes her chuckle, as if it were some sort of joke.

- So I threatened to report them to the proper authorities and ruin their business, because by then the old master was senile and his son was useless so I was the one who run the workshop. In exchange for food and accommodation I would keep running a flourishing business but as an employee. At the age of eighteen I succeed in the army's entrance exam with a huge experience in resources management so I got the post of assistant and then, when my superior retired, the post of Quartermaster General.

- I want their names -- my cold and harsh tone of voice startles her -- The old master and his son. They must die.

- Listen, Ruby...

Iselen turns her body to me, looking into my eyes, her soft breasts pressing mines while my hand still rubs her back slowly.

- It's easy to die if you're desperate enough. But live to face the consequences of your actions it's very difficult. Believe me, they've been punished. I chose things they loved and snatched it from their hands: social prestige, wealth and public recognition; those are their only reasons to live. The army is the biggest customer in my kingdom but it has never bought anything from them, no Council member has ever listen to their demands and the procedures they initiate against the Central Administration get lost in the bureaucrat offices. I've made sure of it. They're ruined and their old friends make fun of them. That's the worst punishment they could receive. I promise that if you kill them you'll only help to alleviate the suffering.

I nod, not entirely convinced, but eager to please her. I realise that Iselen is able to plan and execute a long-term revenge with military precision. I shouldn't find that sexy, but I do. I wish I could kiss her right now, my lips dipping past her jaw and into her neck, lapping up from her earlobe to her collarbone, and then bite her nipples gently... but we don't have time for what I would like to do, our mission comes first and she's exhausted and in pain. I wrap her tightly in her cape before turning towards the entrance:

- You know... you're a very strong and determined little bird. Try to get some sleep. I'll take the first watch.

THE GUARD POST (Iselen P.O.V)

Finally, two days later our target is right in front of our eyes. In this area the gorge is narrow so the bridge isn't that long: both garrisons could talk shouting if they wanted to. In fact, sometimes insults fly from one side to the other. Today is not the case, the cold wind keeps West troops inside their house next to the old collapsed tower. Ruby comes in for a minute to let them know we're here and warn them of the presence of a pack of wolves roaming freely across the plain. No one must venture out in the open alone.

We cross the bridge surrounded by fog that slips its wet and cold fingers in our clothes. We can barely see our hands in front of our faces so we aren't aware of when we cross the border between our kingdoms. Suddenly, a light and some dark shadows show up ahead of us and I can't help smiling: East people defy the cold weather to greet us. Immediately, I recognise Reaper by the way he moves and I'm almost running towards him leaving Ruby behind. As soon as I put my foot off the bridge I jump right into his arms to hug him... something that I've never done before, but it's just that I'm so happy to see him...

- Welcome home -- I can hear the laughter in his voice, he's also happy that we've arrived -- You're welcome too West Shadow.

The North Commander always perfectly well-mannered, I can't help chuckling. Ruby just nods politely while she keeps a distance, her eyes going from my arm around Reaper's waist to his arm around my shoulders. He's one of the few people I let get so close to me and, for the first time, I realise that the Shadow has earned the same right. I still remember how uncomfortable the beginning of the journey was for me, surrounded by my old enemies. I don't want that for Ruby so I go near her and, taking her hand, I bring her closer to me. Looking in Reaper's direction I ask:

- Where? -- Unlike the other side we preserve the old tower, a couple of houses and stables.

- The second floor of the tower is ready to accommodate you: the fireplace is bigger and the room warmer -- Wow! My Commander is talking about the big room that is reserved for him. The perfect host, once again, let us have his room.

I show the way to my companion, never leaving her side but talking with Reaper at the same time. I ask about the situation and he informs me of new attacks: he has ordered people that live in remote areas to find a refuge in bigger villages. Our conversation flows as always does between us: offering each other advices and solutions, asking for additional and relevant information and debating lively new strategies. The Shadow remains silent when we arrive to a large vaulted room. There're two cots with clean sheets and blankets in front of a roaring fire, the long table where our commander meets the sergeants is set and waiting for our dinner. At the back of the room there's a little screen. I ask a silent question with my eyes and he answers me:

- I've arranged a bath with hot water for you. Just one, I'm afraid. You know that find firewood in this area is difficult, that's why fireplaces and grills for cooking take precedence. Heating water and bringing it up here involves a considerable effort so I hope you don't mind to share it. There're also three buckets: two with hot water and one with cold water. I'm going downstairs to get you some dinner, I'll give you a few minutes to enjoy the bath and get some comfortable clothes.

I nod smiling while I go near the fireplace to warm up my fingers before trying to unbuckle my brigandine. I hear Reaper opening the door and, for the first time since we've arrived, my companion speaks:

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