Under Centaurian ProtectionbyAMY_Monaco©
Author's Note: Hey there, I was wondering...is anyone tired of reading these centaur stories yet? I only ask because I have one or two more lined up and I plan on writing them. The matter of my posting them all hangs on if you the reader wish more of these mythical creatures.
If your answer is yes, do post your answers along with any comments/etc on the comment board or through email. So without further ado, here is the last part of the trilogy: Soren's story.
Thanks and remember to vote!
Last winter had proved to be a trial on Julia. Her skill with hunting was passable at best, so the meat in her pantry this season had been minimum. But with a prosperous spring and summer, her garden had grown with no problems. Harvesting time was one of the busiest.
"Mama," Haley called. "Look, there's a horse! A big one!"
"Is there?" Julia gathered harvest carrots and cucumbers into a basket for tomorrow, with the intention of picking them later. There was a lot of work to be done with only one adult around and a child to care for. Food was getting low, wood needed to be chopped, the house was a mess and all other chores needed to be done before it was time to prepare dinner.
She was tired, but she smiled as her little girl jumped down from the bed. Haley tugged on Julia's skirts and pointed at the window.
"Come see, mama. There's a horse and isn't Willie." Willie was their aging horse.
"All right," Julia said. Haley wasn't going to stop until Julia looked.
"There's nothing out there." Julia frowned, there was no horse in sight, but there was something gray lying on the ground. It looked like a dead animal.
"Stay here, Haley. Don't come out." Julia grabbed her bow and opened the front door. Her eyes searched the scattered trees, but everything else that surrounded her was flat land and hills. She looked back toward the house. Haley was at the window again and waved, smiling happily.
Julia suddenly felt as if something were watching her. A wild animal? A wolf? But she shook it off to focus on what laid on the ground. Her first guess had been correct and she found two dead rabbits. She touched the fur and still felt warmth. Freshly killed. Strange.
Still, it was food on the table. Carefully, she lifted the rabbits by the ears and turned back, unable to shake off the feeling of being watched.
Julia looked up and saw Paul riding toward her, two riders trailing behind him. She dismissed her earlier feelings. It was probably Paul all along and she didn't know whether to feel relieved to think it was only his eyes she felt on her a minute ago, or to feel slightly irritated.
Paul was a big, strapping man with a barrel chest and not an ounce of fat on him. His trim mustache twitched into a smile as he came forward and dismounted.
He was a powerful man, his wealth as a trader and breeder of horses gave him power not only in the town he resided in, but elsewhere. He always had men tagging along, there to do his heavy lifting and act as his guards.
"Hello!" Haley shouted from the doorway.
"Well, hello Haley."
Julia watched Paul lift a small pouch from his pocket and hand it to her daughter. From the look on Haley's face, the pouch probably contained candy. If one thing was certain, it seemed Paul did seem to like the child.
"Hi, Julia." He came to greet her.
She gave him a brief smile. "Paul. What are you doing here?"
"I came to check on you, make sure you and Haley are all right." He did that sometimes, and lately, quite often -- with a proposal attached with each visit.
"We're doing fine. We're going to be busy, with planting season in now."
"You don't have to do this alone, Julia. I could send one of the boys here to help you if you'd let me." Paul said, glancing at the two riders. They dismounted and stood quietly talking. "Or if you'd marry me, I could move you into my big home. Haley could have a father."
"Paul," she began. Her fingers tightened around the rabbit ears. It was a good offer, one any woman would be fool to refuse. Yet... "I couldn't do that."
Paul frowned deeply. "I do not like seeing you toiling away on some small farm. This house is in the middle of nowhere. You need male protection. What if something happened to you? Marry me and you'll be safe from harm."
"Your reasons are the same the last time you came to visit and the same before that. I appreciate your concern, but I really cannot marry you."
"People have been talking," He leaned in close, lowering his voice. "Evil creatures out there in the trees. Awhile back, two men disappeared and were never seen again."
Julia shivered. "Men disappear all the time. These forests are full of wild animals and --"
"Not just any animals, Julia. There's whispers about evil creatures, centaurs who torture humans, sacrificing them to their gods."
"Stop it, Paul. I don't want you saying anything like that to Haley."
Paul grabbed her arm before she could walk away. "Then think about Haley. Those centaurs not only kidnap women, but they take our children and do unspeakable things to them."
"Enough, Paul, please." She shook him off. "If you came here to scare me..."
"I hope I am scaring you. These lands are full of 'em as I've heard. Your best chance for safety is marrying me. They are moving closer to your home, you know. I even heard a couple men say they've spotted some, just past those hills there."
Julia followed his finger to the thick of trees past the hills and mountains. Odd, but that was the direction she could've sworn she felt someone watching her from.
"Centaurs, if they exist are grotesque and heartless. If you get captured by one, you'll never live to see another day." The hate in his voice for those creatures was evident and it gave Julia pause.
"I'll think about it, Paul."
He said nothing. Instead, he glanced down. "Where did you get those? I didn't know you could shoot rabbit."
Julia glanced down at the fresh meat in her hands, blinked. There it was again, that odd feeling.
Paul waited a good distance before he spoke to his men. Liam and Roy were as loyal to him as any criminals could be and Pail appreciated that. When you earned a convict's loyalty, they worked for you until their death.
Paul liked that in his men.
"Doesn't seem like she will accept my proposal." Paul said. Liam was a tall, lanky man with a sharp eye for detail and a face marked by scars. He looked up.
"What do you want us to do?"
"Julia will be more accepting if something happened to her little girl..." Paul thought, staring off into the horizon.
"You want us to take the girl?"
"Just kidnap her, hold her for a few days. If you harm her, I'll have your head."
"It will be done." Said Roy, a chubbier man with a full beard.
"Plan it for the day after next. I want Julia as my bride as soon as possible."
What centaurs were taught early on in life were two things: how to handle a simple blade and how to set a trap to capture small animals.
It took Soren barely a handful of minutes to catch the tiny squirrel. He lifted the cage up and stared into the frightened black eyes of the tiny animal. He tossed a handful of small nuts into the cage and the squirrel snatched at one hungrily, eyes still on his captor.
Soren grabbed the rest of his kill and started for camp.
"What are you doing with a squirrel?" Callum asked, eyeing the cage. "Aren't you past the age of catching those things? Only colts do it now."
Soren smirked. "I have my reasons. How is Lila?"
The smile on Callum's hair-roughened face reached his eyes. "She is very well. Breeding has made her glow."
Seeing his brother so happy made Soren grin. "Do you hope for a daughter, as well?"
Callum shrugged. "I don't care if it is a daughter or son. But Lila is sure it will be a son." He sent his younger brother a look. "She hopes you will join us for the evening meal."
"My apologies, but I cannot." Soren glanced down at the cage. "I have some things that must be done."
"I have been watching you lately. You seem restless, Soren. Has this anything to do with the woman you spoke of?"
Soren nodded, but didn't look up. "Aye."
"Will you bring her here soon?"
"I want to."
"You want to." Callum said thoughtfully. The warm weather brought everyone outdoors. Callum stood a few feet away from his longhouse, building a table. He turned back to his work. "Is there something wrong with the maiden?"
"Nothing wrong. But...there is a problem bringing her here. Polonius will not like it."
Now Callum frowned. "It must be serious if Polonius will not approve. What is wrong with the maiden?"
If Soren was going to bring her here, they were bound to know. He looked up. "She isn't a maiden."
"She has lovers?"
"Had." Soren wanted to make it clear. He'd been watching the woman for some time, checking on her occasionally throughout the winter months, ensuring her and the child's protection.
Then yesterday, he'd seen several men ride up to her home. The memory made him frown. Was the man her current lover? He already knew that the sight of the man was a bad omen. "The woman is a widow."
"I see." His brother nodded carefully. "You have not informed the Elders yet?"
"No. I don't plan to until I bring her here."
"You will have a problem when they discover she isn't a maiden, brother."
Lila smiled at Callum when he took the heavy basket from her. Inside their longhouse, Lila rubbed her lower back. She'd grown very large in the last few months as the child grew stronger each day. Her skin glowed with motherhood, but the weight proved to be a bit much for someone as small as her.
"We can eat later, Lila." He murmured, lifting her easily onto the bed. "Get some rest."
She nodded. "I just feel so tired all the time now." Within minutes, she was asleep.
Callum ran the back of one finger over her soft cheek, then his hand trail down to the swell of her belly. Very soon a child would be here with them. The very thought made him smile. Tenderly, he covered her belly. He missed the sound of a child's laughter and their ever-curious nature.
He felt the kick of his child and chuckled softly. Lila was so tired, she didn't even stir.
"Be calm, my son...or daughter. Your mother needs rest." Callum whispered, leaning down to kiss Lila's belly. "You will arrive when the time is right."
Then he went over to one of the cupboards. With a knife and a half-work on piece of wood, he started on another toy for the child. He'd already carved out two miniature centaurs and was slowly working on a mountain lion.
He thought of what it would be like a few months from now, his home filled with the sounds of their child, Lila's humming and it warmed his heart. He was anxious for the day his child to arrive.
*** Soren went back to check on the woman and child two days later, this time as the sun was just setting. The woman was just carrying in a handful of wood. He could tell the load was heavy, she heaved and paused several times to shift the weight in her arms.
His eyes shifted over to the child, a tiny little thing dressed in a faded blue frock. She walked obediently behind her mother, singing a nonsensical song to herself. The image made Soren smile. They were fine.
It seemed in the past months since he discovered their existence, checking on them relieved his mind and worries. Seeing them without protection brought out a certain need inside of him to care for them.
Satisfied that they were well, he turned and started back to camp. Suddenly he heard faint voices in the distance. Then a loud commotion. Soren's attention snapped to the house below. The woman's scream cut through the air. A child's cry followed and it tore through Soren as if he were physically wounded.
"If you follow us, the child dies." Said one man, another struggling to keep a hold on the squirming girl in his arms.
"Mama!" The child cried.
"Haley!" The woman was held back, tears staining her face. Soren was already galloping down the jagged rocks that covered the hill, readying his bow. Not a second later, he aimed it at the man who was struggling with the child. As he'd expected, the arrow pierced the man side, rendering him in so much pain, he was forced to let go of the child.
"Run, Haley. Run away!" The woman urged. The child did so, only to be caught by a third man.
"Got you, you little scamp." The man said with a crooked, satisfied smile. The child cried. "We have to leave. Something's out there."
Soren tucked his bow over shoulder and charged forward, fury coursing through his veins; it changed his face. Sober, he looked intense with his piercing eyes and hard mouth. In anger, his expression was menacing. He exhaled loudly, a sound that indicated the wrath of a centaur.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the other man holding the woman down, but his face was that of shock at seeing Soren.
Soren grabbed the man who held the child and gripped his neck.
"Let the child go." He said ominously into the man's ear. When he didn't, Soren's fingers dug into the man's throat. Instantly, the man dropped the child. Not a minute later, the man's limp figure fell to the ground.
Without hesitation, Soren grabbed the crying child and he locked eyes with the woman for a long second, as if conveying to her in silence that she need not fear for the child.
With that, he started for the shadows of the trees. It was obvious the men wanted the child, not the woman, so she was in no danger. Yet.
His thoughts analyzed the situation as he sped through the woods. He would need to go back for the woman soon.
The child's tiny fists pounded at him as she cried loudly.
"I want mama!"
Soren laid a soothing hand over the girl's head, stroking her hair as he ran.
"Shh, little one. We will go back to save your mother very soon."
The girl sobbed louder. He held her tightly. "You are safe with me, little one. No need to fear me." He continued with these words, murmuring them to the girl until she finally stopped crying. But her eyes still watered and she sniffled in his arms.
"I want my mama." She said, her voice wobbly with fear.
They were soon to reach camp.
"I will bring her to you. You have my word." He paused. "Your mother called you Haley, is that your name?"
The girl nodded, burying her damp face into his shoulder.
"I am Soren."
"Our horse Willie doesn't talk. How come you can?"
This made him chuckle. The edge of camp came into view and he trotted forward. "I am no horse, little one. I am a centaur."
Torches lit the camp; many were still out finishing chores or returning from their tasks to home.
He noticed several turned their heads at the sight of the child, but Soren said nothing. He hurried to his home and finally let Haley down.
"This is your new home, little one." Soren said. He was a little unsure of what to say to a child, especially one who was separated from her mother.
"I miss mama, I want to go home, Soren." She looked up at him, her bottom lip sticking out as if she was about to cry all over again. He leaned down to touch her cheek.
"Your mother will live here, too. Now come, are you hungry?"
He fixed her a plate, settled her into a spot of soft cushions and furs, telling her to sleep when she felt the need to. Now occupied, Soren left his home to seek his brothers.
"What do you mean you brought a human child into the camp?" Thayer demanded. They spoke in low voices outside Thayer's home. Callum also turned to his younger brother, though he said nothing and waited patiently for an answer.
"The woman I want as my mate is a widow. Tonight as I was there to make sure she and the child were safe, men were there about to kidnap the girl."
"But they intended to leave the woman behind?" Callum asked. Soren nodded.
"It makes no sense. The men work for another and were to bring the child to him tonight. I had to bring her here for safety. I go back tomorrow for the woman."
"You have risked much bringing the child here." Thayer said, though there was no censure in his tone. "The man you alive has seen you and the direction you traveled."
Soren squared his shoulders. "If the man were intelligent, he would not pursue the camp. But if he does, he deserves punishment for even thinking of taking the child." He shook his head, his mind so filled with thoughts of Haley and the woman. "I will tell Polonius in the morning."
"The child, she fares well?"
"She is scared and wants her mother. But I have her eating and hope she will sleep peacefully tonight."
Thayer nodded. "Rose and Lila will help with the child when you are unable to watch her. Those men you spoke of, I will inform the others to keep watch."
"Thank you, brothers." Soren said. Callum laid his hand on Soren's shoulder and they parted.
By the time Soren reached his home, Haley was crying again, quietly this time. She clutched the thick fur to herself.
"What is wrong, little one?" Soren settled down beside the girl.
"Is mama safe?" A tiny fist wiped at a tear that wet her cheek. "That bad man was hitting her."
"No, he was not hitting her. That man was only holding her down. But she will be safe. I will make sure of it. Now go to sleep, little one. You are tired."
"Will mama be here in the morning?"
"She will be here soon. I will be here and my sisters will help care for you." He gently tucked her in, stroking her soft hair. It was the same shade of red as her mother's and it looked beautiful in the firelight.
Longing to see the woman filled him. But then he thought of the men who tried hurting her and felt vengeance replace worry. Those men will regret what they've done.
Haley slept through the night, much to Soren's relief. When the girl woke, she pushed herself up and looked around at her strange surroundings. When there was no sight of her mother, her mouth pouted.
The flap lifted and Soren came in. He picked her up.
"Where is mama, Soren?"
"She is not here yet. Do not worry, Haley. I promised I will bring her here and nothing will stop me until she is with you."
Haley thought about this for a moment. "All right."
He chuckled. "Come, we dine with my brother and his mate."
Haley was shy and buried her face into Soren's shoulder when she was introduced. But soon the knowledge of other humans around seemed to bring Haley out of her shell and she let Rose take her hand.
Soren took this opportunity to speak with Polonius.
"I would bring my daughter here, but it would upset her if she is to adjust to seeing so many new faces."
Polonius arched an eyebrow. "Your daughter?"
"She is mine, as is the woman who is the girl's mother."
"No centaur has brought a touched woman into the camps for centuries now, Soren. You know this."
"Aye, I do, Polonius."
"What many do not know is that it was possible, at a time when centaurs did kidnap impure women, one or two had carried with them a disease. As a different breed centaurs were not able to fight off this disease and it had tainted our blood, rendering us unable to give our mates daughters."
"But you see Thayer with a daughter. Our blood has healed and thickened."
"Aye, Sonja was a gift from the gods. A rare gift. But, you must understand, we cannot risk tainting our blood again."
Soren felt his hands clench at his sides. "I know what I am doing. I battled with myself for wanting her, watching her from a distance for nearly a year. It is something I cannot fight. I want her and she will be my mate."
"The child -- your daughter -- will she be a threat?"
"Haley is as innocent as Sonja. She still fears because we are unfamiliar, but she is slowly learning to trust me. When her mother is brought here, Haley will be well. There will be no threat to our camp."