Under Centaurian Protection Ch. 02byAMY_Monaco©
Author's Note: Once again, your comments and encouragement have been wonderful. I hope this was worth the wait!
Julia opened her arms and embraced Haley tightly, breathing in her daughter's scent. Every muscle in her body began to relax. Haley was safe, but it didn't stop the tears from welling in Julia's eyes. Her voice shook she asked,
"Are you well? Are your hurt, Haley?"
Haley shook her head. "Soren gave me a squirrel! Look!"
Haley moved out her mother's arms and pulled her toward the cage that sat on the ground outside Rose and Thayer's longhouse.
"Do you believe me now?" Soren asked. Julia nodded slowly. Her eyes darted to those around her, centaurs as powerful looking as Soren, the women who moved freely within the camp in their comfortable, happy manners.
"Come, Haley, we must leave now." Haley made a sound of protest.
Soren frowned. "You will go nowhere."
"I'm going home -- "
"That man will find you there. Is that your wish?" He moved closer to her. "He was determined to take you with his men watching. There is no security with him around."
"There is no security here, either."
Soren lifted Haley into his arms easily, as if he'd done so since her birth. His other hand carried the squirrel cage.
"Unlike that man, we cherish our women and children. You and Haley are mine now."
Julia arched an eyebrow at such an arrogant statement, but she had no choice but to follow. She watched Haley go on talking in her lyrical voice, describing to Soren what the squirrel did and the centaur listened intently.
They entered a longhouse, where Soren set Haley and the cage down.
"Keep away from the fire, little one. I must speak to your mother outside."
"You cannot mean to keep me here." Julia crossed her arms over her chest. Everything was happening too fast. She'd traded one man for a domineering centaur in mere minutes. How did this happen?
"Escape will be useless if you try, Julia. I brought you here as my mate."
"I don't even know what that means!" Julia threw her hands up in the air. "I don't know you! You take my child, then me and claim to protect us from Paul and -- "
He grabbed her by the arms and silenced her with a hard kiss. Her body instinctively reacted to him and she melted into his embrace. The power of his mouth fused with her yearning, as if drawing energy from that. Shocked, she looked up at him when he finally broke the kiss. Their breathing was uneven and she could tell that he was just as affected by the kiss as she.
"Your body knows me." He murmured. "As my mate, you will be my companion, my bride...my lover."
Julia shook her head. "I will not expose my daughter to -- "
"To a centaur?" He asked curtly.
"No, to someone who will treat her badly and leave us -- "
"Speak no more, Julia." Soren frowned deeply, looking as if she'd insulted him. "I do not like your accusations. Haley is my daughter now and you are my mate. Accept it."
Soren knew it was all too much for her. So he reluctantly let her go, holding her away at arm's length.
"The midday meal approaches. My sisters will share their meals with us until you adjust to this life. This is your home now. You will grow to like it here."
Julia played with the torn bit of cloth on her dress as she sat amongst the furs. The stillness of the night didn't help her nerves. She couldn't believe she was here with a centaur! She thought they were only myths. Then she saw him taking Haley away...myth turned into nightmare. And now?
She didn't know what to think.
Her eyes settled on the sleeping form of Haley, the caged squirrel was nearby, curled into a ball in its own slumber. She seemed content to be here, trusting in Soren's words of protection and love. Could Julia trust so easily?
She was unable to sleep, so instead, she hugged her bent knees and stared into the fire. Soren was settled nearby, watching her.
"I've heard tales of centaurs taking women. Everybody has." Julia said, glancing at him. "But I didn't think they were true."
His soft chuckle warmed the inside of her body.
"Centaurs do a lot more than just take women, Julia. But for now, I will not tell you." Soren lifted an iron poker and stuck it through the fire, shifting the wood. "Were you happy?"
"With your first mate?"
"You mean my husband?" Julia thought for a moment. "I suppose I was. I liked him."
"What took his life?"
"A wood chopping accident. He bled to death hours before I found him."
Soren returned the poker from where it was and looked at her. "Centaurs are not easily killed. You won't have to fear my early demise."
Julia broke their eye contact. There was something about his gaze that made her uneasy. He was always looking at her with such intensity that it was as if he could see into her soul. It was something the three brothers shared.
Yet Soren had none of Callum's brooding looks or Thayer's arrogance, at least not when he wasn't telling Julia to accept life here. In fact, Soren seemed easy-going and openly warm, ready to smile at anyone. She nearly rolled her eyes at this thought. Just because he was handsome and kind to her didn't mean she should fall for him just like that.
"What if I don't want to be your mate?" Soren chuckled again and moved closer to her. "You are a stubborn one. Though, I think all maidens are when they are brought here."
This time, she blushed. "I'm not a maiden. You know that." She pulled a blanket over herself and settled into the bed. A minute later, he did the same and laid down facing her.
His hand came out to touch her, causing her to jump at first. But the soft caress on her face, then moving lower to her aching breasts made her breath unsteady. The material of her dress was thin and her nipples jutted out for his hands to cup. He did so slowly, molding his large hand over her shape. Julia made a little sound, encouraging him and not knowing why she was.
His hand then descended to her shapely hips and thighs underneath the furs. He pulled the dress up, exploring the sensitive flesh hidden beneath. He kissed her as his hands parted her thighs.
"What ways of pleasure have you learned from your first mate, Julia?" He whispered, nibbling playfully at her bottom lip.
"I..." She gasped when his fingers parted the thatch of hair covering her sex. "He only took me as I lay on my back."
He kissed her deeper. "How...uncreative."
His fingers traced the lines of her nether lips lightly, back and forth, again and again until she thrust her hips at him. He did this at a leisurely pace.
"Did he touch you like this?"
Her dew clung to his fingers and with each new caress, she grew wetter and more impatient. With one large finger, he slipped into her dripping warmth.
Her inner muscles tightened around his thick finger. "Soren, that feels so good."
"Imagine it is my cock that is taking you, Julia." He murmured. Her eyes were closed, her damp mouth parted in pleasure. By the gods, how he wished he could take her right now. He could easily muffle her cries of pleasure with his mouth so not to wake Haley. Even now, his erection was painful and straining.
Soren suddenly went still. His ears strained, and he muttered something when he heard the warning being signaled outside. It was a series of soft drumbeats.
"Soren?" Julia looked up, her eyes heavy with unfulfilled desire. He was reluctant to leave.
"I am needed." He took deep breaths, trying to cool his arousal. "The drums, they signify the male centaurs to gather. They must have spotted intruders on our land."
She looked so touchable, lying there with her body opened to him. Standing, he could see the reality slowly seep into her eyes. Before he knew it, she was holding the blankets to her tightly.
"I will return as soon as possible." They both looked up when Haley began to stir from the noise.
"Go settle her down. This should not take long."
Outside, about eleven centaurs gathered. Based on their skill and agility, each centaur had each three sets of drum rhythms to memorize as colts. Each of these drum rhythms signified the severity of their summons. Soren stood with his brothers before Polonius, having heard the one that indicated intruders that have crossed far into Centaurian land.
"Ten armed men. And they are no wanderers." One informed.
"The man is after Julia and Haley." Soren shook his head. "Elders, I am sorry for this. One of them had seen me take off with my daughter."
"It is not your blame, brother." Callum said from behind them.
"Let us hunt them this night."
Agreement was heard amongst them.
"I will have the prisoner's longhouse prepared."
"Punishment will be determined once they are here." Said another Elder. This brought a drone of protests from the centaurs.
"We leave in ten minutes."
About a mile before they reached them, Thayer signaled for them to break off in several directions, so that once they closed in, the humans would be surrounded. Soren took off with two others, leading them off with his bow at the ready.
His hearing picked up the slightest sounds the human made. One of them was mumbling something, another was adjusting a buckle. The centaurs slowed down, moving through the thick trees silently.
The humans rode in pairs, following a large man at the front, darkness obscuring his face. But by the way he carried himself, Soren and the others could tell he was the leader.
The trees were endless, Paul thought to himself, hearing an owl overhead. He much preferred to be in town amongst other people, of being in the center of celebration and drink. The sooner he found Julia and Haley, the better.
An owl calls answered the first.
"Damn owls." Muttered one of his men. "What I would do to kill one right now."
"Patience, my friend." Paul said. "It's just a bird."
"I think I see something." Said one loudly. "Off to the right."
Several drew out their blades, searching the thick bushes and trees for movement. Paul felt the hairs on his arm rise, sensing a strong presence surround them. As the feeling grew stronger, their horses became restless, shifting under them and neighing.
Paul slid his own sword out from its scabbard. A sound, a rustle made the horses move.
He swung his head around and went pale. A large centaur came forward slowly, his bow aimed straight at Paul's chest. The creature stared at him fiercely, his presence all the more menacing in the moonlight. Several others came forward, until Paul realized they were completely surrounded.
"Lay down your weapons, humans."
None of the men did. Suddenly a centaur let fly an arrow and Paul saw it pierce through one of his men's right arm. His man let out a sound of pain, dropping his weapon.
"Come quietly or face consequences, humans."
"All right!" Exasperated and nervous at the same time, Paul dropped his sword to the ground, wincing as the metal scratched against a stone. This was the first time he had ever seen a centaur. Hate started to run through him as he thought of one of them touching Julia.
"Dismount your horses."
One of the men refused. Frowning, one of the centaurs came forward and repeated the command.
"Do as he says, man." Paul called out. But the man only snarled in response, abruptly pulling a dagger out and sinking it into an unsuspecting centaur's shoulder. The centaur grunted in pain and pulled the blade out, then lifting the human from his saddle. He was killed instantly, his body collapsing to the ground twisted and broken. The other captors winced.
Witnessing this unmerciful act, the humans complied with having their hands bound.
The capture was too easy, Soren thought, as they headed back to camp. He kept an eye on the humans, frowning particularly at the one who led them off. This was the man who tried to force Julia. The memory of it sent fury through every cell in Soren's body. His hands fisted at his side.
He trotted to the human's side, enjoying the fact that the man jumped when he heard Soren's hoof beats. Lifting a hand, Soren smacked the man on the back of the head, rending a cry of pain from the human.
He had promised the Elders that punishment would be withheld, but one little strike of pain wouldn't be so bad.
The human was going to be sorry he ever stepped foot on Centaurian ground. Soon, the human was going to realize he was a fool to lay a hand on a centaur's mate and child.
Their human possessions were abandoned in the forest. Paul seethed with anger, particularly the one who hit him on the head for no reason. He kept quiet, didn't he? He was walking in a line tied together with his men, the way these animals wanted him to.
It seemed like the night went on forever, just miles of ground and trees. They had to climb up jagged hills and wade through a shallow creek. The animals were probably making this trek difficult on purpose.
It was nearly dawn when they finally reached their destination. Instead of cabins and shops, there were longhouses; dozens of them built in a primitive looking design. Everything was quiet.
A dead deer hung from its legs on a tree nearby, and several small furry animals hung on the higher branches. There were fenced in areas built like a battling rink and small patches of gardens.
They crossed over to a stage like area and what looked to be a large stone well. Faint sounds were already heard from the forge.
"They think they're bloody civilized." Muttered one of his men from behind. His grunt of pain followed that comment.
The prisoners were divided into two groups, and then led into two longhouses where they were forced to their knees and bound to large wooden poles. The entrance was left open, but the centaurs did nothing else but leave them alone.
"We're right where we need to be." Paul said, once the animals were well away.
"You mean you meant us to be tied up like this?" Asked a man named Fred. "You're bloody mad."
"I meant that they have brought us here to their camp. All we need is an escape plan."
"I'd like to know that myself." Grunted Jack. "These filthy animals think they're so civilized with their little village. Think they have women here?"
"'Course they do."
"Julia's here." Paul said. "I know she is. When we escape, we grab her and run for it."
"Not the kid?"
Paul thought for a moment. "If we can't get to Haley, leave her."
He hadn't worked out how they were going to get out of here. He needed time to think. And at the moment, bound to a pole with three other men, it was the perfect time to do so.
Julia knew the instant she was awake that Haley was not with her. Julia sat up in bed, her eyes flying to where Haley slept. The small bed was empty and Soren was gone. She strained to hear any voices outside and heard only Soren's.
She hurried out and felt relief when she saw Soren watching a bunch of young colts playing with Haley. The girl was listening to the colts as they shared stories about catching animals. Squirrels were too easy, Julia heard them say. At their age, they had moved on to creatures like fox and rabbit.
"I want to catch one." Haley announced. "I want a squirrel. Pika needs a friend."
"Who is Pika?" Julia asked. Soren turned to her with a grin on his face.
"Pika is her squirrel."
"I won't have her going around yielding a knife as I see those boys doing."
Many of the colts had small blades strapped to their belts. Soren glanced at her.
"You must understand that Haley is to be raised Centaurian now that she lives here. But you are right; Haley will not be using a blade for some time. At least not to hunt. She will be taught the ways of Centaurian women." He went over to Haley.
"Come, little one." He lifted her easily into his arms. "We are going to visit your uncles and aunts again"
"But, I want to catch squirrels." Haley wrapped her tiny arms around his neck and looked back at the colts, staring longingly at their freedom to hunt. Then there was a tremble in her voice as she asked, "I'm not living with you any more?"
Soren saw Julia head back into the longhouse, presumably to wash up. He turned back to Haley.
"You will always live with me and your mother. At least, until you mate."
"Are you my new papa?"
She had her bottom lip stuck out and her big bright eyes were staring at him. Haley was going to lead those colts back there on a merry chase in the future, he found himself thinking. Already, he felt such protectiveness over this little girl. His little girl.
"Do you want to call me papa? It is what I will be, now that your mother and I will be mated."
The little girl thought for a moment. "Does mated mean married?"
She nodded. "Okay, papa. But I still want to catch squirrels."
He smiled and started inside. "You won't have to catch them, little one. Those colts will be doing that for you, trust me."
As Soren predicted, a young colt was waiting at his longhouse when they returned from visiting with his brothers and cousin.
"Young Rhamnes, what do you do here?" Soren asked. "You should be training with the other lads."
Haley was already squirming in his arms, anxious to go play. Rhamnes was only a few years older than Haley, and already showed signs of a worthy centaur. But right now, the colt shifted restlessly and then stepped aside to reveal a cage.
"I brought Haley a gift." Rhamnes announced proudly. Haley squealed in delight. Soren laughed.
"You see, little one. No need to hunt when you have this strong lad to do the dirty work for you."
He put her down and watched her run to the cage. The children were lost in their chatter as Rhamnes described the process of luring such a tiny animal into the trap.
It was good to see her daughter playing with others. Living in that cabin had been a lonely life and Julia knew this. Seeing Haley now, talking away, Julia was able to see the benefits of raising her amongst those her age.
"My sisters adjusted to life here quickly, so shall you." Soren said, going inside. Then he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her to him. His eyes grew heavy as he looked into hers. "And I will help you adjust to being the mate of a centaur."
Julia shook her head, pushing at him. "No, we shouldn't, Haley might come in."
"She is busy playing. Let her be, hmm?" He lowered his head and she felt the warmth of his mouth. "My sisters have offered to watch over Haley some days. We could sneak off into the woods."
His lips emphasized his temptation as he licked at her skin, skimming his teeth over her until she shivered in his arms.
"By the gods, I need to know when this examination will be." Soren broken away suddenly, holding her at arms length. She blinked, still unfocused, then pulled away. Her hunger to feel him against her equaled the confusion she still felt over all this.
Her mind cleared enough to register his words.
Soren hesitated. "Since you are not a maiden, you must be examined to make sure you carry no disease that may taint our blood."
He shook his head when she went pale. "No, Julia. We do not mean that in offense. It is only a precaution."
"Well, there's no need for it."
He chose to ignore that comment. "I will go speak with the Elders about this examination."
"And this mating business." Julia turned away, shaking her head. "I-I don't think I can go through with it. I really cannot subject Haley to someone who might leave her. She has already lost one father."
"I told you centaurs are not easily killed. Males are trained as warriors from birth. And I will have you as my mate no matter what."
Julia wanted to believe that. Living on her own with a child to care for had been so hard. For once, she wanted security with someone she completely trusted.