Author Topic: The Cold Touch of Death  (Read 850 times)


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The Cold Touch of Death
« on: May 26, 2015, 04:06:35 PM »
The winter had struck hard in Arctra this year. It was not ideal weather for an army to move in, and yet, that was the only choice. If they left their move until spring, Velasca would have had the time to dig into her position in Loscar; she would be impossible to remove from the capital city without a siege that might go on for years. Knowing as they did of the Skarran mercenaries and wizards that were swelling the ranks of the Usurper Queen's army, there was no guarantee that such a siege would not become a battle on two fronts as their longtime enemy attacked from the sea. No, the only choice was to march in winter and keep her from bedding in.

And so it was that the army of the True Queen, Ariana, moved south through the deepening snows, growing larger as lords and peasants flocked to her standard. Under the command of Liam O'Connor and his generals, order was kept rigidly tight, their first priority the protection of the last of Arlan's line. As they passed through the realm, the Wild Ones came to join them, and for the first time, the Arctrans began to realize the sheer numbers of the nomads they had looked down on all their lives. Though not all the clans had joined the fight, there were enough to equal a third of the army proper, and many of them were more powerful than the Skarran wizards they would soon oppose. The Goddess drew Her hand over Ariana's army, together with the Nine Gods. No one was prepared to abandon this best, last hope of restoring order to their land.

As the deepness of winter fell upon them, the great mass of humanity were obliged to make camp to wait out the worst of the snowstorms, and for the first time in their known history, Arctran and nomad worked side by side to ensure their survival. Magic warmed them, a gift from the Goddess; training honed their skills, the offering of the Arctrans to their wilder kin. Ariana watched them building those bonds, and she felt stronger for it. Arctra had been split asunder for too long; it was time she was healed.

But the nights were hard, even for those who had been given tents and braziers, filled with the biting cold of winter, and the gnawing fear of what was coming. Nightmares stalked the young queen's sleep as she struggled to reconcile who she had been with who she was, taking on the burden of blame for the lives that had been and would be lost in her name. Tonight, with the worst of the storm passed, she had finally fallen into a fitful slumber, tucked tightly beneath blankets and furs in her tent, golden hair spread over the pillow attesting to whose daughter she was. The darkness pressed in as the camp slept, the guards' work hindered by the flurries that still fell in the gloom.

Beside her lay a boy, not much older than the queen, on the cusp of manhood. He had once been the prince's closest and truest friend. They had loved each other like brothers, or so they'd thought, until it was revealed that the prince was no prince but a princess, and the pair at last had realized they loved each other in a very different way. They had promised their hearts and lives to the other, in full witness of the court, though those vows were not to be completely consummated until the time was right - until the false queen had been defeated and they were formally joined in marriage. A war camp was no place for such things - not for a queen, not for Ariana - and he had promised to be patient a little while more.

That wasn't the reason for his restlessness, though. There was something that didn't feel right to him, though he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He'd shared his concerns with both the Commander and his Second, and the guard had been doubled, but still Rory felt uneasy, though he wasn't sure why. And yet, so long as Ariana lay safe and resting peacefully beside him, that was all that really mattered.

Though her own dreams were restless, filled with blood and pain, the vicious cruelty of Valeyna's laughter and Velasca's half-mad eyes, Ariana slept on as the night grew darker, always aware of her beloved Rory beside her. He was her chosen Consort, and when they had won this fight, she would make him her husband, wanting no other to stand by her side through all the years to come. At some point during the night, she rolled away, her back to him, one hand reaching back to hold his even in slumber, neither one of them aware that death stalked their camp that night, with royal blood on its mind.

He had not only promised her his heart, but his life, and he had not made those promises lightly. Whatever title they wished to bestow on him - Royal Consort or another - his first and foremost loyalty and duty was to Ariana, not only because she was the True Queen of Arctra, but because he loved her with all his heart. To that end, he remained close, day after day, night after night, whether she was awake or asleep. If any of their enemies wanted to do her harm, they'd have to go through him first. Restless as he was, he rolled sideways along with her, shielding her with his body, fingers tangling with hers. He lay awake late into the night, listening to the sounds of camp around them, until there was nothing to be heard but the sound of the wind in the trees and the snow against the tent. He tucked the furs around them both to keep them warm and at long last, let his eyes drift closed, one arm wrapped around Ariana to keep her safe and warm.

It was in those dangerous moments of first sleep that death struck. From outside the tent came the quiet sound of first one body falling, then another - both lowered to the ground rather than allowed to drop in a clatter of armor and weaponry. The heavy leather flap of the tent was undone, and a dark-clad figure slipped inside, holding to the shadows as the inhabitants of the bed shivered in the unexpected rush of cold air from outside. Only when he was certain they had not woken did he creep forward, drawing a blackened blade from his belt. He knelt beside the bed, studying the sleeping face of the young queen, the last of Arlan's line, even as his blade crept toward her throat.

Perhaps it was the minute creak of his leather boots, or the cold radiating from the assassin's knife, but something woke Ariana in those crucial moments. Blue eyes snapped open to find that hunched figure reaching toward her, and years of her old swordmaster's training broke through her terror. She twisted in the confines of the bed, thrusting both feet toward the man's stomach, feeling the double kick land hard enough to knock him onto his backside. The same motion jerked her backward into Rory's chest, sending them both toward the far side of the bed as she let out a strangled cry of shock.

It wasn't the rush of cold or the creak of leather that startled Rory awake, but the crash of Ariana's body against his chest and the sound of her terrified scream shattering the silence of the night. He was awake in an instant, eyes snapping open, hand reaching for the dagger he kept nearby, just as the two of them tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs and blankets.

Though the scream was enough to alert other guards who had survived the assassin's trek through the camp to something amiss, there was little to send them in the right direction. For now, at least, the True Queen and her Consort were on their own, tangled together in blankets and furs on the thick rug that lined the floor as the assassin rose to his feet, rounding the bed toward them. "Death to Adare!"

By some miracle, Rory managed to untangle himself from both Ariana and the furs, placing himself between her and the assassin. Though he was no knight or warrior, like he'd dreamed, he had learned a thing or two about fighting and wasn't about to let anyone harm Ariana if he had anything to say about it. "Guards!" he shouted at the top of his lungs as he took a firm grip on the dagger in his hand, one arm outstretched to make sure Ariana remained safely behind him.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2015, 04:08:39 PM »
Scrambling to get out of the way, Ariana lashed out at the assassin's knee with one bare foot, barely catching it at all. Instead, she had to drag herself to her feet and watch in horror as Rory took on the trained killer hand to hand, unable to see clearly in the darkness who had whom in what grip. Her own hand reached for her sword, but knew it was pointless to draw it. Instead, she did the only thing she could - barely protected from the cold by her nightgown, barefoot in the snow, she plunged out into the night, calling for the guards to come to her. As Ariana presented her back to him, the assassin snarled, jerking in Rory's grip to spin toward her, his knife raised to attack.

Half asleep and confused by the flash of movement in the darkness, Rory shouted when he saw the assassin lunge toward Ariana's back, moonlight shining off the blade that the man had raised for the killing blow. "No!" he shouted, diving toward the dark figure to knock him to the ground before he could finish his attack.

The assassin's knife tore through the cloth of Ariana's nightgown, splitting the fabric open wide as Rory bore the deadly attacker to the ground. Her heart in her throat, Ariana pushed out into the night, raising her voice to call someone, anyone to her aid. Men were moving through the camp, and not too far away, a tent flap was thrust open, the First Blade charging toward the Queen's tent in nothing but her skin, her sword in her hand.

If the entire camp wasn't awakened by the chaos caused by the assassin's attack, they soon would be. The Queen's Commander was storming out of the tent behind the First Blade, wearing little more than his trousers, despite the sting of the cold and snow against his skin. Unsure just what was going on, he called anyone to him who was awake enough to draw a blade. He could just make out several figures near the Queen's tent, struggling in the snow, the glint of metal flashing in the moonlight.

Lights were brought by some of the guards, the shadows thrown thick and long by the shifting of the flickering lanterns. As Liam and Shaye drew closer, Ariana herself was thrust from those shadows directly into their path, her nightgown cut open, shivering with cold and fear. She pointed to the struggling pair of figures. "R-rory," was all she could get out from between chattering teeth, but it was enough.

Shaye growled, noting the blood on the snow where the two guards lay slumped. "Assassins," she hissed, plunging into the darkness of the shadows to make sure it was not Rory who died this night.

Liam growled in annoyance and rage, waving a hand to usher someone forward with another fur to wrap around the young Queen's shoulders. There was another for Shaye, but she had already disappeared into the darkness with little regard for her own safety. "Stay here," Liam told Ariana, not only for her own safety, but to protect her from witnessing the possible death of someone she loved.

For all she was afraid, Ariana's head snapped up as Liam ordered her to stay put, her jaw hardening in rebellion against obeying any order given to her, especially where the guards could see and hear it all. Shaking off the fur wrap, she scowled, snatching the sword from the hand of the nearest man, and marched after Shaye's disappearing figure. "I will not hide behind others."

Liam growled again, muttering something about stubborn women. It might be a land ruled by women, but he was the Queen's Commander and it was his duty, above all things, to make sure that she was kept safe. He followed after her, drawing his own sword, just in case. Where there was one assassin, there could be others. He barked orders to his men, and they fanned out to search and secure the encampment.

By the time Shaye reached the Queen's tent, the fight was already over, and Rory was on his knees, bent over the assassin's body, blood soaking the snow and staining his hands and clothes. It was hard to tell in the darkness and confusion whose blood was whose.

The assassin was dead, that much was obvious. Shaye tipped the body over with one foot, dropping to one knee to inspect his clothing. "Skarran," she hissed, spitting on the body. "Professional." Her eyes turned to Rory, uncaring that she was utterly nude for the moment. "Are you hurt?"

Behind her, the tent flap was thrust aside to admit Ariana and behind her, Liam, neither one looking particularly happy.

Rory shook his head silently, unaware for a moment that the First Blade was naked beside him, only aware of the blood on his hands and spreading out on the snow around them.

"In the name of the Goddess, woman, cover yourself!" Liam hissed as he came up behind her and threw a borrowed cloak over her shoulders. He quickly surveyed the scene, the dead man on the ground, and the boy kneeling nearby. "I've got Conall searching the camp. If there are any others, we'll find them."

Rory moved to his feet, wiping the blood from his hands on his trousers. It wasn't the blood or the killing that bothered him, but the fact that the man had come so close to fulfilling his task.

Only Rory saw the anger flare in Shaye's eyes at the way her husband spoke to her, even if only in the presence of the young queen and consort. "They're Skarran assassins," she informed Liam in a taut tone, rising to her feet. "There'll be two more of them. They work in threes." The cloak might have been over her shoulders, but she didn't draw it around herself, daring him with a look to try and order her again. "I'll put out the word, commander." Even Ariana winced at the dangerous tone in the First Blade's voice as she left the tent once again.

The young queen let her borrowed blade drop to the ground, moving to Rory to be sure for herself that he was unharmed. Guards crowded in at the tent flap, catching her attention. "Remove that," she ordered them, pointing to the body. "Someone fetch Lady Liayna."

"And if you don't get dressed first, wife, you will freeze to death. I would prefer you didn't," Liam pointed out, though it was not an order this time. Despite the argument going on between their Commander and the First Blade, the Guards snapped to attention, carrying out the Queen's orders without question. One hurried away to find Liayna, while the others went about removing the body. "Awaken the camp," Liam ordered another man. "Find the others."

Beside Shaye, Rory saw the anger in Shaye's eyes, but he was too concerned about Ariana to think very long on it. He turned to face her, his own expression pale in the moonlight. He'd never been so terrified in his life, but it wasn't his own life that he'd fear for, but hers. "Are you all right?" he asked, reaching for her hands, despite the blood that stained his.

"We will talk about this later, husband," Shaye informed Liam as she left the tent. Of course she was going to dress; she wasn't a complete idiot.

Left alone with Liam, Ariana's eyes were only for Rory. Heedless of the blood on his hands, she let him take hers, moving to stand close to him. "He never touched me," she promised him fervently. "Did he hurt you? Anywhere?"

Liam's jaw clenched. Why did she have to be so damned stubborn when all he wanted was to make sure she was safe? But then, he would have expected no less from the girl who had challenged him to a fight the very first time she'd laid eyes on him and had gone on to sacrifice everything so that he could be free. He pushed aside his own anger and frustration to turn his attention to the young ones nearby. "This will not happen again. You have my word. If I have to stand guard over you myself. It will not happen again."
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2015, 04:10:14 PM »
Rory would have answered her, if it had not been for Liam's interruption, but instead held his tongue so that Ariana could first address her Commander.

Ariana pulled herself together, swallowing her childish wish to pull Rory into the bed and hide under the covers until it all went away. If she was going to be queen, then she would act the part, even though she was shaking with cold and shock. "Of course, Commander," she nodded to Liam. "I would suggest asking the nomads if they might be willing to offer guards for the rest of the night, and their inclusion in all guarding rotations from here on in. As for the men killed, they are to be accorded every honor. We will see them put to rest with dignity, and their families provided for. And Commander?" Her brow rose as she looked him over. "Perhaps covering yourself would aid you in your forthcoming argument with your wife."

There were few who Liam answered to these days, but as Queen, Ariana was one of them. The other was his wife, though he didn't dare admit it, even to himself. He growled again as he glanced to his own state of undress, hardly having noticed it himself until this very moment. She was right, of course, but at least he wasn't completely naked, like someone else they both knew and loved. He affected a short bow. "I will see it is done. Is there anything else, my Queen?"

For a moment, she hesitated, glancing to Rory as though he might be able to tell her if she had missed anything. "I don't believe so, Commander," she said finally, nodding to him. "Don't get yourself killed in your zeal for justice."

As she said this, the tent flap opened once again, and Liayna ducked inside, fully dressed and armed. Despite the burgeoning swell of pregnancy at her waist, Conall had yet to convince his aera to take a step back from the fighting. The Goddess-sworn woman glanced between the young couple and Liam curiously. "I was sent for?"

"Yes, there was an attack on the Queen. An assassin. Would you please see to it that both the Queen and her Consort are unharmed? I am needed elsewhere." But first Liam had to find a shirt.

Never one to be put back by the shortness of anyone's temper, Liayna affected a teasing bow to the irritated commander. "As you wish, I live but to serve." Despite herself, Ariana giggled, hastily turning her face against Rory's shoulder to avoid offending Liam any further.

At least he had said please. Liam was accustomed to giving orders, not making requests, though he might have to rethink that where his wife was concerned. "My Queen," he said, offering another bow to Ariana. "I go in search of a shirt," he muttered as he side-stepped Liayna to exit the tent. At least, he still had his sense of humor.

Waiting for Liam to leave the tent, Liayna smiled at the young couple, whom she had never treated like royalty and likely never would. She took a moment to secure the heavy leather of the outside flap, and then the inner canvas, shutting out the cold before turning to Rory and Ariana. "A busy night, it would seem, vipsana," she smiled to them both. "I see blood, I see no wounds. Am I right, in what I see?"

"I'm all right," Rory replied at last, his voice steadier now that he'd had a little time to collect his wits. He might have a few bumps and bruises from the scuffle, but none of the blood appeared to be his. He was chilled through, his hands cold, but so was Ariana. He gripped her hands tighter in his own, a little too shy to openly show his affection for her in front of anyone, even Liayna. "Are you all right?" he asked her again, remembering how terrified he had been for her when he'd seen that flash of steel in the night.

Always a little nervous of Liayna, the first Wild One she had ever met, Ariana was even more uneasy in the woman's presence these days. Not because she had seen how deadly the Goddess-sworn of Clan Tarven were in battle, though they had shocked her with their savage efficiency, but because of the new life that was swelling the wild woman's belly beneath the heavy hang of her warm clothing. Some day, Ariana would swell like that, with Rory's child in her womb, and the thought still frightened the boy she had once been. Drawn from her wide-eyed contemplation of Liayna's mid-section by Rory's concern, the queen raised her blue eyes to his, stepping closer to him. "I was frightened," she admitted, ashamed of the feeling. She was a trained warrior, but still ... "I was so afraid he would kill you. What if he had? What would I do without you, rua?"

"Then you would go on without me," he answered without hesitation, though he could no longer imagine his own life without her. Nothing was as important as Ariana - nothing. He lifted a hand to smooth her hair and caress her cheek. "I will never let anyone harm you, lea. I swear," he whispered back.

Despite Liayna's presence, Ariana would not let that stand. "I don't want you to promise me that," she told him fiercely, clinging to his hands as the wild woman quietly moved to build up the fire in their brazier and set their bed to rights. "I want you to live and share a long life with me. There are so many people who want to keep me alive, keep me safe. Who is doing the same for you?" She shook her head, trying to make him see the sense in what she was saying. "If you are going to promise me anything, then promise me that you will never leave me. Promise me."

"I gave you that promise months ago, before we set out from Phalion. Even before I knew who-who you really were," he told her, lowering his voice to a whisper as he drew her close. He was aware of Liayna moving around nearby, seeing to their well-being as best she could. They had all become close over the last weeks and months, like an odd family of sorts - the only family he had left.

Tearful at the thought of losing him, Ariana slipped into his arms, her own curling about his back as she leaned into him. "I can't do this without you," she whispered to him, shocked and shaken by what had happened, moreso by the fact that she had had to be the queen even as it was taking place.

"Shhh," he whispered as he took her in his arms, growing taller and broader by the day, growing up right before their eyes. He stroked her hair soothingly, lovingly, his heart aching to comfort her somehow now that he knew she was safe. "You're not alone anymore. I won't leave you alone."

Sensing that the young pair needed to be alone now, Liayna smiled at them, her eyes meeting Rory's. "Wash your hands, and take her to bed," she told him softly. "You need to be warm, both of you. Clan Tarven will watch over you tonight." She nodded to them, careful as she left not to allow the cold blast from outside enter in once again.

"Thank you," Rory said, before Liayna left them on their own. "You're freezing," he told Ariana, rubbing her back in an attempt to warm her. "Get under the blankets. I need to wash up." He wanted nothing more than to hold her in his arms and warm them both, but before he could do that, he needed to get the assassin's blood off his hands.

To be truthful, Ariana felt numb in her extremities, the result of running barefoot into the snow to summon help for herself, no doubt. Shivering, she nodded as Rory told her to get into bed, but no sooner had he turned away to wash himself, than she opened up the clothing chest by the bed to extract a fresh nightgown, her back exposed by the cut that had opened the one she wore to her mid-thigh.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2015, 04:11:15 PM »
He had put a brave face on for her, but the truth was, he felt shaken to the core, not because he had just killed a man. He had killed men before - it was a necessity of war. No, it was the way the attack had come upon them in the night, unwarned and unaware, while they slept. If they could not be safe in their own beds, where could they be safe? Would they ever be safe again? He found his hands trembling as he did his best to wash the blood from them, only then realizing that his clothing was as blood-stained as his hands.

Uncomfortable though she was with her female form, not yet quite used to the fall of golden hair down her back, the sensitive swell of her bosom, and not at all accustomed to what was between her legs, Ariana had little choice but to strip off her ruined nightgown to put on the other. Bare to even the most casual glance from her rua, she blushed deep crimson as she stepped out of the ruined fabric, trying to cover herself with one hand as she struggled to find a way to put the fresh gown on with the other. Her own thoughts were far away from what had happened, setting them aside to think on when she had slept. For now, she was purely embarrassed by her own body, and it was almost excruciating.

"I have to ..." he started, turning to face her, to warn her that he was going to have to change his tunic and trousers, only to find her half-naked. He quickly turned back around, his face flushing hotly. "Apologies, Highness," he told her, ashamed that he'd dared to look on her. In some way, things had been easier when she'd been a boy, but then he hadn't been able to love her the same way he loved her now. As ashamed as he was, his body was telling him something else, and that only made him feel all the more shameful.

Hearing his apology, the young queen squeaked in shock, dragging the nightgown on over her head haphazardly. She didn't even pause to tie the laces at her breast, diving into the bed to pull the covers over her head like a child. The way she had done when she was simply Adare, the prince, and a nightmare had woken her in fear. "I'm sorry!" erupted from beneath the blankets, muffled but clear, taking the blame easily for letting him see what she was so certain was repulsive to everyone.

She was definitely not repulsive, not to him anyway. She was different from the friend he had known as Adare, but not in a bad way. He understood why she was so shy of him, though, as he was not particularly secure in his own skin either. Both of them virgins, they'd shared a few kisses, but little else, even after months spent sharing a tent. He knew well enough what kind of effect she had on his body, but he'd been careful not to let her know for fear of frightening her. Bathing and dressing had become something of a challenge, but he was more concerned for her than for himself. "It's all right. Just-just look the other way, until I tell you I'm dressed."

The huddled body beneath fur and blankets shifted rhythmically, the only indication that his queen - his lea - was nodding in answer. "I-I won't look." Not that she hadn't seen him before, but that had been when she had been Adare, the boy-prince, nothing more than a friend. Even then, the sight of Rory's bare skin had inflamed her in ways she had thought shameful as a boy. And now ... there was a slight touch of fear with that flame. What if they never grew comfortable with one another?

It grew quiet in the tent as Ariana huddled beneath the blankets and Rory changed out of his bloodied clothes. His body had changed over the last few months as he'd grown taller and broader. He might never be like Liam or Conall - men who'd been trained since childhood to swing a blade - but he was no longer a helpless boy either. He was quickly becoming a man with a man's needs and desires. Though she may not have noticed, he had even started to grow a light stubble of hair against his chin, though he went to great lengths to keep it smooth, unable as yet to grow a full beard like a proper warrior. What if she didn't like the changes in him? He was the same on the inside, wasn't he?

They were both afraid of the same thing, it seemed, and yet neither one of them had the courage to speak of it to one another. They had both changed over time - though Ariana had certainly changed moreso - each concerned that the other might not find those changes pleasing. As the silence went on, she dared to lower the blanket, blue eyes peering over the edge to watch as Rory changed his clothes. Those changes he was so concerned with; she had noticed them, and in noticing them, had discovered that some things about her body had not changed so very much. That sight of him still drew a tingling heat between her legs, a blush to her cheeks, and a longing to reach out and touch, to know for herself those changes that were making him a man.

Unaware of her feelings or of her watching him, he kept his back turned to her while he dressed, the only view of him the broadened shoulders and back, even as he tried to banish the memory of her from his mind - the soft curves of her body that she tried so hard to keep hidden from him. He felt those soft curves beside him night after night, and he longed to touch her, to explore her, to learn every inch of this new body that was Ariana, a little afraid she might change back someday and be only Adare, and what then? There was no denying he had loved them both, but he had loved Adare as a brother, and that was not the kind of love he felt for Ariana.

Was it love then that he was feeling or only physical desire? He had talked to Shaye about it, trying to understand, but she had only confused him. And though she claimed to love Liam with all her being, the two of them seemed to do nothing but argue. What kind of love was that?

Outside the tent, the sounds of the search were easing away from them beneath the rush of the winter wind. The camp would be alert for many hours now as the news traveled; there would be no opportunity for those missing assassins to come within even a hundred yards of their queen. The low voices of the Wild Ones of Clan Tarven underscored the rush of the wind, their hymn to the Goddess a gentle reassurance that their warriors surrounded the royal tent tonight. "What's wrong?" Ariana asked, her voice small in the melodious quiet, blue eyes wide with concern as she watched Rory from the bed.

"Nothing," he replied, knowing it was a lie. What was wrong? How could she ask him such a thing? He had come too close to losing her, and all he wanted to do was keep her safe. "I don't understand why we're here. Why you're here. You should be safe back in Phalion until this is over. They are never going to stop trying to kill you, Ari. Not until Velasca is dead." He tugged his shirt into place, as he turned to face her, his expression not as hard as his words. There might have even been tears in his eyes.

The look of horrified betrayal that crossed her face at his words was almost painful to watch. She sat up, letting the blankets fall to her waist, forgetting the open neck of her nightgown in a sudden flash of anger. "I will not ask people to die for me and not stand beside them when that time comes," she told him, her voice strong with fierce assurity. "Velasca hides behind others; I am not her. I will not hide away somewhere safe while people who trust me - the man I love is fighting for my right to wear my grandmother's crown. I am the last scion of Arlan's line. This is my fight."

He visibly winced, knowing he'd chosen his words poorly, but what lay at the heart of them was his love for her and his fear of losing her. Couldn't she see that? "But, Ari, don't you see?" he asked, as he took a step closer. "You are the last of Arlan's line. Your fate is linked to the land and the people. If anything happens to you, then the rest of us are lost. I am lost." He spread his arms in supplication, trying to appeal to her, trying to explain. Didn't she know she held his heart in her hands, and the hearts of all her people?

"And how can I look anyone in the face, rule Arctra, when everyone knows I hid away like the Usurper and let everyone else fight my battles for me?" she asked him softly. "It isn't that I don't understand the danger, rua. But I won't ask anyone to die for me and not be there to honor their falling, no matter how high or low born they might be. The men who died tonight ... If I run away now, they died for nothing." She sighed softly, looking down at her hands. "There is only one thing that would keep me from fighting this battle, Rory."
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2015, 04:12:43 PM »
Though nearly a man, he looked to be on the verge of tears. The terror he'd felt - the terror they'd both felt - making itself known at last, after the shock of it had passed. He could have lost her tonight, and then where would they be? Where would he be? Lost, forever lost. He couldn't imagine life without her. He didn't want to live without her. Was this why Liam and Shaye fought so passionately? Not because of hatred, but because of love?

"Please don't say it, Ariana," he whispered, almost certain it was about him. "I am nothing and no one. You are the last of Arlan's line. You are the True Queen. You are the hope of the land and the people. You are the only one who can save us from Velasca's tyranny. And I would gladly give my life to protect you. I swore to protect you when you were Adare, not because Velasca wanted it, but because I loved you like a brother. And now ... Now that you are Ariana, I would still gladly give my life for yours, not only because you are Queen, but because I cannot help but love you."

Tears welled up in her eyes, dampening her cheeks as she shook, letting herself feel the fright of waking up with death at her throat, the terror of seeing him engage with that death rather than let her be harmed. "We're really bad at talking to each other, aren't we?" she asked, sniffling as she wiped at her cheeks. "I didn't mean ... Rory, I love you. That's never going to change, no matter what happens. Even if I lose you, I will never stop loving you. But losing you would only make me fight harder, to make sure I hadn't lost you for no reason." She swallowed, ducking her head to hide behind the golden fall of her hair as tears dripped onto the furs on her lap. "The only thing that would stop me from wielding a sword in the coming battles would be if I was pregnant. That is the only circumstance that I would allow to take precedence over being a part of this."

For a moment - just a brief flash of a moment - he actually considered it. It made sense, in a way. He was the Royal Consort, whatever that meant, and he was the one she'd chosen to father her children. If he got her with child now, she'd have to avoid battle. She would be safe, but no ... That wasn't the way he wanted things between them. When it happened, if it happened - presumably, sooner or later - it would happen at a time of her choosing, not his. Not until she was ready, if she was ever ready. If after everything, she still wanted him. He heard her words, heard her tell him she loved him, but what did that mean? Did she love him the way he loved her?

His heart twisted inside his chest to see her crying in pain and confusion and knowing it was all because of him. "Please, don't cry, Ariana," he told her softly, moving onto the bed and taking her face in his hands, fingers brushing at her tears. "I'm sorry for what I said. I didn't mean to make you cry. I'm just so terrified of losing you. That's all. I don't think I could bear it. I can't live without you, Ari. Please don't ever make me."

She sobbed softly, ashamed of herself for the tears that had never fallen when she was a boy, and yet came without any means of prevention when she was tired and afraid, shaken by what had happened. How weak he must think she was, pressing into his arms to cling to him as she cried out her fear and shock, that certain knowledge of how close they had all come to utter disaster. "I'm so frightened, all the time," she whimpered to him, the only person she could trust to take those words and not use them against her. "For the people, for the army, for the nomads; for Liam and Shaye and Liayna and Conall; for you ... but most of all I'm frightened of what is going to happen to me. If we lose, I'll be executed, and Arctra will fall. But if we win ... I'll be Queen, and ... Oh, Rory, I'm not even very good at being a girl, how can I possibly rule a country?"

He couldn't very well tell her not to be afraid when he was terrified himself. He really was no one and nothing, just a farrier's son, a commoner, nothing more, and yet, she loved him - she'd chosen him, above all others. What she saw in him, he wasn't sure, but he knew what he saw in her. "I'm scared, too, Ari. I'm terrified most of the time, but I swear I won't let anyone hurt you. I'll die first before anyone hurts you." It was tempting to suggest running away, just leaving it all behind and going someplace where they could live in peace without all of this pressure and worry, but he could they could not. She was the True Queen - there was no escaping it - and who would they be if they abandoned the people?

He held her close, stroking her hair, rubbing her back, trying his best to console and comfort her, all the while all too aware of the soft, warm body pressed so close to his. It was confusing, to say the least. "Liam and Shaye and Liayna and Conall ... They believe in you. The people believe in you. I believe in you. We are not going to lose, Ari. We have all of Arctra behind us. And you are going to be the greatest queen who ever lived, I just know it."

She sniffed softly, raising her head to look into his eyes, the green that so captivated her in so many ways. She, too, was aware of his body against hers, warm and strong, embracing her with the protective affection she did not think she could live without. "If I am great at all, it will be because I have you," she heard herself whisper to him, showing him just how deep her trust in him, her love for him, went in the sincere adoration of her gaze.

"You are going to be great because of you," he countered, a soft smile on his face, as his fingers very gently dashed the tears from her face. "But you won't be alone, Ariana. You will never be alone, not so long as I live. Not so long as Liam and Shaye, and Conall and Liayna, and Mila and Dalan and Kari are alive. You are never alone, and no matter where I am, no matter what I am doing, I am always with you, here ..." He dared to touch that place between her breasts where her heart rested. "Always, Ariana."

Did he feel her heart skip as he laid his hand at her breast? See the color rise in her cheeks, the stormy way unknown desire darkened her gaze as she drew in a soft breath? Did he know, in that moment, that he had awakened something in his lea that she did not know or understand, tingling with the sensation of wanting something more? Her lips brushed his softly, tasting of her own salty tears; her hand rose, trembling, to dare touch the tips of her fingers to his cheek as she kissed him. "Always."

The kiss surprised him, but pleasantly so. They'd been so focused on the journey and the upcoming battle the last few weeks that they'd fallen into bed each night, too exhausted to talk or to explore the burgeoning feelings between them. She had chosen him not because he was a friend, but because she loved him, just as he loved her. Why was it so hard for him to understand that? Her kiss helped a little, though he was afraid to let it go too far, the desire he tried so hard to keep in check making itself known again. He'd wondered if they shouldn't have separate tents so that she wouldn't pose such a temptation to him, but he couldn't bear the thought of nights without her. He tasted her tears, as he tasted her lips, the tears only making him love her all the more.

And if he had insisted on separate tents, who would have been there to protect her tonight? She would have been alone against an armed assassin, no guards within easy distance. It didn't bear thinking about, and for once, Ariana wasn't thinking. She pressed closer to him, kissing him once again, forgetting her fear that perhaps he might find her female form unpleasant, falling into the heady feeling of wanting and being wanted without a thought at all. As her hand curled to his neck, the other fell to his, daring to draw his palm to the soft swell of her breast, daring to discover if her fears were real or imagined.

For once, he did not draw away when she drew his hand to her breast nor did he break her kiss, though his brows rose in surprise. It was not disgust that had kept him from touching her all these weeks, just the opposite, in fact. He felt the soft rise of flesh beneath his hand and his body reacted in kind, that strange ache of longing making itself known in his groin - an ache that had, up until now, gone unheeded. His kiss deepened, spurred on by some instinct he couldn't name, his tongue parting her lips and seeking exploration.
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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2015, 04:13:41 PM »
She gasped at the feeling of his hand at her breast, at the way that simple touch burned without harm, setting something alight deep inside her with a crackle that seemed to suffuse every inch of her trembling form. Without quite knowing why or even how she knew to do it, she rose to him, the softer curve of her spine accentuating to ease closer to him as her arms drew about his neck and shoulders, surrendering to the unexpected deepening of their kiss.

He wasn't quite sure what to do with the hand at her breast, whether that deepening of her kiss was due to his own exploration or was in answer to his touch. Either way, it didn't seem to matter. This was something neither of them had learned or been told about, though their bodies seemed to instinctively know what to do, even without conscious knowledge. His fingers nudged her breast, kneading and plying, but not daring to slip beneath the fabric of her nightdress, while his tongue traced her lips and tasted her mouth, wondering at the heat rising in his loins that was slowly growing impossible to ignore.

How could such a simple touch reduce her to pliable sweetness in his arms? Ariana could not have said. All she truly knew was that Rory was there; he had not flinched from touching her. Indeed, rather than flinch away, she felt his hand move against her breast, the gentle ache as the bud beneath his palm tightened to press through the cloth of her nightgown to tease his palm, an outward echo of the rising ache that seemed to pour liquid heat to the mystery that lay between her own legs. She had felt an echo of this before; watching him training, with the horses, even hearing his laughter across a room. But always for him, never for any other. As her voice rose in a tender moan, she felt herself lean back, drawing him with her to the cradling embrace of their shared bed.

He let her pull him down with her, his body blanketing hers, his desire for her all too obvious now that their bodies were pressed close together in a lover's embrace. His trousers seemed to be straining at something, an uncomfortable ache that her kisses were doing nothing to relieve. He felt his face flush hot, not from the fire in the brazier, but from embarrassment, knowing she could not help but know his little secret now that it was no longer hidden. He felt the vibration of her moan against his lips. Was he hurting her? He didn't think so. Should he stop? He didn't want to. He wanted this feeling to go on and on. His fingers explored her breast further, toying with the bud he felt beneath the palm of his hand. Was that all because of him?

Agitation flooded her as he toyed with the sensitive bud beneath his palm, as he covered her with himself amid the blankets and furs, urging her to squirm against him, aching for more of this astonishing feeling that seemed to strike deep into her, awakening the woman she had not truly believed was there. Their kisses seemed to go on forever, stealing her breath, gifting her with his, and a little of that daring took her as she felt the insistent strain in his trousers pressing against her. One hand fell from where her fingers played in and out of his hair, braving courage of its own to slide up beneath the loose hang of his shirt to feel for herself the warm flesh and sculpted muscle she had admired for what seemed a lifetime.

It was his turn to moan as he felt her hand against his bare flesh. At least, she hadn't dared touch him someplace else or he thought he'd die of embarrassment. He broke away from her lips for only a moment, just long enough to catch his breath, his body thrumming with desire, and all before of her. "Ariana, I ..."

What he was about to say was unfortunately cut off by the abrupt and unexpected arrival of the Queen's Commander who didn't even bother to announce himself before barging into the tent, only realizing his mistake when he saw the two of them tangled together - full clothed - in what could only have been a lover's embrace. "Apologies, my Queen," Liam hurried to say, turning his back so the pair of them could disentangle themselves - or not - without him watching. "I thought I should inform you that we found the other assassins."

The tender longing in Ariana's eyes was abruptly replaced with startled embarrassment as Commander O'Connor's voice made itself known, entirely too close for comfort. She yelped - a very unqueenly sound to be making - scrambling to sit up and hug the fur to her chest, to hide what evidence there was of how very much she desired Rory above anyone else. Swallowing to regain a little composure, despite her flaming cheeks, she cleared her throat before speaking. "And?" she asked, hoping her voice wasn't shaking.

Despite the night's events, Liam was having a hard time not chuckling in amusement at the situation, reminded of himself and Shaye in their youth. Their fumbling but obvious attraction to the other, the first awkward time they'd attempted to make love. Fortunately for Ariana and Rory, they didn't have to worry about being separated or about loyalties getting in the way of their feelings for one another. Liam cleared his throat to hide the smirk from his voice before replying to Ariana's question. "And they are being held for questioning," he replied, wondering if Shaye had beaten any information out of them by now in her anger.

Rory scrambled to his feet, his face scalding hot with embarrassment now that they'd been interrupted. What the hell was he doing anyway? Was he mad? "I'm sorry," he apologized awkwardly, as he fumbled with his boots and his cloak. "I think I'd better go fetch our armor."

Liam turned, arching a brow at the boy, knowing that was nothing more than an excuse to escape an embarrassing situation - or perhaps to stop himself from doing something he thought was improper. Liam sighed as the boy pushed his way past the tent flaps. "I apologize, my lady," he said with a small nod of his head. "Apparently, my timing is atrocious."

Ariana nodded to Liam as he informed her of what was being done with their captives, glad that both had been apprehended before they could do any further damage within the camp. Before she could say anything more, Rory was scrambling to his feet, his face aflame, making his excuses to escape the tent altogether, and there was no power on this earth that could have prevented Liam from seeing the hurt and guilt that crossed his young queen's face in the wake of her Consort's departure. She bit her lip, trying to keep her expression smooth as her eyes returned to the commander of her armies. "I do not think it is your timing, commander," she said quietly, looking very young as she drew her knees to her chest where she sat. "Thank you for informing me."

Liam nodded his head in assent, debating whether or not to take his leave. It seemed perfectly obvious to him what was going on between the two young people, though he wasn't sure if it was so obvious to them. "May I have your leave to speak freely, Highness?" he asked, wishing he could dispense with formality. Yes, she was his Queen, and he was the Commander of her army, but she was young and needed more guidance than just that of tactics and strategy.

Ariana paused a moment, needing to compose herself before she did the unthinkable and burst into tears in front of a man who didn't need to see any weakness in Arlan's line. Drawing in a slow breath, she uncurled, reaching for a robe to cover herself with as she moved to the edge of the bed. "Of course," she told Liam as quietly as before, wrapping the soft robe about herself. "I need all the help I can get, don't I?"

"It is only because you are young. I remember being your age." He chuckled at the memory of it. "Shaye and I were not much different than you and Rory, you know. Young, confused, afraid. She terrified me!" he said with a short laugh. "But even then, I loved her with all my being, with everything that I am." He did not dare sit in her presence, but he did relax his posture a little.

Hugging her arms about herself, Ariana smiled faintly at the reminiscence she was offered, gesturing toward one of the chairs that were set away from the bed. "Please, sit," she offered Liam, moving from the bed to take a seat in one of those chairs herself with a low sigh. "I envy you, in many ways. You're so sure of yourself; it seems as though you always have been." She glanced down at her hands worriedly. "Sometimes I think it would have been better to have left that bone in my flesh and died on the day of the eclipse. I don't know what I'm doing. I barely recognise myself anymore."
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2015, 04:14:45 PM »
He settled his large frame in the chair, a little relieved to be more on a level with her now that they were both seated. He couldn't help but snort at her remark regarding himself. "I was not always this way. There was a time when I was very much like you. Shaye is the strong one. If it wasn't for her, I doubt very much I'd be where I am today. She sacrificed her freedom for my sake, did you know that? I wanted to throttle her for it. That is what love is, Ariana. It is putting someone else above your own needs and desires. Just be careful that you do not push that person away by doing so. I think that is Rory's trouble. He loves you so much he's afraid of hurting you. And do not ever say you would be better off dead. That is simply not true. It is difficult to be young and have so much responsibility on your shoulders. You must allow us to help you bear that responsibility, and that includes Rory. Anyone with eyes in their head can see how he loves you."

"So how do I convince him?" she asked, frustrated by how little she knew. "He says he loves me, but he was more comfortable with me when I was Adare. It's bad enough that I'm uncomfortable with my body, but every time it seems he might dare to touch me, he makes excuses, or runs away. Or falls asleep."

Liam smiled. It was easy for him to guess why the boy acted the way he did. He'd done the same once upon a time with the girl he had later married. "Of course, he was more comfortable with you then. You were a boy then, no different than him. You were his friend, but now ... Now, you are so much more than that, and he's afraid what he'll do if he loses control, if he lets what he's feeling inside make decisions for him. Let me ask you something ... Do you love him? Not like a friend, but as something more? Can you no longer imagine your life without him by your side?" he asked, leaning forward a little as if eager for her answer, eager to help her sort this out in her head, almost like a father might be to a daughter.

Ariana stared at him, wavering on the edge of tears again. It took another moment for her to calm herself before she could speak, determined that the only person who would see her cry would be Rory. "Of course I love him," she told Liam without hesitation. "I fell in love with him when I was Adare, and ... that feeling hasn't - well, it hasn't changed, it's just ... Stronger. I can't do this without him."

But sometimes love wasn't enough. Sometimes love wasn't shared or at least, it wasn't shared in the same way. He didn't think that was the problem with Rory and Ariana though. If he hadn't interrupted, there was a good chance they might have sorted all this out on their own. "But you are not Adare any longer. You are Ariana now. You are a woman and he is a man." Young though they were, they were well past childhood and well on their way to adulthood. "You chose him to be your Consort, to be the father of your children and all that entails. But have you told him you want him also for your husband? For your life partner? Have you told him that your heart beats only for him?"

"A woman he keeps trying to send back to Phalion," she pointed out. "He doesn't seem to understand that I can't abandon our army. I have to fight alongside everyone who has declared for me, or I'm no better than Velasca." As Liam went on, she felt herself flush under his words, knowing she'd told Rory barely any of that, though it was what she felt. "I love him. He knows I love him; I've told him so many times that I need him. I don't know what to do."

"If I hadn't interrupted just now, what do you think would have transpired?" he pressed her further, wanting her to realize that it wasn't that Rory didn't want her, but the exact opposite. "Why do you think he keeps doing that? Have you considered that it's because he loves you so much he can't bear the thought of you being hurt?" he asked, not knowing what the pair of young lovers had discussed before he'd arrived.

"This is the problem, Liam, I don't know what would have happened," Ariana sighed, aware that her tone had grown frustrated now they had reached the real meat of the problem. "When I was a boy, I was backward and skittish. I was never interested in girls, and no one ... no one told me what happens between a man and a woman. And now I'm a woman, I have these instincts that tell me what to do, but I don't know where they'll lead, and every time I do as they ask, I seem to make everything so much worse!" She slumped back in her chair, blushing crimson at having been quite so open with a man who was old enough to be her father.

Liam smiled again, seemingly unruffled by the problem posed to him. "I assume you know what happens between a man and a woman when they love one another?" It was more a question than a statement. He hoped she did because he wasn't sure it was his place to give her lessons in that.

The look his young queen gave him was verging on the edge of panic. Her education had been in swordplay, in tactics, in history. No one had ever thought to explain the birds and the bees to her, though in hindsight it might have been a good idea. "No," she admitted, deeply embarrassed to have to admit it at all. "No one ever told me."

Liam sighed, and lifted a hand to scratch his head. The boy had to know what to do. Even if they didn't know consciously, their bodies would eventually lead the way, just like they had for Liam and Shaye. "You've never seen it done in the wild?" he ventured after a moment. "Birds? Dogs? Cats? Horses?" He hoped she hadn't been that sheltered. If she'd witnessed animals at work, it would be a lot easier to explain how it worked with people. He suddenly wished it had been Shaye or even Liayna who had interrupted, not him. "Sheep, perhaps?" he added, just for good measure.

She hesitated, staring at him for a long moment, attempting to work out where he was going with this. She had been very sheltered in Phalion, undoubtedly because of the secret only two people had known about her. "I ... I've seen dogs mating," she offered in confusion. "What does that have to do with anything? I used to be a boy, I know Rory doesn't have a knot."

"Ahem," Liam cleared his throat again, coughing once to cover the chuckle that was threatening at her question. Why had he chosen to use dogs as an example? "Um ... It's not much different for a man and a woman, Ariana. The only difference is that people feel ... er ... desire for someone when they are in love, not only to ... uh ... have offspring." How did she think it happened with people, after all? Mating was mating, no matter the species, for the most part, anyway.

The horror on her face was almost picture perfect. "You mean ... he ... in me, and ..." Her mouth worked silently for a long moment as details of what she knew about dogs mating flooded her mind. Her voice lowered to a truly disturbed whisper. "What if he couldn't get out?"

Thankfully, Liam didn't blush, though he was obviously a little uncomfortable with the discussion at hand. He'd rather be discussing just about anything than explaining sexual relations to a hormonal teenager, whether she was his Queen or not. "That shouldn't be a problem. Men and women are not dogs and cats, but it's essentially the same process. I thought you knew." Maybe now, she'd understand why Rory had fled before things got too far, before he had any chance of hurting her or of taking advantage. Liam sighed again. "When a man and a woman love each other, desire each other, it is a natural thing, Ariana. It is a ... a kind of sharing that is very special, very beautiful, and very private."

"But we do love each other," she said quietly, a worried frown on her brow, though she was relieved to hear that there was little chance of anyone getting stuck anywhere. "We ... Well, tonight is the first time I've really felt that, but ... Am I the problem?" The worry deepened on her face as she asked him, quite earnestly, for the truth. "I don't know if I'm ... the way a woman should be. Maybe the reason he won't touch me is because I'm repulsive."

"It does not always result in a child, but it can," Liam explained further. That much was evident between Liam and Shaye, whose sex life was very active, though they had yet to produce a child, if they ever would. "But he was touching you, Ariana," Liam pointed out. He had interrupted in time to witness that much, wondering how far things would have gone if he'd stayed away. "I don't think he finds you repulsive. Just the opposite, in fact."
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2015, 04:15:33 PM »
"And he ran away the moment he had the opportunity to," she pointed out, deeply hurt by Rory's insistence on abandoning her at that moment to face Liam's untimely interruption alone. "What should I do?"

"I cannot speak for him, nor do I know his heart, but I think I know why he left," Liam said, though he did not yet share the reason. "Be patient, but more importantly, talk to him. Tell him how you feel and give him a chance to explain."

"Talk to him," she summarized with a faint sigh, closing her eyes as she nodded. "Thank you, Liam. I ... I realize this isn't exactly the sort of conversation you want to be having with the "mother of the nation"." The quotation marks fell heavily into her tone with a wry understanding that was beyond her years in many ways. "Please ... don't tell him I asked you. We stumble enough when we talk as it is."

He chuckled again, mostly at the irony of her last remark. "Have you noticed how much Shaye and I argue? But that is the exact thing I love about her. She has always had a fiery spirit, full of life. I would rather we argue than never talk, and when the arguing is over ..." He shrugged, a soft smile on his face. "It is a beautiful thing to love and be loved in return. Do not let your fears get in the way of that. I'm certain he loves you, but he's confused, too, and very likely afraid of hurting you."

And with that said, he moved to his feet, sensing he had said and done all he could. "I have decided we will be staying here another night, just to be sure there is no further danger. With your leave, of course," he added with a short bow.

One more day wouldn't make a difference in the long run and would be well worth it, if only to allow the two young people to get some rest and sort out their feelings for each other before moving on. And it would give Liam and those in his command to scout their surroundings and ensure they were not moving into a trap.

She rose with him, nodding at his last statement. She wasn't entirely sure she would be able to take his advice regarding Rory and do anything constructive with it, but she could, at the very least, accept his recommendation for the camp. "It will allow us to put our lost to rest before we move on," she said quietly, her first thought always for the well being of the people under her care. "Thank you."

That, too, though the thought of that laid heavily on Liam's heart. He did not take a single death lightly, whether that death be a rebel soldier, a clansman, or one of her guards. He reached for her hand, like a father might to a daughter, taking it between his own. "Try not to worry. You are not alone in his, Ariana. There is not a man or woman here who does not wish to be and who is not proud to be in your service. That includes your Rory."

She looked up at him in surprise as he took her hand. No one but Rory, and the female guard charged with dressing and arming her each day, had touched her since they had left Phalion, the distance between herself and the people she traveled with a yawning chasm that only exacerbated her knowledge of how lonely it would be to sit on the throne. That one touch, fatherly in a way not even Dalan had dared over the years, was enough to bring tears to her eyes as she squeezed Liam's hand. "There is no one here I am not proud to be able to call my friend," she answered him fiercely, despite the lump in her throat. "But I have kept you too long, and you have a wife who will be missing you."

He couldn't help but notice her tears, and though he was guilty of interrupting at a bad time, he hoped he had managed to help, even a little. The big man was reputed to be gruff and even grouchy at times, but it seemed that reputation might be a little inflated as there was a soft side to the big man that few were allowed to know. "A wife who is likely to give me a scolding for daring to give her an order," he said, with a smirk on his face. He was obviously not too worried about Shaye and seemed to know how to handle the First Blade. He touched her cheek, very briefly, with rough but gentle fingers, once again as a father might a daughter, before making his way to the tent flap that served as a door. "I would suggest you speak to Kari before too long," he said, though he did not say why.

The young queen managed a faint smile for the warning that the Commander and the First Blade were likely to be audible in the not so distant future, glad for them that they had found one another after such a long separation. Liam's parting words confused her a little, but what else could she do but agree? "I will," she found herself promising him as he took his leave of her.

And with that said, he was gone to return to his duties and eventually to try and get a few hours sleep in his own tent. But despite the Commander's exit, Rory did not return, not for many hours, not until the first light of morning was turning the sky gray. By then, he was cold and tired, but feeling a little less confused than he had been when he'd left.

Left alone in her tent, Ariana had returned to her lonely bed, trying not to think of what was missing. Of who was missing. It had seemed to take an age for her to fall asleep, every sense alert for some sign of Rory's return, but finally, she had to give in and sleep, huddled into a tight ball at the very edge of the bed, her back toward the tent flap and the outside world. Perhaps her tutors had been right, all those years ago. The Queens of Arlan's line were always alone.

He crept quietly back into the tent, so that he wouldn't wake her, fumbling with the boots that were now covered in snow, his hands and face frozen. He stood near the brazier for a moment, rubbing his hands together to warn them, glancing over at the form that was huddled beneath the blankets, wondering if she hated him for his cowardice. What was the matter with him? He'd been willing to die for her. Was he just as willing to live for her?

But despite managing to gain an hour or so of sleep, his return did not go unmarked. Ariana lay quietly beneath the blankets, listening to him moving about, to his stillness, feeling her heart ache in the silence. A silence that was broken utterly when she heard herself speak. "I was afraid you might not come back."

"Of course I came back. Do you really think I could stay away, when I told you I can't live without you?" he asked, his voice quiet from where he stood near the fire. Had she not spoken, he might have joined her in bed and even curled up beside her, only in part to warm himself, though he wasn't sure he trusted himself so close to her again so soon after what had just happened between them. He sighed, knowing they needed to talk, but not sure where to begin.

A quiet sigh shuddered from her lips, and slowly she rolled onto her back, looking up at him from where she lay. "I love you," she told him quietly. "Not as a friend, not as a trusted companion. I love you the way Conall loves Liayna, the way Liam loves Shaye. When I say I can't do this without you, I mean it, Rory. I want you to be my husband, to be the father of my children, not because I need to have an heir, but because I want to share that with you. You give me strength when I need it, hope when I need it, but it seems as though all I give you in return is shame and humiliation. I don't know what to do."

He didn't answer, his back turned to her, not because he was still warming his hands, but because he was crying, his shoulders shaking silently. He wasn't even sure why he was crying exactly - because he'd come so close to losing her, because he felt ashamed of what he'd almost done, of how he'd almost gone too far with her, because he loved more than life itself and it hurt to think she might not love him back. But then she was telling him she did love him, just as he loved her, and he felt a sense of relief so overwhelming it brought him to tears.

Ariana watched his back for a long time, her heart aching all the more as her words seemed to fall on ears that didn't want them. He couldn't even bring himself to look at her. She felt the hope Liam had given her crumble away, tears of her own rising as she rolled onto her side once again, fighting not to cry so loudly he might hear her.
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]


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Re: The Cold Touch of Death
« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2015, 04:16:42 PM »
With his back turned to her, he couldn't see if she was watching or not, and he didn't hear her echoing his own sobs. Should he go to her and tell her how much he loved her? It wouldn't have been the first time she'd seen his tears. He sniffled and drew a shaky breath. Too many tears had been shed and for what? It was time she knew how he felt, once and for all. "I l-left because I love you, Ari," he explained quietly, perhaps too quietly for her to hear over her own sobs. "Because I love you so much, and I don't want to hurt you."

The words cut deep, biting through her own tears as she sniffled quietly. "It hurt me more to see you leave," she sobbed, just as quiet as him, not brave enough to turn back to look at him, not again. "As though I shamed you, as though ... as though you could not bear to be near me any longer."

"No," he replied quietly. "It was not your fault. I am the one who should be ashamed. I did not mean to take advantage of you. I did not mean to ..." He swallowed another lump that was forming in his throat. "I want the same things that you want, Ariana, but I do not want to bring shame on you by ... I want you so badly it scares me," he told her, his voice not much more than a whisper in the gray light of morning. He turned slowly to face her, though he could not see her beneath the pile of blankets huddled around her.

She drew in a sharp breath, shocked to hear the implication in his words just hours after a married man had told her the exact opposite was true. Who did she believe? Shaking her head, her frown deep on her brow, she twisted, sitting up to stare at Rory in disbelief. "How is it shameful?" she asked him. "What makes it such a terrible act, when I love you? When I want you as much as you want me? Why should we wait for some unknown day when we are both sure of our hearts now? I know I am slow, and ill-educated in the ways of love, but I know my own heart. If my form is so repugnant to you, how can we ever grow close enough to share a child?"

"You misunderstand me, Ariana. How could you possibly think you're repugnant to me? When you are near, it takes all my self-control not to throw myself at you, not to smother you in kisses. Haven't I told you I want you and love you? What do you think I mean when I say such things? You said you don't want a child now, not when we are so close to defeating Velasca, but I'm afraid if I cannot control myself, that is exactly what will happen!" He exhaled a shuddering breath, having said far more than he'd planned and not quite in the way he had wanted to. He was not angry with her; he was angry with himself.

She visibly recoiled from the anger in his voice, afraid she had gone too far in opening her heart with honest words to him. Hurt rose in her eyes for his tone, the aggression with which he spoke, and she had to pause, to force herself not to respond in kind. "I never said that I do not want a child now," she said quietly. "Only that if I were with child, I would not fight alongside the army and the people who trust in me. I may not know all there is to know, but I am sure there are ways to prevent a seed from taking root. If every act of love created a child, there would be more of us than this land could sustain."

He saw the hurt in her eyes, the way she seemed to retreat into herself at his anger, though it was not with her, and he took a step toward her, his tear-stained face pale with worry. "Do you know what happened when I killed that man tonight? That-that bastard who would have seen you dead? Do you know the anger and hatred I felt in my heart for him? The terror and dread I felt for you? I have never hated anyone so much in my life as I hate Velasca and her cohorts. I dream of the day I drive a sword through her heart and she can hurt you no more," he said through clenched teeth, not quite trusting himself to speak for the emotions that were raging inside him. "But I would never hurt you, Ariana. I would rather die than hurt you. Don't you see that I love you? That this love for you is what's eating me up inside? Because I cannot be without you anymore, Ariana. If I do, I think I will die."

"Then why do you keep pushing me away?" she demanded to know, rolling onto her knees in the middle of the bed, heedless of the chill that hung in the air to bring gooseflesh up on her arms as she faced him. "If pushing me away, leaving me to weather the embarrassment of being caught together alone, insisting that you do not want to hurt me and leaving when I need you to stay ... if that is love, Rory, then I do not want it!"

"I did not leave because I was embarrassed or ashamed. I left because if I had stayed, I would have done things ... selfish things ... Why must we wait to be married, Ariana, when I want you now? Unless you don't love me, unless you don't want me the way I want you. If ..." His voice broke, catching in his throat, his heart breaking to think maybe she didn't love him the way he loved her, though she had said otherwise. "Why? Why can't I love you now the way I want to love you? Why must we wait? I cannot wait any longer, Ariana. It is driving me mad." He dropped onto the bed, his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking with sobs. Was she rejecting him finally? Had he made her hate him at last?

She was silent for a long moment, watching him as he sobbed beside her. So much of what he said could have come from her own lips, and yet ... hadn't she just told him that she wanted him as he wanted her? Hadn't she just said that there was no shame in consummating that feeling now? "Why can you not trust me to know my heart?" she asked, her voice tiny in the quiet. "I love you, I want you. These are not lies; they are the deepest truths of my being. No one has ever said that we had to wait for our marriage; if that were true, they would never allow us to share a tent, a bed. How is it so easy for you to trust and believe your own heart, your own desire, and so easy to disregard mine?"

He wasn't quite sure he knew the answer to her question. There was only one answer he could give her, only one he knew was true. "Be-Because ... No one has ever ..." He shook his head, struggling to find the right words, to steady his voice so that he could speak without stuttering. "I am no one and nothing and I do not deserve you. You are like the light that shines from the heavens, and I am only a farrier's son. How can I ever be worthy? I have no family, no money, no name. All I can offer you is my heart and my life. It is all I have, but if you would take it, I would give it to you gladly."

The frown that creased her brow was fierce as she edged to him, seizing his hands in her grip as she fairly glared into his eyes, needing him to listen and hear her for once. "You are not nothing. You are not no one. There is no just or only about you." She eased closer, releasing his hands to curl her own to his cheeks, looking deep into his eyes. "Rory, all my life, I have been loved for someone else's sake, for what I represent. Mila and Dalan love me, but they love me for the sake of my parents, not myself. All these people who have declared for me, the rebels who gave their allegiance to me ... it isn't me they love. It's my bloodline, what I represent to them. Of everyone I have ever known, you are the only one who has ever loved me for myself. Don't you know how truly beyond price that is?"

The trouble was that he did - more than anyone else, he knew and understood. No one had ever loved him, not since his father had died. His mother - she had not even seen fit to be part of his life or to make herself known to him, for whatever reason. It had been only himself and his father, and then his father was gone, and he was alone. Until now, until her. She had been his friend first, but now, things had changed, and he found he wanted so much more from her than just friendship. Titles were meaningless. What was a consort anyway, if not a companion? He wanted what Liam and Shaye had; what Liayna and Conall had. What he knew so many others in the camp shared with a special someone who knew and loved them better than any other. That is what he wanted, and he wanted it with Ariana. He nodded his head, meeting her gaze with tear-filled eyes. "I do love you," he whispered back, his chin quivering with the threat of fresh tears. "I will always love you."

"So trust me," she told him. "Trust that I know my heart. Trust that when I draw your hands to me, I want your touch. Love is not love unless it is shared, rua. I would share mine with you; everything I have, though I know nothing of how to do it. I want to learn with you, in your arms." And morbid though it seemed, there was one last frightened wish to share, spoken in a whisper that no one would ever hear but him. "I don't want to die without ever having known what it is to truly love you."

He sniffled again, lifting a hand to wipe the tears from his face. There had been too many tears tonight, too much pain, but there had been love, too, and that was what they needed to hang onto. "We will learn together, lea. That is my promise to you. And you will not die. I will not allow it. I promise that, too." He took her face in his hands and kissed her, not as passionately or as fiercely as before, but with love and tenderness and the yearning of young love.

She drew him down beside her, not to love or touch, but to sleep, as she knew he had not since their violent awakening hours before. No one would disturb them while they slept, they knew; the entire camp would be on high alert, determined that no one else would ever sneak through their lines and endanger the True Queen of Arctra.

And not too far away, in another royal tent, the Usurper sprang from an uneasy sleep, her mad eyes wild as she looked into a face she had thought was now utterly destroyed. She fell back with a strangled cry, reaching for her sword to plunge it into the chest of the figure standing over her.

Brother smiled his cruel smile, looking down at the blade that could not hurt him, and stepped toward the gibbering Velasca. He reached out, touching an almost loving hand to her cheek as she cowered in fear.

"She is coming, murderer. She is coming for you."
[size=9:fa373e12e6][color=darkred:fa373e12e6][i:fa373e12e6]Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow. [/i:fa373e12e6][b:fa373e12e6]- Descartes[/b:fa373e12e6][/color:fa373e12e6][/size:fa373e12e6]