“Killian!” Emmelyne shrieked, shielding herself from the splash of icy water I sent her way. Laughing boisterously, I floated away on my back, letting the ever-present sun warm my face and bare chest. We’d been traveling on foot for two weeks now, with no apparent end in sight. I knew we were headed the right direction, but without a horse to ease our passage, the going was slow. Thankfully, we’d come across a wide body of water the stream emptied into—a small respite from the burning sun. This land was full of extremes; either monstrous storms, frigid snow, or blazing sunshine. I prayed Macdara was of a more temperate climate.
I glanced at Emmelyne as she perched on the edge of the huge, smooth and rounded boulder, her knees tucked up to her chin, her hands cemented to the gray surface. Her pale, bare skin seemed to glow in the sunlight as her long hair danced free in the breeze. She chewed her lip, still debating whether or not she wanted to attempt jumping into the deepness of the cool water.
I felt myself grow hot with desire, despite the coldness surrounding me. She was an ethereal faerie, sitting above me in all her glorious curiosity and innocence, despite her nudity. With a growl, I propelled myself forward, able to stand the closer I got to her. The water lapped at my chest, splashing from me as I reached out with deftness, encircling her dainty ankle in my large hand. With a devilish grin, and another shriek of fright bursting from her lips, I gave her a gentle tug. She slid down the boulder, crashing into the water and into my arms. My laugh bellowed and bounced off the rocks and trees that surrounded us.
“Ugh!” She slapped at my chest, shivering in my arms as I towed us back to deeper water.
“I couldna leave ye up there all by yerself, wee one. A bear may have taken ye for himself,” I teased, nuzzling her neck.
“I d-don’t f-forgive you,” her teeth chattered as she glared daggers at me. I smirked, planting a kiss on her lips.
“Ye will. Eventually,” I teased, our noses touching as I sank further into the water. She wrapped her arms about my shoulders, her breasts pressed tight to my chest. She gave me a sour look.
“You t-think so?” She asked. I snorted.
“Aye, ye will. I can see it, in the future,” I teased. She smiled, though she rolled her eyes in response. My hand wandered to her lower back, my other hand following suit, until I gripped her bum, wrapping her legs around my hips. She leaned back, letting the sun warm her face as she closed her eyes and sighed in contentment.
“See? No’ so cold once yer used to it,” I said lowly, turning us in a wide circle. I stared, unable to tear my eyes from her in this moment. She was completely tranquil—in what seemed her otherworldly element. She belonged amongst the ancient rocks and trees. The earth responded to her presence in ways unknown to mere mortal humans. A small smile graced her full lips, her long hair floating out behind her in the darkened water. I knew, now, when she was seeing images just beyond the veil of this world. Having become so close to her in more ways than one, I could se the subtle differences in her facial expressions.
“What is it?” I whispered, bewitched. Her smile grew.
“The past.” She answered simply.
I continued to turn us round and round, slowly, heated by the noonday sun, cooled by the fresh pool.
“Mmm, what of the past?”
She leaned forward once more, opening her wide blue eyes to meet mine, her long lashes sweeping her full cheeks. Her fingers trailed icy water up the back of my neck, causing me to shiver.
“This place. A pair of lovers were here.” She whispered. I grinned back at her, pulling her closer as our lips met.
“How long ago?” I teased against her smiling mouth. She laughed quietly, the sound pure, enchanting music to my ears.
“It feels…it feels like long ago. A hundred years?” She guessed. I felt my stomach twist, realizing now just how far back her memories could go.
“What was it like?” I asked quietly. A few birds nearby chirped their location to one another in high pitched tunes.
“Much the same. The trees were a bit shorter. But the people…” she trailed off, leaning in once more, her tongue meeting mine in our favorite dance. I lifted her slightly, adjusting our positioning just enough…
She gasped, which turned to moans, her nails biting into the flesh of my shoulders. Her eyes met mine, blazing with hot desire as I pushed deeply into her.
“I s’pose we will have to make this our place, now,” I said breathlessly, gripping her hips and pushing her down onto me.
“Yes,” she breathed, her eyes fluttering closed once more. “Yes we will.”
Later that night, we lounged by a roaring fire with a meal of rabbit and mushrooms. Our bellies full, we were content to stare through the canopy of the trees at the stars above. A clear night was always welcome on the road. It provided us with enough light to be aware of our surroundings.
Emmelyne lay with her head on my chest as I traced circles on her spine. I leaned against a log, my left arm behind my head, my eyes drooping. Strange animals called to one another in the darkness that surrounded us. Her breathing slowed, meaning she was falling into a peaceful sleep. I smiled, winding my fingers through her soft hair, claiming every part of her as much as I was able.
We’d been happy—free, for the first time in either of our lives. It made me realize we truly only needed one another, and the rest of the world and its troubles would fall away. I worried that once we reached Macdara, our peace would be trampled, that we’d be subject to rules and regulations once more. Would it not be better to remain truly free, here in the wild?
Perhaps. But the face of Mt. Tier’s leader flashed before my eyes, causing fire to run through my veins. I still had a job to do, and I’d be damned if I didn’t bring Emmelyne the justice she deserved. I’d have his head on a spike, if it was the last thing I did.
My heart hammering in my ears in my sudden rage, I hadn’t noticed how quiet the forest had become. I sat forward a bit, the hairs on my neck standing on end, my instincts telling me that we were no longer alone. I slowed my breathing, listening intently. No wind rustled the trees, no mice scampered beneath the ferns. In a flash, a large, brown animal leapt through the ferns before me. I reached for my sword, wielding it before us both as I rolled Emmy to her side, standing above her as a shield. She gasped, awakening in a fright. The deer stopped, frightened as well as it stared at me, before fleeing back into the darkness, its hooves thudding against the ground.
Relief flooding my veins, I began to tremble. I sat down heavily, throwing my sword aside, feeling Emmelyne grip my forearm. I placed my hand atop hers.
“Sorry, wee faerie, just a deer.” I explained breathlessly. She lifted my forearm, tucking herself into my side. I pulled her close, kissing the top of her head.
“Well, I’m awake now, that’s for sure,” she teased lightly, though there was a shakiness evident in her voice. I chaffed her arm.
Perhaps living amongst people wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. At least we wouldn’t fright every time an unknown animal happened by.
“Let’s try and sleep, eh?” I said. She nodded against me. I laid back down, pulling her to me and wrapping my arms about her, her round rump pressed tight against my manhood. If I hadn’t just been scared half to death, I may have tried for another round tonight. I doubted it would work at the moment, though, so sleep would have to prevail.
“I love you,” she yawned, wriggling ever closer. I smirked, knowing exactly what it was she desired. I wouldn’t fall for her temptress ways this time.
“I love ye, too, woman.”
I awoke to the sound of loud snoring. Prying my eyes open, I realized it was still late, the fire dying, the approach of dawn still sometime away. I wondered idly how a woman as tiny as Emmy could make such a racket, when I discovered it wasn’t her. And the sound I heard wasn’t snoring, exactly. It was more of a huffing sound, and a snorting. My blood ran absolutely cold in an instant. I knew now why the animals had stopped calling to one another, why the deer had ran headlong into our camp.
The snuffing was closer, the footfalls heavy, the stench unbearable. I swallowed the fear that rose within me, thinking only of protecting what was mine. As long as Emmelyne escaped, I could die in peace, knowing she had a chance.
Slowly, I reached to her face, clamping my hand around her mouth, giving her a slight shake. She jumped awake, panicking for a moment, before I bent to her ear.
“Don’t ye move,” I said, reaching behind me, feeling for my sword. My dagger was tucked into my belt, my other knife in my boot. I had three chances to stave off this beast. I prayed it would be enough. I felt her nod beneath my hand, her breathing rapid against my knuckles.
I hoped the bear would move along, if we kept still enough. But I knew it was a false hope. Bears were curious, and it was time for them to scrounge as much food as possible, before their instinct for hibernation kicked in once more. And we were clearly an easy target, at the moment.
The footfalls drew nearer, along with the stench and the sound of it snorting. A plan forming quickly in my mind, I bent to whisper once more in Emmy’s ear.
“When I say go, get behind me and run. If it gets past me, pretend yer dead, understand?” I said. She nodded once more. I peered just beyond the dying embers, catching sight of two, shiny eyes in the darkness. My heart stopped as I took in the sheer size of the black bear, his fur bristly, outlining his bulbous shape. He huffed again, close enough now that the action scattered some of the embers in our direction. Emmelyne trembled next to me.
One more step…
We waited, sizing one another up, neither of us backing down. He made a deep, growling noise, lifting his massive front paw, taking that last step forward that I needed.
“Go,” I breathed. Emmelyne darted from me in a flash. Caught off guard by the action, the bear paused. I used my boot to kick the glowing, fiery coals at its face, watching in satisfaction as it became enraged, letting out a ferocious and pained growl that shook the trees. I jumped to my feet, praying I’d blinded the beast. He rushed at me, though, angry now. I held firm, planting my feet, my sword glinting in front of me.
The bear raised up, standing at least eight feet tall, his claws as long as a dinner knife and sharp as my sword. He swiped at me, and in the darkness it was nearly impossible to decipher where the blow would land. I raised my sword, satisfied when I felt the connection, though I could feel how thick and tough his fur was. He bellowed a deep growl again, dropping down onto all fours and charging at me as I turned and ran. I knew it was stupid, but I had to lead him away from Emmy, and as I ran, a new plan formed. I waited, feeling his hot breath on my neck as I sprinted through the dark forest. I just needed the right timing, the right spot…
As soon as I saw the boulder, I darted to it, drawing my dagger as well. I turned at the last possible second, bracing myself against the freezing rock, the bear still charging me down. I dropped to my knees, now bracing my elbows against the stone, praying his speed and this leverage combined would be enough to run him through. With a last, guttural growl, he was on me. I yelled back, my deep voce echoing in the night, giving myself the strength I needed as the beast met the end of my sword and dagger. He fell upon them both, the sleek steel and sharpened edges cutting through his fur and muscles, slicing into his chest—hopefully his heart and lungs. His putrid, hot breath escaped his gnashing jaws, his massive paw swinging wide, his thick claws cutting through the fabric of my shirt as though it were butter. I screamed as my flesh tore, using the onslaught of burning pain to drive my dagger and sword deeper into the beast, up to the hilt. His hot blood coated my hands as his long teeth clacked together. With a final twist, I knew I’d connected with his heart. He howled, which turned to a gurgle, and then he stumbled back, trying in vain to turn tail and run.
I knew, though, that he wouldn’t get far. I slumped against the boulder, gripping at my torn flesh, feeling my own blood, my fingers skirting over flaps of skin. I needed to staunch the flow, or I’d bleed out. I collapsed into the dead leaves at my feet, the world around me becoming lighter as dawn drew near. My head felt light, my fingers tingly. The beast’s last breaths rattled in my ears, until I could hear no more.