Duran heard the Livery doors swing open and knew that his prayers for her not to come back had gone unanswered. He passed a shaking hand over his face and leaned heavily against his pitchfork. Leomedon's grapevine had always been quick (though not highly accurate) and he was still in shock over what had happened at Behrin's auction.
No one knew how many The Twiceborn had killed at the slave platform. And then she had spelled Behrin and forced him to sell a girl he loved so much he was going to grant her freedom then ask her hand in marriage.
Within the space of a lazy afternoon,Duran had gone from loving Alora to the point he was at now; a sick realization that he wanted something that was so wrong it had turned him into a stranger within himself. Someone unknown to the person he'd thought he was. How could he ever have thought he could love someone like her?
He'd never thought she could be so cruel and, in believing her gentle, he realized just how blind he'd been.
Duran stepped out of the stall, his hand white-knuckled around the handle of his pitchfork. He opened his mouth, the words he had to say rehearsed in between prayers, but nothing came out. Tears welled up in his eyes.They were tears for himself because he knew he couldn't set his feelings for her aside so easily. He would never love her in the same way as he had before but he was powerless to turn his back on her now. He let go of the pitchfork, letting it fall carelessly into the hay.
Alora cursed and stumbled as Loki barged in front of her, eager to be fed and watered. Duran stepped forward and caught the horse, then knelt and examined the wound with shaky hands.
Horses' blood he could handle; it was peoples' blood that left him decidedly queasy. His brother Havnor had once lost a chunk of shoulder to a 'stag stallion and Duran had heaved until nothing came up but saliva and air. It had reminded him of his mother's meat pie of the night before with a good-sized slice gone. Just the memory of it brought up a slow, gassy burp. He concentrated on the task at hand and struggled to ignore the sounds around him.
Alora yanked the Livery doors closed and dropped the crossbar. Light went to dark and she stood still a few moments and let her eyes adjust to the hazy sun filtering through the upper loft. The three of them were pretty well corralled in the Livery but the men at Fetch's would have to drink a little more courage before they ventured down the road.
Alora knew that when it came time for them to march down, Behrin wouldn't be leading them. He was known more for fanning the flames then the actual burn but she'd be willing to bet he was buying all the liquor to fuel whatever it was he wanted to happen.
Ah god,she needed to think. A shaky little moan seeped through her lips and her hand rose to her face again, that hot,swollen mass that was making breathing such an effort. Against her better judgement, she stumbled over to an empty stall and sat down. She propped herself back against the wooden partition. The straw was clean, fresh-scythed, and she closed her eyes. Hopefully,Loki would be all right. And she needed to figure out her next move, then decide what to do about Islinn but god,it felt good to sit down. Alora reached back, adjusted her sword, and settled in.
Islinn stood and waited. The rope around her neck rubbed and itched and she pulled on it like a man whose collar was snugged too tight. She noticed how absently The Twiceborn held the rope. The rough strand was casually looped around a few fingers. She could probably pull loose, just slip that casually held few inches out of that hand and...what? Go back to Behrin? Hide out somewhere in town?
In the few seconds it took Islinn to weigh her too few options, she came to the realization she was better off...my god,even safer...staying right where she was. It was then that she knew Behrin had finally won.
He'd never been able to take her faith, that core of herself untouched by reason in any form. Her faith was a knowing built on a foundation of nothing more than a feeling or a sense. And it had kept her strong.
But in selling her to The Twiceborn, either by accident or cruel design, he had put Islinn in a position where she was forced to compromise the only thing she had left. In a strange, roundabout way, he'd accomplished everything he'd set out to do. He just wasn't there to see it. Islinn sank to her knees in the hay.
Duran stalled Loki and unbridled him. He tossed a few handfuls of hay into the feeder. He turned and looked for Alora and saw her laying against the stall partition. He approached her cautiously. She was back against one of the stall divider walls, her legs bonelessly splayed out in front of her. Her tunic had taken on a dull, greasy look from all the blood and her long black curls had a stiff, dead look to them.
Duran knew of people who had survived worse. He'd seen a few nasty blade fights down at Fetch's. One man had had his nose split down the middle. It had opened up like a sausage casing and blood had sprayed a wall over a foot away.
He silently studied Alora. It was the way her head was settled off to the side that caused him to catch his breath. A horrible slackness lay over her features, what he could see of them, and he could feel that she was...away. Gone to where ever a hybrid like her would go once death made itself to home.
"She's dead." He thought dazedly. His shock momentarily overcame his fluttery stomach. He bent closer. A sense of something precious was wrenched from him but it wasn't enough to overcome the hot, dry excitement that stemmed from the realization that The Twiceborn was dead. He leaned closer, fascinated. Once he opened those Livery doors and walked out, she would belong to everyone but right now she was his.
"Is Loki all right?" Alora's one good eye popped open. Duran screamed. He lost his balance and fell back, his legs kicking and propelling him out of the stall. His heart jittered as if it had come untethered and was careening around in his chest and his balls took a sudden trip north. He gasped and tried to speak but his fear overwhelmed any ability to form words.