""Is that a yes or no?" Alora watched him and wanted to laugh.
"Yes. Yes...he's fine."
Duran composed himself but found he was unable to get to his feet. His legs were as wobbly as a newborn calf's. Only with a concentrated effort was he able to rise and then he caught himself sneaking a quick glance at the front of his trousers.
"Uh...Loki, yes,he's good. Good. Not a bad cut. I'll wash it out and put some eucalyptus oil through it. Pack it. You'll be able to ride him, don't worry." He babbled and wiped his hands up and down against the sides of his trousers. For the love of Brede that had taken ten years off his life!
"What's going on out there?" Alora raised a lackluster hand towards the doors.
"You can't stay here." Duran announced. He might fancy himself in love but he wasn't about to ruin his livelihood and his good standing in town. Not to mention the loss of his soul in the process.
Alora gazed at him for a moment. She wiped blood from her chin (her nose had started up again) then twirled the end of Islinn's rope through her fingers.
"Why not?" She finally asked. Duran found his eyes drawn to the rough cord winding about her hand.
"Could you take that off her?"
Alora glanced down at the rope, surprised, then looked at Islinn. Quite frankly,she'd forgotten about the girl. She had held on to the rope with the same unconscious effort she used when holding Loki's reins. Shame caused her face to step up its slow throb. Disgusted with herself, she got to her knees, her fingers groping down her calf for her dagger. Islinn's head jerked up, eyes wide and face pale.
Alora fumbled the blade from its sheath and leaned in to cut the rope. She'd sure been quick to point the finger at Behrin and here she was with her very own puppy on a leash. Ah, the seeds of hypocrisy. They sure do scatter well.
Alora slipped her fingers between the rope and the girl's skin and brought her dagger up. There was a thick rich feel to the pulse drumming the back of Alora's fingers. Alora, startled, looked into Islinn's eyes . Islinn stared back, her brown eyes filled with the concentrated vitality of fear.
"How is it possible for someone to be so afraid?" Alora wondered, bewildered.
Islinn reached up and caught Alora's hand in her own.
"No." She breathed in a broken whisper.
Alora shuddered and dropped her dagger. The air was filled with the heavy current of Islinn's terror and Alora could taste it, hot and smoky, in the back of her mouth. The strange, unpleasant weight of the girl's hand on her own conjured up visions of a busy place, alive with fresh grief and emptiness. It was a place molded by loss and, in between the frantic beats of Islinn's heart, was the crisp silver of pure fear.
The emotion moved through Alora like a powerful wind that tossed aside what it couldn't crush. Her skin rippled with goosebumps and she jerked her hand away as if she'd been burned.
Snippets of thought skated slowly through Alora's mind, and began to take hold in her thoughts like a particularly vicious nightmare. She moved away from Islinn and dropped into the hay, curling up, and placed her hands over her ears.
Alora hated this side of herself. She walked through the secret places of peoples' hearts and knew of the shame and malignancies never meant to be given strength through sound. She learned things she never wanted to know, all courtesy of the strange blood that flowed through her veins.
In that moment, she knew Islinn. Knew her needs and fears as intimately as a lover knows the touch of one loved. She forced herself to look at the girl.
"You thought I was going to kill you?" Alora stammered. The words cost her a tremendous effort.
Islinn didn't answer. She backed up to the far side of the stall and huddled next to the wood. She pulled her knees up to her chin with her forehead resting on her kneecaps.
Her posture spoke eloquently of her withdrawal from the situation. It eclipsed her presence as neatly as if she'd walked out of the barn. Alora stared at her. Whatever was gnawing on Islinn's soul had the sharpest teeth she'd ever seen and Alora couldn't imagine the cost or the price paid to keep all of it at bay.
The girl's cat-quick instincts were based solely on who had the ability to hurt her the most and this was the foundation upon which her life was built. And yet this package had some sort of crazy quilt of faith wrapped around it, a vast light that Islinn alternately clung to and discarded. Prayed to yet pushed away and it remained pure, while somehow being riddled with doubt. Yet,in spite of this inconsistency that Alora sensed, it was extremely powerful for something so sporadically fueled.
Alora shut her eyes and pressed her face into the straw. There were too many thoughts rolling about in her head. Something about empty roads at midnight and shadows living in shadows and all of it owned by a girl who'd been forced to walk long before she'd ever learned to crawl.
Alora took another look, her black eyes taking in Islinn as though she were the darker sister who'd finally found her way home.