The tepid water felt cold against the heat of her face and her thoughts cleared a bit as she washed away some of the blood.
"Here,give that to me. I'll wash it out." Duran reached eagerly for the bloodied cloth.
Alora eyed him warily. Her blood was supposedly as highly valued as her own hide and was purported to have the ability to close all the little tunnels and crevices evil things used to climb up onto good Brede-fearing ground. It could also peel the skin off the hands of a True Believer,and give someone the ability to shapeshift if they were to pour a few drops onto a wolfskin.
Alora had heard all of this from the usual rumor mill. After she'd heard the wolfskin one though, she viewed pricking her finger as an awe-inspiring event instead of simply an accident. There was also some weird concoction involving her blood, a spider's web, oatmeal, and saliva that was supposed to make one immortal. The thought of eating oatmeal to gain immortality was, in Alora's opinion, simply not worth it.
Either way, Duran seemed awfully eager to help, bloody cloths and all. She'd be willing to bet though that her blood diluted with tepid water and shitty horse rags didn't retain a high market value. Alora leaned back and rested her head against the stall door. She felt a little better and whatever was occurring outside had taken up a spot in the back of her mind for the moment. The blood in her veins drummed too purely to give in to worry.
Duran gritted his teeth with distaste as he washed out the rags. The directions he'd given Islinn on how to go out the barn the back way echoed through his mind and he poked and prodded the vision of her stepping off that back step and heading down the road to Fetch's. And leaving him with The Twiceborn. And yes ,he was afraid, and yes, he was worried but there was still a soft, maddening tug in his heart. He doubted that anything short of death would take that from him.
"Here. I'll do that."
Islinn's slim fingers brushed Duran's forearm as she reached for the cloth. He glanced at her quickly, thunderstruck. He tried to catch her eye but she refused to look up.
He was suddenly angry. On one level, he'd resigned himself to his fate. His noble sacrifice for Islinn and Behrin's love. He'd even tentatively begun to embrace his role of martyr and the romantic attraction that came with such a title. (though he hadn't quite been able to embrace the part where The Twiceborn peeled his skin from his bones for duping her). But it had never occurred to him that Islinn would simply refuse to be a part in this sacrifice and the origin of his future sainthood. He looked at her for a few moments longer but she never glanced his way. Abruptly, he rose and went to tend Loki.
"That must really hurt." Islinn murmured as she rinsed out the cloth and handed Alora a clean one.
"Well. Its setting the standard I'll be judging all my future injuries by, that's for sure." Alora replied dryly and pressed the new cloth against her face. She watched Islinn. Sympathy? Hardly. The girl's face was a mask. One artfully composed to hide her distaste. Alora would have believed the facade if it weren't for the tightly clenched jaw line.
"Not afraid my blood will peel the skin off your hands?" Alora casually inquired as she held out the bloodied cloth.
"Guess I'm not a True Believer."
Islinn's tone was as carefully composed as her face but she couldn't quite hide all the bitterness. Alora sensed it was an old bitterness though, one the girl carried around inside and directed towards anyone who dared to scratch the surface.
"Guess I'd be bitter too though if I had to wake up every morning to Behrin's milky face." She thought as she watched Islinn wash the cloth out in the now pink colored water.
Duran watched all of this from Loki's stall. The more he thought about it, the less he understood anything about what was going on. His pursed lips narrowed to a thin, hard line as he glared at Islinn. This little...bitch...was in spitting distance of Behrin and of averting what was beginning to look like a catastrophic situation to which there would be no good end. Apparently not enough people had died at the slave auction to suit her. The lofty image of sainthood and his barreling towards the UnderRealms with Alora's boot wedged firmly up his ass had been forgotten as he stared across the barn at the two women.
And Havnor. Havnor had come back to many a screw-up but nothing would top this one, oh no. There'd been 'stags with their heads caught in partitions, feed spilled all over the floor, and the small fire that had started up in the loft( he still didn't know how that one had happened). Duran knew all of that would pale in comparison to his brother coming back to a burned down Livery and The Twiceborn naked and hung upside down beside the smoldering ruins. He scowled at Islinn, a bruised and sullen look on his face. He no longer cared if The Twiceborn knew about his plan or not.
"Why didn't you go when you had a chance?"
At first, Alora thought the comment was aimed at her. She opened her mouth, primed to tell Duran she didn't "need a chance" and that she'd go when she was damned good and ready.
"I never had a chance." Islinn breathed. Duran could barely hear her reply above the noise of the Livery.
"Ohh,you had a chance, all right. It was right in front of your face."
Islinn shook her head.
"You don't understand."
"Maybe you can explain it to me."
"I doubt I'll live that long." Islinn retorted. She refused to look up from the water bucket even though she could feel both Duran and Alora watching her.
"You had the chance!" Duran couldn't let it go. "What are you, some kind of martyr? A Sentinel?"
"You know nothing about me!" Islinn harshly replied,revealing a possible crack in her facade.
"Shut up,the both of you."
Alora struggled to her feet, irritated. Damned if she was going to be a babysitter while her face developed its own heartbeat. She did feel better though, the rags and the cool water had helped more than she'd thought.
She walked over to the Livery doors and pushed one aside far enough to peer out. Men gathered elbow to ass on Fetch's dilapidated walkway with some hanging over the railing like limp rope. The wormy clapboard was hard put to withstand the weight of all the men being transformed, through strong mead, into fearless warriors.
"Isn't this just wonderful." Alora thought dryly as she watched several men vomit into the dry dust below the tavern railing. Behrin obviously hadn't shelled out for the pricey booze. What bothered her the most though were the men off The Saties. They stood off to the side in their colorful caftans and were a startling contrast against the browns and greys of Leomedon. She watched them as they gibbered and pointed at the Livery. Coins rapidly exchanged hands.
"Wonder if they're betting for or against me?" She mused and listened with half an ear to the catcalls and taunts directed her way. They wouldn't cross the road until all the liquor was gone but knowing how dog- cheap Behrin was, that might be at any moment.