At first, Alora wasn't quite sure what had awakened her. Usually, whenever she heard something, she awoke instantly but this time around she felt as though she were fighting her way to the surface. Her face throbbed and ached but it wasn't pain that woke her.
Some of Behrin's men? Not likely. They'd given new meaning to the phrase "scared of your own shadow". Duran? No. He'd puppy-pawed his way upstairs earlier with his tail neatly tucked between his legs. Well, no one said love was easy. Islinn? No. Probably still holding down hay and waiting on Brede.
Horses shifted and rumbled in the dark. Every now and then a 'stag squealed peevishly. Other than that, all she heard were the moans and shifts of a building which had seen better days.
Her eyes instantly searched and found him. Moonlight stitched its way across his coat as he stood, hipshot, his big black head propped on the stall door. His nostrils fluttered serenely as he slept.
If it weren't for Loki, Alora would have never seen the girl. The moonlight that velveted its way across the dark horse spread its light over the packed dirt outside the stall and its soft glow found Islinn as the girl softly padded over to the water trough.
Alora's eyes narrowed. She watched as Islinn shrugged out of her tunic and slipped off her boots. A slow flush began at Alora's neck and worked its way up to her cheeks. Her face throbbed with a thick, heavy pulse. There wasn't very much that shocked her or caught her unaware. Until today.
"Loki's big head almost knocking me out and now…this." She thought. And just what exactly was this? Islinn dipped some water out of the trough and splashed her face. Alora noticed how the girl made sure she didn't turn her back to her.
Alora remained still even though she was uncomfortable and wanted to shift positions. She was uncomfortable in more ways than one. She was seeing too much. Not because Islinn had shed her clothes but because Alora had seen inside her. Everything unfinished, unplanned, undone, torn away, the list went on and on. And now, to see Islinn like this, her body announcing her place in the world more boldly than she could ever imagine, made Alora feel as intimate as a first love and made Islinn appear as fragile as glass.
But she was used to being the intruder and sitting in on people's most shameful moments with all the glee of a pig in shit. But this was different. Islinn idlely trailed her hand across the surface of the water, her face a mask. There wasn't any fear, or panic, or even any disappointment in the movement. No emotion for Alora to steal and, because of this, Alora felt like she was treading on forbidden ground more than ever.
Dry wood cracked somewhere off in the darkness and a 'stag shrieked a stay away warning to a stablemate. Islinn whirled around. Alora took a sudden, painful breath.
Scars had dug their way across Islinn's shoulders and ended near the small of her back. Their eager fingers had burrowed and ripped deep furrows that reminded Alora of the time she'd seen a bear up in the Targos Range almost shred a tree to kindling with one languorous stretch . The bear's claws had left cavernous yet orderly slashes but…these marks…they ran up and down, off to the side, anywhere their teeth could dig in and hang on.
"Behrin?" Alora thought, sickened. No, these marks had healed a while back, leaving the skin an angry reddish color where the cuts had bitten their way to the bone. Alora felt as though she were seeing something dark yet strangely intimate. Like two people who share and protect a secret which lays claim to a madness few can comprehend. Alora didn't even think Behrin had it in him to do something like this.
And what could someone have possibly thought Islinn could have done to warrant such a vicious beating? Maybe Behrin had been a step up in her life. It was hard for Alora to imagine that being with that asshole might be better than…well, anything. But she had to admit, albeit reluctantly, that the sight bothered her though she didn't understand why. So. Someone somewhere had a real hate going on for Islinn. So what? Alora shut her eyes, determined to go back to sleep.
Islinn watched the water ripple beneath her fingertips. The night was heavily silent but every now and then, there were skittering noises like the kind small animals make in the brush. She tried to ignore the sounds.
Duran had gone upstairs, his reproachful eyes locked on hers as she peeked over the hay bales. Well, screw him. Like all of this was her fault. She splashed water on her scraped knees. Maybe she should have just gone back to Behrin. Up the stairs, through there, turn here, climb over that, then gallop into his arms. And live happily ever after right up until the moment he put his fingers around her neck and started to squeeze.
A stag screamed somewhere off in the stable and Islinn quickly turned, her eyes scanning the darkness. The shadows made by all the shifting, restless animals appeared huge and black. And endless. And Islinn felt very, very small.