Pain flared across Alora's already bruised face and she tasted the sudden salt of blood as she bit her own tongue. Her anger instantly appeared, and then disappeared as fury took its place. She glared into Islinn's startled eyes. For a moment they both stared at each other as though realizing there was far more to each one of them than the other had imagined.
Alora found her fury to be exhilarating. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the feeling of her fist against Islinn's face was going to be nothing short of pure ecstasy. Her rage kicked up a notch when she noticed Islinn didn't even try to run. And she didn't look afraid.
"Well." Alora thought, stunned.
She regretted the fear she caused when townspeople scurried out of her way as she passed by but it was a different story when she was angry. She expected people to scatter to the winds. And she definitely expected it from the person who was the very basis for the fury that was now working her over.
Alora watched as Islinn opened her mouth than resolutely shut it. She recognized the same set jaw she'd felt on herself many times. She knew, from experience, it came from stubbornly gritting your teeth very tightly together. The mere sight of this spurred her anger into a dark place, a place that knew nothing other than appeasing the anger in any manner possible. Her furious black eyes drilled into Islinn's soft brown ones. She brought her fist back and still Islinn stared steadily at her. And she flinched.
Not physically. Alora knew the sudden quick sting of a slap wasn't enough to make her physically flinch.
"Oh no," Alora thought, seething. "Not her."
Islinn was a girl on intimate terms with pain and a little slap couldn't hold a candle to what she'd been through.
The flinch had been in her eyes, a quick blink, and something else had been there too, a quick flash of…familiarity. It was automatic, nothing but a knee-jerk response, but Alora felt her anger start to ebb. She unclenched her fist and slowly lowered her hand. Still glaring, she lightly touched the side of her face. Her cheek was warm and tingly-feeling. Scowling, she reached out and grabbed Islinn by her tunic and pulled her close.
"That's the only one you'll get. Understand me?" Alora whispered. Her mouth stretched into a lazy grin.
Islinn nodded and Alora let her go. Loki nickered, a contented rumbling sound, as he moved on to a new patch of grass and Alora went over to him. She didn't quite trust herself around Islinn at the moment. Looking into the girl's eyes she had gotten a quick glimpse of a great many things she hadn't understood before.
Like what it was like to be brave when you had no weapons or recourse. And how much untapped power faith truly held. It reminded her of tossing a coin into a well and expecting to hear a clink on stone at some point and hearing silence instead.
She hauled Loki's head up out of the grass and scrubbed his face zealously with one hand. He nuzzled her for treats, leaving a green smear across her hands. Sighing, she got some tobacco out of her pack. She gave it to him, careful to keep her fingers away from his eager lips, and studied Islinn.
The sulky balked look on Alora's face smoothed out and was replaced by an amused half smile. Most people prayed for forgiveness from Brede just for having the knowledge of knowing that The Twiceborn was alive in the same world they were and breathing their air. And Islinn was no different. Alora knew that from being near the girl, the smell of her fear had been as heavy and pungent as smoke, yet she'd stood her ground.
Faith. Alora's brow furrowed. How could you believe so strongly in a god that could be so easily explained away? And one you'd never even seen or heard? A ripple of unease skated across her back. What kind of power could something unseen and unheard actually have? She didn't know.
And, she decided as she caught hold of Loki's bridle and reins, she didn't care. Brede had never been anything other than an annoyance to her and that hadn't changed. He wasn't much more than a trickster, much like herself, if he existed in the first place.
"Nothing but a set of strange circumstances. That's all he is." Alora reassured herself. The circumstances that had taken shape at the present moment were an obstinate girl who'd been courageous enough…or stupid enough…to slap her already aching face because she was lamenting the lost opportunity of being beaten to death.
Alora decided she'd just wait until Islinn got up out of the middle of the road and pulled herself together. The fact that the only comfort she could offer was to run a blade through JoHan was an irony that wasn't lost on her.
Alora got a waterskin off her saddle and walked over to the girl. She wordlessly handed it to her and watched as Islinn splashed some on her face then scrubbed it off in the crook of her arm. The little stag chuffed and stamped its hooves so Islinn cupped some water in her hand and gave it to the little beast.
"Are you ready to ride?" Alora kept her voice carefully composed.
She could feel her heart beating beneath the bruised surface of her face. Islinn handed the waterskin back. She studiously avoided Alora's eyes as she lithely swung a leg over the 'stag and concentrated on keeping the little animal calm.
Alora watched her for a few moments than wordlessly turned and went back to Loki. Grass bristled from all corners of his mouth and the insides of his nostrils were stained green. She glared at him as she swung into the saddle and started down the road.