We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Shadowblade: (A Dance of Fire and Shadow Book 1) – Chapter 24


BRAC AND MARIN LIFT Lania down while Deris takes Lupine and lays her on the ground near the fire. I shake myself out of my paralysis and kneel beside the stricken wolf, searching through the thick mane of fur for the wound.

The cut is deep and bleeding profusely, a long slash down one shoulder, probably from a heavy knife. I don’t stop to think, working my fingers under the mat of red-sticky hair for the edges of skin. As soon as I can feel them and the raw hole of ripped muscle and tissue beneath, I close my eyes and push.

Lupine gives a weak yelp, whether of pain or surprise or both I can’t tell but I feel reassured that I have done all I can. Cold grips my body and darkness folds in from the periphery of my vision. I wrap my arms around the wolf’s limp form and pull her onto my lap as if my closeness will somehow help her get through this. Through the spreading numbness I feel Deris grabbing my waist and moving one hand to support my back.

Marin’s tense voice comes from somewhere behind me.

“Ariel is still weakened by that sabre cut! Make sure she doesn’t––”

“Too late. She’s already done it.” Deris slips an arm under my shoulders and gently cushions my head. I manage to open one eye just as Marin drops to his knees beside me.

“Ariel! What were you thinking? Surely you can tell by now if you have enough strength for another healing?”

I open my mouth to tell him I know perfectly well what I’m doing and I have everything under control, but no words will come. Marin’s anxious face is going in and out of focus in a rather confusing way so I decide to shut my eyes again. It feels far more relaxing to sink into the sensation of floating down into darkness while listening to Marin’s comments without having to try to respond.

“Deris, stay with her. I have to get the arrow out of Lania’s shoulder and check it’s not poisoned.”

I hear Marin scramble to his feet and move away. Deris tries to unwrap my arms from Lupine but I don’t want to let go. The rise and fall of her breath is all that tells me she is still alive. I hear the Fae warrior’s exasperated sigh as he moves closer to protect my back from the ice creeping through me. The relief at feeling the warmth of his body soaking into the icy shivers is like a burst of sunshine in the chill night. Maybe now I can drift off to sleep…

“Ariel! Wake up! Stay with me.” Deris squeezes my arm. “Ariel, can you hear me?”

“Mm. Why?”

“When you fell asleep just then you almost stopped breathing. I tried the healing thing you taught Marin but I don’t seem able to do it.”

I reach out with my senses and I can tell he is nowhere near getting it right. Maybe Marin has some innate ability or maybe when I fixed the cut on his forehead it caused a kind of subtle learning process or maybe there is some kind of deep connection between us…

I sense instinctively that if I try to take from Deris in his unprepared state, I’ll kill him.

For a brief moment I feel uneasy. What if there are other effects from what I did to Marin…

But I’m too weak to think straight. “No. Deris, it’s not going to work.”

He leans closer and whispers. “Stay open to my voice. I’ll try to use Fae-persuasion to get you through this.”

“So long as I don’t have to think.” It comes out as little more than an exhausted gasp.

“That’s the idea. Just focus.”

But Deris doesn’t talk. He wraps his arms closer around me and starts to sing softly and beautifully about the forests and lakes of his elf-home, the blue-gold of the sky in the evening, the white waves crashing onto the rocky shore below the cliffs.

His words and images fill me with such longing that when he promises to take me there to see it if only I survive the night, I feel a new determination to stay awake just for the poetry of it all as he sings.

I lose track of time, blissfully drifting through great vistas of forests and sunsets.

Marin’s hand is on my arm. “Deris, can you get this over both of you? She’s still much too cold.”

The softness of my wolfskin cloak brushes my cheek.

“No, Marin, please! I don’t want to upset Lupine.”

Marin laughs softly. “I think she might be over that one now, after what you just did for her.”

I feel the cloak folding over me, then drift back into Deris’ songs of waves and sky again. If I’m going to die, I can’t think of a more peaceful and glorious way to do it than this.

Epilogue

Deris must have decided at some point that it was safe to let me sleep, as I wake to pale dawn filtering through the trees. The camp is quiet except for the wind rustling the leaves above my head. Deris feels me stirring and moves the cloak up around my shoulders.

“Ariel, whatever you do, learn from this and don’t cut it so close next time.”

Marin walks over and sits with us. “I’m beginning to see why Jantian hasn’t taught us that form of power-healing. Too difficult to control. More life-threatening than serious mistakes in sparring practice.”

Deris grins, running a finger along the bandage on his arm for dramatic effect. “Except when we get sparring practice with Ariel running amok and waving lethal Rapathian hardware at everyone.”

I let out a stifled groan. “Ugh. Don’t remind me. Just as I was starting to appreciate rejoining the land of the living. That episode was really embarrassing.”

Lupine stretches and yawns. I give her ear a gentle scratch, feeling the new warmth and pulse under her shaggy coat.

“Marin, how is Lania?”

Marin produces an evil-looking arrowhead. “It was a bit tricky but it came out in the end. Lania will be fine, once she gets over being seriously grumpy from having a very sore shoulder.”

“What happened? How did they catch up with her?”

“Five of Farang’s retainers were following her, all with fresh horses they had probably hidden inside the lodge. Lania could see Lupine circling and scouting, waiting to guide her to our camp but she couldn’t get far enough ahead to give them the slip and cover her trail as well. Then Lupine got impatient and attacked one of the riders. That caused enough panic and diversion for Lania to get clear––apart from the arrow in her shoulder. When Lupine didn’t catch up, Lania circled round and found her. She had dragged herself away from the soldiers and collapsed from her wound.”

I feel the weight of his words filling in the unspoken part of the message. They almost hadn’t made it back.

Nem joins us, leaning against a rock and stretching out her legs on the grass.

“Brac is sitting with Lania although she insists she doesn’t need a nursemaid.”

Marin stands and moves to leave. “Nem, keep an eye on Ariel, although she’s bound to insist she doesn’t need a nursemaid either. And she will probably keep it up for a lot longer than Lania does. I need to go through a few things with Deris before he heads back to Maratic.”

Lazily, I watch Marin walk across the clearing with Deris to collect his horse while they confer together in low voices.

“Nem, why is Deris going off on his own? I seem to have missed something.”

Nem strokes Lupine’s soft fur and for a moment I think she hasn’t heard me. Then she answers, her usual edginess softening a little.

“Deris has to go over his Fang conversation with Jantian as soon as possible, to help the Eldrin work out their next plan. Farang’s determination to find Maratic has convinced Marin that there is a deeper motive for this invasion than just slaves and gold. We have to uncover what it is before it’s too late.”

I have an uneasy feeling that uncovering darker plots is going to involve my role as Blade adept more than I would like but I don’t comment.

“Are the archers going with Deris?” I can see them packing up their gear and getting their prisoners ready to move out.

Nem shakes her head. “No. Allantis and the archers will go to help the Eldrin who are protecting the king. They will try to get Tandarion and his nephew out of Farang’s clutches without provoking a full-scale fight that could get them both killed. As for the rest of us, only Brac and myself are still fully on our feet. We would hold Deris back and he needs to get to Maratic quickly.”

“Surely we’re fit to ride?”

“Have you tried standing up recently?”

I gently remove Lupine’s head from my lap and give it a try. Luckily Nem grabs me and gets me back on the grass in reasonable order.

“Thanks Nem. See your point.” I can’t manage to say more. This is the first time I have had any physical contact with Nem and the flash of Maratic’s power in her comes as a shock. Somehow I had assumed that only Marin and Deris had that kind of intensity with it.

She gives a tiny dip of her head that shows she has noticed my reaction even though I tried to hide it.

“We can just travel slowly, maybe get back by the end of tomorrow.”

That tacit acknowledgement of a shared understanding as well as her mellowed mood gives me confidence to exercise some of my curiosity about her.

“Nem, why did you leave Annubia to join the Eldrin?”

She hesitates for a few moments, gently lifting Lupine’s head onto her lap to stroke the thick fur around her neck.

“I didn’t actually come here for that. I was sent here as a child, in preparation for an arranged marriage. It… didn’t work out. So rather than return home I decided to join the Eldrin.”

I search for something positive in this story. “Was it actually a relief it turned out like that, seeing as you’re attracted to women?”

I don’t understand the strange way she looks at me.

“Even if a relationship isn’t physical it still means you can love someone. You just love them in a different way.” She turns back to Lupine, gazing at the sleepy wolf, her slender fingers stroking the silver fur, tears spilling down her face. “Thank you for saving Lupine. I couldn’t bear it if we lost her. I’ve lost too many friends already.”

And finally everything drops into place. I wonder why I hadn’t seen it before.

Nem.

Nemeria, Annubian child princess brought to Samaran, pledged to marry the king’s son and forge a powerful and defensive alliance between the two nations. Meeting a prince who died of poisoning a few months later, before his eighth name day. I was only four when the Queen and Prince Tieran died so suddenly, but I remember my parents talking about it and how sad it was. No one mentioned that Nemeria had gone off to bury her grief in the warrior discipline of the Eldrin. Maybe it had been kept secret, another layer of court intrigue and devious plots.

“Do the Eldrin accept children?”

She gives a self-deprecating shrug. “Not often. Unless they notice someone has a heightened sensitivity to the power of Maratic.”

“And you have that?” I’m guessing I already know the answer after what I sensed in her just now.

She looks away. “A few of us have natural Power Mage potential. We develop the skills faster and take them further than others can.” She eases Lupine off her lap and gently pulls the wolf upright, her edgy manner back in its protective place.

“Come on, you reckless mutt. Let’s get the blood washed out of your fur before it dries or we’ll never shift it.” She heads for the stream, making clear she is not going to give me any more details about Maratic’s power or her affinity for it. Lupine gives the damaged foreleg an experimental stretch, and then limps off for her bath without much enthusiasm.

I hear footsteps and look up to find Marin standing behind me. He helps me to my feet, supporting me as I get my balance and feel the strength slowly returning to my legs.

“You took a risk, saving Lupine when you were already weak like that.” His hand lingers on my shoulder.

I lean in to his touch, longing to be close to him.

“Isn’t that what the Eldrin train to do? Watch each other’s backs all the time?” I hesitate as I notice once again the same intensity of Maratic’s power within him that I felt with Nem––until he quickly conceals it again.

“Marin? Why do you hide the incredible power you have?” It isn’t the first time I’ve noticed the way he can conceal what he is, but it has been so mixed up with my overwhelming attraction to him and the precarious nature of our relationship, I haven’t felt able to ask him about it until now.

His fingers tighten a little although he keeps his voice steady. “You already experienced yourself what can happen. Anyone with heightened power is seen as a threat.”

“Even the disciplined and fealty-sworn Eldrin? I thought it was only ruthless and unpredictable Blade adepts like me who are hated and feared.”

“That discipline helps us work together––which makes us even more powerful, more of a threat. Why Farang is desperate to destroy all of us, especially the leaders.” He rests his head against my hair. “You didn’t get much time for more training before we got dragged away on this mission, but I was hoping––”

I finish for him, though he probably wouldn’t have put it in quite such blunt terms. “You were hoping I would learn to control the power and learn to work together with the rest of you. Discover it from my own experience, before Jantian decides I’m a liability who needs to be removed. Permanently.”

“Something like that.” He hesitates. “I find it really hard, watching you struggle with this thing.”

A ripple of longing runs through me like fire and seems to take over. I reach up to twine my fingers in his hair and before I know what is happening his arms are around me. We kiss, long and slow, and nothing exists except the warmth of his body pressing against me as his hands slide down my back, holding me close to him.

Too soon, he pulls away. I can tell he is as reluctant to stop as I am.

“If only we weren’t in the middle of a war.”

There is something underlying his words that gives a hint of difficulties still to be overcome, but I’m daring to hope that maybe this really is the beginning of my reprieve. The beginning of a new chance to learn to handle this deadly gift and become fully accepted, not only by Marin but by Jantian and the rest of the Eldrin as well. Maybe eventually I’ll be able to get Alina out of the Rose Mansion. Maybe even dream that Samaran will survive this invasion.

“Marin, if it weren’t for the war, I wouldn’t have been given so many reprieves for being a Blade adept. So I probably wouldn’t even be here.”

He smiles, a little ruefully. “You still seem to remember your positive-thinking healer training.”

“If anything is going to help me get control of this wild ability of mine, then I’m guessing that taking risks to save my friends’ lives is the best hope I have.”

“To stay alive?

“To hold onto being human.”


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset