Gareth wondered at the new found determination he saw in Zaria. She seemed fragile at the same time, almost ready to shatter. She kept it together and pushed herself further with each exercise. It had taken a toll on her. She had fallen into bed after they had eaten, and now lightly snoring. He didn’t want to wake her, as she needed her rest. He felt comforted by being near her, touching her. He wrapped his arm around her, lightly stroking her hair with his other hand. He felt like they were in a mess. They were taking the fight to the queen as soon as Zaria was ready. Would they ever be ready? How does one prepare for war? His heart tightened as he thought about it. He had to protect her, at all costs. She was the most precious being in the entire universe. He didn’t know what he would do if he lost her.
He fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of magic and destruction, only to be awoken by the absence of Zaria. He could hear her moving in the kitchen and smelled food. She had to be starving after all of the energy work they had done yesterday in training. He had something else planned for this day, though. He slipped behind her and hugged her from behind in the kitchen, her small sigh of contentment enough to make him grin. They had been growing closer because of all the time they spent together. He thought she was trusting him again, even more so now than before. He wanted to be her rock.
They dressed for the day in loose tunics that flowed in the breeze. The sun reflected off the white of them as they walked hand in hand to the clearing. He had seen how hard Zaria had been working for the past day, and wondered how much she could take before she broke. She worked even harder in the morning, sweat soaking her tunic until it clung to her and she panted. Only when she nearly collapsed from exhaustion did she take a break.
“You should take it a little slower darling,” he said softly as they sat with their backs to a giant willow tree. They shared some water and walnuts and fruit as the sun rose up to straight above them. The bees droned on and a couple of hummingbirds flitted from flower to flower, almost too fast for a normal human eye to see.
Zaria choked back a sob. She didn’t want to see this beauty destroyed. Her heart hurt, and she told Gareth about her conversation with Rishtah.
“She didn’t say who the betrayers were?” He thought about this, and frowned. He didn’t like there being the reality that there were people they couldn’t trust in their camp. Their village. This place that he had helped shape and mold. The Elders had a heavy hand in it as well, but Gareth had done a lot of work on the ground, helping people find the place and helping them adjust, as well as other plans. He had helped carve some of the protection spells around the village. Her revelations changed his plans about what they were going to do for the rest of the day. He had wanted to do some stretching and relaxations for their afternoon, some things that his mentor had taught him. Maybe it could wait, just a little while. He could sense that although she was exhausted, she wanted to continue training, and he would indulge her for a day or two.
“No, she didn’t. The only thing she assured me of was that you can be trusted. Other than that, I don’t know who I can trust,” tears threatened to spill over again, but she held them back. Gareth caressing her back with one hand made it harder to not cry. She almost wanted to pull away from him. After a couple minutes of silence, she gave up and curled up next to him, her head in his lap as her hand lightly ran over the soft grass. She could take this comfort from him. She had to. He ran his hand over her hair, calming. “What are we going to do?” She whispered.
He stayed silent for a while. Then he said the only thing he could; “survive,” and kissed her head. “We will be okay. Whoever betrays us will have to answer for it in some way. It will hurt. But we will survive, because it’s what we do. We’ve been running and hiding for a long time. It needs to end, one way or another.” They stayed like that for a while, quietly talking about what they would like to see in a new world.
“I want it to look like this. A paradise, with beautiful plants and animals. People acting peacefully towards one another. I don’t want to see anyone die,” Zaria said, smiling softly.
“Me too,” he replied, running his thumb up and down her arm.
“We are going to win. We’re going to beat them,” a quiet but hard determination in her voice.
“We will sweetheart. I think, though, that we need to choose our places carefully where we can speak freely from now on,” he said sadly. “Here is one of them. We can trust Rishtah as well.”
“I agree,” Zaria replied, standing to stretch. His rubbing and massaging had made her aching muscles feel better, after she had been working so hard the last day and a half. She toned it down just a little for the afternoon, just enough so she wouldn’t completely wear herself out. Gareth helped her until twilight, and they stood together with a glowing ball of amber energy between them. It was beautiful against the setting sun and night sky, filled with hope and promise as they released the massive amount of energy into the stars and beyond.
Manuel was tortured. He was withdrawn from Aria. He had no idea what to do as he looked down at his hands. His wedding was only a couple weeks away. That damn bird was always around, and the queen would know if he tried to contact someone. He had to try. He just had to. Evil would not win this time, and he was done hiding. He just had to play both sides for as long as he could. His hands and his arms shaped the metal, first swinging down with the hammer, then twisting pieces, manipulating. His mind wondered.
He made a locket. Polished silver with emeralds. The filigree made a spell. It could only be opened by one person. He made sure the blue bird wasn’t in his shop. He wrote a quick note and put it inside. Closing the locket, he finished the charm keeping it closed. His heart was pounding and he wiped sweat from his brow. He was shaking on the inside. It had to work. It had to. He was choosing a side, and he refused to be on the wrong one again. Manuel loved Aria. He loved everyone here.
He gave the locket to a trusted messenger to get it to the right person. He knew he was doing the right thing, but it still made him nervous. He made another piece to sell at the market before closing up the shop for the day. He saw the bird in a tree a block away from his house and he stifled a shiver. He hated the queen Awen. He couldn’t let her win. He kissed Aria when he got in, holding her close. If anything happened to her, he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself.
“You’re just in time for dinner,” she said sweetly, smiling up at him.
“What are we having?”
“Rabbit roast with potatoes and a spinach salad,” she said, following him into the kitchen where he washed his hands again. “Are you okay? You seem really tense.”
“No, lovely, just worried about the wedding. Not worried, I guess, just nervous. I want everything to be perfect for you,” he lied, kissing the top of her head. He supposed it wasn’t exactly a lie, just not the whole truth. He did want everything to be perfect for her. He knew it wouldn’t be so, though. He was frustrated that he couldn’t do more for her. He didn’t want her to know what was going to happen. There would be a war. He needed to find a way to hide her until it was all over. He tried to listen as Aria talked about wedding plans. The china was being bought from the finest maker in the market, and the glasses had beautiful etchings of birds in them. He wondered if he could trade some of the costs.
That night, their lovemaking was oddly rough but tender. He kissed the curve in her lower back as he pulled her hair, just before biting her smooth skin. He ran his hands over her softly, even as he scratched and pinched in all the right places. He drove her to the precipice and pulled her back just before she went over. She was left begging before he ever entered her, nearly sobbing his name with her pleas. He held her down as he bit her under the breast and she writhed in his grip. He nipped his way down her navel, her snow white skin in stark contrast to his darkness. It was already starting to bruise and he was pleased. He teased her by kissing the inside of her thighs, licking the areas all around except where she was wet. Her voice was becoming raw from her pleading, and he finally gave in and gave her what she wanted.
He slowly licked her clit, and she came already, shuddering and moaning. He continued, determined to make her cum multiple times. He made her turn over so he could spank her ass raw, alternating between spanking and kissing between her thighs. She was becoming weak and he let her rest for a moment before he unclothed and entered her from behind. He slid his length until he disappeared inside of her and she shuddered, her sensitivity heightened from all the stimulation already. After only a couple of slow strokes she came, her screams muffled by the pillow. He didn’t wait for her to stop as he continued pumping into her, the wetness making it hard to control himself. He wanted to let himself go in the deliciousness of her, but he forced himself not to. He was denying himself so she could have more.
He commanded she get up on her knees and he rammed into her hard, over and over, and it wasn’t long until she came again. She whimpered, clutching at their twisted bedding. He slapped her ass hard and pulled her hair, giving all that she could take. Gutteral sounds came from her throat, completely animalistic that drove him crazy. He grunted from the effort, and reached down to squeeze her full breast in his hand, tweaking the nipple with his rough fingers. She came again as he moved down to massage her clit with his finger. He had to finally let go himself when he couldn’t contain it anymore. He came with his seed inside of her. He clutched at her, unwilling to let go as he moaned and shook. His nails left marks in her and they collapsed, finally spent. He was still inside of her for a few moments and when he pulled out, her body trembled. He kissed the back of her neck and caressed her. He held her for an eternity. He never wanted to let go.
She slept in his arms, and he watched her sleep. He would do anything to protect her. He wondered if the recipient of the locket had read his note. If not, he had to find some way to get the word out that they were going to be attacked. He slept fitfully, dreaming about fire and death, and a sense of danger and doom that no one would survive this.