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A Strange Request

 
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Liayna
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:30 am    Post subject: A Strange Request Reply with quote

In all the bustle of court life as it settled into place after the True Queen regained her throne, there was one small family who were still unsettled for now. Though Conall and Liayna were a part of Clan Tarven, who had returned to the lands around Phalion to resume their nomadic existence, they had chosen to stay in Loscar a while longer, to see their friends settle into these new lives. Yet it was not only for that reason they had stayed.

By the time life in the capital had grown peaceful once more, Liayna had been too heavy with child for them to consider the month-long journey to the north, and so their daughter - the unexpected blessing that had come on them in the midst of war - was born in a small grove outside the city of Loscar, watched over by an honor guard from the clan of the Doma who had born both Liayna and Rory, delivered by the Goddess-born Kari, her great-grandmother. Vespera, they had named her, for the stars that shone on them without the moon to dim their light on the night she had finally been born; a name in the old tongue the Wild Ones still used among themselves.

The weeks that followed were devoted to Liayna's recovery, and to learning how to be parents to the little life that now depended upon them; to sharing their joy with the friends who visited them whenever they could. It was a new beginning, and one they seemed ready to embrace.

For a man who had once been a blacksmith and then a soldier, second in command to the leader of the rebellion, Conall Riordan seemed oddly content with his new life as a husband and father and clan member. If he'd known he was half Wild One, his life might have been different, but he had no complaints. How could he complain when he at last had the life he'd always dreamed of, and that included a loving wife and a healthy daughter?

Soon, they would pack up and head north, to rejoin Kari and Clan Tarven and find their place among their clansmen in this strange time of peace. But for now, this time was their own, to share or to protect, whichever they chose to do. The summer was just around the corner, bringing with it warm sunshine and fragrant winds, and the calling to the wilds that lived in their blood.

Liayna sat on a high, smooth boulder near their campsite, her bow at her side, and their daughter nestled comfortably against her as she suckled, breathing in the clean air of the summer to come with a contented smile on her face, heedless of the curious glances that came her way from the main road in and out of Loscar. She might have been visible to the Arctrans passing by, but they couldn't reach her. Not without Conall removing their spines for their rudeness in trying, anyway.

There was nothing more beautiful to Conall's eyes than the sight of his wife nursing their daughter, but every time one of the Arctrans glanced over, whether out of curiosity or interest or disgust, they turned quickly away due to the look of warning on the big man's face. "Why are we here, Liayna?" he asked, his voice betraying his impatience.

She chuckled softly, unmoved by the curiosity in the eyes of those who looked toward them. "Because there is company coming, eniro," she told him fondly. "It would be rude to force them to hunt us out when we can just as easily be visible to their eyes as they approach. We are in no danger."

"It's not danger that troubles me," the man replied, with a pointed glare toward those who were glancing their way. He almost growled with displeasure and bared his teeth, like a bear protecting his cubs. It did the trick though as the onlookers hurried away with some mumbled remark about "heathens".

"And if we hide from the eyes of those who have heard only stories of our brutality, then we do ourselves more harm," she pointed out to him with a smile. "Look at them, eniro. They are curious because it is obvious that we are not like them. Because they have heard stories about the savages in the wilds, who attack without warning and eat the flesh of their enemies, who use magic of blood and bone and necromancy, and who cannot possibly be anything like them. And what do they see when they look on us? A family, very like their own. Not so frightening, after all."

"Perhaps," Conall admitted grudgingly, his expression softening a fraction, though he was not going to let anyone get close to his wife and daughter without his say so. He'd lived most of his life among Arctrans and was half-Arctran himself, but ever since learning that he was also half-Clan Tarven, he had become even more protective of his wife and her people, as they were also his own. "What do you want me to do?" he asked, unsure what she expected of him.

Liayna laughed softly, lifting one hand from their daughter to touch his cheek with a fond look in her eyes. "Talk to me," she told him. "I know there is company coming, but I don't know when they will arrive, or even who it will be. Rory would know, but he's in that appalling cesspit they call a city."

"I don't know, either," Conall admitted with a scowl. He'd assumed his wife knew why they'd been sent to wait here, but it seemed he'd been wrong. If there was one thing that annoyed him, it was subterfuge. Now that Arctra was at peace - even if that peace was a tenuous one - he was hoping to join the clan and learn what it meant to be one of them, but he could not completely turn his back on the people who'd become his friends.

Liayna would never ask him to do that, either. She, too, had become fond of those few in the city she was privileged to call friend - of Liam and Shaye, of Ariana and Rory. Their friendship was something she would not willingly give up. She could foresee many visits to this stinking city just to see them in the years to come. "Why are you so on edge, eniro?" she asked him curiously, gently raising Vespera to her shoulder. The little head bobbed around until clear green eyes stared, unfocused, at her father as her back was rubbed.

"I don't know," he repeated, furrowing his brows. He was on edge - that much was certain - but he wasn't quite sure why, other than the fact that he wasn't a very patient man and wasn't overly fond of waiting for something, especially when he wasn't too sure what the something was that he was waiting for. "Something just doesn't feel right to me," he replied, though it was hard to say. He had always had gut feelings about things, but without any training in how to interpret those feelings, he'd always had a hard time understanding them.

Liayna's smile was a little crooked as she looked over their daughter's head in his direction. "How does it feel?" she asked. Some instincts they shared, she knew, but she had a lifetime of understanding them. He had only been aware of his connection to the Wild Ones for a little under a year, only just beginning to explore what that meant for him.

He didn't want to repeat himself a third time, but he wasn't really sure. He hadn't had much practice in interpreting those gut feelings, but there was only one way to learn and that was to try. "It feels ..." He trailed off, dark brows furrowing as he considered her question. "It's something to do with the First Blade. With De Winter, I mean." Though not close friends, Liam had spoken highly of the man, and Conall trusted Liam's word implicitly.

"Does it feel troubling, or more that you're waiting for something to happen?" she questioned him further. There was a purpose to her questions; he needed to be able to interpret those feelings if he was ever going to be able to fully embrace what it meant to be touched by the Goddess.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Like I'm waiting for something to happen," he replied, without hesitation. It was a feeling of anticipation, like sitting on a hornet's nest and waiting to be stung, though he was unsure if what he was waiting for would prove to be a good or a bad thing.

"Company's coming," she repeated with a satisfied smile, nodding to herself. "Here, hold your daughter while I lace up again." She handed him the little bundle they had made together, turning her attention to the complex lacings of her vest to right herself. "When you feel that uncertain anticipation, it means that company is coming. Someone coming to see you, to speak to you, not necessarily hostile. If there's danger, it comes with an edge of restlessness that won't let you take your hand off your weapon."

His entire demeanor changed as he was handed their daughter, though he was just as protective as he'd been before. "I will never master these ... feelings, aera," Conall complained, as he looked into his daughter's eyes, that seemed so much older and wiser than she seemed. She seemed almost amused at her father's dismay, though she was only a few days old.

"Yes, you will," Liayna assured him in amusement, tugging her laces comfortably tight once again, content to be the protector as he held their daughter. "They'll become second nature to you, as they are to all of us. It's one of the Goddess' gifts to Her chosen people, after all, and you are one of us."

"Only by half," he reminded her as he set their daughter against his shoulder. He was perfectly happy to keep her there, so long as she was content and there was no sign of danger. He wasn't so sure he would ever master his gifts the way she and her people had, but she seemed to differ.

"That does not matter," she told him in a firm voice, fingertips turning his chin until he looked into her eyes. "You are Goddess-touched, Conall. That is not simply words. Have you never realized that only the Goddess' people bear pure green eyes? It is a gift not given to anyone who is not Hers. You have green eyes. You are Hers, and the gifts She gives are yours."

"You seem so sure," he told her, as she turned his face to look at her. It had not been all that long since he'd found out about his true heritage and birthright, and though he had accepted it and even welcomed it, it still caused him some confusion.

"Because I am sure," she promised him warmly, leaning close to brush her lips to his in a brief kiss. "How else could you possibly have been so confident to be alone with me the night we met? I knew you were the one the moment we met. My eniro, promised to me years before by an old woman who likes to stick her nose in and ferret out all the details."

That brought a smile to his lips - not only the kiss but the reminder of their first meeting, and of the woman he now knew as Kari, Liayna's grandmother. "My aera," he whispered in turn, brushing his nose against hers. Whether he was a seasoned soldier or not, at that moment he was nothing more than a loving husband and father, with a mate he adored and a young daughter on his shoulder.

She smiled with him, nose to nose, lingering in the loving moment beneath the warm sun. Until suddenly she whipped away, going from relaxed and tender to crouched before him, her bow drawn and an arrow nocked, sighting along the shaft at the woman approaching their perch from the road. That was what his instincts were going to grow into, eventually.

The woman squawked in surprise, holding her free hand up peaceably. The other was busy holding a heavy-looking basket. "I'm not here to cause trouble!"

Conall's free hand fell to the hilt of the blade he wore at his side. There was usually a brace of them strapped across his back, but today, he only wore the one, which he'd deemed sufficient since they were no longer at war. He turned so that he was shielding their daughter from the stranger with his own body, looking the woman over with wary, curious eyes. Those gut feelings of his, though, didn't seem to sense any danger. "It's all right, aera," he assured her, noting the basket the woman was carrying, which was more likely to be laden with foodstuffs than anything dangerous.

Liayna relaxed at Conall's assurance, though she kept her bow nocked for the time being. Her own safety, she wasn't too bothered about; the safety of her mate and their daughter, however, was not negotiable. "Company," she murmured, the sharp edge of anticipation easing away as the woman dared to edge a little closer.

"You'd be Master Riordan and the lady from Phalion, yes?" she asked curiously. "I've some bits for you and the little one here."

Conall got the feeling their friends had sent the woman to them. She seemed harmless enough, but one couldn't be too careful. "And you are?" he asked, not just out of mere curiosity.

"Talis, milord," the woman introduced herself. "Would've been servant to Lady Shaye if she'd been living in her own rooms at the palace, but now I'm servant to Lord de Winter and his little wife."

Liayna blinked, glancing at Conall in surprise. "Wife?" she repeated. That was news to them.

Conall snorted, but it was hard to tell if he was snorting in amusement or derision. "That didn't take long," he said, knowing what they knew of the new First Blade and the slave girl he'd taken into his protection. This was coming from a man who had wasted little time in pursuing the woman who had become his own wife.

"Longer than it took us, eniro," Liayna pointed out in amusement. But then, he hadn't actually known they were mated in the eyes of the Goddess for several months after the fact. She lowered her bow, looking to their visitor. "Come through," she invited her, gesturing toward the hidden path. "Ignore the webs, they are not real."

Talis nodded, moving toward the opening she was directed to with a wary step as Liayna slung her bow onto her shoulder once once.

"Shall we?" she suggested to her mate, grinning as she turned to begin slithering down the smooth boulder toward their well-hidden camp.

He might have remarked that they didn't count, just because it was them, but Liayna seemed to have decided that the woman was who she said she was and that she was a friend, not a foe. Or at least, a friend of a friend. Still, Conall seemed to relax a little now that their visitor had introduced herself. He still felt a little on edge, but it could simply be lack of sleep or the desire to be on their way. "What brings you here, Talis?" he asked further, waiting for Liayna to reach the ground before he could hand over the most treasured possession that was their daughter.

"Well, I overheard the captain saying you had a new wee one and you were camped out here," Talis was saying as she picked her way along the hidden path that would bring her back into their sight. "And the First Blade was fretting about not knowing if he should do anything for you. Thought I'd do something myself, seeing as I know about babies and he wouldn't know one if it sat on his head."
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Liayna snorted with laughter, thumping down onto the ground. She reached up to take Vespera from Conall, settling the baby girl against her shoulder while he made his own way down.

Once Liayna had their daughter safely in her arms, Conall, too, clambered on down from the boulder to join his wife. He snorted again at something the woman had said, but it was fairly obvious this time that it was done in amusement. "If he's gotten himself married, it's only a matter of time," he mused aloud.

"Not so sure about that," Talis commented, ducking into view from beneath the low hanging branch that hid their camp from careless eyes. She looked around briefly, containing her curiosity. Talis didn't know much about the Wild Ones, but she knew that this pair in particular were held in high esteem by the queen and her consort. If she thought it strange that they would choose to camp out here, rather than stay in the palace, she kept it to herself. "I've brought you some clothes for your wee one, blankets and such, and a few pies and bits for you both to spare you the need for too much cooking," she offered, setting the basket down beside the banked fire.

Conall still wasn't sure why the woman had chosen to visit them or come bearing gifts, but she seemed harmless enough. Perhaps it was only that she was fond of babies. "Thank you," he told her, gesturing toward the fire with a hand. "Please, sit. Can we offer you anything? A cup of klaste, perhaps? It's freshly brewed," he told her, making a visible effort to be friendly and accommodating, despite his tendency to be a little standoffish.

"I wouldn't say no to something I haven't had to brew myself, no," Talis chuckled, her eyes lingering on the green-eyed babe on Liayna's shoulder. "She's a fine one, isn't she? Oh ... she is a she, yes? The captain was well into his cups when he was boasting about your babe."

There was that snort again from the big man, even as he went about pouring a cup of the bitter black liquid from a kettle that was hung over the fire. "That does not surprise me," he remarked, a hint of a smirk tugging at his lips. At least, the captain had been happy about their news and was only drunk because he'd been celebrating.

Liayna, too, laughed at the description of Liam, rolling her eyes as she gestured for Talis to sit comfortably. "Vespera is a girl, yes," she assured the older woman, eying her curiously. "But our child is not the reason you came, is she? There is something else you wanted to see us for."

Talis paled, looking guilty for a moment. "Well, I, uh ... you're Wild Ones," she said worriedly. "You'd know more about magic than I would."

Conall handed the woman a tin cup filled with the invigorating black liquid, which had an earthy aroma and slightly bitter but not unpleasant flavor. He ticked a brow upwards at the mention of magic and exchanged a curious glance with his wife, allowing her to lead the conversation. He was still new enough to the clan that he was not yet too versed in magic.

Liayna frowned, glancing back at Conall. Arctrans, as a rule, did not approach the nomads about magic unless things were very dire indeed, and even then, they did it reluctantly. What was going on in the palace? "What sort of magic are we talking about?" she asked, handing Vespera back to Conall as she spoke.

Talis shook her head, concern blossoming on her face as she breathed in the klaste in her cup. "Magic that makes a woman barren," she said quietly. "Magic Skarrans'd use on slaves."

There was that look on Conall's face again, though he was relieved to hear the woman was not there concerning the queen and her consort or the former First Blade and her captain. He didn't know much about the kind of magic Skarrans made use of, but he knew it was not the same as the magic that came from the Goddess. "There are herbs and such for fertility," he pointed out, though, again, this was not his area of expertise.

"Neither of us is an expert with magic, Talis," Liayna said regretfully. "Why are you asking?"

Talis frowned into her cup. "My little mistress," she sighed in a quiet tone. "She hasn't bled. Been with us more than two months now, and no bleeding. She doesn't even know she's supposed to bleed, and she's all grown up. Only thing I can think of is that those bastards cast something on her when she was small, something that'd keep their seed from taking. Only now it'll keep milord's seed from taking, and a babe might be just the thing for them."

Conall exchanged looks with Liayna again, though this seemed like something Kari would be more knowledgeable about than them. Or perhaps they could ask the advice of another clan that was close to Loscar, since Clan Tarven was at least a month's travel away. "You're sure she's not already with child?" he asked, stating the most obvious possibility first.

"Certain," Talis nodded firmly. "There's signs and all, and she showed none of them. She's never bled, sir. Never. It's not right what they did, but hang it if I'm not glad they did something to spare her the pain of bearing their bastards."

"Never?" he echoed, brows arching upwards as he poured another cup of the black liquid and offered it to his wife. He couldn't argue with the fact that that was not normal, but he wasn't quite sure what could be done about it.

Liayna crouched comfortably, dropping onto one knee as she took the cup from Conall. "That is ... not right," she said thoughtfully. "Against the natural order." A heavy frown deepened her expression. "You're sure there are no other signs of what might have caused this?"

Talis' frown echoed hers. "No, ma'am," she said firmly. "I've seen every inch of that girl. She's scars a-plenty, but none where you'd find them if they'd done that."

Conall practically growled at the thought of the Skarrans causing anyone the kind of harm which Talis was alluding to. Though he might not know the girl in question, she had done nothing to earn such a fate. "Perhaps we could speak with Arora," he suggested, at a loss as to what else to do. This required more knowledge and skill than they possessed, and Arora was the Doma of the clan closest to Loscar.

"Who's that when she's at home?" Talis asked, her ears perking to the unfamiliar name.

Liayna was nodding in agreement with Conall. "At the very least, it would get her to visit the city," she pointed out. "Talis, Arora is the Doma of Clan Kirun, the clan that roams the lands around Loscar. She knows more of magic than we do. And she is known to the queen and consort." More than known, but Rory had not yet decided whether to make his parentage common knowledge. Until he did, Liayna had to keep her mouth shut, because he hadn't been shy about referring to her as his sister.

Conall would have preferred to have consulted with Kari, but Kari was too far away, while Arora was close by. "It may take a few days to locate her," Conall put in, though he was confident they could track the clan down easily enough. If the girl had been barren this long, it didn't seem a few more days would matter one way or the other. "How old is she?" he asked, out of mere curiosity as he poured a cup of klaste for himself.

Talis nodded slowly, putting the matter into their hands. She hadn't even spoken to Loren or Gerard about this, wanting to know more about it before worrying them in their strange little love nest. "Nearest I can guess, she's twenty-three, twenty-four," she said thoughtfully. "Wasn't yet four when she was taken, father said it was twenty years ago. Not that he's reliable, the stuck-up prig."

There went that brow again, arching upwards at the woman's estimation of the slave girl's father. "Why do you say that?" he asked, not only curious now, but interested in the girl's plight, if only so that they could explain her situation to Arora in the coming days. He'd hoped that peace would come with Velasca's defeat, but it seemed they still had some ways to go before all their enemies were defeated.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Talis scowled. "Oh, he was eager enough to get her back when he thought she'd be easy to dominate and do what he wanted with," she said, not at all averse to gossiping. "Soon as she did even a little back-talking, he told her she was going to the Temple. Milord married her so the old fart couldn't do anything to her." She smirked quickly, though. "Don't think he was expecting her to ride him like a pro, though."

Liayna choked on a mouthful of her klaste, trying not to laugh too loudly at this mental image.

"I beg your pardon?" Conall asked, though he'd heard her well enough the first time. "So, he married her to save her from being sent to the Temple," he echoed, trying to get it all straight in his head. Even if the man had only married her to save her from her father's anger, it stood to reason that he must have cared for her at least a little or why would he have bothered?

"Married her to keep her from harm," Talis corrected him. "She's got her fingers wrapped around his heart, and his around hers. Might not have admitted it, but there's love there. They don't deserve to have a future took away because of a bad past."

"Have they discussed children?" he asked, claiming a smaller boulder as a makeshift chair and taking a swallow from his cup. He had only been a father for a few days, and yet, he could not imagine his life without his wife and daughter.

Talis shook her head. "Don't think they've got there yet," she mused. "Little miss has a lot still to learn about being a woman and a wife. But I don't think it'd be a bad thing if they were to find themselves with a wee one. There'll be envy in them as Lady Shaye rounds out more. Not so much as the queen does, but that's more to do with her being royal."

Conall looked over at Liayna and their daughter for a moment in quiet consideration, his expression softening, all the love he felt for them there to see on his face. "Do they love each other?" he asked, thinking this was important if they were going to share a life and raise a family together.

"She'd break the world if he asked her to," Talis answered swiftly. "It's there to see in her eyes when she looks at him. Him? I'm not so certain, but she makes him softer. He looks at her with new eyes, I'm sure of. Just not sure if he knows he's in love."

Liayna's smile softened as she listened, holding Conall's gaze. That sounded like love to her. "We'll contact Arora," she promised, finally looking to the older woman. "Even if she cannot help, she will know someone who may."

He hadn't been so sure himself at first either, so he knew what that felt like. He'd never met anyone like Liayna before and somehow he'd known he never would again. She completed some part of him that he'd never known was missing. If the First Blade was even half as lucky as him, he'd know what it was to be loved by a woman. There wasn't much he could add to what Liayna had already said, but nodded in agreement. "We'll do what we can to help."

Talis looked ready to cry with relief, confirming what she had not said - that she had been searching for some remedy for this problem all alone for quite some time. Liayna's smile softened in the face of such obvious care for the couple in question. "Do you need an escort back to the palace?" she asked gently, though she was not inclined to set foot in the city too eagerly.

The servant woman shook her head, smiling herself. "No, Gods bless you, I'm unhindered in the streets," she promised. "I ... will there be payment needed? I can scrape together something, I'm sure."

So, the woman had not come here only to see their child and offer them gifts, but having spent most of his life among Arctrans, he understood her hesitation in asking for help. "They will not expect payment, as such, but they may ask for a favor," Conall told her, though he could not say what that favor might be.

Talis hesitated, an Arctran to her bones. Owing the Wild Ones a favour brought up all kinds of gruesome thoughts she was ashamed to be thinking at all. "Aye, a favor for a favor," she nodded. "No ... no killing or blood or anything though, right?"

Liayna frowned, insulted on Clan Kirun's behalf, but she managed not to say anything. Arctrans would never let the idea of blood magic and necromancy rest, it seemed.

"No," Conall replied without hesitation, not as offended as Liayna,as it had not been long since he'd learned he was half Clan Tarven. "You should not believe everything you hear, Talis. The Wild Ones are a peaceful people. They are nothing like the Skarrans."

"I didn't mean any offense," Talis apologized, but the look on Liayna's face chased her away faster than might have been polite. "Thank you, m'lord. Lady. Good eve to you!"

Liayna was still scowling as the branches rustled back into place in the woman's wake. "They're never going to accept us," she muttered, jostling Vespera on her shoulder with agitation. "We were here first, this is our land, and yet they think that we are the savages."

"What do you think they'd say if they knew the Royal Consort was one of us?" Conall asked, once he was sure Talis had departed. He hoped that with a Queen who was friendly to the Wild Ones and a Royal Consort who was half Clan Kirun, things were changing, but he also knew change was slow, especially among people whose prejudices ran deep.

"You've lived as one of them," she said, her voice bitter with a lifetime of experience at the sharp end of the Arctrans' unceasing hatred for her people. "You know how they think. They'd force Ariana to put Rory aside, and they'd probably have his children killed. It'll take more than one war for them to start believing we're more than just savages and witches."

Conall frowned, not really wanting to think about that too much. "Then I suppose we will have to keep it a secret," he replied, simply, though he wished things could be different. "It will take time for them to change their opinion of us, but that does not mean we should not help them."

"I didn't threaten her, or hurt her, did I?" she argued, feeling unaccountably defensive all of a sudden. She and Conall had never really looked hard at the differences between them - differences their lifetimes had ingrained in each of them. It was something of a shock to be faced with his lack of bigotry when she had bigotry of her own in spades.

"There was a time when I believed those things, too, aera," he reminded her. He'd been raised Arctran, after all, but he had learned better, and there was no reason to believe other Arctrans couldn't do the same. "The more we help them, the less they fear us and the more they will learn to trust us."

"We've been helping them for generations," she said bitterly. "Whenever they ask, whatever they ask for, we help them. And they use our gifts, our talents, in secret, and spit on us in daylight. I want things to change, eniro, but I don't think they will."

Conall frowned, hoping she was wrong, but not wanting to argue. "It will change someday, aera. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but it will change," he assured her, leaning over to brush a kiss to her forehead. He hoped it wasn't only wishful thinking. "Shall we see what she brought us?" he asked, changing the subject, a warm smile on his face.

She sighed, letting out a shaking breath. Of course he didn't feel the same way. He had yet to experience the full hatred of the people half his blood came from. He had only known them as compatriots, unexpected allies in a war none of them had ever thought they would fight together. As life returned to normal, those attitudes would return. But perhaps the rare few who clung to the truth would keep those memories of campfires and stories shared alive for the next generation to come.

"I'd forgotten the basket," she admitted, lifting a smile to reassure him. "She said something about pies."
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It almost seemed as though they had exchanged moods, his going from dark to light, hers from light to dark. While it was true he hadn't yet experienced the bigotry of the Arctrans, the Wild Ones had come to accept him - an Arctran - as one of their own. "There is only one way to change their minds, Liayna, and that is to show them who we really are," he pointed out further, though he didn't want to press the matter.

"We protected their queen when they didn't even know she existed," she pointed out. "But it is their gods they give the credit to, not the Goddess who guided us to do it." She shook her head, sighing once again. "Things will change," she said decisively. "Not soon, and not fast, but they will. Too many people remember that we stood at their shoulder in battle."

"And that is a good thing, aera. They may need us yet. I have a feeling we have not heard the last of the Skarrans," he said, but he didn't want to dwell on it. What would be would be, and they would do as they must when the time came. As for himself, he would remain loyal to Liam O'Connor for all the days of his life, whether he was Arctran or Wild One.

"Skarra will never be welcome to these lands," Liayna told him firmly. "If we have to give our blood to prevent it, we will." Her eyes seemed to unfocus for a moment, gazing into a future not yet written. "I will never allow our queen to stand alone."

"Nor will I," Conall replied. "But all this talk has made me hungry," he pointed out, changing the subject again with a bit of a smirk. "Shall we see what's in the basket?" he asked her again, this time reaching for the basket, since she had their daughter against her shoulder.

She blinked, snapping back to the present with a sudden smile that wiped away the darkness of her mood in an instant. "Yes," she agreed, moving to sit beside him. Their daughter was fast asleep on her shoulder, still too young to do much more than eat and sleep yet. "What do you suppose she meant by "bits for the wee one"?"

"Let's see, shall we?" he asked, offering a reassuring smile her way. Whether the woman had her own prejudices or not, it had not stopped her from bringing them an offering in exchange for their help. It had taken courage, but hopefully, she had at least seen that they were no different in that they cared for their children just as the Arctrans did. Perhaps they could change the Arctrans' minds and hearts one at a time.

Liayna laughed. "Anyone would think it was you getting presents," she teased him, leaning against his shoulder as he set about exploring the basket. There were, as Talis had said, several pies, their crusts golden and begging to be broken into; a couple of knitted blankets that bore the royal blue and gold trim; even a knitted hat for the baby that matched the delicately stitched dress tucked away inside. "Oh, goodness," she breathed. "I was so unkind, and look at all this."

"I would say this is favor enough, wouldn't you?" he asked, though it wasn't really his place to say, as he wouldn't be the one from whom help was sought. He made no comment regarding her own prejudice; he was a man who had lived in both worlds and saw the biases of both his people. It was better to let her learn for herself, but he could not help but smile at her comment.

"More than enough," she agreed softly, truly touched by the thought that had gone into Talis' gift. Perhaps she had been too harsh to paint the woman with the same brush as the wide scope of her people. Her fingers touched the soft fabric of the dress, lifting it out of the basket to marvel at the tiny stitches. And there, on the breast of the dress, was the nine-pointed star of the Arctran gods, wrapped about in the embrace of the moon, which was the Goddess' symbol.

"Do you think she made these herself?" he asked uncertainly. She couldn't have made them all in the short time that had passed since their daughter had been born, could she? And if that was so, had she made them with the intent of giving them merely out of kindness, or had she always intended to ask for their help? There was no way of knowing now that they'd scared her away.

"I don't know," Liayna murmured guiltily. "But these didn't come with the intention of asking for a favor, did they? They would have come to us no matter what. From a woman we've never met before, who only knew us from anecdotes told by our friends." She bit her lip, looking toward the city with a thoughtful frown. "We should thank her. I should apologize."

"There is no need to apologize, aera. You said and did nothing to offend her. She is the one who let her misunderstandings frighten her. We will have a chance to thank her, and then perhaps, she will learn that she should not believe everything she's been told," he reasoned. "We should eat before Vespera wakes," he suggested, only just realizing how hungry he was.

If she had said and done nothing to cause offense, why did Liayna feel so guilty for the way Talis had rushed to be away from them? Perhaps that was the main difference between the Arctrans and the Wild Ones - the Arctrans thought too little, and the Wild Ones felt too much. Conall's eminently sensible suggestion, however, prevented his mate from lingering too long in those thoughts. "Oh, an actual meal for once," she groaned in delight. "What a lovely idea."

"We are welcome at the palace whenever we wish," he reminded her with a chuckle. It wasn't as though they were going hungry, but it took effort to hunt for a meal, rather than have it provided for you, like at the palace. Fortunately, he didn't feel offended, only amused. Producing tin plates and knives and forks from their cache of supplies, he cut into the meat pie and offered her a generous slice.

She stuck her tongue out at him, grinning as he offered her that more than generous helping. "We'll have to hunt properly on the journey north," she pointed out, laying Vespera down in the fur lined basket that was her bed for the time being. "None of this sneaking into the market and buying fresh cuts when you think I'm not looking."

"What sneaking?" he asked, grinning around a forkful of pie. "I see no reason why we shouldn't take advantage of what the city has to offer while we're here," he pointed out. He was an experienced hunter and so long as there was game available on their way north, they would not go hungry, but he saw no reason to struggle if they didn't have to.

Rolling her eyes at him, she shoveled a large forkful of pie past her own lips, groaning in delight to find that not only was it well cooked, but also seasoned perfectly. Seasoning was hard to come by when you were camping alone, and a few weeks of plain meats had definitely become boring.

He smiled, amused to find her enjoying the pie, despite her misgivings about the Arctran or Arctrans who'd cooked it. He said nothing, though, too busy enjoying his own pie and filling the empty hole that was his stomach.

"Do you think Ariana and Rory will come north soon?" she asked curiously, settling down to make a dent in her food at his side. "Phalion deserves to see how well settled they are." She snorted as a thought occurred to her. "Phalion deserves to be the place where she births their twins."
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Liayna
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Phalion is Ariana's city," Conall replied. Or at least, it had once been Adare's city, so there was no reason not to think Ariana would be welcome there. "Perhaps we should ask them," he said. They had traveled from Phalion to Loscar in order to defeat Velasca; there had never been any thought that they'd settle there, but he could not say the same for the others.

"They will have to travel soon," Liayna mused. "Traveling while pregnant is not without its risks, even in the comforts they can now call upon. But her people in Phalion would dearly love to see her crowned and well, and to lay claim upon her firstborn as their own, as they did when she was born." A smirk flashed over her face. "And Kari would no doubt wish to deliver those twins by her own hand."

"Perhaps we should suggest they accompany us," Conall suggested as he scraped the last of the pie from his plate. Then, they'd be able to give them an escort, though it was likely the royal couple would have an escort of guards accompanying them on their travels.

Liayna eyed him with a faint smile. "And, of course, that suggestion has nothing at all to do with the fact that Liam and Shaye will be traveling with them wherever they go, does it?" she teased fondly.

"Of course not!" Conall replied, though it wouldn't hurt to have Liam and Shaye along, and Conall couldn't deny the fact that he was going to miss them. He and Liam were like brothers, and Shaye had grown on him, too.

She laughed, nudging her shoulder against his. "It is a good idea," she told him. "And this time, I will come into the city with you to see them. It is time they realized that stone walls cannot keep me out."

He knew she wasn't talking about their friends, but those Arctrans who were still suspicious of the Wild Ones, especially here in Loscar. Though he knew Loscar was home to Liam and Shaye, as for himself, he was eager to be back home in or near Phalion. "But first, we need to speak with Arora."

"I will send for her when the moon rises," she promised him. "It's about time I started to teach you all these little rituals that make up our incidental magics, after all."

"I'm not sure I have any talent where magic is concerned," he admitted. After all, he had first been a blacksmith and later a rebel soldier. He knew how to fight and track and hunt, but he wasn't so sure about magic.

"You have the Goddess in your heart," she reminded him in a gentle tone. "What you ask of Her, with humility and grace, She will grant. Our magic is not the magic of the Skarrans, eniro. Our magic is a prayer She answers."

He set the plate on his knee and reached for her hand. "All I want I have right here beside me," he told her, with a warm smile for her and their child. For a man who had once come close to death, this was almost like a second chance at life, and he intended to hold on tight and never let go.

She drew her fingers between his, their joined hands hovering above their daughter where she slept in her soft basket. This was all they needed; the love they shared, and the child they had made. Anything else that came to them would be a blessing beyond any they asked for. It would be enough. Always enough.
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