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A New Hold

 
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Katla
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:32 am    Post subject: A New Hold Reply with quote

The Heart of the Mountains had been cleansed before midnight ever came to them, yet nothing else stirred in the darkness as the warriors slept off their grievous wounds and loss of energy. A visitor in the deepest part of the night had called herself Eldwynne, and at Sven's urging, Elin had allowed the old woman to heal both Katla and her brother, surprised when the crone then left without asking for payment. Katla came awake before the dawn, surprised to find Elin standing guard over them, and for a long time, the two women talked. They talked of the lowlands and the mountains, of the people who had formed them into the women they were now. They talked of Aiden, too. Yet as dawn approached, they talked of family.

"... five years, come the autumn," Katla was saying softly. "She doesn't deserve a mother like me."

Elin shook her head with a faint smile. "All children should have a mother like you," she countered. "A mother who loves them, who will fight for them ... I've known children whose mothers should have been drowned before ever being allowed to spawn a baby."

Katla snorted with laughter. "Aye, I've known a few like that myself," she admitted warmly. "This won't be much of a hold for a while," she added, her blue eyes studying the other woman warily. "But it'll be ours, and away from the people who want to keep us down. You're welcome to stay, if you choose to. You'll always be a friend to us."

Aiden had been quietly awake for a while, long enough anyway to have overheard at least part of their conversation - especially the part about staying. He very nearly held his breath while he waited to hear his sister's reply to Katla's invitation, remembering how both women had seemed adamant on their leaving just the night before. Though Elin might not want to openly admit it, there was nothing to keep them in the lowlands - no family or friends or loved ones to miss them if they were gone. There was no real reason to keep them from staying, if that was what they wanted to do.

Elin's answer was soft. "Aiden wants to stay," she told Katla in a low voice. "He hasn't said as much, but I know my brother. It isn't that we have nothing waiting for us, or that there are other demons in these mountains we should deal with. He's drawn to you, somehow. I don't want to be the reason he walks away from that."

Thankfully, Aiden's back was turned away from them so that they couldn't see the expression on his face. Though his eyes remained closed, he was having a hard time hiding the surprise from his face, both at Katla's invitation and Elin's reply. He didn't want Elin to stay just because of him, but he didn't want her to leave either. She was right, though - there was something here that he'd never found anywhere else, and that something was Katla.

"And where he goes, you go," Katla said softly.

Elin nodded, looking down into her lap.

Katla reached over to touch her hand. "I never had a sister," she said as gently as she could. "Sigrun tries, but she has her hands full with Svarn. You teach me how to be more like a woman, and I'll teach you how to face a fight without trying to run away from it."

Elin laughed at that, knowing she was all but useless in an altercation right now. "All right, you have a deal."

Though they couldn't see his face, Aiden smiled, relieved the two women seemed to have worked things out without him having to interfere. It hadn't occurred to him that they were, in a way, deciding for him, but he had already told Katla that he wanted to stay and he hadn't changed his mind about that.

"Stay here, then," Katla told her. "And don't forget to put one of those cuffs on your own wrist. I have a feeling I know who's coming to call, and I don't want him thinking he can claim you." She rose, taking her shield and sword with her as she left the hall, presumably to join Sven and Bjarth by the gates.

It wasn't until after Katla left that Aiden finally stirred, allowing his sister to know he was awake, stretching and yawning as if just waking up from a long night's sleep. Strangely, he felt more rested than he had in a long time and it took a moment for him to remember his wounds and realize he was no longer hurting. In fact, he was feeling better than he had in a very long time. "The augur was here?" he asked, though that much seemed obvious.

Elin glanced up as he stretched. She looked a lot better than she had the night before, and was wearing Sven's leather coat over her chemise, belted at her waist. She smiled at her brother. "Some old biddy called Eldwynne came and muttered over both of you while you were asleep," she said with a shrug. "She didn't stay long. She wouldn't even look at me."

"Eldwynne was here?" he asked, brows arching upwards. Apparently, that wasn't something he'd overheard mentioned during his sister's conversation with Katla. "What did she say?" he asked curiously as he sat up across from her.

"Something about the spirits rejoicing that the Heart is clean, and that all this place needs is life and it will be just like it used to be," Elin shrugged again, tossing him a piece of bread. "She saw the light show and came to see what had happened. Sven saw others out there about an hour ago - Katla thinks it's their tribe coming to see what's happened."

He was going to need more than a hunk of bread to satisfy the hunger that was gnawing at his stomach, but he made no complaints, catching the bread and tearing off a hunk with his teeth. He arched a brow at her, wondering how she really felt about staying. He'd heard what she'd told Katla, but he didn't want her to stay just because of him. "We could help make it what it used to be, Elin, but I won't stay if you don't."

"Aiden ..." She sighed, shaking her head. "I don't know these people, and I'm afraid of them. Katla says that someone called Old-Tooth will try to claim me, the way she claimed you, and I don't want to be the chattel of a man even she despises. If it were her and her people, I wouldn't be so afraid of staying. But right now? I don't know what's going to happen."

Aiden frowned, understanding her reluctance. "I won't let him claim you," he told her, his voice adamant about that. He paused a moment to chew on another mouthful of bread while he considered how much to tell her. He wasn't sure how much Katla had already told her while he'd been sleeping. "I have a feeling he's not going to be Thane much longer," he confessed in a quiet voice.

"I got the impression that Katla and her brother intend to claim this hold as theirs, and take around a third of his tribe with them," Elin mused softly. "Whether he is still Thane there or not, one of them will be Thane here."

"Or that," he replied quietly. Katla hadn't shared all her plans with him, probably because she hadn't been entirely sure whether or not they'd succeed, but now that they had, it didn't surprise him. He wasn't quite sure what that would make him, if he became the Thane's mate, but it didn't really matter. He was a Shadow-Walker, first and foremost, and he'd continue to do what he'd always done to fight the dead. He moved to his feet suddenly, retrieving his sword and strapping it onto his back. "I'm going to get something to eat. Care to join me?"
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Katla
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"All right." She pulled herself onto her feet with him, stretching her arms out. "I could do with a little daylight. I haven't seen any for days." She smiled, knowing she was almost as useless on a hunt as she was in a fight, but glad he'd asked for her company.

It wasn't hunting he was thinking of so much as fishing. He'd been trained in all forms of survival and needed nothing more than a cold stream and a steady pair of hands to catch some fish for breakfast. He frowned a little at her admission, feeling guilty for what she'd endured, though it had been no fault of his own. He turned to face her, setting his hands on her shoulders and meeting her gaze. "I am never going to let anything happen to you again. Ever," he promised her.

She eyed him, knowing what he meant but not prepared to let the clumsy promise go by without some comment. "You'll never have nieces or nephews if you stick to the letter of what you just said," she pointed out with a raised brow, her wide mouth twitching into a teasing smile.

"You know what I mean," he told her, mirroring her smile. He took hold of her hand to lead her out into the sunshine with him. "Come on. I'm hungry and my stomach wants more than bread." If anyone could find something to eat in the wild, it was Aiden.

Yet when they reached the sunshine, it was to find Katla, Bjarth, and Sven stood atop the heavy gate that barred the way. Katla was talking to someone stood beneath her.

"... have no claim on this hold, Old-Tooth," she was saying. "I cleared it, I claim it, and if you dare hold the lives of my kin over me, I will claim your hold, too!"

Aiden wasn't so much frowning but scowling at the confrontation taking place at the gate. "Take this," he told his sister, sliding one of the cuffs off a wrist and handing it to her before anyone could notice that she wasn't wearing one. He stood between her and the gate, shielding her with his body, merely watching for now, but glad he had thought to bring his sword. If the Thane thought he was going to claim this place for his own, he, too, would have something to say about it.

"Fine words for a woman standing alone in a fortress she can't hold," Old-Tooth called back to her. "Stay there and rot. Your child will not even know your name when you come crawling back to me."

Katla snarled, gripping the spear at her side, but Bjarth was quick to stay her hand, muttering to her urgently.

Aiden was content to stand by and watch, up until the moment when the old man threatened her daughter. "Stay here," he murmured to his sister before stepping forward to add himself and his sword to the trio at the gate. "She does not stand alone, and if you hold her daughter hostage, you will live to regret it. That I promise you."

Old-Tooth turned his eyes toward Aiden, scoffing at his words. "And I should fear the presence of a lowlander?" he laughed, secure with a dozen of his own loyal men at his back. "A lowlander claimed by the Dawn Rider, who has no power of his own?"

"You should not make assumptions regarding things you know nothing about, old man," Aiden replied, refusing to back down. He was as much a part of Katla's tribe now as anyone else, and had more than proven his worth.

"Let my kin pass safely, Old-Tooth," Katla warned him angrily. "You'll pay in blood for their passage if you hinder them."

Old-Tooth's smirk was deeply offensive. "And how will you do that, little Kat?" he asked, reducing her name to the diminutive they had all used when she was a child. "You've nothing but a rogue and a brute to your name, and a lowlander who should learn to keep his mouth shut."

"And a Light-Bringer," Elin spoke up, sounding far too close for Aiden's comfort. Indeed, she was standing at his side, staring down at the gathered men haughtily.

Though Aiden inwardly winced that his sister had brought attention to herself, he was also surprised to hear her proudly and openly declare what she was without fear. He reached for her hand, openly claiming her as someone he cared for. "As I said before, you should not assume," he warned the Thane. He did not want to challenge the man to combat, knowing it would be little more than murder, but he wasn't going to back down that easily either.

"There's no such thing as a Light-Bringer," Old-Tooth began, but he was brought up sharply by the hooded man to his side - the augur, One-Who-Watches.

"Legends rarely speak a lie," the mage said in a withered tone. "We all saw the light in the darkness. Lady Lowlander ... may I see your hands?"

Elin glanced at Aiden a little warily - it was one thing to state herself openly, quite another to show off the proof.

Aiden nodded his approval, though he made sure to remain close by her side, just in case the Thane tried to hurt her. It seemed there were others who might think differently from the old man.

Hesitantly, Elin turned her palms toward the augur. Black against her pale skin were the marks of what she was - the Eyes of the Goddess, one in each palm, closed and surrounded by a nimbus of stylized light. As the small party inside the hold knew, when those Eyes opened, it was time to take cover.

The augur examined her hands from a distance, nodding to himself. "She is a Light-Bringer," he declared, and a ripple went through the men at the Thane's back. "Does the Light-Bringer endorse the claiming of this hold by the Dawn Rider and her kin?"

Elin swallowed, but answered as strongly as she dared. "I do," she declared. "And I will bring down a curse on anyone who dares to keep the Dawn Rider's kin from her."

It seemed his sister was doing a far better job of convincing the tribe than Aiden could ever hope to do, but then she was the Light-Bringer. She was someone to be respected and revered. He was only someone to fear.

The same had occurred to Katla. She raised her head. "In case you're in doubt, Old-Tooth, look again at my lowlander," she said harshly. "Where the light shines, shadows fall."

The augur raised his head, throwing his hood back to reveal eyes stained violet by a lifetime of magic-use. "A Shadow-Walker," he declared, inclining his head to Aiden. "Thane, do not walk this path. To set yourself against them is to bring down ruin onto your hold, as other Thanes did in days of old."

Old-Tooth looked as though he wanted to argue, but the murmur of agreement at his back suggested that the augur's words were the ones his tribe were listening to. He scowled. "Come forth and claim your kin then, Dawn Rider," he spat. "And do not think to return after. You and yours are no longer a part of my tribe."

There was little visible reaction from Aiden, though inwardly, he felt a mix of relief and suspicion. "I will come with you," he said, mostly to Katla, but also letting the Thane know where she went, so did he. He neither confirmed or denied that he was a Shadow-Walker, but it was clear from his stance that he remained loyal to Katla.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Bjarth, Sven ... you stay here," Katla ordered quietly. "Elin will stay with you. No one enters without being in the presence of my kin."

Bjarth nodded; Sven simply adjusted his stance.

Elin bit her lip, looking to Aiden worriedly. "You will be safe, won't you?" she asked her brother in an unhappy tone.

"I'll be fine," Aiden assured his sister quietly, giving her hand a gentle squeeze for good measure. "You'll be safe here with Bjarth and Sven." Safer, he guessed, than she'd be if she accompanied them to the hold, so long as the Thane didn't leave any of his own men behind.

But the augur, it seemed, knew his Thane could not be trusted. "The Thane will remain here, in your hold, until you return, Katla Dawn Rider," he intoned, and despite Old-Tooth's clear objection, he dared not speak against the voice of the gods.

Grinding his teeth, the old Thane stepped forward, away from his people. "My life, for the lives of your kin," he said formally. "May the Lady strike me down if a single drop of their blood is spilled before they return to your home."

Aiden clenched his jaw, obviously unhappy with the arrangement, but trusting Sven and Bjarth to keep his sister safe. "Do not let her out of your sight," he said, turning to them both. It wasn't because he didn't trust Elin, but because he didn't trust Old-Tooth. "If anything happens to her, I am holding you responsible," he warned the old man, though it was hardly necessary.

"You don't know our ways, Shadow-Walker," the augur said gently, watching as the gates were opened slowly. "If the Thane does harm within your halls, his life and the lives of his tribe are forfeit. It is the will of the Lady. And no man would defile the Heart of the Father over a matter of pride."

"He's right," Katla assured Aiden quietly. "We're not the savages you think we are. He won't touch her; he won't even leave the gate."

Aiden could have pointed out that their assumptions about him and his sister had been just as wrong, but he held his tongue. He was not at heart a belligerent man, but all things considered, he was wary, especially where the Thane was concerned. He only nodded his understanding and bent to press a protective and possessive kiss to his sister's forehead. "We'll be back as soon as we can," he promised.

"You had better be," Elin warned softly, but unlike her brother, she hadn't bristled at the soft comment from Katla. She knew she had assumed they were savages, and she knew that she and her brother had proved they were to be trusted. This was the Amarri's chance to prove that their ways could be trusted, too.

Katla nodded to him, holding her hand on her sword hilt as she moved to pass through the gate.

Aiden glanced at the Thane one last time, a warning in his gaze, before looking back at his sister. Though his instincts told him she would be fine, he couldn't help but worry. He'd come far to close to losing the only family he had. Something unsaid passed between himself and his sister before he, too, passed through the gate to join Katla.

Thane Old-Tooth scowled at them both before he stalked past into the hold, the gates drawing shut behind him. Bjarth would protect Elin to his last breath if necessary, but Katla couldn't tell Aiden that, not now. They had to get to Mountain-Hawk Hold and gather up the people and belongings that would be returning here with them. She whistled, and their horses came to them from where Sven had concealed the mounts last night.

"Mount up, lowlander," she said quietly. "We've a lot to do."

There it was again - that word that did so little to really describe who he was - and he silently wondered if he should be returning the favor somehow. He said nothing but only scowled again in obvious displeasure as he effortlessly climbed onto the horse's back. He'd wait until they were well away from the gate before saying anything further.

As they rode off, the Thane's men followed on foot. Katla and Aiden would be at the Mountain-Hawk Hold long before them, and with luck, would return before the end of the day. It all depended on how many chose to come, and how much they could bring with them.

"I never said anything about you being savages," he told her, once they were far enough away from the Thane's men that he didn't have to worry about them overhearing. That was only one point of contention he had with her, but the most important one. He didn't particularly like her putting words in his mouth or assuming she knew what he was thinking, even if most lowlanders did think that way.

"I've heard what your people call us on the pass," she pointed out, glancing over at him. "They point and whisper when they think they see us, call us savages and barbarians. You're from the lowlands yourself - why wouldn't you think us savage?"

"Because I know better," he pointed out. That was one reason anyway. "And I am not a lowlander, not really. Elin and I ... we're different," he said, hesitant to explain just how different, though if anyone would understand, it was her.

She frowned, tilting her head toward him. "It really bothers you, doesn't it?" she asked, surprised to realize that. "It isn't an insult. You were born in the lowlands, you've lived your life in the lowlands. That's all it is. And a name is a very ... personal thing. We don't use them much, outside of family."

"What should I call you, then? Dawn Rider?" he asked, turning his head toward her for a moment as he led the horse onward. Maybe it was more a cultural thing. He'd noticed that all her people seemed to have not only a name but a title, too. Dawn Rider, Old-Tooth, and so on, though he did not know them all. And furthermore, what should they call him? "Everyone who comes from the lowlands is a lowlander. There's no distinction between us," he pointed out further.

"But you and your sister are the only lowlanders up here," she pointed out mildly. "Dawn Rider is my legend-mark, it's what people call me who aren't my kin. Before that, I was Golinsdottr - the only girl born to Golin."

"I am not your kin," he pointed out again. At least, not yet. He sighed, wondering if he was approaching this argument the wrong way. "My name is Aiden. That is how I am known to my family and friends," he explained. Though he had no family anymore except for Elin and few friends, and he was hoping Katla and her people might come to think of him as such.

"Aye, but I can't use it until ... Well, unless we become kin," she said, looking ahead in a vain attempt to hide her faint blush. "If you're set on staying, that is. It's different from woman to woman - I can use your sister's name easily. But ... it's hard to explain. A man's name is his mark, his weakness. Only his kin should be using it."

"And yet, I call Sven and Bjarth and Svarn and even Sigrun by name and they have not corrected me," he pointed out, but they had not called him Aiden. He sighed again upon realizing that and turned back to guide the horse along the mountain trail, missing the blush on her cheeks or mistaking it for something else. Women were strange creatures, to be sure, and he'd only ever had his mother and sister to judge them by. Oh, he'd had a few trysts along the way, but nothing meaningful or lasting.

"Aye, but men are men, as women are women," she shrugged. "Sigrun is mated. There's no harm in you calling her by her name, nor in her calling you by yours. It must seem very complicated to you. But for us, it's the way we live."
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I do not understand your customs, but I will do my best to abide by them," he told her at last. He was an honorable man and the least he could do was respect her wishes.

"What would you rather I called you?" she asked curiously, glancing over at him. She hadn't thought she was insulting him by calling him 'lowlander', but apparently that was exactly the way he had taken it.

He wasn't insulted so much as irritated by the word, which was too generic for his tastes. Even Shadow-Walker would be preferable to him, if it was said without sarcasm or insult. He shrugged in reply. He had no other name but the one given him at birth. Shadow-Walker was merely what he was; not who he was or what defined him. And then, a thought came to him. It was something Svarn had called him. Had it only been the day before? "I suppose you could call me Owensson," he suggested. It was better than lowlander, anyway.

"Then Owensson you'll be," she nodded to him with a faint smile. "Come on. We should make good time getting there - there's a lot to do, and a long way to go." She dug her heels into her horse's flanks, urging him into a gallop.

It still wasn't the more familiar form of his name, but it was a compromise, of sorts, which seemed agreeable to them both. "Aye," he replied in agreement, kicking his horse into a gallop and following her lead.

At speed, they reached the Mountain-Hawk Hold barely an hour past dawn, and news spread swiftly of what had been decided at the Heart. By the time the Thane's men had returned, bringing with them confirmation of that decision, Katla's kin were already loading carts and packing their belongings. Siv attached herself to her mother's side as they worked, refusing to let go of her hand. "Don't forget the cow," Sigrun told Svarn as she bustled past with a sack full of grain, heaving it into their cart with seven others. Of the eighty or so families who made up the tribe, ten were leaving, each of them claiming kin or loyalty to Svarn and Katla.

Aiden had pitched in as much as he'd been allowed, helping to haul supplies and pack up the carts along with everyone else, as though he was already part of the tribe. Few had bothered to question him or question his place at Katla's side. She had claimed him, and that was all there was to it.

By midday, they were ready to go, taking with them tools, furniture, food, all the personal things that made up their lives. The women and children were ranged on the carts, or leading the animals; the warriors ringing them to keep them safe against anything that might threaten them. And little Siv, who had never known anything quite so amazing in her short life, had the place of honor on her mother's horse, tucked close in Katla's lap.

Aiden took up the spot beside Katla, keeping his horse in stride with hers. He already knew the way back and forth now, after only traveling it once. Despite all the supplies they were bringing with them, he knew it would take a little time before they were settled and feeling secure. He had recovered his bow and his pack and would at least be able to do some hunting and fishing to supply the tribe with additional food in the days to come.

"And we going to live there, all of us?" Siv was asking, cuddling the little basket they had contained her kitten in for the journey. "All together, like fambly?"

Katla smiled down at her daughter. "Yes, like family," she promised fondly.

"And Aiden too?" Siv asked searchingly.

At this question, Aiden turned his head to glance between the two of them, curious what Siv might think of the agreement made between her mother and himself. "Would you mind that very much?" he asked, not only out of curiosity. Life would be much easier for them all if she approved of him, especially if he was to become her mother's mate.

"Mamae says you has a sister," the little girl said - something of a segue, but at least it got him talking to her. "Is she pretty like Mamae?" Because, of course, in Siv's eyes, Katla was the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

"She is pretty in her own way, I suppose," Aiden replied. He'd never really thought of his sister in those terms; she was simply his sister. "She has dark hair and eyes like mine. We are twins," he explained.

"What's twins?" Siv tilted her blue eyes up to meet their match in Katla's gaze.

"Twins are two people who were born at the same time, from the same mother," she explained to her daughter. "They're very rare, and very special."

Nodding, Siv turned her gaze back to Aiden. "Why don't you think she's pretty?"

"It's not that I don't think she's pretty," he told her, having to give his reply a moment's thought. "It's just that she's my sister, and I don't think of her the same way as I might someone else." He frowned, knowing that was only going to confuse her further.

"Is she pretty as Mamae?" Siv asked him innocently. Katla turned her head to hear his answer to that, raising her brows above a startlingly teasing smile.

"Do you think Tabren or Hakon are handsome?" he countered, blinking a moment at her question. "I, uh ..." He looked to Katla a moment, a little uncomfortable under her gaze. "She is pretty in a different way than your Mama," he replied, knowing that wasn't much of an answer. Even if he did think his sister was pretty, he didn't see her in the same light as Katla - a woman he was clearly attracted to.

"Tabren is handsome," Siv insisted, oblivious to the odd discomfort her line of questioning was giving both adults in her company. "Hakon is a poo."

Katla snorted with laughter. "No, he isn't," she argued fondly. "He just isn't grown up enough yet to know how to be a handsome man."

"He's a poo," Siv repeated to Aiden, nodding sagely.

At least Aiden wouldn't make the mistake of referring to either boy as Siv's brothers again. He secretly smirked a little at her assessment of Hakon, knowing he would likely grow on her as they got older. He wondered if his sister had ever thought of him that way, but he doubted it. The two of them had always been close; so close, he could not imagine his life without her being part of it.

Giggling to herself, Siv turned her head forward once more, her eyes widening as she took in the imposing gates not too far ahead of them. "Is that it?"

"That is it," Aiden confirmed, feeling a mixture of relief to have returned and worry in hoping his sister had survived their separation without harm. "We're going to rebuild this place and make it great again," he murmured, in part to himself, implying that he wasn't going anywhere for the foreseen future.

Katla turned her head, calling to her brother. Svarn rode up, quirking a curious brow in her direction. "The Thane should lead us home," she told him. "You're the Thane."

Svarn frowned. "It was your work, your claim, Kat," he pointed out, but she shook her head.

"I have no wish to be a thane, Svarn," she told him. "I'll support you, and fight for your right to the Heart, but I won't rule my own brother."

Svarn snorted with laughter. "You think I want to rule my little sister?" he asked in amusement, looking over her head to Aiden. "What's your thought on this, lowlander?"
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Aiden looked surprised to find the pair asking for his opinion on a matter that had very little to do with him, or so he thought. "It is not my place to say which of you should be Thane," he pointed out. In his opinion, either of them would equally make good leaders, and he did not yet know enough about their customs to decide on his own.

"You cleared the hold, and your sister cleansed it," Katla pointed out. "Your voices carry weight in these decisions. I've never lead more than a handful of men at a time; Svarn has. He was raised to lead, in Halvar's shadow."

"I don't bear a legend-mark," Svarn argued gently. "And with Hakon raised as one of our own, there's no clear heir unless I name one."

He looked between them, weighing both arguments, but he still did not feel it was his decision to make. He had only two thoughts on the matter, and he wasn't sure what they might think of either of them. "You could lead together," he suggested, "Or you could ask your people who they trust most to lead."

Svarn's expression shut down briefly as Katla laughed. "Our people would choose Svarn," she told Aiden. "The warriors don't feel right having a woman in absolute command, and their women will vote with them."

Svarn sighed. "Well, that decides it, doesn't it?" he said mournfully. "Can't risk them turning on us before we're settled in."

"I believe it does," Aiden replied, with a rueful smile in Svarn's direction. "I am sure you will be a fine Thane, Svarn," he reassured the big man, offering his own vote of confidence. Relieved he did not, in the end, have to decide for them, but only lead them to their own decision, he gestured toward the gate. "Shall we?"

"We shall," Katla agreed, a satisfied quirk to her smile. "At your command, my Thane."

Svarn gave her a dirty look, but rode to the front, the two of them flanking him.

"Mamae ... is Uncle Svarn in charge now?" Siv asked curiously.

"Yes, sweetling, he is," Katla told her gently. "Now shush and be still until Grandpa Old-Tooth goes on his way."

Aiden knew better than to remark on any of this, but he was anxious to see his sister again and make sure no harm had come to her. Then again, if anything had happened to her, he probably would have felt it by now. He dropped back to allow Svarn and Katla to lead the way, following just behind them.

Elin was still waiting above the gates, Sven at her side. A bright smile crossed her face as she met her brother's eyes, and she turned, making a gesture. A moment later, the great gates swung open, allowing them passage into their own hold. A cheer rose from the fifty or so men, women, and children gathered at their backs, the mass of people quickening their step to enter and claim the space as their own.

Katla jerked her head to Aiden as she and Svarn dismounted, silently suggesting he come with them to where Thane Old-Tooth waited. The old man was scowling, no doubt counting the people who had come back with them to claim the Heart.

"Dawn Rider," he greeted her in a terse tone, unable to say more without wounding his granddaughter who clung to her hand. "So who will be Thane, and equal to myself?"

Svarn straightened his broad shoulders. "I am Thane of Dawn-Shadow Hold," he declared sternly, "as my brother should have been Thane of Mountain-Hawk. But we'll not let bad blood sully us. Allies, Old-Tooth, or enemies - the choice is yours."

Aiden lifted his gaze to the gates and raised a hand in greeting to those gathered there, but mostly for his sister, whose smile warmed his heart with joy and relief. Turning back to his companions, he noted Katla's gesture and climbed off his horse, bow and sword at his back, to stand with Katla and Svarn. There was no need for him to add to Svarn's words as the man had things well in hand, as Aiden sensed he would.

Thane Old-Tooth sighed heavily, knowing he couldn't even consider declaring his hold an enemy to this new hold, not when it was established by the sister of the new Thane. Especially not when that sister bore a legend-mark and a place of honor among their people. He didn't even want to think about what would happen if he proposed attacking a hold that bore the powerful partnership of a Shadow-Walker and a Light-Bringer within its walls.

"Allies, we are," he nodded slowly. "We bear blood marks between us, though we've not always lived in harmony. Call on us in need, and we'll come."

Svarn inclined his head, acknowledging the decision. "And the same can be said of us, Thane Old-Tooth," he assured the man. "We'll reclaim all these mountains one day, and they'll remember us as the men who made it happen."

Katla cleared her throat.

"The men and women who made it happen," Svarn corrected himself smoothly.

Aiden knew he and Elin would likely have a hand in clearing the mountains in the days to come, but for now, this was a time for celebration and a fresh start. "We have plenty of work ahead of us," he said, his expression not as stoic as before.

"We'll mourn the loss of you in our fold, and celebrate that the Heart has been reclaimed," Old-Tooth proclaimed, glancing up as the men who had come with the families formed up to escort him back to his own hold. He thumped a hand against his chest in salute, and stepped away, the gates closing on his retreat as Katla breathed a sigh of relief.

"And good riddance," she muttered.

Aiden couldn't help but smirk a little as Katla expressed her true feelings about the old Thane, but he made no remark about it. "We should celebrate," he told her, though they were hardly prepared for such a celebration.

"Tomorrow, we'll celebrate," Svarn told him, turning as Elin came down from the gates to join them. "Tonight, we need to get everyone settled in their own spaces, and send the hunters out for fresh meat."

"See? You're a natural Thane," Katla teased her brother, lifting Siv up onto her hip.

"I will join the hunt," Aiden volunteered, needing to make himself useful, now that the mountain was cleaned of the dead. That was unless the tribe needed him to do something else, but hunting came as naturally to Aiden as sleeping.

"Aye, you will," Svarn nodded, remembering the display of bow skill from just a day before. "There's deer and hare on these mountains - we need to feed fifty mouths, at least. Give me a few minutes to give out the orders, and you can take a party to the west." He stepped away, leaving Aiden with Elin, and both of them with Katla and her daughter.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Sigrun will enjoy giving out orders about who can live where," Katla predicted in amusement.

"Should I be concerned?" Aiden asked, a mixture of worry and amusement on his face. They hadn't discussed the matter of becoming mates in some time, but it seemed he and Elin were welcome among the tribe, even though they were clearly outsiders. "Elin, this is Katla's daughter, Siv," he added, introducing his sister to the little girl who was balanced at Katla's hip.

"Only if you have very strict views on sharing a set of rooms with me and my little ball of terror here," Katla assured Aiden with a smile, tilting her head as Siv blinked up at Elin.

"Are you Aiden's sister?" she asked curiously, apparently fascinated by the sight of a woman who didn't have red or blonde hair.

Elin glanced at Aiden in amusement, but nodded to the little girl. "I am," she told the child. "And you're Katla's little girl, aren't you? Does that mean we're going to be living together?"

Siv nodded enthusiastically. "Like a fambly!"

Until that moment, Aiden hadn't been too sure what the living arrangements were going to be like inside the mountain, but he wasn't too surprised to hear they'd be sharing living quarters with Katla and her daughter. "I think we would both be honored to share rooms with you," he said, answering for both himself and his sister, and returning Elin's glance with a curious glance of his own. Was that a look of amusement on her face and if so, what was she so amused about?

"Well now, little miss Siv," Elin said thoughtfully, "maybe you and I should go and find out where we're going to be living so we can make it nice for your mama?"

Siv grinned, nodding again. "Yes!" she declared, wriggling until Katla put her down. She seized Elin's hand, pulling the woman into the bustle of bodies back and forth as Katla laughed a little amazedly.

"I've never seen her take to someone so fast as she has to you and your sister."

"Perhaps because we're different," he suggested as he watched Siv lead his sister away by the hand. Though people usually feared those who were different from them, children were often more openly curious and welcoming, it seemed, as they lacked the fears and prejudices of their elders.

"Perhaps." Katla watched as the two disappeared into the mingling crowd, aware that her brother was calling them to order to give them instructions. She was also very aware of Aiden standing beside her, feeling unaccountably shy in his presence. "You don't mind, do you?" she asked awkwardly. "Having to share quarters with us?"

He was unaware of her shyness - a trait he would have been surprised to know she possessed when it came to him. He was feeling a measure of shyness himself, now that they had accomplished their goal and had to continue on with the routine of daily life. "No, I don't mind," he replied, though he admittedly felt a bit awkward, for some reason. They hadn't discussed the matter of becoming mates in some hours, and he was once again unsure how their customs and traditions worked where that was concerned. "Do you mind?" he countered.

"No!" That came out a little too enthusiastic for her tastes. "No, I ... I don't mind at all," she repeated more quietly. "I ... Well, I think I made myself quite clear yesterday. Nothing's changed. At least, not for me."

"I have not changed my mind either," he assured her solemnly, fingers twitching to take hold of hers, though his hands remained at his sides. "Well, I suppose I should join the others for the hunt," he said, feeling suddenly awkward for some reason.

Clearing her throat, Katla nodded, just as awkward as he was. "Aye, you should," she agreed. "I should ... They'll need me to ... work." She bit her lip, glancing swiftly about the yard, and suddenly reached up, seizing his face to pull him down into a fierce kiss. Not that shy, then.

It was a long time since he'd felt shy around a woman, but it was only because she meant something to him and because he had feelings for her, though he wasn't too sure what those feelings were yet. The kiss took him by surprise, but not unpleasantly so, and he returned her kiss with equal fervor, not as shy as he seemed, either, when it came to such things. Her kiss lit something in him that he was slow to recognize - a passion he hadn't felt for anyone in a very long time. "Katla," he whispered as their lips parted, raising a hand to touch her cheek.

She gasped as they broke apart, her name on his lips sounding far too intimate for their surroundings. "Nothing's changed," she whispered back to him, her fingers tugging at his hair. "Nothing. If you still want it, we can be mated tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" he asked, dark brows arching upwards. He'd been secretly hoping she hadn't forgotten about their agreement, but he wasn't expecting her to want to join with him so quickly. He wasn't alarmed by it, only surprised.

"The gods don't ask us for more than a promise, Owensson," she told him softly. "All you've to do is untie some knots." She hadn't told him the process of the mating ceremony, but he could ask anyone here and they would share the detail. "Now go to your hunt. I've work to be doing my own self, you know."

He might have corrected her again regarding his name, but at least, she wasn't calling him lowlander anymore. Small steps, he thought. These were her people and her ways, and if he was going to be one of them, he needed to respect that. "I already promised, and I will promise again," he assured her, daring to chance one more kiss. Though brief and chaste, his lips were warm and soft and inviting.

Her hands slipped from his hair, fingers curling to grip his coat tight for a long moment as he kissed her. Though she'd been mated before, she'd never wanted Jerrick the way she wanted Aiden. What she felt for this lowlander was deeper than anything she'd felt for anyone before; different to the devotion she held for her blood kin. But she didn't let herself linger in that feeling, drawing back with a breathless hint of a smile. "Hunt," she reminded him firmly.

"Aye," he replied, as reluctant to leave her as she was to leave him, but sporting an almost amused smile on his face. His body was reminding him in uncomfortable ways how long it had been since he'd been with a woman, and this wasn't just any woman, but one he was starting to care for.

"Aunt Kat!"

Her lips curved in a smile that was very much for his eyes only, smoothing as she turned to look over at Hakon struggling with a chair.

"Sigrun says this is yours," the boy declared breathlessly. "And Siv showed me where to go. Can you help?"

Katla laughed, shaking her head. "I'm coming, Hakon," she assured her nephew, turning her eyes back to Aiden briefly. "Come home safe," she told him in a soft tone.

"Aye," he replied again. "I will," he assured her before she moved off to help Hakon and the others get settled. There was no reason to worry about him getting hurt when all he was doing was going hunting, but he was touched to know she worried worried about him at all. He couldn't help but smirk for a moment, wondering what Hakon would think to know his cousin thought he was a "poo".
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It would take many more days of work to make the newly named Dawn-Shadow Hold truly a home, but within just a few hours, the women and children of the new hold had segregated each household to their own quarters, everyone given the luxury of at least three rooms - living, sleeping, and the wonder that was the bathing chambers. None of the Amarri had seen anything like it; the Heart had been carved with great care, and each set of chambers held within it a bathing room, each with a smooth stone bath sunk into the floor, fed continuously by warm water from beneath the mountain itself. No sooner had you dirtied the water than it ran clear again - it was a wonder they were all in awe of.

It was also a wonder they were all rather eager to make use of, and though some gathered in the feast hall at the end of the day to drink together and wile away the time, most of the families retired to their own rooms, comforted by the sounds of their fellows outside their doors as they investigated the comforts of their new home.

Elin looked up at a particularly loud shriek of laughter from their bathing room, biting down on a laugh of her own as she looked over at her brother. "Siv seems to be enjoying her bath."

The hunt had been successful, as well, though tiring. They'd been lucky enough to take down a deer large enough to find the entire tribe, but it wasn't the hunt so much that had been tiring as was what came afterwards. It was no easy task preparing the deer for cooking, but thankfully, he'd had a lot of help. Aiden had managed to wash up as much as he could, but he was as eager for a bath as everyone else, perhaps even more so.

"The bath is nothing short of a miracle," he said, as he finished cleaning and polishing his blade and reverently laid it aside for the night.

"I don't think anyone really knows how it works," Elin admitted. She was sewing by firelight, but she wasn't going to show him what she was working on, feeling oddly content in this strange space made comfortable with rough-hewn furniture and animal skins. His sister eyed him almost teasingly. "I did hear some of the women talking about some ceremony that's going to be performed tomorrow," she said, fishing for clues.

"Oh?" he asked, his back to her as he seemed to contemplate the sword, though he was only keeping his back turned so that she could not see the expression on his face that would betray his feelings. He wasn't entirely sure what the women might have been talking about, but he had a feeling it had something to do with his joining with Katla. "What did you hear?" he asked, curious how much she knew.

"Well, they are saying that the hold's been named after the first mating that will take place here," Elin told him, drawing out her words teasingly. Siv had actually told her that he was going to mate her mother, but she hadn't believed the little girl until Sigrun had started gossiping about the possibility. "Dawn-Shadow Hold ... it does make quite the suggestion, don't you think?"

Until that very moment, he had not quite made the connection between the naming of the hold and the names he and Katla were known by. Her legend-mark, she had called it, but he had no such title, unless it was that of Shadow-Walker. He turned his head toward his sister's, brows arched upwards. "What would you think of such a mating?" he asked, neither denying or confirming her suspicions outright.

She raised her own brow in answer, her wide mouth quirked into a teasing sort of smile. "I think it really has nothing to do with me," she pointed out to him. "It's your life. And we are staying, Aiden. I have a place here, no matter what you choose to do with your own standing in the tribe. I'm not going to make the decision for you."

Was it only recently that she had seemed reluctant to stay? Somehow, it seemed like he belonged here, like he had always belonged here, but he wasn't sure how or why. It was liking he'd been searching for a place to call home all his life and had finally found it. "You did not seem so happy about staying a few hours ago," he pointed out.

"I had only met warriors who seemed ready to kill at the slightest notion a few hours ago," she pointed out mildly. "But I have spent much of the day with the women, and the children, and ... they are not so very different. I feel safe here, with them. They have been kind enough to offer us a home, and that is something we haven't had for a long time, Aiden."

He nodded his understanding, and moved closer, kneeling down beside her, so that he was eye to eye with her where she sat. "Do you really think you could be happy here, Elin?" he asked, needing to know how she really felt about it.

She met his gaze calmly, her hands stilling in their work on her lap. "I could," she assured him softly. "But it isn't my happiness that has every unmated woman in this hold biting their tongue and professing pleasure at seeing the Dawn Rider mated, is it?" She smiled, untangling one hand to cup her palm to his neck. "There's a link between you. Even I can see it. Are they right, Aiden? Are you going to ask her to be your mate?"

"It isn't just my imagination then," he considered aloud, more observation than question, his gaze darting away momentarily before drifting back to hers. "Would it surprise you to know that she's already asked me?" he ventured, curious what her reaction to that might be.

His twin laughed as she drew her hand back. "Honestly? No," she told him. "She does not strike me as the kind of woman to let an opportunity pass her by."

"I did not know I was an opportunity," he teased her in return, though he understood what she meant. There were plenty of men of Katla's own tribe she could have chosen as her mate, but instead, she had chosen him. The question was, why?

Elin's smile deepened at his teasing, glad neither of them had forgotten how to be comfortable with each other in their separation. "Cutest little opportunity this side of the Dragonbacks," she teased him back, pinching his cheek.

Unfortunately for him, this coincided with Siv escaping from her mother and running into the main room stark naked and giggling. The little girl threw herself into Elin's lap, and reached out to pinch Aiden's cheeks as well.

His chuckle turning to a good-natured scowl at the cheek-pinching from both his sister and the little girl, but this was what family was about - this was what it was supposed to feel like to be part of something that was bigger than yourself. "Don't let that get around," he warned her, before turning to tease Siv with a tickle of his fingers. "And you, young lady, are very naked!"

"And clean!" Siv declared, erupting into wriggling giggles as she was tickled.

Katla appeared in the doorway, her tunic and trews soaked, smiling at the silly picture they made for her. She tossed the wide linen over for Siv to be wrapped up in it.

Aiden turned a smile toward Katla as she appeared in the doorway - a smile unlike any she'd seen from his before. There had been hints at it before, but he had never quite managed to beam a bright smile such as this before. It was a smile that hinted at the happiness that was bubbling up inside him and that he was only barely aware of. He caught the strip of linen and wrapped it around her, before pulling away to let Elin finish the job. "I need a bath," he declared, thinking he'd waited long enough.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Yes, you are a little ripe," his sister agreed, setting her sewing aside to wrap Siv up in the linen and rub the little girl dry. She was very aware of the fact that her brother had lit up as mother and daughter came into the room, and of the way Katla seemed a little transfixed by the smile on Aiden's face. Even if she didn't feel at home here, she would have insisted upon staying, just so he didn't lose his chance to explore this feeling.

"I am beyond ripe," he replied with a grin, comparing himself to a fruit, which was starting to rot. "Would you ladies mind if I excuse myself?" he asked, knowing he was skipping ahead in turn, but it had been too long since he'd had a proper bath and he could hardly wait any longer.

"Be our guest," Katla told him, stepping to one side to allow him access to the bathing chamber. Here, away from the eyes of her tribe, her gaze was softer, less guarded; there was no shyness in the smile she gave him as she passed by.

He brushed his fingers against hers as he passed by, purposefully, but without making it too obvious, matching her smile in warmth and even fondness. "I won't be long," he promised, though there was a lot he needed to do in there, and it didn't all involve scrubbing away the sweat and grime of the last few days.

The two women left to their own devices took charge of Siv, letting the little girl comb out Katla's wet hair and watch Elin braid it back before she was taken off to bed. By the time Aiden was finished with his bath, Katla was tucking Siv into her new bed in one of the two sleeping chambers. Elin was pouring her brother a drink, listening as the fierce warrior sang to her daughter to lull her off to sleep.

"Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, smiles await you when you rise; sleep, pretty sweetling, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby ..."

It would come as no great surprise to Elin, but her brother cleaned up well. He had changed into a simple tunic and loose-fitting trousers, his hair still long but clean and combed, his beard trimmed close against his face. He no longer seemed ripe, as she'd put it, and even his fingernails had been scrubbed free of dirt and dried blood. As he re-joined his sister, he couldn't help overhearing Katla's voice singing her daughter a lullabye, a little amazed at the gentleness in her voice as she sang, in stark contrast to the woman who was also a warrior. "Now, do you see why I want to stay?" he asked, his voice quiet as he joined his sister.

Elin bit down on her laugh. "A bath is not a good enough reason to make a home," she teased him, handing over the horn cup of mead she had poured for him. She knew what he meant, though; it was strange to note that the woman who had saved her life the night before by taking a sword thrust direct to the stomach without even slowing her own swing was gentle enough to sing to her daughter without changing who she was at all.

"I did not mean the bath," he pointed out, though he knew she was teasing. He took a swallow of the mead, which warmed him inside and out. "It's been a long time since we've had a real home, sister," he said, though she knew this already, too.

She nodded, bending to pick up the sewing she had been working on. It was a tunic, and as she held it to his back, it became rather obvious that it was intended for him. "We've been missing a home for too long," she agreed softly. "They're not afraid of us here. That is worth more than all promises we were made in the lowlands."

Her sewing sparked his curiosity, distracting him from any commentary he might have made regarding the lowlands. "What is that?" he asked, assuming it was something she was sewing, but unsure why she was holding it against him. Was she merely gauging it for size or was it something she was making for him?

Elin rolled her eyes at him. "You didn't think I was going to let you get married in that smelly coat, did you?" she asked pointedly. "Sigrun gave me a few of Svarn's things to adjust for you."

So, that was what the sewing was all about, but instead of smiling, he was wearing a frown. "You don't think I'm rushing things, do you?" he asked, knowing he was, but what point was there in waiting when both he and Katla knew what they wanted.

She tilted her head curiously. "Hasn't anyone explained their mating ceremony to you, Aiden?" she asked him in turn. "This isn't an irreversible joining."

"Why would I want to reverse it?" he asked, indicating the fact that he wasn't going into this lightly. "You said it yourself, Elin. There's some kind of connection between us. I can't explain it, but I know it feels right," he argued, though he hadn't really answered her question.

"So why are you trying to get me to talk you out of it?" she countered pointedly. "If it feels right, then you should do it. Besides, how long it lasts is entirely dependent on how many knots you can undo while she's singing."

"I want to know what you think, that is all," he explained, though it seemed she was telling him just that. "If I use my sword, I could undo them all," he murmured, though he supposed that would be cheating.

"And you would be dishonoring their gods," his sister pointed out to him. "Aiden, it really doesn't matter what I think. This is your life, your heart. But if it helps at all ... she's the only woman you've ever taken an interest in who actually seems worthy of you."

Of everything she'd said so far, that probably surprised him the most. "Worthy of me?" he echoed, brows arching upwards again. What was so special about him, other than the fact that he was arguably one of the last, if not the last, living Shadow-Walker? "But am I worthy of her?" he countered.

Elin's smile was wry as she looked up at him. "Remember that you are talking to your twin sister," she pointed out. "I am just a little biased here. Stop asking silly questions, too. You've made your decision, and so has she. This time tomorrow, you'll probably be planting."

"That is one way of putting it," he murmured again, though there was a smile on his face this time. Of course, he was a little nervous. It was understandable, he thought. He was about to do something that would not only change his life but the lives of Katla, Siv, and Elin, too, not to mention the tribe.

"And what are you whispering about, I wonder?" Katla asked as she came back into the living space. She'd changed from her wet tunic and trews into a sleeping shift, a bright shawl wrapped about her shoulders.

Elin smirked faintly, stepping back from her brother. "I was about to give my brother some pointers on the best way to plough a furrow."

"Unfortunately, I have never been very good at farming," he said, though that did not also apply to the underlying topic at the heart of their conversation. Planting, now that was another matter. He'd never had any complaints, but then he'd never really felt the kind of connection he was feeling with Katla with anyone else before.

"You should first be certain the earth where you intend to plant is fertile," Katla pointed out, innocent of the innuendo they were sharing. She knelt by the fire, working on tamping down the flames to embers for the night.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Elin bit her lips, trying not to giggle. "Oh, I think he's fairly sure it's fertile," she assured Katla. "I'm going to bed. Good night." She kissed Aiden's cheek, winking at him before disappearing into the second of the sleeping chambers.

He glared a warning at his sister as she kissed his cheek, but there was no anger in it, only a warning not to embarrass him, if she could help it. "Good night," he told her, resisting the urge to pinch her before she toddled off to bed. He hoped Katla hadn't figured out what it was they were really talking about.

"Dream well," was Katla's good night to Elin, but she didn't look up from her work, careful to make sure the embers would remain warm all night but safe to be left untended. "Where did you find fertile soil?" she asked Aiden curiously. "I thought you were hunting, not surveying the land."

"I didn't," he replied, honestly and bluntly. "I am a hunter, not a farmer," he told her, though he would learn to farm if that's what the tribe needed him to do. "She was speaking figuratively," he explained, unsure if she'd understand what he was getting at. He took another long swallow of the mead before setting the cup aside. "Tell me, how many knots would you like me to untangle tomorrow, Katla?"

"Oh, I see." She smiled to herself, ducking her head before rising to her feet once more, moving to douse the torches that illuminated the space, one by one. His question brought a soft flush of color to her cheeks. "It is for the gods to decide, Owensson," she told him quietly. "I will not bind them so tightly for you as I did for Jerrick. I was not a willing mate for him. For you ... things are different."

"If it was not for Jerrick, you would not have Siv," he said, reminding her that she at least had her daughter to be thankful for. He remained standing where he was while she moved to her feet, not quite trusting himself where she was concern. He only had to wait one more day, until she was his.

"True," she conceded, her smile fond at the thought of her daughter. "He was bitterly disappointed she wasn't a son, but by the time of her birth, our mating was over. He could not claim her, and he could not order her to be exposed. And I am glad of it."

"Was it so very short then?" he asked. She had told him a little of her past with Jerrick, but only bits and pieces of it, and he had been drunk with weariness during the telling of it.

"It was one year," she said, with a laugh in her voice. "He was fuming, but there is no rule on how tightly the knots should be secured. He was humiliated, and I only had to endure marriage to the son of my father's killer for one year. The gods were kind to me then. I see no reason why they should not be kind now."

"I do not understand how you can suffer him to live," he murmured, regarding the old man who had become Thane, with a shake of his head. He supposed killing the old man wouldn't solve anything, except maybe to offer some justice.

"He is an old man, with no heir," she said quietly. "The gods took his son from him, and gave his son no child but a girl before that day. When Old-Tooth dies, his hold will fall to whoever prevails in the contest, and that is justice. He'll be forgotten."

"Why is it so important he have a son? Why can Siv not one day rule as Thane? She is his only living blood relative," he asked further, knowing so little still of their customs and traditions - of the way things were and had always been.

"She could, but women are not considered the equal of men among us," she explained, easing to sit down as they talked in the gloom. "It is a rare thing for a woman to earn a legend-mark, and thanks to you, we have two in our hold. Dawn-Shadow will change the way women are seen, I believe, but it will take time, and the first woman to rule as Thane will not take her throne for generations after my death, I'm sure."

He waited for her to sit before doing the same, across from her but close enough that he could reach out and touch her if he so wanted. "My mother was a Handmaiden of the Goddess ... the Lady, as you so call her, and my sister is a Light-Bringer. I would give my life to protect her and to protect you. That does not make us equals," he told her. It wasn't that he thought he was above them, but just the opposite.

"We are a warrior culture, Owensson," she reminded him. "Men are made to be warriors; women are not. The Father rules the hearts of men; most of us have never even seen the face of the Mother. The Lady is the only one we agree on, but she is the child of the Father. He stands supreme, and made in his image, men stand above women. It is simply the way we live."

"No, Katla," he said, reaching for her hand. "Men do not stand above women, and I will not stand above you anymore than I stand above my sister. You are just as fierce a warrior as any man I have ever known. If we are not equals, then it is you who stand above me, not the other way around."

Her smile softened as she listened to him. "You are a rare man, Owensson," she told him gently. "And you'll have influence in this hold - a position of honor. Without you, we would never have come here, never gave regained what was lost. You are the Shadow-Walker, and that is no longer a name to be feared."

"You need not call me Owensson," he reminded her. If they were going to be married in the morning, it seemed a little silly to him that she was still insisting on addressing him by a more formal name. He made no comment regarding the rest of what she said. He didn't think he was so very special, even if he was the last Shadow-Walker left in all the land.

Color flooded her cheeks as she glanced away, tucking her arms a little tighter about herself. "I don't trust myself to use your name yet," she admitted softly. "It's something that truly is intimate for me."

"Tomorrow, then," he told her in a quiet voice, lifting her hand to his lips for a spontaneous kiss. Tomorrow, they would be married and would start the journey of discovery and intimacy together. "Don't tie the knots too tightly, Katla," he warned with a smile that looked almost amused.

There was no mistaking the color on her cheeks for anything but the blush it was, for it deepened as his lips touched her knuckles. His smile brought hers forth, but it was his words that made her laugh softly. "Think you to claim me for a lifetime, lowlander?" she teased playfully.

"In the lowlands, marriage is for life, Katla," he told her, though he did not really consider himself one of them. "They don't untie knots to see how long they will stay together. They make promises to love and cherish each other for as long as they both live."

"What happens if what they share is not strong enough to last so long?" she asked curiously. "Here, the gods tell us how long we should mate for, and those who wish longer will go though the ceremony again as many times as it takes."

He shrugged. "Then, I suppose they agree to separate," he explained, though he'd never really known anyone who had. "How do the gods tell you that?" he asked curiously. He'd thought it all depended on how many knots he was able to untie and how hard she made it for him.
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Katla
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


Joined: 22 Jun 2017
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

She blinked in surprise. "The gods' hand is in the ceremony," she explained. "The man has only so long as it takes for his partner to sing their song of devotion to whichever god they choose. We believe that no matter how tight, or how loose, those knots are tied, the number is decided by the gods."

"And yet, you said the ceremony can be repeated if they couple chooses to be together longer," he pointed out. "What if they do not wish to be together anymore, but their time is not yet up?" he asked further.

"They must stay together until their time is over," she shrugged. "As for those who perform the ceremony again, the gods' hands are still in the number of knots they untie. We must seem a very casual culture to you."

"No, just different," he assured her, frowning a little in thought a moment. "You must think me very ignorant of your ways, but I am trying to learn." Their beliefs weren't so very different, after all, though there were differences in their customs and traditions.

"You've only been among us a day," she reminded him in amusement, drawing the pad of her thumb over his newly trimmed beard. "You'll learn." But not tonight. The next day promised to be long, for all the right reasons for once.

He said nothing for a moment, but only watched her quietly. What was it about her and her people that made him want to become one of them, when he had never felt that way before? "My sister says there is a connection between us," he told her. It wasn't something he could explain, but he'd felt it, too. It was like he'd been searching for her all his life, though he had never known it until now.

Katla raised her eyes to his, the gloom of the room casting the pale blue of her gaze into stormy gray. "I'd say she is right," she said quietly. "Though I don't know how it happened, or why. I only know that I feel for you as I have not felt for any other. Why else would I claim you, with no words spoken between us? I felt it then; I feel it more strongly now I begin to know you."

"I thought you claimed me only to protect me," he said, perhaps having misunderstood what had taken place after he had fought the dead with her people and they had taken him with them back to the tribe.

"Svarn could have claimed you, if that was the only purpose," she admitted ruefully. "I am not as ruthless as I thought I was, though. I had you there, in my bed, and I let you sleep." She laughed, shaking her head. "You wouldn't have fought me, would you? And I still couldn't do it."

"No, I wouldn't have fought you," he admitted with a smile. She was, after all, a beautiful woman, but it wasn't just that. There was just something about her that went beyond just the physical, but he wasn't sure he could put it into words. "I would like to have a family with you, Katla, if you will let me," he admitted. It was probably the first time in his life he'd ever considered such a thing.

"Isn't that the purpose of a mating?" she asked, and for a moment, she seemed to actually mean it, but for the teasing twinkle in her eyes. "After all, as your sister points out ... you have fertile ground for your ploughing."

"In part," he replied, though he thought it went deeper than that. "But there is more to mating than just having children, don't you think?" he asked, teasing her in return. He'd had other lovers, but he had never considered making a family with any of them.

"Oh, of course," she agreed, unwilling to stop teasing him just because he was trying to be gallant with her. "There's the arguing, too. No one argues quite like a mated pair."

"Should we argue just to prove the point?" he asked, though they were not yet mated. It was a tempting thought to take her to bed before the ceremony, but he didn't want to tempt fate and anger the gods.

"Oh, you cheat when we argue," she informed him with a flicker to her grin. "You wait until I'm injured and sleepy, just so you can win." She laughed, stroking her hand against his cheek. "And we should both get to bed."

"Together or apart?" he asked, with another teasing smirk, though he already knew the answer to that question. After all, his sister was sleeping in one room and Siv in the other, with no place left for them to be alone.

"Be patient, lowlander," she murmured softly, tucking her arms about herself once again. She just didn't trust herself not to reach out to him, and once passion held sway, they wouldn't care where they were, she was certain of it. "Tomorrow."

"I am patient. I have been waiting my whole life for you," he pointed out, touching his fingers to her cheek, now that she had pulled her hands away. "Sleep well, Katla. Tomorrow we become as one." He leaned in to touch a soft kiss to her lips, lingering for a moment in that caress.

Aiden. His name didn't leave her lips, but it was there, just on the verge of being spoken, her every nerve skirting the very edge of an intimacy she just couldn't bring herself to enter until they were mated. "Dream well, my Shadow-Walker," she whispered back to him as his lips left hers.

"I will dream of you," he whispered back, daring to kiss her one more time before pulling away at last before he went too far and couldn't hold himself back any longer.

She drew back herself, taking up one of the two lamps left lit. With a last smile for his eyes only, she slipped away, disappearing into one of the sleeping rooms to extinguish her lamp and curl into bed with her daughter, to sleep their first night in their new hold with the prospect of a new family to come.

He watched her depart with a smile on his face. She was so different from any woman he had ever met before, and he couldn't help but feel lucky that she had chosen him. There were some, even of her tribe, who might not understand what was going on between them, but they didn't matter. All that mattered was that they had waited all their lives for each other - he felt it down deep in his soul - and by this time tomorrow, they would be husband and wife. Perhaps, on this occasion, his sister's lack of care with her own safety had been a good thing.
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