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Hero's Song - Chapter Eleven

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Most of the patrons had filed home for the night, and Sal was sealing the kegs for the morning; which, in all fairness, was only a few hours away. I should be exhausted...but my spirit felt light. I had sung nonsense songs about drunken dwarves chasing fairies, I had sung the Ballad of Sir Osis and his many misdeeds three times so far; twice requested by Axle, who, when drunk, did a fairly good pirate impression. I had danced, and had partaken of my fair share of spirits, and I had laughed, and flirted, and played one game of dice, which I lost horribly at. I was feeling...well, happy. And maybe a little drunk.

So when Vis the Butcher requested one last song, "And don't worry about making it a fast one, my head's ringing enough as it is," I remembered the Heartwood lullaby. First song I learned, if I remember it right. It was simple enough that as a novice musician I had grasped it fairly quickly, but the notes were pure and beautiful, and I thought maybe my heart needed a little tugging before I sent myself off to bed. So I placed the bow against the strings, and soon the slow, haunting melody filled the tavern.

I'll confess I threw a little magic in there with it; not much, not nearly enough to be noticed by even a hedgewizard; but enough so that when the notes touched their ears, in their mind's eye they saw the first place their feet had trodden as children. If they never had mothers, then a mother's voice called to them; if love eluded them, then they remembered a lover's kiss. I shut my eyes, playing the song by feel, and drove my whole heart in to it. Tree's whispered in a tavern where the wood had long been silenced, and in the barest flicker of moments, my own violin seemed to sing on it's own, the notes rippling over me in a soft caress; like the hands of the one who had made it for me.

When the song ended, and the last notes hung in the air, I opened my eyes. Vis and many other patrons were weeping quietly; Low Lucan's face was buried in his hands. When I looked at Sal, he was wiping his eyes briskly.

Well, no applause needed after a reaction like that. I climbed down from the bar, re-wrapping my violin. Sal nodded to me. "That was...that was nice, Harper." He cleared his throat. "You off to bed, now?"

"Aye, I'll go say goodbye to the boys. You need any help, Sal?"

"Nah, get out of here, girl. I get paid to do this." He scowled. "Apparently."

I smiled and saw everyone out; Low Lucan patted my arm on his way through the door. "You're a good soul, Harper Kross! A good soul!" His eyes looked so sad and forlorn that I was beginning to wonder if playing the Heartwood was such a good idea...

I shut and locked the door after the last patron had trudged outside. Turning, I was face to face with Karnwyr, who stared at me, his golden eyes glowing slightly in the dark. I quirked an eyebrow, and reached out my hand, sinking my fingers in his thick fur for his customary scratch, but he pulled away. He turned and took a few steps towards the back door, then stopped and looked at me.

I blinked. Well, one had to be an idiot to not understand that, but I was a little wary. Still...out of the wolf and the ranger, Karnwyr was usually the more civil one, so I followed, pushing the back door open for him and watching as he trotted across the street, disappearing around the corner.

Damn it! Where was he going? I glanced up and down the road, then hurried after him, my skirts swishing. I saw his tail disappear around another corner, and I followed, barely keeping up with him as he dodged down back alleys and around buildings.

He slipped through the city gate behind the Sunken Flagon's street, and I barely glanced at the sleepy gate guards as I followed; they looked slightly more alert as I walked by, taking note of my red dress and general lack of outerwear. Karnwyr strode down the road a ways, then abruptly turned off into the woods.

Gods all mighty...well, I had followed him this far, but I ruefully realized that my dress wasn't going to last long in these woods. I slid into the trees after him, dodging undergrowth, wondering if I could risk calling out to the wolf to get him to slow down a bit. His shadowy figure was getting farther and farther ahead of me...and was that smoke I smelled?

I stepped into the smallest, most densely covered clearing I'd seen. A small fire, crackling merrily, lit the cleared space with an amber glow, and banished some of the night chill off of my skin. Karnwyr trotted back to me, whined, licked my hand, and then disappeared into the woods. I stayed put; somehow I had a feeling this was where he wanted me.

And sure enough, the trees behind me rustled, and Bishop dropped out of their branches. I turned at the sound of his voice. "I thought I said not to play any of that elven tripe."

He stalked towards me in the firelight, a dangerous light in his eyes. "You sure like to run away, bard," he growled; he stepped close to me, light and shadow slithering across his face as the flames danced. "Something you're scared of?"

I could feel anger...and something else...boiling up inside of me, and I glared at him. "This was well planned out, ranger. Tell me, do you do this for all your mistresses, or only the ones who have enough of a brain to try and stay away from you?"

"Oh, you wound me, songbird," he chuckled; the sound trickled over my skin like warm velvet. "The last I recall, I was not the instigator in the Temple of Tyr."

Ouch. He had me there, but I set my jaw stubbornly and lifted my chin. "I was about to face death. I don't have to answer for my actions to you."

He reached out, traced his fingers down the side of my cheek, his eyes on mine. "Aye, you keep telling yourself that, bard. But you and I, we're honest with ourselves; maybe it's time you looked at the truth you've been running from."

I turned away from him abruptly, and started walking, seething. Of al the low down, sneaking, rotten, manipulating...I was not going to be wrapped around his finger like some tool...


I stopped.

For as long as I'd known him, he hadn't ever called me by name. Some insultingly teasing nickname has taken precedence when he spoke to me, and I hadn't even realized how deeply I was in this until my name passed his lips and struck me like lightning. I couldn't have moved if I had wanted to. I felt him behind me, felt him brush away my long tumble of hair with the back of his hand, felt his lips against the nape of my neck. I shivered as the kiss trailed up to my sharply pointed ear, and he whispered,"Stay."

I remember walking as if in a daze, letting him lead me back to the fire. I remember vaguely noting the furs laid out on the ground as he pulled me down on to them, feeling slightly amused that he had planned this so well. I remember his mouth, hot and hungry, sliding against mine, his fingers deftly undoing the various laces and hooks on a dress that had taken me forever to put on. My hands seemed to move of their own volition, undoing his clothing, brushing against his skin; he exhaled long and low as my searching fingers slid below his navel. Suddenly I saw the flash of a blade in the firelight, and I found myself bare to the night air, ribbons of scarlet falling away from me.

How could I describe such a thing? I remember sinking my fingers into his thick, maple-colored hair, muffling my cries against the soft part of his neck while a river of sensations pierced through me. His hands were never still; his lips found every inch of my skin. I remember his erratic, warm breathing against my ear as his hand slid behind my back, lifting me up, my body pressing against his in an arch; every muscle on his frame etched it's outline against mine, burned like a brand. I remember every movement, every demanding, needful thrust that I countered with fierce ripostes of my own. I remember it all, still. I'd never forget.

When we were spent at last, I watched the firelight dance across his skin. His eyes were fathomless as he looked down at me, fingers brushing my hair back from my forehead. "Girl," he growled, "you are a witch."

I smiled at him, my heart light and heavy at the same time. "How do you figure that? The fire, the animal skins, these woods, are yours, ranger, not mine."

He didn't answer, and my puzzlement was soon erased as one of the fur skins was pulled over me, and I was enveloped in warmth and softness, a calloused hand resting on my shoulder until my eyes closed and I slipped into sleep.

o o o o o o

I had just dropped into my room via the window, the mid-morning sun blazing merrily away outside, when my door opened. Shandra stepped in, as was her wont to enter my room completely uninvited, and as soon as she saw me her eyebrows shot up.

I crossed my arms, daring her to say something. I was dressed in a pair of trews and a man's shirt (need I say who's?) and my hair was a general mess. The ruined dress lay on the windowsill behind me, wrapped in fur; I'd have to pay Ophala for it. But it had been worth it. The thought came unbidden to my head, and I couldn't stop myself from grinning. Karnwyr had led me back to the city earlier, and even as I left the clearing I had felt Bishop's eyes follow my movements, his clothes on my back.

Shandra cleared her throat. "They, uh...need you up front. Something's happened to Aldanon, and Lord Nasher wants to see you."

Ah yes. Reality was here, knocking insistently. "All right. Give me a bit to get cleaned up, and I'll be out there shortly."

"Um...hang on a moment." Shandra walked towards me, and pulled a few leaves out of my hair. She winked at me. "I'm not quite sure how I feel about this, since you know my opinion of the man, but...well, be careful, ok?" She turned to go, calling over her shoulder, "And stop smiling! You look like you have a fish-hook stuck in your mouth."

Hero's Song - Chapter 11 © Avariel

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