This is a fantasy story I'm working on. It's a bit hard to explain so just give it a go and see what you make of it.


5. Chapter Four

Chapter Four

“Finian, whatever happened? Here, let me.” Closing her eyes, she lay her hand very gently on his bare chest. She let her energy and her strength and her life pour out of her and into him. The intensity on her face made her look nearly beautiful. To Finian she was dazzling. The sensation of her hand against his skin left him breathless and he longed for her in a new way. He kept finding new ways to love her. Morella had an amazing talent for seeming to be a completely different person with every role she took on. One day she'd just get fed up and remake herself.

Right now she was so pure and graceful. Softer than usual, a healer. She was trying hard to be concerned about Fin, to show him all the affection he was used to. Over the past few days, she'd done things he'd be hurt by. Felt things that he'd never come to terms with. She hid her betrayal well, attending to him with all the dedication of a devoted lover. Nevertheless, her heart wasn't in it.

However strange her methods, they were nearly miraculously successful. The damage became more or less invisible, the wound seemed to have healed itself.

“I've missed you.” He hadn't said anything wrong. The sentiment was sweet; it was still dull. His words were simple but sincere. If only he spoke more passionately like... no she would not let herself think it. Not even in her head. Stubbornly, images of his wild gestures, and that expressive face, were invading her mind with a force she couldn't block.

“That's nice, dear,” she replied sarcastically mimicking his casual tone. Since he was, as usual, oblivious what he'd done wrong, her harsh response equally hurt and confused him. Why did she always have to be so difficult?

It wasn't his fault. He didn't mean to be infuriating. Most others would have put up with it graciously, grateful for the attention and obvious admiration he displayed. Then again it wasn't her fault she felt everything so strongly either. Though generally looked upon as flaws, her temper and impatience were somehow very attractive. They made her all the more fiery and spirited. Maybe a little too intense for poor Finian.

Now that he was no longer in danger, Morella's safe return could be properly celebrated. Excessive drinking was naturally the highlight of the reunion; at least this time the men had something of an excuse. As the effects of the beer worsened, so did the singing. Later still the dancing began. Dancing perhaps not being the right term to describe these grown men throwing themselves clumsily about the room. Stamping as they went, they celebrated in a style particularly their own.

“Bet you're glad to be back.” People kept on saying it. She tried to seem enthusiastic when she replied but she didn't feel very glad. Everything had gone back to normal too quickly, too easily. She'd felt like she'd been making some sort of progress before. Now she'd been forced to admit that nothing had changed. Except for the fact that she felt more out of place than she'd done before. Discovering that there was another way to live, a whole other society she'd never known about, and all the adventure that could lie just beyond her reach made her more agitated than usual. Before she's escaped it a while, she never realised how discontent she was with her life. Her time away from it, however, had shown her so many alternatives, so many opportunities.

“It's been too long. Come and take a walk with me. We should talk.”

“But it's getting late. You know the rules about being in camp by nightfall.”

“And when have you ever cared about the rules? I know why you don't want to come. Your scared because you know that I know. You won't be able to avoid my questions forever.” She considered pretending not to understand; there was no point with Dathan -he was the only person more stubborn than her. He led the way although she already knew where they were going. On the way out the camp he chattered about nothing, then, as soon as they were out of earshot his face turned solemn and his tone quickly changed.

“You fell for him, didn't you.”

“Don't be ridiculous. You weren't there, you have no idea. You've never even seen the man. For all you know he could have warts all over his face and no eyebrows.” At this, Dathan began to laugh, angering Morella who was being quite serious.

“Of all the hideous deformities that could render a man hopelessly unattractive, the best you come up with is no eyebrows. You'll never change,” he smiled at her in a way only he ever did. Most men were either intimidated or in awe of Morella. He was neither; he was balanced. When he looked at her, he did so realistically, seeing all those qualities which could dazzle and captivate without being blind to her flaws. He could admire without seeing perfection. “Anyway, this is all totally irrelevant when I know for a fact he had no warts and a rather expressive set of eyebrows.”

“You can't be so sure.”

“I may not know him, but I know you. Very well. I'm right, aren't I? I still don't know why you cast me aside for that pathetic little boy. He doesn't understand you the way I do. I've watched him all evening. Oblivious. Drinking himself senseless, completely unaware of the fact he's losing you. Let's face it, marriage to Gaeldum would be convenient. Not necessary, still convenient enough that it's not worth you suppressing the feelings you've clearly developed for him.”

“Marriage to Gaeldum does not solve anything. The only thing it could possibly achieve is my safety for which you know I have only a little regard. You've always known when I've been lying to you and you'd know if I was lying now when I say that I do not know what I feel for him.”

“You may not, but I do.” Needless to say, he still loved her. In her youth and inexperience, her affections would shift often and he knew the signs. He was used to losing her, or at least the signs were familiar; the pain was still fresh. He hadn't learnt how to deal with that bit yet. She'd broken his heart so many times, each and every instance equally as unbearable as the last.

In silence they returned to the camp. She refused to speak to him, angered by his constant attentions. When would he come to accept that she just didn't love him? She'd given it a chance. There was nothing wrong with him. She simply didn't feel whatever it was he felt. He would have spoken to her if he could have found any words worth saying. He'd not figured out how to win her back yet. The possibility he never could was more than he could bear.

The next morning she woke up not feeling particularly refreshed. She'd stayed up to let and drank too much. Dathan's frank confrontation a blurry memory. Breakfast was important to Morella at the best of times. On a morning like this she'd eat a sheer volume of food unimaginable without witnessing the feat. It was amazing she fought so well, her figure hid her physical abilities. She wasn't fat, but she wasn't slim either.

As usual, when she got dressed that morning, she looked at herself dissatisfied. If she was any less fond of food, maybe she'd find a way to do something about that extra bit of belly overhanging the belt which held her dagger close. Unfortunately, she was not any less fond of food. Then she slapped her thighs to see how much they rippled today before proceeding to pinch the flesh hanging beneath her arms. This was how her daily inspection always went, more or less. Lately she'd been more deeply affected by it, that was all.

In reality, she wasn't nearly as bad as she'd thought. Those flaws which were so glaringly obvious to her went generally unnoticed. Except by Dathan. He noticed everything. That was one reason for rejecting him. What he felt was loving concern, she resented deeply.

There was not much work today and no attacks. Dathan sought Morella out and asked if she'd practice with him. Apparently he thought she'd been getting sloppy recently and after being away she was even more in need of a challenge. Clearly he felt he was the man who could challenge her. Despite not wanting to spend the time with him, she did want to put him back in his place. She'd always been the best. He may have been stronger as a man; she was far quicker.

This time her advantage wasn't so obvious as she'd expected. After ending up on the floor about four times, she punched him with all she had and he simply stood there, not retaliating, his point made. Despite the pummelling he was taking, he maintained his smug smile, hardly feeling the pain. Then, when she'd expended all her energy pounding him and had no strength left to protest, he scooped her up.

She tried to fight him off, only to give up, flopping breathless into his arms. Hands tightly around her waist, he carried her out of the camp, the other men looking on amused. Right now, Morella did not look dignified. Also, some of them had already been out of camp scouting that morning and had some idea where he was taking his unsuspecting prisoner.

Outside the wooden gates, the horses had knocked over their water trough. The resulting trodden up mixture of mud, water and poo had created quite a swamp. If Morella'd known this, she may have managed to find a little more energy from somewhere. Indeed, when the mud filled ditch came in to sight, she did make more of an effort to push herself away. As much as she struggled and kicked, Dathan' hold remained strong, his large arms firm about her middle.

“You're going in.”

“Don't you dare! Don't you dare!”

“Shut up or your going head-first.” She didn't want to let him win; there didn't seem to be a better alternative. Without another word, she let him carry her up to the edge of the ditch.

“Fine, I'm going in,” she said, “but you're coming with me!” Although he was stronger than her, he'd never expected her to do this. Rather than try to fight him off, as he'd expected, she actually hurled herself forwards into the mud, refusing to let go of him. As much as she'd loathed her figure earlier, now she was grateful for that extra bulk she had.

It gave her yet more satisfaction that, unlike her, Dathan landed face down. She watched with glee as he spat out a mouthful mud. Her triumph was only brief, she soon had a fist-full of mud flying towards her face. Still distracted by her own gloating, her reactions weren't nearly quick enough. Before she could wipe the dirt from her eyes, the next load was coming her way.

He'd gone one step too far. She came up behind him and shoved him into the mud, which would have been a very successful manoeuvre had he not worked out what she was planning and managed to wrap his leg around the bottom of her calf bringing her down on top. As soon as they hit ground, he freed his arm from beneath her chest and used it to shove her head deep into the soft mud. He would have held it there if he'd not been so scared of actually suffocating her.

Feeling more than a little guilty when he saw her face again, he pulled her into his arms and they sat there, not bothering to wipe away the mud. She was laughing the way she used to- when her and Dathan were still together. They'd not felt so comfortable together since she'd chosen Finian. She hoped it was because Dathan was getting over her. He hoped she was coming back to him.

Unsurprisingly, Finian wasn't best pleased by Morella's private outing. Sometimes Morella and Dathan still acted like a couple and it made him insecure. Once they'd been very close, they'd have probably married had Morella not known she'd have to leave sooner or later. In the end, that's why she chose Finian. He was content just to love and and be loved in return. To enjoy each other's company while they had it, not letting the future ruin the present. All lovers had to take that gamble. There's always a risk.

Dathan couldn't bear the not knowing. His love was far more intense. Being with her was, to him, giving himself completely, binding himself to her forever more. He wanted something unshakeable, he wanted certainty. He needed eternity.

Rightly so, for his feelings for her consumed him to the extent that his love would kill him. He'd die if she left him. Once he'd let himself love her, he'd never be able to stop loving her. For his own good, she didn't start something she couldn't be sure she could follow through to the end. The only problem was that he already loved her. Already he was incapable of stopping.

“He still loves you, you do realise that?” Finian was in the middle of lecturing her, “It's not fair to keep on giving him hope. You play with his feelings. Mine too. How long do I have to share your attentions?”

Finian's jealous outbreaks had never caused Morella much concern. She'd every right to speak to whoever she wanted whenever she wanted without him making her justify herself. She was not his property. They weren't even in any sort of official relationship, only a casual understanding that'd been settled between them at the start. After Dathan made her choose between him and her future.

“Go find a sword, you've missed practice. You'll fall behind and die the next time we have an attack. Then neither me nor Dathan will even enjoy that little bit of attention we each receive from you occasionally.”

Rolling her eyes she did as she was told. As much as she loathed being told what to do, regretfully, he was right. Although she was angry with him, she was still glad to practice with Finian today. He wasn't the best with a sword, it would be an easy start to get her arms back into routine.

Finian worked with perfect precision, his aim accurate, he delivered every blow on target. Her quick foot-work, however kept him moving about and he soon realised he'd have to swing faster. It only took five minutes for the sweat to start dripping off the end of his nose, his arms heavy from the messy, mindless movements of his sword. When his eyes moved away for a brief second, Morella lunged forward to knock him down onto the ground. One kick, slightly below the knee, was enough to make him lose balance.

With some pride, she walked across the courtyard and slid her sword back into the rack. It felt good to stretch out her knuckles after gripping the handle so long. The great weight gone, her arm felt light. She'd not felt so ready for a meal in a long time. Looking up, she caught a glimpse of Dathan looking on, smiling distractedly. It was only a moment of eye contact. Finian noticed it all the same.

During their evening meal, Morella sat with Dathan, deliberately to spite Finian with whom she'd had another row that afternoon. They sat by the fire side, talking and laughing. The atmosphere in the camp was always warm at meal times. There was always a chatter in the background, men noisier than usual from the beer, jollier too. Sometimes there was news from home or other camps, if not they always found something to discuss.

Morella was about to begin eating when she noticed the chaos at in the entranceway. Loud noise wouldn't have made her so curious, but now she could here men drawing there swords. Shouts for help were beginning to emerge from all the unintelligible chaos and confusion. A crowd were beginning to gather round but she pushed them aside and ran over to see what all the fuss was about.

It couldn't be an attack, they'd never been ambushed inside their camp. Their scouts had always either dealt with trouble or at least held any enemies back until help arrived. Surely there'd have been word sent before danger reached them here, in the heart of their defences.

Minutes after everybody had rushed over to the door, they'd grown bored and settled down. Now Morella had a clear view of the scene, the restless audience dispersed, returning to their ale and fresh, warm bread. There was, as she'd expected, a group of invaders, now surrounded by their men. Recognising the intruders to be fire-breathers, Morella felt her stomach clench though she did not know why. Her throat was closing up, although as far as she could tell, nobody she recognised was amongst them.

One of the fire-breathers turned around, scanning the room as if he was looking for something. Morella's eyes locked onto his immediately. It was Gaeldum himself staring straight at her. His eyes as intense, their expression so wild as she remembered. The desperation in his face made her think he wanted to talk to her. She wanted to run to him, regardless what the onlookers would think and say. She had so many questions she needed to ask.

Dathan didn't need to ask her if that was Gaeldum she'd been smiling at. He knew by the way they looked at each other. The way the tension between them tightened around the entire room. He wondered if she realised she was smiling.

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