Mastery

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.

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4. Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Naturally, Morella's friends had been involved in the attack. Finian had managed to save their lives but he'd been gravely injured during the battle. He needed her back soon. Fighting off about seven fire-breathers, he'd been scorched down his chest and the wound quickly grew infected. Now, as the skin peeled away like seaweed drying out on a rock, it was pussy and wrinkled.

He bore the pain better than her absence. When a man comes close to death, he suddenly realises what he wants. An unexpected change in circumstances offered him a chance to amend his regrets; still he hadn't survived it yet.

There'd always been affection behind his constant teasing. Finian was the sort of person everyone likes but never really form any deep relationship with. As much as his light conversation and constant joking made his company pleasant, he was totally unable to have a serious conversation. He could never cope with emotional situations, never asked why someone cried, far less actually try to comfort them. Even on the rare instance he braced a semi- intense situation, he would say exactly the wrong thing and be of no help at all. It was better he just stayed out of it.

Morella was drawn to him for this though, unlikely though it must seem. She was strong; she never cried. There had been one occasion. Quite soon after her father died, there'd been an attack on their camp. Not fire-breathers, only a group of rebels. Resenting pity, she fought simply to prove she was coping. There was one fatality. Her fault.

Far more clumsy than usual, she lost her focus. While her thoughts were elsewhere one of the better rebels slipped past and grabbed Bax (she was meant to be covering his back). Joining in the struggle, the fact she'd refused to eat for nearly a week became evident. At first she managed to cling limply onto the shoulders of the attacker. With every turn and swing of his body, her hold weakened. Painfully slowly her finger slid over his shoulder, then down his back, clawing desperately she couldn't regain any sort of grip.

To give up on her friend would be unthinkable so when even Morella had to accept her initial strategy held no hope, she tried to strike the man hard enough to loosen his grip on Bax, enough for him to fight back. It could have worked if she'd tried earlier, now exhaustion left her dizzy and her aim was terrible. Each blow came more and more half-hearted.

Finian dragged her away, pounding furiously at his chest, sobbing sobs of guilt and crying tears of sorrow and howling groans of pain. Exploding restless whilst sagging limp in weariness. Shortly after, Bax lay slain on the ground.

Anybody else would tried to have been reassuring. Bax was dead. Morella blamed herself and no words could change that. She didn't want to listen and she definitely didn't want to talk. Finian didn't either. He held her. He stroked her hair. He said nothing. Being there, not pushing her away, not hating her or blaming her was the best thing he could do. Any more would bring her back into a reality she wasn't ready for, the shock was protecting her from the full force of feelings she was still numb to.

Whether she had any real feelings for Finian is hard to say. It would explain what she did next, in that study deep in Gaeldum's fortress. However it seems unlikely, besides her reaction could easily be interpreted in many ways. Maybe her past made her determined to resist any chance of happiness. Maybe she genuinely didn't want to say yes.

Morella fought hard for her next words. All the confusing feelings she was having for him had suddenly grown far worse. Struggling to admit she wanted to say yes, and forcing herself to say no. It wouldn't do her any good to let him kiss her, she was already giving in to her emotions. Worse still, she was afraid she might actually fall for him. Afraid of love generally; more so with Gaeldum. Of all the hard things she'd expected her meeting with him to be, she never anticipated it to be more than straight-forward business.

“Don't. I mean, well, I can't...”

“You're terrified. Not only of me, you're too scared to feel. Anything. Maybe I can't save you. I want to be able to protect you, I'm not sure why, but I have such fondness for you.” Surprisingly, it was true. Unusual as it was for Gaeldum to quickly form attachments, he yearned for her. Most likely, since she was tiny and vulnerable, he felt responsible for her.

She was not beautiful. Lacking any symmetry, her features seemed to come from different people and at some point been slapped all over her face. Her mouth was too big for her face and too often wide open. Her nose was small and dainty, a lady-like nose that didn't seem to belong beneath those fierce eyes, too often set in a glare. One word could describe both her appearance and personality- unconventional.

Obviously Morella's second meeting with the war council was delayed considerably by the battle. No one had ever expected them to actually enter Gaeldum's territory, far less come near the fortress. Aluna must be even more confident than ever, surely some day that arrogance would undo her. Whatever could be behind Morella's speech about ending the war without bloodshed? It could never work, all parties would have to come to some sort of agreement and Aluna was too stubborn to budge. Neither was she the type to forfeit her own personal interests for the greater good.

Assembled at last in their chamber, the particularly quarrelsome men were in a mood more difficult than usual. Over the past day Morella had succumbed to unpardonable failure. Something about Gaeldum brought out all her weaknesses, weaknesses already tested by fear, exhaustion and worse of all indecision. She did believe what she'd said, a peaceful solution was always what she'd intended. No more killing. She hated it. Yet all at once, at the worst moment possible, she was doubting herself. Maybe she should reclaim her title, Gaeldum had shown you could hold mastery without being Aluna. Only yesterday did she become aware of an untamed world, if Gaeldum considered dominance over the elements a mistake, would it be better releasing the elements?

There was another possibility. Marriage to Gaeldum. She would hardly choose that road. All it secured was her safety, her future. The selfish choice. She'd always felt it her duty to end the war so whichever course she settled upon would have to reach the whole solution. Enough lives had been traded for power. Besides, she hardly minded. She was not the woman to live in a man's shadow, to depend on another. Least of all Gaeldum, he was in a large way responsible for the war. Restless, the war council were waiting. She had to speak.

“Mastery demands power. Power leads to pride. Pride is costing lives. There is no better justification. This entire war is a petty squabble between those who consider themselves as being great. I put it to you, that if a ruler clings to misery and suffering for their people to advance their own interests, then they are unfit for the role. Why do the masters rule us? Has it never been considered that we could have one King or Queen. A ruler of all people, separate from the rulers of elements. Unexpected to you, perhaps, we have common ground. The Lady Aluna, I believe, has been ruined by power. A great lady she was and a great lady she could have been. Now however, her personality has been made incomplete; she's unbalanced. Lord Gaeldum too, though his loyal, devoted fire-breathers, can you really deny his history of stubborn pride, his unreasonableness?” Foolishly she struggled with those words. She had to force herself to go on, fighting the hesitation in her voice. Was it fear? Why would she fear him this time? Last time she addressed the war council was far more dangerous. She had no idea what to expect. Then at least she would have had some excuse to be nervous, though she was not of course. Why was this happening to her? This foreign sensation trying to prevent her from speaking one more word.

“I propose a reuniting of all divisions into one kingdom. Gaeldum and Aluna will still rule their elements and there followers will continue learning and using their skills as they would any other trade. Does this not seem reasonable to you? For if you, wisest of divisions, will not support me, I have no hope with Aluna's arrogance. You are loosing the war, they will have to give up far more than you will. Please.” Gaeldum's smile was disarming. Since he was stood right in the doorway, she couldn't leave them without brushing past him.

As she did he whispered into her ear, “You were amazing.” It took all the resolve left in her to push past him, not responding. Unfortunately that left her with none for when he followed her out. She was glad she'd be leaving soon, her inability to get away from this man was infuriating. She'd gravitated towards him too, admittedly, but she'd sorted herself out. That is not why she came. She had a mission to fulfil.

“We have been very poor hosts indeed. It is all to easy for me to forget you are accustomed to action, that you are as restless as any man. No wonder you try to sneak away from me, after being shut up in stone walls.”

“Yes, I am keen to return to the battlefields on which I was raised. Not for that reason though. I save lives, you see. I can heal anything, as long as I find the men before they die. Everyone presumes I am a wind driver because of who my grandfather was. You have seen my powers. I make things grow. Living things. It's hard to explain. Anyway, the point is, I can save people, anyone, as long as I'm there for them. If I don't get back soon, my friends will die.”

“So you are returning to fight me.”

“No, I am returning to keep my friends safe.” In that moment, they both wished they didn't have the ties holding them in their own, separate worlds. Again she reminded herself that she had to stay strong. Emotion was a weakness: this attachment could undo her. She had to get away from him now, while she was still able to leave.

Walking through the marshes separating Gaeldum's territory and Aluna's domain, she was not as alert as she'd been the first time. Though a skilled warrior, her mind was occupied finally having the time alone to process the events of the past days and evaluate her progress. To think clearly without him to keep on distracting her. With him around her, years of conditioning were forgotten.

After the battle, some of the soldiers moved out to the border to prevent any more of Aluna's forces slipping in. Morella'd made greater progress than Gaeldum had expected; he'd underestimated her endurance and so his messengers instructing the guards to let her pass had left too late. They didn't catch up in time.

Immersed as she was in her reflections, the warriors were well enough hid to escape her notice until the first blow landed on her shoulder. Fortunately she had very quick reflexes. She turned in his grip, pushing her kick into his stomach, hard enough for him to stumble backwards. While he recovered, another guard pulled out his sword and called out, alerting five others. If only they'd give her chance to explain. Why hadn't Gaeldum warned her? He'd betrayed her.

She was glad he'd betrayed her. It would harden her heart against him ready for the next time they'd have any dealings. Never again would she be affected by a man's charms, she had to be strong. That was all. She didn't need to love, or be loved, to be forgiven or to forgive herself. She needed only to be strong.

All she had to do now was survive. Being small, she escaped most the blows, that is, until she was outnumbered seven to one. A fist split her lip and knocked her head back. She hit back blindly, hoping to catch him before he he moved. Her knuckles made contact with his shoulder; it would have had very little effect if she had not happened to land her punch on a wound still vulnerable from the battle. The gash reopened and he and another of the guards left the fight to re-bandage it. The other five could finish her off easily.

At last, Gaeldum's men arrived with their message. By this time Morella was nearly dead but still fortunate. Most others would've been fully dead. Although they'd saved her life, Morella was a little angry at the arrival of Gaeldum's messengers. Everything was so much more simple when she believed he'd betrayed her. She'd overcome the thoughts that'd become more frequent than she liked to admit. Worse still, she owed him yet another favour. Soon she'd have to marry him in repayment.

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