Loving Khyrsolia

by Stephannie Beman

Series: Descendants of Edyn, The Shaa’Madr
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Length: Novel

LovingKhyrsoliabyStephannieBemanImprisoned for centuries and forgotten by time, Khyrsolia is awakened by Thrasos and released upon a world much changed. The invaders of her time are now well integrated into the population and for the most part everyone is co-existing nicely. The War that nearly destroyed Helmyr is a distant memory.

But there are those who have not forgotten. Those who would return to the old ways. Those who would tear Helmyr apart. Except the old ways are dead and life has to go on, even for the woman that hasn’t been alive for the last 2,000 years. And for the man who has loved her his entire life.

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Loving Khyrsolia by Stephannie Beman

Prologue

FOR A LONG time there was nothing.

No sensations.

No dreams.

No memories.

No self.

There was nothing to intrude upon her slumber. Nothing to tell her how many years passed. Nothing to tell her if the world still existed.

There was no duty to perform, no burden to carry, and no heart-rending emotions to feel. She was at peace. She was content.

And then there came a ripple, a presence in the vast nothingness of her existence, a sensation of dislocation. An infinitesimal change that completely altered her world. A voice in the darkness of her existence, calling to her, seeking her. It submerged her in uproar of sensations: pain, terror, and need.

She recoiled from it, thinking it an echo of memory. She didn’t want to remember. She couldn’t remember.

But the creature calling her didn’t fade. He persisted and grew stronger. He drew her into his world, a shadow world of his life.

Mocking voices, shouted at him. Taunting him, calling him halfie, as if he should be ashamed of his lineage. He accepted it with a stoic type of silence that earned their wrath. They beat him until moving was more painful then sleep.

They couldn’t have known that he’d escaped into a world inside his mind. A place they couldn’t follow him. A world unlike anything she’d seen for a very long time, long before the Edynites had come to their world.

Where had he seen such a place?

Later she was awakened by the strike of a fist. For a shocked moment she thought someone had struck her, but it was the boy. His tiny body bounced off the wall, falling to the ground.

A woman screamed, her dim outline rushing forward, only to be stopped. Her shouts cut short.

“He’s not my son!” a man roared.

The boy’s heart howled his grief that his voice refused to utter. She reached for him, fading before she touched him.

Time moved, drawing her from one event to the next. Sometimes she stood beside him, facing the reticule of the other men. Other times she watched him sit for hours, observing the nature, learning and growing stronger.

Other times she stood witness to the beatings from the village boys. Their small fists rained down upon his body, the toes of small feet digging into his side. And at the end she would sit beside him, telling him stories he could not hear.

She was an observer to his life, unable to comfort him, unable to give aid. In the void of her prison she cried for the feral boy, fighting for scraps with the village dogs, who sought to protect his mother from a man ten times his size. She cried for the boy, becoming a man before his time.

She wept at the breaking of his bones. She sat at his side, wishing to give comfort at the Edynite healer was forced to rebreak those bones healed wrong and reset them despite the screams of agony. She winced with every crack and pop.

She tried to escape, already knowing the ending of his tragic life, not wanting to see his death. She tried to return to her slumber, but there was no more rest for her. Memories moved within her, mixing with his reality.

At first they were no more than jumbled, fragment images, flashes of her life that had no order, no sequence of events. Images of hunting, of war, of flying through the air, of smoke filled skies and screams, of open prairies and jagged mountains, the touch of golden cloth against her skin and chains that bound, of pain and loss, of Edynites and Helmyr living and dying together. There were times of harmony torn to shreds by a man, of her father and mother ruling the land, of the feral boy’s mother and the man that raised him, of his friends, of traveling Helmyr’s sacred realm to claim the Helmyr from her mother, the fear of the first shift, and of the Helmyr. She saw her lover, her husband, forever lost to her haunted her through the ages, but soon he too faded and disappeared. She saw the feral boy with silver-blond hair, blue eyes, and a quick, if elusive, smile.

She saw people, shadowy and distant images with names attached. She knew these people once, had spoken and interacted with them, but now they were nothing more than dust and ashes.

Memory was a strange thing. It was the awareness of being. It was the moving of time, from one event to the next. It was substance in itself, like the boundless sea. It was extensive and subjective. It was the continuation of a life, suspended and apart, drifting in the waters of time. But memory wasn’t linear. It skipped around, a flash here, a blink there.

His memories, his life, intruded upon her time and again. They wove a spell over her. They drew her back to him time after time. She couldn’t leave and she never would, not after what she’d done to him.

The boy stood on the cusp of being a man, in that moment when this new breed of Edynites claimed their place in the tribe by the use of the diluted Helmyr blood flowing through their veins, by taking on an animal form. When his time came he refused, claiming he had no shape but the form he wore.

The man had beaten him for the embarrassment. “Disgusting whelp!” he raged over the boy’s broken and bloody body.

She stood by helplessly watching the scene before her, wishing she could do something to stop it, wishing she could protect the boy.

He struggled to defend himself against foe far stronger. He fought to reach past the barrier to the magic flowing deep inside him.

The wolves were closing in, circling. He was slipping away, slipping into the darkness, slipping into death.

NO!

She would not lose him, he was all she had, the only thing keeping her sane. She seized the fading light of his soul, jerking him from Death’s lethal grasp, dragging him back into a life he was better off without. But she didn’t stop there.

She took the broken traces of ancient and powerful blood and healed the gap. He belonged to her people and she would not lose another Helmyr as long as she drew breath. She held him, cooing soft the words of comfort, promises she was unsure that she could keep, healing him, strengthening him, watching over him as the sweet lassitude of sleep washed over him. She waited until his mother found him, and then she kissed him and promised that they would meet again, before taking her leave.

Chapter One

The day was a day to match his mood. Bitter, overcast, and deadly. The sky above their heads loomed dark, the impending storm approached on a strong, icy wind, buffering them against the sheer cliff wall to their left, and threatening to dump them headlong into the rocky sea below.

Thrasos glanced down at the gray-black waves crashing against the cliff face, tearing into the hard stones, and carving shallow caves into the surface. For a moment, the temptation of the sea beckoned, promising a grand adventure. For a moment he was tempted to dive into the cold embrace of the sea and let it accomplish what little else had: try its damnest to kill him.

A few weeks ago he might have taken the challenge, but he wouldn’t now. Not when the objective of so many years of searching was so near. Not when the hand tightening around reminded him that he had a reason to live now. Lyna was his responsibility, his to care for, and he couldn’t afford such rash and reckless abandon.

Only what he was about to do was more than rash and reckless, it was plain suicidal and he was taking Lyna with him. If caught, he’d be imprisoned and endure pain beyond imagining for eternity, killed if he was lucky. But it wasn’t himself he feared for, it was Lyna and their child. Dyware wouldn’t hesitate to torture her to hurt him.

If they were successful, they stood a chance of turning the tide of battle and saving his people from a fate worse than death. They’d have a chance at freedom from Dyware.

Lyna’s hand tensed within his, unable to grip it properly as her foot slipped on loose rocks, and she teetered dizzily over the sheer drop into the raging sea.

Thrasos swept her into his bear-like arms, her body pressed deliciously against him. He carried her gently and easily down the last stretch of the steep, uneven track snaking along the cliff, ignoring Lyna’s weak protests that she could walk. He strode swiftly down the once well-maintained path of his youth, leaping over the missing section, and wincing at the sudden shriek in his sensitive ears and blunt nails clawing into his flesh.

He landed lightly on the other side of the ten foot gap few could have crossed and stilled.

Lyna’s body trembled against his chest. Laughter bubbled from her throat. The brittle and hysterical edge caused him pain. He hadn’t meant to frighten her.

“I’ll let no harm come to you, mate of my heart,” he whispered against her hair, rocking his body gently.

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed against his throat, her hands moving over the scratches she’d made.

“Hush, raa’madr.” He called her heartmate, even though he knew she was so much more to him. Lyna was his salvation, his redemption, his other half. His soul was bound to this tiny slip of a woman. His body was sworn to protect her against all danger. He would give his life to defend her. But she didn’t know all that.

“They are a small price for your safety.”

She looked up at him, her green eyes luminous with tears. “I felt your pain, Thrasos.”

He brushed his lips across her freckled nose in a tender gesture that belied his gruff, bear-like appearance. “I’m sorry, raa’madr, so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you pain.”

He would do anything to protect her from the pain she’d inflicted upon him, to shield her from the hurt of the world, but she was an empath of amazing skill, a healer of awesome power. She was an anomaly among mortals, even her own people, and she was more precious to him than even his quest to find Khyrsolia.

Lyna was worth protecting, worth dying and killing for, worth living for. She was part of him, linked to him. His death would mean hers, and hers his. He would not lose his soulmate, his Shaa’Madr.

Thrasos had saved Lyna from death at the hands of her people months earlier. He’d taken the beaten, unconscious woman far away from her village and everything she’d ever know. He’d cared for her as she healed. He’d shown her worlds she’d never dreamed existed. And after months of traveling together, she’d finally given him a piece of what he’d craved from the start. A woman worth loving, who loved him in return.

Although her ways were as different from his as his were from hers, she’d joined her body with his, claiming him as her mate, and given the protection of her body into his care. He would never betray that trust.

Setting Lyna on her feet, he nudged her toward their destination. Twenty feet ahead the path curved slightly and beyond that the narrow ledge widen into a platform about two hundred and sixty feet by thirty feet. He cursed as they rounded the curve and the village he grown-up in was revealed.

Erosion had taken its toll, stealing what little land there had been, and tumbling the ruins from the ancient city into the sea below. Bypassing what few stone homes remained standing, he headed for the caves carved into the solid rock face.

“People actually lived in this desolate place,” Lyna whispered.

Thrasos glanced at her, grinning at her dubious tone. While she’d said nothing of her doubts, she’d had reservation about the state of his memory, not that he could blame her. This was another life. A life that had ended a long, long time before her people’s history had even begun on this world. “Once.”

Crossing the moss covered stone, he rested his hand on the stump of a once proud ash tree. He remembered hiding from punishment in its branches and kissing his first love beneath the shade of its bough. He remembered a time when it rose into the sky and had stood the test of time, only to be destroyed in a battle between two strong peoples.

Lyna joined him, her eyes not on the blackened stump, but on the darkening sky. By all appearances she looked to be a fragile Edynite woman. Thrasos knew better, Lyna was a bottomless fountain of magic and strength and beauty that he had never seen in another mortal for hundreds of year. “We better take shelter, Thrasos. The storm fast approaches.”

“This way,” he said, taking her frozen hand into his and leading her toward the cave at the far end of the ledge.

Although he knew exactly which cave he wanted, he couldn’t stop himself from glancing up at the letters chiseled into the stone above each entrance. Nyri. Abi. Fryr. Mori. Quata. Vater. Wyta.

He halted before the entrance of Wyta’s temple. Lyna released his hand, falling to her knees. “Wyta,” she whispered, crossing her arms over her chest and bowing head. Her flaming red hair fell over her face but not before he saw the tears running tracks down her dirty face. “I didn’t believe it existed.”

Thrasos leaned down and pulled his companion to her feet. “It did once, but Langroa destroyed it all.”

Langroa, the beginning of the end of their world, the last battle between the Helmyr and the colonist of Edyn. The moment when the peaceful, loving Khyrsolia he knew took her final step onto a path that lead to her imprisonment.

He drew Lyna’s reluctant form into the protection of the cave.

The darkness closing around them and Lyna pulled against him. “We shouldn’t be here.”

“We—”

A deluge of power crashed over them, Lyna screamed, her hand slipping from his. Thrasos fell to his knees. Stinging needles stabbed into their flesh, slicing their skin. Lyna screams echoed in his ears.

Denying the desire to give voice to the devastating torture, Thrasos reached deep inside, and summoned the power of his ancient birthright. It built around him, a deafening roar that drowned out Lyna’s voice, and electrifying his body.

Gathering it to him, he threw everything he had into the abyss. All the magic of a guardian, of the Oracles protector, poured into the void.

The power increased. Incapacitating pain flowed over them. Its strength intensifying until nothing else existed.

He reached for Lyna, needing to feel her as the madness reached up to take them. They would die here, his duty unfulfilled.

A familiar presence touched his mind, lessening the agony that was his. It held him, studied him, and finally let him go. The world around them exploded. The web of power disintegrated in tiny flashes of light.

Stumbling to his feet, Thrasos reached down to the curled up form of Lyna. He caressing her arm, murmuring soothing words of comfort.

She flinched.

“It’s alright. It’s gone.”

“What was that?” her muffled voice rasped from under her arm covering her face.

“Wards placed on the entry way. They shouldn’t have been here,” he replied, helping her to her feet. “I expected them closer to the prison.”

Lyna stumbled, leaning heavily on him for support. “Whoever placed them there, knows we’re here now.” She glanced up at him, eyes wide. “How did you stop it, Thrasos? Are you a sorcerer?”

He shook his head and lifted the bundle of wood he’d carried to this place. “I did nothing unnatural, my beloved.”

He knew it was both truth and lie. In ancient days a sorcerer was someone of great power that sought to harm others. Now it meant anyone who could control the elements or command magic. He was a creature of magic and could control both his own magic and the elements. By her definition, he was a sorcerer.

But he hadn’t necessarily lied either. It wasn’t him that freed them from the wards. He hadn’t the power or the strength. Something in this place wanted him to free the prisoner resting in his place, the one they had come to free.

“Are you ready to move on?” Large green eyes stared up at him, the look plainly asking if he were insane. “We can’t go back that way, Lyna.”

They could both feel the tickle of magic. It tingled along their skin, causing the hair to stand up and their flesh to prickle. The shattered ward was re-knit itself. The entrance was already closed to them. They needed to move on or be trapped in the ward until whoever had created it came to retrieve them.

She swallowed and nodded, although it was clear she wanted nothing more to do with this adventure. He didn’t blame her. This was more than she signed on for. This had become a perilous journey to a goal he could only hope was still there.

Lyna placed her hand and her trust in his hand. He lead the way through the darkness, he didn’t need to see to walk the halls he’d travelled a dozen times a day for nearly three millennia. He knew the way to Wyta’s fountain by heart.

Behind them the storm broke. The sky cried acidic tears, as if it knew what they were about to do. As if the world knew change was coming and that it was time for life to return life to a dying world. As if it mourned the coming of their salvation.

THERE WAS A NOISE, A SHOCK, AND reality forced her to pay attention. Her spirit moved through the remnants of Wyta’s glorious temple, looking down at the couple writhing in pain at the entrance to her prison. They were trapped in a web of evil magic from an ancient enemy she thought long dead.

Magic rose from the male, but it wasn’t enough for what he intended, or directed enough to disrupt the cage surrounding them.

She might have left them to her enemy and taken what little pleasure her strange life afforded her awhile longer, except she couldn’t be so callous. She couldn’t leave them in the grasp of her enemy, to face his cruelty alone. She couldn’t allow them to suffer needlessly when she could save them. They’d come for her, and while she didn’t want to go with them, she wouldn’t punish them for their ignorance.

Extending her mind toward the couple, magic trickled over the ward, oozing over the surface, seeking a weakness in the metaphysical armor. She found it in the tiniest tendril of magic linking the ward to its power source. Tapping into that flaw, her magic surged through the small opening, attacking, tearing, and destroying the wards.

Using the natural energy of the crystalline-streaked rock walls to boost her strength, she sent bolt after searing bolt into the wards, and it shattered. But she wasn’t done. Hurling unadulterated power through the magical tendril to the man who sustained the ward, she broke the inquisitive mind with a cruel twist.

The brief glimpse of fur clad men and women in various stages of dress in a cave disappeared with the electrical impulses of the man brain as he died. Ruthlessly, she fed upon the energy of his dark soul, restoring a portion of her depleted store of magic before retreating.

CRADLED AGAINST THRASOS’ side, his breath fanning her icy cheek and his body radiating enough heat to still the trembling of her limbs, Lyna was never so glad to be in a cave. She disliked enclosed, dark spaces, but with the storm raging outside they were safer inside. She shivered as the residue magic of the ward slithered across her skin, seeking, wondered if they were truly safe or if that was just hopeful thinking.

Thrasos helped her along the tunnel, her Edynite eyes unable to see in the dark. Not that it mattered all that much. She’d rather not see the next attack coming.

Stumbling over the rubble, Lyna lost contact with Thrasos. The stifling dark descended upon her. The thick, putrid, musty air wrapped her in a muffling blanket that smelled heavily of fear and death. They shouldn’t be here.

Her breath rasped through her suddenly dry throat. Her heartbeat thundered in ears. She shivered with the cold that permeated her soul. This wasn’t a place for the living. This was the home of a goddess. This was a place for the dead claimed by Wyta.

She fought the desire to run back to the entrance. That way was closed to her now. She had to go forward.

Hand outstretched, she took a single step, and her foot came down on something small and crunchy. The bones of a small animal, at least she hoped it was, because if it was Edynite, it was the bones of a child and she couldn’t handle that thought. A hand closed around her arm.

Lyna shrieked and struck out blindly. I don’t want to die! Not here! Not like this!

“Lyna!” Thrasos shouted. “Stop!”

She stilled instantly, her chest moving like a billows. “Don’t do that! You scared me, Thrasos.”

“I’m sorry, raa’madr. I didn’t mean to.” He tucked her into his side. “This way.”

“Where are we going, Thrasos?

“To the heart of the temple. Can’t you feel it calling us?”

She frowned and shook her head. She felt the world’s silent pleads, but…then she realized she could feel something. It was subtle, non-intrusive, a shadowy presence that studied her from a distance with curiosity. But it wasn’t calling them. It was warning them away.

Thrasos seemed so determined to awaken the prisoner in this place, but she didn’t want them there. Lyna’s skin prickled under the sharp censure. They shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t be disturbing the creature that sleep here. The people were not ready.

But the World is, Lyna responded instinctively. Can’t you hear Her pleads? She’s crying for relief. She’s begging you to end to her pain.

Healing could only be found in the hands of the one who lay in this place. For the World it was time for the Oracle to awaken and bring relief.

I can’t help you, the sibilant voice slithered through her mind.

She drew back with a gasp, stumbling on the stones littering the floor. Thrasos’ large arms closed around her before she could fall, but not before her hand touched the stone walls. Men in shiny metal armor marched through the hall before her, disappearing when she pulled her hand away.

Just as I couldn’t help them…

Lyna moved forward and Thrasos grasped her hand. They turned down a small southern tunnel. She attempted to calm her troubled mind by reminding herself that they were here for a reason, that nothing here would harm her, and that this cave was no different than any other she had visited in her life. That no monster hid in the dark. But she knew it was a lie.

The dark may not hold monsters, but it held memories. Dark and dangerous memories. Everything she touched in this place held a memory. Warriors and women in strange dress laughed. Children played. Creatures she had never seen before, those who were considered monsters of myths, walked the brightly lit halls.

Entire lifetimes flashed through her mind. Vibrant, joyful people, dead in a blast of flames. Bodies sheared to bone. Screams echoing in the halls.

And through it all, the presence remained with her, a comfort that stole the horror of what she was seeing. They are at peace now…

Memories flowed through her, some of joy and others of blood. And upon a field, red with blood and littered with the bodies of the dead and dying, she saw Thrasos. He stood on a small hill overlooking the field, dressed in black armor, his helmet in his hand.

Lyna started, bumping into Thrasos. There had always been a part of her that refused to believe Thrasos was over thirty years old. He was a well-nourished man, taller than any she had ever seen, with broad shoulders and pure muscle. His raven black hair had not a strand of gray. He had all his teeth. This man couldn’t be over thirty years old, let alone a few thousand.

A stunning woman in golden armor joined him on the hill, her pale skin nearly glowing in the twilight. Wyta… the voice whispered, the tone reverent and bitter.

“Who are you?”

The voice didn’t answer her but Thrasos did. “Lyna? Who are speaking to?”

Fire flared to life beside her, and Lyna involuntarily let loose an alarmed yelp, slamming back into Thrasos. Blinded by the bright golden light, she sat in a fighting stance and listened for the slightest noise. White stars danced before her eyes and shadows pranced along the wall.

Never had she seen what lay before her. Threads of crystal and gold wove a path through the glass-like stone, magnifying the brightness of the light. Energy coursed through the veins like blood, lighting their path.

Long sharp teeth rose from the ground and dropped from the ceiling, like the maw of a hungry dragon, ready to swallow them whole. Struggling against her natural instincts to run and hide from the danger of their quest, she glanced over her shoulder at the entrance.

His wards are back in place and I have not the power to break them again, the voice whispered.

“Who is he?”

The presence faded from her mind. Lyna had a choice. She could remain and face the man who’d made the horrible wards, or she could be like Thrasos and move on.

He didn’t hesitate. He walked into the unknown, ready to embrace his meeting with destiny. She could do no less.

Taking a deep breath, her choice made, she stepped boldly forward. It was time to face the creature trapped within the confines of the tunnels. It was time to end the nightmare.

LYNA FOLLOWED THRASOS through the maze of tunnels to the ceremonial chamber. The faint light shimmered and flickered across a pool of the bluest water he’d ever seen. The ceremonial chamber was flooded, the fountain that once stood at its center, submerged.

Lyna peeked around his shoulder, and then took the bundle of wood from his back, grunting under the weight, and busied herself beside the pool. Shortly, she had a fire started and a pot of nasty smelling stuff bubbling over it.

She put it aside and faced him. “Strip.”

“Excuse me.” He couldn’t have heard her right. The acidic water of the pool would burn his flesh. He was safer with his clothes on.

She looked up at him. “We don’t have a lot of time. Strip out of those clothes so I can rub this into your skin. It’ll provide some protection from the water.”

Face flushed, Thrasos did as she commanded, unable to meet Lyna’s eyes as layers of hide dropped to the ground. She folded his clothes and set them aside. She lifted the pot and moved toward him with the foul concoction. She didn’t say a word about the scars that crisscrossed every inch of his body.

“It won’t last long,” she said, rubbing the hot liquid into his skin. “You have to get what we came for and get out of the water or your skin will burn. Also, we have guests coming and I don’t want to be here when they arrive. You have less than an hour.”

“Is that all?” he grumbled, taking a deep breath and diving into the warm water.

He moved toward the summons, swimming blindly through the water and wishing he had goggles. He’d always hated them, but he’d never realized how helpful they were until this moment. The acid of the water could burn through the soft tissue of his eyeballs in seconds if he opened them.

His searching hands brushed over cloth-shrouded stone and chains. Following the links, he found the lock. How the cloth had withstood the years in this water was a mystery to him. Already his skin was hot, tingling with the first signs of burning.

Anchoring himself to the bottom, he fumbled with the chain around his neck, breaking Wyta’s key free and fitting it into the lock. It turned easily, freeing the century-old body from its watery tomb. He took hold of the shroud and pulled the cumbersome body from its prison and toward the surface.

His face broke through the surface, his skin on fire. He headed for the shore, dragging the shrouded body behind him.

Lyna met him with a cloak in her hands. She wrapped it around his shoulders, chaffing and drying the acidic water from his skin, and lessening the burning. “Is it…?”

“I don’t know,” he gasped, pulling the body further onto the shore before helping her dry his skin. Scaly patches peeled off his body, leaving behind red weeping sores. “Something’s wrong, Lyna. This doesn’t feel right.”

She pushed him down beside the fire and pressed a cup of her healing tea into his hand. He didn’t protest. His body was already healing and the tea would speed the process.

Lyna drew her knife and headed for the shroud-wrapped body. “They are gods, Thrasos. Their ways are bound to be confusing to us,” she said, making quick work of the golden cords holding the shroud tightly closed.

He shook his head. She saw the first Edynites to land on the Helmyr as divine gods, not the mortal invaders that his own people saw. But she was wrong; the gods were powerful, but they were no different than other creatures. They could be killed.

She sat back and looked toward him. He could see the desire in her eyes to reveal the goddess beneath the cloth, but she left the honor to Thrasos. She didn’t have to. He’d seen her before.

Lifting the corner of the cloth, he started down at the perfection of the woman. She was older than he remember, yet still very young to the Helmyri. She barely looked a day over a hundred and minus the years of her imprisonment, he knew she was well over five hundred.

CONSCIOUSNESS CAME TO her slowly; initially it was dull and hazy around the edges, but swiftly becoming focused, acute. Impulses became thoughts, thoughts became language. Words which had almost ceased to have any meaning to her suddenly became relevant again: cold, sharp, pain. Soon there were more words to locate the sensations. Hands, feet, fingers, toes. Her senses were bombarded with a thousand impressions…

Dragging air into unused lungs, pain rasped though her throat. Tears slid down her wet cheeks. Waves lapped at stone, echoing in the chamber, sounding loud in her ears.

Where was she? Where was Wyta? How did she get here? Who was she?

Heat radiated against her left side, warming her chilled body. Someone was touching her, gentling her, rubbing her skin with a scratchy cloth. Voices murmured, louder in her ears than they should. She was so confused.

Self-awareness was the last to come, and with it came identity. She was Khyrsolia, daughter of Reth and Lahe, fosterling of Wyta, Queen of the Helmyri, subject to the rule of Nido, and wife of…she flinched from the memory of a wound that had never healed.

Her heart ached at the thought of her Raa’Madr. Where was he now? Did he miss her as much as she missed him?

Someone was lifting her, her weightless body sliding through the air. “Be careful with her,” a woman said, her voice slightly muffled.

“She won’t break!” the man holding her argued, his voice loud in her ears. “We have to go now! They’re coming for her!”

Who was coming for her? Why couldn’t she remember?

Chapter Two

The village wasn’t what Khyrsolia expected of the Edynites. In her time they’d spread across the land like a plague, destroying the fertile forests and erecting enormous cities of towering buildings. These Edynites lived in hovels, sickness and death limiting their numbers.

This village was no different the others they’d passed through over the last few weeks. Pressed up against the sheer cliff face, the huts were squat, dome-like structures made of long poles or metal struts from the buildings long destroyed by time. The walls were piled stones, bark, and animal skins decorated by horns and bones. But it was the smaller things that created an unease within her.

Fires burned outside the huts, but there were no women tending the pits. There were no children playing outside. There were no sounds of horses nickering or men talking. There were no dogs barking as the travelers neared or fighting for scraps. No one came out to greet them or demand they leave.

The hairs on Khyrsolia’s neck prickled. Eyes were upon them, and they weren’t friendly. She stifled the urge to turn and face the hostile glares. They wouldn’t be here long, and when people learned they were traders, the unfriendliness of moments past would be forgotten. It was not uncommon in this time, and though she hated the first meeting, she enjoyed the attention of the children afterward. They always wanted to hear her stories and about her adventures in other lands.

A hut door fluttered, the occupant peering out at them as they passed, but when Khyrsolia turned to look, the door closed. Khyrsolia shivered and drew closer to Lyna. There was a sense of darkness, despair, and death in the air; a sense of evil surrounding this village.

Lyna’s hand closed over hers, squeezing once and releasing her. The message was clear; her emotions were showing. Khyrsolia composed her features into the stoic mask she might present the Edyn King once upon a time.

Her personal feelings about this place or Thrasos’ strange actions meant nothing. They would trade with this village and then they would move on to another village along his trade route. Soon she would be enjoying the temperate climate along the coast where everyone loved traders, even if they didn’t want them to stay for too long, while these people would be trapped in a blanket of snow and cold, starving from a lack of food.

Winter was coming to the Northlands, she could feel it in the air, and Thrasos’ attempts to find a kinsman was placing them in danger. They should be moving south before Lyna’s present state of pregnancy halted their progress altogether.

Khyrsolia hoped they didn’t get stuck here. The place was wrong. She didn’t want to remain a moment longer than she had to and hoped to move on soon.

Thrasos stopped before the largest hut. “I’m looking for this clan’s leader.”

The door flap opened and an elderly man dressed in the robes of Clan Chief stepped out of the hut. He had been a handsome man once, and in many ways still was. Silver touched his temples and wrinkles of age creased his face.

The glimpse of a frightened young woman holding two wide-eyed children inside the hut was hidden from view as the flap fell.

The man straightened and smiled, but it was a false and dangerous smile. He wouldn’t hesitate to slit their throats if it benefited him. “Greetings, what brings you to our lands so late in the season?”

“I’m looking for a man I believe he is in your village,” Thrasos said.

“Perhaps. His name?”

“Hunn.”

“There is a Hunn here, but it is a common name.”

Khyrsolia sensed his lie. He was adept at deception, but not good enough. Thrasos’ stiff posture told her he wasn’t fooled by the Clan Chief either.

“Of course,” Thrasos said, inclining his head.

“Lanyi, get Hunn!”

The quick tattoo of footsteps behind her told he was obeyed. Lyna and Khyrsolia waited in silence as Thrasos and the clan leader spoke of the weather farther North and what they had to trade with the villagers.

Khyrsolia tried not to show her impatience or unease She could feel the presence of the villagers emerging from their huts, enclosing them in a circle of resentment. There was something very wrong with this place. She could no longer dismiss it as the normal suspicions of the villagers toward newcomers. There was an undercurrent of tension in the village, of violence just below the surface. One word from their leader, and they would fall upon the small group of traders like a pack of wolves, ripping them to pieces.

“Thrasos?”

Khyrsolia looked toward the older man who spoke.

He entered the circle of hostile people. “What are you doing here? I thought you were…” He hesitated, his sharp eyes swinging toward Khyrsolia, appraising her. “Are these your women?”

Khyrsolia bristled at his tone and the implication. It was common in her time for women to form bonding relationships with one man, and the question didn’t bother her or that others thought she might be part of such a relationship, it was Hunn’s tone that bothered her. It held none of the reverent curiosity of the other men.

It was his appreciative perusal of her body showed a lack of respect and honor due a female. The lustful, possessive stare disgusted her. This male needed to be put in his place. And that would be nowhere near her pants, which he was staring at so intently.

She growled, soft and low, drawing his attention. Meeting his gaze head on, she snarled a warning, her lip curling to reveal her sharp canines.

Hunn’s smile faltered and he swallowed, looking toward Thrasos for an explanation. Hunn had thought her a submissive because she kept her eyes lowered. But like all the others who’d thought to dominate her, all it took was a flash of her teeth or a glimpse of her unnatural, amber-gold eyes to unnerve them.

She believed it was because on some unconscious level, the Edynites could sense the disparity of her lie. They might pass it off as her being a hybrid Helmyri-Edynite, a stranger and potential danger, but somewhere they knew she was not like them. She was no longer a child of Edyn. But something else.

The perverse side of her nature enjoyed Hunn’s unease but the saner Oracle advised caution. She was inviting trouble and she had more than enough of that already. If she revealed herself as something other than Edynite, or hybrid, she would endanger Thrasos and Lyna. She needed to keep the Helmyri under control.

But every waking day was harder. Every day the Helmyri came closer to breaking free of her restraints. Every day since waking, she had less and less control over the Helmyri, and it worried her. Because one day she would lose control and reign of fear would be unleashed once more. Thrasos should have left her where he found her.

“Yes. Lyna is my mate,” Thrasos said. “We are seeking a place to stay until the child is born.”

Stay? He’d never mentioned staying! They were traders and she was along for the ride. What could have possibly changed to make Thrasos want to settle in one place for longer than a few days? Why this village? Why now?

“We can’t possibly take in an entire family!” someone shouted from the crowd.

“We have valuable skills to offer the village in exchange,” Thrasos cajoled.

“What could you offer us that would increase the food supply?” another asked.

“Lyna and Khyrsolia are talented craftswomen–”

“Your mate is Kan’Shea?” Hunn interrupted.

Kan’Shea, the red-haired Edynites changed by the forests of Faerin, and given the power of healers.

“She is.”

“And your daughter?”

Thrasos didn’t correct his erroneous assumption. “Khyrsolia is unmated and can bring diversity to the bloodlines. She is also hunter in her own right.”

Khyrsolia bit her tongue on the sharp retort. Her anger at him was unfounded. She was no broodmate and would choose her own mate when the time came. Thrasos knew this and his lie was a necessity. The Clan leader and Hunn didn’t.

Remember, she reminded herself. This is a Trade. You always build up your merchandise. Hide the flaws and make it look better than it really is.

This was the part Khyrsolia respected about the life of a trader: negotiation. What did the village have and what could the trader provide? In this case, they could provide a lot. But would they be given the chance.

The strange glint in Hunn’s eye as he evaluated Lyna caused a prickle of foreboding in Khyrsolia. He looked at her as if she were a morsel of meat rather than a pregnant woman. Hunn raised her hackles and she disliked him even more. If he touched Lyna, Khyrsolia would kill him.

“We have enough hunters. Not enough game to hunt.”

“What of your gatherers?” Lyna asked. “The women and children left in this village can gather plants to supplement your winter supplies while the hunters are gone.”

“We aren’t animals!” a woman snarled from the crowd. “We don’t eat foliage!”

Lyna turned to the crowd, addressing the hackler. “You are Rev’Ean, you can survive on plants. But if you would rather watch your children sicken and die because of your pride, then so be it.”

“What is your skill, Thrasos?” Hunn asked, defusing the argument before it could go further.

“Metal-tipped spears that are lighter and penetrate the hide of animals better, going deeper and not shattering. Your hunt will be more successful.”

“Show me.”

Their demonstration worked just as Thrasos hoped. The Clan Leader Nord had been impressed with the spear, and Thrasos’ small “family” was allowed to remain in the village for the winter, provided the food supply could be increased. Khyrsolia had no doubts they would do just that. She’d never gone hungry a day in her new life.

Thrasos was a superb hunter and Lyna was knowledgeable in edible plants. Despite the hackles of the crowd, plants enhanced food and its nutritional value. Less sickness could be found with villages that had implemented Lyna’s techniques for gathering and persevering food.

While Thrasos and Lyna continued to speak with Hunn and Nord, Khyrsolia was directed to Hunn’s hut. The exterior was not one that she expected it. Unlike the others she’d seen, this one was built more in the way of the Helmyri.

The others were built upon the ground, while this one was built into the ground. A large pit had been dug and the building erected. Then the dirt had been piled around so it looked more like a squat, low hut or even a mound of dirt with a door flap.

Rapping on the pole, she gingerly opened the door flap, and peered in. Her eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness, picking out the woman kneeling beside the pot. “Hunn sent me.”

The woman pointed toward the right of the fire. “Put your things over there. Your parents can have Tyros’ place and you may sleep with the other children.”

Ducking beneath the low doorway, Khyrsolia was surprised at the spacious interior of Hunn’s hut. Large wooden poles had been sunk deep into the ground then covered with animal skin, stuffed with grass, and overlaid with bark on the outside to hold the heat during the cold season and the coolness during the hot season.

There were twenty poles on the outer ring and four inner ones to hold up the animal-skin roof. A small ledge circled the room holding small items on it. She could easily stand straight inside, which was uncommon with her tall frame. She always stood a head or two higher than anyone else, including Lyna, but not Thrasos. He was a giant among men. Hunn was the only other man she’d ever seen that stood anywhere close to Thrasos’ nearly seven-foot frame.

She nodded, skirting the fire burning in the center of the hut. Other children? The most she had ever interacted with other children was telling stories. Otherwise they stayed away from her. She always believed it was due to their keener senses.

People could always sense the difference in her. Some were more attuned to it than others. Over the few weeks of freedom she’d noticed the sense-blind Edynites were the most sensitive. Their curious natures may steer them towards danger more often than not, however, even they knew to avoid her as they would a plague ridden village.

The Rev’Ean, those Edynites changed by the mixing their blood with the Helmyri and could now walk in the shapes of man or beasts, were not so smart. They knew there was something not quite right about her, but their interest overrode their better judgment and would not be sated until they knew why. They wanted to know what made her different beside the obvious.

On this side of the room, mostly toys and trinkets littered the shelf, and two bedrolls. This must be where the children slept. Khyrsolia dropped her bedroll and pack beside the wall.

She turned toward the woman. “Where should I place Thrasos and Lyna’s things?”

The woman didn’t look up from her pot and pointed toward the back of the hut. Khyrsolia shrugged and headed toward the two sleeping area’s partitioned by animal skin. Choosing the one on the right, she opened the flap and was accosted by a musky scent of a man that sent her spiraling into memories.

She could see a boy running through the forest. His long white-blond hair flowed behind him, his tiny arms and legs pumping hard as he tried to outrun the wolves following him. Blood seeped from a dozen small wounds, scratches that could have been made by claws or the branches whipping at him.

The forest opened up into a flat piece of land. Several hundred feet ahead the ground dropped away, and yet the boy raced on, leaping off the cliff and falling to the water below.

Khyrsolia gasped, jerking from the memory of the feral boy who’d haunted her sleep for so long. Dropping Thrasos’ and Lyna’s belongings on the ground, she backed out of the room. It couldn’t be him. The smell was only familiar.

She stood there for several more seconds, shifting through her confused thoughts, before turning toward Hunn’s woman. “Is there something I can do?”

The woman looked up from her pot with a snarl. “I’m not here to entertain you. Go away.”

Khyrsolia blinked. The hostility rolling off the woman was considerable. The bitterness a festering wound. “That’s not what I meant. May I help you with something?”

Confusion replaced the hostility and with it her countenance changed. It was in that moment that Khyrsolia realized that the woman wasn’t old, probably in her early thirties and still very lovely. Her anger and fatigue added so many years to her face and body. Also, she knew her. She was the mother of the feral boy.

“You want to work?”

Khyrsolia wasn’t sure why that should be such a strange request to the woman, but maybe no one had ever made the offer of helping her. Seeing the life of her son it really shouldn’t have been that shocking. “Yes.”

“You can get some wood for the fire?” she snapped, regaining her composure. Although it was more a question than an order.

Khyrsolia inclined her head respectfully. “I would be happy to, otwan,” she said, using the title of respect for a mother not her own.

She headed for the door which burst open to expel two screaming and kicking children. “Beast!” “Haerta!” “Half-breed!” “Wolf bitch!”

Khyrsolia barely had time to move from their path, wincing as the female slugged her male companion and raced for the woman. “Lyok hit me!” she wailed.

Lyok shoved her out of the way. “Mayra hit me first!”

The squabble disintegrated from there and the children rolled around on the floor like puppies, only more dangerous, for they were Rev’Ean, Rev’Ean, and more than likely Pi’Tur Rev’Ean, Rev’Ean that wore the skin of wolves.

The woman stood, grabbed each by the scruff of their necks and lifted them off the floor. Khyrsolia cringed. Edynite necks weren’t meant for that.

“No more!” she snarled, her incisors lengthening, revealing the extent of her anger. “You will go with your kinswoman and collect wood for the fire. If she tells me you didn’t work, I’ll feed you to the Baktor!” The children looked completely cowed as they were set on the ground and shoved toward Khyrsolia. “Obey her as you would me!”

She returned to the fire, adding a few logs and meat to the pot. The children looked toward Khyrsolia with belligerent rebellion in their eyes. She sighed. This was going to be a long afternoon.

Chapter Three

Tyros watched the long, somber line of hunters make their way through the narrow mountain pass, slowing as they crossed the rocky terrain. His friend, Tor, brought up the rear, pulling the travois with the body of their fallen friend Pyni.

“What do you think, Tyros? Will Markein let us hunt?”

Tyros shrugged and looked at Bydar. The large Ga’Ner, a Rev’Ean whose main shape was that of a bear, stood at his side, chewing on a piece of jerky, the leather patch over his missing eye not doing much to hide the gaping hole from this angle. “I don’t know. And until I ask, I won’t know.”

Bydar slapped him on the back, almost sending him over the ledge to the rocks below. “Good luck. Markein doesn’t like you much.”

Tyros moved out of the giant’s reach with a nod. “I’ll be back.”

He loped down the animal track to the main path below, turning south toward the hunters. He easily picked Markein out of the crowd with his uncommonly white-blond hair, huge frame, and prominent limp. The hunters slowed to a stop as he came toward Markein.

“Is it safe ahead?” Markein asked.

Tyros sighed. “Yes.” He gaze drifted toward the back of the procession where the body of Pyni lay on the traveling stretcher. He took a deep breath. His suggestion would be met with anger and disbelief, but they needed the meat. “There’s a herd of Khata ahead of us, just below the ridge–”

“And you want to hunt them?” Markein asked, his voice calm and his face impassive. It was a bad sign. An emotional Markein was by far a safer Markein than an emotionless one.

“Yes. A few hunters only. We’ll catch up at the camp with enough meat to feed the village for a month. This hunt doesn’t have to be a failure—”

Markein struck him. Pain blasted across Tyros’ jaw and his feet left the ground. He landed hard, hitting his head on a boulder with a crack. It was a good think that he had a hard head or he’d be on a stretcher of his own.

“A boy is dead!” Markein growled, towering over him. “And you would dishonor him by hunting!”

Tyros didn’t cower. Even on the ground he faced the man’s wrath. “I would honor him by giving life to his family! We all need the meat! There is no better chance than now!”

Markein’s lip curled, the only sign of amusement on his face. “Take the Pi’Tur with you.”

Tyros nodded and slowly stood. He didn’t order those who could change into wolves to come, the Pi’Tur knew their job. Handing their belongings to others, they followed Tyros up the path at a lope.

Tor joined him as they crested the ridge. “You’re lucky. Markein looked ready to tear you limb from limb.”

Tyros rubbed his sore jaw. Already his body was doing its work to heal the damage. “Not even. Markein likes me,” Tyros joked.

Tor snorted, grabbing his shoulder and turning Tyros enough to look at the crack to his skull. “Like a rash. He has it out for you, my friend.”

Tyros grinned, jerking his shoulder from his friend’s grasp. “It’ll heal.”

“Wish I had your healing abilities,” Tor grumbled.

They topped the ridge and Bydar glanced at them with a grin. “That was a bit of sport,” he rumbled. “It’s always amusing to watch Markein kick your ass.”

“He didn’t kick my ass!”

The giant laughed, punching him in the shoulder and nearly knocking Tyros off the narrow path. “Tell that to your mother when she gets a look at the fist-size bruise on your jaw. I’d pay to see the confrontation between her and Markein.”

Tor chuckled and crouched down to watch the grazing Khata. “Kitra’s always been a protective she-wolf over you. I’m surprised she even lets you out of the village.”

Tyros’ smile faltered and he turned away. If they only knew the truth. It was no secret that Hunn had a vile temper and more often than not Tyros was the focus of his rage, a few people might have even guessed why.

Few knew that Hunn wasn’t Tyros’ father and that the only reason Hunn had claimed Tyros as his son was to save face before the Tribe. Few knew that Hunn resented Kita and Tyros for what he saw as a betrayal and that every day of his life, Hunn let him know what he thought of Tyros. Few knew that Tyros’ hunting accident six months back, wasn’t an accident, Hunn had almost killed him for some infraction that hadn’t existed.

If not for his mother he would have died. And as protective as Kitra was, she knew that despite the dangers of the hunt, Tyros was safer away from the village and Hunn. Because one day, Hunn would succeed in his attempts to kill Tyros.

“If you two are done gossiping, I’d like to hunt,” Kanyr said, sidling up beside them so he could look down on the herd.

Tyros winced. He didn’t like the man. Kanyr rubbed everyone wrong, especially the hybrid Rev’Ean. But he was strategically the best hunter. “I’d say most in fur; the rest with the spears to pick off the slow or wounded.”

Tyros nodded. It was a good strategic assessment, one he would have made. “Let’s go.”

He gave the Pi’Tur their orders and watched them fade into the brush with envy. The best thing about a pack of Pi’Tur hunting was, like the wolves whose skins they could assume, the pack could hunt as a whole unit or individuals, taking out animal after animal with lethal efficiency.

Lifting his spear, Tyros led the youngest and least shape strong of the Pi’Tur and the Ga’Ner down into the valley. As long as nothing else went wrong, this would be the biggest hunt of the year.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

TYROS AND THE other Hunters returned to camp late that night, each man carrying two butchered and cleaned Khata with their hides. Despite the success of the hunt, there was no celebration as everyone helped to hang the meat away from predators and rolled into their sleeping furs.

Tyros was asleep the second his head touched the ground and his dreams filled with images of her. She was on a battlefield, her golden armor glinting in the hot the sun, her blood splattered face streaked with bloody tears. He stood beside, watching the writhing of thousands of bodies, the ebb and flow of battle unlike anything he’d ever seen.

“My fault,” she whispered, swaying on her feet. “All my fault.”

“No,” a man replied, his silver armored arm going around her, holding her straight. “His fault. He forced our hand. He killed our King.”

Tyros could feel her pain, her soul wrenched sorrow, through the link they shared. His own heart twisting at her grief. He didn’t like to see her suffering.

He knew, not how or why, but he knew she never wanted this. That she’d fought to keep it from happening. He also knew that there was nothing she could have done to stop it. War had been inevitable and the death of their King the catalyst.

“Not your fault, shai’la,” he whispered to her, the unfamiliar term which had no meaning to him rolled from his tongue as if he’d spoken the endearment a thousand times before. He touched her face, his fingers moving through her skin. “The burden is not yours to bare alone.”

She shivered and looked at him, seeing him but not seeing him. “Tiwaz?”

The dream fade and he jerked from sleep. The sounds of battle rung in his ears and the acrid smell of blood in his nostrils, fading as new sounds and smells swamped him. It wasn’t daylight but night, and the snores of others filled his ears, their sweaty bodies an assault on the senses.

His heightened senses warned him that someone was nearby. He opened his eyes, his dagger in his hand, and stared up at Markein towering over him.

The Huntmaster didn’t touch him, merely stood and waited. They’d both learned that first night on the hunt so many years ago that awakening Tyros’ from dreams could end violently. “You’re on watch ‘til morning.”

Groaning, Tyros rubbed the grit from his eyes and rolled out of the warmth of his bed. His body ached everywhere and extreme fatigue pulled at him. He was in no shape to take one of the watches but he refused to complain. This was part of his punishment and one of the lesser types he’d received over the years.

Kneeling beside the stream, he splashed water over his face and bald head, letting the cold water and light breeze chill him and keep him awake.

A large hand dropped to his shoulder and every muscle in his body tensed, readying for the blow. “It was a good call you made, Tyros.” Markein squeezed his shoulder and released him. “Kitra would be proud.”

Tyros rose slowly, praise from Markein was scarce and not only because he was a hard man, but because showing favor would mark them both. “I better relieve…” He could barely think of who was on watch or if Markein had mentioned who he was to relieve so they could get some sleep before dawn.

“Velna? On the east side of camp?” Markein prompted, mirth in his voice.

“I’ll go relieve Velna on the east side of camp,” he repeated, heading for his post until the sun rose in a few hours.

Velna glanced at him as he approached, relief in her sleepy eyes. “About time,” she teased, giving him a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. She’d always been an affection woman, a fact that might get her into trouble later. “I need my beauty rest.”

Left to his thoughts and the darkness, Tyros leaned against the rock. He knew the dreams nothing more than memories burned into the very rocks around him, seared there by high emotional turmoil and passions. He knew that there were those, the Baktor, witches and seers and magical workers, who could see that past and future of a place. But he wasn’t Baktor, he saw no one except her. The dark haired woman with the amber colored eyes, whose past haunted him, whose presence comforted him, whose very existence was impossible.

She was a product of their world’s past. She was memory, incapable of soothing the pain of a beaten child, of giving him strength to keep fighting, of speaking to him. It was ludicrous for him to love her.

As a child he’d adored her. She was always there for him. She came to him when he needed her most and left only when he was safe.

As an adolescent he’d grow to love her. She was his secret, a cherished memory to hold close to his heart. She was perfect, unyielding, and eternal.

It was only as a man that he realized how foolish he’d been. She wasn’t real. She wasn’t alive. She was a memory, a ghost. Untouchable.

The sky lightened and the sun crested the ridge. Behind him the camp stirred and prepared to leave. The scent of food cooking finally roused him from his contemplation. He turned toward Tor, who stood a distance away, carrying a spit of roasted meat.

“Brought you breakfast,” he said merrily, leaping atop the rock and taking a seat. He picked at the meat, popping a bit into his mouth. “Courteous of Velna. The girl likes you.”

Tyros reached over to accept the proffered meat, pulling some from the spit. “I’m not interested.”

Which made him a fool. Velna was a beautiful woman, kind and generous, affectionate and not his type.

Tor shrugged. “Your loss. Did you get any sleep?”

“What are you, my mother?” Tyros chuckled, shaking his head. He’d never met another friend like Tor, he was worse than a mother hen after her chicks. “I slept some.”

Tor’s eyes narrowed, studying his face and Tyros turned away from those knowing eyes. Tor wasn’t a hunter so much as a healer. “You dreamed of her again, didn’t you?”

He could have said no, but the lie would have been evident. Tor would have known, as he always did. Sometimes Tyros wondered at his friend’s perceptive knowledge. It was uncanny and unnatural. The powers of a Baktor?

“Yes. She was on a battlefield, unlike I’ve seen before. There was so much death and she blamed herself for it. But it wasn’t her fault. Somehow I knew it wasn’t her fault.”

“Too bad you can’t show the same interest in a living woman as you do in a dead one.”

Tyros glanced at his friend. “Do you think she was real once? Not something I’ve imagined.”

Tor popped the last bite into his mouth, throwing the stick into the bushes. “Does it matter, Tyr? She’s real to you. Probably more so then anyone.” He leapt off the rock, throwing an arm around Tyros’ shoulder. “You, my friend, worry too much. Markein says it’s your turn to carry Pyni. Part of your punishment for your disrespect of the dead? Either way, I think he enjoys making you suffer.”

Tyros snorted. The truth of the matter was safer undiscussed, even with Tor, who could be trusted to gossip when the mood stuck him.

Joining the others, Tyros checked the bindings over the body and the harness for weakness. He packed his load of butchered meat plus more for the family of Pyni onto his back rather than putting it on the stretcher, and strapped on the stretcher harness.

Dragging the dead body was no easy task over the terrain they would cross today, but he refused to complain. Placing every ounce of strength he possessed into the endeavor. He would not slow the other hunters down.

By mid-day, he paused to wipe the sweat from his brow and drink from his water skin before scanning his surroundings. Most of the hunters were gone and the rest were heading for the cliffs that sheltered their village with a determination he envied. He was overly hot, exhausted, and till an hour or more from home.

Catching sight of Markein watching him from the shadows of the trees, he nodded. He would get Pyni to the village so he could rest with his ancestors in the caves by nightfall, not rotting in this cursed sun.

He pushed his weakening body harder, lengthened his gait. His muscles strained to pull the heavy load over the last bit of land. An hour later he crested the beaten path leading into the village.

The wails of the grieving pierced the air, enveloping him in the sounds of mourning Edynites. Soon he was surrounded by villagers and the maiden priestesses. The preparers of the deceased. The escorts of the dead into the afterlife.

No one offered to take his load, and even if they had, Tyros would only have surrendered the body to his family. He dragged the stretcher all the way to Pyni’s home and laid the boy before his mother.

The stoic woman stared at Tyros, before dropping to her knees. She carefully pulled back the edge of the robes Jyria had wrapped around Pyni with love and care reserved for family or lovers. The stench of rotting meat billowed from the robes. The gray bloated mass that had once been a Edynite boy, stared vacantly up at her. She gasped and turned away, burying her face into the leg of her mate.

Tyros dropped the load from his shoulders, his knees buckling beneath him. He more fell to his knees then knelt across from her. Gently he drew the robes back over Pyni’s face. He wished to give Pyni’s mother some comfort, to let her know that her son would have been a great man if he’d lived. “He was a good hunter.”

“He is dead,” she snarled. The crescendo of grief heightened around them. “My son is dead!”

Tyros winced. What could he say to a mother’s grief? She would not want to know that they found Pyni outside the protected circle of watchmen. That he was face down in a stream. That he’d drowned in a few inches of water with no visible head wound or sign of injury. She wouldn’t want to know that it was Tyros who’d lifted him from the stream and carried him back to the camp. That Jyria, the apprentice to the priestesses of the dead, had loving wrapped the Pyni for burial.

She would not want to know that a Rev’Ean had befriended her son and protected Pyni from the teasing of the others. That more of the Rev’Ean had mourned her son then Edynites. That Tyros had his doubts that this was a terrible accident.

She would want to know that her son was an honorable and good man. She would want to know that even Rev’Ean grieved the lost of her son.

Rising wearily to his feet, Tyros threw back his head and howled. His voice was raw and tinged with grief at the loss of a friend. The haunting sound of a wolf in mourning shattered the wailing crescendo, silencing the Edynites. Others joined their voices to his. Tor. Markein. Jyria. Lamyr. Bydar. Mokete. Marsi. The keening cry of a woman that sounded so familiar he could have sworn he’d heard it before but also knew that it wasn’t possible. And the strange deep male voice that masked hers, as if to wrap it in a protective shell.

They all mourned Pyni. They all showed the respect and honor of a fallen comrade. And for the first time in his memory, a Edynite was truly mourned by the Rev’Ean.

Originally Published July 2013
Copyright by Stephannie Beman


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