Caleath Invades Troubled Waters
In the fading light, Aron concentrated on finding the cave again. He could sense Sasha's displeasure and had no intention of giving her more reason to become upset with him.
He should have taken her cape and the hare when he went searching for her. Should have, and would have…if he'd known in advance her rescue posed so little challenge. To release tension, he slammed his closed fist into the other palm and strode on.
He shrugged the heavy burden of her disapproval off his back. If she ever left him...No, he chased away the thought. He wouldn't let that happen, couldn't let her go. He'd never had a woman like her before.
Yes, life came easy for him. Whatever he wanted seemed to drift his way just by wishing. A difficult challenge excited him, but at the same time he felt the dread of not being able to measure up. He'd never really been tested.
He glimpsed the large oak that grew close to the entrance of the cave. "We're almost there."
She halted, looking tired and annoyed, but her full lips parted to reveal shiny white teeth. "About time, too." The smile transformed into a pout. Her almond-shaped eyes appeared darker than usual. "I'm really hungry. Can't you find us food?"
With one finger, he traced her cute nose. The slight hook had intrigued him from the beginning. He'd never seen a nose like hers. "It's too late, my heart. Not enough light to see."
"Can you see me?"
"Perfect," he murmured and led her on. "When I was younger, I heard a tale of a woman who lived close by―a woman who could charm everyone she met. People painted her onto a wall in Saint Eyes." He stroked her neck. "Maybe you're related to her."
"Who knows? Nobody keeps records of such things. Maybe we should go and look at the painting." She sighed. "But now I'm too hungry to think about the past or the future. This is now."
"I'll tell you the story. Maybe that will―"
"I wish you hadn't left the hare behind. That fat Boris could go without eating for weeks."
He took her in his arms. "First thing in the morning, I'll find us food. I promise." She pressed against him but he could feel her reluctance.
"I'll just have you then," she said.
He laughed, relieved her mood had lifted. "Again?"
"What else would we do in a cold cave without food?"
"Right." He ignored the complaint and accepted the invitation, took her hand and pulled her towards the entrance. He picked up the short stub of a branch and whispered, "You better wait outside in case someone or something lives in here. Come on, we'll make the sound again." They raised their voices in a call like an owl, but nothing moved.
Aron stepped into the cave and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Something fluttered and brushed his hair. A bat. At least he hoped so.
From the entrance, Sasha gasped. "Ugh. Ghastly beasts."
Aron found no traces of any other recent inhabitants. "All clear," he called.
Sasha's black shape loomed against the dark grey of the opening. "Can we make a fire?"
He embraced her and kissed her neck. "We might attract those men. They'd come to get you."
"You'd defend me with your life."
"I'd rather live and make life with you." He grinned.
She pulled away. "Aron!"
Grasping her arms, he locked his focus on hers. "I'd rather die than let such brutes have their way with you."
She smiled, then laughed. "Yeah, that Boris looks like a giant. I wonder if his magic wand is just as huge."
"Hey, you shouldn't be thinking about other men's wands. At least not right now."
With a chuckle, she reached for the leather strap holding up his pants. "Then let me see what you've got.”
He caught her hand. “I better get that fire started before I exhaust myself too much.”
* * * *
Caleath opened his eyes. Sparks erupted from his clothes when he moved in the light-deprived void. The scent of ozone filled his nostrils. A cold breeze lifted the hairs on his arm and disturbed a dusting of silt on his head. Beneath his fingers, stone welcomed his touch. The heat of benign sorcery spread through his body, invigorating each cell. The sensation of soaking in a hot bath lulled him until he sought an explanation for his presence in the new locale.
He raised his eyes and watched the static discharges ignite with the light of startled sprites. Knowing it would take time to recover from passage through a transport beam, he relaxed, allowing moments to pass. Energy flowed through him as the warmth of magic recharged his body.
Caleath stretched, closed his eyes, and cursed whoever maintained an alien matter transporter on a primitive world. Returning without access to a control panel might be impossible. He chewed on a growing knot of rage. Was this another of Ephraim’s schemes?
His need to find Nasith drove him.
With his head resting against the rock wall, he glanced from one end of the cavern to the other. A loom of light and the sound of voices bickering wafted from his left.
Caleath spread his hands against the floor where he sat, concentrating on reaching the familiar energy resident in the structure of the rock. A sentient power answered his silent query.
“Welcome, Caleath D’Tiva, Deathbringer.”
“I don’t recognize your essence.” Caleath exhaled slowly, keeping a tight rein on his fear. His continued access to sorcery came as a surprise. “What planet is this? Who controls the Stabilized Ion Trans-locator Unit?”
“We cannot answer your questions. We would give you warning.”
“Go on then. I am listening.” Caleath swallowed his apprehension.
“Sorcery, even benign sorcery, is no longer welcome in this part of the world. Beware. Powerful forces manipulated your arrival. Trust no one.”
“Can you tell me if Nasith… if others from Allorn have been brought here?”
“Nature is in a state of flux. You will meet those who can help re-order the balance. Whatever happens, you must not interfere with their quest.”
“Nasith isn’t here, is she?” Caleath asked before the presence faded from his mind. Silence and cold stone offered no response. “Damn.”
He dusted silt from his clothes and scrambled to his feet. Delving into memory chips implanted before his exile a decade ago, he gathered information relating to the distinctive Stabilized Ion Trans-locator Unit’s after-effects.
The ozone, accumulated static, and lethargy indicated the use of one particular device. The SITU420, preferred choice until the exodus from ‘Old Earth’. Caleath chewed his bottom lip, considering the implications presented by the machine and the presence of creatures able to understand the controls. He tried to contemplate the existence of an alien species, other than himself, able to access a beam capable of interplanetary transportation. Who would choose to frequent a planet he, as a surveyor, once listed as ‘of no further interest’? Questions ran through his mind as he moved reluctantly toward the sound of bickering voices.
He was used to not finding his presence welcome, but to intrude on an argument didn’t bode well. He hoped these natives had access to food. Already the grumbling of his gut sounded like thunder as he stepped on silent soles towards their company.
Within the dim light, he watched a woman berate a male figure. If the purpose of the primitive skins she wore was to drive sane men stupid with lust, she succeeded. Caleath swallowed and hoped she wore the outfit made from rabbit and hare pelts for comfort. The garment snuggled her figure and fitted into her curves, finishing at mid-thigh. She'd bound strips of hide, fur side against her skin, from toes to above her knee, allowing plenty of room for movement and a hand's width of skin below her skirt to stir desire. Black hair, dark skin, luscious lips, and slightly hooked nose would have completed any man’s idea of the perfect woman, if not for the tone of her voice.
Her companion, tall, lanky and muscular seemed her perfect compliment. Together, with their dark skins, hair and well formed features, they made a stunning couple. The man's body rippled with health beneath leather tunic and leggings.
As they argued, Caleath’s microchip data banks uploaded their dialect to his short term memory for easy access. He could almost recognize the speech, a derivative of old English, still downloaded as part of every star travelling citizen’s education.
Not wanting to intrude, but needing information and food, Caleath cleared his throat and stepped into the light.
“Greetings, my name is Caleath.” He raised his empty hands, already missing the dragon wrought sword that no longer hung at his side. Neither of these strangers bore weapons worth mentioning. An odd trait, but a welcome one.
The look of stunned surprise on both faces gave Caleath a moment to edge closer. In the centre of the empty cavern floor the male concentrated on the makings of a fire. From where he stood Caleath could see the damp wood needed more than flint strike to coax it to burn.
“Badger’s bite!” Springing to his feet the man threw himself between Caleath and the woman. In his hand he clutched a homemade dagger. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”
Caleath ignored his questions as the woman took charge.
“Aron, he’s not carrying a weapon. Perhaps this is his cave?”
“We checked, Sasha, the cave was empty. He’s come from nowhere.”
“Not exactly nowhere… but close enough.” Caleath slowly edged toward the pile of firewood. “I was hoping you might have food to share? I can pay.” He produced a gold coin and rolled it across the back of his fingers. Gold spoke any language. Seeing Sasha’s eyes light up, he relaxed a little and asked the coin to disappear. “You need to light the fire? Mind if I help? It’s perishing cold here.”
“The fire won’t light. We’ve tried,” Aron argued. Sasha stepped from behind him and flashed a riveting smile as her hips swung enticingly. Seeing the possessive glint in Aron’s eye, Caleath ignored her advance. He dropped to his haunches and asked the element of fire to heed his summons.
Touching the firewood, flames leapt to obey. He coaxed them, encouraging their offering until the damp wood sizzled and popped. Watching Aron from the corner of his eye, he continued to feed fresh wood into the conflagration.
* * *
Sasha stared at the flames bursting from the logs. Her mouth dropped open.
“Dratted badger, how did you do that?” Aron murmured, his voice dripping with awe and something else. Fear?
She forced her gaze toward the fair stranger, let it travel down his fine, well-stitched leather clothes. Who in Corn World could possibly make such garments? Who dared carry gold coins? She blinked then met his eyes. “Where are you from? Where did you get these clothes?”
“Is that all you can think of?” Aron said. “He just lit the fire with his fingers. Are you Merlin, still roaming Britland? I thought you died even before the before-times.”
Sasha wanted to slap him. How could he expect anyone to know his fancy tales of knights and wizards? Instead of frowning, a smile tugged at Caleath's lips. “Sometimes dying can be harder than you think. No, I'm not Merlin, but you're close.” He cast a wary glance around. “Are there any dragon lords here?”
Aron laughed. “Oh, come on, dragons probably never existed. Do you believe all the stories someone tells you? I've got a few good ones.” He lowered himself by the fire, stretching his hands towards the flames.
“No dragons or dragon lords?” Caleath grinned and settled on the ground beside Sasha, across from Aron. “If I didn’t need to rescue a friend from danger, I think I could like it here.”
“You can come along with us." Sasha placed her hand on the stranger's thigh. "With your Merlin skills...”
Aron scowled. “Stop trying to collect knights, Sasha. I'm glad we got rid of that Boris oaf.”
She withdrew her hand and sent a radiating smile across the flames. “Don't be silly, Aron. You're my knight.”
Caleath took a deep breath. “Do you happen to have anything edible?”
“Ediwhat?” Sasha scrutinized him. He sure looked, talked and smelled strange.
“Sorry, something to eat. I need to feed the little critters trying to repair my body. Nanobots we call them.”
Her mouth dropped open. “You really are a wizard!”
The knobbly bone in his throat bobbed up and down. “A mage. Not voluntarily though.”
Sasha's ears rushed. Joy hammered against her ribs. What a fine knight this man would make. “I'm starving too. Aron, why don't you go hunt?”
“Holy maggots, you'll never change.” Aron shook his head.
Her gaze locked with his. He'd promised to let her be herself, now that she'd escaped her husk band to live as a free woman with him.
“As you wish, Queen Sasha.” Aron rose. “If this Boris bumbles along, I'm sure you and Merlin can deal with him.” He ducked and left the cave, disappearing into darkness.
“Are you really a queen?” Caleath asked.
She chuckled. “There aren't any queens or kings around Britland anymore. If they ever existed. Don't you know anything?”
“Britland? Great Britain on Old Earth?”
“No, Corn World in Britland. Don't know about this old earth, whatever it is.” She leaned close to him. “Where are you from? Certainly not Corn World.”
His eyes darted sideways. Then he nodded as if he'd found the answer to her question. He took her hand, rose and pulled her up. “I'll show you.”
Confused, Sasha followed him to the entrance. His home couldn't be this close. She'd explored the land around. Just trees--no dwellings. Outside, he placed one hand on her shoulder, while the other pointed up into the sky. “Likely somewhere around there. Hard to tell without computers and access to the database.”
Sasha stepped back. “You've dropped from the sky? What are you and why are you here?”
“I wish I knew.”
Sasha glanced at the edge of the dark forest and cocked her head to listen. She couldn’t hear Aron. Smiling, she sidled up to the stranger who carried a gold coin on his body, somewhere. Somewhere she would discover. A gold coin could change her future.
“Why don’t I help you find out?” She caught the hand resting on her shoulder and drew it across her breast. “No need for secrets between us.”
The stranger recoiled, stepping away as if her touch offended him.
“What is wrong?” She smiled her most seductive smile and slung her arms around his waist. “Don’t you want to make life?”
Caleath tried to twist out of her grasp, but Sasha refused to let go.
“What are you doing with the woman I'm gonna marry?” From the shadows lurched a giant bulging with muscles. His face contorted with scorn.
Follow the adventures tomorrow on Edith Parzefall's Blog and then the final chapter follows the day after on Francene Stanley's Wordstitcher blog
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