Chapter 1 - News

Voynar, Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Medelya of year 60 

Eadda quietly knocked on the door to the library and leaned against the wall opposite the entrance waiting for an answer. Her fingers were running impatiently over the magnificent carvings in the wood of the wall panelling. When after a few seconds of waiting she still had not received any sign of life from the other side, she pushed herself away from the wall, clenched her hand into a fist and was about to hammer on the door when it was torn open.

"Wot?!" It had more of a bark than a question. The sullen expression on the bearded face of the young man vanished within a second. "Oh, Eadda, yah’re that. Come in."

"Who else should it be?" the girl asked as she walked into the library and looked around. "Except for me none’s interested in wot ya do here."

Eadda sauntered over to the carved desk and looked at the huge stack of books rising from a wild hodgepodge of scribbled parchment scrolls. The word Dyphuom struck her from the records again and again, but she did not know what it was.

Finally, she turned, leaning against the table and was looking over at the most important person in her life.

Yardleyu was the elder of her two brothers and she simply called him Yary. He wore the clothes of a novice and on his chest was the sign of the Voynar Magic Academy where he had lived for a while and began his training as a magician, but he had already returned home after two years. Although he was no longer a member of the Academy, he still wore the shirts and trousers he had brought from there.

Eadda had never been aware of how similar they were, but his absence had painfully made her aware of that and since his return they have been inseparable. Contrary to their parents' plans Yary had not become an officer in Voynar's army, but spent the night brooding over his books and records. This rebellion against the parents' traditions made him a kind of like-minded man, for Eadda defended herself as well as she could against the educational measures that would later make her a good wife.

Her other brother, Sean, had it better – at least as far as his name was concerned – but unlike them he did exactly what his parents wanted and served in the army to follow in his father's footsteps later. He didn’t understand his two siblings who pursued their own plans, and in his opinion were hardly worthy of their title of nobility. The strict rules in his parents' house and in the army meant honour to him and for him it was not a duty to adhere to it; it was rather a commandment he was only too happy to accept. He had already made a name for himself as a young, dutiful soldier and was the pride of his parents. In dealing with the sword, he showed an outstanding talent, his older brother however had no interest in the fight with the weapon.

Yary's passion was the books, his research and experimenting with magic – there were his talents. He was extremely talented but found it difficult to adhere to the rules and prohibitions of the Academy and so they finally sent the truculent novice back home to the care of his parents.

Yardleyu could have been described as closed but those who studied him quickly discovered that he only separated those who were worth a conversation from those who did not. And one of the few valuable people was his little sister.

He looked at her as well, his ice-blue shimmering eyes examining her briefly, but carefully then stroking a strand of blond hair behind his right ear, closing the door and moving to one of the two chairs that stood in front of the open fireplace. Eadda followed him and sat down in the other armchair.

'She cried…' he thought.

"Wot happened, Eadda?" Yary wanted to know; he could see that she had upset something.

Her brother was right, it still raged in her, but his presence was enough to calm her down at least a little. "At sum point it had to come so far. For years now I've only been delayin’ the inevitable." Eadda's words faltered briefly she didn’t know how to phrase it, so she just blurted it out. "Our parents have chosen a husband for me, in two weeks the weddin’ will take place."

Yary leaned back in his chair and looked into the embers in the fireplace. After a few seconds of silence, he uttered the words she had expected and feared. "I am powerless, Eadda."

The girl hid her face in her hands and struggled with the tears that were ready to stream back over her cheeks. When her parents had opened her up half an hour ago, what her life would be like, she had already cried. She had raged and shouted that she would rather die than marry this guy, but the only thing that had brought her in was a juicy slap by her father's hand. Her left cheek was still burning, but she wasn’t aware of the pain, the anger that burned inside her even hotter was too great.

When Yary put his hand on her shoulder she winced in surprise. He knelt on the ground in front of her and when Eadda looked up she couldn’t help throwing herself into his arms and sobbing unrestrained. The anger dissipated from one moment to the next leaving only utter despair. She didn’t know how long she had cried, but eventually her brother helped her to her feet.

"I would help ya, if I could, but it's beyond wot I can influence." Yary took Eadda's face in his hands and gently stroked her cheeks with both thumbs wiping away her tears.

In his eyes she could see pain, the same pain she felt. They would both be separated, torn apart when Eadda was forced to move out of the Blake family estate in two weeks to live with her husband.

They looked at each other for a long time and as Yary looked like he was about to cry he instead asked, "Who are ya supposed to marry?" 

Eadda gulped and took a deep breath; it took her strength to speak the name which in her eyes meant her ruin. Finally, she pressed out, "Ethan Walsh."

Yary looked at her in shock, he knew Walsh and despised him. "By Medelya... They canno’ possibly be serious..." His voice broke, his head dropping in dismay, he turned away. Then he began to pace up and down the long rows of bookshelves for which he possessed an obsessive enthusiasm.

Ironically Walsh would marry his younger sister, that disgusting mangy scum of a man. He was older than Yary, but they had met a few years ago playing in front of the property. The Walsh family lived just a few doors down. Ethan had been sadistic in his childhood; Yary had noted that despite his young years soon and also felt several times on his own body.

Eadda had already expected that he wouldn’t be thrilled with the decision of their parents, but she had never experienced her brother so shocked.

"We must be able to do sumthin’... That... that... canno’ be final, is it?" Eadda's eyes followed her brother incessantly. "Or, Yary?!" Her voice was shrill as she repeated herself.

But Yary was silent as he kept pacing up and down for several minutes. Then he paused, pulled one of the books off the shelf and walked to the desk, wiping his notes away impatiently, the scrolls of parchment and his quill tumbling to the floor.

'Wot's he up to now...?' Eadda thought.

She hurried after him and looked over his shoulder while Yary was already frantically flipping pages. When she realised what he was looking for, she snatched the book from him, closed it and read the title in disbelief.

“’Wild Herbs an’ Their Benefits in Alchemy an’ Medicine’? Are ya out of yer mind? This ain’ the time to read about plants, Yardleyu Faegan Blake!" Eadda exclaimed in exasperation.

"Yah’ll have to marry him, Eadda Abigail Blake! There is no way around it, if our parents have set this in their heads! An’ yet..." Yary took the book out of her hand and kept flipping through it until he found what he was looking for. "Thistles... Yellow thistles... Blue thistles... Here..." He pulled an unwritten piece of parchment from one of the desk drawers and groped for his quill pen.

Eadda picked it up off the floor and handed it to him. "Wot ya up to? Ya want to poison him?"

Yary scribbled on the parchment reading through the letters, flipping through a few pages as he continued to read, without looking at what he was writing.

When Eadda got no answer, she went back to the armchairs in resignation and sat down on one of them her eyes wandering about the library. It was a sumptuously decorated room, the shelves reaching to the ceiling with intricate carvings like the desk and the feet of the two armchairs. Almost everything in the Blake mansion showed how wealthy the family was. To the left and right of the chimney were stained-glass windows that showed some heroes bragging about the battle they had won and raising the banner of the Kingdom of Voynar.

In the flickering light of the fireplace the figures even seemed almost alive, as if they were moving. The lanterns that hung from the ceiling and illuminated the room were also lavishly decorated and certainly made of some expensive metal, but Eadda wasn’t in the least interested in all that.

She hated the prosperity of having to be part of this aristocratic life. To do what she was told to do, not to do what she enjoyed. To marry who her parents chose, not the one she would fall in love with someday.

A few days ago, she had turned thirteen, at this age young women were often married – at least in socially respected circles. The simpler Voyneresses usually got married later and Eadda knew that some of the girls she knew from equally aristocratic circles had even been assigned to their husbands by the age of eleven or twelve, since then she had not heard from them. It seemed to them like disappearing in a hole and never coming out once one got caught in a marriage.

From earliest childhood Eadda had been banned from playing, she had to sit quietly and a specially hired teacher taught her to read and write. She was taught how to dress, how to eat properly, drink and treat guests. She also had to learn how to sew and embroider so that later on she wouldn’t be able to live off her husband’s money too much, but could tailor her own gorgeous clothes. All this had initially instinctively postponed her.

At some point she had refused to wear the robes her mother chose every morning instead she had stolen some silver coins and bought at the market simple, comfortable clothes as the sons of the peasants wore. She had gotten terrible trouble, but her parents eventually gave up when she came home in new rags again and again.

And now these two weeks of time were still there before she disappeared into a hole like a dark storm cloud over her head. If she had previously believed that she was a prisoner in her family, Eadda feared that everything would be much worse if her husband began to tell her what she had to do and what to do not.

She already longed for the precious moments of freedom she felt only when she ran away from home and wandered around in the woods or on the hills of the Ice Lands. Sometimes she did not return to the property for several days and when she did her father was already waiting for her with a good beating.

Eadda spent about half an hour with her sombre thoughts as she heard the rustle of Yary's robe coming over to her with the parchment scroll in hand. He pulled the free armchair so far in front of hers until they sat directly opposite and looked at her grimly.

"I have a plan, but I don’ know if it will work," he began. Eadda looked at him hopefully, but Yardleyu hesitated as he looked at his notes. "Ya won’ like wot I have to say, Eadda, but we can’t do anythin’ that would change our parents. Yah’re goin’ to have to marry this guy but this could help brin’ ya home in the lon’ run."

"Lon’ run? How lon’ should I endure before yer plan works? And wot exactly do ya intend to do now?" she asked not understanding what he was getting at.

After another moment of hesitation, he began to explain, "Ya canno’ disappear from the Ice Lands, the borders are guarded too well, no one would let ya pass an’ the coast is so steep that it would hardly be possible to escape across the sea. Even if ya stay in Voynar an’ hide yerself, ya would be looked for an’ everythin’ turned upside down, till ya would have been found. But if ya marry Ethan now ya will be required to perform certain duties an’ there will be a traditional contract that defines yer responsibilities; includin’ givin’ birth to offsprin’."

Eadda sat up straight, staring at her brother in disbelief for a moment and then yelling, "No! I will no’ do that!"

"I know, I know, Eadda. Calm down for a moment so I can explain it to ya please." Yary looked at her intently and Eadda nodded briefly so he would continue. "Thank ya. Well... This contract requires ya to fulfil yer marital duties includin’ these duties. If ya can no’ fulfil them, Ethan can break ya which is probably wot every man who marries in these aristocratic circles will do. Women who can’t do wot the man intended are considered dishonourable an’ are usually sent back to their families. But ya won’ be able to do anythin’ other than pretend ya are tryin’ to fulfil these duties otherwise he will force ya to do so, an’ ya should spare yerself that. Share the bed with him an’ I promise that I will see to it that ya don’ give him offsprin’. This blend of herbs will make sure ya can’t do that, if ya take it."

Yary held up the parchment with the recipe he had just written and looked at Eadda who had jumped at his last words and tore her hair. "I canno’ do that! An' I will no’! I'm goin’ to make sure he doesn’ touch me! Ya can count on that, Yary!" Eadda yelled at her brother in rage and desperation and then stormed out of the library.

Yary followed her to the door watching her as she moved away at a speed he would never have expected such a small thing to do.

'I can understand her so well…' Yardleyu thought.

Sean curiously stuck his head out of his room and looked after her, too, then his eyes fell on Yary who was still standing in the library entrance. "Wot has happened in Eadda? Once again sumthin’ ain’ happenin’ to her will?" he asked with a mocking grin on his lips but Yary only had a contemptuous look for him and disappeared back into the library.

Eadda didn’t hear them anymore as she rattled down the long staircase in the lobby, Yary's words echoing in her mind, her heart racing in panic.

Aware of the shouting her father came out of the salon and rose in front of her with a threatening hand, but she slumped to the ground, slid past him over the polished stone floor and plunged through the front door outside.

Nor did she hear his angry cries as she ran through the evening streets of the city where only a few people were on their way. She met city guards twice, but she avoided them and kept on hurrying. Even at the bridge she was over so fast that the bridge guards didn’t even have time to emerge from the lobbies to the left and right of the gate. The girl had already disappeared over the bridge and in the bushes off the road until they had got into position.

Eadda kept running headlong, slipping over fences and dodging rocks. Even at the trapdoor in the floor the thing only she knew about she was already past and rushing up a long climb.

Deprived of her strength she finally stopped breathless and looked around. The view over the rough sea with a blood-red setting sun on the horizon would have been breathtakingly beautiful but not this evening.

Without wanting to she had run directly to the place where there were numerous benches for the wedding guests and a small desk for the Cleric who married the bride and groom.

'No…' she thought.

When Eadda realised where she had gone, she fell to her knees. Furious she scrambled to her feet and kicked at the benches, knocking over some of them. Then she yelled her pain into the wind which stifled her cries and carried them away.

Exhausted, hoarse, cold, and helpless Eadda went down the hill again heading for her trapdoor, her retreat. She hunkered down between two small trees hidden behind an icy bush and peered through the thorny branches for any pursuit. Bushes like this grew everywhere in the Ice Lands. Almost like weeds they grew in every vacancy.

Eadda couldn’t see anyone but swift footsteps from the direction of the street told her that someone must have followed her. With her hands she fumbled around in the moss until her fingers met the cold metal of the ring which she grabbed and opened the trapdoor.

A second later she was gone and Sean who had run after her at his father's urging and been put on the right track by the guards stood helplessly in the middle of the tiny grove.

Meanwhile, Eadda crawled a little forward and around a corner in the shaft under the trapdoor. Her fingers now hit something soft, fluffy, a little further on a lamp which she ignited carefully. With a quick glance she looked around and calmly realised that everything was still in place and no one had discovered her hiding place. She crawled in between the skins and took a short breath until she felt vibrations in the ground. Her pursuer was looking for her right above her she held her breath anxiously and listened.

Sean's voice called to her, but she remained silent and made no sound.

'He can search for a lon’ time…' she thought.

Gradually the calls were quieter again and she relaxed.

Then she sat up, reached for the basket which stood in a corner and looked into it. Her food supplies had been used up. The few that had been here were now spoiled despite the cold. Only a small slice of beef jerky made the impression of being edible. Eadda was annoyed at her own negligence. At the next opportunity, she had to steal food from the pantry again and bring it here.

Again, she looked around her sanctuary where she hid when she couldn’t stand it in the estate. All this she had done alone on many nights she had sneaked out to dig the shaft, then she had lined the back of it with wooden planks to keep her dry and a little warmer. However, she hadn’t dared to provide the remaining studs with it. If somebody discovered the trapdoor and looked inside, they would only discover an inconspicuous hole in the earth at the end of which there was nothing. But behind one from the entrance invisible corner was her nest. She had deposited books here as well as something to eat, a lamp and the skins. The latter she had bought from a hunter.

Eadda retrieved her dagger between the furs, pulled it out of its scabbard and looked at the polished silver blade, on both sides the handle wrapped in black strips of leather. It wasn’t very gorgeous, yet there was no object in the world she loved so much as this dagger. And at least it was sharp enough to kill someone. In times like these it gave her a grim satisfaction to possess such a thing.

She could fight back! And she would fight back!

Ethan should be careful; he didn’t even know who he was dealing with!

With a wicked smile on her lips Eadda shoved the dagger back into its scabbard, snuggled into the skins, and put out the light. With her only weapon in hand, she soon fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Yary looked back and forth between those present. His parents were very upset and Sean was angry because he had just been sent to search for his sister and had to return home unsuccessfully.

"Yardleyu, wot did ya tell her that she leaves the house so upset an’ shows such recklessness?" Abigail was looking at her eldest offspring with a stinging reproachful look.

For an hour all the other family members were in the library with him, finding it more important to yell at each other instead of asking what had happened. Not that they understood it. They did not care about her daughter's feelings at all so he made no attempt to explain it.

"I told her exactly wot ya said, mother," Yary said evasively.

"In my youth..." Abigail continued.

But Yardleyu wasn’t listening because he knew that Eadda was well and presumably somewhere in what she called her sanctuary.

When he raised his eyes, Sean looked at him. His younger brother like Eadda knew him too well for his taste. And Sean sensed he knew where their mutual sister had disappeared, but he also knew that Yary would never reveal it.

And so, the family remained in a situation in which they could only wait for the unwieldy girl to eventually return home.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 2 - Letter

Eadda pushed her way through the crack in the trap door and crouched down behind the ice rose bush which offered her at least some protection while she peered through the frost-covered branches. Only when she was sure no one was watching her did she straighten up and stroll inconspicuously back towards the road that led into the city of Voynar.
Before she stepped on the path, she stretched her limbs and then made her way into the mansion at a leisurely pace. At this time of year, the nights were still unbearably cold and even the few furs weren’t able to keep her reliably warm, so after two days full of hunger and cold it drove her back from her refuge to their parents' house.
The traders in the market square were busy loading the rest of the goods that hadn't found a buyer back onto the carts as they did every evening. Neither of them noticed the simply dressed freezing girl who walked between the stalls and left the square in a southernly direction.
She turned into the street where the Blake property was and quickly darted behind a stone pillar when she saw a group of elegantly dressed people standing in front of the front door. There were two men and a woman whose expensive brocade dress gleaming in the light of the evening, her hair tied up in a bun like her own mother did. Apparently, the two men were their husband and son, one of the two was significantly younger than the other.
Eadda eyed him attentively, his long blond hair that he had tied in a braid, his coat made of snow hare fur, a dark suit with a white ruffled shirt underneath. Dressed as befitted the offspring of wealthy families. The elegant clothes however couldn't hide the disgruntled expression on his beardless face.

'Ya must be that Ethan Walsh...' she thought.

He wasn't ugly as the girl had to admit but that didn't matter, she still didn't want him. Especially since he was older, he must have surpassed twenty years.
The fine company seemed to have said goodbye because they turned away from the door and came down the street. Eadda crept a little further away from the street and crouched behind a barrel, carefully peering over the edge as the three passed her niche.

"...if we didn’ need it, Ethan! It would be our ruin!" The man was getting excited, but in the next moment a team of horses drove by and his further words were drowned in the clatter of hooves.

The girl crept back to the pillar and watched as the Walshs disappeared two houses down into a no less magnificent property as her family lived in one. The Voynarian aristocracy owned large plots of land – very large ones! Little did she know that she and Ethan were almost neighbours, even if that didn't change the aversion she already felt. He probably felt the same way about the wedding or at least his father's words suggested it.

Eadda found the second statement more unsettling however because given that families of this class valued their wealth more than anything it could only mean they were worried about their wealth. Apparently, they were dependent on their son's wedding so that the bride's family – her family – would help them out of their financial hardship.

She walked hastily around the Blake mansion and began to climb up the back of the building until she reached the library window.

A soft knock on the window pane startled Yary who immediately put his book aside and rose from the desk to hurry to the window from which the noise had come.

"Eadda, yah’re breakin’ yer neck," he whispered to her when he opened the window to let her in.

"As if that still played a role," she replied just before jumping into the room and plopping down in an armchair.

Yary carefully locked the window again and took a seat in the other armchair then looked at her searchingly in silence.

Eadda was filthy, had a strong smell and was still wearing the clothes she had been wearing two days earlier, dark woven trousers and a light shirt that could also belong to a young man of low class with her fine black leather boots, the only thing on her that indicated her noble ancestry. She had tied her red hair in a high ponytail and a few strands were hanging loose. The tears had left light streaks on her dirty face as they made their way down her high cheekbones to her chin.

She took a moment to take a breath. “The Walsh family have jus' paid their respects downstairs; they were standin’ in front of the front door when I came back. Ethan was there too. An' I heard sumthin’ interestin’ as they made their way back to their own home. It seems to me that they are in need an' would only want the weddin’ to get access to our parents' fortune."
“Tell me sumthin’ I don' already know, little sister. Our dear parents pay a big sack full of crowns for Ethan to take ya to his wife. On the Walshs’ side it's all about the money an' our parents 'bout yer befittin’ marriage. They are happy to pay the few coins to get ya out of the house,” he replied grimly but she deserved that he told her the truth.

"How ya know that?" she wanted to know.

“From our parents. I gabbed to them to change their minds, but my attempt wus unsuccessful," sighed Yary and Eadda's hopes her knowledge could prevent the wedding vanished within a moment.

Yardleyu looked at her worriedly then stood up, walked quietly to the desk and returned with a small glass vial and his own dinner. Sitting down again he handed Eadda the vial first, then the plate of venison and root vegetables. She put the glass jar on the little table next to the armchairs and swallowed the meal in a few bites then put the plate aside and picked up the vial again which contained a thick greenish-yellow liquid.

"Wot’s that?" she asked, although she thought she already knew.

"An extract from a certain type of thistle plus a few other herbs that will accelerate the effect." Yary looked away and looked gloomily into the flames in the fireplace. “So that ya don' have a child tomorrow on yer weddin’ night. Ya have to take it immediately, otherwise it won' work reliably until then."

"Tomorrow? They haven' postponed the weddin’, have they?” Eadda asked stunned.

“Yes, they actually have. 'Why wait when there is a risk Eadda will continue to oppose us? If she marries tomorrow we will finally get rid of her an' her stubborn head,' were their words, if I remember correctly,“ he answered honestly.

How much she’d have loved to romp, beat and scream, but if she did, she’d be heard and locked up. She knew that very well. Eadda was about to get a beating anyway; she knew that too. She knew her parents too well to make this grave mistake and so she remained still, sitting in the soft armchair in silence, staring at the herbal potion in her hand.

Yary looked at her attentively and when the girl put the vial to her lips he raised his hand. "Wait... ya... ya have already blossomed, have ya no’?" He was a little embarrassed to ask his sister such a question and looked to the side with an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.

Eadda's cheeks also turned red but she nodded and quickly drained the bitter-tasting contents.

"Okay. Then I'll mix more of it and send it to ya on a regular basis. Ya need to swallow a vial full once every five days. Otherwise..."

" doesn't work. Yes, already understood”, she finished the sentence a little indignantly before she continued ruefully. “Still, I am very grateful to ya, Yary, for doing sumthin‘ like this for me. That ain’ sumthin’ that can be taken for granted. An' I apologise for leavin’ so head over heels. Please forgive me."

Yardleyu nodded understandingly. “I understand ya, Eadda. My fear in such a situation would be just as great.” He took a deep breath before continuing, “I’ll miss ya. The racket that yah've caused time an' time again as well. This house will be a sad place without ya."

Eadda's eyes filled with tears as she put the empty vial on the table next to the plate. "I'll miss ya too," she whispered while tears streaming down her dirty cheeks.

Yary grabbed her hand and pulled her gently to him in a comforting embrace he slowly stroked her back.

The door was thrown open with a crash.

"Look at who came back home. Our parents will be delighted.” Sean grinned at his siblings who took a step apart in surprise.

But before they could reply Sean turned on his heel and strutted out the door to inform the gentlemen of the house of his sister's arrival. Eadda and Yary stood silently next to each other and looked at each other when voices were heard in the entrance hall that were rapidly approaching.

First and foremost, Faegan entered the room followed by Abigail and Sean. And as expected the older and yet formidable gentleman stormed up to his daughter, grabbed her hair, dragged her to the centre of the room and slapped her on the ear which threw her to the floor.

“Ungrateful brat, who ya think ya are?!” he rumbled angrily.

Then he picked up the poker by the fireplace and began hitting Eadda who was still lying on the floor. The girl was still dazed from the blow to her head, but the pain that flashed through her body like lightning brought her back to reality and helped her suppress the screams that were already tormenting up her throat.
Yary who could hardly stand the scene was already rushing towards his father when Abigail was already holding the poker that Faegan had raised for another strike.

"No! Ya distort her jus’ before her weddin’!” she appealed to his sanity.

"Don' tell me wot to do, woman!" Faegan only growled, but he threw the poker to the ground next to Eadda and swept out of the room followed by Sean who was visibly amused by his sister's rubbing.

Abigail pulled her daughter to her feet and gave her a nagging look. “Wot have ya done again, child! Ya stink like a bunch of farmers!" Then she cast a reproachful look at her eldest son and pushed Eadda out the door down the hallway to the furthest room which had a large brass tub. "Take off yer clothes, Eadda!" she snapped at the girl and then left the room but she locked the door as a precaution.

Eadda did as she was told and first took off her boots, undressed completely until she stood naked and freezing in the cold room. Next to the tub there was a wooden stool and a chest of drawers with a mirror and a bowl on it for washing.

She looked in the mirror steadfastly at the face that looked back. She had long ginger hair, a narrow small nose and large blue eyes that looked troubled at the moment. Her gaze fell further down and she immediately felt uncomfortable when she realised, she really wasn't a girl anymore but a young woman.

It felt like it was only yesterday when she noticed that her chest was no longer flat like a boy's but now her appearance resembled a fully developed woman more than ever. She had small well-shaped breasts that matched her slim physique. When she saw her lap which was covered with black fluff, she quickly averted her eyes and sat on the stool her face hidden in her hands.

A few minutes later she heard footsteps approaching, her mother came back with three maids who carried buckets of water from which steam rose. Following Abigail's brief imperious instructions, the maids did as they were told, filled the tub with the hot water, added a jug of milk and aromatic herbs and hurried out again.
When the door slammed shut, Eadda had already been shoved into the tub by her mother although the bath water was way too hot, she didn't defend herself it was of no use anyway. Abigail tore the hair clip from the young woman's hair and pressed her into the water until she was submerged then began to scrub her ceaselessly with a brush. Eadda wasn't listening at all, she had heard all these reproaches well enough and her own dark thoughts preoccupied her too much anyway.

At the end of the procedure she got out of the tub and dried herself with the woollen cloth her mother threw over her chest, then Abigail pushed her back down on the stool and began to apply an ointment to the wounds left by the poker. When she was done with that, she held out a simple nightgown to her daughter which she willingly put on before they left the bathroom and went down the hall to Eadda's room where the door was already open.

A chain had been attached to the foot of the bed, a large packed bag sat on the sheets and several beautifully decorated dresses hung on the closet.

'Yah’ve lost no time...' she thought.

Eadda sat down on her bed, her mother pulled out a chair and sat on it then she reached for the bag and opened it.

"This is for the weddin’ night ya will put it on before ya go to bed, ya understand?" Abigail began and put a white silk nightgown in Eadda's lap who just nodded silently. "I sewed the clothes on the closet for ya, honour them so ya don't need new ones anytime soon. One of the maids will take them to yer new home tomorrow. But everythin’ for the important night is here in the bag. Wash yerself before you lie down in his bed and rub yerself with this so that ya smell pleasant for yer husband.” Abigail held up an oil-filled glass vial in which some ice rose petals were floating.
Horror grabbed Eadda's heart and held it tightly with trembling fingers she lifted the nightgown from her lap and carefully put it back in the pocket.

"Sleep now otherwise yah’ll look like a dead person tomorrow when ya get married." With these words her mother got up, put the chair back in its place and went with the bag into the hallway where she called for Sean.

Eadda pulled her legs into bed and covered herself before her brother came in and crouched down in front of the bed.

“This wus my idea. So that ya don' disappear again an' cause our dear parents grief.” Sean reached under the sheet for Eadda's ankle, pulled it to him and put the chain around it then he threaded a heavy lock into the links and let it snap shut. He looked at her and when she looked back, she was amazed for a moment that he wasn't enjoying her suffering. "Ya have to force sum people to be happy, don' ya?"

“If I don' want it, it can't be luck, Sean. But I hardly expect ya to understand. After all, ya only ever did wot was asked of ya," she replied bitingly.

Sean gave a short laugh before striking back. “Who’s sittin’ here on the bed, beaten an' chained up like a dog? Ya or I? For who of us two is life goin’ more pleasant, Eadda?” 

She was silent and stared at him hostilely, until he pulled a letter out of his pocket and said quietly, “Yer future husband jus' brought this one. The entire Walsh family wus here today an' wanted to see ya, but ya weren't here. He came back again an' brought the letter. Apparently, he had sumthin’ to say to ya an' now has to do it this way. Good night."

Sean tossed the parchment on her bed, left the room and closed the door while Eadda sat thunderstruck and stared at the letter. The waxy seal had not yet been broken and showed a roaring bear, apparently the heraldic animal of the Walsh family. With her hands still trembling she took it carefully and twisted it between her fingers. Eadda Abigail Blake was written on the roll of parchment, the handwriting was rough and anything but beautiful to look at.

There was a soft knock and Eadda quickly let the letter disappear under her sheets.
"Please come in."

A second later Yardleyu stepped into the room, he took a step towards her bed and she made room for him to sit down. For a minute he sat in silence on the edge of her bed and Eadda enjoyed his presence it was enough, if he was just with her. Only when he was about to break the silence did she pull out the letter and hand it to her brother.

"Walsh?" She just nodded while he turned the parchment back and forth in his hands with interest. "Don' ya want to read it?"

"Read it first an' decide for me, if I want to know wot's in it please," she muttered.

Yary nodded and broke the seal, unrolled the parchment and began to read in silence, finally he sighed and let the letter sink.

"So bad?" Eadda wanted to know.

“No’ that, but it's full of subliminal threats. Should I read it to ya now or would ya prefer no’ to know what he is writin’?” her brother replied honestly.

She thought for a moment, but then she nodded and Yardleyu began to read:


Dearest Eadda Abigail Blake, 
tomorrow will be the day. Ya will be given to me as a wife. I lon’ awaited that day when I’d have the honour of enterin’ into the covenant of marriage.
This covenant is something sacred, sumthin’ that must truly be honoured. From us both. I very much hope ya feel jus’ like me. I would have liked to get to know ya before this great day, to look at yer face and admire yer beauty. But the only thin’ left for me was the paintin’ in the entrance hall of your truly magnificent property ‘cause unfortunately ya weren’ present.
Wot a shame, wot a missed opportunity! That is why I am now writing these humble lines to ya. I want ya to know that I intend to carry out all of my duties as a husband. I will offer ya a home that is at least equal to the current one. I’ll see ya in front of the altar when I give ya my consent. And ya will do the same and take me as yer husband. Then we will move into our common home as a married couple, without our families. But do no’ despair! I am sure they’ll be able to visit ya often. An' we will soon have our own family, so that ya will want for nothin’ - until the end of yer days, my dearest.

I lon’ for the mornin’ in joyful anticipation!
Ethan Walsh 

A shiver ran down Eadda's spine as Yary let the letter sink.

“Aside from the fact that his writin’ style is horrific, his threats are no less. He'll keep ya away from us. An' from all other people. Yah’ll be his prisoner who has to do wot he asks, Eadda.” He had tears in his eyes when he looked at her again. "It hurts that ya have to bear this burden alone, but ya can be sure that I will always think of ya an' will come to yer aid when ya need me."

He got up, leaned over her and kissed her hair gently while Eadda again ran silent tears of despair down her face. She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him briefly, then he left the room without another word, so that she wouldn't notice that he, too, had started to cry.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 3 - Roses

“Eadda, get up! Come on!” Eadda rubbed her eyes drowsy while her mother swept through the room, tore open the window and pulled the sheet from her legs. "Jeez... I forgot... Sean? Sean! Unlock the chain! Immediately!"
Suddenly everything was back, the wedding, the letter. For a moment she had hoped that she had only dreamed and had just woken up from this bad dream, but that was not the case. All of this corresponded to the bitter reality.
Sean hurried to her room and started to open the lock; the chain clattered to the floor. He gave her a long, expressionless look as he rose then turned and left.
Abigail shooed Eadda out of bed and pointed down the hall. "Go and bathe, the maids have already brought the water over!" She handed her daughter a comb and fresh underwear that she had never seen before. "Now go!"
Eadda hurried out of the room and down the hall, the library door was open and she stopped.
'Wot the...' she thought.
She watched Yary in amazement who was already dressed and standing in front of one of the bookshelves in a tailor-made suit. She had never seen him like this before, the brocade material looked very good on him, his shoulder-length hair was tied in a pigtail which he normally didn't.

'I almost didn’ recognise him...' she thought.

He turned his head when he heard her come in and looked at her seriously, putting the book in his hand back on the shelf before walking towards her.

"Good mornin’," he greeted his little sister.

"Mornin’. Ya... look so different," she remarked and looked at him again.

“But no’ like a fool? Because that’s how I feel right now," Yary mumbled and looked down at himself.

She shook her head violently. “No, no’ at all. It suits ya. For real. I... I jus' wish I could have seen ya like this under different circumstances."

Yardleyu nodded sadly and hugged her. “This will probably be our last hug for a lon’ time. Jus' know that I am close by an' always available whenever ya need my help."

Eadda just nodded, the lump in her throat didn't let her speak at that moment, but she enjoyed the last moment that remained with her brother until Yary released the hug, gently turned her around and pushed her to the door. “Yah'd better leave before mother gets angry. Today she has no mercy."

Eadda nodded again and made her way to the bathtub. When she got to the washing room, she took off her nightgown and stepped into the warm water. She quickly washed herself with a sponge having already washed her hair yesterday and it would take too long to dry again.

Then she rubbed herself with a fresh woollen cloth and looked at the strange underwear her mother had given her. She usually wore some made of woven linen but this one was made of silk with ruffles around the edges. Eadda didn’t hesitate long and pulled on the tight underpants. Confused she realised that instead of a sleeveless shirt that kept you warm it was an extremely short shirt made of the same fabric as its counterpart.

'This ain’t underwear…' she thought.

After a moment's hesitation, she also put on the shirt into which she could just squeeze her breasts, but it was incredibly tight and Eadda suddenly felt very uncomfortable in her skin. When she looked in the mirror, she knew the reason. It clearly emphasized her feminine charms and she almost started crying again.

A few days before she had never thought about things like her body or what happened when a woman was with a man. In spirit, she was still almost a child and now she was being sold like a head of cattle so that some guy could do whatever he wanted to with her. She had never expected something like this to happen to her one day and yet it did.

Today. That very day.

She took a deep breath and combed her hair until the door was thrown open and her mother came in with two maids. 

"Yah’re done, at least sumthin’," Abigail remarked and looked at her daughter satisfied a short smile crossed her face. "Fine, the corset!"

When Eadda was about to ask what it was, one of the two stepped forward and walked around Eadda with a strange-looking piece of clothing from which numerous cords dangled. The servant lifted Eadda's arms then pulled the hose-like thing over it until it was at the waist where the other maid held it in place while the maid behind her diligently pulled the strings. The strange fabric hose tied tighter and tighter around Eadda's upper body until she could barely breathe. 

She gasped in shock and looked indignantly at her mother, but she just smiled strangely again, turned around and screamed down the hall. "Brin’ the dress!"

Frantic footsteps could be heard and two more maids brought in a snow-white huge-looking dress that took up almost half the room.

“Oh dear, it's way too narrow in here! Take it to the library there should be enough space. Eadda, come with me.” Abigail grabbed her daughter's arm and pulled her outside after her.

Barefoot, clad only in underwear and the corset the still gasping, confused young woman stumbled after her mother through the cold hallway and into the library where Yardleyu was sitting behind the desk and at first did not understand what was going on. But when he saw his younger sister he looked away with a horrified expression.

Eadda now had to stand on the stool that one of the maids had brought from the wash room before tons of fabric were pulled over her head and it took half an eternity before she found her way out of the depths of her wedding dress. Eadda was breathing quickly and shallowly had an uncomfortably queasy feeling in her stomach and for a moment she felt dizzy.

When she lost her balance and almost fell off the stool Yary caught her and carefully set her down on the floor.

"Everythin’ okay? Are ya a’ight?” he asked worriedly.

Eadda held on to him for a moment before she nodded.

Yardleyu held her hand for a moment then released it to sit back behind the desk.

Abigail had watched the scene, shaking her head and now sent one of the maids to fetch Eadda a glass of liqueur. The other maids tied the wedding dress at the back before two of the maids lifted the skirt and the third pushed a stool underneath on which Eadda sank relieved. The fourth maid rushed over and handed her the glass of liqueur which she hastily drank. It tasted sweet and spicy at the same time, a taste she had never tasted before but it felt good she calmed down a bit and suddenly wasn't so nervous anymore.

All four maids spent the following hour brushing and styling Eadda's hair then lifted the front of her skirt again and put on a kind of silk belt and white lace stockings that came down to her thighs and were fastened to the belt so they didn't slide down. White shoes that matched the dress were also brought; they had a heel not too high but it felt strange.

To her great relief Abigail left the room to dress herself, then the maids began to make up for Eadda. A paste with silvery shimmering pigments was rubbed onto her eyelids, her cheeks were given a delicate pink tinge and her lips were reddened with a mixture of fat and crushed ice rose petals.

When they were done, they helped her to get up and Eadda looked exhausted at her brother whose mouth was wide open when he saw her. The sight of him was so amusing that she had to grin and Yary closed his mouth hastily, came over to her, took her hands, looked his sister up and down and then leaned forward.

“Yah’re beautiful, Eadda. The most beautiful bride I have ever seen,” he whispered in her ear. 

Eadda smiled embarrassed and returned his reserved smile then he sent one of the maids to fetch another glass of liqueur - 'for the bride's nerves'. All four scurried out of the library and left them alone.

Yardleyu sighed deeply, he could no longer hold up the mask that had hidden his grief. A loved one was going to be stolen from him and there was nothing he could do about it nor could his sister.

Eadda felt his grief and put a reassuring hand on his cheek, she herself had already given up the resistance to the marriage, it would happen anyway. The liqueur also did the rest and conjured a transfigured smile on her face. In that brief moment she felt absolutely safe, she felt strong and, if her brother hadn't known better, he would have assumed that she was looking forward to the wedding. He also realised that this was not the case when her mother called from downstairs that it was time to leave.

'Please no...' she thought.

Her eyes showed her naked panic and she opened her mouth to say something when a maid came in with the liquor and humbly handed her the glass. In one gulp, Eadda emptied it and hooked herself to her brother who led the swaying bride down the hall and to the stairs.

There Eadda looked down at her family for a moment. Her parents looked almost the same, but their clothes looked a bit more elegant than usual and Abigail had put on her best most expensive jewellery, Sean wore a suit similar to his brother. With one hand on the railing and the other arm hooked under Yary's Eadda walked slowly down the steps. Her gaze fell in the large mirror that stood in the entrance hall at the foot of the stairs and her breath caught.

'That ain’t me...' she thought.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Her brother hadn't lied she was really incredibly beautiful to look at, the dress was sewn from snow-white brocade, the skirt reached down to the floor and had a long train. White fabric ice roses had also been sewn onto a gathering in the hem and the long sleeves were made of almost transparent lace. The maids had plaited her hair and tied it into a deep bun with small rose-shaped clips glistening in it which she assumed were made of pure real silver. Even if she had suspected otherwise due to the length of the procedure she was only slightly made up, her cheeks looked reddened, embarrassed, and the eyelids shimmered when she blinked.

Her mother stepped up to her and carefully placed a fine silver chain around her neck, the pendant also showed an ice rose and was set with tiny diamonds. Then she put a short white coat made of snow hare fur over her shoulders which one of the maids handed to her.

"Almost done," Abigail remarked happily.

Another maid brought the transparent silk veil that was attached to a small comb and matched the ice roses in her hair. Her mother carefully pinned it to the top of the bun and tossed the fabric over her head so that it was in front of her face.

“Now let's go. It's getting’ late,” Faegan grumbled and the family left the house.

Two carriages were waiting for them outside, the first was the Blake family's carriage, but she had never seen the second; it was black, decorated with white ice roses and was pulled by two white horses.

"Eadda, ya and yer father get into this carriage," Abigail indicated the carriage with the white horses. "An' we're goin’ with our own."

Eadda just nodded and gave Yary a long sad look before she got into the carriage the small door of which the coachman was already holding open for her. She sat down on the soft upholstery facing the direction of travel and avoided the gaze of her father who was sitting across from her, so she remained seated for the entire journey and was silent.

After a while the carriage stopped and Faegan mumbled, "We're here." Then he climbed out of the shed.

'The beginnin’ of the end...' she thought.

Eadda took a deep breath and got out of the vehicle with the help of her father who offered her a hand. Instinctively she looked for Yardleyu and spotted him in the ranks of the guests along with Sean and their mother, he looked troubled. Only then did her gaze fall on Ethan who was standing next to the Cleric in the centre and waiting for her.

A dark red carpet was rolled out on the ground in front of her, covered with white ice rose petals and a band began to play, but Eadda did not hear the delicate tones. It boomed in her ears as she stepped forward through the rows of guests at her father's side. It almost felt like the path would never end, all eyes were on her.
But after half an eternity they arrived at the front and Faegan gave his daughter to Ethan with a nod before he went to her family. Eadda looked at her bridegroom who gave her a sugar-sweet smile and except for the stupid grin and the clothes just looked like yesterday when she had observed him in front of her property. He wore his dark blonde hair tied in a pigtail, again the dark suit was made of brocade – like her dress. Presumably the parents of the bride and groom agreed that everything was perfect that day. The head of a blood-red ice rose was attached to his lapel.

'Those damn roses everywhere...' she thought.

Eadda hated them. Everything about them. That they had thorns. How they smelled. And she didn't think they were beautiful either.

The Cleric had long since started the wedding, but the rustling in Eadda's ears prevented her from hearing him. Absent-mindedly she let her gaze wander over the landscape that sloped slightly beyond the wedding place. It was cold but at the moment there was no snow in the Ice Lands, at least not in the lower areas, and the tops of the northern fir trees stretched dark green into the sky. She had never been in a country other than her home; she had only read stories. 

Dwarfs lived in Hyrunar where it was even colder than in Voynar and the snow lay all year round. They had built huge halls in the mountains an underground city they called Emerald. On the island of La'zhij there were supposedly wood elves whose beautiful songs resounded through the forests, but neither the elves nor the dwarves were seen in the rest of Abarglen – and certainly not in the Ice Lands. 

The kingdom was cordoned off, surrounded on three sides by the raging sea and on the fourth side was a gigantic wall that King Kavanagh had built – the Wall of Voynar. Insurmountable this kept the enemies outside but unfortunately also the Voynarians inside.

Ethan listened carefully to the cleric looking in the direction of the cleric before glancing at her, opening his mouth and saying something she couldn't understand.
And she heard herself say, "I agree."

Suddenly she was pulled back into reality and she realised what had just happened. Her head jerked around and her eyes searched the cheering crowd for Yardleyu, but he was gone.

Instead, Ethan suddenly stood right in front of her and pulled her veil back then pressed his lips to hers and Eadda didn't know what to do so she just stood there and waited.

'Get away from me...' she thought.

When he finally broke away from her, he no longer smiled but stared at her with suppressed anger in his eyes before he took her arm and led her through the rows of still cheering guests back to the carriage and helped her in before he got in himself. The coachman closed the shed behind the bride and groom and climbed back onto the driver's seat cracked the whip and the horses began to move.

Eadda avoided Ethan's gaze but she felt it like needle pricks boring into her body as she looked intimidated out of the tiny window in the door. The carriage drove fast and brought her closer and closer to an uncertain future which she could no longer influence herself.

The landscape passed quickly but instead of driving back towards the city, the coachman steered the team to the left from where it continued into the mountains. Eadda didn't have to ask where they were going, she thought she already knew the answer.

There wasn't much in this part of the Ice Lands only the Weather Point was up there, a small village so close to the peaks that it didn't even begin to thaw in summer. The horses slowed down with the steeper incline and when they had already passed the snow line they stopped. Ethan climbed out of the shed to offer her his hand, Eadda reluctantly took it and got out of the carriage cautiously.

The property they were standing in front of was a little apart from the other houses at Weather Point and so far from Voynar that she couldn't even see the city through the thick haze that surrounded the summit. Eadda looked up at the building in front of her which was a small property, not nearly as big as the one she had lived in – and certainly not what Ethan had promised her in his letter. If she didn't have to live here involuntarily, it would be a pretty building, but in the light of the evening sun the dark windows looked threatening.

'Like empty eyes…' she thought.

While she was standing there surveying the property, Ethan went to the door and opened it then put on his fake smile again and called out to her. "Welcome home, Mrs. Walsh!"

Copyright: Larissa Doe

The following chapter contains rape!

Chapter 4 - Marriage

Eadda Walsh hesitantly approached the front door when the coachman followed her and handed her the big bag that her mother had packed. For a moment she didn't understand why she should now carry her things herself, but then she took it without a word while she took another deep breath and walked past her husband into the house. Ethan followed and bolted the door behind them.

She took a few steps through the narrow hallway at the end of which a staircase led to the upper floor, on her right was an open passage to the salon, on her left a closed door behind which the kitchen was presumably. Ethan had already gone to the right, but she was still standing rooted to the spot in the hallway near the entrance and wanted to turn around again.

"Go ahead, sit down!" What was otherwise a cliché of politeness sounded like an order from his mouth.

She just left her bag in the hallway before slowly entering and looking around the small room that didn't even deserve the name salon. Rather it was a living room that was only lit by the fire that was already burning in the fireplace. In front of it stood a modest group of seats - a sofa and two armchairs with a low table in between. Between the two windows was a sideboard with glasses and a couple of bottles on it that presumably contained alcoholic beverages. There was also a small table at which one could dine with guests and on the walls, there were bland paintings of the Voynar landscape.
Her husband stood waiting between the fireplace and the seating furniture and she hesitantly walked towards the sofa. Before she sat down, she smoothed the skirt of her dress as her mother had taught her.
"Ya really look beautiful in yer dress," Ethan flattered studying her.
She dared not answer or look back and so a few minutes of silence passed. Finally, Ethan sighed and went to the sideboard, poured a blueish-transparent liquid into two of the glasses and sat with it next to her while Eadda suppressed the reflex of fleeing with all her might. Instead, she forced herself to look up at him as he handed her one of the glasses, but she only kept eye contact for a second and then looked down at her knees again the glass between her hands in her lap.
Ethan seemed to have his fun tormenting her like this for he raised his glass to his face. "To our marriage, may love grow and prosper."
Now she had to look at him again while she lifted her glass and gently pushed against his, it clinked softly. He took a long swig of his drink and Eadda did the same, the burning in her throat making her cough and him laughing.
"Ghost wine. Ya don't seem to have tasted it before, did ya?” he asked amused.
"No, I didn' drink anythin’ of the kind before today," she pressed out.
Ethan grinned broadly, almost disfigured in this twilight, and his face resembled a grimace. Eadda shuddered involuntarily even though it was very warm in the room.
“Take another sip. It gets better the more ya drink,” he encouraged her.
She did as she was told and this time, she was able to suppress a cough but she could already feel the effects of the strong alcohol. His glass was now half empty while hers looked as if she hadn't touched it and another minute of silence passed during which Eadda sipped her ghost wine twice. Ethan emptied his rest in one go then put his glass on the table and leaned sideways against the back of the sofa without taking his eyes off her.
Eadda was feeling dizzy and the unspeakable heat of the fireplace troubled her, so she took the fur from her shoulders and set it aside. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that her husband was staring openly at her cleavage which she had just exposed and she felt like a piece of meat.
“So now we're married. Ya despise me, do ya no’?” Ethan asked lurking.
Eadda gently shook her head and smiled disapprovingly. “No, it's no’ that. It's no’ up to ya... It's... it's jus' that I wanted sumthin’ other than marriage," she admitted.
Ethan listened. "So? Wot did ya wish for?"
She hesitated for a moment, laughed uncertainly and mumbled, "I don' know, actually I niver wanted anythin’ other than to be free."
Her answer seemed very astonishing and he continued, “Interestin’. And now ya ain’t free?"
Since she had no concrete answer ready, she took another long sip of spirit wine to buy time and tried to organize her drunken thoughts.
'I’d be freer anywhere than here...' she thought.
She slurred on, "No... it's no’ a connection that I wanted... Rather we are two strangers who don' know each other. And yah’re much older than me.” The words gushed out of her, the alcohol had loosened her tongue and made her very talkative. She completely overlooked his threatening look. “The Voynarians are closed an' the aristocratic life is downright borin’ compared to all the adventures that await beyond the wall. I'm dyin’ to see all of this one day."
Her gaze fell back on her husband and her smile died within a second as Ethan leaned forward and brought his face close to hers.
“But now yah’re married. Yah’re mine. And ya will eke out this aristocratic existence for the rest of yer life. Ya will raise my sons an' take care of the house, do ya hear?” With that he grabbed the back of her neck and dug his fingers painfully into her hair.
Eadda gasped in agony and tried to escape his grip, but he just gripped tighter. Tears welled up in her eyes and when she looked at him his gaze made her blood run cold. Finally, he pushed her away and Eadda fell back on the floor, the glass slipped out of her hand, made an arc and shattered into a thousand pieces in front of the fireplace. Startled, she looked up at Ethan who was standing in front of the sofa and stared down at her in silence, she couldn't read the expression on his face.
'I have to appease him...' she thought.
Eadda slowly sat up because she couldn't get up alone in the huge dress anyway, so she looked up at her husband from the floor, cleared her throat and quietly said her apology, "Forgive me, Ethan. The ghost wine must have clouded my senses. I stand a little beside myself an' forgot the customs of civil conversation. I ask yer forgiveness many times. An' for permission to sit down with ya again to clear up this misunderstandin’."
Her heart pounded while she waited for an answer, but Ethan said nothing, came up to her wordlessly and she bowed her head for fear that he would hit her, but he held out his hand which she quickly took and pulled her to her feet.
“No, Eadda. It was a bit much for a day an' we should go upstairs an' go to bed. We still have enough time to gab ‘bout it. Take yer things, I'll show ya the bedroom."
He pointed to her bag which she had almost forgotten again and which she hastily took before she followed him up the stairs with soft knees. Ethan led her through the left door. It was dark beyond and he lit the two lamps that were on the bedside tables then went to the fireplace on her left to place a few logs of wood in the embers.
In contrast to the living room, the bedroom looked friendly with a large bed on the wall on the right with a small padded bench in front of it. Another door led through the wall next to the bed to another room. To the right of the fireplace was a window, two more were in front of her in between was a simple sideboard with a bouquet of ice roses in a vase on it, but she still didn't like all of that when she thought that it was her new home.
"I like it, a very nice room," she lied with a reserved smile.
Ethan nodded, then pointed to the other door by the bed. “It is a dressin’ room there. Ya can also wash yerself in it, if ya wish to do so before goin’ to bed. Yer mother's maid has already brought yer clothes in there."
She returned the nod. "Thank ya, I’d like that."
The newly-weds stood facing each other for a few moments and looked at each other then Ethan left the room in the direction of the hall and closed the door behind him. She could hear that he had gone into the other room which was still upstairs.
Eadda went through the door with her bag and lit the lantern that hung on the wall next to the passage before looking around the cool dressing room.
It was just like Ethan had said, a vanity with a mirror, a bowl, and a jug of fresh water on it stood against one wall. Her new clothes were hanging on the other wall neatly lined up on a pole underneath were a few pairs of shoes which must now also belong to her. Only now did she feel how much her feet hurt and she slipped off her wedding shoes and pushed them with her foot next to the other shoes in the row. She put her bag on the washstand next to the bowl, laid the veil next to it, and then felt with both hands for the lacing of her dress.
A finger reached a loop and pulled on it, causing the heavy fabric to loosen and slide down. She stepped carefully out of the wedding dress, picked it up and carefully hung it on the rail with the other dresses. Then she went back to the vanity and looked in the mirror, tiredly looking back at her image.
The unfamiliar underwear still gave her an extremely uncomfortable feeling as her gaze wandered further down from her face. Eadda turned her back on the mirror and tried to get the threads of the corset, but it was knotted in the only place she couldn't get. As much as she tried to do it, she couldn't. She took her comb out of her pocket and tried to use it as an extension, but this attempt also failed. Even when she picked up one of the shoes to thread the heel into the loop it didn't help her any further. She leaned breathlessly against the vanity. Hoping that in the meantime she would think of something else than to cut the threads with her dagger, she loosened the topknot at the back of her head and pulled out clip by clip to carefully stow them in her pocket. She also took the necklace off and put it inside. Then she washed her face and the parts of her body that she could reach and looked again in the mirror. Almost the Eadda she knew again only the clothes were foreign to her and the light waves that the hairstyle had left in her hair.
When she was about to go back to the corset there was a soft knock on the door and she startled, hastily pulled her wedding dress off the rack and slipped on it without locking it.
"Yes, please?"
Ethan opened the door and examined her. "The time ya actually need is noticeably lon’ because ya only wanted to undress an' wash. Ya need help?"
Eadda hesitated a moment.
'I don' want to ask him...' she thought.
But then she nodded uncertainly. "I'm afraid so. There... There's this clasp on my back that’s out of my reach. Could... no... Would ya... please?” she stammered.
Her husband gave a curt nod, took a step forward and stood in front of her, waiting.
Eadda turned her back on him and trembling with fear let the wedding dress slide down to her waist where she held the material tightly. The mirror was right in front of her and she could watch Ethan in it. He was so close behind her that she could feel his warm breath on the neck. A shiver ran down her spine.
She was still shivering not only because of the cold; her husband's looks were also uncomfortable so she closed her eyes for a moment waited for the corset to finally loosen and already regretted that she had asked him for help. When she opened her eyes again, he looked directly into her face as he also had noticed the mirror and now saw the front of her. The little shirt couldn't cover its contents it literally praised them.
Ethan still silently undid the corset until it was completely loose and Eadda bravely managed a smile. “I thank ya from the bottom of my heart. I can do the rest by myself.“ She tried to get rid of him.
Returning the smile, he replied, “I'm happy to help. Just stretch yer arms over yer head for a moment an' yah’ll be free."
If she really wanted to raise her arms, she would have to let go of the dress and would only stand in front of him in petticoats. But for fear of another outburst of anger she swallowed her shame, let the dress fall on the floor and did what he asked. The corset was slowly pushed up as she felt his eyes on her body and wanted to flee. When she felt the fabric on her forearms, she quickly pulled them out, smiled and breathed her thanks to him in the mirror then reached into her pocket and took out the silk nightgown. But before she could put it on, he had pulled it out of her trembling fingers and tossed it aside.
Eadda looked at her husband's reflection in the mirror with big eyes and she could hear Yary's voice in her head when he asked her to voluntarily share the bed with her husband. Her heart was beating fast like a bird's wings, her mind was racing and her hands were wet with sweat while she stood waiting in front of Ethan, barely able to bear the tension any longer. Finally, he slowly turned her around to look at her almost naked body before he crouched down in front of her and put one arm under her knees, the other at her back. So, he gently picked her up and carried her out, banging the door to the dressing room with his foot so that it fell shut.
It was significantly warmer in the bedroom than before. The fire pattered lively in the fireplace, the flames licked the logs hungrily, but Eadda only felt the coldness of fear inside her. Ethan had placed her on the skins right in front of the fireplace and was now standing next to her looking down as he undressed. Slowly he unbuttoned his shirt and let it fall to the floor, the under shirt followed. Revealing his upper body with a muscular chest which other women would surely have loved. But his own wife looked up at him fearfully and when he stripped off his trousers, she could see that a noticeable lump was emerging under his underpants.
'No, I don` want that...' she thought.
Seized by recurring panic she sat up, but Ethan was already kneeling next to her and gently pushed her back until she was laying down. The thoughts were still racing in Eadda's head, she knew that she had to decide now – would she defend herself or submit? The former would inevitably end badly for her, she could feel his determination in the look with which he was looking at her. Hopefully her brother had saved her from conceiving and so she decided to submit.
Ethan leaned over her and when his lips met hers, she kissed him back.
'Jus' let it be over quickly...' she thought.
His hand brushed up her stomach and when his fingers met the lace trim of the shirt, he pushed it under the fabric and began to caress her breast. Eadda gasped for breath apparently confirming him because he knelt between her thighs and began to rub the lump in his underclothes against her pubic area. Then he slipped the shirt off her head and carelessly tossed it aside. His gaze brushing her breasts before kissing her again. He pushed his tongue between her lips into her mouth and pressed his loins hard against her lap while his hand went to her buttocks and gripped tightly. Startled, she felt warm wetness in her underwear and panic again, but when she tried to squirm out from under him, he held her and looked at her grimly.
"Wot's wron’, Eadda?" he asked harshly.
Tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm very scared of it."
Her words caused an amused grin, then he whispered, "This is no' the first time I'm doin’ this, ya will like it, believe me."
With his lips pressed to her mouth again he stripped off his underclothes and then straightened up. He pushed the silk belt from Eadda's hips that had held her stockings and pulled them down, with it this material also landed on the floor.
Frozen with fear his newly wedded wife let him do it with her eyes closed.
For a moment he looked at her silk underpants then he hooked his index fingers into the waistband and with relish slipped them over her legs before throwing the last item of clothing aside.
She opened her eyes again when she realised that she was now completely naked. Her gaze fell accidentally on his towering centre, startled she closed her eyes again while Ethan leaned over her again. In the next second, she felt a sharp pain that made her whimper. He had started to move on top of her and she was writhing under him. When he got faster, she struggled violently, screaming and tried to push him off her. She almost believed that he really gave up when he straightened up briefly, but then he forcibly turned her onto her stomach and pressed her with an iron grip on the back of her neck. In the next moment he pushed himself back into her and ruthlessly picked up where he had left off.

When he finally broke away from her, Eadda stumbled in panic across the room and into the dressing room, she slammed the door behind her with a loud bang. She reached for the silk nightgown and pulled it on, then crouched on the floor in the corner, wrapped her arms around her knees, and began to cry softly. Yardleyu was right, to defend herself was pointless, her husband took what he wanted and she had nothing to oppose him. Her abdomen ached and as she reached between her thighs, she saw blood on her trembling fingers.
A few minutes later Ethan entered the dressing room and Eadda ducked her head as he sat up in front of her, he was still naked and looked down at her thoughtfully, but she didn't want to return his gaze.
“Get up, it's our weddin’ night an' it has only jus' begun. Ya have a duty to do, ya remember?"
There was something caustic in his voice that ate its way through the bone and shook Eadda's insides. His bride made no move to get up, so he brutally grabbed her arm and yanked her up until she stood shaking with her head bowed. Then he grabbed her neck and pushed her back into the bedroom in front of him where he pushed her onto the bed, pushed up her nightgown and again took her so brutally that she cried and screamed.

Later, Eadda would not be able to remember how often it happened that night, but she no longer struggled. At some point the pain also became more bearable, her entire body already felt numb. She hoped that she would be released in a year at the latest when he realised that she would not give him any children.
Fortunately, at the beginning of their marriage the young woman did not yet know how much she was wrong about it.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

The following chapter contains rape!

Chapter 5 - Darkness

Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Avonia of the year 64

Yardleyu went searching through the bulging pantry of the property, a slight shiver made his body shake, down here in the basement it was very cold, although autumn had just come and there was no snow yet. Far back was a table on which was what he had been looking for – the previous evening's dessert. He wrapped the sweet pastries in a cloth and put them in the pocket that hung from his shoulder. As he passed, he took an apple with him which he also put in his bag then left the room and locked the door.

The twenty-two-year-old man circled the property and pulled the hood of his fur-lined cloak over his head so that his face could not be seen. His fully saddled horse was already standing on the road on whose back he climbed and rode off. For four and a half years he had covered this route several times a week and despite his reliable mount it was always a difficult route. Every time there was fear. Fear she might not be able to sit by the window. Fear she was dead. Fear he would never see her again.

The times of day always alternated sometimes he rode at night and sometimes at noon like today. On the way there the fear ate its way through his bowels, but the way back was worse having to leave her alone again hurt the most.

He followed the main street that led him out of town while the guards took no notice of him, they knew the veiled figure by now. After crossing the long bridge beyond the city gate, he spurred the mare on.

After night had fallen, he was climbing the last stretch of the steep rise to the Weather Point with his heart pounding and was relieved to see that the lantern was burning in the window. Their agreed sign that Ethan was not home and that it was safe to approach the building. During the day, she instead hung a red cloth over the window sash.

Ethan Walsh was an officer in the army of the Kingdom of Voynar and so despite his noble descent he had to serve like any soldier from a simple family. He had to do his duty sometimes during the day and sometimes at night and they regularly used the time of his absence to meet and talk to each other.

The first time Yary had sat under the window and talked to Eadda; he had literally forced her to tell him about the things her husband did to her. She was his prisoner, locked in his house and only once a day, he let her outside to empty the bucket into which she had to relieve herself. Ethan did not even allow her to use the toilet, a simple wooden shed that sat outside behind the building. He also starved her, only getting a meagre meal every two days. Their common plan to get Eadda's husband to abandon her through the childlessness had not worked out, but she still did not want to give her husband a child which is why she continued to take the drink that her brother made for her. Even if she paid for it, every day anew. She was worthless to her husband, a toy with which he could do as he pleased whether she gave him a son or not, he would still be happy to mistreat her. The two would have loved to poison Ethan, but Eadda would have been blamed for the murder and had she been thrown into the dungeons, she would undoubtedly have fared even worse than her marriage and so they failed to do so and continued to meet at the kitchen window.

He tied his horse to a tree a bit away from the village before he hurried to fix the light of the lantern on the window and stopped below, then he knocked softly against the pane with a branch lying around. The casement opened immediately and as far as it was possible.

"Eadda?" Yary called up softly.

But it wasn't until she answered that he was completely reassured.

"Yes, I’m here," her voice sounded weak and powerless through the narrow opening.

Then she quickly let a hook attached to a rope down to him on which he hung the bag he was carrying. She pulled the little bag into the house through the window, and half a minute later it came back out the same way. As always there was an empty glass vial in it – the sign that she had taken her herbal drink.

“The pastries were left over last night. We had guests and the maids had baked too much as I instructed,” he said quietly.

“Thank ya, Yary. Wot would I do without ya..."

When Eadda's voice faded into a murmur, tears welled up in his eyes they couldn't even see each other and all he heard was her low desperate voice. He sat down on the floor under the window and leaned against the wall then pulled himself together and told her about the latest happenings in the Blake house. Aside from the guests they had received there was only one thing worth telling.

“Sean was promoted to lieutenant the day before yesterday. Father and mother are very proud of him, he has come a lon’ way in such a short time. After all, he's only just eighteen years old. But ya know that. They even went to the market yesterday and passed the news around,” Yary reported cheerlessly.

"It's a shame ya can't convey my congratulations to him," Eadda said through the window.

Their meetings were kept secret, nobody knew that Yardleyu went to Walsh's estate regularly to speak to his sister but he hadn't seen her since their wedding. In his memory it was a black day, he couldn't bear to see her standing there in the white wedding dress that made her look like an angel. In her eyes he could have read the fear she must have been in and Walsh had stood next to her and smiled. When the cleric had explained the duties of the married couple and all the guests present were to pray for numerous descendants Yary had turned away and left the place in a hurry, he had gone down the hill, sat on a tree trunk and wept.

After a moment of silence, Yary asked, "Ya like the pastries?"

"Very well indeed!" A touch of enthusiasm was in her voice and a smile flitted over her brother's features then he fell silent again and let her eat in peace.

A few minutes later he pulled a book out from under his cloak. "This time I brought a book about La'zhij with me as ya had wished." A faint cheer came down to him from the window and with a smile on his face he whispered a few unintelligible words causing a glowing ball to float out of the palm of his hand.

When the magical source of light stopped in the air above his head he began to read Eadda from the book about the island of La‘zhij, the capital Davaj and the elves who inhabited it. They sat like that until dawn Yardleyu on the floor next to the house and Eadda inside by the kitchen window.

At some point she interrupted him excitedly, “Yary, be quiet! I hear his horse comin’!"

The light bullet disappeared instantly and he hastily tucked the book back under his coat, stood up and pulled the hood over his head.

Eadda whispered softly through the narrow opening, “Thank ya for this wonderful night. It's so good to hear yer voice. Take care of yerself."

"Ya too," he wanted to answer but by then she had already closed the window and turned off the light of the lantern.

Yary picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder then peered around the house to the stable where Ethan was unsaddling his horse, watering and feeding it. He watched his brother-in-law with a grim expression and would have liked to have fired a few magical projectiles at him. When Walsh had disappeared with self-confident steps towards the house, Yary hurried on his way home, he knew exactly what was going on in this property and wanted to be far enough away before he ran the risk of hearing something.

'Bad enough that I know...' he thought.

Arriving at the point of the path where it went steeply downhill, he reined his brown mare. Like every time he visited his sister at night he stayed there, it made him feel like he could help her with what was about to happen. When a few minutes later the light shone from the bedroom window of the Walsh couple he began to cry silently, thick tears rolled down his cheeks and into his beard while he sat on his horse and swayed his torso back and forth in despair.

Only when the light went out did he slowly calm down and realise that he had left traces in the snow for the hundred meters to the house which at this time of year only stayed at the top of the Weather Point for more than a few hours. With a gentle movement of his hand came a light wind which he let blow over his footprints and thus made them unrecognizable. Nothing now indicated that his sister had received a nightly visitor. It was already noon again when the hooded figure passed the city gate again and again nobody looked at him.

Eadda hid the remains of the apple she had just eaten, then hurried up the stairs to the bedroom, crawled quickly under the sheets and pretended to be asleep. She had been wearing the nightgown the whole time in case Ethan came home earlier than expected and she had to admit that she had had a glass of water in the kitchen.

A short time later, her husband came up the stairs, opened the door and entered the room she stood up without a word and lit the lamp on the bedside table then she knelt in front of him on the floor and prepared to pull down his pants.

"No’ today," he growled and pushed her aside so that she fell full-length.

He undressed himself while Eadda got up undressed, too, and laid back on the bed.

When he came to her, he turned her onto her stomach pulled her onto all fours and asked, "Are we as mute as a fish again today, Eadda?"

She was silent closed her eyes and thought of her brother, of his voice which gave her the strength she needed to stay alive while Ethan angrily went to get the knife. She had last heard from Yary just a few minutes ago, but she was already longing for the day he would come back to read to her again.

When Ethan came back with the knife, he set the blade down on the bedside table before caressing her scarred back. “Ya know with these scars no one else will ever love ya. Niver,” he whispered. Then he began the whole cruel procedure again after which Eadda would get another scar on her back.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 6 - Light

Weather Point, Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Caligon of the year 66

It was already late in the evening and Sean didn't even bother to knock but simply marched into the library, Yardleyu looked up angrily from his documents.

"As if the civil uprisin’ last week wusn' bad enough, strange thin’s are happenin’ in the city, too," began Sean and sat down on the stool in front of the desk, they looked at each other seriously.

"Tell me more ‘bout it," Yary asked, putting the quill aside.

“It started sum time ago, but so far the army hasn’ paid much attention to it. But since the reports of wild beasts wanderin’ the streets at night and attackin’ people indiscriminately are pilin’ up, the troops are on alert and patrollin’ the streets," said Sean in a husky voice. “I'll be joinin’ ‘em shortly. Stay in the house at night and lock the doors an' windows."

"Ya don' know any more about it yet?" Yary asked inquiringly.

Sean who was already wearing the undergarments of his armour rubbed his temples. “A man who escaped spoke of a wolf, a giant beast that wus able to climb a building. As I said the attacks mainly took place at night under cover of darkness.” Sean looked up and was silent for a moment. “It scares me, Yardleyu. Lately people are dyin’ every night. An' Kavanagh doesn' do anythin’ ‘bout it."

Yary just nodded silently as he got up and went to a bookshelf.

'Wolves...' he thought.

Sean also got up. “Just dedicate yerself to yer books. I have to leave now," he said acidly, left the library and closed the door behind him.

Yary found the book he was looking for and took it off the shelf before checking the windows. Those were tightly locked but to be on the safe side he closed the heavy curtains and then went back to his desk. Before starting to read, he thought of his sister and decided to bring her home first thing tomorrow, no matter what her husband and family thought of it. Only here was she really safe.

Eadda knelt on the floor and used a brush to scrub the floorboards in Ethan's room across from the bedroom which he liked to find sparkling clean when he got home. It was cold in the house, the water on her hands cooled quickly and made her skin rough and cracked. Even though her knuckles were already bleeding, she continued to clean.

Then she heard a loud crash from below.

She jumped up, ran over to the dressing room and pushed the heavy vanity in front of the door with all her strength. At the bottom of the cabinet was her dagger well hidden from her husband's sharp gaze. He was just on duty and wouldn't be back until the evening so she would have to defend herself. Presumably, it was robbers who were after the valuable belongings that had to be in a property like this.

The young woman took the dagger out of its sheath and backed away to the furthest corner. She held the weapon towards the door and waited. Only seconds later she heard noises from the other side, footsteps approaching across the bedroom and someone rattled the handle of the door behind which she had barricaded herself.


This voice was familiar to her, she immediately let go of the sharp blade which fell with a clatter to the floor and laboriously pulled the vanity aside before she opened the door and faced her beloved brother. While they looked at each other, Yary's eyes filled with tears. Stunned he went on his knees in front of her, one hand pressed to his mouth and stared at her, shaken.

'She looks so different…' he thought.

Her thin emaciated body was in one of the dresses her mother had sewn for her before her wedding but it was not a splendid robe as it used to be, but a rag that was staring with dirt and full of holes which was now much too big for her. Her hair was short and didn't even reach her shoulders. Some strands stood up in a tangle from her head. Even her face looked so different that he would not have recognised his own sister on the street.

Protruding, cloudy eyes above the pale, sunken cheeks looked at him in confusion when she asked in a thin, powerless voice, "Are ya... are ya really ‘ere, Yary? Or am I dreamin’?"

He grabbed her hand and pulled her close so that she also fell on her knees, then he put his arms around her and carefully hugged her. Still crying he stroked again and again what was left of her once long, beautiful hair.

"I am here, Eadda, I'm here..." Yardleyu sobbed and cradled his little sister in his arms who didn't move or make a sound. "Wot did he do to ya..."

He held Eadda for a long time and cried until there were no more tears then he picked her up from the floor and carefully put her on her feet. "I'll take ya away from here, back home."

She stared at her brother incessantly just nodded still confused and didn't seem to fully understand that her ordeal was now over.

"Ya want to take sumthin’ with ya before we both get out of here?" he asked a little more calmly.

Nodding again she turned around, picked up her dagger and sheathed it back in its sheath, then a tentative little smile stole onto her face. "We can go."

Yardleyu put one of her cloaks around her shoulders before he took her by the hand and led her through the broken-in front door to the outside where his horse was waiting.

Although it was Caligon, the first month of the new year, it was one of the few days when the sun shone through the clouds.

"Wait a moment," asked Eadda, holding her face blissfully in the warm rays while he watched her touched.

He gently took the dagger from her hand and stowed it in the saddlebag then hugged her again. "Let's go home."

Eadda nodded and skilfully climbed into the saddle while Yary took a seat directly behind her and held her while he drove the horse to a gallop and steered it onto the road to town. 

They rode over the bridge to the market square and then turned left to the property where Yary finally reined in the brown mare and dismounted. His sister followed him to the ground and patted the animal on the neck in praise.

The servant was already hurrying over and with a startled glance at his master’s daughter took the reins to bring the horse back to the stable. Eadda took the dagger out of the saddlebag and walked towards the property with her brother.
In the entrance hall a maid was busy sweeping the floor. When she saw the two of them come in, she excitedly called for her masters who hurried up immediately and Sean came down the stairs, too. Eadda looked embarrassed at the floor when she noticed the horrified looks of her family, she expected trouble like she always got when she got back home. But Sean went up to her surprisingly and hugged her wordlessly. Abigail turned around and hurried into the kitchen and one could hear how she yelled at the servants to warm water for a bath. Faegan merely nodded to his only daughter, then went back into the parlour he had come from. He couldn't stand the sight that worried his otherwise cold heart.

The kitchen door opened again her mother came up and hugged her regardless of the dirty clothes. “It's good to see ya again, child. The girls will fix ya a bath. Come along."

Eadda looked at Yary, he also gave her another brief hug and took the dagger from her hand again. “Go. I'll wait for ya in the library."

She followed her mother upstairs into the wash room who was constantly muttering curses that were meant for her son-in-law. 

To Eadda's surprise the entire family was shocked by what had happened to her and it was them who had forced her to marry Ethan.

Arriving at the bathtub Eadda asked, "Mother, I ask yer forgiveness many times, but I would like to wash myself alone, if ya allow me."

“Sure, Eadda. I'll just get ya clean clothes." Abigail couldn't shed her old ways. She didn't seem to have realised that her daughter was now a grown woman who could keep herself alive for years without her. One could still see the shock at the condition of Eadda, she was pale as a sheet. If she had always assumed her child was in good hands, she had now been taught better.

Eadda stopped her. “Are there any of my old things here? Could I get sum of it please?"

"Course." Her mother quickly left the room and hurried down the hall to look for the clothes she had asked for.

The maids had already poured the water into the brass tub when Abigail returned. She actually had trousers and a shirt with her along with simple underclothing and stockings made of linen as well as her beloved black leather boots which were polished to a shine. Eadda thanked her warmly, she hadn't expected that Abigail hadn't disposed of the things. Only after her mother had left the room did she take off her dress and step into the pleasantly warm water into which the maids as usual had given herbs and milk.

She hadn't been allowed to bathe for what felt like an eternity. Ethan hadn't allowed her, he had only had her fetch cold water from the well behind the house and she had to wash herself with an old sponge crouching in a small wooden tub.
Eadda lay in the bathtub for a few minutes with her eyes closed and enjoyed the warmth of the water that washed around her battered body, but she still couldn't really believe that she was actually back home. Carefully she began to wash herself from head to toe, not leaving any place out, washing away all the worries and fears, trying to push the memories of Ethan far back and lock them in a dark corner of her mind. Then she dried her finally clean, fragrant body, rubbed her short hair with the woollen cloth until it was almost dry and looked in the mirror.

She couldn't remember what her face had looked like on her wedding day the last time she looked at herself but she looked bad. One of her eyes was black. She turned around and looked at her back which had gotten worse than the rest of her body. Numerous scars shimmered on the light skin, the fresher cuts had not yet healed properly, three of them were even bleeding. Apparently, she had not been careful enough. Actually, she would need an ointment for it, but she would not be able to get there on her own and then she would have to ask her mother who she would rather spare the sight, so she grabbed her clothes and got dressed.

She had to turn the waistband of the pants a few times so that they wouldn't slip down, only the boots still fitted her perfectly, but she didn't care about any of that, she was glad that she no longer had to wear a dress.

Eadda left the wash room, walked down the hall and stopped in front of the library the door of which was open. But she didn't dare just go inside, so she waited until her brother looked up from his book and waved her inside.

"Come and sit down please," he asked as he approached her.
He pointed to the armchair by the fireplace where it was warm, and closed the door behind her after she entered.

She walked slowly to one of the seating furniture and took a seat by the fire then she looked at her brother who had also sat down.

“I canno’ quite believe I'm home again. It seems so unreal to me,” she muttered.

Yary smiled cautiously. "I missed ya."

"Missed ya, too, big brother," she whispered back and returned the hesitant smile. After a minute she continued much more seriously, “If ya hadn' visited me so often, I probably wouldn' be sittin’ here. Yer voice kept me alive; a light in the dark."

Yary nodded. “They were for me, too, the days when I went to the window. Even if it hurt to return home."

"How lon’ have I been gone?" she asked flatly even though she feared the answer. She wanted to know how much time in her life Ethan had robbed her.

Yardleyu did the maths then stared at his knees. "In a month it would have been six years."

'Six years…' she thought.

Eadda nodded silently, for a while they just sat across from each other and savoured the other's presence. “Why did ya brin’ me home right now? An' how will it go on now? I don' have to go back to him sumtime?"

He shook his head violently. “No, ya niver have to return to him, I swear. No matter wot, I won' let it happen. The circumstances of yer return... Well, let's say there wus an accumulation of worryin’ incidents that ended up bringin’ ya here. Voynar is no longer safe. And in such a remote property ya would have been defenseless."

"Incidents? Voynar is no longer safe? Wot ya mean by that?” Eadda wanted to know and looked at him worried.

'I jus' have to tell her…' he thought.

He struggled for a moment. “There were nightly attacks on citizens an' house break-ins. Sean spoke of wolf-like creatures that climb buildin’s. Many people are dead or have disappeared. The army is doin’ wot it can, but even King Kavanagh doesn' seem to know wot's going on."

"But ya know," she whispered and looked at him steadily.

Yary nodded. “At least I think I know. Ya can probably no’ remember our grandfather Oisin, he died when we were both very young but he wus a magician like me. But unlike me he completed his trainin’ at the Magical Academy of Voynar an' had access to their library, he made a copy of a book he found there an' kept it here in this room; all these years it wus owned by the Blake family. And at sum point I found this copy an' read it. When Sean told me ‘bout the citizens' reports I remembered it and took out grandfather's old record to read it again. The original work goes back to one of the academy's chief magicians, Auhur. He wrote about a parallel dimension that has almost been forgotten today." Eadda hung on his lips and Yary continued. "A lon’ time ago a magical novice who wanted to open a portal got lost so far that he managed to get a passage to establish this dimension. When it wus noticed wot exactly wus on the other side of the portal, Auhur first began to research on behalf of the academy. But it quickly turned out that those wolves were not jus' any wild animals, but real beasts that killed indiscriminately. An' after one of ‘em was summoned an' half a library was torn apart, the arch magician wus forbidden from any further research. But Auhur didn' think of stoppin’, but summoned another beast that bit him before he could send it back to where it came from. Although the bite wus treated, Auhur wrote of the severe pain it caused him. The records end a little later." Yardleyu rubbed his forehead before continuing. "If I am right then our kingdom is goin’ to be bad, very bad. So far no one has been able to stop these beings. The people of Voynar would hardly have anythin’ to oppose them."

"Ya have to tell the King ‘bout it so that they can be relegated to their own dimension again, Yary!" Eadda had leaned forward and looked at him intently.

But her brother shook his head tiredly. “I already asked for an audience with Kavanagh early this mornin' but they won' let me see him. They think I'm crazy, they turn a blind eye to danger an' leave the citizens to their own devices. That's why I brought ya home. Yah’re only really safe by my side, Eadda."

She sat there thoughtfully and processed what her brother had just said and sounded so logical to her ears.

Eventually she asked, "If they attack us, wot can we do?"

Yary looked her in the face so gloomily that she had to gulp involuntarily before he said flatly, "Kill ‘em."


Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 7 - Burning

Voynar, Kingdom of Voynar, The Ice Lands, Fulgyr of the year 66

In the past two months Eadda's physical condition had improved significantly and she looked like she had before her wedding to Ethan, but Yardleyu was worried about her spirit. Every night she woke up drenched in sweat and screaming and he worriedly ran over to her room to check on her. Her husband haunted her in her dreams and still tormented her even though she hadn't seen him since the day she escaped from the house. However, the experience had left deep scars on her skin and soul. Contrary to Yary's expectations, he had not shown up, had not come to reclaim his wife, probably he knew how he would have been received at the Blake house.
Sean had also changed a lot in the meantime which had been shown when the three siblings had sat together in the library for one evening and talked. He had apologized to Eadda for being so mistaken about her marriage and expressed his regret over what had happened to her. In addition, the powerlessness of his military engagement in the fight against the attacks made him very troubled. There was not much left of his self-confidence and the conviction that he always did the right thing.
Yardleyu's theories became more plausible every week, and so the three of them allied and prepared for an eventual attack. Eadda regularly practised fighting with her dagger and showed astonishing skill, she was quick and fought extremely ruthlessly. Sean trained every day with her and often ended up on the seat of his pants.

The Blake parents, however, believed that Kavanagh had the state of affairs in the kingdom under control and it was only a matter of time before the excitement about the attacks subsided.
One evening the siblings were sitting together in the dining room and having a late meal.

Sean had returned from duty a few minutes ago exhausted and said sadly, “There wus another incident. A farmin’ family in Vorsted wus found dead an' even the children were literally torn to shreds. A sight that I would have liked to save myself."
“Nobody envies ya for that, I'm sure. Yah're really honoured by yer service to our people.” Yary’s reply sounded concerned.

Sean thanked him and stood up. “I am now going to rest, it wus an exhaustin’ day. Let's keep practisin’ tomorrow, Eadda. I wouldn' be a serious opponent for today."
She nodded in agreement and wished him a good night's rest before turning to Yary. “I'm very tired, too, an' will do the same. Yah’re sure to go straight to the library to read, won' ya?"

"I will, yes. I have found sum more promisin’ notes dealin’ with the Virtheriā,” he replied.

"Hopefully ya will find out sumthin’ that will help us. Good luck an' a quiet night, Yary,” she wished, hugged him, and left the room.

It was already dark when Eadda walked through the property, Abigail and Faegan had also already gone to bed and it was dead quiet in the Blake house. Also, Sean was no longer to be seen, the door of his room was locked and the young woman lay exhausted to rest. A few minutes later she was overwhelmed by a deep sleep, so that she could no longer hear the soft noises outside her window. Yary was already sitting over his books absorbed in the words that always so captivated him, he only heard the crackling of the fire in the fireplace and the scratching of his quill on the parchment.

Ethan knelt directly in front of her and reached out to strike with one hand. In the other he held a bloody knife. It was her blood. The entire bed was smeared with blood. Eadda wanted to scream, but no sound came from her lips. But she could hear screams. They sounded far away. She listened. The screams got louder and closer and she recognised her parents' voices. It sounded like they were scared to death as well.
Suddenly Eadda woke up from the dream. Her parents really screamed. Panicked, she jumped out of bed and opened the door of her room a crack. A deep roar sounded over the screams and suddenly she knew what was happening.
She rushed down the hall into Sean's room and shook him awake. "They’re here!"
He opened his eyes, for a moment didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then another roar. The screams had ceased now. Sean uttered a low unintelligible curse as he quietly got up and looked out the door. Then he took his little sister by the hand and pulled her into the hallway over to the library.
Yardleyu looked up from his book as they entered. He knew immediately what was happening and motioned for Sean to help. Together they pushed the heavy desk in front of the door.
“Hold on, I'll seal the windows. The door should hold ‘em lon’ enough.” Yary spoke softly and hurried in the other direction while Eadda and Sean pressed the table against the door.
Sean was pale as a sheet when he realised in panic, "We have no weapons."
He was right they couldn't defend themselves.
Eadda looked over her shoulder at her older brother who was standing in front of one of the windows and holding his hands against it mumbling softly. The other was covered with a blue shimmer that wafted gently across the pane. A few seconds later the second window was also sealed and the magician hurried back towards the door.
Then they heard a rapidly approaching growl in the hallway, claws scratched over the wooden floorboards.

Yary got on the table and put his hands flat on the surface of the door. When he began to mumble again, the blue glow from his palms spread slowly over the wood, like fingers that felt their way forward, searching. When the surface was almost complete something on the other side bumped into the door so hard that Yary was swept off the desk. The table also slipped a bit and the entrance opened a crack.

Before they could slide it back a hairy arm shot through the opening and long razor-sharp claws dug into the wood of the door. Above the arm were two bright orange eyes in an equally hairy wolf face. The Virtherion growled, huge bloody fangs flashing from between its maw.

Eadda stood there frozen until Sean pulled her back away from the door, he stood protectively in front of her. Yary who immediately jumped up after his fall stood next to his siblings and mumbled again incessantly. From his hands lightning-fast blue projectiles flew towards the door. They met the beast but only seemed to make it angrier. Roaring loudly, it threw itself again against the wood which cracked.
The Virtherion was over two metres tall and pitch black, it walked upright towards the siblings, a second with lighter fur followed it on all fours. Yary continued to cast spells at the two beasts but it didn't seem to affect them. The muscles of the black Virtherion tensed then it jumped directly onto the magician who immediately threw himself to the side thus avoiding the claws. The monster roared loudly again, angrily, and now set its sights on Eadda and Sean.

"Run!" Yary yelled and his brother pushed his sister in panic towards the window knocking her to the ground.

Eadda crawled under one of the expansive armchairs, the next moment Sean landed next to her on his stomach, his eyes fixed her briefly then his gaze went blank. Lots of blood ran down the floor. Torn apart flesh and entrails lay scattered next to his body. She put a hand to her mouth to suppress a scream then closed her eyes. Yary stopped muttering; he shouted words in a deep twisted voice that she couldn't understand. The hair on the back of Eadda's neck rose sharply the sound went through her marrow and bone. Then a low whine. 

She opened her eyes again. The black beast sat directly in front of her, gazing at her, drooling, and stretching out it’s claws at her. Eadda screamed and crawled away from the Virtherion. It swept the chair aside as if it were a leaf in the wind. Slowly it followed her, its gaze still fixed on her while she continued to slide across the floor away. It got on all fours and opened its stinking mouth in a roar.

When she got to the far corner of the room, she closed her eyes and curled up with her knees drawn up, her arms wrapped protectively around her head.
It was over. She was trapped. Sean was dead. Yary she couldn't hear either.
And the monster was right in front of her.

A bright flash of light illuminated the room. So bright that she could see it through her eyelids. She hardly noticed the second whimper. Neither the oppressive silence that followed. She lay trembling on the floor and whimpered lowly.

"Eadda," Yary muttered.

She raised her head and looked around for him.

The black Virtherion was gone as was the other beast. Sean's disfigured corpse lay in a huge, red puddle behind which Yardleyu stood in the middle of the room. Eadda stumbled hastily towards him and fell on his neck but he groaned in pain.

Immediately she let go of him and took half a step back. "Yah’re injured."

Yary nodded one hand pressed to his side blood oozing from between his fingers.

"Show me, I'll take care of the wound," she demanded.

“No, Eadda. It's too late,” he whispered.

Then he took his hand away anyway and she could see the bite through his tattered shirt.

For a moment everything was in suspense, became velvety dull, time stood still.

'No...' she thought.

She fell on her knees in front of him. "We have to get out of 'ere, Yary."

“I can't come with ya. Ya need to understand."

But she didn't understand. "Why no’?"

Tears. Someone was crying.

“’Cause I'm goin’ to be one of ‘em. I'm infected,” Yary whispered.

She realised it was she who was crying. "No. No, yah’re no’."

Groaning her brother pulled her up, grabbed her shoulders and shook her vigorously. “Yes, Eadda. I know it. An' ya have to flee."
"I will no’ go without ya, niver." Slowly her thoughts cleared again and she promised, "We will find a cure."

Yary was crying too now. “There is no cure. I would kill ya if I went with ya. Ya have to go alone. But before ya do that I'll ask ya a favour. Get yer dagger... an'... an' release me... Please... I don't want to become a monster…" He could barely speak, he sobbed so hard.

"No! I will no’ do that! Ya can't ask that of me!” Eadda screamed in disbelief.

Startled Yary waved one hand to keep her quiet. “If ya scream, we'll both be dead in a moment. Please go, Eadda. If I kill ya, I will niver be able to forgive myself…” His voice broke again. "Please..."

When she didn't move, he hobbled out into the hallway; he knew exactly where she kept her dagger and she followed him as expected.

As he got to her room, he took the blade from the wardrobe and handed it to her.
Eadda took it but she shook her head. “I won' kill ya. But I promise that I will find a cure and come back." 

Yary put his hand on her cheek and caressed it lovingly. “Take care, little sister. I will always love ya no matter wot I am."

Eadda was still crying. “I love ya, too. No matter wot ya are, Yary."

Despite his pain he hugged her tightly, and weeping they lay in each other's arms for a moment.

When a sting began to slowly spread through his body from the bite, he let go of her. "It begins. Quick, Eadda."

She grabbed her boots by the bed and put them on. Then they looked at each other for a long time. It was almost a reflex that made her wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him full on the mouth. A moment later she was running down the stairs with her fur coat in hand, leaving her confused, injured brother behind.

Eadda crossed the kitchen and left the building through the back exit normally used by the maids. She stopped a few yards from the property and listened.


Then distant wolf howls.

She continued on her way, hurried through the streets, always looking for cover and soon reached the unlocked, unguarded city gate. If Yary really turned into a beast and followed her, she had to make at least one attempt to shake him off. So, she climbed onto the parapet of the bridge took a deep breath and in one leap was in the ice-cold water, swam swiftly over to the bank. Gasping and panting from the cold, she pulled herself ashore with the help of a protruding root. The earth was slippery and she kept falling into the mud but at some point, she reached solid ground, ran as fast as she could through the forest and disappeared under her trap door within a second.

Yary stood in the dark room completely confused.

'Did she really...? No...' he thought.

He shook his head and shuffled out of the room going left in the hall.
A few metres further across from the stairs there was an open door. It was his parents' bedroom, their bodies laying side by side in bed, the sheets wet, soaked with blood.

The floor was also full of blood.

So much blood...

He felt dizzy, his body burned worse and worse.

'Sean…' he thought.

He had to at least see, if he was still alive.

The hallway was longer than before, the scratch marks on the floor left by the attackers' claws. He had to brace himself against the wall, but eventually he made it to the library where Sean was still in the same place.

Yardleyu Faegan Blake sank down crying next to his dead brother. The burning sensation had reached the last corner of his body and his muscles were starting to cramp, he lay twitching in the red puddle.

It cracked loudly as the bones broke and his body began to deform. He screamed as if from his senses as silver fur sprouted from his skin and his face contorted, the teeth became long and pointed, as did the nails on his fingers and toes. The fabric of his clothing stretched further and further until it finally tore.
After a few moments, the young man was replaced by a huge silver grey Virtherion on the library floor.

With a whimper, he got up on all fours, looked around, and sniffed. The subtle senses bothered him for a moment, there were too many details at once for his overwhelmed human mind.

It was bright as day in the library and he smelled the metallic note of blood in his fur, the remaining bitter smell of the two vanished Virtheriā, then a fragrant trail in the air. The tip of the nose twitched with interest. Feminine, young, healthy... delicious.

'Eadda... no…' he thought.

Against his own will, his body moved in the direction that her smell pointed him. His fine ears perceived every noise no matter how quiet, but apart from the cracking of the slowly charring logs in the fireplace it was quiet in the property. The scent led him down the hall and through the kitchen. When he got to the open door, he paused again. The various traces of smell ran through the air like coloured lines, he could almost see them. Eadda had fled the city and he was rushing through the streets with great leaps.

His own mind was no longer there, slumbering suppressed far back. The beast had taken over his body and was in pursuit and with another powerful leap he reached the bank of the river. The smell was only very faint in the churned-up mud and his nose sniffed the cold night air. He howled loudly, annoyed at having lost track before running off in another direction.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 8 - Boat

It was quiet above the trapdoor, mud smeared and freezing Eadda lay in her refuge. She had been here for four days without a bite to eat, only a sip of water in a thick-walled glass bottle was left. She had to disappear, otherwise sooner or later it would come to an end here. But where to? The wall would still be impassable and she could not return to her family's home either.

She knew she had to leave Voynar, the only way was to disappear over the sea, but she needed a boat for that, she would probably find one near the Bluffs, even if it was dangerous to go there, a plan formed in her head.

Eadda sat up and lifted the trapdoor just high enough for her to see outside through a crack. When she saw no imminent danger she pushed herself outside and crouched behind the ice rose bush, the dagger in her hand trembling with excitement and cold.
She turned south-east as planned toward the cascading cliffs and wandered off-road for hours through the wilderness always on guard and ready to hide.
The closer she got to her goal the colder it got because she was also approaching the Weather Point and thus the coldest point of the Ice Lands where despite the season of the year there was still snow. She knew that there was a landing stage for fishing boats a bit beyond the forest that lay in front of the bay and through which the only river ran – that was her goal.
When she finally reached the spot she remembered she crouched on the ground and peered between the branches of some other bush at the bank. Here, too, there was no one to be seen far and wide, but a row boat drifted in the water next to one of the boardwalks.

'It almost seems like I'm the last person in the Ice Lands...' she thought.

She watched the area for a few more minutes and when she was almost certain that no one would come, she climbed down the small slope to the water. Eadda ran as fast as she could across the slippery, icy ground towards the boat, threw her bag in and was about to jump after it when she lost her balance and fell lengthways.
As she sat up she recognised a rope that had wrapped around her ankles and so caused her stumble at the ends there were two stones, but she only realised that she had been deliberately brought down when she had seen a huge man running towards her. She hastily began to cut the fibres of the rope with the dagger, a second later she was free, struggled to get up and was immediately torn from her feet again.

"Stay there!" hissed the guy who was now crouching over her. Then he took the blade from her hand and tossed it aside a little before scanning her for more weapons.

She stammered startled, "Please... don' harm me..."

"Who are you, girl? And why can you talk to me?" the grim-looking stranger wanted to know and turned her onto her back, his black eyes literally piercing her.

"My name is Blake... Meyja Blake..." she said fearfully.

She had been told about the black-eyed men as a child, allegedly they were members of a warring tribe with Kavanagh who lived somewhere near the Bluffs in the wilderness. She had often heard the warnings about the savages better avoided, if you didn't want to be slashed, but as she got older, she had thought it was just a horror story to be told to keep her home and not hang around.

But now one of the black eyes was sitting over her and glaring at her. His braided, beaded beard and hair were as black as his eyes and there was a scar above his right brow that ran straight up over his forehead. He looked huge, not only because she was small and laying under him, he was really bigger than any normal man she had seen before. His clothes were also different from anything she'd known. His upper body was wrapped in thick fur which he had tied with a rope so that it was firmly attached to the body. The feet were in similarly tied shoes and the pants were made of coarse leather. On his head he wore a kind of cap, the skinned head of an ice wolf even its paws and claws dangled down and in his left hand he held a spear the point of which was not made of metal, but of a cut stone.

"Should I know you?" he asked studying her face again.

“Please... I'm no’ a threat to ya," she whispered in a halting voice.

The guy laughed softly. “You come from the city, right? You speak strangely, but I can understand you."

She nodded hastily, although she didn't know if it was wise to reveal her origins, but it couldn't seem to be denied either, so she stuck to the truth.

“So, should one know Meyja Blake from town? Are you anyone important?” the man asked while he was fascinated by twisting a strand of her half-length red hair between his fingers to look at it.

"No, I am no’," she replied.

He grinned strangely and she could see a row of snow-white teeth. “So, an unimportant girl tried to steal a boat. Why does someone like you need a boat?"

“Please forgive me, it wusn' my intention to steal. I... I have to get out of the Ice Lands, that’s why I need a boat," she admitted shivering. She was still laying in the snow and the cold crept inexorably into her body. Despite the fur coat she was increasingly freezing.

The giant had apparently noticed, at least he got up and easily lifted her to her feet before kneeling down in front of her so that he could look into her face he was about three metres tall.

"Why do you have to leave?" he asked suddenly appearing suspicious.

She noticed movement behind him and pointed to the spot. “We should both run. If I'm no’ mistaken I just saw a Virtherion there."

"A what?" he looked over his shoulder and got up just as the hairy snout of a bright Virtherion pushed out of a bush. "What kind of lazy spell is that?" muttered the giant pushed Meyja behind him and raised his spear.

When the Virtherion jumped at them with a growl the man threw his weapon at the attacking beast which had just been in the air and could no longer evade. With a disgusting noise the stone tip dug into the body and the Virtherion fell into the snow where it slipped a little further and lay right in front of the giant's feet.

Eadda looked startled down at the twitching corpse which after a few seconds shrank, leaving behind the human whose appearance the beast had suppressed. It had been a woman, young, pretty and blond like most Voynarians, her blue eyes staring into nothing and her body bare except for the tatters of a simple robe. Eadda turned away hastily and pressed a hand over her mouth. She had to fight back tears because the sight of the dead had reminded her of Sean.

The giant turned her with a jerk and snapped at her, "What was that, girl?!"

“A Virtheria. The reason I want to leave Voynar behind. They are everywhere attacked my family. One of my brothers wus bitten and the other wus killed in front of me. My parents are dead too. There is nowhere to go. At least, no’ in Voynar behind that damn wall…" she muttered sniffing.

"A... what?" the guy asked with a frown.

"Virtheriā. Wolf beings that kill people or infect ‘em with their bite. A male is called a Virtherion, a female Virtheria,” she explained impatiently.

He looked at her suspiciously again. "How do you know?"

With a nervous shake of her head, she dismissed him. “It's too dangerous to stand here with ya and gab. More could come at any moment..."

Far away a howl rang out which joined numerous other wolf voices and she looked at the giant meaningfully.

"Come with me, Meyja Blake from town," the man muttered, giving her the dagger back before he took her pouch from the boat and handed it to her then he trudged ahead through the snow.

She followed him after a moment of hesitation, but he had at least protected her from the Virtheria and she was ready to grab any straw to stay alive even if it meant walking along the cliffs with a grim giant – under wrong name.

The name Meyja had just tumbled over her lips, she hadn't even thought about it, but she liked the result of her inspiration and she decided to call herself that from now on, especially since it didn't indicate her origin.

'Eadda Walsh is dead... from now on I'm Meyja Blake...' she thought.

She would have felt liberated not to have to be Eadda anymore, but too much had happened in the past few days that she couldn't just shake off. The burden of losing her brothers remained and she would miss Yardleyu more than anyone else. And although her parents were anything but considerate, she missed her mother and father who had also lost their lives.

The giant moved forward with fascinating ease while Meyja struggled to keep up. She kept falling into the snow which got deeper and deeper the further they penetrated into the wilderness.

At some point it seemed to go too far for the man because he had to stop and wait for her, so he simply picked her up after she had caught up with him and set the surprised young woman down on his shoulder before moving on. She didn't fight it just stayed silent and looked around. She had never been to the Bluffs before, the stretch of land owed its name to the porous coastal structure, parts of which repeatedly plunged into the icy floods and which thus worked its way deeper and deeper into the interior.

Blackeye – as she had quietly baptized him – circled the cliffs with unbelievable speed, after half an hour they had passed the southernmost point and Meyja had become a bit queasy at the sight of the steep cliff on her left. But he followed the unperturbed path that led exactly to the east and to the coast. It was only when a waterfall fell from the mountains to their right that he set her down on the ground.

“You are small enough and you can walk behind it. And I can jump better, if I don't have to carry anyone,” muttered the giant before taking a run and crossing the wide trickle that poured a few metres further into the bay.

She hurried towards the falling mass of water and pushed herself with her back pressed against the rock just past certain death. Here the snow was no longer so deep and she could go on herself, followed him in silence through a small grove of dark-looking conifers until she stopped astonished.

It was located high above the sea on a headland from which one had a clear view of the rough sea on the surface of which was foaming spray. But that was not the reason for Meyja's astonishment, but the village that lay before her. Blackeye was just one of many, there was hustle and bustle everywhere. It smelled of burnt herbs, the houses they lived in were just tents made out of hides from animals. Men, women and children went about their trade, played or talked – and they all had the same black hair and eyes as the man who had saved Meyja. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 9 - Purification

Meyja hurriedly closed her open mouth again when she was eyed by the black-eyed people and a menacing-looking man who was even bigger than the guy who had brought her rushed towards her.

"Askil! Why are you bringing a human here?!" the giant barked furious.
The rescuer hurriedly lowered his head knelt down immediately and Meyja hastily followed suit.

“Forgive me, Airikr. I take responsibility for her. Her name is Meyja Blake and she can talk to us. There was an incident that worried me, and it seems that she knows more about why I want to introduce her to the elder,” said Askil.

Airikr just grunted sullenly and looked down at the young woman.

"He saved me from a Virtheria, that’s right," Meyja confirmed quietly.
"Get up," ordered Airikr and she did as she was told. "What is that supposed to be, a Virth...?"

With a cautious nod Meyja looked up at him and explained, “A Virtheria. It wus a woman and the origin of it all is believed to be sum kind of disease or curse that spreads quickly and turns people into vicious wolves. They are all over the Ice Lands. Many Voynarians have already fallen victim to ‘em, including my entire family. Down there on the cliffs, Askil – as ya called him – saved my life."

Airikr's expression changed suddenly, he looked incredulous and fearful at the same time. "Are you talking about the wolf spirits, girl?" he wanted to know and in turn went down on his knees in front of her to look her in the face as Askil had already done.

Meyja shrugged helplessly while looking into his black empty-looking eyes which looked even more unsettling under the bushy dark brows. "I... I don' know. My brother called the beings Virtheriā, I do no’ know much more than that. Only they should come from another dimension," she replied in a whisper.

She had a lump in her throat and had to pull herself together so as not to cry whilst she felt increasingly uncomfortable in the middle of the village while more and more black-eyed people joined them. They obviously viewed her as a stranger and perhaps even as a threat. Secretly she was glad that Askil was still here, but when she glanced over at her saviour, he stared at her with the same horror that spoke from the rest of the black eyes.

"Spirit Wolves..." breathed Airikr marked by bewilderment.

Meyja almost started to cry and pleaded with a halting voice, "Please... please don' do anythin’ to me... I'm innocent, I had nothin’ to do with any of this…"

“Askil, bring her to my tent. Asta and Aric, call the council together! I'll notify the elder!” Airikr yelled stood up and looked around wildly while the black eyes ran away in all directions.

Then he went away without answering her and Meyja looked fearfully at Askil who simply picked her up and carried her to a huge tent.

"Askil? Is that yer name?“ Meyja asked. “I ask ya no’ to harm me. It's no’ my fault, I swear."

He had to duck his head quite a bit when he pushed aside the fur that was hanging in front of the entrance and entered the warm tent, in the middle of which he finally set Meyja down and looked down at her.

“Nothing will happen to you, Meyja Blake from town. At least the Ares won't hurt you,” he replied with a wink and a tiny smile on his lips.

She had already feared for her life whether the men and women who looked threatening and whom she had been warned of since she had been able to walk. Nevertheless, she was still not clear what was happening around her and what the black eyes were all about, after all, she had been explicitly referred to as a human being which suggested that Airikr's subordinates weren't.

"Ares? Is that the name of yer people? And ya all have a name that starts with A?” she asked further.

Askil gave a little laugh then nodded and pushed her over to a huge stool sat across from her and watched as she had to climb onto it to take a seat, too.

"You’re a strange person, Meyja Blake from town," he smiled and pushed his hood back.

He held out his shovel-sized hand and when she reluctantly put hers in, he lifted her arm and looked at it.

"So narrow..." he muttered fascinated.

"Ya Ares rarely seem to meet humans," she replied, just as confused as her saviour.

The whole situation was absurd, humans and Ares lived almost as neighbours in the Ice Lands and knew each other, but apparently the giants were just as alien to the people as they were the other way around.

“You're right, Meyja Blake from town,” Askil began.

She interrupted him, "Meyja is enough."

With a nod he continued, “Then Meyja. But you're right, we don't see humans very often and they see us even less often. And you're the first human I see with my own eyes. We are told we cannot speak to you because your language is different. But I understand you. Why is that?"

"I don' know and I speak as usual, I can't explain the whole thin’ either," she replied quietly and let him look at her hands more closely.

Then she noticed the warmth that reigned inside the leather tent walls, so she freed herself and pushed the fur coat off her shoulders.

Askil gently reached for her hand again to pull back the sleeve of her linen shirt and examine her forearm.

"You also don't seem angry as humans have been described to us Ares from childhood," he replied letting go of her arm and looking her face again.

“I know similar stories from my childhood. The talk was of barbaric savages - yah’re called black eyes in Voynar. We've always been told to stay out of the woods near the Bluffs, if we don' want to be slashed,” she muttered.

Askil snapped and jumped from his stool. "We would never do that!"

Meyja raised her hands soothingly and hastily apologized, “Askil, please calm down. These are just the stories I heard. I niver thought it was the truth anyway. I'm sorry..."

He sat down a little more calmly and looked into her face so that she looked down.
When she felt his finger brushing her hair, she backed away from him because she found the gesture uncomfortable.

He had put his hands back in his lap when he mumbled, “Sorry, Meyja. I'm only interested. I've always been told that you humans have white hair. To see a fiery head is very amazing. Like those eyes. Not like ice but like water."

She nodded a little embarrassed. “I'm unlike the other people from Voynar. Red hair is also very rare there and my eyes are a very dark blue in contrast to those of the others."

“But it's not just your hair and eyes that seem different. My teacher told me about the darkness in people's hearts, about their depravity and their anger,” Askil replied thoughtfully. "You, on the other hand, have pain in your chest." 

She took out her dagger, first severed a loose thread of her linen shirt before cutting off a strand of her hair and tying it up with the linen thread. "A humble gift for savin’ my life," she muttered, handing him her hair.

Askil accepted it almost reverently. “To give of one's earthly born fire is anything but modest. I thank you, Meyja."

As she was about to answer him, the fur in front of the entrance was pushed aside again and Airikr stuck his head in. "Come with me. The elder is waiting for us,” he ordered gruffly.

Askil got up again with a short nod and waited for Meyja who hastily put on her coat.

Fearfully she stumbled after her rescuer who led her out to Airikr and across the village where she was again examined with black eyes. The path led them out of the tent city and up a slope where there was another single tent and the smell of herbs grew stronger as they approached.

"Wait here a moment. I'll announce us,” Airikr mumbled and pushed aside the fur that was hanging in front of the entrance before he disappeared into it.

Meyja obediently stood still, still too scared to look around, so she just stood next to Askil and was silent.

She could hear Airikr's voice inside the tent, “Arnor, I honour you. The whisperer is here, she's waiting outside."

Whisperer..?‘ she thought.

"Let her in," replied a second voice that sounded old and kindly in a way.

Airikr pushed his head outside towards her and nodded then let the young woman and Askil into the dwelling where she faced an ancient-looking giant who was sitting on a stool enveloped in the vapours of various burnt herbs.

His hair was pitch black and dropped almost to the floor, his eyes jet black like the others. Tufts of dried plants dangled from the tent roof next to small shapes tied together from wooden sticks which were decorated with feathers and in the misty steamy haze of the smoke looked like bizarre works of art by a madman.

"Good afternoon, whisperer. I'm Arnor, the eldest of the Ares” the stranger began in a friendly manner and pointed to an empty stool across from him.

Meyja shyly pushed herself up even if it took a little effort because the seat was also at the level of her back here. "Thanks," she mumbled cautiously after she was seated.

Airikr and Askil also sat down on stools and the latter reported in detail about the Virtheria on the Bluffs.

When Arnor looked at Meyja again his face looked even paler than before and the white border around the black iris had disappeared, so that his eyes looked like empty holes in his skull.

"Spirit wolves," he breathed aghast.

Unsuspectingly, she shrugged her shoulders. “I don' know, please forgive me. I know of another name for these beasts. My brother called ‘em Virtheriā."

The eldest nodded encouragingly and Meyja told what she had learned from Yary about the Virtheriā, without leaving out a single detail while the three giants were hanging on her lips.

"...and that’s all I know," she finished and swallowed at the gloomy faces that sat across from her.

Arnor nodded slowly. “I thank you, whisperer. Your words were very precise."

She replied cautiously, "If you will allow me, I would like to ask a few questions."

"Ask, child," said Arnor.

Meyja asked, "Wot is a whisperer?"

Arnor smiled and pointed at her as he explained, “You are one, as you surely have already noticed. We call those who are able to speak to us whisperers. However, it has been many decades since we last met a representative of your race who possessed this rare ability."

“That leads me to my next question. Askil already said that I wus the first human he ever saw and yet we all live in the Ice Lands. In Voynar the children are even told stories ‘bout – as yah’re called there – black eyes. It is said that yah’re cruel and that ya have to be kept away from yer people, if ya want to stay alive, but now I have been rescued by Askil and I am still alive. Is it only thanks to my ability to speak to ya? And why can I do it at all? Nobody taught me,” she continued researching.

“Humans and Ares once lived side by side, our home was the flat land around the Bluffs. Only every few years a so-called whisperer was born among the humans. I don't know how you earn this gift or how exactly it happens that so few people can speak to us. But they all shared a pleasantly deep voice, like yours. Presumably, it is a miracle or an ancestral blessing. The reason for your survival is probably Askil's good heart and his feeling for the uniqueness of you,” Arnor replied with a smile on his face.

"Ya just mentioned ancestors which suggests yah’re shamans," remarked Meyja.

"Your people learned shamanism through us, even if they call it differently today," explained the elder before his expression darkened again. “However, the magicians of man began to change our teachings, using the forces of nature and the elements to do things that the Ares vehemently opposed. The conversations with your leader were fruitless because he did not feel responsible for them and said that he could not stop the progress of the Academy just because someone had concerns. But we didn't give in and Airikr threatened the magicians with the consequences of their actions. A conflict arose that neither humans nor Ares were soon able to bring under control. Then the last whisperer we knew died and no one was able to understand what we were getting at. For this reason, they soon hunted us down and drove us up here into the mountains."

Airikr muttered an apology, got up and left the tent while Arnor and Askil just sat there.

Meyja had already listened to the terms magician and Academy which she closely associated with her brother and despite the lump in her throat and wet eyes she asked, "Wot did the magicians do?"

“That's a big question, my child. Let me go a little further to explain the circumstances of all this sufficiently,” he asked and waited for her nod before continuing. “You are probably familiar with shamanism, but you cannot know how the Ares practice it because you are far too young for that and this knowledge was probably forgotten by your peers’ decades before you were born. Shamans make contact with the hereafter, with the ancestors, and the deceased as well as the elements. This connection to the hereafter is sacred to us and we devotedly honour both the ancestors and the elements. Those who call themselves clerics and are seen in Voynar as something like their church once had the task of healing injuries and helping people a long time ago. In the meantime, their teachings have been eroded and a cleric earns himself a salary by using the knowledge of herbs and alchemy to make potions and tinctures that do more harm than good. They are poison mixers who can produce terrible effects by filling wilfulness, insanity and worse in glass vials and selling them for gold to anyone rich enough. Power in bottles, I can hardly call it any other way. Magicians are nothing more than former shamans who have learned to use their spiritual resources and their minds to cast a wide variety of spells.

“The Academy in Voynar is mainly concerned with the magic practised by magicians and there they gather to research... They build portals to other dimensions, throw fireballs or lightning bolts, build glowing barricades they call shields and with all that, they're not even the worst this world has ever seen. The teachings of the shepherds of souls were forbidden even in the depraved city of Voynar before the Ares could be driven out. These also go back to shamanism, but a shepherd of souls uses their knowledge to subjugate the souls of the hereafter, they bind them into worldly objects or form a kind of deadly mist out of them. You have to know that the souls in this world have an unimaginable power which not only elevates whoever practices this witchcraft above all other magicians, clerics or shamans, but also corrupts them. It poisons the shepherd's mind and emotions. And that's what people did. They have used the wise, considerate, and peaceful teachings to pursue their own ends. Even if some people presumably have honourable intentions, it is still wrong to seize something larger that poses an unforeseeable danger."

“I understand.” Meyja remembered something and she remarked, “At that time I also got tea which a cleric sold to my parents. From the day I was eight years old I had to drink it every evenin’, even if I didn' understand why for a lon’ time. My mother said it would make me a real woman."

Arnor nodded. “I am aware of the circumstances affecting this tea. And I'm very sorry that you've been exposed to this, child. I hope you haven't suffered any deformities?"

"Deformities?" she repeated worried.

“Well, this concoction is given to high-born girls so that they mature prematurely. The aristocracy wed their offspring at a very young age and tea sets processes in motion that make the girls' bodies grow faster,” explained the eldest patiently. “In the time before the Ares were evicted, I often saw children who had parts of their bodies developing incorrectly as a result. The young women who should actually still be girls at this age sometimes only had one well-grown breast, or both were much too pronounced. Small body size is also one of the possible consequences of tea. Then the parents usually sought help from the shamans because the clerics refused to admit their mistake and were not ready to help. Later it often happened that these girls – even if they had already given birth – could not have any more offspring because the early onset of fertility bleeding did not materialize."

Meyja thought of her family none of whom had been particularly small in contrast to her. "Then I was probably lucky."

She didn't want to tell the two strangers that she had started bleeding when she was twelve and that this unpleasant phenomenon had disappeared after two years. Nor did she want to mention the potion Yary had made for her. In the end, she ran the risk of Arnor giving her some kind of treatment that would cause her to become fertile again and still bear a child if a man were to abuse her again.

“You’re a strong young woman. The first impression didn't deceive me,” said Arnor with a smile. “Our whereabouts are secret and Askil was actually instructed to kill anyone who could find out about us. But at the same time, he probably noticed your aura and that you’re a whisperer. In addition, the fire and the water. It was an extremely lucky coincidence that brought you to us."

She frowned at him, the meaning of his words she didn’t understand because in her own eyes she was nothing special at all.

“Only in the strongest do the elements of fire and water manifest themselves together. Your red hair and dark blue eyes show your will and your inner strength,” added Askil.

At that moment Airikr returned and exchanged a meaningful look with the elder.
"Airikr, we have to take precautions," Arnor opened. "Now it is up to us to put an end to this threat."

"Wait! Put an end to it? My brother is one of ‘em!“ Meyja exclaimed and she started to cry involuntarily.

Arnor held up a hand, silencing her, then declared, “We're not going to kill him, don't worry. But we’ll try to help them by giving them back control of their transformation. But by then you won't be here with us anymore. It is too dangerous to be in the north of Abarglen these days and we will take you away from here tomorrow, so that you are safe when we begin the purification."

“But I want to stay and see my brother,” Meyja objected vehemently.

Airikr gritted his teeth audibly and Askil was silent while Arnor continued to appeal to the young woman's reason. “You may be the last whisperer in this world, Meyja Blake. Your life is too valuable to be so easily compromised. In addition, we Ares are very few, which could well result in us not achieving success and being wiped out ourselves. And then I want to know you’re far away, too, before you become one of the spirit wolves. If we find your brother, we'll let him know you're okay, and help him find you. I promise it."

She nodded as she wiped her eyes. “His name is Yardleyu and my real name is Eadda. When Askil threatened me, I lied about my name. But I will continue to call myself Meyja when I have left the Ice Lands." The tears just wouldn't go away, so she got up. “Can I get a moment to myself outside? I swear I'm no’ up to anythin’. I'll leave my dagger here, too."

Arnor waved generously. “Go ahead and keep your weapon. I know that you don't mean any harm to us."

With another nod she went to the exit and slipped past the fur into the open where she looked around briefly before heading for the edge of the cliff and finally stopping. As she looked down at the icy waters crashing against the land masses, she began to cry softly again.

Where are ya, Yary..?‘ she thought.

The Ares could promise her a lot, but she didn't believe that everything would turn out all right. Because as much as she felt for her brother, she could no longer feel him as she used to when she instinctively knew he was fine. Perhaps he was no longer alive, but had been killed like the poor woman who lost her life on the Bluffs.

Yary had been her everything, her light in the dark.

Her big brother who had always been there for her.

He had given her support in the moments when she had stood on the edge of a cliff as now.

But this time the cliff wasn't just in her head, it was real.

And he wasn't here to keep her from falling.

The icy wind tore at her and Meyja spread her arms, relaxed and let herself be gently rocked back and forth.

She was alone.

She was lost.

And all her attempts not to go under were in vain anyway.

When Yary was out of this world there was no longer any reason for her to hold onto what was called life.

She wanted to feel his hands that had held her face when she cried.

But he just wasn't there.

She still was alone.

Still lost.

If she just let herself go... would they be reunited?

May she see her brother again?

Just one last time?

A gust of wind hit her back and her body began to tip forward.

Then she went down on her knees crying and let herself fall into the snow where she curled up, sobbing uncontrollably.

A few minutes later Askil came to her and lifted Meyja who was still crying and shivering from the cold in his arms before he carried her back to the tent.

She didn't even feel that the Are was with her when he put her on the stool and covered her with a fur.

Askil knelt beside her and took out the strand of hair she had given him, then looked at it for a moment and began to whisper.

The hair crackled on fire, faded in the blue flames that licked up from his hand until only the thread was left with which she had tied it together.

At that second, she opened her eyes and looked disoriented at Askil.

“Take a rest, Meyja. I'll watch over you.”

Meyja spent the night in one of the tents in the village and the next morning the ship with which they brought her to safety set out to sea. Even if there was a lot of melancholy because she had to release Yary into a future that was more than uncertain for him on which she could no longer influence, she submitted to the will of the Ares and left her home behind.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 10 - New Beginning

Northaven, The Riverlands, Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 66

Northaven was a beautiful small port town at the northern end of the Riverlands and ruled by the Kingdom of Jevarish. The Ares had landed Meyja out of sight of the town and she had waded through the swampy, stinking ground to the nearest path on foot. Cursing softly because her beloved boots were smeared with mud. When she lifted her head and looked around, her slightly narrowed eyes recognized the reason for the whole misery. The Riverlands lay at the foot of Hyrunar which meant that all meltwaters ran down and was caught in the fertile soil of the Riverlands. She walked on to a road to the south where a farmer met her on a cart and took her to Northaven. It made her look like a simple traveller rather than a Voyneress on the run. Fremar, the helpful farmer, invited Meyja for a mug of beer. As they had just arrived at the port it was late in the evening, but he showed her the most important places in town before he took her to an inn.
“The dive bar here belongs to my sister. You can have a room for tonight if you want. In any case there have hardly been any guests since the war broke out. Even the residents are gradually leaving as life is difficult up here these days,” said Fremar, a tall man.
Meyja nodded and sipped her beer. "Understandable."
They talked for a while about the town and she learned that Fremar had been born in Northaven and had lived his entire life in the rivulets of the rivers. She didn't want to talk about her origins, but apparently it was harder to hide than she realised because Fremar remarked, “You don't look like you came from the north, girl. But you speak like the Voynarians I once knew in times of peace."
"That... I..." Meyja began to stammer, but then she just looked down.
Fremar put a hand on her arm and whispered, “Don't worry. I will not betray you. But you should be careful because in fact Jevarish is still at war with the north."
“I am aware of that. But there is no longer a north with which to wage war. Voynar fell," she replied gloomily.
Fremar looked at her in shock and asked, “What do you mean? Against Destrothos?"
“No, it wusn't Destrothos, they did it themselves by tryin’ to get hold of sumthin’ that did no’ come from this world. Like the undead they brought 'bout their own downfall,” replied Meyja. 
He nodded at his beer. "You don't want to tell me more about it, do you?" 
She shook her head slowly. "Sorry. It's hard, and I've already given more away than I wanted because ya helped me. To warn ya wus the bare minimum."
“I thank you anyway. And I'll talk to my sister, then you can stay here until there is an opportunity to get out of here,” Fremar replied with an encouraging wink.
 "Thanks very much. That is really very generous," remarked Meyja a little surprised and grateful at the same time.
"Never mind. We are happy when we can help,” he replied with a smile.
Finally, he said goodbye and she went to the room that the landlady kindly put at her disposal – only a bed and an old sailor's chest were in it.
Meyja was just sitting on the mattress when there was a knock, she hastily drew her dagger, and scurried to the wall next to the door before she asked, "Who's there?"
"Sala, the owner of this modest accommodation."
Meyja put the weapon away and opened the door when she recognised the voice.
Sala gave her a friendly smile. “I found some of my brother's old things here. For a little help in the kitchen, I would leave them to you and wash your own clothes.” She showed Meyja a pair of worn shirts and black leather pants.
"Sure, thank ya very much," Meyja mumbled cautiously.
The landlady laughed. She had the same smile as her brother. "Fremar wasn't lying you are really very polite," she remarked with a wink.
Meyja took Fremar's old clothes, closed the door for a moment while she changed, and then passed the dirty things out to Sala. "Thank ya again, Sala," she thanked the landlady again.
  "It's okay, you're welcome," Sala waved her off with a smile. “Just come down to the kitchen tomorrow as soon as you wake up. I'll have breakfast ready for you, too,” she added and then went down the stairs.
Fremar's clothes fit well he used to be very slim. She especially liked the pants, the soft leather that hugged the skin comfortably. But she was also a little ashamed because these people were so kind and generous although they had so little, and she herself was so closed.
Tired she returned to the bed, lay down to rest and fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
Sala was very satisfied with the work Meyja was doing and offered her to stay longer, she was allowed to live in the room, got something to eat, and a few silver coins a day. The young woman gratefully accepted the offer and spent several months in the inn. During this time, she learned a lot that had to do with the business of an inn like this one, as well as cooking, washing, and not being put up with by the guests. Ethan hardly appeared to her at night and she managed to suppress her Voynarian accent so that not everyone could immediately deduce her origin. She liked the small town very much, she almost felt at home and yet at some point she wanted to move on away from Northaven. 

The Riverlands, Kingdom of Jevarish, Ruis of the year 66

One day Fremar came to his sister's inn with interesting news. “Tomorrow a large cargo ship is leaving. It goes south to bring goods to Sharaya. Even if it only goes as far as the Darklands and you have to make the rest of the journey on a cart."

Meyja listened up. "Sharaya?"

"You said a while ago you wanted to go there," the farmer remembered and she nodded.

"That would be wonderful. But I can't let Sala down,” Meyja muttered.

Sala smiled flattered, but waved her off anyway. “Child, I expected that you would move on at some point. A city like Northaven has nothing in store for a young woman like you. I am grateful for your help and love to have you with me, but I understand it very well. Trip to Sharaya, such an opportunity does not come up here often."
The next day the huge ship cast off. Sala and Fremar stood on the jetty and waved goodbye, Meyja waved back a little wistfully. By the time the freighter picked up speed and a stiff salty breeze was blowing around her nose, she had almost forgotten them both. Her heart jumped excitedly in joyful anticipation of the capital of Jevarish, even if there was still clear melancholy because her home was now even further away than it already was.

Copyright: Larissa Doe


Chapter 11 - Innocent

"Land in sight!" The call echoed across the ship, followed by the sound of a horn.

Meyja hastily packed the few things she owned into her cloth bag, hung it over her shoulder, and pulled the hood over her red hair before she left the tiny room and made her way to the deck. She had spent a whole week on the freighter, spending almost all of her coins in order to be taken as an unplanned passenger, and had been assigned a sort of shed amid all the sacks and boxes on the lowest level of the ship. But she didn't care in the slightest, she had her peace as long as she stayed there, and could think about what she was doing in Sharaya.
Despite a week of brooding, she still didn't know, but she had to get hold of a few coins quickly so she could buy decent clothes and something to eat. At the moment, she probably looked like a beggar, or the fugitive she actually was. She was sure, however, that if there were opportunities to earn some gold in the capital, and even if it was not legal, she should not hesitate long she would consider doing anything.
The horn was blown again as she stepped on deck and a second answered far away presumably an understanding between the incoming ship and the port. The crew was bustling back and forth preparing to unload the goods. Meyja climbed the steep stairs to the stern of the freighter and stood there by the railing, at least she wouldn't be in the helmsman's way while she looked over at the land and the harbour slowly approached.
She had already known that the trip wouldn’t go directly to Sharaya which was on the west coast of Abarglen. They would have had to circumnavigate half the continent to dock in the capital and since the crew of the cargo ship only transported goods between the northern harbour and Sharaya it was probably decided to do this with horse-drawn carts and land in one of the areas east of Jevarish.
To be more precise, it was decided to moor in a gravel desert.
'Ah, wonderful…' she thought.
The harbour was in the Darklands which like the Riverlands belonged to the Kingdom of Jevarish, and to the north of which was a stinking bog, the smell of which wafted over to them from time to time. Like the gravel desert itself the harbour was not particularly inviting, it was a handful of simple buildings surrounded by a barricade made of tree trunks that had been rammed vertically into the ground. It didn't stand out significantly from the rest of the area, but was probably only to blame for the location that they docked here. There was a lot of activity on the jetty onto which their ship slowly glided, workers ran back and forth, carts were provided, and it was even more hectic on deck than before.
The helmsman turned to Meyja. "Make sure that you disembark as early as possible, otherwise you will be in the way here."
She nodded and went back down on deck, standing by the rail where she had come on the ship a week ago. Then the wooden plank next to her was pushed over to the jetty. As soon as this was safe, Meyja went ashore, and made that she got away. She wandered nervously through the harbour, huge wooden boxes with trade goods were piled up everywhere, guards in shiny silver armour patrolled between them, the golden oak leaf of Jevarish emblazoned on the dark blue tabard.
"Get away!" someone yelled from behind her and she hurriedly jumped aside.
A horse cart thundered past her, the man on the driver's seat gave her an angry look, and she raised her hand apologetically.
'I have no clue how to get to Sharaya...' she thought.
Meyja continued through the harbour until she reached the wooden fence where she simply sat on the dusty floor and watched what was happening around her.
The workers were busy either manoeuvring the goods from the freighter onto the carts, or distributing them among the piles of crates that were already standing around. All of that seemed to have to be done quickly because the freighter should probably cast off again soon, at least that would explain the whole hustle and bustle. 
In the midst of the turmoil a young man ran back and forth repeatedly addressing workers who after a brief exchange of words shook their heads before he was hurrying on.
Meyja's gaze followed the guy while she fished her provisions out of her bag and began to eat. It was warm here although there was no sun and she began to sweat under the light leather jacket that Sala had given her as well. Her fur coats would not only have been too warm, but also simply too flashy to walk around with in the south where she was better not recognised as a Voyneress. That was why she had the hood up – it had to cover her red hair. In addition, southerners would certainly freeze in this area and it would be strange, if she just walked around in a linen shirt. So, it was a tightrope walk between a new beginning and her origins which could even cost her head, if she got into the wrong people. Fremar and Sala had given her that, too, before letting her go.
The young guy who was probably only a few years older than herself was still running around among the stacks of boxes stopping one of the guards nearby. "Have you seen a red-haired girl?"
"Red-haired? No, I'm sorry,” the guard replied and also looked around.
Meyja hurriedly drew her head and the hood lower into her face, she wrapped her meal in the paper again and put it in her pocket before she got up inconspicuously and walked along the palisade behind one of the buildings where she approached the wall, leaned, and considered. She was searched for which was downright unsettling and the fact that the guy had even alerted the guards to her was all the more dangerous.
When she heard steps approaching quickly and the boy came around the corner, she grabbed him without thinking twice and pressed him against the wall with the dagger drawn.
"Who are you?" she hissed at the surprised young man who raised his hands in surrender and stared at the tip of the blade.
He opened and closed his mouth a few times before looking up and looking into her face. "I... I'm Jon... and I was asked to look for a red-haired girl... Please... please don't harm me..."
She pulled the hood off her head in one gruff movement. “You found me. And if you don't have a good explanation bad things will happen to you..." 
"No... please... it's about my cart. I was paid in Northaven to take a certain Meyja with me to Sharaya. Are... are you Meyja?” he asked desperately.
She gave him a hard push in the chest. "Who paid you?"
It struck her as suspicious especially since she did not know that anyone had paid for her trip when she had barely been able to afford the crossing.
Jon groaned in pain. "A man and a woman. I was the last to get on the freighter and before I got on board, they stopped me. They gave me a crown and said to find a certain Meyja and take her with me. The description is the same as you, but if you don't want to go to Sharaya, I'll give you the crown and we'll just forget about it, okay?"
Apparently, he was really afraid for his life, tears glittered in the corners of his eyes, and Meyja took down the dagger.
“I'm sorry, Jon. I didn't know anything about it,” she apologized and took a step back, she pulled the hood back over her head and looked around briefly, but no one had observed her. "But I am Meyja and I would like to come with you to Sharaya, if you are still willing to take me there with you."
He took a deep breath, then nodded. "Sure. I even allow myself to be threatened for a crown. But tell me something else please. Are you searched for? Because then I'll end up in the dungeons, if we both get caught together."
"No, I'm not," she replied dismissively.
He nodded again. "Please follow me. We have to set off quickly, otherwise the other carts will be gone and we'll soon be driving alone through this terrible stretch of land."
Silently she shoved the dagger back into its scabbard and followed him back towards the jetty where the ship had just cast off again and there were only a few horse carts standing around. The smallest of them seemed to belong to Jon because he swung himself on the driver's seat and took the reins in his hand.
“You can either sit next to me or back on the loading area. But we will be checked as soon as we leave Easthaven. And it'll be easier when you're up here where they can see you,” he explained.
She climbed after him and dropped down next to him on the narrow bench. “We are being checked? Why are you telling me that only now?"
Jon shrugged. “It is commonplace. You will also be checked when you enter Sharaya.” Without warning he cracked the whip and the cart started moving. “You said you were not wanted. Then nobody will ask stupid questions. Or did you lie to me?"
She kept him from stopping the team again by grasping the hand with which he had taken the reins. “Go on, everything else would be too conspicuous now. I'm not wanted either, but I'm not a citizen of Jevarish. Will that be a problem?"
He looked surprised and a little suspicious, but he replied, "No, they will only check whether they are looking for you." Then he directed the two horses towards the passage in the wooden palisade where two more carts were already waiting.
When the team of horses was checked in front of them Jon asked, "Where are you from if you are not a citizen of Jevarish?"
"Not now," Meyja growled, as she was nervously watching the guards who now turned to them.
"The papers please. Where do you want to go?" the security guard droned impassively down, apparently, he didn't do anything else for half the day and was already somewhat dull.
Jon handed him a roll of parchment. “To Sharaya. We transport fabrics and leather."
The guard glanced at the document and then handed it back to Jon while his gaze rested on Meyja. "Show me your face, hood down."
With a pounding heart and trembling fingers Meyja pushed the leather back, anxiously looking down at the man who asked his comrade to give him a list and apparently kept comparing her face with the descriptions of wanted people. "Where are you from, girl?"
“From Northaven. I was just getting off the ship that was just leaving,” she replied.
The guard rolled up the list again. "Northaven? Then where did the red hair come from? As far as I know this only happens now and then with the Voynarian traitors."
“My mother was from Voynar. She came to Northaven and married my father before the war broke out,” Meyja lied, astonished at herself because this untruth came so quickly from her lips.
But she also knew that she wasn't a particularly talented liar and feared for a moment while she waited sweating for the security guard's reaction. He eyed her for a few seconds before nodding and waving the cart which Jon then set in motion and steered the horses out into the gravel desert.
Only when they had left Easthaven far behind them did Jon put the whip aside and turned to Meyja who had leaned back breathlessly. “Voynar? Is that true?"
Since she had already admitted to him that she was not a citizen of Jevarish, she nodded honestly. "Born and raised in the Ice Lands."
"Incredible. It's even worse than travelling with someone they're looking for,” Jon muttered in disbelief rubbing his face.
She sat up again. "Why?"
“Because Kavanagh is a traitor! And thus, all Voynarians are treated as if they were also involved in the betrayal! If you get caught you will be hung! And me right next to you!” he replied angrily.
"Then you have to protect me now because you are just as deeply involved as I," she replied coldly.
He shook his head in disbelief. “You are all traitors. Why did I just get involved? I should have been taken aback by the golden coin."
“Listen, Jon. I am not a traitor. But I've lost my home and am now struggling to survive. There is no longer a Kingdom of Voynar and probably also none of the traitors as you call them. Just a bunch of vicious beasts that tear everything and everyone that comes between their clutches,” she admitted desperately, the fear that he might simply leave her behind or hand her over to the guards made her heart pound in her chest.
He just stared at her with his dark eyes, but she could see that he was thinking. “Every child in Jevarish knows about the fall of Voynar. For a little more than two weeks nothing else has been spoken of. Still, that doesn't change the fact that you belong to a people of traitors and that I am responsible, if it’s known that I have helped you. So, I'm risking my life for someone I don't even know. It's up to you to convince me not to throw you off my cart here and now and run away."
“You're helping an innocent person, Jon. I had no part in the things that Kavanagh did. My story has fooled the guards before, I can do it again. And once we're in Sharaya, you'll never see me again. I just disappear and you have a clear conscience," Meyja replied pleadingly.
She could see that he was still thinking, but then he shook his head and said, "That's not enough. It's not about my conscience either because I don't see you as innocent."
“I spared you as well. I could have slit you open in half a second if I wanted to.” She was slowly running out of already sparse arguments and she hoped that he would simply decide not to let her down because she was a woman.
He struggled with himself, she could also see that, but finally he sighed. "All right. But only up to the gates then you have to see how you get on."
There was deep relief in her heart and she smiled. "Thank you, Jon. I really appreciate that."
He just growled and said nothing. 
Then, a while later, he made a casual remark, she laughed, and a casual conversation was born. The trees which Meyja had seen approaching from a distance marked the border to Jevarish whose extensive oak forests made up the real wealth of the kingdom. Jon told her about the Jevarish fleet, built with the logs cut in the woods and the coat of arms of the kingdom on an oak leaf. That sheet was a present to King Rakuven of Destrothos which the father of today's King Forsyth had offered when the peace treaty between the three human kingdoms was signed.
After they had left the gloomy lands behind them the other teams of horses had turned at some point and they drove on alone through the bright, friendly forest over which the evening had only recently fallen.
"Isn't it dangerous to travel all alone like that?" Meyja asked when she noticed that in the event of an attack no one would be around.
Jon shook his head with a smile. “No, there are hardly any bandits or the like here. The trade route is protected. But we should still prepare a night camp, otherwise we will soon be in complete darkness."
“A-... Isn't there an inn nearby?” she wanted to know.
He just shook his head again and steered the cart into a small clearing off the road where he finally reined in the animals and jumped from the driver's seat.
"Come on, help me here a little," he asked her and she also followed him off the box.
He showed her how to unharness the horses which they tied to a nearby tree so that they could graze and relax then they put up the tent together that had been stowed under the bench of the driver's seat.
"We should make a fire. It gets very cold out here at night." Jon reached for her hand to pull her with him.
"As you think," Meyja mumbled, she wasn't cold at all, she wasn't even wearing her leather jacket.
Together they picked up branches and twigs from the ground which they carried back through the almost pitch-dark forest to their camp and piled them up. When Jon tried to ignite the pile, she stopped it and knocked the pointlessly stacked firewood over again.
“That will never burn properly. You have to put the thin branches upright in the middle, they form the base and burn quickly. Then you lean the thicker branches against it from the outside. The tinder goes into this gap,” she explained and demonstrated.
"How does a nineteen-year-old girl know how to make a fire?" he asked confused, and looked at the cheerfully blazing campfire.
"In the north your own life can depend on it," she replied, deliberately hiding the fact that she had taught herself to break away from home.
Jon reached out and stroked her cheek. "Is there more you can learn in the north that you can show me?"
She was aware of the ambiguity of his question, so she tried to disappoint him. “Just how to skin and cut animals, and which herbs are edible and which are poisonous. But that wouldn't help us much here anyway."
He didn't want to give up moved closer to her and whispered, "I didn't mean that, Meyja..."
Then he wanted to pull her shirt over her head and she closed her eyes in resignation for a moment while she clutched the lower hem. "What are you going to do?"
When she got no answer, she looked over her shoulder, and saw his horrified face.
"What happened to you?" he exclaimed stunned by the scars on her back.
Even though she was sure that if she told him the truth he would stop, she didn't want to share the knowledge of her marriage with him, so she lied, "I was a rebellious child."
She felt his fingers running over the marks. "Was that your parents?"
"Who else?" she replied glaring at him.
Jon dropped his hand and was silent for a few minutes before standing up. "Let's go sleep. It's late."
She pulled the shirt back into position and also got up then followed him into the tent which they had already furnished with some blankets to make it comfortable for the circumstances.
When they were lying next to each other and Meyja was already close to the limit of sleep, he asked quietly, "Would you like me to hug you?"
"No," she replied dismissively, but still felt his hands reaching for her and pulling her to his chest.
The next morning Meyja woke up to the sound of a passing cart and while Jon was still asleep, she crawled to the tent entrance and looked outside where some team was just moving away, theirs was still where they had left it.
Then she heard Jon's voice. “Good morning. What's going on?"
"Good morning, too," she replied before pulling her head back into the tent. "Nothing, I just thought I had heard something, but I was probably wrong."
"So? What is it?” he asked puzzled.
Meyja didn't answer, but left the tent. “I'm going into the bushes. If you follow me, I'll strangle you."
She could still hear his amused laugh as she crouched on the ground behind a hedge where she relieved herself before going back to the campfire where Jon was already waiting for her.
He handed her some bread and sausage. “I wish this trip would take longer. You're a great companion, Meyja. I feel good in your presence."
She took her breakfast in silence, sat down on the grass, and began to eat while he sat down next to her and also ate his meal in silence.
After she finished eating, she got up. "When do we get to Sharaya?"
"Tomorrow evening, probably," he replied shoving the last bite into his mouth and helping her to load the tent and blankets back onto the cart.
After they had harnessed the horses again, they drove on through the forest of Jevarish and Meyja silently prayed that nothing unforeseen would happen that would delay their journey further.
They spent most of the drive lively, and a few hours later Jon showed her how to drive the team and what to look out for if another cart came towards them then he left her alone on the driver's seat and lay down the balls of fabric to take a nap.
Towards evening Meyja had put on her leather jacket again to hide her hair and was listening to the calm step of the two horses when Jon surprisingly pulled the hood off her head. He kissed her on the back of the neck and wrapped his arms around her torso, his hand on her breast.
"Let go of me, you idiot!" she snapped and poked him with her elbow.
Laughing he dodged her and sat down next to her again. "You're doing very well."
She brought the hood back on her red hair. "With what?"
“Well, driving. I can't do better myself.” He waved the hand as she tried to give him back the reins. "Just keep driving."
She stayed silent, compliments from him weren't worth anything to her, so she just kept silent dismissively and hoped that he would shut up as well.
But he dashed their hopes by asking, “Do you still have a family? A more sociable sister, for example?” He laughed softly, apparently finding his joke very amusing.
"No, just a grim, big brother who can even take on two Virtheriā at the same time," she replied threateningly.
"What are Virtheriā?" he wanted to know.
Her heart had grown heavy, the remark about Yary had been rather spontaneous, but it had brought back the memory of him as well as the longing for him.
"The beasts that are up to mischief in the Ice Lands these days," she replied gloomily.
"And where is your brother now?"
She snapped at him a little more angrily than intended, "That's none of your business!"
"Phew, I've obviously hit a sore spot." He raised his hands in defence.
"You didn't hit anything, shut up," she hissed, threw him the reins, and stepped back over the driver's seat.
He held her hand tight. "Wait. I'm sorry, honestly. I didn't know that he... well... is no longer."
"He is not dead! We were just separated!” she exclaimed.
Then she pushed the completely perplexed Jon back and climbed over the load to the end of the team where she sat down dangling her legs over the edge and began to cry for her brother in silence. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 12 - Greetings

The sight of the gigantic city gates of Sharaya took Meyja’s breath away for a moment. She really was here, in front of the capital of the kingdom of Jevarish, on the largest bridge she had ever seen. There was a dense crowd at the crossing, countless traders waiting with their carriages to be checked and let through. Even if she couldn't see anything of Sharaya apart from the wall that surrounded the city and the gate, she was still impressed and couldn't wait to get inside.
Jon hadn't touched her since the argument yesterday, but stayed silent for most of the time, driving the cart. She was almost worried that she had upset him so much that he was now really considering betraying her.
"Jon?" she began quietly after she could finally tear her eyes away from the city wall.
She looked at him searchingly from the side. "You're not going to betray me, are you?"
Returning her gaze, he was silent for a few seconds, then shook his head with a sigh. “I thought about it, but no. I won't say a word, I promise."
"Thank you," she whispered, relieved, and breathed a reserved, emotionless kiss on his cheek.
Smiling happily, he put a hand on the spot it had kissed, and then looked at his fingers. "Thank you," he muttered, barely audible.
"I beg your pardon?" she asked.
"Nothing," he replied softly, avoiding her gaze, then handed her the reins. "Don't leave just yet please. I'll be right back."
She took the leather straps in her hand, let them slide through her fingers and wondered why he was suddenly acting so strangely. In addition, he had just disappeared from her field of vision which made her fear that he would still hand her over. Maybe there was a reward or a bounty for exposing the so-called traitors and he would draw the guards' attention to her for the money. Now she was sitting here alone and if he pretended not to know her, no one would associate him with the cart, let alone that he would be hanged with her. Still, she had no choice but to sit nervously, her heart pounding while she looked for any signs of Jon's betrayal.
A little later she spotted him among the horse-drawn carts and leaned forward, ready to jump up and run away. He approached her, snaked through the people, but apparently, he was alone and she relaxed again a little.
He climbed onto the driver's seat next to her, dropped onto the bench, and when he noticed her look, he asked, "What is it?"
"Nothing, it's okay. I was only worried for a moment that you would have whistled on me after all.” She tried to give her voice an indifferent undertone.
He shook his head gently. "I said I wouldn't stab you in the back."
"What did you do then?" she wanted to know.
With a smile he pulled a white rose from his sleeve and handed it to her. “I saw that one of the carts was loading flowers. And then I thought that you might like it."
‘Of course, a rose... Wot else…‘ she thought.
Meyja stared at the blossom which reminded her a lot of the ice roses that grew in the north and that she hated so much, but then she reached out and took the gift.
 “It's very nice. Thank you,” she muttered, sniffing the flower to cover up her lie.
She didn't understand why he gave her a rose; it didn't make any sense. For her they just sat together on this team of horses because there was something like a mutual dependency. While Meyja wanted to go to Sharaya herself, it was Jon's concern to make the days a little more pleasant by using her as company. And the rose just didn't fit that theory, no matter from which angle she looked at it.
"What do I owe you now?" she asked suspiciously.
He frowned in amazement. "How do you think I could charge something for it?"
“Nothing is free. You pay for everything in this world,” she replied quietly.
Jon thought for a moment, then said, “No, it was a gift. Because I love you, Meyja."
Now it fell like scales from her eyes. She looked at him startled, the hand in which she was still holding the flower trembled, and she was unable to say a word.
 He loved her. So that was it. No doubt he wouldn’t let her go now, but try to somehow tie her to him and she was sure that he would do it by force if necessary.
When the shock subsided and nothing but sheer panic remained, she dropped the reins and the rose, grabbed her bag, and stood up.
"I have to go," she muttered jumping off the driver's seat.
"Meyja, wait!" he shouted.
But by then she was already submerged in the crowd and disappeared from his field of vision. She hastily pushed her way between bodies, horses, and carts that she didn't really notice, nor did she hear the annoyed shouts of some people. Only when she was standing in front of a huge stone bridge pier did she stop and lean against it to take a deep breath and look around to see, if he had followed her. When she thought she heard quick steps, she pushed herself on a circumferential edge along the pillar until she could no longer be seen from the bridge.
There was a wide river beneath her that if she fell, she would probably drown. In fact, she could hear Jon calling for her, but she didn't answer, but stood exactly where she was, heart pounding, and palms sweating. Only when his shouts had subsided did she slowly tip back and jump back onto the bridge with one leap before she looked around again, pulled the hood lower over her face, and headed for the city guards guarding the gate.
"Who are you and what do you want in Sharaya?" asked the guy in the shining armour while he examined her from top to bottom.
"My name is Sala Briggs and I come to town looking for work," she lied nervously.
 Knowing that Briggs was a common name in the south, she had chosen this for her provisional alias; she had borrowed her first name from the friendly landlady in Northaven.
The guy chuckled in amusement before nodding his chin towards her headgear. "Take off the hood, girl."
Her fingers still trembling with excitement, she pushed the leather back on her neck, and revealed her face.
The guard looked very suspicious for a moment then he waved one of his colleagues over.
"Look at that. Little traitor, huh?” the second man growled and grabbed her arm.
 The first guard grabbed her other arm, then led Meyja through the gate and to a narrow wooden door with a barred window.
Her heart pounded when she protested, “I am not a traitor. Why are you doing that?"
"Shut up," ordered the second guard and knocked noisily.
After a few seconds the passage opened and the city guards pushed Meyja into a dark, cool room, in the middle of which there was a simple table and two chairs, on the opposite wall was another door through which a third guard just disappeared. The two men dragged her to one of the chairs and pushed her onto it before the second guard sat across from her and the other took up position in a corner behind her.
"Name?" the seated guy asked curtly and stared hostilely into her face.
Meyja repeated. “Sala Briggs. I'm coming..."
"You only say something when I ask, get it?" the man interrupted harshly.
She bowed her head intimidated, inwardly praying that he would ask the questions for which she had already come up with an answer, otherwise it would be over quickly for her.
"Good. What do you want in Sharaya?” he asked further.
Here, too, it was repeated. "I'm looking for work."
The two guys laughed and looked at each other for a long moment, then the second guard said with a chuckle, "There's no work for someone like you in the capital."
Now she had to put everything on one card, on the only story that seemed even in the beginning plausible, and she replied, "There are no whores in Sharaya?"
Of course, she had never considered looking for this kind of work, but there were easy girls and prostitutes everywhere, even in Northaven she had seen some a couple of times.
The guard eyed her again. “You don't look like a whore. But like one from the Ice Lands. Where do you come from?"
"From Northaven," she replied, and before he could interrupt her again, she continued. "My mother was from Voynar."
"Get Bryce," the second guard instructed the first and the first guard immediately moved to go back outside.
Then the remaining guard stared at her in silence until the door opened again and his colleague returned with another black-haired guy in an even more elaborately decorated armour.
The second guard immediately stood up, saluted, and said, “Major Bryce, this girl was picked up at the gate. She tells strange stories about her origins."
Bryce waved his hand impatiently and his two subordinates made room for him to stand together in the corner while the major sat down in front of Meyja and looked at her with his dark eyes contemptuously.
"Tell it again," he asked, his voice low and yet uncomfortably cutting.
Meyja obediently repeated herself one more time, but this time even more quietly than before. “My name is Sala Briggs, I come from Northaven and am looking for work here. I look like I came from the Ice Lands which goes back to my mother who left Voynar before the Great War, went to Northaven, and married my father there."
Bryce was silent for a minute during which he continued to look at her gloomily then he yelled, causing Meyja to wince. “She doesn't even have a Voynarian accent! You stupid idiots! Step away!"
The two guards saluted hastily and then hurried back outside while Bryce slowly stood up and took one last look at Meyja who was still intimidated and sat with her head bowed. "Strength for Kavanagh," he whispered softly and she lifted her head in amazement to look at him with wide eyes. “Dye your hair, sister. Or stay within the walls from now on."
Before she even understood what was going on, he had left the room as well and she made her come out where she stumbled down the street, her bag pressed to her chest she pulled the hood up again. Bryce also was from Voynar. He had let her know with the greeting that only people from their homeland used, and so he had just saved her.
She moved around a corner of the house and leaned breathlessly against the wall, eyes closed, trying to collect herself, and calm the pounding in her chest.
In fact, she had made it, she was standing in the streets of Sharaya, the capital of the Kingdom of Jevarish – the capital of the enemy. And that only because another Voynarian had given her life by not betraying her although he would certainly have received a handsome reward for doing so.
Besides, she was free now, she had been able to get rid of Jon and there was no one left who would try to give her any instructions. Her heart jumped joyfully and she covered her mouth with the back of her hand, her face raised to the sky and her eyes closed so as not to cry with relief. Fortunately, excitement kept her from thinking about her brother and she shouldered her bag before taking another deep breath and stepping out of the narrow alley to take a look at the city.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 13 - Roads

Meyja walked through the streets with shining eyes like a child, wanted to see everything and discover every nook and cranny, the excitement in her heart and a smile on her face.
Sharaya was in a valley, seemed to nestle in a deep caress against the mountains, over which the sun stood and burned down hotly on her.
The quarters were divided by further smaller city walls, ascending to the highest point, where the king's castle loomed above all other buildings. The part of the city Meyja was in at the moment was at the foot, the streets were dirty and there was a stink in many corners of excrement as well as the typical fumes exuded by tanneries and which she already knew from Voynar. Countless narrow streets ran between the run-down buildings in which beggars and other rabble huddled past each other, but no one took any notice of the red-haired young woman.
Her way led her deeper into the city, she swam aimlessly with the noisy stream of people and handcarts, but Meyja already loved Sharaya. And so, she just strolled on through the streets and looked around, passed the various shops, inns, and market stalls while she was annoyed that she had hardly any money in her pocket. Only four Billons – as the coins made of silver were called – were left.
When she turned again, she was back on the main street which led steeply up the mountain, and through which she reached the higher quarter through a wide passage in one of the inner-city walls where she continued, fascinated. There was already a lot less poverty here and there was at least a little less dirt, even if it was still dirty and smelled unpleasant every now and then. A little further on she discovered an inn with a large wooden sign over the door.
‘To the ‘Drunken Beggar’...‘ she thought.
She passed it with a smile and memorized exactly where the dive bar was, so that she would find it again later when she had to take a room for the night. No doubt her financial situation did not allow her to be accommodated in a neater building, so she would have to make do with the Drunken Beggar.
In the lowest quarter, where the tanneries were also located, the poor had apparently been crammed together, so it was something like Sharaya's gutter. According to the signpost above this quarter was the Old Town which you could still see that it was once the poorest part of the city in times of peace, but since the great war Sharaya seemed to be bursting at the seams and you probably had more space for all the people who have to create.
The Old Town housed a wide variety of shops, pubs, simple factories and handicraft shops that had no place in the third quarter where all the blacksmiths, tailors, and other workers had settled. She had found the Clergy directly below the last and fourth inner city wall there was also an imposing cathedral, the tower of which rose to dizzying heights. In addition, there were pharmacists and Priests in the Cathedral District who campaigned for the health of the population and offered all kinds of herbs, tinctures, ointments, and alchemical products.
She finally had to turn back two hours later. After she had explored at least part of the four parts of the city, the guards on the wall behind the Cathedral denied her access to the smallest of the quarters, in which the military barracks were located and to which the citizens had no access. So, she returned to the main street and went down the mountain to the Old Town where she had discovered the inn.
Even if it had been dark for some time the Cathedral and Artisan District appeared bright and friendly in contrast to this; street lighting was also completely lacking in the Old Town. When she had found the right alley and a rat scurried past her feet, she instinctively put her hand on her dagger which she wore hidden under her long shirt before proceeding cautiously.
As she headed for the entrance, a dark-haired man stepped towards her from a niche, his face covered with a black cloth up to under his blue eyes which were radiant in spite of the darkness. She stopped instantly when he held a dagger to her throat that looked a lot more dangerous than her own.
He pulled the mask aside with his free hand and grinned at her intently. "Do you give me your money voluntarily or do I have to persuade you first, honey?"
Meyja gave him a sugar-sweet smile. "Do you take away your little knife voluntarily, or do I have to shorten you a bit beforehand?"
His grin died away in the blink of an eye and he slowly looked down to see where Meyja held her blade to his balls.
Reinforcing her demand, she pressed her dagger lightly against the bump in his pants. "And while we're at it, why don't you give me your money instead?"
He slowly took his weapon from her throat and held it up where Meyja could see it. “It's okay, you won. It wasn't meant like that. Please don't make a mistake,” he whispered.
“Only if you don't do one either. And now with the money. Come on!” Meyja had no idea what she was doing, but he didn't seem to notice and slowly pulled a small pouch out of his pocket.
She took this and at the same time her blade from his crotch, still smiling she nodded to him. "Good evening, Sir."
Then she walked past him and quickly entered the tavern, her heart pounding as she threw the door noisily into the lock behind her.
It was a gloomy, shabby dining room in which she stood, but there were a few people here, the seats at the bar were all occupied except for one, as were the few tables. Left and right stairs led to the upper area and there, too, she could vaguely make out a few guests. The conversations were silent and all eyes were on her.
'Crap...' she thought.
Meyja tried not to let it show and walked over to the counter with a playful snooty where she took the last free seat.
An infinitely long minute later, the people gradually resumed their conversations and the landlord slowly approached her. "Yes?"
"I would like a room," she replied quietly, trying to give her voice a confident undertone.
She got a nod back and a key he fished out from under the counter. "That makes eight Billons."
She stared at him and her gut told her it wasn't the right price, but then she reached into her pocket took out her last four Billons, and put them next to the key. Without removing her hand from the coins, she reached for the key with the other and put it in her pocket. "Keep the rest," she whispered to him, then turned and went up the stairs to the guest rooms.
For a moment she expected the landlord to call after her, but he remained silent. The guests' eyes followed her again until she was out of sight.
Once in her room, she immediately locked the door and leaned against it.
'Wot got into me…' she thought.
Meyja couldn't believe it. Like this she didn't know herself. She had just robbed a man, and held her own in a tavern full of shady characters. She couldn't help grinning, and only then did she look around the tiny room which was just as dark and dirty as the rest of the tavern. There was a simple table, a chair against the wall, and a bed next to it. The only window was so dirty that there was hardly any light through it even during the day, so she lit the lamp on the table. When she tried to open the window, she noticed that it was nailed shut.
She put down her pouch and took off her boots, then put the dagger on the table, and sat on the smelly bed. For a moment she sat undecided then she remembered the little pouch and pulled it out of her pocket to look inside.
She hastily pulled the cord of the purse back on.
And looked inside again.
Then she let the coins slip into her hand and counted them.
'Damned...' she thought.
Thirty golden crowns gleamed in the palm of her hand. No copper shillings, no bronze nickel, no silver billon, but golden crowns!
She had assumed that the guy on the street had been a little bandit whom she had only relieved by a small amount, but the crowns were there, smirking they shone at her in the twilight and she went cold.
Meyja could imagine the robber wanted so much money back, adding that she had annoyed the landlord. And she had left an impression that was not in the least what she was capable of because she was not a cunning robber, not a thief or anything – she was a well-bred young woman who had to flee her homeland, not a criminal!
Probably she would never dare to leave this room again, but she would worry about that in the morning, it was late and she had a long day behind her. Tired, she put the bag with the money on the table, turned off the light, and lay down on the bed where she immediately fell asleep.
Meyja woke up after a few hours from a deep dreamless sleep and didn't know where she was for a few seconds, but then she remembered. With a low exasperated groan, she rose from the bed and put on her boots. The bag with the money was still on the table next to it her dagger, both of which she took. But just keeping the coins in her pocket seemed too risky, so she pocketed one and wrapped the rest in the shirt she was wearing before putting it back in the cloth bag with the rest of her belongings. Then she put on a fresh shirt, also long enough to cover the dagger, and hid her hair under the hood.
At the door she took another deep breath before summoning up all her courage, turning the key in the lock, and leaving the room. She walked down the narrow hall and entered the dining room with a pounding heart. Fortunately, it was almost empty, only a handful of people were here early, even someone else was standing behind the counter from the previous evening. She walked quickly across the room and left the tavern.
Even on this sunny morning, the neighbourhood appeared very gloomy and forbidding. Meyja turned to the right, she wanted to avoid the place where she was almost attacked. Without provoking further unpleasant occurrences, she walked away through the alleys.
A little later she discovered a leather goods store and went inside. A woman and a man, presumably a married couple, greeted her warmly. She spent an hour in the store, choosing a pair of trousers and a new pair of boots, plus a kind of sleeveless vest worn over a shirt. She had to order two more trousers from the owners, they would be ready for her to pick up in a few days then she left the shop with a new large leather bag over her shoulder and continued through the old town.
Now a sign on a building caught their attention. Daggers and Accessories. Interested, she went in and looked around, but there wasn't much to see, only a few goods were there, a few daggers and matching scabbards. Almost disappointed, she turned to go when a guy came out from behind a curtain. He was small, plump, and had dark shaggy hair that was already lighter. When he smiled at her, she could see that he was missing a few teeth.
"The lady want something other than this humble stuff?" he asked.
Meyja nodded a bit confused before she was led through the curtain that blocked the view into another room.
Amazed, she admired the great variety she hadn’t expected in the back room. There were a multitude of different daggers, glass vials of liquids she couldn't identify, and, most interestingly, an impressive selection of leather straps that would keep your weapons hidden but close at hand. She was particularly fond of a pair of daggers and a matching black leather strap.
She struggled that the rest of the money should be enough for new shirts and a meal, but when she bought the daggers and the belt she’d have to go back to the tavern, and start again. And since she didn't know how precarious the situation was there, she didn't want to go to her room until late in the evening.
The seller noticed her hesitation and commented with a grin, "There is an opportunity for a discount."
Meyja looked at him with a raised eyebrow, she thought she knew what he was going to ask of her, but she was very wrong. It wasn't an immoral offer.
“If you pick something up for me in the Lower City and bring it to me, I'll leave the whole thing to you for half of it. And I'll put some poison on top.” He took one of the vials and handed it to her, the greenish liquid in it sloshing back and forth.
When she nodded, he smiled and handed her a roll of parchment. “Just say there, Ed sent you. And bring the package to me as soon as you have it, understand?"
Meyja nodded again and set off. The lower city was the lowest ring of Sharaya where the tanneries were located. As she unrolled the parchment, she recognised a map of the city on which a drawn red circle probably marked her destination.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

A short time later, she was standing in front of the right building in the middle of the Lower City, the name was inconsistently carved into the wood above the entrance. To the Weary Traveller. When she tried to open the door, she found it locked, so she knocked and waited. Inside she could hear an incomprehensible shout and then a frantic patter, finally a man opened the door and eyed her suspiciously.
"Ed sent me," she said curtly and tried to make her voice sound confident.

"Well, if that's the case..." he replied and let the young woman in, then waved angrily. “You can come out. The coast is clear."

As they walked through the tiny dining room of the tavern, a few people came up the stairs behind the counter. Meyja's arrival must have startled them and prompted them to hide. She followed the man across the room and back outside again where she found herself in a narrow alley surrounded by houses. A small package lay on the floor behind a couple of barrels which he picked up and handed to her.

When she reached for it, he held it and glared at her. "If you look inside, girl, you are dead, I swear to you."

"Why should I?" was all she answered.

He nodded and took her to the exit, the door slammed shut behind her and she could hear a key being turned.

'Strange guy... ‘ she thought.

She immediately went back and when she got to the store Ed was already waiting. 

"That was fast. You don't mess about,” he said with a grin and grabbed the bundle she was holding out to him.

Then they went through the curtain into the back room where he cut the cords wrapped around the misshapen package and pulled the paper aside. There was a terrible smell when he unwrapped the severed half-rotten hand. There was a ring on one finger which Ed looked at briefly and then pulled it off with satisfaction; at the sight of it she almost choked.

"Excellent. You can take the things with you. Keep your money, but come back next week then I have something else to do for you.” When he noticed her questioning look, he rolled his eyes and then grinned again. "Just running errands, you won't get any other tasks from me."

"Why not?" Meyja wanted to know.

Ed stopped grinning and snapped at her, "Because I only need a reliable messenger, that's why."

He wanted to turn away and go to the front of the store, but she stepped in his way. "Listen, Ed. I'm new to the city, and am trying to gain a foothold. Tell me what to do, and I will do it. Reliable, and without asking questions."

Ed gritted his teeth and brought his face close to hers. "Listen up, girl. I don't know where you're from, and I don't care. But that's a little too ambitious for you. I can tell you are not one of us. You are wet behind the ears and have a clean slate. Almost a child. And you sure have never killed anyone. I give you some advice. Try honest work before you venture into our swamp, or you will either die or be swallowed up forever. Once you're there, you'll never get out again."

Meyja just stopped and held his gaze. Then she made a decision – she would try to convince him. He had just almost acted protective that she would take advantage of. If he had scruples about turning her into a criminal, he would certainly also have scruples about simply sending her away.

“You may be right in what you say, but you don't know me. I am aware of the circles I am in, but I have never done honest work. I helped pour beer and do laundry for a couple of months, but with all of that I get nowhere, I can't build a life with that. I want more. And if I have to kill for it. I have nothing to lose anyway. I have no family and no home. But I have a pair of daggers and a will. If I get lost, you don't care. But at least give me a chance!” She glared at him grimly.

Ed looked at her in silence for a moment then pushed her roughly aside and walked to the shop door. She thought he was going to throw her out, but he locked it and came back into the back room. "Come along."

He led her through a hidden door then up a flight of stairs to his apartment where they sat at a table. Around them were shelves with all sorts of odds and ends on which he kept everyday items.

"So, you've got a will, huh?" Ed started.

"I have," she replied nodding.

He frowned. "How does a young thing like you get into such circles?"

Meyja bowed her head, wringing her tears, she thought of Yary who had been more important to her than her own life. “I just have nothing left, no home, and no family. That's why I came here looking for work, and to build a new life for myself."

He paused and asked in surprise, "Alone?"

She nodded again, and Ed burst out laughing.

"What's so weird about it?" asked Meyja, his laughter was confusing her.

He got up and got two cups of schnapps, one he handed her. “It seems I was really wrong about you. And you didn't lie, you really have a very strong will. Sharaya is a terrible city, and whoever comes here to build an existence all by himself needs a lot of guts. How old are you?"

"Nineteen," she replied.

Ed nodded slowly and took a sip of brandy. "Don't make me regret what I'm doing now... I'll give you a chance. But you have to prove yourself first. If you mess it up, it'll fall back on me. It's a merciless business; you quickly pay with your life for it. But I know someone who can teach you the most important things. Tomorrow, I'll introduce you to him."

When they had finished their schnapps, they went back downstairs to the back room.

Ed took the daggers and the leather strap she had chosen and set them aside again. "You need something better if you want to be successful," he said quietly then put another pair of daggers on the table.

Meyja took one in her hand and looked at it.

“A titanium alloy. Doesn't break as easily as plain steel when you hit a bone. In addition, the blade is narrower, and can be sharpened. Even though it's so narrow, you're making a big hole in your opponent. The effort is also much less which should be an advantage for a slim short person like you," he explained before he put another belt in front of her. “With it you can carry your weapons on your back and draw even faster. With your physique, they are not as noticeable under clothing as they are on the hips."

Ed added a few more vials of various poisons, a stiletto with a leather strap that she could wear in her boot, and a whetstone for the blades.

"Put the things on so I can see if it fits," he asked, and went through the curtain to the front of the shop.

Meyja pulled the hood off her head before taking off her shirt and the old dagger then she took the leather strap and buckled it around her chest. It huddled perfectly against her torso. The titanium blades could be pushed in, she easily reached the designated holders which lay parallel between her shoulder blades.

Meanwhile Ed was talking quietly to a customer, she could hear the voice of another man besides his. When Meyja was kneeling on the floor to fasten the stiletto in her boot, the curtain was pushed aside, and Ed came in. Startled, she straightened up and covered her red hair with her leather jacket. Before the curtain fell back, she could just make out the shape of the customer in the store and she went freezing.

"What a lucky coincidence," Ed babbled happily. “Aron has just shown up. I was talking about him earlier. He will be your teacher, and teach you everything you need to know."

Meyja forgot her modesty, at least her nakedness was still covered by her under shirt. "The one out there? Not a good idea,” she whispered, pale as a sheet.

Aron had apparently seen her, too, because he suddenly stood in the passage, and stared at her. "Oh what... you…"

She tossed her jacket aside and quickly drew the daggers which she held out to defend. "Not a step closer!" 

Ed looked back and forth between the two of them, confused, then held his hand in Meyja's direction soothingly. “Put the daggers away, girl. Aron, what's going on here?” 

She slowly pushed the blades back into the strap then reached for her shirt and pulled it on.

Aron still glared over at her and mumbled. "We already know each other."

Ed rolled his eyes. “You don't say. But where from?" When neither of the two replied and they were still tense, he tore open the door to his apartment and ordered, "Come with me. Both."

It took Meyja a moment, but then she averted her gaze from Aron, and followed Ed up the stairs.

All three of them sat down at the table, and Ed rumbled off with crossed arms, "Would you finally enlighten me now, Aron! Otherwise, I'll chop your head off and throw it in the gutter!"

After another hostile look in Meyja's direction, Aron admitted, “Yesterday she relieved me by thirty crowns. I actually wanted to take a few coins from her, but she turned the tables without blinking an eyelid. Then she left me and disappeared in the Drunken Beggar."

Ed looked at her with an expression of disbelief. "Is that correct?"

She just nodded in silence, a moment later Ed was laughing on the table, and couldn't calm down. Aron crossed his arms and leaned back until Ed eventually straightened up, and wiped the tears from the corner of his eye.

"I really can't think of anything more to do that," he remarked then got up and got some schnapps before solemnly lifting his mug. “The teacher learns from the student. We drink to that."

Meyja did the same and said to Aron who still was sitting there and looked at her dismissively, "Don't take it personally."

Aron just snorted and reluctantly clinked glasses with them.

"Then you both have already got to know and love each other. How nice," Ed laughed again before looking at Meyja a little more seriously. "And now you'll tell me where you're from." He pointed to her hair.

“Northaven. My mother was from Voynar,” she replied tersely.

Ed nodded slowly. “You should still dye your hair, otherwise you will get into trouble faster than we’d like. It's a miracle you even got into town. You hardly ever see red hair and blue eyes here. At least not together."

"How should I do that?" Meyja took a sip from her cup.

“Go to one of the tanners and get Melenyt. You apply this generously to your hair and leave it on for about half an hour. Then wash it off with clean water. Should last for about a month. But make sure you don't miss a strand,” Ed answered.

"And what about my money?" asked Aron draining his schnapps in one gulp, and slammed the mug on the table.

Ed grinned. “You lost that, come to terms with it. If you think of a beginner like... What's your name, girl?” He looked at her questioningly.


"...having someone like Meyja take your money off, you didn't deserve it any other way," he finished chuckling with amusement and poured Aron schnapps.

"You’re probably right," muttered Aron.

Meyja sipped from her mug and asked her future teacher. "When do we start?"

Aron emptied his drink again in one gulp. “Tomorrow. At the second hour after noon. Behind the barn by the pumpkin field, just outside of the city. Be punctual."

"Okay. See you tomorrow," Meyja said goodbye got up, and left the room.

A minute later Ed and Aron heard the shop door slam and they looked at each other meaningfully for a long moment.

Then Ed growled, "She never comes from Northaven. I'd rather swallow every single dagger in my shop than believe it."

"I'll keep an eye on her for you," answered Aron.

Ed nodded. "Good. And you know what to do if she causes problems."

"Sure," Aron replied shortly then he got up and hurried to follow Meyja in order to shadow her for the rest of the day. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 14 - Aron

Meyja sat leaning against a thick tree in the grass and waited for her teacher, she was wearing her new clothes and the daggers, the leather vest lay next to her in the grass, it was just too warm for them. In her boot was the stiletto and in the pouch that was also next to her were the poison vials and the grindstone. After leaving Ed's shop yesterday, she had found a store that had a wide variety of linen shirts and underwear, and was stocked up on everything she needed. After that she had bought Melenyt from a tanner, as Ed ordered, and dyed her red hair dark with it, even if the chemical had burned terribly on her skin.
She felt cold steel on her throat and noticed Aron next to her, he had covered his face like when they first met.
"You weren't prepared this time, were you?" he whispered.
Meyja slowly turned her head and looked at him. "No, not this time."
Aron took the dagger away, but he put a hand on her neck and pressed her against the trunk of the tree until she gasped.
"If you weren't under Ed's protection... I swear I would fuck you, slit you open, and nail you to this tree," he whispered in an angry voice, then let go of her, but crouched down next to her.
“Do what you can't help but do. I don't need a protector,” she hissed defiantly.
Aron hit her hard on the cheek which threw her to the ground, then pulled her by the feet, turned her onto her stomach, and tugged at her pants. Meyja panicked and began to kick her legs, accidentally kicking him in the crotch. When he started with a suppressed moan, she jumped up and yanked the daggers from her back, gave him a kick that now carried him to the ground, and sat on his chest, the blades crossed at his neck.
"Do you still want to fuck me, asshole?" she gasped breathlessly.
Ed stepped out from behind the tree, grinning broadly, and clapping his hands slowly but approvingly. “I would say she passed the test. What do you mean, Aron?"
The vanquished raised his hands defensively. "She did."
Ed laughed and Meyja got up a little confused, put the daggers away while Aron sat up and pulled the cloth from his face.
"That was painful," he remarked with a grin.
To her surprise, he didn't look the slightest bit angry, so she held out her hand and helped him to his feet. "Sorry. If I had known that this was a test…” she began.
But Ed raised his hand and cut it off. "Then you would hardly have passed it because you would not have fought seriously."
"What if I had killed him?" asked Meyja.
Aron just laughed softly. "Never. Even when you had the blades on my throat, I could still have defeated you."
Ed nodded in agreement. “He would have. After all, he's the best. That's why I chose him as your teacher. But what am I talking...? You must have a lot to talk about, and Meyja has to learn a lot. I'll leave you alone.” He turned to leave, then paused, and reached into his pocket. “Almost forgot... Congratulations on passing the test, Meyja. And nice colour,” he smirked, pointed to her hair, and threw her a black piece of cloth then walked away whistling.
She caught it and looked at the mask, it was exactly as Aron wore in front of his face.
He went up to her and rubbed his hands. “Let's start then, huh? Let's sit down."
They went back to the tree and this time sat down together on the grass.
“First of all, I have to apologise if I just hurt you, that was not my intention. But situations like this are what make you better. First you need to acquire some theoretical knowledge. That forms the basis for everything else. You will have to fight a fight like this less often if you are good,” he explained.
Meyja raised her hand briefly to interrupt him. "Wait a minute, Aron. I have a few more questions, if you will." He nodded and she continued. "I already told Ed that I would kill to make a living, too. He had indicated something in that direction. But what exactly will I learn? What will I have to do to be good? What do you do for money? And how will I make money in the end?"
Aron paused briefly. “You really don't know what you're getting into? Which business you are currently getting into?"
"Not exactly. It's criminal, I know that, but I don't know any more,” she admitted.
He nodded again, but this time slowly, and while he pondered how to explain it, he let out a noisy breath and rubbed his forehead. Apparently, he had assumed that she already knew about everything, but she wasn't.
When the silence became almost uncomfortable, he began to talk. “In my opinion, it is utterly insane that Ed left you to me with such a lack of knowledge, but so be it. If you still want it after I've answered these questions, you will kill people for money. Assassin. Murderer. Bounty hunter. Call it what you want. That is exactly my profession. I take orders, usually I get some scrap of parchment that says who I should get out of the way. Then I go after that person, and strike at the right moment. You will learn what it takes to see the details. The quickest way to kill someone and what to do when a fight actually comes, or you have to leave to avoid being killed yourself. The pay is extremely good because clients are often generous when it comes to having someone removed who is in their way. But to get really good, you need a lot of practice. I'll teach you the basics, after that you're on your own. Does that answer your questions?"
Meyja nodded and sat in silence for a few minutes, then she really looked at the man next to her for the first time. So, this was what a murderer looked like. Aron was only a few years older than herself, and actually seemed friendly and harmless if she wasn't robbed. His muscular body was dressed in clothing similar to what she wore, black leather trousers, a dark linen shirt and coarse black leather boots.
His hair was black and came down to his shoulders, and his beard was also black and framed his mouth. Almost everything about him was black, except for his lightly tanned skin and bright blue eyes. On the whole, he was really handsome.
"What?" He had noticed her look and looked at her questioningly.
She shook her head and quickly looked in another direction. "I was just wondering why you also have blue eyes."
“I am often asked about this, but I have no answer. It's probably just a mutation,” he replied.
So, he wasn't from Voynar. She was almost a little disappointed about it, even if she missed the people of everything about her home last. Indeed, it was the snow and coniferous forests and the cold that she longed for most.
When she was silent, Aron asked, "So your mother comes from Voynar and you were born in Northaven, did I understand you correctly?"
"Yes, you have. But she's dead, just like my father." She nodded before asking, "When do we start?"
“You really want that, Meyja? Once you're in the business of death, you can't go back so easily. You will see and do bad things. Sometimes you won't want to kill your target, but you still have to.” Aron looked at her seriously, their eyes met at his last words.
"How does it feel?” she wanted to know. “The killing? Is it haunting you?”
“First of all, it's a hunt. The re-enactment is the nice, fun part, but the really bad part is when you do it. When a person might even look at you, and then die at your hand. It actually haunts me for a while, but you get used to it,” he replied.
"Which victims could one not want to kill?" she asked further.
An indefinable expression crossed his face as he ran his fingers through the grass. "Women. Children. I've already wiped-out entire families because they got in someone's way.” He tore out a flower and looked at it, then handed it to Meyja. "Think it over well. There is no place for pity in our ranks."
She took the flower from his fingers and looked at it, too, the sun shining on the white petals. “The world is cruel; I had never done anything bad myself and yet received no pity. Everyone has to see where they are to survive. And I will kill to survive. Teach me, Aron.“ Meyja gave him a steady look.
He looked at her searchingly for a long moment. "How old are you?"
"Nineteen. Why?” she replied suspiciously.
He sighed. "And how old are you really?"
“That wasn't a lie, I was born in Medelya in the year 47. But why do you want to know?"
"Fine. I ask because I want to know if you’re even old enough for such things. But nineteen is good.” He nodded somewhat reluctantly. “Well, let's start with the basics, the equipment. It's almost as important as your skills. What did Ed give you? Show it to me."
He got up and gave her his hand to help her to her feet, Meyja let the flower fall into the grass, took his hand and pulled herself up. Then she took the daggers from her back and handed them to Aron who weighed them in his hands and nodded appreciatively. “Just the thing for you. I prefer steel myself, but titanium should be the right choice for you. Just to start with. What else do you have?” He handed the blades back to her and looked at the stiletto, which she also showed him. “You should only need that in an emergency. Good for throwing, if someone tries to run away,” he explained, and threw it into a nearby tree where it got stuck in the bark. "What do you wear your blades in?" He asked further before following the stiletto and pulling it out of the trunk.
"I have a chest strap and one for the calf," she replied.
Aron nodded and came back at a leisurely pace. "Don't be frightened," he said softly, turned her around, pulled the shirt down the back of her neck with one finger, and checked the strap.
For a moment she had expected that she would be uncomfortable, but strangely enough she didn't mind his touch even when he felt through his shirt where the straps were. She just didn't care.
“Fits perfectly, but you should wear the strap next to your skin. The less clothes you have on, the better, which brings us to the next topic." They sat down by the tree again and she tucked the stiletto back in her boot while he continued. "A fabric shirt is fine as long as it is fits tightly. But only the strap should be underneath. When fabric rubs against fabric, it can create a rustle. And in some situations, you are not allowed to make a sound. Tuck your shirt into your pants if you're wearing one."
She slipped the fabric under her waistband with her fingers.
"Since the daggers are on your back, your clothes don't have to cover your hips like mine." He lifted his own shirt a little and she could see his belt with the weapons that she had felt twice before.
"Why don't you wear it on your back like me?" asked Meyja.
Aron grinned and raised his arms to his neck, he reached it with difficulty with his fingers, then he explained, “I am not as slim and flexible as you. Most of the men in our ranks carry the daggers on their hips, just from this one reason. Remember that if you ever have to assert yourself against one of us." Meyja nodded and he continued. "The rest of your clothes should be made of leather. It's more durable and doesn't rustle like fabric. You haven't done anything wrong with the pants and the vest. The boots are good, too. Take care of your equipment, and it will serve you well especially the daggers should always be kept clean. Do you have poison?"
Meyja nodded and opened her bag, let the glass vials roll into the grass.
Aron took one in his hand. "Do you know how to put poison on a blade?"
"No, I didn't even know what that was good for," she replied, almost a little ashamed of her lack of knowledge.
"I'll show you." Aron patiently explained everything to her then he took out one of his daggers and took a cloth out of his pocket and carefully rubbed the blade clean with it. “There is a very fine groove near the cutting edge that runs to the tip. See?” He held the side of the blade to her face and she nodded again. “Your daggers have one, too. This indentation is used to keep the poison on the blade when you slide it into the leather holder. In addition, it does not roll off as easily when it is in the groove and can reliably get into your victim's wound. Don't ask me why it works because I don't know. But I know that you can rely on it. The green poison here leads to death in a few minutes. The red only causes a high fever and a burning pain all over the body,” he explained and pointed to the appropriate vials before he put his dagger away, and then opened a container with fever poison. "Draw your daggers." Meyja did as she was told and Aron took one out of her hand. "You hold it with the point down, a little to the side, and put a few drops in the end of the groove. The poison distributes itself evenly in it,” he muttered while demonstrating to her then handed her the vial. "Now you."
It looked easier than it was. Her hand shook slightly as she dropped three small drops of the liquid on the metal. Aron moved up to her and leaned over to watch her.
"Good?" asked Meyja then looked at her teacher.
"Excellent." For a moment he stayed so close to her, and returned her gaze only when she thought he was touching her did he get up. “Unfortunately, I have to go now. An order…” He pulled the mask over his face and winked at her.
It was only then that Meyja noticed that the sun had moved on and that they must have been sitting here for a few hours because dusk had already set in and it was getting cooler.
They said goodbye to each other, and Aron went on his way while Meyja was relieved to collect her things which were still lying in the grass, and then went alone to her room in the Drunken Beggar. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 15 - Observation

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Caligon of the year 67 

Aron laughed softly and shook his head. “You are really busy, Meyja. In my opinion, however, it’s too early,” he muttered dismissively.
 They had spent the afternoon together practising, as they did so often. Her teacher was a pleasant, good-natured guy who showed a lot of patience when she was not very clever and she liked him better every day. They had almost become friends, but Meyja was afraid of being closer, she didn't want to send false signals.
 Even if she liked Aron, her fear remained that he might see in her more than his student. But now he wanted to go out and observe a target person and she had asked him if she could accompany him, her curiosity about it had just been too great.
 "Are you just chasing the target or are you killing it?" she asked undeterred.
 “He'll probably spend the next few hours in a tavern and get drunk. I just watch for that long then I go into his room and put an end to him if it happens." He put his hands in his trouser pockets and looked at his feet before he said thoughtfully, "Maybe you could even be useful. It's less noticeable when you're sitting in an inn with a woman."
 "Please, Aron...", Meyja begged and widened her eyes.
 “Well then, come with me if you really want to. We'll leave your things in Ed's shop,” he finally gave in.
 She smiled contentedly and easily caught up with him as he walked towards the city.
 "Do you like beer?" asked Aron with a smile.
 It was already dark outside when they left Ed's shop and made their way to the said tavern in the old town. Aron had just received a few new orders and looked satisfied.
 “In the Drunken Beggar we will hardly be noticed. There is a lot of rabbles around there. I'm also something of a regular guest," he said.
 “In the Drunken Beggar? I have a room there,” Meyja replied.
 He looked at her in disbelief and asked amused, “How did you come up with this crazy idea? Wasn't there anything free in one of the alleys in the gutter?"
“I just didn't have any money and the other inns looked way too expensive,” she replied truthfully.
He chuckled softly. "No money? You took thirty crowns from me, do you remember?"
“Yes, but I only found out in the room that it was so much. If you want, I'll give you the rest back. I haven't spent much so far."
He waved his hand with a grin. "Keep it. Like Ed said, it's my own fault that I lost it. Besides, I don't even need it."
"You are swimming in wealth, aren't you?" Her question was meant more jokingly and she was startled when Aron nodded.
“I'm good at what I do and get paid just as well. I don't have to worry about money, I have more than I can spend,” he said without sounding cocky.
Meyja nodded impressed. "What do you have to worry about?"
He stopped, looked at her, and said seriously, "It's about you at the moment."
Then he continued on his way, and she continued to walk beside him. "What do you mean?" she asked confused.
He was silent for a moment. “Don't screw it in there. Don't look in the direction of the target. When I say or do something just play along, and don't question it. Act normally, and do not reveal anything about yourself. That applies not only to tonight, but in general. If I follow the person outside, you stay seated. Don't follow me, do you understand?"
Meyja nodded, and he held the door of the tavern open for her which they had just reached. In the light she could see that he was grinning again.
"Come in, dear lady."
She returned the smile cautiously and went in, the dining room was packed and all seats were taken, except for the stool at the counter which had been empty on the day she arrived. Aron walked past her, steered purposefully towards it, waved to the host who immediately approached him, and he took a seat.
"Aron, what can it be today?" grunted the coarse fellow with a brief glance at Meyja who had stopped next to Aron.
Aron replied: “First of all another stool for my company, Seth. And then two beers."
"Yo, come at once," Seth confirmed, hurried off, and returned just a moment later. "I'm really sorry, but there are no more stools."
Aron said nothing, but stared at the man on his left until he sighed, got up, and cleared his seat then he moved upstairs, and Aron patted the empty seat with a grin.
 “Now you have a stool, Meyja. Sit down,“ he asked her and she did as she was told with a smile. The landlord put two mugs on the counter in front of them and disappeared again. Aron lifted his mug and said solemnly, “To your first lesson. And many more."
They toasted and Meyja tried the cold beer.
"Good?" Aron wanted to know and she nodded.
"Very well actually," she confirmed and he grinned happily. "You seem to be very well known in these circles," she remarked and looked at her teacher in awe.
“At some point you will be, too. And if you're good, they'll also keep a seat for you. If you want one,” he replied, took another long swig, and winked at her over the rim of the mug.
"Let's see if I have any talent as a criminal," she evaded, but Aron nodded.
"You have. Definitely as a mugger," he grinned broadly, and she snorted into the foam of the beer she had just wanted to drink.
The flakes flew into her face, causing Aron to laugh out loud then he reached out, and wiped the foam from her cheek.
Meyja stopped in surprise when he touched her, and leaned over to her.
"Listen," he whispered and put his arm around her shoulders. “In order not to attract attention, tonight we will pretend we are very familiar with each other. The target sits behind us at the table in the middle. He keeps looking over."
She nodded. "Why is he looking over? Does he know you?"
"Yes, fleetingly," he replied, taking his arm away again. “If you feel uncomfortable, you can go anytime. But at the moment my camouflage is the most important thing."
"All right. I wanted to come with you, and I will play along if it is necessary so that you don't get caught,” she replied with an embarrassed smile and drank her last sip of beer.
Aron laughed and also emptied his mug. "If I'm not careful, you will drink me under the table." He waved to Seth and raised two fingers who immediately waddled off and poured them more.
It was a fun evening, they talked about banalities for about three hours, laughed a lot, and drank beer. In between, Aron casually put a hand on her back, but Meyja was a bit drunk didn't really notice it anymore, and had almost forgotten why they were sitting here.
At some point Aron got up. She slid off her stool to her feet and stood in front of him, swaying and giggling.
"He's coming," he said with a smile, then pulled her close, and kissed her passionately.
Meyja was confused for a second, but then she remembered the disguise again, so she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back.
It tasted good, like a whiff of beer and something else which was probably his own taste.
'Damn, I'm drun’...' she thought.
She leaned against him and enjoyed the moment in drunken arrogance until they were interrupted.
"Aaaaaron, greetings." Slurping, his target person patted Aron's shoulder, who loosened the embrace a little reluctantly, but left an arm around her shoulders.
"Good evening, Thogar," Aron greeted his future victim. "What is the business doing?"
"Good, good. Can't complain as long as drinking is enough,” replied Thogar with a heavy tongue. He was laughing and tossed a few coins on the counter then nodded in Meyja's direction. "Who is your little one there?"
Before she could say anything herself, Aron waved his hand with a grin. “She belongs to me, Thogar. You can't buy her."
Thogar belched loudly and screwed up his mouth. “What a shame, I would have loved to take her home with me. Maybe another time. See you."
"Come home safely." Aron raised his hand when the drunk staggered away then looked at Meyja again. "Which room do you have?"
"Number two, why?" she wanted to know.
“Because we're going there now. We'll talk upstairs, just be quiet and keep smiling,” he mumbled also smiling, and placed five Crowns on the counter.
Seth came cuddled and wanted to grab it, but Aron held his hand. “The young lady here can live in her room as long as she wants. She can get whatever she wants to eat and drink. And you clean that hole up there every few days, do you understand?"
"Whatever she wishes," he nodded hastily.
Aron looked satisfied, grinned at her, and then led her up the stairs to her room. There he locked the door, went to the table and lit the lamp on it.
“Thogar is so drunk that he won't see me coming. The perfect time to turn him off."
Meyja sat down on the bed and nodded.
He drew his daggers and provided them with fresh poison. “From now on it will be uncomfortable. This part is the real work," he continued seriously, in the glow of the candle flame he looked almost threatening, but then with a smile in her direction, he pushed his weapons back into his belt and sat quietly next to her. "You were good. I'm sure nobody noticed that the whole thing wasn't real."
She returned the smile somewhat cautiously and mumbled, "Aron, may I ask you something?"
"Sure," he replied immediately and looked at her waiting.
Meyja looked back with cocked head. "Why are you paying for my room? Why this generosity?"
He looked at his boots and shrugged. "Because I'm able to do it. See it as a small present for your services tonight."
“That was absolutely nothing. I just kept you company. After all, you don't ask anything for teaching me your knowledge, do you?” For a moment she had an uneasy feeling in her stomach, and feared that he was expecting payment after all, they hadn't agreed on anything in this regard.
“No, I am not asking anything from you, Meyja. I just like you. That's all," he chattered, took a deep breath, then winked at her briefly. When he got up and went to the window, he suddenly looked very tense. "It's time." He pried open the boarded window with one of his daggers and removed the nails from the wood, then pulled the cloth in front of his face before looking over at her again. “See you tomorrow on the tree, like today, and at the same time. Take care of yourself."
Meyja also got up, nodded and replied, “You too. I wish you success."
But by then he had already disappeared into the night.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 16 - Philos

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Avonia of the year 67 

On this day, too, the sun shone down on her through the tops of the trees when Meyja was again sitting on the tree behind the barn by the pumpkin field in the grass and waiting for Aron. The cathedral clock had struck at the second hour after noon some time ago, and she was beginning to wonder where he had gone. Her classes were held at the same time almost every day, so she didn't think he'd just forgotten. She pushed away from the trunk and stood up resolutely. If her teacher didn't come, she'd just start practising alone, at least she didn't want to sit around doing nothing. She pulled the stiletto out of her boot and weighed it briefly in her hand to remember the feel of the weight then held it by the tip, as Aron had shown her, and tossed it towards a tree some distance away. The blade whizzed through the air and fell into the grass.
'More power...' she thought.
She picked up the knife and returned to where she started.
Throwing had been a headache for her for weeks, she just couldn't do it, but she had made great strides in the rest of the way. By now she knew about the basics – at least theoretically – and had some practice in duels. Aron had shown her a few tricks that she could use when it came to asserting herself against an opponent without weapons, and she could also move silently and pry locks and locks on windows, but none of that was by far enough for her first order out.
Half an hour and many attempts later the stiletto got stuck in the bark at least once, but she still hadn't hit the point she had aimed at.
'One last time...' she thought.
She took the stiletto between her fingers, let out a concentrated breath, and threw it. Met!
“Yes!” She couldn't help but shout a quiet victory.
Meyja walked up to the tree and pulled out the stiletto that was exactly at eye level and when she turned around, Aron was sitting below their tree. She winced, a hand on her chest.
"You finally made it, but it was about time," he remarked with a grin.
"How long have you been watching me?" She approached him.
“I was just coming when you were pulling the stiletto out of your boot. I thought it would be interesting to see how you do when you feel unobserved," he admitted and Meyja's cheeks visibly reddened.
"That's creepy to be honest," she remarked.
He laughed out loud. “You can assume that someone is always nearby and can see you. Even now we could both be watched without even realising it. It is nowhere safe, especially outdoors."
Meyja stopped in front of him, put her hands on her hips and looked around.
Aron looked up at the young woman who had impressed him so much for several months.
She showed commitment, perseverance, determination, and, moreover, a certain cold-heartedness that fascinated him most. She had stepped into his life out of nowhere, and since then they have seen each other almost every day. He had chosen her as an easy victim six months ago, a welcome change from the boredom of everyday life, but she was able to prove to him how much you can be wrong sometimes, even if you thought you were one of the best.
The wind brushed her dark-dyed hair which she wore in a high ponytail as always, some loose strands gently blowing in the light breeze. He let his gaze wander over her contours, the skin-tight clothing made of black leather looked great on her, her body was slim and yet appeared powerful, almost graceful, and when she walked or moved, it almost seemed as if she was dancing. The hands she was just putting on her hips were small, the fingers slender like her body. She had high cheekbones and a small nose, covered with freckles, and above them large, dark blue eyes that were always studying the surroundings with interest. When she looked at him, her look seemed clever, as if she already knew everything there was to know and sometimes, he even got a little afraid she might read his mind with it.
Taken together, an intelligent, impressive, beautiful woman with a particularly pretty face that was seldom found in Sharaya. She had a dark deep voice that sounded not in the least masculine, and her laugh was immediately infectious, even on the blackest night she made the sun rise with it. But he had to laugh particularly heartily when she got upset, then she almost sparkled, like now.
Meyja couldn't believe that he just sat there and ignored her, even though he was looking directly at her with a strange, absent look. "Aron!"
She was just leaning down to him when he laughed and shook his head, and apologised in amusement, “I'm sorry, I must’ve been dreaming. What did you say?"
"I asked how I can tell if someone is sneaking around here!" she repeated angrily.
Aron got up and looked around then stepped behind her, and looked over her shoulder while he explained quietly, “Watch out for movement in the grass. And everything that offers a certain amount of coverage. You will probably not realise any of this at this point in time, but that comes with experience. When you have learned to hide yourself perfectly."
She nodded slowly and then looked at him over her shoulder with a look that made his stomach ache.
“What should I learn today?” she asked.
He rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully with his fingers. "I think I'll show you the best way to kill effectively, what do you think of that?"
Meyja helplessly raised her arms. "Aren't you the teacher? Tell me what to practice and I will practise."
Aron smiled. "Get a little branch somewhere, we'll practice killing."
They spent the next two hours re-enacting various scenarios in which Aron played the victim and Meyja performed the fatal blows and cuts with the stick as a dagger bustle according to his instructions. Finally, they sat down under the tree again it was still light, but Aron took his flask out of his pocket and took a sip then handed it to Meyja. The contents smelled strongly and she just sipped carefully before handing the container back to him. For a while they sat next to each other in silence and drank schnapps then Aron got up.
“The day is still young. Do you have anything to do today?” he asked.
"No, a few more errands for Ed tomorrow morning. Do you?” she looked up at him.
He shook his head and looked towards the city as she got up, too.
Somehow, he made a strange impression on her today. “Is everything okay, Aron? You seem... I don't know... almost exhilarated. And yet absent."
She eyed him sideways, but he waved it off. “Everything is fine with me. Let's do something crazy."
"What were you thinking of?" she asked with a frown.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea yet. Let's go to my flat maybe we'll think of something on the way."
"Agreed." She was still a little confused, but she followed him up the meadow and back into the city.
Aron's flat was in an inconspicuous house in the Workshop where she had expected a tiny dirty room. She didn't know why, but she was wrong about him because there were two large bright rooms and it was extremely neat. He took off his boots, put his daggers on the table under a window, and crossed into the other room.
Meyja also left her shoes at the door and was looking around when Aron called from the next room, "Are you hungry?"
"No, not yet."
He came back with two mugs and sat down in one of the two armchairs in the middle of the room between which was another lower table on which he placed the drinking vessels.
"And to drink? Wine, beer, or something stronger? What do you want? I can get you water too,” he offered.
She took a seat in the other armchair. "I take the same thing as you."
He grinned. "So, wine and Philos."
"Philos? What is that supposed to be?” Maybe the impression was just wrong and Aron had behaved differently towards her up to now than he normally did.
“You don't drink it; you smoke philosopher's herb. Wine goes best with the taste,” he explained and disappeared again into the next room.
He sat down again with two small metal cans, a bottle of wine in his hands, and handed her a can. “I've never had any guest. If I am a lousy host, please let me know."
Meyja nodded and opened the lid of the metal box from which an interesting, spicy scent of what looked like dry grass poured towards her. "I've never smoked anything before, but it smells nice," she remarked handing the container back to him. “But my father often smoked a pipe in the salon. Previously. He is dead." She bit her tongue. She hadn't wanted to tell that much. She didn't even want to remember that much. And certainly no one in Northaven had a salon in his house. "Please forget it again. That was stupid."
Aron looked at her in surprise for a moment then just nodded and began to mix some of the Philosopher's herb with a coarse brown powder on a strip of paper.
"What is the other stuff?" Meyja asked curiously.
“Simple tobacco. It has no effect, but the Philosopher's herb does,” he explained as he rolled the powder into the parchment.
"Effect? Like alcohol?” she asked further feeling increasingly stupid.
'I don' know anythin’...' she thought.
He nodded again. “Similar to alcohol, but different. You will feel it. And you'd better take off your weapons and your strap, it could be that you want to lie down afterwards," he advised with a wink, lit the cigarette, leaned back, and sucked his lips on the lower opening then he breathed the smoke with relish the end.
She got up and went to the table by the window to put down her daggers, laboriously trying to loosen the chest strap under her tight-fitting shirt.
"Do you need help?" he wanted to know with a smile.
She looked over her shoulder and shook her head. “No, it's okay. Just close your eyes for a moment please."
"Are tightly closed." Aron closed his eyelids, but he opened them again a little when he heard that she put something on the table.
Only her silhouette could be seen, but that was enough to convince him one more time of her beauty. For a moment he thought about telling her how beautiful he found her, but then decided against it. He would have loved to let her into his life, but his fear for her was greater than the need to be close to her.
"Thanks, you can open them again." She just sat back in the armchair and he passed her the smoking fragrant cigarette. "How do you do that now?" Meyja asked helplessly.
“Exhale, take it lightly between your lips, and then suck a little air into your mouth through it. Finally, take a deep breath, and slowly breathe out again. But be careful.” He took a sip of the wine.
She did as he said, but coughed briefly as she breathed out. With a giggle, Meyja handed him the rolled parchment back. "Interesting," she remarked.
He also drew once and gave it to her again, so they smoked the entire cigarette together.
At the end, she asked, "Do you do that often?”
"What do you mean?" he frowned.
She giggled. "Smoking. What else?"
Aron grinned broadly. “I thought you mean taking women into my apartment. Philos is hard to come by, and it's expensive, but I still smoke almost every day."
"You said you had never had any guests before," she reminded him.
"Oh, right," he remarked. "I think the Philos is starting to work."
They laughed exuberantly and drank their wine then Aron sat up and looked at her.
“I just got an idea. Something crazy.” He smiled.
"Even crazier than this?" She looked at him surprised, and when he nodded, she straightened up too. "Tell me."
He laughed softly and confessed, “I've always wanted a ring in my ear. But I never managed to pierce it myself. Would you do that for me?"
Meyja laughed uproariously and nodded her head expansively. "This is really crazy."
"Do you dare?"
When she was still nodding and giggling, he got up and went into the other room a third time, this time coming back with a candle, a thick needle, and a couple of metal rings.
Aron lit the candle and held the needle briefly in the flame then he grinned at her. “We can start. Come on."
Meyja got up, shaking her head and walked over to him. She stopped behind his chair and he handed her the needle which she carefully took between her fingers at the back end. Well, where do you want it?” she asked exuberantly.
He tilted his head on his right side, brushed his hair aside, and pointed a finger at the back upper part of his auricle. "About there, can you do that?" he asked, slight nervousness in his voice.
She didn't answer just put two fingers around his ear, and stabbed the needle through it from back to front before he could change his mind.
"Ouch!" he whined and began to laugh.
"You wanted it that way, why are you crying now?" She also went down on her knees laughing.
"I'm not crying at all," he replied indignantly, but then had to smile.
"How do I get the ring in there now?" Meyja got up again, she was still chuckling.
"You have to pull the needle out again and thread the ring at the same time I think," he replied handing her one of the metal rings.
"You think so?" she repeated.
He looked over his shoulder, the needle still in his ear. "I have no idea, after all, I've never done that before."
"I'll just try, after all, it's not about my ear." She slowly pulled the needle forward, as it was about to slip out of the hole, she quickly pushed the ring behind.
"Well wait, it's your turn now..." he mumbled grinning.
“Oh no, I don't want an earring. But I'm done, looks good.” She was bending the metal at the same time so that it stayed in place.
He got up and grabbed her, holding her head under his arm as she squealed.
"No please, I don't want an earring!" she laughed, but he pushed her into the armchair, and pressed his hands on her shoulders so that she wouldn't flee.
Then he looked into her face with a grin and asked himself. “What would look good on you? Hm..."
"No earring!" she pleaded and tried to break free again.
"I know," said Aron quietly and she paused.
"What do you know?" She looked at him waiting.
“What would suit you. Here...", he whispered and tapped a finger on her right nostril with a smile.
"No," she whispered back.
"Are you scared?" asked Aron with a smile.
"No, not that, but it will surely look awful," she whined softly.
With a gentle shake of his head he mumbled, "Trust me."
"Do it," she said resolutely and would have liked to slap herself for this madness in the next moment.
He picked up the needle she had dropped, wiped it on his shirt, and put it into the flame of the candle again before turning back to her and gently putting her face in his hands to reposition her head to turn. Then he carefully cupped her tiny nostril in his big fingers and stabbed through it from the inside to the outside at lightning speed.
Meyja blinked a few times until the tears that had come into her eyes were gone. She didn't want to show the pain, even when Aron pushed the ring through, she just closed her eyelids, and didn't make a sound.
"Complete. And it looks good, really," said Aron quietly.
"I don't know..." she began doubtfully, but he nodded vigorously.
"Honestly, I think it's nice," he affirmed.
"Well, if you say so." She was still sceptical.
Aron turned around and took a small mirror from the shelf, which he handed to her. "See for yourself, if you don't want to believe it.”
She looked at his work critically, her nostril was smeared with blood, but it was already dried which is why she didn't care.
“You're right, I like it," she remarked with a transfigured grin on her face.
He smiled too. "That makes me happy. Did it hurt a lot?"
She wrinkled her nose and lips while nodding.
"You were brave," he said in mock seriousness and patted her head gently.
"Hey, I'm not a dog!" complained Meyja and they burst out laughing again.
Aron went into the next room one more time and came back with a bottle full of clear liquid and a linen bandage, she looked at him questioningly.
“Pure alcohol, we can use it to clean the injuries. Before anything ignites,” he explained, and tore off a few strips of the material with his dagger before he soaked it with the alcohol, and went back to her.
"Good idea." Meyja tilted her head back.
Carefully he wiped the blood away with the small rag, rubbed gently over the metal, and her skin, and mumbled. "It's definitely not bleeding anymore."
"I saw that," she replied softly.
Aron asked. “Mine didn’t?”
She took one of the scraps of cloth, and let him sit down in the armchair before she nodded again. "Yes, a little."
Stroking his hair aside, he put his head back to one side, and she also wiped neatly over his ear and the metal ring when he suddenly winced, and laughed softly.
"Your hair tickles," he remarked. "I think."
"Oh, sorry," she muttered, brushing the strand that hung down to his neck behind her ear before sitting back in her chair.
"More Philos?" suggested Aron and she nodded.
So, he rolled another cigarette, lit it, and leaned back. While he was smoking, he looked at Meyja, a tiny smile on his face.
She tried to meet his gaze, but gave up after a short time with slightly flushed cheeks.
“What?" he wanted to know with a smile and passed the Philos over to her.
"Nothing. I was just wondering why you are looking at me like that," she replied inhaling a drag, and exhaling a thick cloud.
He looked at her for a moment. "I have only examined my work."
Meyja knew that he was lying because he had looked her straight in the eye, and they weren't sitting far enough apart that he could have hidden it. Nevertheless, she asked. "And are you still satisfied?"
When she handed him back the cigarette, he nodded, and tugged on the stub again before tossing it into the ashtray provided, and pouring them more wine. "Do you want to lie down?"
"Yeah, I'd really like to," she admitted embarrassed.
Aron took the two drinks, got up, placing the mugs on the bedside table, and went over to the bed before lying back on it. "Where are you?" he asked lifting his head.
She had stopped next to the bed and was still hesitating, actually she had assumed that he would remain sitting in the armchair. But what of it, after all, they were both still in their clothes, so she lay down next to him on her back and put her feet on the edge.
He lay on his side and looked at her. "Does it still hurt?"
Meyja turned her head in his direction. "A little. But hardly worth mentioning. The earring suits you very well."
“I can only give the same back. Really nice,” he remarked with a smile and ran a fingertip over her cheek.
She blushed and quickly looked away. "Thanks."
They lay there for about an hour, talking about various things, then Aron got up, looking down at her. "More to smoke?"
"Gladly," she replied with a smile.
They sat back in the armchairs, smoked two more cigarettes, drank wine, and told each other funny stories.
It was already night when Meyja fell asleep, and her head sank to one side.
Aron went over to her, knelt in front of her, and put a hand on her knee. "Meyja?"
When she didn't react, he gently shook her shoulder to wake her up, but this attempt also failed, she slept soundly. But since she was breathing calmly there was nothing to be alarmed about, even if he couldn't bring her to her room at the Drunken Beggar in this condition. So, he put one arm around her back, and the other under her knees, picked her up gently, and carried her to his bed where he carefully placed her on the sheets. Then he blew out the candle that was still burning on the table and went back to the bed, looked down at her with a smile, and wondered for a moment whether she was always sleeping in her clothes.
He had no idea if she was wearing anything underneath, however, so he discarded the idea of taking off her pants so that she would be more comfortable. He also left his own on, and lay down to rest with his back to her.
When he was almost asleep, Meyja put her arm over his hip, mumbling softly, and snuggled up against him.
He blinked in surprise. "Meyja, are you awake?"
But he got no answer, at some point he closed his eyes again and fell asleep with a smile on his face. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 17 - Suspicion

"Wake up, Meyja."
She heard Aron's voice and felt a hand on her shoulder. When she opened her eyes, he was laying right next to her. She sat up in bed with a jerk and looked around, it was already light outside and she was still in his apartment, so she must have fallen asleep.
"Good morning," he said with a smile and swung his legs out of bed.
"As well. Why didn't you wake me up yesterday?” she asked confused.
“You slept so deeply that I couldn't wake you up. It was late so I let you sleep.” He looked at her.
Meyja nodded slowly blushing before she asked softly, "We... we haven't...?"
"No, we have not. What do you take me for?” he replied with a frown then went into the next room, and made breakfast for them.
A quarter of an hour later they said goodbye on the street and Meyja went to see Ed. Aron walked away in the other direction, she didn't know exactly where and she didn't ask, they would meet again later that day behind the pumpkin field anyway.
 When she got to the store, Ed was in the back room with a supposed customer, so she went out again, and waited outside, the fresh air was good for her and helped her to remember the previous evening. In retrospect, she remembered everything, the rings they had made for each other, what they had laughed at, the wine, and the Philosopher's herb. Even that Aron tried to wake her up and finally put her in his bed, she remembered darkly, she had been cold, and she had warmed herself on him.
'Crap...' she thought.
Meyja covered her face with her hands and took a deep breath.
He liked her.
A lot.
It hit her like a blow.
His behaviour undoubtedly indicated it, but she had closed her eyes to it. Couldn't she, or didn't she want to see it? She couldn't answer that question herself, so instead she wondered, if she felt the same way.
She listened deep inside, thought of Aron and imagined his face, how he looked when he smiled, how she felt when he touched her.
No doubt she liked him too.
For the first time she really liked a man.
But that wasn’t allowed, she was afraid of these feelings, it just didn’t work, she wasn’t allowed to feel that way, that was far too dangerous!
If he did to her what Ethan had done...
She quickly pushed that thought aside, she would never let that happen, never again would a man lay a hand on her, if she could prevent it. And so, she quietly decided to pretend she didn't feel for Aron.
When the customer finally left the shop, Meyja went in and greeted Ed who looked at her in horror.
“Child, what happened to you? You smell like philosopher's weed a hundred yards away. And what do you have on your face anyway? Were you with Aron?” He wanted to know.
"No, I wasn't," she lied dismissively.
Ed crossed his arms and shook his head. “You can't hide this from me. I only know one person who can afford this expensive stuff."
She looked him in the eye and repeated her lie. "I was still not at Aron's."
With his index finger pointing forward, he went up to her. “If Aron walks in here afterwards and wears a ring like that, you can prepare for the worst because you lied to me. Got it?"
She threw up her arms in resignation. “Well, I admit it. I was with Aron all night. We smoked philosopher's herb, drank wine, and embellished each other with metal rings. Do you want more details?”
Ed slowly lowered his finger, scowled at her, and replied a little more gently, “Be careful of him, Meyja. He may be a good teacher, but he is a bad person."
“Aren't we all bad people for killing others, or at least planning to? Aron is nice to me, and I like him a lot. What's wrong with that?” she wanted to know defiantly.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing in itself at first, but I'm only warning you about him this once. Take care of yourself when you get involved with him."
“I don't get involved in anything; we are friends. Nothing happened. Nothing at all," she muttered.
Meyja would like to end the discussion immediately, but her boss continued. “Girl, that may be true. But that means nothing to him. He changes his friends almost every day. I've known him for a few years now and have noticed a lot. He likes nothing but crowns and whores. But what am I talking about? You're old enough and you will know what you're doing.” He put two packages on the counter and pointed to them. “This has to go to Jared in the Workshop, the other to Quincy in the Tired Traveller. And now get out of here." With these words he shooed her out the door.
Four hours later, she'd done all of the jobs Ed had given her for the day, but he'd still looked a little annoyed the last time she'd left the store that day with her meagre errands in her pocket. Usually, she would have been a pain in his neck a little more until he gave her some extra work to get rid of her, but she didn't care about the coins that day. It was enough for a meal and so she sat chewing with some bread and cheese on the wall that separated the Workshop from the Old Town and enjoyed the view.
There was a small lake by the pumpkin field and she usually went there, but she didn't want to meet Aron at the moment and according to her guess he would hardly hang around on the city walls. When she had finished, she just sat there, dangling her legs from the wall, and holding her face in the warm rays of the sun, but she couldn't really enjoy the moment, the conversation with Ed in the morning just couldn't let go of her.
Maybe he was even right with his warning about Aron, after all he really knew him better than she did, and she hadn't even noticed that Aron had feelings for her, besides, he had behaved very strangely yesterday which she did, too, could not assign. The tower clock struck at the second hour past noon and Meyja jumped up.
'Damned...' she thought.
She quickly climbed off the wall and dashed off.
Breathless she reached the tree where Aron was already sitting in the grass, and he looked as she let herself fall next to him.
"Did Ed rush you through town again for half the day?" he asked with a grin.
She just nodded, still breathing heavily, and he gave her another minute to relax then said softly. "I just had a very unpleasant conversation with him. He seems almost worried about you."
"So?" Meyja pretended to be ignorant.
“He doesn't like that we're more than just teachers and students,” he continued.
She pretended to be stupid, frowned, and asked, "Is that us?"
He hadn't been ready for this answer, so he was silent for a moment.
"If you don't want to, it's not us," he muttered his heart pounding as he said it, and waited for her to reply, he was almost afraid that she’d hear the pounding.
Meyja swallowed, she also was surprised by the course of the conversation, and not in a positive way. He actually asked her if she wanted him? Did she like him more than a student used to like her teacher? Did she also have feelings for him? She had decided this morning to ignore these feelings, and now he was tormenting her by trying to get the truth out of her. But she was suddenly unsure whether her theory made sense at all maybe he just wanted her friendship after all.
"What would we be, if we weren't just teachers and students?" she asked.
Her counter-questions felt like slaps in the face to him, he had hoped so much that she would have simply said she wanted more than that, after all, he had given her the opportunity to reveal herself. He was also sure that she harboured feelings when he kissed her in the Drunken Beggar, only through her it became a real kiss because she had returned it even seemed to enjoy it, and she had also unconsciously sought his presence last night. But her final answer was still pending.
He considered himself, gathered up all his courage, and looked at her. "Lovers."
Meyja nodded understandingly, and looked at her feet, so he really didn't want friendship, he wanted her by his side, as she had feared. She wished she could just say yes, not have to hurt him, but she couldn't. Her fear was stronger than anything else, she was still its prisoner, and she could not free herself from its grip.
When she raised her head and looked at him again, tears shone in the corners of her eyes. “I... I can't do that, Aron. I'm sorry…” Then she jumped up and ran.
He got up too, but before he could run after her, she was already out of sight, and he was left alone.
Aron had never been a child of sadness, his daring, self-assured manner and his appearance had always helped him when it came to making a woman his own for a night. And if it did not turn out, he had enough gold to buy himself the service of one of the whores, of whom there were innumerable in the city. But he had never loved before, he had never even let one of his playmates into his apartment. Since he knew Meyja, it was different, the interest in other women was a thing of the past and the only thing he was looking forward to were their hours together at the tree. He thought of her when she wasn't around, even if it made him unhappy, he longed for her so much. In her eyes he could tell that something was wrong, and he suddenly became very worried about her.
Meanwhile, Meyja kept running straight ahead, not even noticing which direction she was headed, but at some point, her muscles began to burn so much that she had to stop. Breathing heavily, she looked around and saw that she wasn’t far from the harbour.
Below her was the bay that was the real power of the Kingdom of Jevarish, even if only three of the imposing frigates were at anchor. She had never been here before, but she knew the port was far outside Sharaya.
The sun was just setting, and she dragged herself still completely out of breath to a small hill where she sat on the grass, and watched as the glowing ball of fire seemed to sink into the sea behind the horizon.
It was only in the middle of the night that she realised that she was still sitting and staring down at the harbour, the entire time her thoughts had been going in circles. Over and over again she had looked at the matter with Aron from all sides before she had always come to the same conclusion. It did not work. She was unable to love him even if she did like him.
It wasn't even the fear he might rape her anymore because he had already had the opportunity to do so more than once. Rather, it was about the fear of what lay dormant within herself. And yet this fear was always present, had spread inside her and now poisoned her from within, so that it seemed impossible to her ever to get close to any man again.
But how about if it wasn't about a man, but a woman? Would it be easier for her then? Certainly not because it was all about her own feelings which came out when someone touched her even if she wasn't aware of it herself.
If only Yary was still with her. Then all the problems would just vanish into thin air. Confusion and despair made her cry again, but she got up and started back to Sharaya. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 18 - Commands

Meyja woke up the next morning in her bed in the Drunken Beggar and sat up with a groan to get dressed. The night before, she had taken a bottle of schnapps with her to her room, and drank it half empty which now revenged itself with a heck of a headache. On her way through the nocturnal city she had always kept an eye out for Aron, and already feared that he would run into her again, or even sit at the counter when she returned to her temporary home, but nothing like that had happened.
 She took the liquor bottle that was on the floor next to the bed, and took a long swig from it before slipping on her boots, slipping the daggers into her strap, and heading to Ed to do her daily errands.

Heart pounding, she pushed open the shop door and was relieved to find that she was alone with her boss, who came through the curtain and frowned at her.

"What happened again?" he wanted to know and crossed his arms over his chest.

Meyja waved her hand impatiently and replied, “Nothing. I just had a little much booze last night, and it didn't work out very well for me. But before you ask... I was drinking alone. What is there to do?"

Ed took two small packages from the shelf behind the counter and walked over to her. “I told you to stay away from Aron. At least as far as possible. It's not good for you, child."

“My name is Meyja and I would be grateful, if you called me that. But while we're on the subject... Isn't there anyone else who could teach me?” she asked embarrassed.

“So, it is because of Aron. I knew it," Ed grumbled and thought for a moment. “Well, there would still be one or the other who could be considered a teacher. But they are nowhere near as good as Aron. However, he said you had great talent, so it would at least be worth a try."

“I just want to avoid him. We kind of had an argument and I would be happy if I didn't have to see him for a while,” she replied quietly. "But please choose someone who takes me seriously and doesn't treat me like a girl or even a child."

"Of course. There is also no point in sparing yourself. You are supposed to be good, after all. I have enough third-rate assassins, even if it sounds tough,” he said and handed her the package. "Deliver the two of them here, and when you come back, we'll see. This one with Jared, and this one with Quincy. Unfortunately, I don't have more.” He pointed to the corresponding packages, and watched as Meyja pushed her way out the door.

An hour later, Meyja finished her errands and returned to the shop where fortunately there was no trace of Aron to be found. Instead, another guy with short dark hair, and equally dark eyes was sitting on the counter which he slid off when she walked in. He was a lot older than her, and didn't seem particularly friendly.

“You have to be Meyja. Ed has already talked a lot and gave me the glorious task of educating you. However, he didn't say that you smell like the inside of a liquor bottle,” he greeted her while he looked at her disapprovingly from top to bottom.

She nodded tiredly. “I am. And I've had a tough night. It won't happen again, sorry."

"Well. That also explains why he said that we shouldn't start practising until tomorrow,” he continued and held out his hand to her. "I'm Raemur, and if you're really as talented as Ed promises, we'll both have a good time together."

"I can't answer whether he promised too much, but we'll see," she replied.

The shop door behind her was thrown open, and when she looked over her shoulder, she hastily lowered her head again because it was Aron who looked back in astonishment.

"What's going on here?" he asked and stepped over to them.

“From now on I'll take care of her if you don't mind. Ed asked me to do it,” said Raemur, amazed at the tension that existed between Meyja and Aron. "However, I don't know the exact reason for this."

"Neither do I," muttered Aron.

Meyja who still kept her head bowed felt the looks of the two which literally pierced her. She didn't know what to answer, so she just kept quiet as she wiggled her toes, and looked at the small bumps that were pressing into the toes of her boots.

“Raemur, would you excuse us for a moment? I think that Meyja and I still have something to clarify,” asked Aron.

When Raemur agreed, and his feet moved out of her field of vision, she was already cramping inside, since she had absolutely wanted to avoid this confrontation.

"Will you tell me what's going on?" Aron asked quietly after the shop door had slammed behind Raemur.

She gathered up all her courage, lifted her head, and looked at him before she replied coolly, “No, and there is nothing to be clarified either, Aron. I just think it's better to keep your distance."

He returned her gaze, and she could see that her words had hurt him, but he nodded slowly and cleared his throat softly. "Alright. Then I will leave you in peace now, if that’s your wish."

When she nodded, he turned away and went through the curtain to look for Ed while Meyja fought back tears for a few seconds, and then went outside where Raemur was waiting.

"I'm sorry you had to wait," she muttered a little absently.

Raemur just waved a hand. "All right. Where did you two always meet to practise?"

"Behind the barn by the pumpkin field," she replied pointing in the approximate direction out of town.

“Well, we'll meet there tomorrow at noon. I know about your errands and Ed said that you always met Aron at the second hour. Let's just keep it that way,” he said before turning, and walking away without saying goodbye.

Meyja sighed, and also made her way to Drunken Beggar where half a bottle of schnapps was waiting for her, but which she undoubtedly had to keep her hands off of, if she didn't want to risk trouble with her new teacher.

Ed looked at Aron seriously, his arms crossed over his chest as so often.

“You know this is all nonsense. Talent or not, it brings unrest in our ranks and we can't use that,” Ed grumbled.

Aron puffed out air in surprise, and replied, "If I may remind you, it wasn't my idea to take in a mugger."

“It has not yet been accepted. But you know what that means,” Ed muttered darkly.

With a violent shake of his head, Aron hit the table. "No, Ed. I will not do that. She is not one of us, even if she has done well so far."

"Yes, it's okay. Then I'll put Deval on her,” Ed replied throwing his hands up impatiently.

Aron jumped up indignantly. "No, not Deval!"

Ed glared up at him and pointed to the chair so that Aron sat down again a little meekly and bowed his head submissively.

“It seems to me that you have a lot to say about our red-haired beauty. Out with it,” Ed ordered, his tone of voice showing that he didn’t allow arguing.

You could clearly see how much Aron was writhing inside, but Ed was his boss and he didn't dare to annoy him anymore. “It's kind of my fault, too. Besides everything she tries to hide from us, she's not a bad person. Rather, she gives the impression that she has experienced things that we cannot dream of. If you are right about the theory that she comes from Voynar, that would even be more than plausible. And she freaked out because I tried to get closer to her," Aron admitted.

"You like her?" Ed exclaimed, dismayed.
 Aron just nodded in silence, his eyes lowered on the mug of schnapps which he turned back and forth in his hands.

“Well, that changes the whole matter very much," Ed muttered, gritting his teeth.

“I know you don't like this, Ed. I'm sorry, but I didn't choose. You just don't have control over who you fall in love with,” apologized Aron.

Ed got up, picked up his mug, and peppered it in a corner. “And for this very reason, Aron! Now we've got the crap on our cheek!” 

"Nevertheless, the problems it caused are no reason to take care of them for a long time, please," Aron replied seriously.

Sitting down again, Ed slowly shook his head before he replied, “No, Aron. Actually, that's really not a reason. But I would like to see her dead just to teach you a lesson. You know what? In the end, you gave us this crap. And I know you; if I let any of the other men do it, you will blame them, and this will tear the entire guild apart. Do it yourself, and get rid of it with it. I've taken you under my wing for far too long, now it's time you finally took responsibility for what you do. There was a deal, and you will stick to it. By all heavens! You’ll be twenty-five in six months! And I treat you like a child all the time! Do it or live with the consequences! Get out of here now before I lose my mind!"

Aron couldn't believe what Ed was asking of him, but he got up, and shuffled out the door. Once on the street, he leaned against the wall of a house, and tried to calm down. So, he should kill her, otherwise Ed sent Deval to her, and that meant a painful, cruel, and slow death, whereas he himself would do it quickly and graciously. Still, it just wasn't right.

Meyja was a problem, but he was sure that it would only be temporary, and that she would soon prove herself if one gave her a chance.
 For the first time he had opened up to a woman, and now it should mean the end of her, he couldn't believe it. However, she had made it clear to him that he should leave her alone after which he could bury any hopes of togetherness anyway.
 And Ed was the boss, so Aron wasn't allowed to judge what he'd always been happy about, even if it was different now. Yet...

He pushed himself away from the wall with grim determination and set off to find Raemur who would surely help him to lure Meyja into a trap.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 19 - Questions

When Meyja came to the pumpkin field the next day, Raemur was waiting for her, leaning against the tree.
"Am I late?" she asked nervously and unsure about her new teacher.
Raemur shook his head, and walked slowly towards her, finally stopped at an arm's length, and looked her over again.
"Show me your daggers," he said holding out his hands.
Little did she know something was wrong, so she drew her weapons, and handed them to him.
Raemur looked at the blades. “Even poisoned. You seem to take the matter really seriously, all due respect."
"Of course. After all, it's about a lot,” she replied puzzled. Did he really expect her to do things by halves?
"Do you have any other weapons with you?" he asked further.
Meyja nodded, pulled her stiletto out of her boot and reached out her hand to take back the daggers before she handed him the throwing knife. But Raemur kept the titanium blades in his hand and was about to take the stiletto from her when her instinct screamed that something was wrong.
"Wait... what are you going to do? What's going on here?” she asked worriedly, took a step back, and looked around hastily.
Aron stood a few metres behind her; he also had his daggers in his hand, and wore the mask in front of his face.
'No...' she thought.
Now she knew what was going on. Raemur and Aron had lured her into a trap, and wanted to kill her.
"You aren’t serious, are you?" she exclaimed dismayed. "Why?"
“Meyja, it wasn't our decision. And I'm very sorry about you, but you just know too much,” Aron tried to explain.
"I don't know anything!" she shouted angrily, and tossed the stiletto that she was still holding into the grass. “And I'm unarmed! Do you also kill unarmed women, yes?!"
Raemur laughed, dropped her daggers, and pulled his own from the waist belt. "The little one has a sense of humour," he said with a grin, and took a step towards her.
When she saw that Aron was also moving towards her, she turned on her heel, and ran off with a hook, a few metres further a stiletto whizzed past her head, and she accelerated her run.
Aron and Raemur weren't nearly as nimble as Meyja, and she'd left them both after a minute. Breathing heavily, she stopped, sat down on the ground behind a bush, and considered.
So, now they wanted her death because she supposedly knew too much, but she had no idea what exactly she should know that could be so life-threatening that two assassins were after her. And above all, she didn't know what to do now. If she just went back to Sharaya, they’d no doubt find her before she could leave. But she didn't have a coin with her, was unarmed, and didn't know her way around Jevarish. Besides, she didn't know anyone who would help her, so her situation was more than precarious.
Her brooding was stopped by the familiar coldness of the steel on her throat, and she didn't even have to look to know that it was Aron who had found her.
"You're quick," he remarked breathlessly and pulled the cloth from his face.
“And you are good. Do it quick, please,” she mumbled resignedly, and closed her eyes.
Aron sat down next to her, and shook his head. “No, Meyja. I will not make it quick. First you answer a few of my questions."
"Go ahead," she replied dismissively, even if she wasn't about to give him an honest answer.
He thought for a moment, then asked, "Who are you really?"
"Nobody," she whispered.
Sighing, he looked up at the sky without moving his head. “Why don't we just stick to the truth? What do you have to lose?"
"That's the truth, and I have nothing to lose," she replied evasively.
The next moment she rammed her elbow hard into his side, and jumped up, but he caught her ankle, and made her fall. When she tried to get up again, he threw himself on her, and tried to push her to the ground, but she struggled fiercely even knocking the dagger out of his hand which then landed a little further in the grass. Though she was clearly inferior to him physically, she managed to punch him in the chin with a fist that made his ears ring. Fidgeting, and kicking in panic, she kicked him with her feet, but he continued to hold on to her, even if she hit him a couple of times, and he groaned in pain.
"Now hold still, I don't want to kill you at all!" he shouted urgently grabbed her shoulders, and shook her vigorously until she finally stopped.
"But?" she hissed dazedly and glared at him.
“I want to find a solution. You understand..." he replied impatiently.
"Again, these solo efforts, Aron?" Raemur remarked, and stepped over to them.
Aron waved his hand off, and growled. "Get out of here, Raemur. It's a thing between Meyja and me, you have nothing to do with it."
“Yes, I have. At least yesterday you asked me to disarm her for you, do you remember?” Raemur hissed angrily, and stared at the young woman at his feet with hostility.
“And you did, so you can go home now. Thank you for your help, but from here on I can manage on my own.” Aron rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"Just do it, then we'll be over," whispered Meyja.
"Aron just likes to complicate things," Raemur grumbled, but then he turned around, and walked away.
Aron was silent for another minute in which he considered how he should best explain the matter to her while he held Meyja so that she would not try to escape again with some trick.
She interrupted his brooding when she almost pleadingly pleaded. "Send me to the dead, and stop torturing me."
"What am I torturing you with?" he asked confused.
A lonely tear ran from the corner of her eye. “With everything. With these questions, and your betrayal that you don't want to end now. Just do it, and release me."
“But I don't want to kill you, Meyja. I want to talk to you, and understand why. Even when I'm told to kill you, I never meant to do it. I wanted to take the opportunity for a conversation, but I was stupid, and I'm very sorry," he explained again.
“There is nothing to understand. You betrayed me and now I am faced with nothing again. I am insignificant and alone in this world. Nobody needs me, and there is nobody left that I need,” she replied.
"What happened to you?" Aron asked softly.
She laughed cheerlessly. "Again, one of those questions." Then she quickly grabbed his second dagger which was tucked into his waist belt, and when he snatched it from her hand, she cupped his wrist around the blade at her throat respectively. 
"Come on!" she snapped at him.
He writhed out of her grip, got up, and threw the weapon away before shouting, "Stop it! This is so crazy, Meyja! Are you sure you want to leave me with all this vagueness, yeah? Is that what you want? "After taking a deep breath, he said in a low halting voice. "We were... friends..."
She recognised his pain, the tears in his eyes, and suddenly she was so sorry for him. He must have suffered in the past, and now it only made things worse, even though she had already hurt him a lot. And he was right that they had been friends, they had seen each other every day for over a year, smoked together, and pricked each other with needles. Meyja had enjoyed it very much, but now she acted as if none of this was worth anything to her. And Aron had not only become a good friend, but also something of a confidante. Although she had never told him anything about her past, he would have been there for her as Yary was back then in Voynar.
For several minutes, during which she was unable to find the right words, he simply stood across from her, shifting restlessly from one foot to the other, then turned around, picked up his daggers, and hurried away.
She was still wrestling with herself, but a moment later she got up, and ran after him. "Aron, wait! I'm sorry!"
Desperate, she looked around for him, but she couldn't see him anywhere, and after a short time she was standing on the hill from which she had seen the harbour two days earlier. There she finally sank to her knees, and fought back tears. It was quiet around her, only the faint rustling of the wind in the trees could be heard, and even when she tried to listen more closely because she couldn't stand the damned silence, it only got louder. Her thoughts echoed in her head like echoing screams, so she covered her ears.
She winced, and put her hands down when something big dark appeared in the corner of her eye, but it was Aron who was standing next to her.
“You know, Meyja. I've had enough of this back and forth. We're going to Ed. Now. Together,” he said flatly.
"And then?" she asked startled.
He looked down at her. “Then we'll save your life. Come along."
She took his outstretched hand reluctantly, and let him help her up before she followed him in silence to the pumpkin field where they collected her daggers and stiletto.
However, Aron initially kept the weapons, so that Meyja didn’t pose any obvious danger to Ed then they walked back to Sharaya in silence through the nightfall, and stopped in front of the shop.
"Let me speak, you couldn't say anything anyway that would convince him to let you live," Aron mumbled tense before opening the door.
She followed him in quietly, and looked embarrassed at her feet when Ed came through the curtain, and eyed the two angrily.
“What's that supposed to mean? You had a job, Aron,” Ed growled and sat up in front of him.
Aron handed him Meyja's blades. "She is unarmed and I ask you to listen to me before something stupid happens that we can't undo afterwards."
Ed gave Meyja a long unfathomable look before he looked at Aron again, and nodded barely noticeably.
"Thanks, Ed." With a short nervous throat clearing, Aron rubbed his forehead before he began. "First of all, I would like to apologise for disregarding the order. But I had my reasons which will certainly appear comprehensible, and sensible to you when I have reached the end."
"I hope so, otherwise you can prepare for the worst," Ed grumbled sourly.
"I know. But before I pick up the inevitable rub, let me explain it first,” Aron continued undeterred. “Meyja and I talked, and I even initially let her believe that I would kill her. To be completely honest, I took advantage of this situation because I was interested, and wanted to learn more about her. She could have just come out with it, but in the end, she’d have chosen death rather than betraying a syllable. Even my hand with the dagger brought she to her own throat, and I could tell that she had already finished with her life. This proves that she can be trusted, and would be loyal to us if we let her. Besides…” Aron grabbed his lower jaw, and grimaced before he continued. “She can hit hard as hell. Even if she is so small, she will surely soon surpass me. And then you don't want to do without her anymore."
Aron looked at Ed expectantly while Meyja still didn't dare to look up.
"Are you finished?" Ed wanted to know, and waited for Aron's nod. "Then go upstairs. Meyja, you come tomorrow at the usual time. And don't forget the daggers."
She grabbed her weapons which Ed held out to her, mumbled a low thank you, and made her get out without looking back.
When she turned the corner, she paused, and turned around before stopping again, and turning around again. Should she wait for Aron, or just disappear? On the one hand he had just saved her life, but on the other hand he had only put it in danger.
Still... They were probably still friends – or so she hoped – and so she would wait until he left the shop. So, she placed herself not far from the entrance, and peered tensely at the door.
Leaning against the wall of a house, she stood motionless, and involuntarily thought again about how much she actually liked Aron. Had she left town that day, she would have been very sad, and missed him, but she still couldn't let him into her life easily, even if she wished more than anything that she could.
She thought of his face, the bearded chin, and his strong jaw, the bright blue eyes, and his nose which he must have broken at some point, and which was therefore slightly crooked. His mouth with the soft lips that she had tasted once before, and that she silently longed for every time they met. Her stomach fluttered strangely, and for a moment she thought she was going to be sick, but shortly afterwards the feeling subsided again.
A few minutes later a shadow stepped onto the pitch-dark street, and came in her direction at the corridor she recognised that it was Aron, and she went to meet him.
A little in front of each other they stopped, and looked at each other before Aron asked quietly, "Are you okay?"
"Depending on the circumstances, yes. And you?” she mumbled depressed.
He nodded then took a surprisingly long step, and pulled her into his arms. "I am now," he whispered and she could hear him crying.
She didn't want to push him away, even if she found this sudden hug a bit rowdy. So, she tried to relax, and let herself into it by putting her arms around him in turn, and leaning against him. His body was warm, and although she actually preferred it to be cool, she liked his presence more and more with every second.
When his shoulders shrugged slightly, she asked. "Are you alright?"
"Of course. You're alive and out of danger, so it couldn't be better,” he replied, crying softly, and hugging her tightly.
He smelled incredibly good, and she unconsciously breathed in his scent then he loosened the hug, and looked at her in surprise.
"Have you just sniffed me?" he wanted to know.
She raised her head embarrassed, and met his gaze when she noticed he had a blue eye.
"What happened?" she exclaimed dismayed, and her hand twitched to his face.
"Well, I ignored Ed's orders, and he was a little angry about it. But it doesn't hurt, at least not as much as my jaw for your hard right hook,” he remarked with a grin, and wiped his wet eyes roughly.
"I'm really sorry, but it was self-defence," she said and shrugged her shoulders apologetically. “But actually, I waited to thank you. And because I wanted to know something..."
He waved generously, and cocked his head questioningly.
"Well... I... It... Are we still friends?" she stammered, and was secretly glad that it was so dark that he couldn't see her bright red cheeks.
After hugging her again he whispered. "Of course."
A huge load fell off Meyja’s mind, and she returned the gesture effusively.
After another minute in which both enjoyed being close to each other, Aron said, "I don't know how you are, but now I have nothing against a little Philos and a cup of wine."
"I'd love to. Thanks for the invitation," she replied smiling.
"Never mind. I thought you already knew how much I like you to be with me," he grinned, and let his arm around her as they made their way to his flat.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 20 - Silk

Arriving in his apartment, Aron went straight into the next room to get them two glasses of wine, and when he came back, Meyja was already sitting in one of the armchairs. He took off his belt with the daggers, and put them on the table next to her weapons before he sat down with her, and picked up the tin with the Philosopher's herb.
While he rolled a cigarette, she watched him and mumbled: "Your eye still looks a lot worse than your jaw."
“To be honest I don't really care. At least I look reckless and daring," he replied with a broad grin, and lit the tube – as he liked to call his cigarettes.
She laughed softly and replied: "If you ever feel like it again, please let me know and I'll arrange for a new black."
Chuckling in amusement, he pulled the tube again, and then passed it on to Meyja before nodding.
Before he could say anything, she continued, "Besides, you look daring even without a blue eye." Then she drew once, gave him the cigarette with a giggle, and leaned back.
They were both already a bit dazed and Aron asked: "Do you like that?"
"What do you mean?" she was standing very beside her because she had hardly eaten anything all day, and the Philosopher's herb hit her head like a hammer.
He laughed uproariously and replied, “I remember a similar moment, only then it was the other way around. But I meant this…” With a sweeping gesture of his hand, he indicated his appearance.
Meyja's cheeks reddened again, and she caught her bite on her lower lip before she simply nodded silently, and avoided his gaze.
Aron's grin died down, and he stared at her in amazement, he hadn't expected that she would just admit it. "Is that why you smelled me in front of the shop?"
“When you put it that way, it sounds kind of abnormal. I only noticed that you smell good, that's all," she replied offended, and took a long sip of the wine.
When she mustered up enough courage to look at him again, she noticed that he too had blushed, and she couldn't help smiling.
"What?" he asked, and she could tell that he knew exactly why he was amusing her.
So, she just shook her head, and just kept looking at him while she wondered why she was so afraid that he would get too close to her – after all, he was Aron and she trusted him like no one else in Sharaya.
"I think I would like to lie down," she mumbled dazedly, and stood up swaying.
With soft knees she shuffled over to his bed, and lay down on it with a groan, only now noticed how tense, and tired she was. Her whole body screamed for rest after this exhausting day while Aron seemed to feel the same way.
He lay down next to her, and exhaled audibly. "Would you mind if I take off my trousers?" he asked before realising how wrong his question sounded. "Wait... it wasn't meant like that. I just thought that we will both fall asleep soon, and I don't like to rest fully clothed."
She giggled softly. "As long as you keep something on that covers the awkward areas, you can put aside as much as you want."
"Awkward? He's really not to me, but I understand what you mean. Don't worry, I'll keep my underwear on,” he replied, and laughed uproariously when he saw that she was red again.
She slapped him gently on the shoulder. “Stop laughing. It's not as if I don't know what a naked man looks like."
"But?" he asked still grinning, and took off his shirt and pants.
"Well... I... just forget about it, okay?" she stammered covering her eyes with one hand.
She couldn't explain it, but she would just be embarrassed to see him completely naked, even if she wasn't afraid that she would be assaulted.
He threw his clothes off the bed and turned to her. "You're so cute when you blush."
Sparkling between her fingers, she threatened, "Isn't a black eye really enough for you?"
She unconsciously looked at his body, Aron was actually muscular as she had already suspected. Some dark hair grew on his broad chest, and his legs were anything but narrow. He laughed again, and her heart slipped into her boots as the fluttering returned in her stomach, and she realised that it was probably because she thought he was so wonderful.
“A black eye is enough for me, but I hope I have more opportunities to get hold of one of you. After all, we're still friends,” he muttered trying to hide the disappointment that they weren't more than that.
She just fell silent, and took her hand from her eyes again to hold it in front of her mouth instead before yawning. Then she sat up and undid the front buckle of her chest strap from under her shirt. "Would you help me? That won't work if I still have something on,” she asked embarrassed, and turned her back on him after he nodded.
He picked up the fabric, and reached under it, but stopped in shock when he saw the lower part of her back. "Meyja... what the...?" he whispered, and took his hands off her again.
She hastily pulled her shirt back down. "You should never see that. Forget it. That's nothing to worry about."
"But... who did this to you?" he asked with shining eyes.
She shook her head, climbed over him, and went to the table by the window. “I think I'd better go. I'm sorry to have bothered you with it.” She routinely pushed her daggers into the strap which was not tight as usual, but still did its job then she put on her boots.
"Please stay. I'm sorry, I didn't want to…” he began, but she interrupted him by raising her hand.
With an apologetic smile on her features, she replied. “No, stop it. You cannot help it. See you tomorrow by the tree. Good night."
She slipped out the door before he could answer anything, and left the completely insecure Aron alone.
 When she woke up in the morning, she felt like she hadn't slept at all. Still, she crawled out of bed, put on fresh clothes, armed herself, and made her way to Ed. Thick clouds hung over Sharaya, but she refrained from pulling up her hood, enjoying the cool drops, and the smell of the rain that washed the dirt down the streets.
She pushed open the shop door, and waited for Ed to come through the curtain.
“Good morning and welcome back. You smell like Philos again, so I assume that you have made it up with Aron," Ed grumbled sourly when he saw her.
“We smoked, yes. But I spent the night at the Drunken Beggar,” she replied, and reached for the three parcels he handed her.
Ed let her know where to bring the deliveries, but didn't say a word more about Aron, or yesterday, and she set off.
After she had gone up through the wall into the Workshop, and turned a corner, she was suddenly grabbed, and pressed against the wall of the house, so that she dropped the parcel startled.
"Shit, Raemur! What's that supposed to mean?" She snapped at the attacker and pushed him aside before she picked up the bundles from the wet street.
“So, you're back. Good to know,” he muttered as he eyed her condescendingly. "Tell Aron that he has to take good care of you from now on."
Speechless at the threat, she watched him go until he disappeared behind a building.
'What was that...?' she thought.
Confused she went on, and did her work, pondering, before she got the payment for the errands from Ed, and wondered what to do next. She had now saved quite a sizeable sum of coins, and decided to buy some new clothes. So, she went back to the Workshop, and strolled through the alleys, bought a whole stack of tight, dark linen shirts, and ordered three more trousers made of soft leather from the couple in whose shop she had also bought the ones she wore. Finally, she wanted to get stockings and underwear, at least underpants because it was simply too warm for under shirts in Sharaya, and she hadn't put them on anyway since Aron had suggested that she should wear the chest strap on her bare skin.
She went into the tailoring shop where she had bought her linen underwear when she arrived in town, and looked around. She didn't particularly like the shirts here, as they were almost too long when she slipped the fabric into her pants, given her small body size, so she had already stocked up in the other shop. She just left the area with the outerwear, and went further back where she found all sorts of other things.
The traderess stepped up to her, and greeted her in a friendly manner, "Hello, can I help you in any way?"
Meyja gently shook her head, and replied, “Also. Thanks, but I can find my way around I think.” She took some of the simple linen briefs she already owned, and several pairs of knee socks.
“Simple and comfortable, that is out of the question. But let me show you something,” said the traderess, and handed her another pair of silk underpants. "A pretty woman like you shouldn't hide behind plain linen underwear."
Reluctantly, Meyja looked at the silk panties which admittedly felt much softer than linen, and were still much too wicked for her, after all, she had no intention of seducing anyone, and anyway never anyone saw her in underwear.
"You feel very different when you wear something like this," the woman continued with a smile.
"How?" Meyja wanted to know. She remembered how she had felt in the underwear her mother had given her back then before her wedding, and it was far from pleasant, but disgusting.
"Confident, attractive, beautiful..." the traderess enumerated, and handed her insecure customer a few more underpants in other colours so that she might be able to convince her to buy.
Meyja didn't notice that she was being chatted, and finally just nodded to end the conversation. "Fine. But I also want the linen ones,” she said grudgingly.
"Gladly. Which colour would you like?” asked the woman, and showed Meyja the selection.
"Only black, thank you," Meyja mumbled, and looked on morosely as the woman put five black silk panties on the pile with the linen underwear, but she didn’t protest.
'Ah, wonderful...' she thought.
“Only wash the silk with cold water, and a little soap. You should boil the lines, but you know that for sure,” explained the traderess, and with a smile accepted the coins which Meyja handed her with a nod. "Thank you, and come back soon."
"We’ll see," she just mumbled and turned to the door.
When Meyja stepped back into the street, she exhaled noisily, and rubbed her forehead. So, now she had silk panties, and didn't know what to do with them, but the dealer had promised her that she would feel more confident with them, and she was quite curious about them. She left the shirts, and linen underwear in a laundry then left the Workshop, and made her way back to the Drunken Beggar.
In her room she took out the silk underwear, and looked at it thoughtfully. 
Admittedly the short material was nice, so it would depend on a try, after all, her wedding night had been a few years ago, and she was still a child at the time. She undressed, and slipped into one of the silk panties that hugged her skin comfortably. In the mirror that was on the table, she saw that her bum was only half covered, but at the same time she got exactly the feeling that she had been advertised. Even if the scars in her eyes were a big blemish, she found herself beautiful, and attractive again for the first time in a very long time.
Wearing only her new silk panties, she washed the rest of the underwear in her little wooden tub as instructed, and hung the fabric over the back of the chair to dry. Then she got dressed again, and went to meet Aron.
When she arrived, she was almost an hour early, but Aron was already sitting on the grass, and waiting for her. For half the night she had thought about what to tell him about her scars because he would no doubt ask her about it now. But she just couldn't think of a lie that would have been plausible enough that he would have taken it from her, so she felt accordingly uncomfortable now when she sat down next to him.
“You're way too early," she muttered avoiding his gaze.
"Not just me." He eyed her.
Meyja remembered the meeting at noon and said, “I had an unpleasant encounter with Raemur today. He threatened me."
"What did he say?" Aron wanted to know worried.
“That you should take good care of me from now on. But I hope you know that you don't have to," she answered seriously.
He shook his head briefly. “Let's discuss this somewhere else. Let's go to my place before anyone can hear us."
She just nodded, and followed him back into the city in silence.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 21 - Revelation

When they arrived at Aron's apartment, they sat down in the armchairs as always, but today he didn't roll a cigarette, he looked at her seriously. “About Raemur is a problem. He seems seriously upset and I should speak to Ed about it. If our boss doesn't speak a word of power, you're in danger."

Meyja shrugged her shoulders and replied, “He didn't do anything to me, although he would have had the opportunity. I think he just wanted to intimidate me."

"Possible, yes. But I don't want to risk anything, you understand?” he asked worriedly.

Groaning in exasperation, she slapped her forehead, and grumbled: “Don't you always worry so much about me. I can defend myself well now."

“I know that, but you can't stop me. Put up with it,” he replied crossing his arms.

She couldn't think of an answer to that either, so she just kept quiet and looked at her knees which she had drawn to her chest.

"I didn't mean to embarrass you yesterday, sorry," Aron muttered after a while.

She just shrugged her shoulders again, and put on a meaningless smile. "What do you want to hear now?"

"How about the truth?" he suggested. "Actually, your training is almost complete, and I wanted to practice with you how to lie well and hide your identity, but in this respect you have so much ahead of me that I’d have to learn from you rather."

She stared angrily at him, and growled, “You have no right to learn anything about me, Aron. If I can't or won't tell anything, you have to come to terms with it. Learn to deal with it, or we've been friends for the longest time.” 

It pained her to say such a thing, but she would be more willing to lose him than give anything away, and make herself vulnerable. Although she had never revealed anything to him, he had known her for more than a year now, and was halfway able to assess her. In spite of all the secrecy, she had never been able to hide the subliminal information about herself, and he had been able to figure something out with regard to her reaction in different situations.

He chose his words accordingly. “I know, Meyja. But at least try to understand me too – before you run away again. As I told you, I like you, and I believe it’s mutual. Imagine the situation the other way around, and imagine how you would feel, if I didn't tell you about myself. And how you would react, if you discovered marks on me that clearly indicate that I was subjected to physical violence of unimaginable proportions. I know that it must be incredibly difficult for you to open up, and I understand that. But I won't like you any less because of that, let alone use any of it against you. I just want to help you, and be there for you. And I just don't get why you won't let me. What are you afraid of?"

She had remained seated because he had challenged her about running away so often, and she wanted to show him that she wasn't a coward. But now she felt the urge to flee all the more, and it cost her all strength to defend herself against it.

“I just don't want to have to talk about it, Aron. I like you too, very much. But I just can't do it. And I'm sorry.” What else she should have said in response to this lecture, she didn't know, especially because she knew how right he was about it.

He sighed and mumbled, "It's okay." Then he turned two tubes with more Philos than usual, and handed her one.

Meanwhile, Meyja had already poured wine into the cups that were still on the table from yesterday. "Thanks," she said quietly, clinking glasses with him, and lighting her cigarette.

They smoked in silence for a few minutes, and when Meyja was already feeling numb again, she continued, “You know, I would really like to tell you everything about myself, and I would like to be by your side, but in this respect, I am not like all the other women. You can't just touch me, and have fun with me. You couldn't even help me with my chest strap without turning it into a drama. I'm just not quite right in my head."

He remained silent for a moment, and nodded. “I am aware that you are not like everyone else. That is, among other things, the reason that I like you so much. And I feel that you are very scared, and I would like to take it away from you. You trust me to a certain extent – at least I assume so – but not far enough to tell me what it looks like inside you. Instead of giving anything away, you'd rather die, or send me away. But I think I know one thing... someone must have tormented you terribly in the past."

Before he could continue, tears welled up in her eyes, and she nodded. She couldn't tell him what was going on, but her need to at least roughly let him know why he couldn't have her increased significantly because of the Philosopher's herb.
 Aron was surprised because he hadn't expected that she would confirm any of his theories. "A man?" he asked softly.

She nodded again, and whispered, "My husband.”

Aron, dismayed, covered his mouth with his hands. "You're married?"

"I don't think he's still alive," she replied crying.

“Ed suspected that you lied when you said you were from Northaven. Instead, he assumed that you were Voyneress. Is that right?” he asked further.

After another nod, she said, "But I'm not a traitor."

"How could you? You were a child when the alliance of Destrothos broke up," Aron remarked understandingly, and reached for the herb jar again. "Would you like another one too?"

"Yes, please," she agreed gratefully.

"These are not light tubes, but massive tubes," he said with a low smile, and handed her one of the cigarettes.

"Good thing," she mumbled, and lit her glow stalk.

They smoked in silence for a minute and when Meyja already felt as if she was floating, Aron asked, "How old were you at your wedding?"

"Thirteen," she replied emotionless. The urge to talk became overwhelming, and she finally began to answer all the questions he had had. “Shortly after I turned thirteen, my parents sold me to a twelve years older man, and they even paid his family to do the marriage. I had to live in his house where he abused, and beat me almost every day. After about a year, I was so numbed that I no longer felt pain when he attacked me. So, he started cutting me because I wasn't screaming voluntarily. After six years my brother took me out of there when my husband wasn't home. Shortly afterwards Voynar fell, and I fled to Northaven. I stayed there for a while until one day a ship cast off that took me to Easthaven."

Aron had listened startled, now the corners of his eyes were shining, and he blinked a few times. "I'm... I'm so sorry, Meyja," he whispered in a halting voice. “Also, I forced you into this position. If only I had respected your wish, and just left you alone. I don't know what else to say about it. I am so incredibly sorry."

The unusually large amount of Philosopher's herb which uninhibitedly clouded her senses made her stand up. "Are you promising me something?" she asked while she held on to the chair, as she could almost no longer stand on her feet.

"Of course," he replied without hesitation, looking up at her. He, too, was so intoxicated that he didn't notice how much she was actually standing next to herself.

"Don't touch me," she mumbled darkly.

Aron nodded vigorously and replied, "I promise."

He hastily covered his eyes as she took off her shirt without warning, and turned her back to him at the same time.

"What are you doing?" he exclaimed.

Then she surprisingly sat down on his lap. “Take a look at it. And please be honest. How bad is it?"

Reluctantly, he took his hands from his face, and did as he was told. What he saw brought the tears back to his eyes, her back had been badly damaged, the scars stretched across her skin like a pattern of former cuts, and yet it fascinated him in a morbid way.

"Do you believe me when I promise you are still beautiful?" he asked softly, his hands clenched in fists to keep himself from touching her.

Meyja opened her mouth, but she couldn't think of anything to reply to, so she just stayed silent. But inside she noticed again the nervous flutter that almost drove her mad.

Aron continued, “I found you beautiful from the moment I saw you for the first time. Even these scars cannot change that. May... may I touch it?"

"Just the back," she whispered.

 When she felt Aron's hands caressing her back lovingly, and feeling the marks, she closed her eyes, just kept still and enjoyed his touch.

“They are soft. So tender…" he muttered absently.

Meyja had apparently also opened the button of her pants so that he could see the full extent of her injuries, and the waistband of her silk underwear peeked out from under the loosened leather.

Aron took a deep breath, and stammered, "That... what you are wearing... is also beautiful."

She hit her forehead gently, and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “I went to buy clothes today and the traderess talked me into it until I agreed to take these things. I don't usually wear something like that,” she explained embarrassed.

“Still, it's nice. And a little frivolous,” he said with a smile, and took his hands from her again so that she knew that this was not why he had touched her.

She straightened up again, looked at him over her shoulder, and he, too, immediately noticed the amorous fluttering in his stomach. “That's why I usually only wear linen. After all, I'm not a whore,” she replied amused.

“And you have to be a whore for silk?” he asked puzzled.

She yawned before giggling, shaking her head, and saying, “It's not about the material, you silly. It's about the cut."

He shrugged helplessly. “I'm sorry, I have little idea about underwear, and about the kind of underwear for women, even less. But do you want to lie down?” he asked thoughtfully.

Nodding, she tried to get up, but her lack of balance due to the intoxication, and the slipping pants made her stumble so that he had to catch her.

"Are you okay?" he mumbled worried.

She was laying back on him, and he looked up at the sky, seeing more of her than he could handle for the moment.

"I'm just so tired..." she whispered absently, a few seconds later she began to snore softly.

'Bloody heck...' he thought.

He had promised not to touch her, but now she was lying half-naked on top of him, and he had no choice but to carefully lift her into his arms and carry her to the bed, where he gently laid her down, as he had done before. Her trousers were now hanging in the back of her knees, and the attempt to pull them up again failed, so he pulled them off her legs, carefully loosened her chest strap without looking too closely, and then covered her carefully. Shaking his head, he looked at the sleeping woman in his bed, whom he loved so much, and who repeatedly brought him into such precarious situations. But that was exactly one of the reasons why he no longer wanted to be without her because he appreciated this chaos, and the hustle and bustle that she had brought into his otherwise monotonous life.

Although what she had finally revealed to him that evening had been anything but pleasant, and he would now constantly worry about not getting too close to her, it was no reason for him to simply drop her. He had suffered, too, if not as much as Meyja, but he longed to be around her more than anything else, even if he was never allowed to touch her.

When he undressed himself, he swayed alarmingly too, but he managed to undress down to his underpants and lie down next to her without falling over, although this time he made sure that there was enough space between them. He was already thinking with a smile on how she had snuggled up against him the last time, then he felt her disoriented hands again, and her cool body which snuggled up against him.

"Sleep well," he whispered knowing she couldn't hear him.

Then he closed his eyes, and fell asleep too. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 22 - Shame

When Aron woke up the next day, Meyja was still cuddled up next to him, but the sheet had slipped away and revealed her almost naked body, so that he hastily closed his eyes again.
"Meyja, wake up," he whispered.
She didn't move, just continued to sleep with her head on his shoulder, and her arm across his chest. So, he was forced to lie there, his eyes closed, and enjoying her presence until she rolled over on her back. He looked at her again, and couldn't help but look at her, her flat stomach, and her small, shapely breasts, the slender legs, one of which she had erected. His left arm was still on her neck, and he couldn't get up without roughly waking her, so he stroked her cheek with his right hand, and made another attempt to gently wake her up.
"Good morning sleepyhead. We're late, wake up,” he whispered.
Mumbling, she turned around until she was lying with her back to him, and his gaze fell involuntarily on her bottom, half covered with the silk panties made Aron's cheeks blush.
‘By all heavens...‘ he thought.
Aron felt the subliminal wish to just touch her, to feel her wonderful body under his fingers, and he was shocked to see that the sight of her had been enough to lift the fabric of his underpants. The hug in front of Ed's shop had also caused his middle to swell annoyingly, but fortunately the leather pants could hide such impulses so that Meyja hadn't noticed. If she woke up now, however, she would see it, and certainly draw the wrong conclusions, so he tried to calm down, closed his eyes again, and thought of various unpleasant things.
After a few seconds she suddenly moved, sighed, and sat up on her elbows, and Aron put the leg facing her up, hoping to hide his excitement.
She lay down on her stomach and rubbed her face a little disoriented before looking at him and realizing where she was. "What happened?" she asked softly.
"I took on a little too much Philos yesterday evening, I'm afraid," he replied. "And before you get scared... I'm pretty hard right now, so you better not look."
He tried to cover the bump with his hand, but by then Meyja's gaze had flickered down, and she startled up. "Crap, Aron! Why?!” That's when she noticed that she wasn't wearing anything but her silk panties and hastily reached for the sheet.
Aron turned away, and sat on the edge of the bed with his back to her. "Are you serious? Look at you and you will know why! I'm a man, Meyja! Only a dead person would not react if he woke up next to you! And you undressed yourself yesterday! You're embarrassing me, too!" he replied angrily.
Then he got up, and crossed the room to the next room to put some distance between himself and Meyja.
"Wait! You're right and I'm sorry!" she shouted forgetting the sheet and all her shame, and ran after him.
She reached him as he was walking through the door, and grabbed his hand.
"Please forgive me," she mumbled embarrassed.
Reluctantly, he turned to her and looked at her. The next moment he lost control, pulled her close, and kissed her passionately on the mouth.
Meyja put her hands on his chest startled, but then she noticed the taste of his lips. She just forgot all concerns, returned the kiss, and pressed against him, even if she felt his centre against her stomach.
Aron let go of her surprisingly quickly, took a step back, and looked down at her in dismay. "I'm... sorry, I didn't mean to..." he stammered shocked.
She didn't know what to say, but when her gaze fell on the huge bulge in his underpants, she instinctively knew how to make this messy situation better. She had been forced so often that she thought she knew what men liked, so she stepped up to Aron again, and kissed him tenderly while her nervously trembling fingers wandered into his underwear and embraced him.
Aron released the kiss and asked confused: "What... what are you going to do?" His voice trembled with excitement.
"Do you like that?" she whispered, and when he nodded in embarrassment, she went down on her knees in front of him, and revealed his centre.
She paused for a second, then remembered that she was already tainted, and the phallus in her hand belonged to none other than the man she was in love with. In addition, she trusted Aron like no one else in the world, and thus knew that nothing could happen to her.
Slowly she moved her head forward, and he held on to the door frame against which he had leaned, panting. His conscience screamed to stop her, but he couldn't. Her caresses felt better than anything he had ever felt before.
"By all..." he exclaimed and groaned softly.
She continued undeterred as he opened his eyes, and looked down. He had been very worried about getting too close to her, even after kissing her he wanted to slap himself for it. But now she knelt before him, and looked up at him, the forbidden fruit that he had not dared to taste. And yet she was just tasting him, one hand around his shaft, and the tip in her mouth.
The sight brought him to ecstasy, and he gently pushed her back when he realised that he could no longer hold on to himself. With a pained groan he discharged himself as he slid down the door frame to the floor. Breathing hard he looked at her, and the guilty conscience hit him like a blow.
"Please forgive me..." he whispered, and stroked her soiled cheek.
She gently shook her head, and said embarrassed, "I was to blame for this situation, so it was the least I could do."
“It's not about guilt at all, Meyja. You don't have to do anything you don't want,” he replied quietly.
“But I wanted to. And I trust you,” she replied.
"It's just that I've put you in a serious position, after all, you've been abused for years," he said sadly.
"Not from you," she objected. "Didn't you like it?"
“Yes, of course. Just look at you," he replied still worried. "It was amazing."
She looked down at herself, and saw that his effusion had hit her upper body, and stomach. "Not that wild," she mumbled, and covered her breasts with her arms ashamed.
Aron remembered they had already wasted way too much time, and he said shocked, “Don't you have to go? Ed is sure to rip your head off."
"No, he doesn't need me today, I already took care of everything yesterday," she replied, and waved him off.
He nodded in relief and asked, “Do you want to stay? I don't have to leave the house till the evening."
"Yes, I would like that," she whispered, and lowered her arms again.
The false shame suddenly seemed more than inappropriate, after all, they had just had a very intimate moment with each other, and he had already seen her, so there was nothing more to hide anyway.
He got up, and put on his underwear embarrassed before reaching out to her, and helping her up. "Would you like breakfast?" he asked brushing his tangled black hair back from his face.
"Only if it doesn't make any circumstances," she replied cautiously.
"Of course not. But first let me fix this mess,” he said.
Then he took a clean linen towel which he normally used to dry dishes from the shelf behind her, and gently wiped the spill from her body.
Meanwhile she looked at him, felt the fluttering in her stomach again, and when he had put the rag aside, she snuggled up against him again.
He put his arms around her, and found her lips with his own, kissed her deeply, and at the same time he could hardly believe how close they had actually come.
When she took a breath, he whispered breathlessly, “This moment is just perfect. Nowhere would I prefer to be right here. With you."
"I have to confess something to you, Aron," she replied softly, and her cheeks turned bright red. “I think... I fell in love with you. There's this weird tingling sensation in my stomach when you look at me. And I miss you when you are not with me."
"Then you are just like me," he admitted quietly, and hugged her tightly. "Since we met on the tree for the first time."
"So long already?" she exclaimed in surprise.
He just nodded, and enjoyed her soft skin on his, and her hands which were constantly caressing his back.
“I only wanted to admit it late. One day after we smoked for the first time, I suddenly realised it. Right before Ed warned me about you," she said.
Aron let go of her with a frown, and looked at her with cocked head. "He warned you about me? What did he say then?"
“That you would change your friends almost every day. And that nothing is important to you but crowns and whores," she answered truthfully. 
“Well, in some ways he wasn't lying about it. However, you still have to know something about me. And about the relationship between Ed and me. Just let me prepare something to eat in the meantime, otherwise you will starve to death before I even get there,” he replied with a smile, and kissed her again. Then he started frying scrambled eggs, and slicing bread while telling, “Ed is like a father to me. My parents died very early, and I grew up in an orphanage. At some point I decided it was time to get out of there, so I ran away, and hit the store looking for work with Ed. He let me do the errands you're doing today. I even cleaned, just did anything for a few coins. And Ed was the father to me all these years, whom I never had. We have a very close relationship to this day; I even have to be educated sometimes.” He grinned, and pointed at his black. "And as for the crowns, and the whores... well... Ed just doesn't like the fact that I buy Philosopher's herb because it's very expensive, so that remark is far-fetched. He's true about the whores though, I never held back when it came to women. And when I couldn't find a lady for one night, I used the services of one of the easy girls. In fact, I had a certain reputation in that regard. The whores liked me because I was one of the polite customers, but at some point, I lost interest in them. That was when you came into my life.” Leaning sideways against the stove, he smiled at her, and she felt the tingling in her stomach again.
"Why are you telling me this? You could have just denied it," she said.
He shook his head, pulled the pan off the hearth, and put the finished scrambled eggs on two plates while he replied, "No, that would have been dishonest, and you are far too important to me to even think about lying to you. You are more valuable than anything else and I never want to keep secrets from you."
She looked somewhat embarrassed at her feet. “I don't want to keep any secrets from you either. I just have a past that I can't talk about. These scars... They are part of something very dark that happened to me..."
"But I already know where the scars come from," he replied puzzled.
"What? Where from?” she asked startled.
Aron just left the breakfast, and went to her before he answered, “From you. You told me last night."
"Oh dear." Her nose went a little pale.
"All right. I just thought you remembered. But it was really too much Philos that I put on you,” he replied with an apologetic smile.
"Looks like it, yeah..." she said softly. "What exactly did I tell you?"
“That at thirteen you were married against your will to an older man who abused, and beat you. After six years your brother has you…", Aron began, but then he had to pause, and take a deep breath because tears welled up in his eyes, and he didn't want to cry.
"It's okay. You don't have to repeat it. But that's the short version, yes," she confirmed, and hugged him comfortingly. “I didn't mean to burden you with it. I feel good today. And I haven't felt as good as I do now in what felt like an eternity. In my whole life I have never been as happy as at this moment."
He returned the hug, and smiled at her. "For real?"
She nodded, and huddled against his chest. "You're the first man I wouldn't want to run away from screaming," she remarked with a giggle.
“Well, in a way, I feel the same way. At least when it comes to feelings. I never loved the women in whose bed I lay. But with you everything is different...“ he whispered, and hugged her tightly.
Meyja's heart pounded when he indicated that he felt love because for her it was a huge word, and she was far from sure, if something like love for someone other than her brother would ever be felt in her suspicious heart.
They lay in each other's arms for a few minutes, and petted each other cautiously when Meyja looked up and said, "The breakfast..."
Aron laughed softly, and asked, “Are you still hungry? I can fry eggs again if you want."
“You don't just have to do it for me. I also eat that stuff cold,” she laughed.
"Me too," he replied with a grin, and went to get the two plates.
Then he put on something decent, sat down in the armchair across from each other and ate the cold scrambled eggs while he laughed incessantly because of the chaotic situation in which they were once again. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 23 - Touch

They spent the whole day together, only in the early afternoon did they go to the Workshop together where Meyja picked up her new shirts, and linen underwear from the laundry then they made themselves comfortable in Aron's apartment in the armchairs, talked, and smoked weed until it got dark.
"May I ask you something else?" Aron mumbled hesitantly at some point, and she nodded. He took a drag on his cigarette, and asked further: "Have you ever touched yourself, Meyja?"
"Touched myself?" she repeated, frowning.
A little embarrassed, he tried to explain: "Well... by caressing yourself until you come?"
"Come? Where to? You speak in riddles..." she replied confused.
He writhed inwardly because he had never intended to address this subject so openly, since it was mostly unnecessary, but now he didn't want to leave her in the dark either. “When a man comes, he pours his semen. It's not that obvious with a woman, but women can come, too. You just call it that. When you reach a physical climax, it feels incredibly beautiful. Either by touching yourself, or by sharing the bed with someone,” he explained patiently.
“No, I never touched myself. And when I shared the bed with him, I always felt pain, and disgust. There was absolutely nothing nice about that,” she muttered.
"I'm very sorry," he said sadly, but then hurried on so as not to ruin the mood again. “It is one of the most beautiful feelings there is, if not the most beautiful of all. When you earlier... well... when I came, it was the most incredible feeling I ever had because it was you with whom I was allowed to experience it."
“But it wasn't nice. And certainly not the nicest feeling there is,” she replied confused.
"That may be because he was a filthy rapist, and not someone you like," he said.
Meyja sat up with a frown, and asked, “Aron, do you want to persuade me to do some things with you out of curiosity? Looking for a feeling that I don't know, just because I like you, and you want to use me?"
“You would trust me to do that, wouldn’t you? Meyja, I would never do that!” he shouted shaken. "I've never loved a woman as much as you, so why should I do this to you?"
"I'm sorry... This topic is just confusing, and I don't know about this. I don't know anything about lust, or highlights, or anything,” she replied meekly and suddenly felt incredibly stupid.
“It's okay, I can understand you. Let's not argue about this please. I'm just afraid of putting you in any situation that you could blame me for that's why I asked," he apologized, and stood up when she was silent. “I'm hungry, and I would like to get something to eat. Do you want something too? "
"As long as you promise not to worry," she replied with a nod.
"I promise, Your Highness," he replied with a grin, bowed, and went into the next room laughing.
Meyja lounged in the armchair, put her legs over the armrest, and thought about what Aron had just said. It would never have occurred to her to touch herself; her body had become so strange to her when her breasts began to grow, and she had noticed the dark hair in her lap. When she bled for the first time, she really didn't want to touch herself down there any more, she had even found washing uncomfortable, she had disgusted herself so much. Fortunately, the bleeding soon stopped, and since then she had been able to make friends a little more with herself.
 In her growing curiosity, she undid the button of her trousers, and slipped her hand in under the waistband of her silk underwear to her lap. She began to feel herself with her eyes closed, exploring for the first time what was between her legs when she was twenty. Aron had spoken of caressing, so she caressed herself hesitantly, but she felt absolutely nothing.
"Oh, sorry," said Aron who had just come back through the door, and hastily turned around. "The food is ready. Should... should I wait for it?"
She had been so focused that she hadn't even noticed him, but now she had ripped her hand out of her pants, hurriedly closed the button, and sat up with a bright red head.
"No, no. I'm sorry," she muttered, and looked down at her knees embarrassed. "I was only curious."
Aron looked briefly over his shoulder before turning back to her, and putting a bowl of soup in front of her. "Do not worry. It's far from bad to see. But surprising, and disturbing someone is a bit uncomfortable.”
She could see that he, too, had blushed. "You couldn't see anything, and you didn't bother me either because I didn't feel anything," she replied, and giggled in embarrassment.
"Not? Well, that's... a shame... I don't know…" he stammered, and smacked his forehead laughing. “You keep bringing me into such strange situations that I am simply speechless. And I'm usually very quick-witted, and am having the gift of gab."
"Forgive me," she apologized, and grabbed the bowl.
"All right. Enjoy it,” he replied with a smile.
She nodded, and replied, “Thank you. Bon Appetit."
After trying, he remarked: "Oh dear... I really can't cook."
"I can't do better," she said with a giggle.
“Our talents lie elsewhere. So be it,” he muttered, and grinned.
Played thoughtful she frowned, and teased, "So? Where are your talents?"
He snorted into his soup, and replied in a dark voice, "Maybe I'll show you someday…"
She immediately turned bright red again, and mumbled, “I don't know how to understand that. But I do without for the time being, I think."
“At least until I come back, you have to go without it. You'd better stay here because of the Raemur affair, but I'm afraid I'll have to leave you alone for about an hour. An order is waiting,” he apologized, and slurped the last of the soup out of the bowl.
"Do you need help?" she wanted to know, and started to get up.
He waved it off, put the bowl on the table, and replied, “No, that would be too dangerous. But I promise it won't take me long.” Then he got up, armed himself, and put on his boots.
She let herself sink back into the upholstery. “Okay. Take care of yourself, and good luck."
"As always. Don't open the door to anyone until I'm back.” He winked at her again, and left the flat.
Standing at the window, she watched him walk down the street at night, just before he disappeared from view, he turned around, and threw her a kiss. She returned the gesture, and sauntered over to the bed where she undressed, and lay down on her back.
With Aron's pillow behind her head, and his scent in her nose, she let her hands slide over her naked body, touched her breasts, and caressed them gently. She found that they felt good, even if the left was a little bigger than the right. Before her fingers reached her lap, she paused for a moment, reached for the sheet, and covered herself because she did not know when Aron was returning, and did not want him to see her immediately, should he surprise her with what she was up to now. A little hesitantly she moved her hand over her pubic area, and first felt the outside before she spread her legs, and ran a finger between the soft labia. As she touched her pearl, she instinctively realised that this was a point that felt good, and she began to rub gently.
 Aron knocked on the door, and waited impatiently for steps to approach. When he was about to hammer again on the wood, the entrance was torn open.
"What is it?" Raemur growled annoyed, but when he recognised Aron, his expression brightened. "You're the one. Always walked in.” He closed the door behind his guest, sat down with him at the table, and offered him something to drink, but Aron declined with thanks.
“I don't plan to stay long. Actually, I just wanted to do one thing… tell you to leave Meyja alone,” Aron said impatiently.
"So? Just say you won our little bet,” Raemur exclaimed in disbelief.
Aron closed his eyes for a moment, and was ashamed when Raemur reminded him that he had acted like an asshole in a rush of madness. The two men had secretly made the bet shortly after the meeting in the store when Meyja had asked to get another teacher.
Raemur had challenged him by saying that it was his turn now, and that he would surely have greater success with 'the little one' than Aron. The man in turn had felt attacked in his manhood, and bet that he would manage to get Meyja into bed before Raemur.
When Aron was silent for a second too long, Raemur tore his eyes open. "You fucked her, didn't you?"
"No, I have not. But she's mine, and you leave her alone from now on, get it? No attacks, no suggestive looks, and no threats,” said Aron angrily.
Raemur smiled. “You know the rules, Aron. As long as you haven't been in bed with each other, she doesn't belong to you either, and I still have the chance to win."
“You lost, and even if nothing had happened… that stupid bet is void. Keep your money, but keep your dirty fingers off of her,” Aron replied angrily.
"Only if you tell me what you've done to her," Raemur replied firmly, and crossed his arms over his chest.
Aron sighed softly. "Just let it be okay please."
Raemur laughed and poured schnapps into two glasses, one of which he pushed over to Aron. “Well, come on. After all, I want to know what we're toasting to."
Shaking his head, Aron rejected him, and was silent with a sombre expression on his face.
"If you haven't fucked her, it must be something else..." Raemur mused aloud then his face brightened even more. "How does she taste?"
“Raemur, finally stop. I beg you,“ Aron replied, pushed his glass against Raemur’s, and drank it off in one gulp. “I didn't touch her. Think of the rest."
With a low scream, Raemur hit his knee. “So, she gave head. Was it good?"
Aron burped loudly, and laughed. "Shit, what kind of stuff was that? Usually I can take more…"
"Well, tell me. Better than Iryna?” Raemur asked, and ignored Aron's question completely while he sipped his schnapps.
"Forget Iryna." Aron giggled exuberantly. He had overdone himself, and felt unusually drunk, which was not at all good when he went straight back to Meyja, and obviously hadn't just done one job as claimed.
"Insanity. Now I'm honestly jealous, brother,” remarked Raemur in awe. “Better than Iryna, a woman has to do it. Whores do nothing else for half the day, and have practice."
"Don't talk so derogatory, that's downright disgusting," growled Aron. "You'd better help me get sober again, after all you filled me up and I have to be back right away."
"She is waiting for you? Is she in your apartment, or are you going to see her? What did you tell her?” Raemur whispered amused. "Let me guess... you made her believe you had a job to do, didn't you?"
“Yes, she is in my flat and is waiting for me there. I said it would only take me an hour to kill a guy," Aron admitted. "And now finally stop before I lose my mind."
But Raemur didn't even think about it. "She's probably lying completely naked in your bed and you're sitting here with me instead of... damn it, just the idea if she'd be waiting for me without a piece of cloth..." He whistled softly through his teeth.
“She's guaranteed not to lie naked in my bed, but rather she smokes all of my Philos on her own. And so that I have an excuse for this shit, you come with me now. Then you can apologise for your threat, and say you stopped me,” Aron growled and pulled Raemur up by the arm. “But not a word about Iryna. I haven't seen her for over a year."
Together they made their way to Aron's flat who was getting increasingly nervous, and was constantly wondering whether it was a good idea to have taken Raemur with him.
When they arrived, he whispered. “Be decent, and honestly apologise, I mean it. If you don't pull yourself together, you'll get one too.” He pointed to his black eye then unlocked the door, and looked around for Meyja.
She was neither in bed nor sat in one of the armchairs, there was no trace of her in the next room either, and her daggers, and boots were gone.
"So much for that," remarked Raemur dryly.
Fear germinated in Aron, he went to all the windows, but these were still tightly closed, so she must have gone through the door. Finally, under the metal box, he discovered a scrap of parchment with two words on it.
City wall
"Crap, what does that mean?" Aron scolded confused.
Raemur looked over his shoulder. “City wall. Can you not read?"
"You idiot. I see that, too. But the city wall is infinitely long, and what part of the damn wall does she mean? On top, or at the foot of it? We've never been there together, and I have no idea how to find her. Damn shit," Aron continued to moan.
“Then we'll just look together. Maybe I can find one, or the other of the men,” suggested Raemur.
“You try Eralion, Thom, and Sully. The others will be out somewhere for sure. I'm on my way, and start looking," answered Aron, and locked the door.
When they stepped out into the street, Aron put his hand on Raemur's shoulder. "Thank you, brother."
Then he ran away, and Raemur strolled calmly down the alley in the direction of the Old Town, back to his flat.
Despite the vague news, Aron still checked the room in the Drunken Beggar to which he could easily gain access with a lock pick, but there was no sign of Meyja either. However, he did see the silk panties hanging over the chair, and her bag, so she probably hadn't left the city. A little calmer than before, he considered where he might get on the wall, and after he had thought of a possible possibility, he left the inn, and hurried away through the streets. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 24 - Tobacco

Meyja blew the smoke that had just filled her lungs into the pleasantly cool night air and looked down at the city into which she had so desperately tried to get. Sharaya was only really beautiful at night, but during the day the streets were overcrowded and noisy, and it was not just in the gutter at the foot of the mountain that it stank terribly.
Still, she didn't know where else to go, to take a step across the border to Destrothos, was almost like suicide, and she didn't know any other towns, and villages in Abarglen, so only the capital of Jevarish remained. Even if she had felt at home in Northaven, her chances of building something up there had been vanishingly slim.
 Here in Sharaya, she had a roof over her head, was able to buy food, and clothing with the coins Ed paid her, and she worked ambitiously to become an assassin. All in all, she was happy with the chances she had – but not with herself.
It had been sheer curiosity when she touched herself, but after realizing the feeling she had also become aware of some things. Something was wrong with her. She had felt lust, and also a hot desire for Aron which shook her deeply. Had he been around, she would surely have offered herself to him, which, in her opinion, would hardly have been sensible. Of course, she liked Aron, and was in love with him, but she wasn't ready to become one of his achievements.
He, on the other hand, had already put the word love into his mouth and she had completely misunderstood it. She trusted him on a friendly, emotionally distant level, but when it came to more what had been done to her made her not only suspicious, but downright paranoid.
She just couldn't shake her fear that he just wanted to get her into bed, and she would like to scourge herself for it because she had already satisfied him without thinking about it properly.
But only the realisation that a feeling that other people perceived as breathtakingly wonderful and beautiful caused her such discomfort, had led to her running away again. With her past, she would certainly never be able to live a normal, fulfilling, and happy life, thanks to her parents and Ethan.
Not only her back was marked by the terrible experiences that had started in her childhood, and now extended into her adulthood. But now she could finally run away when she felt the urge to give in to it for the first time in her life. Even if she had at least left a message this time so that Aron didn't worry too much, and knew where to find her.
And now she was sitting on the city wall, and smoking simple cigarettes because she didn't know where to get her own philosopher's herb, and she probably wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway. And yet she enjoyed the freedom she had because she could go where she wanted, run away whenever she wanted, and surround herself with the people she valued.
And the simple tobacco, and the cheap schnapps weren't that bad either.
 She looked up when she saw someone next to her, but contrary to what she expected, it wasn't Aron who stepped next to her.
"You?" asked the dark-haired man in amazement, and looked at her in astonishment.
Her look was no less surprised because it was the Voynarian who had saved her life when she arrived in Sharaya, even if she had forgotten his name. But this time he wasn't wearing shiny armour, but street clothes like ordinary men.
"I could ask you that as well," she mumbled cautiously before throwing the cigarette from the wall, and getting up.
"As I can see, you have taken my advice to heart, and adapted yourselves to the southern rabble here," whispered the guard, and looked around briefly, but there was no one around who could have heard him. "But only as far as the external appearance is concerned, I hope."
She just ignored his words. “Thank you for not betraying me. Back then at the gate.“ Meyja sat down next to him, after he was simply taking a seat on the wall.
He smiled unfathomably. "After all, we have to stick together so we can get back to our home someday, don't we?"
"Is that why you're here?" she wanted to know.
With a gentle shake of his head he explained, “No, it was rather the events in the Ice Lands that forced this decision on me. And as a major in the Sharaya City Guard, there are opportunities for me to do something for the Kingdom of Voynar, such as saving you. What are your names?"
"Blake. In Voynar I was called Eadda, but I've taken on the name Meyja now. And you?” she replied.
"They call me Darius Bryce here, but my name is actually Cayden Kavanagh," he replied with a smile.
“Kavanagh? Are you... are you... the son of King Roarke Kavanagh?” she stammered aghast.
“I am. And you're the daughter of Faegan Blake, aren't you?” Kavanagh asked back.
She just nodded with her mouth open before pulling herself together, and humbly bowing her head. "I had no idea. Forgive me, Your Highness," she mumbled embarrassed.
He laughed softly. "Stop it. Just call me Darius, that's enough."
“Alright, Darius. I'm Meyja,“ she introduced herself a little cautiously, and considered whether she should offer him her hand.
Cayden made the decision for her by holding out his while she gently nudged his shoulder with her shoulder, the way they do in the north.
"Well, we should refrain from doing that from now on, not that anyone can see us." Then he nodded grinning with his chin in her direction, and asked, "Do you still have cigarettes?"
"Of course," she answered hastily, took the tobacco, and the fine rolling paper out of her pocket, and rolled two cigarettes, one of which she handed to Cayden who sighed, and thanked her.
"The men in the barracks always pretend they don't smoke secretly just because I'm their superior, and they're afraid that I might chastise them," he explained amused, and lit his glowing stick before he lit Meyja, too. "And since I'm too clumsy myself to roll some myself, I usually get nothing."
“A friend showed me a simple trick that makes it very easy. Look here,” she said, and demonstrated.
He raised his eyebrows in amazement, and when he tried it himself, he made it on the first try. "A wonder. And I was already thinking that I was completely free of talent,” he said with a chuckle, and took a leisurely puff on the still smouldering cigarette.
"May I ask you something?" she began carefully.
"Go ahead. Please don't treat me differently just because I told you who I am. Unless I'm wearing my armour, then of course you have to salute,” he replied with a wink.
“I was aware of that. I'm silent like a grave, and nobody will find out a word from me,” she whispered. "But please tell me how did you get those dark eyes?"
“There are eye drops that colour the iris dark. I don't know, if I'll ever get the blue back, but right now my survival is more important than the colour of my eyes,” he said. "I can't see your eyes in this darkness right now, but they were a very dark blue, do I remember correctly?"
She nodded. "Yes, they are more like water than ice."
“You are in no great danger with that. Your red hair was overly noticeable,” he muttered, and flicked his cigarette butt from the wall. Then he lit the glow stick that he had rolled himself, and grimaced. “You can do better than that. I still have to practice a little, it seems to me."
"Give it to me." When he handed her his cigarette, she took a drag on it. "Put in a little more tobacco and screw it in harder, then you'll be perfect."
“What are you doing to earn yourself in Sharaya? You don't sell tobacco, do you?” he asked amused.
Meyja gently shook her head. “No, far from it. At the moment I'm still running errands, but I was trained on the side. If all goes well, I'll soon be an assassin."
He raised his eyebrows in amazement. “You are cutting, Meyja. A strong girl, as befits a Voyneress. What do you kill with?"
She pulled one of her daggers from her back and showed it to Cayden before putting her weapon back away. “I have two of them and a stiletto in my boot. But the blades have never tasted blood, I'm not that far,” she admitted.
The tower clock struck midnight, and Cayden jumped up quickly. “Damn it, I'm late. But I come here every other evening at the same time as today maybe we'll see each other again, and smoke together once more,” he said goodbye with a wink then disappeared over the edge of the wall down.
Cayden Kavanagh made an appointment with a budding criminal in the enemy's capital, she could hardly believe it. And she could understand even less that she liked him, after all, he was the son of the man who had driven the Ares to the edge of the Ice Lands. She would have wanted to ask him so many more questions, but now she had unfortunately not gotten around to it which meant that she would have to meet him again.
But she had to worry about that on another day, because Aron just climbed up to her, and let himself fall next to her.
"Are you alright? Who was that?” he asked breathlessly, and looked at her worriedly.
She nodded briefly. “I'm fine, don't worry. He was a city guard, and he wanted a cigarette. Do you want one, too?"
Aron just nodded confused, and Meyja rolled two cigarettes which she lit and handed him one of them.
They smoked in silence for a few minutes while he stared at her, trying not to show how upset he actually still was.
"What am I to you, Meyja?" he quietly asked.
"My teacher and my best friend," she replied puzzled. "Why do you ask?"
He struggled inside, she could see it and when he looked up again, and found hers, she recognised pain in it. “Because I ran halfway through the city looking for you. Finally, I find you sitting around with some guy who also belongs to the city guard, and you call me someone you know in front of him," he whispered with suppressed anger in his voice.
"You eavesdropped on us?!" she exclaimed louder than intended.
Aron nodded. “At least briefly. From the moment he begged you for a cigarette."
"I just didn't want to reveal too much about you, that's all," she grumbled a little indignantly.
“But you reveal that you are about to become an assassin? Do you know that that's why I would have to kill you, Meyja? If Ed knew about it..." he replied, and covered his face with his hands.
“I'm sorry, Aron. But I know something about him that would be even more deadly, if it ever was revealed,” she replied.
When Aron took his hands off his face, she saw that he was crying. "That's not what it is about. At first you disappeared, and I'm looking for you for half an eternity. Then I'll find you with some bastard who obviously makes you look good. You tell him the most secrets that you could have given away, and, last but not least, you also meet up with each other."
“But he's not some bastard by all heavens. Do you think otherwise I would have told him what I said? Do you really think that I would talk to someone who happened to walk along about something like that?” she hissed.
"Oh, excuse me. He's not just any bastard, he's a Voynarian bastard. That changes the situation, of course,” he replied scornfully.
Meyja got up abruptly. “It's enough. See you tomorrow. Either to practice or I come to my execution. Think about it. Good night."
"Now don't run away again..." he grumbled, but by then she had silently jumped down from the wall, and disappeared around a corner of the Old Town. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 25 - Blood

Aron got up and because he wasn't brave enough to just jump from the four-meter-high city wall, like Meyja, he climbed down and ran after her. She walked briskly, and he only reached her five streets away when she was just heading for the entrance of the Drunken Beggar.

"Wait, please," he whispered to her, and grabbed her shoulder to turn her around.
 Her fist hit him in the face, and he let go of her with a groan.

"I said you shouldn't touch me!" When she saw blood gushing out of his nose, she covered her mouth with her aching hand. "That... I didn't mean... I'm sorry."

"Are you feeling better now at least?" he asked in a nasal voice, and lifted his shirt to stop the bleeding.

She just nodded silently, and looked at his bare belly before hesitantly running her fingers over it, she didn't know why exactly she did that, but she couldn't help it, he was just too handsome, even if his face was smeared with blood right now.

"Meyja, what the..." Aron began confused.

He was cut short when she pressed her mouth greedily over his, and kissed him demanding while she pressed against him. His skin was so soft and warm just like his lips, and his own taste mixed with the metallic blood almost drove her crazy.

"Wait..." he wanted to protest, but she paid no attention to him, instead pulling him backwards towards the door of the Drunk Beggar, still pounding his mouth with kisses.

Meyja pushed the door open, and Aron lifted her onto his hips so she clung to him with arms and legs while he carried her up the stairs. Those present in the guest room, who cheered them on, they didn’t even notice. The room wasn't locked, and they stumbled in, finally stopped, and Aron kicked the door so that it fell shut before he paused and freed himself from Meyja.

"What are you going to do?" he whispered nervously.

Instead of an answer, he got another kiss and her fingers unbuttoned his pants, which made him realise what she was up to.

Again, he pushed her away, and looked at her seriously before he asked gently, “Are you in your right mind? Do you know what you're about to do?” He didn't even wait for her answer, but rather hastily lit the lamp on the table before looking at her again.

Her big blue eyes met his gaze, and he realised that she knew exactly what she was doing. His blood was on her face, but he didn't care that only made her more attractive than ever.

His fingers trembled with excitement as he slowly pulled the shirt off her head, and for the first time was able to look openly at her. The leather belt framed her contours, and accentuated her small firm bosom which he gently touched before bowing his head, and kissing her nipples.

Meyja gasped with relish, and reached into his tangled hair while she surrendered to his touch, and felt wetness seep into her underwear.

He picked her up again, and carried her to the bed where he set her down, took a step back, and first stripped off his shirt before he pushed down his already open pants and underwear.

Her breath caught at the sight of his muscular, naked body, which was adorned here and there with a stain of his blood. Even if she had already seen him undressed, and even touched him, at that moment she realised again how handsome he was, and how much she wanted him. His towering centre, and the also bloody lips for which she was responsible.

He pulled her boots off her feet, knelt in front of her on the bed, and slowly undid the button of her pants before he pushed the leather down over her slender legs, and looked at her again.

"You are so beautiful..." he whispered.

She smiled, and answered quietly, "You are no less beautiful, Aron."

He propped himself up on one hand over her, and gently stroked her breasts and belly down where he repeatedly stroked the wet silk fabric that separated him from her lap with two fingers. When she sighed softly, and expressed her favour, and repeatedly held out her pelvis to him, he also pulled off her underwear over her thighs, and looked at her delicate only slightly overgrown pubic area.

She could feel his hand trembling when he gently touched her, but he didn't let go of her, instead moving the tip of his finger up, and down until she winced with a loud moan.

Then he gently stroked her pearl, which she honoured by pulling him close until he leaned over her, and pressed his lips to hers.

She caressed his broad chest, ran one hand back to his back, and ran her nails over his skin which sent a pleasant shiver down his back while her other hand wandered down, and grasped his shaft. Contrary to her expectation, it also was damp when she carefully began to rub it. With one arm wrapped around his neck, and continuing to rub his penis gently with the other hand, she kissed him again, and felt his tongue gently pushing between her lips, and into her mouth. At the same time, he dipped one finger into her, and she groaned in a suppressed way while the tip of her tongue played around his, and his taste made her even more hungry to finally feel him, her lap pressed impatiently against his hand.

"Relax," he whispered.

She nodded briefly, and took a deep breath while she smiled at him with embarrassed flushed cheeks, he winked at her then his lips found hers again.

Linked in another demanding kiss, he knelt between her legs, took his hard member in his hand, and gently penetrated her with the tip.

Meyja gasped for air, and wrapped her legs around him, so he slowly pushed himself deeper until he filled her. He watched her carefully to notice immediately if he hurt her, but she was visibly enjoying it, and hugged him, so he began to move gently.

She almost couldn't believe how good he felt, clinging to him, and at the same time hugging her own lust which she had been so afraid of before. Now she actually slept with Aron, and it was even more beautiful than she had ever dreamed, more beautiful than he could describe it in words. With every further movement it felt even more wonderful than before, and before Meyja could even grasp it, she climaxed with a drawn out, tortured sound.

When she looked up at Aron disoriented, he smiled happily, and kissed her lovingly on the forehead. Then he withdrew from her and rolled over onto his back in a powerful, flowing motion, taking her with him so that she was sitting on top of him. 

She puckered her blood-encrusted nose for a moment then felt for his phallus, and sank down on it with a sigh. Supported with both hands on his chest, she began to ride him, moved along him, and immediately felt the intense feeling again which made her speed up.

Aron memorized the delighted expression on her face while he caressed her thighs, and cupped her bottom with both hands. When the tension increased in his midst, announcing that he would no longer be able to hold it, he pressed her hard on his loins again, and poured his semen into her, groaning loudly, and convulsively. Meyja, too, carried away by the force of his ejaculation, gave another light sigh, and then lay down on his chest, breathing heavily, and sweating.

He also wrapped his arms around her breathlessly, hugged her briefly, and stroked her back which rose, and fell rapidly.

"How are you now?" he asked quietly.

She was silent for a moment then lifted her head and smiled at him embarrassed. "I've never felt better," she whispered, and kissed him deeply.

He kissed her back before mumbling blissfully. "I'm very happy to hear... really..." Then he gave her a tight hug.

"Does it still hurt a lot?" she asked depressed, and looked at his nose.

Fortunately, it hadn't broken, but the blow had been hard, and he had bled heavily which is why Meyja's face was crusted reddish brown.

"What do you think? Of course, it hurts, but it was absolutely worth it,” he replied with an amused chuckle. "Besides, you're gorgeous with blood on your face."

She stuck her tongue out at him ashamed then pressed another deep kiss on his lips, and slid down from him to lie down next to him.

"That was amazing," she breathed with a smile, and covered her mouth with one hand. In the next moment she began to sob and Aron took her tenderly in his arms.

"Is everything okay?" he asked worried.

She nodded and wiped her eyes impatiently before saying in a husky voice, "I'm just so relieved, and happy that I can hardly believe it."

Then she got a crying fit, and he just held her in his arms while he kept stroking her back.

Minutes later, when she was finally able to speak again, she mumbled, "I'm sorry. It's just a lot of incredible feelings at once. I've never felt anything so beautiful before."

"It's the same for me," he whispered with a grin, and hugged her tightly again. Then he sighed, and remarked dryly. "I didn't even know that you had such a cosy room."

She giggled softly. "If you want to, and there is no more job waiting for you, we can go straight to your flat."

He nodded briefly. "Gladly. Just give me a minute, I have to get rid of the blood."

She watched him with a guilty feel as he got up, and went to the wash tub where he carefully washed his nose, and then winked at her.

“Don't look so sad, I've had much worse injuries. And as I said, it was worth it," he whispered with a smile, and pulled her from the bed to her feet.

"Oh," she mumbled softly, and looked down to see where it was starting to drip from her centre.

Aron hit his forehead. "Damned. If we're not careful, we will become unplanned parents."

"Don't you have to bleed every now and then to be able to conceive a child?" she asked with a frown.

"I'm not a woman, but I think so," he replied thoughtfully. “Even if it's safer to pull it out first, there are certain rules that men tell each other. So many days after the bleeding... so be it. But how do you even come up with it? Aren't you bleeding?"

"No, not more. I bled for the first time when I was eleven years old, but it stopped after about a year,” she said with a shrug.

Aron looked at her worried. “That sounds anything, but healthy. Bleeding at the age of eleven seems pretty early to me. Perhaps you should consult one of the healing priests in the High City, not that it’s something serious.” He sat back on the edge of the bed, and pulled her with him.

“That doesn't work, I might give myself away. It was common practice in Voynar to give young girls tea before marriage so they could reach sexual maturity earlier. At least that was the case in the upper classes of society. But it can lead to the fact that at some point you just stop bleeding. Many girls had long since given birth to several children, so it was hardly noticed, and was not a problem in most families,” she explained quietly.

“Did I hear you right? In your home country it was the order of the day to give little girls tea, so that they could be married off earlier, and the subsequent assaults would result in offspring?” Aron repeated in disbelief.

Meyja nodded sadly. “Among the aristocrats, yes. I don't know how it was with ordinary people, but in those circles that included my family, that was quite normal. Wife training began early, and was never completed. The longer a girl was at home with her parents, the more expensive it became for the family because you had to pay the teachers."

"It almost sounds like you're defending this shit," he muttered stunned.

“No, I never would. I've only been allowed to hear often that I would be Voynar's most expensive girl, if I once again didn't do what I should. That's why I know so well. My parents also had to pay a large sum of gold just to find a husband for me. A lot of families weren't interested because I was so rebellious, and I took advantage of that for a long time, so I didn't have to get married,” she continued. “I didn't understand all the connections until much later, but today I know that no one in Voynar was of as little value as the girls who were born into aristocratic circumstances. And yet... you know... I don't care, even if I can't carry a child anymore. I could never imagine becoming a mother, and in any case no child would fit into the life I am working towards."

He looked at her for a long time, and when he realised that she was telling the truth, he took her in his arms, and hugged her again. "I'm so sorry for you that you had to experience all of this," he whispered sadly.

She pulled away from him, smiled into his eyes, and gently stroked his cheek. “Thank you for your compassion, but now I am fine. I feel downright fantastic because I've never been so free, and happy as I am with you right now."

Aron kissed her long, and deeply again before they got dressed and went to his flat, where the tin of fragrant weed was waiting for them. The people in the drunken beggar's guest room applauded them as they went down the stairs arm in arm, but the two just laughed exuberantly, and walked off together through the dark alleys of Sharaya. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 26 - Anger

The next morning, Meyja woke up when Aron got up quietly and went into the next room. She lay on her stomach and watched him come back with a bottle of water. 
She still couldn't believe what had happened yesterday, but she saw him and he was naked, so she hadn't just dreamed. After they returned to Aron's apartment, he had satisfied her again, only with the help of his tongue, and that time she had enjoyed it beyond measure, too.
He stopped by the bed, looked down at her with a smile, and examined her body before he said softly, “Good morning."
"Also, good morning. I couldn't miss this sight," she remarked with a grin and winked at him.
"The sight of me?" Aron frowned down at himself, shook his head jokingly in disgust, and then looked again at Meyja's naked body which despite the scars was more beautiful than anything he had seen before. “If only you could see yourself laying there. You're incredibly beautiful.” He crouched down in front of her, and kissed her lovingly.
"Even though my back looks so horrible?" she asked seriously.
"I don't care, you are still beautiful, Meyja." He kissed her again. “What I would give for never having to leave these four walls again. But it's getting late, and Ed doesn't like to wait. Otherwise, he’ll spank my buttocks."
 Laughing, he got up again, and emptied half of the bottle in one gulp then passed it on to Meyja who got up, and drank, too. When she had put the water bottle aside, he pulled her close, and gave her a big hug.
A long kiss later he whispered, "Shall we keep Ed waiting a little longer? What do you mean?"
 Meyja nodded with a smile, and Aron gently pushed her back onto the bed then they made love intensely for the third time.
At some point, after they were finally able to break away from each other, they quickly got dressed, and made their way to their boss together.
Arriving in front of the store, Aron kissed her again. "We'd better try to keep it a secret from Ed, it sure wouldn't amuse him. After the warning he gave you, it would be the wisest."
"I agree. Hopefully we'll escape his perception,” Meyja replied and nodded.
Aron was right, and at the same time Meyja's hope was disappointed because when Ed saw the two, he knew immediately.
"You! Backwards!” he ordered gruffly.
They went into the back room while Ed locked the shop door, Meyja looked fearfully at Aron.
He nodded to her, and took her hand before whispering, "Don't be afraid, I'll be with you."
Ed swept through the curtain, and stood up in front of them as best his small size would allow. "What do you guys actually think?! Not only are you two fucking now! No! That's one of the reasons why you're too late! The delivery for Sid should have been with him long ago! Didn't I warn you about Aron, Meyja?! Where would we be if everyone did what they wanted! Come on, girl! Take the package, and run! To Sid, are you listening?!"
Annoyed, Ed threw a package into the arms of the young woman, and chased her through the curtain, but she could still catch a last look at Aron. He looked calmly at his boss, and winked at her.
She could hear Ed shouting as she stepped out into the street. “And you went even further, Aron! Do something like that again, and you can find another fool to pass the orders on to you! Up! You live to see something!"
Then the shop door closed behind her, and with a bad feeling in her stomach she hurried off into the Old Town.
Sid was upset, too, but not nearly as much as Ed, and she could just wrap him around her finger with an exaggerated apology and a smile. When she got back on the street, she was still worried about Aron. Their mutual boss was often in a bad mood, but she had never been afraid of him, whereas Aron just didn't seem to have worried about the outburst of anger.
Today the earth shook under Ed for the first time, and Meyja hoped Aron would still be there when she returned to the shop. She quickly made her way back, and when she turned the corner, he was actually at the door.
He pushed away from the wall he was leaning against, and smiled at her.
"What did he do to you?" she asked worried, and gently took his face in her hands.
 His eye which was healthy an hour ago was slightly swollen, and was turning violet. 
"He wasn't thrilled when I told him that I was by you, and that he had to put up with the idea that it wasn't just a one-off slip," he said, and smiled sheepishly.
"Why does he even care?" she wanted to know because she didn't understand the excitement. "Isn't that our business?"
"Well, Ed thinks that it makes us vulnerable, and since we both work for him, even more vulnerable than we are anyway," he explained with a shrug.
"Is that true?" she asked further, still no light had dawned on her.
“Let's talk about it later. If you let him wait one more time, you will also get a rub.” Then he added with a chuckle. “Now I don't just look daring anymore, but I am too. Two blue eyes and a bruised nose.” He shook his head in amusement, and laughed softly.
Meyja pulled herself together, and also shook her head. “Where can I find you? I'll come to you as soon as I can, and then I'll take care of your audacity."
"At home. I only got a few jobs, and nothing more to do until tonight.” He kissed her tenderly on the lips, and reluctantly pulled away from her. "I'm waiting for you," he added before turning around, smiling, and walking away.
She watched him go for a moment, and then entered the shop where Ed just came out of the back room, and still looked incredibly angry even if the storm had apparently passed.
“That was the only delivery for today. Come upstairs, girl,” he snapped at her sullenly then went through the curtain, and up the stairs to his flat.
With a pounding heart, and sweaty palms she followed him inwardly she had already prepared for a rub, but Ed pointed to a chair at the table, and took a seat across from her.
“Actually, you don't even deserve it. When I accepted the assignment for you, I assumed that you wouldn't disappoint me so much beforehand,” he began giving her a disapproving look.
"Assignment?" she perked up.
Ed nodded, and passed her a roll of parchment. "Your first job. That's why you're here, isn't it?"
Meyja also nodded slowly, and nervously unrolled the parchment.
“An easy goal to start with, of course. Accordingly, the reward is not particularly high either. Everything you need to know about it is written on it. The deadline expires in two weeks. Can you do it?” he wanted to know.
"Do you think I'm really ready already?" she asked, and looked up uncertainly.
“I asked Aron, and he said so you are. Sign here,” Ed replied, and pushed another roll of parchment over to her.
Mechanically she took the pen he handed her, and wrote her name in the line he pointed to.
"Good luck, child," he wished impassively.
She was still sitting in front of him perplexed when he continued.
“Why Aron? Couldn't you have found some tailor or blacksmith, huh?” he asked her seriously.
"I... we just like each other, Ed," Meyja tried to explain.
He shook his head and cut her off. “Aron only likes himself. And whores and crowns. If you start to bore him, he will dispose of you like an old boot. "
"I know about the whores, Ed. Let it be my worry. But why are you interested in all of this? Explain it to me, please,” she asked him a little impatiently. She had hit a nerve; she could see that when Ed looked away, and rubbed his cheek. He was silent, however, so she had to dig. There was something, and she wanted to know what it was. "I just want to understand why you act like that…"
Eventually Ed gave up, and began to say in a low voice, “I had a daughter. She wasn't unlike you. Young and naive. A pretty, carefree thing. Then she fell in love with a good-for-nothing. First, he put the world at her feet, bought her everything she wanted. She seemed happy with that, and I let her go. She even packed her things, and left home. After a while she came back, and was not as happy, and carefree as before. He had started beating her. So, she came back home. I have never felt such anger before. He broke her. She could no longer sleep or eat, so great was her fear of him. I went out one night to find him, and do the same thing he did to her, but I couldn't find him. And when I came back home that morning, she was dead in her room. He cut her throat." Ed swallowed, tears glistened in the corners of his eyes then his features hardened, he looked at her menacingly, and whispered, "At some point I found him. Not much was left of him. I'll tell you."
Meyja had listened quietly then nodded in dismay. “And Aron and I remind you of her now. I understand. I am deeply saddened by your loss, Ed. I am very sorry. But let me tell you something, too. I was married for almost six years. I experienced the same thing as your daughter, if not worse. I've carried this fear around with me ever since. But Aron is different, I know. If I wasn't absolutely sure about him, I would never have gotten involved with him. I know what I am doing. For the first time in many years, I can live without this fear. I'm finally free," she explained, got up, and looked at him firmly then took the parchment from the table, and pushed it into her waistband.
"Do not get caught. It would be a shame for you. If you need help, ask Aron,” he muttered without looking at her.
"Thank you, I will. I'll see you tomorrow, Ed,” she said goodbye.
He nodded and she turned to go.
"Yes?" She turned around again.
"Not a word to Aron," he ordered, and looked at her seriously.
"About what?" she asked with a smile over her shoulder, then she made her way to Aron's flat. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 27 - Fear

Meyja carefully hid her first assignment under her clothes in an attempt to mislead Aron. Only when one couldn't tell that she was wearing parchment on her body, did she knock on the door and Aron opened it a few seconds later. His eye didn't look so bad anymore, he smiled when he saw her, and pulled her close.
"You were fast. So little to do?” he wanted to know and kissed her gently on the cheek.
She nodded. "No more deliveries today."
"But?" he asked hypocritically before taking her hand and walking with her to the two armchairs.
She sat down with a smile. “You have known for a long time. Ed betrayed you."
"How could he?" Aron grinned in mock indignation and held a glass bottle to his freshly black eye to cool it down before he asked, "Do you feel ready for it?"
“Ed said you think I'm ready. If you are convinced of it, I will rise to the challenge,” she replied and nodded.
"What else did you talk about? Did he ask you about the two of us? At least he tried it with me,” he said and Meyja nodded again.
“I actually talked to him about it. But I was able to calm him down. He now knows what's going on and will certainly not cause us any further problems,” she replied calmly.
He looked at her astonished. "How the heck did you manage that?"
She just waved it off. “Honesty and a touch of feminine charm. Not worth talking about."
"You are a daring woman," laughed Aron, shaking his head.
With a grin, she pulled the order out of her waistband, and unrolled it to study it more thoroughly. Her target was a businessman who had apparently often enjoyed himself with someone else's wife and now that was going to be his undoing because for the horned it was not enough that his rival only got a beating, so he had asked Ed to do it to get him out of the way.
Aron explained to Meyja the structures behind her company. Ed acted as a go-between, his business actually only existed for a pretence, a kind of headquarters, and meeting place. He took the orders, and passed them on to his co-workers who sort of did the dirty work, and eliminated the target. But Aron couldn't answer exactly where Ed got the orders from because customers never came to the store. The business of death was an elaborate system, human lives were just rolls of parchment, and in the end, it came down to the reward.
Meyja only got twenty percent of the gold at the beginning, and Ed the rest, but if she put her skills to the test, the risk for her boss decreased, with which she would earn a larger share.
Aron told her that he could now pocket two thirds of the reward while Ed was satisfied with the remaining third. The most difficult jobs which the other men were not up to always went to Aron. In addition, he made sure in their interests no rival gangs got in their way. Sometimes he even had to take out someone in their own ranks if they were unreliable or made other missteps. If one was caught, and wanted in public, he didn't have to venture back to Ed either.
The greatest danger was that their structures would become known because if Ed was exposed, they would all be exposed, so they had to protect their boss. And he took care of them in a way, by giving them work, and getting equipment. One hand washed the other.
"That's why Ed is worried about both of us. Should you ever threaten our business, it would be my job to kill you. There is no question that I would never do that. I would protect you, and nobody would get near you, Ed is aware of that," Aron explained seriously.
She frowned. "Why should I?"
“It is not a question of will, and conscious decision. Sometimes circumstances change without you wanting to, and that could bring down everything Ed built up. I can understand that he's worried," said Aron quietly.
Meyja nodded thoughtfully, finally understood the reason for all the excitement, but as long as they played reliably there was no danger in her opinion. She looked at Aron with a confident smile, and said resolutely, "Then we will show Ed that his suspicions are unfounded, and we will pull together with him."
Aron had to smile too. “If you only knew how much you impress me over and over again, Meyja. You just won't let yourself be put off. When a problem arises, you crush it under your boot, and move on. It's so refreshing."
Meyja just smiled, got up, and walked over to him.
"Show me your eye. Does it hurt?" she asked, kneeling on the floor in front of him.
 Aron took the bottle aside, shook his head, and grinned. "No not more. The little grim man doesn't hit that hard either."
"And the nose?" She looked at him embarrassed, and bit her lower lip.
He pulled her onto his lap, and kissed her long and deep before he whispered, “You hit harder than some of the men who also work for Ed. But I embrace the pain, and enjoy the memory of what followed."
"You're crazy," she remarked giggling softly, and shook her head.
He grinned broadly. “I never denied that.” Then he nodded to the roll of parchment on the table, and asked with interest: “How do you plan to approach your assignment? Have you already thought about that?"
She picked up the parchment, and nodded. “It says here that my target person has a warehouse in the Workshop, that's where I would start. When he's there, I'll have a face to the name. Tonight, I would watch the building he lives in, the address is also here. From a roof opposite I could see which window belongs to his bedroom. As soon as he leaves the house tomorrow, I'll break in there, and look around. Maybe there will even be an opportunity to hide there before he goes to bed. As soon as he sleeps, I'll strike. I either come in through a window, or I leave my hiding place to kill him. If he should leave the window open tonight, I'll think about killing him right away,” she explained, and looked at Aron who nodded satisfied.
“A good plan, you are careful, if not overly. Do you want me to accompany you? I won't do it for you, but I can give you a little help, and draw your attention to details that you might be overlooking," he offered.
Meyja nodded gratefully. "I’d be happy, yes. I feel a little queasy when I think about the fact that I'm about to kill someone."
“You will have problems the first few times, I'm sure of that. But after that you get used to it,” he replied with a wink.
He looked anything but calm, even though he tried hard not to show her, so she drew her conclusions and was silent.
An hour later they made their way together to the Workshop to the address of the camp, and while Aron walked on unobtrusively, Meyja hid behind a high stack of boxes. The wide, double-leaf gate was open, and she could watch a few workers sorting goods. A well-dressed man sat at a table over his papers. That had to be her target! Meyja memorized his face before she strolled away, and met Aron again at the next corner who had been waiting for her.
"Was he there?" he wanted to know in a casual tone.
“I suppose it was him. Well-groomed, well-dressed, just a typical merchant, "she answered just as flatly.
Aron nodded appreciatively. “We still have a little time until tonight. What would you think, if we got your things from the room in the Drunken Beggar?” he asked with a smile.
She looked back confused then understood. "You want me to live with you?"
He winked at her embarrassed. "If you want that. I’d be happy to have you with me."
Meyja's heart leaped happily at the thought of waking up next to him every morning. "Of course, I would!" She fell around his neck beaming.
Aron laughed, and picked her up briefly then they walked hand in hand towards the Old Town.
There were only a few guests in Drunken Beggar at this time of day, but Aron knew one of them, and looked over at him septically.
"Get your things from above, yes? In the meantime, I'll pay for the room,” he whispered to Meyja who immediately made her way upstairs.
He went to the bar and gave the landlord a few gold coins, then went to the table where the guest he knew was sitting, and greeted him in an unfriendly tone, "Long time no see, Deny."
Deny inclined his head in a slight bow. "Aron. What makes me the honour?” He asked ironically.
“I could ask you that as well. What are you doing here?" Aron wanted to know, sat down next to him at the table, and eyed his counterpart with hostility.
Deny had not changed outwardly, certainly rows of women fell for his beautiful face, but Aron almost gave anything to never have to see this face again.
"This and that... At the moment I'm drinking beer, as you can see." Deny briefly lifted the mug in front of him, and grinned in wait before he noticed: "Sweet thing, that's just up the stairs. Belongs to you?"
Aron could hardly contain his anger; his hand already held a dagger. “Let her out of there. She has nothing to do with it, "he pressed out between clenched teeth, could hardly speak softly while he stared at Deny warningly.
But he just laughed. "Aron, Aron... What do you think of me?"
"That you're a lousy insidious rat. And I don't just think that, it's a fact,” Aron replied flatly.
At that moment Meyja came down the stairs with her bag over her shoulder, and Aron indicated with a simple gesture that she should sit down at the counter.
She did as she was told, and he turned back to Deny. “If you do something to her, then I swear by everything that is dear to you, I will find you, and take care of you. And you don't want to experience that, believe me."
With these words Aron got up, and without taking his eyes off Deny he waved Meyja to the exit.
After she passed him, he followed her outside, pulling her with him when she tried to stop.
"What is it, Aron? Who is that?” she asked worriedly.
His look spoke volumes, she had never seen him so upset, and angry.
He just shook his head. “I have to get you to safety. He’s dangerous."
Then he took the bag from her as he walked, glanced over his shoulder at the tavern, and hurried ahead while she easily kept pace with him. Since there were topics that they couldn't discuss in the street, she stopped asking, knowing that he was about to tell her what it was about.
After they had walked a bit, however, she noticed that Aron was not on his way to his flat.
"Where are we going?"
"To Ed," he replied curtly.
When they got to the shop, Aron slammed the door behind her, locked it, and yelled. "Ed!" Then he went back through the curtain without waiting, and Meyja hurried after him.
Their mutual boss came running down the stairs, and asked, "What happened, Aron?"
"Deny happened!" Aron shouted still angry.
Ed turned pale, and waved them both upstairs to his flat where he first poured each of them a whole mug of schnapps. Meyja, who still had no idea what was going on, and was slowly getting scared, sat down with trembling knees while her gaze followed Aron, who was pacing incessantly up and down like an animal in a cage.
Ed sat down next to the young woman at the table, still pale as a sheet. "What did he say?"
Aron walked up to him, put his hands on the table top, and brought his face close to Eds. "What he said?" Aron repeated softly, then he raised a hand, and pointed his finger at Meyja. "He wants her."
Now Meyja turned pale, too. “M-me? But we don't even know each other."
Aron turned his head to look at her, and she realised that he wasn't angry at all, but was also afraid, tears ran down his cheeks. “He doesn't care. He only wants to kill you because you belong to me," replied Aron then he also sat down with them, and drank his cup in one gulp.
"How do you know that he just wants Meyja?" Ed asked.
“Because he saw us together. We just got her things from the Drunken Beggar, and there he sat, and drank beer. I spoke to him briefly then we came here straight away," said Aron a little more composed then looked at his boss pleadingly. “Can you take care of Meyja, Ed? I have to find Deny before he finds her. Please..."
“Sure, I'll call the others together, too. If that's not an emergency, I don't know either.” Ed took a long swig of schnapps, and stood up.
From a shelf he took a large metal horn with which he went to the window where he leaned out, took a deep breath, and blew into it twice for a long time.
The sound echoed deafeningly over the city, deep and threatening.
Ed looked over at the two of them, shut the window, and put the horn back. "You have safely locked the shop, haven't you Aron?" When Aron nodded silently, he went down the stairs to open the door again.
Meyja was still sitting shocked in the midst of all the hustle and bustle then she said in a thin voice, "I don't want you to go... He'll kill you the same way..."
Aron shook his head. “No, he wouldn't do that. Deny wants to see me suffer, destroy me, take away what I love. If he just kills me, he can't do it anymore. He's sick, a sadist, a psychopath. Physical pain means nothing to him unless that pain agonises someone else. Torment right here... ", he whispered, and put a hand on her chest – where her heart was beating fearfully.
“But why you? And why didn't you kill him right away?” she asked in dismay.
"I was afraid. Also, there were too many people there to have a fight. You were there too; I couldn't put you in danger either. So, I fled – for now. But we'll find him, and I'll slaughter him just for the thought of harming you,” Aron muttered, and clenched his hand as anger flared up inside him.
Before he could answer the second question, they heard footsteps on the stairs, and Ed came back followed by seven men, one of whom Meyja had seen come out of the store, and thought was a customer, and she already knew Raemur.
They nodded silently to Aron and the small room became cramped. Meyja was examined with interest, and was about to free her place at the table, but Aron held her back by briefly putting a hand on her shoulder.
Then he started to speak. "Deny is probably known to all of you." A mutual murmur could be heard, the looks of some people present twitched in shock to Aron who was already saying, "He is back in the city, half an hour ago he was in the Drunken Beggar, there I last saw him. We have to split up, comb through the whole city, and find him as quickly as possible."
"Do we already know who, or what his goal is this time?" asked one of the men who was standing right next to Aron.
"Apparently he's after me," Meyja mumbled.
A second later she realised that she had just admitted there was more than just a business connection between Aron and her when she saw the surprised faces. She lowered her eyes to her knees, and bit her tongue, but Aron took her hand that was on the table, and showed her he was standing by her before everyone else. She almost burst into tears, with emotion, and fear.
Meanwhile Aron got up. “I know what I ask of you. Chasing one person in broad daylight is risky, and dangerous. But you all belong in our ranks, and we have sworn to protect one another. I would do the same for each, and every one of you. If someone still wants to stay out of here, he should get in touch."
There was silence for a few seconds, but then a young guy who was standing in the back raised his hand. “Eh, Aron, I would like to be there, but I've never met Deny in person before. So, I would probably not be of much help with the search. Should I do anything else?” He looked apologetically at Aron, who nodded seriously.
“It's okay, Thom. Then you stay here and take care of Meyja together with Ed. Is that okay, Ed?“ Aron asked the boss.
“Sure, two are better than one. And I can't fight particularly well anyway,” Ed admitted.
Aron nodded again, and continued, "We'll discuss the rest downstairs." Then he turned to Meyja, pulled her into his arms, and kissed her deeply before looking into her eyes, and stroking her hair. “When he shows up, blow the horn. We'll try to find him before he can harm you. Ed and Thom will take good care of you. I love you, Meyja."
“I love you, too, Aron. Please be careful,” she whispered.
Tears welled up in his eyes again, and he kissed her again before nodding. Finally, he was able to tear himself away from her, and went down the stairs after the other men.
Thom stood there, rocking on the balls of his feet, somewhat embarrassed, and smiled shyly when she looked at him briefly, and then sat down again.
"So, you and Aron, huh?" he asked, and took a seat next to her.
Meyja nodded, and took a sip of schnapps before she remarked dryly. “Yes, Aron and me. And I know about the whores, tell me something new."
Ed and Thom immediately burst out laughing, but Meyja managed nothing more than a tired smile.
For a while they sat in the small room in silence, and drank schnapps then she asked softly, "Why are you doing this for me?"
"Well, strictly speaking, we're not doing this for you, but for Aron," Ed admitted. “Deny also killed a few men from our ranks before he disappeared. So, we all have an interest in getting him out of the way once and for all. Even if it won't be easy because he is dangerous, and unpredictable. Like trying to lock smoke in a glass. We tried to kill him back then, but then he disappeared. That was a few years ago."
Meyja nodded thoughtfully. “But why Aron? Deny's only out on me to see him suffer. At least that's what Aron told me earlier."
Ed took a short breath, and gave Thom a short, uncomfortable look, the young man apparently knew the answer, too, then he said hesitantly, "Well... the men who killed Deny back then... One of them was Aron's brother Alleon. He was also one of my men." Meyja gave Ed a startled look, and only nodded briefly so that he could tell more. “Aron was devastated. Understandable, because such a loss would hit everyone very hard. But Aron suffered differently, more obviously. As if he felt the pain more intensely than other people. And Deny delighted himself with it, wallowed with relish in Aron's suffering, and began to terrorise him. Every time Aron found something that gave his life meaning again, Deny took it from him. Aron suffered again and again. Well, normally people like us who aren't that close to him wouldn't even notice. But by the way he suffered, we could see it.” Ed blinked a few times, and quickly took a sip of his schnapps.
While he was talking Meyja had already started crying, but after he had finished, she leaned forward on the table, and sobbed uncontrollably. "I... had... no idea," she pressed out.
She could now imagine how Aron had to feel since Deny's appearance, and how much he had to love her that the danger she was in at the moment took him so much in.
Thom looked at her pityingly, and Ed reached out to stroke her back comfortingly. "Child, as long as you are alive, everything is fine," he said softly.
At some point she was able to calm down again, she sat up, and looked at Ed with puffy eyes. “You weren't worried about me, and that's why you warned me about Aron. You were worried about him, weren't you?” she wanted to know.
Suddenly everything that she had experienced in the last few days came together in one picture.
Ed nodded, and she asked further, "And your daughter? Was that true?"
“I've never had a daughter, to be honest. The story was only there to test you. I'm sorry," he apologized. “Aron, on the other hand is like a son to me. When he showed up with his little brother in tow, and asked me about work...", Ed said, and had to smile at the thought. “Two orphans who did anything for a meal. They cleaned the shop, and delivered goods to customers. Later both got into the real business."
 Ed continued to tell stories from Aron's childhood for a while, but of the oppressive atmosphere he couldn't get rid of.
When night fell, he even offered Meyja his bed, but she didn't want to sleep, not as long as Aron hadn't returned, so Thom lay down in the next room, after all, they could wake him up at any time, if something happened.
In the early hours of the morning Meyja, and Ed fell asleep at the table from exhaustion.
Nobody heard the window was slowly being pushed open. And nobody noticed the dark hooded figure that pushed its way through, and crept towards the sleeping young woman.
An overwhelming pain in their midst let Meyja wake up from sleep. She couldn't even hear herself screaming, not even when her body reared up, and threw her to the ground she felt the impact.
She tried to escape the pain on all fours, but could only roll over onto her back.
Flashes of light flashed in front of her eyes, and when she looked down at herself, she could see blood, and the dagger stuck in her abdomen.
'A dream... Ethan...' she thought.
She had dreamed it so many times. If she went back to sleep, it would eventually stop.
Everything moved away from her.
Loud shouting, and a deafening loud sound around them.
The pain all over her body.
Ed's face in front of her.
Then Thom's face.
Then darkness.

The voices echoed strangely, sounded far away. Meyja tried to move, but her body was heavy... So heavy...
She managed to open her eyes a tiny crack. Glaring light shone towards her, so that she hastily closed her eyelids again.
'I can't be dead, no... Aron...' she thought.
She tried to call him. "Aron!" But only a low gasp came from her lips. Again, the echoing voices, but now a little closer. The bright light even shone through her closed eyelids. So bright... But suddenly not anymore, it was almost dark, and she felt an uncomfortable shock, someone shook her, and screamed, screamed so loud... She wanted to cover her ears, but she couldn't, her body was still too heavy.
Then the loud voices and the light moved away from her and the darkness enveloped her again. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 28 - Life

Meyja opened her eyes, startled, but closed them again immediately. It was too light in here, wherever she was. But at least it was quiet. Her head pounded.

She carefully tried to open her eyelids again, but her eyes only slowly got used to the light, and it took what felt like an eternity before she could look around.

To her right were a few low loungers and someone was lying on one of them. It was a man, but she couldn't see him properly, her vision was still too blurry, and she felt dizzy. Her hands groped down her body, when they reached her centre, a sharp pain flashed through her, and she gasped.

“By Medelya! You’re awake!"

She looked to the left and saw a woman hurrying towards her who wore a white robe and looked friendly, but Meyja did not know her.

As if the stranger had heard her thoughts, she introduced herself, “I am Priestess Helivia. How do you feel?"

"It hurts. What happened? Where am I?“ Meyja asked confused.
 “You’ve been wounded and you are in the cathedral of the High City of Sharaya. Take a sip of water then I'll get something that will relieve your pain,” the Priestess explained and supported Meyja's head while she slowly drank a few sips of water.

Then Helivia hurried out the door, only to come back a short time later with a tiny vial.

"Please open your mouth," she asked and Meyja did as she was told. "It won't take long, then you will feel better."

'Aron…' she thought.

"Where's Aron?" asked Meyja.

Helivia replied with a smile, “You mean the worried gentleman who watched next to your bed almost the whole time? He left just before I realised you were awake. But he should come back soon. After all, he couldn't even be persuaded to go to a real bed to sleep. He just didn't want to leave your side." Meyja had just closed her eyes again when she heard the priestess say, “There he is."

She quickly looked towards the door and saw Aron coming towards her.

"Meyja... you're awake... finally," he whispered crying and kissed her carefully on the forehead. "I was so worried about you."

Smiling she reached her hand out to him and gently stroked the cheek of the face that she loved so much. He looked terribly unkempt and had probably hardly slept the whole time, as indicated by the deep circles under his eyes.

"How long have I been here?" she asked him quietly.

Aron wiped away his tears of joy. "Almost one week. I was afraid you'd never wake up again. Your injury was really bad," he muttered and looked at her sadly, tears still running down his cheeks.

“What happened anyway? I can't remember anything,” Meyja asked and continued to stroke his face incessantly.

“I was with the men on the hunt for Deny and you were in Ed's apartment. Ed, Thom, and you. They should take care of you but Thom slept in the next room. You and Ed must have fell asleep at the table at some point, at least none of you noticed that Deny came in the window. He stabbed you in the stomach with a dagger and you screamed. Thom woke up and was just able to overwhelm Deny before he could kill Ed," said Aron and stroked her hair. “Thom brought you here immediately. And Ed blew the horn to call us. When I arrived, he told me where you are, and I got here as fast as I could. But you weren't on your mind. The priests were fighting for your life. I... I couldn't do anything... just watch... You lay there... and bled like a pig... So much blood…" Aron cried at the thought, his shoulders shrugged uncontrollably while he was sobbing.

“But I am alive. And you're with me, Aron.” Meyja was crying too, but she smiled, and continued to stroke his cheek.

“Yes, you’re alive. And you are so strong, Meyja. It borders on a miracle that you survived. But you live and you smile..." he whispered touched.

It took a while before they could stop crying, finally Helivia came back to help Meyja drink.

“When can I get up?” she asked the priestess.

“Well, actually right away, the wound has already been closed. But you are weak, little lady. And it will take a while before you get rid of the pain. Take care when you get up,” Helivia replied seriously.

“I promise I'll be careful. But I want to get up. After all, I was laying around long enough," said Meyja with a smile and held out her hand to Aron.

"Are you sure? You were so badly injured...“ Aron asked worried, but she nodded with vigour.

So, Aron and Helivia helped her to get up and finally Meyja stood on her legs, laughing happily without anyone having to support her. She could even walk without any problems, even if the pain inside had still not faded. It was only when she looked down that she noticed that she was wearing a simple white linen robe. Also, her ponytail which she usually wore when sleeping had been loosened and the hair was loose over her shoulders. With flushed cheeks she turned to Aron who had never seen her like this before and smiled.

"I assume that my own clothes were no longer usable, right?" she asked uncertainly and Aron gently shook his head.

"You can keep the robe, if you want," Helivia replied.

Meyja stepped up to her, held out her hand, and said softly, “I thank you for everything you have done for me. And I owe you my life. If you allow me, I’d still like to go home now."

“The Heavenly Ones enlighten all those who need their help. I myself am only a humble servant. But I will mention you in my prayer. Of course, you can go home if you wish,” Helivia replied with a smile.

Aron gently lifted Meyja in his arms, carried her out of the cathedral, and down the wide steps in front of the entrance.

There he asked her, "Where is your home now?"

Meyja frowned. “There was this one apartment. With the two armchairs and the comfortable bed. Do you remember it, too, or was it just a dream?"

They both had to laugh until Meyja grimaced in pain.

"Maybe we should reduce the jokes a bit," said Aron and continued on towards the Workshop.

"Not a bad idea, at least for the next few days," she agreed. “But I wonder how much longer I have to take it easy. Eventually, an order is waiting for me."

He shook his head. “Forget the job, Thom has already done it. My assignments were also shared with the others. Ed will keep our backs free until you feel better."

The people on the street looked at them in amazement as they passed, an elderly man wished them all the luck in the world, apparently because of the white robe he thought Aron would carry his bride home, and they giggled again. Even if the occasion was different, they were still happy about the congratulations.

Meyja slowly began to remember everything and suddenly became very serious. "You know, Aron... Ed told me a lot. About what Deny did to you."

Aron gently shook his head. “Deny is dead, it's over. I just want to forget and continue to live without fear of him. Together with you."

He stopped and kissed her affectionately then he carried her into the four walls they shared where he carefully set her down and then went into the next room to get her a bottle of water.

When he returned, she had lifted the skirt of her robe, and was studying her stomach. Aron remained standing in the doorway and watched her run her finger over the fine wound that ran diagonally a hand's breadth above her pubic area.
She noticed him and let the fabric fall back down. "I'm drawn."

He went to her and took her in his arms. “You are still beautiful, Meyja. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen. See the scar as a sign that even a stab in the back can't tear you from my side. And for me it is a symbol that I don't have to be afraid anymore.” He kissed her hair gently and they sat arm in arm on the bed.

There was a knock and Aron jumped up went to the door with drawn dagger. "Who is there?"

"Ed and Thom!" came the answer from the other side and Aron opened the door in astonishment.

"What are you doing here?", he wanted to know amazed. He really hadn't expected visitors.

“We wanted to see Meyja, but we were told she had gone home. So, we picked some flowers and came here,” Ed explained holding up a small bouquet of wild flowers.

She got up with a grin and happily approached the two visitors.

“We want to apologise, Meyja. If we hadn't fallen asleep..." Ed started, but she interrupted him.

“I fell asleep too. I might as well be blamed, but that's not the point. Glad to see you both doing well. The whole thing could have been worse, if Thom hadn't killed Deny,” she replied.

Ed and Thom nodded in dismay then handed over the bouquet, wished her a good recovery, and left the flat. After all, work didn't wait.

Meyja recovered quickly from her injury, the pain had only bothered her for a few days, and Aron could eventually no longer hold her in bed, so they went for a walk, spent the days together in their flat, or at their tree. For a week she willingly let himself be reined in by him, and was content with the walks, but then she became restless. Even if she wasn't particularly keen on killing people, she didn't want to sit around idly; she didn't like that kind of quiet.
 Aron opened the door to the shop, Meyja entered, and Ed who had been standing behind the counter came up to them smiling.

"Welcome back. I guess it's not just a chaperone visit?” he smirked, and waved them into his apartment after him.

They sat down at the table, and Ed picked up a few orders, leafed through them.
 "Well, if I had known that you two would return so early, the pile would be bigger," he muttered, put three of the parchment rolls in front of Aron, and then hesitated. "This is an easy job, but I don't think this is a suitable first assignment."

He handed the parchment to Aron, and looked at him questioningly, who unrolled the document, looked at it and handed it back to Ed shaking his head. "No, that's way too much to ask for a first job," said Aron dismissively.

Meyja frowned, and grabbed the roll before the men could stop her, then looked at it, and slowly nodded.

It was about a family, father and mother with their two children.

"I'll do it." She rolled up her first assignment, and slid it under her shirt.

Ed gave Aron a meaningful look, and poured them schnapps.

"Why?" asked Aron, and looked at her seriously. "Why do you want to do that?"

“Well, you said yourself that there is no place in our ranks for pity. On the day of our first lesson,” Meyja replied, and took a sip of schnapps.

"I remember." Aron didn't like her determination in this matter. "Then at least let me come with you, just in case."

"All right." She gave him a smile that made him immediately forget any doubts.

Then they toasted Meyja's first assignment, and Aron looked through his own roles before they signed for acceptance of their assignments, said goodbye to Ed, and set off.

When they got back home, and he closed the door behind them, he asked, "When is the deadline?"

Meyja sat down in an armchair and unrolled the order. "In four days."

“Feasible.” He took a seat across from her, examined her, and said softly, “You are truly inflexible, Meyja. Nothing and nobody can stop you."

“I know someone who can do that,” she replied. “You stopped me when I wanted to give in to my fear. And you stopped me when I reached out my hand to death. It's only because of you that I'm still sitting here."

He barely noticeably shook his head and smiled touched. "Never mind."

Then he pulled her to the bed, and they made themselves comfortable with some philosopher's herb.

“It's not late yet, and we've got a mountain of work,” Meyja mentioned at some point.

Aron nodded thoughtfully. "You're right. One of my deadlines is in two days, and it's a job I would come in very handy with your help with to be honest,” he said thoughtfully.

"Tell me about it," she asked curiously.

“It's one of the more difficult jobs. But I know the guy, and know about his weak points. He belongs to a rival gang. In this case, the deadline is more of a formality, Ed just wants to get rid of him, and has set the period himself,” explained Aron.

"And where do I come in?", she wanted to know, turned on her stomach, and looked at him.

Aron replied hesitantly, “Well, I'm not sure if it might not be too dangerous for you. But the target person cannot resist a woman, no matter how ugly she is, at least that is what he is said to be. And a stunning woman like you could easily lure him into a quiet corner. You just had to make him look good, and he would already follow you. If he's distracted, I can sneak up on him, and finish him off."

He had great scruples about bringing her into this situation, but on the other hand he couldn't spare her forever. If she had practice, she would undoubtedly get good, and if she was good, she would be less in danger. However, it was also known from his target person that he did not think too much, if a woman withdrew from him.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked because she had noticed his thoughtful look.

She wouldn't back down anyway, and would insist even more, if she knew the guy had become violent towards other women, so he decided not to let her know in order to be able to change her mind if necessary.

"Nothing, I was just thinking about the other two jobs which are ridiculously easy," he mumbled with a wink.

She grinned a little distant, and curiously continued. "What is it about?"

"A city guard, and one of the harbour masters down by the bay," he replied tersely.

"Which city guard? What's his name?” She asked alarmed.

Aron let out a derogatory snort. “You are of course very interested in that. You haven't forgotten your friend from the city wall, how could I have assumed?"

“I ask you, Aron. There is no need to be jealous, I have no interest in him. However, we share a home, and that is why I would like to know, if he’s in any danger,” she explained trying to adopt a conciliatory tone.

“If I tell you, and it should actually be him, what are you going to do? Are you sticking to me, or are you trying to save him from me?” he asked indignantly.

"I wouldn't save him." Meyja gently shook her head. “First of all, I don't know how to do it and you are the most important person to me. I just don't want to sit on this damn wall for hours and wait."

If a bounty was offered on Cayden, she would never let him run into an open knife. Either way, she would warn him and try to find a way to get him out of danger. Even if that meant she had to do it behind Aron's back.

“The name is on the parchment. Just see, if you feel better,” Aron mumbled offended, and pointed to the table between the armchairs.

She got up, and walked over to the two papers one of which contained the truth she was seeking. The first roll of parchment she unfolded showed the harbour master, so she picked up the other. Panicked, she scanned the words and when she discovered the name, a cold feeling spread inside her because the name was Darius Bryce.

"Is it him?", Aron wanted to know.

In retrospect she didn’t know how exactly she did it, but she put on a mock relieved smile, and shook her head. "No, it's not him."

"That would have been a nice coincidence," he grumbled.

She quickly changed the subject. "Now what about the assignment I'm supposed to help you with?"

He nodded briefly. “First of all we should get some sexy clothes so that you will undoubtedly attract his attention. And then we'll see again, okay?"
 "Sounds good, let's do it like that," said Meyja nodding.

Half an hour later they stepped out of a shop into the street, they had bought two robes in which Meyja's advantages came into their own, in his opinion she didn't need to, but you could never be sure.

"How are you going to do it now?" She asked.

“He'll probably be in the Gravelpath Tavern tonight where he eats and drinks almost every evening. He's more of a loner, but he's cautious. When he comes out of the tavern you will run into him by chance, and he will surely speak to you. At this point it could get dangerous. You look for a quiet corner where he will want to take you. Before it gets that far, however, it will be over for him. My concerns are mainly based on the fact that he will touch you," explained Aron, but then he shook his head. "That's too much to ask... I don't want you to let a guy touch you for me. I love you. How did I come up with this crazy idea? This is madness. Just that we've already bought the robes... I'll get him another way, too. I'm sorry that I even considered it, Meyja."

“I love you too, Aron. And it's not a crazy idea – it will work. He'll pay with his life for his touch, do you hear? We'll do it.” She looked him in the eye until she could see his doubts dissipate.

"Okay. Let's go. I know where we can prepare,” he muttered resignedly.

 The Gravelpath Tavern was in a remote corner of the Workshop where they arrived when it had just got dark, and hid in a hidden alcove. Aron would hide in another place as soon as Meyja had the victim on the hook, and tried to lure it here.

Her plan seemed to be perfectly prepared, Meyja undressed except for her boots and underwear, and put on one of the robes, the black, shimmering fabric of which clung to her body, and the deep neckline showed that she was not wearing a shirt underneath. In an emergency, she wore her stiletto hidden in her boot, but Aron didn't want to let it get that far.

Examining her again from top to bottom, he nodded appreciatively before kissing her again deeply, picking up the bag with her things, and peering around the corner in the direction of the inn.

"He comes. Black clothes,” he whispered. Then he pulled his mask up to under his eyes, and crept silently away through the darkness.

Meyja took a deep breath, then stepped out onto the path, and slowly walked in the direction from which the target person was approaching, looking around while they came towards each other.

“Are you looking for something, my lady? Can I help you?” the man asked helpfully, while his gaze passed over her body. As Aron had just mentioned, he wore black clothes, his face looked inconspicuous, and he had short dark hair.

“I am afraid I have lost my companion. Didn't you happen to see a tall, strong man? He has long, straight hair, and is extremely handsome,” Meyja replied with a desperate undertone in her voice.

The guy shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. I haven't seen him, but if you are satisfied with another companion, I'll be at your service."

She pretended to keep looking for a moment then shrugged. "Why not? You're much statelier anyway," she cooed, and hooked herself up with him.

Together they went in the direction from which she had just come.

"What's your name, beautiful woman?" He continued to slim.

"Sala. And yours?” she asked.

"You can call me what you want, baby, if you like," he whispered to her with a disgusting grin on his face.

She couldn't wait for him to be silent forever.

Meyja stopped, and gave him an ambiguous smile. "You know... I don't like unimportant empty phrases to be honest. A handsome man like you certainly still has some hidden qualities. I know this place, just around the corner where we won't be seen.” Meyja winked at him, and immediately recognised the greed in his eyes when he nodded.

"Go ahead, lead me there, and I'll show my gratitude for it," he asked.

"I can hardly wait," she purred on, and kept smiling at her victim as she led him into the alcove.

Once there, she turned her back on him with a queasy feeling, and leaned forward.

"Show what you can do", she asked him, and supported herself with her hands on the wall.

'Where is Aron...?' she thought.

The guy was already lifting her robe, pushing the skirt onto her back. When he tampered with his own trousers, Meyja unobserved pulled the stiletto out of her boot, and hid it in front of her chest.

He fondled her bum, and then pulled down her underwear. Panicked, she mumbled a few words that he certainly couldn't understand, so he leaned down to her.

"What did you say?" he asked. "It was a little quiet, sorry."

Meyja sat up smiling, and turned to him, the skirt of her robe slipped back down.

He was standing right in front of her, and looked at her questioningly when she repeated sweetly, "I'll bathe in your blood."

With that, she rammed the stiletto into his throat, and jerked the blade around, cutting his throat which immediately spilled dark blood, and tainted her before knocking him away with one hard kick.

The moment he fell backwards, Aron came silently around the corner. Stunned, he looked down at his target person, pulled his mask from his face, and looked at Meyja.

"What happened? Are you well?” he asked worriedly.

"Sure. But where have you been?” she replied.

“A city guard came by, and cut my way. I'm so sorry,” he said softly.

“Really, everything is fine. He never got around to doing anything to me. But we have to go,” she urged him panicked.

Aron looked down at the dead man once more, and nodded. “Take it easy, you are covered in blood over and over. First get changed, I'll take care for so long,” he whispered, handed her the bag, and peeked around the corner again.

Meyja dressed in no time, and wiped away the remaining blood with the black robe.

"Let's go," she said calmly as she stepped next to him.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 29 - Title

It was still early morning, but Aron was already grinning, and bowing when he opened the door, Meyja returned his gesture with an almost perfect curtsey, and entered the shop with a grin as well. They giggled exuberantly when Ed came through the curtain and greeted them.

"Good morning. What's the matter with you two? Did you smoke Philos again last night, huh?” their boss asked suspiciously.

“That's not the reason. We're just in a good mood," replied Aron happily.

"Ed, why don't we go upstairs first and you pour us all schnapps, like you always do?" suggested Meyja with a wink.

"Better do what she says, she’s not to be trifled with," advised Aron.

Ed looked back and forth between them and then shrugged with a sigh. "Well. You won't tell me what's going on beforehand anyway."

When they were sitting at the table, each with a cup of schnapps, Aron put a roll of parchment in front of Ed, and remarked shortly, "Done."

Ed unrolled the document and nodded before he asked, "And that's why you two are in such a good mood?"
 "Tell him, Aron," Meyja asked and took a sip of schnapps.

Ed leaned back in his chair, waiting, and crossed his arms over his chest.

"I didn't kill him," said Aron evasively.

"But? You?" Ed asked and looked at Meyja amused because he thought Aron was joking.

Meyja just nodded and grinned into her mug.
 "That's a joke." Ed looked at Aron in disbelief.

"That's the truth. She was faster than me,” Aron confirmed proudly.

Then they reported together to their boss what had happened the previous evening.

"’I'll bathe in your blood’?" Ed repeated, roaring with laughter.

Aron also chuckled in amusement.
 Meyja twisted her mouth, offended, and mumbled, "You are mean. I had to say something."

“Don't get me wrong, Meyja. It's the best story I've ever been told. Your first one dead. And you acted like you've been doing this forever," said Ed still laughing.

Aron pulled the black robe out of the pouch he was carrying. "And she didn't promise her victim too much," he remarked and laid the cloth which was stiff with dried blood on the table.

Ed opened his eyes and looked back and forth between the robe and Meyja. "You took a bath, girl. I take my hat off to you," he whispered and indicated that he would take off his non-existent headgear. "Incomprehensible."

Then he got up and took a large leather bag from the next room, put it on the table in front of Meyja, and said solemnly, "You really deserve it."

“Why is it such a big deal? I cut the throat of an impertinent bastard, so what?” asked Meyja. "He was disgusting and deserved it."

The two men exchanged meaningful looks.

"You didn't tell her?" asked Ed.

Aron shook his head. "I wanted to leave that to you."

“This wasn't just some disgusting guy, but an absolutely deadly man who worked for a guild. Somebody like Aron, only that he didn't belong to us,” Ed explained with a smile.

"I hope that Aron cannot be killed so easily because everything else was really difficult," said Meyja seriously.

"You will undoubtedly make a name for yourself quickly, Meyja," Ed remarked appreciatively.

"I already know one," Aron mumbled thoughtfully.

"What do you mean?" she wanted to know.

"Well, some of us are not known by their actual name, but have a kind of title that we use to speak of them," explained Aron. “I call myself The Unseen because none of my victims has ever seen my face when I brought them to death. It has something to do with prestige. Many appreciate anonymity and don't want a title. And mostly you don't know who is actually behind such a title. It's something of an alias. Usually, when it becomes known that one of us killed another, we all know the title of the killer. If you tell someone your name is Meyja, no one will associate you with your victims. But if you were to introduce yourself with your title, it would be immediately clear which actions are to be assigned to you. Of course, you would never do that because it would reveal your identity and be afraid that someone will seek revenge. Do you understand?"

Meyja nodded slowly. “And how can you already know now which title I will one day bear? I don't have a... trademark or something like that."

"You choose the title yourself and we will announce that you have taken care of this guy," said Ed tapping the roll of parchment that was still on the table with his finger.

“Not your name, of course, but your title. I didn't get mine until later, but I didn't get off to a start like you did. But your potential is already so great that you should give yourself a title. In my opinion, you shouldn't hide,” Aron advised with a smile.

Meyja hesitated, she was still far from convinced, all the information about the murder, and any title made her think. “You just said that you usually don't know who is behind a title. But what if it becomes known who you are? Because someone reveals it?"

"If it became known, you would probably have to leave the city, and not be able to set foot in Sharaya for many years," answered Aron seriously. “That is also the reason why we never reveal our titles to others. Only the closest people you know would never betray you are allowed to know your title."

"And what title did you think of?" she asked further.

Aron savoured the tension for a moment while Ed and Meyja stared at him waiting. 

Finally, he said in a dark voice, "The Indomitable."

Ed clapped his hands and said happily, "That fits."

Meyja and Aron paid no attention to him and smiled at each other, only they both knew the true meaning.

Finally, Meyja took a deep breath and announced, "Then I am the Indomitable."

Aron smiled contentedly and Ed held out his hand to her.

She struck, and her boss sounded solemnly, "Congratulations on your title and welcome to the ranks of the Deathshade."

She repeated with furrowed brows, “The Deathshade?”

“Sure, child. Did you think our bunch didn't have a name?” Ed laughed.

Aron got up, went over to her, pulled her to her feet, and took her in his arms. “Also, my congratulations. Now you are one of us,” he whispered.

“Of course, this name will also remain a secret. Nobody should know that you belong to us,” Ed babbled and scurried through the room searching. "Where did I...?"

"Oh dear, now it starts again..." Aron moaned and covered his face with one hand.

“Hold the edge, Aron! Now get out of here! You can come back in an hour, until then – get out!" Ed snapped at him but he seemed rather happy.

They made it out anyway. When they stood in the street in front of the shop, Meyja looked at Aron with a frown.

"What was going on now?" she asked puzzled.

“Ed is looking for the good parchment. For the invitations,” he replied with a smile.

"Why does each of you always have such a joy to leave me in the dark?" she mumbled offended.

"Come on, we're going home, then I'll explain everything to you," he said forgivingly and took her hand.

They had made themselves comfortable on the bed, Aron was leaning against the wall, and Meyja was laying with her head in his lap.

He stroked her hair gently as he spoke. “It is a great event for someone new to join the ranks of the Deathshade. That hasn't happened in several years and you're the first woman to have done it so far. That's why Ed is so excited, he's probably just writing the invitations to our men. Tomorrow evening, there will be a big celebration in your honour and everyone will be there. Well... to be honest, it will be more of a drinking bout of gigantic proportions. In a sense, time stands still for a day so we can celebrate. The deadlines for the orders are also extended by one day."

"And all because of me? Because of a single stab in the back?" Meyja asked incredulously.

“You are one of us now, don't forget that. You belong to our ranks and are a Deathshade, Meyja. I knew you would make it one day, but like this…” He puffed his cheeks before letting the air noisily escape. “A title and entry into the guild at once. So far none of the Deathshade has managed that, no one. I'm curious to see the faces of the others when they find out." He laughed before he got a little more serious again and said quietly, "I'm so incredibly proud of you. And on the fact that you chose my side and let me into your life. I love you, Meyja.” He leaned down to her and kissed her hungrily.

“And I love you, Aron, very much. And without you I would never have made it all," she whispered.

They loved each other passionately then lay tightly embraced in bed and enjoyed the togetherness, but at some point, Aron lifted his head and cursed.

"What's going on?" asked Meyja startled.

“We have to get back to Ed. The invitations…” he replied curtly and jumped out of bed to get dressed.

"Is that our job?" she asked reaching for her weapons and clothing.

“In fact, it's yours. But of course, I'll come with you, otherwise you will look for the holes in which the men live forever,” he remarked and put on his boots.

Then they hurried back to Ed's shop, Meyja expected trouble for being late, but Ed still greeted the two in a good mood, and handed the invitations to the newcomer.

“Please send Eralion over to me, if he's at home. Otherwise, someone else will do the same,” he asked her. "Oh yes! And order something to eat in the Golden Cogwheel. I almost forgot…” He made a really distracted impression and kept running from left to right.

"Poor Ed," grinned Meyja when the shop door closed behind them and Aron laughed softly.

They had run away before their boss could think of any more tasks for them. Eralion lived a few houses further and they climbed the stairwell to under the roof there Aron knocked noisily.

"It's me! Aron! And Meyja!“ he called through the still closed door which opened a few seconds later.

"Has something happened?" Eralion asked when he let them in.

"You could say that," said Aron and Meyja handed over an invitation.

Eralion looked astonished at the rolled parchment. "You aren’t...?" he began and opened the scroll.

"Yes, exactly that. She's in," Aron confirmed the unfinished sentence.

"Then my congratulations, Meyja," said Eralion with a smile and she thanked him cautiously.

“You are about to lose your good mood. Ed needs you in the shop,” Aron told him and Eralion groaned in annoyance.

“Not after all... the tables. Can't you say I wasn't home? Please, Aron,” he pleaded but Aron shook his head mercilessly.

“I'm sorry, he asked for you specifically, brother. And someone has to do it,” said Aron.

"But I have something good with you for that," Eralion grumbled.

Aron put a hand briefly on his shoulder. "Sure. I'll see you tonight,” they said goodbye and went on.

After leaving the house where Eralion lived, they brought an invitation to Raemur who was not at home, so they carefully flattened the parchment roll, and slid it under the door of his flat. Then they wandered across the Lower City where Thom, Will, Sully, and Deval lived. The latter was the only one of the four who did not live in a dirty dump, but lived in a large, surprisingly bright flat like Aron and Meyja. Deval was a little scary to Meyja, he radiated something dark and threatening that she was unable to interpret. She was secretly happy when they stepped back into the street and started the long climb into the Workshop.

There they ordered a veritable feast at the Golden Cogwheel inn which would be delivered to Ed's shop the next evening. Aron and Meyja were the only ones of the Deathshade who lived in the Workshop, and the last invitation would go to Tasim who lived in a large room in the High City before they went back down the mountain.

Despite the long walk, it had only taken them two hours, and they made their way back to the store. As they passed the city wall into the Old Town, Aron spotted Raemur from afar.

"I'll see you at Ed's, go ahead, I'll follow you immediately!" Aron shouted over his shoulder as he was already running after Raemur.

Meyja laughed, shaking her head, and went on calmly. She opened the door to the shop and met Eralion who had just been behind it.

"Hey!" be bleated, rubbing his elbow with a grim expression on his face.

“Oh, I'm really sorry, Eralion. I haven’t..." she already started to apologise, but then he had to grin. "Very funny." She smirked and punched him lightly in the side.

"I already had you!" he laughed.

Meyja only giggled softly and looked around Ed's shop which looked very different than usual. The shelves and sparsely stocked displays had disappeared, instead a few tables were pushed together in the middle of the room, the counter had been placed against the wall, countless bottles of schnapps, beer, and other alcohol were on it.

‘Tomorrow nobody will stay sober here…' she thought.

When the door opened again, Meyja jumped aside in a flash, and Aron rushed into the room.

"Good reflexes," said Eralion with an appreciative nod.

"There you are," smiled Aron and gave her a cocky kiss. "Where's Ed?"

"Above. He's looking for something again," answered Eralion and rolled his eyes with a grin. “But if you're here now, I'd better get out of the field quickly. You will make it. See you tomorrow night."

Eralion hurried past them and out the door and Aron shook his head with a grin.

"What clothes are we going to wear for the celebration?" asked Meyja. She was getting increasingly nervous and didn't want to be embarrassed when all eyes were on her.

“We usually wear what we usually wear, there are no guidelines. But of course, you are free to wear something else," answered Aron with a low laugh. “It would be fun if we came up with something special in this regard. A kind of new tradition, after all, you are the first woman who has made it this far."

“You've come up with something a long time ago, haven't you?” she inquired.

Aron nodded with a big grin.

Since Ed had nothing more to do for them, he let them go for the rest of the day, so they went out to get new clothes and then made their way to their home, where they pelted each other hungrily, and again passionately loved.

Breathing heavily Meyja turned on her back and grinned. "Will I ever get enough of this?"

"Hopefully not," muttered Aron and gently stroked her stomach.

She couldn't believe how far it had come. Not long ago she wouldn't even have considered giving herself to someone and now it almost seemed to her as if she was already addicted to his touch and the feeling that she had otherwise shied away from.

"I rather hope that you can never get enough of me," she replied softly and kissed him gently on the lips.

He shook his head. “No, I won't get that. I know it. But I still have to leave you alone, the harbour master is waiting for his death, and I don't have much time to turn him off. I'm really sorry that I have to go again now."

"It's okay. After all, I also have someone to shadow,” she remarked with a wink.

“Don't do anything without me please. Anyway, I'm not comfortable with the fact that you have to get four people out of the way for the first job. And then also a family... That can quickly become overwhelming and I feel better when I'm with you,” he said doubtfully.

She sighed softly before getting up and reaching for her clothes. “Have a little more faith in me. If I had any qualms, this job would have gone to someone else. But I don't have them, even if it may seem strange to you."

He also got dressed, routinely applied poison to his daggers, and then slipped them into his belt while he replied, “Still, I sometimes have the impression that you are taking all of this lightly. And I am not only your partner, but also your teacher. Neither would you just let me run off and murder on my own."

“And yet, I already murdered on my own. Because my partner and teacher didn't come on time. Not that I blame you, on the contrary. My first blood made me want to do it again. I guess it's something like my destiny, at least that's what it feels like. Even if it's not a nice feeling.” She let her poisoned weapons circle once around her index finger and brought them in one flowing movement onto her back then she crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked at him seriously.

"You are as attractive as you are dangerous," murmured Aron and pulled her close to kiss her again. “Just gorgeous. Take good care of yourself, okay?"

She nodded, kissed back, and then put her mask in her pocket to have it ready to hand. "Be careful. You never know," she whispered.

Since they had to take the same route out of town they walked hand in hand to the main road and down the mountain together.

After they had reached the Old Town, Meyja swore softly and explained that she still needed something from the shop and they parted. While Aron continued to follow the main street, Meyja turned to the alley in which Ed's shop was located. But instead of going in, she looked around again, and then disappeared between the buildings in the opposite direction.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 30 - Limits

When Meyja looked up at the city wall, she could see a pair of feet that dangled over the edge and that probably belonged to the person she had to meet. She had to lie to Aron in order to be able to come here, and moreover, still little time, so she quickly began to climb up the masonry.
 Breathlessly, she heaved herself over the top edge and was eyed in amazement when she turned on her back with a groan.
"What happened then? Why in such a hurry?” Cayden asked with a smile.
Gasping, she straightened up and sat down next to him. "I don't have a lot of time... I'm sorry to be returning now and with such bad news. But there was a development because of which I sneaked away to tell you about it."
Without a word, he handed her a cigarette and nodded invitingly.
 "Thanks. Well, I saw something disturbing that affects you directly. My partner got the order to kill you," she said curtly, lit the glow stalk, and inhaled deeply.
Cayden looked at her startled and asked, "Who gave this assignment?"
"I don't know and I can't find out either. Nobody knows where our boss got all the murder assignments from, but I saw the document with my own eyes and it said Darius Bryce. Aron knows your face; he observed us at our last meeting, and therefore also knows that you are Voynarian. Of course, I deliberately kept your true identity secret, as well as the fact that you are behind the name Darius Bryce. But it's only a matter of time before he finds out I lied and everything is exposed. So, we have to come up with something to get you out of the line of fire in time,” she explained seriously.
“Not just me. You also can get in trouble if they find out that you helped me, right?” he wanted to know.
She nodded seriously. “I am now officially an assassin and belong to a guild. If it turns out that I have thwarted one of our assignments, I too have to flee, otherwise they will kill me as well."
 "So, we have to make it look like the murder happened according to plan?" Cayden continued.
Meyja nodded again. "And afterwards you definitely have to disappear or assume a different identity."
He was silent for a minute, looking down at the city thoughtfully. “It won't be easy, I think. But I saw a man in the Lower City a while ago who looked a lot like me. It was one of the beggars and probably nobody would miss him. We could use him to fake my death. Certainly, nobody would ask questions if a dead person was found in my armour."
“That would at least make the assignment obsolete. But you have to leave anyway, if we don't want to run the risk that it all comes out afterwards,” she replied. "Aron is suspicious and jealous of you anyway. Should he investigate, he must have the impression that you’re really dead."
"Jealous? Why then? I didn't touch you after all," he replied with a frown.
She looked somewhat embarrassed on her knees. "He heard that I called him a friend in your presence, whilst Aron and I are much more than that. And now he calls you my friend from the city wall in return."
Cayden admitted somewhat embarrassed, “You know, Meyja... I would have expressed an interest in you, but before that I also noticed that your heart already belongs to someone else. Even if he doesn't seem too good to you when he tries to make you feel guilty, just..."
"You’re wrong. He's very good to me. And since I've had him by my side, I've been rid of some of my worries. Worries I owed Voynar,” she replied accusingly.
“That almost sounds like I could do something for your worries. Then why are you meeting me at all?” he asked puzzled.
She took a deep breath and opened her mouth, but then she shrugged again and let the air escape, shaking her head. “I'm not sure to be honest. In spite of everything, Voynar is my home and Jevarish will probably remain dangerous for us forever. See it as an offer of peace on my part to my unloved homeland.” She stood up. "Thanks for the cigarette."
Cayden took hold of her hand and also got up. “Wait, Meyja. Whatever happened to you in the north, I'm very sorry, really."
"There is no excuse for that. But let's leave that. It's a thing of the past and can't be changed,” she said with mock generosity and wriggled her hand out of his grasp.
Even if she was now forgiving, it pissed her off that Cayden took it upon himself to apologise to her. But at the same time, she didn't feel like talking to him about Voynar longer than necessary, although there were a lot of things, she would have liked to throw at him, so she just shut up.
"Yet. Maybe we can talk about it some else time when you have more. I know my father did a lot of things wrong and I would like to do better now that he…" he said quietly but he broke off his words and avoided her gaze.
"Since he what?" She asked.
He shook his head briefly before he admitted, “I'm not just the heir to the throne, Meyja. I am the rightful king. My father died while helping me to escape."
"I'm sorry," she muttered flatly.
So, they had something in common – besides their origins.
'Ah, wonderful…' she thought.
"Thanks," he replied quietly looking a little absent-minded.
Meyja was uncomfortable with the situation, so she quickly changed the subject. "What can I help you with now, Cayden?"
"Well... by finding this man, getting him out of the way, and hiding his body somewhere. Then we'll meet again and put my armour on him so that they'll keep him for me when I'm gone. There is a cellar under the great city wall at the very front. Here's the key,” he replied handing her said item. “You can find it three streets away from the main street, to the south. Right across from a tannery. Hardly anyone goes there, and we have to hurry anyway so that the corpse does not decompose too quickly, and the story remains believable. Put him in, lock it, and let me know. Then I'll come and we'll put the armour on him."
She gave him back the key and said, “I don't need it. I can open a simple lock with a lock pick. But how am I supposed to reach you? After all, I can't just walk into the barracks."
“Just disguise yourself as a messenger, and drop a message for me at the guards who are cordoning off the military district. I'll write a document that looks like an official letter and put it in the basement. Then just say you come from the main gate, that it is an urgent matter, and you don't know any more about it. If I am not in the barracks, they will send you on. They always know where I am and the document will also help to make my death plausible by pretending to be commanded from a higher authority to the Lower City,” he explained.
Meyja nodded. “I don't know how quickly I can do it. Aron and I live together and he also always knows where I'm hanging out. So, I'll have to wait for him to go to tail you. So be careful until things are over. He is absolutely deadly and the best in our ranks. "
"Alright. Thanks, Meyja,” Cayden muttered.
Before she knew what was happening, he pulled her to his chest and hugged her tightly.
Even if he let go of her after a second, her cheeks glowed red, and she stammered, “It's okay, Cayden. See you."
She took a step over the edge, disappeared into the depths where she landed silently on the ground, and hurried away through the alleys.
He looked after her and felt a longing tug in his bowels because she had left after all, but he was in love with her. She was a pure-blood Voynarian, brave, and determined.
Ten minutes later, and just as dusk fell over Jevarish, Meyja was sitting behind a bush and watching the house where the family she was supposed to kill lived. They lived not far from the pumpkin field and were evidently nothing more than a few farmers who had probably got in someone's way unsuspectingly. In two windows she could still see the glow of a log fire, so someone was still awake, even if no one had been seen outside since she had been here.
Nevertheless, she waited another half hour and was just about to sneak up to the building when someone from behind put a hand to her mouth and held her.
"Take it easy," whispered a familiar voice and she nodded briefly.
After Deval had let go of her, she turned to him and hissed, "What is it?"
He smiled. "I came by coincidentally, discovered you, and thought I'll see what you're doing here."
“I'm watching the building. A family lives there and I should turn them off,” she explained shortly and looked back at the house. "Actually, I was just about to sneak to a window when you distracted me."
Deval asked, "A family?"
She nodded silently annoyed that he'd exposed her for the rookie she was.
“Is Ed abandoned by all good spirits? He's sending a child to slaughter a family?” he repeated amused.
'It is enough...' she thought.
With one quick movement, she kicked Deval's legs away and since he was only squatting on the balls of his feet, he lost his balance and reflexively pulled her with him so that she came to lie on top of him.
She wanted to roll off him, but he held her tight, her arms pressed against her sides, so she twisted and yanked her knee up as soon as they were on his side. Deval groaned in agony as Meyja's knee went between his legs and she was finally able to free herself.
"Call me child again," she growled menacingly and glared at him.
"It's okay, it's okay," he replied with a quiet laugh. “I was just kidding. Ouch, that really hurt."
Why did such events pile up again and again? First Cayden hugged her without being asked and now Deval allowed himself to have fun with her she found anything but funny. Couldn't men imagine that women were uncomfortable just touching them? Or did she just overreact every time? But no matter which explanation was correct, she was not sorry that she had caused Deval pain, he could get to know her borderline.
"Now get out of here and let me do my work," she replied through clenched teeth.
In the meantime, he had picked himself up again. “Don't do anything stupid. It's not an easy task and even someone like me who has been doing this for over ten years, still has to be extremely careful not to get caught. Especially when you try to kill them in their sleep, you never know how easily the other people who are resting in the same room wake up."
“I am aware of that. I don't plan to do it tonight, I'm just here to peek, and get a picture,” she replied quietly.
Deval nodded. “Then I wish you all the best. See you tomorrow at your welcome party. Good night."
"Likewise. See you soon,” she replied also nodding.
He got up and crept away through the night while Meyja without even looking at him remained seated and waited.
Two hours later Aron suddenly dropped into the grass next to her and asked, "How does it look?"
“They seem to have gone to bed a few minutes ago, at least turned off the light. Actually, I wanted to get closer and watch through a window, but Deval was here and somehow throwing me off the hook,” she replied quietly and eyed him as best she could in the dark. "Did everything go smoothly for you?"
He nodded. “Yes, the harbour master is history. What did Deval want from you?"
She waved her hand gruffly. "Apparently, he just wanted to annoy me. He succeeded. As if it wasn't scary enough for me at times."
“Deval is something special. He's worked for Ed a long time but he's still a loner. Still, he mostly stays decent and only harasses you with his strange jokes," replied Aron. "What did he do?"
“He said something about Ed being out of his mind sending a child to kill a family. Then I pushed him so that he fell and he pulled me with him until I was on top of him. He only let go of me when he had my knee in the crotch,” she said.
"He deserves that," remarked Aron. “You have to show them how far they can go and pain is one of the lessons that always works. Not just with the Deathshade, but with all men in Sharaya. In this country women are treated with little or no respect, if they don’t defend themselves. Don't be afraid to let them know what it feels like to piss off the Indomitable. Word will get around that it is better not to mess with you and at some point, you will have peace. At least within the guild."
"Don't you have to take care of the job with the city guard, too?" she asked.
He frowned briefly. “I planned to watch him during the day. In the evenings, the high-ranking guards are usually in the barracks anyway where I can't get to them that easily. And then there is also a celebration we cannot miss."
"I almost forgot..." she mumbled sourly.
Smiling, he pulled her close, pushed the cloth from her mouth, and kissed her before whispering, “I'm so incredibly proud that you are one of us. And on the fact that I can be by your side."
“You are just wonderful, Aron. I owe all of this to you. It was only because of you, I was able to become an assassin. And I was finally able to open up to someone,” she replied with a smile and stroked his half-long hair.
"Let's go home," he suggested in a dark voice.
Meyja nodded with red cheeks, knowing what he was after, and could hardly wait to land back in his bed.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 31 - Treason

The next day, Meyja headed in the Lower City to find the guy who supposedly looked like Cayden. Aron had left the house only a few minutes before her to shadow Darius Bryce of whose true identity he hopefully never found out. The whole plan was more than delicate, and the party that was due in the evening put additional pressure on Meyja as she would be in one room with all the men she was just about to betray.
She followed the main road down the hill and turned right in front of the large city gate to first get an idea of the cellar they had chosen to hide the body. There were numerous doors in the stonework of the city wall, but she passed them all until to her right was one of the stinking tanneries Cayden must have been referring to. Directly opposite was a locked passage, the large padlock of which she had opened with a lock pick within a few blinks of an eye and slipped through the door inconspicuously.
The dark basement was almost empty, there were only a few old barrels in it, on one of which was the document that she had been promised, and that she would take as soon as she brought the body here. The rough brick walls exuded a pleasant coldness which would undoubtedly also be beneficial, if the dead man had to lie here for more than a few hours. But since she hadn't lost anything here at first, she went out again, locked the door, and strolled on through the alleys of the Lower City.
 Only a few minutes later, she spotted a man who looked at least a little like Cayden and an idea occurred to her. She overtook him by moving through the parallel alley and then walking towards him. When she was sure that he would be a suitable sacrifice, she deliberately bumped into him, making it seem like an accident, and stopped.
"Sorry," she muttered scratching the back of her head in mock embarrassment.
He smiled and was about to go on when she stopped him.
"I have a question..." she began and after he nodded encouragingly, she continued. “I'm new to Sharaya and I really need to earn a few coins to buy something to eat. What is the fastest way to make myself useful?" Deliberately making it look like she was offering herself to him, she smiled ambiguously, and let her gaze wander up and down him.
"Well... I usually go to another whore, but since it seems to be for a good cause... How much do you need and what are you willing to do for it?" He asked with a grin.
Thoughtfully she tapped her bottom lip with her finger and then said, “I would be happy with a few silver coins. Do you have any preferences?"
"Turn around for a moment, please," She did what he asked. “You have a nice bum, little one. How old are you?"
"Twenty. Why?” she wanted to know and acted naively although she thought she knew what he was getting at.
He winked briefly. "Let's talk about that in peace somewhere."
“I know a place where you are completely undisturbed. Shall I show you?” she suggested, pointing down the alley in the direction from which he had come.
After he nodded, she took his hand, and led him through the Lower City while he kept his eyes fixed on her buttocks. She stopped in front of the cellar door, looked around briefly before picking the lock, and going inside.
"How did you get to this place?" He asked with a frown as he followed her into the basement.
She acted embarrassed again and explained, "Sometimes I sleep here when I run out of coins."
“Why don't you introduce yourself to one of the brothels? You even get accommodation and something to eat there,” he remarked with a wink and closed the door behind him.
She waved it off. “I don't actually intend to go under whores, but if I have to I sell my services every now and then. What can I do for you now? And how much do I get for it?” she wanted to know.
He stepped up to her and stopped right in front of her then let his hands slide down her back to her bottom. "Has a man been in there before?"
"In my...?" she exclaimed in disbelief. She couldn't believe what he actually seemed to be asking.
Nodding silently, he grinned lustfully at her, and she saw out of the corner of her eye that the very thought of it seemed to excite him.
"No, no one has ever been in there," she whispered fearfully and swallowed.
 The situation was really uncomfortable for her and since she didn't know what chances she had against him, she had to wait a moment in which he was distracted before she could finish him off.
"All the better. If you let me take you like this, I'll give you a gold coin,” he promised.
She acted very nervous. "Does... Doesn't that hurt?"
"No, I'm careful, I promise," he replied.
She saw immediately that he was lying but she didn't show it, and nodded before turning her back to him, and leaning forward as she had done with the guy who became her first victim. She remembered, boiling hot, that this time she wasn't wearing a robe under which she could discreetly pull her stiletto.
"Well, open your pants," he whispered and was already fiddling with his own clothes.
If she did what he said, she was in danger of doing what he promised her payment for, so somehow, she had to stop him. "Wait... there was a noise on the door," she whispered, turning around.
When he also glanced briefly in the direction of the door, she silently pulled one of her daggers from her back, and held the blade next to her thigh. "There was nothing," he replied.
Meyja mumbled, "I thought I heard something..."
Then she hit his larynx with the edge of her hand at lightning speed and when his hands twitched up, she thrust her dagger forcefully into his eye. Gasping, he fell forward and she caught him, put him on the floor, and took her weapon while her victim took his last breath.
All of this happened within a few seconds, and only when she looked down at the corpse, did she notice her heart was racing and her hands had started to shake. Apparently, the movements that she had practised with Aron for so long, and so extensively, had already passed into her flesh and blood. She regretted a little that she wouldn't be able to tell him about it, but right now she had other problems to deal with. The dead man didn't look like Cayden enough for their mutual plan to work. So, she sat on his chest, took a deep breath, and began to put the idea that had occurred to her earlier on the street into practice.
Though her hands hurt more and more each time, she hit her victim's face until nothing more than squishy, bloody outlines could be seen. Then she got up, breathing heavily, and took a rag out of her pocket with which she roughly wiped the red marks from her clothes and hands.
‘What has become of me...‘ she thought.
You couldn't even tell from the corpse that a woman was responsible for all this violence, rather it looked as if he had been beaten to death and, contrary to all reason, that calmed her immensely. Eventually, she turned him on his stomach so that the blood that was still oozing from the eye would trickle down the sloping floor and not stain him any more than necessary. She hastily took the document, slipped it under her leather jacket, put on the hood, and left the cellar which she carefully locked.
On the way up the main street, she washed her battered hands at a fountain, so she could get the message back to Darius Bryce before she hurried on.
When she got to the men guarding the passage to the military district, she was eyed in amazement.
"What do you want?" one of the guys asked harshly.
She showed him the scroll breathlessly. “Is Major Bryce here? I have a message for him. It's urgent."
"He is. What is it about?“ the guard wanted to know, and took the letter from her hand.
With a shrug she replied, “I don't know. I was given the role at the main gate and sent here."
The man nodded briefly. "I'll pass it on immediately."
"Wait! Where's my pay?!” she replied angrily.
He gave her a rough push on the shoulder. "Get away with it, or I'll make you!"
Cursing softly, she turned away and went down the mountain, relieved that she hadn't been blown and Aron had nowhere to be seen.
When she got home, she checked her clothes again for blood stains and soaked her swollen hands in cold water as she wondered if everything was going to go as she and Cayden had intended. Shortly before Aron returned and interrupted her brooding, she had put on clean clothes and sat in her armchair.
"There you are," she said happily and stood up to greet him.
He sighed softly and tiredly wrapped his arms around her. “It's good to see you. My day has been anything but pleasant so far."
"Why? Didn't you have any success?” she asked sympathetically and kissed him gently.
“No, I didn't even see the target. Apparently, he has been hiding in the barracks all day,” he replied, took her by the hand, and pulled her back to the armchairs.
She replied softly, "I'm really sorry."
A lot was taken off her mind but at the same time she felt incredibly wicked because she had betrayed him in such a way while he was only trying to do his job which probably remained in vain due to her efforts.
Instead of sitting down, she took the daggers from him, and placed them on the table by her weapons before stepping back behind him and massaging his shoulders.
"Ah, that's so good..." he mumbled blissfully and closed his eyes.
"It's a shame that we can't just spend the rest of the evening together," she said quietly.
He shook his head gently. “No, this is going to be a great celebration. And you will look gorgeous."
"I don't know..." she grumbled sourly.
Before she knew it, he had grabbed her, and pulled her over the back of the chair into his lap, then wrapped his arms around her while she giggled in surprise.
"Don't you believe me?" he growled with mock anger and stared at her with wide eyes.
She couldn't hold back from laughing and he chuckled and joined in.
"Yes, I believe you... but please... please... don't look at me like that... I... I can't... take… anymore..." she pleaded, completely out of breath.
He grinned broadly and whispered, “You are beautiful when you laugh, Meyja. I just can't see enough of that. I love you so much."
“And I love you, Aron. More than anything," she replied softly and kissed him deeply.
For a few minutes he still held her in his arms and they enjoyed being close to each other, then Aron rolled two tubes of Philosopher's herb and they smoked comfortably before they washed themselves thoroughly, joked around a little, and dressed for the welcome party.
Finally, it was evening, and they strolled arm in arm into the shop.
"I forgot to tell you that you have to take your oath today," said Aron when they got to Ed's door.
"Oath?" Asked Meyja. "What do I have to swear?"
“Nothing bad, don't worry. That you keep silence and protect your brothers, something like that. We have all done it. Oh yes... you'd better keep your title a secret from everyone else. It's safer, if they don't know it. They will find out that you are a titled one but they shouldn't know what it is,” Aron continued and looked her over again from top to bottom. “You look really stunning. It wasn't a wrong decision not to show up in the usual clothes." He admired it with a smile and turned her once around her own axis to be able to see it from all sides.
"You are also a wonderful sight, very stately," she replied with flushed cheeks, leaned against him, and kissed him gently.
“I'm sure they are all here already, should we join them? Are you ready for your big evening?” he asked.
Meyja took a deep breath before nodding.
Aron went ahead, held the door open for her, and she stepped in behind him, he was right, all the Deathshade were there, and looked at the two newcomers in astonishment.
"Aron, the whole thing must have grown on your bullshit, right?" laughed Thom.
Eralion who was sitting next to him hit him reproachfully on the back of the head, he took Thom's muttered protest in silence while he looked at the two of them.
Aron wore a suit made of dark fabric which looked great on him and underneath a white shirt. He had shaven and pulled his black hair back in a short ponytail. Anyone who didn't know him and saw him like that would never have taken him for an assassin.
The same was true for his companion, Meyja's slim body was in a floor-length, midnight blue robe with half-length sleeves. When she moved, the tight-fitting fabric glittered, as if it were set with diamonds. From the front, the dress looked high-necked, and offered no insight into her cleavage, but at the back there was a neckline that offered a view of her entire back. She hadn't done without her chest strap with the daggers, but it didn't look out of place on her bare skin. She wore her dark hair in a deep braid that fell over her left shoulder to the front.
Even if she had worried about her scars, Aron was able to convince her that this robe was the right choice and after some back and forth she had finally believed him.
Will let out an appreciative whistle, and Meyja turned bright red as they went to their places on a short side of the table and sat down. Directly across from them was Ed who just barely closed his mouth when she looked over at him. Aron filled his own and Meyja's cups with wine and toasted his brothers with a grin.
Ed cleared his throat, raised his beer mug, and said in a solemn voice, “Now that we are all here, I would like to draw your attention to the young lady in our midst who with her courage, and iron will was able to fight for a place in our ranks. Please get up and come over to me, Meyja."
He winked at her as she got up and walked around the table, her cheeks still flushed in embarrassment because she didn't like to be the centre of attention and felt the glances of those present.
“You have all seen each other before and as you know, she was badly wounded shortly afterwards. But she recovered quickly and returned here after a short time. Now it's time to take the oath that will finally turn you into a Deathshade. Raise your hand. Do you swear, Meyja, that you will always protect your brothers with your life?"
"I swear," replied Meyja obediently holding up her hand.
"And do you also swear never to reveal the name of our guild and always keep your title a secret?" Ed asked further.
"I swear," she replied again.
Ed held out his hand to her with a smile and announced, “Then from now on you are one of us, a true Deathshade who brings death to her victims with cold heartedness and grace. Congratulations again."
He let go of her hand and clapped his hands, the other men joined in cheering.
Meyja curtsied in front of the table and still smiled embarrassed then went back to her seat next to Aron.
"What was your first assignment?" asked Deval when the applause had subsided a little.
Aron cleared his throat. "She already has a title."
It was instantly dead quiet in the room, the men looked over at Meyja in disbelief.
"You’re kidding us, Aron," Raemur said with a chuckle.
"No, that’s the truth. It was one of my own assignments and Meyja was only supposed to help me distract the target person. But before I could turn him off myself, she had already cut his throat. If I hadn't been there, she would have made it as well, she did all the work on her own,” said Aron.
In the meantime, Ed had got up and went through the curtain into the back room, a moment later he came back with the blood-soaked dress that she had worn that evening.
He held it up so that everyone could see it. “She said to her victim that she would bathe in his blood before she brought him to death. And she didn't promise too much, as you can see."
General shaking of the head in awe and stunned looks in Meyja's direction followed his words.
There was still a moment of silence, then Tasim lifted his mug and said, “To Meyja, who has achieved what no one has even dared to try before. And the fact that she did it in a dress."
Everyone else also raised their mugs and toasted themselves.
Meyja was still embarrassed and remarked, “I was just lucky. And had an excellent teacher.” She looked at Aron with a smile and leaned over to him, kissing him lovingly on the lips. "Besides...", she added and stood up. “I want to thank Ed and Thom. You saved my life. I wouldn't be here without you both. And also, thanks to everyone else for standing by Aron and me on this damn day. I know you swore it but I’d like to thank each and every one of you very much."
The men nodded when Meyja sat down again then there was a loud knock on the door.
It took five young men to get the food from the Golden Gear into Ed's shop. They brought in a whole suckling pig, bread, various vegetables, and put everything on the board.
Ed paid the busy messenger and roared with a laugh, "All hands on the pig!"
The actual celebration began, everyone ate, and drank in a good mood. The told stories got dirtier as the alcohol level rose. The Deathshade had a lot of fun and spent the entire night together.
Meyja finally felt integrated into the ranks and was no longer ashamed when Ed told how she had turned up in his shop a little more than a year ago. At some point, Sully even took out his lute and began to play while the others sang happy songs. Aron got up, pulled Meyja to him, and danced with her until Ed tapped his shoulder.
"Make way, boy! I want to!", Ed announced with a laugh and danced on with her.
It went on and on until Meyja had danced with each of the men once.
Finally, Aron who had been watching her smiling the whole time, came back to her, and hugged her tightly, then whispered in her ear, "You make me the happiest man in Abarglen, you know that?"
“And you make me the happiest woman, Aron. The happiest woman in all worlds," she whispered back.
He kissed her again and then knelt in front of her.
Meyja looked down at him in disbelief when he held out a silver ring in which a small sapphire was set. Tears welled up in her eyes, she became warm and when Aron took her hand gently in his, he could feel she was trembling with excitement.
 The men paused in surprise and looked over at them in silence when Aron spoke to his chosen one.
"Meyja Blake... I've known you since you robbed me over a year ago. And since then, I love you more than my own life. I've never let a woman into my heart before but you made that decision for me. Before I knew what was happening to me, I was yours, even if you didn't realise it then. I've been carrying this ring around with me for months even when I didn't even know, if you even wanted me. But you revealed yourself to me, and took me to your side. I swear to always protect you with my life, to stand by you in everything and to love you for the rest of my days like no other man in the world can even begin to. Do you want to be my wife?"
Aron looked up at her smiling, a single tear running down his cheek.
Meyja could no longer speak, she swallowed hastily a few times, and nodded vigorously. The lump in her throat didn’t let her speak.
The men applauded whistling and hooting as Aron slipped the ring onto her finger and stood up. When her knees threatened to give way, he was just able to catch her.
 He wrapped his arms around his fiancée and kissed her lovingly before whispering to her, "I'll be a good husband to you, I promise."
Ed pushed Eralion aside who had been closest to the couple and just wanted to congratulate, he also had tears in his eyes and hugged Meyja and Aron stormily.
"Children! What kind of things do you guys do? I wish you all the best in your life together. Always take good care of each other, do you hear?” Their boss sniffed and looked up at them.
Aron thanked Ed, touched, while Meyja could only nod and wipe her eyes.
The other men also came to congratulate them and afterwards they continued to drink happily until the early morning.
Meyja was much less drinkable than the rest of Deathshade. At some point, her head began to sag repeatedly so they said goodbye and left the shop.
 It was early morning, and the streets were slowly filling with the usual hustle and bustle. They walked side by side for a while, but then Aron lifted her in his arms where she fell asleep.
 When he got to their flat, he put his fiancée who was still sleeping in bed, carefully pulled off her robe, and chest strap, and sat down next to her. For a while he watched her as she lay there in the dim light of the morning with the ring on her finger, and slumbered peacefully. He couldn't believe it – she was going to be his wife. Then he undressed and lay down next to her, kissing her gently on the forehead before he, too, fell into a deep sleep.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 32 - Beating

Aron woke up in the early afternoon and looked over at Meyja. She was already laying awake next to him and smiling looked at the ring on her finger. When she noticed that he was looking at her, she beamed at him.

"Good morning, my future Mrs. Gray," he whispered, and kissed her lovingly.

"Good morning, my future husband," she whispered back.

They just lay next to each other for a few minutes, kissing, and caressing each other then Meyja asked, “So you've had the ring for a long time? And why did you just ask me last night?"

Aron nodded. “I had, for about three months. I saw it by chance at a dealer and bought it without thinking twice. Somehow, it had reminded me of you and all of a sudden, I knew that one day I would ask you. Since then, I've always had it in my pocket and waited for the right moment. When I saw you dancing yesterday, I knew it was the perfect moment. You looked so beautiful in your robe, with your hair over your shoulder. And you laughed, and…” He broke off and a tear of joy ran down his cheek.

"It was the perfect moment, Mr. Gray," she said softly and kissed him again. "I love you and I'm so much looking forward to the day I will be your wife."

"I can barely wait for it. And I love you, Meyja." He smiled happily and continued, "Without knowing it, I've been waiting for you all my life. And there you were and I knew it... That I had waited and that it was you who I had been waiting for."

“We both thought that the world had nothing in store for us, but pain and suffering. But now everything is different,” she replied.

Aron pressed against her when the need for her body flared up in him.

"What are we going to do with the rest of the day?" asked Aron in the late afternoon while he was holding Meyja in his arms.

"Well, there are still a few open orders," she remarked thoughtfully and he nodded.

"The most worrying part of my head is the family you are supposed to wipe out," he replied with an uncomfortable feeling.

"Why a headache? It's a job like any other,” Meyja said indifferently and looked up at him questioningly. She still couldn't imagine that killing a family should be more difficult than killing a single guy.

"No, it is not. Killing a man is one thing. A woman may be more vulnerable and weaker but it is still something that can be accomplished. After all, you are one, too, so it should be easier for you than for me. But children are small, innocent, and absolutely helpless. It is abysmally cruel to kill a child,” Aron pointed out.

“It's our job and not our decision. In my opinion, it is the client who is to blame, not us,” Meyja replied.

Aron shook his head and said softly, "I can tell you've never killed a child, otherwise you wouldn't take it so easily, I'm sure."

“Then I should have this experience. At some point it will happen anyway,” she remarked coldly and got up.

He also got up with a sigh and looked at her seriously. "You really want to do this?"

Meyja who was just getting dressed nodded. “I accepted the contract; my decision was made the moment I signed it. I have to do it and I will do it."

"Well then, let's go, and shed a little blood," he muttered, getting dressed as well.

Meyja and Aron watched the building they had already shaded once all day and when it was finally dark, they masked themselves, crept to one of the windows, into which Meyja peeked inconspicuously. Apparently, the children had already gone to bed because she could only see the two parents. Aron leaned next to her on the wall of the house, he was still not convinced of this matter but did not want to stand in her way. She crept around the house and peeked into one of the dark rooms where two small bodies were laying in a bed, so the children were really asleep.

“I wait until the parents have retired, then I switch off the father first, followed by the mother. The children represent the least risk, so I'll do them last,” Meyja whispered to her partner who had followed her and nodded wordlessly.

They waited another half an hour after the light in the house had been switched off then she crept to the window that led into the living room and cleverly pried it open.
 She gently pushed the frame up and slid silently into the room. The door to the parents' bedroom was ajar and she took a quick, scrutinizing look in before stepping through on tiptoe and standing next to the bed. Her heart pounded as she leaned down to the man and pressed her hand over his mouth as hard as she could in one swift movement. When he widened his eyes in shock, she had already cut his throat and with a low rattle, he took his last breath.

The woman mumbled in her sleep, turned to her husband and for a moment Meyja had already assumed that she might discover her, but when her second victim was still sleeping, she crept around the bed again. The mother lay with her back to her murderer who also covered her mouth and then stuck the dagger into her heart from behind. Meyja finished her almost without a sound before she left the room and turned to the nursery.

The children were still asleep, too, but they wouldn't have heard anything anyway because the assassin had hardly made any noise. A boy and a girl lay in front of her and Meyja closed her eyes for a moment before she pressed her hand to the boy's mouth, grabbed him, and slit his throat.

The second child raised its head but at first could not see much in the dark.
 Meyja took advantage of this moment, let go of the boy she had pressed against her chest, his body fell to the ground while she dived at the girl, covered her mouth, and cut her throat.

After a few minutes, Meyja was standing next to Aron again and nodded silently. Without exchanging a word, they crept away through the night unrecognised. They stopped behind a bush by the lake, Meyja pulled the cloth from her face and washed the blood from her things. Aron sat down next to her on the bank, also pulled down his mask and looked at her worriedly.

"Are you okay?" he whispered.

She sat down next to him and nodded. "Yes, everything’s alright. It was easy, almost worryingly easy, no resistance whatsoever. For a moment, I thought the woman was going to wake up but she didn't hear that I killed her husband. But the boy's body is not in bed, I hope that doesn't matter."

“No, it doesn't matter. It is obvious anyway that they were murdered and nobody cares where they are,” Aron replied quietly and put an arm around her shoulders. "Well done. And fast."

They pulled the cloths over their mouth and nose again and crept back to the city, only when they were sure that no one was seeing them did they take off the masks again and walk calmly side by side towards the bridge.

"Are you tired?" he asked.

Meyja looked at him and said, “No, not really. Do you have anything else to do?"

"Let's go see Renny," he suggested with a grin.

"Renny? Who is that?” she wanted to know.

"I'll show you. I couldn't explain it anyway," smiled Aron and took her by the hand.
 They went through the city gate in the Lower City immediately turned the first junction to the left. He heart beat a bit faster, as they passed the door behind which she killed the man for Cayden before, but gladly he didn’t notice it. At the end of the city wall there was a hole in the rock of the mountain and he gently pulled her through before going down a few rough stone steps and around a corner. There they were stopped by a bouncer but when Aron said his name they were let through.

It went further down the stairs, she looked around in amazement in the underground vaults carved into the stone where there was a bar and a few booths in which one could sit, even if everything looked very provisional. The most interesting thing was the fighting ring in the middle, in which two men were just hitting each other with their bare fists.

Aron went to the railing that surrounded the lower ring and pointed to one of the two fighters, "This is Crom, the undefeated champion of the Stone Hall and a true legend."

They watched the fight to the end and of course the named won after a short period of time.

A loud voice echoed through the room, “That was Crom and I would certainly not have survived the last blow. He remains undefeated unless someone dares to face him again." When no one answered, the voice laughed, "Cowards, all of you!"

Meyja looked around, saw a short man who was sitting on a pedestal, and speaking into a funnel that seemed to amplify his words so that they drowned out the cheers Crom was receiving.

"And that's Renny himself," Aron continued and pointed to the wretch before he turned around and got them something to drink at the bar. With that they sat down at a table next to the fighting ring and watched a few more duels. Despite the fact that brutal pit fights were being fought here, Meyja felt very comfortable, it captivated and fascinated her in a morbid way to watch the men stalking at each other and slamming at the right moment.

"Aron, nice to see you!"

When Meyja turned her head, she recognised Crom who was standing next to her table.

"Crom. An excellent catch, I couldn't have done it better myself,” said Aron laughing.

The two men shook hands, it seemed as if they had known each other for a long time.

"So, are you going to fight a little too?" Crom asked and took a seat at their table.

"Maybe if a worthy opponent can be found," said Aron with a smile then pointed to Meyja. “This is my fiancée Meyja. She already knows who the invincible legend is here."

“So that's why I haven't seen you in so long. I'm very happy, Meyja,” said Crom and took her hand to indicate a kiss on the hand.

"Likewise," she replied cautiously, eyeing the legendary fighter in awe.

Crom wasn't wearing a shirt which seemed to be the norm here, his broad back had a few bruises and scratches, but that didn't seem to bother the tall guy at all, he was probably already used to it.

In the middle of the conversation, he had just had with Crom, Aron got up, and took off his shirt, he put the daggers together with the belt on the table and his fiancée looked up at him puzzled. 

"That was my cue," he grinned and swung himself down into the pit.

Renny had just asked for an opponent for the fighter who was already in the ring.

"Don't worry, nothing knocks him over so easily," said Crom with a wink when he noticed that Meyja looked after Aron worried.

The small man released the fight with a gong and the duellists raised their fists in front of their faces, circled each other briefly. Aron took a left hook and hit his opponent in the side. When he only doubled over for a moment and let his cover fall Aron hit his cheek with his right hand but instead of simply falling over, the opponent made a counter blow and hit Aron in the pit of his stomach.

Crom let out a surprised whistle. "Apparently, he really found a worthy opponent."

"Does he do that often?" Meyja asked him without looking away from the fight.

Crom nodded. “He hasn't been here in a while but he's a good fighter. How about you? Women are also allowed to step into the ring."

Meyja stopped short. "I? No, no... I've never done anything like this."

The Stone Hall appealed to her, despite the rough handling, but she didn't dare to take part in it herself, her fear of embarrassing herself in front of everyone – especially Aron – was too great.

"What do you do for a living, if one may ask?" Crom wanted to know and looked at her interestedly.

"What do you do when you're not beating anyone in the skull?" she asked back with a smile.

"I'm a part of the city guard, here in Sharaya," Crom admitted with a grin. “But we're all the same down here, there's anarchy here. Nobody cares who the other is, there are many criminals and villains in attendance, but it would never occur to me to betray any of them. I also know that Aron is an assassin and he knows about my position in the guard. So don't worry, I would never whistle on you, on the contrary."

She would have liked to ask him about Darius Bryce, but at the same time she couldn't make herself suspicious, so she just shut up and nodded silently.

Aron put his fists in the air, his opponent lay defeated at his feet, and cheers rang out from the stands, then Aron helped the vanquished on his feet, a friendly, short hug followed. Meyja clapped and cheered her fiancé who was a bit damaged but grinning, climbed out of the ring, and dropped into his chair.

"So, what do you do when you're not watching your fiancé beating someone up?" Crom asked again, then nodded appreciatively at Aron, slapped him on the shoulder, and congratulated him on the win.

“Doesn't she want to reveal it? Smart girl." Aron winked at her, and then said softly to Crom, "Same as me. And she has a title."

Crom's eyes widened in amazement and looked again at the inconspicuous young woman sitting next to him. “I would hardly have thought possible, to be honest. Even if the blood spatter on her forehead was suspicious."

Aron rubbed his finger over the stain on her face and gave her an embarrassed smile. “Now you know my dirty little secret. I like to fight every now and then."

"Crom has already revealed that you hang around here often, don't worry," she replied with a smile.

Now there was actually a woman in the ring, apparently Crom hadn't lied, and when Renny loudly demanded an opponent for the fighter Levia, the two men looked at Meyja with a grin.

"It's your turn if you want," suggested Aron.

To his surprise, she really got up, put down the weapons, and the engagement ring. The majority of the audience were men, only a few, isolated women were among the guests, Meyja didn't even think about pinching and stepped into the ring, the two opponents looked at each other with a disapproving smile.

When the gong rang, they raised their fists. Her opponent made a stronger impression than Meyja but she seemed immobile. What Levia had to show in strength, Meyja had in skill and agility. When Levia took a hard blow, Meyja dropped to the ground and kicked her legs from under her body so she landed on her back. Then Meyja got up hastily and punched her on the cheek as she was about to get up. 

Again, Levia went down, but instead of attacking Meyja let her get up. When her opponent tried to hit her again, she ducked low and walked around her with one long step until she was behind her. With a brutal kick in the back, Meyja carried her onto her stomach and let her stand up again.

Slowly she started to enjoy playing with her opponent and she danced around her with raised fists. She blocked another punch with her forearm, grabbed the now outstretched arm of her rival, and turned her back at lightning speed while she rammed her elbow into her stomach, and pulled her over her shoulder. When Levia landed on the ground again, Meyja sat down on her chest and hit her hard three times on the cheek with her fist until the loser raised her hands in a daze and gave up.

The gong rang again and Renny's voice echoed through the room, “We have a winner! The unknown defeated Levia in just one minute and twenty-three seconds!"

Applause rang out from the edge of the ring as Meyja held out her hand to help Levia up, climbed out, and sat down with Aron and Crom again.

The two looked at her astonished and Crom remarked, “You fight well, Meyja. Fast, dirty, and deceitful, a very interesting fighting style."

"And you didn't take a single hit," added Aron appreciatively.

"Still not enough to compete against either of you two," Meyja threw off the praise.

But Crom nodded, looked at Aron with a grin for a moment, and revealed, "You could definitely take on your fiancé, if you catch him off the beaten track."

She shook her head violently. “I would never want to hit Aron. Let alone that I want to be beaten by him."

Meyja winked at her lover who leaned back calmly and crossed his arms behind his head with a grin. Apparently, he was really playing with the idea of fighting his fiancée.

“I’d certainly not spare you. But you are much faster than me and you have a real chance, I have to agree with Crom," he answered her honestly.

"You really want to find out, don't you?" Meyja asked softly, leaned forward on the table with her mug in hand, and took a sip while she looked at him defiantly. Then put down her drink and licked herself provocatively over the lips.

Laughing, Crom looked back and forth between the two of them. “You would certainly be the first couple to step into the ring here. And you don't see woman against man often either."

Aron looked at Meyja a little thoughtfully before he asked with a grin, "Do you want to be my opponent?"

She nodded in silence and gave him another challenging look. So, they waited for the current fight and then swung themselves over the railing.

Meyja's heart was beating up to the neck when Renny announced their fight. “And now something special! Aron against the unknown! That will definitely be worth seeing!"

"That will be the only time that this happens, do you hear?" Meyja whispered to Aron and then raised her fists.

He just grinned and threw her an air kiss before he also got into fighting position and the gong rang.
 It almost felt like in slow motion when Aron came up to her and reached for his notorious left hook, she leaned back until her hands hit the floor and saw the next fist rushing towards her, within the blink of an eye she was already there, rolled to one side and crouched down. He followed her immediately and although she had to take a violent blow on her shoulder for this, she jumped towards him, with the use of her entire body weight she managed to tear him off his feet. Aron fell backwards but he was able to hold her before she came down from him. Then he got up with her and lifted her up to throw her to the ground and Meyja landed painfully on her side, lifted again due to the force of the impact from the earth. She spun in the air like a cat and crouched forward to sit, hands on the floor.

Aron was standing in front of her in a fighting stance and wanted to grab her again, his knees were bent but before he knew what was happening, she had slipped between his legs behind him. When he turned to her, he could just see her foot which hit the pit of his stomach a millisecond later. Meyja repeated the long step that she had already used in the fight before to get behind her opponent, but since Aron was taller it was only enough to get to his side.

The kidney blow still hit him by surprise but didn't throw him off his mind enough not to give her a punch in the cheek with a twist. Meyja landed on her back, already tasted the blood in her mouth and when Aron leaned down for another blow in the middle of her face, she only moved her head a little so that his fist hit the floor next to her ear.

Then she kicked him violently in the side and rose to her feet, took a few steps away from him, he still hit the back of her head and threw her on her stomach. But before he caught her again, she got to her feet, and rolled herself forward out of reach while crouching she turned back to him and stood up.

Meyja had to try something different, a few simple hits, and falls on the floor wouldn't force Aron to give up, but she had to put up with it and felt already a bit dizzy.

But she wouldn't be able to do it with direct attacks either, she was too weak for that. The wall was already behind her and since the ring surrounded by the railing was a little lower than the area where the spectators stood, it was a good two metres to the top of the fence. Her fiancé was already coming up to her again, he was sure to win with his aggressive fighting style and quickly pursued her but when he had almost reached her, she dropped to her knees, jumped up forcefully, and held herself with one hand stuck on the railing, he grabbed her feet but got one of them violently against the cheek before he could grab it.

'This is my only chance…' she thought.

Meyja let herself fall down on him after she had kicked his grip around her ankles and pulled him with her. Aron slammed hard on the back, his head hitting the floor while she came to sit on him and forced him to give up with another blow on the cheek.

“The unknown even defeats Aron! Incredible!" Renny yelled over the cheers of the audience.

Meyja gave Aron her hand and helped him to his feet, then she hugged him, still a little dazed and kissed him on the mouth.

"I'm sorry, really. I didn't mean to hurt you,” she apologised over the noise that was in the stone hall.

But Aron shook his head with a smile, returned the kiss, and said, "I can taste your blood, so I have to apologise."

“And it seems like a couple of lovers beat up each other here! What an amusing turn!" When they were still kissing tightly Renny yelled," Finally clear the ring and get a room!"

Laughing they let go, pulled themselves up the parapet, and left the small arena to sit down next to Crom who was already staring at them in disbelief.

“You are truly incredible. I've never seen anything like it. A girl who fights so ruthlessly and bloodthirstily, not either. I'll buy you two something to drink, we'll have to toast that,” he muttered and stood up.

"Sure, Crom, we won't say no," smiled Aron and sat down then looked at his fiancée who was holding her head. "Did I hit you very hard?"

Meyja nodded and admitted, “The two blows to my head were hard. I almost gave up but then I felt the wall behind me."

"That was my undoing. I absolutely didn't expect that," he replied with a nod.

"I said you could beat him, if you caught him on the wrong foot," said Crom with a grin and sat down with them again, three mugs of beer in his hands. "To the most powerful pair of Sharaya."

They also raised their mugs and drank in amusement, neither Meyja nor Aron took offence at the other's own injuries, that was just part of it.

When Meyja put down her mug, a woman tapped her on the shoulder. "Good evening, lady. Please tell me your name and I'll put you on the ranking list."

Meyja looked over at Aron who nodded, so she told the stranger her name.

She thanked her and left.

"Is there a list?" asked Meyja astonished.

“Sure, Crom is number one but I don't know what rank I will have after you've defeated me. In addition, I haven't been here for a long time and a lot has probably changed in that time," replied Aron.

"And if you are really good, you can go into the private area," added Crom and pointed to the opening in the wall above them, a kind of balcony that was not visible from below.

"What's up there?" asked Meyja.
 Crom laughed, and shook his head. "It's a mystery and only the initiated are allowed to know," he grinned. "Become one of the best and you will find out."

Renny's voice echoed back through the room shortly afterwards, “It's the fourth hour in the morning and the ring is now closed! Get out of here, you old wretched scoundrels!"

Meyja looked a little disappointed at the two men, she had had so much fun all night, was a little drunk, and didn't really want to leave yet.

"That was it for today," said Aron also disappointed and all three got up very reluctantly.

Aron had just thrown his shirt over his shoulder and put an arm around his fiancée as they walked towards the stairs. Some of the unknown guests nodded appreciatively to the couple, others looked amused when they saw them, but Meyja and Aron paid no attention to them. The current ranking was posted at the exit and Meyja was astonished to find that she was twenty-fourth directly ahead of Aron, so there wasn't much room for improvement.

"Who is allowed to go upstairs?" she asked Crom as they climbed the narrow stairs.

"The best fifteen, otherwise it’ll be too crowded," he smiled and pulled on his shirt.

Aron had also got dressed again and they went hand in hand next to Crom into the Lower City, the night air coolly enveloped their sweaty bodies and they took a deep breath.

"When does it come?" Crom asked winking at them.

"What do you mean?" Aron wanted to know with a frown.

"You said Meyja was your fiancée," Crom reminded him and Aron shrugged his shoulders with a smile.

“She's only been wearing the ring since last night. It’s not yet clear when we will get married,” Aron admitted.

Crom nodded and wanted to see the engagement ring, so Meyja held out her hand to him with an embarrassed smile.

“Beautiful, fits the woman perfectly. I congratulate you and wish you both the best. Who knows when we'll run into each other again,” he said with a wink and walked away through the starry night.

Meyja hugged her future husband, beamed at him, and whispered, "It may not be certain yet but that could be changed immediately, if we set an appointment."

Aron kissed her lovingly and whispered, “Let's just get married tomorrow? As long as there is a Priest who’s available."

"I can't wait," she replied softly and kissed back.

Aron released the hug with a big smile. "I'm really looking forward to it as well. But, if you don't mind, I'd like to try to get the job done. Otherwise, I have to do it on our wedding night."

“No, just go, I'll be waiting for you in bed. But promise me you'll take care of yourself, will you? You've already taken a lot tonight," she asked whilst she gently stroked his cheek.

“In fact, I swear. Come home safe,” he replied quietly and kissed her goodbye before he took his mask out of his pocket, tied it over his face, and disappeared into the night.

She looked after him thoughtfully and wondered for the thousandth time that day whether Cayden was all right and Aron just hadn't noticed the major he was after might already be thought dead. But there was nothing she could do at the moment so she made her way home. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 33 - Loss

Meyja woke up in Aron's arms at noon and snuggled up to him, smiling happily.

He woke up, too, kissed her forehead gently and grinned at her. "Ready to get married?"

“Good morning to you, too. And I was never more ready for that," she replied with a giggle.

"Please excuse me. I also wish you a good morning,” he replied with a smile and took her hand, his fingers between hers.

“How long have you been out tonight? And were you successful?” she asked softly.

"No. I kept an eye out until morning, but he didn't show up. It almost looks like he's been swallowed by the ground,” he replied.

Meyja nodded and sat up in bed to lean against the wall. "Then you have to go again today, don't you?" she asked further.

Aron sat down next to her. "I only have two days left, so if you don't mind, I would like to see a few more hours of what can be done about the job."

“I don't mind. We haven't told anyone what we're up to anyway and we can always postpone the wedding until you finish the guy off. Then we will have peace and quiet and can enjoy this special day to the full,” she suggested.

He looked at her with cocked head and asked, “And that's really okay with you? I don't want to put you off because you are much more important to me than this damn job."

She nodded with a smile. “I would not have offered, it if I hated it. Of course, it's okay."

“I love you, Meyja. And we'll get married as soon as this thing is over, I swear,” he whispered and kissed her tenderly.

Then he said goodbye to her with a heavy heart and left the apartment to look for his target. Even if the extra day he had gained by Meyja's welcome party came in handy, he soon had to take him down, otherwise he risked terrible trouble with Ed.
 After seeing Aron disappear down the street, she got dressed as well and then set off. She really wanted to know, if their plan worked out, and Cayden was okay, even if she hadn't the slightest idea how to get in touch with him. The certainty in this regard would also mean that Aron would soon be rid of the overly annoying job and could take her to his wife.

A quarter of an hour later she had arrived in the Lower City and was wandering through the alleys, like the day before. She had already checked the city walls but he hadn't been there. The hood was pulled low over her face so she was not immediately recognised.

Normally there were only a few city guards in the lower town, but today small groups patrolled between the buildings, ruthlessly making their way through the crowds, and roughly pushing Meyja aside a few times.

At some point, she got bored of wandering around so aimlessly and she began to choose different people whom she then followed inconspicuously until they disappeared into a house. But even this self-chosen task did not take long and after she had practised more than ten shadings, she gave it up and went back to the main street.

As she started the steep climb and was about to pull the hood off her head, she noticed someone next to her and peered out of the corner of her eye at the man who, like herself, was hiding his identity with a hood.

“It's not easy to find you, Meyja. Let's go somewhere we can talk,” Cayden whispered to her.

She replied without looking at him, "Didn't anyone follow you either?"

"I'm alone. As far as I know nonetheless,” he muttered.

“We'll meet outside of the city. Be on your way in a few minutes and walk past the pumpkin field towards the harbour. I watch if someone is following you and when the coast is clear I'll come to you,” she instructed him quietly.

Then she turned left and looped before returning to the main road and following it down the hill until she reached the bridge at Sharaya's city gate. There she waited for Cayden and felt that her heart was pounding violently with anticipation.

Shortly afterwards, as agreed he passed not far from where she was hiding and she went into pursuit. Apparently, no one followed him and she caught up with him relieved.

He grinned as she grabbed his hand and walked beside him. "Well, did I promise too much? Nobody followed me."

She smiled. “No, no problem from this side. But let's go a little longer together before we take off the hoods."

There was a silent nod from his side, then they walked side by side until they reached the hill by the harbour. There they took off their headgear and sat relaxed next to each other on the grass.

"Would you like a cigarette?" he asked her taking out his tobacco.

"Of course," she replied amused.

He rolled two cigarettes and handed her one. "That was more of a rhetorical question to be honest."

Giggling she took it and clamped it between her lips. "I know."

Meanwhile, Aron hid between two bushes and watched the scene between the two of them. She had hurt him deeply. He drew his daggers and struggled with himself. The jealousy burned inside him so hot that he wouldn't care, if Meyja involuntarily witnessed Cayden's death. Then he pulled the mask over his face and continued to watch in silence.

Cayden gave her fire and she inhaled deeply. 

"I actually thought you were on duty right now, that's why I didn't wait on the city wall."

"Yes, the crews are on the alert because one of us was found murdered this morning," he replied, also taking a drag on his cigarette.

"So?” she asked interestedly.

“His name was John Meyers. Not a very good guy, but he must have had something with the wife of one of the other men.” Cayden sighed.

“A horned husband, then. We seem to have something like that a lot," she muttered.

"What do you mean?" He frowned.

She blushed and stammered, "Please... forget what I said."

He replied, “No, Meyja. Please tell me what you know, I want to know for myself. But I'll keep your information to myself, I swear."

She took another deep drag before putting the cigarette out on the grass, you could see the conflict in which she was stuck. If she told him, she was also denouncing her guild, so she bowed her head and shook it. "No, I'm sorry. I won't talk to you about guild internals."

‘Enough... It’s enough...‘ Aron thought.

Aron pushed himself silently out of the bushes and strode purposefully towards Cayden of whose true identity he still had no clue. His daggers were poisoned and he held the blades with the sharp edge down.

Cayden threw away his cigarette of which no more than a stub remained and turned to Meyja. "Listen. I won't tell anyone a single word. Because I love you and don't want your life to be in danger."

Aron paused. It was now too interesting not to listen any further because he wanted to know what she said about the extent to which she was betraying him.

"You... what?!" From one second to the other her face turned pale.

"I love you, Meyja Blake," Cayden repeated urgently and his hands went to the back of her neck.

Meyja slipped away from him. "You don’t do that..."

"Take your dirty fingers off her, you Voynarian bastard," hissed Aron who was standing directly behind her and held a dagger at Cayden's throat.

The two hadn't noticed him and Meyja winced when Cayden slowly put his hands in the air.

Then she jumped up and grabbed Aron's arm with the weapon. "No! Aron, I can explain everything!"

"What else is there to explain, huh?" he growled. "He has just confessed his love to you."

The two men eyed each other disapprovingly as they faced each other.

Meyja ignored the hostilities. “I'm sorry that I had to betray you, Aron. For real. But this isn't Darius Bryce, nor is he a Sharaya city guard – at least not in the strict sense. His name is Cayden Kavanagh and he is the rightful king of Voynar. I couldn't tell you about him.” She looked pleadingly at Cayden.

He nodded briefly and reported, “Well, whatever. What she says is true. I am really Cayden Kavanagh and the rightful King of Voynar."

"Not everyone who legitimately scolds himself is really what he thinks he is," replied Aron.

"And not everyone is as honourable as a Voyneress who does everything to protect her king," Cayden shot back and nodded his head in Meyja's direction.

She intervened and hissed, “Stop it now, both of you! We have to come to an agreement and find a solution! Arguing like little children doesn't get you anywhere, don't you see that for yourself?!"

"Find a solution? With the traitor's son?” Aron repeated sarcastically.

Cayden replied, “I saved Meyja's life. Didn't she tell you about it? How bad can I be compared to a man who reproaches her just because she is talking to someone else?"

“I have already saved her life, too. She certainly didn't say anything about that, I suppose,” Aron replied and gave Meyja an angry look.

She waved her hands helplessly. “That just never happened, damn it Aron. I couldn't admit to you that I knew him and with Cayden I simply didn't have enough time to bring up such things. However, I told him that you are good to me and that I am glad to have you by my side. But... but what does it all matter? After all, this is not about me, but about Cayden and how we can solve this mess."

The uneasy feeling that it seemed to be about her person crept into her and it almost seemed as if the two men were courting who deserved her more.

"Do you know that you’ll be as good as dead if Ed finds out about it, Meyja?" Aron asked through clenched teeth. “It doesn't matter who he is. You betrayed them all, not just me. Even though we had plans together..."

“I love you, Aron. And I would give my life for you without hesitation. But please understand, there was no other way. I had to do it. For my home,” she whispered urgently and tried to take his hands.

He dodged her, looked at her hurt and whispered, “After everything that happened to you there, you’re still protecting those who helped almost destroy you. I can't believe that was what triggered you to betray me like this. For a guy who runs a kingdom that no longer exists. Then go with him. Go to the Ice Lands or Voynar or anywhere else. I give him life. But don't you dare come back to me and beg forgiveness. You died for me."

She stared at him in disbelief, tears welling up in her eyes, and robbing her of sight. "No... I... Aron..." she whispered crying, but through the veil she only saw that he gave Cayden a hateful look before he walked away.

As if the spine had been torn from her body, she sagged, fell sobbing on her knees, and watched the dark shadow that was inexorably moving away from her. At the same time, she began to feel an inner emptiness that she had never felt before. He was gone, had left her, and she was alone in this cursed world again.

Cayden knelt next to her and gently put a hand on her back, but she pushed him away and yelled, "Get out of here! Take your life and leave me alone! I've already given you everything I had! So, what else do you want?!"

"At least let me help you, I can't just leave you here," he muttered, looking at the ring on her finger.

He had no idea how serious it had already been between Meyja and Aron, but the sign of engagement and her reaction showed him what he had just destroyed. Even if he didn't think much of the rabble that lived in the south, he was still very sorry because Aron had been valuable enough to Meyja to share the rest of her life with him. But he loved her nonetheless.

“No, Cayden. Just go. I don't need any help,” she replied flatly before getting up and shuffling off in the direction of the pumpkin field.

She was so busy with herself that she didn't notice when he quietly followed her and watched over her.

At the tree where she had always met Aron, she finally sat down on the grass, and mourned the love that had melted away and the man she had lost. He meant everything to her, not only had he been her teacher, but also her only confidante, and her fiancé with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her wretched existence. But contrary to her expectations, she felt no pain because of the loss, only the emptiness that crept into every fibre of her body, and seemed to paralyse her.

When dusk fell and it started to rain, she just sat there, even if she got wet, she didn't care, and barely noticed.

It was only when Cayden came to her and crouched down in front of her that she raised her head.

“Meyja, let me take you somewhere, please. You can't sit here all night. Aron wouldn't want that either,” he asked softly.

She nodded impassively and let him pull her to her feet, then they walked silently in the direction of Sharaya, crossed the Lower City, and followed the alleys of the Old Town until Meyja stopped in front of the Drunken Beggar.

"Do you have enough coins?" asked Cayden.

"Yes, I have. Goodbye,” she muttered without looking at him before opening the door and disappearing into the tavern.

Cayden paused for a moment but then he pulled his hood down over his face and went on his way.

Chapter 34 - Pain

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Derun of the year 67

Meyja had taken the room in the Drunken Beggar in which she had already lived after her arrival in Sharaya and where she spent the next few days laying on the dirty, smelly bed. There she either slept or thought about what she had done wrong. She had trampled Aron's trust by betraying him – even when they were already engaged.

After a week she made her way to Ed, after all, she couldn't hide in the tavern forever, and she didn't want to disappoint his trust in her either. It rained all those days, and when she pushed open the shop door, she was almost wet to the bone.
 Ed came out from behind the curtain, greeted her cautiously, and then said, “I heard what happened. Upstairs I have a few assignments, and a bag for you, I'll get them."

Meyja just nodded wordlessly, and when Ed came back with her things which Aron had probably left in the shop, as well as the parchment rolls, she signed without even looking at the tasks. She slipped the rolls under her leather vest to keep them from getting too wet, then made her way back to her room.

She either spent the following weeks back in bed, or did her jobs without emotion. She missed Aron more every day, and she felt the increasing emptiness that had spread in her heart. She had given up hope that he would turn up at her place at some point after just a few days.

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Voy of the year 67


Aron had already turned his back on her weeks ago, and she was waiting for the pain that would undoubtedly reach her at some point, but there was nothing but the emptiness that continued to expand inside her, and threatened to devour her.
 One-night Meyja finally went to see Renny. If the pain didn't come to her, she would look for it in another way. Depressed, she went down the stairs into the Stone Hall, and looked around.

For a moment she was afraid to meet Aron, she wanted to avoid that for his sake. She didn't know where or how he was, but she didn't want to find out how he would react to her either, after all he avoided her on his own.

The next fight would be hers and she was already waiting to swing into the ring. When the gong ended the previous duel, her head simply turned off.

Hours later she left the Stone Hall again, her whole body aching and she was drunk but she had managed to fight her way into fifteenth place. Nevertheless, it had not taken away the emptiness in her heart, nor did she feel the longed-for inner pain. She stumbled in serpentine lines through the snowy, night city and back to her room where she collapsed onto the bed and instantly fell into a deep sleep.
 At some point, she woke up with a booming skull, crawled off the mattress and swayed her daggers into her chest strap. The engagement ring was on the table, she studied it for a minute then left the room and sat down at the bar in the dining room for something to eat. Whatever it was, it tasted awful, but she didn't even notice, so she paid for her meal, and went to see Ed who had a few more assignments for her and praised her excellent work when he gave her the rewards for the final tasks, but she left the shop without saying thank you and got to work.

One of the assignments was to get a family with children out of the way again, but she didn't care, she watched the house until night, and then got in, a few minutes later she had the parents, and three small children on her conscience. She used to wash the blood from her things in a fountain and then went to the next tavern where she let herself be full again.

She also spent the next few weeks in this mechanical way. She slept, ate something, did her jobs, got drunk, and slept again. Every now and then she went to Renny and fought but her feelings did not return to her heart.

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 68

A new day was dawning that had nothing in store for her anyway and she would have nothing to do until evening. She had only been with Ed yesterday and he had said that he would not have any new assignments for her in the coming days. Meyja was about to turn around and go back to sleep when she felt that someone was in the room. Maybe someone had finally come to put an end to her but nothing moved, nor did she feel a blade penetrating her body, so she opened her eyes and looked at the man who was sitting on the chair next to her bed.

It was Aron, even if she almost didn't recognise him, he looked different, had circles under his eyes, looked neglected with the long beard on his face, and his hair had grown longer, too.

"You look awful," she whispered.

"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" he asked back.

He was probably right because she had only been in the Stone Hall yesterday and had received a few hard blows in her face which had also cracked her lip.

She just fell silent, lay there, and looked at him, as he sat there.

After a while, Aron mumbled, “I heard from Ed that you were doing a good job. But he also said you could do more, if you only wanted to."

"Nice," she replied flatly.

“Why don't you build on your successes? Was it all in vain? The entire training?” Aron wanted to know.

"What should I do? It's enough to live and my interests are now focused on other things,” she replied.

What did he actually want from her? Show her that he lived even without her? She couldn't think of any reason why he should show up with her. In any case, if he had wanted her back, the work she had done would not have been an issue.

"Your interests? You get drunk every night and fight your way in Renny's ring every few days regardless of casualties. You call those interests?" Aron asked with a sarcastic undertone in his voice before he continued a little more gently. "Ed is very worried about you, Meyja."

So, he had come to give her a lecture.

“I do my job, isn't that what he wants or not? And how do you know so well about how I spend my day?” she asked angrily.

"I was watching you because I'm worried, too," Aron admitted.

“I am old enough to decide what to do for myself. You can put your worries anywhere else. What do you want from me, Aron? An apology? I am really sorry. As I already said on the hill by the harbour," she replied angrily then turned away from him.

When the pain finally found her, it struck her heart like a stab in the back, tears welled up in her eyes but she didn't want him to see it, so she whispered, “Leave me alone. Like the past few weeks or months, I have no idea how long it was. But please go again."

"No, Meyja," replied Aron calmly.

She turned to him although then he could see she was crying. “Get out of here, Aron! I don't want to see you anymore!" she yelled at him while the hot tears streamed down her cheeks.

Through the veil, she did not notice that his eyes were also moist and looked at her in pain.

She let herself fall back onto the mattress, turned her back to him, and curled up with her knees drawn up, waiting for the door to close before giving in to the pain completely. She lay sobbing on the bed in her empty room.

At some point she looked over her shoulder, but it was really gone, and she kept crying until she fell asleep again.

She woke up at nightfall and had a few left-over jobs to do, but lay there, unable to do anything. So, this was the pain she had wanted so badly. Resigned, she surrendered to it again and cried until she finally found sleep again.


So, she lay in her bed again for several days, she alternated between crying and sleeping, she did not notice her physical needs, only the moments that she had experienced with Aron haunted her head again and again.

Aron's surprised face when she threatened him.

The lurking looks in his eyes when they met at Ed for the second time.

The first practice lesson in which it was tested.

The other hours on the tree where they had sat together in the grass and laughed.

When he asked her there if she liked him and she ran away.

When he rolled the Philosopher's herb in parchment and they took turns pulling on it.

When she woke up in the cathedral and he came up to her crying.

The first time he slept with her and the second and the third, and many more times.

When they had danced with Ed at the party and he finally kneeled down in front of her.

How was she supposed to breathe without him?

She didn't even feel that she was slowly dying of thirst. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 35 - Water

Aron walked heavily up the stairs to check on Meyja who hadn't turned up at Ed for three days, and of course he had been given the task of checking on her.

‘As if no other Deathshade could’ve done that...‘ he thought.

Even though he had told his boss that she had kicked him out when he tried to make up with her, Ed didn't care in the least.

He knocked hard on the door and hesitantly called, “Meyja, this is Aron! Please open the door, Ed sent me!"

But he got no answer, almost left, but he made a half-hearted attempt to pull the handle of the door which was presumably locked anyway. When it swung open with a creak, however, he looked into the room where Meyja was lying in bed and not moving. He knew immediately that something was wrong, rushed over to her, and shook her, even slapped her cheek, but she didn't react.

"Meyja, please wake up, please..."

Aron looked around the room, but there was only an empty wine bottle on the floor next to the table, so he ran downstairs into the dining room, and took a bottle of water from behind the counter. The landlord just eyed him shaking his head while Aron was already running back up the stairs.

He slammed the door with a loud bang, went down on his knees again next to the bed before carefully lifting Meyja's head, and holding the opening to her lips.

"Please stay with me."

From her pale skin and sunken cheeks, he had immediately recognised that she was worryingly dehydrated and her lips were cracked and split open. The swallowing reflex finally made her drink the water, so she was still alive, Aron poured the entire bottle into her, then lifted her in his arms and carried her out of the room.

She certainly wouldn't want to wake up in his flat so he ran to Ed with the unconscious. He pushed the shop door open with his foot and yelled, "Ed!"

The one called came rushed through the curtain, saw Meyja hanging in Aron's arms and immediately hurried over to open the secret door in the back room.

"Take her upstairs and put her in my bed!" He shouted, but Aron was already past him and hurried up the stairs.

Aron put her carefully on the sheets and turned to Ed. “She is dying of thirst, we need water. Get as much as you can, I'll try to wake her up.” Then he turned to Meyja and hit her on the cheek again. "Meyja! Please wake up! It's me, Aron! Please don't leave me... Please…"

Desperate and crying, he tried to reach her consciousness until Ed came back with three bottles. She was still swallowing when Aron lifted her head and slowly poured the water into her mouth.

"Dying of thirst? How could that happen? Where did you find her?” Ed asked stunned.

"In her room in the Drunken Beggar but I don't know how that happened either," said Aron haltingly and carefully laid her head back on the bed.

Two bottles of water in such a short time would have been too much, so after half a bottle he stopped and slapped her lightly on the cheek again.

"Meyja, please... Please wake up," he pleaded, still crying.

When she still didn't react, he put his forehead on the edge of the bed and sobbed.

Ed stepped behind him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. After a few minutes, he said softly, "Aron."

Aron lifted his head and looked at Ed who pointed to Meyja and when he also looked at her, he noticed her eyelids fluttered.
 "Meyja, wake up, please," he whispered again and gently shook her body until she opened her eyes a crack.

But when she recognised him, she turned her head away. "What do you want?" she whispered.

Aron got up and left the room without another word.

"Where are you going?!" Ed called after him.

"Away!" Aron yelled back from downstairs, then the clang of the slamming shop door revealed he had left.

"Child, what's wrong with you?" Ed sighed and sat down next to Meyja who looked up at him.

"Why doesn't he just leave me alone?" she croaked, her vocal cords still very bad from the dehydration.

"Because he loves you, you stupid thing!" Ed shouted angrily, throwing his hands in the air. "After all, he just saved your life." Then he held out the opened bottle of water. “Drink, but slowly. You almost died of thirst."

Meyja raised her head and emptied the rest of the bottle. "He came sometime before... and wanted to give me a lecture..." 

“Because he wanted you back, girl. If you only knew how much I've fuzzed my mouth he should at least try. At some point I couldn't watch his suffering anymore, so I talked him into it until he promised to go to you," Ed replied.

"He wanted... what?" she asked dismayed, then put her hand on her face.

“That's exactly what he wanted to do. He told me that he didn't get that far because you threw him out. Is that right?” Ed wanted to know.

Meyja nodded and tears ran from between her fingers.

"Stop crying, you need every drop of water in your body," Ed muttered, giving her a grim look and uncorking another bottle of water. “I'll go look for Aron before he does anything stupid. That’s how long I’ll keep you locked in here. Drink the water, you need it."

He had wanted her back... Meyja couldn't believe he hadn't just said it. Then why did he leave her in the first place?

She pondered until Ed came back angry and pointed his finger at her. "I couldn't find him but I hope for you that nothing bad happened to him." Then he brought a few more bottles of water and put them next to the bed.

"He left me, Ed, not the other way around," Meyja whispered flatly.

"I don't know what exactly happened, but he meant something from another guy," he replied angrily but she shook her head.

“I never cheated him. Never!” she grumbled at him.

"He trusted you nonetheless and you don't have to go to bed with other men to cheat on someone," he shot back.

"I just didn't expect that..." She paused and looked to the side, her jaw trembling. “Why couldn't you just let me die? All of this no longer makes sense without him..."

Ed turned away wordlessly, slammed the door behind him and left her alone.
 The next day she felt largely recovered and was only a little weak on her feet. When she opened the door of Ed's bedroom, he wasn't sitting at the table, so she walked slowly downstairs to the shop where her boss was in the back room loading new poison vials and stepped reluctantly towards him.

“Thanks for letting me stay here, Ed. I'll go now," she said softly and pushed the curtain aside.

"Do you want to see him?" Ed asked and Meyja paused thoughtfully for a moment before she nodded.

“I'll tell him when he comes back. He was here briefly earlier and is doing well given the circumstances. Go home and take a rest," he remarked and she left the shop.

She walked slowly through the streets, her entire body ached with every step, but the constant thirst that she had felt yesterday was over. When she got to the Drunken Beggar, she got two bottles of water from the bar and dragged herself upstairs to her room, where she sat on the edge of the bed and took a sip before laying down.

At some point there was a knock on the door and she struggled to get up to open it.

Aron stood across from her and looked cautiously at his feet. "Ed was just telling me you want to see me," he explained quietly.

Meyja nodded and let him in before locking the door again and dragging herself back to the bed where she sank onto the mattress with a suppressed groan and leaned against the wall, her knees drawn to her chest.

Without looking at him, she began to speak. “I wanted to apologise to you again. And thank you for saving me... again."

"How are you?" he asked without responding.

"Good," she mumbled tersely.

"And how are you really?" he asked.

“What do you want to hear, Aron? It's obvious that I'm not doing well. My entire body aches and I almost died miserably."

"I mean here..." he explained calmly and put a hand on his chest.

She looked at him for a long time, the man she loved more than anything, without whom the world was a dark place, and without whom she could no longer imagine life. He looked at her waiting, still looking so horrible that it brought the pain back to her heart, and brought tears to her eyes.

She quickly averted her gaze, shook her head, and whispered, "It hurts more than any blade can cause. So much so that it almost drives me crazy. I'm nothing without you."

Aron was silent for a moment then he nodded. "I feel the same way. I don't even have tears left to express my grief," he muttered but then he still had to cry.

"Why did you leave me?", Meyja asked softly, glittering drops ran down her cheeks, too.

“You hurt me so much. It is one thing to help someone out of conviction, but your lack of trust in me hurts more than anything else."

She would have loved to go over to him, but she didn't dare, instead she said, “But you hate him and you have never said a good word about him. I would never have assumed that you would have stood by my side in this matter. Otherwise, I would never have chosen all this secrecy, Aron."

“I realised that at some point but I didn't dare come to you. It wasn't until Ed talked me into it, I mustered up all my courage. And then you sent me away like I didn't mean anything to you,” he continued.

“You have always meant everything to me, Aron, and it still is. I just thought you had come to give me a talk about my life. If I had known why you had actually come, I would never have thrown you out.” Indeed, all along it had been, in the broadest sense, a misunderstanding that was almost fatal.

“I never understood that. Why did you do all of this in the first place? Why the drinking and fighting at Renny?” He paused looking at her with wet eyes.

Meyja thought for a long time how she could phrase it without sounding too pathetic but she was pathetic, so it wouldn't make any difference anyway. “I felt so empty, didn't feel anything after you were gone. No pain, no grief, just nothing. I thought that at least the physical pain could show me that I was even still alive. And when that didn't help either, I numbed myself with alcohol so that I could at least sleep. Only when you came here did I feel something again. Then... then... I just gave up," she said softly.

Aron nodded slowly when he finally understood her. "I was so scared for you… again," he whispered, still crying.

“I'm so sorry, Aron. Everything I did to you," she answered quietly and saw through the tears that he was walking towards her. 

When he reached her, he pulled her to him, and they held each other crying.

She didn't know how long they had been sitting on the bed like that, but at some point, Aron reached out for a water bottle and handed it to her. "Please drink, otherwise I'll have to force you."

She did as she was told and emptied the entire bottle then she looked at him and he raised his hand, wiped away her tears.

Meyja did the same for him. "How are things going on now?"

Instead of answering, he got up, and when she was already thinking that he would sit down on the chair again, he turned to her. With the ring in hand, he came back, and knelt on the floor in front of the bed.

"Do you still want to be my wife, Meyja?" he asked softly and looked at her hopefully.

"Of course. I always wanted it, every single second.” She came down from the bed, knelt beside him. "And do you still want to be my husband, Aron?"

"I wanted that, too. Every second," he whispered then he kissed his fiancée with great devotion.

Meyja returned the kiss but her strength quickly waned and she plopped down on her bum, cursing softly.

Aron helped her to sit down on the edge of the bed again, a small smile crossed his face.

"You think that's funny, don't you?" She asked amused and playfully stuck out her tongue.

He grinned. “No, not in itself. But I find the thought that I'll carry you home again in a moment is a bit strange. If that's what you want... coming home."

Meyja decided to annoy him a little more and looked around the room, then she remarked thoughtfully, “Actually, I like it here a lot, in this wonderful dirt hole. After all, wonderful memories live in this room."

Aron laughed and shook his head and then looked down at her affectionately before he pushed the engagement ring back onto her finger. “You are right. This memory is one of the most beautiful. I missed you so much, Meyja. Let's go. Now it is time to sleep in a clean bed again."

She nodded while he picked up her things from the floor, stuffed them in her bag, and slung it over his shoulder.

When he had lifted her in his arms, he asked, "Has the room been paid for?"

"I already did that earlier, so we can go," she explained and snuggled up against him.

He kissed her again then carefully carried her home.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 36 - Anticipation

Arriving at his apartment, Aron put gently her down on the floor and went to get her the obligatory water. When he came back, she was already seated in one of the armchairs.

He put the bottle down in front of her. "It's really nice to have you back here, but I have to make you a confession."

Meyja just looked at him questioningly, it was clear to her that it couldn't be anything bad, the tiny smile around the corners of his mouth had not escaped her.

"I went to the Priests after Ed told me you wanted to see me and they gave me an appointment for our wedding," Aron told her.

"When?" she exclaimed happily.

"The day after tomorrow. But I wanted to surprise you with it in our four walls, so I didn't say anything earlier,” he said.

"I still need a wedding dress", Meyja mumbled and got up.

He got up, too, and held out his hand, motioning her to sit down again. "Wait, wait. We should wait until tomorrow so that you are fine again, it was a bit too much in the last few days, wasn't it?"

She nodded and let herself fall back into the armchair; Aron also sat down again. Then he reached for the herb jar and turned two light tubes, both of which he lit. With a wink he passed her a smoking stalk.

Meyja winked back and pulled on it, but when she blew out the smoke, she had to cough.

"It's been a while since you smoked with me," said Aron quietly.

"How long exactly?" she asked and tried again.

"You don't know?" he asked back confused.

She shook her head, exhaling more skill fully this time. “I lived in a kind of trance; every day was like the other. And there were probably a few days or weeks when I didn't even get out of bed."

"Twenty-two weeks about," he explained while he blew out the smoke with relish.

Meyja opened her eyes in shock. "So long..."

"Much too long," he remarked, and pulled again. "But now you're back here, and that's all that counts."
 The next morning they wrote the invitations for their wedding together on scrolls of parchment which they both signed and sealed. Then they made their way through the city and distributed the papers to the Deathshade.

Three hours later they were almost done, the last one was going to get Ed now and they turned to the shop. Neither of them had seen their boss since they were a couple again. How he would react to their renewed engagement and planned wedding was impossible to predict. Aron entered before her; the doorbell rang when the door knocked on the little bell that Ed had probably only recently attached to the frame.

"It was about time that he finally did it, he had been planning to do it for ages." Aron nodded upwards at the bell.

Ed came through the curtain and stopped when he saw his two charges together then crossed his arms. "Since I couldn't imagine any other situation in which you two would come in together, I suppose that there was a reconciliation?" he asked in a tone that Meyja could not assign.

Was he angry about it or was he happy?

"It actually existed after you told me yesterday that Meyja wanted to see me," said Aron somewhat reluctantly.

Ed looked at them a moment longer, then let his arms hang down and exhaled. “Finally, I couldn't have endured this misery any longer. And since Meyja has the ring on her finger again and you carry a roll of parchment with you, I assume that you are engaged again and will get married soon. Bring the invitation!"

Ed could be accused of a number of things but he wasn't stupid, Meyja was always amazed at his ingenuity and his powers of observation.

"Direct hit," grinned Aron and handed him the invitation. "And you will be my best man."

"What if I don't want to?" Ed asked grimly dropping the invitation he had just studied.

"But you want, you haven't been able to play this game with me for a long time, I know you too well for that," smiled Aron.

Ed could no longer hide his joy and beamed his arms in the air. “Come here, my two problem children. I am very happy that you have found each other again and I am also looking forward to tomorrow's wedding."

They walked over to him and let themselves be hugged at the same time then Ed began to babble again, "I guess you haven't started the organization yet? Tablecloths are still here from the welcome party for Meyja, I'll get them right away. But you have to have schnapps and food..."

Aron held him back. "No, Ed. Just stay calm you don't have to organize anything; we will do everything together. You are our guest and lean back until everything is ready, understand? Otherwise, you will fall dead one day."

"It's okay, it's okay," Ed grumbled. "I just thought you wanted to party in the shop, no offense."

“To be honest, we haven't even considered where we're going to host the celebration. Except for the invitations, there is nothing that we have done yet,” Aron admitted.

“Is there an inn that organizes such occasions? Or do we celebrate in our flat?" she suggested with a shrug but Aron grimaced.

"Not our flat, otherwise we will spend the wedding night in the midst of leftover food and fallen-over liquor bottles," he grumbled. "Let's ask in the Golden Cog whether something can be set up or in the Flower Pot in the High City."

He looked at her with wide eyes that made her laugh. "It's okay, I prefer it that way, but please stop looking at me, as if I had hit you."

"Well, you two are my worrying ones. Want to get married tomorrow and nothing has been prepared. Make that you get out of here and go organize the wedding,” Ed remarked, shaking his head, and shooing them out the door.

"What do we start with?" asked Aron after the shop door had slammed behind them and took her hand.

“With the inns, I think. If we don't have a place to celebrate, we have to come up with something, and, if necessary, celebrate in the shop. After that we can still look for the right clothes," answered Meyja.

So, they went together in the direction of the workshop where the Golden Gear was.

Late in the evening, they collapsed into their bed, exhausted. They had been on the move for hours, wandering the rest of the Sharaya, doing their best to organize their big day.

"Can we repeat everything again just to make sure that we haven't missed anything?" asked Aron.

“The wedding takes place in the cathedral for the third hour in the afternoon, after which the Golden Cog is waiting for us thanks to a generous donation. There we can get whatever we want to eat and drink. We bought a ring and a suit for you and a dress for me. Have I forgotten something?" Meyja summed up.

Aron shook his head and hugged her.

“I can hardly believe it, tomorrow it will finally be time. And this time really," she whispered and kissed him lovingly on the mouth.

"And I can't wait either," said Aron quietly and returned her intensifying kisses.

Suddenly he raised his head and let out a loud curse then jumped out of bed and grabbed his clothes and the daggers.

"Let me guess, you've forgotten an order?" asked Meyja disappointed.

"I'm really sorry, it won't take long, I promise," he apologised and went back to the bed to kiss her goodbye.

"Take care of yourself", asked Meyja and Aron nodded with a wink before he left the flat.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 37 - Search

Meyja woke up alone the next morning, Aron wasn't laying next to her and she got up worried to look around the flat where she couldn't see his daggers or his clothes. So, he hadn't come back in the first place and she was starting to worry.

She quickly got dressed, slipped her weapons into the harness, and made her way to Ed. As she walked through the busy streets of Sharaya, she kept looking around for her fiancé, but she couldn’t see him anywhere and when she pushed open the door to the shop, Ed was standing behind the counter. Her hope of finding Aron here evaporated within a moment, instead fear began to spread through her bowels.

“Meyja, you look so pale. Are you okay?” Ed asked while walking towards her.

“Did you see Aron today? Or heard from him?” she wanted to know, her voice sounding worried.

Ed also went pale in a second. "No, I have not. Come upstairs with me first and then tell me what happened."

"I can't do that, I have to look for him," Meyja replied breathlessly.

"There's no point running through town headless," he replied and locked the shop door. Then he grabbed her hand and led her into his flat where he gently pushed her onto a chair at the table and sat across from her took. "So, what happened?" Ed asked, pouring them liquor.

“Yesterday, we spent the whole day preparing for the wedding and it started late in the evening. He said he still had an assignment and would be back soon, but this morning I woke up and his things weren't there,” Meyja began with tears in her eyes. “Something must have happened to him, Ed. We wanted to get married today and he wouldn't just go away, would he?” Panic was in her voice and she hastily took a long swig of schnapps.

He shook his head and also sipped his mug. “That doesn't look like him, you're right. He's never just disappeared. "He picked up his list on the shelf behind him and unrolled the parchment, then mumbled, "The assignment was nothing special. Not easy either, but that wouldn't have been a problem for Aron."

"Who was it about? I will find out whether the target person is still alive,” Meyja decided and got up.

“No, Eralion will take care of that. You go home and see if he has turned up there in the meantime,” ordered her boss and also got up.

They went back downstairs and left the shop.

This time he locked the door from the outside then turned left and walked towards the house where Eralion lived.

"If he's not there, you come back to me and we'll think about what else we can do," he said and stepped into the house entrance.

Meyja made her way back to their flat, walked through the city, and looked for Aron again but she saw him nowhere.

When they arrived at their common home, she fell on her knees crying, he still hadn't been here, and she knew instinctively that something had happened to him. The door behind her was still open and suddenly she heard footsteps, she turned around quickly, but it was only Thom who appeared in the passage.

"I just heard from Ed that Aron has disappeared and that I am ready to see you," he said quietly and stopped next to her.

Meyja just nodded, sniffed, and wiped her eyes before Thom helped her to her feet.

“I told our boss that I would call the rest of the Deathshade with you together and look for some of the places where Aron sometimes hangs around. If you want that, otherwise you can go back to the shop and wait there,” he suggested carefully.

"I'm coming with you the waiting just drives me crazy," she replied.

Thom nodded seriously and she locked the door behind them before they hurried down the stairs and across the neighbourhood. Although he struggled to keep up with Meyja, he didn't complain with a sound and so she didn't even notice.

All of the men were home at that hour, but most of them they awoke with their knocks. But when they heard of Aron's disappearance, they were wide awake and made their way to Ed. Meyja and Thom were still looking for Aron in all the taverns and on the tree behind the pumpkin field, but he was as if swallowed by the ground.
 Finally they went back to the store. Tasim and Deval were at the table with Ed when they arrived.

“Eralion is on his way to look for the target person, Sully has gone to the cathedral and is looking there. If he's wounded and dragged himself there, he'll find him. Will and Raemur comb through the city,” Ed reported shortly and looked at Meyja questioningly. "Do you know anyone we don't know about and who he could be with?"

Feverishly she rummaged through her confused, fearful thoughts for names, finally she mumbled, "Crom."

"Who?" asked Tasim.

She explained to those present, “Crom is one of the city guards. If..."

"In earnest? We should ask one of the city guards about Aron?" Deval remarked incredulously.

“I would grab any straw to find him. Don't you?” she snapped at him and Deval ducked his head, mumbling something unintelligible. “Aron and I were together in Renny's Stone Hall one evening and fought in the ring. Crom was also among the guests and sat with us at the table. They seem to have known each other for a long time and are loose friends. If Crom was on duty tonight or in the morning and happened to see Aron, he would hardly have been surprised, but he would remember it." She looked around expectantly and received a nod in response.
 "Who's coming with me?" she asked and Thom raised his hand. "Well, let's go then."

Thom smiled as they followed the busy main street up the hill. “You fought in the Stone Hall, that is remarkable. I didn't even dare to go into the ring."

"Once you've tasted blood, you want to do it again and again," she muttered back and Thom just shut up because he felt that she'd rather be left alone.

In silence, the two Deathshade reached the passage to the military district where Meyja suspected Crom. "You'd better wait here and I'll go there alone for the time being, otherwise we'll just look suspicious," Meyja said softly.

Thom nodded and stood a little to the side, behind a corner of the house.

"What do you want?" asked the bearded man guarding the entrance and stood in her way as she approached.

“I would like to speak to one of the city guards. Crom was his name, if I remember correctly," Meyja winked at him with a provocative smile.

She could see that his cheeks were reddening under the helmet and he immediately set off to look for Crom.

A few minutes later he actually returned with him to the entrance.

"What are you doing here, Meyja?“ asked Crom with a smile and nodded over to the place where Thom was hiding.

When they came around the corner, the pit fighter grunted angrily, “What are you doing here? If it turns out that I associate with the likes of you, I'll end up in the dungeons. Does he belong to you?” Crom pointed to Thom who had stepped behind Meyja.

She nodded and said softly, “I'm sorry, Crom. But it's really important, otherwise I wouldn't have come."

He hummed softly then asked a little more gently, "What is it about?"

“Aron has disappeared, we searched the whole city for him, but we can't find him anywhere. He was still out tonight and never coming back home. Did you happen to be on duty that night or this morning and could you see him somewhere?" Meyja asked and looked at him desperately.

Crom nodded. “I was actually on duty last night, I also saw Aron, he met me in the Old Town when I was on my way back to the barracks, this morning at the fourth hour. He even grinned and waved to me, but I couldn't notice anything unusual."

"Was he alone?" Meyja asked excitedly.

“No, there was someone with him. A guy with big build and dark clothes. He had short brunet hair and a beard around his mouth and on his cheeks. It seemed as if they knew each other, they didn't walk close to each other either, so he wasn't threatened with a dagger or something like that,” described Crom precisely.

Meyja looked at Thom. "Are you familiar with that?"

But Thom shook his head.

"Thank you, Crom," Meyja said to the city guard, but then she got another idea. "Could you find out, if he might be in the dungeons?"

"Of course, I could, but that will cost you a fight at Renny at some point," he replied with a smile.

"Sure, I like to be beaten up for a favour like this," she agreed.

"Well, come back tonight, I just wanted to go to bed but when dusk falls, I'll be on duty at the gate up here, then I can tell you more," said Crom and she thanked him again.

Then he went back to the barracks and the Deathshade hurried back to Ed's shop.
 By the time they got there, everyone else was back, including Eralion, and gathered around the table in Ed's flat.

"Summary," Ed ordered curtly as Meyja and Thom entered.

The men reported one after the other about their search failures; they could not find Aron either in the city or in the cathedral.

Eralion said, “The target is still alive, so Aron didn't get to kill him. But we decided to grab the guy tonight and take him to the basement where we want to interrogate him."

After they were brought up to date, Meyja unceremoniously sat down on the floor and began to explain, “Crom, the city guard, saw him. This morning at the fourth hour he was out and about in the Old Town with a stranger and it looked as if the two of them knew each other."

She described the guy's looks and looked around questioningly but no one could think of anyone who could match that description.

“In addition, Crom will find out whether Aron is in the dungeons. Tonight, I will visit him again and hear what he has to say," Meyja added tiredly.

Ed came over to her and handed her a mug of schnapps. “Well done, this is the first and only lead we have. It is very unlikely that Aron's target person knows anything."

"Which cellar was you talking about?" she asked softly and took a sip.

"The guild owns an old wine cellar in the Lower City, there we bring those who may enjoy my loving torture," said Deval with a grim grin.

Thom also had to grin. “Meyja doesn't need to torture anyone, men tell her everything she wants to know, as long as she just smiles nicely. You should have seen how quickly she wrapped the security guard in front of the barracks and this Crom around her finger."

Since everyone wanted to see what he was talking about, Meyja did them the favour, got up, and went to Eralion, smiled, and winked subtly. He immediately turned bright red and looked away from her to reach for his mug. Loud laughter filled the room.

But Meyja burst into tears and fell on her knees.
    Aron was gone, nobody knew where he was or whether he was okay, and the men were joking with her in the meantime, but her fiancé was perhaps locked up somewhere and was tortured, or was even already dead. She didn't know and the thoughts were on it so horrible that she almost went mad.

Eralion pulled her powerfully to her feet, hugged her comfortingly, and gently stroked her back. “We'll find him, Meyja. I promise it. Aron is tough and certainly still alive. Even if he's in the dungeons, we'll get him out of there,” he said quietly while she soaked the fabric of his shirt with her tears.

After a while she calmed down a bit and Eralion let go of her. The other men had left in the meantime and started looking for the unknown man, only Ed sat in silence at the table and looked over at her sympathetically.

"I'm sorry, Eralion," Meyja mumbled and pointed to his shirt.

"It's okay." He waved it off and smiled encouragingly.

Apart from Aron, she liked him the most of all Deathshade. Eralion was estimated to be seven years older than Meyja, and, unlike the others, was not a show-off and daredevil but rather reserved and calm. His hair was quite long and dark, part of which he wore in a braid at the back of his head, the remaining strands hung over his broad shoulders in front. He had shaved his beard down to a tiny bit under his lower lip. Despite his sturdy build, he was not overly muscular, but flexible, making him the only one among the men who, like herself, carried the daggers on his back.

His dark eyes winked at her again briefly, then he turned to Ed. "Should I go looking for this guy, too, or can you think of another place where I could look for Aron?"

Ed shook his head. “I have to go right away and land new orders. Should Aron show up, it would be good if someone was here, Meyja could take care of that. But she doesn't look good at all and has certainly not eaten anything today. Get her something and make sure she eats, too. When I get back, you can still go looking for this guy."

"I wouldn't get anything down anyway, Ed. Let him look for him.” Meyja sat down at the table with her mug of schnapps.

"Don't argue," Ed ordered, put a full bag of gold in his pocket, and went out.
    Eralion looked at Meyja resignedly. “I'm sorry, there is nothing you can do about that. What do you usually like to eat? "

"Let's just tell I ate," she replied and took another sip of schnapps.

"No chance. I don't voluntarily draw Ed's anger on myself,” he smiled and Meyja groaned softly.

“Well, anything then. I don't care, really. Please don't worry," she muttered.

He nodded and went down the stairs, too.

Meyja looked after him until he was gone, then she got up, looked out the window for Aron. Something deep inside of her told her she would never see him again and she started crying again.

A couple minutes later, Eralion stepped out of the entrance of the building in which he lived and walked towards the shop, she hastily wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. When the doorbell rang, she was already back at the table.

Eralion came up the stairs and sat down next to her. The bowl of steaming soup that he was carrying in his hand, he put down in front of her, a slice of bread and a spoon next to it. “If you don't eat now, that would be rude because I cooked extra. Maybe that will make the decision a little easier,” he said with a smile and leaned back.

"I told you not to worry," she grumbled.

He replied quietly, “I can't imagine how you're feeling right now, but making some soup for you is the least I can do right now. That was not a circumstance."

She moved closer to the table and picked up the cutlery. "Thank you," she whispered softly and ate a spoonful but a moment later she winced.

The soup was still too hot and she had burnt her mouth, so she hastily drank a sip of schnapps afterwards.

"Hot?" he wanted to know and she nodded.

After she put the mug down, she said, “Too hot, but it tastes very good. Thanks again."

"Don't worry," he replied and also took a sip of schnapps.

Meyja tore off a piece of bread and dipped it in the soup.

When she had swallowed, she said softly, "I'll never see him again."

He looked at her startled. "How do you get that?"

Without her wanting it, tears ran down her cheeks again. "I just know it. A kind of inner certainty."

"You're sure to be wrong and we'll find him soon," he tried to cheer her up again.

"I hope you are right," said Meyja and watched her tears as they dripped into the bowl.

When she had finished half the soup, Eralion said, “I also fought in the Stone Hall once, but I broke my arm and Ed was furious. I had to promise I would never do that again. You seem to be good that you haven't seriously injured yourself yet."

Meyja nodded and replied with an indifferent undertone in her voice, “I can go into the private sector, but I don't know my current rank. Somewhere among the top fifteen."

“And you say that so casually. I don't know Aron's placement, but I'm sure you've fought someone who was above him,” he continued.

"I also defeated Aron once, that was my second fight," Meyja mumbled absently when the images of memory began to circle in her mind.

“You beat up Aron? You seem really not to be trifled with," he said and looked at the small, inconspicuous woman next to him. "What is your secret?"

She frowned in confusion. "Why are you asking me such a thing, Eralion?"

“I meant about the fight. You are so small... and I wondered..." he stuttered and blushed a bit.

Meyja put her hand to her forehead and covered her eyes with it. “Sorry, my thoughts were elsewhere right now. My secret... Well, I can dodge very well, I am agile and fast. And I recognise the weaknesses of my opponents and shamelessly exploit them. That's why I had to be told that I fight very insidiously and dirty."

"I wouldn't have trusted you to do that, to be honest," admitted Eralion.

"And I would have given you more than a broken arm to be honest," she shot back and he grimaced. “Sorry, that was mean. The soup was really very good."

“No, that was honest, nothing else. And I was aware that I can cook better than fight,” he remarked with a wink and stood up. “I'm going to look for this guy now. When we have found him, I'll let you know."

When dusk fell, Meyja was already standing at the barracks and watching the entrance. After his return, Ed had taken on the waiting position in the shop again. When Crom relieved the security guard, and, after a brief conversation between them the latter one had disappeared into the building, she went over to him.

"Meyja. I don't know whether this is good or bad news, but Aron is not sitting in one of the cells of the dungeons,” he said immediately.

“Thank you, Crom. Even if it would have been nice to have certainty, I'm a little happy about it,” she replied.

“Unfortunately, you have to go now, the city guards are about to come off their shift. But good luck further on. I'll see you at Renny someday,” he said with a grin.

She nodded, said goodbye, and went back to Ed to let him know.

Sometime later she was laying alone in her bed crying herself to sleep.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 38 - Anguish

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Derun of the year 68

Meyja stood in the shade of a house and watched the entrance to Ed's shop. A few minutes ago, Tasim had disappeared behind the door, but she shied away from meeting one of the other Deathshade which is why she preferred to wait until he was gone. Since Aron had disappeared six months earlier, she kept it that way and avoided contact with other people whenever possible.

Ed and Seth, the innkeeper from the Drunken Beggar, saw her now and then, but even of the two she would have liked to see less of. It was deep winter now and the whole city looked as beautiful as never but she didn’t see this. Sighing, she leaned against the wall of the house and closed her eyes but she tore them open again quickly when the darkness began to turn uncontrollably. She was still drunk and knew exactly how her boss would react to her if she faced him in this state but she didn't care.

Ed worried about her but she lacked the necessary empathy to realise this, instead she thought that he blamed her for Aron's disappearance and could not be convinced otherwise. In truth, it was only she who looked for the fault in herself. For a while she even thought about leaving Sharaya, but in the end, it wouldn't matter where she was because Aron wouldn't be with her anywhere in the world.

The memory of him brought tears to her eyes which ran down her cheeks, without her making any move to wipe them away. And so, she cried without making a sound until she heard the shop door slam.

Tasim was just walking past the alley in which she was standing, like every time he had been to his boss's and she waited until he was out of sight before she started moving. She trudged through the slush expressionless towards the shop but before she had reached the door, Eralion emerged from the building not far from the entrance. She only saw him out of the corner of her eye but she immediately turned away, turning her back on him and quickened her pace.

"Meyja? Meyja!"

So, he had recognised her after all – cursing silently, she disappeared around the corner and ran.

Eralion ran after her but when he also turned the corner, he couldn't see any trace of her and stopped disappointed. He hadn’t seen her face, but had undoubtedly recognised her leather jacket. The body of the woman in the garment had looked thin, almost emaciated, the trousers had also been significantly too big, and his concern for her continued to grow. Since Aron went missing, he hadn't even met her and he decided to finally get in touch with her as he had planned to do for a while.

When he went back to the store and entered Ed was standing behind the counter and looked up.

"Good evening", Eralion greeted his boss.

"Likewise. You sure want new jobs. I'm sorry but I couldn't get more than this one for you.” Ed handed him a roll of parchment. "You don't have to accept it; I can also give it to Meyja."

Eralion unrolled the document and read what it was about then dropped his hands with a sigh. “Why always these poor families, Ed? Five kids…” he mumbled sadly.

Ed replied, “We don't like it. But if I start turning down orders, we can close next week. Then you all have no more income. Do you want it or not?"

The assassin thought for a moment, looked again at the written words, then handed the parchment back to Ed. “I can't do this, I'm sorry. Five children are just too many, even if I know that there shouldn't be any room for any scruples. But I ask you not to give it to Meyja but to Deval or Raemur."

"Why shouldn't I give it to her?" Ed asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I just saw her, Ed, and you know how it is with her. You can also see how much you miss Aron but she is a wreck. Does she even eat anything now and then? She's only skin and bones!” Eralion exclaimed.

"Mind your own business? Why don't you just leave her alone, instead of kicking her?” Ed growled.

“That's not what I had in mind, it's just about her well-being. You should know that I am not a person who has resentment towards others. She is more successful than any of your men. In my eyes she has worked for it and I grant her it from the bottom of my heart. But if you're not careful, she'll be dead soon, Ed.” Eralion blinked.

"And you think that I'm not making my mouth fluffy? The only effect my sermons have is that she comes here less often. Please go, and try to talk to her, or leave a message for her. I would be surprised if she listens to you rather than me,” Ed replied.

“She evades me. I called her but she just disappeared. Sometimes I stand by the window and stare at the entrance to your shop, but today I saw her for the first time in six months,” Eralion muttered.

“And she's not just avoiding you. The others have already asked, if she is still working for me at all. But stop this staring thing. She'll see you anyway and will wait for you to turn away before she even sets foot in front of your eyes,” Ed grumbled.

"Alright. I know where she lives, but I don't think she'll open the door if someone knocks, so I'll leave a note for her. Do you have something to write for me?” Eralion asked.

Ed passed him an empty sheet of parchment and placed his quill on it. “You really worry about her. Am I right? And you like her. I can see it in you."

Eralion avoided his gaze but he nodded silently.

“Keep your hands off her, she won't do you any good. You'd better find another woman, a really nice one, at best. Meyja is not exactly at your level, Eralion. This is not meant badly, but the two of you are too different and I don't think she could find a place for you in her heart. Not after the thing with Aron," Ed said seriously.

“Then we have the same opinion. I'm still worried,” replied Eralion.

After he started to write, Ed turned and went into the back room where he noisily sorted his goods.

A few minutes later Eralion had finally found the right words and wrote them down, afterward he folded the letter and wrote Meyja's name on it.

He pushed his head through the curtain. “I'm done and left the note on the counter. Please give it to her when she comes."

"Okay. But don't get too hopeful,” Ed replied. "Until next week."

Eralion nodded again and then left the shop.

Not long after the door slammed the old gentleman went back to the front and unfolded the message, scanned the words, and sighed. Then he folded the slip again, put it back on the counter, and turned back to his list.

He had just returned to his work when suddenly Meyja was standing in front of him and startled him. “Heavens, child! Don't sneak up on me like that!"

The left corner of her mouth twitched briefly but she said nothing.

He only looked at her for a second, but he already knew that Eralion was right because the young woman looked really neglected. The worn clothes her skinny body was in had seen better days, her hair was unkempt and greasy, and her cheeks sunken.

“You stink of schnapps again. Didn't I tell you not to drink so much?” Ed growled.

"Are you happy with my work?" He nodded and she mumbled, "Then just leave me alone."

He couldn't think of anything anymore so he shut up, pushed a stack of orders and the list on which she signed at every point that he indicated with her finger. As usual, she didn't bother to look at the assignments beforehand but simply accepted whatever he gave her.

“There is a family again, five children. Can you do it?” he asked softly.

She nodded. "Of course."

When she tucked the rolls of parchment under her arm and turned to face the exit, he stopped her. "Wait. Here's another message for you.” He handed her the folded piece of paper.

With another nod she grabbed it with two outstretched fingers, went out without a word, and made her way to her room in the Drunken Beggar.

When she arrived at the tavern, she had long since stuffed the orders under her shirt and walked down the long hallway upstairs to the last door. She just couldn't go into the room in which she had slept with Aron for the first time, so she had forced Seth to give her another one. She unlocked the door, dropped the parchment rolls indifferently on the table and sat down on the bed where she took out the note Ed had given her. Her fingers trembled as she unfolded the note, so she reached for the open liquor bottle that was by the bed and took a long drag before starting to read.


Dear Meyja.

I thought I saw you on the street today and called for you, but apparently it was a mix-up. Nevertheless, this woman reminded me of you and I wonder how you are doing.
 I mostly spend my days alone when I'm not working, so I think it would be nice to cook something and invite you over to my place.
 No worries, I have no ulterior motives regarding this invitation, we would just eat something and chat a little – done.
 It's just a meal, nothing more.
 I'll do some shopping tomorrow and will be waiting for you in my flat in the evening.



For a few seconds, she thought about accepting the invitation but then she crumpled up the note and tossed it in some corner.

Eralion had known that it was her who he had seen when he wrote this message, otherwise he could never have been sure that she would still enter the shop today and so his motives were more than doubtful. Perhaps Ed had even asked him to invite her so he could speak to her conscience. But she didn't want to talk to anyone, neither about herself nor about work and certainly not about Aron.

Angry, she got up, stripped off her clothes, and crouched in the wooden tub where she washed herself with cold water. As every night after seeing Ed, she performed the same ritual, making sure she was clean from head to toe and putting on fresh clothes. Afterwards she lay down on the bed and waited, but because of her constant intoxication with alcohol she did not stay awake for long and fell asleep after a short time.
 She only woke up when the door opened and sat up sleepily, a look at the window showed her that it was already completely dark.

"You are late today," she grumbled when she noticed.

Raemur turned the key in the lock. "I just had work to do." He sank down on the bed next to her and took off his boots. As he put his shoes aside, he noticed the crumpled parchment laying on the floor and picked it up to read. "It seems like I'm not the only one interested in dating you." He grinned.

"As you can easily see, I decline the invitation," she replied.

He leaned over her. “A good decision. My cock is much bigger than his anyway."

She couldn't stand his glee. "Yours isn't that big either, so no reason to be conceited."

For a moment he looked at her as if she had slapped him, then he slowly nodded. "I understand. Would you prefer me to go?"

Her words weren't true, she had only wanted to hurt him by badmouthing the part of his body that was dearest to him, but she didn't want him to leave, even if she didn't care about him. The relationship between them was nothing more than a weekly meeting, during which they fell upon each other once or twice, and then went each of their own ways.

Raemur was an arrogant idiot but he kept the necessary emotional distance from her that helped her grieve. Whenever she saw no more reason to hate herself, she slept with him and then found herself again in the downward spiral of pain and emptiness. Beyond this state, she could no longer see any perspective and didn’t know that there was something else in her life that was worth fighting for. Together with Aron, all happiness had vanished from the world for her.

"You stay here and we'll have it, after that you can go," she whispered.

After he had finished with her, got dressed, and left, Meyja lay naked on the bed and cried silent tears when her self-hatred finally returned. When the mental anguish overwhelmed her, she reached for the schnapps bottle again, and let herself fill up.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 39 - Keys

The next evening, Eralion waited in vain for Meyja and when the dinner which he had elaborately prepared, had finally cooled down, he put on his jacket and left the flat. He headed purposefully towards the shop and pushed open the front door.

"Let me guess, she didn't come, did she?" Ed asked immediately when he saw him.

Eralion shook his head. “So, you've read my message, too. Well, I don't care but you said at some point that Aron left a key for his flat with you..."

"No, you don't get that," his boss interrupted immediately. “Aron gave it to me in confidence and I won't let him down. Sorry."

“But it's about Meyja. Aron loved her, and if he knew what was going on, he would even want you to give me the key. We have to do something, there is no other way.” Eralion looked at Ed urgently.

The older man hesitated visibly but then nodded. "Fine. Still, I won't let you walk around with the key alone, we'll go together. Wait here, I'll get it.” He turned and disappeared behind the curtain, after a few moments he was back. "Let's go."

They left the store together; Ed locked the door and they walked side by side in silence until they reached the house in which Aron's flat was.

"The windows are dark," Ed muttered. "It looks like we're unlucky."

"Let's at least have a look," Eralion replied and looked up at the building.

Ed opened the front door without a word and dragged himself up the stairs, stopped in front of the flat and knocked. "Here's Ed!" he shouted and both listened intently.

But even after knocking several times and waiting several minutes in vain, no one answered, so Eralion put his ear to the wood and listened. "Nothing. Not a single sound."

“Then she's just not at home. At least she got a mountain of tasks, so she'll have her hands full with that.” Ed turned around and was about to go back down the stairs.

But Eralion quickly took the key from his hand. "I prefer to play it safe."

"You can't just break into her flat!" Ed scolded but then the door swung open and he fell silent.

Eralion moved slowly into the room which was only illuminated by the faint moonlight that penetrated the clouds in the sky. He lit one of the lanterns and Ed who had followed him as suspected to satisfy his natural curiosity closed the door.

A finger-thick layer of dust lay on the furniture, covering almost every stain although the flat was still furnished with Aron's personal belongings, there were even several pairs of boots near the entrance, but unlike the rest of the apartment, these things were clean and free of dust. In the midst of all the dirt, Eralion discovered footprints that could only have come from Meyja in terms of size – no man had such small feet.

Ed whispered, "She doesn't live here anymore, but it looks like she goes in and out regularly."

“It is almost reminiscent of a kind of shrine. As if she was just coming here to check on his old stuff,” Eralion said softly and went to one of the dressers, opened a drawer, and looked inside.

Meanwhile, Ed made his way into the next room. “There's even some wine left here. Smells old."

When Eralion turned to follow his boss, he was almost scared to death.

Meyja stood right in front of him and stared at him with hatred.

Although she was much smaller, he involuntarily got scared, and mumbled in a trembling voice, "Ed..."

Ed stuck his head through the door and was about to say something when she hissed, "What are you doing here?"

"We wanted to check on you because we're worried, that's all," Ed replied whilst stepping closer.

"So, you're breaking into strangers' flats because you're worried, I understand," she whispered. “Your worries are unwarranted, as is your intrusion here. And now out."

Eralion replied, "Meyja, we..."

"Out! Immediately!” she yelled beside herself with anger. "Shear off! I don't want to see you!” She snatched the key from Eralion's hand and pointed to the door.

When neither moved, she stormed out of the room, and down the stairs. The outburst of anger had cost her so much strength that she could no longer hold back the tears. She made it around two corners of the house and collapsed there, fell sobbing on the snow-covered ground, and curled up, arms around her legs, forehead pressed to her knees.

Despite the loud protests of his boss, Eralion ran after her immediately, and was relieved to find that he hadn't lost her this time. But before he dared to go to her, he waited for Ed, and with a finger on his lips motioned for him to be quiet so that she would not flee again.

"Come on, we'll just leave her alone," Ed whispered.

Eralion shook his head and whispered back, “I can't just leave her sitting here, after all, it's snowing right now. Go ahead, I'll take care of her."

Ed nodded and gave him a quick pat on the shoulder before walking away.

Reluctantly, Eralion stepped up to Meyja and sank to the ground next to her, sat for a while, watched as thick snowflakes fell from the sky, and remained on his knees. There was something calming and peaceful about the sight, but it did nothing to alleviate the turmoil in his heart.

At some point he realised that Meyja had stopped crying and when he looked over at her, she also watched the slow fall of the white flakes.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" he whispered.

She just nodded silently before her jaw began to shake again and tears ran down her cheeks.

The snow reminded her of her home country and of her brother whom she like Aron had also lost. There was no one left in this world that she could want or even trust. Every person she had loved was gone or dead. She felt the hopelessness that tore her down as Eralion put his arm around her shoulders.

Inside her there was nothing but black emptiness and she didn't even notice that the man sitting next to her was just waiting for her to accept his help which he would be only too happy to give her. Nor did she notice the cold which slowly crept into her limbs and quickly made her thin body tremble, the pain numbed her senses too much. She felt as if she was bleeding to death inside, as if her existence had long since faded, and would soon disappear completely. She could no longer breathe although her chest rose and fell almost in panic.

When she began to cry uncontrollably again, Eralion looked at her anxiously and just didn't know what to do, so he held her until she began to shiver from the cold. "I'll take you out of here, you're freezing," he muttered kneeling in the snow.

He gave her the opportunity to turn down his offer, but she didn't react, kept sobbing, so he took her in his arms like a child, and picked her up.

Then he carried her through the deserted nocturnal streets of Sharaya to Ed's shop because he didn't know where she lived now that the apartment was so neglected. Fortunately, the door wasn't locked and he pushed it open with his back. He backed through the curtain into the back room and continued up the stairs, being careful not to bump into anything.

Ed stood up from the table without a word and opened the passage to his bedroom even took off Meyja's poorly laced boots. Eralion put her gently on the bed before he covered her and left the room again.

Ed quietly closed the door behind him. "She should eat something warm, at least some soup."

"I'll cook some, it won't take long." Eralion nodded.

Ed pointed to his little stove in the corner. “I have everything here; you don't have to go to your own flat first. You can both stay here if you want although I don't think Meyja will be able to make a decision.” He looked worried.

Eralion was just putting a saucepan on the hot surface of the oven. "It's okay, I'll wait until she sleeps and then go home."

"You're too good for this world, boy," Ed muttered.

“What nonsense. Better help me cut the vegetables before you get maudlin again,” Eralion answered and winked at him mischievously.

Sighing Ed reached for a knife, but had to suppress a smile as he started chopping up onions, potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables. Eralion put everything in the pot and sautéed it with a little lard before throwing a few chunks of meat afterwards to make it a little richer and finally topping up the mixture with water.

“It doesn't take five minutes, just stir occasionally. In the meantime, I'll see how she's doing,” Eralion said quietly.

Ed nodded and took the soup ladle, stirring the fragrant contents of the pot before going to fetch three bowls and spoons.

Eralion carefully opened the door to the bedroom and went in, sat on the edge of the bed.

Meyja's eyes avoided him, she lay there with an expressionless face and tried hard to suppress the chattering of her teeth. Her lips were blue and she couldn't feel her toes anymore, but she didn't let it show how much she was still freezing in the hope of being able to get rid of Eralion.

"How are you feeling?" he asked softly.

"Good," she lied flatly.

He sighed. “I'm sure you feel all but not good. You're still cold, I can see it and the bed is shaking from your shivering. I could go get you another blanket."

She just shook her head.

It was dark in the room, but when he took a closer look, he saw that her hair was wet, so he raised the blanket in alarm. "You’re completely soaked!"

He got up and left the room, but she could hear him asking Ed for dry clothes, so she quickly got up, unlocked the window, and pushed it up silently. She climbed through carefully, being careful not to slip on the icy roof, and then jumped out onto the street. Before either of the two noticed her escape, she had long since disappeared between the houses.

Eralion was walking back into the bedroom with one of Ed's shirts and linen pants when he saw that she was gone. Resigned, he closed the window, threw the clothes on the abandoned bed, and went back next door.

"She ran away," he said quietly and sat down at the table with his boss.

Ed made an annoyed sound. "Bloody hell."

They were silent for a few minutes, then he pushed a bowl of soup over to Eralion, and they ate together. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 40 - Sarpeydon

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 69

A year after his disappearance, still no one had heard from Aron. The target he was planning to kill at the time also did not divulge any new information under torture. Apparently, the missing person hadn't even tried to carry out the assignment. The thought that Aron was gone and from now on she was alone again hadn't become more bearable for Meyja and she spent many evenings getting drunk to the point of unconsciousness. For a whole year after his disappearance, Meyja sometimes ran after strangers on the street and hugged them because she thought it was her fiancé but she only got confused looks.
Although she was still grieving so much, she worked obsessively for Ed taking on the jobs that would have previously gone to Aron and even replacing him entirely.
She still avoided all the places she had previously visited with Aron and did not go back to her flat because Ed and Eralion had discovered her secret. She had kept her promise to fight Crom, but he had easily defeated the runner-up, and she had not visited the Stone Hall since then. She would not have cared, if someone had challenged her, but that would have had to defeat her or Crom, and that someone beat him was next to impossible.
Meyja just left the shop where she had received the reward for an order and stepped out into the street. Now she needed something to drink first, so she turned left, and walked towards the Gravel Path Tavern that was closest to the shop. She opened the door, entered the dim dining room, and greeted the landlord Jared whom she still knew from running errands. Then she went to a small table with two chairs, not because it was the only one free, but because it was a little apart, and she wanted her peace and quiet. The two guests who were here besides her, were sitting at the bar, and had studied her for a moment when she came in.
Jared stepped to her table and greeted her, "Meyja, long time no see. What can I bring you and how is Ed's business doing?"
“Good evening, Jared. Sarpeydon and please always refill. Business is going as usual as far as I know. But I haven't been Ed's messenger for a long time, so you'll have to ask him about it yourself,” she replied.
Jared nodded and went to get her Sarpeydon. When he got behind the counter the door opened again and a familiar face strolled in.
Eralion greeted Jared with a handshake and was about to sit down at the counter when he saw her.
'Please don’t...', she thought.
Instead, he came over to her table. "Meyja, what are you doing here?"
"Just drink and stumble home afterwards," she replied honestly.
"Do you mind, if I sit down with you?" he asked politely for her permission and sat down when she was forced to allow him.
Eralion knew that Ed had washed her head after she had simply fled the store, but she hadn't cared, she had just shrugged and said nothing. She still looked just as finished as last year, the only thing that had changed now were the dark circles under her eyes.
Jared came back to the table, brought Meyja’s Sarpeydon which was drunk from a kind of square glass flask, and a mug of beer for Eralion.
"The usual for you, I assumed," growled Jared and Eralion nodded his thanks.
"You seem to be a regular here," mumbled Meyja and took a sip of the strong schnapps as if it were just water.
She was annoyed by her ignorance in this regard because he probably came here often and she still hadn't been able to avoid him successfully.
Eralion nodded again and pointed to her drink. "That was apparently no joke with the staggering."
She made no reply. "Forgive me, please. What are we drinking to?” 
Eralion raised his mug. "On you."
She didn't care what he wanted to toast to she just did it, but she wasn't really comfortable sitting here with him and drinking together. Nobody should notice that she had a problem giving up drinking. Although, he knew about her addiction, she didn't care about it either.
"How are the orders going?" he wanted to know and took a sip from his mug.
"Good," she replied tersely.
"What else?" He looked at her worriedly as she finished off the rest of the Sarpeydon all at once.
"Second place in the Stone Hall" Meyja mentioned evasively but kept silent that she had not been there for half an eternity.
He also emptied his mug. "My greatest respect. That is a remarkable achievement."
Jared came to their table and brought supplies for Meyja. 
Eralion went with her – to her displeasure – and also ordered Sarpeydon. Besides wanting to be alone she didn't want to be responsible for him getting drunk.
"And with you?" she asked pushing her flask against his.
"Very well, I have a wife and three children so it couldn't be better," he remarked cynically and took a sip grimacing.
"So bad." She drank, too, knowing that none of the Deathshade was married and that he would have wished it anyway.
He shook his head gently. "I'm sorry. It doesn't go that badly, but you only live from one day to the next."
"Who are you saying that," Meyja whispered.
They drank the rest of the schnapps in silence and hung on their dark thoughts until Jared poured again.
Eralion raised his vessel again and toasted it with her, "On happier topics." Despite his half-hearted attempt, they simply sat in silence at the table for several hours and drank together. 
It didn’t matter that she was used to the alcohol, Meyja already felt a bit drunk and she studied the Deathshade inconspicuously. She noticed that she still liked him very much, if not nearly as much as Aron, but she quickly pushed the thought of her fiancé aside and devoted the thoughts back to her counterpart. Eralion was a really nice guy and outwardly hadn't changed much in the last year and he also managed not to get on her nerves, even if he had been drinking – he knew how to shut up.
"What is it?" he asked when he noticed her look.
She looked down at the table again and shook her head. "I was just wondering how old you are. I find it hard to guess," she admitted when she looked at him again.
"Twenty-nine. And you?” he replied.
She frowned. "What year are we?"
"It's Fulgyr 69," he replied shocked that she didn't even know how old she was at the moment.
“Then I'll be twenty-two. Even if you shouldn't ask a lady such a question,” she muttered.
"Sorry, the Sarpeydon is making me naughty," he apologized.
"Me too." Meyja bit her tongue. "That... that was... meant differently... not like that..." She turned bright red.
Eralion laughed and replied, “I didn't understand it that way either, don't worry. Even if it's kind of cute when you blush."
"Come to Renny and I'll show you something cute!" she snapped in mock indignation but then she grinned cautiously and quickly drank off her Sarpeydon.
‘This stuff makes me too talkative…’ she thought.
"Better not. I would probably end up with a broken arm again,” he remarked and also emptied his butt.
They both laughed uproariously. The other two guests looked a little annoyed at them but they didn't care in the least.
“It's late and we're pretty drunk. Maybe we should leave it for today. You'll stagger anyway, so your plan actually worked,” he said and Meyja nodded.
When Jared came to refill them, they both waved it off and paid instead.
Shortly afterwards, they stepped outside and Eralion had to catch Meyja when she almost fell over the doorstep.
Groaning she held on to him. "Thanks, without you I would have probably just made a fool of myself."
"It's okay, you're welcome," he replied and led her on his arm around her shoulders.
She was a little surprised at this gesture but she just let it happen, she didn't worry about her morals anyway when she had been drinking.
"Do we have to go the same way home?" he asked with a slight slur in his voice.
"Yes, at least a bit," she whispered and put an arm around him as well. She did not want to be alone again. Unconsciously admitted in her drunken state that she sometimes lacked the company of other people.
So, they walked through the almost deserted streets of the nocturnal city until they arrived at the alley in which Eralion lived.
"I guess I'll have to do the rest myself", Meyja remarked and let her arm slip from his waist.
He let go of her, too, and turned to her when she stopped. "Are you going back to your flat?"
"No." She returned his gaze for a moment and then hugged him. "Good night," she mumbled upward into his ear.
Before Meyja knew what was happening she pressed her lips to his. Eralion returned the kiss, hugged her gently before pulling away from her, and taking a step back.
"Meyja, you are drunk," he remarked.
"You also."
He went up to her again and kissed her again, demanding, pressed himself against her, and Meyja felt the need in her midst which she had not felt since she had sent Raemur into the desert two months earlier.
When Eralion gently pulled her into the alley she willingly went with him. They couldn't let go of each other. It took an eternity to reach the top of the stairs and again until he could put the key in the lock.
When Meyja finally staggered into the room behind him he slammed the door with his foot and kissed her again deeply while she slowly pushed her hands under his shirt and let her fingers glide over his skin. Eralion smelled incredibly attractive and she awkwardly pulled the linen fabric over his head, then eyed him. As she had once suspected, he was actually not overly muscular but rather wiry in shape. Then she stripped off her own shirt and gave him an embarrassed look, as he looked at her bare torso.
"That suits you a lot better than me," he remarked in a dark voice as he loosened her chest strap.
Meyja woke up dazed and looked around the room, disoriented. Where was she? She turned her head to the left, Eralion was laying next to her and had an arm over her.
'Crap...', she thought.
When she started to keep her distance unnoticed, he woke up.
For a moment, he also looked confused, then he realised who was laying next to him, and where they were. He took his hands from her, closed his eyes, and whispered, "We haven't...?"
"Yes, we have," Meyja replied softly, bit her lower lip, and pulled the sheet over her naked body before she got up.
"We probably had a little too much Sarpeydon last night, it seems to me." He looked up at her, then realised that he, too, was naked, and he hastily covered his middle with one hand.
"It's okay, that's nothing I haven't seen tonight," she said dryly and sat down on the edge of the bed, giving him back his sheet.
He asked in astonishment, "You can remember everything?"
He had already noticed the scars on her back on the evening of their welcome party, but now he realised that these could hardly be injuries that one sustained in a fight. In addition, she had become so thin that he could see each of her vertebrae, and the individual ribs.
"Not everything but a large part of it." She didn't dare look at him.
“We said goodbye, didn't we? The memories are slowly coming back,” he mentioned.
She nodded with a sigh, then covered her face with her hands, and looked at her knees.
"Are you alright?" Eralion asked worried and sat down next to her.
"I was just wondering if that was a mistake," she whispered.
He thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I don't know to be honest. Do you think it was?"
"I don't know." She dropped her hands again.
A beautiful woman was sitting next to him on his bed, a woman he had the greatest respect for, and last night something had happened between the two of them that he had never expected, and yet in a certain way wanted for so long. He'd been in love with her ever since they'd danced in the shop at her welcome party. When she got engaged to Aron just minutes later, he was both happy for her, and sad at the same time. But now Aron was gone and Eralion had a guilty conscience because he had attended her although her heart belonged to someone else. Aron was his brother in battle and if he was still alive, they would have both so to speak betrayed him. Still, he had to reveal the truth to her – now or never. She was alone, Aron was gone or dead, and neither would change the situation in which she was because she was alone one way or another.
"Meyja, I..." he began, pausing when she looked at him questioningly. Her gaze encouraged him to pour out his heart, however, and he continued, “I have to confess something to you... I've been feeling it for quite a while and now, after this night, I feel obliged to tell you. My feelings for you are not just friendly. I love you since I’ve danced with you several years ago and miss you all the time when I can't see you.” He looked down at his hands and waited for her to answer.
"That really honours me, but I don't know if I'm ready," she replied quietly and when he looked up at her he saw sadness in her eyes.
“I am aware that it is difficult and that will not change anytime soon. But know that you can always come to me when you are ready."
She nodded before standing up and reaching for her clothes. Eralion stopped himself from watching her get dressed, only when she said goodbye, he did turn his gaze back to her.
"I'll think about it, I promise. See you soon."
Before the door closed behind her, he replied, "See you soon, Meyja."

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 41 - Decision

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Yra of the year 69 

Meyja was torn. She liked Eralion, and he attracted her albeit differently from Aron whom she loved, and whom she wanted to be by her side again. But Aron was gone, she had been alone for more than a year, and drowned her loneliness in alcohol, and for three weeks she had been trying to wrestle the decision she had made. With no one left to talk to she had listened deeply to herself, and decided for herself to choose her own luck. She had pondered this for a long time before knocking on that door.

"Meyja," remarked Eralion astonished when he opened the door and let her in immediately.

"Thanks." She looked at him as he closed the door behind her. “I've made a decision. I'm sorry it took so long but I've thought long and hard about what is right. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion there is no wrong decision, just two paths that I had to choose between."

He looked at her waiting with a fearful feeling in his stomach and sweaty hands but subconsciously noticed she looked much healthier again.

Finally, she informed him of her decision. “I have decided not to wait any longer for Aron. If you still want me…"

The knot in his bowels loosened in the blink of an eye, beaming he walked up to her, and hugged her. "Of course, I do and I’m very happy about it."

When they first touched, they'd both been too drunk to feel the real closeness of each other. But when Meyja kissed him now, she could taste his lips, feel the soft skin of his cheeks, and feel the slight scratching of his beard on her chin. Eralion put his hand on the back of her neck as he kissed her back, his thumb gently stroking her skin.

They stood there for a while kissing each other tightly until they parted and he took her hand in his.

"We should discuss a few things despite our romantic feelings, don't you think?" he asked quietly.

Meyja nodded and pulled him to the bed where they sat next to each other on the edge. She tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear and he could see the dark shadow on her finger where she had worn the engagement ring until recently.

"Ed shouldn't know anything about us," she began quietly and he agreed with her on this point. “It would be wiser, if we didn't meet here so often, and therefore so close to the shop. It would only be a matter of time before someone noticed that I was walking in and out of your place."

"All right. I suppose we will spend our hours together in your flat then?” Eralion asked quietly.

"If you don't mind, I would prefer it," she replied honestly.

Even if it was basically Aron's home, he was gone, and she fought against the emptiness that his disappearance had left both in the flat and in her heart.
 In the morning she had laboriously heaved herself out of bed in the Drunken Beggar and gone to the Workshop where she had been busy getting rid of all the dust and dirt until noon.

She had sadly packed up Aron's personal belongings and stowed them in a box in the next room. Eralion would know that it was his flat, but he would discover nothing more that reminded of him. She even took off the ring and wore it on a fine silver chain around her neck. She was not yet able to part with it completely.

Eralion felt a little uncomfortable at the thought of the fact that he should visit her there but he nodded. “It's more sensible, even if it has a guilty conscience, to be honest. Aron was my fighting brother and should he show up again at some point, he would still be. And then I would have taken his woman in his own bed."

“This flat belongs to me now and you have nothing to fear. I don't think he'll actually come back one day – on the contrary. I am convinced that he is no longer alive,” Meyja replied sincerely and stood up. “Visit me tonight, if you can arrange it. Unfortunately, I have to go, a new order is waiting."

She hugged Eralion who had also got up and walked towards her.

"I will," he whispered and kissed her goodbye.

After Meyja had stepped out into the street she took a deep breath and turned to the left so as not to have to pass the shop again where she had already been before she went to see Eralion. Her target would not be easy to find, it was a suspected member of a rival guild. Not a man but a woman. The wanted one was called Sia and it was suspected that she was behind the title the Blood Red which made the whole thing even more interesting.

'The Indomitable against the Blood Red...', she thought.

She liked the idea and took up the challenge with joy, especially since she had never killed a woman of her own kind. In the meantime, people talked much more often than she would have liked about her own title. When she had been drinking in the Tired Traveller some time ago, two men next to her had talked about the Indomitable and she had been able to overhear everything. Seemingly enemy guilds were doing everything in their power to track her down, but they were unable to find her which gave Meyja some satisfaction, as it meant that she was doing a good job and had become a shadow.

She had even been compared to Deny who had never kept his title a secret. Cold and merciless she chased her enemies, as he had always done, and the guys were right because no one was safe from her once he or she was on her list. Ed also gave her the family assignments because she was the only one in his ranks who killed children without blinking an eye.

Why exactly she did it in this emotionless way, she did not know herself. In this respect she simply worked and carried out her tasks without asking questions and without a conscience. In addition, her boss had mentioned in a quiet moment she had now even surpassed Aron which she had taken note of but considered nothing more than flattery.

Meyja walked quietly and inconspicuously through the streets and looked for the one she was looking for. She had known Sia's face since they met once. A pretty, dark-haired woman just as inconspicuous as herself and certainly no less deadly, but Meyja was longer in the business of death and had more experience to show which gave her a certain advantage. Presumably, she would have to bring Sia to an end during the day and in the open street because like herself the woman would have secured her flat against any unnoticed intrusion. In order to be prepared for all eventualities, Meyja had additionally poisoned her stiletto which she always used when she had to kill at a distance.

After a few hours of fruitless search, she finally saw her supposed victim disappear around a corner of the Old Town and hastily pulled her mask over her face before climbing up a building unseen and following the woman unobtrusively. It was really Sia who walked innocently through the winding streets while death was already clinging to her heels above her. Meyja passed her skilfully and silently until her target person came on the street in the direction of the building on which she had hidden. A certain risk still remained when a few seconds later, she leaned around the chimney and at the same moment threw the stiletto at the woman, but Meyja had misjudged herself, and the blade only missed her victim by centimetres.

'Crap...', she thought.

Sia looked alarmed up at her assassin before turning on her heel and running.
 Meyja had also already started moving and jumped into the street when Sia had just disappeared around the corner before she started the chase. The Blood Red was quick and kept the Indomitable inflexible again and again by throwing everything at her that she could get hold of. So, Meyja had to defy barrels, baskets, and entire displays of various overturned market stalls, walk around people who had been bumped into by Sia, and who were now furiously cursing the pursuer.

They reached the main street and Sia just made it to the other side in front of a cart while Meyja had to use her run to jump up on it with one leap. But her speed made her fall and so she ended up cursing in the brittle chicken cages that were loaded and some of which cracked apart with a crash.

The poultry ran away cackling while the man on the driver's seat scolded her loudly but Meyja ignored him, climbed off the wagon again, and ran into the alley in which Sia had disappeared. She just recognised the dark braid of her target person who had already vanished around the corner of the house, and continued to rush after her with burning lungs.

When Meyja reached the junction where she had last seen Sia, she stopped and looked around hastily but she saw no trace of the woman. On closer inspection she noticed a passage to an inner courtyard and she ran towards it, crossed that passage, and stopped again breathlessly. There was not a soul beside herself in the circular, small inner courtyard and the walls of the house were so high and steep that Sia could not have escaped over the roofs in such a short time.

Before she could turn around, she noticed movement behind herself and ducked under Sia's throwing knife just in time before turning around to face her target. In contrast to Meyja, the Blood Red was much stronger and the fighting experience she had gathered in the Stone Hall helped her to spot Sia's weak points within a few moments.

Also breathing heavily, Sia had stopped and pulled her daggers from her back. "Then show what you can do, bitch." She put her chin forward provocatively.

Meyja did not reply, but rose slowly, and also drew her blades knowing that Sia did not face her of her own free will, but could just not run away. The Blood Red had been quick and skilful, one had to give her that, but Meyja's condition was much better, she could have run as far again – in contrast to her target person.

Lurking, the two women circled and looked at each other disapprovingly before Sia demanded, "Take off the mask, I want to see your face."

The Indomitable shook her head slowly, then she took a quick step towards Sia, and thrust her dagger from below in the direction of the belly of her opponent, but she cleverly blocked the attack with her blade, and in turn started a blow with her weapon. Meyja avoided the attack on her neck by ducking, but before she could react Sia had kicked her legs from under her body and she landed hard on the ground where she lost one of her daggers which clattered away over the cobblestones.

As always when Meyja had to fight with only one weapon, she turned the remaining blade agilely in her fingers, so that the edge protruded downward from her fist. With this she fended off another attack by Sia on her neck which had undoubtedly had her carotid artery as its target, and she realised why Sia called herself the Blood Red. 

Meyja pushed herself off the ground with both feet and kicked Sia violently on the side of her head, so that her opponent also lost one of her weapons, and grabbed her skull. As Meyja straightened up, Sia's foot hit her hand which was still holding the dagger, and her second weapon flew away in a high arc.

Sia smiled wickedly before she skilfully carried out a few more attacks on the neck of the Indomitable which Meyja avoided, but it was close and she heard the blade rush through the air. In a touch of panic Meyja leaned back until her hands found the ground then loosened her feet with the necessary momentum stepped under Sia's chin who then fell backwards and hit the stone hard with the back of her head while Meyja almost gracefully came to a standstill after her roll backwards.

Before Sia could even try to get up, Meyja had already disarmed her, and thrown the blade away. Blinking, Sia looked up at her nemesis who could read the fear in her eyes as she sat on her chest, and put her hands to her throat.

"Wait," Sia croaked when she couldn't breathe.

Meyja loosened her grip just enough for her victim to speak.

Sia breathed, “At least tell me who will bring me to an end. And let me see your face."

Now for her part smiling angrily, Meyja pulled the mask from her face. "I am the Indomitable."

"At least someone with fame and honour." Sia smiled and closed her eyes.

When Meyja squeezed her throat again, Sia soon began to twitch and tore open her eyes in agony, hit at her murderer, kicked, and scratched the back of Meyja's hands. But the Indomitable did not let go of her until the Blood Red had stopped breathing and lay quietly under her while a single tear ran from the corner of her bloodshot eyes. Meyja gently ran her fingertip over the tear and licked off the salty drop before she got up, gathered up all four daggers, and hurried out of the courtyard in the direction from which she had come.

With a feeling of triumph, Meyja pushed the cloth into her pocket before she disappeared into the alleys. She left the scene of the crime in no time and wandered through the city for a while to shake off any pursuers before she happily made her way to her boss to collect her reward.

It was not without a certain irony she, too, always moved through the city in a similar way to her victim without ever being the target of an attack, but she was also more cautious than Sia had been. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Attention! The following chapter contains an excessive sexual theme!

Chapter 42 - Respect

Meyja pushed open the door to the shop and walked inside, the bell ringing announced her return.

“You were here today. What else is there?" Ed asked astonished as he came through the curtain.

“The Blood Red is history,” she reported shortly and handed him the assignment that she had only received that morning.

"That was fast. Incredible," Ed muttered and waved her upstairs to his flat. "Was that what you did with your hands?"

Meyja nodded. “The fight started because I missed her with the stiletto. If you happen to have gloves here, I wouldn't be averse."

“I hope nobody saw you doing it. I'll give you a pair in a moment and new stilettos, too. The delivery came just yesterday. Do you need poison too?" he wanted to know, handed her the bag with her reward, and went back down the stairs to the back room.

She followed him. “I don't have much left but it's not urgent. And nobody saw me involved, at least not my face. The persecution across the city cannot be called inconspicuous, however."

He handed her three new stilettos and two poison vials then winked. “You are doing a good job, Meyja. And as far as I know you're still not on anyone's death list. Still, that's not a guarantee. Take care of yourself."

"Sure," she replied saying goodbye to her boss who noted the equipment he had just given her in one of his endless lists.

Before going home, she did some shopping, made a detour to the Tired Traveller where she bought some philosopher's herb, and finally looked for a new bed in a furniture factory. It would be bigger than the old one in which she had slept with Aron and she put a few more coins on the purchase price so that her request would receive preferential treatment.

By the time she got to her flat, it was already dusk, so she quickly washed and put on fresh clothes. She took off the engagement ring on the silver chain and was putting it on a shelf when there was a knock.

"Who's there?!" she called through the closed door and after Eralion had answered she let him in.

He kissed her gently on the forehead before stepping in a little hesitantly and looking around.

"You've been here before, so I don't have to show you anything," she remarked and offered him a seat in one of the armchairs.

He sat down. “I wanted to apologise for that. That wasn't right."

"It's okay, just forget it. What would you like to drink?” She stopped in the passage to the next room, her hand was on the door frame, and Eralion looked at it.

"What happened to you?" he wanted to know startled.

She took her hand away. “That happened on my assignment, nothing more. Just a few scratches. Ed gave me gloves, so it won't happen again."

He nodded. "Well. Please don't worry, I'll take what you drink, too."

Meyja turned around, went into the room where the bottles were lined up on a shelf, and closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath. It was her flat, she lived here, and acted as the hostess, as Aron had done with her back then and Eralion answered exactly as she had answered.

The parallels between the two situations gave her an uncomfortable chest tug but she swallowed her grief, took a bottle of wine from the shelf and two mugs and went back to her guest.

When she sat across from Eralion and poured them wine she was smiling again presumably carelessly. They toasted a nice evening and Meyja took a sip before setting the mug aside and reaching for the metal can that was on the table between them.

"You smoke?" Eralion watched in astonishment as she skilfully rolled up philosopher's herb and tobacco in a strip of paper.

"Only if you don't mind." She paused.

"No, of course not, this stuff is really good." He smirked.

"I like to share," remarked Meyja, rolled up the parchment, and lit the cigarette.

After blowing out the smoke, she passed the tube to Eralion.

"So, were you able to finish your assignment today?" he asked exhaling a large cloud, suppressing a cough.

"It took a couple of hours but I finally got her," she said.

"A woman? That's rare,” he muttered.

"I know. And one of us, too, which is even rarer. That was the most difficult job so far not least because of my own failure,” reported Meyja and took a sip from her mug.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

She gave a short shrug. “I tried to kill her at a distance and my stiletto missed her by a hair's breadth. Then we competed across the old town until she tried to kill me in an inner courtyard. She disarmed me before I could take the daggers from her. It was truly a life-and-death struggle, even if it ended strangely." He continued to look at her questioningly so Meyja continued quietly, "It was almost as if she had shown me respect. She wanted to know who I am and see my face. I told her my title and showed myself without a mask. The only thing she said was at least I was someone with fame and honour. Since then, I have wondered, if we would have become friends in another world."

“An interesting thought and yet somehow absurd. She would have killed you the same way, if you had a bounty on you, Meyja.” He handed the tube back to her.

"I know, but it was still weird, and bothering me."

"Understandable, but you shouldn't brood too much, otherwise the lines of thought on your forehead will never go away." He began to giggle in a daze.

She had to laugh, too. "You dumbass!"

Then they giggled exuberantly because of their consumption of philosopher's weed and Meyja had forgotten Sia for the moment.

After they were finally able to calm down, he said, "You may not have been a Deathshade long, but you are already the best of us."

"Nonsense," she replied dismissively.

She knew Raemur had been with Ed for a good decade and Tasim had been with Ed even longer. She thought it was a joke that even with only one and a half years of experience she should still be the best among them.

"That's what Ed said. I don't know how good you really are and I don't want to find out, but if our boss says that I believe him,” Eralion continued undeterred.

She shook her head. "I have been in Sharaya less than three years and the killing started a little less than two years ago. How can I be better than the men?"

“You have incredible talent, Meyja. I thought you were aware of that," he remarked.

Not only Eralion himself had a high opinion of her, the other men also regularly astonished her deeds if at the same time they were a little jealous of the success of the youngest they still showed her great respect – apparently the same respect that she received today had been given to her by her victim.

"What is it?" she asked when she noticed the thoughtful expression on his face.

Eralion shook his head and looked away for a moment before saying softly, “I just wonder why you avoid all kinds of praise. Your behaviour goes far beyond simple modesty."

He apparently really wanted to know, so she would tell him honestly how she saw it, even if she chose her words in an unintentionally treacherous way. “I don't want to hear I'm talented, or I'm doing a good job. I have the blood of many people on my hands just because someone wanted them dead, including many children who were completely innocent. I do it because there is nothing else, I can do and I don't like fornication even less. I don't like being what I am, but I'll keep going until one day I end up dead in an alley myself. But before that happens, I will never bend over or show weakness."

Eralion's knowledge was reflected in his gaze as he whispered, "You are the Indomitable…”

So, it was Meyja who the whole city was talking about and who bore the title that even the men of her own guild had spoken of with fear in their voices. Every Deathshade had feared that one day they would come over them but their worries had always been unfounded.

Meyja just nodded, and rolled some more philosopher's herb into paper before lighting it, and inhaling the smoke. "Aron gave me this title," she mumbled wrapped in thick smoke.

Eralion was still looking at her with the annoying awe in his eyes and she tried to distract him. "Tell me about yourself."

"What would you like to hear? I don't have a title, there was never any reason for it,” he said.

“Everything that should be known about you. Where were you born? Do you have family? Was there a woman? Something like that,” she enumerated.

He thought for a moment before he began to tell, “I was born in Tyrca as the first and only child to my parents, but my mother did not survive my birth, and my father raised me, he was a simple blacksmith. After a long illness, he also died when I was fourteen. I spent a few years in the Sharaya orphanage and when I was old enough, I turned my back on the clergy. I made a few coins here and there, doing simple work until I got hold of Ed. With him, like you, I started running simple errands until Deval taught me the craft of murder. Since then, I've been taking on the simple jobs for Ed. Even if I don't earn a lot of gold with it, it is enough for everyday life. There was also a woman once a few years ago and we weren't married. She died like my mother in childbed and so did my son. Not much has changed in my life since then."

"I'm very sorry, Eralion," Meyja remarked sympathetically.

They were silent for a while but it was more of an intimate silence than uncomfortable before he asked quietly, "Will you tell me your story too?"

"Even if it is anything but beautiful?" she asked.

He nodded, so she also reported what had happened to her, but she glossed over things clearly and cleverly hid the fact that she was Voyneress.

"Was your husband good to you?" he asked after she finished although he already guessed the answer.

“You must have noticed the scars on my back. That was him," Meyja whispered.

Eralion covered his mouth with his hands and slowly shook his head shocked at what she had told him. "I can't think of anything to do that, but I would like to express my deepest sympathy for you."

She mumbled a low, barely audible gratitude.

After a few more minutes of silence, he asked, “I already know that your brother saved you from giving your husband a child. But what about Aron? Did you two never want a family?"

"We had never considered it and since the thing with Deny I suspect that I can no longer conceive a child," lied Meyja and got up.

Then she walked over to him and pulled the waistband of her pants down so far that he could see the fine wound over her pubic area.

Eralion put his hands on her waist and leaned forward pressed his lips to the scar before he looked up at her. "You’re still perfect, Meyja."

She ran her fingers through his long hair and smiled, then sat on his lap and kissed him gratefully. Eralion had almost become a father once before, but he had lost both the woman and the child, and yet he called her perfect, even if she could not give him what every man probably dreamed of.

Her hand reached around his neck and the kisses became more demanding, more intimate. "The new bed will be ready soon, we have to be content with the one there, if you don't mind," she said breathlessly when the need for his loins took over.

Eralion didn't answer, but kissed her again, pushed her towards the bed then took off his shirt, and took off the chest strap. Meyja also took off her shirt, but he held her back with a smile on the leather straps by holding her hands. Instead, he disarmed her, put her daggers on the bedside table, and pushed her gently back on the bed before kneeling in front of it.

Even if she didn't know what he was up to, as he stripped off her pants and tossed them aside. He leaned over her, stroked, and kissed her breasts, and while his hands stayed where they were his head moved slowly downwards. Meyja gasped with relish as his kisses made their way down.

‘He wouldn't be...’ she thought.

She could hardly believe it when his lips reached her lap and his tongue began to caress her down there. This feeling was truly more incredible than anything she had felt in a long time and when he took a hand from her breast to penetrate her with a finger, she came to climax shortly afterwards moaning loudly. Eralion stood up with a smile and looked down at her, the excitement protruding from his midst, and she knew immediately what she was going to do now. She sat down on the wooden floorboards in front of him and cupped him before she put her lips on the tip of his member, let him slide slowly into her mouth while she looked up at him, and kept eye contact.

"Oh, madness..." he breathed. His voice trembling with pleasure and shortly afterwards had to close his eyes.

It had been a long time since they had made love and the pressure in his loins made his juice come out faster than intended, struggling to keep himself on his feet. When he looked down at her again, she grinned at him with watery eyes, and wiped the semen from her upper lip.

He crouched down. "Are you okay?"

She nodded giggling and he apologized embarrassed. "All right. I can take it," she remarked blinking.

"Hopefully, not only that because I'm not done with you yet," he added quietly and pulled her to her feet.

With another grin over her shoulder, she knelt on all fours on the bed, and stretched out to meet him. "All night, as far as I am..."

For a moment he visibly savoured the sight that was presented to him then he gripped the strap that ran across her shoulders with one hand and penetrated her. 

Meyja gasped as he took her gently and slowly, enjoying every single one of his movements. She had also liked what Aron had done to her, but Eralion loved differently, she could feel the devotion with which he treated her.

He pulled her upper body up on the leather strap until her back almost touched his chest, his free hand resting on her bosom. She moaned loudly as he moved inside her and her body began to twitch uncontrollably again as she climbed the summit, her muscles clasping him tightly until he groaned loudly and she could feel him pouring into her. Driven by his lust she climaxed again with a deep gasp.

Eralion lay down next to her on the bed smiling and pulled her onto him before he pushed himself into her again.

She looked at him in surprise and asked, "Still?"

"Philos works wonders."

She kissed him with a smile and then straightened her upper body, arched her back as she rode him, his fingers playing around her nipples, and gently pinching them. Panting she threw her head back and moved faster and faster on him until they came again at the same time.

Exhausted, she sank down on him, and he wrapped his arms around her, caressing her back.

"That was unbelievable," she whispered smiling happily.

"You’re amazing, Meyja," he said softly and gently took her face in his hands before kissing her tenderly. "And indomitable." 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 43 - Legend

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Caligon of the year 70

Another six months later, Eralion was lounging in one of the armchairs, a smouldering cigarette with Philosopher's herb between his fingers, and grinning at Meyja in amusement in attendance.

"And then Ed asked me why I wasn't looking for a nice woman to sweeten my lonely days," he said.

She laughed softly. "If only he knew…"

It was one evening of many when he visited her and they told each other about their experiences. As always Eralion had cooked for her and Meyja had made sure there was a sufficient supply of Philosopher's cabbage which she could now easily afford. In contrast to Eralion's, her income was considerable, and she really didn't have to worry about gold. She had pushed all other worries aside as well; she was finally satisfied with herself and her life again. Eralion seemed happy, too, he was no longer alone, but had found someone to whom he could give his love – and he truly did. He carried her on his hands and almost every evening she expected him to ask her if she wanted to be his wife.

Meyja was very fond of Eralion, and if he had wanted to marry her, she would have said Yes but she still waited in vain for all questions to be answered. However, she had never told him she loved him – she just couldn't. The reason for this was not clear to her, she probably just needed a little more time. Eralion, on the other hand, waited for her to tell him before he would ask for her hand, and would often show his love to give her the opportunity to do the same. So, they both stayed in a wait-and-see position, without being really unhappy about it after all, they knew what they had in each other, even if they weren't a married couple.

When there was a knock on the door, they looked at each other in amazement for a moment before Meyja got up, and walked over to the entrance.

"Who's there?" she called softly.

Eralion looked over his shoulder at her, ready to protect her should it be necessary.
    But it was Raemur who answered, so Eralion hurriedly crept into the next room, and left the door ajar, so that the other Deathshade would not see him. Meyja opened the door, and let Raemur in, offered him a seat in the armchair in which Eralion had just sat. Thanking her he sat down, and she sat down across from him looking at him questioningly.

"Would you like something to drink?" she wanted to know.

"No, thank you. It will not take long. Eralion can also join us, if he wanted,” replied Raemur.

With bright red cheeks Meyja asked, “What betrayed us?” Had she not been fogged by the Philosopher's herb; she would certainly have managed better to hide her visitor.

“These are his boots at the entrance, there are also two mugs, and his daggers are on the table behind you. You shouldn't smoke so much, if you have something to hide... Or someone." Raemur explained disparagingly and nodded to Eralion who just came back into the room, he also looked more than embarrassed.

"Well, you got us," admitted Eralion and stood a little undecided next to his lover.

Meyja got up and he sat down, then she sat down on his knees, and looked over at her surprising visitor again.

“I guess I have. But that's not why I'm here. It's about this job,” said Raemur, took a roll of parchment out of his pocket, and handed it to Meyja who looked at it with interest. “I accepted the task without thinking twice. But now I don't feel up to it alone to be honest. After doing some research, the target person seems a lot more difficult to pin down than I thought, and I need help. Ed said I should ask Meyja, that she is an expert in such things."

“You've been in business a lot longer than I have. Why should I be able to help you?” she asked with a frown. She was a little surprised that Raemur asked her for help, after all, next to Tasim he was the best man among the Deathshade – at least since Aron had disappeared.

“The guy is a whore that is beyond compare. According to Ed you're more than adept at pulling guys like that out of their reserve. Especially since he's so cautious that I haven't caught him yet. However, it is unlikely that he will have a bodyguard with him when he is birding, that's why Ed came up with you, Meyja,” Raemur explained and leaned back in the armchair.

Eralion looked a little unhappy and mumbled, "I'm not at all comfortable with it."

“It's okay, I can do it. One of my easiest exercises,“ Meyja answered a little ashamed. The fact that Ed touted her as a seduction artist both flattered and insulted her. “But I still have to ask one question. Is that what I am said to be? That I am so successful because of this ruse?"

Eralion bowed his head, he knew about the rumours, but had never told her so as not to expose her, but he, too, pondered whether that was her secret.

"To be honest, the men assume so, yes," Raemur admitted clearly uncomfortable with the question.

Meyja hissed indignantly, “That is not true. I have only made use of the fact that I am a woman in hopeless cases. The number of those I have killed while pretending to be a whore is negligible. A cheek to say something like that!"

“It's okay, Meyja. I didn't want to offend you, I was just honest,” Raemur defended himself and raised his hands soothingly.

She looked over her shoulder at Eralion and snapped at him, "You knew about it, didn't you?!"

"I didn't mean to offend you, so I didn't say anything," he muttered apologetically.

Stunned she stood up and shouted angrily, "I'm the damned Indomitable, I won't put up with that!"

She glared at the two men angrily but bit her tongue when she realised that she had just revealed her title to Raemur.

"You are the Indomitable?" he repeated in astonishment.

Awe showed on his face, but she was uncomfortable having revealed her identity, so she just nodded silently, and went to the bed where she sat on the edge.

"That changes the situation, of course," Raemur muttered amazed without taking his eyes off her.

“Now you know why I always said that you were doing Meyja injustice. However, I couldn't reveal her,” said Eralion still looking at his beloved with great regret. "I'm sorry, dearest. I wanted to tell you but I was afraid to offend you. In addition, it would be wrong to give too much attention to rumours that men come up with in their resentment towards women."

“That resentment doesn't exist, brother. She's a Deathshade, one of us. It was just guesswork, deliberation. After all, it's more than unusual for women to be so successful in our line of work,” argued Raemur.

“Then I'm just unusual. So be it,” Meyja smashed the justification.

“I also want to apologise. It was wrong. Neither of us knew that you are the one who is already being talked about as a legend,” Raemur remarked ruefully.

"All right. At the meeting in a couple of days I'll bring this up and get rid of all the rumours. Now what about the job?" she wanted to know and waved her hand angrily.

“Well, it would probably be better, if we stick to the plan, and you use this unpleasant ruse. I will, of course, work with you and have your back. I would also carry out the fatal blow myself, so all that would be needed was the distraction on your part,” said Raemur cautiously.

She thought for a moment, then nodded and let the Deathshade tell her what he had already found out. Together they decided Eralion would also be there to provide them with additional support, he would watch over the guards, and warn them if something unforeseen happened.

“Well, we'll meet here again tomorrow at dawn. And then we erase this bastard,” Meyja muttered grimly.

Eralion nodded satisfied because he was more than happy, he didn’t just have to sit and watch as Meyja put herself in danger, but also had a part in her plan.

"That will work. He has no chance against three of us. Especially since the Indomitable now has him in her sights,” Raemur grinned.

“Not a word to anyone. Neither about her title nor about the fact you met me here. Understand?” Eralion warned his brother.

Raemur laughed as he stood up and said, “Never. I didn't see, or hear anything, don't worry. See you tomorrow. Good night."

They wished him the same and he left them alone.

After Meyja had locked the door behind him, she turned to Eralion who had remained seated in the armchair and was looking at her thoughtfully.

“And I thought you failed me about those rumours. But you defended me and I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said quietly and walked over to him.

Eralion nodded. “Sure, I have. I love you, Meyja. I’d never have been silent when I heard what was being said about you. But I couldn't reveal your title, or our love, and so at some point, I just held back. Anything else would simply have been too conspicuous."

"Understandable." She nodded as well sat down opposite him and rolled two more cigarettes with Philosopher's herb.

They smoked in silence then Eralion asked softly, "What are you thinking about?"

"I'm just wondering whether I should buy another robe, or whether the one I still have here is sufficient," she replied and tossed the smouldering stub into the ashtray.

"If you show it to me, I can tell you what I think about it," he said with a smile.

She grinned a little embarrassed but then she got up and undressed before pulling on the dress that she had bought together with Aron before she committed her first murder. Although she had gained significantly again the robe was still wider than before, but its advantages still came into play. The wide neckline of the dark red robe showed what she had to offer; on the sides you could even catch a glimpse of part of her breasts. The skirt had a slit that revealed her bare thigh when she took a step.

"Madness!" Eralion exclaimed and she recognised the growing bulge in his pants.

She pointed to it with a grin. "Your reaction shows me that I don't have to go shopping anymore."

He got up and walked over to her, loosening the clasp on the robe at the back of her neck, and the fabric slipping off her body. "But I like you even better that way," he said in a dark voice his eyes fixed on her naked body. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 44 - Camouflage

When Raemur knocked the next evening, Meyja and Eralion were already finished and had only been waiting for his arrival.
Eralion let in the Deathshade and said, “Nice to see you. We’re ready."
"Good evening and… wow," Raemur paused when he saw Meyja.
She wore the dark red dress, her hair was loose over her shoulders, and she had made up to look even more wicked, apparently with success.
"She'll never pass as a whore with that," Raemur grinned rubbing his short hair.
"But?" Meyja wanted to know amazed and looked down at herself.
"I don't want to offend anyone here, but you're far too beautiful and graceful for anyone to think you're actually selling your body," Raemur muttered.
She blushed and remarked, “This is the most revealing thing I've ever worn. If I don't even look like a whore in it, then in no robe in the world."
“It's okay, we're just planning something different. You sit down in the Drunken Beggar and I'll play your companion, then we'll fake an argument as soon as the target person has appeared and I've shown him to you. Then I'll sit down somewhere else and you'll be left in a noticeably desperate manner. If he should speak to you, you just pretend you need to be comforted, of course, you reject all other suitors. If he goes outside with you, I'll follow you unobtrusively, and finish him off,” suggested Raemur.
Eralion frowned. "Only as long as you promise to keep your fingers to you."
"Of course. What do you think of me?” Raemur replied.
Meyja said, "If it should be necessary for camouflage but I suppose it should be sufficient to pass through as my companion, even when Raemur does not grope me."
"I think so, too," replied Raemur.
"Agreed. But take good care of her.” Eralion nodded in agreed resignation, then he went to his lover, and kissed her tenderly. "I'm near you, and if something should happen, shout out loud for help like a defenceless woman, then I'll be with you in a few seconds."
“But I am not defenceless, you know that. I carry the stiletto with me and even without the daggers I am still fatal. But I promise I will be careful,” she replied quietly, and glanced over Eralion's shoulder at Raemur, who looked at his feet in disgust, given the intimate situation between them.
She had only gotten another belt from Ed this afternoon, so that despite the fine shoes she wore with the dress, she could carry the blade with her that was now attached to her concealed thigh. Fortunately, the stiletto was very flat and so it was not noticeable under the thin flowing fabric that she was armed.
"Let's go," she suggested calmly and Raemur opened the door before they left the house, and Eralion disappeared from their field of vision shortly afterwards over the roofs.
“Don't you think it's a little noticeable? After all I'm dressed smartly and you wear your everyday clothes,” she muttered.
Raemur smiled and threw aside his leather jacket under which he wore a white shirt that together with his trousers which were also made of dark leather would pass as decent clothing.
"Armed for all eventualities," he remarked with a wink.
"Yes, yes, it's okay. I'm still a little nervous about such actions. It's more dangerous to pretend to be a whore than to just kill the guys from ambush and I'm not used to the fine clothing," she muttered.
"All right. However, to the delight of all men you could dress up like this more often. It looks great on you,” he remarked appreciatively and she blushed again.
"It is not my intention to please other men than Eralion with the sight of me," she threw off his compliment.
It was a bit uncomfortable for her that he kept looking over at her his looks were quite clear, so she stopped and corrected him, “Raemur, stop staring. Eralion is your battle brother and that is not the right thing to do. Our relationship half an eternity ago doesn't give you the right to gawk like that."
"All right. Eralion and I are not the best of friends but I won't reveal it. You have my word on it,” he replied and they went on.
As they approached the Drunken Beggar, he offered her his arm and she obediently hooked herself under him. He held the door open for her and let her go into the packed guest room in which despite the many people there was a table for both of them and where they could take a seat. Lustful glances in Meyja's direction weren't surprising but despite the fact that she didn't look like a whore – she felt like one.
“You’ve made a reservation. Clever. But certainly expensive,” she remarked.
Raemur grinned broadly. "Sure, but I had to make sure everything was going according to plan. What do you want to drink?"
"Beer. The Warehouse please,” she replied and he walked over to the counter.
As soon as he got up the first guy stood at her table and gazed openly at her, but she shooed him away with a quick wave of the hand. Now all doubts had been dispelled that her plan would work. She thanked Raemur who came back with two mugs of beer, clinked glasses with him, and took a long swig of the bitter drink. Then they began to talk about irrelevant things.
At one point, he said quietly, “The target person just walked in. The brunet with the dark clothes."
"Half-length hair, handsome?" She asked just as softly.
“You think he's handsome? You have a strange taste for men, if you ignore me,” Raemur said with a grin.
“I like long hair on men. What's strange about that?” she replied frowning.
"Well, first Aron, now Eralion… You are selling yourself below value in my opinion. Neither of them can hold a candle to you, Meyja. Should you ever want to let a real man into you again, you know where I live. My door is always open to you and I swear that I will fuck you again like no other man could ever fuck you," he whispered turning his eyes openly to her cleavage.
His words stopped her, her hand with the mug paused halfway to her mouth. "I thought we settled that," she hissed slamming the mug back on the table causing the beer to spill over the edge.
A few of the guests around her were already looking over at them, but she didn't notice, she was too indignant about what he had just offered her.
"You won't regret it, I promise," he continued before grabbing her hand and pulling it in the direction of his loins.
"Stop doing that. You have a job,” Meyja whispered and tried to wriggle her arm out of his grip but he held her mercilessly.
Grinning immorally, he replied, “My target person will be here all night long. And I not only reserved the table, but also one of the rooms. I also know I'm a lot better built than Eralion. He wouldn’t notice any of it and I can see that you’re thinking about it."
Raemur had really caught her because she had thought about it well but not for more than a few seconds. Angrily she freed herself from his grip and hissed, "Stop that immediately! Are you actually stupid?! See that you get away from me!"
When he got up, he winked at her and walked away, the penny dropped. He had wanted to make the argument look authentic, and thus really caught her off guard, she had gotten really angry, and had chased him away. In order not to have to grin she took a long drag from her mug. A second admirer was already at her table, and wanted to sit down, but she also shooed him away with an impatient wave.
While she kept repulsing guys, and trying to make eye contact with the target person, she was still quietly amused by the fictitious argument with Raemur of who nothing was to be seen far and wide. He must have positioned himself somewhere and kept her in eye.
At some point the man they were after looked over at her and Meyja looked embarrassed for a moment at her mug when she raised her head, she saw in the corner of her eye that he was still staring over at her. Sighing, she pushed her lower lip slightly forward, and rested her chin on her right hand while she brushed her hair behind her ear with the fingers of her left, and finished her beer. Men were so predictable when it came to a nicely wrapped pair of breasts, the target really started moving and headed straight for her.
The brunet stopped by her table and remarked, “You don't look very happy. May I invite you to another beer?"
She decided not to make it too easy for him. After all, it would be conspicuous, if she refused half the guest room, and immediately received him with open arms. "Maybe I should go. It was a strenuous evening, and there is no rest here…" she grumbled and rolled her eyes.
“You looked at me. Why would you do that, if not to lure me to you?"
"You are a handsome man and I am a woman with financial worries, but my day has been anything but pleasant so far. It would probably be wiser to go home," she replied. She chose her words deliberately in this way pretending to be fickle and at the same time confirmed him in his ego.
And it worked great because he smiled and tried to convince her. "But the night is still young and if you let me, I'll save the day for you."
She acted thoughtful for a moment, but then nodded, and pushed the mug over to him. "Fine. The Warehouse, please. I'll give you five minutes, if I haven't laughed by then, I'll go,” she admitted.
He nodded, too, took her drinking vessel in his hand and promised, “You won't regret it. I'll be right back, don't run away.” Then he went to the counter and she could see that he was almost urging Seth to serve him immediately, a few seconds later, he came back and sat down next to her.
"Thank you," she muttered in a feigned bad mood and toasted him as he handed her the mug.
"Never mind. But I have to confess something. I'm not a particularly funny person. If you don't laugh voluntarily, I will unfortunately have to tickle you until you do,” he replied and made an overly serious face with which he elicited an amused smile from Meyja. "Did that count now?"
"At least it gave you a little respite," she admitted.
"Very well. Then I still have enough time to ask your name," he remarked with a wink.
As usual she used an alias, she would never introduce herself as Meyja, so she replied, “My name is Levia. How may I call you?"
“Pleased to meet you, Levia. I'm Marcus,“ he replied and took a sip of the beer.
"So far you haven't really pleased me. In this respect the beer surpasses you by a lot," she said with a sigh.
“Well, my merits are elsewhere. I'm excellent at comforting and you look like you need some distraction,” he replied waiting.
Meyja leaned back and crossed her legs so that her thighs could be seen through the slit of the skirt as she crossed her arms with which she squeezed her bust seductively.
Then she mumbled, “It's so trite, Marcus. Why should I let you comfort me? Beer can do that better than you."
Her visual charms kept him going he accepted the insults without comment, after all a hot night with her was at stake for him. “You underestimate me, Levia. If you don't want to find out how well I can actually comfort, I'll get up now, go, and you won't see me again. But if you come with me, I'll give you a few hours of my precious time, and an unforgettable night," said Marcus seriously and got up.
She pretended to be thoughtful while he stood still for a few seconds and finished his beer. Then Meyja also downed the remaining alcohol and got up. “Woe to you, if you promised me too much. I'm spoiled when it comes to hot nights. And you still have to pay,” she said quietly.
"How much does an hour of your time cost?" he asked.
"Five crowns. Maybe only four, if you're good enough," she replied with a smile.
Marcus stepped up to her and pressed a demanding, promising kiss on her lips which she would have enjoyed under completely different circumstances, but now she only returned it because of her disguise. Then he took her by the hand, and pulled her out the door. She followed him without looking back at Raemur.
Cool night air enveloped her and made her shiver, so he took off his jacket and put it over her shoulders.
They walked down the street until Marcus led them into a secluded corner and mumbled, "I've changed my mind. I'll only give you a few minutes, turn around."
Meyja paused puzzled, she really hadn't expected that, and when she didn't move, he roughly grabbed her, and pressed her against the wall of the house.
"Stop it! What's the point?!" she protested loudly and tried to fight back but he grabbed her throat with an iron grip, preventing any further contradictions or screams, and opened his trousers.
His knee pushed her legs apart, she knew he would rape her, if one of the other Deathshade didn't come soon or she saved herself. She began to fight him with all her strength, but he hit her head against the wall so hard it was difficult for her to remain conscious. In the next moment, she felt that she was laying on the street and Marcus was leaning over her, dazed she hit him. She panicked as her skirt got pushed up, the stiletto pulled out of its harness, and clattered to the floor somewhere farther away.
"You filthy bitch did you want to stab me?" growled Marcus and yanked her underwear down.
A second later, he was laying heavily on her and a gush of warm liquid poured into her face, coughing, and spitting Meyja gasped for air, but could not see anything because the stuff had also run into her eyes.
"Take it easy it's me," she heard Raemur say.
Marcus' lifeless body was lifted off her and she reached down hastily to pull up her underwear, only then did she wipe the blood from her eyes.
"Why did it take so long?", she snapped at him still sitting on the floor and glaring angrily at Raemur.
“That wasn't very long it just happened incredibly quickly. And you two disappeared so suddenly that I had to look for you first. It was only your calling that put me on the right track,” Raemur replied softly then he smiled which was probably due to the sight she offered.
She got up hastily and was shocked when Eralion landed almost silently on the floor next to her from the roof.
"Everything okay? Are you all right?” he asked breathlessly and hugged her although she was covered with blood.
"It was close but nothing else happened to me, only my head is buzzing," answered Meyja then she looked at Raemur again. "It would still have been nice to tell me how dangerous this guy actually is."
"What happened anyway?", Eralion wanted to know while Meyja picked up her stiletto.
Raemur shook his head and remarked, "We should get out of here before another guard comes over."
Smeared over and over with blood, Meyja nodded and then skilfully climbed up the house. The men followed her as they made their way through the city with confidence. Even if they had to go back down into the street in some places on the way to Meyja's flat, they got there unseen.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 45 - Gold

"With all due respect, I couldn't climb with the dress and shoes," Raemur grinned and let himself fall into one of the armchairs.
Meyja shuffled wordlessly into the next room to wash the blood from her body, Eralion brought her fresh clothes and then let his brother explain to him what had happened.
“It went like clockwork; I don't know why she’s upset. After the target had taken a bite, the two drank a beer, and got up afterwards. Then they kissed and went outside…" reported Raemur.
"Wait, wait. They kissed?” Eralion asked with a frown.
Raemur nodded and continued, “They were gone so quickly I had trouble following them, but when I was outside, I could hear Meyja scolding. I immediately climbed onto a roof and as soon as I spotted her, I dropped to the ground behind the guy and cut his throat. You were there a few seconds later."
Eralion nodded, too, but it was a worried nod. What had happened in the meantime? What could Raemur not be able to prevent? He sensed that there was something that had caused her angry reaction. However, only Meyja could answer these questions herself and she would undoubtedly do, he was sure of that.
“I'm going to check on her. Apparently, she's got something. Do you want something to drink?" he offered his brother who then asked for a mug of schnapps.
When Eralion pushed through the door into the next room he saw that Meyja was already washed and dressed, so he reached for a bottle and three clean mugs.
"How are you feeling?" he asked thoughtfully.
She nodded slowly and replied, “I'm okay. But a little schnapps really wouldn't be wrong. And Philosopher's herb."
She tucked the two metal cans under her arm and took the chair that was in the corner with her. Eralion sat down in the chair and gave her the space in the arm chair into which she sank exhausted before she began rolling three cigarettes. They toasted their success with schnapps and Philosopher's cabbage and Meyja lounged with closed eyes in the upholstery where she smoked in silence.
"You actually hadn't mentioned a word he was dangerous," recalled Eralion and looked at Raemur expectantly, wanting an explanation for the accusation that his companion had already made.
Raemur shrugged and replied, “I just didn't realise that he was so unpredictable. As I said before, I couldn't get hold of this guy alone, and since it wasn't easy you knew what you were getting into. Don't cry my ears full now, just because our Indomitable lady is in a bad mood here."
"Can you hear me crying, Raemur?" Meyja asked tonelessly and when he said no, she pointed her finger at him affirmatively without opening her eyes.
Then she continued to smoke wrapped in a thick cloud while Raemur looked at Eralion with a raised brow. 
"Do you see? Everything's okay, don't make such a wind,” he muttered and leaned back also pulling on his glowing stick again and again. “This stuff is really good. How much do you pay for it, Meyja?"
“Three hundred crowns for two stalks of cabbage. One is enough for about three to four cigarettes,” she muttered absently.
Eralion and Raemur looked at each other in horror, figuring out how much money they were turning into smoke.
"And how much do you two usually smoke?" Raemur wanted to know.
"Depending on. When I'm alone about a stalk a day, a little more than two whole stalks together," answered Meyja and sat up again as the headache slowly subsided.
“That is calculated on the twenty days that I am with you a month, more than six thousand Crowns, Meyja! Only for what we smoke together!” Eralion exclaimed in horror.
She shrugged and replied, “I can afford it. And it's worth it to me."
Raemur puffed out his cheeks and let the air escape noisily before he remarked, "I don't earn too little either, but that would be more than I can afford."
"That's more than I can get together in a month," muttered Eralion suddenly feeling inferior to the woman he loved so much.
"What? How much do you get for your jobs?" Meyja asked flatly, she was also amazed that her income seemed to be so much higher than that of the other Deathshade. 
She had never talked to him about money before and conversations about the contracts were extremely rare.
"In a bad month hardly more than two thousand crowns, in a good one maybe twice as much," Eralion replied quietly and looked at his brother questioningly.
“That is little. For me it's about six thousand crowns," said Raemur and both men looked over at Meyja who had turned a little pale around the nose.
"I... well... my best month so far was twenty-five. There have been fewer than seventeen, but since Aron has been gone, never,” she admitted.
"Thousand? Twenty-five thousand crowns?” Raemur asked and leaned forward stunned.
Meyja nodded in embarrassment and Eralion covered his mouth with his hands could hardly believe that she had earned more than ten times his income.
"Where does this huge difference come from?" Raemur asked thoughtfully.
Meyja knew exactly how she created the difference which in her eyes was more than justified. “It’s because of the murders of members of other guilds. Such an order brings in between five- and ten thousand crowns. In addition, my simpler jobs are also very lucrative, even if it's never really easy. The only thing that I do for Ed and that doesn't bring in a lot are the murders of families and I only do that so that none of you have to get your hands dirty with it."
"What part do you have to cede to Ed?" asked Raemur, Eralion remained silent.
“I get the highest rate as do you two. Two thirds,” she answered the question again truthfully.
“You have to be better than all of us put together. I know Ed pays each of us decently and assignments are distributed as we can. But the fact that you actually completely fill in Aron's footsteps is remarkable,” Raemur muttered a little absently, apparently the Philosopher's herb also worked for him.
Meyja just nodded and rolled three more cigarettes – another one hundred and fifty crowns they would turn into smoke and relaxation. But she didn't care in the least when she handed the two men a glowing stalk and lit her own. They went on smoking in silence, drinking schnapps, and thinking their own thoughts until Eralion rose from the chair and lay back on the bed.
Raemur looked at Meyja with a smile beyond Eralion's field of vision. He let his eyes slide over her body again and she was suddenly sure that it was not a fictitious argument. She stared at him dismissively, but her cheeks were visibly red again, and when he lasciviously grabbed his crotch, she shook her head and stood up.
"It would be better, if you go now, Raemur," she urged the Deathshade and pointed to the door while she tossed the rest of her cigarette into the ashtray.
Raemur was still grinning but he went to the door. Eralion raised his head, astonished at the sudden expulsion, and wished his brother a pleasant night. When Meyja had closed the door behind Raemur and sat down next to him he also straightened up and leaned against the wall.
"You should find out something that was going on between me and Raemur," she began softly.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 46 - Confession

Meyja was more than uncomfortable, but she had to tell Eralion about her relationship with Raemur. The fear that one day he might find out from Raemur himself drove the truth from her mouth.
“First of all, I have to confess to you that for a long time there was more between Raemur and me than a mere friendship. We had a relationship where we met at least once a week. There was no love involved, neither on mine nor his side. We met, did it, and then went on our way. We didn't even talk, neither of us cared how the other was doing, and that was why it was going on for so long. After Aron was gone, I had to do something to make myself feel worse. I wanted to punish myself. Even though I wasn't to blame for his disappearance, I still thought I had at least a part in it which, of course, is nonsense. Raemur's condescending character and the way he touched me just made me feel inferior and that was exactly what I needed. Tonight, he stared at me immorally again, pulled my hand over to him, and put it on the front of his trousers, then whispered to me that he had reserved a room, and that you would never know about it, if I went up with him. I got really angry and yelled at him until he got up and left the table. You know how the rest of the evening went."
"I knew he could be an asshole but I would never have believed him to be," said Eralion uneasily. "But what happened in that dark corner before I got there?"
"Well, I went with the target, assuming the guy was really about to use my services," she reported. “We were walking down the street and he pulled me into that corner where he said he'd only give me a few minutes of his time. He called me a cheeky piece of dirt and pushed me against the wall, whereupon I protested. Then he grabbed my neck, he pushed my legs apart, and I began to fight back with all my might. I was incredibly scared and instinctively knew that he would take me, if one of you two didn't come and put an end to him soon. He hit my head against the wall so hard that I could only see stars, then suddenly I was on the floor, and he grabbed my legs, yanked my underwear aside, and discovered the stiletto. I think he called me a filthy whore or a slut, and threw the stiletto off, I could still hear it rattling. A short time later Raemur was already there, and finally killed him. It's not as if the pig has come far enough to really harm me, but the mere fear that it might happen again at some point almost drives me crazy." She had almost begun to cry but managed to suppress it.
He pulled her into his arms and whispered, “I will not let a man attack you once more, dearest. And I won't let you expose yourself to such danger again. The others should sort their crap themselves, or pay a real prostitute for it, but no one should even dare to ask you for something like that. I'll wash Ed's head one more time, too, because he comes up with such an idea."
“You don't have to protect me, Eralion. And you can't, even if you try. I am a grown woman and have lived with fear for years, but at some point, I will defeat it. Aron warned me back then, just like Ed, because they both thought I didn't know what to get myself into, if I became an assassin. They were right because I really had no idea how dangerous and stressful it actually is, but in my youthful recklessness I didn't want to hear. All the money I make isn't even worth it but now I can't go back. As Ed said, I've already been swallowed up in the swamp of murder.” She sighed.
Eralion hugged her tightly and stroked her back. “Let's just get out of this business together. We're going out of Sharaya, buying a little house somewhere far away from all death."
“We can't do that, Eralion. If I let Ed down, all Deathshade will stand out because then the guild won't be able to last much longer. I got myself into this situation and I can't betray the men after such a short time,” she replied.
"And in a few years?! You have to think of yourself, Meyja! How much longer do you want to do this? Until one day someone finds you who will kill you?!” He looked at her desperately.
She whispered, “But none will ever find me, fear is no reason to stop, and I demand your secrecy. Don't talk to anyone about what I just told you. Should even the rumour arise that Meyja Blake, the Indomitable, almost pissed herself with fear, then I am done for."
"Why should I do that? Of course, I'm silent like a grave." He could hardly believe how skilfully she had brushed his thoughts about a common future off the table but he didn't come back to it just sighed and mumbled," We should now lie down anyway, you look finished."
When she nodded, he got up, turned off the lights, and lay down next to her where they eventually fell asleep huddled together.
The Deathshade came one after the other, Meyja and Eralion did not appear together for the meeting in the shop, but they were among the first to come, and were therefore able to sit next to each other at the table.
Her boss had once again bothered to pour each of them schnapps and opened the meeting. “Now that we're all here at last, we can start. There isn't much on my part that I want to address. Therefore, I will only briefly bring you up to date on the activities of the other guilds."
He explained that there was probably a new gang that was about to dispute their orders and that they would therefore have a lot to do in the near future. In addition, a few of the guilds had vanished according to the murders of their members, thanks to Aron and Meyja.
When Ed had finished and looked around questioningly, Meyja got up and looked seriously at the other Deathshade one after the other, then addressed the word to her brothers.
“I've heard rumours that some of you are wondering what my success is all about. I don't want to hear any justifications from you, but let me clarify something.” The men looked at her in silence and waiting. “These rumours that I am posing as a whore to kill my targets are untrue. I only use this ruse when I have no other choice and the conventional attempts have failed. This has only happened four times in the past. One of the assignments was my first, another the one where I had to help Raemur distract someone a few days ago. I trust each of you. We are Deathshade, each of you is my brother, and you can trust me as much as I trust you. So that you will believe me I am now bringing you the greatest proof I have of my trust in you. I am the Indomitable which means it should now be clear to everyone that bad claims are unjustified. The reason Eralion always defended me is because we are a couple. We have nothing to hide and we decided together you should know about it. Thank you for listening."
With these words she sat down again, the silence of the grave filled the room, and the awesome looks which she hated so much she just endured for this moment. Now everyone knew, and, in the future, she would be spared from being viewed in this way.
Eralion put his hand under the table on her thigh and braced himself against the reaction of her boss who had turned purple.
"Ah, wonderful. Why can't you just fuck someone who's not in the guild? But what am I talking about... Everyone does what they feel like doing anyway…" Ed scolded to himself, but then he fell silent, and looked back at the men who in his opinion hadn't betrayed him.
Tasim got up, and said in Meyjas direction, “I thank you for your trust and I would like to apologise that people talked badly about you. Nobody knew who you actually are, but we are proud to have the Indomitable among our ranks. Your achievements are outstanding, and in order to create a balance I will also reveal my title. I am the Shadow."
Moved, Meyja watched as one after the other got up, and apologised. Who had a title also revealed it. Thus, for the first time in the history of the guild, the Deathshade learned the titles of their brothers. Deval called himself the Torturer which was undoubtedly due to his personal preference, and Raemur was the Silent. The others had no titles because they had never killed an enemy assassin beside Thom who killed Deny, but he didn’t see the need to give himself a title for this. When no one had anything more to say, Ed broke up the meeting, and announced a date months later when they would meet again. Then the Deathshade went their ways.
"That was really brave of you, dearest," remarked Eralion with a smile when they were back in Meyja's flat and made themselves comfortable.
"It was just as brave of you to make our relationship known," she replied with a smile.
He looked a bit embarrassed before he replied, "I love you, and would stand by you always and everywhere, Meyja."
"And I stand by you too, dearest," she replied, successfully evading the direct expression of love one more time.
Eralion was not disappointed, however, but was simply happy to have her with him and no longer have to hide. 

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 47 - Engraving

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 70

Meyja turned the blade in the belly of her victim around its own axis with a low scream before she tore it out, and a gush of dark blood spilled onto the floor. Mortally wounded the man fell to the ground and lay twitching at her feet.

Groaning in pain, she grabbed her waist where he had caught her with the knife and when she held her hand in front of her eyes, despite the darkness, she saw her own blood on the palm of her hand.

'Crap...', she thought.

Her heart pounded, she listened to her surroundings, but the house remained silent no one had heard her fight, so she dragged herself back to the window through which she had come in, and pushed her way through. As she climbed off the roof she slipped and fell, but landed on her feet like a cat.

It was her own fault that her target had noticed her. She stepped on a creaky floorboard and woke him up. In a reflex she had jumped on him to kill him but he had pulled a knife from under his pillow and she had landed right on the blade. This was followed by a bitter life-and-death struggle which she won in the end.

With one hand pressed on the bleeding stab, she shuffled through the nocturnal streets, evaded the guards, and finally reached her flat.

Eralion wasn't here, he was also busy, and wouldn't come back until tomorrow so she had to take care of herself. Panting, she took off her clothes, and went naked into the next room where she poured water into the bowl on the vanity.

Before taking the sponge to wash off the blood she reached for a schnapps bottle and took a few long swallows, then cleaned the skin around the wound. With the bottle, some bandages, a needle, and thread, she dragged herself back into the other room, lit the candle on the table, and carefully sat down in an armchair. She poured some of the schnapps on the wound, and winced in pain, she was barely able to suppress a scream. With trembling fingers, she tried to push the thread into the eye of the needle, but it failed. So, she took a deep breath and took another long drag from the bottle.

A few minutes later, she finally did it and could finally begin to close the wound. She leaned back and stabbed her flesh next to the wound, groaned loudly, and clenched her teeth, bravely continued sewing. At the end she knotted the thread. Sweat stood on her forehead as she reached for the bottle again, and drank until she felt dizzy. Then she bandaged the wound, got up, and dragged herself to the bed. With her last bit of strength, she fell exhausted on the sheets and fell asleep.


The wound throbbed when Meyja woke up in the late evening of the following day. Swaying, she straightened up, and headed for the liquor bottle that was on the floor next to the armchair. The vessel was still a third full, and she put it to her lips, drank until there was only a little bit left, then lay down on the bed again, and pulled the sheet over her freezing sweat-covered body. She raised her hand, and placed it on her forehead which was glowing feverishly.

‘Damn... fever poison...', she thought.

Not only had the bastard caught her with his blade, it had probably also been poisoned which wouldn't kill her, but would incapacitate her for a while. Tired she closed her eyes again, and fell into a restless sleep full of confused dreams in which she had to fight strangers, but also Eralion and even Aron.


The creak of the front door woke her again.

"Meyja, are you home?" Eralion asked quietly and stood in the doorway.

"Yes, I'm here in bed," she replied and straightened up with a groan.

"What happened?" he asked worried, closed the door, and came over to her.

“I was injured last night. Fever poison,” she gasped and let him gently push her back into the pillow.

He lit the lamps, came up to her again through the lighted room, and sat on the edge of the bed before lifting the sheet and looking at the bandage.

"Let me see," he asked and when she nodded, he loosened the linen around her waist. "The fever can also come from the inflammation; the wound looks really bad and smells."

"Do you know something like that?" Meyja wanted to know and looked at him fearfully.

Eralion nodded and explained, “I have to open the wound again and clean it. This will be very painful, but otherwise the inflammation could kill you. Before I can do that, however, I have to get the tinctures I need in the High City. I'll hurry up, can you manage on your own for so long?"

"I made it all by myself the whole day, please don't worry," she said quietly and returned the kiss which he carefully pressed on her lips.

Then he left the flat quickly and Meyja stayed in bed fell into a feverish dream again until he came back.

"Are you sure I shouldn't better take you to the Cathedral?" he asked as he sat down on the edge of the bed again.

"Only if there is no other way," she muttered.

She didn't want to go to the Cathedral, the sick bay there stank of death and decay.

"All right, then I'll see what I can do before we decide," he replied getting up.

Eralion went into the next room and washed his hands carefully, cleaned his dagger, wiped all traces of blood, and poison from the blade. He also took some fresh linen bandages from the shelf and went back to the bed.

There he knelt down and looked at her seriously. "This is really going to hurt; do you want something to bite into?"

Meyja nodded fearfully and pushed the rolled-up bandage that he handed her between her teeth, then she nodded to him again and closed her eyes.

Eralion carefully cut the threads with which she had closed the wound with his dagger. As he pulled the fine thread from her flesh, blood and stinking pus flowed towards him.

"It looks worse than expected," he muttered.

Carefully he dabbed off the liquid that oozed from the wound, then put his hands on her skin and pressed the wound together as tightly as he could. Meyja screamed through the fabric in her mouth as the pain ran through every fibre of her body. A great gush of pus mixed with blood and wound fluid shot out and he hastily wiped it off before squeezing the stab wound again. She screamed again, tears streamed from her eyes and ran into her hair. The next moment it got dark around her and her body went limp, as the pain made her pass out.

He noticed, but her faint was probably temporary, and not worrying because she was still breathing, so he hurried, continued as long as she didn't notice, and reached for the things he had just bought from a pharmacist.

He filled clear water into a kind of pipette with a small balloon at the end, carefully inserted the glass tip into the wound, and then pressed the rubber head, so that the water rinsed out the wound forcefully. The last bits of pus and blood ran out which he wiped off as well. He repeated this process with pure alcohol which was supposed to disinfect, then he went into the next room, carefully washed the pipette before going back to the bed, and pouring the wound tincture into the balloon.

Meyja was still unconscious when he pushed the tip of the glass into her flesh a third time and slowly brought the tincture into the wound. He used the alcohol to clean the needle that was still on the table as well as his hands and sewed up the wound with a few stitches. Finally, he dabbed his work with an alcohol-soaked bandage, and removed the last remains of what he had rinsed from the inflamed wound. Then he went back to the next room where he washed his hands and made water for an herbal tea that was anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever.

Eralion knew a lot about caring for wounds, the other Deathshade had often appeared on him when they had sustained injuries on an assignment. But the fact that Meyja was now in such a worrying condition bothered him because unlike his comrades he loved her sincerely and with all his heart. She wouldn't die, the stab wasn't deep enough for that, and in a place where it couldn't have injured any organs, but her pain hurt him, too, if only mentally.

He returned to her, sat down next to her, and looked at her. She looked so lost in the huge new bed, so small and fragile that tears welled up in his eyes. And yet she was the strongest person he had ever met, the Indomitable who always lived up to her title. He couldn't even begin to imagine how she could endure all that had happened to her, the forced marriage, losing both her entire family, and her fiancé.

And even the joys of a mother were denied to her, she had lost their child as well, but she had accepted it without showing a trace of sadness. She even comforted him after she woke up one morning smeared with blood, and discovered the small slimy lump that had probably once been their child on the sheet between her legs.

While he sat thinking about it all, her eyelids began to flutter, and she woke up from her fainting with a low moan. Confused, she looked around. 

Eralion gently took her hand and whispered, “Don't worry, it's over. I've taken care of your wound and closed it again. If it hasn't reignited tomorrow, you don't have to go to the cathedral."

"How long have I passed out?" she wanted to know.

“Not very long, just a few minutes. How are you feeling?” he asked softly.

“Better, it doesn't hurt as much as it did before. And I'm not so cold anymore."

“That's because I uncovered a lot of pus, the inflammation was stopped for the time being, I hope. The fever should now go back quickly.” He got up when he heard the boiling water in the next room, there he took the pot from the stove, and filled a mug with tea, then he went back to the bed, and sat down again. As he handed her the steaming vessel, he explained, "Herbal tea, that should help get you back on your feet quickly."

She sat up slowly, thanked him, and sipped the drink, while he carefully bandaged her waist.

When he finished, he asked, “Are you hungry? I've brought something, and can cook for you, if you want."

"Please. But only if you eat with me,” she remarked.

He had to grin as she sat there, wounded, and with her tea in hand, but the only thing she thought about was that he hadn't had dinner either.

"Okay. It won't take long,” he said softly and kissed her forehead gently, then went back into the next room.

Meyja finished her tea, then got up quietly, took one of his shirts from the shelf, and put it on along with one of her airy linen trousers.

Eralion was here so often now, that he left part of his wardrobe with her and she simply brought his clothes to the laundry along with her own. Finally, fully dressed she walked over to him.

"What are you doing? You should stay in bed and rest,” he rebuked worriedly as she stepped next to him.

"I just wanted to have some more tea and then sit in an armchair I've been laying down the whole last day and my back is starting to hurt," she moaned and looked at him with wide eyes.

“You are an incredible woman. Not even an infected wound can tie you to your bed.” He kissed her lovingly, then poured tea into her mug, and sent her out, shaking his head.

Meyja carefully sat down in an armchair and put her bare feet on the low table before she sipped the hot tea. A little later Eralion sat down with her with two bowls of stew, one of which he pushed over to her, and handed her a spoon.

"Nothing special but better than starving," he remarked with a wink.

"You say that every time and yet everything you cook is delicious." She took the bowl on her lap and began to eat with an appetite.

"Is that my shirt?" he asked surprised when he noticed what she was wearing.

"It is. But my own are much tighter, which would probably be uncomfortable in view of the wound,” she explained with a smile whereupon he nodded and they ate in silence.

While Eralion was bringing the bowls back into the next room and washing them up, she rolled two cigarettes of Philosopher's herb, one for him and one for herself.

"I suppose I should bring some wine?" he called from next door and Meyja’s face reddened.

"You know me too well, that's a bit scary," she replied and lit her tube.

She had just pulled it with relish and leaned back when the front door creaked open.

Eralion just came back with two cups of wine and dropped them on the floor with a startle.

Meyja threw her cigarette into the tea that was still on the table, slowly got up and went over to Eralion. She didn't even notice the wine that ran down the floorboards and wet the soles of her feet.

Both had fixed their eyes on the unexpected visitor who had stopped in the doorway, just as shocked as they were. 

End of Deathshade part I - Sequel will be uploaded soon!