About the Story
After their rebel company is routed by the king’s forces, mage Lizbet and swordswoman Sahra are caught behind enemy lines. Sahra respects the mage’s power but is obligated to protect her as a member of her company and a scarce resource. She also begins to see Lizbet in a way she’d never thought of her compatriot before. Lizbet has always liked the reticent Sahra and is grateful to have the sword swinger at her side. She would like there to be more between them, but they have to survive their trek through enemy territory first. As the two make their way back with critical information for the leader of the rebellion, secrets and feelings are revealed.
The woodland between the mountains and the River Darsk wasn’t particularly wide, but it was full of tall, thick evergreens as well as deciduous trees. The ground between the arms-wide trunks was covered in broken boughs and dried leaves and needles. It smelled of decaying logs and moss. A few fallen giants had opened the canopy, giving rise to new growth and patches of bright sunlight.
Sahra avoided those areas. Better to stay in the shadows, their boots muffled by the softer ground cover.
Overhead, birds called and tree-dwellers scurried across thick bark. There were animals that lived on the forest floor, but they were smart enough to disappear into the shadows well before she and Lizbet would have a chance to see them.
Sahra glanced at Lizbet walking beside her, then back to the path. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of the mage. Or her own thoughts. The warm, tingling sensation of Lizbet’s hand in hers had made her palm itch. Sahra had taken it for some sort of magical residue and tried to ignore it. But then Lizbet’s hand on her chest was another matter. She couldn’t feel the heat of it through her mail shirt, just its presence, and for more than a moment Sahra wanted that hand on her with nothing between them.
The idea was startling, but not unwelcome. Sahra had never considered Lizbet as anything more than a comrade. She had never bedded a woman. What would that be like? What would she be like? Sahra’s intimate encounters with males had been few, fleeting, and purely to relieve frustrations. Would it be the same with someone like Lizbet?
Now was not the time to consider such things, but perhaps when they were safely back in their own territory and could let down their guard…
She looked over at Lizbet again.
There was a wrinkle between the mage’s eyes as she monitored the ward surrounding them and kept up with the longer-legged Sahra. Sweat dampened her temples. Was the effort of maintaining the ward too much on top of traveling? They’d been walking at a steady but not overly fast pace for nearly two hours, from what Sahra could reckon.
“Do you want to rest?” she asked, slowing.
Lizbet walked past her several steps then turned. She seemed distracted or confused.
“Lizbet, are you—”
The mage held up her hand, stopping Sahra. The wrinkle between her eyes deepened and she slowly pivoted. “Someone’s out there,” she whispered.
Sahra swung her head this way and that, trying to see or hear anything. She drew her sword from its sheath, the heft of steel reassuring. “Where?” she asked just as quietly.
Lizbet pointed to the south, toward the River Darsk. She turned slightly to her left and pointed again, using two fingers. Pointed again to the west, four fingers spread. She turned quickly to the east, the direction they’d been heading. She raised six fingers.
Damn it. Six on two, coming from three fronts. Not great odds. Not impossible, depending on the Korrideans’ skill level, but not great.
Before Lizbet could reply, a small fireball exploded against the tree trunk ten feet away. Sahra jerked Lizbet toward her and around, putting her armored back to the flames.
“I’d have to say not far,” Lizbet quipped as she straightened.
About the Author:
Cathy Pegau started writing sword and sorcery fantasy as a teen (MANY years ago), has dabbled in science fiction romance (maybe more than dabbled, as she has 3 SFR novels out), and is currently writing a historical mystery series (no SFF in that one). She lives in Alaska with her family and a houseful of pets.
Finder her at http://cathypegau.com, on Twitter @CathyPegau, and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Cathy-Pegau-184452628282206