I love this chapter. If I do say so myself. =P Even though it needs editing and is kind of lame…Hehehe =P But Scenes like this…are so fun to writeeee O_O Hehe =P The higher the emotion level, the funner the writing. XD
~Chapter Twenty Two~
I braced myself, flinching from the storm that must inevitably come. Lastare stood unmoving, her back still turned to us. She did not show any signs that she had even heard Netya’s words. I stood quietly, waiting beside Netya. The rain outside seemed to grow louder, lashing against the stone with a noise like ten thousand iron-clad soldiers marching to war. The cat on the chair jumped down softly to the floor. Lastare’s hands fell to her sides. She turned slowly, until she stood looking into our faces.
Her expression froze the very blood within my veins. I could see behind her eyes such a battle raging as I did not know capable within a single human mind. Their golden depths seemed plunged in a dark abyss, capsizing in the storming sea of fury and heartbreak and loneliness that clashed within. Her hate was written in letters of fire across her features, and yet her face portrayed such unutterable anguish that I could not speak, stricken dumb by the wave of solid emotion that crashed from her. She turned on her heel without speaking, and crossed the length of the long room in three strides. In a single motion, she wrenched open the thick door at the end and went out in a flurry of blood and scarlet robes. The door clashed shut behind her with an echoing bang.
Netya and I stood alone in the room. I drew in a deep breath, and moved back to stand beside the covered window. Netya looked at me in fear. “Do you think…I said it wrong? Should I have…” she trailed off, coming to stand beside me and drawing the curtain back a fraction of an inch to look out at the rain outside.
I shook my head. “No. I don’t think there is any other way we could have…said. I wonder where she’s gone. Probably…probably bringing the guards here that she spoke of.”
Netya nodded, throwing her wet cloak back off her shoulders and revealing the sword she wore underneath. Loosening it in its sheath, she planted her feet beside me, her back to the wall. Then, nodding at the wood-covered space in the ceiling, she asked, “Do you think we could…escape that way? Aranel said Lastare could get us onto the roof. Perhaps that way…”
“I don’t think so,” I answered, drawing my own sword and examining the blade. “Remember we are still…inside the wall. I guess that only leads up somehow to the ramparts, if it goes anywhere at all. To get onto the roofs, I guess we would have to go back that way,” I pointed to the door Lastare had gone out of, “And find our way…up…somehow.”
Before Netya could answer, I heard footsteps coming slow but steadily down the corridor that must lie on the other side of the door. Netya drew her sword fully, and I smiled at her. “We’ll fight our way through if we must. We’ll reach Thalon, and be out of here before Pethnor knows what has happened. We will.”
Netya smiled back at me. “Yes. We will. And…maybe someday…someone will remember the tune of our song…maybe they will finish it. Give it a proper ending, so it doesn’t remain forgotten and cut off forever…” A tear slid down her cheek, and she turned away.
I shifted my sword in my grasp, reaching out and taking Netya’s hand. We stood alone, waiting for whatever fate would come through the door before us, and expecting nothing less than the worst.
The steel bolts studding the wooden door glimmered in the dim lamplight as an unseen hand shifted the bold from the other side and pushed it slowly opened. Lastare’s cat, which had taken refuge in an empty space on the bookshelf when the door had slammed shut, slipped out of its hiding place and padded towards the door. Netya and I stood quietly, our swords hanging despairingly in our hands, pointing in ready defeat at the floor.
The door pushed fully open, but no troop of armed men, black-masked and bearing lynxes on their shields, entered the room. Netya let her breath out haltingly, almost crying in the breaking of the tension. I sheathed my sword, stepping away from the wall. Lastare had returned.
She held a thick ring of heavy, cast iron keys in her hands. Her expression had calmed from the torrent of conflict it had been when she left, but I could see the scars of tears on her cheeks. Setting the ring of keys down on the chair, she walked to the cold hearth and stood regarding us, the pure, untainted hatred in her eyes scalding me as it raked over my face. She spoke carefully, biting her words off and spitting them at us with the same precise, cold cruelty that had marked the voice of the man who had set fire to the cabin over our heads, so few days ago. “So. You have come to me to plead for my help in rescuing that cursed whelp? To me, the one so wronged all these years ago by that smiling, disgusting, whore of a woman who mothered him. You give yourselves freely into my grasp. You ask the greatest foe of your friend for help in saving his life. Do you not realize my strength here? Do you not realize I could tear you limb from limb, this very moment, if I wished? I am far more powerful than you can imagine, two mere girls as you are. What chance do you have against the might of the armies of my husband, blocking out the sun? You do not know against whom you fight. You do not know to whom you speak. How dare you come to me? How dare you to mention the name of that boy to me? That…that demon his mother has destroyed my very life and wrested that which I loved most in this world from my side. How dare you, you who have never known the everlasting pain of a mother forced to watch her son’s loyalty and love be stripped away, never to return?” She sprang to the wall and took a short, thick sword from its place, lunging towards me. Her unshakeable strength surprised me, and she bore me back against the wall, slamming me against the stone. Lastare’s hands trembled in her rage, and I could feel a trickle of hot blood from my throat where she pressed the sword blade.
Netya jumped towards us, sword at the ready, but Lastare was too quick and too cunning. Reaching beneath the belt of her tunic, she pulled out a small double-edged knife. Flicking her wrist in a practiced, cruel movement, she sent the blade flying so fast I could barely see it, inches from Netya’s face. It struck the stone wall behind her, bouncing from the rock with a metallic shriek and flipping, embedding quivering in the cushioned back of the chair. Netya froze, face white. A bit of rock fell flaking from the wall to the floor where the knifepoint had chipped the stone. Smiling cruelly, Lastare pulled a second knife from her belt, speaking dangerously. “There are more where that came from, girl. That was merely a warning. If you make me throw again, I will not miss your pretty face. Do not come a step nearer if you value your life, or the life of your friend. I will kill you first while she watches. Then I shall finish her off as well. Slowly. It will please me to watch you die.”
Netya spoke through clenched teeth, still standing frozen with her sword raised in readiness. “‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ Do you know who told us that, Lastare? Do you know who spoke those words to Alasse and I, when we doubted our strength and ability to find Thalon? It was your son, Lastare. Your son. Arhael. Saewon. He said friendship is a great power that is not of this earth. He told us that because of our friendship, because of that power which is beyond the world, we would save Thalon. And I believe him. At first, we neither of us trusted him. We did not believe the son of Pethnor himself would aid us in what we sought. Yet after all we have been through, each endless mile he has led us, and each dragging, hopeless day he has encouraged us on, I believe him. I trust him. That is why we came to you, Lastare. Because of your son.”
I spoke quietly, forcing the air from my lungs out around Lastare’s choking grasp on my throat. “A cord of three strands…it is not easily broken.”
Netya smiled, standing taller in the new courage that surged through each of us. “Yes, Lastare,” she said gently, her voice filled with sadness and pity for the small woman who stood frozen, “Yes. Your son. Saewon. It was he who brought us to Aranel. He would have come here with us, had he not known that the sight of his face inside these walls would bring all the terrors of hell down upon us. He longs to see Thalon. He was there, that night long ago when Pethnor demanded the baby from Mirriel. He led Mirriel out of the forest, so your husband could not hurt her further. He saw Thalon. And he wishes to see him again. He wants to know his brother. He wishes to see you, too. I saw how Aranel’s talk of you pained him. Yet there is a price on his head, placed there by your husband, by his father. He dares not come here because his father will kill him, and he does not want you to see. We are here because of him. Without his help, without his encouragement and strength…we would never have made it this far.”
Beside me, Lastare still stood frozen. Her grip on my neck did not slacken, and she pressed the edge of her sword harder against my neck. I felt its cold sting against my torn skin, but registered no pain. The blood that now stained the neckline of the dress Aranel had given me was warm and cold at once, but I could do nothing to check the slowly seeping flow. We stood, the three of us, in a face-off. Three enemies, each a solid statue, gazing in challenge and pity into each others’ eyes.
The sword fell from Lastare’s hand, clattering onto the cold stone floor. The noise bounced from the walls, amplified and echoing. Her grip on my throat slackened gradually, and her hand fell limp and lifeless to her side. I gasped, falling forward from the wall where she had held me, and doubling over on the floor. I pressed my hand to my neck, and when I drew it away, my fingers were as red as the hem of Lastare’s tunic.
Netya let her sword fall beside Lastare’s and dropped to the floor beside me. There were tears on her face, yet she laughed through them. I smiled, wiping the blood from my neck with the edge of my cloak, wincing as the smooth fabric touched the edges of the long, shallow cut. I pressed it over the wound, slowing the flow of the crimson blood. Netya took my hands in hers, pulling me up to my feet. I grasped the back of the chair, weak in my relief. Between my fingers, the knife blade Lastare had thrown still quivered.
Stooping carefully, Netya picked up her sword and Lastare’s from the floor. Without speaking, she offered the hilt of her own to Lastare, who still stood immobile, the shock on her face like a frozen mask of horror. When she moved neither to take the sword nor brush it away, Netya reached out cautiously and took Lastare’s hand, wrapping her fingers over the hilt of the sword. Lastare did not hinder her, staring ahead as though seeing a ghost from some far distant past. She spoke, her voice a broken, barely audible whisper. “My son…my son has…has helped you to…me. Sae–…Saewon. You have seen him. I…My son…”
Netya nodded. “Yes, Lastare. That is what I said. He is the reason we are here now. Without him…we could never have come so far alone.”
Lastare looked down, seeming to register suddenly her hand grasping Netya’s sword hilt. She drew it back instantly, snarling, as though it burned her fingertips. Netya shook her head, smiling. “No. Take it. Please…at least in truce, for the moment.”
Slowly, Lastare extended her hand again, grasping the glittering pommel of the sword and lifting it up before her face. Glancing from Netya to me, still in a daze of shock and amazement, she said quietly, “A truce.”