The Maiden and the Star - Part Five
She was surrounded by flickering firelight, blinding her eyes. Behind it, she could see only darkness. There were shadows moving in front of the light, in front of her, shadows with glowing eyes and dirtied skin.
She screamed, but the sounds wouldn't form. Her mouth was dry as bone. One of the shadows reached out to her, restraining her arms.
She struggled, knowing what was to come, but the hands around her wrist were strong as vices. Two others approached, their faces shadowed by the fires behind them. She screamed again as she felt their fingers pulling at her skin, tearing off her clothes. "Do not touch me! I will... I will..."
But they were relentless. If only she could reach her weapons... if only...
A hand clasped about the jewel on her neck, tearing it from the cloth it was fastened to. She felt a rage she had not known she could feel. Her wrists burned like fire but she kept on struggling, screaming with the last breath she had.
"Azrudaur shall know about this!"
She blinked. The flickering fire was still in her eyes, but the shadows and the strain on her wrists was gone. She struggled, feeling furs and cloth on her skin.
A hand was on her shoulder, not cold, only comforting. "It was only a dream, Arodiel."
She looked up into a bearded face, darkly lined in the firelight. Above her the stars shone cold and clear.
The woman shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. "Grimm..."
He nodded, looking into her eyes with compassion, but his voice was soft and urging. "What did you see? Quickly now - before you forget."
She did not want to remember, not now. "No..."
"Men - men of the foulest kind, undoing me of my clothing. I - I was wearing leather riding garments, I had weapons... and they took something from me."
"What did they take?"
"A brooch - a white star, my star. I felt so angry, such a pain at losing it..."
She faltered. "That could not be me, could I? I suppose it was all just a silly dream..."
He looked at her strangely. "It would be strange. And you are certain it was you in the dream?"
"Yes." She nodded.
He would not say more, busying himself with the fire. Using a stick he unhooked a small black kettle that was hanging over it and poured its contents into a wooden cup that he handed her wordlessly.
She sniffed it carefully. A strong odour of herbs was rising from it, strong but not unpleasant.
"What is it?"
She sighed at the curt answer, but sipped obediently.
He watched her drink, wrapped up in his silence. She peered back over the rim of the cup. She was certain now he was only faking his indifference.
"Do you reckon I should earn my bread and living by spinning tales? Certainly all these odd dreams make for enough of my repertoire."
He frowned, but did not reply. Instead he got up, whistling for the mule and starting to pack it again.
"We will be leaving the land of the Elves soon. If you are still coming..."
"I am." She had made up her mind long ago. "I must try to find my answers."
He nodded grimly to himself.
"Then you will need this."
In the corner of her eye, she saw him cast something toward her. But before she had time to think, her body had already reacted - her hand moved forward letting go of her cup, grabbing the small sword by the hilt. In the next instant, she was standing in a low crouch, holding the sword out in front of her.
He was watching her from the mule, impassively.
"Your stance is quite good."
She rose slowly, staring at him.
"I thought you might, when I saw the marks on your hands." He tilted his head, looking satisfied. "Your hands remember better than you do."
"You can make that up from a few scars?"
He did not reply to that. "No time for lessons now, though. Perhaps when we rest later. The sun is already rising."
She shook her head, running her left hand over the blade.
"Well, it might scare off bandits." He handed her a small scabbard on a belt. "Tie it on under your clothes. Careful now, it is quite sharp."
She did as he asked, still feeling bewildered.
As the sun rose, the two were already crossing the river Lune, riding slowly over the high bridge towards the border of the Elvish lands.