Observing the little cottage, a warm bubble of pride swelled in Jade’s chest, and she nodded in satisfaction. The thatching was seamless, patches of gold shining here and there as sunlight peeked through the canopy of leaves to reflect off of the straw roof. As much as she was growing to love the farm, this corner of Bree held a special place in her heart. It was now in perfect condition for it’s new tenant, and she could not express how much it meant to her that someone liked the place as much as she did.
Leather gloves tucked into her back pocket, Jade stepped up into her saddle and spurred her horse to the gate and home. It was refreshing to get out. For two days she had not left the farm. No trip to the market, no daily rides, and while she knew it put her friends and husband at ease, she could not help but wonder if the sudden change put her in greater danger. Eglathor was no fool, and sooner or later he would catch on.
Poor Drew. After promising to worry him less she had not wanted to tell him. But she had to, didn’t she? His frown and growls and hugs made her feel safe, and whenever he was near she really did believe he could protect her from anything.
Jade guided her mare through Durrow. She avoided Atanamir’s house lest she take a detour to punch his new house-mate in the face, and left a letter at the post to make tea plans with Dorsett. Jade stopped by the Cask for a glass of wine, picked up a few items from the market for supper, and left a note on Ansithe’s door to ask for help with her menial cooking skills.
She was proud of herself. Elsewhere she could really care less, but in Durrow she made an effort to flirt as little as possible when without Drew. Such a bother it was, behaving. With a friendly wave to the gatekeeper, Jade urged her horse from a walk to a trot, then into a slow canter. She bemoaned passing by several ponds in the woods dotted with lilies. Would it hurt, stopping long enough to pick two… or three, or four? But she had promised. Straight home. No side trips, nor extra stops. Straight there, straight back —
There was a flash of light in the corner of her vision. A familiar ray of nearing warmth, and before Jade could grab the handle of her thatcher’s needle she was sent flying from her saddle. She landed hard and rolled, convulsing as she struggled to draw breath into her lungs.
“You really are almost more trouble than you are worth.”
Jade drank in desperate gulps of air as her wind returned. Struggling to her feet she could see Eglathor striding across the road.
“I did not say you could get up.” Another flash, and Jade was knocked down, the leaves and grass around her warping from the heat. “You must make a terrible wife.”
Gritting her teeth, Jade rolled to the side. Hand diving beneath her generously open collar she sent a dagger flying to burry into the man’s thigh.
Eglathor grunted, and pulled the knife out. “So, you do remember.” He tossed the weapon to the side, advancing on the young woman as she regained her footing. He flexed his fingers. “Talagol will forgive me if you sport a few bruises. You always did put up the best fight.”
He reached for her, and Jade lashed out, her second knife slashing his palm. Not hesitating , she attacked, flashing forward in quick, savage strokes.
Eglathor toyed with her, dodging each attack just enough to give her hope of one making contact. Then one did. The blade caught him across the chest, leaving a trail of blood in it’s wake.
His back hand connected with her cheek, and the impact twisted Jade around, dropping her to her knees. Knife lost somewhere in the grass, Jade turned as he approached and punched him on his seeping leg wound. Eglathor stumbled, grasping his leg, and Jade scrambled madly to her feet. She could see her mare a short ways off. If she could make it to the horse —
A hand grabbed her by the hair as she stepped into a run, reeling her back as another hand closed around one of her wrists like a vice. “This was easier when you had longer hair,” Eglathor hissed in her ear.
“Bastard. Why couldn’t you have died in the south?” Jade snarled, elbowing and clawing with her free arm. She could feel the blood from his chest wound seeping through the back of her shirt.
“You would have liked that, wouldn’t you? But you’ll always be a slave. Don’t worry, your husband will be compensated. I might have waited till your father arrived to collect, but your little friend –”
With as much strength as she could muster, Jade used her meager weight to swing Eglathor about, slamming him into a tree. “If you touch them, gods help me, I’ll –”
His bloody hand grabbed her throat and Eglathor pulled her in, his strong, free arm trapping her’s. “You’ll what? Remind me of how my brother died?”
Jade grinned wickedly. “You just saw his body. And I’ve always preferred showing over telling.” Pain and heat of fire ripped into her. Three years free of him had not dimmed her memory of it, but Jade found herself praying that she wouldn’t scream as the sorcery dissipated in her muscles.
“You can endure more than before. Good. I don’t know how many good little whores passed out or bled to death at enduring half of that,” Eglathor purred into her ear. “It’s a long road home. Rest now. After tonight you might have a little Haradic traveling companion.”
Jade’s eyes widened as his grip tightened on her throat. Struggling and kicking in vain she gasped once, then twice before the world faded away.