Lotus: Caught

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.


Lotus: Seeing Things

PicMonkey Collagedoor

It had been three days since the caravan departed south from Mistrand, and House Dæreabi. Three days south into the plains of Gathod where one of the many Easterling armies had made camp. Inaris surveyed the sea of men and horses and dirty red tents, and the haze from fires that hung in the air to mar the endless blue sky with a look of contempt.

“You do not like it?” asked the sorcerer that rode beside her, his dark brown eyes regarding her with amusement. It had been his idea to not let her ride with the others in the wagons, but on a horse. She wore no bonds, nor had she been searched. He was baiting her. He wanted her to run.

Turning her nose up with an air of indifference at the scene, the girl’s piercing blue eyes betrayed the anger she kept quietly to herself. “I do not see why I should.”

“Do you miss it? The Blue Door and your Mistress?”

“What do you care?” she asked bitingly.

Eglathor gave a cold laugh, turning his head to motion further south as he led the small train of wagons into the heart of the camp. “Your father and his riders are positioned ten miles to the south. Would you like to see him?”

“That depends,” Inaris responded, taking the chance as he looked away to study the tattoo of The Eye that enveloped his forearm.


“If he is alive and well, or not….”

Eglathor looked to her, a venomous smile twisting the man’s mouth. “What an ungrateful daughter.”

Frowning, she began to ask what he meant by that, when the sorcerer motioned for a halt, stopping the line before a great white tent trimmed in blue that stood out like a beacon in the dark sea. Heavily guarded, two lines of women and men of various ages and races turned their heads to look at the new arrivals. A servant, his head wrapped and face concealed by a panel of yellow cloth, came forward to take their reigns, and Eglathor dismounted as others clad in various forms of murky orange or blue robes and scale armor emerged from the tent.

“We were wondering when you would arrive,” called one of them, extending a hand to Eglathor. “This is the last of them?”

Eglathor greeted several of the men before looking back to the wagons where several dozen unfortunate souls were unloaded by guards. “It is. But now that they are here I must go.”

The first man’s gaze drifted to Inaris, and she felt her insides crawl. “So soon? It is our loss… and this one?”

Eglathor smirked wickedly as he followed the man’s look and caught her eye. “A special case. She may be useful.”

Inaris was glad that she still sat in her saddle. She did not want to give them the satisfaction of seeing her tremble.

“How is it I get the feeling she will be more trouble than she is worth?” asked the man, turning his gaze back to inspect the others that were led to kneel along with the former group.

“She won’t be,” Eglathor responded as he walked away. Rounding Inaris’ horse, he gave her a dangerous look and offered her his hand which she accepted as she stepped off of her saddle.

“You are not to be staying?”

“Do not look so eager to see me go,” he said with a lifeless chuckle, reading the look she gave him. “But I will be taking this with me…” Pulling up the length of her skirt, his hand slipped up her thigh and nimbly removed the dirk she had strapped to her leg days earlier. “You are a clever girl. See that it does not get you killed before I can give it back.”

Understanding the threat in his tone, Inaris drew away, realizing her fists were clenched, and turned to join the others before the guard approaching her could bark an order for her to move.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“A whole tin of it?”

Jade smirked and tossed her feathery bangs out of her eyes. “Yes, a whole tin. That will give me enough to put two coats on the door.”

The vendor chuckled, shaking his head as he hefted a crate onto the counter. “Whatever yeh say, Missus Harlowe. Though, I aint never seen a farm house with a blue door.”

“Oh, no! No, Avery, it’s for my old cottage. Thought it would add a little charm.”

“Eh? Ah! Bema, thought I’d have to worry about m’ wife seein’ it and wantin’ to paint ours yellow. You know she loves yellow? Thinks it’s a cheerful –”

Jade smiled pleasantly, nodding as the man prattled happily on about the ungodly amount of yellow that filled his house. Turning to lean out of the way of a man hefting a fat stack of hide down the walk, Jade suddenly frowned, looking past the thick mid-day crowd milling up and down the north entrance to the Scholar’s Stair. Across the way, past a parade of bonnets and beards she saw the back of a man’s head. He was not a tall man, but his hair, pulled back into a immaculate tail was black as night. The odds of someone else having hair like that….

Turn around. Turn around.

“Missus Harlowe?”

Jade blinked, looking back to Avery and his tins of paint. “Hmm?”

“Sumthin’ catch yer eye?”

Jade looked back, searching for a frantic moment before catching sight of the man across the way. He turned… and a huff of relief escaped her before she could stop herself. It was the butcher’s oldest boy.

“I thought I’d recognized someone, but I must have been seeing things.”

Avery chuckled. “Bree’s a small place. Bet yeh know just about half of everyone by now, least by face. But here. I got several different tins you can look through.”

Jade chuckled along with him, and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I think I will pass up the blue paint. Perhaps… hmm, perhaps you have a shade or two in red?”

Lotus: Soft Spot

“Need me to come by again some evening?”

Jade sat on the middle beam of the fence, arms and chin resting on the top. “No… Thanks, though, Tom. I don’t wanna risk you getting caught and into trouble with the Mistress at this point, but I think things should work out now.”

The young man raked aside a bit of soiled straw, looking a tad disappointed. “‘Course Miss Jade…. Ya know, it was kinda fun sneakin’ in and all, pretendin’ to be the gravedigger. Didn’t know there were so many card games, either!”

“There are more, but you’re too nice for me to teach ’em to you,” she responded with a playful wink.

Tom’s cheeks flushed, and he gave a sheepish shrug. “Well… Ann really liked the flowers. Helped a lot in explainin’ that we weren’t doin’ anything.”

“I’m glad she did. And I don’t solicit cute things like you, Tom, you know that.”

He gave her a curious look. “Why not? I mean, you wouldn’t — well, you probably would believe all the boys who talk big like they are gonna go hire one of you girls. Ann… well, she said if I wanted to try it once… with you it’d be all right.”

Jade scoffed. “Shit, Tom. You believed her?”

By the look on the young man’s face, he had.

“She’s just saying that because she’s nice. You take her up on it and you’ll break the poor girl’s heart.”

“Oh…”Tom replied softly, and Jade could see the light come on. “Oh! Well, why in the  — Why are you females all so damned complicated?”

“Because you wouldn’t like us half as much if we weren’t,” she responded with a grin. “Men can be just as complicated, you know.” Jade gave her feathery bangs a toss and added, “And so we’re clear, I’m not doing this for me. He asked me to.”

Tom forked another pitch-fork full of dirty straw into the wheelbarrow. “Then why you lie to your friend?”

Jade frowned. “Because it was the best way to get it done.”

“Was it a good friend?” The young man stopped working for a moment to study her. “Ain’t never seen that look on your face before. You’re really sorry you told him all that, aren’t ya?”

Jade hesitated for a moment before nodding. “If I’d had a traditional wedding he was one of two people I’d thought about asking to walk me.”

Tom gave a low whistle and shook his head. After a moment he gave her a curious look and stabbed his pitchfork into another clump of old straw. “Why didn’t you have one?”

“Because I wanted to be Mrs. Drewett Harlowe,”she said, her grin somewhat sheepish. It was nice to let that out once in a while, and it was easier than she cared to admit for her feelings on the matter — for the man to slip out.

“Hah!” Tom exclaimed, grinning as he worked. “You’ve got a soft spot!”

Jade smirked and threw a shoot of straw at the young man, sending it sailing out to bounce off of his shoulder. “Shut it. I got several, so don’t rat on me.”

“But he’s the biggest one. Why you still workin’ if you’re married? Thought you quit.”

“Because I got bored and hot ‘n bothered,” she replied with a shrug. “Sure he wouldn’t mind sometimes, but Drew’s got too many important things to do than entertaining me all of the time. Besides, our entertainment comes at –”

“Ah, ah! Nuh-uh! Just — No! I don’ wanna know that!”

“What?! You’re the one with all the questions!”

~ ~ ~

Elgathor glanced over his shoulder to where Talagol rode a dozen yards back. The war-lord had not been pleased about having to leave his armour behind, but neither of them would have survived half a day into The Mark if they had remained in their Easterling attire. Now night was once more upon them, and they had had the fortune of joining up with a caravan making it’s way north up the Greenway.

“Who did you say you were looking for?”

He looked back to the … brigand? Mercenary? Eglathor did not like him, whatever he was, and had not taken care to remember his name. “My daughter,” he responded easily, a perfectly convincing look of concern on his face. “She had become separated from us when the enemy made a push south.”

The mercenary grumbled. “Bloody gits. Comin’ out of every nook and cranny –“

“What part of the north you from?” came the sudden question from the commander leading the column up the ruined road. He looked back at Eglathor with a wary, watchful gaze that said he did not miss much, if anything.

Eglathor reined back a glare at the man the men escorting their caravan called ‘Vrax’. Something about him made the sorcerer want to coil up and strike, but even at the other man’s greying age he dared not risk such a fight. “Trestlebridge.” By the gods, it’s the only other town I know of in this forsaken corner of the world.

His answer seemed to suffice, though, and Vrax nodded curtly. “No one coming south by that description. If the lads had seen her they would have talked about it.”

“Oh? Well, I suppose I cannot blame them, so long as it’s just talk,” said Eglathor with a chuckle and a shrug. “She gets her good looks from her mother.”

“Lucky man! I sure hope ya find ‘er,” said the first man who’s name had been forgotten. “Good to see a concerned father with a soft spot for their daughter.”

Eglathor grinned into the growing dark, and nodded. “Yes, yes I suppose I do.”