Written by Caeruleus
Cold. Pain. Angry voices. The wet of tears. The smell of blood, sweat. and something else. Dried grass? Hawk feathers?
Where am I? He opened his eyes and saw only gray. He blinked, clearing away some fog and, in the dappled light of a fading sunset, noticed variations of tone in the material before him. Bumps, and striations. Stone? Not the stone of the desert, but more like the stone in the troll caves. Troll caves? That’s not right.
Squinting to focus his sight, he peered into the darkness ahead. The floor stretched beyond him, leading to a doorway in the high wall. The huge room teased him with its unfamiliarity. Off to the sides of his vision he saw that people stood around him, some soft leather clad feet shifting in agitation. Other feet, clothed in dark boots with odd decorations, held more rigid stances, like predators on guard. He frowned in confusion, sensing tension in the air but not really understanding the cause.
What has happened? Where are we? He took a deep breath, noting both an increased ache in his shoulder and chest, and an odd weakness in his body. I’m wounded and bleeding, he realized, finally making sense of sensation, sight and smell. Something bad has happened.
With this newfound clarity, came aural awareness; voices now spoke words instead of muted pitch.
“Let me be with him!” Moonshade! The elf jerked his head around, looking for his lifemate. The movement stoked the dull embers of ache in his torso into furious flames. His cheek fell back against the cold stone floor as he fought the dizziness and nausea that threatened to drag him back into oblivion. Her cry of anguish at his pain cut through to his soul and he managed to fight off unconsciousness.
*I am all right, beloved,* Strongbow sent. His thought seemed to stop, as if hitting a wall, and he winced in surprise and discomfort. Gingerly reaching out with his mind, his mental touch quickly found a shell that captured his sendings, binding them within his head. Odd.
Around him bodies shifted roughly, followed by cursing. He half listened, giving most of his concentration to searching for a weak point in the strange barrier in his mind.
There has to be a crack. There’s always a soft spot to aim for, he thought.
“Why are you doing this to us?” Another voice called out; Clearbrook, he realized, distractedly. “What have we done to you?”
I think that might be it. He explored the tiny fracture, pushing gently at it.
“How can you not know?” exclaimed a male voice just above the archer. “You killed my fledgling during his first flight! This one struck him down!” Strongbow’s face rocked forward into stone as a booted foot slammed into his wounded shoulder, exploding his body into burning pain.
He grimaced, fighting back tears, now fully aware of the situation around him. The fledgling! These must be the riders of the adult birds! He looked up at his attacker, meeting elfin eyes that stared down at him with anger and hatred.
Elves? The figure standing above him wore some sort hood that obscured most of his head. His sharp featured face, and slender form showed the male as an elf, however. His clothing looked unlike anything the Wolfrider had seen in either the Holt or Sorrow’s End, and a strange weapon hung from the bird rider’s hip. Sneering, the elf moved as if to kick his wounded captive again.
Strongbow prepared to roll away but realized, suddenly, that his arms twisted uselessly behind his back, bound in leather cord.
“Enough!” an authoritative voice cut in. The male stopped, looking up towards someone out of the archer’s view, then bowed his head submissively.
“Are these the ones?” the voice continued.
“Yes, Lady,” the male glared down at Strongbow, but didn’t move. “This one is the killer.”
A hiss of cloth on stone brought a pair of pale skinned, sandaled feet near the fallen elf’s head. “Stand him up.”
Another elf, similarly dressed to the male next him, moved in, and both grabbed the archer under his arms, dragging him upwards. The force pulling on his wounded shoulder sent the archer spiraling down into dark agony, and he hung between the two elves, gasping silently as waves fire and sickness rolled over him again.
Through his misery, he faintly heard another cry from his lifemate, and he found strength to gather his legs under him, lessening the burden from his guards’ arms and easing his own pain somewhat.
A cool, slender hand caught his chin and roughly drew his head up. The pale and black shades of a head swam in his vision, and the elf blinked rapidly, trying to clear the sight.
Once the tears fell away and blurriness faded, he stared into eyes with strange, shifting color. One moment they were as golden as those of Leetah’s lost hunter friend, Rayek. Another, they were green with a touch of blue.
The elfin woman’s long black hair recalled the desert elf. It hung long and fine, though her tresses trailed all the way to the floor, the ends languishing several steps behind her. She stood as tall as Savah, however she did not seem as old, or perhaps not as fragile. Her pale skin, lighter then even Moonshade’s, also differed from the two Sunfolk.
Fine feathers, almost down, hid her ears, and covered her neck and shoulders. The rest of her form was clad in a black robe of some sort.
One heart and one mind. The Mother of Memory’s words from seasons ago leapt into Strongbow’s mind. The final, and most important, distinction between this elf and Savah lay in the woman’s expression. Where the desert elf had displayed gentleness and welcome for the Wolfriders, this stranger’s face showed distaste and disdain.
*What do you want from us?* he sent, immediately wincing as the thought hit the hidden barrier.
She smiled, and the archer realized that she blocked his sending, somehow. Fury flooded through him. He refused to be contained. Taking a deep breath, he fired his thought through the weak spot he sensed earlier.
*What do you want from us?* he sent again, feeling hands tighten on his arms as his guards flinched from the force of his mental shout.
A dark eyebrow arched upwards in surprise, and the now golden eyes narrowed with interest.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” her silken voice chided him almost gently. “You are almost animals, after all.” She waved her other hand, dismissively. “However, perhaps you should know the crime you have committed.”
*The bird.* Strongbow answered simply. His words acknowledged his fault, but his method of speech challenged her power over him.
“Yes, the bird.” She nodded gracefully, a touch mockingly. “It was Kureel’s bond bird.” She gestured to the elf holding the archer’s wounded arm. “Or would have been, had you not killed it.”
“He was trying out his wings! His first flight!” Kureel exclaimed, anger and sadness mingling in his tone. The Wolfrider looked up at the other elf looked up at his guard with empathy; he’d lost wolf friends in the past and recognized the same sorrow in the other elf’s voice.
*I am sorry,* Strongbow replied, his regret plain in his sending. *I didn’t know.* The hand gripped his chin again, jerking his head around to face the black haired elf.
“There are a lot of things you don’t know, little savage,” she stated, her strange eyes hard. “Respect for one’s betters is one thing. That your regret is mere pittance for the time and energy lost through a moment of carelessness, is another.”
*I didn’t know!* the archer shot back. *My people were hungry!*
*Beast!* her lock-sent thought slammed into his mind harshly, and he clenched his teeth to keep even hissing his discomfort. *Sending is for true elves, not those creatures sullied by the filth of the outside world!* Fire erupted behind his forehead. He doubled over in agony, ducking his head against his chest. Then the sensation faded abruptly.
He looked up at the tall elfin woman angrily. She gave him a smile, sweet and gentle, yet somehow full of triumph.
“What are we to do with them, Lady Winnowill?” Kureel asked, somewhat impatiently. Her eyes slid up to meet the bird rider’s over their captive’s shoulder.
“That is for Lord Voll to decide,” she answered momentarily. Turning back to Strongbow, she continued, “Hold him tight while I heal his wound.”
“Heal him?” Kureel repeated sharply, clearly disapproving. “Why?”
Winnowill’s gaze speared the guard again. “I don’t think Lord Voll would appreciate this one bleeding all over his floor, do you?”
The archer bristled at her tone. The state of this Voll’s floor concerned her more than the life of another, albeit strange, elf. He closed his eyes, however, and willed himself to remain still, control his anger for the moment.
“No, Lady,” his captor answered quietly, and both guards tightened their grasp on the Wolfrider.
“We are in agreement, then,” she smiled coolly, turning back to her task. With a glint in her eyes, she met Strongbow’s stare briefly, then placed her pale hands over his bloody wound. Her dark lashes fell against her cheek as she began to concentrate, and injured elf tightened his jaws at the sudden, sharp sensation that erupted in his shoulder.
Many seasons ago, he had felt the cool touch of the Wolfrider’s lost healer, Rain. That elf’s gentle power soothed and cooled the heat of pain. Winnowill, in contrast, worked her magic with no kind touch. His shoulder blade fused harshly together with the force of her will, and she deftly pulled torn tissue closed without any regard for the agony she might cause.
His entire body taut with strain, the archer fought against an urge to pull himself free, to scream, or, worse, to let the fierce hurting overwhelm him. Giving way to the blissful oblivion of unconsciousness would only prove her prove her belief in his weakness.
When she finally released him from her power, she wiped the blood on her hand on his tunic and stepped back. Sweating and breathing heavy from his effort, Strongbow raised his head to meet her stare. Winnowill’s lips twitched with amusement as she read the fury in his gaze.
“I cannot replace the blood you lost,” she announced, obviously enjoying his anger and weakness. “And the damaged muscles and bone might still be tender. But at least you are no longer in danger of bleeding yourself dry.”
She waved a hand, ignoring his sneer, and called out, “Chosen, take these. beasts to Lord Voll’s chambers.”