Astelbania Chronicles: A Rest.

By daybreak, Bahl called a stop to the march.
"We will rest there," he pointed at an over-cropping, sung with the sounds of a hissing creek.

"You sure, lad?" Axym said, a hint of sarcasm puffing from his beard, "There are caves yonder, if memory serves,"

"This will be fine, I think," Falina did all she could to stop herself from flexing her back for the up-teeth-hundredth time.  She was exhausted, and could care less if she slept on stone slabs, underbrush, or better yet, within the water; she died for a bath.

"This will be fine," Bahl's eyes scanned the Western darkness, yet to be lit by the light of day, "We are close,"

"Camde'an then is to be our destination," Axym suggested.
"Aye," Bahl nodded knowingly and led the way through the underbrush to a secluded flat-landing near the creek. "Bathe if you must, but get sleep.. by nightfall, we will be away, and should arrive at the village in less than an hour."  he tossed a bag to Falina, "For you.." it struck her in the chest.

"What is it?"
"what you will be wearing; you will be my whore to-night!" a smile crept into the Tiefling's lips.
"I most certainly will not..." she was only interrupted by Bahl's silence and his back.  He prodded Midnight along, and took to the hunt.
Falina looked at the dwarf, "Does he ever sleep?"
Axym smiled, "Aye.. when you do, Lass," laughed the dwarf.

A year away from the comforts of civilized society allowed Falina a degree of modesty lost as she stripped down into her under-garbs, and slipping into the creek, and pulling the rest away.   She sunk herself beneath the water, and allowed herself a few seconds of peace despite the world of chaos that awaited her outside.

When she came back up, the dwarf stood upon the beach blind to her nakedness, his eyes fixed upon the shorelines and the trees.  At first she did not understand, and had her brain fixed on yelling a barrage his way that would embarrass her mother.  But as she took steps forward to speak dagger at him, he turned his back to give her her privacy.  The words caught in her throat, as she, too, began to spy the tree lines, and suddenly it struck her:

She was exposed, in the open.  Her heart pounded in her ears, as her eyes saw areas of opportunity; she spun in the water, and looked up - a tree there, the perfect bow-strike, spun there - and yes, a dagger's throw from a kill shot... and of course, just yonder, in the underbrush and bushes not 50 yards away .. hiding places for any who could wish her dead.

She turned her gaze again at the dwarf who had turned to stared at her again - as she stood only waste deep, her breasts exposed.  There was no lust in his eyes.  Only duty.  From her eyes, his orbs of blue took to the tree-line again, and again, back to the bushes, to the branches above - and it was only THEN .. that she understood: "The Brotherhood of the Shadow Hand".

Protection without prejudice.  It did not matter if she was a woman or a man; an elf or a dwarf -- halfling or human.  The dwarf stood vigil only for her protection, and she bit her tongue, sinking back into the water, careful to make as little a splash as she could.

Finishing her bath in silence, she came out of the water with narry a splash, remembering all that Bahl had taught her, meeting the Dwarf's gaze, hells-bent to show him her shyness was all but a memory.  He bent and handed her her clothing, and with it she covered her torso and smiled sheepishly,

"Thank you, Axym - you are most kind," a lump filled her throat, but she willed her eyes to remain clear and focused.
"I will see to ye safety, lass," said the dwarf, "Now, let us grab some grub.  I'm starvin',"
"Will you not bathe?  I shall watch out for you, if you wish," Falina wished so much to return the honor the good dwarf had seen fit to pass on to her, but the dwarf chuckled.
"Nay, lass - I'm best smellin' like an urchin rummagin' through the village garbage .. we all have our jobs, eh?" he winked.

"Just like I must play Bahl's woman of the evening?" she finally understood.

"Just li' thah, mah girl!" he nodded, "Now ye'ar gittin' it!" Axym nodded, "Bahl's a bastard - i know thah, ok?  But there's no man that can teach ye what ye needs ta know.. and ye'll be wise to take thah' and swallow ye'r pride,"  Axym's face was genuinely sympathetic.

"Was he always this angry?" Falina tried.
"Comes with the blood, lassy-girl," the dwarf took her hand, and Falina's heart soared.  The touch of ANOTHER... ANY other, after three days of contact deprivation, had her lips pressed tightly shut, else have her an emotional wreck.  Axym continued, "I'll not be the one to tell ye his story, Lady Falina - but trust when i say; if there is any who can see you through this alive, it is Bahl Shadowfinger - dark, brooding, demeanor and all!"

"He is not the nicest man I've met, Axym, i must be honest," Falina imparted.
The dwarf laughed, "But he is the most honest man,"
"A thief? the most honest man," Falina caught the joke.
"Ye will find that Bahl does not steal from just any one person,"

Falina thumbed her nose, "You are trying to tell me that Bahl is not all he is showing me, is that it.  You are protecting your friend?"

"IS it workin', lass?" The dwarf chuckled.
"He's a bastard,"
"Aye, but as honest a bastard thief as you will ever meet," Axym winked again.

"You are a good friend, Axym Gath'Thundrum," Falina admitted, stopping to embrace the little-man.  Axym for his part glowed, and stared up at her,

"Ach, lassy, ye give an ol' dwarf a reason to go on.." Axym tugged at his beard, and if one could see him blush......

"You're a prince, my gallant dwarf," Falina smiled.

"Do not fill his head with delusions of grandure - he's prone to believing he's important, " Bahl came upon the scene smashing the light-heartedness  of the situation.

"Why do you do that?!" Falina spun upon him, her eyes stabbing daggers.

"Say the first terrible thing that comes to your bitty little mind?" Falina challenged.  This time it was Bahl to be taken aback...

"I said ..."
"What did you say?"
"That he..."
"That he is LITTLE..." Falina frowned.  This time she placed her forehead to Bahl's and pulled his cowl down to grip one of his horns, tugging it smartly right... "He is the biggest, strongest, most honorable man i've ever met, Bahl... " her chin quivered.  She was more afraid than ever .. but the dwarf had inspired a courage within her that she would have never thought possible.  Bahl's dark, red-pupiled eyes stared into her sleep-mean orbs, "Please, "she gulped, "treat the dwarf with a modicum of the love that he deserves ... "

She was met with silence, and the dwarf actually took a step back.
"Will you do that for me?" She asked.

This time Bahl stepped back and shrugged, saying factly, "I will,"

Falina's neck stretched forward, a pride welling up into her lips as she smiled, and into her eyes as she smiled, and she nodded curtly, "Thank you. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me - I must rest,"

Bahl's lips pressed downward as he nodded, "Alright," and he nodded leaving the dwarf and the tiefling along.

Bahl looked at his long time companion and he smiled, "Now THAT is more like it!"

Axym winked and chuckled, "Aye," he approached, and slapped the rogue on the back, "Now.. for some scotch!"

Bahl groaned, "Maybe the ONE!"
"Two it is, and then mahaps a third,"
"Now ye'r speakin' dwarvish, Lad!  Atta' boy!"


The End

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