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Thread: This thread for parallel stories not directly linked to "Disturbing News"

  1. #1

    Default This thread for parallel stories not directly linked to "Disturbing News"

    Looking forward to reading new stories.

  2. #2

    Default Watching Me Watching

    The following story is in no way related to, or inspired by Istaria. The husband (otherworldly known as Skirnir) likes this story, and suggested that I share it. It's weird. It's twisted. It's dark. It's strange. Which is, honestly, why he likes it. I wrote it for a small writing group I facilitate through the local Council on Aging, about five years ago. Our theme was Deep Dark Secrets, and I took it to heart. Nothing in the story is real, nor is it based on any real events or people. It's simply the product of my (sometimes) dark and twisty imagination. I hope you enjoy it.

    I sat in the cafeteria watching the people go by. They don't know I'm watching. They think I'm reading the paper and sipping my coffee. The latter I'm doing, but not the former. I people-watch, it's what I do. Other people fascinate me. I can sit and watch them for hours. People accuse me of stalking them. Not me. I'm a people watcher that's all.

    I like to watch them and speculate about their lives. That man in the fancy overcoat. Let's call him Chester. Chester likes being comfortable and being in this place isn't his idea. He's here with a woman, not his wife, I'm guessing. He's careful to keep distance between them, self-conscious if she touches him. Not his wife his girlfriend. She has something special to tell him something he won't want to hear. She knows, but also knows she has to. I turn away from her despair.

    In the corner is a family having hot chocolate on this cold, city night. Winter isn't far away. You can feel it in the way they chat about the cold. Their breath clouds around them it's chilly in here. The air conditioning hasn't been turned off yet. Some optimistic soul thinks it's still only fall.

    The one I really want to watch is that girl by the door. She sits alone, forlorn, forgotten. Medium height, she straight, dirty blonde hair and pale eyes. They show up green in the light of the cafeteria, but then, so does her hair. Her face is drawn, dirty and finely chiseled. I hope she'll find a man or die soon. Either way is okay with me. Anything that will end her suffering.

    I take another sip of my coffee and scan the room again. In the far corner, opposite the family, not far from the unhappy girl, Is a man like me. Not that he looks like me. We're very different. He's got light brown hair and mine is dark. His eyes are hazel, mine are green. He wears all black. Though I do too, his jacket is short, my coat is long. He wears boots similar to mine, but his are scuffed. Mine shine like new, though they are old.

    Both of us have a look an affectation, if you will the look of a predator. Though I cannot speak for him, I can for myself. I am a predator. I hunt through the night. I follow the unwary, cutting them down in their prime. Would I harm the family? No. The lonely girl? Also, no. The successful business man and his floozy yes. Well, not her, him. Perhaps when he's leaving their love nest, sated from a night of debauchery with a woman half his age.

    They rise to leave. I fold my paper and take my coffee. No sense leaving evidence. The man opposite me makes to rise, sees me and hesitates. I glare at him before my eyes flicker to the man. I raise an eyebrow. He shakes his head, tipping his chin at the woman. I make my own negative reply. In agreement, we follow them separately, on different sides of the street. We move quietly, casually, as if we have nowhere else to be.
    Her place must be close, because they're walking. Arm in arm, they walk up the steep sidewalk. They climb slowly. My doppelganger and I match their pace. They enter an apartment building at the crest of the hill. Moments later, lights come on in the first floor apartment. We see our prey silhouetted against the blinds, kissing. They retire to another room and we wait, smoking cigarettes in the dark.

    My shadow walks across the street to stand next to me. He faces the window, a smile on his lips.

    "Tonight?" I ask quietly.

    "I would ask you the same." He finishes his cigarette. Squeezing out the end, he puts it in his pocket, much as I've done with my own.

    "If we take one without the other....."

    "The free one will become cautious," he finished my sentence for me.

    We nodded in unison.

    "When he leaves," I murmured as the door opened.

    Nodding, he faded into the shadows, moving toward the back of the building. I stay in my hiding place, waiting for the businessman to walk away. After many fond kisses, he does, heading back down the sidewalk. He must walk right past me to get back to the cafeteria. He won't make it that far. Or perhaps he will?
    I allow him to walk by, whistling happily. I hear the bushes rustle behind me. My friend returns.

    "Not tonight," he says before I ask him.

    I understand because I feel the same. Silently, I invited him back to the cafeteria for coffee.
    "Tomorrow?" I ask him.

    A shrug answers my question. We're patient, we wait in the shadows with our deep, dark secrets.

  3. #3

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes Part 1

    This story is associated with my sci-fi series. The character of Itza is introduced in The Kahlea (not yet published). She is an interesting character and I decided I needed to explore her character's origins more. She is the First Champion of the people of Bankaywan. She is also a distant relative of Mai's. This story begins before Itza became the First Champion, even before the Duelist's Guild came to be. This is set when Bankaywan was still a primitive, backwater planet in the middle of absolute nowhere. It is a time when only the strong survive and peace must be won with the strength of the fist.

    Itza stood in a defensive pose, facing down the most recent bunch of marauders. So for this month, there had been three, each more brutal and grasping than the last. Every time, her village had fought them and won—just barely. Today, she didn't know. She rather doubted they could win this time, for the others were large and many. The men of her village stood behind her, armed the best they could with farm tools. One or two had actual swords which were ancient, dull and rusted. They could do more harm to themselves than to a burly warrior.

    The leader smiled nastily, as he shifted weight from foot to foot uncomfortably, her stare boring into him. He had thought he had the upper hand in this fight, now he was not sure. Tilting his head to one side, he eyed her critically. She was slightly built, tall for a cat, sleek muscle rippling under her fur. He couldn't help thinking what an attractive little cat she was, wondering how much he could get for her at market.

    Itza saw this and much more in his eyes. He hoped to take her down without spoiling her looks. At least he would be more careful of her and probably not ravage her since he hoped to make some money off her. She automatically sized up her adversary, noting his height, weight and musculature without knowing she did it. An eye for detail, she noticed he was big, but flabby. However, he had close to fifteen stone of weight on her, making him roughly twenty-five stone. Speed and agility did not always win a fight, although it went a long way toward it. She could wear him out if she could keep away from him. He had long, hairy arms, bespeaking half-giant blood in his veins. He would have a lengthy grasp.

    The men behind Itza did not understand what the delay was. They had never seen a band like this stop and stare before. It made no sense and the mounting unrest was causing a feeling of electricity rippling up Itza's spine. She had to do something or the entire situation would explode into something she could not contain.

    "What is it you want?" She spoke more boldly than she felt.

    "We want food, wine, whatever you have. Give us what we want and we will leave."

    "I doubt that. I see how your men are eyeing our village. I see the look of lust in your eyes. You'll take what you want and kill us all anyway. I have a solution."

    The leader threw back his head, laughing gruffly, but he kept a wary eye on Itza. She could be formidable and she scared him. It was ludicrous! He, Elveric Woodgluc afraid of this tiny little cat less than half his size!

    "What is your solution, little one? Do you wish to kiss me? I can arrange far better entertainment than that, I assure you."

    "No. I propose a duel, you and I will fight. If I win, you leave with nothing but your lives, never to return nor do my people any harm. If I lose, you have me and whatever else you want."

    "And if I refuse?"

    "Then we shall see how many of you will die."

    He laughed again, more uncomfortably. "As you wish!"

    His men tried to convince him not to agree, but he was ready to get this over with. He wanted to quell that look in her disturbing, golden eyes.

    Itza walked to the nearest hut, stripping off her extra clothing and arming herself with staves and knives.

    None of the swords were worth anything, but the farmers had all purpose knives which were well balanced, sturdy and a good size for two blade fighting. A quick prayer to her gods, and she let herself fall into a calmness which was virtually unshakable.

    "Itza are you mad?" Her younger sister, Bastia, ran up to her, dragging on her arm. "You can't do this, sister, you will die! We will all die! Please, please!"

    Her protests did nothing to change Itza's mind. As head woman of the village, she had to do something decisive or these men would never leave. Her father and mother were dead, killed in marauder's raids in the last few years.

    "Bastia, I didn't want this job, but I must consider all of you. I can win, just have faith." Taking her things, she walked quickly back to the fighting area which the men had staked out for her and her opponent.

    Elveric was waiting for her in one corner of the ring, smirking as he wrapped strips of cloth around his hands. Itza walked to the corner opposite him where her brother, Orris and Uncle Brev were standing, waiting to wrap her hands as well. They checked them carefully, seeing they were not too tight, and stepped away from her.

    2015 Dellani Oakes

  4. #4

    Default Re: And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes Part 1

    I will be adding to this story every Saturday. Please come back and enjoy! Dellani

  5. #5

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes Part 2

    One of the bandits and oldest of the farmers were to judge. Each of the combatants took their stance and waited. The signal came and they prepared their attacks. Elveric circled to his left, looking for an opening. Itza countered his moves, eyeing him critically, waiting for a betraying movement which would herald his attack. He lumbered around facing her, limping slightly on his left leg. It was a relatively new injury, he favored the leg, stepping on it gingerly.

    With a feint to his right, Elveric hoped to throw her off, but she came in low from his left, clipping his sore leg. Before he could recover, she fell forward on her hands,balancing on her bent left leg, swinging her right in a low, tight circle.

    Elveric howled with pain and rage. He landed heavily on the ground, shaking his fist as he stood once more. Bellowing like a rabid bull, he ran toward her, forgetting his injury.

    Itza stepped aside easily, watching him flail his hands in helpless circles, trying to grab her in a bear hug. If he succeeded in trapping her, she would have little chance to get away. Her greatest tool was her agility.

    "Hold still, you wench! How can I best you if you fight like this? She's cheating!"

    He yelled at his official, but the bandit took his job as a marshal seriously, as did the old farmer.

    "She's not cheating, Elveric. She's in her rights to fight this way. No one set any rules up, you'll manage."

    He nodded his head sharply at his boss, noticing the leader's jowls turn red with anger.

    Elveric regrouped, hobbling to his corner to have his leg seen to. It was bleeding again, which annoyed him. It was a fairly fresh wound, less than a fortnight old. Some nasty bar wench had taken a dislike to his advances and sliced him before he overcame and beat her. She'd not forget him, but he'd not forget her easily either.

    Now this little kitten was becoming a plague to him and he had to do something decisive quickly or lose his men. He signaled the marshals that he was ready once again, and took his position opposite Itza.

    "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty," he taunted.

    Itza didn't show any emotion. It was a pathetic attempt to cause her distress, but she found it humorous. Tamping down an urge to chuckle, she stood her ground as Elveric prepared another hulking attack on her person. He reached out with his long, hairy arms, lunged toward her and fell over his own feet. She moved again and he lurched forward, dropping heavily to his knees. Flailing head over heels, he landed on his back, the air knocked out of him. The marshals came to him, bent over and spoke softly.

    "Are you planning to rise, sir?" his underling asked him.

    "You rise or you lose, you sluggard," the farmer said crisply, wishing for an end to all this nonsense so he could get back to his tankard of ale.

    "Course I'm getting up, you fools!" Roared Elveric. "Give me a hand up, Crex! Now if she'll just hold still, I'll finish this right away! Enough rushing about, give me a long staff, Crex. A good one!"

    He pulled himself up, holding onto Crex's surcoat, wobbling slightly as he waited for his staff. Itza called for hers and waited patiently for him to arm himself. Once both were armed, she decided that she no longer wished to wait for him to make the first move. His reach was longer and his arms stronger, he could deliver a devastating blow if he connected.

    With a leap and a spin, Itza seemed to dance in the ring, a powerful pirouette of pain. Each step took her closer to Elveric, who stood open mouthed, gaping at her fascinating aerobatics. With a final hop, she landed on her toes, back to Elveric. Before he could react, she whirled around, using her staff like an extension of her arm, swinging it in a mighty arc around her. The force of her blow knocked Elveric to his knees, gasping in pain and shock. While he was down on the ground, clutching his ribs, she used the staff like a prod, hitting him squarely on the sternum. He heard the bone crack and he fell backward, both hands now on his chest.

    Itza jumped lightly over to him, her staff providing a pole vault for her. She landed on his shoulders, holding him to the ground, forcing his shoulders into the sand, her staff inches above his lowering brow. He looked up at the inch and a half thick piece of wood cross eyed.

    "Do you yield?" Itza said quietly, only he and the marshals heard her.

    Elveric didn't reply, still gasping. Her right heel dug into his shoulder and her staff tapped him lightly between the eyes.

    "Yield?" She said more loudly this time.

    2015 Dellani Oakes

  6. #6

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes - Part 3

    The marshals walked over, waiting for his decision.

    "She is in her rights to kill you, sir," his man pointed out needlessly. "She offers you a chance to yield, do you accept?"

    Elveric looked from Itza to each of the marshals and back at the tip of the staff. "I yield," he croaked.

    Itza stepped delicately onto the ground beside him, offering him her hand. "Call off your men, send them away."

    "What's to prevent you killing me as soon as they do?" He was angry and it made him bold.

    "My word as head woman of this village," she spoke simply.

    He spat at her feet, anger making him stupid. He swatted aside her hand and pulled himself painfully and slowly up, using his staff for support. "Your word?" he bellowed, mere inches from her face. "What use is your word? And what is to prevent me and mine from coming back here and taking what we want another day?"

    "Your word."

    "You did promise, boss, to go away...." Crex said.

    Elveric smacked the bandit with the back of his big knuckled hand. "Shut up, you! I'm still in charge here and I say we take what we want from these folk and burn the village to the ground!"

    His men made no move to do as told. Instead, they took a few steps away from the ring. Some dropped their weapons, backing completely away from Elveric and the villagers.

    "You promised," Itza told him. "How many of your men will follow you now that you've been bested by me?"

    Elveric glared at Itza, then looked at his men, realizing she was right. They would not follow him against these people and might not follow him anymore at all. He'd lost more than he'd bargained for.

    "Very well," he yelled, spittle flying from his lips. "Very well, we leave this village alone this time!"

    "Forever," Itza prompted. "You leave us in peace for all time. In fact, you can tell any other marauders to pass us by, for all who come shall receive the same treatment you did. However," she raised her voice loudly, turning in a slow circle, facing his men, "tell anyone you meet that though today I spared the life of this man, I shall kill anyone who disturbs our peace. Is there a man among you who disbelieves me? If so, let him come forward, and I shall prove my veracity!"

    No one moved nor did they speak. Instead, the bandits bowed to her with respect and laid their weapons at her feet. Some cut and ran as soon as they could, others walked quietly away, standing a respectful distance, waiting for their boss. Others did neither, but waited patiently for the rest to depart before approaching Itza. One of these was the fellow who had acted as marshal.

    "Miss, I beg yer pardon," he said politely. "But it be rather obvious my boss will no longer have me. Not that I can blame him, but twould make me a proud man indeed if you would accept me to join your band."

    "I've not got a band, fellow. I have a village of farmers, if you wish to stay in that capacity, then you are welcome."

    "That'd do me fine, miss."

    Grinning happily, he joined the old farmer for a drink in the tavern. Many of the village men followed him. Some stayed protectively around Itza until the bandits dribbled away into the woods or across the fields.

    When Elveric and the others had gone, the handful of men approached Itza, bowing as if to a queen. "Miss," their self-appointed spokesman said to her. "We'd be proud as can be if you'd allow us to stay as Crex has done. It's been in me own mind for some time that this bandit life no longer suited me. You'd find us hard workers and ready to help out any way we can to defend your village here, for it's a fair and pretty place. Will ye have us?"

    Itza looked at her brother, uncle and sister for confirmation. All of them gave a slight nod of acceptance.

    "You are welcome here, fellows. See you work hard and act right and you'll find us fair and honest folk. Mistreat this trust we give you and it will be your heads on a pike. You accept these conditions?"

    The spokesman looked around at his comrades. They all nodded happily.

    "Aye, Miss. Me and the boys like that fine."

    They followed their comrade into the tavern, bowing and nodding happily as they went.

    Itza watched them closely, looking for signs of betrayal or subterfuge. She found nothing out of the ordinary. They were what they said, men who were tired of life on the road and wanted a place to settle down. She smiled and looked around at her people. Some were smiling, others looked incredibly puzzled, still more were frowning after the bandits.

    2015 Dellani Oakes

  7. #7

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes - Part 4

    My apologies, in the bustle of the holidays, I forgot to post on Saturday!

    PART 4

    "Mistake, that was! You'll see!" An old woman called to Itza as she turned to walk back to her house.

    Uncle Brev walked up next to her, taking her arm. "You did well, little one. That was some fight. My heart beat wildly there for awhile. I thought he might actually take you."

    "Had he been himself and not injured, it might have turned out differently. I am ashamed, I took unfair advantage of his wound to beat him."

    "When you fight for your life and all you hold dear, there is no unfair advantage. He'd have killed you and not thought twice about it, like as not."

    "You did great, Itza!" Her brother ran up next to her, taking her hand and gazing with affection and pride into her eyes.

    Where Itza was a light golden color, Orris was a deep russet. Bastia was the most beautiful of them all; pure white with brilliant blue eyes. Uncle Brev was striped like a tiger in bands of black and brown with a white blaze on his powerful chest.

    Looking at her family, Itza's heart filled with pride. She knew she had done the right thing, for their safety and that of her village were the most important things in her life. She could not have watched them die at the hands of the bandits.

    "Come, it's dinner, you three!" Brev's wife Anasafe, their mother's sister, called from the house. "Wash up, then! You're filthy, lass, have you been playing in the dirt?"

    Brev and Itza threw back their heads, laughing heartily. Orris and Bastia giggled and danced in circles around their aunt.

    "Trust you, Ana, to be the one person in the village not to know what's just transpired. Our Itza has saved us all!"

    "That well may be, Brev, but she's still filthy! Go wash, I tell you! Dinner's like to be cold as stone already!"

    Laughing and chatting happily, they went to the kitchen and washed their hands and faces. After dinner, a small group of men, including the bandit Crex and some of his friends, stopped by to see Itza and her uncle.

    "I'd advise ye to post guards this night, miss," Crex cautioned. "Elveric's right mad. He'll want yer hide and there's no doubt." The others nodded their agreement. "He's got pride and a temper. To be shown up by a little mite of a thing like ye be, he's in a tizzy."

    "I'll take care of that, Crex," Brev told him. "There's a few of us used to serve in the militia, we've not forgotten all we knew."

    "The boys and me will be keeping a weather eye as well. We've no love lost betwixt Elveric and us, mark my words. Well, night, miss, sir." They bobbed their heads in brief respect and left to different ends of the village.
    Brev set out right after them and saw to guards. Itza decided to call it an early night and went to her bed, falling instantly asleep.

    Itza sat up in bed, a scream rending the peaceful night. It had been outside, not one of her people, more like an animal. She heard nothing else, but in a moment several people were moving around outside. She heard snatches of conversation. Dressing quickly, she grabbed her father's armor and threw it on. The stiff leather was far too big, but it made her feel better wearing it. His sword hung on the wall. Itza had never used it before, but she cleaned and sharpened it regularly. She belted it on as she dashed out of the house, looking around. All seemed quiet except over by the animal pens.

    Running over quickly, she saw what the trouble was. All the animals in the pen had their throats cut. The scream she'd heard was the dying cry of their sheep. They had no livestock left. If Elveric had wanted them to die, why didn't he attack them outright and not make them slowly die from lack of food? True, the meat could be salvaged, smoked and stored, but no longer had they wool to trade. She hung her head sadly, knowing this was her fault.

    "So he wants it this way, does he?" Brev said solemnly. "You should have killed him when you had the chance," he told Itza. "It's the only thing a man like him understands."

    2015 Dellani Oakes

  8. #8

    Default And Itza Danced by Dellani Oakes PART 5

    The men were already gathering up the dead animals, lining them up for dressing as the women set up cook pots, brine barrels and smoke racks. It wasn't going to be a happy day, but it would be a busy one. Even the children would work.

    They were just setting up the smoke houses, stoking them with hardwood for a slow, long burn, when they heard it; the rumble of hooves. What was making the racket? They could not imagine what it might be. Terrified mothers grabbed their children, running for the village hall in the center of town, for it was the sturdiest structure.

    Moments later, the men gathered around Itza casting curious, fearful glances at her and one another as the rumbling grew louder. Suddenly, they burst from the trees and bushes to the northwest of town! Dozens of volfboars, large, wild pigs. Usually docile beasts, they could be formidable and dangerous when angry. Something had them in a stampede and they would not stop until they destroyed all in their path.

    "Take cover!"

    Itza and the men roared to the women and children who were left, but the boars were upon them, goring and trampling anyone in their path. Children fell, battered to death, as their mothers watched.

    "Itza!" she heard someone call her name and saw Bastia shouting to her from their home. It was in the center of the stampeding beasts, but Bastia, focused on something else, had not yet seen them.

    "Bastia! Go in, bar the door!" But her sister could not hear her. Instead, she finally noticed the wild boars only a few yards away and froze in terror, door wide open, screaming and terrified.

    Itza ran as fast as she could, but already she knew she was too late. The lead boar was nearly to her front steps and Bastia had not moved.

    "Bastia! Go inside! Someone, please! Save her! Bastia!"

    A man burst through the back of the house, grabbed Bastia and dragged her inside, slamming the door in the boar's face. Startled, it hesitated for a moment, then battered against the door in anger. The rest of the wild beasts were running around the house on both sides, their momentum slowed slightly, but still a frightening adversary. The house shook with their passing, the porch groaned and fell as the animals flung themselves one after another toward the front door. Thankfully, it held.

    After what felt like hours, the animals stopped running and either wandered around town or out into the woods again. Itza knew it was another warning to them that Elveric was still around; angry and vengeful.

    "What will stop this?" Itza cried, looking at the death and devastation around them. "What does he want?"

    No one answered her, she had not really expected it. The door to her home opened and a very shaken looking Bastia walked onto the porch, stumbled over a broken step and fell on the ground. Itza was at her side in a moment, checking her for wounds.

    "Are you all right? What happened? Who saved you?"

    She looked up to see Crex standing in the door, his arm bleeding freely onto the porch. Leaving Bastia, she leaped lightly next to him, taking his arm gently in her hands. She could see at a glance that it was not only broken, but the skin was ripped away, exposing muscle and bone.

    "Sit," she told him firmly, but he needed little coaxing, his face pale and his knees weak.

    Bastia got a basin of warm water and some soft cloths for cleaning and then ran for the doctor to set his arm for him. She was back in a flash without the doctor.

    "He's busy tending the wounded and says he can't come yet awhile. He said you can manage yourself, he has faith in you."

    "I've never set an arm before," Itza said, "I don't know what to do."

    "I do," Crex told her through clenched teeth. "You just pull my arm till you see the bones line up and pop it back in place. With the skin like that, you should see it well enough." He grimaced, breathing in short, sharp gasps.

    "You hold me, little one and brace yourself, for I'll likely fall into a faint. Arm setting ain't pretty and it hurts neigh like being gored, but it's over quick."

    He nodded at Itza, who took firm hold of his arm and pulled until she saw the bones slide back into place. She released with a sigh and saw Crex slump to the floor. She braced and bound his arm. There was nothing she could do for the skin but soak some bandages in a healing mixture and lay them gently over the wound until the doctor could look at it.

    2015 Dellani Oakes

  9. #9

    Default And Itza Danced PART 6 by Dellani Oakes

    She left Bastia to tend to Crex and wait for the doctor to come, while she walked about the village, seeing the damage and helping where she could. Many of the buildings were uninhabitable and about a dozen people wounded, half that dead. Elveric might not move against them personally, but he was doing all he could to get even. There had to be a way to stop him.

    One of the other ex-bandits approached her as she sat on a bench outside the tavern, a tankard of ale at her elbow, untouched. "Miss, if I may?"

    She nodded and he sat.

    "My names Vilfort, Miss. Crex is me cousin though we be closer than brothers. I hear he saved yer little sister."

    "Yes, he broke his arm, but I've seen to it." She took an absent sip of her ale, making a face at the bittersweet flavor.

    "Miss, Elveric won't stop til he crushes this place. He's a heartless bastard, pardon me saying. Like Crex told yer, he wants to make ye pay for making mockery of 'im. He'll not stop till he kills ya all one way or another. We was given the choice of watching 'im kill our families or join up, we made the best we knew how to save em. Nothing'll make us happier than to see him pay for that in spades."

    "We're not an army, we can't stand up against a man like him and the band he leads."

    "Ye do what ye should ha' done before, Miss. Ye call him out to fight ye, only this time, you kill the sorry bastard."

    Itza cringed. It was one thing to kill a man in a battle, it was quite another to duel him and take his life. He'd kill her in a trice, he had no such compunction. It looked like her only way to solve their dilemma, they could not withstand a pitched battle.

    "We could call on other villages to help us."

    Vilfort shook his head. "Ye'd have a right mess on your hands if ye did that. Then they all are targets too. He'll be out rounding up those as run off and recruiting more as he did us. He'll come back here stronger than he was and with blood in his eye. Nothing'll stop him then, mark my words."

    Itza eyed him speculatively. It had occurred to her that this man could still be working for Elveric. They all could and they had taken them in like friends. Was he a wolf disguised as a lamb? He was pushing single combat and warning off calling for help. Although she admired Crex, she did not trust Vilfort. She gazed into his eyes and he would not meet her stare.

    "Why do you really tell me this? Don't tell me it's for our good, because I don't believe you. He wants you to do this, doesn't he?"

    His face crumbled in agony. "He's got my son, and says he'll kill him if I don't help out!"

    "Have you seen the boy? You know he's alive?"

    He nodded sadly. "Saw him last night and spoke with him. He's a little 'un, Miss, of an age with yer sister."

    Now she was hearing the truth. "Do you honestly think this is the best tactic? For me to fight him again?"

    He shrugged. "I don't know no more, Miss. Could be it's best for all but ye've no guarantee he'll keep his word even if you kill him. He could have his men attack soon as he goes down. He's a snake!"

    She waited a few minutes, gazing into the distance, toward the hill where her parents were buried. This was the most difficult decision she had made in her life as head woman. It was not one she made lightly. If she could save the lives of her family by fighting Elveric again, she'd do it. What Vilfort said was true, she had no guarantee, but she might be able to weigh the odds in her favor.

    "Tell him we've spoken and I'm thinking about it. I'll consider doing as he wants."

    Vilfort looked hopeful.

    "But, if you betray us, I'll see to it that not only you die, but your son as well. If you think I can't make that happen, you are quite wrong."

    Vilfort blanched. "I'll see what I can do, Miss."

    "Before I agree, I want to see the boy well and whole. If any harm comes to him, the deal is off."

    "If I tell him that, he'll know I've told you!"

    2015 Dellani Oakes

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