Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Rúna crouched in the tall grass. The soft golden glow of morning just a sliver on the horizon, she knew she had to think quickly and act fast. Heart beating a heavy cadence in her chest, her eyes searched the dimly lit campsite for Fiadh.
She counted three men and one woman, all broad shoulders and braided hair. One man stood by the dying fire, appearing to be assembling their slim and shoddy assortment of cookware from the evening before. The woman appeared to be keeping the last of the night's watch on the other side of camp, back straight, sharp jaw silhouetted in dim morning light. Another man was still snoring about ten feet off to her right. The last man was stepping gingerly across camp to where there appeared to be an inert form.
When he poked it with the toe of his boot, it moved, shifting upright and revealing familiar midnight locks tumbling over rounded shoulders. Rúna's breath caught, her rage cresting on a fresh wave inside her gut. Fiadh. Her posture reminded Runa of a snake, cornered, coiled and waiting for the right moment to strike.
Fluid and languid like a big cat, Rúna crept through the grass. She cut a slow, broad arc to the left. All she needed to do first was catch Fiadh's eye. Rúna was close enough to them now that she could make out what the man was saying to Fiadh.
"Get up, ya bloody fish. We gotta get moving 'fore that redheaded friend o' yours finds us."
Fiadh bared her teeth and snarled, making a lunge for him despite her bound hands.
The man scrambled away from her. "Oi, why're we doing this again, mate?" he called over his shoulder. The man collecting their things leveled a glare at his companion.
"Because, mate, we're teachin' that no good backstabbin' fae lovin' bitch a lesson fer turnin' on her own kind."
"Right, o'course," he grumbled, turning back to where Fiadh sat. "Come on then, lass."
He bent to lift Fiadh by the arm. Rúna felt around in the grass beside her, fingertips combing across the cold, hard earth until they caught and curled around a hefty pebble. She aimed and with all the force she could muster, flung the rock at the man where he bent over.
It struck him in the back of the neck. He yelped and straightened, looking around at his comrades, his attention momentarily diverted from Fiadh.
"Whaddya go and do that fer?!"
"Chuck somethin' at me!"
As the pair descended into squabbling, Rúna took the opportunity to get even closer to Fiadh. Once she was only about six feet away from her, still hidden from sight in the tall grass, she opened her mouth to speak.
Before she did, Fiadh said quietly, without looking in her direction, "I know you're here."
Rúna smiled, whispering lowly "And, just how did you know that?"
Fiadh's lips twisted in a suppressed smile. "Heightened senses, of course."
Rúna huffed. "Of course. Listen, do you know where your seal coat is?"
Fiadh's eyes glanced hurriedly toward where the men were squabbling. "I think the sleeping one has it. He's the one who cornered me in the cave."
Rúna's eyes cut across camp to where the man who had been sleeping was beginning to stir due to the ruckus nearby.
"What is all the fuss about?" he groaned, rubbing at his eyes, as he hoisted himself into a sitting position.
"Okay," Rúna whispered. "Anything else you can share with me?"
"The woman is intelligent and seems conflicted over the whole affair."
"Right. We could work with that."
Fiadh gave the subtlest of nods before they were interrupted.
Snoring-man approached Fiadh with heavy footsteps.
"Enough," he said gruffly, voice still gravelly from sleep, as he yanked Fiadh to her feet. "We need to move."
Jaw clenched, muscles tight, Rúna followed silently, a safe distance behind.
Over rolling hills. Through lush vallies. The sun following them in the east before climbing high into the midday sky. Then, as Rúna picked her way through an ancient, earthy smelling forest, it fell in front of her, golden beams flickering through tree branches. Warm hues filtered through leafy green.
The small band hadn't stopped to eat. Instead, merely pulling dried fruit and meat from their packs and munching as they walked.
Rúna studied them from afar, observing their dynamic. The woman was sharp, eagle-eyed. Bow within easy reach at her hip. She turned twice throughout the day, suspiciously eyeing Rúna's general direction. The second time it happened, Rúna reminded herself to move with more care.
Packing-man carried most of their belongings slung over one shoulder, a battle axe strapped to the other. He was a big man. Big even for a Norseman. Broad shoulders, beefy arms, a torso that rivaled a good-sized boulder, he would hit harder than Thor's hammer, but he would be slow.
Easily-distracted-man talked. A lot. He had an easy gate. Built lean and long, he moved like he didn't have a care in the world. He laughed a lot with Packing-man. Rúna could just make out the shape of twin daggers at his hip hidden beneath a woolen long coat.
Snoring-man was easily the grumpiest and most unpleasant of the bunch. Rúna thought he looked vaguely familiar with his dirty, blonde beard falling to his chest in two unkempt braids. He gave the orders. He didn't allow them to stop until they were well within the shelter of those ancient trees and the sun had nestled just below the horizon for the night.
Packing-man began the task of unpacking and setting up camp. The woman set off into the growing gloom to gather firewood. Easily-distracted-man chattered away at Packing-man while he worked.
Snoring-man led Fiadh to a tree adjacent to where his bedroll would be positioned and bound her to it.
Rúna crept closer, closing the distance between herself and where Fiadh was tied to the tree.
Without warning, she felt the cold touch of steel at her throat, biting, and a sinewy
arm across her chest. The woman's other hand had Rúna's right arm wrenched behind her back in a tight hold. Rúna's shoulder screamed protest.
"I knew we were being trailed," a low feminine voice rasped in her ear.
Rúna swallowed against the small hunting knife at her throat.
"Please," she murmured. "I'm just here for the woman."
"Do you know what she is?" The woman hissed.
"Of course I do."
"And yet you still want her? She's a fae creature. She'd drown you at the first opportunity. "
The woman's blade nicked Rúna's throat drawing blood.
"Eydis!" shouted Snoring-man. "Are you about finished?"
"Aye! Some o' us are starvin.'" Followed up Easily-distracted-man.
"Bloody idiots," Eydis grumbled from her position behind Rúna.
Rúna chuckled in spite of herself.
"Nearly finished, fellas!" She hollered back.
Then more quietly, so only Rúna could hear, she said, "I'm not going to pretend to understand why you want her. But, I don't think it's right what he plans on doin' with the fae witch. No woman, fae or otherwise, deserves to be bound to such a fella."
"So, you'll help us?" Rúna asked in a rush.
There was a long silence that stretched between them. Then the blade at Rúna's throat fell away and the woman said, "Aye. I will. I'll take first watch. When the boys fall asleep, I'll move her seal coat to the edge of camp. You untie her and meet me on the west side of camp. There you take it, and the fae woman, and you run. I'll stall as long as I can."
"Thank you, Eydis," Rúna breathed, turning to look at her would-be helper, tears of relief stinging her eyes.
"No one else looks out fer us," Eydis said, more softly. "If you can't rely on other women to stand with you in a man's world, then we've got nothin.'"
"Now, hide near 'er," she said more firmly.
And, Rúna did, hope taking root in her heart once more.
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