Authors: KateMarie Collins
“Far enough that we’ll spend at least one night in here. And be at the edge of Kaerdan’s reach when we come out.” The man waved them on to pass through
Alaric ducked through the opening, not wanting to go far into the enveloping dark. The musty aroma of earth surrounded him.
Emile pushed down on a lever sticking out of the stone near the door, and it slid back into place.
“Now what, Emile?” Fin spoke from near Alaric. The darkness was so deep he’d not realized how close she was.
“We get another torch lit, and walk. There’s a pool of fresh water up ahead. We can camp there for tonight. Rest. Get cleaned up. No one’s going to bother us in here.”
Gwen’s face brightened as the torch in her hand caught some of the flame from Emile’s. She passed it on to Alaric. “One in the front, one in the back. Let’s move.”
Slowly, they made their way through the darkness. He didn’t know how long they’d be in the dark, but swore he’d get Fin practicing with her bow once they were above ground again.
He lost track of time. The only thing keeping him from going mad was the flickering torch he held, matched by the one Emile held up ahead of him. The meager light kept whatever might be hiding in the dark at bay.
Alaric never had issues with the dark before the scorpion sting. Since then, though, things had changed slightly. His encounter with the total blackness of death changed him. He knew what was out there, waiting for him. He’d escaped death once, thanks to Fin. And now it waited for the chance to strike again.
Emile stopped, his torch no longer moving as he did. As Alaric approached, the walls opened up around him. The cavern’s walls, decorated with veins of quartz, reflected the torchlight. A small river flowed through one side. Clear water collected in a small pool in the center before disappearing through another opening. “We stop here for the night,” Emile stated. “We can fill up our water skins, clean up in the pool. Get some sleep.”
No one needed to be told anything else. The routine of setting up camp began. Bedrolls came out, but not the tents. Trystian got a fire started and rummaged about for ingredients for that night’s dinner. Gwen and Fin went to the far side of the pond to fill up water stores and bathe. Alaric resisted the urge to watch. The light wasn’t enough where he’d see anything, but felt they should still have some privacy. The splash, followed immediately by a shocked squeal, made him turn his head though.
Fin was standing waist deep in the water. Her hands pushed water from her hair, giving him a tantalizing view of her naked profile. The shadows kept details hidden, but not enough to keep his loins from tightening at the sight. “No peeking, Islander,” Trystian whispered from the fire. “Best not let either of them know you saw anything. They’re strong women. Stronger than most. And Fin’s just as likely to castrate you as anything. They make the choices, not us.”
Alaric turned away and moved closer to the fire. Trystian was right. Any relationship he might have with Fin would be because she chose it.
The light ahead grew larger as they approached. But also fainter. Emile had warned them they’d reach the end of the tunnel today, but wouldn’t be able to leave it. That would wait for dawn. When they could emerge without giving away the location and still have a full day to travel.
“We keep watch tonight, no fires.” Emile extinguished his torch and motioned at Alaric to do the same. “Few know of this route, and it must be kept that way.”
Alaric took a wistful look at the rapidly fading light. The smell of fresh air teased his nose. That was something, at least. One more night and he’d be out under the open sky again.
They moved quickly, before it became too dark to see. No sense to do much beyond pass around some bread or dried beef. Alaric found a section of the wall that wasn’t too rocky and settled in to sleep.
Someone or something nudged his foot, rousing him. Emile stood over him. “Your turn,” he whispered. Alaric rose, taking in what little he could see. The moon was full, giving them a faint light. Trystian slept, his sword in his hand. Gwen and Emile both grabbed at blankets, ready to rest. Fin silently folded hers before tying it to her pack.
Alaric walked toward her, avoiding both his sleeping companions and their gear. “I don’t think we’ll be shooting tonight,” he said, keeping his voice light.
Fin snorted, “You think?” she replied sarcastically. “Trying to be funny, Islander?”
Her tone stung. “Not really, Fin. Just making conversation.”
She scrambled up on a rock close enough to the exit to observe, but not be seen. “It’s not you, Alaric. It’s this tunnel. The darkness. I hate it.”
He took up a position opposite of her. “I understand that. It’s oppressive in a lot of ways. I’ve felt like death was waiting for me since we first came in here. But I’ve had issues with darkness ever since that damn scorpion bit me.”
“That’s natural, I suppose. At least you know where your fear comes from. That’s half way to conquering it. I don’t know.” She plucked a small patch of moss off of the wall next to her, picking it to pieces as she spoke. “I’ve been in this tunnel before. The sewers where Emile found me were dark, but I was more afraid then of the light. Because that meant someone was coming to chain me, make me their pet. The dark was a good thing.”
“So, what’s changed?”
Fin threw the remains of the moss towards the sheltered opening. It bounced against the bushes blocking the way out, finally coming to rest on a rather nasty looking thorn. “Maybe it’s me that’s changed. Maybe I’m tired of hiding, being on alert all the time. Never able to relax.” She let out a heavy sigh. “I’ve been hiding for over twenty
years, Alaric. No one should have to do that just to stay free.”
A single tear wove a path down her face, catching the moonlight. Alaric rose, crossing the small space to be closer to her. “So, stop hiding. When it’s just the five of us. You can relax. We won’t treat you any differently, won’t put a leash on you,” he whispered
. His heart broke to hear her vocalize her pain. Even though he was living a life hidden himself, it wasn’t to her extent. He didn’t have to hide his eyes just to stay alive.
She didn’t reply, and wouldn’t look at him. Her head turned toward the brambles. Alaric moved back to his spot on the opposite side. And kept the watch in silence.
Three hours later, when the light began to shift, Fin spoke again. “It’s time. Let’s wake the others and get moving.”
Alaric nodded, easing his way off the small ledge he’d perched on. While Fin got the rest up, he shouldered his pack and adjusted the quiver on his hip. He preferred to keep the bow unstrung, but decided to have it ready just in case. There was no way of knowing what they’d encounter when they left.
He did a quick survey of the area once Emile moved toward the exit, making sure nothing was left behind. As he turned back around, Fin was there. Her green eyes gold for the first time in weeks. She stretched up, planting a gentle kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered.
He smiled, resisting the urge to pull her into him. “What did I do right?”
“You listened.” With those words, her eyes reverted back to the green she let the world see. The mask back in place, she followed the others out of the cave.
Still smiling, Alaric followed. Tonight, he’d have to find the carcass of an animal if he could. Teach her the difference between hitting trees and flesh with her arrows. And maybe she’d allow him into her world a little bit more.
About the Author
Born in the late 60's, KateMarie has lived most of her life in the Pacific NW. While she's always been creative, she didn't turn towards writing until 2008. She found a love for the craft. With the encouragement of her husband and two daughters, she started submitting her work to publishers. When she's not taking care of her family, KateMarie enjoys attending events for the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA has allowed her to combine both a creative nature and love of history. She currently resides with her family and two cats in what she likes to refer to as "Seattle Suburbia".
You can find KateMarie at the following sites:
Other Solstice Shadows titles
A Book of the Amari
Fin depends on her companions to keep her safe…and out of chains. As one of the Amari, the only race that can harness magic, she longs for a normal life. One where she didn’t have to constantly look over her shoulder, and she could fall in love.
Alaric fell hard for Fin from the moment he laid his eyes on her three years ago. He swore an oath to keep her safe, even if it meant his life. But he knew that any relationship he could hope to have with her would be on her terms.
When a king offers them the chance at a normal life, Fin’s cautious. And rightly so, as there are others who think she’s the one to lead the Amari from a life of slavery.
The Moreja Sisterhood exists to rescue boys from abuse and arranged marriages. Arine’s on assignment, bringing Cavon back to her home in Sanctuary, when she discovers something terrifying.
He can do magic.
When the chance comes up for her to go back out and rescue her own brother, sold off by her mother ten years earlier, Arine eagerly takes the chance. But can she talk him into coming home to Sanctuary with her? And can they get there before the Domine’s army, bent on controlling the magic?
Daughter of Hauk
Book 1 of The Raven Chronicles
What would you do, if you found out your life was a lie?
After you were dead?
Arwenna Shalian spent her life in loyal service to a God she was never meant to serve. Tricked by her fellow priests, she betrayed a man she thought she loved by binding a demon to him. One that would send him to the brink of madness.
Can she find a way to forgive herself? And what of Hauk, the God she was Marked to serve? Will He find her and give her the chance to undo what she’s done, or leave her at the mercy of the creatures that torture her soul?
Son of Corse
Book 2 of The Raven Chronicles
It’s been almost two years since Arwenna banished the Demon Corse from her world. Life has been good. Idyllic, almost.
The illusion is shattered in a heartbeat during her sister’s wedding. Not only are once-dead enemies back, but they’ve stolen Arwenna’s only child, Sera.
The price Arwenna will have to pay to save her daughter is high. Can she muster the strength to make a pact that jeopardizes not just her own soul, but that of an entire world?
Mark of the Successor
Dominated and controlled by an abusive mother, Lily does what she can to enjoy fleeting moments of normality. When a break from school only provides the opportunity for more abuse at home, the sudden appearance of a stranger turns her world even bleaker. Disappearing without a trace, he has left a lingering fear in Lily. His parting words to her mother, “Have her ready to travel tomorrow,” is something her mind refuses to accept.
Running away is the only answer. But before Lily can execute her plan, a shimmering portal appears in her room. Along with two strangers who promise to help keep her safe. With time running out, she accepts their offer for escape and accompanies them into a brand new world. A world in which she is the kidnapped daughter of a Queen, and the heir to the throne of Tiadar.
Can she find her own strength to overcome both an abusive past and avoid those who would use her as a means to power?