I deeply apologize for how long this fic has taken guys. In order to sort of force myself to give yall longer updates, I'm doing a quick re-vamp and combining my previous chapters into 2 longer ones. From this point on, all the chapters should be this length.
Disclaimer: do you really think if I owned anything that I'd spend time writing this? Tristan and I would be spending a lot more time together instead!
The drums pounded all around her, their deep tones echoing back from the mountains surrounding Cynric's troop. Aisling hated those drums; after 5 years of hearing them almost constantly, she was fairly sure that hell would be nothing but drums day and night. She tucked her head down and wrapping her arms about her chest, focused on putting one step ahead of the other. It was cold in these mountains, and she was not the only one struggling against it. Cynric had already lost a good dozen of his men due to frostbite and exhaustion. He, of course, was wrapped in furs and leather, but most of the soldiers were forced to huddle beneath thin woolen jerkins and ratty cloaks. They had not expected that this campaign would lead them into such weather.
Aisling chuckled grimly. Before the campaign had even begun, she had warned Cerdic of the sudden cold that his men would face, but he'd chosen to ignore her. So be it. She would not pity the shivering Saxons. Not when she was so blasted cold herself. She was clothed in her old tunic and skirt, now more patch than cloth, and the wind was slicing through her like a blade. Her own cloak had been taken as yet another punishment, this time for her "failure" to tell Cerdic about the Roman estate before his pet spy. Once, she might have offered up information on her own, in hopes to protect her mother, Morgan, from such a punishment, but since her death only months before, Aisling had held her tongue until forced to reveal what she'd seen. Slavery and murder would not earn her loyalty.
A gust of wind whipped through the pass and slammed into her, driving her painfully to the ground. sheets of ice and men screaming 'it's cracking' run run RUN… a gentle soul swings an ax and all is dark and drowning and- "Get up!" the harsh voice ripped her from the vision as her master dragged her to her feet. Yanking her long dirty hair savagely, Cynric jerked her face up to him. "Do not fall behind, understood?" She nodded grimly, thankful that he hadn't noticed her slipping into the vision. She picked up her pace keeping close as ordered, but now taking in her surroundings more carefully.
There would be ice ahead, she now knew, but in what measure and why it would be such a danger to the men, she wasn't sure. She could only hope this vision would finally offer her some means of escape- the escape she'd not even dared to think of while her mother still lived as Cerdic's slave. She glanced over at Cynric; any escape at this point would be welcome, absolutely any.
Face grim, she strode on among the men she knew might be marching to their deaths, and the drums played on.
Cynric's scouts were scurrying back to report in when she noticed the hawk. It dipped and swayed in the mountain wind, disappearing and reappearing in the low lying clouds. Cynric had paused the onward march and incessant drums to confer with the scouts and his second, and Aisling took that moment to watch the creature soar.
She rarely dreamed; the waking visions seemed to block most everything else out of her head. When she did dream, though, she always dreamed of a hawk. It would circle above her, or swoop silently down to stare into her eyes, his own fierce and gleaming. Her mother claimed her hawk was an omen. Of what, though, she never did explain except to mutter something vague about "freedom" or "death" or both depending on the night. Some might have called Morgan le Fay a witch, but her gifts had always lent themselves more to healing and hedge-witchery than to the seer's arts.
Gazing up at the bright hawk above her, Aisling wondered if that omen might mean this day. "Freedom or death, Mother?" she whispered. "Which will it be?" For a moment, the vision of ice flickers back before her eyes. Both seemed likely.
"Girl!" She turned her eyes away from the hawk, and toward her master. Cynric was eyeing her fiercely, waiting for her to dance attendance, as usual. She moved closer to the knot of scouts, grateful for the momentary warmth of the press of bodies, and listened as Cynric explained the report. Apparently, the scouts had found the ice from her vision. A massive lake stretched through the canyon a bare mile ahead of them, and it seemed a likely place for the Sarmatian knights to make their stand. "Well," Cynric sneered, watching her closely for any sign of a vision, "do we meet them there or continue on ahead? Speak up!"
For the first time in a long while, Aisling welcomed the vision. arrows fly farther than expected out of range but not for- darkness beneath a thin sheet of glass and an ax an ax an ax I'm drowning and- She pulled herself back to awareness with a gasp, swaying a bit. Predictably, none of the men dared reach out to aid her. She steadied her weak knees and took a deep breath. "We must cross the ice," she whispered, another voice, deep and rough, echoing the words in her mind. "There is no other way." The voice faded as she spoke up. "Only the knights and one other will face your forces. It will be an army against only eight defenders."
Cynric chuckled grimly. "They could never hope to stand against us." He ordered the men to move out as the drums began to pound again.
Aisling took one last longing look up at the hawk. "They won't need to stand when the ice cracks," she whispered, forcing her tired body after Cynric.
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