Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.
Warnings: This story contains mention of sexual assault and physical violence.
The night air chilled my skin as I stalked towards the palace. I knew I only had moments before Audvard returned and began searching for me, but I could not run straight in and risk being seen. Tonight would see the end of Yåkov's rule. Quietly I walked beneath the arched entry to the back of the palace courtyard and my eyes scanned the area for anyone who might see me.
It was empty.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I darted quickly to the entry to hall nearest my chamber and tucked my body close to the wall as I peered around the corner. With the assumption of my death, the hall should also be empty, no longer occupied by my sisters or myself or guards needed to watch the chamber.
Before moving on, I took stock of my weapons: two arrows in my quiver and a dagger in my boot. Would it be enough? Did I have the time to pause and retrieve more weapons?
The risk was too great that I would be caught – either by the palace guards or Audvard who, with his unnatural speed, had no doubt already returned and began searching for me. With his heightened senses – if he were like Jarpr, who said my aroma was distinct, I had to hope for the rain to begin soon – to loose my scent and the fire to slow his search.
I walked as quickly and quietly as possible through the hall, hugged the corners of the passageway and hid behind pillars as I moved towards the juncture that would open to the throne room and the King's chambers.
Then I heard it.
Rain began to fall as the sky opened up and began to empty its bowels. The soft pitter-patter of the water falling seemed to echo in my ears and I held my breath – waiting for the next sound.
A scream of "fire!" resounded through the castle, the source not far from me. Another followed and then I heard orders being called through the halls as boots hit the floor. The fire had started.
It was an Arab slave I had met a few years prior that had told me of the fire. The Greeks had used it to defend and later conquer on the seas; it was a fire that one had to be specifically prepared to extinguish. A fire that was set a light by water and extinguished by sand; the palace was too far from the sandy beaches of Dagez to stop the fire, and it would spread as the rain fell – wetting more and more of the palace, and while the guards within were distracted by the fire that devoured and advanced upon them, I could easily slip past them.
Audvard had created a perimeter around the castle, had poured the Greek Fire around the inside of the palace walls, trapping those inside with only one exit. An exit where he would be waiting, an exit I had seen Tyr enter through in my dreams. And they would come – of that I had made sure.
I pressed my body flat against the shadows of the pillar as guards raced past me, their focus entirely on the fire that was already blazing outside. As they rushed past, I remembered that final night with my sisters.
We had sat together around the fire as I explained why I demanded they leave me. I had taken the parchment from the packs of the horses and with a prick of my finger, had sloppily written simple commands for them to carry with them.
Allow Tyr to pass. I wait for them at the palace.
I had pressed the pad of my finger below my signature, signed in my blood, and when each parchment had dried, folded it and handed it to each sister.
"This is freedom," I began, "Freedom for our people, for you, and for me. And it is important that you scatter, run away from me, and carry these letters to every village that is seated along the border. When Tyr arrives, you must ensure that the people stand down and allow their army to pass through quietly. Yåkov cannot know that Tyr is advancing. Their attack on the palace must come as a surprise."
Their eyes looked back at me, clearly torn; it was Ava who spoke up, "Where will you be, Highness?" she asked.
"Waiting at the palace. Yåkov will become far too suspicious if I fail to return, if no one returns he will begin searching and I cannot have that. I will distract him as long as possible, each of you are tasked with assisting Tyr." My voice was firm and my heart pounded in my ears – there was an important part I was hiding from them, but for now, this would have to be enough.
They argued with me, did not want to leave me alone to return to the palace, and so it was decided that Nada would return. She was the oldest, had trained the longest, was lethal – and they all believed she would be best suited to protect me. I swallowed thickly at the memory, at the confidence we had all placed in one another, at the fear that had threatened to swallow me whole, and the grief that was always in my peripheral vision, waiting to descend upon me.
Later I would allow it all to wash over me, but in that moment I needed to remain focused on the task at hand. The fire was fast, spreading already as the rain began to beat down on the land in earnest, and shouts soon gave way to more screams. The smoke from the flames would drown out my scent, slowing Audvard from finding me.
The sky seemed to rain fire; the blazes rose higher and higher around me. At first, the puffs of smoke meandered through the sprawling courtyards, between the soldiers, under doorways, and through the cracks in the castle walls – like a braided stream trickling through the low plains. But the smoke grew increasingly thick and black. It engulfed me until I had no choice but to flee or stay in my hiding spot and suffocate. In the dream, I ran out blindly, stumbling, coughing, and feeling my way along the corridors and steps. But as the panic from the flames tried to settle upon me, I pushed it aside and focused.
"This way!" I heard Leif shout as he ran through the corridor, and I could see Yåkov fumbling behind him. Breathing, I readied an arrow and peered around the pillar.
Yåkov was injured, his chest had been bandaged and arm wrapped in some sort of sling. Most likely it was the pain, and perhaps the smoke that crawled through the halls, that made him clumsy. He had fallen to the floor and was struggling to regain his footing, Leif stood above him, and arm outstretched, in an attempt to help him right his position. Squinting my eyes, I focused on the tender, exposed column of his neck. I pulled the bow taint, kissed the feathers of my arrow, and exhaled as I let the arrow fly.
It flew through the air and I watched, mesmerized, as it sought out its target. The spiked tip met the tender flesh between his shoulders and he screamed in pain. His body crumpled back to the floor and I pressed myself tightly into the shadows as I listened to the men only yards from me.
"Where did that come from?" Leif screamed. "We must get you to safety!" I heard grunting and dared a peek around the corner to see Leif pulling Yåkov's body to his back and stumbling forward. "We must flee," Leif coughed as he pressed forward.
"Stop, and fight," Yåkov demanded, his breathing came in spurts, and he seemed badly wounded.
"We don't know how many there are," Leif explained.
I moved to follow them, but paused as I heard the screams and the vision played out in my mind once more.
Screams surrounded me from every side, roaring in my ears, deafening me. The smoke had quickly thickened, and my lungs burned. My eyes watered and I struggled to keep the two men in my sights; Leif righted Yåkov's stance and together they stumbled from the corridor, coughing and sputtering. They stumbled into the courtyard and fell to the cobblestone ground, they seemed to struggle again as they crawled forward, away from the smoke that seemed to billow all around them. Yåkov coughed and sputtered and gasped for clean air, his hands clawed at the ground below him as he struggled to regain his bearings.
The scene before me was hazy, with colors that were distorted into various shades of gray. Men and women ran in different directions, soundlessly screaming, and their faces a blur. My mind was unable to focus on any one point, any one person, unable to match the sounds of their screams or cries, with the images to which I bore witness.
In the dream, I had assumed Tyr was attacking – never had I considered that I was the one attacking. I fumbled through the dream, through the hazy memories, to find something of use.
As I overcame my unsteadiness, a new sound grew steadily louder, overwhelming the sound of my heart pounding in my ears and the sounds of the screams all around me: The sounds of thousands of hooves pounding the ground as an armed cavalry stormed to the castle keep.
Should I wait? Should I follow Yåkov? Help could be moments or hours away, Yåkov could escape, could run and flee the kingdom. With the flames licking along the walls, the men distracted, no one would notice his stumbled departure. And with that, he could escape, heal, and return for another fight.
It had to end tonight.
My heart pounded in my ears – safety was so close, and yet I knew what my duty called for. I had to have faith that regardless of my decision, that while the future may be altered, it would not be completely changed.
And so, coughing while I crouched low to the ground, I followed their shadows across the cobblestones, through the courtyards, and through the palace gates. Their forms retreated towards the branches of the forest, and briefly I turned my gaze back towards the palace I had exited.
My home. My memories, my love, my family – so much love had been held within those stone walls. Those same stone walls that had also held so much misery and grief, were now engulfed in the angry fire. Around me, servants were scattering, fleeing from the flames, as they ran – coughing and sputtering, from death itself.
I turned from the path, moved through the crowd of people who had gathered outside the walls – those who had safely exited the palace, and those from the village who stood, shocked, mouth agape as they watched on and rain soaked their clothes.
Gritting my teeth, I turned away from the scenes that played out before me, some from my dream and others new, and determined crossed the path and entered the woods. Breathing deeply, I inhaled the clean, cool air of the night, and began searching for any sounds that would direct me to my prey.
The forest was silent, the only noise was the fire and rain and people behind me as I pressed forward. As I walked, I remembered my sisters, the boy servant, and Jarpr and allowed my anger to fuel my body. The fire behind me was not quite as loud when I heard the grunts and struggles ahead of me. I crouched low again and scooted behind the thick trunk of a tree while I slowly inched forward. There was a thud as if someone fell to the ground, and grunting.
"Yåkov, you must get up," Leif commanded. Hidden behind the brush, I peeked through the foliage and saw the two men. Yåkov had indeed fallen to the forest floor, and was on his uninjured side, eyes scrunched close – they stood directly in front of a large, smooth looking boulder. Leif stood above him, eyes weary, as he scanned the forest surrounding them and then would return to Yåkov's shuddering form at his feet.
"Remove …. it," Yåkov grunted.
"I do not have any bandages, there would be no way to close or even cover the wound. What if this makes it worse?" His companion answered.
"Don't ….. care," he gasped, "Remove …. it." With another scan of the forest, Leif nodded and lowered his body closer to Yåkov. Thick hands wrapped around the end of my arrow and paused.
Now. Kill him now.
My hands felt numb, thick with sleep even, and fumbled with the arrow from my quiver, they shook as I aligned the tip, and my arms seemed to be made of jelly as I attempted to pull the bow taint. Fingers slipped along the smooth line of the bow as droplets sloshed against me – my hands, my bow – everything was wet and slick. My ears pounded with each beat of my heart as I aimed for the two unaware men, my breathing too fast and shallow. I could feel sweat bead on my forehead as I prepared to release the bow, to kill Leif, who would be more of a threat to me than an already injured and weakened Yåkov.
As I took aim, I could see Leif's smiling face almost float before my eyes. His warm embrace as I cried for Jarpr when my love had departed the land, the false friendship seemed to beat at me relentlessly and I waivered. Could I kill this man? In that moment, I hated him – hated his betrayal, hated what he had done to me, hated everything that he was. I reminded myself of the children he had burned alive, with their parents, in the temple. I reminded myself of Nada's death, of the lies he told me, of the pure pleasure he seemed to take when I was beaten. And yet, it was those early memories – of the maze, of his comfort, of his friendship – that gave me pause.
Was this I? Was this who I wanted to become?
A killer without honor?
Behind me, the palace burned, and with it, every memory – good and bad – burned with it. I had destroyed my home, the home that held generations of my family, because of those two men. The two men who had left me no choice but to become what I had.
Or was there a choice? I could easily fall back, return to the palace, and lead the army of Tyr to them – allow justice to be served, allow the proper measures to be followed under our laws.
And yet ….
As I had walked into the castle, not yet burning, I had imagined it as my tomb. The tomb that would hold all my pain, all my anguish and that of my people as well; it would be the final resting place of my childhood and I would emerge, like the fabled phoenix, a new woman. I would leave behind the morals and values of a girl raised during peace, and would emerge - hardened - by the realities of war. I had accepted that, as I had shivered in the night, lodged uncomfortably in the high branches of the trees, praying that the guards would discontinue their searches and believe me dead – I had accepted what had to be done.
Yet, in that moment – as I held both men in my sights, was prepared to let loose my arrow, and kill the stronger opponent, I felt myself falter.
And then I decided.
It was wrong.
It was the coward's approach, and I was no coward.
Breathing deeply, I shifted my aim, and released the arrow.
It sailed through the air and I watched, mesmerized, as it found it's target – Leif's arm that was pulling the previous arrow from Yåkov's screaming body.
Leif screamed then, screamed as the sharpened tip sliced through the tender flesh of his arm. His body rocked backwards, away from Yåkov and I took the moment, and ran through the shrubs towards them.
They looked up then, saw my approach, and I watched as disbelief washed across both their pained features.
Yåkov stood then, swayed on his feet, but clenched his jaw and removed the knife from his hip. "You will not kill me, bitch," he ground out.
The rain continued to fall around us, soaking the materials of clothes, mixing with the blood that now ran freely from both men. The arrow had been removed from Yåkov's back and I could smell the metallic aroma of blood as it wafted through the air. I smirked at him, his body swaying as his attempted to right himself, to remain on his feet. At my own hip sat a knife and one last leather sack filled with Greek fire - I had held onto it just in case I needed it. I retrieved the sack from my side, and pulled the stopper from the top. Yåkov watched me, wearily, as Leif struggled to withdraw the tip of the arrow from his torn, ragged flesh. I sloshed the liquid behind me, and then moving quickly to the side, sloshed it on the ground; Yåkov swayed from side to side, perhaps in an attempt to anticipate my move. The fire bloomed behind me as I moved again to the opposite side and sloshed more of the potion to the ground.
Surrounded. We were enclosed on three sides by the fire, the boulder behind them provided no escape.
Yåkov's eyes widened as he realized he had nowhere to retreat, that he would have to stand and face me. "I may die," he breathed, "but I will take you with me." He screamed and lunged towards me and I kicked him to the ground.
"No," I replied, my chest heaving, "You will not."
He screamed again, and swung his knife towards my ankles. I dodged the movement, but not nearly quick enough. The blade of his dagger sliced across the tendon below my ankle, sliced through the leather. I screamed as the pain shot through me and jumped further away. The flamed licked at my back as they began to climb into the wet trees surrounding us. Gingerly, I tested the foot, and realized I could place some pressure on the foot, but not too much.
Leif now stood next to Yåkov, his arm running rivets of blood as the open wound seemed to pulse and throb with each beat of his own heart. The two men, stood together facing me – one swayed on his feet, the other like a statue. I crouched low, steadied myself on the balls of my feet.
Moving slowly, Leif shifted to my side, and I turned, prepared to fight. My arms were out in front of me, and I watched both men as they approached me. I had hoped the arrow through the arm would slow Leif, would make him clumsy and uncoordinated, like Yåkov, but it seemed to only fuel his anger. "You will pay for that," he growled at me.
He attacked then, not a lunge or even a run towards me, but his arm swung towards me and I took a large step backwards to remain out of his reach. It was then that I felt the blade tear through the tender flesh at my side. I gasped as the pain poured through every limb of my body, as my heart seemed to be seared from the heat of the pain, and I felt my legs begin to shake. Though weakened, Yåkov had taken aim as Leif had distracted me, and thrown his dagger into my side.
My knees hit the ground then, and I could feel the drenched earth beneath me as the ground seemed to tilt and sway. Leif stood before me then – I had not even seen him move – and his hand slapped me across the face.
"You may kill me," I whispered, still gasping from the pain at my side, "But you will die here too – you cannot escape the fire." I laughed – madly – at them. My hands gripped my side, and as they leaned closer – to sneer down at me, I held Yåkov's gaze. He leaned closer still, as if to spit in my face, and heaving – I pulled the knife from my flesh and screamed, from the pain and the anger that threatened to swallow me whole – and plunged it into his throat.
Eyes bulged and he stumbled backwards, hands clamored at the hilt of the knife that was buried in the column of his neck. Blood rolled in thick drops down his skin and Leif turned to gaze upon his companion. Yåkov's body dropped to the ground, his breathing wet and heavy.
While Leif was distracted, I crawled away – away from the flames of the circle that now seemed to totally blot out the sky as the thick smoke rose higher and higher. I crawled to the boulder, where only moments before, Yåkov had laid next to, and breathed deeply. The world spun around me, and I could barely make out Leif's form when he turned towards me. "You bitch!" he screamed and advanced towards me, the lifeless body of Yåkov silent behind him. In a few short strides, he reached me, his hand tangled into my hair and pulled violently at the roots. I screamed back at him and flailed my arms about – wanting to reach any part of him that I could tear or claw at. "I will kill you slowly," he whispered roughly in my ear, "you will beg for mercy," he coughed at me.
A roar filled the forest then and I wondered if the bear had returned.
But a bear would flee from the flames, would it not?
My mind was hazy and I struggled to clear my vision, as the hot tears seemed to fall unbidden down my cheeks.
The humming returned then, overwhelming, as it seemed to bear down insistently on me. "Jarpr," I whispered and Leif smirked at me.
"You will never see him again," Leif hissed at me.
And then we were not alone.
A dark figured, clothed in the dark leather uniform of Tyr, stalked through the flames. His hood fell back as he crouched inside the deadly circle – gone were his bright, golden eyes, replaced by lethal black orbs. His body was rigid, and the skin of his lips pulled back in a hideous snarl. The skin around his face was blackened, as if charred, and before my eyes, began to slowly heal and return to its natural pale color.
"Jarpr," I whispered, and I know he heard me.
"Let her go," he growled.
Leif's grasp loosened for a brief moment, the tightened again and slammed me into the rock behind me. "Take another step and I will kill her," he threatened.
I expected Jarpr to smirk at my would-be murderer – I was sure his supernatural speed would be more than fast enough to save me. Before Leif would realize that I had been redeemed from his grasp, Jarpr would already be prepared to kill him. "Don't be so sure," I ground out.
But my confidence was badly shaken when I looked to Jarpr, his face almost paler than usual, and his whole body shook. Had I not known better, I would have thought he looked scared.
How could a god possibly be frightened of one human?
Confusion settled over me then, as I watched Jarpr scan the area, the fire around us, and return his gaze to Leif. "Kill her and you will be dead before her body hits the ground," he threatened.
Leif cocked an eyebrow at him and yanked again at my hair, began dragging me upwards until I was standing before him – like a human shield. "We shall see," the coward behind me answered. "Move!" he commanded and he began pulling at my hair and shoving my body forward.
Pain tore through and I could not help the cries of pain that escaped me, I wanted to be strong, to be brave – but hot, searing pain throbbed at my side and through my head, and I felt my knees wobble beneath me. Leif pushed and pulled me to the fire nearest the boulder and furthest from Jarpr, "Save her, if you can," he said and shoved me – hard – into the wall of flames.
I screamed as I felt the intense heat so near my skin and I felt my body begin to fall. My eyes involuntarily squeezed shut and my arms shot out in front of me to protect my body as I felt myself begin to tumble down towards the ground and into the fire.
And then, cold arms encased me. They pulled me close, and kissed the crown of my head. "Shhh, I have you," he whispered. I wanted to answer him, but the smoke from the flames choked me and I began to cough and sputter. My body shook from the force of it and I began to wheeze as I vainly attempted to catch my breath. "I need to get you out of here, hang on tight."
With no voice to answer him, I nodded my head, and curled my rapidly numbing fingers into his uniform. Grasping the leather tunic, I pressed my face into his chest and closed my eyes, as I felt his muscles bunch and coil beneath my hands.
Impossibly, we were flying. I timidly opened my eyes and realized, we were not flying – he had jumped into the sky and was pummeling towards a tree. It was the only tree not entirely engulfed in flames, and by some miracle, we were headed towards a branch as of yet, untouched by the encroaching fire. I screamed, the choked sound muffled by my lips pressed to his chest and hide my face again.
It almost felt like floating as he quickly shifted from the branch to another tree and then to another, until we were safely back on the ground and a good distance from the angry fire. Gently he sat me onto the ground and looked me over. His hands, although cool, seemed to heat every inch of me that he touched.
"You are injured," he whispered, as he found the open wound on my side.
"Yes," I whispered, my throat thick, "You must finish Leif," I pleaded.
Jarpr shook his head as he continued to inspect each limb thoroughly, "No, I am leaving him to a horribly slow death, which is still more than he deserves," he bit out.
My hands still felt numb, heavy in fact, but I reached for Jarpr's face and placed my palm flat against his cheek, "Your Highness," I whispered, and his shot up to mine, "Yes, I know," I nodded, "He must be dealt with – you must make sure," but my throat closed on me and I began to wheeze again as I struggled to breathe.
"No," he whispered, "I must have you attended to first." I opened my mouth to object and he placed a single finger to my lips, "He is not going anywhere, you however, are badly injured and have inhaled far too much smoke." His eyes seemed to be fixed on his finger and my lips, and ever so slowly he bent his head towards mine.
Breath mingled with mine, he smelled exactly as I remembered, and I inhaled desperately, savoring his scent. He paused, almost unsure, and I whispered, "Please." His eyes flickered to mine – scared and angry, hungry and unsure, and then he closed the distance and his cool lips were pressed to my own.
Everything fell away then – the throbbing, searing pain at my side, the pulsating sting in my head, and even the heartache of the past few months. Everything was right again – Jarpr was with me, kissing me, and loving me, and finally – we were together.
Panting, he withdrew from me, "I must return you to the palace, and then we can…" his voice seemed to fade, as if lost in thought. Then as suddenly as he paused, he scooped me into his arms, and began to carry me through the woods.
Silence descended upon us then, and all the many questions I wanted to ask him seemed to fill my mind. I could not think of which one to ask him first.
How did he know?
Was Audvard his brother?
Yet, before I could decide on a single question, he looked down at me, and asked his own, "How did you know?" he murmured, "How did you know who I was?"
My mind went back to that night on the forest floor, when the memories had pummeled me relentlessly and with such vivid, frightening clarity. I remembered everything he had said to me, all the stories, and all the pieces had slowly come together until I had realized – he was the King of Tyr. I decided to use the first clue ever offered me to answer him, "Well, you told me," I began, "That first night – you said you had always been a servant. The way you spoke of servitude should had alerted me sooner, but only a true ruler knows the weight of leadership, only they truly understand that to be a king means to be a servant."
He nodded, and I continued, "Will you stay?" I whispered; having decided that was the most important question.
Abruptly, we stopped and he looked back down at me, "Wherever you are, I will be," he declared, "I will never leave your side again."
His lips lowered to mine, as if to seal his vow, and met mine. My hands snaked up his chest and my fingers tangled into his dampened bronze hair as he kissed me. His tongue slid out between his lips and slowly caressed mine until my mouth opened to him, as our tongues met, I moaned and pressed my body closer to him. He growled in return and seemingly out of nowhere, a tree was suddenly pressed into my back as he pushed his body against mine. "I want you," he murmured as his lips hungrily devoured the skin of my jaw and my neck.
I wound my legs around his waist and felt his hardened length against my center, I moaned again and rolled my hips to meet him. His fingers were at my waist, pulling my body closer, and suddenly there was pain – sharp, shooting pain that seemed to splinter throughout my whole body. I cried out as bright colors flashed behind my eyelids.
"Izabel?" he whispered and as my vision cleared, I realized he had laid me down again – my back was flat against the wet ground beneath me. One pale hand was stained along the fingertips – stained with my blood.
"I am alright," I panted, "I think your hand," I gestured towards his blood stained hand.
"Ah yes," he replied, sheepishly, "I was, um, lost in the moment," and had he been able to – I could have sworn he would have blushed. He pulled me back into his arms and began to walk very rapidly, yet still smoothly, and back to the palace. I could make out the shadow of the palace and was surprised that no more flames licked the dark sky.
"We extinguished the flames," he explained and I realized I had been staring at the charred palace rapidly approaching.
"That is good," I whispered, and then I turned to him, another question eating away at me, "Jarpr – is that your name? Or is it Vanir?"
His head shook from side to side, "Well, as you once observed, I am not even from these lands – Tyr included. I came from an island, and my name was Edward."
A/N: So today is my first day off in almost two weeks, so I apologize for the delay in posting. By time I get home, I just want to crawl into bed or spend time with my family, and unfortunately, that has meant no time for my stories. :( Three chapters to go until the end! Please accept my apology and I am doing my very best to get the next three updates out on time.
So I have to say, that originally that last part was not anywhere in the story. I had dropped plenty of clues (since Chapter 17 in fact) that Jarpr was Edward, but I figured I would have him say it. ;-) There are still plenty of things to reveal (like Jarpr/Edward's backstory, etc.) and we won't be getting to all of them by the end of this story - but did you see any of that coming? If you're wondering when Izabel figured everything out, it was after she visited the villages but before she returned to the palace, when she was wallowing alone in the forest. If you reread that chapter, I bet it'll stand out like a sore thumb now - or at least, I hope it does. :)
Recs: My phone has become my very best friend because I can take it with me on every break and read some of my favorite stories. Currently, I am in love with The Keepsake by windchymes - in fact ANYTHING written by her is absolutely fantastic. Go over and give it a shot. I am also waiting on pins and needles for the next update to The Chosen Ones - no vamps, but still good.
R&R: Let me know what you thought - loved it, hated it, can't wait for the next installment - please click that "Review" button at the bottom and let me know! :)