Read A Hero's Bargain Online

Authors: Forrest, Rayne

A Hero's Bargain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hero’s Bargain

 

by

 

Rayne Forrest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hero’s Bargain

 

Previously
published.

 

This
book is a work of fiction. While references to actual places or evens may
occur,

the
names, characters, incidents and locations are from the author’s imagination

and
any resemblance to anyone, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

A
Hero’s Bargain – Copyright © 2015 Rayne Forrest

Cover
by Safari Heat © 2015

 

All
Rights Reserved

 

White
Deer Enterprises/White Deer Books

 

Reproduction
of this digital e-book for file-sharing or selling, regardless of whether any
type of currency is exchanged, other than what the author grants, is strictly
prohibited by law.

 

WARNING:
This book is intended for readers of the age of 18 years of age.

It contains explicit
sexua
l content and language.

Chapter 1

 

“Saba! Quickly! Hallaf is injured!”

Saba Duer dropped the scroll she
studied and sprinted outside to find her aunt aiding a tall, gangly youth limp
across the center yard of the village. The boy dragged one leg, his leather
trousers torn and stained dark with blood. Fear made bile rise in her throat.
Her stomach churned on a rush of acid.

“Was it the
errol
?”

“No, Saba. I saw its tracks, but I
fell.” Hallaf stumbled, pitching into Saba’s arms. She caught him, bracing him
up.

“We must get him inside, Saba.”
Jennica spoke calmly with the gift she had for not alarming the injured.

Saba nodded her agreement with her
aunt as they eased Hallaf closer to her hut. Her stomach roiled as she spotted
a group of boys watching them with eyes gone wide with fear. This was the
legacy the children had now, the legacy the
errol
had brought them. She
gave them something to do, a chore to keep them busy and make them feel useful.

“You boys run and fetch water from
the well. Each of you bring me a bucket then gather one piece of firewood from
each family and bring it to my hut.”

Some of the people would howl at
her commands, but she couldn’t send such little ones outside the walls until
she knew where Hallaf had seen the
errol
tracks. She herself would see
the firewood replaced and water from the stream brought in for those who
complained about their forced charity.

Hallaf was white with pain, and fear,
as Saba and Jennica eased him onto the surgery bench. If his leg needed
stitched, and Saba was sure it did from the size of the bloodstain on his
pants, it would be quite painful. Hallaf made a request of her, one that tore
at her heart over the poverty her people were reduced to.

“Don’t cut my pants more. I have no
others.”

“Rest easy, Hallaf. We’ll take
care.” Saba slid the tattered garment off his hips. The youth was pale skin
over bone, as so many were these days. “Lift his foot, Aunt.”

Once removed, Jennica folded the
trousers into a loose ball. “I’ll treat these with
karaa
root
immediately. It will remove the worst of the stain, perhaps even all.” She
patted Hallaf’s bony shoulder. “I have some spare cloth for mending, and these
will be almost as good as new.”

Saba examined the wound on Hallaf’s
thigh. Long and jagged, it had missed the major blood conduit. He was lucky in
that. He would live unless the wound corrupted. What he may not be so fortunate
in was the muscles healing without twisting.

“I will have to stitch it. It’s
your best hope of walking normally when healed.”

Hallaf paled even further, but he
nodded. “C-can you give me some of the sleeping nectar?”

Saba hesitated. She had only a few
drops left, and knew there was little more to be found in the village. As the
healer, she needed to save the precious liquid for the most serious of injuries.
She didn’t even have enough to mix with red grass tea to ease a birthing woman.

“I’ll see what can be done. Lie
back and relax as much as you can while I cleanse this.”

A shadow fell across Hallaf and
Saba turned to find Tyree standing in her doorway. She’d known he’d come the
minute word of an injury spread around the village. The boys scampering about
on their errands would draw everyone’s attention.

Tyree entered her hut, coming to
stand beside Hallaf, covering the youth’s hand with his. Saba listened intently
to their conversation. Tyree was many things she didn’t like, but he was
skilled in gently getting information from the injured, his voice surprisingly
soft when he needed it to be.

He’d had much practice over the
last seven seasons of Wae.

“Is this the work of the
errol
?”

“No, Tyree. I was traveling the
east road and went off on the path to the holy shrine. There I saw fresh tracks
of the
errol
. It…it frightened me and I ran. I tripped and fell onto a
sharp stick.”

“I see. I will take a few men and
go to the shrine and take a look around. Saba will explain to you the foolhardiness
of being on the east road alone.”

Saba kept her face unreadable as
she met his gaze. Tyree turned back to Hallaf.

“Although I suspect you’ve just
paid a high price to learn the knowledge on your own. Saba.” Tyree nodded to
her and left the hut. She heard him calling to his men-at-arms.

Saba busied herself tending the wound.
She had no intention of scolding Hallaf. Tyree was correct. The young man had
learned the hard way. Sighing tiredly she opened her bottle of sleeping nectar.
It was all she had left unless and until she could get into the forest to
gather the plant from which it was distilled.

“Drink it all, Hallaf, because this
is going to hurt. A lot.”

* * * *

Saba pressed a cool cloth to
Hallaf’s forehead. He was warm, but not overly so. She attributed it to the
stress of receiving such an injury. A quiet knock sounded on her door. She knew
who it would be.

“Come in, Tyree.”

He entered quietly and eased his
tall frame onto a wooden stool Saba kept by the fire. He lifted the lid on her
stew pot, abruptly dropping it, and blowing on his fingers. She chuckled and
handed him a piece of leather toweling.

“If you’re going to be nosy, you
can stir the stew, too.”

He didn’t look at all chastised, he
never did, but her stew got stirred. She slid one of her wooden chairs in front
of the hearth and sank wearily into it.

“You may have some stew if you’re
hungry.”

“My thanks, Saba, but my men and I
shared a fowl. I will dish some up for you, if you wish.”

The last thing she wanted was him
waiting on her. He wanted her for a wife, and she generally sought to discourage
him. He looked at her curiously.

“It’s only a bowl of stew, Saba. I
can see how tired you are. Can you not accept even a tiny kindness from me?”

“You make me feel small, Tyree.”

“That is not my intention and you
know it. Do not seek to quarrel with me. I am tired, as well. I’m here to speak
with you, not try to bed you.”

Despite her relief that she
wouldn’t have to fend him off yet again, the female in her was annoyed. And
what annoyed her even more was that she was annoyed. She hated her own ambivalence
where Tyree was concerned. The whole village thought they should mate. It would
be an advantage to have the two village leaders couple. She just didn’t have
the right feelings for him.

Or so she believed. She wasn’t sure
she didn’t have them, either. Just what were those feelings like, anyway?

“So speak, Tyree. Did you find
evidence of the
errol
?” She shivered just thinking of the creature being
so close to the village again.

Tyree’s lips thinned. “Yes. It was
at the spring. The tracks are several days old. Hallaf isn’t skilled at reading
such signs.”

“He has other gifts. Tyree, I need
to go into the forest and harvest some plants. I would not ask if the need was
not critical.”

He regarded her coolly. She was
preparing to argue with him when, to her surprise, he nodded.

“Many need to go beyond the walls.
Tomorrow will be fair weather. Send the boys to tell those you need to assist
you. I’ll assign guards.” He rose and retrieved a bowl off her shelf, then
spooned two ladlefuls of stew into it. He handed it to her.

“Here. You will eat this. I will go
and ask Hezetta to light a fire for you in the bathing chamber. When it’s
ready, I’ll come back and sit with Hallaf. Afterward, you will rest.”

“I think you overstep yourself. I
do not take such directions from you.”

“I know you think that, but you
need to consider this. You’re headwoman of this village. Just forget for a moment
that it’s my wish to mate with you and remember that you’ll be no good to me or
anyone else if you collapse. Now do as I wish just this once. Must I beg?”

That brought her up short. He was
not the kind of man who begged anyone for anything. Not even her. She took a
closer look at him and was shocked by what she saw.

When had that gray begun gracing
his temples? How long had those lines creased his face? She’d been so involved
with the cares of the village she’d not paid attention to him. The people
needed him, too.

“You are even more tired than I am.
I’m sorry, Tyree. A bath would be appreciated.”

“Perhaps I could sleep by your
fire?”

So he was exhausted, was he? That
certainly sounded like the Tyree she’d known all her life. She rolled her eyes
at him.

“No. But if Hezetta goes to all the
trouble to make a fire, maybe she’ll keep it warm for you when I’m through.”

He snorted. “We must find a husband
for Hezetta, and one whose name is not Tyree.” He stood and stretched. “I won’t
be long. Eat your stew.”

With that he left, going about his
self-appointed errands. Saba stared into the fire, spooning bites of the
tasteless stew into her mouth. She needed more than the healing plants. All the
women complained of the need for fresh herbs to make their cooking more palatable.

She finished her meal and checked
on Hallaf before gathering her meager bath supplies. Things had been different
before the
errol
had appeared. The village had prospered. They’d traded
the bounty of their forest with others and been considered wealthy by all their
neighbors. Things had changed. Now she had only rough soap to wash with, and
that had to suffice for her hair, as well. What she really wanted were fresh
eola
leaves and their rich, fragrant lather.

It was an unprosperous vanity and
that was all there was to it. Her long brown hair may not be as pretty as the
golden tresses most women had, but it had gleamed in the sunlight. Honey-golden
highlights appeared in her hair every season of Wae. Many had commented on the
shining circlet the sun gave her. Now her hair was as dull as everyone else’s.

Vanity and pride would be her
downfall. Her mother had told her that many times.

Nonetheless, if she could find the
right plants tomorrow, she’d be able to wash her hair and have it truly clean
and shiny, at least for a few days.

It had been a long time since she’d
gone to the bathing chamber, preferring to heat water and bathe in a basin
rather than face Hezetta. Hezetta truly wished to couple with Tyree and saw
Saba as an obstacle. It was just easier to bathe privately than in the warm
water in the cave. Now she was tired enough that the thought of sinking into
the gently swirling water and soaking her tired muscles sounded like bliss.

Her door opened and her aunt came
in holding Hallaf’s leather trousers. She laid them on the table.

“I did what I could. We all need
new garments, but there are no pieces of fine leather left, no wool from the
wild goats. We should leave this place, Saba, and settle elsewhere. Let the
errol
have these woods.”

Saba’s stomach clenched. Jennica
only voiced what many thought, what she sometimes thought herself when she lay
awake in the still darkness of the deep night. They could go, find a new place
to settle. Hadn’t her own mother’s ancestors done that very thing when they’d
settled here?

No, she could not. This was her
home. Her mother, and her mother’s mother, were buried here, in the woods.
Their deaths, and the deaths of all those who came before them, was the price
of the freedom they all claimed as their way of life. She couldn’t turn her
back on this place.

The
errol
had come here
seeking something, but no one knew what. Speculation was rampant, but one
frightful thing was certain—the creature was intelligent. It had come here,
where game was plentiful, the water pure, and the land bountiful.

It had killed outright, true, but
not for many years. Now it only responded if threatened. Unfortunately, its
claws were poisonous and many people could not survive the toxin. Even a small
nick was deadly.

Many refused to see the truth of
it. Many believed it killed indiscriminately and for pleasure. Saba didn’t
waste her breath arguing with them. Regardless of facts, regardless of anything,
only one truth mattered. They could not coexist peacefully with the creature.

Saba nodded at her aunt’s words. It
was the only way to stop Jennica from rambling on and on about it.

“Tyree is coming to sit with Hallaf
while I go to the bathing chamber. Will you see that he eats some stew?”

“Of course. Are we really going
outside the walls tomorrow?”

“Perhaps. You and I will certainly
go. I’ve not decided who else need take the risk. The fewer of us wandering
about, the less chance the
errol
will feel threatened if it happens to
return.”

Jennica nodded her agreement. Saba
thought again on how strange it was that she was actually older than her aunt.
It would be a relief to receive counsel instead of giving it constantly. She
opened her door to gaze out at the sunset. Tyree was approaching, smiling. He
handed her a small, pink wildflower. She gazed at it, open-mouthed.

“Where?” she croaked. The petals of
the
eola
were what she needed to wash her hair. Crushed, they made the
perfect lather.

“Just outside. This was the only
one. I know I should not have picked it since it was, but I had to bring it to
you.”

Saba bit the inside of her lip. He
was right. He should not have taken it. But he’d done it as a kindness and she
should accept it as such. Besides, the deed was accomplished. There wasn’t a
way to put the flower back on its stalk. She smiled at him.

“Thank you, Tyree… By the gods,
what is that?”

Tyree spun around as a fireball
shrieked from the sky, falling behind the western hill. The noise was deafening
as the sound of a large collision reached them. Flames stretched toward the
sky. Villagers ran from their huts, drawn by the light and the noise. Saba’s
knees threatened to give way.