She woke to the soft sound of damp wood sizzling. Her eyes opened slowly. The night sky shone with stars and the slither of a new moon. Her body ached, every joint protesting, without her even asking them to move. Peeling her tongue from the roof of her mouth she very slowly turned her head in the direction of breathing. Petra lay next to her, curled beneath her rainbow blanket.
She turned her head back to the centre and then let if fall in the other direction. Farron lay on his back, one arm thrown across his eyes. She couldn’t see who lay beside him, there was just a dark shape. Her eyes fell closed. Water would wait.
She woke next to raindrops falling on her face. Light summer rain, lit by the sun’s rays. Farron stirred, and Petra sat up, glancing down at her.
‘Farron, she’s awake. Get water.’ The air moved and Farron’s shape crossed in front of the sky. ‘Janen, how are you feeling?’ Petra asked.
She tried to speak, but her throat wouldn’t produce the sounds.
‘Never mind. You are weak. Don’t try to talk. Here let’s get water into you.’ Farron’s face appeared, and his hand reached behind her neck lifting her forward. He looked worried. Farron never looked worried. Petra lifted a cup to her mouth and this time she managed to drink. ‘Farron wake the others and rig something over her so she stays dry,’ Petra ordered as he placed her head back on the soft makeshift pillow. Petra pulled her blanket over her own head and draped it around Kintra. ‘This will do for now.’ she smiled and pushed a curl from Kintra’s forehead. ‘I wish I’d been here to see what you did,’ she said softly. ‘Farron’s version is hazy at best. I won’t bother you with what else has happened. Not yet. But get better quickly please.’
Petra’s soft lilting voice made her sleepy. Her eyes drooped once more, and she remembered nothing else for a while.
The next time she opened her eyes she lay in a makeshift tent of tree branches propped against a main pole. The sun shone through gaps here and there. The rain had evidently stopped. Someone sat next to her, whittling an arrow point, the knife working methodically. That was her job. The aches and pains had left her joints. She felt weak, but not completely drained, strong enough to turn her head and look at the person.
‘What are you doing here?’ Her voice was little more than a whisper, and the knife bit too far into the wood, ruining the tip.
‘You’re awake at last.’ He smiled in relief, his eyes, cornflower blue, as the sun caught his face. ‘Here, have some water.’ He helped her upright. Her head swam and she had to grab his sleeve. An arm circled her shoulders. ‘It’s Ok. You have been out of it for two days. Just don’t puke on me again.’
She drank more water and cleared her throat. ‘Helian, where am I?’
‘You are exactly where you were when you killed the sorceress.’
‘How are you here?’
‘I was following her.’
Kintra closed her eyes. Her brain wasn’t capable of thinking yet. ‘Where are my friends?’
‘Outside. We’ve been taking it in turns to sit with you.’
‘Get me Farron.’ She felt his arm stiffen, but he said nothing. He pulled himself up, and she swayed a little, placing a hand on the ground to steady herself. As he ducked under the hanging that fell over the makeshift doorway, he looked back at her. She couldn’t read that look; it had been too long. She closed her eyes only opening them again as the warm scent of Farron’s body drifted in on the light breeze.
‘Hey.’ His voice was soft and warm. He sat beside her, folding his arms around her torso, and she collapsed against his chest. This was all she needed right now. Just this. He didn’t say a word.
‘Don’t go.’ She clutched his shirt and he froze.
‘I didn’t know you were awake. I have to pee.’
‘So do I.’
‘I can carry you if you can crawl out of here.’
She lay against him, mentally scanning her body. Each time she woke she felt stronger. ‘Let’s try.’
He helped her sit up and went to the door, holding open the sacking. It was night once more, and quiet. She crawled through and shivered as the breeze crept over her skin. Farron helped her to her feet, scooping her up quickly before she fell. Bushes at the other side of the causeway offered cover, and he placed her down. ‘Do you need help?’
His voice was unsure, and she smiled. ‘I will manage, I think.’
‘Call me when you are done.’ She watched him turn his back and go a short distance away. She managed to shuffle out of her trousers enough to pee. Balancing to do it was more challenging but there was no way she was going to ask for help doing this.
He carried her back to the camp. ‘I’m hungry,’ she said as they neared the fire.
The ever present worry suddenly vanished from his face. ‘There is a broth that Petra made for when you woke. I’ll warm some.’
‘Let me sit by the fire while you do it.’ He placed her gently, her back to a log they had dragged in to sit on. She breathed deeply of the night air, noting the sleeping figures. She counted eight. That wasn’t right. She tried again. Still eight. ‘Why are there eight people over there? Are my eyes working?’
He laughed softly, stirring a small pot hanging over the fire. ‘There’s a lot you don’t know yet. But eight people is correct. There are the ones you know of, including both elves, a man who arrived as you collapsed, calling himself Palian. Says he knows you from years ago?’ He paused for a moment, and she gave a brief nod. ‘Then there is Prince Vlarimar.’
She opened her mouth to speak, and then shut it firmly. Then she opened it again. ‘As I said,’ Farron offered her a cup of broth, ‘There’s a lot you don’t know yet.’
She sipped the broth. Flavours burst in her mouth, herbs, venison, root vegetables, yet there seemed to be nothing but liquid. She felt stronger with each mouthful. ‘What did Petra put in this? It’s amazing!’
He sat next to her. ‘I don’t know but she warned us all off it. She made it just for you, and I think she sprinkled some of those leaves she keeps in that pouch into it.’
Petra’s medicinal leaves that no one had a clue about. She used them rarely as they were irreplaceable without going back to Amoria. ‘I am lucky to have you all as friends.’ She reached a hand to find his, her eyes filling with tears. She took a long deep breath in, steadying herself.
‘Without you, I would be dead,’ he said softly. ‘I don’t know how you did what you did. But thank you.’
She looked at him and was surprised to see a misty look in his eyes too.
‘Shall I tell you a secret?’ she whispered. He looked at her, so serious, and nodded. ‘I don’t know how I did whatever I did either. It just happened. And it scared the crap out of me. And it happened because I was threatened, and there was nothing I could do. She had paralysed both of us, and as she came towards me, I felt this fire rising up in me, racing through me.’ She shuddered and sipped more of the broth. He continued to watch her face. ‘Then it burst out of me, straight at her.’
Farron let out a long low breath. ‘Well you were always pretty passionate.’
She giggled, and he smiled, that clownish look back in his eyes. This Farron shifted the world back to where it was supposed to be. Then another voice tipped it on its side again.
‘You conjured Wildfire. Just like your ancestors did.’ Helian came into view and sat down at the opposite side of the fire. Wildfire. Of course, that was exactly what it was. Wild Fire. Her head spun with the implications. It also occurred to her that she really needed to understand how to control something that was so powerful.
‘I’ve never heard of Wildfire,’ Farron said, ‘Is it Earth Magic?’
Helian nodded. ‘Not many people have heard of it. It has become part of our mythology now. But Kintra has ancestors who could use it, and other forms of Earth Magic, very effectively indeed.’
She shot him a look at his admission.
‘Who?’ Farron frowned at Helian.
Helian didn’t look at him. ‘It’s time people knew who you are. Especially these people. You have good friends.’ She stared at him, feeling weak all over again.
Farron looked at her. ‘What’s he talking about?’
She swigged down the rest of the broth, not knowing where to start. ‘My name isn’t Janen, its Kintra.’
He frowned. ‘Why…?’
She put up her hand to stop him. ‘My life as Kintra ended five years ago. I had to build a new life, as a different person. It was the only way to hide.’
‘Certain death,’ Helian interrupted. ‘My real name is not Palian, but Helian. I had to do the same, but we only, very recently came across each other again. I thought Kintra was dead. I thought everyone was dead.’ He turned to look at her, ‘But Kintra, they are alive. Our families are kept in a dungeon, together. All of them in one room. They sleep on straw, and shit in a bucket. They haven’t seen daylight in five years.’
She dropped the cup. ‘No…’ Farron deftly caught it.
‘I’m sorry. It is what I wanted to tell you the other night, before you ran away. They are alive and we need to free them.’
She had no words. They sat in silence, Helian holding her gaze, until Farron slipped his arm around her. ‘I’ll help.’
It was Petra who guided her back to the shelter. She left her with more broth, and told her to rest, banning Farron from following her, and giving Helian a look that could kill, but instead sent him off to the other side of the camp. Kintra didn’t know how she would sleep. She kept picturing her mother and father and little brother, who would be, what, fifteen now, in a dungeon. But not long after drinking the broth all thoughts drifted away, and sleep took over.
The small camp was quiet when she next left her shelter. Her body felt strong, her energy utterly drained. Everyone sat quietly around. Helian was making more arrows, Farron using a stone to sharpen sword edges. Petra was tending to someone who looked as weak and drained as her. Prince Vlarimar. No one had explained him to her yet. Thinking about her parents gave her a sudden urge to put him out of his misery once and for all. She walked past Farron drawing a sword from the pile. Everyone stood up.
‘Janen, no… Kintra.’ It was Zorbel’s deep voice at her side. She refused to look at him and carried on walking. It wasn’t her sword; it was weighted all wrong. Helian walked towards her, and Petra stood slowly, the Prince behind her. She kept on going.
‘What are you doing?’ Helian asked walking purposefully towards her.
‘Kintra you…’ She pointed the sword at Helian’s stomach. He pushed it away. ‘You need to know his story.’
‘Fuck his story!’ A strong arm pulled her from behind, briskly disarming her. She knew it was Zorbel without looking.
‘The man is right,’ he said. ‘Come and sit down and let Helian tell you.’ The Prince was looking at her from under his hair. The confidence of the other day was gone, he was broken. She hated him still. Helian touched her arm.
‘Kintra.’ There was so much in his tone. Understanding, compassion, power and the familiarity of home. She gave in. He reached out and took her hand, leading her to the side of the camp so they could speak alone. They sat on the warm stone of the causeway.
‘Prince Vlarimar is in the same position as us.’
She tightened her lips but let him go on.
‘The Garalions didn’t take Erania alone. They were used.’ She looked at him. ‘I know it seems unlikely, especially with their history. He was a hostage.’ He pointed at the Prince. ‘And they were using him to find us.’
She looked down at her hands trying to understand but failing.
‘What you did,’ Helian said, ‘Is what they want.’
He nodded. ‘It might have been absent from our family lines for a couple of centuries, but from what I have read recently, I think that is only because we haven’t needed it.’
‘Wait. What do you mean, we? You have it too?’
‘Yes. Think about where Eranians come from. The Source is the same, and so is the magic.’
‘It makes no sense though. Sorcerers have magic. Why do they need us?’
‘They don’t need us. They need our magic. They mean to take it from us, all of us, together. That’s the reason our families are still alive. Once they have us, we will all die.’
She shook her head. ‘It still doesn’t make sense.’
‘I don’t have all the answers yet.’
‘I saw him the other day. He was fine.’ She pointed at Vlarimar.
‘He was under a spell. A gold chain around his neck bound him.’
The gold chain. Was it the same chain Farron had found?
‘You saved him.’
‘I saved no one but myself. And to be quite honest I don’t want to do that again. Ever.’
‘It was impressive! And frightening. Chaos unleashed.’
‘Why has it never happened before?’ she was growing weary again. ‘This life puts me in danger a lot.’
‘I don’t know for certain, but I am guessing you have never been so completely unable to defend yourself before.’
‘Except when they attacked the palace and burnt it to the ground around me.’
‘Yet you escaped,’ he said gently. ‘You made a new life, a very different one.’
‘Don’t judge me.’ Her tone was harsher than she meant it to be.
‘I don’t Kintra. I respect you. You survived, you made friends, you learnt a trade of sorts. You found someone to love.’
She looked round at him and he quickly stared at his hands. ‘Farron and I have an understanding. It’s not a relationship. We like each other, and we have sex when it suits us.’
‘You did better than me.’
She didn’t ask him to explain. She wasn’t certain she wanted to hear. Neither of them spoke.
Eventually she stood. ‘I need to eat, and then sleep. And then we can discuss what happens next.’
Farron had cooked his rabbit again and was slicing it up as she sat down, with her friends by the fire. He looked up at her and grinned. ‘It’s nice to see my ferocious lady back again.’ She smiled back but wondered what he meant by ‘my’.