Lorelei tried to stretch, but one of her hands was pinned by her side. Opening one eye in lazy puzzlement she found Storm’s recumbent form beside her. She was lying on her side next to him, one hand across his massive chest, the other down between their bodies, their legs entwined together. A blanket had been pulled haphazardly over them sometime during the night.
She opened both eyes and lifted her head to look at him more fully, smiling as she remembered their unrestrained passion the night before. You’re finally mine, she thought triumphantly. Her eyes went past him to where he’d flung the sheet from their first coupling, the red spots on it visible proof she’d been untouched until him.
She studied his sleeping face intently. From the first moment, she’d met him at the burned-out farmhouse, she’d wanted him. Before she’d lowered her bow that day, she’d been drawn to him. He was tall and powerful, but so were many of the Biqah, and some of them were far more handsome than him. His features were a bit too rugged to be considered more than normally good looking. His face had a certain wild aspect his well-cropped beard couldn’t dispel. If looks were important she’d have been drawn to Ralt; his elven heritage had bequeathed to him a fairness of form and face Storm at his best couldn’t hope to match. Yet even before last night simply looking at him made her pulse quicken.
He felt her gaze on him and opened his eyes. He smiled lazily. “Good morning, wife.”
She kissed him lightly, “Good morning yourself, husband of mine.” He inhaled to speak but she laid a quick finger on his lips. “Wait. There’s something I need to tell you,” she told him. He gave a semi-shrug, semi-nod of acquiescence.
She sat up. “Last night,” she began, “I was ready to give you everything I had without the benefit of marriage but when you declared your love for me and proposed marriage; it took my breath away. It was more than I’d hoped for but it was also exactly what I’d hoped for, and what the dream and prophecy both foretold.”
He propped himself up on one elbow. “Dream? Prophecy?”
“The prophecy came first,” she told him, “but the dream happened the first night I slept by your side before the demon attacked us.”
He sat up with interest. “Go on,” he urged her.
“I dreamed I was walking toward you in a white dress,” she said, her eyes growing misty at the memory. “It was a sign we were going to be married. Before that, on the night I was born, 24 years ago on midsummer’s eve,” she continued, “two shamans came to my parent’s tent, one from the old gods and one from the new Lord of Light. The shaman of the old gods named me Lorelei, Child of Heaven, hoping to make me a great priestess of the old ways, but the shaman of the Lord of Light took what he did and turned it around, intoning a prophecy over me:”
Child of Heaven,
Child of Light,
With Power Great,
and Soul So Bright.
One She Will Meet,
The Man of Might,
Evil One’s Defeat,
By Force of Right.
“When we first met, and you told me about being a Ghibbore, and what it meant, mighty man, or man of might like the prophecy,” she caressed him with her eyes, “well, right then and there I knew you were the one. And the dream was one more piece of evidence.”
He leaned back against the wall, nodding at the obvious connection. “24 years ago on midsummer’s eve?” he questioned thoughtfully.
Lorelei nodded, “That’s right.”
The corners of his mouth twitched in an impish grin. “Would it interest you to know I first appeared on Gaia 24 years ago on midsummer’s eve?”
Her eyes were round. “Truly?” she breathed.
He held up one hand, “So help me, God.”
Her expression changed to one of puzzlement. “Why would one of the gods help you?” she wondered. “They don’t help people, they just command us and threaten us.”
Storm clenched his teeth in frustration. Just when things were looking up, the stark differences between Earth and Gaia smacked him between the eyes again. “It’s just an old saying,” he muttered, determined not to let it ruin his happiness this morning.
She could tell there was more to it than that but in the interests of maintaining their good mood, she let it slide. “So . . . you appeared on Gaia the same night I was born,” she smiled. “The same night the prophecy was spoken over me. I’d say that’s all the confirmation we need.” She leaned over to kiss him, slow and deep. His passion was quickly aroused and he reached for her but she slithered out of his grasp. “No no,” she smiled, bouncing to her feet to pull on her clothes. “Breakfast first, I’m starving.” She danced out of the room, waving gaily to him as she closed the door.
Durin and Ralt had cleared away most of the debris from the battle in the outer room. The bodies of the men Ralt had killed had been carted out and most of the cots had been folded up against the far wall. All but one of the tables had been stacked aside too. The big room now echoed emptily. There was also evidence they’d tried to wash away the bloodstains on the floor. All their packs were lined up against the wall so one of them must have gone to retrieve them from where they’d buried them in the snow.
The smell of fresh stew and hot tea filled the air as she entered. Ralt and Durin looked up as she came in. “Awake at last, eh?” the dwarf rumbled with a good-natured smile. He glanced at the afternoon sun streaming in through the windows and stuck his palm out at Ralt. “Pay up. I won.”
Ralt grimaced. “Couldn’t you have waited another hour?” he grumbled to Lorelei as he fumbled in his belt pouch. He drew out a gold coin and dropped it in Durin’s hand.
Lorelei stared at them aghast. “You were betting on when we’d wake up?”
They laughed at her expression. “Ye made so much noise, fer so long, young Ralt here thought ye’d be out until sunset,” Durin chuckled. “But I knew better.”
Lorelei tossed her head at them, then strode across the room to help herself to a cup of tea. “Hmph! Men!” She ladled out a huge bowl of stew and sat down to eat, pointedly ignoring their roar of laughter.
She’d barely finished half her stew when the door flew open and Storm emerged from their makeshift bedchamber. He looked immensely pleased with himself as he sauntered across the room. He kissed Lorelei on the cheek without stopping on his way to the stew. “Stars above that smells good!” he exclaimed, dishing out a bowl for himself. He sat down beside her and began shoveling it into his mouth. “You two did a fine job of cleaning up in here,” he mumbled around huge mouthfuls. “What about out there?” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the compound outside.
“We piled ’em up then Ralt set ’em on fire with ’is new toy,” Durin answered. “I think he likes it.”
Ralt gave them a crooked grin. “What’s not to like? A staff like this is every wizard’s dream come true.” He leaned forward eagerly. “Do you have any idea what this thing can do? It’s incredible! It can . . .”
Storm held up a quick hand to forestall the flood he saw coming. He was in too good a mood to have it spoiled by being forcibly reminded of the sorcery he’d aligned himself with, that had become part of him. “Later, later. Did you find any more maps or journals? Anything that might tell us more about the Leader?”
For her part, Lorelei was delighted at his open show of affection, but slightly more interested to hear what the other two had found. Telling them about their marriage could wait for the moment.
“A couple of items,” the wizard was telling Storm. He leaned down to grab a sheaf of papers lying on the floor beside him. He scooted his chair over to sit directly opposite Storm and laid them out for his inspection. “The top one is just a list of names, probably the men Belker brought with him. Belker was the commander here,” he hurried to explain. “The last man that you fought.” Storm nodded around a mouthful of stew, waving his spoon for Ralt to continue. “Except for the last page, the rest is just an inventory list of what’s here; blankets, cots, cords of wood, food supplies, weapons – things like that. The last one is kind of interesting though.”
Storm and Lorelei both paused. “Interesting how?” Storm asked, shoving his bowl aside.
Ralt spun the paper around so they could read it. “It’s a will.”
Storm’s puzzled scowl echoed Lorelei’s startled exclamation.
Durin puffed on his pipe as he leaned back in his chair beside Ralt. “Ye heard ’em right, lass. ’Tis a will, or seems to be, from the commander here. That’s how we knew who he was.” He pointed at Storm with the stem of his pipe. “And . . . he knew who ye were.”
Storm’s scowl deepened. “Impossible. I never met him until last night.”
“By yer reputation then,” Durin shrugged. “He was confused about the number of men the Leader sent with him on this ambush, plus the addition of the wizard and the giants. It made him think ye were more dangerous than he’d heard. He honestly thought he’d covered all the approaches so well we’d never survive, but he hoped ye were so powerful ye would win through and kill him anyway.”
“Reminds me of that bandit in the cave,” Lorelei said softly. “He thanked us for killing him.”
Storm nodded grimly. “So did Belker last night. What else did it say?”
Ralt saw that he wasn’t going to bother reading it so he picked it up. “Mainly he apologizes for everything he’s done since he was captured by Niran’s bloodstone gem. I’m assuming that Niran is the Leader’s name; that’s one interesting part. Then he asks that his sword and armor be returned to his family in . . .”
Lorelei winced from the volume of Storm’s blast.
“Give me that!” He snatched the will out of Ralt’s surprised hand, reading it furiously.
Durin and Ralt shot questioning looks at Lorelei but she shook her head helplessly. She had no idea what was going on either.
Storm’s chair crashed over backwards as he sprang to his feet. They were stunned at the expression of pure rage that suffused his features. “That traitor!” he exploded. “It is him!”
“Who?” Ralt asked hesitantly.
“Niran! Listen to this!” Storm scanned back up the page and began reading to them. “Please make sure my sword and armor are returned to my family in Robling. I can’t bear the thought of Niran using my blade in his two-handed fighting style. It’s too good a sword to be stained by his touch.” He slammed the paper down on the table, rattling the bowls and cups. “I knew that voice sounded familiar! I knew it!” He spun away with a thunderous shout of rage. A single kick tore the door off its hinges and he stormed outside into the fading sunlight.
Lorelei scrambled to her feet to follow him, Durin and Ralt close on her heels. They ran outside to find him bellowing, shaking his fists at the mountains to the north.
“NIRAN! I’ll kill you for this, you backing stabbing murderer! I’ll kill you! I’ll rip your lying heart out and shove it down your throat! I’ll kill you! Do you hear me? I’ll kill you if it’s the last thing I ever do! I’LL KILL YOU!”
Ralt started toward him, but Lorelei grabbed him. “No! He’s in a rage. Let it burn itself out before you try anything. Otherwise, you might get hurt.”
Ralt froze. “What?”
“Listen to her, lad,” Durin added urgently. “She’s right. Storm ain’t himself right now.”
Ralt nodded reluctantly, slowly pulling his arm free as he stared in fascination at Storm’s rage. “What do we do then?”
“What Lorelei just told you, stay out of his way until it burns itself out,” Durin advised. “Then we can find out who Niran is. ’Tis obvious he knows ’em.” Storm was attacking the charred remains of the gate, pulling it apart with his bare hands, still bellowing in mindless fury. “And feels betrayed,” he added unnecessarily.
Lorelei flinched as a timber gave way with a resounding crack under Storm’s pounding fists. “Was that the voice he was talking about the morning after the demon attacked us?”
Durin nodded absently, watching Storm.
“Yeah,” Ralt answered quickly. He kept a fearful eye on Storm as he explained about the voice overhead telling the demon to toss him the box with Krista’s soul in it. “You probably didn’t hear it because you were too busy throwing up.”
Lorelei nodded absently. “Alright.” Storm was swinging around, looking for a new target on which to vent his fury. “We better get back inside before he sees us.” Ralt’s eyes widened in apprehension. He quickly followed her back into the barracks with many nervous glances over his shoulder. They heard Durin grunting with effort as he hoisted the remains of the door back into place to guard them from their out-of-control friend.