Aeschere lay awake in the darkness of Tranna's tent, his rough fingers trailing absent-mindedly over the pale curve of her hip, the steady whisper of her breath the only sound in the leaden silence. The nights in Northwaite, where he had spent many nights, and Farholme, where he had spent only a few, had not been so silent. In those other cities, there had been the incessant yapping of dogs, the occasional slur of voices in the distance, the squawl of feral tomcats, fragments of muffled conversation. Here, in Throdenoth, there was nothing. When darkness fell, the city seemed to draw into itself, to tense, to wait. It was a silence pregnant with menace.
It was Tranna's pain that had drawn him to her, drawn him out of that purgatory of despair and hatred that Bronwyn's death had thrust him into. As the party fled up the stairs to the roof, Aeschere had looked down, and that image of Brownyn's savaged body still confronted him every time he closed his eyes: she was nearly hacked in two, a jagged rib jutting crookedly from her back, a thick trail of blood and viscera splashed across the stone flags. Though he had grown to care for her deeply as a comrade and friend, he had not loved Bronwyn in the same way he had come to love Tranna. To love someone so zealous would have meant giving up too much of himself, and as beautiful as she was, Aeschere had not been willing to do that. Still, he admired her greatly, and found himself striving to please and impress her, despite his efforts to remain aloof. Not only that, but her very ideals became increasingly appealing, and after time, he ceased to question them.
After she died, those ideals seemed utterly meaningless. That a kind and loving god such as Heironeous could allow such widespread evil and such utter misery as that found in the Fallen Lands, Aeschere could accept while Brownyn lived, for her very existence offered some hope of justice and salvation. When she was gone, however, so was that hope. The pervasive evil of Blixt - of all the world save the Hrothgar, so far as Aeschere knew - seemed to roll in on him like a sickening fog and smother him with hopelessness. And so he had fought back with the only thing he had ever been able to trust: his bow. True, his murder of those two mongrelfolk had won him and his comrades entrance to the monastery, but there were certainly other ways. Aeschere had killed them because they were part of this vile land, and he could feel nothing but hatred toward them. He had laughed out loud when they fell so easily.
The other image that Aeschere could not forget, however, was of Tranna huddled by the dying fire in her threadbare cloak, her words dissolving into clouds of breath in the cold autumn night. He had taken little notice of the quiet tatterdemalion who shared his camp until she told her story that night. As he listened to her speak, he was choked him with a rush of emotion that he was still unable to sort out. How could he let her sit there and shiver when he had a purse full of gold? He wanted to not only make her warm, but to assuage her pain, to help her heal. The next day, after he bought her a new cloak and saw the gratitude swell in her eyes, the evil seemed to draw back a breath.
He hadn't intended to bed Tranna that night, not so much because he didn't want to, but because he had little faith in his own meager charms and was deeply afraid of pushing her away with a clumsy attempt at romance. Still, it happened, perhaps because Tranna seemed to quietly encourage his overtures, first by moving closer to him and resting her head on his shoulder, and finally by pressing her finger to his lips and smiling when he began stammering about her beauty and his feelings for her.
He had never experienced anything quite like the passion that he felt as she knelt before him and slowly removed her tattered kirtle and ran her hands across his chest, her small, freckled breasts luminesced in the blue haze of moonlight seeping through the tent fabric. He should have lain there and allowed her to make love to him, but when her long her hair spilled over him as she teased his ears and neck with her lips, when her soft nipples brushed across his belly as she slid between his legs and took him in her mouth, he was siezed with such a violent rush of want that he siezed Tranna by her shoulders, pressed her onto her back, and clumsily mounted her, thrusting and groping until he finally penetrated the fullness of warmth and wet within her.
How long he hunched over her, thrashing and grunting clumsily, he didn't know, but when he looked into her face, he saw not passion or love, but pain and sorrow. Tranna's eyes were wet with tears, her lips drawn, quivering. Aeschere pulled away, muttered an awkward apology. Tranna smiled weakly, turned away and pulled her blanket around her.
A sickening wave of self-hatred rose into Aeschere's throat. For untold years, Tranna had been used by that vile half-dragon, and had suffered abuses that he dared not even imagine. He had wanted to show her tenderness, yet his love had become violence, and he had become merely one more abuser in a life that had already known far too much pain and debasement. How could that have happened? Had the violence and bloodshed that his life as a warrior required turned him savage? He wanted to run from her tent cursing himself, scream into the naked night and never return. Instead, he lay down next to Tranna, wrapped his arms around her, and closed his eyes.
He awoke to her warm breath in his ear, the chill of her fingers running up his thigh and between his legs. This time, he simply looked into her eyes, brushed his fingers across her cheek, and kissed her. He lay there as she straddled him, reached between her thighs and guided him inside her. His fingers roamed her body as she held his face in her hands and kissed him, her tongue twining with his, her long breaths warm on the cockles of his neck. As he cupped her buttocks in his hands and pulled her tighter against him, she arched her back and sighed, a single, liquid syllable stretching itself from her lips. He slid his hands up the curve of her hips, but as his fingers strayed across the small of her back, she seized his hands and twined her fingers in his. She moved atop him effortlessly, her pale skin refulgent in the dim light. Their breaths quickened. She bent over and kissed him, her tongue probing wildly in his mouth, her hips driving against him. Aeschere felt as if he were falling from a dizzying height, spinning and freefalling. Tranna drove her fingers into Aeschere's chest and whispered his name as she tightened and throbbed around him. After a moment, she slid off of him and lay down next to him.
Tranna slept but Aeschere did not. A wind rose out of the west, riffling the tent canvas, driving away the uneasy silence. Tranna turned in her sleep, and as aeschere reached down to pull the blanket back over her, he saw her naked back in the wan light. It was ridged with scars. Had the half-dragon whipped her because he was displeased, Aeschere wondered, or because it pleased him to torment her? Yet she had survived it. Behind her quiet demeanor was a strength unguessed at. He ran his fingers through her hair, and pulled her close to him. "I love you, Tranna," he whispered.
Tranna sighed quietly in her sleep.
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