The druid clenched and unclenched her hands, staring at the tent which she was forced to share with her husband. Forced because they were married and she had to keep up appearances. Forced because marriage was sacred and because of it she had been able to be in this clan she loved so much. Forced because she had to act as if everything was fine and not show how much she wanted to tear his throat out! A storm of rage swirled within her and she was struggling to control her breathing. Having seen what she had seen and knowing what she knew there was only one course of action.
Caedyr had to die.
The fury that was in her heart had to be suppressed if her plan to punish him was going to work. She needed to be clever, she had to be in control. Most of all she needed to be convincing. If her plan was to work then he had to believe her and then she would crush his heart before Alfendyr removed it! Well, perhaps he would let her have the pleasure? That was something to look forward to. She was sure he would approve, the sacrifice of a Ranger sympathiser would be an excellent offering to Hirra. And it would be her offering. Her own husband. The traitor. It was the only way she could balance things. It was the only way to set things right. Calming herself and settling her countenance the huntress left her claws outside so she would not be tempted to use them. After a few more moments of meditation and breathing exercises she stepped into the tent and there she found Caedyr, about to leave for his hunt.
“Leaving already?” She said, closing the tent door, sealing it so he could not leave with ease. She saw, from the corner of her eye, him raise an eyebrow – his expression inquisitive. Since she had suspected his treachery she had been changing her approach towards him. Pretending she wanted to have his child.
“We must contribute to the Clan. It is our duty and we have not yet fulfilled it.” She had insisted and even a year ago she had believed that, having grown more and more uneasy with the thought of being barren and childless. It was not that Neveneti wanted to be a mother, she could pawn off the child to one of the members of her clan that did the “mothering thing” while she hunted. All Neveneti wanted was to be the perfect druid. In every aspect. The best. Besides a child might help her be seen as more of a judge, eventually, perhaps? Either way it had been what she wanted. Now it was just a means to an end.
It was already getting late, but since it was only Thursday he was in no rush. He had heard that there was a band of gypsies not far to the north and so if he became desperate he supposed he could just grab one of them. As time marched on his heart was less and less in the sacrifices, his mind constantly drifting to the city. He had found so much more than his sister there, he’d found a reason to question his very existence and that, more than anything, had been troubling his mind. Caedyr was nothing like his sister, he had enjoyed his life in his clan and though he was not in love with Neveneti she was a good wife, an excellent clanswoman and a brilliant huntress. They were well matched and they strengthened one another. Why then had his heart never taken to her? He had tried, he had wanted to love her but something had always been causing him to hold back. With a sigh he strapped his daggers to his body and shouldered his bow, resigned to a late hunt and a night in the wilds.
That was until she came into the tent. It was always difficult to gauge her mood, she was so good at hiding herself and though he thought he knew her better than anyone there was not a moment in the day that he ever thought he could guess what she was thinking. She had a mischievous look he knew well though, so thought that perhaps he could get close this time. Returning her wry smile (for things had been easier between them of late. He supposed his own guilt played a part in this though and she had been much…softer somewhat, more approachable) Caedyr relaxed a little, noticing her closing the tent.
“Unlike you, some of us do not go out at the crack of dawn after a Wednesday Sacrifice, Neveneti.” He said, but it was not a criticism, the woman was dedicated and he was proud of her. At least he would have been if his mind had not been bent elsewhere. “Will you not join me?” He offered, knowing she would not likely turn him down.
“On one condition…” She purred, gliding towards him but turning away just as she reached him. Slowly she began to undress, teasing him, but seductively. It was the only way she could ever be with him, for their connection had always been the basest of primal instincts and nothing more. Thus she had to appeal to that part of herself as well as him. This afternoon that was more difficult than it normally would be, being amorous was so opposed to her true feelings. Neveneti could act though, she had been acting the wife for many years now, half her life in fact! She could push herself further. It would not be for much longer, after all.
Slyly she looked over her shoulder, exposing her pale and scarred flesh little by little.
“We leave at dawn.” She said firmly, allowing her clothes to drop to the floor.
Still not turning to face him she walked towards the bed pallet they shared, sometimes, and slid under the blankets, looking at him only once she was fully covered. It was not that she was being coy, she just knew he would be intrigued. One thing Caedyr could not resist was a mystery and Neveneti had so much for him to discover.
Beckoning him to her the huntress’ grin widened when he moved towards her, almost in a trance…
What is she up to? He thought, though it was difficult to think clearly when she was in such a mood. It was even more difficult to resist. Part of him wanted to be strong and not give in to her, but another part of him yearned for her and always had. That part of him reminded him that she was his wife and he had duties. A responsibility. Even though he was considering giving up that responsibility he had not made that decision yet. Perhaps things might change and he would stay with her? In that moment he wanted to, if only to honour himself and his people, to respect Neveneti and reciprocate the tenderness she had been gradually showing more of lately. That he had longed for that was something he had not known, not until he had left his sister and found…
Pushing such thoughts from his mind he watched her and he could not deny her beauty. Hirra had blessed the Fraelin druid, her body was lithe and though it was scarred he found he favoured her more because of them. She was battle hardened but she could be so gentle as well. A warrior and a delicate flower combined. Neveneti was not shy but she had always been withdrawn, something he had fought against when they first got married. They had been so young then and his pragmatism had rubbed off on her and her focus had influenced him.
Drifting towards her he dropped to his knees at her side then placed his bow on the floor, leaning forward to claim her lips…
The plan worked.
Three days passed with Caedyr not leaving camp and she was, quite frankly, amazed at how easy it had been. Perhaps he sensed the change? Maybe he knew? If he did he did not say but it did not matter either way. It would all be over soon.
Neveneti watched as he left with other hunters, her gaze fixed upon him until he disappeared from view. Turning on her heels, her demeanour shifting from calm and contemplative to pure fury as quickly as she was able to change from druid to a raven. Fortunately no one was around to see such a change in her demeanour, so no one could report how different she was when he left. Keeping to the early morning shadows the huntress sneaked through camp and changed quickly, sliding on her claws and leaving on a path that would take her north, towards the gypsies. The druid had a lot of work ahead of her. First she had to separate Caedyr from his fellow hunters, then, for four days she had to kill every potential sacrifice and subvert her husband every way she could. With a smirk on her lips she disappeared into the forest and picked up her fellow hunters trail…
Caedyr was not one to give into panic. He was far too experienced for that. However, he was concerned. It had been many years since he had failed in a hunt and even longer since he had done so alone. It seemed the gods were against him though, for at every turn his sacrifice either turned up dead or disappeared! It was bad enough that the others had somehow drifted away on their own and then had returned to camp successful. Now he was alone and he sensed something was working against him. But what? Was it fate or something more…tangible? Sitting in a tree that overlooked a gypsy camp he pondered what his options were. He was two days from camp, and the sacrifice was in… two days. He had to find something tonight or hope that he was lucky on his way back. Since he did not want to risk the latter it was a matter of choosing which of the unarmed and innocent woman and children below he was to lead to their death. It was just his luck that all the men were gone, leaving the young boys to “defend” the camp. How pathetic and how typical. Something had drawn them away and that left Caedyr with a difficult decision. Kill a woman or a child? What kind of choice was that? It was better to fail and live with the consequences! This would not be a sacrifice worthy of Hirra…
As darkness fell he dropped down from his tree and stealthily made his way towards the first wagon in his line of sight. Sliding his dagger from its sheath he focused on the young woman who was sitting on a fallen log, on her own, but young and lithe enough to be considered somewhat more worthy he supposed. He could lie and say she was a warrior but he knew that was unwise. One could not fool a goddess. Caedyr was about to wrap his arm around her neck and silence her when a scream came from the other side of camp! The woman shot up and started off towards the commotion but not before she saw Caedyr! Adding to the cacophony she raised the alarm, warning of druid hunters, causing the families to gather close and form defensive lines.
With a curse to the gods he retreated into the trees, the forest feeling his wrath! He growled and slashed at the trunks and branches, his fury at being foiled taken out on the innocence of nature. He had no choice now, he had to return to camp. He had to pray that Hirra had not deserted him yet.
Luring the warriors away had been easy. It was as if the goddess was with her, sponsoring her trickery and solo justice against her faithless husband. Neveneti was the tool of Hirra and she would cut through his life like a scythe through corn. Leaning with her back against a tree she smiled wickedly, watching the fools run hither and thither, chasing a ghost. Did Caedyr think that one of them was fit for the Sacrifice? Did he truly believe he could get away with it? Neveneti had been his challenge and he had failed! And here he was, attempting to save himself with the dredges of humanity. It was shameful, but she would not mock him nor goad him. She needed him, did she not? He could not fail two hunts?
The druid slipped away from the commotion, silently and quickly making her way back towards camp. Back in the direction she knew her husband had gone. The cry of “druid” was enough to tell her he had been seen and at that she smirked, tempted to laugh loudly, she could practically taste his desperation! Yet she could not savour her victory for it might be short lived if he got ahead of her and secured another on his way back to camp. And he would return, she was sure of that. One failed hunt was not quite enough to spook him. Neveneti would have to wait just over a week to claim her true prize.
Through the trees she saw his fire and she settled herself in the boughs of a tree, not in his line of sight but close enough to know if he left. Stalking the man she had been with for so long was easier on an emotional level then it should have been but that did not concern her nor enter her mind. To Neveneti he was just another Sacrifice…
Caedyr stared at the braid he had wrapped around his hand. His brow furrowed when he thought about the ramifications of what he was contemplating but making a decision was proving harder with each hour that passed. He had not anticipated such a dilemma and truthfully, he thought his mind had been made up. Out here in the forest alone on the verge of failure, his perspective was certainly being challenged. Did he care that he was failing? If so, why? Caedyr had convinced himself that there was a better way than sacrificing to Hirra, or at least, in the way sacrifices were chosen. Perhaps he had been around Caietia too long, who had become a selfish woman but… she was free. He had not thought of it as freedom until recently though. Everything had changed and now it was all changing again, but why? What had moved him so?
In his minds eye he saw Neveneti and remembered the young Fraelin wild thing she had been. He had shaped her and he thought that perhaps because he had been softer this last year it had become a part of her too? Were their feelings and behaviours that entwined? Had he failed to see the truth of the woman that she was because of the cruelty she sometimes possessed? And honestly, was he ready to sacrifice everything he had ever known for something he was not sure he could trust? Was Neveneti the safe option of the adder in the tall grass?
Tucking the braid away he leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, willing his body to take rest so that he could perform one last feat before the his time was truly up.
All she had to do was slit his throat.
Pierce his heart.
Rupture his belly and leave him to die in the slowest agony, in the end he would welcome death.
However, all she could do was look at him and ask herself why she was even allowing herself to be angry? The emotion passed, as it always did with Neveneti. She served a higher purpose and nothing would come between her and this Sacrifice. She did not need to torture him physically and leave him to die when she could rip out his heart long before Alfendyr did. Neveneti wanted to see him in emotional pain. To steal from him the hope and faith and trust she had given to him.
The druid watched her husband sleep, having awoken long before she knew that he would. Having done so she had the overwhelming need to test herself, to prove to herself that this was not all about his betrayal but about justice and praise of Hirra! The temptation had been hard fought but by the time he had awoken she had passed the test. Caedyr was alive and he had but a few hours to return to camp with a sacrifice.
Of course he never would, she would ensure that. The question was could she stomach showing concern over his failure? Could she endure another week of…this?
Neveneti made it back to camp unseen and in time to prepare for the ritual. Caedyr never attended, but she knew this would be the case. She had left him chasing one final hope, knowing he would not be back on time so she left him to his inevitable fate. Pretending to be shamed was easy, for she was deeply ashamed that she was married to him. As soon as the ritual and feasting was done she took herself to their tent and shut herself away, awaiting his return.
Caedyr could not avoid his fate and though he was shamed he was more angry than humiliated. It was not a feeling he experienced typically and so its foreign nature made him uneasy. What was he to do now? He could not go out hunting again until early on Thursday so he was forced to return to his tent. What was odd was that he was both eager to speak to Neveneti as well as shamed to see her. This was not what he had been expecting and while he made his way through camp (avoiding people where he could) he pondered this and wondered what had changed? That she had altered her behaviour towards him was obvious, but it had not been in any drastic manner, but had occurred gradually over time.
As the hunter entered the tent he thought she would be asleep, but instead he found a very alert but weary looking wife.
“We should leave early for the hunt. You have one week before Hirra claims you for herself.” She said, but she sounded worried. Neveneti had never sounded worried about him. That alone should have been a warning but instead he moved towards her, feeling the need to comfort her. Joining her on the bed palette he took her in his arms and pulled her close. She came to him easily and once again he marvelled at how vulnerable she could be sometimes, how small and delicate she was. Of course he knew she was anything but… she was a dangerous huntress and a callous and malicious creature. However, could he continue to ignore this part of her that she was showing more and more?
As Neveneti rested her head against his chest he stroked her hair and pressed her closer still. She was shaking, either cold or trembling from some ailment? Was she crying?
Pulling away from her slightly he tilted her face to him, his fingers touching her chin so she was forced to look at him. He narrowed his gaze on her but not with scrutiny, with concern.
“Do you think I will fail?” He asked.
She shook her head and smiled, but it was a very tired and worried looking smile. “I will make sure you succeed.” She said, looking him directly in the eye.
Caedyr returned her expression but his was devoid of the worry she showed. “We will make sure yu have your sacrifice first.” He saw her begin to protest but kiss her to silence her. When their lips parted and he caught his breath (the kiss being more passion fuelled then he remembered, so much was changing and so quickly…) he looked into her cool, blue eyes and wandered again if he had been wrong all these years.
“Sleep Neveneti. I will wake you at dawn.” As Caedyr left her side to undress the huntress turned away from him and pulled the blankets over her, a wicked smile ghosting across her pale face, a smile Caedyr did not see.
It was imperative that he did not know. He could not find out and neither could anyone else in the clan. Sometimes it had been difficult to hide, she had needed to find some place close to their tent where she could be sick, but hiding her moonblood had been easy. A wicked smile ghosted across the druid’s face as she wiped her chin and then splashed her face with water. She had known for almost two months, she had been hiding the sickness for the last six weeks and soon it would be time to reveal the truth to her beloved husband. For even longer the pair had been more wont to amorous sounds issuing forth from their tent then the usual arguments and debates but while Neveneti had been unsure of his treachery she had grown ever angry with him, pushing him further away and towards…
The huntress stiffened, the thought stilled her and her hand clenched her belly, her nails digging into her pale flesh. The cold, quiet anger abated and slowly ebbed away, but the promise of vengeance remained in her icy glare. She looked into the little brook and saw her distorted reflection, disgusted by flushed skin and rounded hips. Keeping up this act was a toil but she would endure his touch for only one more day. He had but one more day to fail and then he would become her pray. On Thursday Caedyr would become her target, her next sacrifice and Neveneti was looking forward to it.
However, there was one other blood sacrifice to be made before she offered her husband to Hirra. Slowly the huntress got to her feet then left the camp of Kalenda-Alfendyr to ensure the failure of Caedyr and his confirm his condemnation…
In the end he had no choice. He had to live. He was doomed to the life of his sister. So, Caedyr ran, but it was with a heavy heart for he had changed his mind. He had been willing to give up everything that awaited him in the city. For her. For his wife. For Neveneti. That life was lost to him now for he knew that she would not come with him. She love her druid life too much.
How can I say too much? She loves it and she should because we are blessed of Hirra. He frowned at that thought, for it had been his inability to reconcile the life of a ranger with his love for his religion and his people. His love for Neveneti. At that thought Caedyr stopped and closed his eyes, trapping the tears that threatened to fall.
I love her. Maybe I always loved her. Why did she not love me for longer? The failed hunter clenched his fists, angry at himself, for how could he blame her when it was his fault? His failure. He was the one who was, on a second Wednesday in a row, fleeing the camp and running for his life. Caedyr was a coward and he knew it. He had shamed himself and shamed his wife. There was no other choice though, he had to find Caietia. The clan were lost to him now. Breaking into a run again the hunter sped through the forest, heading for the valley that would lead to the city where Caietia waited…
“You are a coward, Caedyr.” She purred, watching as he ran away from camp. She spoke quietly even though she was not inside of the camp yet, there was still the ritual to be performed. Her husband would get his head start, for she would do her duty and partake in the Wednesday Sacrifice. As soon as she was able though she was out hunting again, eager to secure her sacrifice for the following week. Taking only her claws the huntress left the camp of her people with a smile on her face, breaking into laughter when she was clear of the tents and following the trail of the best hunter she had ever known.
Neveneti had the advantage. She knew where he was going and why. She knew about Nimueh.
Caedyr’s little tryst with the ranger whore had crushed her, it had shamed her beyond anything she had ever had need to feel shame for. To have to continue to look Alfendyr in the face while she knew of her husband’s infidelity. Yes, they had an agreement, but it did not include sleeping with rangers! She knew… she KNEW after they had come across Zak that something was not right. Caedyr had not been bested by that boy, for all she knew he had already met his little whore. Zak had been a means to an end, one Neveneti had not seen for too long. Of course she would tell Alfendyr that she had sabotaged Caedyr and she would tell him why. If he thought any less of her then so be it, she knew she would fade into the shadows, forgotten and overlooked once more in Kalenda. All because of him. The cheater, traitor and abomination! Alfendyr was right! Rangers were the bane of their existence and they needed to be eradicated and Caedyr would be the first for her in this endeavour.
When she approached the valley and saw the small fire she knew to be her husband’s she contained all of her fury within herself and put on the shroud she had been forced to wear these past months. For one last time she would endure this act and she would enjoy the moment she could tear off her mask and reveal to him the truth that was Neveneti.
Where was that no good sister of his? Was he really that early? He tried to recall when they said they would meet, but it was difficult given the state of mind he was in. It was possible his sister had been held up, that she had not been able to reach him. He was still too close to the clan for her liking, too close for his own but he knew he had hidden his trail well. He had a day on them and that was easily enough to get away. Caedyr knew Neveneti would be angry at him, but as always he expected her anger would hamper her, it was a weakness he had never really sought to try and correct with her since it was also one of her strengths. Rage would cloud her mind and he knew she would miss any signs he managed to leave, her temper to fiery to control in time for her to hunt him. She was a woman of extremes, either ice cold like her land of birth or all passion and anger and chaos. Part of him had fallen in love with the latter, fighting with her had been something to enjoy, be it sparring or testing each others tempers.
Caedyr leaned back against the rock, staring up at the moon and resting next to a frothing stream. It was strange feeling this way now, when he had for so long wanted just this. To be free of the clan and all its hypocrisies and negativity. To get away from Alfendyr and the way he had ruined Kalenda. It angered the hunter then, mouth tightening and his glare hardening on the night sky, the druid (or was he a ranger now?) pondering the many ways he wanted to destroy his former clan leader. Once Caedyr thought he might try for leader, but something had always counselled him against it. Off course Neveneti had wanted him to, his position would elevate her and though that irked her he thought she would have come to enjoy it. It was almost as good as being a judge, was it not? The wife of the clan leader? Caedyr often wondered if Havazeti thought so…
While lost in these thoughts he suddenly reacted to the smallest of noises to his right, his hand going to his dagger and putting it to the throat of the person who was foolish enough to approach. However, he dropped the blade when he saw the face of his wife, her blue eyes rimmed with tears and her expression pained.
“Neveneti…” He whispered. “What are you-” But he could not finish, for the huntress had claimed his lips with a kiss.
“I’m coming with you…” She insisted and though she knew the words were a lie she had to make him believe them. Every part of her was repulsed from touching him but if she was to ensnare him then she had to get closer and closer still. He was still too tense, too alert, too suspicious. Yet, she knew that her actions of these past months had softened him, their last night together had been one of such passion she had almost forgotten how much she hated him. Caedyr had always been handsome, it had helped her come to terms with the fact that her family had chosen poorly for her, they should have insisted that Caedyr come to Fraelin! Perhaps then they might have actually fallen in love? If she had forged him and kept him away from the cities and his treacherous and disgraceful sister? These were not thoughts to be having when she had to capture him though, so she shoved them aside in favour of something else.
Neveneti imagined him on the altar and watching as his heart was removed.
Praise Hirra! She thought and smiled gently, kissing him again and climbing into his lap, pushing him back against the rock. She had caught him off guard but she knew he wanted her, his body practically screamed for her. And Neveneti did not disappoint, she did not allow him to speak, such was the insistence of her lips, silencing him and eliciting only passionate utterances from his ever desperate mouth. For a woman pretending to want the man she had pinned to the rock she was a fine actress, though truthfully it was not hard to act, she had had enough practice these past few months. However, the time for truth was fast approaching and before Caedyr could claim her properly she whispered into his ear, Neveneti half naked and panting as she spoke.
“I am carrying your child.”
Caedyr froze and the huntress smirked, though he could not see the truth in her expression. She knew he would figure it out quickly enough. She knew he would know it was true. Part of her wanted to find out what he would do if she let him live. Would he stay with his wife and child, or would he leave her and go to his whore?
Gently he pushed her away, but lovingly his hands cupped her face and he looked into her eyes, the fool seeing what he wanted to see. Seeing love and commitment and trust.
“How long have you known?” He asked, though the words were barely given utterance, such was his emotion. If he had known, what difference would it have made? What could he have somehow done enough to convince her he did not deserve to die? While in his arms and looking into those love filled eyes she did not want to think upon such a thing for she knew there was a remote part of her that wanted to believe that. The betrayal had poisoned her heart too much though and so she continued her honey trap and performed magnificently to draw him in deeper.
“Not for long.” She whispered back, taking his hand and placing it over her bare belly. She knew he would feel it now, feel the change in her shape, the fullness of her breasts, how she was more rounded in her face. She had seen it herself and it had disgusted her to know she was carrying his spawn but she had done all of this so she could have this moment. All those nights she let him into her bed she had been waiting for his seed to blossom within her. Now it had she could punish him more completely.
The tip of her claw scraped his neck, the poison seeping into his bloodstream. It would paralyse him in minutes but for now she remained in his lap and watched as horror dawned on his face. She leaned back and felt as his hands slipped away, his eyes glaring at her but already his voice box was stilled, his throat moving with the effort but it was futile. It was over. The black widow had caught her mate.
“And not for much longer.” She said, her tone dripping with malice. Promptly she stood, shuddering as she moved away from him, pulling on her clothes and covering herself. Caedyr had lost the right to her body the moment he had betrayed her for a ranger.
From her satchel she removed some herbs then went to the stream and collected some water. A few minutes later the druid had a fire going and not long after that the water was coming to the boil. Sprinkling in the herbs into the water she proceeded to make the “tea” with Caedyr watching. As the hunter fell into unconsciousness she sat down in front on him and sipped on the concoction, a wicked smile on her face. When she was done she tied him up and waited for him to awaken…
As the hunter stirred from his slumber his mind slowly came to terms with the reality of his situation. His body jerked and he quickly discovered he was as caught as one of the many people he had trussed up ready to be sacrificed. Was this a just punishment? Did he deserve to be given to Hirra?! For so long he had believed in that Alfendyr was corrupt, that his belief about rangers was wrong. And now he would be one of them, subjected to his former clan “leaders” judgement and justice. It was a disgusting form of justice, sacrificing the blessed of Hirra! Yet this was his fate, he knew this now. Neveneti would not let him escape.
Why had he believed her? Why had he wanted to?! How had he not seen her deception?! Did she hate him that much just for failing in the hunt? What reason had he given her to despise him so?!
As his eyes opened his gaze fell upon his wife, the woman slumped on the floor near his feet. Caedyr stiffened and tried to sit forward, but she had secured him too well. Fool woman! She might die because of her mistrust of him! Why was she unconscious anyway? He looked to the sky and realised it was the evening of the next day, he had been sleeping for far too long. And how long had she been out? His mind reeled, trying to remember what exactly had happened when she turned on him. It was difficult to grasp the memories though, so angry and fearful was he, hating himself for even caring that she might be hurt.
Then he saw it. The blood. So much blood…
“Neveneti!” He shouted, straining against the bonds, the part of him that still loved her and even understood her anger did not want to watch her die! “NEVENETI!” He almost pleaded, his voice cracking and desperation marring his expression. Finally she stirred and as she moved confusion descended upon the hunter. An overturned cup was near her hand and she did not appear to be wounded.
“You are bleeding.” He told her and he watched as she struggled to sit up, her hand going to the blood between her legs. It was then that he saw it and then that he realised what she had done. It was then that Caedyr felt nothing but hatred for the woman and regret for ever having loved her, even for a moment.
Neveneti laughed, a cold and quiet laugh that chilled him as he sat there and watched as she murdered their child. Her cold, blue gaze locked with his angry glare, though tears stood in his eyes as he realised what she had taken from him. It was not just their child, it was the hope for their future together. The promise of love that he had come to believe he wanted. A love he had been willing to sacrifice so much for. His own betrayal of Nimueh hit him hard and he lost all fight, his body sagging against the bonds and his chin resting on his chest.
While Caedyr grieved Neveneti bled and laughed as she lost her child.
“Did you think I would let you get away with it?” She said in a conversational tone. Even though Caedyr seemed to be ignoring her, no doubt thinking about his loss, she continued to talk and to taunt.
“I know about the ranger, Caedyr. I know you were planning on becoming a filthy traitor like your sister.” At that he looked up, disbelief on his face, though he could not ask the question, she answered him all the same. “I have known you sympathise with them for years, but I only found out about Nimueh last year. Do not worry, I shall find her and deliver the news of your death personally.”
The cramps were painful and she felt like she was bleeding to death but she did not care, it was worth it to do this do him. They had talked about children in the last few months, in those moments he had thought they were in love. It was time, he said, time to be parents, to add to the clan and to honour Hirra with more druids. And of course Neveneti had encouraged it, she had wanted it, for then it meant she could take it away.
The huntress got to her feet with some difficulty and stumbled towards the stream, falling to her knees rather heavily. Now, with her back to him she looked at her dishevelled self, her reflection enough to evoke something unexpected. Another cramp gripped her and she moaned in pain, squeezing her eyes shut to try and still the agony. It was more than that though, seeing herself had prompted something she did not want to acknowledge.
She was losing a child.
Neveneti’s breathing quickened and she bit down on her lip, the realisation sweeping through her, her hormones and every instinct she had been trying to deny ravaging her and screaming at her telling her to fight, to not allow this to happen! The druid rocked forward and doubled over, forcing herself to splash her face with the cold water, trying to snap herself out of this moment of… what was it… what was she feeling…?
Was it grief?
“Stop it!” She hissed quietly at herself, ruing the tears falling from her eyes. “He betrayed you, he deserves this…”
But do I? At that thought she did break down, the hatred she had felt for Caedyr eclipsed by what she had felt for the child. It had been hard to deny, hard to ignore, for when she had first known she was pregnant she had hated herself for being happy. For a moment, she had been happy.
And then she had remembered her plan and remembered his betrayal.
Yet still she wept, she could not stop now and all she could do was hope he did not see…
Never had he wanted his weapon more than now. As the cold hearted bitch flaunted her victories over him he sat there rigid and imagining her death. Hoping that her callous act killed her, her punishment for murdering their child. Caught up in his own internal tirade he did not notice her move to the stream. He prayed to the goddess he loved (for despite the corruption of his clan he still believed sacrificing to Hirra was right, it was not her fault the druids erred) that she was being punished, for it was what she deserved. Clenching his fist so tightly his forearms bulged and his nails dug into his palm he looked up at her, having heard her speak of Nimueh he glared daggers at her. If only he could warn them, Nimueh and Cai both… If only he could tell them a demon was hunting them…
Silently he plotted though he knew it was to no avail and though the paralysis was wearing off it meant nothing. He was trapped and she would not let him escape. While she doubled over in what was obviously pain he smiled, sneered in fact, enjoying seeing her reap her “rewards”.
“I hope it kills you.” He said quietly, though his tone was edged with savagery. At first he did not notice the shaking of her small frame, for he was happy to hear her painful moans, but as she stayed by the waters edge he recognised it for what it was.
She was weeping.
Neveneti clutched her belly and wept.
Caedyr suddenly felt a glimmer of hope! They were not far from the city, perhaps not all was lost! That part that gave into hope also started to justify what she had done, for she knew of Nimueh therefore she knew he had betrayed her. That he had been in the wrong he could not deny…
“It is not too late, we might be able to stop this… Neveneti, please, release me and let me take you to a mage, an apothecary, anyone!” He pleaded with her, hoping that she would give in to those emotions currently gripping her. That she had felt betrayed he understood, he might even forgive her if they could but save their child.
“Please… don’t let it end like this. Please Neveneti…” Caedyr’s voice cracked as he begged, desperate not to save his own life but to appeal to the slither of mercy that might exist in the Fraelin druid and save his child.
At first she wept harder, realising he knew and unable to accept what she had done. She could not look at him, for she might give in and she had been so malicious and strong until now, she could not fail at the last obstacle. She could not be weak! It was difficult though, the yearning in her heart pulled at her, tormenting her, her husband giving her hope she thought she did not want. Neveneti bit down on her lip, cutting off her words but she could not still her sobs. She was almost choking on them, the water turning pink with the blood that reminded her of what she had done.
Hirra will curse me for killing a druid child. Alfendyr will exile me! Her hands covered her mouth and she gasped and released her grief and fear with her exhale, her wail echoing through the valley. She was trembling, confused and frightened at the prospect of being without her clan. All she had ever wanted was to serve them, to rise and to be better, to serve her clan leader and elevate her clan. How could she do this now? With an exiled and hunted husband and a dead child in her belly?
She was about to turn to plea with him to forgive her when he spoke the words no sane druid should ever speak to her. The sobbing ceased, her expression flattened and she stared at him with dead eyes.
“How dare you.” She said, anger tinting her voice, the woman clearly on the edge of something terrible. She had already done something heinous, what more was there for her to do?
“It was bad enough I let you touch me and put this thing in me after you had been with that Hirra cursed whore.” She spat. She was still bleeding, she felt it, but she had stashed clothes near the camp and she would change before she dragged Caedyr to the cages. No one would know. No one would ever know what she had done.
“But now you wish to defile me further by suggesting a mage use their foul gift on me?!” She screamed into his face, spit flying from her lips, the woman as feral as she had been when she roamed with the packs. “Let it die. It is better that way. There is no future for us, I knew that before you failed your hunts.” At that she smirked and knelt before her husband, her bloodied hand reaching up to caress his handsome face. “I do not blame her, you are a fine druid, Caedyr; there were times before I knew you were a traitor that I enjoyed you.” She purred, her fingers dancing across his cheek, circling his ear and touching its tip, before playing with the ornaments therein.
“But when you fell in love with her you sealed your own fate, for I was always going to discover it.” Her expression changed to one of fawning to utter fury and she raked her nails down his face! She could not harm him too much, he had to be given to Hirra, but she felt satisfaction at drawing a little blood. Leaning forward she shoved his face to the side and kissed the side of his mouth, before licking the claw marks and making him flinch, tasting his blood as she traced her tongue up his cheek. When her lips found his ear she whispered, almost lovingly, though her words were devoid of anything but hatred.
“It was me.” She said, grinning and wincing slightly as the cramps worsened. It would be over soon and then she could drag him back to camp. “I am responsible for your failure Caedyr. I sabotaged your hunt, ensuring you would not succeed…”
As she reeled back from him he lurched forward, seeing his blood on those hateful, lying lips! It had been her all along! She was the reason he would never see Nimueh again?! His fury spurred him into wrenching his shoulders, his shoulder blades touching and his muscles contracting, his chest rising and falling rapidly. Almost foaming at the mouth he screamed at her in rage, her depth of her deviousness and hatred bare before him now.
“Hirra still blesses Nimueh, she favours her over you even though she is a ranger!” That wiped the smile off her face and his head spun from the slap she gave him. He did not care though, this was the end and he was going to go out dealing as much pain as he could. He was sick of this life, of these restrictions and beliefs. He was sick of having the serve Alfendyr and his hypocrisy. He was sick of not being able to openly be with the woman he had loved for years. The woman he should have been able to marry and bring to his clan!
“She is a better hunter than you as well. Prettier. More engaging. How could I not fall for her when all I had in Kalenda was you?” He laughed at he and sat back, relaxing a little and accepting his fate. At least now he could understand some of this and not blame Hirra for everything. This was all Neveneti, was it not? All the jealous witch of a wife.
“Take me home. I wish to see my family one last time.” Raising his eyebrow at her he said, “Do not worry, I will not tell them you killed our child. I do not want them to know I ever fathered your child. No doubt it would have died anyway, poison runs through your veins Neveneti. You will never carry a child to term. What else explains your barren womb all these years? It is not like I did not do my duty. I tried and when I succeeded your poison infected your mind and you murdered your own flesh and blood anyway.” He smiled at her and watched as she walked away, watched as she sat by a nearby tree and rode out the rest of her “miscarriage” in silence.
Caedyr did not speak to her again. Not until the moment before he died.
There was no pity for her and she did not demand it. If anything she was grateful that she was ignored. She felt shame for being married to Caedyr, but all they knew was that he had failed in his hunt. Only Alfendyr knew she had sabotaged him and why. Well, he knew that Caedyr had betrayed them by aiding rangers and she told him he’d helped them capture druids and kill them as well. Aiding these rangers in their vengeance. The last was not true, Caedyr had not turned on his own people, but she was so caught up in her lie and ashamed that he had chosen a ranger over her she could not admit it to Alfendyr…
Having washed and put on her robes she spent the morning in silence and prayer, avoiding her clan members. To her surprise though she had been told that she would be allowed to sacrifice Caedyr, an honour she could not begin to understand, but she accepted it. Gladly. Standing over her husband as he lay upon the altar, it irked her to see him so relaxed, mouthing his prayers to Hirra! How dare he?! How dare he try to speak to their goddess when he had betrayed them so?! Neveneti had to resist the urge to cut out his tongue as well as gouge out his eyes! She waited patiently though. Waited while the others were given to Hirra. Waited while Caedyr lay upon the altar she had helped build. She looked at him, hatred filling her heart and almost gasped when one of the judges indicated it was her turn.
This was probably the only time she would have this honour and it pained her to think she would never be a judge. Placing her claws over his heart, she mouthed a prayer to Hirra then dug into his flesh. Caedyr flinched, his body pulling against the ropes that bound him, but even while she tore out his heart he looked her in the eye.
Muttering so only she could hear he said, “You were not the first…” With his heart in her hands, his blood dripping down her pale arm her jaw gaped and she froze, unsure of what to do or say.
When the heart was taken from her and the next sacrifice begun she leaned over her dying husband and growled, “What do you mean?!” She demanded, gripping his slack shoulders and watching the light vanish from his eyes. Caedyr died with a smile on his face, his last secret dying with him, a truth Neveneti would torture herself over for many years to come…
“The first what?! THE FIRST WHAT?!” She cried, before realising she was making a scene. She did not care though, she had to know, but only a necromancer could discover it now and that was something far beyond her.
“The first what…?” She pleaded with a whisper, as she sunk to her knees and cried.
It was over. Her husband was dead and Neveneti was free. Yet she had never felt so trapped in her life.