It was winter. It was wartime. It was snowing. There may have been other factors that mattered in the, but none so much as these. It was bitterly cold—the kind of cold that left beads of ice frozen to your eyelashes, that cut the tip of your nose like a knife, that left those unfortunate enough to be without shelter frozen to the ground like gruesome sculptures. As cruel fate would have it, the worst of the storm was right along the Ilaria and Zanthar border, where the worst of the fighting was centered.
The snow and fog whirled into a whiteout so thick you couldn't see your boots. Suddenly, there was no war. There were no soldiers, no villagers. There were only people, desperate to survive and desperately lost.
Captain Caspian Levan of Zanthar had been alone when the storm hit— and he was certainly alone now. Still, he wasn't terribly worried; he had been trained for this, had been through worse. He knew what to do: burrow into the snow, hunker down, and hope for the best. There were no other options.
Hands out in front of him and stepping lightly, Caspian felt for trees, for a cliff wall, anything that would strengthen his shelter and his chances of survival. What he felt with his leather-gloved fingertips, however, was no stone or branch. It was slim and soft, and yelped with fear at the sudden contact, tripping over its own boots and landing hard on the snowy earth.
Caspian knelt down and found the creature's shoulders, feeling down to small, ungloved hands and up to a cold, heart-shaped face framed in a furry hood. A woman. Odd that she was so far from the camp—she must have gotten lost in the sudden storm.
"Don't be afraid," he said loudly, trying to make his voice heard over the roaring winds. "I'm Captain Levan. Stay with me; we'll make it through this."
The figure was silent, but took his outstretched hand and let herself be bundled into the crook of his arm. More body heat was always better, he knew. But if he didn't get the girl into shelter within minutes, she'd be dead. She was too petite, too ill dressed for this weather. She'd likely lose fingers already.
Caspian knelt to the ground and dug into the firmest snow-bank, feeling his new ally's firm grip on his shoulder as he dug. To his surprise, she knelt down beside him and started to dig too, her little bare fingers blue against the white snow. Caspian batted her hands away, but the girl was determined; every time he swatted her arms away, she bounced right back and tried to dig. Her efforts were futile—the thickest part of her arms were no larger than Caspian's wrists—but something about her determination was endearing to him. The girl was little, but she was fierce.
When his makeshift igloo was sufficiently large, Caspian pushed the girl into the shelter and then crawled in himself. Once inside, he heaped snow against the opening, shutting out the biting wind and snow. Within seconds, it became eerily still and quiet. Caspian took a candle from his pack—he had a dozen, not to mention a lamp—and lit it, wanting to take stock of the shelter and his newfound accomplice.
The girl was curled into a ball against the makeshift wall, rubbing her pale blue hands together and wincing. Even shivering and frostbitten, she was lovely—a good decade younger than his thirty years, and the kind of pretty that could stop a man in his tracks. Even a man as stoic as Caspian. Her hair was a dark, fiery red, twisted around her head in a crown-like braid. Her skin was milk-white and almost impossibly smooth, tinged with lavender at the tip of her pert nose. Her lips were lush and the teeth that were bared as they chattered were perfect white pearls. It was if the sun had never touched her skin, as if illness had never brushed through her body, as if she had never known work or hardship. Her palms were like silk, her fingertips bruised and bloodied where they had tried to help him dig through the frigid snow and ice. Who was she, this dewdrop creature in the midst of a war? She seemed unlikely in every sense of the word.
"What is your name?" he asked, his voice brusque. Commander-like.
The girl slowly blinked her eyes—clear green, like sea glass. She shook her head slightly, looking so hesitant it verged on fearful. It was then that he realized that the cloak she was wearing was deep green. The color worn not by his countrymen, but by those from Ilaria. She had to be one of them. His enemy.
He could tell by her expression that he had deduced her identity. She raised her delicate hands to him, her palms facing outward. As if to show that she had no weapon.
As if a girl like she could be a danger to a man like him.
"What is your name?" he asked again.
"It's Zara." The girl's voice, though heavy with the lilting accent of his enemies, was whisper-soft and sweet as honey. She wasn't shaking anymore, and he knew that wasn't a good sign. It was well below zero outside, and not much warmer within the igloo. He knew she was likely quite frostbitten, not to mention hypothermic, and that if he tossed her back out in the blizzard she'd be dead within minutes.
Because she was an Ilarian, he knew he had the right to take her life. She was a prisoner of war now, really. He didn't have to save her.
But— a tiny voice in the back of his head sprang to life. More body heat was always better in a storm. If she didn't freeze to death, she'd help keep him warm. He could decide what to do with her afterwards, assuming they survived. As the spoils of war, he could kill her or keep her or sell her as he saw fit. The rules of war were brutal.
"Look," he said. "I'm going to help you, not hurt you. We have a better chance of survival if we stick together through this, do you understand?"
He thought she would be nodding in relief, but instead the girl's large eyes were looking more despondent by the moment. "And after?"
"You're a prisoner. A prisoner of war."
"So you think I belong to you."
"And I'm correct. Are you going to cooperate? Or shall I let you freeze?"
"I'll cooperate." Zara inched towards him. "I'm not sure you can stop the freezing at this point, anyhow." She sobbed a short laugh, the rough sound catching in her chest like gravel against gravel.
"You'll find I'm quite warm," he said, a bit gentler. "I'll go slowly, okay? This is going to hurt a bit." He knelt to the ground and held out his hand. Cautiously, the girl lowered herself to the floor and extended her left foot to him. Her boots were fur-lined, he saw in relief, and likely quite warm. When he pulled off her boot, her pretty foot was pale and cold to the touch, but with no sign of blueness or blackness; her feet would be fine. Her fingertips were the bigger issue.
Caspian pulled off his leather gloves and began to rub her small hands between his large, warm ones. He watched for her wince but she didn't flinch; another bad sign. She should be feeling sharp pricks, a deep ache.
He raised her fists to his mouth, let his warm breath cover her skin. He could feel the smoothness of her wrists against his callused fingertips and again he wondered how such a girl had found herself in the middle of a battleground.
She began to shiver, and he felt the slightest of reliefs when her fingers twitched in pain. She still might not make it. Even wrapped in her thick cloak, she looked so small.
He pulled his only blanket from his pack, pleased that it was so large. "Keep rubbing your hands," he ordered, mildly gratified when she obeyed. "How old are you?" he asked, hoping to take her mind of the pain of her defrosting hands while he quickly scanned his supplies.
"Eighteen," she answered softly. She pulled a small blue velvet bag from under her cloak and offered it to him. "This is everything I have."
Eighteen, he thought. Hardly more a woman than a child. He shook the bag's contents out—a small cloth-bound book, a trio of clear stone points, an apple and a crust of bread, two small amber bottles, a canteen, a bundle of herbs, a small knife with a jeweled handle, and a few hazelnuts. Odd, and not much help, although the knife might come in handy and more food was always a good thing.
Both their cloaks were thick and lined with warm furs, and with those and his blanket, combined with the head from their bodies, the might just make it. He had bread and cheese and dried fruit in his pack, as well as his sword, an extra pair of socks, his canteen, his candles and matches, the lamp, and his canvas tarp. Things could be worse.
He laid the canvas tarp on the ground, then laid the blanket on top. "Get under there, and then hand me your cloak," he ordered.
Zara crawled under the thin blanket and handed out the cloak a moment later. He crouched down, and edged himself under the blanket. Like a shot, Zara was somehow pressed against against the farthest wall of the shelter—although that still left her within his arm's reach.
"What the hell?" He gaped at her reaction. She had her arms stretched out either side of her, curled back against the snow. She had to be absolutely freezing—shoeless and gloveless and now without her cloak. To add to that, the long dress she was wearing looked very thin, almost sheer. Though it fell straight from her shoulders to the ground without a single cinch or stitch to give it shape, there was something pleasing about its simplicity. Through the thin cloth he could see the curve of her hip, the sharp indent of her waist, the sharp points of her nipples pressing softly through the cloth. Her braid had fallen from its crown-like shape, and now fell prettily across her thin shoulder.
In the dim light, and with his mind more focused on the shape of her pretty form than on the garment that covered it, it took him a moment to realize that the dress she was wearing was white. White was a sacred color in Ilaria. Nobody wore it. Nobody but the priestesses.
"I cannot lay by a man," Zara said at that moment, clearly aghast.
And then Caspian knew. She was a priestess. An Ilarian priestess. he couldn't believe it. The priestesses were almost a myth in Zanthar. Women who lived in hidden temple, believed in an unseen god, and allegedly had special healing powers. They were known for their goodness and virtue, living nun-like in their temple and venturing out only to aid the sick, wounded, and unfortunate.
Zara made more sense to him now—her unearthly beauty, her sense of innocence, her lack of anger. Even her location deep in the forest made sense; the priestesses' temple was fabled to be hidden in the woods, far from Ilaria's larger cities. He wondered if it was close to where they were now.
Just in time, he remembered the priestess herself, shivering against the ice hardly clothed. He reached out and grabbed her ankle, jerking her roughly down and under the blankets. She struck out against his chest, her feet kicking, shouting out words that he couldn't catch or didn't understand.
He pinned her thin arms against her sides, forcing her to hold still as the weight of the blanket and two cloaks settled back to the ground, instantly warmer than outside of them. "I understand. You're a priestess. You don't wish me to touch you."
She was nodding frantically. Her small hands gripped on to his, as if her strength would be anything more to him than the briefest of nuisances.
"You forget, priestess, that you're a prisoner-of-war now. That you belong to me, and to the country of Zanthar."
"I belong to myself," Zara said firmly. "And to the Order, and the Goddess."
"And to me." Caspian touched her gold face with the back of his hand. Her skin was so very smooth.
She flinched away. "Not to you, sir."
"Then what use are you, to me? If I cannot use you."
Fear flashed through those leaf-green eyes. "Would you harm me?"
"Do you know nothing of war?"
Zara's face became very still. "I know much of war," she countered sadly. "From the temple, I have been hearing the battle for weeks. I feel the deaths, here." She touched her chest, just below her sharp collarbones. "My High Priestess told me not to come down here so early. We are told to wait until the battle is over to help the wounded. I have never failed to obey her. But I felt the pull of injured and I could not wait. I was only trying to help." A slow tear slid down Zara's cheek, freeing just before it hit her jaw. "And now I have failed her. All my sisters will mourn me now."
Caspian almost felt sorry for her. It was easy to forget, here in the igloo, who he was in the outside world. He had not become a captain in the Zanthar army for nothing. His reputation was widespread and fearsome. He was ruthless, spilling more blood than any of the other soldiers in his unit. Killing the innocents, just to drive his point home. There had been many girls not much older than Zara, and hardly less innocent, that he had not treated so kindly. When he closed his eyes, he could se their terrified eyes, their broken bodies, their shallow graves. It was wartime. He did not show mercy.
And yet, had he? He could have let Zara die in the storm. 'But then I'd be colder too,' he reasoned to himself. 'And it would be a pity to let her die so soon. A waste.'
What a pity that would have been, really. That smooth, smooth skin. Never touched. Those rose-petal lips; was it really possible they'd never been kissed? That her copper hair hand never felt a lover's hands through it? He thought of those svelte, innocent curves hidden under her delicate white dress. A waste indeed.
She was still holding herself several inches from his body, and he admired her resolve, knowing she could likely feel the pull of his warmth. He began unbuttoning his shirt. First aid training was simple enough—the more skin-to-skin contact they had, the warmer they'd be.
He explained this to her, but though she understood the science of it, the idea was still enough to make her shake her head and tremble.
He pulled off his undershirt, loosened his trousers and kicked them off too. Thankfully, for Zara, he left his flannel undergarment on.
He tugged at the long sleeve of her dress, thinking this might seem less commanding than ordering her to strip or tearing the damned thing straight over her head.
Slowly and with downcast eyes, the girl unbuttoned the dress and tugged it reluctantly from her body. Underneath, she was wearing some sort of gauzy, silky slip that left little to the imagination. Her shoulders, arms, and legs were bare, and he could see that every inch of her skin was as smooth and white and perfect as her pretty face. Her collarbones were sharp and delicate, and her shoulder blades jutted from her thin back like an angel's wings. Her pert little breasts strained against the cloth, nipples hard as pebbles, and the fabric so light he could even glimpse the pale pink circles of her nickel-sized areolae through it. Her body was narrow and ethereal, but her hips had a hint of womanly fullness, and he imagined that her little ass would be taut and silky and flawless as the rest of her, although she hadn't turned enough to let him see it.
He could hardly hold back a growl at the fairylike perfection of her sweet silhouette; he wanted to sink his teeth into that milky skin and crush those blossom lips between his. He wanted to tear that cobweb of a slip right off that tight little body, and he couldn't help but wonder what her honeyed voice would sound like if he kissed his way up the inside of her creamy thigh.
He knew he had to be scaring her; even a virgin must feel the pulsing tension he was emanating. It was practically a living, breathing thing at this point, panting and twisting its way through his body.
His hands found their way to her tense waist; she was so tiny that his hands easily encircled her, his fingertips even overlapping slightly. He pulled her closer to him, glad to feel the faint heat of her body pressing against his. He almost sighed at how good her body felt. How long had it been since he had lain with a woman? Four weeks, maybe five. And then it had been a tavern-keeper; ten years his senior, bony, pock-marked, with missing teeth, a shrieking laugh and a voice like broken glass. Never in his life had he touched something as beautiful as his priestess, so golden and tempting and pure.
He could feel her nipples against his stomach through her slip, feel the warmth of her soft breath on his chest. Her bare thighs slipped against his much-larger, much rougher, much more thickly muscled legs, and smooth feet just brushed against his ankles.
Her heart was beating rapidly and he knew she was afraid, but her skin was beginning to soak in his radiating heat, and the tip of her nose was slowly fading from lavender to pearly pink.
"Tell me about yourself, priestess," he suggested when twenty minutes had gone by in uncomfortable silence. He felt much better; their shelter was growing warmer, and the press of her firm curves into his body felt sinfully blissful.
"What about?" Her voice was cautious. He wondered how much of her life as a priestess was a secret. He knew little about their way of life.
"Anything," he allowed. "What do you like?"
She looked almost shy. "I like... plants," she managed at last. "And books. Learning new things. I'm still just a student. Just learning. I very much like to heal."
Her face was so earnest that again Caspian felt a pang of pity towards her, an urge to help her that was completely foreign to him.
"Can you heal yourself?" he asked, doubting of her abilities, but curious.
She shook her head. "Only others. I can heal you, perhaps."
"I'm not injured."
She reached out a soft hand to his bare chest and pressed her palm flat against his warm skin. "Not here..." She ran her hand lightly down his sternum, found the place on the left side of his ribcage that he'd bruised in a brawl a few days ago. "Here?"
He shrugged. "Just a little sore."
"Does it hurt when you breathe?" Her voice was more sure than he'd heard it.
"Only a bit."
"You've cracked this one, here," Zara informed him, gently. "May I?"
Caspian shrugged again. "Do your worst, I suppose."
She over his body, reaching for her little pile of belongings, one hand steadying herself by pressing against his shoulder. The position put her hipbones against his abdomen, her concave stomach pressing over his side. Practically on her hands and knees, her ass was so close it was all he could do not to run a hand over the round curve of her cute bottom. Her slip was so short he could see every inch of her smooth thighs, and if she bent forward just an inch more, he was sure her garment would slip up.
He resisted the temptation, calling himself a saint as Zara settled back into the curve of his body, shivering from her brief contact with the outside air. She was holding one of the small amber bottles from her bag.
She unscrewed the bottle's top and let a single drop of clear liquid fall into her palm. She rubbed her fingertips through the drop, then pressed them against his injured rib.
Later, Caspian wasn't sure quite how to describe his first experience with Ilarian healing. Zara hummed softly, moved her fingertips in slow circles over his skin, chanted melodically in a language he'd never heard before. His skin buzzed, her voice chimed like a bell. He felt a slow warmth start at the crown of his head and drip slowly over his body like melting butter, leaving him feeling like he'd had a full, long, dreamless night of sleep—something he hadn't experienced in years.
When it was over, Zara looked a little tired, but happier than Caspian had yet seen her. "The pain is gone," he said, taking deep gulps of air to test it.
She smiled a little for the briefest of minutes, all closed-lips and secrets. "You believe now."
"You knew that I didn't?"
She smiled again, that strange, all-knowing smile. "Yes, captain."
He wasn't sure what to do with her like this, so full of something he did not know and could not touch. "Are you hungry?"
"Not so hungry," she said carefully, and he laughed. He spread goat's cheese across two hunks of bread and offered her one.
She hesitated. "I don't want to eat your food."
"I don't want to owe you for anything."
Strange girl, he thought. "You couldn't," he corrected her. "You're my prisoner. I own all of you. I take care of what's mine."
She didn't argue, but he knew she disagreed. He hoped she'd change her mind about that. He didn't want to have to break her to prove his point.
"Eat the food," was all he said.
She did, curled in the crook of his arm all the while. Her eyelashes drooped and he knew she was tired, fighting sleep because she didn't trust him. She was right, but nothing could be done about it. She might as well sleep.
"You can rest," he told her finally, watching her blink her eyes open a dozen more times.
"Please," she said, "will you not touch me?"
Her please surprised him; indeed without it, he might have mocked her request. As it was, he just laughed shortly. "We're touching now."
"But not... here." Zara ran her hand down the center of her chest. "Or... here." She touched an inner thigh.
Slowly, Caspian put hands on both sides of her face, running them down her throat, her shoulders, her thin arms. He held her cool hands for a moment, while she remained silent and still. "You must know that you'll never return to your temple," he said at last. "If your temple is even still there. The armies may have burned it to the ground, you know. If they haven't, we won't go back. I have to go forward, find my troops. You'll come with me, as a prisoner. There is no other path."
Zara shuddered. "I can always shut myself out in the storm," she said. "That is another path."
"It won't do well for you to argue with me." Caspian felt a faint flint of rage strike in his belly. "You understand your situation, don't you?"
"Yes," Zara insisted, but Caspian felt defiance behind the word. Priestesses didn't lie well. He ran his hands over her chest, cupping her tiny breasts in his hands, kneading her flesh gently. She felt so damned good, even as she squirmed at the touch. "Should I remind you?" He pinched her nipples through the silk, twisting them enough to cause a shadow of pain. She mewed like a kitten, twisting hopelessly under his strong hands.
He tugged her nipples lightly before letting go, relishing the site of her stiffened little buds standing straight up under the silk. Zara was looking teary. Caspian pressed his body over hers, careful not to crush her under the weight. Slowly, carefully, he took her lower lip between hers. She was a statue under the kiss, but her lips were still soft, fragrant, tasting of vanilla and strawberry. He kneaded her lip delicately, let his tongue dart out to taste her silky lips. He rubbed his body up and down over hers, wondering which was more silken, her slip or her skin. He kissed under her jaw and down her neck.
Her hands had been trapped under his stomach. To his surprise, he felt them slide up to his chest, press lightly against his bare skin. He felt pure fire where her skin touched him. Pure lust. It was all he could do not to tear into her right then. She was too delicate a creature for that. He might break her.
Instead, he slid a hand over her knee, up the curve of her inner thigh. She was so warm there. His other hand was against her cheek, then sliding along the length of her copper braid. He cupped the line of her waist, the tight globes of her ass that were just as elastic and firm as he'd imagined. He wanted to dig his hands in so deeply he left marks.
He forced himself to he soft with her. He moved his lips back to her mouth, hovering over those sweet berry lips. "Let me kiss you. Let me show you what it's like to be kissed."
"I am going to be a priestess," Zara whispered.
"Let me kiss you."
"If I say no, will you stop?"
"Are you saying no?
Zara was very still. "Thank you for not letting me freeze," she said at last. Caspian kissed her velvet cheek, letting the tiniest corner of his lips brush the tiniest corner of hers. "Let me kiss you, Zara, please."
"Please?" she echoed his word, shocked. "But you are the solider who shows no mercy."
She said the words as though she had said them before a hundred times. He knew in that instant that she knew his reputation, that she knew who he was. And still she had been soft and kind with him, healed his wound, let him touch her untouched body with his own. A murderer and a virgin. Killer and saint. It felt apocalyptic. He felt so alive, as if magma was pulsing through his veins. As if her goodness was a balm on his wounds at the same time that her body was a spark to his loins. Not a spark. More a wildfire.
He slid his hand farther up her leg, to where her thighs met. He shifted his weight and heard the hiss of her gasp as she felt the unmistakable push of his hard, long cock against her leg. He could feel her breath against his lips. He let a finger slide along her smooth, hot slit. To his absolute shock, she was wet. Saturated to the point of dripping. Utterly ready for him.
Before he could respond, there was a shriek, someone out in the woods. A distinctly girlish sound, heavy with pain and terror. It was a sound that made Zara's eyes fly open, turning from sea-green to dark emerald. She was on her feet in an instant, tugging her dress over her head, wrapping herself in her cloak. Her boots were on her feet before Caspian could utter a sound.
"What is it?" he finally managed to gasp.
"That is one of my sisters," Zara cried. "Please, I must help her. Please. I'll do as you say if you'll only let me try to help her."
Caspian somehow found himself dressed and on his feet. "It isn't safe," he warned.
"I know," Zara answered grimly, her lovely face pained. Caspian broke through the snow for her, letting her out into the clearing. It had stopped snowing, but it was still bitterly, hopelessly cold. Zara didn't to notice. Although the snowdrifts were higher than her head and despite the fact that she was running for what was almost certain danger, Zara was running at a full tilt towards the source of the scream.
Around the bend, there was a huddle of figures against a wall of rock. Caspian saw only gray and scarlet—the colors of Zanthar. There were at least ten soldiers—ten of his men. In the time it took him to see what was behind the men, Zara's scream was piercing the air, a sound of pure and utter heartbreak that seemed to make the entire world hold its breath.
At the feet of his soldiers lay the bodies of four priestesses. Their white dresses were bloodied, their limbs at odd angles. They were young and beautiful and their blood was so very red on the white snow. Worse than this, though, was the fact that a fifth priestess was being restrained, her arms held behind her back, while one man forced his thick cock into her mouth, while another soldier was behind her, slamming his cock hard into her pussy, his hands buried so deep in the flesh of her round ass that he left hand-shaped bruises every time he shifted their position.
When they saw Zara and Caspian, four of the men turned, their faces wicked and grinning. "Captain! Bring her over here!"
Zara, to his surprise, didn't run from them. Instead, she ran smack into one man's arms, still trying desperately to reach her fallen sisters.
"Don't touch you, don't you fucking touch her," Caspian spat out. "She's mine."
The man who had caught Zara was surprised or intimidated enough that he let go. Caspian grabbed her waist and threw her behind him, hearing the shocked gasps still trembling from her lips.
Behind the first soldier, some of the others were dumping the fifth priestess's still body to the snow, where it lay unmoving with the others. The men were looking at Caspian strangely, confused at his reaction.
"She's a prisoner of war," one of them stated at last, "She belongs to the Zanthar army."
"I saved her life. I own it." Caspian's voice was like concrete.
"There weren't enough girls to go around," one of the soldiers complained. "Only fifty, and six hundred guards."
Fifty. Behind Caspian, Zara was aghast. There were only fifty priestesses, plus the high priest. Surely they couldn't have all been discovered. She tugged desperately at Caspian's pant leg, scrambling to her feet. "Please," she sobbed, "please, tell me if anyone survived? Please, Caspian, ask them."
"How many of the girls in white were there?" Caspian asked.
"Fifty," a few of the men shouted out.
One of the men sighed, running a hand down his filthy beard. "So beautiful, too. They didn't last long."
"How many are still alive?"
"Zero," one of the men admitted. "Well, one. There's that one behind you still. Some of them put up something of a fight. We didn't have much of a choice. Usually we would've kept prisoners, of course. But the general ordered no survivors. Apparently there was a massacre in Zanthar this morning. He just received word. Wanted revenge."
Caspian could feel Zara's energy coursing through him, so full of panic and heartbreak that it was tangible. "This one's mine," he said coldly.
The men moved closer, prowling like hyenas.
"She's a pretty one. Look at that red hair." "So young, look at her." "One of the prettiest, wouldn't you say?"
Zara was shaking, but Caspian felt her steady herself behind him, setting her feet wide. As if she intended to fight.
There was the sharp clang of metal on metal as one of the soldiers drew their swords. "Surrender her, Captain."
The next sound was the sound of metal on flesh, on bone, as Caspian sword sliced the man's head clean from his neck. And then it was mayhem. One against nine, and Caspian was trying to protect Zara as well. He killed three, but took a rough blow through his shoulder doing it. He could feel the heat of his blood as it gushed down his back. And then he heard Zara scream as hands were grabbing at her. And then it was those men who were screaming. There was blood everywhere. The air tasted like death, metallic and cold.
So much death. The snow was melting from the heat of it. Zara was screaming, and there was a man with his hand around her neck, his other hand tearing at her dress, scratching for her skin. Caspian's sword was buried in that man's back when the other man—the last of the soldiers—attacked him from the other side. He couldn't fight them both. And then someone Zara's hands were coming down hard on the one man's chest, and he could see the handle of her little jeweled knife sticking out of the hollow at the base of his throat, blood spraying across the snow, across Zara's white dress, against Zara's horrified face.
And then Caspian's sword was coming down one final time. And then it was over. The clearing was full of bodies. The echoes of screams still danced faintly off the rocks. Zara was looking up at him, her face splashed with wine-red death. "Thank you for fighting for my sisters," she whispered, tears washing clean streaks down her bloody cheeks. She was kneeling there in the snow, kneeling to him, and Caspian suddenly wished she wouldn't. She believed that she belonged to him now, and while that had been all he wanted an hour ago, now he missed the time when she thought she had somewhere else to belong.
And so he kneeled down beside her and took her hands, and kissed her bloody knuckles. "I didn't fight for them," he told her, like a sinner confessing to a saint, like he was seeking an absolution. "I fought for you."
Feb 7, 2018 in romance