"Whispers From The Shadowlands"
by HawkDMon

The High Plains
     I HATE being wounded! It reflects badly on the battle skills I have so carefully honed. I caught an arrow in my shoulder during the last foray across the Kelick  Border. I shouldn't complain too much I suppose. It was my best Sword arm, but my horse came out of the battle without a scratch. Not one of my horse skirmishers were killed. The enemy cannot say the same. We left a dozen of their dead on the plain.

 But that was yesterday. Today I sit on the high hill, near the healers tent, and watch the battle below in extreme agitation. I know how my Battlemare feels now when she's straining at the bit to charge the enemy. I strain my eyes and try to pick out my lover, Mara, among the crowd of fighters that skirt the battle, dealing death. quick and sure, from horseback. It's pretty useless, I know, for they seem like mad ants from this vantage point. All I can do is pray to the Mother that Mara survives another day. We swore long ago that we would stand together and die together. We will burn on the same funeral pyre, together.

 The black garbed ants, the enemy, suddenly retreats. Running for the safety of their own land. We have broken them again. I shout with joy as I see them panic, turn tail, and run. Our own tan and brown mercenaries cut down the stragglers as they charge for the border. The sound of battle victory emerges from my peoples throats as the last intruder dives across the border. The Horse skirmishers skirt the boarder, taunting with words, not wanting to waste the arrows as the invaders keep running for the safety of the trees.

 Against the healers orders I run to my horse and leap on, one arm bandaged to my ribs. I race down to the victors with only a halter and lead, ignoring the pain in my shoulder, yelling with joy as I feel the wind in my hair.  Battlemares are trained to respond to voice and legs the most. You have to be able to drop your reins, keep moving, and shoot an arrow while in control of your horse, or you're a dead mercenary.

 I locate Mara within moments. Her bare arms and face streaked with blood and gore, just as her leather armor is. She takes off her helm and golden blond hair tumbles free. My heart skips a beat at her beauty as she shakes her hair out. Never mind the blood. I don't really even see that. Her green eyes catch sight of me as I bring DeathBringer to a halt. Her green eyes glinting with joy as she smiles at me. Pride radiates from her.

 "Did ya see? The motherless bastards! I bet they run all the way back to their Keep!" She says, laughing.

 I dismount with ease, landing lightly on the ground.

 "I saw." I smile back. I kiss her on the battlefield, surrounded by enemy dead and my own comrades, now looting the bodies for weapons, armor and silver. No one pays us any heed. Unlike the Kelicks, my people see nothing abnormal about same sex lovers. I taste the blood on her lips and find it somehow erotic, something which peaceful farmers and merchants will never understand. 

 Mara breaks away from me with a sly smile that I know means there will be more kisses later. First she must see to her battle mare. Only those seriously wounded are excused that duty, and even then they still try to care for their own horse. 

 "You should be resting."

 I have been daydreaming. Sitting on a nearby rock and watching Mara groom WarriorHeart. She has tied her hair into a long ponytail down her back, taken off most of her armor, and stands in boots, under tunic and pants. I can see the smooth muscles of her arms and her back as she brushes Warriors coat,  speaking quietly to the mare, telling her how well she fought.

  I look up at the healer standing before me.

 "I am resting" I protest.

 "Sitting on a rock, surrounded by dirt and horses is not what I call resting. Do you know how dangerous an infection could be?"

 "Honorable Healer, I'm sure there are those more in need of your services than I." I try to hide the disdain from my voice. It's not that I don't like healers, but they are always making more out of things than necessary. I have been wounded enough times that I know damn well how dangerous infection can be, and how to best guard against it. Besides, we keep our horses cleaner than most people keep themselves. 

 "I'll remind you of your words when that shoulder gets infected." He says with a superior air.

 "You do that." I glare at him. After a few minutes he breaks eye contact. I have been told that I have an ice blue gaze at times that would scare demons into running.

 "Mark my words" I hear the Healer mumble as he walks away.

 "You really should be more respectful to them." Mara tells me when the Healer is out of earshot. "Else they may refuse to heal you next time you get wounded."

 "Never happen" I smile. "It's against their code. They'd even help the enemy if we left any of them alive."

 Mara finishes putting her grooming tools in her pack. She shoulders it, and extends a hand to help me to my feet. I would refuse if it was anyone else. I accept her hand and stand, meeting her kiss as she leans forward.
 "Come on, I need a bath and a skin of wine myself." she says.

 "What about me?" I ask.

 "I need you most of all" She says.

 "I meant the wine, what about me?" I tease her.

 "Oh, well, if the Healer says it's alright...." she doesn't finish the sentence. We both know that Healers allow no alcohol to those that are wounded, slows the healing process and increases the chance of wound rot and fever. 

 I try to frown my displeasure over this at her, but I can't. Instead I have to smile at her beauty. Mara grabs my free hand and pulls me gently. I fall into step with her and follow her to the cold stream. Only Horse Skirmishers are bathing at it's banks, the infantry having done so while we tended our horses. We start with me watching her bath, naked, in the river, feeling desire well up in me at the sight of her lean body, the water running down her pale skin. Others would cringe at the sight of our scars, but true warriors don't mind them at all. Behind each scar is a story of survival, a story of life.

 Mara watches me watching her. Since my arm is bandaged to my ribs under my shirt, it is easy for her to undress me and bath me. I stand in the river, my senses reeling from the feel of the cool water, of her callused hands on me. The feeling of her lips as she kisses my unwounded shoulder. Mercenaries are not a shy group. No one stares and there is hardly anyone left at the stream.

 "Lets skip dinner and go back to the tent." She whispers in my ear. Something I was expecting. We often have a hunger of a different kind after battle. A hunger that food will not quench. 

 I can only smile my agreement. The look of love that she gives me brings me near tears for the sheer joy I feel. She nods and I see her eyes glistening as well.  I know that she feels the same.

 Now I know what you're saying. How can you make love with a wounded shoulder? Very carefully. Very slowly and tenderly. It's seldom a rushed passion after battle, unlike most warriors. I have never understood why, maybe it has something to do with coming so close to death, maybe not. I leave the philosophy of things to the wise men.

 We have spent years together as tent mates and battle mates. We have learned to make love in many different ways, depending on our wounds. I don't think there is a wound that can stop us from  our joining. A few have come close, but where there is a will there is a way. We are nothing if not creative.

 We fall asleep wrapped in each others arms, content. We have lived another day, we were victorious. We love and are loved. It is a rich life, a wonderful life.

 Something jars me from sleep. In seconds I realize what it is. The sounds of battle, of cursing, yelling, of horses stomping the ground.

 "What in the name of the Nine Hells?" Mara says.  She's confused but already dressing in light clothing, no time for armor.  She grabs her sword and crawls out of the tent. I hear her swear as I reach for my own sword, though with my weaker left hand. I shrug into a long knee length tunic, leaving my legs and feet bare, my right arm still bandaged.

 "What is it?" I ask as I stand and put my back to Mara's. Our classic foot fighting stance. I'm disorientated as I see the torch bearing riders, dressed in black, but these soldiers wear the Imperial Crest in gold to clasp their cloaks closed.

 "Demonshit! Imperials!" I yell.

 "The horses! Get to the horses!" Mara cries. I start to move, I'm whistling to our Battle Steeds to come and find us. They're trained that way, to react to both of us and no one else.  Suddenly we are surrounded by three Imperials. I stand with one sword and no shield. Mara stands with a sword and a knife. The Imperials stand with sword and shield each.

 "We're fucked" I whisper over my shoulder as the first Imperial moves to attack me. I parry his sword.

 "We've seen worse" Mara says back.

 "With no armor?" I think.

  I am doing badly and I know it. My left arm is too weak for this sword. I should have grabbed the lighter, shorter one. I can barely hold the Imperial off. I wonder where the hell our horses are. Is it possible that the Imperials managed to kill them? Only death can keep Battle Steeds from their riders. Fire burns as I feel a slash along my left leg, I stay standing. Another cut appears on my left arm. I barely notice. One of the two Imperials that Mara fights drops to our feet. Two more to go. 

 By sheer luck I manage to slash the throat open of the Imperial before me and he drops without a word. Mara grunts and a sharp pain appears in my lower back. I turn and....


 Horrified I watch as the sword protruding through Mara's back is withdrawn by the Imperial. That must have been the pain I felt in my back. Mara drops to the ground. I explode in rage and attack the Imperial with all I have. In seconds the surprised man is at my feet and dead. I have no recollection of landing the killing blow.

 I kneel next to Mara, I take up her knife and hastily cut through my bandages to free my right arm. I bite down against the pain as I force my stiff shoulder out the arm hole of the tunic. I can feel the stitches ripping. I'm not even aware of the insanity around me. I barely realize that we are being slaughtered. Night time attacks are unheard of. I don't even wonder where our sentries are, or our horses, not anymore. There's only Mara.

 I keep hold of my sword in my left hand, and roll Mara over onto her back with my right. She struggles to get up but only manages to rise enough for me to but an arm under her, to help her sit up a little. Blood pours out of her side and I am oblivious to all but that. 

 "Lania, love..." Her voice falters.

 "Don't talk. You'll be okay."

 We both know I'm lying. I can tell by the way the blood is bubbling out of her mouth, by her sucking and gurgling breaths. The bastard got her lung. Mara is drowning in her own blood. 

 "I love you Lania." She barely manages to say. "I'll wait for you."

 "I love you Mara, don't leave me...please?"

 She coughs, I hold her tight, tears streaming down my face. I can feel her body shudder, seize, and then she goes limp. Dead weight in my wound arm. 

 "Don't leave me." I whisper. 

 A body falls at my right, reminding me of the battle around us. I look up at a comrade.

 "She's dead. Watch your back!" He yells over the din of screams and crashing steel.

 Part of the woods are burning, near where the horses were tied. From moon and fire light I can see that we are losing, badly. We were more than a match for the peasant stocked boarder armies they kept throwing at us, but not the Imperials themselves. We were fools to think they would never send them. After years and years of Border Wars I am suddenly surprised that it took them so long to finally send them.

I look down at Mara again. My beautiful Mara. I suddenly realize that I am not getting out of this battle alive. Nor do I really wish too. But I plan on taking as many of the enemy as I can with me.  Yelling the rage suddenly sweeping through me, I pick up Mara's sword in my right hand, and my own in my left. I feel charged and I do not care that my arm is on fire, that I am bleeding warm liquid down one calf and my lower back. I straddle Mara's fallen form with my feet, determined to protect her in death even as I did in life. The clear thinking of battle rage that my people can sink into flows through me. Deadening all pain, and nearly doubling my strength. This is never done lightly, for it can drain your natural reserves to your death, over taxation of the body and the mind. I have always fought slipping into that state. Now I welcome it. By sword or by burn out, I will be dead by morning.
"Hey!" I scream at the nearest Imperial "Fatherless bastard!!!! You're mother mated with a peasant hound!!!!"

 He moves closer.  I let him come to me.

 "And what of you, Cathan?! Spawned by two mothers!"

 "I wish!" I answer. I laugh, a high pitched sound that speaks of madness.
 Steel meets steel. It sings to me as it slashes the air, clangs off the opponents shield and sword. I hold off his one sword with two. I slip into the ebb and flow of smooth movement. Battle madness takes me there. I think I hear the tearing sound of flesh over the clamor around me as I slide the sword into the Imperial, just under the rip cage, point angled up to spear his heart. 

 He falls. I twist the sword  inside him to loosen the death grip his muscles now have on the blade. I yank out the blade with my left as I block the sword of another Imperial with my right hand blade. The blow should have sent me into pain shock immediately, but I don't even feel it. I can smell the blood from my shoulder as it runs from my re-opened wound. 

 I easily turn and spear the Imperial who has just joined us, and then two more appear. I down one and two more appear again. The sounds of battle are growing dimmer. I wonder if I am one of few left alive...will I be the last standing?  I don't have time to look, only to fight. More and more Imperials appear slashing at me, my swords are fast, flashing silver death and wounds to any I can reach. For Mara I think. Revenge. I don't even care who I hit.

 I drop to my knees. Unable to stop myself though I feel no pain, no wound. There are four or five Imperials around me, they stand wary, not attacking.   My vision gets dimmer, I know it can't be that dark, not with the fires burning nearby. I can even feel their heat, I think. Blood covers me from a dozen wounds on arms, legs and  stomach. Wounds that should have crippled me. The Eagle hilted Imperial sword is sticking out just under my rip cage, rammed nearly to the hilt.  I can't breath. Life is draining out of me fast. I can feel it. And still there is no pain. My last sight is of Mara, still between my legs, as I kneel over her, facing her peaceful looking face.  I reach out to touch her cheek, thinking to embrace her.

 "In Death, as in Life" I think.

 And then I am standing, facing her. She smiles. It is still night. the fire still burns. And the sounds of the wounded being killed off fills the air. I look around and see only Imperials and the two of us standing. 

 "Fucking unnatural creatures" The nearest Imperial says. He spits on the ground. I look down.

 And there I lay. Half atop Mara, sword sticking clean through me. Both of us awash in blood. Ten dead men are scattered very near our corpses.

 "Too bad they died before a real man could set 'em straight eh?" said another.

 They laugh, One kicks my body over his foot and bends to pry the swords out that are still gripped in my hands. Out of anger I swing at him, not realizing I am empty handed until my hand passes through his black helm.

 Then it dawns on me.

 "Dead? We're dead?"

 "How else could we stand here, talking, in front of a bunch of Motherless dogs like these." Mara says.

 "Are we in the Nine Hells? Trapped in our own battle field?"  I watched the men looting the corpses and tents. Funny how it didn't seem to bother me. I had done it lots of times myself, and it didn't bother me. Now it was my own corpse and tent. It should have bothered me.

 "Well, at least the Imperials aren't the scum their peasants are." I sighed.

 "True, these men wont rape our corpses or our wounded."

 "Kilecks, they're all so sick" I said.

 The battle field disappeared. replaced by rolling plains and trees in the distance. 

 "What in the Hells?" I said. "Now where are we?"

 Mara looked perplexed too. 

 "No. Not the Hells. Not here."

 We both turn around at the sound of the strange voice. We drop to our knees.
 The Mother, Goddess of Warriors, is standing before us. Her Black metal armor gleaming in the bright sunlight. Her ebony warrior braids kept under a black circlet atop her head. Black eyed, pale skinned, and seven feet tall.

 "M-Mother?" I can barely whisper. I am in awe. Her very presence stuns me. I had always believed in her. worshipped with faith, without question. I never doubted that she existed. But now, kneeling before her, I realized that I had never truly thought I would meet her personally.

 "Of course you would Child, all great warriors meet me. I regret that I was delayed."

 She paused, neither Mara or I spoke.

 "So many great warriors fell this eve." 

 She gazes over the plains. Distracted. Then she looks at us again.

 "Get up." she said quietly. A command that made our week knees work. I expected her to be fierce, red eyed and harsh. But she was beautiful, and calming. 

 "I am not the shrew that legends speak of." She laughs. It is shear music, that laugh.

 "All Warriors who serve me in honor are rewarded. For you I give you peace, for a while. This place is much like your own world. Filled with Warriors, with Inns to drink in, battles to fight. Life to be lived."

 "But a place where no one dies." I said.

 "Or is ever injured." Mara finished.

 "Right. Welcome to High Plains Rest." The Mother told us,  she flashed us a smile and disappeared.

 "High Plains Rest." I said after she had left. I was amazed. The place legend said Great Warriors go. The Warriors who will live again, which honor was not granted all Cathan Warriors. Mara and I were to be Ones That Serve The Mother, not once but several times. Her vessels to use when others attack our people. Most would say a dismal existence, to live and fight, lifetime after lifetime. But there is a reward. Great times of peace in The High Plains, where there is nothing but open space, playful battles & comradeship, all the good things in a warriors life, without pain, or death.

 Our sight was captured by forms moving near a stand of near by trees. We both looked and sighted our last Battle Steeds grazing peacefully. They both raised their heads, nickered hello and then returned to grazing when we both whistled the signal for them to do so.

 Mara turns to me and takes me in her arms. She is solid, warm flesh. Then I notice. There are no scars on her arms or her face. No scars on my arms. We stand in fresh Pants, boots and tunics. 

 "And here is allowed all the good things we had in life" She whispers as she kisses me.

 "For how long?"

 "Who cares." said Mara.

 Someday we will reincarnate, we will fight and die together again, Soul Mates to the end of time. I can survive any trial, any life, with joy, as long as Mara stands by my side or at my back. That is the only truth that matters.

 "Lets hope it's for a long time." I laugh as I pull her down into the tall plains grass.

 And then we stop talking, and lose ourselves to the pleasures under the warm sun of The High Plains. 

© 3/13/96  By Kim Elizabeth Stewart

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