The Return

The continuing story of Allyandrah and Kru’Nah
This week’s prompt: A camping trip in the forest with friends. One disappears and comes back different.
Kru’Nah and Commander Tra’Khil led the men back into the woods toward the outpost. It wasn’t likely that they would reach it before the storm hit in two days, but they needed to try. Kru’Nah took his position at the front instead of deferring to Commander Tra’Khil. Kru’Nah needed to reestablish himself in royal form in front of these men given the rumors that had been circling already. He felt grateful for the tracks in the snow to follow as his mind was somewhere other than on marching in the proper direction.
Perhaps he had left too soon after Allyandrah’s banishment, too soon after his rescue of her. He thought back to the day of the forest fire. He always kept tabs on Allyandrah as his mother worked and abused the slave more and more. He knew she was in the woods. He knew the danger of her being out there. He knew he should stay at the palace and leave her fate to the Guardians. The more he tried to leave her alone, the more he couldn’t do it. What do the Guardians care about slaves, anyway? They would have done nothing to slow the fire to allow her escape. It was then he knew his love for her was true.
“Sire?” Commander Tra’Khil’s voice broke through Kru’Nah’s thoughts.
Stopping, Kru’Nah turned around to face the commander. “What is it?” His voice was sharp.
Commander Tra’Khil shifted his weight showing his extreme discomfort. “Sire, we’ve orders to dispose of you out here.”
“To dispose of me?” Kru’Nah threw the full weight of his royal command behind his voice. Every soldier shifted in his spot as Kru’Nah glared from one to the next.
Commander Tra’Khil cleared his throat but formed no words after.
“I see,” Kru’Nah sneered. “None of you brave enough to comply. Then let us continue until one of you has found his bravery.”
Turning abruptly, Kru’Nah marched on, not caring whether any of them followed him. Kjelger honor forbade killing an opponent from behind. For now, as long as he moved forward, he would live, though the way his heart ached after losing Allyandrah again made him wish one of these men had been brave enough. He clenched his fists as he tried to steady his breathing and his emotions. If he was going to hold his royal command, he better start acting like it.
After hours of marching and the sun began to hang low in the sky, Kru’Nah found a small clearing of trees in which to camp. He’d noticed hours ago that all the soldiers had followed him, though at a further distance than they would have without his reproach. Kru’Nah didn’t care how much he alienated them. He was the prince, after all. He owed them nothing.
Kru’Nah stood watching while the men scrambled to gather supplies for a fire and build small shelters. Though he assumed that just a few miles more would have been a camp they’d used on the way out, he wanted to punish them and work them harder. He was angry at their cowardice but he owned them now after calling it out. As they worked, he set himself in the first finished shelter as one soldier cooked using the now blazing fire, the boiling resin jumping and landing on his thick furs.
Kru’Nah removed his hood and face covering to scowl more clearly at the men. None dared look directly at him, but he knew they were watching him out of the corners of their eyes. He waited for Commander Tra’Khil to approach him to offer penance. Kru’Nah tried to empty his mind of Allyandrah as he waited, but she continued to creep back in. He tried to think about where she could be, if she was even still alive. He believed she was, but he couldn’t be sure. They hadn’t joined their spark yet, so he could only guess.
Shortly, a bowl of hot vegetable stew was offered to him by Commander Tra’Khil. As Kru’Nah accepted it, he offered the first spoonful to Tra’Khil as an invitation to sit with him. Tra’Khil ate the first bite and sat down.
“Look at me, Tra’Khil.” Slowly, Tra’Khil removed his own hood and face mask and turned to look at Kru’Nah. Years of worry and work had etched lines deep into the face of Tra’Khil, betraying his age to one much older. “What is going on? Tell me plainly.”
Tra’Khil sat perfectly still as he explained, “The queen is none too pleased with you right now, sire. She is more than angry about your rescue of the slave and believes your disappearance has something to do with the slave, too. She has been raging in private while appearing as the concerned mother in public. The slave is not safe anywhere with other Kjelgers, at least not the ones loyal to your mother.”
Kru’Nah tried to keep his face completely devoid of reaction as Tra’Khil explained Allyandrah’s plight.
“Sire,” Tra’Khil continued, failing to keep his voice neutral and spoke more gently. “It would take the influence of the Guardians to save her out here. Who knows who else the queen has sent after her, too. All we know is that we were sent for you. There could be more out searching for her.”
“Where do you and your men stand, then?” Kru’Nah felt he knew the answer given he was still alive.
“Sire,” Tra’Khil cleared his throat.
“Speak plainly.” Kru’Nah ordered.
Tra’Khil shifted. Kru’Nah knew now that the truth was coming.
“Sire. What you do is of no concern to us as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the safety of the kingdom. We have heard reports from the messengers–”
“Unofficial reports?”
“Yes, sire, unofficial. We’ve heard unofficial reports from messengers that the people are in favor of the rescue of the slave. It has given you favor among the people, which your mother is losing.”
Kru’Nah stared incredulously at Tra’Khil.
“Sire, I don’t understand it either.”
“Commander Tra’Khil,” a voice interrupted.
“Yes?” Tra’Khil addressed the soldier.
“Permission to do a perimeter check.”
“Permission granted.”
“Parg’Noth out to check the perimeter.”
“Acknowledged, Parg’Noth.”
Turning back to Kru’Nah, Tra’Khil continued. “It seems some strange things are happening around here and I have no explanation.”
Kru’Nah slowly nodded. He looked around the now dark campsite and saw the men huddling together in various structures. Yesterday, everything out here had seemed so simple and now it all had a layer of complication.
“What kind of strange things?” Kru’Nah asked.
“Sire, it’s almost as though the Guardians are displeased and so are trying to corrupt us.”
“Corrupt who?”
“Corrupt us all!” Tra’Khil answered with unexpected passion. “Excuse my outburst, sire.”
Kru’Nah leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Continue.”
Tra’Khil’s eyes widened. He cleared his throat and looked around, then leaned in and spoke in a lowered voice. “Sire, the burning of the forest. The disfavor of your mother. Your decision to rescue a slave. The rumors of you running off with her. Do you remember the last time a dynasty had such rumors and indiscretions?”
“These events are the hands of the Guardians you think?”
“Sire, I don’t know what else it could be. I’ve never heard of a prince rescuing a slave from anything. And the last time a queen fell out of favor with the people?”
“It does seem like the meddling of the Guardians.” Kru’Nah rubbed his face. His fatigue was growing exponentially. Could his love be nothing more than the Guardians bent on making a point? “Is that why you and your men didn’t follow the orders of my mother?”
“Sire, of course. Could we willingly participate in the games of the Guardians if we knew about them? Should we not resist such interference?”
Shouts from the men interrupted Kru’Nah’s response. Commander Tra’Khil shot out from under the shelter to investigate. Kru’Nah rose slowly and followed. When he approached, he saw one of the soldiers wandering aimlessly in the middle of the circle of soldiers, his arms and legs bent at strange angles. Kru’Nah’s heart jumped up into his throat and he swallowed hard as the man turned to look at him, his soulless eyes burning inside Kru’Nah’s mind.
“Who is this?” Commander Tra’Khil barked.
“It’s Parg’Noth,” a soldier replied.
“Strange things,” Kru’Nah whispered.
“Those damn Guardians!” Commander Tra’Khil roared. “Put him down! Put him down!”
The soldiers hesitated for just a moment before diving in. To Kru’Nah’s horror and dismay, Parg’Noth was not the aimless wanderer he seemed to be. When attacked, he defended himself, resisting the advances of six men at once.
Parg’Noth slowly made his way toward Kru’Nah, pushing down soldier after soldier, though not killing them. Kru’Nah couldn’t make sense of what was happening and felt frozen in place though his mind screamed at him to run.
Parg’Noth reached out to Kru’Nah with a shriveled finger and opened his mouth just as a sword erupted from his abdomen. Kru’Nah jumped back and as Parg’Noth dropped to the ground, he whispered, “she lives.” His whisper sounded like the wind rustling through the needles of the trees in the forest. Kru’Nah shook his head, sure he’d heard incorrectly.
“He was dead before he spoke,” one soldier announced.
“Are you sure?” Commander Tra’Khil asked.
“I am certain. He uttered nothing. No harm will come.”
In shock, Kru’Nah stared at the eyes of the now dead man, his bony finger still pointed at Kru’Nah.
“What happens if he speaks?” Kru’Nah asked breathlessly.
“If he speaks, we are cursed to the destiny he tells. He’s like a fate-sealer,” Commander Tra’Khil replied.
“How do you know this?”
“We’ve lost a dozen men to this. Everything spoken comes true and the one he speaks to is sealed to that fate.”
Kru’Nah’s eyes widened and he shook his head. Was he really sure that the man had spoken? Or did he just imagine it? What did that mean for him if he had? What did it mean that she lives?
“Come, men,” Commander Tra’Khil barked. “Put him out of the camp and get in your shelters. We still have a storm to outrun.”
Kru’Nah slowly rose, trying to remember to be royal, to be princely. He pulled himself completely upright and walked to the shelter from which he’d come. He climbed inside, feeling a distinct chill at what he’d witnessed. Two soldiers were stationed by the fire to keep it raging. Kru’Nah supposed they would change guards throughout the night. No one could afford to be sleep deprived out here.
As he lay down, letting the heat of the fire warm his body, his inner chill was replaced with a growing excitement. She lives. He was sure now that he’d heard correctly. He was destined to a fate with her. Even if the Guardians were meddling, what did it matter? She lives. Even if things changed, what did it matter? She lives. A smile broke out across his face. He needed to push on, toward what he didn’t know, but it didn’t matter anymore.
She lives.

The journey

I am on the journey to becoming a published author.

I am already an author. I have already finished two first drafts of novels. I have several more in the works. I have written a myriad of short stories. I am an author.

I am now attempting to make money doing it.

Right now, that entails creating some social media channels – right now, that’s youtube, instagram, and facebook. I’ve also set up a website that will have a blog – all dedicated to my authoring journey.

I have editing to do, I have blog posts to write, I have videos to record and edit, a study to print, assemble, and mail… the list seems to go on and on. I feel overwhelmed. I feel perpetually behind.

I am wondering right now if it’s going to be worth it. I am wondering if I can do this. I am wondering if I can make this work. I am wondering a lot of things. I feel a lot of things – most of them are negative right now. I wonder and wonder and wonder. I try to move on and just do one thing at a time but it’s hard. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough free time. I have too many other responsibilities, most of which involve the two tiny darlings of my heart.

How do I continue? Do I just keep plugging away, one piece at a time? Do I stop and throw in the towel? Do I acknowledge all the feelings and let them overwhelm me?

I’ve already broken this down into the smallest steps possible and it seems like so many steps. It seems impossible to do.

Really, though, what else can I do?

I must carry on though, must I not? What else can I do? One step, one little box on my spreadsheet at a time. One spec of free time at a time. That’s all I can do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

To pursue our dreams will always take work. It will always take sacrifice. It will always take just a little bit more than we think we have. So we push on, we move forward, we do what we need to do. We don’t let feelings get in our way of what needs to be done.

Push on, friends. Do that one thing you need to do to pursue your dream. And so will I.




The Decision

The next installment of the continuing story of Allyandrah and Kru’Nah.

This week’s prompt is: Faced with his or her worst fear, does your character run or stand and fight?

Part 1
Part 2


The next morning, Allyandrah and Kru’Nah set off. The temperature had plummeted overnight and they bundled themselves up as tightly as possible to walk. They stuck to the woods, Kru’Nah taking the unfamiliar rear position. For a moment, it struck him as odd that he, the Prince, would be following a slave.

“Not a slave,” he said quietly to himself. “My love.”

Kru’Nah often checked his vectrometer to ensure they continued in the right direction. To his continued surprise, Allyandrah walked true and straight, never veering from northeast despite their incessant weaving through the thinning trees. Mile after mile, they walked steadily, silently. Kru’Nah had a vague idea of where he wanted to go, but his plan wasn’t fully formed yet.

Finally, after many hours and as the sun began to dip low in the sky, Allyandrah stopped among what appeared to be the last of the trees.

“We should make camp,” she said.

Kru’Nah bristled slightly at her giving him directions, but he quickly reframed his mind again, pushing out the idea of her having been a slave and him a prince. He was surprised by how deeply ingrained his training really was. When he thought and fantasized about being with Allyandrah, he was never troubled by her station, but now that it was reality, he had to continually check himself.

Allyandrah had no more than spoken before she began to collect Hornothol branches for a fire. She worked quietly for a few moments, keeping one eye on Kru’Nah, who stood regally in the snow watching her work. Her love and excitement at being with him was tempered by her weariness. Annoyance began to grow as she did all the work.

Dumping an armful of branches on the ground near him, Allyandrah looked at him for a moment, pursed her lips, and walked away to collect more.

“What was that look?” Kru’Nah asked with more severity than he’d intended.

Allyandrah felt the jolt of accusation and immediately retreated into her slave mindset, dropping low to the ground in a bow. “I regret my impertinence. It was not my place.” She recited the apology by heart, having learned the basic gist of its meaning through experience. Her heart hammered in her chest, waiting for the inevitable beating.

Kru’Nah sighed, annoyed at himself. He walked over and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, feeling her start slightly at his touch. He stayed there for a moment, unsure what to say. He was fighting against a lifetime of training.

Finally, he spoke softly. “Allyandrah, I will never beat you. You are not my slave out here.”

Slowly, Allyandrah lifted her head and rocked back onto her heels. She gazed up into the penitent face of Kru’Nah.

“We have much to unlearn,” he said, standing and offering his hand. Taking it, Allyandrah stood. “Would you like to start the fire while I gather more wood?”

“That’d be good,” Allyrandrah said. Without another word, she walked over to her pile of wood and began arranging it to start a fire. Kru’Nah continued to watch her for a moment, impressed by her deftness and skill. It seemed that she knew exactly how to do everything, whereas his own usefulness out here was limited. He felt strange depending on someone else in such a primal way. Finally, he turned and began to dig under the snow for hidden branches as he’d watched Allyandrah do.

Soon, a large fire was blazing radiating warmth and the two had filled their bellies with food and hot water, melted from the abundant snow. Kru’Nah and Allyandrah huddled together, one cape wrapped around their backs and the other around their fronts, nestled into a shallow snow dugout. Both shivered violently despite the large fire.

“I hate this,” Allyandrah said through chattering teeth. “I never been this cold in my life.”

“It is much warmer back home, certainly.” The difference in their speech was startling to him. He realized he hadn’t consciously noticed the difference before. A slave’s lack of education was apparent in the way they spoke and he’d never given it a second thought until now. He wriggled himself out of their capes and set several more large branches on the fire. As it grew, spitting resin everywhere, he settled back into the capes, feeling much warmer.

As they continued to sit not speaking, he noticed Allyandrah’s breathing become slow and regular, her body limp against his, an indication of her sleeping. His wrestled against his fatigue for as long as he could before also finally drifting off to sleep.

A low swishing slowly roused Kru’Nah from his sleep. A vaguely familiar sound, though he couldn’t immediately place it. The fire had long since died down and a chill had crept back into his body. Allyandrah continued to breathe slowly. It was just nearing dawn, the sky beginning to surrender the deepest darkness of night. All his senses returning, he now felt wide awake, turning his head this way and that to locate the sound. He nudged Allyandrah.

“Hey,” he whispered. “Wake up.”

“Hmm?” Allyandrah slowly stirred as he continued to nudge her. The sound he now recognized as wilderness soldiers. He’d spent enough time with them to know this sound. They must have been instructed to find him. Should he surrender and bank on his mother’s mercy for him or force them to kill him by not surrendering? Allyandrah’s purposeful movement shook him out of his contemplation.

“What–?” Allyandrah started to say, but Kru’Nah clamped his hand over her mouth.

“Don’t say anything. Just get up and stay silent.” The pair clumsily shuffled around trying to get their capes back on. He hadn’t anticipated the word getting out so quickly and their tracks were surely fresh and easy to follow in the snow.

“What’s going on?” Allyandrah whispered.

“They found us,” Kru’Nah whispered back.

Allyandrah finally heard the sound of the shuffling snow. Her eyes grew wide in terror and she began to shake, this time in fear and not from the cold. Surely she would not be pardoned a second time. Turning to look at Kru’Nah, his face betrayed his indecision. They hadn’t pushed hard enough. They trusted too much in the wilderness. They underestimated the queen. Allyandrah began to back away slowly from Kru’Nah and the sound of the incoming soldiers. Kru’Nah turned toward her.

“Allyandrah,” he whispered fiercely, holding out his hand.

Allyandrah slowly shook her head as she stumbled and fell. Pain crushed her chest and closed off her throat as she watched his understanding grow. He knew she was leaving and he knew she was leaving him behind. Tears spilled out of her eyes and she tried to breathe as she eased backward, going beyond the last of the trees. His mouth formed the word “No,” and his eyes begged her to stay with him. He reached out more insistently to her and she paused for just a moment before turning and sprinting away, leaving her heart and her love back in that small grove of trees.

Allyandrah’s mind whirled as she ran, trying to make sense of her decision. To stay with him would mean certain death of her body but to be away from him was death to her soul. Slaves’ lives weren’t supposed to be complicated like this! Tears poured from her eyes as she ran, trying to choke down breaths. She quickly turned west, hoping to find more trees in which to conceal her tracks. Bravery was no longer her concern. Survival was.

Kru’Nah watched as Allyandrah back away from him, his heart ripping out of his chest as she backed away, as though on a tether to her. “Please, no,” he whispered. She turned and ran, taking his heart with her, quickly disappearing from sight. Only her footprints gave any indication which direction she went. He stood there, frozen to the ground, his mind spinning.

“You there!” A firm voice broke into his thoughts. He turned and tried to plaster his royal face on over his brokenness, even though his face was mostly concealed by his furs.

“Show yourself!” The voice barked again. Kru’Nah knew for sure now. It was Commander Tra’Khil.

“You would dare speak to me in such an insolent manner?” Kru’Nah’s voice grew stronger as he spoke. He hoped that the cracked first syllables wouldn’t give him away.

“Sire!” Commander Tra’Khil and all his men immediately dropped to one knee, right arm crossed over their chests, heads bowed.

Kru’Nah tried to think quickly. He turned his back on the bowed men and shuffled through the tracks left by Allyandrah. When he felt he’d gone far enough, Kru’Nah turned around and, making a new set of tracks, walked back to the men still bowed low to the ground.

“You may rise,” Kru’Nah said, channeling all his frustration and disdain at the events of the past few minutes on the small group of men in front of him.

Slowly the group of men arose, none daring to look directly at Kru’Nah.

“Why are you you here?” Kru’Nah finally asked, staring down Commander Tra’Khil.

“We have been tasked with finding you,” Commander Tra’Khil said.

“Am I lost?” Kru’Nah challenged, his anger rising along with his voice. “Am I lost without my knowledge? Does an unlost man need finding?”

“No, sire,” Commander Tra’Khil replied, his voice slightly uneven betraying his discomfort. “The queen believed you to be lost or kidnapped, so we were commanded to find you, excuse me sire, to search you out.”

Kru’Nah laughed a cruel laugh, his mother’s laugh. “Who exactly would kidnap me?”

Commander Tra’Khil continued to stand perfectly still even though Kru’Nah was sure he was sweating in his suit. Mentally, Kru’Nah commended Tra’Khil for his composure.

“Sire, we were not given such information.”

“Not officially. I’m no idiot, I know there are many unofficial lines of communication. Why are you here?” Kru’Nah tried to clasp his heavily mittened hands behind his back, but they would not grip each other, so he simply held them there.

A slight shift from Tra’Khil. Kru’Nah smiled to himself. He had won.

“Sire, it’s believed that it has something to do with the slave girl.” Tra’Khil tried to keep his voice steady, but the bitterness of the resignation of such information was evident.

“My mother believes a slave girl kidnapped me?” Kru’Nah knew a response was unnecessary with such a ridiculous question and notion. If he was lucky, it would put them off searching any further for Allyandrah. Royalty certainly had its perks at times, even if it meant dealing with his mother. He screwed up his face in annoyance at the thought of her.

“Sire, shall we return to the outpost before the squall hits?”

“What squall?” Kru’Nah asked with concern, his thoughts turning back to Allyandrah.

“A squall is coming in from the west, sire. We’ll be lucky to reach the outpost before it does.”

Looking up at the brightening sky, Kru’Nah could also read the signs of the incoming weather. He and Allyndrah had been fools to not see them. Holding out his hand in the direction from which the men had come, and away from Allyandra’s tracks, he indicated to move. The men obediently turned and walked away. Kru’Nah resisted the impulse to glance behind him one last time, even with all their backs turned to him. He couldn’t afford to make the slightest mistake now.

Allyandrah had to stop running. Her lungs burned and she was drenched in sweat. The sun was now high in the sky. She must have been running for hours. The terror she’d felt as she left her dearest Kru’Nah behind had now faded to deep regret and sorrow. She should have trusted him to keep her alive. Slaves, however, were unaccustomed to trust.

As she looked around, a strange wrinkle the smooth snow caught her eye. Glancing behind her, for what reason she didn’t quite know, she set out toward the wrinkle. She had nowhere to hide out in the open. Her love was once again lost to her and this time it was her fault. What did she really have to lose?

As she approached, she saw the wrinkle was not a wrinkle at all, but some kind of house, blending in almost perfectly with the surroundings. As she approached, a fur-clothed figure stepped out. Allyandrah spread her arms out wide and knelt down in the snow, bowing her head. She tried to listen for the approaching footsteps.

“Who goes there?” A voice called out instead. It was old and weary.

Allyandrah looked up to see that the figure hadn’t moved at all. “A banished slave,” she called back.

The figure stood still for several minutes, clearly trying to make a decision. “Alright, come in,” it finally called back.

Allyandrah couldn’t believe her luck. She quickly stood. Her body was rapidly growing cold with her lack of movement and she nearly ran to the door. She was completely unprepared for what waited inside.

As she stepped in, she was greeted by a stuffed Hornothol bear. The giant bears were white and had claws the length of Allyandrah’s hands. She took several steps back and stumbled into the door, causing her host to burst into laughter.

“It’s dead, love.” Allyandrah finally recognized her host as an old man. “Come, let’s get these clothes off of you before you roast to death.” He helped Allyandrah out of her furs and out of her soaked underclothes.

“What are you doing getting yourself so wet! You’d have died out there tonight!” He shook his head incredulously at her.

“I was chased,” Allyandrah said noncommittally.

“Well, that would do it.” The man’s hair had long since turned white and his skin was old, but it was clearly iridescent. Who was he?

“Come, don’t stand naked by the front door, you’ll die of cold here too. Let’s get you some clothes.” He shuffled away and Allyandrah followed obediently, unbothered by her naked condition. As a slave, she was used to it.

He found her some thick, warm clothes, which she gratefully pulled on. He then led her into a sitting room and offered her some hot tea and dried meat. Allyandrah ate greedily, even as she tried to restrain herself. There was something about him that gave her permission to be greedy, but what it was she couldn’t quite tell.

“So now,” he began. “Tell me why you’re really out here.”

Allyandrah’s eyes grew large and she choked a little on the food in her mouth.

“I’m not going to hurt you, slave. That much I promise, otherwise I wouldn’t have shared so much precious food with you,” his eye twinkled as he smiled at her. “I’m just a lonely old man who would like to hear a good story. I think a story of how a slave made it this far north ought to be quite a good one.”

Allyandrah took a deep breath and cleared her throat. She started by telling him that she was a slave of the queen, how she’d met Kru’Nah, the tale of him saving her from the forest fire, how he’d persuaded her to come north, then followed her, and finished by sharing how they’d been tracked and found and her running away.

“I don’t know what they did to him.” Allyandrah dropped her head into her hands and began to sob uncontrollably. The old man rose and sat next to her, gathering her into his arms. She’d never known such tenderness and it caused her to sob even harder, an entire lifetime’s worth of hurt and pain rolled out of her in the arms of a complete stranger, her tears soaking his shirt.

At long last, her sobs subsided and she simply lay in his arms as he stroked her hair.

“Well, then,” he spoke up a while later. “We should figure out how to get you back with my grandson.”


Part 4

Footprints in the snow

The story of Allyandrah and Kru’Nah continues.

The prompt is: It’s winter. There is a thick blanket of fresh snow on the ground. A lone set of tracks leads away in the snow.

Read Part 1.

Taiga snowshoe path winter landscape Yukon Canada


Allyandrah sat, unable to believe her luck. How had she been pardoned by the queen? Her only task was to leave the kingdom and never return. Her heart ached at the thought of leaving Kru’Nah behind, but she must. After all, he was the prince and who was she? Only a lowly Kjelger slave.

Even so, he had come to save her from the flames of the fire. He had shown up on his very own Grojodan to save her. She would never forget the feel of riding atop the marvelous stag, his horns stretching out wide, his body firm and sure underneath her. Sitting behind, she had clung to Kru’Nah with desperation as they fled, thankful for his taut muscles, his strong arm wrapped around her to help keep her on the beast.

The small fire in front of her crackled and spat resin from the burning Hornothol Needle tree. These were the only trees this far north. She had fled to the far north, hoping to survive. There were fewer threats in the north. It was hard to survive her and not enough reason for even the Hoomverdauns to visit. The short, stocky creatures were able to live anywhere, but even this cold was too much for their hairy bodies.

Allyandrah shivered, trying to decide what she would do now. She supposed she would need to make a shelter first. There was no point in trying to settle here without a shelter. Sighing, she thought there was no point in trying to settle here at all, but what else could she do?

The sky above was black and dark, the sparkle of stars pinpointing the blackness. Tonight, she would simply have to sit and keep her fire burning, her blood moving. In the morning, she would begin assembling her shelter.

Allyandrah tossed another branch on her fire, the wood slowly catching flame. The warmth radiated out and she huddled closer into herself, wrapping her body with the long fur cape Kru’Nah had sent with her. It was on his suggestion she had gone north. He had provided her with a pack of thick fur clothes and a stash of food. Despite the electricity sparking between the two and their aloneness, he maintained his regal dignity and kept his distance from her. His eyes told her another story, though, and it was to that story that she hung her hope.

Exhaustion began to take over and Allyandrah found her eyes closing, her head drooping. She fought the sleep as long and as hard as she could, but eventually, sleep won.

Several hours later, Allyandrah woke with a start. It was light and the fire had been buried in several inches of snow. She looked around trying to see what had woken her. Was it a sound? She pushed the oversized hood off her head, dumping snow off herself, revealing her cropped blue hair and blue skin. Scanning the horizon, Allyandrah searched for any sign of movement. Turning around, she saw a lone set of tracks from as far as she could see to as far as she could see, leading to the woods.

Standing up, Allyandrah pulled her hood back up and shook off the remaining snow. She was stiff from the cold and her heart hammered in fear, but she needed to know who, or what, was there. They looked like Kjelger footprints but she had to be sure. Who else would be up here?

Looking around again, she saw no movement. Quickly, she moved over to the tracks and then followed them precisely. The tracks went on, mile after mile. Fishing out some of the supplies from inside her coat, she munched on some food and scooped small handfuls of snow for water. She began to grow warm moving and she knew she needed to slow down even more. She couldn’t risk getting too warm and then dying when she got cold later. As she passed by the trees and closer to the mountains, she saw the tracks continue on and on. Looking at the sun dipping ever lower in the sky, she needed to make a decision. Either she would need to stop for the night again and sleep or she would need to figure out how to follow them by night. What if it snowed again?

Against her better judgment, Allyandrah continued on and picked up her pace. She continued to eat more of the food even though she knew she should ration it. She grew warm and began to sweat as she more and more recklessly followed the prints. Just as the sun reached the horizon, she came to the base of the foothills. The tracks curved sharply and suddenly to the east, around a tall rock spire. Slowing down, Allyandrah caught her breath and as silently as possible, followed the tracks in the quickly darkening sky. She was running out of time.

She then heard the crackling of a large fire and froze. It was someone, but who? What could she possibly do to defend herself? She had no weapons.

Looking at the rock spire, she saw the rough surface. There must be rocks under the snow. Quietly, she crept to the spire and dug under the snow. She silently rejoiced as she found a fist sized rock with one fairly smooth side and one jagged side. Cupping the smooth side in her hand and holding the jagged side out, she continued forward. As the darkness crept in, she began to see the light from the fire.

Steadying her breathing, she crouched down and peered around the edge. Just more rock. Slowly moving forward she reached the next semi-corner. A small cave loomed in front of her with a large fire. Someone was in it, watching the fire, clothed in fur skins just like hers.

Allyandrah crept back until she could just see the cave and knelt down, watching. Suddenly, the person in the cave looked out her direction. She sat completely still, hoping to blend into the rocks around her. The person walked out to the mouth of the cave and looked around before turning and heading back in.

Soon, Allyandrah began to shiver as her body cooled down. She had gotten too warm and sweated. There was no way that she would warm up now without the fire. Taking a deep and slow breath, she stood up and slowly approached the cave using as wide a berth as possible given the surrounding rocks, watching the movements of the person inside, who still seemed to be engrossed by the flames.

Using the large fire as a block between the two, Allyandrah crept to the mouth of the cave in a low crouch, still holding onto her rock weapon. The warmth from the fire reached out to her and caressed her frozen cheeks. It was time.

She stood and watched as the other caught her movement.

“Allyandrah? Is that you?”

Shocked, Allyandrah dropped her rock and backed out several steps. Could it be?

“Allyandrah?” He pulled down his hood, revealing his auburn hair and peachy iridescent skin.

“Kru’Nah? What are you doing here?” Allyandrah fairly shouted.

“What do you think?” Kru’Nah replied. “I am here for you!”

Allyandrah’s mind wouldn’t work. It simply went blank. There was no possible way that he would leave for her. It must be a trap.

“If you are here to kill me, I accept my punishment,” she said resolutely.

Kru’Nah rushed over and embraced her. Pulling back, he looked in her eyes, down into her very soul.

“I would never kill you. This is not a trap to punish a slave.” He backed off and raised his hands. “I swear. I am here on my own, of my own accord, without the blessing of my mother. She will hunt us. She will try to find us. She will try to kill us. She will not succeed because we will work together.”

Finally, the stupor in Allyandrah broke and she rushed forward into the arms of Kru’Nah.

“I knew it!” she cried. “I knew you loved me! I never doubted, I swear!”

“I know,” he said soothingly. “I know.”

Allyandrah’s excitement quickly was replaced by violent shivers as her body became colder and colder.

“We need to warm you up!” Kru’Nah cried. “I did not come all this way just to watch you freeze to death!”

Kru’Nah rushed Allyandrah into the cave and began stripping her of the clothes that encased her cold body. Peeling off his own outside layers, Kru’Nah helped her redress into his furs and pushed her as close to the fire as either dared.

He offered her some food to eat and hot tea that had been sitting near the fire. She gratefully and wordlessly gulped it all down.

“We must leave in the morning.” Kru’Nah said as Allyandrah ate. “I know which direction we must go. We have a guard stationed up here to the southwest, so we must move northeast, away from them. They patrol up here, which is how I knew about this cave. I was going to stay here the night and then try to find you.”

Allyandrah nodded in agreement, her eyes sparkling with hope realized. She knew. She just knew. Catching her eye, Kru’Nah smiled and took her hand.

“We will celebrate soon. For now, we must conserve our energy and survive,” he said tenderly.

“I will follow you to the ends of the world, my love,” Allyandrah declared.

“We just might have to go that far. For now, sleep.” He kissed the top of her head and helped her lay down. Even though her mind was buzzing, Allyandrah quickly drifted off to sleep. Kru’Nah watched her from a distance, a mixture of fear and love on his face. He had acted rashly and it might cost them everything.