Bonded to the Rakian Berserker: Chapter Two

 Esme

The darkness was sticky, like tar that kept trying to pull Esme back under.

She was so tired, surely a little longer wouldn’t matter.

Then the touch of another mind startled her. Familiar, but somehow different. 

When she forced her eyes open he wasn’t there.

A woman with dark masses of curly black hair and olive skin sat at her side.

The room was unfamiliar, clean and bright, but strangely sterile smelling.

The door slid open and another woman bustled into the room, brown hair pulled into a thick braid over her shoulder, a bundle of fabric in her hands.

“I know you,” Esme whispered.

The second woman nodded. “We met by the river two, no, three weeks ago,” she answered. “I’m Rhela, and this is Adena. She patched you up while you were sleeping.”

Esme’s hands fluttered at her side, finally realizing that the pain, the tearing screaming pain that had wracked through her, breaking every shred of concentration was gone.

No bandages were underneath the thin shift she wore. She couldn’t even feel any tenderness where the wound had been.

Astounding.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m Esme. I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to repay your skill.”

And there it was again, that familiar, red-tinged presence.

“Why doesn’t he come in?” she asked the two women. 

They glanced at each other, and the darker haired one, Adena, smiled. “Because I sent him out. Gavin’s gotten bossy all of a sudden.” She tilted her head to the side. “But if you want him…” she trailed off and Esme nodded. 

The pain was gone, but her body ached, and in the back of her mind she knew there was more to come, an injury not to the body, but to the heart.

She just couldn’t imagine what it was, not yet.

Before anyone could say anything else, the door slid back again, only to be filled by the huge bulk of a man, broad shouldered, taller than anyone Esme had ever seen. 

He stepped in, brow wrinkled in worry that she could feel shedding off of him like rain.

“How are you feeling?” he asked gruffly, his eyes fixed on hers and for a moment her chest tightened. If only she had more than glimpses, more than fragments to work from.

“Terrible,” she answered, “but better than dead.”

“Do you think you’re up to telling us what happened?” Adena asked.

The giant spun to move between the healer and the bed, snarling. “No! She’s tired, let her rest.”

Esme studied the two women. Surprised, but not afraid, even at this show of temper.

Interesting.

She reached out for the giant’s hand, and at her touch he refocused on her.

“I’m sorry, I’ll leave.”

“No,” she said. “But there’s no reason for you to be so angry all the time. It’s going to give me a headache.”

She smiled as he ran his free hand through his hair. “That’s going to take some work,” he admitted.

But it wasn’t the constant tinge of his anger that pressed so sharply in her skull.

There was something else. 

Something she needed to know.

Even if she didn’t want to, even if she was certain the knowledge might break her.

“How many of us are here?” she finally asked, shoulders set for the blow.

“Only you,” he rumbled, fingers squeezing hers. “We were hoping you could tell us what happened,” he continued. “Who attacked you? What did they want?”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Again.

She ran her fingers through her braids, down the old scar hidden by her hair just behind her left temple, then struggled to push herself up from the absurdly soft mattress, 

Adena rested a slim hand on Esme’s shoulder and a warm glow flowed through her chest. “I’d rather you didn’t get up so soon.” she said. “But I understand needing answers. Come on, let’s get you dressed.”

The healer turned to the giant. “Gavin, that’s your cue to leave.”

His eyes suddenly widened in comprehension and a dark flush colored his cheeks. “Right, of course.”

And with a grace that his size made surprising, he fled the room.

Rhela stepped forward, a wry smile on her face. “Before you leave this room, let me try to explain where we are. Just the important bits. The details don’t really matter.”

Emse swung her legs over the side of the bed, paused to catch her breath. “That doesn’t sound encouraging, but go on.”

“You’re on a building that’s really a ship that travels between different worlds. The men here are from another place. Another planet, really. But they’re nice, despite how strange they may seem at first.”

Rhela paused, and Esme nodded slowly.  

“All right. Our clan heard talk about star men coming. It makes sense that they’d need something like their own caravan to arrive in.”

“That’s more than I knew in the beginning,” Rhela admitted. “The other thing to know is that everything in this place may as well be made of magic, even though they say it’s technology. It’s better to just pretend it’s normal in the beginning, and then it starts to make sense for real later on.”

Adena nodded her agreement. “I’ve been here for months, and if I just tell myself Ship has another kind of gift, one for making things out of nothing, it’s much easier.”

The flood of information made Esme pause, but only a few things mattered.

She can think about the rest later.

“These men, you say they’re good?”

Both women nodded, and Esme sensed nothing but sincere belief and trust.

But she knew all too well that trust could be mistaken, betrayed.

Still, in the absence of any other evidence, it was all she had to go on.

“Then I’ll trust them, too.”

For now, she added silently.

She stood, proud of herself for swaying only slightly, looking around the plainly furnished room for her garments.

Adena noticed her gaze. “Your clothing was almost destroyed. I’m not sure if they’re mendable. But Ship has a gift for making things very quickly. Do you want another set exactly like the ones you were wearing, or something different? It won’t make any difference.”

Esme thought of the vest she’d so carefully embroidered, the short dress that had been carefully passed down from kin to kin.

It might not make any difference to these women, or to this mysterious Ship, but it would mean something to her.

“Similar, but not the same,” she answered. “If they looked like my old clothes, but weren’t, well, it seems like it would be a lie.”

Adena squeezed her hand and then went to a panel in the wall.

“Ship, can you create a new set of garments for our guest, similar in style, exact in fit, but with these colors?” She touched the wall lightly, and it lit up in response.

“Just a moment, Mistress Adena.” 

The disembodied voice made Esme jump. “Who is that?” she gasped.

She had felt nothing, no approach, not even the slightest stray thought. 

Who could shield themselves that well?

“That’s Ship,” Rhela said with a small smile. “She’s nice too, but it does take a little getting used to.”

The two women left the room while slowly Emse changed out of the white shift and examined her new garments.

Ship, whoever that was, had done a remarkable job. 

The pants fit as well as her old ones, the vest of dark brown matched them perfectly. Raising her arms to slide the knee length dress of rich purple over her head, the fabric flowed smoothly, flaring over her hips.

Each piece was starkly plain, no embellishments at all.

As they should be.

And at the foot of the bed, were her boots. 

At least these were not strangely created replicas, but hers, every crease in the butter-soft leather as well known to her as the lines on her hand.

“Ready?” Adena’s voice called out from outside the door.

“I’m dressed,” Emse said. “Does that count?”

The door slid open at Adena’s laugh. She nodded at the clothing, a faint line of worry between her brows.

“Are they alright?” she asked. “I cleaned your old garments the best I could, but I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to transfer the embroidery to the new ones. Or if you’d even want to.”

Esme blinked, surprised. “Most townsfolk wouldn’t even know the significance,” she blurted. “How did you?”

“My parents traveled with a clan for a while,” Adena answered, “up and down the roads. They never stopped being townsfolk but I remember their stories.” A wistful smile crossed her face. “Seeing caravans on the move have always called to me, just a little.” 

She stepped back, revealing the passage outside the room. “The others are ready, if you are.”

The trip through the building made Esme itch. She didn’t like being indoors. Never had. None of her clan did. 

And this building was strange. Larger than anything should be.

“Almost there,” Rhela said, then ran through a final door, smiling as the sunlight fell on her face.

Esme stepped out into a beautiful lush garden and then froze.

At the edge of the green space was a short wall and passed it she could see treetops.

“We’re outside, but still on Ship,” Adena explained. Or, the words were meant for an explanation, but did nothing to ease the confusion in Esme’s mind.

Chairs were scattered in a rough circle on the grass under a vine draped shelter.

Waiting for her were four strangers.

Well, three strangers and her giant.

Gavin stood as if rooted to the ground, watching her slow steps forward.

But it was another man, not quite as tall but still huge, his skin blackest night, who moved forward to greet her.

“Glad you’re doing better,” he said. “I’m Nic, that’s Jormoi,” he pointed to a slightly smaller blond man with blue eyes, who she recognized. 

“That’s Kennet.”

A tall man, with gray skin and light charcoal markings bowed slightly.

“You’ve met Gavin.”

“Yes,” she said, forcing her hands to be still, her tone even.

These people had helped her, and she’d need even more of their help.

Even if this ritual seemed endless.

“I appreciate everything, but I need to know… how long was I asleep?”

Her wounds had been so severe. It must have taken days, if not weeks for her to recover.

And her dreams had been filled with teasing flickers of images that might have been hallucinations caused by the pain, might have been fragments of memories.

Or something else.

A warning. 

Either way, the pressure in her head insisted there was no time to lose.

Adena moved to sit in the chair next to Nic. “It’s been a day since Gavin found you,” she answered. Nic rested a hand on her shoulder, and the healer rested her head against it for a moment. “Your wounds, they were deep. For a while I wasn’t sure you would make it.”

Esme stepped back, legs shaky, and found Gavin at her side. “So quickly?” She swallowed hard, bowed. “I owe you more than just thanks, but that’s all I have.” She searched their faces. “Please tell me, where are the children?”

Gavin shook his head. “There were no children in the camp. None at all.” His lips pressed into a tight line. “Alive or dead.”

She stumbled. “Then the whispers were true. They took them.”

“You believe the attack was focused on the abduction of your clan’s children?” Kennet asked, and Esme bristled at the mildly curious tone.

“There were twelve children under the age of fifteen,” she snapped. “If none of their bodies were there, it seems pretty clear that they’re somewhere else.”

The flash of rage left her exhausted. To her surprise, Gavin held a chair behind her, as if waiting for her to finally accept she needed it.

The men didn’t seem to take any offence at her reaction, merely shifted their planning.

“Why do you think the children were the target?” Jormoi asked. “What have you heard?”

She sank gratefully into the chair. “There have been rumors going through the clans,” she whispered. “Children stolen from us, even from the townsfolk. And…”

She looked up, eyes only for Gavin.

“I think it’s happened before.”

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