Fiction~~Ice Wind's Bride~~Ch. 6


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Ice Wind's Bride
Chapter 6 - Vasha

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Unconsciousness slowly fading away, Silva moaned with a soft, pained whine. After the first, incautious breath, he moaned again, inhaling shallowly; it was agony to breathe.

He loathed the days when Vasha was in charge of training.

Silva exhaled through his mouth, clamping his teeth down over a groan, recognizing the deep, tingling ache that radiated through his body from his spine. He’d always loathed this: that first hot pain in the back that meant Vasha’s Gift had lashed your spine. Again. Their father might admire it, but Silva didn’t think anyone who trained under Vasha would agree. No one sane would want to experience this.

At least Silva’s Gift simply knocked a man flat. One bolt, straight to the chest. It gave Silva just enough time to close in. His youngest brother’s Gift killed you outright as your head exploded, and the other…calling Vilar’s Gift a tickle was probably giving it more credit than it deserved.

But Vasha was the only one he knew of who could actually knock a man out without killing him, sending his Gift along the body’s paths like a lightening bolt. It ended training prematurely every time.

Vasha would probably claim the resulting pain was more motivation to learn a move right the first time.

Silva groaned under his breath again; training today would be hell like this. Reaching back to massage his spine, he frowned at an extra weight and metallic slithering that accompanied the movement, catching at his arms. An iron-velvet against his wrists that didn’t belong.

Traveling shackles? What was-

The pain ceased to matter as a rush of memory washed it away. “Bey!”

Silva opened his eyes and tried to sit up, cursing as shackles hindered his wrists and ankles. He struggled to kneel. His clothing had been changed into the loose pants he’d grown up with, cuffed tightly at the ankles. The embroidered, long-sleeved tunic was far too familiar as well, cuffed just as tightly at his wrists, fitted close to his waist to flare out over the hips. Trying to kneel with so much extra cloth was almost too much for his Gift-jittery muscles to handle.

A blurry look was enough to figure out where he was. He’d seen it every summer since he’d turned twelve: one of the quick-to-make tents his family used for any sojourns along the southern border, the large kind his brother favored. Vasha must have been patrolling when he got the news of Silva’s marriage.

But neither Bey nor Silva’s brother were within sight, although three of father’s men stood a few feet away.  They were dressed for traveling, wearing their knee-length, blue-gray coats that blended into the snowy shadows, but not the white ones they wore into battle. The heavy fabric was belted securely at the waist.

And the hoods weren’t up yet. They couldn’t be too far north, then.

“Where’s Bey?” The demand won Silva a matching set of disinterested blinks. “My bride! Where is he?”

Nothing. Silva’s gut rolled and he struggled to get to his feet. What if they’d--?

He shook his head to cut the thought away. He refused to believe they’d hurt Bey. Not yet, when Silva wasn’t there. His last sight of Bey would not be that tanned face, tight with fury while aqua eyes stared down with a demand so fierce Silva wished he could have moved, if only to tell Bey that they would get through it.

Silva had never seen Bey that frantic, not even when they’d nearly been overrun by a mob on feast day.

Silva’s stomach rolled again, growing colder. If they had touched Bey, he was going to kill Vasha, brother or not.

His voice was hoarse, but at least he was at eye level with them now. “Where’s Vasha? What did he do with Bey?”

When they didn’t answer, he started looking around for something he could use against them. A quick survey of the tent proved it was as barren as Silva would have imagined. Vasha thought the only place to store a weapon was attached to you, and he rarely brought anything else.  No trinkets from a lover, food, tools, nothing. A small bedroll in the corner of the tent was the only extra, aside from a few woolen blankets underneath Silva, on top of the usual oiled skin to keep out the moisture. They hadn’t even left a cooking spoon near him.

He yanked at his feet, frustrated, and then frowned at them when he realized the shackles weren’t from back home. They were familiar, yes, but the last time he’d seen this type, they’d been around a drunk’s ankles on a Varlan work gang. A similar set were around the embroidered cuffs on Silva’s wrists, and both had been quickly and crudely wrapped with fur to keep the chilled metal from biting into him.

The three men just inside the opening of the tent watched him impassively. He wished for a moment that they weren’t as well trained as he knew they were. If he could get his hands on one of their swords, even for a minute, he might have a bargaining chip. Maybe if he used his Gift?

The thought died as all three men shifted their stances, clearly reading the change in his own body. 

“I need to talk to Vasha.”

One of the men raised an eyebrow at him and shook his head – was that Nikol? – while the others stared at him without expression. 

“At least tell me about Bey. Where’s Bey?” He knew Vasha had lashed out at Bey in the barracks, but he didn’t know what Vasha had done to him since. And by his tribesmen’s own  rules, he had the right to know. “I want assurances that my bride has come to no harm.”

The men exchanged a glance.

“I have the right to information about my bride!” And they knew it, too. “What happened to him?” Hasanid above, please let nothing have happened.  “If you won’t tell me, get Vasha so that he can.”

No one spoke for a moment and then Nikol grunted and nodded to the other men, turning abruptly and pushing the entrance flap out of the way to slip outside. Silva tried to see through the small hole for the brief moment the doorway was open, but all he could make out was a glimpse of pale, drying grasses.

The only place with grasses like that were nearly a day out of Varlan.

Keeping his stance as straight as he could, weighted down with chains and shackles, Silva tried to stare down the others. They were taller than he was, but that never made much difference when it came to real intimidation. Vasha was nearly a head shorter than Silva, and he cowed everyone in their territory

Unlike Silva. His rather clumsy childhood had become legendary, and no one in his tribe seemed to be able to forget it, no matter how skilled he’d grown as an adult. Well if he couldn’t get their respect while he was chained, perhaps repetition would wear them down before Vasha came. Or at least make them incautious enough to let him know something.

“Tell me what you’ve done with Bey.”

Silence.

“I need to know what has happened to my bride.” Silva took a step forward, not much of a threat when he had to hobble with the chains between his legs. “Tell me.”

Another of the men shook his head. “Vasha gave orders. You can get information from him or not at all.”

Grinding his teeth, Silva stopped, turned away, and nearly fell over his own feet. He trembled as he recovered his balance, his back aching and stiff. “Is it really necessary to keep these on? I’m sure we’re in the middle of camp. And I wouldn’t leave without my bride in any case. There’s no need for this.”

What were they doing with Bey?

He studied the tent as best he could, not trying to hide it. They’d expect him to. He might as well let them see, and hopefully he could find something while giving the impression that there wasn’t anything of value to be had.

The tent was large enough for five; a lot of room to cover. But as Silva looked it over, he noted the hide near the bottom edges. It looked off, like it hadn’t been cured properly. It would be weaker there. If he could get something sharp, he might be able to slice through near the supports, then. But these were tough hides. It would have to be really sharp or it wouldn’t get the job done quickly enough.

Which wouldn’t matter at all unless they left him time alone to try it in the first place.

He stood there, trying to think of how he might accomplish it until he heard footsteps coming back. Nikol ducked into the tent and immediately behind was Vasha, a half-head shorter and as icily beautiful as ever, like the favored doll of some kingdom’s princess. And on his bad days, Vasha could still make a chill run down Silva’s spine.

He spoke the moment he straightened after entering. “Nikol tells me you’re throwing tantrums, Silva.” The smooth, oddly deep tenor of his voice was so familiar Silva felt an odd surge of brotherly affection before he shook it off.

They hadn’t seen each other in two years, and after knocking him cold, those were Vasha’s first words. Silva couldn’t say he was surprised. “What did you do to Bey?”

“He’s secured, for the moment. And unharmed.”

The news was such a relief Silva could feel his insides settling into their proper place for the first time since he’d woken up. Vasha didn’t lie; if he said Bey was unharmed, nothing short of an act of God would make that untrue.

As long as Bey was whole, they could get out of this. 

Vasha’s head tilted to the side as he watched Silva. Silvery strands of hair fell over his shoulder. If he were a girl, Silva would have thought it was flirting, but he recognized Vasha in deep contemplation.

Still as scary now as it ever had been.

Cold blue eyes stared at Silva’s tattoo for another long moment. “Getting married was stupid, Silva.” His voice was soft. “But staying in the city once you’d found a bride? I’m ashamed. I taught you better than that.”

And the worst part was, he had. “You can insult me to your heart’s desire later, Vasha.  Where is Bey?”

“You repeat yourself to no purpose. I told you he’s well enough. You’ll be seeing him in a few minutes, if you behave. He needs to be properly dressed.”   

“Dressed?” Vasha couldn’t mean…. “As a bride?

Vasha didn’t bother to answer. Silva swallowed, thinking of Bey dressed like all the brides he’d ever seen. And then he thought of what Bey would do if he found out Silva was the one to put the clothes on him.

“I’m not forcing him to wear the veil. It’s archaic and insulting.”

“No, it’s insulting that he’s been allowed to leave your home bare-faced for so long. Either you dress him properly or someone else will. Perhaps Shivar. He did pick out the material.”

Silva remember Shivar, a man almost fanatically devoted to Vasha since they were fostered as children together. And known for being very free with his hands.

“He’s not allowed near Bey.”

Vasha raised one eyebrow and his head tilted again. “You do not get a choice in who will take over the duty you neglect.”

“I gave him permission to discard the veil,” Silva blurted. He clenched his fists as both eyebrows went up. One of the guards snorted under his breath, covering a chuckle.

“Has your mind been completely lost while you were away? You can’t give him permission until he’s run the maze.”

And Silva knew that; father would never do away with that formality, no matter what some of the more modernized tribes might do. He had no idea why he’d even spoken. “Let him go, Vasha.  He’s not involved in this.”

Vasha took one quick step and slapped him lightly.  Lightly for Vasha, which meant it hurt like a kick to the head and dropped Silva to the floor.

Silva glared up at him, tonguing the drop of blood dripping from his newly split lip as he stood back up. The urge to lash out was hard to resist, until he felt the point of Vasha’s small saber against his neck. He froze half-way up, crouching.

Vasha caught his glare and returned it. “Watch your eyes, Silva.”

Silva swallowed and took a deep breath at the familiar admonition. Vasha took insult even if your face was as blank as a gray sky. If your eyes are speaking, he used to say, then you should learn how to keep them quiet.

“They’re only speaking the truth. Let my bride go.”

Vasha dropped his sword, but his words were nearly as sharp. “You insult your bride to even ask.”

“I said that he wasn’t involved!”

“Of course he’s involved. Unlike you, he’s a legal adult. He made his choices.”

Standing fully upright, Silva felt around his mouth with his tongue to see if he had a tooth loose.  “I am a legal adult, Vasha. And he didn’t know of our customs.”

“You’re weeks away from your becoming, still, and you act as a stubborn, selfish child, no matter what these southerners think. Your bride is four years older. He can take responsibility for himself and his actions. ”

Silva must not have hidden his surprise, because Vasha growled low. “Marriage to another, and you didn’t bother to check if he was of legal age, yet?”

“It didn’t matter. We’re both of legal age in Varlan.”

“You’re not Varlan, Silva.”

“I am now.”

“Then they are without loyalty, little brother. Their leaders gave you both up the moment they discovered our reason for coming to the city. You should ally yourself more wisely next time.” Vasha’s eyes were colder than ever; he rarely had anything good to say about people outside the tribe.

But if they were given up…

“The council gave you something.” Silva could remember the voices, just before he faded into unconsciousness, when the other guards had come and for some reason had turned and left Silva and Bey with Vasha. “They gave you a writ to take us with you, didn’t they?”

“Of course. All it took was a mention of how unhappy some of the tribes would be if they tried to prevent us from taking our under-aged brother and his new bride back home with us. In under an hour, we had those ridiculous, flamboyant papers to show your comrades.”

Silva couldn’t expect a city-state to put a treaty at risk for two people, but his lips still curled in distaste at how quickly they’d been sold back to his brother. “A ruling body can’t always choose who to sacrifice for the greater good. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t welcomed there.”

“Of course you were welcomed. All places welcome another fighter for their battles. But you are still not one of them. You would have grown disgusted with their weakness before long.”

The absolute certainty in Vasha’s voice had Silva gritting his teeth. “You’re wrong about them. They’re good people, and I had a good life started. I would be content to stay there.” Silva blinked as he heard what he’d said, and realized it was true.  He’d missed his family, but he really had been happy as Bey’s partner. “Leave Bey alone, Vasha. I may not be Varlan by birth, but Bey is not of the tribes, either. The customs are completely different. He shouldn't have to-”

“He married an IceWind; he should have known that he would be expected to adapt.” Vasha looked like he was about to spit on the floor. “And he should have done so before we found you. Father will not be pleased that you’ve allowed him so much freedom in his attire.”

“If he’s an adult, then I have no right to tell him how to dress. Or speak, or anything else!”

“Yes, so you’ve told me before.  Wasn’t that before you scampered south to avoid the same position?”

Air hissed between Silva’s teeth in an infuriated snarl before he could help it. “That was for Vilar, dammit!”

“Then it was wasted effort, because Vilar is still single and awaiting a proper betrothal. And StormFrost is still pledged to you.”

“Because father is too stubborn to release him from the betrothal! Damn that ignorant, hidebound, contentious-” Silva choked as Vasha backhanded him again, harder this time. His body twisted as he hit the floor, landing him on his stomach with a painful woosh of air. His ribs throbbed where he’d caught himself and the shackles gouged into them.

“Don’t disrespect him.”

Silva knew better than to give in to his impulse and retort as he wished; he merely got back on his feet and returned Vasha’s stare with one that he hoped was just as hard. Vasha leaned forward and Silva stepped away, not ready to go down again without at least some attempt at defense, but Vasha barely noticed. He reached up and pushed Silva’s bangs from his eyes. Without changing expression, he ran his thumb over what Silva was fairly sure – from the pain – would soon be a bruise along the side of his face.

His voice was barely a whisper when he spoke. “You’ve been too long among the blind ones, little brother. You forget yourself.”

Silva grit his teeth, pulling his head away, and Vasha sighed.  “I told you not to get caught.” He dropped his hand and looked at Silva carefully before turning to go. “It’s a shame you didn’t listen to my advice.”

Silva yelled at him as he walked away.  “What about Bey?  I need to see him.”

Vasha paused, then nodded shortly. He didn’t turn around. “You may see him in order to dress him properly, or you may refuse and Shivar will have the opportunity that you deny yourself. Choose now.”

Silva grit his teeth. Bey would hate him for this, but right now, he’d do whatever he had to do. As long as it got him to Bey.  “I’ll dress him.”

Vasha gestured for him to follow. Ducking his head as Nikol held the flap up for him, Silva nearly stumbled over his hobbled ankles before he made it out into the grass. He blinked at the brightness, the smell of clean air barely tinged with woodsmoke hitting him strongly.

It had been a long time since he’d been outside the city.

He swallowed and searched the chaos of men and horses quickly, finding Vasha already striding to a tent in the middle of the camp. Silva fell in behind, catching the quick side glances of the men as they walked.

Forced to stumble behind his brother, brought back home like a chastised kennel hound, he reminded himself that he didn’t care. It wasn’t important how humiliating this was. Nothing mattered right now but Bey. He had to make sure they were treating him properly. And Silva had to talk to him; he could only imagine what trouble the man might get into if Silva didn’t warn him to keep his mouth in check. If Bey knew what was going on, and what was at stake, then he would bide his time until they could escape.

If he didn’t lose his temper.

Silva wasn’t sure that was going to be possible, once he explained that Bey was going to have to wear a veil for a time.

“We’re going to need a miracle.”


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