DAY 2:

Leaves fell softly from the trees above, gliding down through the air to caress the two shapes laying below. The girl lay flat on her back with one hand hooked behind her head. Beneath her solid weight, the earth pushed up against her, crushing grass between them. The silky flow of her gown did nothing to hide the glow of her pale skin, nor the round, plush curves of flesh she had been blessed with- made in the image of her Goddess. Her bright red hair fanned around her head like a halo, and the boy beside her stroked the silky mass free of leaves absently. By contrast he was the dark to her light- midnight black skin stretching smoothly over angular bones to compliment hair the color of a raven’s wing. He lay on his side facing her, dark fingers fluttering like shadows over her hair as he stroked her. Occasionally his hands would stray to her skin, though he never lingered for too long.

“Do you think anyone would notice if I disappeared?” she spoke softly, barely above the whispering of the wind in the trees above them. The weight of her discovery, and the only secret she hid from him, would not leave her.

“I would notice.” he pointed out, and she sighed.

“My mother would not. I am just another disappointment to her. I have been since I failed the Rite of Gaia.” she muttered, staring up at the waving branches above. The Rite in question was her ticket to womanhood, as well as full acceptance in the clan. To fail it, especially as a daughter of the Head Priestess, was disgraceful.

“It is a stupid Rite. I hate it.” her lover was suddenly angry, as his kind was prone to be, though after months of meeting in secret she was well acquainted with his brief fits, and let it pass.

“You hate everything.”

There was a moment of silence to prove her point, then he said softly “I do not hate you.” The girl was surprised at his words. Among his tribe, to have emotion was to have weakness- a soft spot for enemies to get their claws in and tear him to shreds. She rolled onto her side, halving the distance between them and bringing the two lovers almost nose to nose. Her hand darted out, pale against his skin as she stroked his cheek.

“Oh loveling.” she sighed. “What am I to do with you? The longer we stay together the more dangerous it becomes. You have taken my heart and molded a permanent place for you to dwell.” He traced her hand with his own, and placed it to his hard chest, bare skin hot under her palm.

“And you in mine. If our parents were to discover our sin…” She looked away, and rolled onto her opposite side, away from him. Indeed, it felt like sin, only magnified by her condition.

“I was taught that love is never a sin, if it is pure in intent. The feelings you give me are…puzzling.” she murmured, folding her arms to hold herself tightly, as if she were trying to guard her heart from the half unwanted forces of desire and passion that had driven her to his arms in the first place. She traced the delicate outline of a bright yellow leaf on the ground beside her, and a tear slipped from one eye, running across the bridge of her freckled nose to carve a channel over her other eye in its path to the ground.

“Do you think I wanted this!” her lover burst out. “I should have killed you when we first met, your kind and mine have been at odds since the day our Deities were formed! So why could I not find the strength to drive my knife through your chest! This would be damnably simpler if I had!” He sprang to his feet, and stalked several paces away to stand facing their two valleys, one to the left of the hill they stood on…and one to the right. After a moment she joined him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing herself to his hot back, nuzzling her cheek against the back of his shoulder, where he had been branded with the insignia of his tribe at birth. The scar was long healed now, carving a path of pale gray against his coal black skin.

“Sometimes true strength comes with the prudence to stay your hand instead of lashing out.” she whispered, pressing her lips briefly to his brand. His demeanor eased slightly, and he abruptly turned, letting his forehead drop against her shoulder and curling his arms around her in a rare display of affection.

“Our union is damned.” he said with a tone of resignation she had never heard come out of the stoic warrior’s mouth before. “I do not understand why our Deities would force us together only to tear you from me. I would fight the very earth we stand on- fire- lashing rain- the Deities themselves! Just to keep you at my side where you belong.” Abruptly his head lifted, gazing into her eyes with intensity that took her breath away. “Run with me.” he breathed. “If the Deities have damned us from the start, then blast them both!”

“Do not say such words!” she hissed, looking troubled. The whole of her being ached to obey, to escape the prison walls they had built around themselves brick by brick with each stolen kiss, each fevered touch, each secret meeting.

“No! I am through hiding!”

“You are frightening me with the seriousness in your tone.” she returned her eyes to his in a searching gaze. “Surely you are not contemplating such blasphemy, it is-” The remainder of her words were crushed in a scorching kiss, crushing her pliable body to the hard planes of his own.

“If it is blasphemy to love you, then I gladly sign my essence to the Hellgots.” he murmured, dragging the rough pad of his thumb over her plump lower lip and leaning his forehead against hers. “I belong to you.”

“And I to you- you know that…but to go against the Ancient Laws…” she looked down, and a sigh filtered through her. When she looked up again, his gaze had grown distant. She could nearly feel the walls around his heart coming back up, and so acted quickly. “Take me with you.” Hope dawned on his face, and she leaned up to kiss his lips gently. “We will go to the mountains, and in their shelter our love will flourish.” Hesitantly, she brought his hand to her belly, and looked up at him. “We should go soon, though. Our secret will not keep for much longer.” Astonishment crossed his face as he realized what she was telling him, bringing him to his knees in front of her. “I thought to tell you so many times, but with each instance my words and resolve have failed me miserably.” His gaze leveled with her belly, and in a slight movement he brought his hand against the swell there.

“I did not know this was possible.” he admitted. “Our people seemed so different…”

“Perhaps we are not as divided as we thought.” she reasoned with a gentle smile, relieved that he had taken the heavy news with such grace. Though she refused to acknowledge the idea, part of her deep down had been frightened that he might become angry enough to hurt her…or at the very least, that he would cast her aside and leave her to care for their bastard child alone. He rose to his feet again, and rubbed the back of his knuckles against her cheek.

“We will leave tonight.” he said. “Meet me here at the moon’s first rise. We will travel with her guidance, a night’s time will place valuable distance between us and those who will hunt us.” Her brow creased, and worry resettled on her shoulders, forming a hard ball in the pit of her stomach. She had not thought about the hunters both of their tribes would send, to bring them back, and if that failed, to kill them. “Do not be frightened.” he murmured. “I will protect you to my last dying breath.” She flung her arms around him in a clutching embrace, and then with a last kiss they parted.

Moon rise came almost too quickly for the girl. Clad in her winter kit, with a foraging pack on her back, she crept past the sentries and made her way to the hill. When she arrived, at first her over was nowhere to be seen. An irrational fear that she had been abandoned seized her, and foolishly, she almost cried out before a gloved hand clamped down on her mouth from behind. A familiar voice hushed her, and the fight immediately dropped out of her frame. She turned, and he smiled when he saw her. Fur lined leather breeches snugged to her ample legs and hips, and the long tunic of the same leather and fur did nothing but accentuate the swell of her belly under her cloak.

“Do you see now the reason for haste?” she murmured, and a low laugh escaped him.

“I do. Come, we have ground to cover before dawn.” She nodded, and they set off, leaving twin lives of secrecy behind.

It seemed that they traveled for ages. Through the day they slept, curled together in whatever shelter he could find them, and at night they walked under the silver glow of the moon, distant and cool yet oddly comforting. At times the girl wondered if she had made the right decision, just as the boy sometimes regretted ever involving her with him. She was not cut out for the hardship he put her through.

At last, they reached the shadow of the mountain, looming large against an endless night sky, dotted with pinpricks of light that were the stars he had used to guide them. She stopped on the path, breath clouding the air, and he paused to look back at her. It was his last look before the arrow pierced her shoulder, tossing her forward with a cry. War whoops shattered the night air as the boy’s tribe descended on them, his own shout lost in the chaos. He sprang forward, whipping out a blade of flint to slay two of his own tribesmen before grabbing her arm and hauling her backwards. Flinging his blade over one shoulder, it crunched through the bowman’s neck before the curve of it brought the weapon back to his waiting fingers. He dragged his lover to the safety of the mountain canyon, past the edge of safety for his tribe, and with no bows to pierce the darkness the air was filled with howls of defeat. They fell on deaf ears though. Back out of reach, he dropped to his knees, cradling her gently and staring down into pain-glazed eyes that pierced him as surely as the arrow had found her shoulder. Blood turned the leather of her tunic black in the darkness, and it seemed that the glow had had come to love was leeching out of her very skin.

“This is my fault.” he whispered, and she shook her head.

“No. Do not for a moment…blame yourself. I will be- oh!- very upset if you…do.” she said, laboring to speak past the waves of pain that threatened to suck her under. He cupped her cheek, prompting her to look at him, and in a swift movement he snapped the shaft of the arrow, pushing it completely through. Her eyes widened in shock briefly, before the blue orbs rolled back in her head, and she went limp. Further examination assuaged his worry. The wound was clean, and would heal…if he could get her out of the cold. He lifted her gently, taking them both further into the enveloping darkness of the canyons where they would be safe.

Through the winter, they carved out a meager existence. He had staked claim on a cave just deep enough to be safe and sheltered from the wind and snow, though it was still bitingly cold, and it was here she stayed as her husband was out hunting, whiling away the hours until his return by making them winter gear and blankets. It was hard, having no food stores to fall back on, and soon she was quite thin, with a wraith-like body struggling to support the life inside her. Often she caught her lover gazing on her with worry clouding his eyes, though he would never speak actual words to voice the depth of his unease. Instead he made sure that she received the largest portions of any meal, suffering the bite of hunger silently in order to provide for his chosen one.

The first day of spring arrived with dead silence and a rush of air that was almost warm, as if the entire mountain was breathing a sigh of relief that the darkness of winter was over. The woman woke early, as was her custom, to a strange stirring in her body. Pressure, alien and uncomfortable, bore down on her hips, and with a start she realized the furs under her were soaked. With her lover out hunting and not due back for days yet, she set about the messy female work of birthing. Several times throughout the next hours she felt sure the pain was too much, and once a slender looking fox stole round the mouth of the cave, slinking low to the ground and baring milky white teeth until she managed to chase it away by tossing sticks. After that, there was only silence, sometimes broken by the low, keening noises of pain she made but more often than not, going unshattered until, with a last heaving breath, her baby entered the world in a rush of relief and sobbing cries from the both of them.

Deeper into the maze of canyons, the man was following the path home. He had killed one of the many small deer that leaped from rock to rock, skinning and quartering it on the spot with sure fingers that had performed the task a thousand times before. Today, though, there was a new urgency about his actions. When he had left the cave several days ago, his lover had been sitting quietly, the gravid swell of her belly full nigh to bursting as it tried to contain a babe ready to appear any day. He hated to leave her like that, but they needed sustenance and there was none to be found in the direct area of their home. Now he walked quickly along the trail, pack full of meat, eyes always wary of predators that would take him from her if they could. He could feel eyes upon him already, though none were bold enough to attack, and that hastened his step, bringing him to familiar territory by nightfall. By now his feeling of unease had grown to near panic, and he pressed on through the night, though it was foolish to do so. Upon arriving at the cave, there was little light from the fire, and his pack hit the trail as he rushed to see what had happened. All around the mouth of the cave, feral dogs snarled, darting in and out. Blinded by rage, the man drew his blade, diving into the fray and delivering killing blows until there were none left. Panting, he ventured forward, tasting bitter dread as he softly called out to his woman.

Far in the back of the cave, the woman cowered, tucked onto a high shelf of rock barely wide enough to hold her curled frame. She had heard a commotion at the front, but did not dare risk herself or her son to see what had happened. Footsteps rounded the corner, and she let out a sob as her lover ran to her, holding out his arms for her to fling herself into. He held her tightly for only a brief moment as the babe between them set up a wail of protest, then she was released to silence him with a breast, and her lover was peering into the confines of her shirt.

“I have given you a son.” she said. “Perhaps the Deities are not so angry after all.”

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