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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Warlord's Daughter - Chapter 4.5

After I posted Chapter 5, while I was editing chapter 6, I realized that I should have written an important scene between chapters 4 and 5. So, here it is: chapter 4.5, lol!

Chapter 4.5

Adira shifted to her side in frustration. It was too cold and snowy to risk going out onto the roof, and so she had nothing to do but try to sleep. The only good news was that because they were literally snowed in for the winter, her enemy wouldn't be able to find her, though at this point she was fairly certain they considered her dead.
Sleep just wouldn't come. She couldn't remember ever being this cold before! To make matters worse, she had to think of a solstice gift for her new family members.
I have no idea what to give them! It's not like I can just go into town and buy them something... Maybe I could make them a cake. I'd have to have Marek show me how...
Which would completely defeat the purpose of giving him a gift. Besides... Marek was probably already planning to make a fabulous cake. She suppressed a sigh as she rolled to her other sigh.
Frickin' cold! Even as she slept in a tent during war, she honestly could not remember there being this much snow or this freezing temperature. They had marched ever farther south after all.
Loud snores from the other side of the curtain assured her that her adopted brothers were all soundly asleep. Lucky them! They get to huddle together to keep warm!
Why did a simple little thing like her gender have to prevent her from seeking warmth? A sly smile twisted her lips to the side of her mouth. Who can blame me? After all, it's well known that I can't stand the cold!
Which was true. She had once used it as a made up excuse, but once the cold had truly set in, she realized that she really could not bear the winter temperature. Something about almost freezing to death from a combination of being naked and also rained upon... she shuddered just thinking about it!
From the moment they had moved her into the loft with the others, she'd always had her own little separate area kept private by a curtain. They'd made her a small mattress out of straw and chaff, and she had a blanket and pillow – made from scraps of cloth – but frankly, it wasn't enough to keep her warm.
Sighing in frustration, she made her decision. Grabbing her pillow and blanket, she contemplated the row of sleeping brothers. Dael has let me snuggle up to him a couple of times while out with the sheep. Why should this be any different?
She wiggled her way under Dael's blanket, making sure to share her blanket with him. Ah... warm at last! Besides, what was so different about this than when they all took turns keeping her warm?
The next morning, Adira was half-woken when she heard Marek get up to start on breakfast. He had just enough light coming in through the windows to be able to see. Normally, he got up earlier than everyone else, and just let them wake on their own, but this morning, he was jealous and almost petulant.
He smacked Dael on the back of his head. “Wake up! Don't you have cows to milk?”
Dael groaned. “Wasss wrong?” He slurred.
Get off her!” Marek insisted. “She is not your pillow!”
Huh?” Dael wondered, confused.
The rest of their brothers had woken up from the unaccustomed noise, and shifted to see what was going on. They could all see that Adira was fast asleep and that Dael had his head and arm resting on her – though their blankets made it difficult to see exactly where his hand was resting.
What's she doing on our side?” Dael wondered, awake now. He sat up, inadvertently pulling the covers off her.
She groaned, and snuggled into his warmth. “Cold...”
Oh.”
Dael shifted out from under the blankets so that he could tuck them around her. Adira continued to protest in her half sleep that she was cold. Marek grabbed Dael, and ushered him out of the loft.
Wait, why do I have to wake up early just because she wanted to be warm?” Dael protested.
Well, I'm awake now!” Tobin muttered. He decided to give his blanket to Adira too since he wouldn't be needing it anymore today. With a shivering noise, he went downstairs to wait for the room to warm up.
That might work!” Hemi announced to no one in particular, and then tossed his blanket on Adira before rushing downstairs.
I'm going back to sleep,” Natan announced.
Same here,” Amin agreed. The two of them had been sleeping on either side of Dael. The brothers all slept on a long mattress, which allowed them to snuggle together for warmth as needed.
Natan shifted to his side and got as comfortable as possible. A smile stretched his lips as he watched Adira sleep.
She was still on her back, and had resisted waking up with all her energy. This was about her normal time to wake up, but the warmth was so wonderful that she wasn't about to give it up for any reason.
On her other side, Amin also turned on his side to face her. He slipped a hand under her many blankets and into her hand. Natan couldn't see him, nor could he see Natan do the same thing; slipping one of his hands into hers.
They all slept for nearly an hour, but then Marek bellowed up to them. “Well, are you coming to eat breakfast or not?!”
Adira smiled; far happier than she thought possible. She squeezed each of the hands in hers for a moment, and then sat up. She stretched with a loud yawn.
I finally feel warm!” She announced with a joyous shout.
Amin laughed. “You should, you've got most of the blankets!”
Brr! I spoke too soon!” Adira exclaimed as the cold air chilled her. She scrambled to get down the ladder to where the hearth fire radiated.
Only three days left to figure out a solstice gift... Adira mentally wailed.
Marek handed her a plate containing a jumble of egg, meat, onions, and the last of the mushrooms they had collected in the fall. Adira accepted it with a smile, and then ate it with gusto.
Hemi finished his food just then, and rushed to bundle up so that he could run out to the shed he'd long ago turned into his workshop. They had only shoveled out a couple of narrow paths in the snow, so the barn and his shed were pretty much the only places they could get to until the snow melted.
Thinking about the various tools in Hemi's workshop gave Adira an idea. I think I know what I can give them! Of course, she couldn't work on it until she got permission from Hemi to use his things, and he wasn't there to see her do it.
Dael was still blurry eyed as he bundled up to go care for the animals. Natan asked Marek, Amin, and Tobin to bundle up and go help Dael so that he could clean the place. They sighed reluctantly, but knew that they'd have to help clean if they didn't. Plus, the more of them helping with all the animals packed into the barn for the winter, the faster they'd all get fed and cared for.
Where's Jomin?” Adira asked as she handed Natan her empty plate.
Probably still asleep,” Natan remarked, chuckling. “I swear he's like a bear! He seems to hibernate all winter, but then he's awake most of the summer.”
Adira laughed. She had no trouble imagining her adopted father as a bear. The snores emanating from the room even sounded like growling!
Adira started to bundle up.
Why are you getting ready to go outside?” Natan asked, stepping between her and the door.
I have something I need to ask Hemi,” Adira explained, suddenly realizing that she had allowed herself to be alone with him. Her heart started beating a bit faster. “Why? Do you want me to help you clean?”
Natan shook his head, grinning like a devious wolf. He lifted her into his arms, and backed her into the door. “I just wanted to tell you how jealous I was when I saw you sleeping with Dael. For one insane moment, I wanted to beat him up.”
Natan...” Adira didn't quite know what to say. Natan didn't give her time to come up with a response or explanation before kissing her. She groaned longingly, unconsciously tangling her fingers in the hair on the back of his head.
Natan slid his tongue over her lips, prompting her to open her mouth. Heat flooded her body as her tongue fought a duel with his. All thoughts left Adira's mind.
Marek! Is that breakfast I smell?” Jomin asked loudly. His question was followed by an unsuccessfully stifled curse that announced he had somehow stubbed his toe while getting out of bed.
Adira pushed against Natan, who lightly dropped her and then walked to the other side of the room. She hastily finished bundling up, calling out to Jomin as she did so.
Yes, you do smell breakfast, but Marek is out in the barn!”
Jomin opened his door to find her smiling at him. “Good morning, and where're you off to on such a frigid morning?”
The shed. I'm hoping Hemi can help me with something,” Adira informed him.
Jomin nodded as he dished himself up. “Hemi's a brilliant boy. If anyone can help, he can!”
Adira simply nodded, and then waved before leaving the house. She stepped outside, shut the door, then paused for a moment to place a hand over her racing heart and take a few deep breaths.
Something wrong?” Tobin asked as he returned to the small house.
Adira shook her head. “No, I just didn't expect it to be quite this cold out. It took my breath away for a moment is all.”
Tobin winked at her. “I was kicked out of the barn for causing more problems than solutions.
With a laugh, Adira bestowed a quick peck on his lips. “Naughty you!”
Tobin chuckled. “Yeah, well, I'd rather be working on something in the loft anyway.”
With a gentle nudge for her to get away from the door, he opened it and stepped inside the house. “Are you still going to the shed, or did you decide to come back in after all?”
The shed,” Adira stated firmly, more to convince herself than him that she needed to quit procrastinating and just face the cold for the next hundred feet or so.
Soon enough, she was in the shed. “Hemi? I wonder if you have a particular tool? It's like a thick long nail that you heat up.”
Hemi was surprised that she had come out to his shed. “Adira!” He quickly covered something with a heavy burlap sack. “Uh... yeah, I think I do have what you're looking for.”
Adira looked in the area he pointed, and after some rummaging around, found what she was looking for. A bit more digging uncovered a few other tools she'd need.
Do mind if I use your tools later on tonight? I've got something I want to work on in private,” she asked him, stepping close to him. He immediately blushed in response to her proximity, which was most of the reason she did it.
Uh... I guess I don't mind,” he stammered.
Thank you!” Adira grinned, showing her gratitude with a kiss.
His blush got redder. “No problem.”
Wow!” Adira exclaimed. “It's almost hot in here!”
Hemi nodded. “I've got a small forge in here, and I have the fire built up for something I'm working on.”
Mmm...” Adira pouted. “I wish I could stay here all day, but I have to go look for something. Outside. In the cold.” She groaned as she contemplated the door. It took her a few moments to gather up the courage to open it.
Come on! If I can face an enemy onslaught, I can certainly face a little bit of freezing, cheek stinging, breath stealing winter air!
Finally, she stepped out of the shed, and then closed the door behind her. Immediately, she longed to go back inside, but she had something important to do. First, she needed to remember which mound of snow hid the stack of chopped wood she wanted.
Amin watched her curiously as she looked around, but he kept his distance. Marek joined him just outside the barn a moment later.
Well, Dael can easily handle the last of it. How about we go inside?”
Gladly!” Amin agreed, subtly complaining about the cold.
Wait, what's Adira doing?” Marek asked.
No idea,” Amin shrugged.
Marek half ran over to her so that he could offer his help. “What are you looking for?”
Adira bit her lip for a moment and then smiled, deciding to accept his help. “Do you remember as this stack of wood was formed, there was a circular slice that was set to the side, and then forgotten?”
Yeah I do remember that,” Marek replied. “You need it?”
Adira nodded.
Amin realized that whatever they were searching for was going to take them longer than he was willing to watch while freezing, so he returned to their house. Meanwhile, Marek got busy digging a cave in the snow right about where he thought that piece of wood was.
Adira helped him dig out the cave, and then gasped. “It's not as cold in here!”
Marek laughed. “Haven't you ever built a fort in the snow before?”
Adira almost answered him honestly that no she hadn't before remembering that she supposedly didn't remember anything. “Don't know,” she replied with a half shrug and a tiny shake of her head.
Oh, right! Sorry...”
It's fine. I'm used to it by now,” Adira assured him. Then she returned to the intriguing subject. “Build a fort? In the snow?”
Yep! You want to start out with a small cave, of course. You can slowly make it bigger, but not too big – you don't want it to collapse. Then connect it to other caves by digging tunnels,” Marek explained.
Adira sat completely still staring at the roof of the cave in awe. An entire fort... dug in the snow! Oh..... the possibilities are endless! She started giggling almost deviously.
Marek laughed. “You're so cute when you do that!” He stole a quick kiss from her, and then made a triumphant noise. “Look what I found!” He held up the piece of wood she was looking for.
Oh Marek! You're the best!” She praised him, and then threw her arms around his neck so that she could reward him with a kiss.
He took the opportunity to steal a few more light kisses from her, but then started chuckling. “You know... Since we already have one cave built, I think it would be easy to build another, and then we could stockpile some snowballs. When they finally come out to see what we've been doing all day, we'll have enough ammunition to wage war against them!”
Adira was conflicted for a moment. Waging war was her life's work, but her time here was like an extended and much needed vacation. Merging the two seemed like a bad idea. Then... she realized that snowballs couldn't kill anyone!
Marek, you're brilliant!” She announced, kissing him quickly before turning her attention to the cave. As if by magic, a map appeared in her mind outlining where all the piles of wood were. She intuitively knew where the best places to dig caves were, and where the tunnels should be.
Using her mitten, she sketched out a small part of the map in her mind. There was no use sketching it all out here, just inside the entrance, where anyone could poke their head in and see it! Marek studied it, nodding in agreement.
I'd say you're the brilliant one!”
Thank you,” she purred with pride. They split up to work on different pieces of the map, and then met up in a second cave about an hour later. Adira had gone back and 'erased' the first map, and now drew the entire thing out here where no one would find it unless they came looking for them.
We'll stock pile the snowballs here and here, and then make a protected opening in the roof so that we can take them by surprise!”
Marek laughed. “They'll never see what him 'em!”

*******

Where on Earth is Marek! I'm starving!” Dael complained. He was answered by a round of shrugs.
Hmm,” Amin hummed in thought. “I wonder if he could still be out searching for whatever with Adira?”
What?” Dael asked. “They were searching for something?”
Amin nodded. “Yes, but that was hours ago. Surely they've found it by now.”
I thought Adira was out working in the shed with Hemi,” Natan stated.
Amin shook his head. Just then, the door opened.
What's for dinner?” Hemi asked as he hastily shut the door again.
Uh... Nothing,” Dael answered.
Huh?” Hemi burst out in disbelief. “What do you mean nothing? Where's Marek?”
Apparently not here,” Tobin replied as he climbed down from the loft. He took a few moments to rub his hands together by the hearth fire.
Can anyone else cook?” Jomin asked.
No!” Everyone else hastily answered.
Then, I guess we'd all better bundle up and look for Marek and Adira,” Jomin suggested.
The room got eerily silent for a moment.
What if something happened to them?”
What if Adira started freezing and Marek didn't notice until it was too late to come for help?”
What if they got trapped in the snow?”
Jomin held up his hands. “Everyone bundle up!”
As soon as they possibly could, Jomin and his sons braced themselves for the impact of the cold as they opened the door. They piled outside quickly, and then shut the door again. It was quiet, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Where did you last see them?” Natan asked, and Amin pointed.
They rushed to the area to look for clues. Suddenly, they were all being bombarded by snowballs.
It's about time you all came looking for me!” Adira shouted as she rained her ammo upon them. “I could have died in the time it took you to figure out I wasn't underfoot!”
Marek laughed heartily as he threw snowballs from his own well-fortified cave in their labyrinth of a snow fort.
His brothers all grinned at each other. “Snowball fight!”
I'm going back inside,” Jomin muttered unappreciatively.
Amin and Hemi immediately dove for cover while planning out their next move. Meanwhile, Dael, Tobin, and Natan all grabbed a handful of the nearest snow they could find.
The two 'sides' waged war on each other, but the many hours of planning clearly gave Adira and Marek the upper hand. They had far more snowballs to throw! After about an hour, the losing side officially gave up and declared Adira and Marek the victors.
Adira emerged to carefully stand on the roof of her densely packed cave. She raised her hands to the sky and roared in triumph. “I am Adira, and I never lose a battle!”
Her adopted brothers all laughed. “Yeah yeah, you're a real warrior! Now come one! Marek needs to cook us something to eat!”
Marek sighed exaggeratedly. “Ah... a victor's work is never done...”
Tell me about it,” Adira muttered under her breath.

That night, Adira waited until everyone was asleep before descending the ladder and bundling up. She cautiously made her way to where she had stashed the circular slab of wood, and then brought it to Hemi's shed. Like the hearth, a forge never truly went out, so it only took her a couple of minutes to build the fire back up.
Ah... That's better!” She sighed in relief once the small shed had warmed up enough for her to unbundle and work with her hands. “Thank the Gods Hemi's gloves fit me!”
She was able to finish half the work on her present to Jomin and his sons that night, and the other half the following night. With relief, she brought it into the house with her so that she could stash it under her little straw mattress until it was time to exchange solstice gifts.
In the meantime, it was still practically freezing on her side of the curtain, so she grabbed her pillow and blanket, and wormed her way into Dael's portion of the long mattress they shared. Judging by the snores, everyone was sound asleep, except Dael, who actually woke up as she settled herself.
You want them to kill me, don't you?” He asked sleepily.
Adira laughed quietly. “Nah... you're just the best snuggler; that's all!”
Dael chuckled softly. “Whatever... good night.”
Good night,” Adira whispered, kissing him lightly before resting her head on his arm and drifting off.
The next morning, everyone gave Dael a raincheck on his impending death in honor of the solstice. They even let him sleep in so that they wouldn't wake Adira.
Why does she keep picking him?” Tobin wondered as he and Hemi followed their noses to the delicious smells Marek was busy creating.
Don't know,” Hemi shrugged, a blush announcing that it was probably a good thing she didn't pick Hemi. He'd probably die from embarrassment!
I think it's because she feels safe with Dael,” Natan observed, following them down the ladder. “You know, like she's thinking not even he would be stupid enough to try something when they are literally sleeping in the middle of everyone.”
Marek laughed at their conversation. “Or maybe she instinctively remembers that it was he who held her and kept her warm when she was so close to death.”
This made sense, so they all nodded.
Up in the loft, Dael was actually getting a bit too hot to sleep. He opened an eye to find that once again they had shifted in their sleep until he was practically using her as a pillow. A subtle look around revealed that almost no one was in the loft. He was highly tempted to go back to sleep, and enjoy the snuggling, but the smell of breakfast called to him in a very demanding manner. With a groan, he carefully extracted himself from the warm cocoon they had created.
Amin waited until Dael was gone before shifting closer to her. He watched her sleep for a bit; a warm smile stretching his lips. When her breathing changed enough that he knew she was awake, or at least mostly awake, he kissed her.
Happy Winter Solstice, Adira,” he whispered, kissing her a couple more times. Then he left her alone in the loft.
Adira found it supremely unfair that he had abandoned her before she'd woken up enough to respond. Even worse, without Dael there, she had grown cold again! Almost grumpily, she exited the loft.
Glad you could join us, sleepyhead!” Marek teased.
Her grumpiness evaporated, and she returned his grin.
Jomin emerged from his room a moment later, and they all sat down to eat together. Afterwards, they cleared the table, and started exchanging gifts. Adira climbed the ladder to the loft as they all gave each other little things. They also created a small pile of gifts for her to open when she returned.
She tried to hide the circle of wood in front of her as she came down the ladder, but nearly dropped it twice. A moment after her feet were on the floor, she knelt in front of Jomin.
Jomin, you and your sons literally saved me. You have cared for me and made me a part of your family. I had nothing to give you, and no money to buy anything, so I thought I was going to be the only one without a solstice gift to give, but then I realized that I could make something...”
She handed him the wood, making sure that the right side faced him. She'd made a plaque out of it that asked What makes a family? The answer was written below: Jomin, Natan, Marek, Amin, Dael, Tobin, and Hemi.
Jomin almost had tears in his eyes, and looked away gruffly to hide them. Adira wasn't fooled for a second, and hugged him, kissing his cheek.
Happy Solstice Jomin!”
Happy Solstice Adira.”
Next, they insisted she sit and open her gifts. Natan gave her some arrows that he had made himself. They were a bit sturdier than regular arrows, and Adira couldn't wait to hunt with them. Marek gave her – and everyone else – a small cake. The rest of them simply said Happy Solstice on them, but hers had been decorated with frosting in a delicate manner befitting a princess.
Amin gave her a jar of herbs to make a delicious tea. Dael gave her an egg he'd blown out and then colored. Tobin gave her a dress – the prettiest one he had made for her yet!
Hemi bounced with excitement when it was his turn to give her a gift. He pulled a small wood stove out from hiding. “I know how much you hate the cold in the loft, so I made a small stove specifically to warm your part up while you sleep.”
Aww, that's so sweet!” Adira praised him.
Right now... I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!

Go To Chapter 5 

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