Trees lined both sides of the road, full of new growth. The fact that outside of Awakening, winter roared across the land, along with the recent incident of the women and the floating fireball, Revin had good reason to be disturbed, so she was surprised when the forest suddenly ended, low trees and scrub covered the ground.
Farrel turned off to a side path and after a few moments the brush fed into plowed fields, ready for planting that stretched for several miles to either side of the road. Revin could see a house ahead in the distance. Drawing closer, she spotted a man working on a corral fence.
“Farrel. Good day,” the farmer called out and walked over to meet them as they pulled into the yard of the house.
“It is a good day,” Farrel agreed. “This is Revin…” He turned to look at her as if waiting for her to complete the sentence.
“Just Revin,” she answered without providing more information.
With a shrug of his shoulders, Farrel returned his attention to the farmer. “Just Revin then. Revin this is Ranell Krogh.”
Ranell removed his wide-brimmed hat and nodded to her. “Pleased to meet you, Revin.” He peered past her to Farrel. “Is she…”
Before she could question either man about their mysterious conversation, a woman, evidently well along with child, came out of the house.
“This is my wife, Trina.” Ranell stepped back and helped the woman over to the wagon.
“This is Revin,” he told his wife.
The woman looked from Revin to her husband and smiled when he nodded knowingly several times.
“Revin.” Trina lowered her head, Revin taken aback by the reverent tone of the woman’s voice.
Trina shifted her eyes to Farrel and in a more cheerful timbre greeted him, “It’s good to see you Farrel.” She pushed a wisp of hair from her face and let out a deep breath.
The way the woman’s stomach protruded, seeming to fill half her upper body, Revin could only imagine how draining it must be. Without personal experience she could only go on the frightening tales told by other women, and she hoped the horror stories were exaggerated.
Farrel jumped down from the wagon, leaned over and gave her a big, but gentle hug, making sure to not press against her too hard. “And it’s good to see you, Trina.” He stepped back and looked down at her stomach.
“Soon,” Trina answered the unasked question as she rubbed her bulging belly. “Soon,” she repeated with a strained smile.
“What brings you out here?” Ranell jested, “Surely it wasn’t to just check on my lovely wife’s condition.”
Trina slapped her husband on the arm in a warmhearted manner. “And why not. He’s not a brute like you.”
Ranell pulled away feigning pain, but his laughter betrayed his ploy. He moved next to Farrel and told him, “You make it hard on us poor husbands.”
“You’re already more than blessed by the Goddess,” Farrel chuckled and nodded toward Trina and the farmer’s future child.
“See.” Trina reached across and cuffed Ranell again, her grin softening the blow.
“You’ll have to teach him manners later.” Farrel stepped up into the wagon and began to untie the lines that held down the canvas cover. “I have to get Revin back so Keely can fix her up for tonight’s feast.”
“I don’t…” Revin huffed and decided not to get into that argument again.
With Ranell’s help from the ground, Farrel pulled back the cover to expose a wooden piece of furniture. Farrel lowered down a short wooden bench to Ranell, who set it on the ground.
“With the baby coming, you’ll need a comfortable bench on those long nights,” Farrel told Trina as he climbed down from the wagon’s bed with two large, padded leather cushions.
“It’s beautiful.” Trina ran her hands over the polished wood.
It was broad enough for two people, but what impressed Riven were the two arm rests and the high curved back, uncommon features. Carved into the back was a dragon in flight, an accepted sign of the Goddess, the Burning Lady. Other intricate designs decorated the arms.
Farrel placed one wide cushion on the bench and then leaned the other against the back.
Trina sat without invitation and wiggled as she sank into the cushions. The top of the bench came to just above her shoulders and appeared to have been built so that she could easily rest her head against the curve.
Tears formed in Trina’s eyes as she stood and hugged Farrel tightly, in spite of her swollen stomach.
After a moment Farrel pulled away carefully, but his smile was even brighter than before. “Let me help you with this.” He reached for one end of the bench while Ranell picked up the other.
Trina wiped her eyes and stood next to Revin as they watched the men carry the bench into the house.
“I didn’t know he was a carpenter,” Revin commented and realized she knew nothing about the man.
“He’s not,” Trina informed her. “He was a mercenary, but he’s always been good with his hands. He can fix just about anything.”
Mercenary? Had she heard correctly?
“He rode into the village one day, a man with a tortured Spirit.”
“Mercenary!” Revin blurted, though not loudly, then remembered, He’d said ‘Before coming to Awakening’. A mercenary, the word repeated with a sour taste.
Trina turned, her expression soft and sincere. “He’s a good man. The first one to offer help and the last to leave when something needs to be done. A woman would count herself lucky to have such a man’s interest.”
Revin was stunned, unsure how to respond. Farrel? His name filled her mind as she glanced over at the farmhouse and the two men who came out the doorway.
“I hope to see you at the festival.” Trina grinned and patted her stomach, then walked over to hug Farrel again before returning to the house.
“We will ever be grateful.” Ranell had a hand on Farrel’s shoulder as they approached Revin and the wagon.
Farrel waved off the comment and stepped on the wagon to reach under the bench seat. “I had some free time.”
“That’s something I would like to see.” Ranell laughed.
“I brought something for you as well.” Farrel stepped back down and held out a jug he had pulled from under the seat.
“You’re a good man Farrel.” Ranell took the jug, pulled the stopper, and sniffed. “Some of your best.”
Farrel nodded and stepped back up to sit on the wagon’s bench. He looked down at Riven. “Are you coming, or do you need help?”
Revin shook her head feeling as if she had been in some sort of dream then climbed up as Farrel slid over to the other side.
He stared ahead as he slapped the reins and the wagon started to roll.
She gaped at the line of his strong jaw as the word ‘mercenary’ sat in the front of her mind. Somehow, she couldn’t connect the warmhearted, jesting man next to her with the few soldiers-for-hire she had seen in the past.
Her curiosity beat on her mind so when they turned back onto the main forest road that ran between the evergreens, she blurted, “Trina claims you’re a mercenary.”
“Was a mercenary,” he corrected without flinching. “It was another time. Another place.”
“A hired killer,” she regretted the words a moment after they escaped her throat. Mercenaries were cursed by most decent people and quite a few that weren’t. They were known for being ruthless, avaricious, and the one thing they never showed was compassion, which was contemptuous considering the root of their name was mercy.
Farrel immediately pulled on the reins and the wagon jerked to a stop. He sat and stared ahead, his jaw rigid as he breathed deeply several times, his knuckles white as he clenched the leather straps.
Revin feared she may have pushed him too far. They were alone on a road a good distance from both the village and the farm. After all she had experienced and seen, it was the first time she had truly been scared since arriving.
“My life was…” he paused with a pained expression. His head turned slowly toward her. His hands lessened their grip on the reins. He spoke slowly and calmly, “One day a man took me away from my family.” He lifted his head to the front again, but still held the horses back, Revin and he sat in the middle of the forest as a light breeze blew and rustled the leaves on either side.
“He saved my life.”
She stared up at him as something broke inside her. She had imagined that having a family would be the greatest gift anyone could have but watching Farrel she realized it was not always the truth.
His face remained rigid, and she thought if she said anything it might crumble like a decayed wall.
After several more moments, he spoke again, though his words were not directed at her, “The man was the captain of a company of mercenaries. I thought I was to be a slave, but that’s not why he bought me from the man who laid claim to having sired me. He said it was the right thing to do.”
He turned back to her, his lips thin as he told her, “Can you imagine that…a hired killer said it was the right thing to do.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” But she had and now couldn’t take back the words. He must hate me.
“I was a son to him. When he was murdered by a rival, I fled the company.”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, the words sounding hollow to her. “It was a long time ago. Another time. Another place.”
He smiled and she felt as if he had never told anyone this before.
He seemed more at ease as if a burden had been taken from him. “We’ll be back before dusk,” he informed her as he flicked the
reins and started the horses moving. “I hope it gives Keely and Inga enough time to tidy you up.”
She was stunned and wondered at the man sitting next to her. They didn’t speak the rest of the way to the village, but her mind worked feverishly as she tried to comprehend everything she had seen and heard since first meeting the man. How could Trina ever think he would be attracted to me? She questioned, but then quickly changed the thought, I mean that I could be interested in him. Unsettled she wondered, Could I be? Could he?