Chapter 1 , Part 2
Read part 1 here.
“Who are you?” Robin asked, risking a slice, but the knife didn’t bite into her exposed flesh. Did that mean this creature hadn’t come to kill her?
“I said not to move.”
The knife didn’t waver as it pressed into Robin’s neck and drew a bead of blood. Point taken. As Robin lay back against her makeshift pallet, she let her arm slide up until her hand touched the rolled-up tunics inside the rucksack she’d been using as a pillow. Robin had unbound her hair earlier, and it hung in a straight dark fall over her shoulder, it covered her arm and the hand she shoved into those tunics seeking a weapon.
“And I asked you a question. Who are you?” While Robin waited for an answer, she grasped the bone handle of her knife but didn’t draw it out of the rolled-up tunics hiding it from view. Her captor hadn’t told her to be quiet, and anger was coiling in her gut like a serpent ready to strike. Robin managed to keep that anger out of her voice but not her eyes.
They blazed with righteous indignation and a promise of retribution, but the fierce look was lost on her captor because there was only a little light filtering into the tent through the unsecured flap. It was enough to backlight her captor but not Robin since that creature’s shadow fell across her.
The temperature dropped as the tent flap parted again, letting in a cold gust of wind and a triangle of pale moonlight. Said light glinted off the buckles holding her assailant’s outfit in place as the womanish creature chuckled. Metal discs connected by silver rings clothed the creature holding a knife to Robin’s throat—if you could call that ‘getup’ clothing.
The metallic ensemble ended at the creature’s midriff. A divided skirt picked up where that left off, but it petered out well before a pair of hooves, not feet. Well, wasn’t that interesting. Enough to finally clear out the last cobwebs from the restless night.
Silver hooves—the sight triggered a vague memory, but it fled when a pair of pale green eyes that glowed captured hers. The womanish creature leaning over her grinned, showing off a set of perfect teeth. She was part deer and part human and just plain creepy.
“What do you want?”
Robin gripped the knife hidden inside the makeshift pillow under her head. She’d managed to work her whole hand under there without drawing her captor’s notice. Unsheathing it would be risky, but she felt better with a weapon in hand even if she couldn’t use it just yet. Years of training and ingrained muscle memory should help her land at least one solid blow even in this dim lighting. All she needed was an opening. Come on, bitch, give me one.
“I think you know what I want.” Her visitor traced the tip of her knife along Robin’s throat. “I ride the longest night where no light but mine shines. Pay the toll or heads will roll.”
The rhyme struck a chord in Robin’s memory. So did the silver horns curving up from either side of her attacker’s heart-shaped face. This thing was part of the Wild Hunt—oh crap.
Robin stared at her long-necked captor who bore more than a passing resemblance to a deer except hinds didn’t usually have horns just stags did. Brown fur so fine it blended to look like human skin kept her exposed bits warm, and there was a generous portion of her curves so exposed to the elements. A riot of brown curls tumbled down the Huntress’ back, and a leather band kept those locks out of her eerie eyes. They were pale green mirrors reflecting Robin’s growing horror.
The Wild Hunt. Oh, God, anything but those monsters. Robin looked away, disconcerted by the promise of pain in those eyes. Her nightmare was just beginning. Before it ended, whose lives would it claim? Not my baby, please Mother of God, protect her.
Rosalie wasn’t crying anymore, and the silence inside the tent was becoming as oppressive as the shifting shadows sliding over the Huntress’ sleek fur. A tear slid down Robin’s cheek at the thought of her sweet daughter lying in the bassinet beside her pallet, and the Huntress grinned. Outside, the wind howled and pummeled the tent with invisible fists as it gusted past again. By some miracle, the tent stayed up despite the onslaught.
“What do you want?” Robin asked again because she needed an answer.
“Your life, your death, either will suffice.” The Huntress shrugged as if she had no preference, nor any skin in this game.
Nearby, metal clanged, and a woman grunted. That must be Cat. Or had some unlucky band of adventurers lucked on to their camp? Rescue might be only seconds away.
It was possible. This trail had looked well-traveled before a storm had dropped a foot of snow on it. Robin had seen plenty of evidence to corroborate that assumption else she wouldn’t have made camp here, and they were heading for one of the most trafficked waterways in the country, the River Nirthal.
Some of her hopes must have written themselves on her face because the Huntress threw back her head and laughed again. The bitch thinks she has me cowed. Not likely, since her father was a Ranger. He’d be scandalized to see his daughter so easily taken.
Robin took advantage of that momentary inattention to swing her knife up and out of hiding. It slammed into the Huntress’ blade, shoving it aside then Robin was rolling aside to avoid that next blow and move the fight away from the bassinet and her too-quiet daughter. She’d have to check on Rosalie after the fight. She couldn’t risk doing so now.
The Huntress scowled as she danced aside to avoid the kick Robin had aimed at her. She must drive that creature away from her daughter. Robin frowned when her booted foot didn’t connect with its intended target. Damn, she had so looked forward to sinking her cleated sole into that creature’s face. Well, at least she’d put some space between them.
But Robin was still on the ground, which was a bad place to be a moment later when the enraged Huntress stomped down with her cloven hooves. Robin threw her knife, missed the skinny deer-woman—damn that canny bitch—and had to roll quickly out of the way of another silver hoof aimed at her abdomen.
Robin slammed into another body. Thankfully, this one was supine and much taller than she was. Oh, thank God, Fate, whoever was listening—an ally at last! Robin shook that blanket-wrapped bundle for all she was worth, hoping her fellow traveler was still alive and armed. The two warrior women sharing her campsite were a lucky find. Fortunately, they’d decided to team up with Robin for a while. What luck that was. Three women traveling together made a less enticing target, especially when they were all armed.
“Wake up! We’re under attack.”
Strella groaned and rolled onto her side, batting Robin’s hands away. How could anyone sleep through this? Strella must really be exhausted. “Then let Cat deal with it. It’s her watch. Mine just ended,” Strella mumbled into her arm.
“Get up before you wake up as a shade in the Gray Between Life and Death.”
But Strella just snored. Damn her. All that hiking must have caught up with her.
Robin ducked, and a knife just missed her head. She grabbed the first thing that came to hand—a rucksack—and thrust it in front of her like a shield. Why had she sacrificed her knife earlier? Robin could just imagine the lecture her father would have given her if he’d been there. Stupid, stupid, she was better than this.
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