Title: Shocks of a Scant Summer
Character/s: Balinor, Gaius, Hunith
Summary: Pre-series. Ealdor gets a new resident.
Word Count: 997
Prompt: #338, newcomer
Author's Notes: None
The sound of his hissed name pierces his sleep. Balinor blinks, slowly focusing on the face so near his own.
“Get up. Uther’s men are coming.”
His king’s name shatters the last vestiges of rest. “What’s wrong?” But in the moments it takes to swing his legs over the edge of his cot, he recognizes the real emotion darkening his best friend’s gaze.
Gaius shakes his head. “It was all a lie. He has no intention of honoring you for your aid. He’s ordered the execution of all Dragonlords. Including you.”
Balinor starts moving before Gaius is done speaking. It’s not a surprise. Uther’s hatred for anything magical is its own beast to be vanquished. Such a decree was inevitable, even if a small part of him hoped otherwise.
“I’m sorry,” Gaius says as he gathers what few belongings he has.
“It’s hardly your fault.”
“I still feel responsible. I was the one who convinced you to trust him.”
True, but Balinor would never condemn Gaius for possessing a heart that yearned to see the best in people.
“At least allow me to help you until Uther changes his mind.”
He won’t, but Balinor goes along with the deceit. “How?”
“I know where you’ll be safe.”
The forest is thick with insects, drawn out by early summer storms. Though they’re annoying, Balinor tolerates them without complaint as they are further evidence of the inclement weather that thwarts Uther’s knights. Ealdor might be the haven Gaius claims, but that doesn’t mean Balinor is willing to risk its safety by drawing his would-be captors straight to it. His path weaves across the land, forward then back. He takes refuge in caves, along streams, traveling at night. No more will die because of him. There has been enough bloodshed – human, sorcerer, dragon – already.
Two weeks of this, and he is weary of the paranoia. Dawn awakens, and the rain has lessened to a faint spray instead of torrent. Ealdor is a day’s straight passage from his current location. Perhaps it’s time to end his flight and believe in Gaius’s assurances.
But as he contemplates the choice, shadows that have nothing to do with the rising sun flicker at the corner of his eye.
The spell is ready on his tongue before he’s flattened himself to the sodden ground. He inhales to unleash it, when the shadows coalesce and a young woman steps out of the mist.
“Are you Balinor?”
Her soft voice is barely a breath, but it locks him in place as assuredly as irons. She is not beautiful. Her cloak is stained and worn, and the glimpse he gains of her hands betrays a lifetime of toil. But there’s something in her eyes as she approaches him, a gentleness he has not been privy to in years, that bewitches him. She feels familiar, though he knows not how. Most extraordinarily, however, she feels safe.
She waits for him to respond. Seconds roll into a minute, then two. At three, she sighs.
“Are you hurt? I can help you if you let me.”
Part of him wishes that he could say yes just to feel her hands upon him. But he shakes his head and tamps down the magic he’d almost released.
Her gaze flickers past his shoulder, and too late he realizes his pack is in full view. A small smile curves her lips.
“I’ve been traveling for quite some time, too,” she says. “From Ealdor to Camelot and now here. But it would seem that I finally get to return home. Are you going to join me, or do you prefer your accommodations in the mud? Gaius thought you’d rather have a roof over your head, even if it is mine, but if he’s wrong—”
“You know Gaius?”
“Longer than you have, Balinor.”
There’s no sense denying his identity when she clearly knows the truth. Straightening, he sits back on his heels and brushes off the worst of the wet undergrowth clinging to his clothes. “Why were you in Camelot?”
“You didn’t arrive when Gaius said you would. I was worried.”
“But you don’t know me.”
“Do I need to when you’re so important to him?”
How can he argue with her? She is the chance he’s been offered, and he risks discovery the longer he keeps her from Ealdor. “Then I thank you.”
“Thank me when you’re clean and dry. Come. If we leave now, we’ll be home before the evening meal.”
He scoops up his pack. “You have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
Her smile widens as she turns away. “Hunith.”
Heads turn when he enters the village, but nobody utters a word. He credits it to Hunith’s presence. Though the rain has been kind enough to remain intermittent during their journey, they are still a bedraggled pair. If he had arrived alone, surely Ealdor’s residents would have been less accommodating to such an odd stranger.
What he doesn’t understand is how they won’t question Hunith’s new living arrangements.
“It doesn’t matter if you have two rooms,” he’d said along the way. “We’re not related.”
“Ealdor isn’t Camelot’s court,” she’d replied with a laugh. “You’re a friend of the family. That’s sufficient.”
It makes him uncomfortable, though, and he silently vows to move outside as soon as the rains stop. He will not compromise her.
But of all the surprises Hunith has offered throughout the day, the greatest comes once the door is firmly shut behind them.
“You’re safe here.” She crouches at the hearth, but her gaze slips to him one more time. “As long as you’re careful, I don’t mind if you use your magic.”
His shock must show on his face because she laughs.
“You really must be accustomed to foolish women.” Her smile lingers as she begins to lay kindling on the fire. “Having you here might prove interesting, after all.”