Cloud & Shade - Chapter 3 - She Walked Away

"Catch!" Tal flung a silver platter across the clearing frisby style to Eavan.

Eavan caught the dish with one hand then spun it on the tip of his finger. "Dashing fellow, don't you think?" he asked the group of 6, admiring his reflection in the polished metal.

"I think the metal may be playing tricks on your eyes Eavan," Certi winked at her friends. She was a rough and unpolished girl of about 18 with wild red hair that flew every direction at once.

Eavan looked hurt. I'm devastated." He held a hand to his chest in mock dismay earning a snort from Faran, who lounged careless on the ground his head pillowed on his cloak.

"Don't go crying in your ale, Eavan."

"Nice," Eavan shook his head and rummaged around in one of the bags producing a bottle of wine. "See if I share this fine commodity with the rest of you muckers," He stuck his tongue out childishly before uncorking in the bottle and swallowing a mouthful.

"Don't make me sit on you," Certi stalked across the small meadow toward him.

Toboe stood from his seat on the ground, grabbing the bottle from Eavan. "Sit down, Certi," he waved her away before taking a drink from the bottle. "Eck!" he sprayed the wine all over the grass. "That's disgusting." Toboe wiped his mouth.

Eavan laughed. "Some connoisseur you are."

Toboe still grimacing shook his head. "I thought it was a fine commodity Eavan."

"Fine commodity my big toe!" Certi shoved the bottle back at Eavan. "You're welcome to it."

"No argument there," Eavan swirled the red liquid in the bottle happily.

Faran rolled his eyes at his younger friends. "You guys need help,"

Tal smirked. "The kind of help we need isn't available."

"I'm really gonna miss you guys," Certi chuckled, stuffing her share of the loot into a sack. Kip sat straight up.

"You're leaving?!" he asked in alarm.

She nodded to the younger boy. "I've received word through a contact of mine that my father is very ill. I've decided I'm going to go back home and help him until he can get back on his feet."

"When did this happen?" Eavan demanded.

"I got word just last night," she told him, giving him a look that dared him to challenge her decision.

A small voice spoke up after a moment. "So I suppose this would be a bad time to tell you I'm planning on heading west for the mountains, huh?"

Eavan stared at Toboe in disbelief. "You're kidding right?"

Certi rolled here eyes, "Of course we are! We just like to pack up once or twice a week for the heck of it." She smiled sweetly.

Eavan gave her a sour look and took another swig of wine.

Faran cursed. "We can't do this with half the gang gone. It's not possible." He stood and began pacing. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Well, while we were running for our lives didn't really seem like the opportune time," Toboe quipped.

"It' not permanent" Tal broke in before Faran said something he would regret.

"Oh so you're leaving too?" the older thief turned on him. "That's just dandy? Who else is deserting?"

Certi snorted. "There's nothing you can do, Faran. We've got lives and things that need to be taken care of."

"Are you suggesting I don't?" By now Faran was fuming.

"Hey, no need to get all worked up about it," Tal soothed his partner. "As soon as everything is taken care of, we'll find a way to join back up with the gang. We're not deserting. Just taking.... err... leave." He slapped his friend on the back.

"Whatever," Faran shrugged, trying to pretend he didn't care. This group had been together for several years now. They were like family' the only family most of them had ever had. "You all know where the meeting place is. That's where I'll be." He stalked off into the darkness alone.

Tal sighed and strapped his sword to his belt, and heaving his pack onto his shoulder turned to the others.

"Come back safe," Certi acknowledged gruffly, picking up her own things, disguising the emotion in her voice.

Tal smiled, "May your swords stay sharp." He turned and melted into the darkness outside the torch light, looking in the direction Faran had gone. He would miss his friend. He just hoped Faran's temper didn't get him in any undo trouble.

******

Mornië worked quietly as she sharpened the blade of a dagger. Across from her, Aingeal carefully waxed the string of her mother's bow. It was a task Mornië had shown her daughter when she was very little; the girl's blindness didn't inhibit her in this at all. Rather, her sensitive fingers let her know when the right amount of beeswax had been applied.

The silence between them was unnerving, but it was something Mornië had almost come to expect from her daughter. She was pulling more and more into herself, refusing to speak to her father, and on rare occasions speaking to her mother. The one that actually got her to talk the most was Ilterendi. The silence wore on, broken only by the rasping of Mornië's blade on the whetstone.

"So are you going to talk to him?" She asked finally, watching her daughter's face for any hint of emotion. Aingeal's face didn't change. Her blindness gave her the advantage of being able to hide her emotions behind a mask. She didn't see other people''s reactions, and so she didn't imitate them herself.

"There's no point." Aingeal's voice was flat, just as emotionless as her face. "He won't listen." Aingeal rubbed the bowstring more vigorously. "I'll never be what he wants me to."

"All I want is for you to be protected." Aingeal started slightly, not having heard her father approach. Mornië glared at him for interrupting. It was the most Aingeal had said in weeks to her at one time.

Aingeal set the bow aside. Mornië saw her sightless eyes seem to turn to ice. "I don't need to be protected," her voice was dangerously low.

Mornië saw the unavoidable clash coming. Athrun never responded very well to Aingeal's attitude, and he was still fuming mad about her running away the day before. "Someday you're going to have to accept that you're blind Aingeal. With that come limitations, which means you're going to have to realize that I know what is best for you!"

Aingeal stood up. Mornië sought cover from the storm about to break loose by retreating behind her work. It was never wise to interrupt a fight between these two.

Who do you think you are?" Aingeal never raised her voice, but it held a challenging tone. "What you think is best is to keep me in a prison!" Her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

"You even went so far as to lock my window from the outside! Why can't you just accept that I can do anything anyone else can do?"

"I'm your father!" Athrun's temper was rising, "I know what is best for you, and you will do as I tell you!"

"I don't need to listen to your list of things I should be," Aingeal snapped, "I've heard it all my life. You can't just let me live my life! You're smothering me! You're just afraid that you'll lose control of me! Well guess what! You never had control over me!"

"That's enough young lady!"

"No, it's not enough! Everything I do is a mistake in your eyes! Maybe I was a mistake! After all, it seems I can't be what you want me to be."

"Ilterendi!" The elf stepped from around a corner, "Escort this child to her chambers."

Aingeal wrenched her arm from the elf's grasp, "I'll go gladly. Anything to get away from you. You're nothing but a tyrant." She stormed away, followed by her bodyguard.

The shatter of glass from the upper floor of their flet caused Mornië to wince. Aingeal flung another vase at the door for good measure. As soon as she had a chance she was leaving, for good. Nothing and no one was going to stop her. Her father was never going to change. She didn't regret her outburst. It felt good in fact.

The faint sound of the latch lifting on the door made her whirl around. Still furious, and not in the mood to listen to another lecture, she kicked off her shoes and hurled them at the door. The door slammed shut again and she sat down on her bed. Listening for a moment to be sure no one else was going to try and open the door, she dropped to the floor and reached under the bed.

Her father thought he had managed to confiscate all of her pants and weapons after her last escapade. He didn't know as much as he thought he did. Stretching to reach it, she pulled a long smooth wooden chest from beneath the bed. It was no more than eight inches high, and just as much deep, but it was at least a sword or more in length. Throwing her other shoe at the door to be safe,

She searched for the key that hung around her neck. Placing the key in the lock, she opened the lid and lifted out the chest's contents. On top of a pile of a black cloak and veil rested a long thin sword, no thicker than two or three sheets of paper, carefully etched with a scrolling line down the blade, the thin one handed hilt wrapped in fresh cloth, securely laced. It's matching sheath was of soft black leather, etched with a matching design in maroon, with two thick leather laces at the top to tie it to the wearer's belt. It had been passed on to her by her mother. Her father knew nothing of it.

Aingeal removed it and lay in on the bed, covering it with the black cloak. The cloak was surprisingly light, being only a summer cloak. Beneath it lay a pair of loose black pants and a matching swordsman shirt she had filched from Ilterendi. It fit her loosely, but she didn't mind. Working quickly she removed her confining dress and undid her hair from it's ornate styling, piling the items on the floor. She left the corset on, but laced it loosely under the swordsman's shirt. Tying the pants, she slipped a black sash around her waist, wrapping it a few times before tying it and leaving it to hang.

She tied the sword and sheath to this and wrapped the cloak around her shoulders. Shoving the box back under the bed, she searched the table in her room for another vase. Her searching fingers quickly found on, and she threw it at the door again. She couldn't have them thinking she was actually behaving.

Walking back to her bed, she grabbed the curved foot board and pulled. The lightweight piece of furniture slid almost soundlessly across the polished wooden floor of her room. Once the door had been barricaded she turned the window. Pulling aside the delicate curtains, she picked up a a stone figurine from a nearby table.

Her father may have locked the window but glass was very breakable as she had already demonstrated several times. Walking back across the room, she picked up her water pitcher. The container still had a good amount of liquid in it. She threw the pitcher, at the same time, flinging the figurine through the window. Water and glass flew across the floor accompanied by a loud crash.

Carefully, so she wouldn't cut herself, she reached out to the catch her father had installed and lifted it. Athrun hadn't wanted the lock to be complicated in case he had need of the window at some time. She pushed the other window open.

feeling her way, she slipped one leg over the ledge and leaned out. She knew from experience that a thin ledge ran all the way along the steep side of the flet, only about an inch wide, but that was plenty enough for an elf to use. Holding her body flat against the structure, she slid out on the tiny ledge, inching her way to the right, her hand searching along the side of the building ahead of her.

She knew she couldn't be seen from the ground level. Tree branches and vines obscured the view. The feeling of the leaves and twigs brushing against her face was evidence of this.

The ledge continued for another meter or two, before it came to a small column support, which she could easily shimmy down, as long as there was no one around below. She wrapped both arms around the pole, then one foot. Taking a deep breath, she stepped off the ledge and slid rapidly to the forest floor. No matter how many times she did that it was still exhilarating.

She stepped quietly away from the pole and into the surrounding shelter of the undergrowth and giant trees. The feeling of immense age and wisdom settled around her. She had always felt close to nature, but her lack of site made it even more so. It was one of the few benefits of her handicap.

Walking as quickly as she safely could, Aingeal began putting as much distance as she could between herself and her father. He had crossed the line this time, and there was no way she could go back and face him.

Staying close to the buildings, she silently made her way to the kitchens, where she gathered some supplies, and then out to the gardens by the outer wall. Her lithe cloaked frame was fairly invisible as she slipped through the peaceful city. She came to the hidden gate. Her hand searching for the latch, she cursed in anger. Someone had had the foresight to fit it with a lock.

Pulling off the clasp from her cloak, she quickly set about picking the lock, her ears alert for the sound of approaching feet, while at the same time listening to the mechanism of the lock. At last, it popped open. Re-clasping her cloak, she carefully opened the gate, cringing as it grated against old hinges.

Aingeal closed the gate behind her, listening to make sure it locked again. Satisfied that no one would know she can exited this way, she proceeded on her way. The sun overhead was bright but she blended in with the shadows of the forest. Her footsteps were silent and any movement she caused in the undergrowth was nothing more than light breeze would have made.

*********

He followed her as silently as a phantom, had seen her covert exit from the elven city. He had watched her for months, following her when she sneaking away. His instincts told him that this time was different. This time, no one knew she was gone, no one knew she was not planning to return. If he had anything to say about it, she would never see another living soul ever again. What remained of her life, he wanted to make miserable. He wanted to make her beg for death.

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