Aiden’s War, Chapter Five – Krysta’s Choice

You can find Chapters 1-4 in the tab up top, Aiden’s War – http://jm-harrison.com/aidens-war/

Chapter Five – Krysta’s choice

Her father saw her and knew something was wrong by the tears left glistening on her face. She tried to rub them away, but belatedly, and then it was too late. There was another man with him in the barn, her supposed suitor, and her voice caught in her throat.

He wasn’t so horrible looking, not as awful as she imagined someone of thirty some years would look. He had brown hair cut short, a plain face that was broader above his eyes than below, a narrow nose, but a firm, square jaw and even a pleasant smile. He wasn’t the monster she expected. His eyes, also brown, took in her appearance with one sweep. She bristled at the appraisal, even though it seemed he approved.

He lowered his gaze then and stood back, allowing her father to get the answers she knew he wouldn’t be able to bear. She still couldn’t believe it was happening. All that came out in her voice as she explained, trembling and cracking from the strain to not start crying again. She was the eldest now, for it was certain that all her brothers were gone, if not dead already.

“He went after her?” Bruin said in a voice filled with confusion and disbelief.

He pondered the massive shift of reality for hardly more than a moment, but it was too long for Krysta to stand still. She moved to the stall where Flash and Dancer were housed and got first one out and then the other.

“Krysta—”

“I’m going after him,” she said in a tone of voice her father was unaccustomed to hearing. Her suitor smiled.

“You most certainly are—” Bruin said, but Krysta cut him off.

“I am, and you can’t stop me—”

“Don’t take that tone—”

“…unless you mean to lock me in a cell and in which case, I’ll escape and never come back. Father! I’m going after him. He doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t know because you’ve waited too long to tell him. He’s out there now and the moment he turns twenty you know what will happen. Everything we’ve ever known about him will start and he won’t know, so someone has to be there. I’m going after him.”

“Stop talking, girl,” Bruin said sharply, his teeth clenched so she wondered if they might crumble under the pressure. “You’ve no idea what you’re getting yourself into. We made commitments.”

“And I’ll keep them…once I’m back,” she said and turned to the man who was quietly watching them. “If you don’t give my family any difficulty, when I come back, I’ll go with you.”

The dread of those words filled her throat, locking her voice off. She pulled in a breath and tried to look un-terrified. He seemed mildly amused.

“Where are your children?” she asked when her voice came back.

He smiled and gestured toward the house. “I brought the whole unruly brood with me, to see if you could handle them, which I can see already you won’t have any difficulty with.”

“Do you have boys?”

“Four of them.”

“And the oldest?” she asked, glancing at her father. He was listening now.

“He’ll turn fifteen in a few days. The one after is fourteen.”

“Leave them here,” she said, and moved to tack-up the horses. Her father didn’t move to stop her.

“And the youngest,” he asked. “Other than the baby?”

“The youngest boy is 5”

“You’ve a wet nurse for the child?”

“Yes, but she won’t stay more than another month.” The man’s face scrunched in consternation. “You want them all?”

“If you’ll leave here without causing my family a problem,” Krysta said. “They’ll care for your children while I’m gone.”

“And in the mean time,” Bruin said, “if you find yourself another wife, I’ll release you from the contract, no questions or difficulties from us.”

The man couldn’t quite believe it, but when Bruin held out his hand to shake on the deal, he didn’t hesitate to take it. He seemed the kind of man who didn’t especially care about his own kin. They were a burden to him, one he meant to slough off on Krysta the moment he could. She wondered, if they gave him leave to go, if he’d ever come back. The burden for her family, for her father really, had just grown five-fold. But he saw like she did, that the older boys could be helpful and maybe, just maybe they’d grow and learn some skills and be grateful for the change in their life. She wouldn’t be around to find out.

Her father drew the man out of the barn and their voices were lost in the chaos of her thoughts, coupled with the noise and chink of metal bits from the tack. She slung first one saddle and then the other, making quicker work of cinching the girths. She turned for the shed and retrieved her bow, strapping it to her horse’s side and went back for Aiden’s. As she slid the weapon into the tube on the saddle, her father came back in. Her suitor had gone.

“Krysta,” he said and stopped her preparations. He seemed at a loss for words, holding her hands in one of his while he pushed a mass of curls from her face. He was looking at her in a way, his eyes worried and with a touch of fear that froze her cold. He was afraid he wouldn’t ever see her again. “If you haven’t found him in two days, turn around and come home. No, child. You listen. It isn’t safe for you to travel farther than that from home by yourself. We never told you the brutal realities of the world. Your mother and I. Maybe we should have. You stay away from towns. Away from men. You sleep with that dagger in your hand every night, and if you haven’t found Aiden by then, come back. It’ll mean you won’t ever find him. Promise me.”

“I promise. But I’m going to find him. He’s on foot. The tracks will be easy to follow. I’ll find him before dark tonight.”

“You tell him only if you have to,” he said, and she understood. “We were warned not to.” She nodded to all that and would have turned to go, but her father took her in his arms, swallowing her into a close embrace. “You be careful. And come back.”

She couldn’t speak this time, seeing the tears in his eyes. He held the horses while she mounted the roan. Feeling her nervous energy set Dancer, true to his name, sidestepping out of the barn. She pulled the lead line on the other and after a moment of jostling, they all set off in the same direction. Away from home and safety. She galloped off and didn’t look back.

~*~

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