Part 3

See Prologue for disclaimers.

Alean awoke to the sight of a slightly fuzzy figure pacing nearby. Her head ached and her ribs screamed in protest with every movement, so she kept her body still as her eyes tracked the movement. She had a hazy memory of seeing this person standing over her in the place where she had landed after her fall. 'This morning? Yesterday? I wish I knew.' There had been others as well and Alean dimly remembered there being an argument of some kind with many gestures directed to where she had lain barely conscious. After only a moment she had slipped back into the waiting darkness and, except for a fleeting sense of having been carried, she had awakened here.

She looked again to where the strange woman was pacing, only to see that she had stopped and was now facing her direction. A few steps and she was now standing over Alean, who moaned a little as she moved her head to look fully at the woman.

"How do you feel?" the stranger asked.

Alean, in her hazy state, did not immediately recognize the words. She lay there trying to make sense of what had been said, while the woman stared at her thoughtfully. She saw the eyes of her hostess narrow and realized her hesitation in answering had made the woman believe that she did not understand her. Alean still did not know where she was or with who. She decided that, for now, pretending ignorance was the best course of action so she said nothing as the woman repeated the question.

Kaia was frustrated by the girl's lack of response. She had not expected that there might be a problem with language. Except for a few small isolated areas everyone spoke the same tongue. She tried several more questions but was met with the same silence. The look of obvious discomfort on the girls face made it difficult to tell if she truly did not understand or was just pretending. While she suspected that the girl could understand at least part of what she was saying she decided to be patient for the moment. After all the kid wasn't going anywhere.

Her mind made up, Kaia went to the door of the tent where she ordered the guard outside to bring food for the girl. She then moved to her chair behind her desk. After a last look at the girl, who still had not moved more than her head, she returned to the maps that had prompted her pacing of earlier.

While Kaia studied the maps Alean studied her surroundings. Though her vision was cloudy, she could see that the tent she was in was quite large. Made of a black material, the walls enclosed an area of twenty feet at each side. Two long poles supported the roof. Various items, blurry and unidentifiable at the moment, hung from each pole. Several chests were ranged along the walls and the ground was unseen beneath a myriad of colorful rugs. A large bed was placed to one side and a sturdy table and chairs sat easily between the supporting poles.

A scratching sound from the door flap caught the attention of both women. At Kaia's command to enter a soldier carefully moved into the tent carrying a tray of food and a pitcher of water. After setting it down on the table the man left and Kaia turned her attention to the girl. She had no intention of playing nursemaid to the injured girl, but she also had no desire to have her privacy further compromised by calling in Taloc to see to her. With a gruff gesture, she signaled to the girl to help herself and waited to see if she understood.

Alean saw the gesture. She slowly and carefully brought herself to a sitting position. The movement brought gasps of pain and a wave of dizziness and nausea. She did not notice the narrowed gaze of her hostess as she closed her eyes and waited for the unpleasant sensations to pass. After a few moments she was feeling more stable, though her side now ached fiercely. Shifting to set her feet on the ground brought more pain and nausea, but this time without the dizziness. Minutes later she made the effort to stand only to fall back on the cot with a muted scream as the injury to her leg made itself known. Closing her eyes tightly against the agony that was currently her leg, she felt rather than saw the hands that closed on her arms and moved her back to a more comfortable position on the cot. Once seated, the hands were removed and Alean dimly heard cursing and things being moved around as she waited, eyes still closed, for the waves of pain to subside. Once it passed she opened her eyes again to see the food she had be trying to reach now sat on a small table next to her cot. The other woman was again sitting at her desk looking at the papers littering its surface.

Though her whole body ached, Alean was surprised that she was actually hungry. She quashed the urge to thank the woman who was now pointedly ignoring her. She was not ready to deal with this stranger and so wanted to preserve the idea that there was a language barrier.

After finishing the light meal, she settled herself into a more comfortable position and promptly fell asleep. Her sleep was not to last though as she woke with a cry of pain as something touched her leg.

Taloc immediately let go of the injured calf as his patient jolted to painful awareness. He had hoped that he could tend the girls wounds while she slept and spare her the discomfort. Placing a hand on her shoulder he hastened to reassure the girl. "It's Ok. I just need to check your wounds. I'm a healer." At the last words he notice the girl relax visibly. With a quick glance at Kaia, who was watching intently, he went back to work. After cleaning the wound and examining it carefully he turned to Kaia. "I can see why she couldn't stand on that leg General. It isn't broken but she came close. At the moment, it probably hurts as much as it would if it had been broken. It will be just fine, it'll just take a while. Probably by the time I take the stitches out she'll be able to stand on it. Until then I'll have someone make a crutch for her."

"Alright." Kaia responded. "Don't worry about a crutch. She had a walking stick with her so she can just use that. What about the rest?"

"The other bruises are already starting to fade. Even the bump on her head is almost gone. In a day or two she'll be as good as new."

Alean listened silently to the exchange. At the healers pronouncement she let out a sigh of relief. 'Whew, nothing broken. Sure feels like it though.' Then a thought struck her. 'She thinks my boken is a walking stick. Boy is she ever going to be surprised.' Distracted as she was by the thought that her host was unwittingly arming her she didn't notice the look Kaia shot her. Her relieved sigh had not gone unnoticed.

The next few days went quickly for Alean. The Alorian forces were still moving towards their border. Her days were spent dozing in the wagon set aside for the sick and inured. There she would alternately nap and eavesdrop on the soldiers sharing the wagon with her or those riding nearby. Evenings were spent in the quiet of Kaia's tent where she would eat and rest while Kaia supervised the placement of the nights camp. By the time Kaia would return Alean would be asleep.

Still feigning an ignorance of the language she learned much about these Alorians and the reasons they had come here. The men spoke freely thinking that she wouldn't understand them. Her biggest surprise was learning that her "hostess" was actually the famous General Kaia. Her successes and her brutality were so well known that word of her deeds had even reached Calanis through the traders that occasionally ventured there. It was on her third day of travel that she learned from some gossiping soldiers of the possible alliance of the Tharins and Alorians and that Calanis would be the first target. A cold knot of dread settled in her stomach as she considered the implications of the most feared General in Alorian history possibly leading a campaign against Calanis.

Evening found Alean sitting on her cot in Kaias tent, very awake and very nervous. Though she still needed to use her boken for walking, the rest of her injuries had eased considerably. Her vision was now clear and the bruises had faded to a sickly yellow color. She was no longer constantly tired, as she had been. As the sounds in the camp settled down, she waited nervously knowing Kaia would be returning at any time. When Kaia finally did enter Aleans nerves were wound so tight that she flinched in reaction and barely managed to suppress a shout.

Kaia was not surprised to see the girl awake when she entered the tent. She had noticed that the girl had remained awake for most of the days travel. This is what Kaia had been waiting for.

The girl had still not spoken. She had spent most of her time sleeping. When awake she silently observed everyone and everything around her. Kaia had been content to wait and give the girl time to recover somewhat from her injuries. Now that the girl was able to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, it was time to start getting some answers.

Moving to the table she motioned for Alean to join her. Kaia watched in silence as the girl moved carefully to take the indicated seat.

"How are you feeling?" Kaia asked. The girls eyes widened but she said nothing. Kaia frowned slightly at the girls stubbornness. Leaning forward to look more closely at the girl, Kaia said, "I know you can understand me."

Alean didn't know how to react. So far everyone had been convinced that she didn't understand them. A smile and a shrug was all it had taken. No one had even questioned it. Now, the one person she least wanted to talk to, was the one who was calling her on her bluff. She found herself helplessly staring at the woman across from her. She knew that she would not be able to deceive the astute warrior. With a sense of relief Alean shifted her attention to the solider who had chosen that moment to arrive with their meal. She saw Kaias eyes narrow as the man set out the trays of food. This distraction would only be a temporary reprieve.

Alean found herself eating very little during the meal that followed. Keeping her eyes on her plate she pushed her food around while she waited for Kaia to finish. She started but did not look up when she heard the deep voice. "What's your name?"

"Alean," she said quietly, still staring intently at her plate.

"It was when Taloc was treating your leg," Kaia stated conversationally.

Green eyes raised to meet brown. "What?" Alean asked.

"That's when I knew you understood the language. You were relieved when he told me that you hadn't broken it. When you first woke up he said something to you and you settled right down. That got me suspicious, so when he told me that your leg would hurt the same as a break even though it wasn't I watched your reacion. After that I noticed a few other things that confirmed it." Kaia leaned back in her chair and regarded Alean thoughtfully. "Now that you're starting to feel better, it's time for us to talk."

"What do you want to talk about?" Alean asked suspiciously. She found herself unwilling to meet the other woman's gaze. For some reason she found herself unnerved when she looked into those deep brown eyes.

"Everything. I want to know everything about you and your people." Kaia stated with a casual wave of her hand.

"Ok. What do you want to know?" Alean said.

"That was easy," Kaia chuckled. "According to my Tharin guests, a Calani would rather die than talk."

Alean snorted, "How would they know. They kill us on sight. When they can find us, that is. Besides, anything I might say wouldn't be of any help to you."

"You think so, do you? Well, we'll find out, won't we," Kaia said. "Not tonight though. You're still tired and I have to see to the placement of the guards. We'll talk more tomorrow." At that Kaia rose and moved towards the opening of the tent. Aleans voice stopped her before she could make her exit.

"You said the Tharins are you're guests. What, exactly, am I?" she asked.

"You're not a guest. As to what your status here is, I haven't decided yet," Kaia replied. With a small smile to Alean she left the tent.

The rest of the trip to Aloria passed quickly for Alean. Her days were spent watching the gradual change from desert to forest as they neared their destination. Kaia had let it be known that she could understand them, so she also found herself in light conversation with the younger men who shared the wagon with her. Though not as interesting as the things she had heard previously, she found herself grateful to be able to leave her silence behind. She was a talkative person by nature and the deception had been hard to maintain.

Evenings found her sharing dinner with Kaia. Though the tall woman wanted information, she was too busy to do more than eat and leave shortly afterwards. What conversation there was, was limited to observations of the days events and little else. For this, Alean was quietly grateful. Every time she found herself facing those penetrating eyes she found herself feeling tongue tied and nervous. Not one to feel intimidated by anyone, she was at a loss to explain why she should suddenly feel this way in the dark warriors presence. Kaia had not yet asked her anything about herself, but Alean knew that once they reached their destination the questions would come. She hoped when the time came she would be able to keep her head about her.

© sparx

Part 4