After Sam's abrupt departure from the restaurant, Tova had felt too sick to finish her own meal so she'd gotten into her own jacket and stumbled home in a daze.
She'd barely made it in the apartment door, and not quite to the couch. Falling to her knees on the rug, she'd rested her forehead on the sofa cushion.
Should she have seen this coming? she'd wondered, squeezing her eyes closed and trying to think.
Had she inadvertently said or done something to offend him?
Should she call and try to apologize?
She'd rejected that last idea almost immediately, fearing it could just make things worse -whatever "things" might be, because she had no idea what was going on.
Still, she'd thought, maybe he'd phone her.
He hadn't. Not even on the weekend when they were supposed to meet for a movie.
And when she finally had phoned him, Sam's response to her tentative inquiry into his well-being had been a curt, "I'm busy, but other than that I'm fine."
"Okay," Tova had said woodenly into her end of the phone line, and put down the receiver, which had become a lead weight in her nerveless hand.
At a loss for what to do next, she'd wandered into her bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. She was hideous, she thought, and her hair was like Medusa's snakes.
But she could do something about that. Locating her old hair-cutting scissors, she sheared off her locks with an energy born of grief.
Surprisingly, despite the pain in her heart that had turned her guts to glue, the new short-haired woman in the mirror was kind of cute.
The next day ominous clouds gathered and settled heavily on the mountain peaks in sight of where Crane and his cohorts were camped. Ayelet surveyed the vista and declared that they would lose time, if not life and limb, should they attempt to cross the mountains in the coming storm.
Shira accepted the younger woman's prognosis and opined that another day spent in their present camp would offer the time she had desired for them to train together.
Crane stirred impatiently.
"I have crossed many mountains and weathered many storms," he said gruffly. "Perhaps I should go on ahead."
"Your pardon, sir," Lero whispered in a tone that got his full attention, "but surely those clouds are not a natural formation. We should hate to see you walk into a trap and be lost with our quest barely begun."
At that moment, one dark cloud split into the image of a grimace and two twin bolts of lightning lanced down from it like fangs. A few heartbeats later came the cackling thunder.
Crane shuddered, and bowed his head in submission.
"I beg pardon for my hubris and vow I will endeavour most diligently to learn all that my comrades have to impart."
Shira and Ayelet gazed on him in silent approval, though he thought he glimpsed a quirk of Ayelet's lips as if she suppressed a smirk.
Lero was engrossed in grooming her donkey.
"My lady," Crane addressed her, "if I may inquire – but, what is your weapon of choice?"
"I have no weapon," she answered humbly.
At this statement Ayelet let out a short bark of laughter while Shira, with a serious countenance, reprimanded, "Lero, you should not prevaricate so."
To Crane's dismay, Ayelet then drew an arrow from its holder and fitted it to her bow, loosing it on a course straight for Lero's breast. But before he could even cry out, the young woman's soft hand flew up and caught the arrow by its shaft.
"If she wished," Ayelet explained as she went to collect her arrow, "our friend here could have sent that weapon back to its source, with deadly consequences. And before you ask, no one knows how she came by her abilities. But Lero's brother is one of the boys who disappeared."
"One of the boys with special qualities - who we will surely rescue," Crane added quickly. Seeing the tear that glittered in Lero's eye, he hesitated before inquiring, "Your brother also has such a gift for defense, my lady?"
With a sad smile she responded, "Not he, sir. He is entirely without defense. My Eli has no physical agility. He is only quick to anger, to express sorrow and to feel fear."
"An empath," Crane concluded.
Looking bemused, Lero nodded at him.
"Does he share your facility for languages?" he pursued after a moment.
"He has a facility for saying things which people do not wish to hear," she answered wryly. "As for tongues, he has not the ability to express himself in any but our own language – but since he was a babe he has had a wicked knack for understanding what is said by those around him. In any tongue."
"Enough talk!" Ayelet cried, fitting the arrow to her bow once more and aiming it at Crane. "Come, show us what feats you can perform with your bespelled sword."
Reaching for his weapon, Crane grinned. "Ready when you are, my worthy comrade."
YOU ARE READING
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