Chapter Ten

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Chapter Ten

Kailen was experiencing an inexplicable feeling that was gnawing a hole in his chest. The decimation of the farmstead had left a bitter taste in his mouth, and a dark roiling cloud over his war party’s heads. It was something he had never felt before, had never in his wildest dreams expected to feel.

He was conflicted.

Anger, his old friend, was burning hotly at the Roman cruelty. It honed his focus, his determination to succeed and remain free of the bonds of slavery. He grieved for the dead, for the tribe who have lost loved ones, precious livestock and harvests that would see them through winter. Times were difficult enough as it was without more heartache. And yet…

And yet.

He felt the strangest mixture of disgust, disbelief and remorse that was all directed at the Roman woman in his arms. Aurelia. Her name was Aurelia. He found it more and more difficult to keep her as an enemy in his mind. As time went on, she was beginning to grow on him as a person in her own right. 

He felt disgust for everything she stood for, her heritage, for being promised to a man who had caused so much death and misery to Kailen’s people that Kailen wondered if he would drown in it.

He felt disbelief that, even though he knew all this, she was not at all what he had expected what a Roman highborn woman to be.

And remorse. Remorse for forcing her to look at what her kin were capable of. He had treated her like he would treat an enemy soldier and that didn’t sit well with him. She may be Roman and she may be the intended to the Commander, but she wasn’t at fault. His hate had blinded him for so long that he had forgotten the other side to the sword.

Mercy.

She can not be held responsible for the actions of others. Her reaction to the death, the sheer horror on her face will be imprinted in his mind’s eye for a long time to come, had proved that beyond any doubt. They didn’t know each other that well, but no one could feign something like that. It made him feel like a tormenter and he didn’t like it.  It wasn’t something he was used to feeling.

He glanced down at the top of Aurelia’s head, puzzled. She wasn’t sleeping, her back was one long tense line that must have hurt her to keep up, but she hadn’t said a word since they left the burnt hollow of the farmstead, seeming to keep her own counsel. She kept her face averted from everyone, out of grief or shame, he knew not. The feeling grew in his chest and he clenched the horse’s reigns tighter in his fists.

“Women,” Bran said in their language from beside him, “have a way of complicating things. It makes a man doubt himself.”

Kailen gave him an unimpressed raise of his eyebrows. “What makes you think I’m doubting myself?”

Bran shrugged casually. “It’s written across your face for the whole world to see. No words are needed, old friend.”

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