Marin practiced his sword-fighting in the garden. Years of training had taught him that being inside with a big pointy stick was not the greatest of ideas. He was edgy and he didn’t know why. Something pulled at him.
Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the wind. He kicked the stick on his foot up into the air. With eyes closed, he whirled and slashed. when he opened his eyes, kindling spread around the courtyard. A smile broke briefly across a face unused to smiling. He ran his hands over his chin.
Marin tired of the games. Ute called him useless and politic, yet he was what his people needed him to be, and he didn’t know how to make Ute understand that. He saw the issues they were having, just like everyone else. But fear would not motivate the Fost. Leadership would. Ute needed to shut up and let Marin lead. Finn wasn’t helping either. Just the opposite in fact, Finn was a quiet instigator, standing solemnly nearby, screwing anything that moved.
Marin blew out his breath. He pulled up his shirt and wiped off his face as he headed back inside.
Lightning flashed in the countryside. One bolt, then another lit the sky, silhouetted against the coming twilight. He titled his head. That was unusual. The weather was nippy, but he didn’t feel a storm coming. His senses were usually accurate enough to predict a good downpour. He loved them, the fierce winds, the bracing rain, and violent thunder. He would stand out in the gale, arms open, daring it to take him. Lands, he loved that feeling when the storm pulled at him, calling him home.
Once when they were little, Zanth, his brother, came upon him out in the garden in the heart of the downpour. Poor guy stood at the door, crying, worried his brother would be hurt. Marin made sure after that, that no one saw the heart of him. Marin knew his responsibilities. He was Clan Chief, he couldn’t show any insecurity, any weakness. All the Gaol men were born leaders.
Marin meandered inside, stole a snack from the kitchen, and traipsed upstairs. Marin and Zanth lived in one of the few two story buildings in Groos. It was a huge monstrosity of a home. A covered porch graced the front. Two big doors opened into the foyer. Dozens of portraits of Gaol ancestors lined the walls. Meeting rooms occupied the downstairs, along with a kitchen, study and library. Upstairs were the bedrooms and training rooms.
Marin aimed for his room. He cleaned up at the basin and changed into cotton. Still jittery and unsure why, he drifted down to the library. He pondered a book on philosophy when the call came.
A gate guard ran in, panting. “Marin, sir, an Imani at the gate!”
Marin straightened; the book fell from his nerveless fingers. “What?”
“Finn was at the mines, him and Thom. He came back with an Imani. She has red hair and blue eyes, but she is wearing the Imani uniform. He said she wasn’t a threat, but we wanted you to know.” The guard fidgeted in front of him.
A she, Marin’s mind twisted with the knowledge. Why would they send a lone female? To the mines as well, did they know something? He clenched his teeth. No. If they knew something they wouldn’t send a woman and they wouldn’t send just one.
“Where is she?” Marin asked.
“I believe he is taking her to Ute’s.” Of course he was. Marin snorted.
“Guards. I want two guards on the door at all times. None from Clan Fuerst, she is in their lands already. I need to go have a look at this girl.” The last he muttered mainly to himself as the guard had run to do his bidding.
He strapped on his knife and stomped towards Section two. He broke into a fast lope and watched the land speed by, fast, too fast. He stopped on a dime, body swaying.
What the Lands was that?
He stood at the end of the path. It was at least a three minute walk and he did it in a handful of seconds. His hands fisted. His speed was improving. Excellent.
He moved at a slower pace to Ute’s. He got there just in time.
She stood highlighted against the dusk. His eyes were drawn to her features. He couldn’t see her eyes from this distance but her face was heart-shaped, lips a perfect bow. She was a tiny thing. Her hair was a glorious mass of red, all the colors of the sunset blended in the long, curly tresses.
His breath quickened. He felt blood pool in his groin. Lightning coursed under his skin, and his hair stood on end. He reached out and grabbed the side of the nearest house.
He couldn’t stop staring at her.
She hesitated outside of town. Finn poked her shoulder and Marin felt a flash of ire spike through his gut. How dare he touch her! She turned her head and growled something at Finn.
Admiration filled him. Marin let his eyes drift lower. A jolt filled him as he took in her clothes. They were right. The dark gray uniform, with its seamless, shapeless, androgynous cut, was unmistakable. Only her hands, feet and face were visible. His gazed lingered on her feet. They were dirty; a faint layer of grime coated them. He found his lips curving at the sight and fought the urge to go and offer to take care of her. These thoughts and feeling were so unlike him. What was going on here, what was her connection to the Imani?
Finn opened the door and ushered her inside, walking close on her heels. Marin found his jaw clenched as he watched.
He remained there, staring. Guards filtered up. Jace from Clan Torin ran up. Bob from Clan Barrel joined him. She was safe for now.
How to keep her that way? And why did he care so much?