A Better Place

Title: A Better Place
Time Period: January, 127 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: On the road back to Dornie, Aislinn attempts to find common ground with one of her captors. It is a terrible mistake.

Winter rain pours down on the Scottish landscape, bloating rivers and turning dirt roads into rocky streams of mud. The forest canopy provides the militia with little protection from the weather's onslaught, but traveling on horseback makes the leafy terrain easier for the soldiers to cross — easier, not faster, because not everyone is sitting in a saddle.

All that's left of the settlement three days south slogs alongside the line of horses on foot, or rides in the back of wagons filled with supplies scavenged from the still-burning remains of what was once their home. Some of the soldiers are either kind or pragmatic enough to have volunteered to carry some of the women and children on their horses with them, and were it not for these volunteers the journey back to Dornie might take twice as long.

The youngest of the survivors have finally stopped asking when they'll get there, in part because exhaustion has begun to set in, but also because some of the men have threatened to leave the next one who does to the wolves.

It is a solemn procession, the kind that looks like it could be on the way to a funeral, when in reality the only graves are the ones at their backs.

For Jain's part, it's not so much chivalry or charity as much as good old fashioned lechery that possessed him to lift Aislinn by the arm to the saddle in front of him. The rain has soaked his uniform and in a bid for warmth he pulls her roughly against him, locking her in place by looping his arm around her waist. His other hand has a loose hold on the reins, the beast being controlled mostly by his legs. It's something the woman can feel every time the mercenary guides it around a fallen tree or large boulder, the press of his thigh against her shorter legs.

"Take the boy," he orders one of the other men. It's not his place but since the slaying of the woman's child he's taken liberties in ordering some of the others around. None of them were callous enough to perform the deed, therefore Jain has moved up in standing. Colm is lifted much the same as his mother and the horse he rides trots ahead quite a ways.

Jain's eyes almost close as the scent of the prisoner's hair reaches his nostrils. Breathing in deeply, he practically buries his face into the tangle of blonde in front of him. "You remind me of someone I used to know," he murmurs, slowing the horse a little to fall away from the rest of the group.

Jain can count on one gloved hand the number of words Aislinn has spoken since leaving Rannoch. Her grief renders her mute, and she is thankful that the rain washing over her face hides her intermittent tears even though she can still feel the heat of them burning on her cheeks. Pale blue eyes seek out that small head of white-blond hair somewhere ahead of them, afraid that if she loses sight of her son for even an instant then he'll be lost to her forever.

"No," she croaks gently, her voice still rough from keening. It trembles whether she means it to or not. "I'm no one."

"Neither was she," is the gruff reply. Jain's hand grips a little tighter as he adjusts himself in the saddle. The hilt of the claymore at his back clanks against the shield over it, protecting him from arrows that might come from behind. He lets go of the strap of knotted leather and lets it fall across the bottom of the horse's mane. Now free, he raises it to his teeth to pull the glove off.

It slaps into his pocket before his fingers slip into her hair. Brushing it away from her face, he bends around to get a glimpse of her profile. "She's in a better place now, much like you'll be soon." Whether or not that's a threat can't be assessed through word alone. His heated breath rushes against the skin on her neck as he exhales. The next time his chest swells against her back, he's lifted his head to narrow his eyes at the party in front of them.

Jain senses Aislinn's aversion to being touched in the stiffness of her spine and her breath's ragged edge. She tenses in the saddle in front of him but does not twist around to untangle her hair from his fingers or scoot forward to put more space between them. There isn't enough room for her to create any.

She reeks of smoke and gunpowder, blood and sweat, smells intensified by the rainwater soaking through her clothes and making a wet mop of her braided hair. It will take soap and a hot bath to scrub all the reminders of death off her.

Overhead, a white shape swoops through the tree branches and wings up toward the front of caravan. It's just a raven — Jain knows because some of the other soldiers have seen it as well, and omens that no one is sure what to make of are good campfire conversation. It's only the bird's colouring that makes it worth remarking about at all. Opportunistic feral dogs and crows travel with the militia, too.

"Tell me about the commander's brother," Aislinn suggests.

A grunt of frustration emits from the back of Jain's throat at the change of subject. Not that he expected her to warm to the topic foremost on his mind. The hand around her waist moves down to her hip caressing casually, almost absently. The touch of his lips on her shoulder wipes whatever hope that she may have of arriving unscathed away. Instead of advancing, he simply picks up the reins and straightens again.

"He'll have you if you're a horse," instead of a shrew. The tiny bit of fur peeks from the man's collar, its beedy eyes focused on the bird above them. Turning his head, his chin touches the rodent before it peeks back into his shirt and crawls away. "I wouldn't expect much else from him," Jain resumes after a small pause. His head angles upward to eye the crow as well and he stops his horse for a few seconds, letting the rest of the men wind out of sight in the dense wood. When he nudges against the animal again with his heels, it resumes its slow pace. The trail is easy enough to follow, even if they have lost sight.

Aislinn's breathing grows tighter, shallower now that she can no longer see her son — or anyone. If she strains to listen, she can hear the occasional shout coming from further up the road, drifting all the way back to her ears like the echo of a far-off gunshot.

She is the type of woman who takes comfort where she can find it. Knowing that someone will still notice if she screams keeps her heart from jumping out of her chest. "Whether or not he'll have me," she says, "he'll know if another man has first. Do you think the commander doesn't look?"

"Aye, I s'pose he does." The easiness of Jain's voice isn't meant to comfort the woman as much as put a little more fear into her. He ducks his head again, his breath warm against her ear as he murmurs. "I just wonder if it'll be before he has you himself… It wouldn't do to give the honorable horse lord a woman that won't breed now would it?"

The fabric against her leg, sticky wet from blood and rain, is gathered up into his hand until her pale leg is bared to the knee. "If he won't have you, you'll always have a place to rest near my hearth. If not at the end of my bed. You remind me so much of her… It's almost as though she's risen from the grave."

"She must have been a very remarkable no one for you to remember her so well." There is no unkindness in Aislinn's voice, only tension. She looks like she wants to reach down and pull the fabric down to cover her calf, but fear of reprisal keeps her hands where they are. The most she can do is turn her head, angling her ear away from Jain's mouth, and pretend that she's interested in what little she can see through the trees and pounding rain.

"Did she know what you are, Jain MacCruimein?"

The dress is let loose and falls back down to her ankle with a sloppy wet sound. His fingers dig into her thigh instead, not hard enough to bruise but enough to keep Aislinn's attention off whatever is in the wood and on Jain. "She was my mother," he says coolly, not allowing any emotion to pour through in his voice. The beat of his heart and heat in his groin pressed up against her rear are telltale that mother may not be all that the no one is.

"And to answer your question, Miss," he adds somewhat respectfully but in word only, the sarcasm drips in his tone. "I suspect she knew exactly what I was moments before she died… After all, she raised me herself."

"It is a terrible thing to kill your own mother," says Aislinn. "Almost as terrible as killing a child." It's the closest to an accusation that she dare comes — speaking the words hurts her more than any guilt she could possibly inflict on Jain, and her gift tells her that's as futile an effort as tilting her head back and trying to catch all the rain in her mouth.


Aislinn tastes tears and feels her throat grow too tight to breathe without choking. "Everyone's heart has its own song," she tells him. "Yours sings Traa-dy-Liooar."

The reins are dropped again and long fingers wrap around Aislinn's throat, squeezing hard. He stops himself from crushing the wind from her with his bare hand, but only just. Fear and anger at the name spoken from the lips of a slave, it's too much. "Don't. Don't you ever speak her name again." He growls into her ear. His grip assure that she can't turn away from the touch of his lips without hurting herself further. Though he doesn't trust that she wouldn't just to spite him.

"You know nothing of her," he spits as he kicks the horse to a trot. Exhaustion has made it lazy and though it hurries for a few steps, it soon slows again. But now they can see the shadow of the party far ahead. He's still for a moment, muscles tense and frozen, his body still warm against her. For a few seconds it seems almost as though he's not with her but in a breath he's back and growling into her ear. "If I ever hear tell of any of that coming from your lips again…" His teeth graze her earlobe, perhaps a hint of the threat to come. "I'll take your remaining child… before I kill him. Then you."

Aislinn's pulse flutters frantic against Jain's grip like a moth trapped in his fist. The hand at her throat has a powerful effect, but not as powerful as the words that accompany it — he sees in her eyes that she understands rather than hearing her say it or feeling her chin tuck into a nod.

She's paralyzed, unmoving except for the spasms that slam through her body, sobbing in absolute silence.

Rather than simply letting go, Jain's hand smooths down Aislinn's chest, manhandling her, testing the weight and feel of one breast before moving down to grab up the rein again. His other hand pulls at her waist, keeping her pressed tightly to him before he kicks the beast once more, this time to a gallop to catch up with the rest of the party.

As they settle in behind the last horse, he ducks his head into her hair and kisses her earlobe. "It'll be an exciting time, won't it?" He whispers, his eyes trained on the men ahead, making sure none of them look back at them. "I almost wish you would— say something— I'd enjoy you immensely, your son too."

She doesn't.