Kira and Ayla’s morose self-flagellation could have gone on indefinitely, but it was interrupted by a young soldier who did not announce herself in the proper manner, but burst in and shouted three words.
“Aeron is loose!”
“What?” Kira sprang to her feet. “Where is she?”
“Follow the shouting.” The soldier dove back out of the tent, apparently in a hurry to take cover.
It was not a particularly useful hint, but as first Kira, then Ayla left the tent, it became quite obvious where Aeron was. The blonde warrior was being held at bay by three other soldiers, all of whom had their weapons drawn, none of whom looked like they actually wanted to use them.
“Let me past!” Aeron was making the demand at the top of her voice, speaking in a snarl which contained enough menace to make those who stood before her shake. “I will have at her!”
Kira’s shout, though furious and loud was completely ignored. Aeron did not so much as turn her head.
“Let me.” Ayla placed a calming hand on Kira’s arm and moved past the warrior. She approached Aeron, moved between her and the soldiers and addressed her nose to nose.
“Stop this at once.”
The words were spoken quietly, but with great authority. Ayla locked eyes with the angry woman and did not allow her gaze to waver for a moment.
Aeron blinked and a confused expression began to establish itself on her beautiful though fierce face. Ayla reached out and let her fingers curl through a few stray strands of hair, tucking them back beyond Aeron’s slightly pointed ear.
“Go to Kira’s tent,” she said, still using that ever so calm voice which refused to acknowledge the tension of the situation. “And sit down.”
There was a moment in which tensions remained at a combustible high as Aeron stared at the stranger with the melodic voice of power. Then, as quickly as matters had escalated, they were calm. Aeron turned and began walking toward Kira’s tent as Ayla had commanded. She might have made it there, if not for Kira snatching her up in frustrated fists.
“How dare you!” Kira’s dark eyes flashed anger. “I told you to stay in that cell!”
“Your cell was weak!” Aeron yelled back, her teeth gleaming white as her lips drew back. Soldier and commander were close to being a physical match. Though Kira was stockier and more muscular, Aeron’s greater agility and speed combined with a willingness to unleash hell at a moment’s notice made up for her more slender frame.
Ayla spoke softly, but the time for soft voices was over. The camp, which had cleared entirely upon Aeron’s escape was suddenly filled with soldiers taking up positions in a circle. The atmosphere became distinctly hostile as the soldiers packed up behind their commander, waiting to see the rogue warrior punished.
Kira had Aeron by her vest, fists balled in the leather holding Aeron up on her toes. It might have been a good position for intimidation, but it was not a good position to start a fight in. Her midsection was entirely unguarded, a fact which Aeron wasted no time in taking advantage of with two quick blows.
They would have doubled a lesser warrior in two, but Kira’s stomach was taut and toned, clenched against the assault. She absorbed both strikes with a laugh, then pushed Aeron away so that she might not have to endure further attack.
“Beat her!” Someone in the crowd yelled out. It was a cheer soon taken up by all of the soldiers, each of whom was tired of their fear of Aeron, each of whom wished to see her bested or chased out of camp.
For a brief second, Aeron looked afraid. She was very much alone in that moment. Her features, always angular and severe, seemed to be almost fragile as she gathered herself up in a defensive stance, covering her face with her fists, holding her body sideways so Kira would not have access to her mid-line. Her head was dropped, chin protecting her throat as her eyes burned under her brows with feral rage.
“Silence!” The word seemed to be spoken in the ear of every soldier in the camp. Without being raised in the slightest, Ayla’s voice cut through the clamouring din, then the witch herself parted the soldiers as she moved to stand with the troublemaker.
“You will all go to your beds,” she said, casting her gaze over the assembled troops. “And you will all stay there until such time as you are released. There will be no fight this day.” Her voice dropped a little lower as she addressed Kira. “That goes doubly for you.”
“She dared strike me,” Kira said, likewise lowering her voice to argue as her soldiers obeyed Ayla and sloped off to their bunks looking suitably ashamed. “There will be no fight, but there will be punishment.”
“Yes, of the one who started the fight. That being you.”
Kira rocked back on her feet as if Ayla had struck her. “I?”
“Yes,” Ayla said. “You were the one who laid hands on this girl. You were the one who shouted in her face. What did you think was going to happen?”
“I can lay hands on my soldiers if I like. They are honoured if I shout in their faces,” Kira replied. “That is how a military force works. I know you are a simple forest witch, but surely even you…”
“A simple forest witch,” Ayla chuckled. “I am a simple forest witch, and I know an instigator when I see one. Go to your tent, Kira. I will speak with Aeron alone.”
“You cannot send a commander to her…” Kira’s next words died on her lips, for Ayla was giving her the sort of look which killed sentences dead.