I slapped my hand outward, removing Rowan’s hold on me. He clawed forward for me, but I slapped his hand down. His lip curled up in a snarl. “You’re a menace,” he told me.
“At least I care about others,” I snapped as I dodged another of his attempts to grasp me.
“Care? You had the entire town searching for you for a week after your disappearance. The fields were barely worked and no hunting was done. Your mother wouldn’t leave the house, praying you’d stumble in, and your father wouldn’t speak a word. Who knows how long they would have continued as such were it not for Bramwell’s letter. And then, when you suddenly appeared again you brought a dragon to town. People died.”
“I didn’t bring Ezebel here,” I argued lamely.
Alas, my offhand comment caused something in Rowan to snap. “You named it? That thing? The monster who destroyed our town – you named it.”
“I didn’t give her that name. That’s what she was called– “
I was cut off as he grappled my arm and slapped a hand over my mouth. “Alright, time to go home,” he told me.
I struggled. He tightened his grip. He bent as though to pick me up and throw me over his shoulder. I leapt aside but he seized me. His arms locked around me and he started to push me down the street.
“I can’t go home yet,” I shouted. “Michelle needs me.”
Rowan didn’t listen. He continued to prod me forward. But, unbeknownst to Rowan, Tunic had been training in defense against larger creatures. And though the hunter was taller than an adult dire wolf, he was not as heavy. I just needed to…
A pivot of my foot, a jab into his stomach, a twist there, a tug here, and I was free again.
“Ha!” I laughed triumphantly.
My liberation was only momentary however, Rowan unleashed a feral growl and threw himself atop me, trying to pin me to the ground. We tumbled and rolled in the dirt cursing each other.
“Get off, you oaf,” I grumbled.
“Not until you start listening to sense.”
“I listen to sense. You just don’t have any.”
“Says the girl who dresses like a boy.”
“I do not; they’re just trousers and it’s not uncommon – which you’d know if you’d left town. You’re just a dumb–“
“If you’re going to dress like a man, then act like one. Stop causing trouble for everyone.”
“If you were a man you would have done something about Ezebel yourself!” I felt a burst of energy and managed to pin him down.
When Addie returned – with Ladd and Tunic in tow – Rowan and I were still on the ground. But, his face was pressed into the dirt, my knee in his spine, and his arms tugged backwards.
I can’t remember what taunt I was reciting when I met Tunic’s gaze, but my mouth stopped immediately after. It felt wrong to talk about Ezebel in front of Tunic. I’d been the one to drag him into that mess after all. The momentary lapse was long enough for Addie and Ladd to shove me off Rowan. I stumbled to the ground at Addie’s feet while Ladd assisted Rowan. Not leaving my temperament to chance, Addie attempted to tug me backward, but was no match for my infuriated form.
On his feet at last, Rowan formed his fists as though to fight me. But, I wasn’t about to be subdued; I wiped the dirt from my face as though daring him to do it.
Before more insults could be exchanged, Tunic stepped between Rowan and I.
I suppose that, as a lady, I should have been flattered to have a defender. (Assuming that was Tunic’s intent. It could just as easily have been that he was protecting Rowan.) But, I grew infuriated that he should come between me and my opponent.
After shrugging Addie off, I tried to push him aside, but my efforts were in vain; he was immobile. All the anger that had been brewing within me transferred to Tunic. Through clenched teeth I grumbled something about the unfairness that even though he was half Rowan’s body mass and a few inches shorter, I couldn’t so much as make Tunic bend his waist. I skittered to the side hoping to circumvent Tunic, but he extended his arm and blocked my route. “Just move Bramwell,” I snarled his given name, electing to use it over his preferred ekename. I ducked my head to swerve under his arm, but that move was also anticipated. Tunic shifted his arm downward, halting my escape. I seized his shoulder and shoved with all my might. Were it not for his unimpressed gaze, I would have thought him a brick wall.
“Stop this,” Addie implored. “You’re being childish.”
“Nari that’s enough,” Ladd added.
“Pch,” I hissed as I tried to move Tunic aside.
“Remove your hands,” Rowan growled, struggling against Ladd’s hold. “Old Man Dan sent me to quell the disturbance. If she doesn’t calm down immediately I’m going to have to take her to the lodge.”
“Just try–“ I started to taunt him, but Ladd’s voice overtook mine.
“Nari! You’ve caused enough trouble.”
I rolled up my sleeves, angry at Ladd for turning on me that way. I wasn’t sure if I could take him in a fight, but I’d be willing to try. He still had the chivalrous thing working against him, after all.
“Oy!” A pair of voices called out from just outside of town’s borders. “What’s going on here?”
Now, I hadn’t known it at the time, but the younger of the town’s hunters had always born a grudge against Tunic. It wasn’t the sort of animosity that had ever been acted on, but most of them had bonded while exchanging conspiratorial whispers against my somewhat-silent companion. In our community there was one occupation available for the brash and courageous young men – to join the ranks of hunters. Alas for new recruits eager to display their expertise in snaring and hunting, Tunic bore the admiration of all the elder hunters. And while the elder men chuckled as their trainees pined for the glamour of being “the best,” Tunic was oblivious to their envy. His advantages, after all, were largely due to the half elven heritage he despised. So any compliments to his intuition bore the sting of an accusation against his birth. To make matters worse, Tunic wasn’t technically a hunter. He was as freelance as one could get in a community like Kennbridge, living outside the town and yet being instrumental to its survival. And while the brash young hunters might have forgiven Tunic his gifts had he been one of the team, the fact that he was not just furthered the wedge of animosity. The recent events concerning Ezebel did not help either. After all, the hunters had been present when Ezebel had attacked; while they had stood their ground as best as they could, they couldn’t forget that it took only a single shot from Tunic to defeat the monster. Their dozens hadn’t even made Ezebel flinch. Not that any of them could have done anything. But neither Tunic nor I had revealed why it was only Tunic’s arrow that could have felled the dragon. To do so would have made Tunic nothing more than our town’s resident elf bastard and I doubt he would have remained in town with that sort of reputation. Unfortunately, the hunters began to itch for an opportunity to vent their frustration on Tunic.
So, when two of the aforementioned young woodsmen saw their peer face to face with Tunic, they wondered if the opportunity to finally express their envy had finally come. They dropped their haul and dashed to Rowan’s side. Ladd was quick to release his hold as the two hunters raced towards him.
He and Addie formed up on Tunic’s sides, none of them willing to let me have any face-time with the impetuous hunters.
“Rowan, what’s going on here?” Brent, the larger of the two hunters, asked.
“They causing you grief?” Brock asked eagerly. His speculative eye noted the layer of dirt encircling both Rowan and I.
Whatever they wanted to start was halted as Tunic met Rowan’s eyes coolly, “I’m taking Nari home. There won’t be any more trouble,” he said in a quiet, but sharp voice.
Addie’s hand slapped over my mouth in preparation for an outburst. I was insulted by her insinuation, but kept silent. Even I knew it was best not to argue against three hunters.
“If she didn’t have the golden boy defending her, she’d have learned some discipline by now,” Brock whispered none too quietly to companions.
I felt Ladd hook his arm under mine and tug me along. Addie grabbed my other limb to aid his efforts.
“Running away?” Brent teased under his breath.
I didn’t see it, being escorted as I was, but Rowan seized Tunic’s collar. “She’s a menace and needs to learn to control herself. How long you going to clean up her messes?” he snarled.
Tunic didn’t blink; his face was unreadable, his lips in a tight line. He placed his hand on Rowan’s and the man released the garment. Tunic took a step backward, in our direction, and replied, without hesitation, “Always.”