Previous Chapters: Ch 1 - Aftermath
Making Memories Of Us
Ch 2 - Whispers Of A Legend
I wanna stand out in a crowd for you
A man among men
I wanna make your world better than it’s ever been. – Making Memories Of Us by Keith Urban
DG stood alone in the empty hall. She had just enough magic left to be able to feel the strong residual presence of Wyatt Cain. She closed her eyes and could see him giving orders to his men before they snuck out into the night, but that was all. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t coax more power from her inner light. If she could feel him here, why couldn’t she feel him out there, and know he was alive and unhurt?
“Please keep him—them safe,” she whispered to whatever deities had dominion over the Outer Zone, but the only response she received, was her own breathy words echoing back to her.
With a sigh she turned and went in search of the hospital that had been moved to the lower level of the Tower. She made it as far as the entrance, before she began to lose her nerve. They’d set up in the area that the Witch had used as detaining cells. It made a twisted kind of sense, because Resistance fighters as well as the poor souls who’d been kept locked in the labyrinth of dungeons beyond needed medical care.
She’d forgotten how tight the space was. Her last memories of the place were overpowered by the thrill of discovering that Zero hadn’t killed Wyatt Cain and the feel of being swept up in the Tin Man’s arms. Now she was alone, about to step into a crowd, and her spine tingled, as images of emerald green marble walls pressing in on her, blotted out happier, earlier, ones. She refused to give in to the trapped feeling that was making it hard to breathe. Biting her lip she pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders and added as much bravado to her posture as she could summon.
To her left three long slim wooden tables had been scrubbed down and were being used by surgeons, or at least the O.Z.’s versions of them. She quickly looked away. ‘Nope, not her area of expertise.’
In the back of the room she spotted Raw and two other Viewers as they tended to their people who had been forced to serve the Witch. Their imprisonment and torture had taken a heavy toll on the gentle empaths. She knew the last thing they needed, in their condition, was a worn-out human who had been riding an emotional rollercoaster for the last seven days.
All around her people were in physical and emotional pain, but they were strangely quiet. It was almost as if they didn’t have the energy to cry out. An occasional moan broke the silence but it was the exception rather than the rule. It was more than her gentle heart could take. She moved quickly to the person closest to her and knelt by his side.
“Princess,” the wounded young man whispered. She recognized him as one of Jeb’s Resistance fighters from back at the camp, but she didn’t know his name.
“Shhh, you shouldn’t talk, the doct — the healer will be with you soon.” She carefully checked the bandage on his chest and stomach, only to discover it was soaked with blood.
“It won’t be soon enough, Princess.” He covered her hand with both of his. “I need ya to tell my girl that I loved her. I need ya to tell Becca—“
“You’ll be able to tell her yourself.” DG tried to smile, but she knew deep down that she was lying. Even in the short time she’d been with him, his breathing had become raspy and labored. She wanted to cry out for help, but everyone was busy.
“No, I won’t, so you gotta do it. Tell her the legend is true, that she was right. She’s my One, my Cariad. When her time comes….and her waiting is over,” he gasped for breath and fought to go on. “I’ll meet her on the Road and we’ll…together again…forever…” He lost his battle to speak, as blood speckled his lips and breathing became too much of an effort.
“No!” DG cried as his fingers went slack in hers and his eyes grew blank and glassy. She placed the heels of her hands on his chest as she’d been taught in CPR class, but at the slightest compression she felt hundreds of tiny pops, as if she was pushing down through a stack of bubble wrap. “Please, you can’t die. I don’t know your name,” she begged,
“His name was Tommy Winsmore, Missy.” An arthritic old woman knelt stiffly beside her and reached over to gently close his eyes. “He was next in line for the healer, but it don’t look like he’s gonna need it now.”
“No, I don’t think he is.” She sat at the boy’s side unable to leave him. “I wanted to help, but I couldn’t do anything for him.”
“Yes, ya did. You was here when he needed ya most and ‘cause ‘a that he didn’t die alone. His ma will be mighty grateful.”
“Do you know his girl, his ‘Becca? He wanted me to give her a message.” DG blinked quickly so tears wouldn’t form.
“T’won’t be necessary, honey,” the old woman sighed. “Becca Turner fell in the original assault on the Tower. I ‘spect they’re together, now, walkin’ the Old Road to Forever. Glinda will see to ‘em now. She watches over all Cariad, whether on this Road or the next.”
“I don’t understand?”
“’Course ya don’t, honey. You been gone a long time, but you’ll learn soon ‘nough. My name’s Cora Nightingale but ‘round the Resistance camps they call me Old Cora. Used ta be a healer, ‘till my joints swelled up. All my hands ‘re good for now is a bit ‘a bandagin’ ‘n herb mixin’.” She smiled, dipped a cloth in a bucket of clean warm water and handed it to DG. “You need ta freshen up some.
“Thank you,” her throat closed as she blinked back tears. With hands that shook, she carefully wiped sticky dark blood from her palms and between her fingers.
“You’re welcome, Princess,” Cora whispered and winked. “You’re identity is safe with me. It’s best if they don’t know who you are, might keep that Tin Man ‘a yours from raisin’ a ruckus when he gets back.”
DG frowned and was about to argue when distant rifle fire followed by a series of explosions made everyone duck.
“Sounds like they did it!” one of the healers called out. “They got those damn Longcoat snipers!”
“Help, can I have some help over here!” a young dark haired woman cried out. She was bandaging a patient the healer had recently finished suturing.
DG made to rise, but stopped when she remembered the man who had just died.
“You go on ahead and give young Jenna a hand, honey. She’s an apprentice, but mighty good at the healin’ arts. Old Cora ‘ill see ta the dead, while you help with the livin’.” The old woman nodded and sent the young Princess on her way.
“Thank goodness,” Jenna sighed as DG ran to the side of the table where the other woman was struggling to keep a large man from falling off. “Throw yourself across his thighs. It’ll keep him from kicking and secure him to the table. Watch out for that arm, he’s already hit me in the head once!”
DG lay across his upper legs as she’d been instructed and tried to grab his flaying right hand at the same time. She wasn’t quick enough and he swung from the shoulder, backhanding her across the cheek. It almost sent her sprawling to the floor, but she gripped the table until she got her footing back. This time she used both hands to grab his wrist while refusing to let him buck her off his legs in the process. It took all her strength to pull his arm to his side, but once it was in place, she locked it to the table by pressing her elbows against the outside of his arm. It kept it effectively trapped against his body with her sprawled across his thighs.
“Just another minute,” Jenna called out as she gave the man an injection in the arm DG had managed to secure. “I really appreciate your assistance. I couldn’t have held him on my own.”
“Your welcome, I was glad to help.” The Princess looked over her shoulder at the now subdued man. “Is he going to be all right?”
“I don’t know, Miss. All that thrashing around pulled out some sutures. I can fix those, but he lost a lot of blood and a chest wound can be tricky.” The girl kept on working, not really looking at the woman who had helped her. “Are you all right? Joe’s got a long reach and his arm was going every which-way.”
“I’m fine.” DG covered her right cheek as she stood up and turned away. The last thing she wanted was to call any attention to herself, though the side of her face throbbed and her eye was watering.
Three more times she held someone’s hand, giving them the only comfort she could as they died. Each time it ripped a new hole in her heart. But then a little voice would fill her head and remind her that she needed to be here, to see face to face, the destruction she’d help cause. This was part of her penance for letting go of her sister’s hand fifteen years ago and allowing the Witch to roam free.
The sound of loud footsteps echoing off stone floors pulled her back from memories of her failure in the cave. She felt adrenalin spike and realized that she was smiling for the first time all night. It sounded as if some of the men were back.
“Healer, I need a healer!” Jeb Cain called as he half-carried-half-dragged a severely wounded soldier down the steps. They were both soaking wet and covered in blood.
“What happened?” DG leapt to her feet and helped Jeb get his man to a healer’s table. But her eyes kept darting back to the door and the steps looking for a familiar silhouette.
“It was a trap. The sniper’s nest was a damn trap!” the young man exclaimed in frustration. “It exploded in our faces. Duncan and I were the only ones to make it out alive.”
“Where’s your father?” her words tumbled out breathy and hollow.
“He led the other group. Isn’t he back yet?” Jeb looked around the room hoping to see a man wearing a duster and a tin man’s hat, but he had no luck.
“Here ya go, honey.” Old Cora handed DG a bowl of water and clean bandages. “Take care ‘a the boy’s head. It’ll give ya somethin’ ta do ‘sides worry whilst ya wait. The healer will see to that one.” She pointed to Duncan as she helped cut away his clothes to get to his wound. “Young Cain,” she ordered. “See that she sits herself down ‘afore she falls down.”
“She certainly is bossy,” DG sighed, more relieved than she wanted to let on that someone had given her something constructive to do when her mind had gone suddenly blank with dread.
“That’s Old Cora for you.” Jeb took the Princess’s arm and led her away from the table where they were working on his friend. “Though you’ll find she’s usually right. Let’s find a spot out of the main traffic area and sit down.” It was the first time he’d seen her since the battle and if her bruised cheek was anything to go by, the Witch had gotten at least one good punch in before she was killed. No wonder his dad had wanted to check on the girl before they’d gone after the snipers.
“How’d you get so wet?” Deeg looked him over carefully from his damp hair and soaked coat to the blood running down the left side of his face.
“It started raining not long after we headed out.” He shivered and blew on his hands to try and warm them. “Now it’s stormin’ something fierce. Though I gotta tell ya, we sure can use the rain. It’s a good sign.”
“Take off your coat and put this around you.” She helped him out of his wet outerwear and handed him her blanket.
“Thanks. You have no idea how good this feels.” Jeb wrapped the rough wool material around his shoulders, as he sat on the floor in front of the Princess.
“I’m not a healer, but I’ll see what I can do for that head of yours.” She frowned as she gently tried to stop the flow of blood from over his eyebrow. “Can’t have Cain getting back and finding you bleeding all over the place,” she murmured lost in thought. It was strangely soothing to care for his son. If her hand shook slightly while she was doing it, the younger man was polite enough not to acknowledge it.
“Princess, he’ll be all right.” Jab watched her carefully schooled expression and wondered if she was trying to imitate his dad’s. He’d seen her use that wide-eyed stare once or twice before, but this time it wasn’t working. Her eyes were giving her away. They were alive with worry. “He survived eight years in a tin suit. He can survive anything.”
“It’s just that he’s my friend and…well…he’s my friend,” she repeated with as much conviction as she could. Never mind the other feelings that had been surfacing lately. Never mind that he made her feel light headed and wish that she knew all there was to know about being with a man.
“You’re his friend too.” He’d seen it as far back as the camp, when his dad had gone off to rescue her. The tension in the older man’s voice when he’d asked for horses, the tight clipped words that had allowed no room for argument. He wondered if his father realized exactly what the girl was to him and knew without a doubt that it wasn’t his place to say anything.
“Good, that’s good to know.” She gave Jeb a tight smile as she made butterfly bandages out of tape and applied them to the cut over his left eye. “He helped me when he first came out of that suit. His heart had turned to rusted metal because he believed you and your mother were dead.” Her breath hitched and she stopped for a moment to regain her composure. “All he wanted was revenge, but he took the time to help. When Zero told him his family was alive, he stayed and helped me instead of going off to find…well to find what he found…Then at Adora’s grave I thought it would be the end of him.” She looked up unaware that tears ran down her face. “But he still helped…as I said, he’s my friend,” she whispered the last so softly Jeb hardly heard it.
“He told me bits and pieces of what happened, but I never realized…” He shook his head in wonder that Wyatt Cain had a shred of sanity or decency left. “Thank-you for all you did to help him.” His father had told him coolly and clinically about the highlights of his trip with the Princess. DG painted a far more graphic picture. “A person can’t live on hate and revenge. I’ve seen what happens to those that do. They become husks of the people they were. Not too long ago I was heading down that road but he led me onto another path. I think he must have learned that from you.”
“Yeah right!” She rolled her eyes. “Most of the time he thought I was a major pain in the butt…ah…a pain in the neck. Any compassion he learned must have been from Raw.” She swiped at her damp cheeks and began wrapping a bandage around Jeb’s head. It had been a long time since she’d taken a first aid class and she was surprised how much she remembered. “Are you in any pain?” She surveyed her work with wonder.
“My head aches and my ears are still ringing.” He grimaced. “I feel kinda like I was too close to a bomb when it went off.” His words caused DG to pale and he wished he could pull them back the second they were out of his mouth. “You stay here. I’m going to check with the sentries and see if any of dad’s group – to see if he’s back yet.”
After Jeb left, Deeg sat back on her heels lost in thought. Up until that moment she hadn’t realized she’d been carefully watching the door each time she heard boots in the hall or on the stairs. Was that why she’d come down here, among the dead and dying, to be sure that her Tin Man wasn’t? Along with that thought came the understanding that there was an alternative which was much worse! The idea made her shiver. She’d been cold for hours, but by keeping busy she’d been able to ignore it.
Her head began to swim and her hands shake. The adrenalin that had been pumping through her system was beginning to crash. Unfortunately, that was all that was keeping her claustrophobia at bay. Suddenly she felt as if the walls where closing in and the air was being sucked from the room.
“I gotta get outta here,” she whispered as the light played tricks on her eyes and dark, dank, stone suddenly appeared to be emerald green marble. She shook her head and blinked quickly to erase the vision of the coffin pressing in on her.
“DG in pain,” Raw’s quiet rumble made her jump and look to her left. He was tending a woman a few feet away and she hadn’t noticed his presence.
“No, no, I’m fine,” she denied and looked at him with what she hoped was wide-eyed innocence. It had been a trick that had hidden her emotions from almost everyone in the last seven days. “I only need a breath of fresh air.”
“DG need help.” He met her gaze and sniffed gently. The waves of anxiety and fear she didn’t know she was broadcasting filled his nostrils.
“Be right back,” she mumbled as she clumsily tried to get her feet under her. She was stiff and sore after all she’d been through in the last week and the hard cold floor wasn’t helping her any. She needed to make a quick escape before she lost control completely.
“Please, just let me go,” her voice broke as she hugged herself and shot to her feet to avoid Raw’s outstretched paw. If the Viewer touched her, he’d know everything she was feeling and she couldn’t let that happen.
“Raw, no tell DG’s secrets.” He pulled back and let the young woman go without his help but only because he could feel Wyatt Cain making his way down the stairs on the other side of the room.
Cain stood on the landing five steps above the hospital level. The sentry at the north entrance had told him his son had come in wounded with another man. As much as he wanted to check on DG, he needed to be sure Jeb was safe first. Before he could locate him, Raw caught his attention. The Viewer was waving at him and pointing to the far wall.
The Tin Man looked but all he saw was a crowd of soldiers who where injured but well enough to fend for themselves. They were headed toward the back where someone was setting up food and hot coffee.
“Father,” Jeb called out as he bounded up three of the five stairs that separated them. The boy was pale with a white dressing on his forehead. He was rain soaked except for a blanket held tightly around his shoulders. “Where have you been?”
“Sending Longcoats to Hades,” his voice was thick with relief that his son had made it back. “They had another sniper’s nest that our intell missed. Luckily we stumbled across their trail.”
“Those sons ‘a bitches! Ours was a decoy,” sorrow filled each word as he thought of the men he’d lost. “Duncan Specter and I were the only ones to make it back and they really did a job on Dunc.”
“But you’re all right?” Cain gripped his son’s shoulder. He’d come too close to losing him again that night.
“Nothin’ that won’t heal.” He pointed to his head and gave his dad a wicked grin. “Your Princess has a real gentle touch when cleaning wounds and applying bandages.”
“What the hell is DG doing down here!” The secure feeling he’d had ever since he’d heard her turn the key, locking herself safely in the Tower room, crumbled.
“She’s helping.” Jeb watched his dad carefully, so he didn’t miss the flash of concern that filled familiar ice blue eyes, seconds before they froze in anger. “No one knows who she is, well, except for maybe Old Cora but she knows everything.” As a form of defense it was lame, but he was more interested in the mixed emotions that had crossed his father’s face.
Cain growled and shook his head, unsure how to answer his son.
“Dad, don’t be too hard on her.” He reached for the older man’s arm, unsure how much he should say. “She was…ah…worried about you.”
“Hell!” the Tin Man muttered in disgust. In a few simple words, his son had made it almost impossible for him to be angry at her. Cain went down the steps two at a time. A few long strides and he was where the group of walking wounded had congregated, the same place where Raw had been pointing.
“DG,” he called her name without thinking. A careful look between tattered Resistance uniforms and he saw black silky curls and a dark jacket pressed against the wall. “Make a hole!” he ordered sounding like the tin man he used to be.
“Cain!” DG looked around, as men shuffled out of the way. “Cain, you made it back!” She wanted to run into his arms as she’d done before but she couldn’t. Too much had happened, too many feelings were surfacing.
“What the hell, Kiddo.” He brushed her hair off her face with both hands. She was pinched and pale like she’d been earlier, outside of Azkadellia’s room, and there was a bruise blossoming on her right cheek. “Who the hell hit you?”
“Cain, help me,” she gasped and shivered as she pulled at the collar of her jacket. “Can’t breathe, I can’t get any air.” She pressed against the wall as if her slight weight could prevent it from closing in on her.
“Shit, why didn’t you say something!” He knew the signs of claustrophobia. He’d fought them everyday since coming out of the suit, but he’d never expected to see them etched on DG’s features. She’d told him about the mausoleum and being trapped, but she’d been so casual about it, he’d never realized how deeply she’d been affected.
“Get me out of here,” the note of hysteria in her voice told him she was hanging on by a thread and they didn’t have much time.
“Let’s go.” He pulled her against his side, blocking her view of the open space he’d created when he pushed through the crowd around her.
“No, please,” she gasped and jerked out of his arms.
“I know it’s hard, but you gotta trust me, Kiddo and breathe, remember to breathe.” He cautiously wrapped one arm around her shoulders and held the other out in front to keep the milling solders from pressing against her. He had the advantage of being taller and able to see over them, while she was pocketed in by bodies.
“I do trust you, but please hurry, Tin Man. The breathing part, I’m not so sure about.” She buried her face in the V-neck of his shirt and could smell the mixture of warm skin, leather and gunpowder that was uniquely Wyatt Cain. ‘Okay, that’s a good thing, it means I must be breathing,’ she thought and held on tighter. The edges of his wet coat flapped around her, making her feel as if she was surrounded by him, but instead of making her fears worse the idea soothed her battered nerves.
He felt rather than heard her words as her lips moved over his heart. It shook him to the core at how panicked she was. Not only had she called him Tin Man again, but she held on passively while he guided her to safety. She usually charged on ahead, despite the dangers involved.
“Mr. Cain,” Old Cora called from the steps where she was standing beside a silently staring Jeb. “This way, bring her this way.”
They were almost in the clear; almost to the bottom of the stairs when someone bumped into his back causing him to stumble, squishing DG between his body and the wall. His first instinct was to turn and fight, but the woman in his arms was grasping at his vest trying to keep from losing her footing. He knew that if she went down, surrounded as she was on all sides, any vestige of control she was able to maintain would be gone.
“I got ya, Deeg. You’re not going to fall.” In one decisive gesture he dropped his arm from around her shoulders to her waist, lifted her off the floor and turned quickly, elbowing the man behind him, hard in the side.
Cora sent Jeb to care for the man his father had knocked to the ground, while she led Cain and the Princess up the stairs. She took them up past the floors where soldiers were resting, up past the floor that housed the Royal family and kept on going. The wide, open staircase had become cramped and small as they went higher and higher.
“Cain, let me go. You can put me down now.” He had a tight grip around DG’s waist and had one hand buried deep in her hair, pressing her face against his neck.
“You stay right where you are, Kid. It’s close in here and I don’t want anymore problems.” His voice was strained, but it wasn’t from carrying her. He was fighting his own demons and didn’t want her to know.
Cain fought black spots in front of his eyes. The once wide stairwell had become twisted and narrow. He knew as long as he concentrated on her he would be able to get them anywhere, so he held onto her tightly and kept on moving.
“Here we are.” Old Cora opened a door that led into a wide room. Most of one side was open and surrounded by a high-walled balcony. In the back corner there was a small fireplace with red hot coals and a full wood box. Someone had left two bedrolls and a stack of blanket by the hearth. A jug and some pans were resting on the coals to stay warm, one of which gave off the wonderful aroma of stew. “This is what ya both need, somewhere warm and dry with room ta breathe.”
“How did you know about this place?” Cain frowned at the old woman, as he set DG on her feet.
“Wyatt Cain, you never took the time to listen to the old legends or you’d know this t’weren’t always a place where evil dwelled.” Cora shook her finger at him as if he were a child again. “Once it was The Tower of The Healers.”
“This isn’t where we killed the Witch, is it?” Deeg shivered and held tight to her Tin Man’s arm as she looked around. The room and balcony seemed smaller than the one from earlier in the day, but she was too tired to trust her memory.
“’Course not, honey. You’ve had ‘nough ‘a the bad for the time bein’.”
“Good, I wasn’t up to facing that place again so soon.” Deeg’s shoulders sagged in relief and she moved to the fire to warm her hands. “Thank you for this room. I was beginning to think I’d have to go outside to find open space and fresh air but somehow I don’t think that one,” she looked pointedly at Cain, “would have let me out anytime soon, without an argument.”
He simply cocked an eyebrow in her direction as he hung up his wet coat and hat on a lantern peg. He’d known her long enough to tell when she was trying to distraction his attention by baiting him.
“Ya got your hands full with that one, ya do,” Cora chuckled, as she beckoned him closer. “There’s a clean shirt for ya with the pile of extra blankets. Your Princess has had ‘nough blood to deal with tonight.” She nodded to the stain left over from hours earlier. “And this here is some caba bark salve. Put it on that right cheek ‘a hers. It’ll take down the swelling and fix her up right quick.”
“How the hell did she get hurt like that and what was she doing down there?”
“Doin’ what was needed, like you was. Now it’s time ta rest.”
“Damnit, Cora, tell me what happened!” He glared.
“Boy, don’t ya use that tin man tone of voice with me. It didn’t work when you was just startin’ down the Road and it don’t work now. You was always in a rush ‘bout the important things on the Journey.” She nodded emphatically and her eyes grew soft and misty as they gazed upon the dark-haired girl huddled by the fire. “Smart man would ask her. She’s got all the answers you’ll ever need. Now bolt the door good and you’ll be plenty safe. I’ll see ta that young one ‘a yours so you needn’t worry ‘bout him. He’s strong and stubborn like his pa.”
“Wait, Cora,” his voice was filled with doubts. “I can’t stay in here. It isn’t right. The Princess and I can’t…ah…share a room. Her reputation…”
“It’s the only place she’s gonna get any rest. You gonna leave ‘er here alone when she needs ya?”
“No…no of course not.” He didn’t understand his continued need to protect DG. He’d made a promise to the Mystic Man, but what was going on inside of him was more than that. It didn’t make sense. He knew all about false feelings that could develop between a man and a woman under stress, when bound together by danger and adrenalin. He was a smart man who knew right from wrong and when to ignore misleading emotions, though by the gleam in Cora Nightingale’s eyes the old healer didn’t.
“Take care of your Princess, Wyatt Cain. The old legends are true. It was proven tonight. The Queen and Prince Consort lived a lie for fifteen annuals to protect their hidden daughter.”
“Some legends may be, Old Woman.” He couldn’t discount them completely as he had in the past. In the last few days he’d seen the strength of light from a Princess and the magic of the fabled Emerald, but that didn’t make all the legends true. “Some are nothing more than myths!” he growled. He and Adora had never believed in the old ways and he wasn’t about to change now, just because she’d passed on down the Road, gone forever on her solitary journey.
“Humph,” Cora mumbled under her breath as left them alone.
Cain leaned against the closed door and relaxed for the first time all day. They were safe, for the moment. The Tower was secure and well guarded. He would see that the Princess ate something and then he planned on moving her somewhere more appropriate for the night.
His resolve lasted only as long as it took for him to take a good look at DG sitting across the room. Despite all they’d been through, in the last seven days, he knew that the hours since the double eclipse had been the hardest on her. There were dark patches on the sleeves of her jacket, that he’d bet eight annuals back pay, were dried blood. She was shivering, even with her back pressed against the warm wall of the fireplace. But it was her face that made him rethink his plan. The coals from the fire caused her marred cheek to appear hot and painfully bright! The thought that someone had hurt her like that made him ache. All worries of propriety or modern thinking versus old legends flew down the road. She was his to protect and he was damn well going to take care of her!
He turned with quiet deliberation and drove the four-inch bolt into place, locking the rest of the O.Z. out and the two of them in for the night.
To Ch 3 - Stretched To The Limits