Sorvatte entered the command ten and saluted. “Rangee, there is a visitor bearing important tidings for you,” he said with a smile.
Rangee looked up quizzically. “Not the healer again, I hope.” Rangee had been the focus of a most intensive effort of medical and magical skills that had restored him after the airbag attacks. Many megs had been lavished on him, as well as a large portion of scarce herbs and medicines that were also needed by so many of the troops. He was too weak to resist the healers then, but now he was stronger and he would not take for himself the resources that were so badly needed by others.
Sorvatte and the other officers had argued with him of course. They seemed to think he was the only unifying force of the great Rauder army. That his personal survival was critical for the success of the war.
Nonsense, of course. The chiefs saw the danger in letting Kratia pursue her plans unhindered. They would assure she was stopped even if he had died.
His reverie was suddenly ended as Lollanna entered the tent, flanked by a guard on both sides. His eyes went wide and he broke into a stunned smile. “Lollanna,” he stammered.
“My chief,” Lollanna answered, smiling back.
“You look like shit,” he said, laughing. “And smell like it, too!” he added, pointing to the bloody furs and twisted belt of intestines.
“Maybe I should freshen up?” she asked, an edge of hopefulness in her voice.
“Of course, in a moment. But first, tell me of Takashema.”
She sighed. “Takashema is dead,” she said, the words seeming to jerk out of her mouth with great reluctance. “We had nearly reached the Cusp when he fell into a deep crevasse in the ice. It opened suddenly with a great peal of thunder. Then it closed again. No one could have survived, but to be sure, Mandus and I spelled for his life signs. He was dead.
“We camped for the night, but were attacked by a rabid snowbeast, huge and fierce. Mandus killed the creature, but not before taking mortal wounds. He saved me, but I could not do the same for him. He died and I buried him in beneath a mound of ice.”
Rangee stood rigid and silent for several long moments. “I am saddened at the loss of those so brave and angry that I was the fool that helped them to their doom.” He sighed heavily. Then he looked up at his wife. “Yet a part of me feels joy at the safe return of one I love with all my heart.”
“I too love with all my heart, Rangee. And it is with joy that I learned you were alive. Yet it pains me to know that you would not trust me with this knowledge, and instead let me go into the far north thinking you dead. Can we talk of this matter alone?”
Rangee motioned for Sorvatte and the others to leave.
“I did what was best, Lollanna. No one could know the truth, not until I had met with the other chiefs and convinced them to band together. If any hint of my actions were to reach the enemy’s ears too soon, the advantage of surprise would be lost. Indeed, with an enemy as dangerous as Kratia, foreknowledge would give her opportunity to forge surprises of her own.”
“But love has to be based on openness and honesty, Rangee! Love and truth are potent defenses in themselves, yet you cast them aside.” A tear wound slowly down her cheek.
Rangee moved closer to her. “I am sorry, my love. I knew the news of my death would cause you sorrow, yet is not the joy of our reuniting the best compensation?”
Lollanna’s jaw clenched, leaving her unable to utter a word as Rangee reached out to embrace her. She felt her hand glide down her side, to grasp the hilt of the crystal dagger tucked in the coils of the snowbeast’s entrails. The one given to her by the damn Takashema. The arms of her husband were strong, his hands callused but gentle on her skin. She wanted to relax into them, be held forever by him.
Without warning Lollanna drew back; her arm thrust up forcefully under his chin. She felt the dagger cut effortlessly through the skin and tongue, and only slight resistance as the Elfin blade slid through the bone of the palate and into the brain.
Rangee convulsed eyes wide with shocked disbelief. Lollanna felt the blood drip from his wound onto her hand and she quickly released the dagger. Rangee slid slowly down to the floor, his hands grasping vainly at her furs.
Lollanna stared at her husband, stared at the blood on her hand. There was a sense of freedom, and she knew that she had fulfilled her promise to Kratia. She was free of the Crystal’s curse. She bent over her husband and drew his sword from its scabbard.
She placed the hilt on the floor and the tip of the blade against her naval. Steeling herself, she took a deep breath then lowered herself with a jerk. The blade passed up through the abdomen, piercing arteries, organs and ultimately her heart.
Lollanna slumped beside her husband, her bloody hand caressing his cheek. She prayed that the gods would forgive her. But her last thought was the terrible, terrible memory of the last look in his eyes.