Siobhan bowed her head out of respect, but kept her eyes on Ayla. “I’m afraid, honorable mother, your hunting party has collected prey which belongs to me.”
“The boy they brought back with them?”
“Aye. He was foolish and chose to climb through the chasm instead of going around it. I was to meet him on the other side but your daughters found him first.”
Briana laughed. “Humans do not sense the anger billowing from the rip. You would think after all the tragedies brought by that un-sacred place they would learn. I have told my daughters many times to steer clear.” She glanced to Ayla who lowered her head as if ashamed. Siobhan suspected it was an act. “Release the boy.”
“But mother he was to—”
“Do you dare argue with me, Ayla?”
“No mother.” Ayla rose and snarled to Siobhan. Wren wiggled on his post when Ayla raised her dagger to him. Even Siobhan shifted the grip on her staff as she watched the blade come far too close Wren’s neck before cutting the ropes to his hands. If he wasn’t still bound, he probably would’ve yelped when his head slammed against the hard ground.
“The rest of you, shift back or return to your watch posts.”
Siobhan didn’t take her eyes off Ayla as Briana spoke. The younger shifter took her time cutting Wren’s feet free. When she knelt down for the gag in his mouth, her dagger nicked his neck. She wiped a finger against the blood, licking it off when she looked to Siobhan.
“If she cuts him again. . .” Siobhan snarled.
“Ayla!” Briana shouted.
“It’s only fair I get a taste. We did catch him after all,” Ayla said, smiling like an innocent child. She twirled the gag in her hand, walking away from Wren. He didn’t immediately bounce to his feet. Blood dripped from both his neck and a gash on his temple.
“Neema, see to the Ice Fangs horses. Make sure they’re watered and fed,” Briana said.
“That’s not necessary, we won’t be staying long.” Siobhan returned the blades of her staff back into their pockets as she walked to Wren. Her hand hooked under his arm and helped him to his feet. His glazed eyes drooped and he stumbled. Whatever had happened in the scuffle with the lionesses, the wound on his head caused more than blood.
“Nonsense. There is to be snow tonight and you wouldn’t make it to either Firnlan or the High Mages before it hit. You may take shelter with us and you have my word none of my daughters will harm you or the boy. Besides, he looks as though he is in need of ginger root for the dizziness and we can aid those wounds.”
Wren blinked, his head bobbed as he leaned against Siobhan. Curse the Goddess. He wouldn’t be able to sit upright in his horse if he didn’t receive treatment. Herbs weren’t something Siobhan knew how to use, that was always Elias’ job.
“Know this, honorable mother,” Siobhan said, helping Wren toward the fire. “If any harm comes to my companion here, I will waste no time ending your pride. Understood?”
Briana bowed. “Understood, Ice Fang.” She waived her hand to two lionesses standing off to the side. They nodded and shuffled to Wren, taking him to one of the tents.
Siobhan didn’t take her eyes off the tent, even as Briana guided her to a log by the fire. One hand continued to grip her staff, a finger tapped beside the button itching to release the blades. Stories traveled far and wide about lioness shifters. Aside from wolves, they were the most brutal of the shifting tribes. Wolves at least saved their human kills for those who deserved it. Lionesses killed for food regardless if they were human or animal.
“You can relax, Ice Fang. Our healers will take good care of him,” Briana said.
“I’ve heard what your kind does to men.”
Briana chuckled. “It is true, we find our pleasure in mating with the men prior to our using them for food. However, you have claimed him. While our kinds haven’t seen eye to eye over the years, we have great respect for your family. Your claim will be honored.”
“Even though I haven’t been a part of my family since I was ten?”
“Blood never changes, Ice Fang. We might change as we grow, but our blood ties us to blood until our life force ends and we return to the Goddess.” Briana leaned forward and grabbed some wood to toss on the fire. Embers exploded and drifted into the sky, glittering like fireflies as the wind carried them away.
“My blood betrayed me,” Siobhan snapped under her breath. She’d hoped the mother shifter hadn’t heard, but she had.
“Yes I’ve heard stories of what happened to your father. Stories have a way of changing, manipulating to the false truth of the speaker to fit their goals. We all have our rolls to play in this life. The question is how we choose to play them.”
Siobhan snorted. It was an idealistic thought, comforting in a way, but it was also a load of Smilodon dung. She hadn’t chosen the events that led her to her nomadic life. There was a time when her life was simple, planned out for her down to the one she was supposed to marry. Her clothes, her hair, the food she ate—all were chosen for her and she didn’t mind. Back then, she didn’t know the difference between having a life and living one. When her father died, everything she thought she knew ended with his life force.
There were no circumstances that would’ve led to Siobhan choosing to be accused of murder and losing everything.