She stumbled through the forest, fingers and palms stinging from the rough bark as she pushed herself from tree to tree. Pain rode through every inch of her body. Her bare feet stung, tiny cuts splitting open with every step across the sharp, rocky ground. She needed to stop, to breathe, to lay down, but fear drove her forward. Into the shelter of the trees. Away from the sounds of the angry voices. Of men shouting. Fighting. Coming for her.
Coming for her.
The swirling fuzz in her head twisted her thoughts, giving her little chance to think of anything other than the solitary need to run. To leave this place far behind. To go home.
If only she could remember where home was.
Her ankle cracked against the jagged edge of an uprooted stump, sending her sprawling. She landed hard, rolling with the sloped ground and smashing to an abrupt stop in the bottom of a shallow, rocky creek bed. She lay on her side, the trickle of icy water slowly soaking into her clothes. The chilly temperature soothed her heated skin. She rolled onto her back, hissing at the pain that settled into her bones.
High above, the blue sky winked at her from beyond the canopy of leaves. Flickers of sunlight slipped through, flashing on and off again as the breeze pushed the branches back and forth. She closed her eyes, lulled by the hypnotic sound of the water trickling over the rocks. Sleep would be wonderful. To to close off from the ache and pain. To let it all go and just drift with the water. To float away.
The word carried along the breeze, slipping through her exhaustion and into her soul. It brought a sense of urgency. A need. A desire to answer. To be heard.
She opened her eyes. High above, the trees still moved. The sun still shone. Nothing had changed, and yet... She strained to hear. To prove to herself it was there. But there was nothing but the sound of the wind in the leaves and the water over the rocks.
Rolling onto her side, she pushed through the pain and forced her aching body to move. She held her breath, willing the words to come again but the only sound to reach her was the shocking nearness of a happy growl.
"There you are, Calara."
Tomas wavered between pride that his soon-to-be wife had been strong enough to survive the painful weening from the soup, and anger that the simpering sop could barely keep to her feet. When she stumbled and fell yet again, he yanked on the bindings he'd tied around her wrists and shoved her at Maron.
Maron picked the gagged and bound woman up and flopped her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. She whimpered and struggled weakly, but Maron ignored her protests.
Alaan sprinted forward, splashing across the narrow creek towards them. "Two men," he exclaimed. "Coming across the riverbed."
Tomas made a face. "Just two?"
Alaan glanced over his shoulder. "That's all I saw. I didn't stick around to see if there were more. They were moving pretty fast."
The Lantean's travelled in groups of four. That much Tomas had learned from his research. So, if there were two coming, chances were there were two more not far behind. He glanced at the men he'd gathered. The Lantean's had weapons...well so did they. And Tomas now had twelve to their four.
And he had Maron and Codder.
They equalled two, if not three men on their own.
He wiggled his hand at Maron. "Put her down."
Maron dropped Calara to her feet. She immediately crumpled to her knees.
Tomas grabbed her arm and yanked her back up, turning to address the men. "I will take Calara back to the village. Find the strangers, and kill them."
Calara struggled weakly against him, her frantic cries muffled by the strip of cloth tied across her mouth. Tomas gave her a rough shake. "This is your doing," he growled. "Their blood is on your hands." Then he turned back to the men. "Don't return until they're dead, or Thea will have your heads instead."
Further instructions were not needed, only a mention of Thea's displeasure was a necessary. Every man, woman, and child in the village knew the penalty that came from disobeying Thea was death – and not always a quick one.
Codder was the only one who was pleased by the command. He grinned and pushed through the group, leading them back down the trail to where Alaan saw the strangers.
Maron paused before following, questioning Tomas with a glance.
"Go," he ordered Maron. "I'll take her to Thea."
Maron nodded, and turned to follow after Codder and the others.
Alone on the trail, Tomas grabbed Calara by the chin, forcing her to look at him. He squeezed roughly, pleased to see the pain tearing her eyes. "You shouldn't have run," he tisked. "There will be consequences, Calara." He let go of her neck and switched his hold to her upper arm, dragging her forward. "Starting with a nice big bowl of Thea's soup."
Ronon and Kiryk held their place behind a tight cluster of thick branched trees, watching the group of villagers heading towards them. They'd tracked Jennifer as far as the creek before catching sight of the oncoming mob, which now stood between them, and the woman they sought.
There was no mistaking the cocky stride of the village men, their over-confidence at their numbers leading them to think they were invincible. Ronon started to smile, catching Kiryk with an equally bemused expression. Finally—someone to exorcise the demons on. He clenched his hands into a fist, then released his fingers, relaxing them against his sides.
"Twelve against two?" Kiryk commented. "Hardly seems fair."
Ronon tipped his chin to a distant spot where two bulking men made joined at the rear. "Fourteen," he corrected. At least those two looked like they'd be able to put up some what of a fight.
Kiryk scowled. "The one in the green is mine."
Ronon glanced at his companion, but Kiryk offered no further explanation.
"Fine," Ronon agreed. "More for me."