Trembling, he dropped to his knees on the bloodied rug and gently placed a hand on Trine’s shoulder. She whimpered faintly. Taking care not to hurt her even further, the runner scooped her up into his arms and carried her through to his bed. Blood had soaked through the leg of her tight trousers and a second patch was soaking through her cloak at her shoulder. How to stop the bleeding? As a feeling of panic began to creep over him, instinct took control, fading memories of teenage first aid training filtering through. Grabbing a nearby t-shirt, he tore it into pieces then pulled the leg of her trouser up to expose the wound. It looked like a deep ragged knife wound running down her calf, stopping just shy of her Achilles tendon. He applied compression to the wound then bound it tightly with strips of the torn fabric. The Ice Maiden’s wings were folded awkwardly and, fearful that they would break, he eased her into a sitting position, rearranged the feathers to protect them before easing her cloak from her slender shoulders. It slid off easily. Blood oozed from a second deep wound to her shoulder, but he could see that it was already congealing. Taking care not to hurt her, he eased Trine’s top away from the wound, reached for another t-shirt and pressed it onto the wound, unsure how to immediately secure it in place.
In his arms, she let out a sharp cry of pain. Her eyelids flickered then he felt her go limp. Was there something in that shoulder wound? What had caused it? A knife? A shot? An arrow? Regardless, both wounds needed to be cleaned properly and dressed. The beach hut was void of medical supplies. Knowing he couldn’t just take her to A&E, the runner reasoned that the quickest way to get what was needed was to transport himself to the nearest pharmacy. It had been years since he had last set foot in one. The best he could visualise was the local branch of Boots. Holding onto as clear an image as he could recall, he closed his wings round him, silently praying that he’d end up where he needed to be.
Unfurling his majestic, green-tipped brown wings, he opened his eyes and looked round. Hairdryers, curling irons and electric toothbrushes were on the shelves in front of him. Bingo! He’d at least made it to the correct shop. First aid supplies and antiseptic were at the back of the shop. Finding a large plastic bag behind the counter, he filled it with everything he thought he could possibly need, closed his wings around himself once more and transported himself back to the beach hut.
He gauged he’d been gone less than ten minutes.
Pausing to put the kettle on to boil, to give him some hot water to clean Trine’s wounds, he hurried back into the bedroom. The Ice Maiden was lying where he’d left her.
“Trine?” he spoke quietly, trying to keep the panic from his voice. “Can you hear me? Who did this to you?”
Her eyelids flickered but that was her only response.
“Fuck,” he muttered, tossing the bag of medical supplies onto the bed. “Let’s get those clothes off and get those wounds cleaned up.”
Cursing himself, he realised too late that he should have tried to find some antibiotics in the pharmacy. Would they even have been effective on a vampiress?”
It took him a few minutes, but he finally had her stripped down to her silver silk camisole and panties. He’d checked her over for other signs of injury but, apart from a few ugly purple bruises and the nasty gouges on her cheek, he found none.
In the living room, the kettle began to whistle on the stove.
“I’ll be right back,” he promised softly.
Using warm water laced with disinfectant, he bathed her wounds tenderly then carefully dressed them. The stab wound to her leg was still bleeding but the flow of blood had slowed considerably. Her breathing was slow and steady. There were no signs of fever, but she still had not regained consciousness. Positioning her as comfortably as possible, propped up on pillows, he let her rest. With a heavy heart, the runner dragged in a chair from beside the dining table and settled himself to keep a vigil over her.
As the first light of dawn began to streak across the skies, Trine began to stir. At the first sign of movement, the runner was on his feet and by her side.
“Hey, it’s ok. You’re safe,” he said gently, laying his hand on her forehead to check for fever. Her skin was still cool to the touch.
“Pain,” she murmured. “Thirsty.”
“Give me a minute. I’ll fetch you something.”
He returned with a glass of blood infused wine and some painkillers he’d thought to toss into the bag almost as an afterthought. He held the glass up to her lips.
“Sip it slowly,” he cautioned. “I’ll hunt for us later. This will need to do for now.”
“Tastes good,” whispered Trine, struggling to open her eyes. “Wasn’t sure I’d make it back here.”
“I’m glad you did,” he said warmly. “Now, rest. There’s time to talk later.”
“Stay with me.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”
Three days and nights passed before Trine was strong enough to stay awake for more than a few short minutes and felt well enough to get out of bed for a while. She had barely protested when the runner offered to carry her through to the living area to sit by the stove.
He’d hunted the moment it had grown dark, settling for sheep’s blood for them both as he hadn’t wanted to stray too far from the hut. Already he could imagine the farmer’s protests over the loss of two ewes to “dogs”.
Passing a glass of the still warm blood to her, he asked, “Do you feel up to telling me what happened?”
“It was her,” began Trine, pausing to drink deeply from the glass. “She was here. She followed me. Hunted me.”
“The dark angel,” she revealed quietly. “She’s beautiful.”
“She is,” he acknowledged. “But she’s dangerous with it.”
“We flew north. Flew for hours. I lured her away from here. There was a storm. We fought. She stabbed me. I managed to grab her knife. Managed to stab her in the back with her own knife. She fell. I did too,” she paused then continued, “I hid in a church for hours, but some men came. I transported back here before they would see me.”
Telling the abbreviated tale had left the injured Ice Maiden exhausted. The runner refilled her glass, and she drank in silence.
“She said you were hers. Said you were unique. She described you as pure,” Trine paused, her pale face a mask of pain. “She knows you intend to kill her. Knows about the deal with my father. She said he won’t honour it.”
“How could she possibly know about that?”
“I have no idea, but she knew.”
“Do you think she survived?”
Trine nodded, “But I’ve no idea where she may be. Wherever she is, she’s badly injured.”
“Should I look for her?”
“Do you even know where to start to look for her?”
The runner sat in silence, staring into the flames dancing in the wood burning stove. Trine’s question hung in the air unanswered.
By the eve of the full Strawberry Moon, Trine was almost restored to full health. The long light summer nights meant their time outdoors was limited to a few short hours. Neither of them had strayed far from the beach hut while she’d recuperated. Initially, the runner had hunted for her but gradually, over the cycle of the Strawberry Moon, Trine had felt strong enough to hunt locally for herself.
With their thirst quenched with doe’s blood, they sat on the beach in front of the hut, listening to the gentle movement of the river before them.
“I wish we could stay here forever,” whispered Trine, playing with a smooth round white pebble.
“Don’t you miss your life in the castle?” he asked curiously.
Trine shook her head, “No. I’d miss the freedom being here gives me. I’d much rather be here than there.”
“Why do you bring this up now?”
“Because I know my father and he’s going to expect results from you,” she replied. “And soon.”
“But if he’s searched for her for years, why would he expect results from me in only a few months?”
Gazing into his dark brown eyes, Trine said simply, “Because a child always knows the way back to its mother.”
With a long sigh, he confessed, “Well, I used to.”
As the Strawberry Moon shone full and bright over the calm river the next night, the runner sat alone on the beach in front of the hut, deep in thought. He’d barely slept after his conversation with Trine the night before and the little sleep he got was troubled by bad dreams. Putting his hand in his pocket, he pulled out the small white pebble that he’d picked up months before. He sat lost in his thoughts, turning it over and over in his hand.
Although she hadn’t said as much, he guessed Trine knew he was struggling with the thought of actually killing the dark angel. He held onto a false hope that her fight with the Ice Maiden had seen her fall to her death. In his heart, he knew he had to look for her, to at least confirm if she was dead or alive.
“You look troubled, Son of Perran,” commented Trine as she approached him, picking her way carefully over the uneven rocks.
Without looking up, he said, “If she survived the fall after your battle, she’ll have found her way back to her mausoleum.”
“And you know where it is?” Trine’s words were more of a statement than a question.
The runner nodded.
“Go,” she said warmly. “If we can at least report back to my father that you’ve seen her that may stall him for a few more months.”
“Don’t you want me to kill her?” he asked, feeling suddenly confused.
“I want you to keep your word to my father so that you stay in his good graces,” replied Trine honestly. “But I’m not ready for our time here together to end. I’m not ready for you to die, my dear.”
Reaching up to take her hand in his, he said, “I’m not ready for this to end either but I need to check to see if she made it back or not. I need to check her mausoleum.”
“Is it far?”
He shook his head.
“Then go before you change your mind.”
The ground under his feet felt soft as he landed silently in a clearing near the concealed stone tomb. It was the same small clearing that the dark angel had led him to many years before. Moonlight lit his way through the trees as he walked soundlessly towards the mausoleum. There was no sign of fresh footprints near the small stone building; there were no signs of life near it either. Carefully, he walked round to the front. He stopped dead in his tracks. The door, usually tightly closed, was slightly ajar.
With his heart pounding and his hands suddenly sweaty and trembling, he walked towards the door. Reaching it, he pulled on the edge to open it wider. A sense of dread hung over him as he stepped nervously inside. He could smell the distinctive ferrous aroma of blood in the air; he could smell the stomach-turning aroma of decay and excrement. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, the runner thought that the tomb was empty then he spotted something lying crumpled on the floor. Now able to see a little clearer in the dim light, he noted the numerous dead mice and voles littering the stone floor. Cautiously, he approached the dark bundle.
It was her. It was the dark angel.
At first, he thought she was dead then he heard a shallow rasping breath.
She was alive.
Using his cigarette lighter, he lit two of the wall sconces. The flames hissed and spat as the light grew brighter around them.
Slowly, he knelt on the floor beside the prone angel. One of her majestic wings lay at an awkward angle. From the stench surrounding her, the angel had lain there for some considerable time.
“You came,” she whispered hoarsely. “I knew you would.”
“Sh,” he said softly. “Don’t try to talk. Let me help you.”
“Don’t touch me!” she spat venomously.
“I need to if I’m to help you,” he said firmly. Reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, the runner produced a slim pewter hip flask.
“Drink this,” he instructed, holding the flask to her parched lips. “It’s still warm.”
Holding her head in his left hand, the runner put the flask to her cracked lips. The dark angel took a few hungry sips then slowly opened her eyes.
“Help me,” she whispered, her eyes silently pleading with him.
“That’s why I’m here,” he assured her, offering her more of the warm deer’s blood.
“My back. The knife,” she said weakly.
“The knife’s still in there?”
Gently moving her wing, the runner saw the hilt of the knife lodged in the angel’s back between her shoulder blades and close to the root of one of her magnificent purple tipped black wings. Blood was crusted round it and there was a putrid smell from the wound.
“I can’t treat you here,” he said simply. “I’ve nothing to clean that wound even if I can get that blade out. You could bleed out. I need medical supplies. You need a doctor!”
“Do what you must, Son of Perran,” she said faintly. “I trust you.”
Knowing he had but one choice, he lifted her into his arms, taking great care not to touch the knife, wrapped his wings around them both and visualised his destination.