Death must wait for her. She felt energy building in her stomach. Her tears of fear turned to tears of anger. She leaned forward, grabbed Fendor by the hips and bit into his side where the blood from her knife wound blossomed on his tunic. Fendor let out a yelp, wound the fingers of one hand into her hair and pulled her away from his body. He held her at arm’s length by her dirty and tangled black hair, his dagger at her throat.
“What in the name of all the gods are you doing?” He applied pressure to her neck. “Keep still or I will accidentally cut your head off.”
“Oh, like you mistakenly killed my puppies?” The tingling on her scalp from the roots straining in their foundations brought fresh tears to her eyes.
“I did not kill your wolf cubs and by accusing me, you will never figure out who really did.” Fendor stared her in the eyes. The lines around his eyes and mouth softened. He loosened his grip on Elyria’s hair but still kept his hand in place. He lowered his knife, tucking it in its sheath.
She reached up to scratch the itch on her scalp and came in contact with his hand. He laced his fingers into hers, bringing their arms down to their sides.
“I like animals. I liked your puppies.” He coughed and squeezed her hand. “I do not kill anything for no good reason.”
“But, you are the only one who came up here.”
“No, that’s not true, is it?”
Elyria let that sink in. Vindicius and Titus sneaked into the area without her knowledge. She knew less of them than she did of Fendor. The two of them had caused the hair on her arms to rise. She shivered now at the thought of them.
“Perhaps you are not responsible,” she said. She needed to center herself. She needed to calm her mind. She shocked herself by how quickly she strove for revenge. She promised herself she would remain calm and look for the truth.
“Why have you brought me in here?” She thought a change of direction might help.
“I don’t know how Vindicius and Titus got here. I don’t believe their arrival bodes well.”
“You obviously know each other.”
“I know them both very well and this is a knowledge I would gladly do without.” Fendor stroked Elyria’s wrist with his thumb. They had been holding hands all along. She pulled her hand away from his and smoothed down her chemise, just remembering how she must appear to him.
“Vindicius and I owe allegiance to the same good lady. He guides her soul on its path to its home with The Christ. He is her priest. Titus owes his allegiance to himself alone, but accepts special tasks from Vindicius for gold, thus chaining their souls to one another.” Fendor sat on the stone bench patting the spot next to him. Elyria hesitated briefly, but then decided she could trust him within limits. He had several opportunities to do away with her and he had not taken them.
“You do not like Vindicius.” She felt the heat of his body reach out to her. The warmth soothed her. Drafts of air flowed by them, damp and cold from the bowels of the earth. He removed his light cape from his shoulders and draped it around hers. It held the smell of wood smoke and pine.
“No, I do not. He professes a faith in a God that values peace and poverty and selfless duty to others. He acts like a god himself, taking to his person riches and the slavery of those he should help.” Fendor left his arm around Elyria. She moved closer to him. She fit into his side. He grimaced as she came in contact with the knife and teeth wound she had inflicted on him earlier. She touched the spot with her fingertips.
“I will clean this wound for you.”
“It is of no consequence.” Fendor gave a short, strangled laugh. “You should look to cleaning yourself up.” Fendor leaned closer to Elyria. “What is more important is determining why Vindicius has appeared here.” He jumped to his feet and began pacing the cave floor. “His orders charged him with organizing the pilgrimage at its origin. He cannot do so if he is here.” Fendor punctuated this by punching his fist into the cave wall. Dust showered down from the spot. He kept moving without pause.
“Perhaps your group has assembled and he came to find you.”
“He must have followed me, to be here, now, at this time.”
“He could have used the same source at the library you did and followed his own route here.”
“Yes, that is possible. He travels in more luxurious ways than me. I would not have seen him.” Fendor stopped in front of her. “I want to know why.”
“Can’t you ask him?”
“Yes and he will gladly answer me. But it will not be the truth. His answers, his words are deceptive. He sculpts creations to support his needs.”
A shadow crossed the mouth of the cave. Elyria caught it from the corner of her eye. She moved to stand, but Fendor held up a hand to stop her. He placed his finger over his lips to signal her silence. He cocked an ear in the direction of the entrance. They waited listening. They waited for several minutes. When she thought it must have been a cloud passing over head, she heard gravel shift just outside.
Fendor inched over to the edge of the opening, without so much as disturbing the air around him. When he stood by the entrance, he waited.
Elyria’s foot began to itch. Her nose tickled. She struggled to ignore her body’s treachery. She looked at the roof. She twitched her nose. She jumped when Fendor reached around the lip of the entry and pulled Titus into the cave, throwing him to the ground, face first. Fendor planted a foot on Titus’ back, holding him down.
Titus kicked his legs and flayed his arms, throwing dirt into the air but not succeeding his getting out of his trap. Fendor kept his boot on his back until Titus quit his struggles. Fendor rolled him over with his foot and placed it on Titus’ chest.
“What does one do with a sneak, with a snake?” Fendor shook his head at Titus. Elyria couldn’t take her eyes off of the oily and now dirty Titus. Spittle flew from his mouth as he struggled to speak. His cheeks glowed red against the pale white of his face.
“Must you always mishandle my servants?” Vindicius sauntered into their gathering. “Dear lady, be wary of this man’s temper. He lashes out on a whim.” He came over to Elyria and sat down. He took her hand in his own. Fendor glared at him.
“Sir, take care of your familiarity with me.” Elyria pulled from Vindicius’ touch. A scowl passed over his face, Elyria not even sure she had seen it.
“You did not so caution our friend.” His tongue poked out of the side of his mouth at her. He rose and took a regal stance. “The evils of the flesh will doom you to Hell. Satan lusts after young women who are weak and easily tempted.” He turned and left.
Titus used their shocked silence to crawl from the cave. Standing at the entrance, he looked over his shoulder at them and winked.
“There will come a reckoning for you both.”