Grinda’s breasts were pressed up against Mock’s chest. Eyes closed, she felt him breathe: in and out, in and out. Slow and powerful, long and deep. Tucking her face into the curve of his throat, she snuggled in closer.
In and out. In and out. She breathed in time with him, heart beating slow against his. His arm was draped around her, limp and heavy with sleep. His cock pressed stickily against her, his hairs itching her legs. They had made love twice that night and she could still feel the light brushing of his lips as he kissed her throat, the heaviness of his body upon hers, the heat of his seed as it trailed down her thigh.
He had made a bedding of leaves and grass for them to lie in, soft and sweet smelling. Days before, he had caught and killed a small bear and had fashioned a pelt. More for her, than for him; he rarely got cold. Though it was a cool night, the heat of him and of their lovemaking had made her fling it off so that they slept naked together beneath the canopy, the trees watching on, the moon gleaming against the sweat on their skin.
He didn’t stir, even as she kissed his neck and slid a hand around his arse. He was like that. He had limitless stamina when it came to hunting and fighting but come a night of lovemaking and he slept like the dead. She loved him like this, not that she didn’t love everything about him, but especially like this: vulnerable, peaceful.
In and out, in and out, he breathed. She could feel it through his whole body, a deep and masculine rumble that made her skin prickle, that made her flush with heat. It seemed so long ago when she slept with her family in their one big bed, in their dark hut, the light breathing of her brothers and mother and the snoring of her father echoing around her. At a sudden pang of guilt, she pressed her lips to Mock’s throat again, then pressed her nose against him, breathing him in. Stop thinking. Her eyelids fluttered. That deep, thick, male scent of his—it filled her up, made her swell. Comforting. It made her forget.
Soon, she fell asleep.
Grinda’s heart hammered in her chest. The lake of tar. It was back. It surrounded her, sucking at her legs, filling the air with its rotting stench. And beyond that—the Morgrar, the ash and dust. That absolute nothing from horizon to horizon. Above, a wan sun shone, a sickly dull yellow against the haze.
Not again. It was supposed to be over.
Her heart lurched as she spotted a figure in the distance. Just like the last time, he was facing away, but she would recognise that broad, muscular back anywhere, that long wavy hair blowing lightly in the wind. Naked and lost.
He dipped his head, then slowly turned. Her heart dropped. He was injured again: covered in blood, hunched over in pain, his face all swollen up. What was happening? He was supposed to be healed!
‘Grinda?’ he called back.
He began to move towards her.
But he didn’t listen and began to sink. Desperately, Grinda thrust her legs through the tar, trying to reach him—to no avail. Firmly stuck. And Mock was disappearing! First his thighs, then his hips, his waist, his chest. Finally, he was nothing but a head, those beautiful dark eyes filled with despair.
Then he sank completely.
Grinda jerked awake with a gasp. Panting, she sat up, hand to her pounding heart. Was it a vision? Was it another vision! She looked at Mock lying beside and her heart froze. He was so still, so pale. Unmoving. Exactly like that lonely night at the ridge, with the leafless wark and the dying Spirit, when he lay dead and everything seemed so lost.
‘Mock?’ she croaked.
Tears rushed to her eyes. ‘MOCK!’ Grabbing his shoulders, she shook him. ‘MOCK! MOCK!
Mock sat up, hand flying to his waist where his belt of knives should have been, only to remember he had removed it to make love to Grinda. It lay beside him and he quickly snatched out a blade, then leapt into a defensive crouch, eyes on the dark forest, arm thrust protectively around Grinda.
‘What is it?’ he said, eyes flicking between the trees, from branch to branch, from root to canopy, between the light and the shadow. His ears pricked for any sounds of the enemy, of a stalking predator—nothing. He spun around. More nothing. Finally, he looked at Grinda. She was pale and shaking, her face all screwed up. ‘What’s wrong? Did you see something?’
She shook her head. Then he saw her tears and realised. He lowered his blade.
Dropping her face into her hands, she gave a wracking sob.
Sheathing his knife, he gathered her into his arms, dropping to his backside as he pulled her into his lap. Gently, he rocked her, arms tight around her, as she wept and shuddered. He had been wondering when it would happen, waiting. It was four weeks since that night, since the time he had been captured and tortured. After all she’d been through, she hadn’t cried, hadn’t brooded and refused to speak about it, eyes locked firmly on their future ahead.
It had only been a matter of time.
‘You were dead, Mock.’
‘Yes, but not anymore.’
‘But you could be again.’
He sighed. What was he to say to that? He kissed her on the head.
She wiped at her eyes. ‘What if it was a vision?’
‘But how can you know?’
‘Trust me. It wasn’t.’
She looked at him, then pressed her lips together. Mock, above all, knew what it was to suffer from past traumas, to have nightmares so real they left one shuddering in the night.
She laid her chin on his shoulder as he continued to rock her. He could feel her tears in his hair, pooling in the nape of his neck, her soft quivering. Lips on her cheek, her jaw, kissing her neck. She sighed in his arms.
Closing his eyes, he kissed her shoulder, letting himself enjoy her softness, her warmth. Placing a hand on the small of her back, he traced his finger along the very top of her crack. She shivered—always so ticklish there—then giggled.
She looked up at him, cheeks streaked with tears, eyes red-rimmed, but smiling. She ran her fingers along the stubble of his jawline, through his wiry beard. He chomped playfully at her fingers and she pulled back with a laugh.
Gripping her around the waist, he kissed her. She looped her arms around his neck, pushing in close. Her sweet scent filled his lungs. The little hairs on her arms brushed against his, making his skin tingle. Her nipples were soft and warm against his. Kissing her on the nose, he lowered her to the ground.
They rested there, her head on his shoulder, his arm curled around her waist, legs entangled.
He pressed his lips to her head. ‘Better now?’
She nodded. ‘Much.’
‘It’s all right to grieve.’
‘I know. Do you—do you have nightmares about it?’
‘Sometimes, but I’m used to it. And it was only my death I had to deal with, not yours.’
She rolled onto her side, looking up at him. ‘Do you fear it? My death?’
‘I try not to think about it. But yes, every day.’
She snuggled in close until he could feel her lips pressed against his nipple. Soon her breathing turned long and deep while Mock stayed awake, gazing through the canopy, to the stars twinkling brightly above.