The full version of Chapter Seven of The First Fight is now available on Wattpad. As this was one of the steamier episodes, I can only publish an extract here. Final chapter next week.
Chapter Seven (excerpt)
Early spring and the first thaws saw water cascading from gutters and rooftops; slabs of snow thudding to the ground and splintering to be trodden beneath passing boots into a grimy mush. The river rose: there was talk of flooding, and Hal wondered whether to seek refuge in the academy. But she had grown to love her little refuge too dearly. And eventually the Col sank back in upon itself, as if it had stirred briefly like a restless animal and was now lying back down to sleep.
She sought to push thoughts of Orla far from her mind; rarely visiting The Emperor in case their paths crossed. A part of her still yearned for the soldier’s embrace, but she couldn’t allow herself to be swept up again in all that fury; all that rage and pain. Hal felt for Orla; for the wounds to her mind and body which the desert had inflicted. And, the duellist told herself, she would have done all she could to help heal those wounds. But Orla had seemed intent on turning her own anger against Hal. And that was more than she could bear.
So Hal channelled her own energies into duelling, surprising herself and Beric: delighting those who crowded into the arena to watch her fight, her fame spreading as word leaked out of the courtier who’d exchanged wealth and privilege for a rapier and the duelling circle. Until one evening, when the sun had almost bled out and the streets were rich with shadow. And someone rapped hard three times on her door.
Weary after a day of training, Hal hauled herself up off the bench and padded barefoot across the floorboards, easing aside the door.
She stared into green eyes and cursed. “I thought I said it was over between us.”
Orla had regained some of the muscle she’d lost after Yegdan. She was dressed not in gambeson and leathers, but in linen shirt and canvas breeches; greatcoat and boots. And her gaze was cool, not crazed, as she leant against the door frame with her hands in her pockets, her lips sealed and fine and her face unreadable. Hal shivered.
“I suppose I owe you an apology,” Orla said.
“Yes. And I’d rather not deliver it out here in the street.”
“I’m not sure I want to hear it anyway,” Hal said, closing the door.
The soldier wedged her boot between frame and threshold. “Just give me a chance.”
Resting her head against the hard, damp oak, Hal sighed. “You set out to hurt me.”
“I didn’t! I didn’t know what I was doing. I was injured; torn apart. I’m better now. I’m whole again.”
Orla paused and turned to look back up the street, chewing on her lower lip. “Yes,” she said after a few moments. “I am.”
Hal sucked in her cheeks, deliberating. She had the strength to kick Orla’s foot out of the way, slam the door in her face and bolt it fast. But part of her had tensed under Orla’s gaze. Part of her wanted her lover back; the woman who had drawn her on with hard words, who’d made love to her in the street, whose body had curved into her own. With a groan, she pulled open the door. Orla’s smile was brief and tight as she pushed past Hal and into the room.
“Still living in this dump, then?”
“And where else would I be?” Hal asked, closing and locking the door.
“Well, I’d have thought…with all your renown…I heard you’re drawing in the spectators.”
“But it’s a mere performance,” Hal said through gritted teeth. “Isn’t it?”
They stared at each other, the silence prickling Hal’s skin. And then Orla lowered her head.
“I am truly sorry,” she said at last. “After…after all that happened…down there in the south. I wasn’t myself. I … came loose for a while. I fell apart.”
“And now you’re back?”
When Orla raised her head, Hal saw that her eyes were glistening. “I’ve stitched up the holes,” the soldier said.
“I see.” Hal folded her arms across her chest, sinking back into herself, unable to look back at Orla. The soldier stood and she stood, as if waiting, hovering on a mountain ledge or cliff, daring each other to jump.
“Hal, I missed you. I understand why you walked away…”
“You hurt me, Orla! You humiliated me; and yourself.”
“I was at a loss! I needed you, but my mind was a wild place. I had such thoughts, Hal…such dreams after….after it all. Just the thought of sleeping filled me with dread. My dreams were full of horrors.” A single tear spilled, inching down her cheek. She trembled. And without thinking, Hal took her in her arms. Against herself, against her own will, she revelled in the heat of Orla’s body; in the hint of sinew and muscle beneath her fingertips, in the brush of Orla’s lips against her ear.
“I’m sorry. I truly am.”
Hal framed Orla’s face between her hands. “Don’t hurt me again, Orla.”
“I won’t.” Orla spoke through a kiss. “I promise.”