In a fictitious medieval empire, Freya is a soldier; except for her young life as a member of the lowest social caste, she has never been anything but a soldier.
Dragan has been her partner for twelve long hard years, and he has earned his retirement. His dream of returning to the family farm with Freya as his wife is finally at is fingertips.
Peace terrifies Freya. It is a way of life she cannot imagine, and when circumstances force her hand, it is one she learns to resent.
In Touchstone, every character tries their hardest to hold onto their dream of ideal happiness, without realizing that their dream might cost them the only real joy they have.
Although Touchstone is centred on the relationship between a hero and heroine, it is not a traditional romance. It is a tragedy; there is no happy ever after. At the time of writing there was no plan for a sequel, and there is none to date.
A chill rode the breeze that rose with the sun, tugging shreds of fog across the tarn and up toward the high stone porticos of the fortress.
Freya stretched, yawning, and bunched the furs up closer around her chin as she watched the young soldier dressing. He was strong, confident, and unashamedly naked; youth gave him no cause to hide. His skin was perfect gold, unmarked, moving smoothly over clean flat muscle as he gathered his clothes. The hard training of the past months had polished away any adolescent softness, showing the man he had become, and fitness left him clenched and eager for action.
As a lover he had been exactly as she’d expected: keen, athletic, persistent. What he’d lacked in finesse, he’d made up with enthusiasm and the memory brought a small smile as she studied him in the growing light. She could not recall his name.
Seeing her awake, he smiled, and moved to kneel beside her pallet. “Good morning,” he said, and leaned to kiss her. “Are we going down to eat?”
“You go.” She stretched again, yawning as she spoke. “I’ll be down shortly, there’s time.”
“But, I thought….” He hesitated, looked uncertain, childlike for the first time. He didn’t need to put his thoughts into words, they were written in lines of petulance. As she watched, he weighed dashed hopes against his options, and asked sharply, “Will I see you again?”
Freya stroked his cheek and down across his soft, full lips. He was a smart boy; he only needed a shot of reality. “This campaign will be long and cold and bloody. We’ll be huddled in wet tents, sleeping on rocks, and hacking our way through flesh and blood for months. If the gods are kind and you see me anywhere, chances are it will be a long way off and you, like me, will be fighting to stay alive.” She leaned across to kiss his cheek. “Don’t wait around for me. Live and live well, because none of us know if we’ll live for very long.”
He stared hard at her, a frown spoiling the smooth brow, and she met the plea in his eyes with a calm smile. At last he stood, snatched up his belongings, and stalked from the room without a backward glance. Young hearts bend a long way before they break, or love and lust would have caused more carnage than wars.
Cold ached into the scar on her shoulder, stabbing and burning deep inside the joint where the tissues had fused roughly. Rolling over flat, she twisted her spine slowly, letting the cracks and pops ease some of the stiffness from her back; cold damp mornings just weren’t as easy to shrug off as they used to be. Sighing away any curses she might have uttered, she swung her feet onto the flagging and pushed back the tangled mess of her hair. It needed cutting.
Behind the stonework of the fireplace was a small washroom, its cistern filled with water heated overnight by the fire. It had cooled as the fire died, and Freya worked the hand pump, drawing water warm enough to bathe into a narrow stone trough. She lowered herself in carefully, lying back so the meagre warmth covered her shoulder and let it work the knots out of gnarled flesh.
Eventually she sat up, pushing hair and water back from her face, then pressed her left hand onto her shoulder as she tried to move her sword arm through its full range of movement. No amount of warmth was going to free the jag and tear or the crunch of cartilage in every rotation. Neither was the liniment she poured into her hand to rub over the scar but she did it anyway, rubbing until a snarling altercation in the corridor outside dragged her out of the tub.
She slipped into a soft flannel tunic and opened her door, searching the gloom for the source of the noise. Dragan sat against the stonework, knees drawn up, and his head down, resting on crossed arms. He looked up as she approached, and then put his aching head back down into his hands.
“Did someone trip over you?”
He grunted, lifted his face and rubbed his forehead, but gave no answer.
“You look awful.” Freya almost smiled. All the red from the wine flagon beside him had pooled in his eyes, and his whole forehead flinched as he squinted through the dim light. “And you smell dead. You’d better come inside and get cleaned up.”
Slowly he twisted, supporting himself against the wall as he stood, stooped, then forced his cramped back to straighten. At full height he seemed to fill the ancient passageway. Resting a hand on her shoulder, he limped painfully into the room, cursing the glare and looking for a shaded place to sit.