“Keep climbing!” Comron admonished her.
The crogodans seemed to know that her strength was waning and she would soon fall. Their tails began wagging in agitation and their enormous heads swung back and forth, flicking out their tongues in anticipation of another warm meal.
“No,” Vaush muttered under her breath as she stretched to grab hold of a root jutting outward. With her last bit of energy, she took hold of it and pulled herself upward.
A horrific snap sounded and she slid roughly downward along the bank toward the crogodans.
She screamed and Comron turned as she clung to the wall just above the snapping jaws.
“Vaush!” Comron cried as he rapidly descended the embankment. “Don’t move, I’m coming.”
One of the crogodans’ tongues touched her foot, and Vaush jerked her knees up, causing the branch to give even more.
“Damn it, Vaush!” Comron yelled. “Stay put, I’m almost there.”
Within seconds, he was at Vaush’s level. The crogodans grew more agitated. Comron secured his grip on the embankment, then reached his hand out toward her. “Give me your hand.”
Suddenly, Vaush remembered Comron doing the same with Wensel. Comron didn’t want him around as a witness. Was it possible that he caused Wensel to fall?
Vaush glanced down at the crogodans.
“Give me your hand!” Comron barked the command.
The power of his voice was like the crack of a whip, demanding her attention. She saw the depth of fear in his eyes.
Without further hesitation, she stretched toward his hand.
Comron grasped hers firmly then pulled her sharply toward him. Terror gripped her heart as she was forced to release the root, and for a split second, she was suspended in midair over the crogodans. But Comron pulled her in, pinning her firmly against the embankment.
For a long moment, they remained that way, both breathing heavily from the exertion. Pressed between Comron and the wall, she could feel the steady rise and fall of his chest and the pounding of his heart. An overwhelming sense of security enveloped her, as if being in his arms was the safest place in the world. And yet the intimacy of their positions sent fiery heat through her body. She could feel Comron’s warm breath upon her cheek, his lips grazed the top of her ear. “Are you ready?” he whispered.
She swallowed. “Ready?”
The fog lifted from her head. “Yes, yes of course.”
“You go first this time. I’ll direct you.”
Under Comron’s direction, they slowly progressed up the embankment and over the top to flat ground. His sense of relief was overwhelming as the tension melted from his neck and shoulders. He peered out over the edge and watched the crogodans disappear into the forest.
“They’ve given up,” he said.
“Poor Wensel.” Too exhausted to say anymore, she rolled over onto her back, closed her eyes and allowed the rain to wash away the mud.
Comron turned to gaze at her as she lay next to him. Seeing the sublime look of serenity on her face, he could have believed her to be an angel who’d lost her wings and fallen among the mortals. He could spend an eternity here with her in this moment.
“Comron,” Vaush said, then opened her eyes and looked directly into his. “Thank you for…for everything. I am forever in your debt.”
He held her gaze but made no reply as the rain poured down. There was no appropriate remark that he could possibly make without completely betraying his feelings for her. All of the years of training couldn’t forestall the onslaught of crippling fear he felt at seeing Vaush fall toward the crogodans. It was as if time had stopped and all that mattered was saving her…as if his life depended upon it.
I am not permitted to feel these things!
He sat up abruptly and spoke tersely, “We’ve wasted enough time. We should be on our way.”
Reluctantly, Vaush climbed to her feet and stood next to him. “I’ll do my best not to hinder you any further.”