Word count: 2930
A/N: Written as a really last minute pinch hit for the 2017 round of spn_j2_xmas for lady_simoriah. Happy late Christmas! This story was written in something of a hurry, for which I apologize. Note to future me: don't attempt to write a high fantasy story in a week; it doesn't really work. orz I'm hoping to have some time this week to round it out a little bit more, but feel free anyone to ask for more details if things don't make sense. AO3 link to come.
Summary: Amildir has many questions about the two new wyvers traveling with the caravan.
They always stood too close together.
Of all the unusual things about the two new wyvers her husband had hired to guard their caravan, Amildir knew that their closeness wasn't the first that most people would have noticed about them.
No doubt her husband had first noticed the casual ease they had with their weapons, the way they moved with the particular wary alertness of trained warriors. Perhaps the other wvyers had been distracted by the embroidered black and red band along the bottom of the taller one's jerkin: a wizard's insignia that sat incongruously amid the clothes and trappings of a ranger that he wore. In Amildir's younger days, she had to admit, it would have been their uncommon good looks that caught her attention.
Now, though, it was the closeness that she'd first been - and continued to be - most arrested by.
The two of them been travelling with the caravan since they'd left Khartos in early spring, hired to make up for the handful of wyvers that hadn't returned after the winter hiatus. They'd introduced themselves as Sam and Dean, strange foreign names to go with their fair skin and light eyes. They spoke Common with an accent that Amildir couldn't quite place, despite a lifetime of experience deciphering accents and dialects from all over the world.
The odd thing was that their accents actually reminded her of her own, in a way: they sounded cobbled together, as though they'd traveled to so many lands in their childhoods that they new sounded like they belonged to nowhere at all. Which made sense for someone like Amildir, child of traders as she was, but it was obvious by their manner that Sam and Dean had never made their livelihood along the caravan routes.
"This is beyond tedious," Dean muttered, not enough under his breath to avoid Amildir overhearing through the caravan's open window covering. A glance past the damask curtain revealed him and Sam on horseback a scant two feet away, their mounts so closely aligned that their inside legs were pressed together from hip to knee. "We could've been there by now if this thrice damned bunch of wagons wasn't moving slower than a Slaklian mud slug."
"Which is fine if you want to be dead," Sam shot back. One of his hands came to rest on the back of Dean's neck, a motion at once reassuring and proprietary. "You agreed that this was the best way to get to Posna."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it." Dean relaxed fractionally into Sam's grip for a heartbeat, two, then flexed his heels and sent his horse trotting ahead, out of Sam's reach and Amildir's hearing. Sam simply shook his head and watched Dean go, something wistful and far away colouring his expression.
Amildir wasn't the only one who was curious about them. Most of the wyvers had been with the caravan for at least a season or two and, while they'd never be an especially bosom group, they liked to know with whom they were working.
They weren't especially successful with Sam and Dean.
"So what's your story?" Tahsi, one of the other wvyers, asked not long into Sam and Dean's time with the caravan. Tahsi gestured with his knife at Sam and Dean, and the scant inch of space they had between them. "How'd you two meet?"
Dean laughed. "Isn't it obvious?" He slung a companionable arm around Sam's neck, ignoring Sam's immediate and longsuffering sigh. "This here's my baby brother. Can't you see the family resemblance?"
Everyone around the fire laughed, as they'd clearly been meant to. Tall and handsome though they both were, there wasn't much in their countenances to suggest a familial connection.
"We're on a great quest," Dean continued, clearly reveling in having an attentive audience. "To avenge our parents' murder and stop the end of the world-ow! Sam!"
"I'd ignore Dean if I was you," Sam told Tahsi, ignoring Dean's aggrieved look as he rubbed at his sore arm. "He's always loved history."
One of the other wyvers grinned. "I'm pretty sure the time of quests and saving the world from the forces of darkness are long over," he agreed. "Still doesn't explain where you actually come from."
Sam shrugged. "He followed me home from school one day and refused to leave. Seemed easier to bring him along than have him follow me at a distance."
It was fascinating, the way they lied.
Not because they were especially good at it, but because it was hard to tell which part of it was the lie. Amildir suspected that that was entirely the point. Whatever secrets they were hiding had to be dark and deep for them to go to such lengths to hide them. They certainly seemed to take their toll on them.
"Oh, an the barkeep suggested we stay away from the southern routes," Saman said, as he was finishing up his account of his trip into town.
Amildir hummed thoughtfully. "Why is that?"
"Apparently Kansar's got a new king that's stirring up all kinds of trouble." Saman looked unusually serious as he added, "The word is that he murdered the last king and his entire family and took the kingdom by force."
"I heard that the younger son helped him do it," Finnian jumped in, always eager to gossip. "Wanted to be king himself, but got double-crossed during the coup."
Saman snorted in disgust. "Serves him right. Filthy traitor."
A sharp bang made them all jump, and Amildir turned to see Sam striding away from the circle of caravans, his shoulders hunched and his movements sharp. There was a sizeable dent in one of the iron skillets hanging on the wall near where she'd last seen him standing.
"Uh," Dean said, his feet already carrying after Sam even as he said, "I should probably go check on him."
He was gone before anyone could suggest that Sam didn't look as if he wanted company.
Tilde tutted. "Wizards," she said sagely. "So emotional."
When Amildir caught sight of them some hours later, tucked into each other in an uncomfortable-looking tangle that nonetheless seemed utterly natural, she left them to whatever comfort they could find.
They were lovers, Amildir could only assume. Their casual ease with each other's bodies and the heated stares that passed between them suggested few other explanations. But even that seemed insufficient to explain the way they acted more like one soul in two bodies rather than two distinct individuals.
She doubted that she was ever going to find out the truth.
"Why do they interest you so?" Tynian asked one day, when he caught Amildir watching the way they did their rounds without ever losing sight of each other for more than a minute.
"They're not like the others," Amildir answered. "I can't quite put my finger on it."
Tynian smiled. "Always the vigilant one," he said fondly. "Let me know if you discover anything amiss. The Holy One knows you're the better person to judge that."
"So, business as usual then," Amildir said, smiling back. "I promise."
Honestly, she doubted it would come to that. They seemed to be good men - or as good as one could hope for when dealing with vagabond swords for hire - and their secrets seemed unlikely to present harm for Amildir or the caravan. So she kept her suspicions and half-understandings locked behind her teeth, safe from causing any unintentional harm.
Then came the day that everything Amildir thought she knew about the world changed.
They were travelling through the thick forest just outside of Gyan, trying to reach the next waystation before night fell in earnest. The sky was smudged purple beyond the canopy of the closely packed leaves, the sun hanging low in the sky ahead of them. The forest was still and quiet.
There was something about the almost unnatural stillness of the night that set Amildir's teeth on edge.
A glance around showed that Sam and Dean seemed to have picked up on the same sense of unease that Amildir was feeling. Sam was peering out into the trees as though he could see right through them if he tried, and Dean's hand had strayed to the hilt of the blade at his hip.
She watched the way their eyes caught, the tension in Dean's jaw echoed by the terse nod that Sam gave in response, and felt the first stirrings of a vague, rootless fear in her stomach.
"Amildir?" Tynian asked, distracting her from her preoccupation. "Are you alright? You've gone pale."
"Something feels-" Amildir started, only to be cut off by a sudden, blood-curdling howl out of the trees, the sound alone enough to send a shiver down her spine.
Tynian frowned. "I've never heard a wolf that sounded like that before."
"That's because it's not a wolf," Dean cut in, pulling his mount up on Tynian's side. "Can we go any faster?"
Tynian blinked. "I don't-"
A cacophony of howling broke through the stillness, creating a noise that almost sounded like laughter.
Tahsi swore, hand flashing to his sword. "Whatever they are, it sounds like there's a good dozen of them."
"More, probably," Dean said. "They travel in large packs. We need to get out of here."
"It's no good," Sam said, appearing at Dean's side with a grave expression on his face. "They're too close, we'll never outrun them."
"Damn," Dean cursed. "Sometimes I hate being right."
"What's going on?" Tynian demanded. "Why are you so sure it's not just wolves?"
"Because we've encountered them before," Sam said.
"But what are they?"
"Hyoki." The word fell like a stone into a still pond, the impact sending an almost visual ripple through everyone in earshot.
"Hyoki?" Amildir repeated, her voice sounding thin even to her own ears.
One of the wyvers scoffed. "The hyoki are just a ghost story to frighten children."
"Yeah?" Dean paused in the act of unslinging his bow to pin her with a flat look. "You're going to want to reconsider that opinion in a second."
"Dean," Sam said, a wealth of meaning in a single word. "We're running out of time."
Waving him off, Dean rounded on them all with a "I want you, you and you guarding the rear," he said, pointing a finger at three other wyvers who looked somewhat surprised at being ordered around. "Everyone else should focus on the flanks. Sam and I will take the front. Civilians inside the caravans; it's about as safe as you're going to get."
"Why should we listen to you?" Saman demanded.
It was Tynian who answered. "Because he seems to know what he's doing." He pinned Dean with a stern look. "You do know what you're doing, I trust?"
Dean nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Good." Tynian looked around at the gathered faces. "Do what he says," he ordered, and the caravan burst into a flurry of motion as the wagons were set into a semi-circle, the wyvers took their positions, and Amildir and the other traders locked themselves inside the wagons.
They didn't have long to wait.
The howling, which had been coming steadily closer all the time, reached a crescendo that made several of the young children put their hands over their ears, and Amildir held her breath.
For a moment, there was stillness.
Then the screaming started.
She could hear Dean yelling something indistinct over the sound of tearing flesh and snapping bones, and then there was a high-pitched yelp and the gory noises stopped. The respite lasted less than a heartbeat, though, and Amildir found her hand in Tynian's as they listened blindly to the sounds of battle being waged.
The howling was all around them now, manic and frenzied and terrifying. There were other sounds too, sounds that Amildir didn't even want to think about, not-quite in time with the whistle and smack of arrows and swords.
"Watch out!" someone shouted, mere seconds before one of the wyvers started screaming like they'd had an arm ripped off.
Unable to stand it, Amildir jumped to her feet, brushing off Tynian's efforts to get her to stop as she made her way over to the window covering. She pulled it open just enough to peek out, and immediately had to bite back a startled gasp when she saw a body on the ground a few feet away. Tahsi.
The hyoki looked like something out of a nightmare. Black as death with spiked tails and a double-row of razor sharp teeth, Amildir had no difficulty believing that these were the same demons that had plagued their ancestors in the dark times. They outnumbered the wvyers at least three to one, and the fear in Amildir's stomach grew as she saw how truly outmatched they were.
Were they all going to die here? Torn apart by monsters of legend?
And then she saw them.
Amildir had been exposed to wyvers all of her life. It was an inevitability of traveling the trade routes, and one that she'd grown long used to. For all that actual force was only rarely required to defend them and their wares, she'd nonetheless had many opportunities to witness them fighting.
Sam and Dean were nothing like the others.
They were back to back in the middle of the clearing, surrounded by the pack of hyoki. Dean's arm was a blur as he shot arrow after arrow into the wall of hyoki, his aiming unerring. Sam's hands were wreathed in flames that he used to ignite the fur of any hyoki that came too close.
They were a devastating pair. They fought as a unit, each anticipating the other's moves so perfectly that it could only have developed from years of fighting together and trusting each other to be there when they needed it.
They fought like paladins, Amildir couldn't help but think. Or perhaps spirits.
It sent a flicker of hope through her veins. Maybe they would live to see tomorrow's sunrise.
Everything happened so fast.
Amildir missed the moment when Dean's hand flashed down to his quiver and found it empty, but she saw his hesitation. It didn't last long, a second, maybe two, but it was enough to throw them off their rhythm for that one crucial moment.
The hyoki lunged.
"Deanor!" Sam yelled, as Dean staggered to one knee, blood spilling freely through his fingers where they were pressed over his chest.
The world flared suddenly bright as day, so bright that Amildir ducked away from the window with a pained gasp, feeling the sting of it in her eyes.
The howling turned sour, yelps and sounds that Amildir couldn't even begin to parse filling the air.
Then there was silence.
"Is it over?" Saman asked, pale and shaking.
"I don't know," Amildir admitted. The silence continued, broken now by human groans and whimpers that proved that at least some of the wyvers were still alive.
"Dean!" Sam's voice cried, thick with fear and worry.
Amildir found herself fumbling open the caravan door before she'd even realized she'd moved away from the window. Several voices cried out in protest, but she had the lock unlatched and was outside before they could stop her.
The field was a sea of corpses that she couldn't bring herself to look at; instead, Amildir darted across the scorched grass to where Sam knelt, clinging to Dean's still form.
"Wake up," he urged, fingers tangling in the front of Dean's shirt, over the heart. He curled down until his lips brushed Dean's still cheek with every word. "Come back to me."
Amildir felt her own heart start beating again when Dean groaned, stirring. "Sam?" he mumbled.
Sam slumped down like his strings had been cut. "Deanor," he breathed, the word almost a benediction.
Impossibly, a smile curved Dean's mouth. "Thought you weren't going to call me that anymore," he said, in a voice that was tight with pain but impossibly fond.
"Heat of the moment," Sam said. "Don't get used to it."
As was his habit, Dean ignored him. "That mean I get to call you Sammy?"
Sam's exasperated huff lacked anything even remotely resembling bite. "Fine. But at least say it correctly for once."
"Sahmei," Dean said again, but with an audible shift in his accent that turned the word liquid, different from the way he'd always said it before. "Nice work."
Sam's whole heart shone through his eyes. Amildir felt naked just witnessing it. "Don't you dare do that to me again. Now hold still while I fix that hole in your chest."
"Whatever you say, Sahmei."
The rest of their journey along the trade route to the eastern mountain was blessedly uneventful. Amildir was unsurprised when Sam and Dean elected to stay in Posna instead of joining them for the next leg of the trip, despite the hefty sum Tynian offered them to continue.
Amildir puzzled over the mystery of them as the caravan continued on its well-worn path, pondering and ruminating until the day she finally asked.
"Do the names Deanor and Sahmei mean anything to you, Tynian?"
And Tynian paused and thought for a breath-stealing moment before a glimmer of recognition flared in his eyes. "Weren't those the names of King Jonnat's children? The brother princes of Kansar who were killed in that coup last year. Why do you ask?"
And Amildir thought of lies that weren't lies and impossible quests and sacrifices for the sake of the world, and smiled. "No reason really. I must have overheard them in the marketplace."
Perhaps the age of quests and heroes wasn't dead and gone after all.