Irish Rogue

By Hunter Ash


Disclaimers:This is uber-Xena.  I don’t own Xena, Gabrielle and the rest.  I’m merely borrowing for entertainment, don’t bother suing me. 

Since this is uber, the characters are original and mine and not for public use, thanks.

Violence:  about the same as a TV episode

Sex/Alt-Fiction:  yes.  This story is of couples of the same gender in loving, caring and sexual relationships with each other. 

Feedback: yes, yes, yes – please.  I respond to all feedback.

Background:  this story was a request by my editor as a birthday present.  She asked for a story from me that included: swashbuckling, romance and a happy ending.  No small requirements.  What follows is the story I wrote for Dev Anderson, my best friend, best editor, and inspiration to my muse.  She helps keep me sane in this insane world.

Breeya softly cursed under her breath as the carriage hit another of the countless holes in the road, almost throwing the young woman across the small space and into the lap of her maid and chaperone, Mrs. MacConnell.

The elder Scots woman frowned at the words coming from her young charge but understood the sentiment.  Her own spine protesting the rough treatment they were receiving from the bouncing contraption they called a carriage as they rode across the wilds of northern Ireland.

"By God, this has been misnamed a road!" she snapped as she clung to the handle next to the door, attempting to stay in her seat.

"I agree, Edna," Breeya smiled, holding onto her own strap in an effort to maintain her dignity and position on the seat.  It was difficult enough with the flared skirts to stay in the narrow seat, the young woman cursed.  Decorum demanded that she travel in the dress of her noble status instead of the comfortable clothes she preferred at home. 

Breeya grinned, Edna would have a heart attack if the young woman had worn her riding clothes of men's trousers and shirt.  The young Scot had been fighting against the fancy clothing of her station ever since she was a small child and Edna had spent many a long hour arguing with her charge over it. 

"Tell me again about William Harrington," Breeya suggested after a couple more minutes of the rough treatment. 

"I've told you a dozen times what I've found from the servants and such," Mrs. Edna MacConnell protested.

"And I'm the one marrying him, sight unseen," the young woman reminded her life-long caretaker and friend.

"I know, lass, and I am much sorry for that, I am," the Scots woman repeated.  "I hate politics."

"I agree and I hate being treated like property," Breeya complained.

"Och, you know it's best for your family and the Crown," Edna reminded the young woman.  The upcoming marriage had been the source of many fights for the last six months between the young woman, her maid, her father and his advisors.  The last thing the young headstrong woman wanted was to be married to a middle aged soldier in Ireland, far away from her ancestral home in the Borderlands between Scotland and England and away from her father.  The marriage was a political and financial one, securing monies and lands for both families. 

Now that Breeya had reached the age of seventeen, her father had been worried about finally marrying off his daughter in a good marriage.  The young woman had resisted all legitimate suitors from the surrounding families and even some from the English Court.  Her father, Aleistar Kerr, had finally put his foot down when inquiries from Lord Selwyn had come in, expressing interest in marrying the young Breeya.

Lord Selwyn was a widower and was acquiring land in the wilds of Ireland and desired a young wife to provide him with an heir.  Someone young enough to withstand the bitter weather, stubborn enough to match the hatred from the natives of the hostile land, someone wealthy enough to supplement his expenses of moving to his new holdings, and someone royal enough to be approved of by the Crown.

Lady Breeya Kerr had fit these requirements and her father had insisted on the match.

Arranged marriages were more than common, especially among the royals but that didn't mean that Breeya was happy with the arrangement. 

Especially the idea of Ireland.

Breeya knew enough about the Troubles in the unruly land to know that the natives hated the English and the Scots and resented their controlling presence on the island.  The Irish were determined to drive the British out and the British were more than determined to stay. 

Like a lot of crowded families in England and Scotland, Lord Selwyn had been granted land in Ireland as a reward for his service to the British Crown.  The Crown was hoping to control the rebellious land, reward its loyal citizens and maintained its base for its growing Empire.  It was mainly Scottish nobles who were transplanted to Ireland, grateful for the land but hard on the natives.

Ever since the match had been made, Breeya had been learning all she could about Ireland and had learned a bit more than most of those of her station normally bothered too.  The native Irish were forbidden to have their religion of Catholicism, if they went against Crown wishes their land was forfeit; the land was being taken from them for the Scottish settlers.  To survive the natives were kept on the land as tenants, they would work the land, work the herds and only receive a small portion of the profit and goods from the land to survive on.

Those that refused or rebelled against the new system were sent to Connaught, Western Ireland.  Wild, untamed, rough and treacherous in weather and terrain, it was now a land filled with rebels and desperate people trying to survive.

The young Scot had frowned deeply while reading about the problems in Ireland.  She could sympathize with the Irish on most levels.  A large number of the Scottish settlers in Ireland were sent there because they refused to acknowledge the English Church as Mother Church and insisted on keeping their loyalty to the Anglician Church.  Not much different than the Irish resisting the conversion to the Protestant belief.  Breeya also knew what it felt like to be of a conquered people and the resentment that caused.  There was constant rumbling throughout Scotland against England, just as in Ireland.

Breeya was now on her way to be married to one of the English landowners, one of the Royals who had displaced the native people, on the edge of Connaught. 

It was only because of her father's tenuous position and questionable loyalty to the Crown that this marriage had even considered for his daughter.  After much pleading and reasoning the stubborn green-eyed girl had given in.  Knowing she'd have to marry and soon because of her age, she had finally given in when her father reassured her place at home if Lord Selwyn turned out to be unbearable.

Breeya frowned, endless days of travel over sea and land was beginning to take its toll on the young woman and Edna MacConnell looked worse for wear at this point. They still had two days travel over the rough land.

In exchanged letters Lord Selwyn was polite and friendly enough, telling Breeya about the new land he had acquired, describing its beauty with a hint of a poet inside of him but with a firm tone when it came to the natives, including his own staff.  Breeya could tell that he had no patience for anyone not properly versed in the English ways and style.  She wondered how he would take to her Scottish accent and well known stubborn streak.

Breeya herself had been well schooled, unlike most women of her day and she knew it.  Her father had gone against tradition and had seen that his only child would one day be able to handle the estate that she would inherit; able to handle servants, reading, writing and ledgers.  The schooling had somewhat tamed the restless streak in the young woman but hadn't erased it totally.  Breeya's teachers had all been impressed with her intelligence and quick wit and her desire to learn everything she could get her hands on, especially about the outside world. 

The young woman knew her father expected her to get married and have heirs for both her husband and for the lands she would inherit from her father. 

She was resigned to the fate that waited for anyone in her position, marriage and children.  Hopefully Lord Selwyn would be someone she could get along and be friends with. 

Breeya knew that love was something out of romantic tales, mostly.

"Hold your reins!" a voice startled Breeya out of her musings as the sun was setting that evening.  She started to move the curtain at the door window aside but Edna grabbed her young charge's hands and hissed for the noblewoman to be quiet.

"Give way!" the coachman demanded and the women in the carriage heard the sound of the hammer of a pistol being pulled back.

"There's more coming alongside," the footman cried out and the women could hear the sound of several horses galloping up and stopping on both sides.

"What do you want, rabble rat?" the coachman demanded.

"We would be escorting your noble lady on the next part of her journey," an Irish voice said cheerfully.

"I'll see you in hell first, you damned Catholic dog!" the coachman threatened.

"They mean to kidnap you, Breeya," Edna whispered.

"So it would seem," the young woman answered simply and calmly.

"When they go to open the doors, dart out the other one, maybe you can hide in the dark," Edna suggested.

"What about you?"

"It's you they're after.  They'll just take our money and look for you," Edna said reassuringly and Breeya drew out a pistol and cocked the hammer back, hoping that the expensive wheel-lock firing mechanism worked.  Both women placed their hands on the door handles on each side of the carriage, whichever one was opened first would receive a surprise from Breeya's gun and she was hoping it would distract the bandits long enough to escape out the other door.

"Damn your eyes," the Irish voice snapped back at the coachman.  "We don't intend to harm her, I give you my word."

"What good would the word of an Irish dog be?" the coachman growled back.

"I'm losing my patience with you, drop the reins and throw the musket over the side," the voice ordered.

"I'll take you to hell with me!" the coachman shouted and started to grab for the musket but Breeya's voice stopped him and the Irish bandit.

"Stop, Thomas!" Breeya called out from inside the coach.  "No bloodshed, please! You swear you won't harm my servants?"

"I swear by all the Catholic saints that we won't harm them unless they do something stupid," the voice called back.

"Thomas, do as he says," Breeya ordered and gripped the door handle tighter.

"Aye, MiLady," Thomas called back.

Edna and Breeya could hear the musket hitting the ground and then several feet followed as riders dismounted.  They could feel and hear someone climbing onto the carriage seat with Thomas and another one tossing Joseph, the footman off the back.

"Alright, check the Lady and let's ride!" the Irishman ordered.

Breeya felt her heart pounding in her chest and a roaring filling her ears in anticipation and held the pistol steady, despite her inner trembling.  After years of defying her father's wishes, Breeya had learned how to ride the most wild of stallions, how to hunt, how to farm and how to handle herself with a pistol and sword and the young woman knew that she wasn't a coward but she had to admit that she was afraid now.

The door on Breeya's side started to open and she only caught a glimpse of a startled man's eyes as he took in the pistol in his face before the sound of the pistol firing filled the small space.  Breeya felt herself being grabbed and tossed through the other door by Edna and then she hit the ground heavily.  The Scotswoman rolled instinctively and felt gravel and then grass.

Scrambling to her feet she quickly dashed for the rocky terrain on the side of the road as shouts filled the air.  Ducking behind a boulder she glanced back at the carriage and could make out several figures moving around and a couple of the figures fighting on top of the coach. 

"Becan Finn!" the Irish voice called out.  "Find the woman! You! Stop fighting with that idiot and get whichever woman that is out of the carriage."

"We aren't taking the carriage?" another thickly accented voice called.

"No, just grab the women and we ride!"

Breeya began moving slowly behind the rocks, keeping close to the road but moving back the way they had come.  She tried to keep track of the moving figures but there was no moon and it became impossible in the dark.  When she stumbled for the third time the young woman sat down behind a group of boulders, wrapping her shawl tighter around her.

She could still hear shouting and horses moving around and the leader's voice calling for her.  Breeya gripped her pistol by the barrel, determined to use the butt as a club if necessary.

The noblewoman yelped as someone jumped from the rocks above and landed right in front of her, sword at Breeya's neck.

Breeya found herself staring into the bluest eyes she had ever seen. Under a floppy brimmed hat, the rest of the face was hidden behind a red scarf pulled up to conceal the Irish rogue’s features.  The figure was tall, especially when standing over the young woman in the dark, and seemed lean.  Dressed in simple clothing but with a dash of flair with knee high boots turned down at the knees and a cloak.

The young Scotswoman was surprised to find that the sword at her neck wasn’t a typical sword, thin bladed with sweeping foiled hilt but a seaman’s cutlass.  She was also surprised with herself that she noticed this small detail at that moment.  Breeya dropped the pistol and held her hands up, showing they were now empty.

"Finn! Do you have her?" the commanding Irish voice called and the figure standing over Breeya whistled twice in return.

"Bring her, let’s be gone!"

The figure motioned with her sword for Breeya to stand and then motioned for the young captive to move.  Glancing over her shoulder she saw the tall figure sweep down and retrieve her pistol, keeping the cutlass at the Scotswoman’s back.

Torches had been lit at the carriage and Breeya’s eyes flashed angrily as she took in the sight of the coachman and footman bound and gagged beside the carriage.  The horses had been unhitched and one the bandits held their reins. 

Most of the bandits were mounted once more but one stood out on a white stallion that stomped impatiently. 

Breeya counted five bandits plus the one behind her; she was relieved to see Edna standing beside their luggage, apparently unharmed.

"If you are intending to take the Lady then you best be planning on taking her luggage as well, you ruffians!" Edna shouted.

"We’ll take what can be carried on a horse as pack, you’ve five minutes woman!" the leader snapped and Edna glared back at him.

"Do it, Edna," Breeya said as she and the bandit approached the carriage and the torchlight.

"Oh praise be to God you’re alright!" Edna cried out and then began rummaging through their belongings, rearranging things. 

Breeya went straight to the apparent leader.

"Do you intend to leave them there overnight like that?" she demanded.

"Aye, MiLady, I do.  ‘Tis fortunate you had me word that they wouldn’t be harmed when you shot off that pistol of yours, kept us from firing on them.  You said no bloodshed," he growled from behind his black scarf-mask.

"I obtained a promise from you that you wouldn’t harm them, I said nothing about resisting myself," Breeya pointed out and could have sworn the bandit was grinning behind his mask.

"You’re as bad as the English when it comes to twisting a man’s word, eh?"

Breeya, not caring for the English much more than the Irish did, kept her silence at that retort.

"MiLady Kerr, I am most sorry that we’ve come to this action," the bandit continued.  "We have need of your presence with us for a short period.  We will try to make your visit with us as comfortable as possible.  If you give me your word that you’ll not try to escape I promise you won’t be harmed."

"No," Breeya answered, her jaw with a stubborn set to it.

"What?" he demanded as if he couldn’t believe what he had heard.

"No," she repeated.  "Whatever you may call this it is still kidnapping and I will resist whatever the devil your plans are, sirrah."

"MiLady, you will soon be in Irish territory, you don’t know the land, you don’t speak the language and you are an enemy, what would you fancy your chances?" she definitely could tell he was grinning.

"What do you intend to do with me?" she demanded.

"I’ve stated," he countered.  "You’ll stay with a few of us for a short while and then we’ll escort you to a public place and turn you over to either English troops or your intended betrothed, Lord Selwyn.  Unharmed."

"In return you’ll receive how much money?" she spat and heard a growl from the bandit behind her.

The bandit leader pulled down his mask and spat to the ground, revealing a handsome bearded face.

"Pox on yer money!" he shouted.  "You’ll not find the kin of Red Hugh O’Donnel holding helpless women captive for money!"

"Red Hugh, the Irish rebel?"

"Aye, the Irish patriot who fought the British from taking our land and denying us the freedom of our God-given religion!" he snapped.

"Then what are you holding me ransom for?"

"None of your concern," he growled and turned to Edna.  "Time’s up, woman!  Soldier 3, pack the stuff on the pack horse and let’s be gone."

Breeya felt herself shoved forward to the horses.

"As for your men, they’ll be placed inside the carriage for warmth.  Someone will be by tomorrow and rescue them," the bandit stated.

"Thank you for that."

"You’ll ride behind Becan Finn, Little Finn," the bandit grinned.

The bandit behind Breeya leaped onto a horse and sheathed the cutlass.  The young Scotswoman hesitated as the tall figure leaned an arm down and then took it, mounting behind the bandit, trying to sit the horse in her skirts.

"We know you can ride, like any gentry, but this way we can keep an eye on you.  The terrain is rough, if you fall off, tis likely you’d break that lovely neck of yours, MiLady," the lead bandit warned.

"Cu, let’s ride!" one of the bandits warned.


Breeya felt herself hanging on tightly to the bandit in front of her.

The night was spent in a wild ride behind the silent bandit until purple was coloring the sky with predawn light. 

Breeya tried to take in her surroundings as they approached a small village but the small group kept to the edge of town and approached a small farmhouse on the far end.  They kept to the shadows while the leader went to the door and knocked quietly.

One of the bandits pulled his horse alongside the bandit and Breeya.

"Please keep quiet, MiLady," he instructed.  "Finn here isn’t known for patience."

A flash of light at the door from a lamp and then someone was walking with the leader Cu towards the barn and the others followed quietly.

Within the hour the young Scotswoman and Edna found themselves sitting on a comfortable pile of hay with two of the bandits standing near them with pistols drawn. 

The leader Cu and the one known as Finn approached the two women with blankets and flasks of water.

"I’m sorry for the accommodations, ladies," Cu said simply.  "We’ll be staying here for the day and move on again tonight.  Everyone on the farm knows you’re here and won’t help you escape.  Just keep quiet and let us know if you be needing anything.  We’ll have breakfast in a bit."

"You canna not keep the lady in this godforsaken barn with the animals you idol worshipping thief!" Edna snapped.

Breeya was surprised when both Finn and Cu grinned and shrugged their shoulders.  The Scotswoman’s sharp eyes noted the same ruff of dark hair and blue eyes between the two and the family resemblance around the jawline as Finn pulled the scarf down.

"Tis unfortunate that we don’t have more fitting accommodations but this is the best that displaced Irish have for the conquerors," Cu said easily.

"I’m not your enemy," Breeya protested.

"Ah, but you are, MiLady," Cu countered and knelt down, his blue eyes looking deep into her green ones.  "You come here to marry a man who has thrown many Irish off the land.  People who have been here since the time of the giants, with no regard to family or future of those you’ve thrown off the land."

"If you wouldn’t rebel against the Crown you wouldn’t be thrown off the land," Breeya protested.

"And do you approve of the English denying the Scots their rightful heritage and royalty?  Who would you have sided with?  Robert the Bruce or the English crown?"

Breeya felt herself blushing.  Cu had scored points in their defense and they both knew it.  The noblewoman knew her father was already walking a fine line between choosing to side with his Scottish heritage against the ever intrusive English Crown.  Living in the Borderlands between Scotland and England meant walking that line all the time and constantly deciding which side the family was on.  Breeya knew that her father’s heart was with his Scottish Highland brothers but to keep the land, his holdings, his fortune and his family intact sometimes meant siding with the English like many of their neighbors.

"You’ve your own war coming, Scotty," Cu grinned.  "Is that why your father sends you to an arranged marriage in Ireland?"

"And what do you hope to gain by kidnapping me?"

"It’s very simple, our brother and my husband are being held as rebels in Belfast, your husband in charge of their transfer to Derry for execution," Finn spoke up for the first time and Breeya knew she was staring at the young woman as the Scotswoman realized the bandit was a female.  "You for them."

"Glory be!" Edna exclaimed.  "Even the women take up arms in this godforsaken country!"

"If I remember correctly, it was your Lady that shot one of my soldiers in the face last night," Cu grinned and Edna cursed under her breath about wise mouthed scoundrels.

"The English Crown would never agree to dealing with rebels," Breeya frowned.

"Pray that they do, MiLady," Cu advised, losing his grin.

Breeya sat back against the barn wall as Cu stood up and wandered off.  She continued to look into the blue eyes of the dark haired woman standing over them with her hand resting easily on the handle of her cutlass.

"Is your name really Finn?" Breeya finally asked as the woman sat down and leaned against the paddock wall.

"No, it’s Maeve.  We all took an alias so your men wouldn’t be able to tell your husband or the English who we are."

"But you’ve told us, they’ll know you after this," Breeya protested.  "Or do you intend to kill us?"

"Nay,"  the woman shook her head easily.  "After we get our kin back we’ll take to the seas like my cousin Grainmae."

"The female Irish pirate?"

"You know of her?" Maeve asked with a grin.

"Aye, most everyone in the English speaking world knows of her.  How she kept the English at bay for years, taking and holding power," Breeya responded.

"Aye, matching wits with your Queen and winning reprieve," Maeve smiled.

"So why is your brother and husband being held by the English?" Breeya asked.

"For protesting the Crown taking our land from us," Maeve answered.

"What else?"

"That’s it.  They had the nerve to complain in person to your husband for taking our land and he sent them to prison.  In prison they struck a guard that was beating my brother and were sentenced to death as rebels."

Breeya frowned.  She knew that the Irish were treated badly at times by the conquering English but sending someone to prison for protesting the taking of their land?  Could things be that harsh?

"You should sleep, you’ve had a long night," Maeve suggested, placing her cutlass across her lap and leaning her head back against the boards.

Breeya ignored Edna’s Scots Gaelic protests and positioned herself comfortably on the hay and followed the bandit’s suggestion.  It had been a long night.

A couple of hours later food was brought for the bandits and their captives.  Edna complained about the simple food but Breeya instructed her maid to be quiet and began eating the simple fare without complaint. 

After the dishes were cleared away Breeya began questioning Maeve about Ireland,  somehow keeping away from politics and religion in the discussion.  The young Scotswoman found Maeve intelligent, quick witted and well versed in history, mythology and happenings in the main world as well as the intrigues between the Irish, Scottish and English.

In turn Breeya spoke about her life on the Borders, the constant skirmishes between the English and Scots of the region and between the Scots among themselves.  Maeve had grinned at Breeya’s observation that it seemed that the Scots just loved to fight, given any cause and they’d be in the middle of it.

The two women found that, despite the nine year age difference with Maeve the elder, they had a lot in common: love of family, education, strong wills, and a rebellious streak.  They found they could also relate about other important life things as well; Maeve was fond of her husband as it hadn’t been a love match but a political one, just like Breeya’s. 

"You knew him before you married him though?" the young Scots asked.

"Yes, we had met several times and got along reasonably well.  He wasn’t intimidated by my intelligence and seemed to enjoy the lively conversations we could be getting into.  The families pushed it and we figured we could be friends, he understands that I’m not in love with him but love him like a brother," Maeve answered.

"Is there anyone you are in love with?"

"I was close to someone once, it wasn’t meant to work out," the tone in Maeve’s voice let the young captive know she was beginning to tread on a sensitive subject.

"I’ve never met Lord Selwyn," she mumbled.

"Someday maybe the women will be having a say in who we marry," Maeve complained and Breeya nodded.

"Sounds like you did alright," Breeya commented.

"Aye, I was lucky.  Too many women end up as brood mares and sometimes even as punching bags when the man has had a wee bit too much drink," Maeve agreed.

Breeya shook her head with a smile, she couldn’t ever picture a man willing to even try and manhandle the woman in front of her.  There was something about the Irish bandit that gave off the impression of strength and intelligence, of self-assurance that would probably frighten most bullies, Breeya thought to herself.

Maeve got to her feet and headed out of the barn, leaving Breeya to her thoughts.

"Get that look out of your eyes, young lady!" Edna snapped.

"What are you talking about, Edna?"

"The way you’re looking after that one!" Edna whispered fiercely.  "I’ve seen that look before and no good can come of a school girl crush in this situation!"

Breeya felt herself blushing from head to toe.  "Edna, watch your tongue!" she snapped back.  "Besides, you know it was more than a school girl crush with Beth."

"Aye, that I do and you know it’s not something that could work!"  The older Scot commented.  "Besides the Church saying it’s a sin, both your families would never have approved.  Can you imagine what your father would say if he knew you wanted an Irish bandit and a woman to boot?!"

Breeya grinned at the thought of the stroke her father probably would have.

"You’re imaging things, old woman," she teased but Breeya wasn’t so sure her maid and friend was.

That evening found Breeya riding behind Finn/Maeve again, blindfolded.  Edna on a horse of her own with the reins being held by one of the bandits. 

The sound of water brought Breeya’s head up from behind Finn. 

"What is it?" Maeve asked softly.

"Water, we’re not going by boat are we?"

"Aye, don’t tell me your royal stomach is sensitive!" Maeve teased and lightly cursed as Breeya nodded miserably behind her.  "By the Saints, this will be an unpleasant trip," Maeve muttered.

"Finn, get the girl in the boat and let’s be off!" Cu called.

"Save us a place near the railing, Cu," Finn Maeve called softly.


The next few hours were spent with Breeya bending over the railing and Maeve trying to comfort the girl as the boat moved down the river in the dark.  Many times the boat was moved to the shore to avoid coming in contact with other boats on the water.

By morning Breeya was exhausted from being sick and Edna also tired and grumpy.  Neither woman complained when they found themselves in another barn for the day, finally getting some sleep and Breeya able to keep solid food down.

That night was a repeat of the night before and Breeya was just grateful to be on solid land just before dawn and didn’t protest being put in the back of a wagon with Edna and then covered with blankets.  The rocking of the wagon was much different than the rocking of a boat to the young girl’s stomach.

Once again neither captive complained much when they were rushed into a farm house blindfolded.  Once inside they were allowed to remove the blindfolds and found themselves in a one room Irish cottage and a poor one at that.

Made of stone and thatch it contained the typical fireplace that served as the source of heat and flame for cooking, a rough made table with four chairs and three single beds, piled high with quilts.  The floor was also stone and covered with straw for warmth and the windows had no glass panes but were covered with oilskin cloth and shutters. 

Overall the feeling was one of small and cold, though Breeya figured it might be cozy once the fire was blazing instead of banked.

Cu dropped the saddlebags containing the women’s belongings on the floor and turned to his sister.

"I’m off to scout the area, I’m leaving three of the men outside.  Will you be fine in here with them?"

"Of course, everyone’s too tired to think of running right now.  I’ll heat water for bathing and then start dinner, be back by then," Maeve ordered with a smile.

"Aye, that I will," the one called Cu nodded slightly to the captive women and left out the door.

"Sorry about the poor conditions, ladies," Maeve stated, removing her cloak and rolling up the sleeves of her men’s shirt and bending over the fire, encouraging it and then adding more peat to it.  "It’s the best we can do in this part of the country.  We’ll be here for several days, maybe longer than a week.  It’ll take that long for the negotiations."

"What’s your brother’s name?" Breeya asked.

"Kieran.  Our brother is Hugh and me husband is Brian."

The next day Kieran left to take news of Breeya’s kidnapping and the terms of her return.

During the week of his absence both sides got to know each other better and found surprising things out.  Breeya wasn’t afraid of hard work and pitched in without being asked to in helping out around the farm; tending animals, weeding the garden, and helping with the cooking and cleaning.  In return Breeya was surprised at the many skills that Maeve seemed to possess, from cooking to sewing to animals and fishing.

Maeve and Breeya found themselves spending most of the time together and reluctantly found themselves quickly becoming friends.  Many nights spent by the fire in deep conversation about their lives, hopes and dreams.  None of them included marrying an English nobleman in Ireland for Breeya.

On the sixth day Kieran returned and everyone gathered around the table.  The Irish bandit shook his head.

"Lord Selwyn refuses to believe the Lady Kerr is alive.  He insists on sending the letter the Lady wrote to her father for handwritting comparison.  That will take time," he announced.

"What?" Breeya demanded sharply.  "We’ve exchanged letters, he has letters in my hand already!"

"I figured that and he wasn’t pleased with that line of thinking and insisted on contacting your father.  He’s delaying, hoping that we’ll kill you and give him an excuse to hunt us down or that his soldiers will be able to find us and rescue you."

"How much time?" Breeya asked.

"Close to a month," Kieran said unhappily.

Breeya cursed and slammed out the door.

"I’ll see to her," Maeve said, stopping Edna from rising.

The Irish rogue grabbed her cloak and Breeya’s as she walked out the door.

As she expected, Maeve found Breeya standing near the cliffs.  Within days of arriving at the small cottage the young Scot had discovered the wildness of the land she had been taken to.  The cottage was on the outskirts of rough and rocky land, with cliffs that dropped into the sea that always seemed wild and angry.  The green of the land brought about by the endless rain and sea mists Breeya knew. 

She knew this land was almost untamed by anything but fishermen and sheep herders but she also discovered that she loved the wildness of the place, finding the energy amazing and beautiful.

Maeve approached the younger woman slowly and draped Breeya's cloak over the Scot's shoulders.

Breeya surprised the Irish bandit by reaching up and holding Maeve's hand onto her shoulder and leaning back into the taller woman.  Maeve wrapped her other arm around Breeya and they stood watching the roaring sea below them without speaking for several minutes.

"You weren't thinking of jumping were you, lass?" Maeve asked softly but loud enough to be heard over the roar of the waves crashing on the rocks.

"For that lout? Never!" Breeya answered firmly.  "That bastard!" the young Scot turned and looked into the deep blue eyes that she thought she could melt into forever.

"Aye, looks like I'm stuck with you for abit then," Maeve grinned and was pleased when Breeya playfully smacked her on the arm.

"Stuck with me are you?" Breeya grinned. 

"Aye, but I find it an enjoyable task," Maeve admitted.

"What happens now?" Breeya asked, losing her smile.

"We wait for your bridegroom," Maeve said bitterly.  "Come on, let's get back inside.  Edna is fixing gammon for dinner."

"Gammon?" Breeya asked, her smile coming back as they began to walk back towards the cottage.

"Hamsteaks in whiskey sauce."

"The Celts and their whiskey," Breeya grinned.

"Aye, tis the reason we'll never conquer the world, eh?"

Surprisingly, everyone settled into a routine.  Edna and Breeya helping around the cottage farm alongside Patrick, Cal and Maeve.  Kieran spent his time going back and forth in the negotiations, having to take more and more caution each time to avoid being followed by Lord Selwyn's men.  Fortunately the Englishman didn't expect the bandits to travel such a long distance with the captive women and didn't look as far as the coastline. 

Lord Selwyn had expected a large reward for information to produce rapid results against the rebels but instead found a wall of silence everywhere he and his spies went.  He hadn't anticipated the Irish loyalty to their own, especially O'Malleys and O’Donnels in the Donegal province.

Breeya was surprised that among Maeve’s skills was mastering a ship. The tall Irish woman laughed at Breeya's look of dismay at the thought of spending any time on a ship, let alone learning the ropes, sails and navigation of one.

In turn Maeve was delighted to find that Breeya wasn't as delicate or as adverse to work as the Irish had expected.  Breeya had laughed at them and explained that she may have grown up on an estate but it was a small one and she had pitched in to help deliver a calf or two in her time.

Maeve and Breeya found themselves beginning to discuss even politics and the tension between the English and the Irish and the tension between the English and the Scottish and where that might put both of them.  Always coming up on opposite sides of the fence.

One day they were sitting on the rock fence watching for Kieran's scheduled return.

"So what happens after this?" Breeya asked.

"What do you mean?"

"You go to your husband and on the run? I marry William and we become enemies?"

"Aye, of a sort," Maeve said sadly. 

"We can't even be friends, can we?" Breeya commented.

"No, I can't fit into your world."

"I could fit into yours," Breeya said softly.

"Only if you were dead, Bree," Maeve shook her head.  "Once you're Lady Selwyn you'll not be allowed to even speak to the Irish except as servants."

"I'll never see you again, will I?" Breeya asked softly.

"No, not unless it's at the end of a rope if your husband catches me," Maeve smiled.

"Don't say that!" Breeya jumped down from the wall and turned her back to the older woman.  Maeve, now frowning, jumped down and put her hands on the young Scot's shoulders and could feel the young girl crying.

"Lass, I'm sorry," Maeve said gently and wasn't too surprised when Breeya turned and hugged Maeve tightly.

"I know it's the truth, just don't say it!" Breeya cried.

"Alright, we shouldn't have become friends," Maeve scolded herself.

"As if I could resist those blue eyes of yours, your charming wit and your love," Breeya attempted a small smile but still held onto the embrace, leaning her head against Maeve's chest, sighing with comfort.

Breeya could feel Maeve stiffen slightly.

"Bree, do you know what you're saying?"

"Aye, I do," Breeya said softly and turned her head up until her lips met Maeve's.

The Scotswoman felt the Irishwoman resisting for a moment and then the tall dark haired woman wrapped her arms tighter around Breeya and the kiss quickly turned passionate until both women were breathless.  Breeya leaned her head onto Maeve's chest as they both shook from the intensity.

"Oh heavenly saints!" Maeve whispered, holding Breeya tight. "We can't do this, Bree!"

"Why not? You feel it between us too," Breeya countered. "I’ve seen you watching me and I overheard you talking about me to Kieran."

"Aye, that I do but it doesn't change what's going to happen," Maeve protested.  "You'll still be leaving for your husband."

"And you to yours.  You may have a good relationship with yours but I’ve a feeling that I’m not going to be shouting with joy to Heaven over my match.  Why can’t we spend the time being happy?" Breeya demanded.

 "Do you have any idea what you’re implying? What you’re asking between us?" Maeve demanded, unable to resist kissing the top of Bree’s head.

"Aye, that I do and I’ve been here before," Breeya answered.  "I’m old enough and experienced enough to know what I want."

"Aye, and what good will it do us? To find you only to let you go?" Maeve whimpered.

"Then let us have some measure of happiness before then," Breeya pleaded.

"Sweet Mary, Bree," Maeve whispered and captured Breeya’s lips again and moaned as the Scot’s hands roamed over Maeve’s back, pulling her closer.

Again Maeve broke the embrace and turned away from Breeya.  "I can’t do this, Bree."

"Why? Is it because we’ll be damned?"

"No," Maeve grinned.  "I’ve been told often enough that I’m doomed just for being so damned stubborn, or not keeping quiet and listening to my husband, or for rebelling against the natural authority of the Church and Crown.  I don’t believe the good Lord can condemn someone for whom they love."

"Then what is it?"

When Maeve turned back Breeya could see tears in the older woman’s eyes.

"If I love you I don’t think I’ll be able to let you go," Maeve admitted.

"It’s something we’ve had to face since we were born, duty to our family and God."

"Aye," Maeve had to agree.

"Then let’s take this one day at a time," Breeya suggested.

"Oh fie, there’s Kieran coming over the rise." Maeve pointed.

"Then we’ll continue this conversation later, my blue eyed rogue," Breeya promised.

Once again Kieran brought news of a delay, Lord Selwyn said he hadn’t had word from Lord Kerr yet.  To Maeve and Breeya it was bittersweet news.  It meant continued tension and uncertainty about Maeve and Kieran’s loved ones and uncertainty about Edna and Breeya’s future.

Both Maeve and Breeya wanted more time together but knew they should be hoping for a quick resolution.

Kieran and the two men settled in for an evening of drinking and telling tales while Edna carded wool by the fire.  Maeve announced she was going to check things in the small stable and wasn’t surprised when Breeya offered to go along.

Maeve hesitated, knowing that the next few minutes could change all of their futures and then nodded and walked out the door.

Edna got up and caught Breeya by the door.

"Do you know what you’re doing, lass?" Edna hissed, careful to keep her voice down from the men hearing.

"Yes, I’m grabbing what little happiness there might be for me," Breeya answered.

"It can only lead to no good!" Edna insisted.

"You’re probably right but I’m willing to risk it, Edna," Breeya responded.  "You know what life I’m heading to."

"Aye, that I do, lass," Edna said gently.  "Go to her and may God show us mercy."

"I’m not even sure He pays much attention to us, Edna," Breeya smiled.

"Go on with you, enough talk," Edna scolded and headed back to her carding.

Breeya’s hands were trembling as she reached for the barn door but she took a deep breath and quickly entered the small but sturdy structure.  She was relieved to see Maeve sitting on a stool, her hands nervously playing with a strand of ribbon.  The Irishwoman stood up when Breeya entered.

"I’m as nervous as a bride," Maeve complained with a smile.

"So am I," Breeya confirmed.

"We can’t be considering this, Bree," Maeve frowned, closing her eyes.

Breeya walked up to Maeve and decided to convince Maeve the same way as before and leaned up into the Irishwoman and began kissing her.  The Irish rogue moaned and pulled Breeya into her arms. 

All resistance melted when Breeya’s lips found Maeve’s neck and her hands began roaming under the rogue’s shirt.  Maeve pulled back and leaned down to put out the lamp but Breeya put her hand over Maeve’s.

"I want to see you, my love," Breeya said softly and then smiled even wider when Maeve began blushing bright red.

Maeve responded by gently beginning to unlace Breeya’s bodice as Breeya pulled Maeve’s shirt over her head and off.  The Scotswoman moaned and gently took the Irish bandit’s breasts in her hands and then followed with her lips and tongue.

"Sweet Mother of God, that feels wonderful," Maeve whimpered and pulled Breeya down to the blankets she had arranged on a hay pile, the young captive falling on top of the rogue with a laugh.

Breeya whimpered as clothing was discarded quickly and her skin met Maeve’s.  "Oh God," she said softly, "you feel incredible."

Maeve and Breeya lost all conscious thought as they began kissing and then their tongues began exploring and fighting for dominance.  Hands were busy exploring each others bodies as well.

Breeya groaned as Maeve’s leg came between hers, adding pressure to Maeve’s fingers, that were beginning to explore Breeya and causing the young woman’s body to shake, her body trying to get closer and take more of Maeve.

Breeya’s hands were also busy on Maeve’s breasts, pulling moans and jerks from the bandit’s body.  Maeve whimpered as Breeya’s lips and tongue left hers. She then began moaning as Breeya began exploring Maeve’s body with her lips and tongue, beginning with the Irish woman’s neck and stopping to draw more noise and shakes from the dark haired beauty by paying lavish attention to Maeves breasts and nipples. 

Maeve was sure that she had died and gone to paradise when Breeya continued her travels down the bandit’s body, further driving Maeve insane until she was screaming Bree’s name and crashing into the Scot’s arms.

The only thing that felt better was returning the sensations and attention to Breeya, Maeve found, discovering that Breeya was even louder than she was when the waves overtook the young woman.


Maeve almost jumped a foot off the blankets when Kieran slammed open the stable door shouting for her.  He stopped dead in the center of the small building as he took in the sight of the two women entwined on the blankets, one blanket barely covering them.  One of Breeya’s naked legs showed out from under the blanket, draped over Maeve’s legs and the blonde sleepily refused to remove her arm from around Maeve’s waist as the bandit attempted to turn over.

"Oh sweet Mary and Joseph," Kieran said softly.  "Have you both lost your minds?" he demanded in a louder voice.

"I know I’ve lost my heart," Breeya said in a sleepy voice.

"You’ll be losing more than that in a few minutes, lass," Kieran snapped.

"What is it, Kier?" Maeve asked.

"Patrick spotted four soldiers below coming ashore by boat and four more coming up the path by horse."

"Damn!" Maeve complained.  "Go and get some of your spare clothing for Bree, we may have to move fast."

"Aye," Kieran responded as Maeve reached for her shirt.

"And bring Bree’s pistol," Maeve added.

"You want to arm her? She’ll be joining with them!"

"No, I won’t.  If they take me now your brother and Maeve’s husband are dead, I don’t want that." Breeya responded.

"Alright, I’ll trust you on this one."

Maeve dressed quickly and grinned at the sight of Breeya waiting for clothes while holding a blanket around her. 

"Any regrets?" Maeve asked softly, pulling Breeya into her arms.

"None, you?"

"Nay, I could never regret loving you." The Irish bandit answered and kissed the young Scotswoman.  "Meet me in the cottage."

With that the Irish rogue was gone and Breeya was left waiting.

Once in the cottage Breeya found the bandits setting muskets next to the three windows and Edna stamping her foot. 

"There you are, lass," she snapped.  "Tell me, which side are we on in this upcoming ruckus?"

"We’re siding with the Irish on this one, Edna," Breeya grinned and took a position next to the window watching the trail heading to the cottage and could see the figures approaching slowly on horseback. 

"Good," was all Edna said as she took up a position next to Cal, prepared to help with reloading the weapons.

Everyone was a bundle of nerves as they waited to see what the soldiers had planned, knowing they couldn’t make a run for it with the soldiers on horseback so close.

"Patrick, get out to the stable and hold there," Kieran ordered and the Irishman quickly ducked out the door and dashed for the stable before the soldiers could get into firing range.

"Cal, get on the roof of the shearing shed, if you get a chance, grab one of those bastards alive.  We need to know what their orders are."

"Right, Kier," the small elf like bandit jumped out of the east window and kept low below the line of the stone wall.

"Let’s see what the official talk is, shall we?" Kieran grinned and cocked a pistol in each hand and waited while Maeve grabbed up a musket and pulled up her red scarf to hide most of her face.

"Don’t trust them, Maeve," Breeya said simply.


The soldiers on horseback pulled up just short of the fence line when they spotted Kieran and Maeve leaving the cottage and approaching them, both armed.

"What do ye want here?" Kieran called.

"Your head, Irish scum," the first horseman yelled back.

"Well, that’s blunt and to the point," Kieran said softly to Maeve. He turned back to the soldiers.  "And what would you be wanting it for?"

"We know that you are the rebel trash that have kidnapped and killed Lady Kerr, betrothed to Lord Selwyn," the officer called back.

"Damn, if we deny we have her they’ll kill us and if we deny we’ve killed her then we’ve admitted to kidnapping her," Kieran cursed.

"Aye, either way they’ll kill us," Maeve said softly.

"You’re mistaken, my friend," Kieran called back.  "We’ve no one here against their will.  I want you to leave me property."

"In retaliation for the kidnapping of Lady Kerr the prisoner known as Brian O’Malley was hanged yesterday.  If she lives, then surrender the Lady to our custody and give yourselves up."

Kieran heard a gasp from Maeve at the news of her husband’s death and leaned back towards her.

"Steady, lass," he said softly.  "They mean to kill all of us, I’m thinking."

"I agree, with Breeya’s death Lord Selwyn will have all the justification he needs to over-run our land and claim it for the English Crown and he saves face in avenging her death and not receiving ‘damaged’ goods," Maeve agreed.

"I’ll repeat meself, we’ve no one against their will.  Leave now," Kieran ordered.

Kieran suddenly threw himself to the ground as Maeve’s musket sounded in his ears.  He glanced around and saw the four soldiers coming up from the beach had reached the stone wall surrounding the cottage property and were aiming to fire.  He quickly scrambled to his feet and followed Maeve to the cottage as the horsemen dismounted and took up positions behind the stone wall.

"If the Lady is in here you are risking her life!" Kieran called from the door to the officer.

"She’s already dead or soon will be," the officer countered and Kieran slammed the door shut as musket fire began from the British soldiers.  Edna and Breeya inside returned fire.

"They mean to kill me?" Breeya demanded as she began reloading the musket Maeve was carrying. 

"Aye, with you dead Lord Selwyn can massacre all of our kin and claim our land," Maeve stated simply, firing another musket.  Breeya handed her the reloaded weapon.

"Well you got one of them," Breeya said grimly.

"That only leaves seven of them," Kieran grinned.

"We could wait until night and make a run for it before they call for more troops," Edna suggested.

"Aye, but I don’t think they’re going to wait that long.  Look!" Kieran pointed to the soldiers between them and the cliff.  Edna stayed at the other window while Breeya and Maeve looked out the window beside Kieran.

Two soldiers could be seen moving in either direction along the fence, ducking low to make poor targets.  Each of them carried a torch.

"They intend to burn us out?" Breeya demanded.  "Let me go out, they’ll listen to me.  I can trade myself for your freedom.  I’ll personally plead the case of your husband and brother’s release."

"My husband is dead, hanged by Lord Selwyn yesterday and he’ll never let our brother or us go.  They won’t listen to you, Bree." Maeve said simply.

"Maeve," Breeya said softly but Maeve shook her head and took up her position at the other window. 

"We’ll grieve later, right now we’ve got to survive first."

The inhabitants of the cottage ducked as musket fire once again rained into the room.  They could hear return fire from Patrick and Cal as well as their own return volleys.  A scream cut through the air and Maeve and Edna cried out at the same time as they saw Cal fall from the shearing shed roof, his chest bright red with blood.

"Cal’s down!" Maeve screamed.

"Our only chance is to run for it," Kieran yelled back.

"Agreed, where and how?" Maeve called back and gave a yell as one of the torch bearers went down by one of her shots.

"I’ll take Edna and Patrick by horse, you take Breeya and go to the ledge.  We’ll bring a boat around tonight," Kieran suggested.

"Agreed.  Breeya, pack a bag of travel food and some fresh water," Maeve ordered.

"We can make it to the back of the stable without getting hit," Kieran commented.

"You’ve still their horses to worry about," Maeve frowned.

"They won’t be expecting us to make a break for it, I’ll scatter the horses," Kieran explained.

"You’d better make it, Kier," Maeve threatened.  "I’ll not forgive you if you don’t!"

She kissed him on the cheek and he quickly hugged her.

Edna grabbed up a couple of packs and followed Kieran out the window.  Maeve covered them with a musket while Breeya fired a musket at the soldiers at the sea wall.  The Irish rogue sighed with relief as the older woman and her brother made it to the stables.  She turned to Breeya and nodded.

"When they make a break for it, we’ll wait and see where those three on your side head to.  If they head for the other soldiers we wait until they pass, then follow me and head for the wall and hide over it."

"Alright," Breeya nodded, throwing the pack over her shoulder.  Her eyes widened as Maeve tucked a pistol in her belt and grabbed up another one.  It was the sight of this one that startled Breeya, it was a pistol with an axe head under the barrel.  She had heard of this type of German pistol but hadn’t seen one before.

Maeve handed the captive Scot two pistols and watched outside the window, keeping out of sight.

Suddenly shouts and gunfire filled the tense silence.  Breeya rushed over to the other window.

"They’re going for it!" she hissed quietly.  "They’re over the wall!"

After a tense moment she gave a small cry.  "Patrick’s down!  The soldiers are rushing for their horses.  Kieran has scattered them and they’re trying to catch them."

"Get down, the others are heading for their mates!" Maeve instructed and Breeya moved over next to her lover and they watched the soldiers jump up from behind the wall and head for the other English.

"Come on, stay low and run down the sea path, like the devil himself were after you," Maeve instructed.

"Aye," Breeya acknowledged.

"Now!" Maeve opened the door slightly and slid along the wall with Breeya behind her.  She quickly moved into the open space, staying low with musket primed and ready as Breeya moved past her, heading for the wall and the path.  The Scot climbed over the low fence and looked back.

Shouts suddenly turned towards them and Breeya saw some of the soldiers snapping their heads around in their direction.  Maeve raised the musket and one soldier went down with a musket ball in his face.  Two others raised their own muskets and fired but missed the moving Irish bandit.  Maeve dropped the musket and pulled her cutlass and turned to run for the wall.

"Run!" she yelled and Breeya turned and headed down the path but couldn’t resist looking back.

Maeve turned and fired her pistol, as two of the soldiers got close enough for a pistol shot and Breeya heard one yell but not go down.  Then the two were on Maeve with their own pistols and swords. 

The Irish rogue yelled as a musket ball hit her shoulder and spun her around.  She quickly followed through with a sword strike that was barely parried in time by one of the soldiers and she slashed at the other with the pistol-axe, keeping him from firing his pistol. 

Breeya couldn’t follow the movements of the three as they fought, sword to sword and sword to pistol-axe but within moments it was over.  Maeve ducked one strike and thrust upward with the cutlass into the throat of one and then slashed with a backhand movement and cut a deep gash in the arm of the other.  The soldier dropped his sword to grab his arm, before he could correct his mistake the axe cut through his throat.

Maeve turned and began running towards Breeya, motioning the Scot to run, Maeve’s white shirt quickly turning red.


Breeya gritted her teeth and grasped the dagger tightly and looked into Maeve’s blue eyes with concern.

"Do it, Bree," Maeve ordered and closed her eyes and gritted her own teeth and then tried not to scream as the knife dug into her shoulder.  After a moment of red hot pain she couldn’t help but cry out and slam her hand onto the stone beneath her.

"Got it!" Breeya cried out and quickly covered the wound with a piece of a shirt she had ripped up from their pack and held down tightly as Maeve broke into a sweat and bit her lip.

"I hate musket balls," Maeve muttered and then Breeya felt the Irish rogue’s muscles beginning to relax as the pain began to ease.

Breeya looked around in amazement once again, now that Maeve’s shoulder had been tended to for the moment.

When they had hit the beach Breeya had started for the soldier’s boat but Maeve called her back along the sea cliff and into the water that was knee deep around some rocks.  Breeya had started to protest but Maeve had grabbed the Scot by her collar and practically dragged her through the water.  Breeya had quickly found herself in darkness and in water in a cave.

Maeve somehow knew where to go and Breeya heard the striking and lighting of a lantern and looked around at the sea cave.  It wasn’t very big but it looked deep and Maeve began walking through the water towards the back.

"Come on, lass, we’ve not much time before the tide."

Breeya felt fear clutch at her heart.  Tide?  Maeve meant for them to be in a cave at high tide?  The water was already to their knees.  She swallowed and put her faith in her lover and followed behind in the bitter cold water.

About a hundred feet into the cave Maeve began climbing the rocks, slipping back a few times with her wounded shoulder and crying out.  Then she disappeared and Breeya felt a moment of panic until she saw Maeve’s head above her and a rope suddenly appeared, dangling down the cliff wall.

"Tie the pack and the lantern to the rope and then climb up after them.  Hurry!" Maeve said simply.

Breeya, looking down at the water that had risen another six inches, quickly did as she was told and somehow scampered up the rocks, having an easier time of it without the gunshot wound.

The ledge was long and wide enough for at least four people to stretch out on and Breeya was impressed to find blankets, a water cask, and another lantern stored there.

Now that the bullet was out, Breeya bandaged the shoulder and made a sling with what was left of the shirt she had torn apart. 

"Your shoulder is broken," she said, her Scots accent becoming thicker in the tension.

"Aye," Maeve acknowledged as Breeya wrapped a blanket around the tall Irish woman.

"How long are we caught in here?" Breeya asked nervously, eyeing the water that was only two feet below them now that the tide had come in.

"Until ebb tide, several hours.  By then the soldiers will think we either had a boat waiting or got caught in the tide and drowned.  Kieran will bring a boat around when the tide goes out," Maeve said.

"If they made it," Breeya muttered.

"I’d know if he was dead, I think," Maeve said softly, leaning back into Breeya’s arms, trying to get warm.

"I’m sorry about your husband, Maeve," Breeya said softly.

"Aye.  He was a good man and a good companion."

"Did he know that you weren’t in love with him?"

"Yes, he knew I loved him but more as a brother.  He accepted that and didn’t ask me to our bed often. He deserved better than a rope," Maeve said bitterly.

Breeya leaned down and kissed the top of Maeve’s head and held her closer.

"I be having a feeling that my future husband isn’t going to be as considerate," she said softly.

"I know, I think he prefers you dead at this point," Maeve agreed.

"Why not let him think I’m dead?  He’d leave us be then," Breeya suggested.

"Same reason as before when he tried to have you killed, my love," Maeve shook her head.  "He’ll use it as an excuse to drive us from our land and claim it and hunt us down like dogs and all our kin."

"Damn his eyes!" Breeya cursed.

"Damn this shoulder, I could think of a more pleasant way to pass the time with you if I didn’t hurt so badly," the Irish rogue grinned and was rewarded by Breeya shifting her body and claiming Maeve’s lips with her own.  Both women moaned from the feelings and sensations and spent quite a bit of time occupied with each other’s lips and tongues.

After a bit Breeya insisted that they eat the bread, cheese, and salted meat Breeya had packed and began talking again.

"What if he knows I’m not coming to his bed a virgin, that I slept with one of my Irish captors?" Breeya suggested.

"He’ll still have an excuse to hunt us down and he’ll have an excuse not to marry you.  He’ll send you back to Scotland disgraced and hunt us down," Maeve countered.

"What’s going to keep him from hunting you down after your turn me over to him?"  Breeya complained.

"The bargain will be made public and I’m hoping that you’ll keep him to his word."

"I’m not leaving you!" the young Scot said fiercely.

"We knew it would come to that, Bree," Maeve countered, her eyes tearing up.  "We’d have to find a way for him to release his claim on you, free my brother and swear not to come after us.  I don’t see his English pride accepting any of that, do you?"

Breeya felt her own tears threatening to overfill her eyes and shook her head.  "No," she agreed.

"Damnit, Bree, I would go through hellfire to have you in my life!" Maeve swore.

"And I you, beloved.  Talk to me about something else," Breeya asked.

"Ah and what would I be telling you?" Maeve asked with a sad smile. 

"About your name, my love," Breeya suggested.

"Maeve was Queen of Connacht, the land south of Ulster.  She was a powerful queen and had a vicious appetite for power and an equal one for men," Maeve began, snuggling into Breeya’s arms.  "It’s said that no man could satisfy her, that it would take sometimes three."

Breeya felt herself blushing a bright red. "Go on with you!"

"Aye, ‘tis true," Maeve grinned even wider.  "She and her husband argued one day about who had more power and who had more possessions.  In those days women could be equal with the men and owned their own property."

"And we think we’re more civilized," Breeya muttered.

"Well, they set their advisors to counting all of their belongings and comparing their worth.  It came down that they were equally matched except for a massive white bull that Maeve owned.  It was a huge beast that none could tame but it gave good offspring.  The advisors wouldn’t declare Maeve the winner, however, because the bull was in among the Kings’ cattle and wouldn’t be moved to Maeve’s bunch."

"Interesting, a stubborn bull."

"Aye, a bewitched one but that’s another story," Maeve continued.  "Maeve was furious but the bull refused to be moved and killed several herders.  The Queen had heard of a reddish brown bull to equal her own in Ulster and decided that she would settle the matter by invading Ulster, taking the bull and winning the contest with her husband."

"She was willing to go to war with the Ulster region over a pissing contest with her husband?"

Maeve laughed heartily and then grabbed her shoulder as the laughter brought a fresh wave of pain.

"Owww," she cried, still laughing.  "Aye, that’s about it!"

"Silly woman," Breeya grinned and Maeve wasn’t sure if she was referring to Queen Maeve or the rogue Maeve in the Scotswoman’s arms.

"Aye, it was.  Maeve had found out a secret about the men of Ulster though and knew she had the advantage."

"And that was?"  Breeya asked.

"Because of a curse from the Goddess Macha, the men of Ulster fell ill with women’s cramps every seven years for a time of three days and nights, unable to move.  Queen Maeve planned to get into Ulster, capture the bull and be gone before they recovered."

"Moon cycle cramps?" Breeya found herself laughing at the thought of men having to suffer the fate that women went through every month.  "Why would a goddess curse men like that?"

"Her thoughtless husband made a bet that she was the fastest runner in the land, even when she was pregnant and about to deliver their child.  She ran the race and won and delivered a child right at the end of the race.  In anger she cursed all the men of the Ulster region with the pangs of childbirth and cramps," Maeve explained.

"Oh, I like that!" Breeya continued laughing.

"Aye.  Well Queen Maeve found that there was one man in Ulster that was immune because he was goddess born himself, Cu Cuchulain, defender of Ulster."

"Kieran’s bandit name," Breeya commented.

"Aye," Maeve nodded, "and Finn MacCumhal is another Irish hero that I take my bandit name from.  Our brother Hugh is named for Red Hugh O’Donnell, who almost drove the British from the region.  My husband, Brian was named for Brian Boru, another Irish hero."

"So what happened with Queen Maeve and Cu?"

"Cu managed to hold her army off, killing them by night and day until the men of Ulster were recovered. Cu almost won but was killed in the end.  Neither side really won.  Maeve became a recluse at the age of 80 something and was killed by an Ulster warrior in revenge for the war."

"I like the story," Breeya said softly.

"I know you have a father and no siblings, what happened to your mother?" Maeve asked.

"She died in childbirth," Breeya answered.

"I’m sorry, Bree."

"It’s alright.  I guess that they loved each other deeply, my father never remarried and never courted anyone after her death," Breeya explained.  "Edna’s been with us since I was born, she’s been a good friend, a mother."

"She’ll be okay with Kieran," Maeve said reassuringly.

"Aye, like I am with you," Breeya smiled.


Edna was indeed alright with Kieran.  When the tide ebbed both Maeve and Breeya were relieved when Kieran’s voice called to them from the cave entrance.  After much fussing over by Edna about Maeve’s wound and their soaked clothes, they were bundled into a boat and were off into the darkness.

Breeya praying that her stomach would leave her alone for once and losing.

By morning they had landed and had taken refuge in another cottage with a fisherman, his wife and their five children.  Maeve and Breeya both quickly suggested they sleep in the barn and refused to look at Kieran as he grinned at them.  Maeve turned away as she blushed bright red and Breeya glanced away, becoming interested in the family doings.  After the tension and travel of the night, everyone slept soundly through the morning, even with the family going about the daily chores around their sleeping guests.

Lunch found Maeve grumpy with the shoulder pain and everyone troubled about the situation with Lord Selwyn.

"Sean’s oldest son went to the English troops and offered to reopen negotiations and Lord Selwyn sent word he’s willing to end this.  We’re to meet him at Kesh tomorrow.  He gives his word that he’ll bring Hugh," Kieran informed the women and the family.

Breeya could see the muscles in Maeve’s jaw tense up and the Irish woman refused to meet the younger woman’s eyes.  The Irish rogue stood up quickly and went out the door.

"Excuse me," Breeya said simply and followed out the door.  She found Maeve sitting on the typical stone fence in front of the cottage.  She walked up behind the bandit and wrapped her arms around the taller woman.

"I can’t let you go, Bree."

Breeya could feel Maeve’s body shaking with the tears and her own escaping down her cheeks.

"We’ve no choice, my love," Breeya whispered.

Edna, watching from the doorway, frowned thoughtfully and turned back inside and approached the woman of the house, Mary.  The women began a long conversation while the men continued to talk and plan and the two young women held each other.

Neither woman had much appetite for dinner and Kieran kept having to draw Maeve’s attention back to the plans for the exchange the next day until he finally threw his hands up in frustration.

"It’s going to be a long day tomorrow," he stated.  "Set her up a bed in the barn and watch over her."

Maeve nodded and motioned for her "captive" to head out of the cottage.

Once inside the barn door Breeya turned into Maeve’s welcoming arm, their lips crushing each other, the sense of desperation filling the barn.  Breeya broke from Maeve’s embrace and hung the lantern up and set up the bedding for them, knowing that Kieran and Edna would find places among the Sean and Mary’s family or near the fire in the cottage.  She then turned and slowly helped the injured Maeve undress and pushed the Irish bandit down onto the blankets.  Then Maeve was making small noises as Breeya undressed in front of her, as the rogue took in the younger woman’s beauty again with her blue eyes. 

"By God you are so beautiful!" Maeve said softly and then moaned as Breeya crawled over her and gently lay on top of the bandit.  "I’ll never get enough of you, woman!"

"Nor I you, beloved," Breeya promised, relishing the feel of her skin against Maeve’s and the heat their bodies were beginning to create.  Maeve quietly cursed her wounded shoulder as Breeya’s leg and hip went between hers and Maeve found her body moving on its own rhythm.

Maeve’s teeth found Breeya’s neck and the young captive cried out as her body jerked in response to the intensely erotic feeling from the bite and then her cry was followed by moans as Maeve’s one free hand began feeling and loving the breasts above her. 

It seemed forever and but a moment that they continued on until each was a mass of shaking muscles and jerking bodies.  Breeya whimpered as Maeve’s hand went lower and the rebel’s fingers began exploring the young Scotswoman and then entered her.  Breeya whimpered again and found her body jerking and begging for more of Maeve, impaling herself on Maeve’s fingers. 

Within minutes Breeya was beyond thinking as her body trembled out of control.  She felt the waves of pleasure began to overtake her and she heard someone screaming Maeve’s name and then crying out.  With a start, Breeay realized she was the one screaming.

After what seemed like an hour but was only minutes, Breeya realized that she was snuggled in Maeve’s good arm and being held tight against the Irish rogue.

Then she was covering Maeve’s lips and body with kisses and her hands as she moved down Maeve’s body until her lips found the rebel’s sexual lips.  Maeve’s hips jerked in reaction as Breeya’s tongue began exploring her entrance, lips and then her clit.  She matched Breeya’s earlier cries as the Scot’s fingers entered her and her tongue danced over Maeve’s sexual lips and pearl, drinking in the very essence of Maeve.

Maeve’s screams echoed after Breeya’s.  Then they held each other as the tears fell freely at the thought of the morning.

Edna gently shook Breeya awake the next morning as her young charge lay in Maeve’s arm, sleeping curled around and over the Irish bandit.

"It’s time, lass," the older woman said gently.

Breeya raised up slightly and looked at the sleeping face of Maeve and felt tears filling her eyes once more.

"Let me say goodbye to her," she said softly.

"There's no time and it'll only be more difficult if you do.  Mary has a dress that will suit you," Edna said firmly.

"Dress? We'll be riding, why can't I wear what I've got?"

"You and I will be riding in a wagon, as fitting the Lady Kerr and the dress, hopefully, will keep you from being shot as a bandit.  Come on, let her sleep a bit," Edna said gently.

A short time later Maeve opened her eyes as Kieran shook her awake.  She frowned and looked around immediately for Breeya.

"She's getting dressed," Kieran answered the unspoken but obvious question from his sister.  "She couldn't face saying goodbye to you, lass."

Maeve closed her eyes, fighting back the tears and then nodded at her brother that she was alright.

"They'll be in the wagon in a few moments.  Sean and his cousins are coming with us in case it's a trap.  Will you be okay?" he asked gently as she sat up and reached for her shirt.

"No but then we've no choice in the matter, do we?" she said bitterly.  "I lose my husband and now I'll lose Bree to the same bastard."

"Aye, maybe we can get her away in a couple of months," he suggested.

"No, Kier," she shook her head as she pulled her sword belt over her shoulder.  "We've our own duties to our families."

Maeve steeled herself in a few moments and opened the door to the barn and glanced out.  She quickly looked away from Breeya's green eyes watching her from the back of the simple wagon.  Edna looked troubled as well.

Maeve quickly mounted her horse and checked her pistols as Sean began the wagon trek to the arranged meeting place, a meadow outside of the small village on the river.

After a few minutes the Irish rogue couldn't stand it and brought her horse up alongside the wagon and took Breeya's hand as the young woman reached for her.

"Are you okay, lass?" Maeve asked gently.

"No and I'll never be again, beloved," Breeya admitted, fighting back the tears.

"Aye, I feel the same," Maeve admitted.

"Any ideas, my blue-eyed bandit?"

"No good ones other than throwing you over my horse and tossing you onto my brother's ship and sailing away with ye," Maeve tried to smile.

"I know, but you know I get seasick," Breeya teased.

"Aye," Maeve smiled back.

"We're approaching the meadow, Finn," Kieran called, switching to their bandit names.

Maeve reluctantly let go of Breeya's hand with a whimper and then spurred her horse to catch up with Kieran's.

Maeve pulled up her scarf as they took in the sight of four riders waiting in the meadow below them.  Kieran pointed with his sword and two of the cousins broke away from the main party and each took out in opposite directions in flanking movements.

Kieran and the others approached the riders slowly until they were about 50 yards apart.  The two groups looked each other over carefully.

The horseman just in front of the other three could only be "the" Lord Selwyn, the small party of Irish and captives figured.

Dressed in rich velvet and Irish linen, Lord Selwy struck a fancy picture with his long curled hair and large floppy hat and fine Spanish leather sword belt.  He appeared to be just approaching middle age but his eyes were hardened with experience that went beyond his years and this revealed more of his nature than his attitude of superiority could.

The men with him were typically dressed as English soldiers and each had a musket across their laps.

Kieran and Maeve stopped and dismounted and William Harrington, Lord Selwyn did the same, they approached each other and stopped after forty yards apart.

"Send the Lady and her maid over and you can have the prisoner," Lord Selwyn called.

The Irish rebels watched as two more soldiers appeared over the small rise with a chained man between them.  Both recognized Hugh O Donnell immediately but kept their eyes calm. 

Hugh was bearded and filthy but walking upright and appeared to be alert.  His eyes quickly took in the figures of his brother and sister and he nodded slightly that he was alright under the circumstances.

"Ye think us fools, MiLord?" Kieran called out.  "You assume we trust you.  Send the prisoner across and we'll send the Lady and her maid at the same time.  We've your word that you'll not try any tricks or pursue us?"

"Yes, my word.  One gentleman to another," Lord Selwyn stated.  "Send for the Lady and her maid."

Kieran turned slightly and nodded to Sean, who jumped down off the wagon and helped the two women down and escorted them to the two rebels.  Maeve resisted drawing Breeya into her arms and never letting go.  Breeya looked deep into the blue eyes and nodded slightly.

"I love you too, my Irish rogue," she said softly and turned to go.

"Bree," Maeve began to speak.

"No, just let me go, Finn, my hero.  Just let me go."

"Are you alright, MiLady?" Lord Selwyn called.

"I am well, MiLord," Breeya called back.

"Unshackle the prisoner," he ordered and waited until Hugh stood beside him unchained.  "Go to your rabble lot, rebel.  We'll meet again."

"Aye, MiLord, I've no doubt of it," Hugh said simply and began walking towards his family and Breeya began walking towards him with Edna.

The three met in the middle of the space between the rebels and the English lord and Edna stopped Hugh.

"You dunna not know me, Master Hugh, but I would be indebted to you if you would do me a favor, lad.  Take care of your sister, she'll be hurting bad." Edna said softly.

The Irish rebel looked confused for a moment and watched Breeya turn her eyes away, her jaw muscles tightening visibly.  "Aye, that'll I do," he promised.

As the two groups reached their new positions, Lord Selwyn raised his hand and one of the soldiers sounded a horn.  Instantly the Irish pulled their weapons and Kieran and Maeve turned back to back.  Both felt their hearts skip several beats as soldiers appeared on all sides of them, all armed with muskets and pistols.

"You are surrounded, drop your weapons and surrender.  Soldier, take the Lady and her Maid over the ridge to safety," Lord Selwyn ordered.

"What are you doing, William!?" Breeya demanded.

"What is the meaning of this?" Kieran also demanded.  "You gave your word!"

"I gave my word as a gentleman, it is only binding to another gentleman which no Irish dog could ever be," William grinned evilly.

"William, I beg you, don't do this.  Let them go and let's be gone from here!" Breeya begged.

Suddenly Edna threw herself into Lord Selwyn's arms, hugging him fiercely. "Oh, MiLord, thank you for saving us!  Please!  Take us away!  Let them go and get us away from here!" she cried, actually knocking both of them to the ground.  She quickly regained her feet and helped the English noble to his feet and handed him back his pistol.

"Woman! Control yourself!" he shouted.  "This rebel scum kidnapped you and they'll pay for it!"

"William, no! I beg you!" Breeya cried again, pulling away from the soldier holding her arms and threw herself in front of Lord Selwyn. 

"Get out of the way and learn your place!" Lord Selwyn snapped.

The Irish rebels held their fire, waiting to see what developed between the Lord and his fiancée before opening fire that might get all of them killed, Breeya and Edna included.  The soldiers also hesitated.

"William, I ask this of you, spare them," Breeya said firmly.

"No, I will not have my fiancée kidnapped and my prisoner freed without retribution!" he shouted.

"I beg you for the sake of my child!" Breeya cried out and everyone looked stunned.

"What?" Lord Selwyn demanded, turning bright red. 

"I am with child, William," Breeya said simply, lowering her eyes.

"Which bastard molested you?  I will have him flogged before hanging the scum!"

"I'll not say because no one harmed me!" Breeya snapped her head up. "I went to his bed willingly, William."

"You slut!"

Kieran found himself holding Maeve back as Breeya hit the ground holding her jaw from Lord Selwyn's vicious backhand.  A trickle of blood seeped from her cut lip as he pulled his pistol and pointed it at the Scot.

"No!" Maeve cried out and struggled against her brothers as Hugh joined in holding his sister back.

"Is that the bastard?  How do I know you're telling the truth, you've just grown fond of them after being with them so long. No woman of your station would bed an Irish mongrel in the hay like a common tavern slut," William reasoned with a frown.

Breeya spat her blood at his feet and slowly removed the scarf covering her neck and raised her head so he could see the bruises from Maeve's passionate bites from the night before.  "I'll tell the world, William, that the child is the son of an Irish rebel and not the seed of your loins!"

Lord Selwyn's eyes went wide with surprise and then anger and he pointed the pistol towards Maeve, still assuming she was the male she was dressed as.

"I'd rather be a tavern slut than a Lady to such a oath breaking bastard as yourself!" Breeya snapped.

"You bitch!" William muttered as he turned the pistol and fired down.

Maeve and Edna screamed as Breeya grabbed at her stomach and turned over in obvious pain.  Edna quickly grabbed Breeya into her arms and both sides could see with horror the spreading blood on the young girl's dress and then her eyes closed and her body went limp.

"No!" Maeve cried and broke loose from her brothers and the three of them quickly went to Edna and Breeya.  Maeve, having seen wounds before, realized the amount of blood flowing from a stomach wound meant death and bowed her head, tears beginning to flow.

"You're the bastard that raped her, aren't you?!" William Harrington, Lord Selwyn demanded, pulling his other pistol.

"No, MiLord!  I swear it!" Edna suddenly cried and reached over and pulled Maeve's scarf down from her face.  "This is a lass, they became good friends.  I swear on the name of the Lord and on my mother's grave that the man who bedded the Lady Kerr is not among this bunch."

"Line them up and shoot them," William said flatly.

"You do and every noble house in Ireland, Scotland and England will know what's happened here today!" Edna threatened.

"Not if you're among those dead," William threatened.

"Look over to the high ridge over there, MiLord," Kieran suddenly suggested.

Lord Selwyn turned pale as he took in the sight of at least thirty people standing on the ridge watching everything.

"Those are villagers from the town.  Unless you plan on wiping out the entire town, word will spread that you murdered your fiancée in front of your own men and broke your word in the exchange," Kieran explained.

"You'll tell it that way as it is."

"No, it's true that we became fond of the Lady Kerr during her time with us.  To save her reputation and memory, we'll keep to the story that something went wrong in the exchange and she was caught in some crossfire.  No one knows who fired the shot," Kieran suggested.

"Her maid will talk out of revenge," Lord Selwyn countered.

"To save Breeya's memory, I won't be talking," Edna promised.

"You can even say that you wiped out all but a couple of the rebels in revenge and we leave.  You'll not see us again," Kieran continued.

"How do I know you'll not talk?"

"Unlike you, we keep our word.  We swear by all the saints and the Mother Mary that we'll not say how you killed Breeya in cold blood and broke your word." Maeve countered.

"Agreed!  Sergeant, gather the troops and move out!"

In a moment Lord Selwyn had mounted his horse and was riding out of sight with the soldiers hurrying to follow.

Edna turned to the sight of Maeve kneeling by Breeya, tears flowing freely down the Irish rogue's face.


"Quick, lass," Edna suddenly said with a smile.  "Tell her you're alive before she grieves to death!"

Breeya suddenly smiled and opened her green eyes and took in the stunned blue eyes over her.  Edna knelt beside the young woman with a grin.

"Don't move, just in case he left one of his soldiers to spy on us.  I would suggest moving her into the wagon and getting out of here before he changes his mind and kills us all," the older Scotswoman suggested.

"Aye!" Kieran grinned.  "Hugh, grab her shoulders and I'll take the feet.  Sean, bring the wagon and let's be gone!"

Maeve was still stunned into silence as the two men lifted the "body" and placed Breeya gently in the back.  Edna and Maeve both jumped in the back as Sean took his position on the seat and clicked the horses into movement.

Hugh took Maeve's horse and took up a position on one side of the wagon and Kieran on the other, both their faces questioning.

"How?" Maeve finally spoke, taking Breeya into her arms.

"Edna's idea, ask her," Breeya grinned as she lay back, playing dead for any observers.

"We all figured that the only way out of this was if William Harrington rejected Breeya and or if she were dead.  I figured that if she were with the child of an Irish rebel he'd have no choice but to kill her," Edna began explaining.

"So you risked having her shot?" Maeve demanded.

"Aye, with a bit of trick to it," Edna smiled.

"I'm not hurt, beloved," Breeya said reassuringly.

"But the blood?" Kieran questioned.

"Mary and I slaughtered a pig last night and filled its bladder with blood and sewed it up into a belt.  Breeya is wearing it under her skirt," Edna continued to grin.  "When Lord Selwyn shot her, Breeya punched a hole in it with a small bodice dagger and pressed on it to give the blood a flow."

"But she was shot!" Maeve protested, "What about the bullet?"

"When Edna knocked William down she switched pistols with him.  Mine was loaded with a wax ball that didn't hurt when it hit," Breeya grinned, holding Maeve's hand tightly.

"Switched pistols?" Hugh asked.

"My pistol was a gifting from him, part of a matched pair.  We hoped that he would be carrying the match.  He probably won't even notice the switch," Breeya explained.

"Oh God, save the world if the women ever start planning a rebellion!" Kieran commented with a smirk.

"Aye, why do you think men keep us quiet and in bed?" Edna asked with a laugh.

"How do we explain you being alive now?" Maeve asked.

"She survived the wound but her child didn't.  Lord Selwyn will still release her from the engagement," Edna stated.

"Then her father will want her back home for another arranged marriage," Maeve complained.

"I'm sure after this mess he'll be more than willing to listen about my wishes and happiness," Breeya suggested.

"He won't approve of a noble lady of the House of Kerr taking up with an Irish female rogue," Maeve grumbled.

"Would he approve of a marriage with a rich merchant Captain?  One that owns his own ship?" Kieran asked.

"Kier?" Maeve questioned.

"Probably a wealthy landowner and if I approved of the marriage," Breeya said thoughtfully.

"Aye, we're wealthy and own land, both here and in the Americas," Kieran grinned.

"Marry you?" Maeve demanded.

"Why not?  I'm away at sea most of the time and no one would think twice about you living with me and Breeya," Kieran suggested.

"I can’t marry you," Breeya protested.

"Why not?" Kieran asked with a hurt expression and then grinned at the women.

"You know I’m in love with your sister and not you, I’d be robbing you of a chance at a happy marriage with someone you love!" she reasoned.  "Besides, your people would never accept a Protestant in the family."

Both Breeya and Edna were surprised when Kieran began to laugh heartily and Hugh and Maeve grinned.

"You dinna nay tell her?" he asked Maeve.

"You didn’t come up in conversation a lot, brother," Maeve grinned.

"Somebody want to tell me what is going on?" Breeya demanded.

"The taste in romance runs in the family," Kieran grinned.

"What does that mean?" Breeya demanded.

"He prefers the company of his First Mate than any Irish lass," Maeve laughed.

Breeya and Edna seemed to take a second to absorb the new information and both broke into grins as well.

"We’ll be the perfect picture of respectability, Breeya as my wife and us taking in my widowed sister." Kieran grinned.  "Then there’s always the option of the Americas. I’ve received commission to run supplies to settlements there.  Not many will be questioning who is what religion in the middle of those woods." 

"Would your father agree then?" Maeve asked, kissing the top of Breeya’s head.

"Aye, we’ll go visit him and get out of Ireland while William cools down," Breeya suggested.  "He would also agree with the idea of America, seems that years ago some of our family settled in Ireland and discovered that they also liked the Irish women.  To escape the troubles between the Protestants and Catholics, five of their sons left for America.  I’ve cousins there already."

"You mean we’ve figured it out?" Maeve asked with a grin.

"Yes, beloved, we get to be together," Breeya smiled and snuggled in Maeve’s arms.

The Irish rogue looked over at Edna, "Thank you," she said, tears of joy filling her eyes.

"I’d rather her reputation ruined as well as a good dress and see her happy than with that cold hearted ill-bred Harrington," Edna shrugged off the thanks with a smile.

Maeve held Breeya close, breathing a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks.

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