Disclaimer: These characters are people who know the princess and her bard. They belong to no one really. My partner, Lisa LWood and I collaborated on this story together. Most of the writing is mine. The storyline was lovingly created by both of us while talking over coffee, taking long walks together or sitting up in bed late at night, unable to let go of thinking about it.
There are sexual innuendos and lots of love between women. If this is not for you, leave before you begin. There is also violence and some language that may be disturbing though I would not rate it X. Perhaps it could be rated R.
If you wish to give feedback, it will be welcome unless it is flaming. Write to Dana LWood at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Lisa LWood at Killian24@comcast.net
The story begins in a village inhabited by women. It was meant to be a place of refuge for wandering women warriors and women who just needed rest from a world which does not quite accept our passions either for our dreams or for the lives we live. The year is somewhere in the Age of the Warrior Princess, from approx. 12 BC to 5 BC
Killian slept fitfully. She was filled with disturbing dreams. Darkness, caves, collars, chains, pick-axes, and bullwhips. There was the sweet smell of bader root. Bader root! Killian smelled it in her sleep, the musty scent of the herb. It was used mainly for treating very bad pain, such as a broken limb. Is somebody hurt? Killian shifted in her slumber. No. It is also used to erase bad memories. All were memories. It can be misused to make you forget all memories.
Killian awoke in a cold sweat. Caitlin. Caitlin is alive. Somewhere, I know it. She is alive!.
Killian sat for a few minutes. Her thoughts were erratic. "Nessa, I have to tell Nessa. She will know what to do. Sable and Shellen talk to them. They will help if they can."
Oh my Caitlin. You are alive. I knew you didnt go and die on me, you big tough jerk. Where are you? Come to me my love. Come to me.
Nessa woke sitting straight up in bed. She felt anxiety; urgency; someone calling through her dreams. Killian! Without concern for the sensibilities of the lass, Nessa shot to the door, pulled it wide open and stood there as naked as the day she was born. The glazed-over look was a clue that Killian wasnt affected in the least by the sight of a red-haired, gray-eyed, six foot, naked Celt blinking back at her. Neither woman questioned what woke the Celt or how she knew that Killian was at her door.
Nessa could see that the lass was distressed and beyond the mere waking state. She already experienced the psychic strength of the young medium at a time when it was most needed. She trusted the otherworldly senses of the lass and thought whatever it was that drove her to her door would bear investigation. The Celt reached out and curled a large hand around Killians upper arm and pulled her inside the room. Nessa guided the still silent Killian to the big chair by the hearth. She waited until the lass was sitting before she went for a robe.
Nessa had the fire built and roaring with the room warming nicely before either of them spoke. She looked at the flame reflecting in Killians fixed eyes. "Tell me what you see lass."
Killians gaze shifted to meet Nessas. "Its a dark place, Nessa. It is small and dark. Someone is on a sleeping mat in a corner of the room Grace, oh sweet Grace Its my Caitlin!" Killian stood as if to run. Nessa held her at the shoulders.
"Wait lass! Where would you go in such a hurry?"
"Shes alive, Nessa. We have to find her. She is reaching for me!" Killians eyes filled with tears. They were shining now and clear. She dropped back down in the chair but continued to look up at Nessa with a plea for help that the warrior couldnt deny.
Nessa kneeled down beside the seated woman to be close and at eye level. She swallowed the lump in her throat. "Of course Ill help you lass." She lifted a curled finger and brushed tears from the face she loved with all her heart. "Talk to me now and tell me all you know. We have to get a direction a picture of the surroundings language." She stopped when she saw that look cross over the beautiful face again.
"Persia. She thinks she is in Persia for Graces sake!" Killian winced and said, "Theyre drugging her to keep her captive. She is losing hold of her thoughts. Im losing her!" Killian shook her head then and said, "Shes gone Nessa."
"Its enough to get us started lass." The Celt stood. Shed been to Persia. She thought it strange and barbaric. She looked down at Killian. "Go pack up some things lass. Well be heading out for the closest port and the fastest Schooner. Ill ready Flame and Tuttle." She watched Killian head for the door, stop and turn.
"Tell our friends Nessa. We dont want them to worry."
"Ill tell them lass. Dont be surprised if we are not alone on the trip." Nessa smiled knowing full well that some of their friends would want to help.
Nessa stood motionless, staring at the closed door to her chambers. She just watched Killian go through that door on her way to prepare for the rescue of the love of her life. The Celt felt a tearing in her heart. Part of her hoped that she would never have to face this while another part wanted only the best in joy for the woman who would have her heart throughout time. That one was Killian. The warrior fought back the tears that would have their day just not this day. She dressed quickly, pulling on her boots on the way to the door. She had to find Shellen, her best friend and Captain of the fine sailing vessel, the Shellen MacNeil Schooner. Then she would have to find Drake the sailor whose adventures and deeds on the high seas brought great merit to one so young.
Taking the stairs in leaps, Nessa hit the landing on a run. She spied Shellen sitting by the big hearth in the lounge in the main building. She slowed to a near stop as she noticed that the Highlander had an unusual slump in her manner. She was staring at the fire, long legs stretched out before her. Nessa approached as casually as she could. She stood quietly before the pensive warrior, waiting for her notice. She was rewarded with a half-hearted smile.
"Hey Ness, you lost?"
Nessa dropped to the chair beside Shellen. "No, not now but I might be if I dont get your help."
Shellens brow drew up in questioning. "What can I do for you friend?"
"Its Caitlin. Shes in Persia. Killian sees her with the sight of a priestess, Shell. She needs to be rescued " Nessa took a breath.
"Hold up Ness" Shellen never questioned the validity of such things. It was one of the things Nessa appreciated about the Noble One. "Ye ha ta cross an ocean to get to Persia."
"I know Captain."
Realization blossomed in the Highlander. A light came into her eyes. "The Schooner will take a couple of days to get readied. Better go pull the sailor out of whatever bed shes in. Well need her."
"Aye, aye Captain" Nessa said as she stood. "Perhaps we need a scribe for the recording of the journey. Ill ask Kip."
Nessa and Shellen left the lounge simultaneously. Nessa would ready the horses for the trip down the mountain to the port and Shellen would gather the others. Nessa noticed a familiar spring in the step of her friend. The Celt struggled within herself to lighten her own heavy heart.
The trip down the mountainside was uneventful. The rescue party was animated and in good spirits at the double prospects of new adventure and finding the near-legend, Caitlin. Sable was Killians best friend. She was a beautiful woman with a dark past as so many of these women were. She was a skilled assassin and ever a loyal friend. Sable was happy for Killian but held suspicion in reserve. It had been three years since Killian had seen the missing warrior. Who knew what might have been happening to Caitlins mind and body in that time? Sable was clear that experience could change a person and not always for the best. Killian was changing too and she was a very intense psychic. That might mean she was right with her visions, but her emotions could get in the way of reason when it came to action. Sable determined that she would keep a sharp eye out.
The company of women set sail aboard the Shellen Schooner. She was a sleek and shiny vessel whose Captain had a pride in her that shined in the warriors manner. Shellen was at home on her ship. She and Drake pored over navigation maps in her cabin. They marked the route to Persia in no time. Nessa stabled Tuttle and Flame in the hold built for this. If there was a need for more horses they would secure them in Persia. Maire the fae was most helpful in soothing the beasts that were hardly at home on the water. She cast a bit of calming dust in their stalls and sang sweet songs to them.
The Clan was quick to assume tasks on the Schooner. Some even had experience in sailing and felt comfortable with what was at hand. Nessa wished she felt the same. For the first two days she spent her time at the side of the historian, Kip. Both women had their heads over the side heaving until there was nothing to heave and then heaving nothing. Killian and Sable brought water and comfort to the two sea-sick women. The Seventh day out, stomachs and most everything else seemed to settle. Nessa spent much of her time in the company of the Captain and Drake, discussing ways of dealing with possible scenarios according to what Killian would be "seeing" next. These things happened on the edge of time and space. There was no determining much of anything until it happened. All agreed that battle readiness was essential. The Celt spent the rest of her time busying her hands and mind with ropes and sails and anything else that would keep her from thinking about Killian. Nessa knew that Caitlin would reappear sometime. She knew because Killian knew. The lass never let go of hope. Nessa cried at night when she was alone on her bunk. Maire and her beloved Drake both gave her healing attention and helped to ease the ache in her heart by easing the ache in her sex. Drake was sensitive to the Celts pain but knew also that talking about it now was not helpful.
Killian stood on the deck, just looking at the horizon. She was excited with the reality of what was happening and aware of Sables concerns even though the assassin spoke little about them. When Killian closed her eyes she saw her beloved, Caitlin drugged and bruised but somehow aware that they were in touch in some kind of psychic way. They exchanged thoughts but Killian was not yet clear exactly where Caitlin was being held or why. She was sure she would know when they reached the shores of the faraway land. But for now, she was glad that she didnt know. It might be too much for her with so much more time to wait.
Caitlin felt hope again. Killian found her! Her bruises were not as painful now that she had contact with her beloved. Her thoughts were less scattered, even with the effects of the bader root. The warrior felt like she could plan again. Life mattered now in a way that was worth the fighting she had to do to keep it.
Caitlin pulled herself up as far as she could manage. The heavy scraping of the chain that held her was testament to the difficulty her captors had in keeping her captive when she wasnt drugged. They had to allow the bader root to wear off if she was to be at her fighting best. She was so often challenged by the most brutal of fighters. She had to be kept strong and healthy. They fed her from the far end of the cell by putting the tray on the floor and pushing it toward her with a long staff. The tiny darts soaked in the powerful tranquilizer were the only way they could ever have gotten close enough to get the stuff in her. Caitlin was a pit fighter of the highest merit. Keeping her fighting was lucrative.
The double edged sword of the whole thing was that she just got stronger and more dangerous with fighting and winning. She already killed three contenders with a skillful blow to heart or head and it seemed that to give her too much drug was to provide the opposition with a weakened match. Caitlin smiled to herself in this realization. Three long years of this and she was now presenting her masters with a real dilemma. They would lose her one way or another. She was determined. But she needed help. Someone would have to find and destroy the entire stash of the hated bader root on the premises.
She thought again of how her thoughts of Killian brought her right to the young Amazon. It was wonderful! Kil must have developed that ability by the grace of Artemis. Caitlin breathed in deeply. "Killian, my Killian! I have missed you so much!! My love for you was never lost." Tears stung the warriors eyes. She wept in gratitude. This misery was going to end and she would see her Killian again.
Caitlin didnt know how her lover was crossing the ocean or what help she had. She couldnt have guessed what Killian had been through these three years. She couldnt know that there was another who loved her as much she, herself. The pit fighter knew only that Killian was coming and light was entering her life once more.
Nessa was learning to move with the motion of the ship. She finally got her "sea legs" as Drake said she would. There was a lull in the activity on the Schooner. It was mid day and a good wind was up. It seemed to be a good time for everyone to catch some sleep or work on projects left for later. The Celt leaned against the rail at the side of the Schooner. Killian came to mind as Nessa knew she would at the first mental relaxation. Nessa recalled her first acquaintance with Killian. The young lass was a fun-lover for sure. She did seem to get in trouble a lot in those days. Nessa thought of the sequence of events between then and now. Killian was feisty from the beginning. Nessa loved those small, quick gestures and mischievous expressions that were so charming. Yet it was the Celt who first recognized a woman in the lass when others were still thinking of her as a child. She had a depth and a sadness that drew the Celt. They had some gentle chats at first but then they shared much more. That was when Nessa learned of Caitlin and soon realized that no amount of affection or punishment would sway the lass from her love of the missing warrior. Killian was steadfast in her heart and in her belief that Caitlin would one day return. Now that the warrior had indeed returned through Killians psychic passages, Nessa was forced to grieve the loss, once again, for something for someone, she never really had.
The tall Irish warrior looked out on the horizon. She couldnt seem to lift her shoulders quite straight. She stood nearly hunching as if to further protect her already broken heart.
Down in her cabin, Killian sifted through scrolls of herb lore. She knew it was bader root that restricted the mind and body of her lover. She was sure that Caitlin was in Persia. Now if she could get the specific location of where bader root grew in the arid land, she might be able to narrow the guesses as to their exact destination. Ah! She found the right scroll. The root was grown mainly near the coastal areas where an abundance of water could be found. The potent herb grew on the banks of the little streams and outlets that ran to the sea. It was a start.
Caitlins face appeared in Killians mind. Heart pounding joy zoomed through her. The beautiful warrior was not dead! She was fighting the effects of a mind-numbing drug. She was bruised and chained in semi-darkness. She was sunken into a deep loneliness that had threatened to sap the strength from her heart but she was alive! Killians own heart sang. Just then, the image of her beloved faded, replaced by a pair of grief-tortured gray eyes, Nessa.
Killian could feel the Celt aching. She knew this was hard for her friend, perhaps too hard. She wanted to say something, but what that might be evaded the lass. Words would never quite do between them. She so dearly did love the fierce warrior, the fluid shaman, the steady walker between the worlds, the lover and the friend that Nessa truly was. Killian headed topside. She reached the deck and spotted Nessa at the railing. Killian thought the Celt appeared smaller somehow. She walked close.
"Nessa, my Nessa" she whispered. She watched that strong, body-built-for-battle stiffen and slowly turn to face her. Their eyes met. Suddenly a call from the crows nest rang through them both. "Land Ahoy!"
Seven figures walked down the gangplank of the Schooner. The sunrise cast a brilliant rose color against the sky. Shellen, Kip, Nessa, Drake, Killian, Slaide and Maire the fae stepped single file onto the pier of a village, whose name none of the group could pronounce. In the mysterious land of Persia, Shellen commissioned Lord Kat to stay in command of the Schooner along with the remaining Clan. She wanted the ship to be ready for a fast departure when the time came.
Kip interpreted some of the written words posted around the small port and surmised that the name of the place was something that sounded like Samawa. After considerable signing and gesturing the party found a guide less than fluent in English but at least communication was manageable. The guide was a young boy of about 12 called Pushti. He was very useful in haggling with a horse trader when the party sought to buy the six horses they were sure to need. Pushti was curious as to why six horses were purchased instead of the five needed to carry these strange fighting women. After all, they had two horses with them already. Drake helped to resolve the issue with a skilled display of illusion. She pulled scarves and doves out of nowhere it seemed to the astonished boy. She was animated as only she could be in her slight-of-hand moves. When she finally pulled a gold coin out of Pushtis own cap and presented it to him for his services, he decided that it didnt matter how many horses the strangers had, they paid well and they were entertaining in the bargain.
Killian asked if there was an apothecary as she needed some medicines and herbs. Pushti shook his head and said they would have to travel several miles inland to the city of Mohammera. The latest psychic message she received from Caitlin was that the warrior was being used to fight. "Pit fighter" is what she said. Killian raised her brow as if the boy said something that struck a chord in her. "Mohammera isnt that where they have those pit fights?"
"Oh yes missus." Pushti nodded. "Mohammera is the only place in my country that puts on the pit shows" he confirmed.
The entire party seemed to let out a breath held in unified hope. This was better than they hoped for, just having landed here this morning. They would stock the saddle bags and be riding toward Mohammera to find the arena of pit fighting, and Caitlin.
The road to Mohammera was marked well. Nessa was a bit uncomfortable in a land so barren of trees. There were those strange looking things called palms but they hardly qualified in Nessas mind. Maire was feeling exactly the same. She thought that no faery would ever choose to live here and she said as much. In fact, she said so much, that Lady Slaide, one of the Clans most skilled warriors, pulled up beside the little fae, reached a beautifully muscled arm around that tiny waist and lifted her off the saddle where she sat. It was a surprised fae who landed straddling wide in front of the Gentle Warrior. Slaide spent the largest part of the afternoon keeping that sweet faery mouth too busy to chatter.
Killian knew that Nessa was avoiding eye contact. She decided that the Celt needed to stay back for now. She hated that her beloved friend was in so much pain. Moreover, she hated that she was the instrument of emotional torture in Nessas heart. Tears welled up as she rode astride the rich black Friesian, a gift from the Irish warrior. She allowed the tears to fall. She did not deny her special love for the Celt nor did she deny her own pain for the change their relationship already began to undergo. She sent a silent "thanks" to Artemis for Drake and her ability to soothe Nessa with her own special attentions.
Shellen saw it all. She urged her mare beside her tearful friend and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Youve grown up a great deal since Caitlin was lost Kil. Shell be reuniting with the beautiful woman she always knew you really were. Caitlin is very lucky, lass." The stately manner of the warrior seemed somehow inconsistent with the softness of character she now displayed to her young friend. "And lass, Nessa is going to be just fine in time." She flashed a smile and dropped a wink at a grateful Killian before she turned her horse back to canter behind with Kip.
The City of Mohammera appeared to be many things to the visiting Clan. It was large and replete with colorful marketplaces and characters. Acrobats leaped and danced with astonishing dexterity to the music of a hypnotic sound. The music was created by a single man with some kind of reed or tube which he fed his breath to, while pressing and releasing little openings on the stem with his fingers. Baskets and sheer veils of every color hung at the sides of booths which lined the streets. Vendors called out prices and descriptions of exotic wares while haggling voices chattered all around the small party as they wound through the crowded streets. Fascination with the strange wonder of this place would have distracted most that were new to it. Yet not one of the seven lost their sense of purpose. In fact, had they not been so intent on looking ahead, they may have been aware of the small figure, shadowing close behind.
Kip kept her focus on signs and posters and anything else that bore the strange symbols that made up the language. She was actually hoping for pictures. Anything that might display fighting figures. Shellen suggested that they hold off from getting another guide to avoid suspicion of their intent. Now the problem was to locate the pit and where the fighters were kept. Without interpretation, this presented a road-block. The slender historian did find a poster with a picture and some symbols but had no idea what it read. The seven rescuers stood huddled together poring over the little poster as if concentration would bring it to life and they could learn Caitlins whereabouts. Killian knew what the place looked like from the inside because she saw it through Caitlins psychic imaging. But that did nothing to help them now. It was getting dark and they would have to find a place to stay soon.
Maire stood beside Slaide her small hand inside that of the warriors. She felt a presence before she saw it and shot a look with a message to Nessa. The Celt looked beyond and behind the faery just as they all picked up on an energy current running between them and turned to face a veiled figure standing a few paces away. The twilight cast an eerie shade onto the glittering veil, lending mystery to the silent intruder. Then she spoke. "So, you think that picture is going to talk to you? Or maybe you could use the help of somebody who knows what the Hades they are doing."
"Sable!" Killian jumped into her friends ready embrace. The rest of the women just stood in surprised silence for a moment. Nessa threw her hands up and rolled her eyes. All but Shellen breathed in relief. Though she was angry, she spoke with a kind of irate dignity, "When I give an order for you or anyone to stay in protection of my ship, I have to trust that it will be done. Your disobedience is a clear usurping of my authority. You might be putting us all in further danger. Why didnt you use that beautiful head dear lady?"
Sable expected this and came prepared. "The question is, my dear Captain, why didnt YOU use my beautiful head?"
There is a way that certain warriors have of saying, what? The word is honed and has a point on it; it comes out of their mouths like a dagger coming out of its sheath. Sable felt it pierce her and make her sag. She swallowed and held her gaze on Shellens face. She forged ahead. "Shellen, in my life before I came to the Clan, I was an assassin. I have traveled much and learned the names and languages of many countries this one included. If you had bothered to ask me what skills I might bring to this expedition instead of leaving me to wonder and worry and waste my talents I might not have to be standing here explaining why you need me. Now come along, I know an inn that will welcome strangers and we can plot all through the night." She smiled at how she could see the truth of her words registering in the Highlander.
Shellen smiled back. There was just a trace of sarcasm in her voice. "Ah yes. I agree that you are useful." She raked her eyes over the gorgeous woman as she bowed low. "However, it might have occurred to you to speak up. Please try to pay attention to important details like that." Shellen stood tall and said. "Lead the way." It was a sting but a small one. Sable accepted it with grace and a slight bow toward the stalwart warrior. She shot Killian a glance as the rest of the women took turns embracing her. She saw a mixture of joy and sadness in those big brown eyes. She glanced at the Celt who had that same blend in her eyes. Sable felt for them both. But Drake was now circling those sweet arms around her. The sailor pulled her in so tight she could feel their breasts mashing together. This was going to be an adventure she was sure to remember.
Shellen sat quietly listening to Sable read from the poster Kip found. Apparently they did well to find these quarters for the night, since the next pit fight would not take place until the following afternoon. This gave them time to plan a strategy and get some rest. The noble warrior stayed seated by the open window of the large quarters. She was actually glad that Sable showed up, even though she would have preferred to have known of her usefulness before they left the Schooner. The Captain knew that the ship was left in the best of hands. Kat was ever watchful and resourceful in battle if that is what it came to. Jade was steady and well trained for any circumstance. The six remaining crew, while not battle trained, were fierce in loyalty and brave of heart. Shellen relaxed and turned her focus on planning with this small but diverse liberation party.
Killian could sense the nearness of the woman who held the largest part of her hopes and dreams for the better part of three years and held her heart for six. That very heart was thudding now with anticipation. With the sudden movement from not having Caitlin to having Caitlin again, Killians entire reality shifted. Everything seemed fresh again. Life contained a vibrancy that she didnt even realize she missed until it came back. Her only unhappiness was the heartache growing in silence inside her dear Nessa.
Nessa could see the new and beautiful aura surrounding Killian. There was brightness in her eyes and lightness in her step that the Celt would never have wanted to deny her. She wondered if she would be able to watch while those beautiful eyes looked adoringly at another. Could she sleep while another held her, made love to her? Nessa couldnt help a certain rage at a fate that led her to love only to deny her full access. That rage smoldered, deepening the darkness already bountiful within her.
The painful tension between Killian and Nessa was hardly missed by the rest of the women on this quest. It was difficult to display either joy for the one or sorrow for the other. But plans were made now, and each was committed to freeing the warrior, Caitlin or to die in the attempt. Whatever happened after that would be very nearly anti-climactic.
Caitlin struggled to keep her hold on clear thought. The drug was hard to fight. She pulled herself to standing against the stone wall of the cell she knew as home for how long? Chain clinked and scraped as she moved. She pulled in a breath and held it while she asked Nemisine for clarity. Ah, there. She felt for Killian along the psychic passages so unfamiliar and so tentative. She was here! Caitlin swallowed to keep the emotion from rising too far up and erasing Killians presence. She heard her own mind calling out to her love through the psychic tunnel. "Killian Destroy the drug while I fight. Replace it, fool them." She knew her lover heard and understood. She was slipping back to blackness quickly now. "Killian, I love you!" she managed before she slid down to the cold floor and drifted to emptiness.
Finding and replacing the powerful bader root was a part of the plan that would make all the difference in getting the captive warrior out. Caitlin was going to have to be conscious for the finale.
Drake slipped quietly down the dark hallway toward the commode room. She thought these Persians were at least somewhat advanced to have the privy indoors. She stopped just short of a little open side room when she heard voices. Normally, the Celtic sailor kept the business of a stranger at a respectful distance, but these were not strangers. She held her silence there in the dark. Drake knew Nessa had that detection sense that most warriors had. She often wondered if it was born in them or if they had it built into them during early rearing. She wondered why this warrior wasnt using it now. Who was with her, distracting her? Drake heard a gasp. Killian; she recognized the voice but not the tone.
The sailor stepped forward in time to see Nessa grab the sobbing lass close. The tall woman was rough. She shook Killian from the shoulders and pulled her in tight. Their faces were close. Drake knew that look in her warrior it came from a feral part of the Irishwomans being. It was that haze that had a life of its own. Add inconsolable grief and the anger it entailed and get the hell out of the way. Killian was clearly caught in her misery of caring for her friend and wanting only Caitlin. Nessa glared into the eyes she fell into almost daily for over a year now. She let out a growling sound and slammed her mouth down onto Killians hurting, taking, hungering for something unreachable. Killian could barely struggle under Nessas force. She moaned in pain and protest.
Drake stepped into view. It felt like stepping into a bottomless canyon. She had to risk it. "Nessa, NO!" She stayed still and watched Nessa pull her head up and away from the bruising kiss. Those gray eyes shot into the sailor. Drake saw a wounded wild thing. "Ness, you cant, you love her" she whispered.
Time and space hung frozen for what seemed forever to Drake. But then Nessas face lost that granite hardness. She let go of Killian and stood back. Blood smeared and trickled from Killians lip where the teeth of this animal ground into it. Nessa was horrified. "I I couldnt stop. Killian I couldnt."
Killian just stood relieved. She pulled a scarf from her pocket and wiped her already swollen mouth before she turned without a look or a word to either sailor or warrior and walked back to the sleeping quarters. Dawn was breaking. Killian would deal with her feelings about this later. Right now, Nessa was vital to the success of their plan. The young Amazon cloaked her anger and pain with solid focus on the action they would soon be taking to release and retrieve the love of her life, Caitlin.
The silence of the early dawn was slowly replaced by a barking dog and the sound of cart wheels bumping down the rocky streets. Soon the air was humming with the activity of the new day. Slaide, Maire and Sable headed for the compound just outside the pit arena. That was where the bader root was most likely kept. One well placed aim and a hefty push of breath through Slaides blow pipe brought an unsuspecting guard slumping to the ground and out of the world forever. The little gypsy faery stared wide eyed at the dead man while Slaide divested the corpse of its clothing. "Uh soft warrior huh? Yeah soft and deadly." Maire said through her astonishment.
Sable saw and grabbed the little fae. "Listen my sprightly friend, this is deadly business and the sides are clearly defined. It is not as civilized as the wild forest. You have to accept this now or go back." She held the sweet face gently in her hands. "Understand?"
"Yes Lady" Maire caught the intense reality that Sable projected. The assassin dropped her hands from Maires face and helped Slaide put the guards clothes on.
"What about clothes for the other warriors?" Maire queried. Slaide adjusted the guards turban on her own head and answered softly. "Theyll have to do their own killing little one." The warrior said this in a matter of fact manner. No callousness, just fact.
The three edged to a side entrance of the compound. They moved between structures, peeking through windows looking for a clue to the whereabouts of the herb they sought. They spotted a table filled with darts and vials and jars of herbs in one of the buildings. That was it! Slaide turned to the fae, handed her the bag of vials that contained the mixture of the dummy herb and said, "Your up little darling." She reached down with both hands and took Maire by the waist, lifting her up and through the window. She let the sweetling down gently onto the floor of the hut, knowing that Maire needed no further instruction. Sable and Slaide stood warily outside that window while the light footed faery exchanged the mixtures. Slaide wondered silently if Nessa, Shellen and Drake had the horses outside the compound in readiness yet. She didnt want to worry about the Celt but Nessa looked awful this morning when they checked their plan.
As Slaide wondered about the Celt, Sable wondered about her Killian. Her young friends mouth seemed to have swollen overnight but she would not speak of it. Sable bristled inside but knew it was not the time for an outburst. Killian and Kip were probably at the arena by now, awaiting the appearance of the once lost, Caitlin.
Shellen, Nessa and Drake had the eight horses tied to a hitching post just outside the compound. Drake tied each set of reins in a Celtic sailors knot so that they could be released in one quick pull and keep sacred meaning as well. Shellen gave the sailor a thumbs up for her cleverness. They smiled at one another then both looked at the silent Celt. She was pulling her sword and sheath from the brace where it was kept on Tuttles saddle. Beside it was another sword. Nessa pulled this one out too.
"How many swords can ye wield at one time my friend?" Shellen asked.
"Its not for me. Killian wants it. It belongs to Caitlin." Nessas answered without looking at her friends.
Shellen threw a glance at Drake who looked back in silent agreement. They both knew the turmoil building in their friend. They would stay close to Nessa. The three walked quickly to the side entrance of the compound where the faery waited. Maire blinked, appearing into full sight when she heard them coming. "How does she do that?" Drake said to no one in particular. But the faery heard and sent a glittering wink to the sailor. Drake stored the invitation for the long ocean trip home. There was no one around the compound to speak of. Bored guards stood at the entrance to a single hut across the way. Cheers and hoots and roaring from the pit arena were heard loud and clear. The events were underway. The rescue party spread out between structures and waited. Suddenly those two guards stood at alert when two extremely tall and muscular men emerged from the tunnel entrance that led up from the fighting pit into the compound. "They look dangerous," whispered Maire from her place beside Sable.
"Yes, they are dangerous but dumb." Sable winked down at the fae.
Sable hoped Kip and Killian were in place and safe in that cheering crowd. She knew, of course, that Killian would be more steady in this plan than any one of them. Her whole happiness was at stake. The assassin wished they didnt have to wait until Caitlin was finished with the pit fight to make their move. But Killian felt that the effects of the bader root on her warrior prevented the clarity of thought it would take to give heads up through the psychic realm. Sable also figured that Killian wanted to be present to look straight at Caitlin to let the fighter know that they were there and in place.
The bader root was wearing off nicely. Caitlin felt that by the time she got to the pit, she would be ready to kill for these bastards and live one more day. An image of Killian, her beloved, appeared in that place where reality and hope entwined. Her heart gave a thump in her chest. "I am here. Look for me. The dart will come without the drug. Pretend." That was all. Her Killian was HERE at last. Caitlin had no chance to respond before the heavy door to her cell scraped open.
Each of the hidden Clan had her own inner responses to the figure that emerged, chained and shackled between the two burly goons. But none would differ on the fact that this was a powerful fighter. Chains attached to opposite sides of a waist shackle was held at the end and pulled tight by the goons, creating an opposing force that held the warrior between them. They began the walk to the pit.
Sable whispered, "Now that is dangerous."
Kip led the way up the stone tiers that circled the fighting pit. The crowd was buzzing with the excitement of the up-coming fight between the Grecian Wild Warrior and the Hairless Hun. The historian heard side bets happening all around. From what she gathered the Wild Warrior was the favorite. She thought "Shes our favorite too, and were taking her." She felt a fluttering in her stomach at the thought of just how rash and bold this whole endeavor was.
Killian wanted to sit far enough up to see the entire pit, yet not so far that she couldnt see her warriors face when it appeared. Her heart was pounding hard enough to drive nails. Nearly three years passed since she saw that strong, beautiful face in any place but her dreams. It had been so hard, so impossible at first, to carry on with her life. Killian often wondered if she really did carry on with it or if it was all just a pretense, getting through one day after another by inventing hope where there was none to give her reason to live. Grief and the pain of not knowing whether Caitlin was dead or alive or what happened to the trader, twisted her perception of everything.
Killians memory of her last night with Caitlin was really the only thing that remained clear and unchanged. Life with Caitlin was everything Killian wanted and needed. Not even the option of living among her tribal sisters was appealing by comparison. They were traveling the mountain areas hunting and gathering pelts for trading in the mountain villages. This was their way of life and one the young Amazon thrived in for nearly three years.
Caitlin had a habit of rising before the sun to check the parameters of their camp, leaving her beloved Killy sleeping in a precious bundle. She would often return with handfuls of pine nuts and berries to tempt the sleepy Amazon into waking. Killian awoke alone. No sound of munching on pine nuts or the odor of sweet berries met her. She rose to an empty camp and an eerie feeling. She waited for a time not knowing which direction to go in search of Caitlin. But she knew that something was wrong. She wandered the parameters for hours, expanding her search in a spiral as she was taught by the Amazons. Then when she came upon Caitlins horse, Dancer, alone and dying in anguish on the forest floor, her mind seemed to cave in. It was all she could do to pick up the sword, dropped by the missing warrior and strike the beast loose from suffering.
Now as she sat there with Kip, staring down at that horrible looking pit where Caitlin had been forced to kill to survive, for so long, Killian wondered what changes must have occurred within her beloved warrior. She realized that her own changes were perceptible to those who spent time with her. How much more marked would they be to Caitlin who knew only a young, love stricken girl who needed scolding from time to time and who made love with volcanic heat.
Killian felt Kips warm touch on her arm. She watched as two half naked muscle men struggled to keep one lone figure suspended between them. The cheering crowd was on its feet and the two women Clan rose with them. A thick mane of dark hair cascaded down the fighters shoulders. It was wild and covered half her face but Killian knew it was Caitlin. She was more muscular than Killian remembered but the carriage and the stance were Caitlin. The goons tossed away the ends of chain they each held. They scurried like gigantic mice. But Caitlin stood still. She had done this more times than she could count. She shook her head to clear the hair from her eyes. Killian sucked in a breath. Caitlin was ragged, hard faced and as magnificent as Killian remembered. Another roar from the crowd heralded the entrance of a man the size of a small whale. Killian didnt want to think about what this mountain of a man could do. She understood that Caitlin would have to think about it very soon. She held her gaze on Caitlins eyes and focused her mind. The huge man was still raising his fists to the crowd and turning to see them. But Caitlin stood quiet and still. Suddenly she lifted her head. Eyes the color of the ocean on a bright day were staring right into Killian.
The moment of recognition was intense for Killian and Caitlin. Everything that ever held any meaning for either of them was wrapped up in that mutual gaze. Killian had to break it. She nodded as a signal, turned away with Kip and disappeared into the crowd. The two women threaded through the crowd and down the tiers. They had to get to the compound before this fight ended. Nessa and the other Clan would be waiting.
The spaces between the huts in the compound were narrow. Killian and KIP made their way forward slowly. They didnt know where they would meet up with the others, they couldnt plan that. The two women had to get off those tiers and into the compound before the fight was over. They knew that as soon as Caitlin dispatched her opponent, she would be shot with a treated dart to subdue her enough to return her to the compound. But of course the dart would be treated with a different herb, one that would have no effect on the warrior. Caitlin would be faking a stupor until something obvious happened to alert her to the presence of help.
KIP wanted to find a position on a roof. Her bow and quiver of arrows slung neatly at her back, she motioned to her companion that she found a way up and would be departing for now. Killian watched the historian climb nimbly up the hut side and then disappear over the top. She resumed her own way quietly toward what looked like an entrance to the inner yard of the compound. Just then a hand shot out folding neatly around her mouth and jerked her back. One strong arm reached around her waist and twisted her till she stood staring into a pair of gray eyes. The sound of scraping steel met her ears as Nessa pulled the sword from its place in her belt and held it between them whispering, "Caitlins weapon lass shell be needing it."
Killian took the sword from Nessa. Her eyes stayed glued to the Celts for enough time to see that whatever happened between them that morning, was secondary to the task before them now. Nessa turned and motioned the way with a finger and a nod of the head. Together they scurried toward the entrance to the yard and together they stood just back from the entrance and waited.
The roaring of the crowd signaled the end of the fight in the pit. Every one of the Clan kept an edgy silence in readiness. Slaide pulled a vial from a pouch at her waist. She turned the small cork out and carefully dipped her darts into the solution that the faery brought back from the herb room. It was extract of bader root. She knew she would need to make these shots good. After the battle began she would have to put darts away. The fighting would be too close and Clan might get in the way. She was as good with a sword as any of these lazy goons anyway.
The gates to the pit tunnel opened. The two burly guards held a drooping Caitlin between them as they half dragged the apparently drugged pit fighter toward the middle of the compound. As quick and silent as a breath, first one dart and then another hit their mark in the necks of those two goons. Caitlin felt the grip on her arms relax and release as each man fell to his knees. She lifted her hanging head high and stood tall. Guards were pouring out of their quarters.
Caitlin saw other women warriors now engaging the astonished guards. She saw what looked like a kings courtesan twirling and kicking with amazing accuracy while an archer drew a bead from the roof and dropped an advancing man as he ran. She saw a small elfin-like creature gathering flitting and darting around a guard, confusing and frustrating him to distraction. Then she turned to see the woman she had held onto in her dreams for three years standing six paces in front of her.
They stood looking into one another for no more than a few seconds. But in that time an eternity of love, bliss, sorrow and grief rushed between them. Killians eyes filled with the sight of her beautiful warrior at last; then with practical coolness she lifted the sword she kept since she found it on the forest floor the day she lost Caitlin and tossed it through the space between them. Caitlin caught her sword by the hilt. She gazed upon it as if it were a long lost friend. It felt like a living thing in her hand. The guards were rushing in on her now as if they forgot who she was. Something snapped in the warrior. Sword in hand, and Killian by her side, Caitlin remembered fully who she was and moreover she remembered what happened. She threw back her beautiful head and bleated out a battle cry that stunned the advancing guards.
Caitlin knew them all. Their mustached faces and black turbans were what she woke up to every day. She had her food shoved toward her from their safe distance. They drugged her for everything. They stripped her each week while she lay chained in a bader root stupor. They tossed water on her and called it a bath. They let her loose in an enclosed pen and stood neatly behind the fencing to watch as she took exercise, only to shoot the drug in her again when they needed to take her back to her cell. Each of these routines was riddled with insults from their filthy mouths. Caitlin would escape, she would run fast and hard with these unknown friends. But not before she wreaked the havoc her captors feared all along. The once peaceful trader was also a warrior. Coupling her battle skills with sudden fury for vengeance resulted in bloody mutilation and death.
The Clan fought with skill. They may have come through victorious even without Caitlins titan rage at this enemy. They may have chosen to leave a few of the injured compound masters alive to tell the tale. But the fact was, Caitlin was a tsunami in disguise. Grief and hatred rose up in her like lava, and none could run fast enough to escape her scalding fury. Her abilities to fight and kill had been unmatched in the pit for three years of captivity. They were unmatched now. The warrior wielded that sword in retribution until every enemy heart had its last beat. The compound was strewn with blood and lifeless bodies. She stood in the center of it all, staring down at an upturned face that had no body. Suddenly, Caitlin felt a strong hand on her arm. She turned her head and met the gaze of a Druid. "Well need to be taking flight, Caitlin. There are horses and a waiting ship to bear us to our home." Nessa spoke evenly.
The spell of shock was erased. Caitlin saw Killian running toward her She dropped her sword and opened her arms for the one who never lost faith. Their bodies seemed to blend in that embrace. All time, all tears and all sorrow was shrunken to nothing in this moment. This would have to be enough. The urgency to get out of Mohammera with the keenest speed gripped them all. Shellen led the way to the horses. There was as yet, no sign of anything amiss from outside the compound. Caitlin mounted behind Killian on the black Friesian mare, Flame. All nine of the brave women rode through the back streets of Mohammera on a full gallop.
The sense of success was exhilarating for all but one in the party. Nessa could feel a dark weight dropping heavily within her. Drake stayed close to her warrior knowing the Celts need. Shellen bore down in the lead. She felt they had been too long away from the Shellen. Sable fought the urge to sing out a victory cry while sizing up this mystery of a warrior who had her Killys heart. Kip silently calculated distance and speed. She thought it would take half a day of steady riding to get to the Schooner. Slaide brought up the rear, keeping a watch on the horizon behind the fleeing group. The sensitive young Faery fought off images of gore and death. Lives lived and then *poof* gone. Once again, the Faery wondered how sacredness of being/Be-ing, could have slipped so easily from human awareness.
Nine figures astride eight horses moved with an easy lope against a purple evening in the desert. The sun was low. They all wanted to be at the ship by dark but it looked like that may not happen. Caitlin held her arms all the way around Killian, rocking in the saddle with her. She was aware of the tension somewhere deep in the girl. She thought everyone must be a bit shaken. She brought her face to the side of Killians and said. "They wont get us. Ill kill anyone who comes near you."
Killian could have felt some comfort in those words, but the edge in her warriors voice disturbed her. She didnt have time to think about it. Shellen held up a graceful hand in signal for a halt. The Captain leaned forward in her saddle and shaded her eyes from the setting sun. "Rider up ahead, coming toward us. Stand ready Clan!" she ordered. She heard steel scraping against scabbards in unison. Then as the rider came closer, Shellen raised her brow in surprise. "Jade!"
Jade reigned in at a sliding stop in front of the astonished assembly. The regal looking warrior let her eyes graze over the group, stopping briefly on Caitlin, then back to Shellen. "Captain, there has been trouble. Just before dawn, it was Daggers watch. We heard her whistle the attack alarm. We barely got up in time. Port bandits, I think. They were hoping to take us but Lord Kat led the battle on deck. Lou took out at least three of them and the rest of us held our own. We fought a bloody fight but lost not one." Jade pulled in a breath, then continued. "Kat thought it best that we pull up anchor. We found an old pier where we can board Tuttle and Flame." Shellen clapped a hand on Jades shoulder. "Well done warrior. Lead the way."
Nessa thought it was a good tactic to move away from the expected route. They still didnt know if they were being followed. Jades coming was timely and the Schooner gone from port was even better. They would be further up the coast and the ensuing enemy would be averted. These thoughts helped the Celt to stay focused. She was managing to keep her eyes away from the couple on the Friesian mare. The reality of Caitlin and Killian together was already slicing into her heart, she would not choose to see it if she didnt have to.
Golden light gave way to silver as night eased down on the cantering band of Clan. Their pace slowed enough to keep the horses from exhaustion but Shellen resisted the urge to call a halt. She thought they would rest once they were safe onboard. At last the weary group crested one more rise and sucked in a collective breath of gratitude at the sight of the beautiful Shellen with her masts shimmering in the moonlight, waiting patiently like the lady she was.
Lord Kat had the gang plank lowered and secured to the pier as soon as she heard rach call out "Riders ahoy!" The riding Clan leaped from their saddles once they reached the plank. All the horses but Tuttle and Flame were released to graze beyond the beach. A flurry of activity to raise the plank and pull up anchor followed as soon as the last of the Clan boarded. They set sail.
When the Schooner was well away from the shores of Persia, all but one of the entire company gathered around the woman they crossed half an ocean to rescue. There was back slapping and hugging. Tears of gratitude and relief spilled from more than one Clan. Well wishes and congratulations went to Killian and Caitlin who stood arm in arm as part of this loving clan. Caitlin was just a little overwhelmed by this reception. She thought Killian did well to surround herself with such family. They all seemed to really care about her happiness.
Caitlin stood in silence while the attention went to Killian. She felt little hairs rise on the back of her neck. She sensed someone or something. It was as if a hurricane touched her, full of noise and random force. She turned her head and cast her eyes up to the helm where they met and locked onto Nessa the Celt.
For a tense moment Nessa merely looked at the handsome warrior standing with Killian in the crowd of Clan. So this was Caitlin, strong and built like an athlete in the Grecian games. Nessa broke the gaze and turned to see Drake standing beside her. She barely smiled into those green eyes and asked, "Glad to be heading off the shore of this strange land lass?"
"Im glad the first part of this thing is over, but Im not so sure Im even ready for whats next." Drake said seriously. She watched Nessas face. It took on a hardness that the sailor didnt like at all. "Ness, youre holding this stuff in. Lets go to your cabin and have a hot Earl Grey." She said with a lightness she didnt feel. Drake reached for Nessas hand but barely felt it before it was pulled away.
For all the days since this whole thing started, Nessa worked madly to avoid thoughts of Killian wrapped in intimacy with Caitlin. Now that the rescue was done, she could think of nothing else. Visions of Killians beautiful body pinned beneath Caitlin in a frenzy of hot throbbing passion, tortured the Celt. The dull ache that accompanied every move and every thought up to now became sharp. The Celtic warrior forgot all she learned from Killians soft tutoring. All the self reflection, all the twisting of perception to see a better way, shattered inside her, forgotten. Nessa looked down into Drakes sensitive eyes. There was love there but Nessa couldnt see it. What she saw was a pretty lass who would scream and struggle, who would take the roughness she needed to give, who would crawl across the floor and present herself wide open if the Celt demanded it. Beautiful she was to the Celt, so beautiful. Nessa let her thoughts run riot. "You go on to my cabin, lass. Ill be right along" Nessa was hungry for her.
Drake understood that Nessa was in a lust haze of violence and pain. The sailor knew Nessa could kill her with no more than a wish to see her die. The Celt had done it to others in her mysterious Druid style. Still, Drake walked in that careless, straight-backed, unstoppable way of hers, directly to Nessas cabin. She decided to risk it. Besides, the danger thrilled her darkly. Inside the small cabin, Drake waited for her warrior for only a few minutes. She turned up the wick in the lantern that stood on the table, giving a soft glow to the room. She heard the door open behind her. But before she could turn she heard Nessas low growl. "Stay slut. Dont move!"
Drakes back stiffened with the chill in her spine. Leather swished out of belt loops behind her. She swallowed down the urge to turn and drop-kick the big warrior. The last time she tried that, she ended up nursing her entire welted body for days. She simply said. "Yes milord." Then, instead of the expected strike of the belt, she felt strong arms surround her and twist her entirely around to face the feral glare.
Nessa wanted to beat this fucking little bitch. She felt rage that the impudent sailor did not resist her. "Yes milord?" she rasped, incredulous. She lifted a hand high to slap this little slut senseless. Drake did not cower. The tactic worked on Nessa like a light shining into the darkness of her being. Her pain, her terror, her shame, her weaknesses all were illuminated by the brave love of her friend. Drake was offering herself to the stricken warrior without reservation. Nessa stepped back, she dropped to sit on the bed, put her head down and covered her face with her hands.
"She is gone, Drake"
"Not gone just different than before. She will always love you as I have always loved you." Drake stood close and pulled the hands from Nessas tear streaked face. She undressed before the gray eyed lord in silence. She helped the warrior out of leather and silk. That night, Drake held the weeping Celt in her arms, rocking with her in her misery, easing her toward healing. They made love in the glorious ways they always did. Love deepened between them. Nessa knew by morning that she would make it through another day.
She was so beautiful, so changed and so the same all at once. For three long years, whenever Caitlin had a clear thought, it was always of Killian. The way she turned her head and looked up into her lovers eyes, the way she giggled under her breath whenever her warrior tried to show off and botched it, the way she moved her strong and supple body for their lovemaking Caitlins center tightened.
The rescued warrior spent a large part of the evening topside. The clan who called themselves Clan Spirits and who risked their lives to save her, deserved some time to ask questions and to tell stories with her. The warrior knew she owed them more than they asked for. She spoke as best she could about her time in captivity. She listened and learned about the Clan in the mountains where they found refuge and companionship. She did not see the one they called Nessa, though her name was mentioned more than once. That one fought like a demon at the bloody battle in the compound. She killed for Caitlins escape. Yet when all was clear and they were safe aboard the Schooner, this Nessa gave her a look that could freeze her blood, then simply vanished. Caitlin listened to stories of the Celtic warrior and more often than not, her Killian was woven into the tale.
Suspicion and rage burned hidden in Caitlin. Her Killian was whoring with the Celt while she strained against the mind-rotting bader root and fought pigs for life for three years. Reason lost its foothold in slippery jealousy. Caitlins mind had shut down in so many places, just for the sake of survival. She had no avenues of rational thought open to her. She said goodnight to the Clan and made her way to the cabin and Killian.
Killians thoughts of that time long ago rattled her so that when she saw Caitlin standing in the doorway, she jumped. Caitlin was looking straight at her, her glance level and dark. The taller woman, ducked to get her whole body into the small cabin. She closed the door behind her and spoke. "Three years is a long time to go without a fuck. But then you wouldnt know that would you Killian? You didnt go that long."
It was the way Caitlin said the awful combination of words that sent a tingly shock through Killian, a vibration that centered somewhere just beneath her heart. "Caitlin, what are you talking about?"
The warrior was in front of Killian in an instant. She back-handed the love of her life in a billowing rage. The blow lifted the girl off her feet and backward. She fell onto the bed. Caitlin was on top of her, pressing her heavily to the bed, holding her wrists above her. "You and that Nessa!" she spat. "Ill show you who you belong to" she hissed.
Killian realized immediately that Caitlin was ill, somehow affected by her horrid experience. It was as if she had no container for the blazing fury that must have built up in her over three years of torture. "I belong to you Caitlin. You are all that has mattered for these years. You dont know how I ached and prayed and fought to keep you alive when others shook their heads in pity for a pathetic lass who lost her lover." Killian sobbed. Her cheek was swelling where Caitlin struck her.
"Not good enough!" Caitlin screamed. She lost what little hold she had on control. She tore at Killians clothes, slapping and yelling as she ripped the fabric. "Youll fucking wish you never laid eyes on that Celt!" She raised up and pulled the now naked Killian to her feet, only to throw her down on the floor. The Caitlin that Killian knew was gone, pressing to the edges of sanity.
Killian lay on the floor stunned. She saw the booted foot coming in time to move her head and took the vicious kick in her right shoulder. She tried to scramble to her feet but the space was to small. Caitlin knocked her down again. She felt blood streaming down her face where it broke open when she hit the floor the first time. She nearly passed out just as the door to the cabin splintered. She watched through a blur as her friend, Nessa burst in. There was a wrath in the Celt that matched Caitlins. She saw Nessa fly at her lover and then she blacked out.
Nessa was already aware of something being very wrong, even before Sable came pounding on her door. The feeling hit her gut and lifted her up from a deep sleep. She was fully dressed when she opened the door to a frantic Sable. "Ness, hurry shes beating Killy I cant get the fucking door open!" Nessa needed nothing further. She bolted passed the Lady toward Killians cabin.
Captain Shellen heard the ruckus and emerged from her quarters ready for action. She dropped in behind the running Celt. Thoughts jostled inside her as she moved. She noticed something about Caitlin that was not quite alright. It was the unbridled fury in the woman. It had no boundaries. Even when the battle at the compound was clearly over and the enemy was helpless to stop them, Caitlin continued to slaughter the injured. Shellen hoped at the time, that Caitlin was simply overcome by a rage that would wane. She saved a small thought that it was possibly not temporary, but lived inside the warrior, as part of her.
Nessa reached the cabin door and flew into it without pause of motion. Tossing splintered wood off her arms and head she spied Killian on the floor. The blood on the lasss head and face was telling enough. The Celtic warrior bared her teeth and snarled with deadly menace. She sprang at Caitlin, releasing the beast she normally held in check. But it was too easy. Caitlin was not a warrior who would ever allow another to pummel her as Nessa did without raising a hand to stop it. Caitlin left herself open to every blow the Celt threw. Nessa grabbed her by the front of her shirt and pushed her hard against the wall where a pair of hanging swords clattered with the impact. When Shellen saw that Caitlin made no move for the swords, but stood battered and silent on the edge of the room like a broken animal, she yelled at Nessa, "Stand down warrior!"
Nessas fist stopped in the air, her eyes ablaze with hatred. She heard the command and held still in confusion. She tore her gaze from Caitlin and pinned it on Shellen. The desire to kill Caitlin was naked on her face. Shellen spoke evenly. "It is over, friend. Stop now. We were on time." Nessa looked back at Caitlin. Killians lover was clearly defeated. The Celt took a deep breath and returned to sane reality, She and Shellen stood on either side of Caitlin, each grasping an arm. They all looked to the floor where Sable knelt over her best friend.
The beautiful assassin wiped the blood from Killians face. She turned to the doorway where Clan had gathered to witness the action. "Please take Killy to my cabin. I will be able to care for her there" she said to no one in particular. Sable stood quietly while Slaide and Kat gently carried her Killian from the wrecked room. Sable turned then and looked at the now subdued Caitlin standing between Shellen and Nessa. What she saw was a fierce warrior who had already withstood more than most of the best ever could. Caitlin had shown herself to be murderous in her revenge she was deadly. But instead of a reasonable fear, Sable felt an icy anger. Her hands clenched and unclenched fitfully as she walked steadily up to face Caitlin. "She thought you were a dream and you became her nightmare." Sable had an edge to her voice. Suddenly she drew a leg back behind her and swung it up to power kick Caitlin in the solar plexus. Both Shellen and Nessa stood passively for this. They brought the doubled up warrior back up to her feet to catch another smashing blow from Sables fist. Almost casually, Sable turned on a heel and without another word, left the room to care for Killian.
After Shellen and Nessa escorted the beaten warrior to the brig where they left her locked in and weeping like a child, the two friends stood together in silence for a time, watching the expanse of water from the side of the Schooner. Both of them were stunned at this turn of events. Nessa finally spoke. "What could have happened to her, Shellen?"
"I do na know but I am sure it is because of what she has been through. We canna expect that she would suddenly just be the same woman that Killian knew three years ago." The Highlander shook her head.
"I dont have an idea on what to do. This baffles me" Nessa said.
Then a small, soft voice reached Nessa saying, "But it is not beyond you, Druid." Nessa turned to see Maire the Fae standing almost beside her. The Faery was wrapped in a cloak, held together at the neck with a clasp of fine silver. She looked as if she belonged to the mists and the magic of the Ancients.
Nessa peered closely. Maire was in trance. "Tell us what you can Lady. We are here to hear you."
Luminescent glow came off the faery there on the deck of the Shellen under the bright full moon. She spoke with a voice that seemed to come from all around them. "The warrior, Caitlin has become lost and confused from nearly constant suppression of her awareness. Her reasoning is warped at times. She has had to survive in ways you could not know."
"What can we do then? Is she beyond any help?"
"No, Druid. There is but one way. You are a Walker between worlds. You can open the veil and take her through to the land of Faery. There is where the magic of our people will serve her."
"She will forget. She will go back to who she was before the roads in her mind grew over with drug bramble and stagnation." Maire the fae blinked. "You know the way, brave Walker, but you struggle with your own jealousy. You must deal with that first." She turned and twinkled out of sight.
Easing quietly down the ladder to the brig was painful labor to Killians battered body. The rungs were so far apart, she had to stretch to reach them. But she waited the whole day to come to Caitlin. Sable was a wonderful nurse and a far better friend than any Killian ever had before, but she was stubborn about allowing Killian the freedom to see the one who hurt her so badly. It seemed like forever before the Lady Sable relaxed her vigilance and went to sleep. Killian had to ease out of bed, get dressed in the dark and slip out like a little thief.
The dim lantern hanging over the cell, barely gave enough light for Killian to see the figure inside. But she heard the sound of weeping. "Caitlin?" She whispered. The figure quieted and moved from the other end of the cell, coming slowly into a shaded view. Killian stepped back a little. She wasnt sure if this was the Caitlin she knew or the one who raged so viciously on her the night before. A hand that Killian knew at one time to be loving and strong; a hand always raised for her and never against her until the night before, reached out toward her through the bars of the cell.
Killian risked the touch of that hand after a moment. Her own tiny hand rested in Caitlins. She allowed the warrior to pull her close enough to press slightly against the bars of the cell; close enough to look again into each others faces. Each was shocked at the grotesque bruises and swelling on the face of the other. Killian stood motionless but Caitlin pulled away. "Killian, what have I done?" But Caitlin knew that answer well. She suddenly wanted the mind-numbing bader root to take her away from that agonizing truth. She felt like she was diving into some dark space where she could hide. Killian saw the change and began her own inner searching for something to soothe the unease that crept up into her.
Caitlin did not look at Killian. Her eyes were distant and shrouded, as if their focus had turned entirely inward. "Caitlin" killian caught a sob in her throat. "Dont leave me again!" But the warrior was not there. Her beautiful body remained, seemingly empty and slumped at the back edge of the cell. Sadness washed over Killian. She felt a loss, new and cutting. She jumped at a sound just beside her. It was Maire the Fae.
Deep, soft eyes smiled at Killian. "All is not lost, Psychic. Your warrior will return to you, after some time spent in my land. There, Caitlin will find herself again and be free of the sounds of battles and the burden of days and nights piled upon each other endlessly, without hope." Maire could feel Killians unspoken doubt. "You know Nessa is a Walker between the worlds. You were there together on a mission once before."
Killian did remember. They went to return the Sacred Stone to the Mother of the Oaks. Nessa was wounded and could not move from her bed. But the Celt somehow lifted her spirit from her body and traveled with Killian to the Faery realm. Killians memory was clear:
Killian sat astride the big warhorse as if she was alone. But she knew she was riding with Nessa. Tuttle knew too. The Clan who came with them rode in silence through the forest. There was something so awesome about this place. Tuttle stopped at the guarding maple that stood just outside the ring of oaks. She closed her eyes and heard the whispering tree. She didnt know she could hear trees... or maybe it was just this one. But it was as clear as any chime she ever heard. "Leave the horse and your friends, child. Enter alone. You and the shaman spirit are the only Walkers between the worlds in this forest." Killian dismounted. She turned to Shellen as if to tell her but Shellen only nodded a silent understanding and said. "Well be waiting here for ye lass."
Killian stepped forward into the circle of oaks. She turned once to see a rising mist hiding Shellens form from her sight. When she turned back she took in a breath and held it. Nessa stood before her smiling. Small people... even smaller than her, were tittering all around. They looked so free and pleasant. Nessa smiled down at her. "Ye did it lass. Ye passed through the veil as if ye had been doing it all your life." A large hand reached for hers but swiped right through it. "Oh, Im not all here." Killian could have appreciated the humor if she didnt know that Nessas beloved body lay poisoned and near death.
Killian brightened. The magic of that land was just what they needed. She looked at Maire. "How will we get to the entrance Nessa " she faltered. "Nessa hates Caitlin."
"No, Psychic. You must talk to her. She will come around by the time we reach the shore. She already knows the inner battle she must fight."
Killian took a deep breath and flashed her eyes back to Caitlins rocking and vacant body. "Caitlin, my love. We are not finished do you hear? We are not finished!" The woman who could open the veil and find the avenue to the land of the Faery, climbed the ladder out of the brig with a new sense of purpose. She walked straight and steady to Nessas cabin.
Nessa opened the door to gaze down on the battered face of the woman she loved more than life. She winced at the awful swelling around Killians eye. Pulling the door, she gave the bruised lass wide entrance into her small cabin. Killian had not spoken to her since that early morning in Persia when the Celt got rough with her and kissed her in a wild haze of desperation. Why would she want to see her now? Nessa braced herself for an onslaught of angry accusations. Instead, she watched while Killian dropped into the one chair in the room, put her hands up to cover her face, and broke into heaving sobs.
The Celt knew Killian well. She knew, for instance, that this was not a lass who cried that easily. She had been very strong through this whole thing. She had purpose and focus. Nessa guessed that now that the rescue was done and the one they rescued was not what any of them expected, that perhaps Killian suffered some anti climactic disappointment to say the least. Perhaps Nessa, too was a disappointment to the lass. Nessa had been pondering on her friendship with Killian since her last encounter with the Faery. Her own jealousy of the woman Killian always loved and whom Nessa knew Killian always loved, prevented her from being the best friend she could be to the lass.
Killian quieted after a few minutes. Nessa moved to her side with a handkerchief and held it down to the lass. Killian took the linen and looked up at the Celt. Nessa was held unmoving, by those grieving dark eyes. Killian said "I know you hate me now Nessa, but I need to ask one last thing of you." Nessa was stricken mute by the very thought of hating this woman. Killian continued. "I am sure you wont want to help me now but I appeal to the shaman the spiritual healer in you. Caitlin would never hurt me like this, Nessa. She was so twisted and broken by what those beasts did to her, she didnt even know what she was doing."
Killian heard herself and realized that she was saying something that many women who are beaten by the ones who claim to love them say. It sounded like she was attempting to excuse Caitlins behavior. She did, in fact, feel desperate. She rose from the chair looking into Nessas grey eyes. "I suppose you want nothing to do with either of us now. But I want you to know that when Caitlin saw me this morning, her mind collapsed. She is sitting in that brig, rocking back and forth and staring into nothing like a lunatic. Please think about helping me us. If you dont, I will go by myself to the Mother of the Oaks. But I love you and I need you and your help."
Killian gifted the Celt with a smile of melancholy warmth and turned for the door. Nessa forced her stunned mind into motion. "Wait now, lass Ill not have ye going into that forest without me. I know how you love Caitlin and I know you couldnt love her if she commonly abused you. She lived through more than either of us could know, I am not surprised that she lost herself. Of course Ill help ye, lass. Did you say you love me?" Nessa stepped close. "Is that what I heard, Killian? You dont hate me for hurting ye back there in Persia?"
It was Killians turn to be surprised. "Hate you? Nessa, no. I have to have you in my life. You are my best friend. That wont change dont you know that?"
Nessa swallowed back the tears that threatened to expose her softness. She reached for Killian and pulled the sweet sore body to her. They stood wrapped together in a union of friendship built over time and love. Each of them felt the solid love between them. Finally, Nessa pulled away and said, "You best go prepare for the journey back up the mountain, lass. Well be pulling into port soon and Caitlin will have to be in the land of the Faery before the next sunset." She felt like her broken heart was pumping again. She understood that she couldnt bear to lose her friend under any circumstances. She was determined to behave herself for Killian.
Within a few days, the Shellen pulled into port. The Clan crew stepped to the shore of their beloved homeland. The feeling was bittersweet. They left to rescue the legendary Caitlin and even though successful, the Caitlin they brought back was less than a legendary figure, slumping and subdued in blank silence. The journey was yet to be over. On the road to the Clan, Shellen and Nessa talked about the upcoming trek to the sacred forest with Maire the Faery while Killian stood watch over her soul-wounded warrior and Sable stood watch over Killian.
A party of five broke off from the Clan who were on the trail to the Clan. The journey was all but over for most of the travelers. They would be home before dark, each savoring a well cooked meal and a longed for bed. The five who headed for the forest had no idea when they would be home. For them, a new mission had formulated with the realization that Caitlin still needed saving on a level where no sword could do the job.
Nessa knew she had to be the one to ask favor from the Mother of the Oaks. As Druid and as Walker Between the Worlds, it was she alone who could bring any outsider through the veil. Maire, of course, was the only member of the party who could stay in the realm of the Faery for any period of time. She would watch out for Caitlin while the realm forces dealt with the warriors near broken mind. She would know when Caitlin was ready to return to her own world. Killian would not stay behind for any reason and Sable would not leave Killian.
Sable was still furious that Killian attempted to sneak away from her to visit the brig and the one who beat her. She was standing outside the brig when Killian emerged. The scolding Sable gave was tempered by understanding the depth of love Killian had for this insane warrior. She would not allow such an event to happen again. She had a dagger and knew just how to slice a jugular from ten feet away. She was well acquainted with danger. She spent much of her time teasing and taunting it, and more of that time being it.
Killian rode beside Sable, watching the broad shoulders of her warrior sway with the motion of her mount. There was an unfamiliar slump in those shoulders. She prayed to Artemis that this venture into the mystic was the remedy to restore her lost warriors being. She longed to look upon a whole Caitlin once more.
The psychic force that ruled much of who Killian was, kept her well informed of what was happening in the hearts and minds of her friends. She knew that Sable had no faith in this attempt at curing Caitlin of the soul malady that rendered her murderous. Sable would kill Caitlin the instant she showed one sign of aggression. Killian also understood that Nessa was doing this for her and that while the Celt was a Druid, she was also a warrior in love. Caitlins restoration would mean loss of all hope for a lover relationship between Nessa and Killian. She thought that she and Maire were the only ones who had any real desire to fulfill this mission.
Nessa held Maire on the saddle in front of her. The Celt tried to disregard the warmth and softness of the Faery in this closeness. The fae had a lavender scent to her hair, a favorite of Nessas. The Halfling turned as far as she could to look in Nessas eyes. She was as aware of the heat between them but thought this might be something to pursue at another time. "And may I ask milord, have you handled the feelings of hatred you have for Caitlin?"
The question felt like it dropped from the sky. "Uh well, I never did really hate I mean " Nessa was unprepared something she disliked to be at any time. She looked sternly at the sweetling and said, "Ill thank you to keep your judgments to yourself lass. Anyway, it is was jealousy, not hatred."
"But I do not judge. It is a point of great importance."
"What difference does it make? We are going to the other side and Caitlin will get her healing." Nessa looked up and away from the Faery.
"The difference it will make is in you and how you will be with everyone who loves you from now on. You will always be bitter and anger will shadow every encounter." Maire sensed that this was the last she would say on the subject, at least for now. She felt Nessas hand wrapping around her chin and forcing her to turn back around to face forward. The Celt leaned down and whispered hotly in her ear. "If you want anger to shadow my next encounter with you little Faery, youll keep up this line of talk." Maire held her tongue as any wise young faery would do.
They entered the forest and wound around thick clusters of brambles and narrow passageways. At last, the party arrived at the Guardian Maple. Killian heard the rustling whisper. "Who wishes to pass child?"
"We are a party in need of counsil, Guardian. May we enter between the worlds for audience with the Mother?" Killian spoke through some old, but not often traveled avenue of her mind.
"You are the Seer who brought us our Sacred Stone. The Walker is with you. You may pass."
Killian opened her eyes to see Sable watching her intently. She blinked and said softly, "We are welcome." With that, she swung down from her mare and told Caitlin to dismount. The warrior did so as if she were a three-year old following her mothers direction. Killian took the hand of her warrior. She saw how Sable stiffened at the action. Killian held up her other hand as if to say, "stand down". Sable complied out of respect but remained cautious. She followed the troop of Clan to the center of the Circle of Oaks.
The five women stood motionless before the large oak. Nessa drew in a breath. She gazed deliberately from woman to woman. Gray eyes stopped and held on Caitlin. Nessa thought of the statue of Cassandra, the mad oracle of Troy. That statue had the same vacant stare as this warrior. The Celt didnt want to let on, but Maires question rattled her. The Faerys words burned and yet healed her as if cauterizing her inner wounds. It still hurt to lose hope of being Killians one and only lover but Nessa could see now that Caitlin was innocent. Now, here in this sacred place she could not continue the malice.
Raising her strong arms slowly, the Druid lifted the veil between the world of humans and the realm of Faery. All five women stood still while light and shadow changed ever so slightly around them. Then they saw small figures emerging from around the large trunk of the giant oak tree. Several of the Faeries recognized Maire and surrounded her with a chatter that seemed like confused gibberish to all but Maire and Nessa the Druid.
Suddenly the air seemed to ripple bringing a wave of sheer power flooding over them all. Nessa jerked to attention when the Mother of the Oaks took shape within the trunk of the tree before them. Sable blinked as if that might erase the vision but the Mother remained in sight. The Faeries fawning over Maire were quiet now. The spirit in the tree spoke. "What favor do you ask Druid?" The voice entered the human hearts as rapture.
Nessa turned and curled a hand around Caitlins wrist and led her forward. "We have returned from a long journey from across the sea. We rescued this warrior from the grip of slavery, but her internment there was long and her experience has sickened her mind."
Again the voice of the spirit chimed. "Why this particular warrior?"
Killian stepped forward and dropped down on a knee, bowing her head. "Please Mother, this warrior is clan and holds my heart."
A smile came to the beautiful face in the tree. It had a life of its own. It rang through each of the visitors as a soothing balm. Then to Killian, "You are the psychic who returned our sacred stone to us. I believe we must honor your request child. Your warrior may stay." Killian leaped to her feet in joy. "Thank you sacred One" she squeaked.
"You are welcome child. But you cannot stay. The effects that will cure the malady of your warrior will not serve you. Who will mentor this warrior?"
"I will" All eyes turned to Maire. She was clearly not the twinkling, blinking little sprite she sometimes appeared to be. She was regal here in her own realm. She had station and was not taken lightly. Maire was the only one of them that could possibly stay here for any length of time without losing track of who she was or where she came from. She looked at Nessa and nodded.
The Druid warrior bowed low toward the tree and inhaled another blissful smile from the Mother of the Oaks before she dissolved back into solid tree trunk. Then Nessa took Killians hand in one of her own and Sables hand in the other and led them through the veil to wait on the other side.
Sable was glad to see her friend so happy. But she still had little faith that this trip through faery land would cure the brute inside the warrior. It would take more than that for the assassin to believe or forgive. She flashed a look at Nessa. The big Celt looked defeated somehow. She was always the star of the show for Killian. Sable wondered how well the proud warrior would handle the smaller place in Killians heart.
The three crossed through the veil and stood quietly wrapped in their own thoughts for no more than ten minutes when they turned to see Maire the Fae. Maire was not alone. There beside her stood the beautiful and magnificent Caitlin. Eyes were deep blue and bright. Her manner was confident. Her shoulders lost that slump. She was looking at Killian with expression that came straight from her heart.
Killians own breath caught in her throat. She flew into her warriors waiting arms. They held each other for a long time before they could stand apart. Finally Caitlin drew away and looked solidly into Nessas grey eyes. She felt only gratitude for this warrior who loved her Killian enough to help them find each other again. "Thank you" she whispered. She held out a hand slowly and waited for Nessa to grasp her arm in warrior salute. The Celt was stunned at the difference in this Caitlin. She looked down at Killians beautiful eyes and knew how she must respond. Nessa put her hand out and the two grasped each others arms in friendship.
Killians heart soared while Sables heart sank. She had been fooled too many times by bright smiles covering a dark heart. She would not be so fast in her acceptance of this charming warrior.
Darkness came down on the small band of Clan before they could get out of the forest. They decided to make camp and start out for the Clan at early light. Killian supposed that she and Caitlin could wait for their first night of real lovemaking when they were in her room and had time alone. Sable could not have felt better. She wanted a little more time to study this warrior before she allowed Killian to give herself over for the gods knew what kind of treatment.
After the fire was blazing nicely and the horses were fed, the group sat on logs eating dried venison and biscuits, watching each other in awkward silence. After all they had come through, it seemed there was nothing to say. Maire knew that Nessa could as easily bolt into the dark forest as sit here in discomfort while Killian leaned into Caitlin all night. She also felt the crackling distrust from Lady Sable. Finally, Caitlin broke the silence. She looked around at the faces of the women and said, "How did you know to be outside the veil? I mean how did you know when I would be coming through?"
Sables brow lifted. "How do we know youre not as crazy now as you were before you went in there?" she shot the question. "How could ten minutes possibly undo the damage of three years of torture?"
"Ten minutes?" Caitlin smiled. "Surely you are joking Lady. I have been living with the Faery folk for at least a year I think" She looked over at Maire and then back at the astonished Sable.
"Now I know your brain is loose."
Sable started to stand, reaching for the dagger in her boot as she moved. Nessa saw and grabbed the assassins arm pulling her back down to sit. "Wait, Sable! The time behind the veil is very different than it is here. Caitlin speaks the truth as she knows it."
"Ness, you are as gone as she is " Sable started but heard the faery shout before she could finish. "No my Lady! Nessa speaks the truth. I was with Cat-leen throughout her time in my realm. She has undergone an erasure of much of her memory of the past three years and therefore reversed the damage to her reason. She has no rage."
Sable sat still and peered into Caitlins incredibly sculptured face. Indeed, she wore a peace there. "Alright warrior, tell us what happened in that year you spent with the Faery folk."
Caitlin smiled fondly at the Gaelic pronunciation of her name. She looked into the fire and began. " I remember waking up while walking with some of the little people. Maire was there. I asked her where we were and when she told me, I didnt want to believe it. I fought hard against thinking that I could ever hurt Killian. I went into self hatred for a time, brooding and ignoring the people who brought me food and drink. Maire never went far from my side. It seemed that days ran into each other as I rested. I felt lighter and lighter as time passed. All I could think of was Killian asleep back at our camp. I knew she would be waiting for nuts and berries."
"Then, Maire told me that I must pass through a series of exercises so that I could be ready for seeing Killian again. I did not know why I couldnt just go get her and bring her to where I was but I believed the Faeries and trusted them. I never even questioned." Caitlin looked wistfully into the fire, its light flickering and dancing on her face.
"What exercises Caitlin?" Nessa asked.
"I was to find and kill three dragons. The first was the dragon of hate. I tracked it and found it in a cave. It roared so loudly I could not bear to go into that cave at first. But other things were enticing me. There was treasure and fine clothes, but when that didnt work to tempt me, a vision of Killian appeared. I ran toward it right into the lair of the dragon of hate. The precious vision of my love disappeared along with the treasure. They were replaced by a stench of rot so unbelievable, I was nearly sick. This dragon had every intention of consuming me. I gathered all my strength and willed my self to throw my sword clean between the eyes of the fearsome thing."
Sable stiffened, thinking she already had a few bouts with that particular dragon. She said nothing but waited for Caitlin to continue. Nessa listened with the ears of the shaman. She smiled with understanding and appreciation for the "exercises." Looking up, her gray eyes caught the sparkling beauty of Maire who stayed quiet and allowed Caitlin the telling of the tale.
Caitlin swallowed water from a wineskin and continued. "I wandered for months searching for the second dragon, known as the dragon of rage. Finally as I was climbing a craggy Cliffside, I lifted myself over a ledge right into a dragons nest. It was the nest of the one I searched for. It was large and strewn with small tree limbs. In the middle was a cluster of giant eggs. No sooner did I recognize where I was when a large shadow covered the nest. I looked up to see a dragon spewing fire into the air and looking down on me with fury. Immediately I ran to the eggs before that tongue of fire could reach me. I ran behind the biggest of them. I knew that no matter how mad this dragon mother was, she would not choose to cook her own babies.
She circled and circled but she could neither strike nor spew her flame. She perched on the edge of the nest at last and went to sleep. With all my strength I rolled one of those eggs to the edge of the nest while she slept. I drew my sword and leaped high on the back of the dragon of rage. With one swoop of my sword I severed one webbed wing. She awoke screaming her fury. I jumped down and gave a powerful kick to that egg and watched it topple from the nest. The mother dragon panicked and dove to save her young. But alas, she could not fly with one wing and plunged clumsily to her death on the rocks below. At last, I succeeded in slaying the dragon of rage."
Killian was amazed at the tale. She smiled appreciatively and asked for the story of the third dragon. "Which dragon was the last one to kill, Caitlin?"
The warrior smiled down at her own beautiful lass and said. "Twas the dragon of jealousy, my love." She looked up at Nessa now and continued. " I made it back to the plains where I knew the dragon of jealousy lived. I walked for many weeks until I finally came upon a small mountain of things all kinds of things. There was furniture and clothing. There were wagons and weapons. There were jeweled cups and plates. I believed this to be the hoarding place of the dragon I wanted. I found a rather large mirror in the pile of loot. After securing it to the top of the pile, I waited for the return of the dragon. Not long after this, the dragon appeared. She had more loot for her useless pile. I hid behind a large rock and watched. The instant she came up to the pile, she saw her own image in the mirror. Thinking that this was another dragon attempting to claim what was hers, she flew into a blind fury of jealousy and began a thrashing of all she could see. I took the opportunity to place a quiver in my crossbow. I aimed for her heart and my aim was true. Thus was the end of my exercises and the end of rage hatred and jealousy in my own heart."
The Lady Sable was still not convinced but she didnt feel like killing Caitlin for now. For now, she would turn in and get back to the Clan in the morning. Nessa went for her bedroll as well, leaving Maire and the lovers to wait out the night. Maire blew a kiss to Caitlin and Killian and turned into the forest to do some thinking.
The two lovers held each other, rocking and petting and whispering intimacies that only they could know. Caitlin was home.
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