Disclaimer and Warnings: Destined by Gods is solely owned by the author and not to be used without permission by the author other than personal reading. Violence, subtext, and a little history... mostly in that particular order. This story is for those 18 and older!
Summary: Set in the times of Ancient Ireland, the fiery young Rhiannon Kelan believes she is never destined to find a true love, until she meets the dark and powerful Lord of Teyrnon, Caitlin OBrennan. Soon they find that their lives are not only intertwined with chosen Gods, but with the magic that is the very core of Ireland itself.
Just for note so you arent totally confused. Caitlin is a Lord and a Lady I know Lady as a title by birth. Lord as a Chieftain and head of the city. So speaking personally shed be a Lady. Formally it would be Lord Yeah, I made it up, but its my story, so I can do that.
D e s t i n e d b y G o d s
Rhiannon paced her horse well in the woods. It was a glorious day and the miles whipped by. She thought she would never love any place as much as Kel Glaghna. But Caerloach was green and lush and so fertile with rich soil, it was paradise. And Versy, she was glad she and her brother were accepted back into the clans stronghold as kin. She had never been around so many kin before. The Kelan branch in Kel Glaghna far to the north in Ireland was where she was born and raised. The village was small from illness and many traveled on to Eire, only two days ride away, where most stayed.
Thundering through the open fields just to the east of Versy, Rhiannon slowed and trotted her horse in through the city gates. It was close to evening meal and she knew Nara would be in need of help. The young woman sighed at the thought. Why did her brother mate someone with the same temper as his own? And Nara was with child to boot. Begods. She loved her sister dearly but even she could push Rhiannons gentle patience at times. Stabling her horse she curried it knowing full well that if she didnt Draig would be after her. Rhiannon would do it anyway. Ula was a good mare, not the prettiest, but she was quick and she and her mistress understood each other.
Rhiannon made her way inside after leaving food and water for the tired mare. She could already hear Naras voice to the maidservant, their cousin; Clan Chief Innis Kelan had lent out from the castle to help them out. "Tis mush, Ardra! Why did ya na be lookin after it?!" came a curt retort from inside.
Begods, Rhiannon prayed giving a quick glance to the skies. Let me be havin the patience and quickness to stay out of range of Naras wooden spoon.
Rhiannon let herself in to the cozy little cottage. She was slight and beautifully shaped, most men in Versy would stop and watch the graceful young woman pass. Nara stood a hand taller and a few good stone heavier than her, but was a fair woman herself.
The dark headed woman looked up to see her enter and her brow furrowed in her direction giving the maidservant a chance to collect her thoughts. "Rhian! Begods, where have you been?!" Rhiannon opened her mouth. "Riding, I know," her kin interrupted with the same scolding tone. "You shoulda taken someone with ya! Draig would be havin my head if anythin happened to ya!"
Rhiannon nodded and came over and took her hand making sure to take the spoon out of it. Her behind was still sore from the wayward spank she got last evening for not getting home before dark. Draig had chuckled saying she was slowing down if Nara got a whack in. "I be takin care of it, Nara. Rest your feet and Ardra and I will be worryin about supper for ya," she said gently.
Nara sighed. The lovely young woman was so calm. She let her lead her out into the living room and to the chair Rhian and Draig had made. That had taken some time, seeing that her impatient brother didnt want to slow down and get everything in order for it to be perfect. That had gotten him chasing Rhian around when she took away his hammer. And everyone in Versy laughed as she kept away too. None of her brothers could catch her out in the open. Finally he gave up and conceded to her. Only when she came near did he haul her over his shoulder and smack her bottom in play causing her to yelp and hed carry her back home. Rhiannon slid a footstool up for her to rest her feet and placed a soft blanket over her lap.
"Do you be needin anythin?" Rhian asked softly.
Nara shook her head and ran her fingers through Rhiannons thick, straight reddish blond hair. "Nay, Rhian. Tis a good thing you be here or your brother would surely be dead by my hands."
Rhian smiled. "Tis more amazing you be marryin a man with a temper the same as yours be."
Nara smiled back. "Tis true, and now I be payin for it." She put her hand on her vast waistline. "Tis either a big brute like its da or more than one."
Rhian giggled. "Ach, two of Draig runnin about? I think tis time for me to be movin away."
Nara chuckled. "Think so? I think nay. Draig would be haulin ya back and paddlin ya for such a thing until you mate. And it be surprisin me that you are na yet."
Rhian rolled her eyes as she settled a cup of tea from the fire into Naras hand. "Tisna likely at all, Nara, tis a few that catch my eye but never be holdin it. And any that might, would be havin my whelp of a brother to be dealin with."
Nara snorted. "I be dealin with your brother if you be findin the one, luv. Donna worry about that."
Rhian bent and kissed her cheek. "Rest a while. Twill be alright." She moved into the kitchen and Ardra looked relieved. Rhiannon smiled. "Do I be needin to find a place for you to sit as well, Ardra?"
The maid smiled at her. "Nay, Rhian. Twould get me ear cuffed, I would. But I be thankin ye for savin me hide."
Rhian patted her shoulder. "Now what did you be turnin to mush?" she asked grinning.
Hands came up in the air in supplication for help. "Ach, the potatoes! Tisna mush, but close," the maid told her.
Rhian opened the lid and looked in. The rich scent of the tuber drifted out. "Soup? With a bit of meat so Draig doesna be thinkin tis for the pigs."
Ardra giggled. She was older than Rhian by a few summers, but none of the gentle grace or good sense. She ladled some water into the pot, just enough to cover them as Rhian took some herbs and added that then mashed a few of the potatoes to thicken the stock. Ardra cut up some big chunks of ham to put in, looking to Rhian for a moment. "Me mum be workin in the Lairds castle ye know. Heard that Keeley OTory was lookin ta ya, askin about the place if he could be courtin ya."
Rhian shook her head and smiled. "Keeley OTory is a braggart, Ardra. And he drinks too much, and he be havin no place of his own. I would sooner be matin the magi or the nearest bull than him."
Ardra snorted at the thought. "The magi would be droppin over dead at the shock of your loverly self, and the bull would never look ta another cow and then where would Versy be?"
Rhian laughed. "I be thinkin Id look a might ugly to a bull or a cow, Ardra."
Ardra smirked with a mind full of gossip she knew from her mother at the castle. "Ach, and I be thinkin ya better watch yourself, Rhian. I know of plenty who would like ta tumble in ta bed with ya."
Rhian sighed. "Begods, never such a bunch of ruttish people about these days."
Ardra smiled. "Aye, but then just about everyone be lookin at ya that way."
Rhian shook her head. "I only be seventeen, Ardra. Even my da, rest his soul, wouldna give me over to one until I was a bit older."
"Eighteen then?" Ardra asked and the two laughed.
Padraig Calum Kelan came home. He glanced through a nearby window to see his wife rested in her rocking chair by the fire napping and the soft voices of his baby sister and maidservant came through from the kitchen every so often punctuated with a soft laugh. The table was set and most of the food was laid out. He continued on to the back near the small stable and pulled his dirty tunic and surcoat with the Kelan colors off. He was a man at arms for his cousin and a good one at that. He was big and very strong and tall enough he had to duck through doors. He looked in the back window from the water barrel where both his mate and sister insisted he wash before supper. He was used to it with little Rhian who refused to eat with him until he did when they lived up in Eire. He looked in on her easily spotting the flash of red-gold hair. He could tell she had been riding from the clothes she wore. He smiled. She was the apple of his eye since Kel Glaghna was no more and their da and ma were both gone along with their two brothers between them.
Nara loved the young woman just as much as him and tried to teach her to be a lady for the day she mated. Rhiannon would roll her eyes. She could do a neat stitch but only to repair or hem, other than that she got bored. Twas her familys fault and they knew it. Her ma dying at her birth, the youngest of four and all the rest boys and men, she grew up outside, surviving with three older brothers. All of them towering over her and all of them guarded her honor fiercely.
She was a beauty of a woman. Fine pale skin, long reddish gold hair and the deepest emerald green eyes that lit up when she smiled, Rhian was well bestowed with generous curves and a gentle patience. But she had a strong will and a bit of steel that gave a fire to her eyes. Her demeanor fooled most until they found she could wield sword, crossbow, dagger and bow, just as well as a man. She had to learn if she wanted to keep up with her brothers. With a bow she was better than her brothers, even riding horseback she was excellent. She could take care of herself to a degree. She was not into killing and couldnt watch as animals were slaughtered, but if she had to, to survive, she would.
Draig pulled on the soft, clean tunic left by Rhian out of habit. Ardra would wash his dirty clothes in the morning. He came in through the kitchen and Rhian and Ardra looked up. Rhian smiled and he picked her up as though she weighed nothing and hugged her tight. "Hows my sprite?"
Rhian wrapped her arms about his neck holding him as close as she could. "Good, ya big bear."
He chuckled and squelched a kiss on her cheek and she giggled. "You went riding?"
"Aye, after I be helpin Nara with the pantry and Old Jace Turin with his horse to the cobbler." She looked curiously at him. "I donna understand why he be keepin such a fine animal when he canna even get up to be ridin it."
Draig grinned. "Mayhaps he be likin your company?"
Rhian gave him a wide-eyed look of mock horror. "Begods, donna tell me he be one of those old ruttish men lookin for a fair behind to pat?"
Draig laughed. "Nay, you didna judge him by his looks or age. And I didna know where you be keepin these stories that you tell to amused him so. I be thinkin you be the best thing the man remembers when the dark god be comin for him in the night."
She smiled. "Tis a good thing then. Tis a gentle man, though a bit dodderin. And I be hearin that nasty drunkard OTorys been askin about me again. Begods, will they never go away?"
He grinned. "Nay, I fear not. Too beautiful is my sister and I be seein many a man and woman turn their head to be lookin at ya."
Rhian laughed. "Then I be prayin tis a woman and mayhaps I be gettin a mate with some common sense."
"Ach! What am I?!" Draig protested.
Rhian tugged gently at his short beard. "My big oaf of a bear who needs to be lettin me down so I can be gettin your supper finished."
He chuckled. "Tis a good thing you can cook better than sew."
"I can sew. I just donna like to." He set her down and she poked his stomach. "Now be off with you for the moment, supper tis almost ready."
He chuckled and moved into the living room to kneel down by Nara and rubbed her growing belly gently. "How is my luv?" he whispered.
Nara opened a grayish green eye. "Tis better now that you be home."
He smiled kissing her tenderly only to be interrupted by a pounding at the door. Draig straightened and unsheathed a spare sword by the door and opened it. It was a messenger in livery who looked like he had done some hard riding. "Aye?"
"Be you the mate of Nara OBrennan?" the man asked.
"Aye, tis Kelan now," Draig said.
The messenger bowed slightly. "Tis a summons from her cousin, Chieftain of the OBrennans and Lord of Teyrnon." He handed him a sealed scroll with the rearing stallion crest embedded in deep red wax at the edge of the scroll. "I be awaitin your reply."
"Aye," Draig nodded and handed him a coin. "Tis a tavern on the corner. Get yourself a drink and I be findin ya there."
He nodded as he backed up to leave. "Tis been a long journey, I be thankin ya."
Draig shut the door. He moved to Nara and sat down next to her handing her the scroll. Nara had moved here to mate and be with Draig when she came to visit the Kelan clan for the Lord of Teyrnon a year early. She broke the seal and pulled it open and began to read.
"Begods," she whispered. "Donal OBrennan be passin on due to ailments." They looked up as Rhian stepped just out of the kitchen door, listening. "Tis his heir..." Nara continued on quickly. "Begods," she muttered as she read on. " has summoned me to Teyrnon to become chatelaine of the castle."
Everyone was silent. Chatelaine was just below the Lady of the castle. Nara was stunned. "I grew up with her. Begods, but I didna think this."
"Tis a woman then?" Rhian asked.
"Aye." Nara nodded. "Lady Caitlin OBrennan."
"Ach, the Cat of Caerloach?" Draig asked with a bit of surprise in his voice.
"Aye, tis one in the same," Nara replied with a touch of concern in her voice.
Rhian looked confused. "Isna the Cat of Caerloach the greatest warrior any clan be seein?" The Cat had been heard of even in Eire and Kel Glaghna.
Nara smiled with a short nod. "Tis true, Rhian. Once you be seein Caitlin to battle, all be palin in comparison. Regrettin to say, but even my beloved be comin in second," she said as she patted Draigs cheek gently.
Rhian now looked skeptical. "I be usin a sword, but to fight well against a man you be needin a broadsword and for that you be needin a good amount of strength. I havna to see a woman do that."
Nara chuckled. "Then you be impressed when the day comes, Rhian." She looked to Draig. "What say you?"
He looked to her and to Rhian. "You canna turn your kin down, Nara. Mayhaps with your place in Teyrnon I be gettin in the guard."
Rhian stood up straight from where she leaned against the wall, her brow furrowed. "You be leavin Versy?"
Draig smiled but shook his head. "Nay, we are." He looked at her directly. "You be comin as well."
Rhian shook her head as she began to get angry, looking at him in disbelief. "We just be comin ta our clan that welcomes us home?! And now we are ta be leavin?!"
Nara looked worried. "The Kelan and OBrennans have always been close as kin anyway, sharing Caerloach. Teyrnon will welcome you, Rhian."
Rhian shook her head more firmly and her lip trembled. "We be thinkin the same at Eire! And they didna even help at Kel Glaghna when the raiders be comin!"
Draig stood up and faced his sister. "Tis not the same, Rhian," he said gently knowing that his sister was scared and angry. "Nara is your kin and she be OBrennan. Tis not the same as in Eire."
Rhian angrily wiped away a tear from her cheek and avoided both her brother and sisters eyes. "Tis so! Only Nara as kin and the rest care na as to what we are! We be beggars once again! Throw away your name Draig, I willna!" She barged through the kitchen and outside through the back door headed for the stables and her horse. Draig was quick to catch up and grab her before she could reach her escape into the night.
Draig held Rhian close until she stopped fighting him. Finally the small redhead buried her face in her brothers shirt and cried as Nara and Draig looked at each other for a moment knowing that leaving without Rhian was not an option.
Ardra looked from behind Nara where they watched at the cottage door as the big man cradled his sister tenderly. "Tis the nightmares of losin her family?"
Nara nodded with tears in her own eyes. The confrontation at Kel Glaghna had been brutal and swift and no one had come away unscathed. Draig had gotten Rhiannon out of the town at his fathers command. They were the only two to survive out of a hundred and most of them Kelan. "Aye, but the OBrennans will be takin her in," she said solemnly. "And Draig will be gettin her to come."
The smell of burning wood and the even more awful and distinct smell of burning flesh, the call of her da as he fought. She herself shot down soldier after soldier that came on shore with her bow. She didnt have the strength to wield a broadsword, but she had a shortsword her brother Grady, had smithed for her as a birthday present a season earlier. She was so angry with them as she had run four of them through before a big soldier caught her off guard and her sword arm cut deep. He was about to kill her when Draig roared at the man and cut him in two with a single stroke of his huge blade. Her da was yelling at Draig to get her away. Conlan, her brother just older than her had fallen near him and Rhiannon watched as four uniformed men killed Grady as he fought by his side. Draig had hauled her up and found a loose horse and the last image she saw was her das face watching them go as she begged Draig to wait, and her da was slaughtered before her eyes as twenty men ran over him.
She woke sweating and breathing hard as the tears streamed down her cheeks to feel the coolness of a wet cloth on her forehead. She looked up in the dim candlelight from the small table in her room. It was Nara, who looked saddened, with the cold cloth to Rhians brow. "Twill lessen in time, Rhian," she said softly. "You willna forget them. But mayhaps the better times be dwellin with you at night."
Rhian looked to her with fear and worry in her eyes. "I donna want to be a beggar again, Nara."
Nara smiled softly. "You willna, Rhian. Caitlin tis a kindhearted woman, she will be welcomin you to Teyrnon."
Rhian sighed. "And if she doesna like me?" she asked with true concern.
Nara smiled for the first time letting a small chuckle out. "Rhiannon Oriana Kelan, I have yet to see someone that doesna like you. Donna worry. As chatelaine I be gettin you a big room and a maid and a soft down bed that be feelin like a cloud to sleep on."
Rhians brow furrowed. "In the castle, itself?"
The older woman snorted at this. "Aye, you daft girl, in the castle. I canna do my duty to Cait if I donna stay there, and Draig will be there and he willna be lettin you out of his sight. So aye, the castle."
Rhian looked up. "Do you think I could be gettin a duty in the stables?"
Nara smiled. "Aye, once they see how those beasties love you and you be carin for them, how can theyna?"
Rhian looked a little annoyed. "I be a woman, Nara. Men can be daft about the stables."
Nara snorted. "Tis Teyrnon, and the Lord of the city is a woman and a warrior to boot. How can they be sayin nay if I speak of such injustice to her lady?"
Rhians eyes went wide. "I donna want any trouble with her lady, Nara. If they willna take me, I be findin somethin else."
Nara tweaked her nose. "Ach, you are too shy for your own good, Rhian." She stroked her cheek. "To sleep then?"
Rhian sighed. "Aye, but I be findin na joy in it."
"Then I be leavin you the light. But no goin out of the house lest Draig take you over his knee for somethin so daft."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Aye, no leavin."
Nara stood slowly and stretched her back putting a hand on her swollen waistline and made her way back to her and Draigs room. Rhian looked out the small window in her room. The moon was high and there were many candlemarks until daylight. She sighed and turned on her side and watched the flicker of the candlelight until she fell to sleep again.
"I be takin that chair, Draig!" Nara yelled at her mate. "I spent enough time listenin ta you curse and moan... and poor Rhian, havin ta boot you in the bottom ta do it right! Ill na be leavin it here!"
Rhiannon watched from the doorway as Draig and one of his soldier friends loaded the wagon he bought to carry their stuff. Everything Rhian had she could put in her saddlebags. Nara, however, had clothes in trunks and a few cooking things and the chair. Finally Draig strapped it in with rope on top and turned to his mate. "Tis enough, woman?!"
Rhian sighed giving a little roll of the eyes with it. They had been arguing all morning and if they made it out of Versy before dark shed be surprised. Lord Innis had bid them farewell and told them they were always welcome there and was sad to see the prettiest Kelan and the best man at arms leave. Rhian smiled and nudged Draig. He be callin ya pretty. That got the court roaring and Draig swore hed get her back for it. Even Lord Innis was delighted at her humor. And now here they were at the end and both tempers made her stay well away from them both. She was still young enough for both of them to paddle her and she didnt want to give them any reason to.
"Rhiannon Oriana Kelan!" She jumped back, startled. It was Draig and he was heading for her.
"Whatever it tis, I didna do it!" she defended herself against whatever made him yell at her.
He snorted. "Tis Old Jace wantin to be seein ya before we go. Donna take to long," he said angrily.
Rhian moved away from him as he stormed into the house and she headed for the cobblestone street. "If we be movin any time soon all of Versy be stunned by it, what with all the yellin," she muttered under her breath.
She moved to a rickety old shack with a single stall nearby down in the end of the street. It was once a nice cottage, about fifty summers ago. Now it was a sad lump of old, rotting wood. She knocked loudly on the door since he was a little deaf. "Jace?!" she called out. "Did you be wantin ta see me? Tis Rhian!"
The door slowly opened and the stench was strong of an unwashed body that came through. She had roundaboutly tried to hint at a bath but he never took it. "Rhian, my friend. Come in," he said with a mouthful of non-existing teeth. She did and the place smelled even worse. She had tried to clean up but there was so much... waste. It would be better to knock it down and start anew. "A seat for my lady?" He smiled.
Rhian shook her head. "Thank you, Jace, but my brother be angry at the move and all, and Nara isna helpin. I best be gettin back soon lest one of them come lookin for me."
He chuckled and nodded. "I can be hearin them all the way down here when they be gettin a mindful of it."
Rhian smiled. "Tisna a surprise. Close up be much worse. Tis much louder and more vexing."
He nodded. "I be believin ya, my lady."
Rhian rolled her eyes. He always called her my lady. Why? She didnt know, but it was sweet. Old Jace was from down at the southern end of Caerloach where there were tiny villages and lots of open farming. He said he had been a magi for a few of them when he was young. That was interesting, since the magi were highly respected and never left to dodder away in a shack. "I be missin ya, my friend," she said sincerely.
He nodded and tears formed in his filmy hazel eyes. "I be livin in Versy for over twenty summers and you be the kindest to me since I came." He patted her hand and moved into the room. "Knew of you before, when I was young. Down in Fingal, tiny village on Kelan land. I be seein ya in a vision and knew ya would be comin before my life was given to the dark god."
Rhiannon looked skeptical and he chuckled. "Donna believe me? Tis a good head you be havin on those slender shoulders, my lady. Had I met me in my youth I wouldna be believin me either." He chuckled some more as he pulled out a moldering old satchel from under a pile of rotting junk and set it on the table cluttered with old food and bugs. She grimaced, but he didnt mind.
"Aye, tis the thing I be wantin," he muttered as he rummaged through it to pull out a small jewelry bag and open it.
Rhiannon couldnt see what it was but he seemed happy with it. He looked into the satchel again and hefted out an old book beautifully bound in leather. Now she was really surprised. Books were very expensive; even she only had two small ones in her possession, both of short stories from distant lands.
"Come," he beckoned and she made her way around the waste in the shack. He put the bag in her hand. "Tis yours, my lady. Wear it as a gift from an old magi who be visionin you from long ago."
Rhian opened the bag and tipped it out into the palm of her hand hoping it wasnt a bug. Instead she found a beautiful necklace with fine silver workmanship and beautiful emeralds that matched her eyes and a pendant with an engraved fox and runes carved in the outer rim. "Begods, Jace!," she said in surprise as she glanced up at him only to glance back again. "Tis beautiful." It was also worth a small fortune with the fine workmanship and the gems placed in it.
He smiled and nodded happily that she was so pleased. "Do you be believin me now, my lady? I be seein the color of your eyes in my mind for more than two score. Tis the pretty fox you be. And only one be callin you that, tis your mate. And when they be findin ya, twill be a new age for the people of Caerloach, een for all of Ireland."
Rhians brow furrowed. "Do you be knowin who it tis?"
He smiled. "Aye, but tis your destiny to be findin them on your own. I be na tellin ya."
Rhian gave him a skeptical look but slowly nodded and looked back to the pendant holding it carefully in her fingers she looked to the carvings in it. "And the runes? What do they be sayin?" she asked.
He smiled again. "Tis your place in Caerloach, my lady. And Teyrnon shall be your home."
Rhian grimaced at his vague answer. "You na be tellin me?"
Jace shook his head. "Nay, my lady. The same will be tellin you the runes meaning."
"How did you be havin it done?" she asked as she turned it over in her palm.
The thin old man puffed his chest up with pride as much as the old body could. "Tis with me own hands when they were agile," he told her looking at the hands in question. Old and gnarled they looked like they couldnt do much of anything anymore. "Tis my tribute to the most beautiful woman I ever be seein," he said sincerely.
Rhian was silent. "Tis a priceless gift, your words, Jace," she said softly. "I be wearin this always to be rememberin you by."
He smiled. "Then I have my reward for waiting for you to come."
Rhian slipped it on and tucked it beneath her shirt to lay against the hollow of her throat. She looked curious. "Odd, tis warm."
Jace grinned. "Tis the magic of the pendant, my lady."
Rhian smiled at him. "I be thankin you for your gift and your kindness and friendship, Jace. I be visitin when I can."
He shook his head. "My time tis anon, my lady. I be giftin thee, and finishin my journey in this world. Save one thing."
She looked to him. "What?"
He patted the book he had pulled out of the same bag. "I be needin your help, my lady."
Rhian nodded. "Whatever I can, Jace."
He smiled at her. "Tis a gift to the Lord of Teyrnon. Will ya be givin it to her?"
Rhian nodded slowly. "Aye, Nara will be her chatelaine. She will..."
He shook his head slightly letting the wisps of white hair float in a halo above his head as he cut her off. "Nay, from your hand to hers, I beg ya."
Rhian nodded slowly again. "I be pledgin it Jace, my hand to hers."
He smiled. "Tis good then. Best you be off before Draig comes a lookin for ya."
Rhian took the book from him then leaned over and cupped his weathered old face and kissed his cheek. "I shall be missin ya Jace," she said softly.
Jace reveled at the smell of her hair, like wildflowers and the breeze. "And tis the memory of your kiss I be havin with my last breath."
Rhian stood back with tears in her eyes. "How can you be speakin so calmly of it?"
He smiled and gently wiped a tear away that escaped to her cheek. "I be waitin a long time, my lady. When you be comin to my age you be lookin for the dark god with joy as well." He shooed her. "Off you go, my lady. Draig willna wait so long."
Rhian nodded. "Goodbye my friend."
He smiled. "Safe journey."
She smiled back through the unshed tears. "Aye, and to you as well."
He nodded and she left clutching the book tightly. Jace opened his hand to show the tear he had wiped away had now turned to diamond with the tear trapped in the center of it. "More than you know, my lady," he said softly with a voice unlike his own.
Rhiannon said goodbye to quite a few people on the way back to the house. She was loaded down with foodstuffs from the baker whom she helped with the shop when his mate was ill. Then there was the tavern keeper with a bottle of fine whiskey, whom she pulled out of the muck when he was too drunk to do it himself last season. And lastly the cobbler with a new bit and reins for her help with the horses when they came in. Nara chuckled as Rhian carefully made her way back and unloaded her arms at the seat of the wagon.
"Begods!" Rhian swore. "Tis a celebration and I didna know of it?"
Nara laughed and Draig came storming out to stop and see the look of bewilderment on Rhians face and the seat full of stuff the neighbors had given her for her kindness. He smiled. "Tis only your sweet self, Rhian," Nara told her. "Never do you be takin a coin in return, only to help and be a friend. Tis worth more than gold, and they will miss you sorely."
Rhian looked confused. "Doesna everyone do this?"
The two laughed. "Nay, Rhian," Draig said as he held her close and kissed the top of her head. "Guileless you are. Tis the shirt off your back to a beggar in the street with no thought for yourself."
Rhian shook her head. "Tis only me, Draig. You be makin me sound like a magi."
He chuckled and so did Nara. "Magi would take the coin, Rhian. You wouldna."
She sighed and pulled out the foodstuffs and handed them to Nara. "Tis enough for the journey, almost."
Nara smiled. "Aye, if you brother goes huntin for his own supper it tis."
He looked to his wife. "You be knowin Rhian can eat as much as me."
Rhian scowled at him, but it was true. She was hungry quite often. Finally she shook her head and grinned and handed Draig the bottle of fine whiskey. Draig smiled. "Ach, you be givin your gifts away, Rhian. Tis yours."
"I donna drink, Draig. What am I to do with it?" Rhian asked.
Nara sighed. "Donna give it to him. Tis how I ended up with this." She rubbed her round belly.
"Begods," Rhian whispered as her eyes went wide looking to Nara in horror. "Tis best to be stayin away from the taverns then Nara, if tis all it takes to be gettin ya with child."
Draig laughed and Nara backhanded him in the belly making him wince. "Tis thin ice you be walkin on young lady," she warned her.
Rhian chuckled. "I be jestin you, Nara. Twill be a good day when you have the babe. Tis a better mood you be in." She thought about it. "Then again, mayhaps nay." She skirted away from the wagon as Nara tried to swat her behind, cursing and promising to get her until she pleaded for mercy, all the while Draig was chuckling and he moved out of her reach too.
"Tis the blackguard of the Kelan I be stuck with. Begods." Nara lamented pointing at Draig. "You I be dealin with. Rhian, I can see lurking at the stable, and you wait young lady. Tis a cold day in the otherworld before I be forgettin to paddle your behind for this."
Rhian drew her horse out. "I be gladly takin it Nara, if you be doin it to Draig as well."
Nara smiled. "I might just be takin you up on that."
Draig frowned at the indignity of the suggestion. "I willna be paddled like a child."
Rhian snorted. "Tis one you be acting like," she said as she tied Ula to the cart. That remark got her chased almost to the gates of the city before Draig stopped, panting and heaving.
"Ach," Rhian said from a good distance away as she leaned up against the city walls near a young guard that about fainted having the beautiful young woman standing so close. "Tis a good thing you warriors donna run so well. You might be able to catch your game with your bare hands instead of gallivantin around on a horse to be doin your dirty work for ya. Then what would they have to do?" The soldiers at the gate laughed as Draig growled and went after her again. She led him back to the house and Draig only made it part of the way. Nara had packed Rhiannons stuff away in her saddlebags and was on the wagon seat chuckling with the rest of the people on the street.
Draig slowly made his way back as Rhian mounted Ula. "I make you a deal, my mate," he said looking to his dark haired wife. "I be holdin her down and you can paddle her until you be satisfied."
Nara looked wickedly at the nervous Rhian. "Tis a deal I like."
Rhian shook her head. "Ach, I be campin far from the likes of the both of you then."
Nara sighed deeply. "Campin, tis an awful thing."
Draig shook his head. "Tis a soft life you be havin."
"Tis soft in the head youve become," she countered and the two were off at it again as Draig got in the wagon seat and took the reins and they were off.
Rhiannon said goodbye to another city as they headed on the well-traveled road to the east. Versy sat down low in the valley with the castle on a hill out in the middle of the great plains of grass and plowed fields for crops. Teyrnon sat high in the mountains, it was the fortress to the Vale pass into Caerloach and no great force could enter all at once and the Lord of Teyrnon could decide to block the pass forever breaking the clans in Caerloach from the world if so threatened. And with that impending it was a good thing that the Caerloach was self-sustaining. It was a massive valley and a mite short of a fortnights journey from Versy to Teyrnon. With leagues beyond showing in that alone that Caerloach was a magical place of Ireland since most had traversed about the high mountains around the vale within the space of a few fortnights. Yet to journey from Teyrnon to the opposite side of the vale inside was three fortnights alone. And where Versy was somewhat quiet, the city of Teyrnon bustled with travelers and was huge with the common people and the great OBrennan fortress sat up high tucked in the mountainside. It had never been sieged against and the massive flag of the gold rearing stallion on the deep red field flapped from the highest purchase in the fortress showing that the Lord of Teyrnon was home.
Journeying had been... interesting with Nara along. Rhian was well used to it with Draig and they tried their hardest to help the pregnant woman as best they could. Rhiannon had coaxed her way back into Naras good graces and had found the flat end of her spoon when she least expected it. Begods the woman was strong! And Rhiannon had shifted in her saddle the whole rest of the next day. But she forgot it when Teyrnon had appeared. She had seen it from a distance when she and Draig first came in from the Vale pass for Versy. It was impressive and somewhat overwhelming. Amazing enough she couldnt believe how big it was the closer they rode to the gates of the city.
Nara handed the scroll from Lady Caitlin to the guard at the gate and he saw the seal. Was enough for him but he looked it over and bowed. "Lady Chatelaine, Im certain the Steward of Teyrnon is eager to meet with you."
She nodded and took the scroll back. "Aye, since when is a steward na eager?"
The guard smiled. "I be awaitin the day, my lady." He banged his halberd clumsily against his helmet in shock and salute when Rhian came riding up and reined Ula in beside the wagon.
Nara smiled, not looking back, knowing what put the gaping look on the guard. "Tis a little slow you are, Rhian."
Rhian smiled. "Hardly, Nara. Tis a field and lake to the west and begods, tis magnificent."
The guard smiled at the beautiful woman. "Tis the Lords own."
Rhian looked worried. "I didna mean to trespass."
He smiled beatifically at her. "I donna think she be mindin, my lady."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Tis hardly a lady I am, good sir. Only a Kelan."
Draig snorted. "Only? Ach, you be makin us sound like peasants."
The guard smiled. "Tisna a peasant I be seein before me."
The big man glared. "Aye, tis my baby sister. So have at you."
The guard looked to the big man. "Aye, sir. Forgive me my lady, twas quite rude."
Rhian smiled. "Tisna the first time I be experiencin such. Tis a sure thing twill not be the last, good sir."
They rode on through and all the guard turned to look at the magnificent woman riding into the city. "Begods," one of them muttered. "I be wantin castle hall duty ta be seein such a lovely thing."
The guard that had spoken nodded in agreement. "I wouldna want ta be crossin her kin though. Ach, I be havin a bad feelin the man tis a man at arms and we be gettin a sore contest to better ourselves from it."
That made all of them groan.
The threesome stopped at the gate to the castle and they were admitted once again, all of the soldiers looking to Rhiannon as they passed through. She looked back and two of them tripped over each other to stand up right from being caught watching. She shook her head. Ruttish here as well. She dismounted and was going to offer to take care of the horses when a look from Nara stopped her. Rhiannon had never lived in a castle before. She grabbed her saddlebags and got the book out before Nara plucked the saddlebags away and gave them to a servant.
"Tisna your place anymore to be doin that, Rhian," Nara told her quietly in a firm voice as the Steward came out.
He was a tall, thin man with a kind face and looked quite a few summers older than Nara or Draig. "Nara, tis a pleasure to see you again!"
Nara hugged him close. "Malcolm, I be wishin it werena under such dreadful circumstances. But I have missed you."
He smiled as they let go. He glanced to Draig then stopped at Rhiannon who was startled and looked behind her for what he was looking at. "Ach," Nara bumped her. "Tis you my cousin be staring at. And I be swattin him up the side of the head if he doesna stop."
Malcolm grinned. "Begods, please introduce me, Nara."
Nara snorted. "Malcolm this is my mates sister Rhiannon Oriana Kelan. Rhian, this is Malcolm Kyr Kendhal, my cousin. And this is my mate Padraig Calum Kelan."
Malcolm looked from Rhian to the massive Draig and he swallowed a little. "I be thinkin tis a wise thing to step lightly around your kin."
Draig glared and nodded. "Aye, tis a very good idea."
Nara nudged him too. "What happened to Maughan, Malcolm? She wasna that old as Lady Chatelaine."
Malcolm cleared his throat. "Tis a scandalous thing, Nara." He looked around to see that they were alone and he dropped his voice to a whisper. "Seems when Donal passed on and Cait was to succeed him as Lord of Teyrnon, Maughan produced a son whom she be claimin was Donals son by birth and deserved some rights as an heir."
"Gods above," Nara muttered. "Tis a daft woman, but tis dumb and blind too?"
Malcolm snorted. "Tis so. Caitlin was sorely put out that Maughan would befoul her fathers name and be askin what proof she had. Maughan was sorely stumped since she hadna gotten Donal to claim him as a son, and in respite Cait be sendin her and her own down to Opidda to stay. It twasna long before she had a letter to Versy for you. You know I be here as steward for less that four seasons and Cait be runnin a tighter house that Donal ever did."
Nara snorted. "Tis hardly a surprise, Malcolm. Caitlin expects nothin but peoples best."
Malcolm chuckled. "Tis she who be forgettin your sharp tongue. But tis good you are here." He proffered his arm to Draig. "And you, it be takin a hell of a man to marry an OBrennan."
Draig smiled. "Donna I know it."
The two laughed and Nara gave him a look. Malcolm showed them to the great hall in which there was soft arguing taking place. On the Lords seat was a beautiful dark headed woman in well worn deerskin leggings, a deep red tunic with gold embroidery and soft leather boots that rode the better part up her long calves. The great hall was massive and well lit with the grand fireplace and the sconces in the walls. A man in over embroidered robes that looked to be in dire need of washing stood directly in front of her ladyship with a very angry face. Malcolm hurried forward as did Draig who loosened his sword. The two looked up to the small crowd. The man was dressed as a druid and whatever he was saying was not making the Lord happy.
"Malcolm, see this man be thrown out," Lord Caitlin said in a low dark voice.
"I be warnin you now Cat of Caerloach. Tis a fox that twill be your downfall! I be seein it!" the old man came close to screaming at her.
Lord Caitlin stood to her full height, which was almost as tall as Draig. Grasping the front of his robe she literally hoisted him off the ground a few inches showing her strength. "Medr, ya damn fool! No fox is gonna bewitch me!" the Lord growled. "And you havna even told me why or how! Begone back to your shack in the city and mayhaps I willna be havin it torn down to spite thee for intrudin upon me!"
Rhian stayed back. The Lord was incredibly beautiful and the dangerous aura around her came off in waves. Rhian felt her heart leap to her throat. Then the vivid ice blue eyes of the Lord locked onto hers and she was frozen in place and they softened as the eyes slowly roamed the rest of her body approvingly. Without a word she released the man with a bit of a throw and he stumbled to the ground as she turned to the rest of them while Malcolm and a guard that rushed in at the noise and escorted Medr off. "Nara!" she said smiling. "Tis good to see you again!"
Nara chuckled. "You be soundin just like Malcolm a moment ago." She curtsied to her. "Tis an honor you have chosen me to serve you, my Lord."
Caitlin snorted and sat down rolling her eyes a little. "And I know you be servin me and mine well, Nara. Who is your company?" She looked to Draig then to Rhian. "Siblings?"
Nara smiled. "Aye, tis my mate Padraig Calum Kelan and his sister Rhiannon Oriana Kelan."
Caitlin nodded and smiled. "Welcome to Teyrnon, Padraig and Rhiannon Kelan. The OBrennans be offerin you a place in Teyrnon for as long as you wish."
Padraig bowed. "Tis a magnificent place, Teyrnon is, my Lord."
She smiled. "Tis a warrior you are?"
"Aye, and if it be pleasin ya, call me Draig."
Caitlin nodded as she relaxed back, her eyes straying to the silent Rhian taking in her beauty and seeing the gentle shyness in her as Rhian would glance briefly at her and look away. "So you be from Versy then?" she asked looking back to Draig.
The large man shook his head. "Nay, Rhian and I be from Kel Glaghna near Eire. We be movin to Versy only a summer ago to be with our clan."
Caitlins brow furrowed. "Kel Glaghna was destroyed two summers ago."
Draig nodded. "Aye, tis true. Rhian and I be the only ones to be makin it out alive."
Caitlin looked shocked at this. "Your kin?"
Draig shook his head. "Lost our mother to the birth of Rhian and our da and two brothers between us to marauders. Almost lost Rhian from a sword wound. Twas lucky it wasna deeper."
Caitlin nodded slowly glancing back at the young redhead who firmly didnt look her way. "The Lord of Eire didna come to revenge their display?"
He shook his head. "Nay, twas over and done before two days had passed, my lady. And his lord didna seem too interested in doin a thing about it once they be findin the butchers had gone from Ireland."
Caitlin directed her attention to Rhian. "And what of you Rhiannon? Or may I call you Rhian, as your brother has?"
Rhian looked up and the eyes connected. "Rhian is fine, my Lord." She stepped forward and held out the book. "Tis a gift from an old magi in Versy who I be pledgin to give to thee, my Lord."
Caitlin looked to her thoughtfully but accepted the gift. "Tis odd, I donna know a magi in Versy."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Tis his claim, but I be doubtin it highly myself, my Lord. But a book is to be cherished and I gave my pledge. Do with it as you will."
Caitlin nodded keeping her eyes on her only to glance down briefly at the book. "I sense you have some humor in you."
Nara snorted. "Begods, Cait. Tread carefully lest she be catchin ya off guard with a quick word. Twas her own brother she did tweak in front of Lord Innis less than a fortnight ago in their own clans hall."
Caitlins eyebrows raised at Draig as Rhian blushed looking to the ground, Caitlin found herself wanting to feel the heated cheek under her fingers. "Tis so?"
Draig grunted. "Aye, the sprite be usin our cousins words against me."
Caitlin smiled. "Then I be lookin forward to seein what happens."
Both Nara and Draig swore. Rhian drew back a little. "That depends, my Lord," she said quietly.
Caitlin looked at her fully. "On what?"
"Whether you be as strong as Nara and have as flat a wooden spoon as she. Mayhaps as flat a sword, I would correct, since she be sayin you be the Cat of Caerloach. Excusin my boldness."
Caitlin looked to Nara. "Why does na one believe it until I be provin myself?"
Nara shrugged. "I donna know, Cait. Then again I be growin up with ya, watchin you beat the tar out of your das men. And Rhian can hold her own for a while against Draig. So tis a might more interestin to someone who knows of fightin."
Caitlin looked to the giant Draig and the slender Rhiannon. "Forgive me, but I canna see you as a fighter, Rhian."
Draig snorted. "She did shoot down more than a dozen invaders with her longbow and be cuttin through four more with a shortsword until one be gettin the better of her."
"I be seein no weapons on ya," she said to Rhian, but she was more respectful in her voice toward her.
Rhians voice went soft as she shrugged slightly. "Tis only carry a dagger and longbow I be carryin. I donna wish to fight anyone."
Caitlin could hear it in her voice. Rhian wasnt a fighter, she was a survivor. Only doing what she needed and no more in the world of death. "I am sorry for your loss, Rhian. Perhaps on the morrow your kin will allow me to be showin both of you the soldiers training grounds and mayhaps I be provin myself as the Cat of Caerloach."
Rhian looked up. "You need na be provin anythin to me, my Lord."
Caitlin smiled. "Tis true. But tis a sharp sword and strong hand against my men when I be comin to tourney with them that be keepin them ready for battle."
Draig sidled up to Rhian. "Mayhaps Lord Caitlin will tourney in the longbow with you Rhian." Caitlin raised an eyebrow at this as the large man looked her way. "Tis known that you be the best in all weapons, even barehanded which twould delight me to see, my Lord. But Rhian tis a better shot with a bow than I ever be seein. Even on horseback her aim is true."
Caitlin smiled with a slight nod of acceptance. "Tis a worthy challenge. Then on the morrow after our tour, I be challengin you Rhiannon Kelan to a longbow tourney."
Rhian glared at her brother. "Then I be acceptin for fear that if I decline you might be askin for broadsword instead the day twill pass before I be competent of liftin such a thing."
Caitlin blinked, then she smiled as a laugh deep and rich came out for a moment only to wipe a tear from her eye. "Begods, is this what you be warnin me of Nara?"
Nara sighed with a curious eye between both sides of her kin as she nodded. "Aye, Cait. Tis a silver tongue in this one when she opens it."
Rhian bit her lip wanting to say something back in reply and Caitlin could see her hold it in. "Aye tis a long journey you be travelin, surely you would like to be settled in. Malcolm randomly be findin ya rooms and I pray in all earnest Nara, that you be takin over once you do and straighten our cousin out."
Malcolm sighed. "A steward tis never appreciated."
Caitlin snorted. "In caring for the court Malcolm, na the house. You be runnin it into the ground before the season tis over."
Rhians eyes lit up and Caitlin smiled back.
Caitlin watched Rhian through hooded eyes at supper. She was slightly disappointed to see her still in a tunic, though clean and nicely cut showing her as an upper class and kin to a clan. She seemed to desire to see her in a dress showing every graceful curve of her body. Begods she was beautiful and Caitlin felt something inside she hadnt felt before, not for a long time, nor so intense. She tapped the tip of her knife on the high table as she half listened to one of her aunts sitting next to her. She nodded but had no idea of what the woman had said as her eyes moved back to Rhian.
Tomorrow she would see what steel was in her. Regardless, she could feel the hunt surge in her blood. She wasnt sure about the urge stirring in her but it had to do with the red-gold haired young woman. Her lip curled up slightly.
She talked with guests and kin as the din rolled on and she saw a kindness in Rhian that was rare in upper class women. She may have steel, but the softness of a flower surrounded it. She found her feelings correct when a servant spilled dessert and there was backbiting to the servant from others at the table. Rhian was the only one who helped the servant up and asked if she could be of assistance in cleaning up. Caitlin heard a soft groan from Nara. But she smiled to herself. So it begins, she thought to herself. She had never seen the likes of one such as Rhian before, and now... she would watch and wait and see what the gods had in store.
Rhians room was a large bed chamber with a huge bed filled with down to one side, just as Nara had promised. She had only taken off her boots and curled up in the center and tucked the soft blanket over her before she fell to sleep. But it wasnt a well rested sleep as the nightmare she normally had wasnt there, it was a strange dream...
Someone was stalking her, threatening, but her heart pounded just the same. She was in the beautiful glade she had seen earlier and she was naked and the dew of the high grasses drenched her body as she heard a predator growl, deep and low from nearby. She scrambled away as the grasses moved, then a warm, strong hand caught her thigh and she wriggled to get away only to find herself on her back with the beautiful Lord Caitlin nestled over her on all fours. Her feral blue eyes glinting in the moonlight as they held her in place, just as they had done in the great hall that afternoon. Slowly the beautiful woman smiled and bestowed her a kiss that melted her heart and she longed for another. It was given as the Lord began to lazily kiss her all over.
Rhian awoke in the heated sweat of a lovers passion when the Lord had nestled between her legs. Her strong, firm hands holding her in place and with a wicked glint in her eye...
"Gods..." Rhians hands trembled. She had never dreamt such things before. She felt her whole body aching to be touched as it had been in her dream and she knew of only one that it craved for.
"Begods, has my body gone mad?!" she muttered to herself and she got up and used the light of the banked fire in her room to strip her nightshirt off and bathe her upper body. In the pale light she could see her breasts, which had always been to her dismay... a little large for her liking. And from the looks of them it seemed as though every part of her had felt this desire.
She grunted in disgust at herself as she looked back at herself in the looking glass to the vivid green eyes flickering in the firelight. "Tisna going to happen, foolish body of mine," she firmly told herself. "She be the Lord of the manor and has na time for a half-witted dream from an orphaned Kelan." It didnt matter, it wasnt listening and still wanting.
She muttered as she stripped down the rest of the way and found herself very wet and not from her womanly time. She glared at herself in the mirror with more of a curse on her lips for being all the more foolish. Then finished bathing herself entirely only to find herself more aroused than she had ever felt before in her life. She gritted her teeth and bore herself to finish then slid her nightshirt back on and knelt in front of the fire and stirred it up, too awake to go to sleep now. Damn, she thought. She was lusting after the Lord and no better than a common peasant rutting in the gutter.
"Begods, I be knowin her a day," she berated herself. It was just nonsense. No more of this, it wouldnt happen again. Besides, who in their right mind wouldnt dream after the dark haired, long legged, blue eyed... "Stop it!" she told herself. The feeling was coming right back.
Rhian looked up from her thoughts to see the door to her room open slowly, and she realized she had no idea where her dagger was to defend herself. She was grateful the figure was of a very pregnant Nara coming in. "Rhian, are you alright?" she asked worriedly.
Rhian nodded. "Aye, I be fine Nara."
The older woman looked concerned. "Tis the nightmares again?"
Rhian closed her eyes and gritted her teeth lest the memories return. "Nay, somethin more daft than that."
Nara came over and cupped her cool forehead. "Tis late. To bed with you."
Rhian nodded. "In a moment, Nara."
Nara stroked her long hair. "Ill have Aine bring you a bath as the sun comes."
Rhian nodded again. "Tis kind of you."
"Ach, tis a good thing you are not chatelaine, love. Less the whole of Teyrnon be overrun with kindness," she snorted.
Rhian smiled at that, then stole up her courage. "Nara?"
Nara looked down curiously. "Aye."
Rhian looked up at her. "How did you be knowin you did love Draig?"
Naras eyebrows went up. Rhian had never talked about something like this before. "Did someone be catchin your fancy, Rhian?"
"I donna know. I never be feelin like this," Rhian whispered only to shake her head. "But it doesna matter. Nothin be comin of it."
Naras brow furrowed at the tone of hopelessness in Rhians voice. "So easy ya be dismissin your feelings? Tisna a good thing. Love be makin us stronger and our hearts deepen." She reached down and stroked her fingers through the soft pale hair again watching as the strands of red in Rhians hair shown brighter in the firelight. "Though I havna to know how much deeper yours can be goin. But donna make light and hold it in, Rhian."
Rhian shook her head. "I be losin almost everythin I be lovin save you and Draig. Did I fail somewhere to be given this lot? Do the gods hate me so?"
Nara was concerned that Rhian was so negative. "Nay, Rhian. Tis the fate in your life. You are safe, and so be Draig and I. Nothin be takin us away and soon you be havin more kin in a short while."
Rhian wiped away a tear. "I be thinkin all was well in Kel Glaghna, Nara. I sorely missed na knowin my ma. But my da and my brothers be fillin that up as best they could. I didna want to be livin after that. Only Draig and his threats to haunt me in the otherworld be keepin me with him. I canna love anyone, Nara. I canna lose more lest my soul go with them," she finished in barely a whisper.
Nara held her close and Rhians ear was over her large belly. She could hear the heartbeat... heartbeats. "Tis two I be thinkin, Nara. I can hear two." She cupped the belly and leaned closer. "I pray they donna share the same path as mine."
Nara was melancholy when she left Rhian by the fire and shut her door and headed back to her own rooms. She knew her kin was afraid of her nightmares. But she never realized how much. The lords chamber door opened down at the end of the hall. The figure of a very naked Caitlin stood leaning against the doorway. "Ach, Cait. Tis the death of the servant boy ta see you as naked as a babe out in the hall."
Caitlin chuckled. "And you be livin in Versy too long, Nara. Though I canna believe they be quaint about such as this. I be rememberin a time down at the pool when you had but come to your womanhood and begods if you didna show your stuff to the boys."
Nara held up a hand to stop her talking. "Donna you be embarrassin me. And tisna of Versy. Draig and Rhian are from the North and they be slightly but shocked if you go runnin about like a squirrel with no fur."
Caitlin smiled. "Then we be havin ta teach them the OBrennan way in Teyrnon."
Nara sighed. "Ta bed with you lest Draig comes out and be dyin of a still heart at the sight of ya. And I willna bare and raise two little ones alone."
"Twins, then? Tis good. Though only from my view I be thinkin." She grinned showing a breathtaking smile of gorgeous, straight, white teeth. "And where be you this late in the night?"
Nara looked saddened. "Ach, poor Rhian. She still be havin nightmares of her family being slaughtered in Kel Glaghna. She doesna sleep well. Though I didna know the extent of her ache until tonight."
Caitlin was concerned. "What do you mean, Nara?"
"She is determined she willna love someone lest she be losin them too. But I be thinkin tis not to be that way. She be findin the one that be takin the heartache away and supplant it with something much better."
Caitlin slowly nodded. "She be comin of the age when suitors for one as pretty as your Rhian will come callin."
Nara snorted. "You should be seein the men in line at Versy then, Cait. Tis longer than the day goes by and she didna look ta one of them. I be thinkin the one that be catchin her heart will be the only one, forever."
Cait raised an eyebrow at that. "Then you be thinkin Rhian tis touched by the gods?"
Nara shrugged. "I have yet ta see it to the like such as yourself, with your fighting and smarts and such." She smiled at her cousin who smiled back. The hint of the mark on her right shoulder was almost visible in the sconce light in the hallways. A mark when she gave herself to the Celtic gods to defend Caerloach and in the same instant making her the Cat of Caerloach since none could hold a candle to her prowess. "But I be thinkin it be there."
Cait nodded. "The ways of old be holdin true, Nara. This one god willna come into Caerloach. Mayhaps Rhian be another sign of just such a thing."
Nara looked worried. "Then I be hopin they be kind to her, Cait. She truly believes her life is doomed to be losin all she loves twould break her soul. I be prayin that they see fit to reward one as kind as her with a happy life."
Cait nodded and watched as Nara moved to her rooms and shut the door. She looked down the hallway to the end where Rhiannons room was, her eyebrow raise in thought. "I be thinkin they will, my friend," she whispered to her cousins departed presence.
Rhians long tresses were almost dry as she stamped on her boots and latched the clasp on her belt. She had eaten and it was soon to when she and Draig would go with Caitlin to the training grounds. She had slept a few hours more after Nara left as her body finally relaxed from want of the Lord. She swore if it got worse shes hunt down the magi and find something to stop it.
There was a knock on her door and she opened it, almost blushing as the thing in question was right in front of her. Caitlin smiled slightly noticing the pink in her cheeks and was curious as to what caused it. "Be you ready then? Draig did go on ahead to see the smithy and we be meetin him there."
"Aye, my Lord," Rhian replied as she stepped out and combed her fingers through her thick hair.
Caitlin almost ran her fingers through again just to feel the silken locks she had dreamt of last night. Gods it was glorious, in the long grass with the moonlight to guide her and the sweet scent of Rhian. She caught her and made the most passionate love to her and the young woman responded as a lover should. She had licked off the dew and nuzzled the round curves and tasted the sweetest nectar... She sighed to herself.
Caitlin knew enough about the gods to know when they were interfering. And this was one such time. She glanced down at the slender figure and grunted to herself in frustration. If that dream came too often... begods. Heaven help the poor young thing, because shed do it. Not that she didnt like the dream, ohhh, she did. She woke up in a sweat and a pitched frenzy not long before Nara came back from Rhians room, she was wanting to hunt her down and take her right there, it was so overwhelming. But once she had calmed down she stopped herself. She had followed the fate of looking to mate once before and found a traitor instead. She swore she wouldnt do it again... Seems the gods had their own ideas. She grumbled about that for a moment.
Caitlin ran her fingers through her own dark locks that hung just as straight as Rhians. "Please, call me Cait. All of my close kin be callin me that."
Rhian looked up and her and they felt the connection. She looked away. "If it be pleasin you, of course, Cait."
They headed for the outside as both collected their thoughts. "What do you be thinkin of Teyrnon, Rhian?"
Rhian nodded. "Tis a grand place you have Lor... Cait," she started only to catch herself. "At first I be thinkin twould be somewhat dirty like Eire since tis so big. But tis clean as Versy and Evnissyen."
"Been to the OMalley clan then?" Cait asked thinking to the city of Evnissyen that was about halfway between Teyrnon and Eire.
Rhian nodded. "Aye, but only in passin to Caerloach. Even those cities be na as big as Teyrnon."
Cait nodded in agreement. "Do you mind the idea of livin here then?"
Rhian was quiet for a moment. "I never be livin in a castle before. And Nara keeps tellin me what I can and canna do since she be the Lady Chatelaine and I be her kin. Tis odd." She looked to the tall woman. "But I donna see how anythin be gettin done if you be havin to wait for the servants to do things for ya, when tis faster to do be doin it yourself?"
Cait chuckled. "I be thinkin this myself many times. But servants be havin their place in Teyrnon, and I never be carin to carry bucket after bucket of hot water for a bath up the stairs."
Rhian nodded. "Tis true. But I donna see how one can be needin a maid to help you dress." She looked down at herself. "Tunic and leggings really only be takin one."
Cait grinned. "What of dresses then?"
Rhian rolled her eyes at this. "Ach! If they be that hard to get into, then damn the lot of them."
That got a full smile from the Lord. "You never be wearin a dress then?"
Rhian snorted and Caitlin smiled. "With three older brothers and a da that had to be keepin us in line? I be wearin hand me downs until I be havin too much hip for straight leggins. And then I be havin na need for wandering about the Kel on horseback in a dress."
Cait smiled. "Mayhaps one day you be favorin my court with one and I be watchin them fall over in faint at the sight of you."
Rhian snorted. "Twillna be needin a dress for that," she said in a sarcastic tone.
"Then to show you be a true Lady then," Cait countered.
Rhian gave her a funny look as her heart pounded a little faster at the sight of the dark haired woman smiling her way. Her blue eyes glinting down at her almost like in her dream. "My da was an innkeeper and head of the branch. I am no Lady, to be sure."
"I be beggin ta differ," Cait said seriously. "You be more a Lady than most of the Ladies here." She was silent for a moment. "As a favor then?" she finally asked.
Rhian bit her lip. "I donna know," she said with a small shake of her head.
"I be havin Nara help with the dressmaker," came the offer.
Rhian looked up at her. "I have yet to be seein you in one either, Cait."
Cait chuckled. "I donna want to be takin away from your light, Rhian. For me?"
Rhian sighed and thought for a moment then consented with a slight nod. "Aye, but twill be odd."
Cait chuckled more as they headed through the yard to the grounds. Their first true conversation and they talked as if they had known each other for some time. It amazed her since she had a tendency to keep away from most people. Even more she was pleased how much she enjoyed the young womans company. But she had a feeling that she always would.
There was a clanging of steel on steel as they neared the training grounds and the soldiers around the arena gave way to the two women. Cait offered Rhian a seat on a bale of hay near the fence and she sat cautiously knowing that the Lord of the Castle should be sitting, not her. She tucked her feet up on the edge of the bale and wrapped her arms about them and was surprised to see Draig and another man as big as him dueling in the morning sun with broadswords. Draig was smiling happily as he curved his opponents sword away and elbowed him in the gut. It wasnt long before he flicked the sword from his hand and the man yielded.
"Twas a good duel, Draig," the man said.
Draig nodded. "Tis true, you be very good indeed, Guy."
Guy was older than most in the training area. He had a graying beard and the beginning of wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and along his cheeks. He looked to see Cait and a young woman from the dining hall had come to watch. "Begods, tis heaven."
Draig looked in their direction. "Tis my sister, Rhiannon."
Guy looked to him. "Surely you be to ugly to have a sister as beautiful as she." He grinned and Draig cuffed his arm. "Mayhaps Lord Caitlin will try you at arms," he said loud enough for all in the arena to hear. He looked to the woman who sighed and stood straight and lightly touched Rhians shoulder before she went to arm herself with a broadsword. Guy looked to Draig. "Your sister be unattached?"
"Aye," Draig said slowly with a small growl of discomfort, looking at his sister then at the retreating form of Cait curiously. That touch and the regard to let her sit showed that Cait was deferring to Rhian. And that meant... "Begods," he muttered.
Guy chuckled. "Donna worry, lad. Cait would never be doin your sister wrong."
Cait came out stripped down to a light shirt that showed the power and fine muscles in her arms and the tail end of her marking on her right arm with a huge broadsword easily held in her right hand. She saw that Draig had seen her admiration for Rhian and the overprotective glint of anger in his eyes. She had not solely meant it in deference, but as reassurance that she would be fine there since she herself had never sat and watched them train or duel for long before joining in. And the pat on the shoulder.... Well, maybe hed be angry enough to give her a challenge. The blond mans eyes were a little shocked and hard at the same time and she smiled.
"Ready?" she asked.
He nodded. "Do you be needin time to warm up?"
Cait shook her head and they gave a brief salute and the swords clashed before they really separated to far apart to do the normal circling and taunts to make the other attack. Rhian sat enthralled. Cait could weald a broadsword and easily so. She also outmaneuvered Draig with a skillful flair that almost made him look like a novice and that was making him angry. He came roaring in with an overhand blow to Caits head that would have split her skull wide open if she were any less of a fighter. She locked swords with him up at the hilt and held it and Rhians eyebrows shot up to see that Cait was definitely stronger than she looked.
They were face to face. The light blue eyes caught his own grayish blue. "Tisna as you think," she told him quietly enough to keep the conversation between the two of them.
He grunted angrily and tried to shove her down only to be stopped with a solid hold he couldnt budge, his muscles were straining at it was and Cait didnt even look like she was going to break a sweat. He began to realize that the legend the woman was making in Ireland as a most feared and awesome opponent was very real and very true. "I be thinkin you have an eye on my sister!" he hissed back.
He really was angry and all she had done was shown slight deference to Rhian. "Then I be havin a word with you." Cait countered as she locked her muscles into place to hold him off. She practiced to build her strength but he was really testing her limits. "Everyone be lookin. Tis a beautiful young woman for kin you have." Draig looked into her eyes as he tried to shove her down again but her hold stayed true and his arms began to weaken slightly. He saw Cait was serious. "You canna be hidin her behind your glares forever."
He relinquished a bit of his blade. "Then you mean to be courtin her?"
Cait slowly nodded. "Mayhaps. Will you be hinderin my advances if I do?"
He drew back slightly more and glanced to see they were watching though none of them could hear their conversation. "Nay," he said softly. "But be gentle with her. Tis strong, yet timid and I willna see her hurt."
Cait nodded. "So be it."
They took a few steps back and caught their collective breaths and reengaged their duel only this time they fought without the rage on Draig side after that and he yielded when Cait finally took his sword from his hands with the edge of her blade in a graceful, deadly countermove.
It was soon after that Cait was showing them around the massive soldiers barracks and stables and looked to Draig. "I always be needin a good man at arms. I would be honored if you would be wearin the Teyrnon colors."
He looked to Rhian and nodded looking back to Cait. "Aye, I would be honored to wear them."
The group of men and women welcomed him. He looked to the Lady. "Did you still wish to tourney longbow with Rhian?"
Cait looked to Rhian who shrugged that she didnt care. Cait smiled. "Guy, have the targets set."
Cait and Rhian were left alone for the moment as the second to Caits warchief took Draig for a surcoat and clothing. "Do you fancy a wager, Rhian?"
Rhian looked up to her. "What sort of wager?"
"A favor perhaps. Where the victor may be askin the other for anything they desire."
Rhian snorted. "Tisna much in my possession. If you won, you would be sorely disappointed."
Cait smiled. "I still be thinkin ta give that as a wager. What say you?"
Rhian looked away then nodded uncertainly. "Very well."
The targets set in place. As challenger, Cait shot a quiver full first. All in the yellow center. Then Rhian shot and she equaled. The targets moved back they shot again and two more times with the same tally. Back to the farthest point and Rhians arms ached as she held her aim. It was a good distance, and she rarely had to shoot that far. Cait had gotten all in the yellow again and with Rhians last shot it went a mark off and into the blue not a hair width from the yellow. Cait was the victor.
"Tis a good shot you be," Cait said. "I feared twould be a tie and then what would we be doin to settle the score?"
Rhian set the bow down and flexed her fists as they burned with an ache of holding the bow for so long. "Not wrestling mind you. I couldna lift a finger against you."
Cait looked concerned and saw Rhians hands tremble. "Come, tis an ointment my magi has to be helpin with that. I be forgettin that most donna shoot tourneys that long with rarely a break between."
Rhian shook her head. "Twill pass. Donna worry about it."
Draig rested a hand on her drawing shoulder and felt the spasm in her muscles. "I be thinkin na, Rhian. Go with Lady Caitlin to the magi."
Rhian did, but not so willingly. They headed for the lower section of the castle. "Be you upset with me, Rhian?" Cait asked as the normally cheerful young woman was silent and her eyes distant.
Rhian shook her head. "Nay, Cait. Tis only own my stupidity in na restin."
Cait smiled. "Then tis my folly as well. I should be askin you."
Rhian bit her lip. Something was going on between them, something odd and it scared her. "So what of your prize, Cait? What would you be askin of me?"
Cait smiled. "I be tellin you in due time, Rhian. But donna worry, it shallna be nothin more than a request and a bit of your time."
Rhian slowly nodded. They came to the door of Caits magi down in the lower levels of the castle. She knocked and the door was opened a moment later. It was a kind gentleman with graying black hair and a somewhat big face and big hands for so lean of a body. "My Lord! And a beautiful companion you be bringin to my door! Come!" He waved them in enthusiastically. Cait told him of Rhians predicament and he nodded. "You be matchin her lordship? Then a good shot you be indeed." He motioned to a high table. "Sit and if you please remove your tunic so I may be feelin the muscles better."
Rhians brow furrowed at the thought of undressing, but she did as she was asked only to discreetly tuck her tunic about her front for proprieties sake.
Cait about sank to her knees at the sight of the half dressed woman with only a beautiful silver and emerald necklace about her throat. And it wasnt even her entirety. And so like in her dream she looked to her emerald green eyes and Rhian flushed. Cait leaned back against the magis work table as acted as if she was only a kin she had come to help while she berated herself. Things were happening too fast, she barely knew her. "Rhian, this is magi Ronan. Ronan this is Rhiannon Kelan, her brother is mated to Nara OBrennan."
He smiled. "Ach, Nara. Sharp tongued as ever?" Rhian smiled and Cait steadied herself as the green eyes twinkled. He chuckled. "I be knowin Lord Innis quite well." He looked to her face. "But I be rememberin one as fair as you of the Kelan clan."
Rhian looked up at him. "My branch of the Kelans be from Kel Glaghna up by Eire. I didna live in Versy but more than a summer round before comin to Teyrnon."
Ronan nodded. "I be hearin of Kel Glaghna. Tis a sad state, lass. I be truly sorry."
Rhian nodded once. "Thank you, magi. But tis gone and what can be done?"
Cait saw the pain in the green eyes. Ronan took her arms and felt the muscles through them and through her back and down to her waist. He gave Cait a disgusted look. "Tis a good thing I didna have to work on your men, Lady Cait. She is goin ta be a bit sore in the morn." He gently patted her shoulder. "But you be lookin fit, young lass. Even the scar doesna show to much."
He moved to his herb table and Cait came close avoiding to look at the fine pale skin and the scent of it she knew from her dream. "May I be seein this scar?" she asked. Rhian held out her right arm, the one that trembled so. A light line as thick as a cord coursed for the better part of her upper arm around the bicep. "Tis good it didna cut all the way through."
Rhian shrugged. "I be stoppin a good share of the blow with my sword. But his broadsword be reftin it in two and it stoppin at the bone. Draig be gettin me to a magi that lived but league out of town and she be repairin the muscle so I be usin it again. I can draw a bow but I donna be havin the strength to stand much against Draig with a sword anymore. I donna care to anyway."
Ronan peered at them as he worked, he had always believed he had a bit of the druid magick in him. But even a babe in arms could see what was building between them. The magi smiled and peered once more then away. Tis true, they are to be mated and it looked as if the Lord began to circle her prey.
He finished the ointment and brought it over in a small jar and handed it to the Cait. "If you donna mind it would be best for someone to soothe it into your muscles where you be restin for a spell. Twill burn slightly but only because of its heat from the comfrey. And once more in the evening and the ache will be but a slightness of a day then no more. And if Lady Cait doesna mind she might be helpin ya since I have put a good amount on her aches in her years. I would be suggestin you practice more or let your body rest before you be tryin that again."
Rhian nodded and quickly slid her shirt back on. "Thank you, Magi. I be doin as ya ask."
Rhian bid Cait into her room when she opened the door. Cait looked to see it was just as bare save a few items of a traveler. "You donna collect much by the way of personal things."
Rhian looked about. "Ach, to be lookin at my horse, though not a pretty sight she may be, a good saddle and strong bags be more important than adornments for the walls."
"You like to ride then?"
Rhian nodded as Cait motioned to the bed. "Aye, I was hopin I could be findin a place in your stables to work with the horses."
"And the more ladylike things?" Cait asked as Rhian sat and looked at her warily as she shed her tunic again to wrap it about herself once more before anything could really be seen. "Twould be best if you laid down, Rhian."
She did, on her belly, and Cait sat by her side and dug out a bit of the ointment and began to work it in to the aching muscles. Rhian closed her eyes and tried not to think of the dream, her hands were just as warm and soothing. "You could be askin Nara about my joy of sewing and the like of that. Tis a good thing to repair and hem well, but beyond that, ach. Give me a smart horse with sure, quick feet, and an open field any day."
Cait chuckled. Gods, Rhian was like she remembered. Soft warm skin and she kept to herself not to scare her by leaning over and kissing along her back to help soothe her aches. "Then you and I be thinkin alike. Four walls for all the day and I would be mad by the end of it." She took up some more ointment and knelt down and took up her right arm and rubbed the ointment in. She could see Rhian was beginning to fall asleep. "Tis a beautiful necklace you be havin. The emeralds be matchin your eyes."
Rhian looked to her. "Twas a gift from the old magi that I be givin you the book for." Cait had moved down all the way along her arm and massaged her fingers. "Gods, you are good at that," she mumbled out into the bedsheet as her eyes closed further.
Cait smiled. "I should be. I be havin it put on many a time when I was a wee lass. Even Nara was enlisted to be helpin a few times."
Rhian snorted lazily. "I wager she be givin ya a piece of her mind as well."
Cait chuckled as she moved around and did the other arm. "Aye, but kindhearted she is."
Rhian nodded slowly with her face half buried in the sheets on her bed. "Aye, I be thinkin she worries too much."
Cait smiled. "In general? Or about you?"
Rhian turned her head to look at her. "In general. Things will be gettin done, only she must argue about it anyway. And you be seein Draigs temper, now ya put them in the same house."
Cait stopped working for a bit as she envisioned that. "Begods..."
Rhian smiled. "Aye, twas keep the peace or get out before receivin a swat or two from one of them."
Cait chuckled. "I need to get the chest muscle." She touched her own muscles above her breasts to show what she meant. "Twill be sore as well."
Rhians brow furrowed a little but she rolled over and covered herself and Cait sat down on the edge of the bed again. She looked up into Rhians eyes and saw she was trying to figure her out. She smiled and rubbed the ointment in then sealed the lid. "I be leavin this here and come back tonight before bed and help again?"
Rhian nodded. "Thank you, Cait."
Cait smiled. "Might I be lookin at your necklace?" Rhian nodded again and moved to slip it off. "Stay, you are relaxed." She bent in and looked at the fine work and the pendant with the fox on it. She rubbed her thumb over it and she saw Rhian swallow hard. "Tis beautiful workmanship. And the fox... be remindin me of you. Tis a beautiful creature and most be thinkin it for show but tis quick and wily." She looked to the runes about the edges and gently replaced it to her throat. She smiled and brushed back a bit of red-gold hair as Rhians eyes began to close. "Sleep well my pretty fox," she whispered. Rhian looked startled at that but sleep overcame her and Cait leaned over as impulse took her and lightly kissed her lips. "Soon," she said softly then rose and tucked her in with a warm blanket and watched her for a moment before she left.
Two servants were at the end of the hallway and they both bowed to her. "Aine, Nara has put you as Rhiannons maid?"
The pretty young woman nodded. "Yes, milord."
She nodded. "Good. I be wantin you to find the chatelaine and tell her to be havin Rhian fitted for dresses. Deirdre should be close at hand. Once she be havin a few for wear about the castle I be wantin to see the dressmaker in my study before the day is out."
Aine nodded. "Aye, milord." She scurried away.
"Aye, tis well she shot," Rhian heard softly spoken about her as she struggled to wake. "If it werena for the wound to her arm I be thinkin she would equal her." It was Draig.
Rhian slowly blinked to see Nara and Draig to the side of the bed. They looked down on her. "How you be feelin, love?" Nara asked.
Rhian nodded. "Better, the ache is less."
Nara snorted. "Ach, tis a good thing twas Cait that be doin it then. She be knowin all about aches and pains from training so hard." She motioned to Draig. "You be off, you be wantin to look good for the warchief and now tis womens stuff we do."
Rhian sat up and saw four women in an open area of the room. She looked to Nara who answered. "Tis Deirdre the finest dressmaker in the castle. Cait be sendin her and I be hearin you agreed to wear a dress to supper some evening soon." With that statement Naras eyebrows went up in surprise and waited for an answer.
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Begods, twas a favor she be askin. I didna think she would remember, let alone be gettin to it so soon."
Nara gave her a look. "I be tellin you somethin, Rhian. Cait be forgettin nothin. Tis a favor she asks, she never be askin lightly. But you be havin a marker now and if you be askin one of her she be grantin it." She looked to the women fussing about and sat down on the bed and looked to her close. "Rhian, who be you dreamin about last night?" Rhian looked to the covers. "Twas Cait?" Came the softly asked guess. Rhian blushed. "Twas real?" Nara asked.
Rhian looked up. "Did seem real, Nara. But it canna happen. I willna be losin someone else. And she be the lord of the castle. Tis a fools dream," she whispered softly.
Naras face screwed up a little as she thought. "Tell me, Rhian. What do you be feelin when she be near?"
Rhian looked thoughtful. "Nervous, shy, wary of what she be feelin about me." She glanced at her. "Please tell me this isna love, Nara. My stomach aches to hard."
Nara chuckled more fully and cupped her cheek. "Do you be thinkin if she courts ya, you can resist?"
Rhian swallowed hard at the thought of the beautiful dark headed woman feeling the same about her. "I donna know... maybe?"
"Then I be waitin to see how well you fend her off. Because the attraction is mutual, and she be Lord of the city and you be a subject. She doesna take no for an answer."
Rhian laid back down. "I should have stayed in Versy," she sighed.
Nara patted her thigh. "Well you be done for regardless if this comes to head. She knows of you and you canna run anywhere she willna find you. So get up and be fitted for a dress."
She did with a little more prodding. Deirdre had her strip completely making Rhiannon blush and the women lustful and envious at the same time. Nara supervised and she was pleased with Rhians curvy but athletic form. Slightly heavy breasts, a nice but not over generous hip settled below a trim waist and full, round, firm buttocks and well formed thighs that took the silken cloth to her form and made her even more desirable. Two gowns. One in deep green like her eyes and another in cream white soft linen with deep red trim that set off the red in her hair. Both, they agreed with a low waist to ride her hips and a comfortable but form fitting top and a little low cut and curved to show her nice cleavage. Laces down the front to tie up once on, since Rhian was totally set on dressing herself. And deep sleeves with a bell cuff. Pinned on she looked into the mirror.
"Begods, I still be naked." They laughed and she smiled and looked to Deirdre. "May I be askin for a steel plate put in back to stop the unseeming pinches that twill most likely bruise my poor behind if I be goin out in ta the crowd like this?"
Deirdre smiled. She was into her fifties and she looked to be well set with an overbearing girth. "Ach no. Tis payback from those who donna look as beautiful as ya."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Tis no fault of my own, good lady."
"Then tis no fault of my own that your bottom be getting a good pinch from an admirer," the dressmaker shot back with good humor.
The dresses would be ready by the next day and Rhian begged out of supper in the hall. She was still stiff and didnt want to have to fidget under Caits gaze now that she admitted to herself she liked the woman and that the woman liked her. She rested on her bed as Nara said she would have something sent up from the kitchen.
Pretty fox. Gods, she called her that just like Old Jace said. She tried to think about the idea of being mated to Cait. She would be Lady Rhiannon. She smiled. Begods, how silly. And what of later on when she came back before bed to work the ointment in again knowing what she knew now? She fingered her necklace. Old Jace said she would know the runes if she were truly to be her mate. She thought to the idea of curling up in her arms at night and having the beautiful woman bed her like in her dream. Gods, she wanted it. But in the same instance she didnt. If she gave herself to Cait and something were to happen to her... it would kill her. And there could be no heir save kin since she couldnt bear her one since only she could get her with child as her Lord. And that was impossible since they were both women.
She rolled onto her side and curled up. And she would have duties about the castle and to Cait and her freedom to ride and work in the stables, gone... She frowned. Going back to Versy didnt seem so bad anymore.
Dark had come and Rhian pulled herself out of her reverie. She didnt know what she was going to do about any of this, but at the moment she was hungry and nothing had come so she pulled her boots on, combed her hair and headed for the kitchen. As always it was down and in the back of the castle with a huge heavy door leading to an entrance for supplies to come and a few others going out to all over the castle. She knew the serving of the hall would be over and dessert left. The kitchen was noisy and there was yelling and hollering. Rhian dared a slight peek. An angry man with a portly belly the size of a boulder was yelling at a well set woman in an apron and she was holding her own by yelling back. The door squeaked a little and the two looked at her as all the underlings scurried away now that their attention was on someone else.
"Begods! Not another one!" the man yelled. "Away with you harlot!" Rhian blinked confused. Who was he calling a harlot? He thundered across the kitchen. "Did ya na hear me?! Away!"
That was enough for her and she backpedaled back up the stairs. Well... she had never seen the city itself. Maybe it was time. She grinned and felt her purse tucked underneath her belt. She had enough for supper and maybe a few small items she needed and she would get a treat for Ula. She headed back to her room for her long dagger, which she placed at the small of her back so it wasnt so noticeable. She tied her hair back and her travel cloak and headed for the gate. The guards noticed her too well.
"My lady," they both bowed and the woman guard at the gatehouse looked down and smiled.
She nodded. "Good sirs. The gate isna closed so early, is it?"
They looked concerned. "Tisna good to be roamin the streets after dark, milady," one said to her.
She smiled. "Only to be stoppin at a vendor good sir. Twill only be gone a moment."
The guards eyes narrowed as he looked the slim young woman over. "I donna know, milady. For one as fine as yourself."
Rhian smiled as the dagger slid out and she flicked it around easily. "I be knowin my way around the streets. Tis the first time for me livin in a castle."
"Ach, my head if you are hurt," the guard replied. There had been talk in the barracks about the beauty, and about her in Lord Caitlins presence for the better part of the day.
Rhian smiled. "Hardly. Tis only through my kins mate that I be here. Twill be none the wiser that I even be gone."
Even with their misgivings he let her through. She made it through the gate and into the city. This was better. Cutthroats, thieves, whores, common folk... and no Cait around to confuse her thoughts for the time being. She set off making sure her purse and dagger were hidden and secure. She found a respectable inn. Inns she knew very well and she found a seat to herself in the back.
A man well dressed in home spun clothes with a bit of boughten mixed in to show his place did fairly well came up with a half apron on slung about his waist, it was a little smudged and dirty from a hard days work. "Aye, lass. What can I do for ye?"
"Whatever be you havin for dinner," she told him.
He looked her over. "Be ye clan blood?" Clan was nobility and though many didnt belong to a clan, people dressed nicer with noble kin on the lording seat.
She nodded. "Aye, Kelan. But I didna grow up here. In the northlands, my da was an innkeeper and the head of the branch. Your place be remindin me of it."
That got him interested. There were branches even of the OBrennans out of Caerloach. But it was rare that they go. "Who be your da?"
"Weylin Padraig Kelan," Rhian told him as she sat back watching the familiar scene and relaxing in the atmosphere she enjoyed.
The innkeeper looked thoughtful. "From Kel Glaghna?"
Now it was Rhiannons turn to be interested. "Aye."
He smiled at her. "Did journey north for a spell ten summers ago to Eire. Dirty place it tis. Me wife be from there. Found Kel Glaghna and did think of stayin."
A shadow formed over Rhians face for a moment. "Tis good you didna."
He nodded. "All of Versy and Teyrnon be mournin the massacre of Kel Glaghna. Though I didna know there be any to come from it alive."
Rhian looked his way. "Me and my brother tis all."
He patted her shoulder with a strong hand and she winced to herself since it was stiff. "Where you be stayin?"
She sighed. "At the castle. My brothers mate tis the Lady Chatelaine to Lord OBrennan. But I be tellin you, tis common folk I prefer to be around. You know what be comin and puts me well to ease."
He laughed. "Aye, but all of Teyrnon is proud of our Cat of Caerloach. And a fine woman she is. I be thinkin she be a better Lord of the city than her da. May he rest in peace."
Rhian nodded. "That she is. I have nothin but respect for the her." He moved off to get her food and Rhian almost wanted to put her head down on the table. Nothing but respect... and passion, desire, longing, awe, fear... the images of her dreams came again and she shivered. "Begods," she whispered.
She was halfway through a nice dinner of meat stew with a chewy flavorful slice of bread when a poor looking family came in, not much better than street fair. She remembered when Draig took her to Eire with nothing but their name. He got on as a common soldier working for almost nothing to pay for a room at a hovel of an inn and enough for a magi and elixirs to help her heal and the two to eat. She cried in his arms every night at the horrors of her nightmares and the pain in her arm didnt help any. She looked to this family. Three small children and the mother was with child again. The father looked in earnest for anything that could help. Work, a bit of food, whatever the innkeeper would give them. The innkeeper didnt have much but she didnt blame him. He had mouths to feed too. She wasnt hungry anymore. She stood and the innkeeper came over. "Is somethin amiss?"
She smiled. "Nay, twas good, good sir. But I feel others be needin it more." She handed him a few coppers and a silver coin, almost all she had. "Give them what they need for their meal and a room if you would. And if the man has any soldier skills to find Draig Kelan at the barracks in the morning to be seein if he can get on."
He looked to the coins and fisted them. "Tis a kind person you are, milady. Most wouldna care."
She nodded. "Tis a place I have been I donna want to be seein others suffer when I be doin what I can help. At least in my own small way."
The innkeeper looked a little stunned with awe at her. "May I be knowin your name milady?"
She smiled softly. "Tisna important, good sir. I hope to be seein you again."
She left and the man watched her leave and his mate came up. "Has put me to shame, she has," he told her.
He looked to the coins, a third his night take and he had seen that her purse was not that full. "Get some supper for these folk, Moreen. And have Egan clean up the large room for them to sleep in for the next day or so." The young family looked to him surprised. "Tis a good woman and a fine lady that you should be thankin the gods tonight for."
Rhian sighed. Well that took out most of anything she planned but at least she so wasnt hungry. And she felt pretty good. She found a late apple vendor with bright red ones. The woman looked almost to peasant class. "Apples? Milady?"
She smiled. "Aye, how much?"
"Five a half copper," came the grateful reply.
"Tis a fair price, good lady." She pulled out her purse. "Much business this eve?"
"Ach no, milady." She smiled. The beautiful woman had address her as a commoner and they both knew she wasnt. "Tisna the best, the crisp ones come in fall. But I make do wiv what I can."
"Tis a rough journey." She handed over the half copper and the lady let her pick her own. She slid three into a pocket in her cloak and carried the other two. She saw a young child no more than four behind the old woman. "I hope I donna sound misplaced, good lady. But tis yours?"
The woman cackled a laugh and Rhian smiled at the amused tone. "Nay, milady. Tis a waif me daughter be leavin from her whorin days before she be catchin the runs and passed on but two summers back."
Rhian looked to the child. It was so dirty she couldnt tell whether it was a boy or a girl. And it didnt look healthy. She knew the woman couldnt afford a midwife to care for it. "Do you be livin on the streets?"
The old woman shook her head. "Nay, a shack to the slums, milady. I canna care for the babe from the pain in me back. He must toddle after me an the cart."
Rhian looked to her. "I wish to be helpin if I may?"
This got her a surprised look. "How so?"
With her mind set on the woman and boy she tucked her cloak in the cart and helped them home then straightened up and cleaned the boy. Begods, he was infested with everything and she did the best she could. She made the woman tea and found the cleanest blanket she could and covered her lap and put the child to bed with a story. She gave her, her last coppers.
Rhian smiled at her. "Mayhaps this be enough for a laundress and midwife for the boy. I be comin back to see what I may be doin further, if I might?"
The woman smiled gratefully. "Tis sent from the gods you are. Never anyone be carin like you be for a peasant and a sick lad."
Rhian smiled and patted her hand. "I must get back lest I be in for it."
The woman grinned. "Aye, the gates be closin soon. You be stuck on this side if they are."
Rhian said farewell and hurried off with her cloak in hand. The guard was waiting as she ran up and they breathed a sigh of relief. "Tis best you hurry. All be goin to bed soon, youll na want to be missed."
She smiled at them. "Thank you," she said gratefully.
They nodded and noticed her clothes were dirty. She made it up the back steps to hear a thunderous. "What do you mean shes not in the castle?!" That was neither Nara nor Draig. It was the Cait. Damn. Rhian set her shoulders. She didnt run her life. And she was fine. She kept on to her room only to be faced by the dark headed woman who came around the corner and the hard blue eyes filled with worry and anger locked onto her.
"Begods, young woman! Where have you been?!" Cait said angrily through clenched teeth. Her voice was deep and dark showing she was not pleased and a tremor of fear shivered through Rhians spine at the timbre catching something deep down inside showing that it was pure fear in Caits voice.
"Out. Did you be needin somethin?" Rhiannon asked with a calm voice and polite air about her, showing that she wasnt going to let her intimidate her even though she was.
Caitlin looked to the woman. She looked like she had been doing hard labor, and though her eyes were wary she was okay. "You didna tell anyone you were leavin! And you left alone in the night!" she replied a little more calmly but the darkness in her voice was still there.
Rhian set into a defensive mode and glared back. "Twas the middle of the city. And there was na one to be tellin. And Im fine, my Lord."
Cait did the unexpected and hugged her close. "Gods, you be scarin me, Rhiannon Kelan. Donna do that again, I beg you," she said fiercely with a passion of worry to her voice.
"As you wish, my Lord," Rhian replied. Gods it felt good to be held by her as she felt the strength and tension in the strong arms about her. All the reserve to argue back was gone and it was gone from Cait as well as she leaned in closer to catch a soft scent of warm leather and spice.
"You be needin a bath," Cait said holding her back. "What have you been doin?"
Draig came around the corner and breathed a sigh of relief to see her there. "Rhian, where in the bloody hell did..." He looked to her clothing. "Who did you be findin now?"
Cait looked to him then to Rhian. "What be this?"
Draig shook his head. "What be it, sprite? Not enough peasants in a castle to be keepin you busy?"
Rhian glared at him. "Tis not all peasants, you big bear! And donna you be talkin bad about them. They did nothin wrong for their lot."
Cait cleared her throat before the siblings started arguing. She still had a hold of Rhians arms. "What be the two of you talkin about?"
Rhian glared silently at Draig. "Ach, dont you be brooding at me, sprite," he said. He looked to Cait. "Forgive me, my Lord. Rhian has always been, by nature, very generous. I canna take her anywhere unless she be helpin a couple of the downtrodden on the way."
That got him a hard kick in the shins from his sister and he grimaced leaning to the side to grasp where it hurt. Cait chuckled as she clasped her arms about Rhian and held her from doing him anymore harm. "Tis a quick one you be my pretty fox," she whispered to her. Rhian went still and Caitlin looked to Draig. "Best have Nara look to your leg. Ill get Rhian to a bath and see if her clothes are salvageable."
Draig snorted and flexed his knee at the sharp pain shooting up it. "Tis a good thing you be runnin fast, Rhian. And her clothes be salvageable, lest she be wantin to tell Nara why na. Ask Nara, shell find someone who can take care of them." He left with a limp and Rhian hadnt moved.
"What ails you?" Cait asked after a moment and she noticed that Rhian had not relaxed that much in her arms.
Rhian moved a little and Cait had to let her go or hold her tighter which was exactly what she wanted to do. "Tis nothin. I be findin a bath myself, but thank you," she said quietly.
Cait nodded seeing that Rhian was uncertain about everything between the two of them. "I be comin by later and finish the ointment in your sore muscles then."
Rhian looked like she was going to say no when she saw the glint in Caits eyes daring her to refuse. Slowly she nodded. "Very well." She stepped out of her reach and quickly headed for her rooms.
Cait scrunched up her face a little in thought. "Tis odd," she said to herself. "I be havin the feelin my pretty fox has been dreamin the same thing as myself." She tapped her lip lightly with her fingertips in thought as she muttered softly out loud to herself. "And her bear of a brother wouldna be tellin her about the talk in the training field... Nara..." She rolled her eyes figuring out who had let Rhian in on it. "So be it, she knows I be desirin her. I be knowin tis somethin she be feelin for me. Begods what that might be..." her eyes drifted a little in thought.
"Milord?" A servant said from behind her.
Cait turned and looked at him. "Aye?" she said smoothly as though she had known he was there.
He looked around. There was no one for her to talk too. "Did you be needin somethin?"
She looked over his head at the wall since she was taller than him. "Send a bath up to Rhians room. And have Aine take care of her needs."
He nodded and left, still with a confused look on his face at his lords talking to no one.
Cait watched him go. She hadnt heard him. When she thought about it, her extraordinary senses had picked him up but she had been too preoccupied with Rhian and herself. She looked to the ceiling as though she could see the heavens. "If you be bewitchin me with the lady at least be lettin me have my senses to keep us both alive for a good long while," she muttered to any of the gods that might be listening.
Rhian was combing out her long, wet hair when there was a slight knock at the door. She was dressed in her nightgown and the servants had taken the bath she used away and Aine had gone off tsking about her dirty clothes. She moved to the door and opened it to find Cait there. Her heart went still for a moment as the dark haired beauty smiled.
"Ready?" she asked quietly with a warm, rich tone that made Rhian almost sigh out loud.
"Um, sure," Rhian said in a very unsure voice.
Cait came in and Rhian looked at her for a moment before she blinked back into her normal mind and shut the door. Cait found the ointment where she had left it and turned back to her. "You be lookin much cleaner."
Rhian nodded, still a little out of it. "I be feelin cleaner."
Cait smiled noticing the odd detached sound like she was stunned. Not that she hadnt done that to a woman before. She cleared her throated and Rhian totally snapped out of it. "Shall we?" Cait asked holding up the bottle.
Cait was impressed with how Rhian got her nightshirt to her waist and she didnt see a bit of curved chest. She settled down on the edge of the bed and began to work the ointment in on the supine woman. "So, what was it you be doin out in the city this eve?"
Rhian opened her eyes just a little. Caits hands felt so good on her back. Stop it! she told herself. None of that! "Nothin much," she answered vaguely.
Cait looked at her oddly. "Nothin much be getting your tunic that dirty? Begods, you must look a fright when actually doin something."
Rhian smiled and chuckled softly making Cait smiled back as she rubbed lower on her back into the graceful curve of her spine, and Rhian did sigh as Cait released some of the nagging ache that sat there. The two were in a comfortable silence as Cait worked on her arms. "Roll over," she said to the relaxed young woman.
She did without a second thought and Cait moved over her to get the upper chest muscles as Rhian opened her eyes and the flash of the dream she had last night came to her mind where they were in the same positions. She gasped and Cait gave her a soft smile. "You be havin the dream," she said softly. She leaned over sliding her strong hands beneath Rhians back to lower herself slightly against her body and she kissed her. It was a soft, tender kiss. One filled with promises of many more to come. Blue eyes gazed into green for a space in time. Cait kissed her once more then she was gone.
Rhian blinked as the door shut quietly. What just happened? She covered her eyes in disbelief at the way that kiss made her feel. She looked down to see that she was bare from the waist up. She had been so relaxed by the ladys presence and so caught off guard by those eyes and that kiss. And then she left... Rhian sat up and looked around, the ointment forgotten on the side of the bed and she was all alone.
"She left," she whispered softly. Was she relieved or hurt by the sudden departure?
Caitlin OBrennan paced in her chambers. They were huge and decorated pretty much like how her father had left them. In rich red colors of the OBrennan clan with a huge master bed and a space for study and work as the lord of the castle needed. Another space for sitting by the fire in comfortable chairs and a separate space for bathing. And the last, the presses with clothing. She paced from one end to the other. Her face indecisive. What was that?! She had the most gorgeous woman she had ever seen in her arms in a soft, beautiful setting and she left!
She glared at the ceiling. "I donna know what be goin on, but begods you better be makin good of this!" she hissed like a cat that had struck and missed its prey.
Cait crumpled into her favorite chair and stared at the fire as she gnawed lightly on her clenched fist. Right at that moment she would of had Rhian deep in the bed covers. Kissing and stroking and... she growled in frustration. She couldnt go back, as much as she wanted to just stalk right back down the hall... the mood was gone and Rhian... she didnt know what the gentle red head would think of this. Cait leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and she rubbed her face and stared into the fire more. It was going to be a long night.
Rhian tightened the cinch on Ulas saddle. Her horse looked back at her as to her mistress anger. Rhian grunted. "Doncha be lookin to me like that, Ula." She looked up at the castle still in the predawn darkness of early morning and pressed her forehead against the care worn leather. The dream had come again and like the night before she had woken up in a sweat. And the kisses Cait had bestowed on her... "Tis a curse, you think?" she whispered to her horse. Ula snorted out a little hay. "Aye, I be thinkin that too." Rhian agreed.
She checked her long dagger and her bow and quiver of arrows. She had to get away, even for the day, from Teyrnon and the enchanting blue eyes and soft touch of the beautiful Cait. She looked through her saddlebags and found enough there to last her and she absconded a few coins from Draig to buy a few things in the market since it seemed like the kitchen was off limits.
"Whatcha be doin?" a firm but kind voice asked.
Rhian jumped slightly at the voice and turned to see the woman from the kitchens yesterday. The one the man had been yelling at and then had yelled at him. "Nothin, just takin my horse for a ride."
The womans brow furrowed. "You were the one at the door last eve."
Rhian nodded slowly. "Aye."
The woman looked her over. "Ronald has a lashin tongue. And you donna look like a harlot." Rhian was silent. "What be your name?"
Rhian looked to the dark brown headed woman. She was a bit on the heavy side and she was slightly pretty and her face seemed trusting. "Rhiannon Kelan."
The woman nodded knowingly. "Ach, a Kelan. Naras kin?"
Rhian nodded. "Tis my brothers mate, she is."
The woman smiled and she was much more pretty. "I be Annwn Moore. Head Cook of the castle."
Rhian nodded again. "A pleasure."
Annwn looked to the beautiful, slight young woman. "Tis still dark out. And I havna made breakfast. And you look to be settin out for an all day ride."
Rhian shrugged. "So it tis."
Annwn watched her a little more closely. "You plan to be goin out hungry then?"
Rhian glanced at her. "A bow tis better than for just shootin targets."
Annwn gave her a stern look. "Ach, Nara would be havin me head on a platter if you went with no breakfast and somethin in your pack for midday."
Rhian shrugged again. "Donna worry yourself over that. I be takin care of myself."
Annwn snorted. "I donna doubt that. But I willna be sendin a young, slight thing like you off with nothin in your belly." Rhian looked like she was going to argue and the heavy cook held up a finger to stop her from commenting. "Ach, you may be Kelan, and tis respected in the OBrennan clan. But you be a mite to my summers gone I willna take any lip over it."
Rhian saw she meant it and she moved from her horse. "For a moment then."
Annwn looked her over. "Tis no softness on ya cept what the gods gave ya. Just like Lady Cait only she be workin most of that off as well." She headed for a nearby door and Rhian followed her in.
The huge kitchen for the castle was bustling with servants and undercooks to Annwn. There was a large empty table near the huge fireplace back in one corner. "Be sittin yourself unless you be wantin to help."
Rhian raised an eyebrow. "What help would that be?"
Annwn looked to see she was serious. "None, now that I know you be na a lazy one like most clan women in the castle. Twould be a delight to see Lady Cait get them up and do some good about the place." She waved to the empty table. "Be seatin yourself." Rhian did, taking off her cloak and laying it to one side. "Do ya always wear weapons about?"
Rhian felt the dagger at the small of her back. "Nay, outside tis a must."
Annwn looked to her as she sliced some hot bread. "So you know how to use it then."
Rhian nodded. "Growing up with three older brother and my da. I didna have much of a choice."
Annwn swatted the back of a young mans head that was watching Rhian instead of his work. "Lonnie, what ya doin?! Donna be staring at the lady when theres work to be done!" The young man scuttled away. "And donna be starin at her so anyway!" she finished. "Begods! You think hed have seen a beauty such as yourself before now."
Rhian looked to the table. "Im surprised most donna look at Cait that way."
Annwn looked at her and most of the people in the kitchen were wary. "Ach, tis a roamin eye that be getting ya a black one soon after Rhiannon."
Rhian looked up. "Rhian, if you dont mind."
Annwn smiled and set a trencher of bread soaked in a thin gravy with thick slices of meat on top of that in front of her. "Rhian is tis then. But ya are right about the Lady. Tis a beauty she is. But tis a handful of fierceness in her as well. She be na called the Cat of Caerloach for nothin." Rhian nodded as her mouth began to water at the delightful aroma of the meal in front of her. She sliced the meat and the bread through and took a bite and Annwn looked to the beatific look on Rhians face and laughed. "Tis a good thing I be callin ya in." Rhian smiled as she chewed. "And donna let that pompous ass Ronald be drivin ya out. Hes scared ta death of Nara. And I be thinkin Cait would have a few words with how he be treatin the women of the castle." She snorted as she set down a glass of warm milk by Rhian. "Harlots, begods. Twas harlots about, Cait would be sendin them away."
Rhian ate as she listened to Annwn tell about the castle and the people in it. She finished the whole trencher off and felt much better than she had before. She waited for Annwn to stop talking to get a word in edgewise. "How long have you been at Teyrnon?"
Annwn looked to her. "Goin on about twenty summers now. Came in when both Cait and Nara were to me thigh. Even then Cait twas a wild one."
Slowly servants started to send trays about through the castle as people started to rise, Rhian stood ready to pick up her used plate to help. "Donna worry about that," Annwn told her. She handed her a good sized parcel filled with food for at least three people for a meal. "Are ye goin with someone?"
Rhian slightly shook her head. "Im used to bein off to myself for a spell."
Annwn nodded. "Then the castle is a might different than what ya be use too. And donna go too far out. Raiders and a bad lot they be wanderin about. Tisna safe for anyone."
Rhian nodded slowly. "Aye, thank you Annwn. Twas a delightful breakfast and conversation."
Annwn smiled. "Tis good to have one who enjoys me cookin. Cait would eat anythin as long as it werent burnt nor raw. Though the raw I might be thinkin twice about." She touched her arm gently. "Come here for a meal anytime, Rhian."
Rhian smiled. "Thank you." She headed out and Annwn watched as she untied her horse in the dawning light and mounted easily.
It wasnt too long before Nara herself came looking for Rhian only to find out she had gone riding. Annwn could see Rhian was confused at being here. What was more intriguing was when Cait come down a moment later after Nara had left to ask if she knew where Rhian had gone riding too. Annwn smiled to herself as she rested from her busy morning with a cup of cold cider to the look on Caits face and the curious one from Rhian about the Lord. She chuckled softly and thought about a pool to be going for the couple.
Rhian made it out of the castle gates easily enough since it was a new watch and they didnt know her. Carts were being pulled out and a few early risers out on the streets to begin a new day. She nodded to a few people who nodded in respect to someone from the castle. She made it easily through the cobblestone streets to the city gates, which had just opened.
The head guard looked to the young woman and saw she was alone. "Tis dangerous out on your own, milady. Lots of raiders through the pass and none of them be lookin with a kind eye to ya."
Rhian nodded and patted her horse. "Thank you for the warning, but I donna plan to be goin near any raiders today."
The guards looked past the beautiful face to the shy humor and they smiled. "Stay toward the road. Plenty of scouts and guards to watch the travelers, milady."
Rhian nodded. "I be doin just that."
Once they were out of sight she let Ula pick her pace, which was a nice easy canter. Rhian sighed. The sun was climbing and the slight chill of the morning wind flowed through her hair. She saw the beautiful glade to the west of the city walls and sighed. She had only gone to the edge but it was a sight to behold with its ancient trees and high grasses that could whip about your knees. And she could have sworn she heard a waterfall back within the mountainside. She blinked as she caught her breath looking at it even from where she stood now. The glade was the area in her dream. She clenched her fist holding the reins and swung Ula to go closer off the road.
The trees were just like she saw and the grass was still wet with dew, but not as heavy as in her dream. She shivered and looked to the castle, which now outside the walls werent that far away. She hadnt seen the glade in this much detail when she passed by a few days back. She swung Ula back and headed for safe ground for them to ride on. She looked back once more and shivered as her body responded to her thoughts. "I be thinkin a cold bath might be in need, Ula," she said to her horse.
Cait reined in her horse, Kynthelig or Kyn as she called him, a giant russet colored stallion, as she neared the forest glade just west of the city gates. She knew she wasnt too far behind Rhian since she had started out a short while after she found the young blond had left on her own.
She was dressed for the ride in her normal fair of high boots, leggings and a heavy tunic. But to that she wore a thick leather weapons belt slung over her right shoulder, carrying not only her broadsword but also a full quiver of arrows and a strung longbow. Cait was never one to be unprepared with daggers and throwing knives about her person and she had an axe strapped to Kyns saddle.
She looked to the glade and a small curl of her lip formed to one side. Just enough to show that she had the same dream again last night that had taken place here. And she was sure Rhiannon had also. That dream,... she was holding it to the gods that it was granted, especially after last night as she tossed and turned and paced and stared for long hours into the fire. And now Rhian had left the city gates early that morning. Probably meaning she was just as agitated as herself.
Cait knew she should have dressed Annwn down about stopping Rhian. Actually she wanted to wipe that little smirk off the head cooks face. If there was one thing she knew, Annwn could spot things from a good ways away and the look on Caits face when she came in that morning... she grunted to herself as she nudged on Kyns reins to move on. She had left her entourage behind in the city. Not that she wanted one, but she found with the title came the kin, and the soldiers, and the running of the city. Her youthful days of gallivanting around the Caerloach and Ireland were pretty much gone with her da passing so sudden. That had been hard on her. Malcolm had helped a little and Maughan... She was sorely tempted to just throttle her cousin for doing such a thing as trying to deface her father. Cait was comforted that Nara had come to help her. The two had grown up together and she knew that Nara wouldnt take her role in the fortress lightly. She was happy that her cousin found someone, she still couldnt believe they had about the same temper and she wondered just what these offspring of theirs were going to be like. That shifted her mind back to Rhian. She found she didnt mind staying to home if the young strawberry blond was part of the picture. It wouldnt be dull, that was for certain.
Cait turned her head slightly as the wind picked up a little from across the small open fields that were interspersed throughout the mountains. She closed her eyes and let the essence of the forest drift through her as she picked out what she was looking for. The smell of wildflowers and.. sunshine. Cait rolled mental eyes at herself. And she thought other people falling in love was mushy... Begods... she was becoming a big mushball right there. Sunshine, she snorted and Kyn looked back for a moment. Cait made a firm note to herself that she wouldnt repeat that to anyone anytime soon as she followed her senses looking for the object of her desire.
She had a valid excuse to follow the lovely young lady. First, most didnt go riding off alone. Too many raiders, too many wildcats and boars. There were just too many things that loved to live in the Caerloach mountains that could easily kill a person that wasnt careful. And second... well, shed think one up if she needed too.
Rhian let Ulas reins slack off as they found short open fields scattered about and let her run to her hearts content as she forgot about everyone and everything of the past few days as the wind whipped her hair back with Ulas sprint for the other side of the small field. Soon she had to pull her up before they hit the dense forests. "Ya canna run through trees, Ula. And I donna wish to be a part of the scenery any time soon."
Her mare snorted as she slowed down and Rhian chuckled softly as she made her way through the trees looking for the next open field. Soon she would stop and begin to make her way back. But she felt better. A good run out in the open... she sighed. "Come on, I hear water." Ulas ears perked up at that as Rhian led her down a short hill to a good sized stream. She slid off her mount and crouched down on a nearby rock and cupped the freezing cold water that came down from the high peaks of the mountains. She sipped and watched her surroundings. She looked farther down stream and watched curiously at an old woman far in her years washing clothes in the stream. Rhians brow furrowed. It was a bloody old shirt and the woman glanced her way with no concern in her eyes. Could she be part of the raiders group? A slave or a worker? She slowly stood and took Ulas reins looking back to make sure her horse was coming only to look to the woman and find she was gone.
Rhian led her horse downstream a bit and found that nothing marked the womans presence. The grass wasnt crushed where she knew the woman had knelt and the dirt wasnt wet where she had brought up the sodden shirt to wash it. "Tis odd these woods, Ula," she whispered not daring herself to break the still of the forest. It was then that she heard it.
It was faint, but it wasnt a normal forest noise. It was human, and it sounded like trouble. She nudged Ula to her right and mounted her horse and headed back towards the road.
Rhian slowed her horse down when she heard the sound of metal clanging with another. That noise she knew all too well. Shifting slightly in her saddle she found the comforting feel of her strung bow and saw her quiver of arrows to her left knee in front of the saddle. Ula sidestepped slightly, nodding a few times she whinnied softly as the smell of blood caught her senses. Rhian kneed her to move in closer as the screams and curses in the air made her move forward to see.
Three wagons were jumbled together in a mess on the road. The horses that had pulled them were fighting furiously to get free from their harnesses and away from the men in black breeches and short cut, shock white hair. The mens faces were painted blue and they looked like demons spawned in the otherworld that had come to earth as they let out piercing cries to frighten the travelers that were huddled in the center of the disarray.
Raiders, Rhian swallowed hard as she saw two of the travelers men in the group were down and very much dead, both in heavy tunics and sword belts. They had been the armed men of the group. One of the wagons had been tipped and the load inside was scattered about the roadside with all of the remaining travelers huddled back behind one of the overturned carts. Four men and two women. One of the men was brandishing a sword and she could tell from the way he held it that he didnt know how to use it. One of the other men stood out a little in the crowd. He was a rather heavyset man, dressed in garish clothing that didnt look like anything from these parts. A few rings on his fingers and a necklace or two. He was very bald and very nervous.
"Please, take what you want and leave us!" he begged. His voice showing that he wasnt from Ireland.
One of the men on horse back laughed as he nudged his horse in closer. "Why should I?" he sneered in contempt.
The man looked confused for a moment then looked the raider over quickly. "I can see that youre a smart man. What with your pillaging and all... and that must get hard sleeping on the ground all the time... Heaven knows I cant stand it." His voice increased in speed and height as he spoke and the raider came closer. He pulled out a garish rug, just like his own clothes. "See, this is from India, very fine and soft. And out here in the woods with the sticks and rocks..." He shuddered for show. "I use one of these and I sleep like a baby!" He patted the piece. "And you cant find one around here like this."
The raider came up and touched the tip of his sword underneath the bald mans double chin forcing him to look up at him as a small prick of blood came out from the sharp edge at the mans throat. "I can ave what I be wantin. I donna need you to be sellin it to me. Cause I donna plan to pay you anythin for it!" He grinned wickedly and his men laughed. "And even though you amuse me, I donna think I want ya tellin others about me and my men. Ive the bloody bitch of Teyrnon huntin for us, and I donna want to be seein the inside of her dungeon or the rope of a hangmans noose."
"Wasnt thinking of doing that in the first place," the man tried to appease to him.
"Aye, right you werena. Bastard foreigner," he cursed at him. "Got enough of the likes of ya comin on ta our land and sayin tis for the better."
Rhian felt ill as she listened to the exchange between the two of them. They most likely werent going to let them live. She reached for her bow and saw that her hands were trembling. She hadnt killed anything since that day over two years ago. Even she had surprised herself with the rage that consumed her to kill another. It wasnt until after that, that she felt the sick revulsion in her stomach of taking another life. Draig was the only one that had been there for that too.
Rhian clenched her fists. No one was around to help these people except her. What choice did she have? She drew out an arrow and nocked the small well on the end of it onto the string. She steadied her fist in a tight grip about the center of the bow and drew the string back to her cheek to anchor her shot. She aimed and prayed to the gods to forgive her for taking more lives. She released her fingers holding the string and felt the energy from the shaft and line as the arrow flew from her bow at the head raiders back. She watched as time slowed for her as the arrow spun on its deadly course to the unprotected back. The man shifted and the arrow sank into his shoulder.
Rhian blinked in shock as time sped up instantly and the man cried out and looked to the arrow piercing his skin, the shaft buried about a fourth of the way in. She missed... It had been directly on target and it missed. She looked to the man and he saw her. His lip curled up and his eyes became a menacing glare. "Get her!" he yelled to his men as he reached back and broke the shaft from his back.
Rhians eyes went wide as she turned her horse and headed for the road. Well, she got them away from the travelers. She heard the group of men ride after her with the same fierce yell and she began to wonder if she had done the right thing.
She rode hard looking back to see that she had a good lead on them for the time being. She looked ahead and saw that a nearby field only led back into dense forests and from there it headed up. If she rode through them shed come out close to the road and the gates of Teyrnon. It was the forests where they would catch her if she wasnt on the stick and watching her horses movements. She clenched her knees into Ula as she freed her hand from the reins and drew out another arrow with an easy motion. The fire in her burned enough to make her realize that if they caught her, she was dead. Shifting in her saddle she quickly nocked her arrow and swiveled slightly aiming at the closest man behind her. She let go and watched for a second until the shaft hit its mark.
The man looked to the sprouted arrow in his chest a moment before his heart seized up at being pierced. He fell off his speeding horse to land with a thump, tumbling on the ground already dead. The men noticed their fallen comrade but continued on. They shifted as the girl turned again, only moments before she reached the woods and shot once more. The arrow sang as it rushed headlong into one the closest raider, catching him in the throat.
Rhian held her bow in close to her body as Ula scrambled into the shelter of the trees. The horses flanks brushed against the bushes as she galloped into the heavy shade of the trees. The last thing Rhian needed was to lose her bow to a grasping branch or catch herself on it as she rode past something more solid than her. She grasped the reins and bent down avoiding the overhanging branches as she steered Ula to her left away from a large dead tree that had fallen. No horse could make that jump.
Every so often she glanced back to see that the raiders were still trailing her and making up the distance. They were used to the forests and she was used to open plains. She softly urged her horse along as the grade in the hill got steeper and Ula had to work at climbing it at such a fast pace. Rhian could hear the panting of the horses behind her and the unwashed scent as the men drew closer. She had lost her way not soon after she entered the trees as she tried to gain some distance, only knowing that she had to head up to reach the road. Her heart picked up when she saw the break in the trees a good distance ahead. It was to the road, and the guards would spot her if she came out close enough.
It was then that Rhian glanced to her right and saw that the head raider was pushing his horse hard. He was closing in too fast and would block her path to the road. She watched as he pulled out a long dagger and rode low shifting his blade. He was going to kill her when he got close enough.
Rhians heart ached as she turned her horse and headed to the left, away from the road but stayed even with it hoping for a break in the forest to give her an open space to gain an advantage in. She leaned over her horses neck to go under a particularly low branch and could hear Ula giving everything she had to stay in front. The horse was sweating and Rhian could see flecks of white at her muzzle. If she didnt stop soon her horse would be dead.
Cait moved out along the road at a good pace. Every so often she could hear horses in the distance. That was odd, all the wild horses so close to the city were pretty much gone. She glanced with trained and knowing eyes about her surroundings as she heard the scurry of hooves in the underbrush of the forests to her left. It could be anyone. Woodsmen, hunters... raiders... her eyes slitted at the thought. They had been a thorn in her side and elusive. But with plenty of dense forests in the hills, it was easy to hide. She bit the inside of her cheek in frustration at wanting to go after them. Rhian first, make sure the young woman was safe and well. Then she would hunt the damn raiders down and send them to the otherworld. She didnt like the feeling creeping up into her stomach as she urged Kyn to move faster.
Rhian was sweating as she rode deeper into the forests. She had gained a little distance from her pursuers with that quick turn away from the road but Ula was panting and Rhian could feel her chest heave under her legs. The horse had stumbled for a brief moment in exhaustion but she caught her footing and continued on. Rhian flinched as she heard an arrow hum in the air and she shifted to another invisible path in the underbrush as she moved even further away from the road. She heard the shaft crunch into a tree trunk and she shivered at the thought of it being in her head.
"Come on, girl," she encouraged her winded horse. "You can do it," she pleaded.
Ula jumped a small downed tree and stumbled crashing onto her haunches involuntarily bucking a surprised Rhian over her head. The young woman cried out just before she hit the ground hard on her left side into a patch of thick bushes. She saw stars when her temple struck a rock partially buried in the undergrowth. Rhian laid there for a moment until she caught her breath.
Cait sat up a little straighter in her saddle as she heard in the very edge of her hearing range the cry of someone in trouble. She listened but heard nothing more. Then she felt a sharp blow in the pit of her stomach and fear washed over her. It was Rhian.
It became a mad dash as Kyn didnt just move around things, he moved through them. Fear gave Cait the edge to take chances, jumping Kyn over a huge fallen tree that she normally wouldnt have done, but if anything happened to Rhian... shed never forgive herself.
Rhiannon rolled up a little with a slight moan at the aches and pains that ran through her only to watch in horror through the small openings in the bushes as her horse was lying on the ground half dead from the run, now surrounded by raiders. She subconsciously licked her lips and tasted the thick tang of copper as she shifted to lay on her stomach. She was bleeding from somewhere, but it was her least concern as her heart grasped hard, watching while the men cruelly shot Ula full of arrows.
Rhian reached for her dagger, bound to defend her dying horse. It wasnt there! She looked back and squinted as she saw a handful of tiny creatures drag it into the bushes. She squinted a little harder in disbelief but returned her attentions back to her horse as it gave its last breath and the men surrounding the mare laughed and Rhian fought every urge to fight them barehanded even though she knew shed be cut down in an instant.
"Find that wench!" the head raider hissed. "Leitis would be pleased with a new playmate."
Rhian moved back into the bushes as she kept an eye on both the raiders and her horse. A tear coursed down her dirty cheek as she tried to rationalize that her companion was gone. Ula was... dead. Her vision spun a little as she rested her head on the ground. What had she done? Wounded, no weapon, a dead horse, and six raiders hunting for her as bounty. She glanced up at Ula once more and silently whispered a heart felt prayer for her. She had been a good friend to her for almost two summers and now she had lost another. Tears built up, making her eyes watery as they spilled.
She didnt care any more. She knew her destiny. To lose everything she loved. She hardened a bit of her heart. No more... never again will she let anything in. And that included... her. Dark hair and blue eyes flashed into her mind and she sobbed silently wishing she were here anyway. She listened with a vague thought as all the horses passed her by. Not one of them looking into the bushes so close to where her horse had faltered.
"Come on," someone said into her ear. "Get up!"
Rhian brushed her tired hand at the noise. "The human doesna care. Leave her," another voice said nearby.
"We canna. She said we had ta bring her," the first voice said.
"Ach, tis a human. They never did us any good!"
Rhian slowly opened her eyes. The voices intrigued her. They were high pitched but sounded male. She looked to see two tiny rodent looking things on the ground in front of her. She blinked again. Not rodents, they looked human, only really hairy. She gave a short smile. She was dreaming, furry humans that stood as tall as her hand. She rolled over groaning at the ache in her head and the pain that coursed down her left leg. She opened her eyes again as the sound of a lot of moving little feet scattered from nearby to see there were at least a few dozen of these furry humans roaming through the bushes watching her.
"We have ta go, human!" one of the first rodent/human things spoke up. "Tisna protected here and the other humans will come back to look!"
Rhian looked back at the two that she had seen first. "What are ya?"
"Ach! What are we..." the second one said disgustedly. "Didna you ever hear of brownies?!"
"Brownies..." She laid back. "In stories. Theyre na real."
The second one waved his arms about in anger. "And what are we then, you stupid human?! Rats?!" All the other brownies cringed at that.
Rhian slowly shook her head as her eyes began to close. "A dream. Tis a nice one this time. Much better..."
The second Brownie looked angrily at the first one. "Tis stupider than her mate."
The first one glared at him. "Donna mock Danus chosen, Brannil. And donna mock Morrigans."
Brannil stomped around a bit. "Why are the Tuatha picking humans, Iden?! Nothin will come of it!"
Iden pushed him a little bit to the side and stepped a little closer to Rhian. "We have ta go," he repeated his warning.
Rhian shook her head. "Where?"
Iden stiffened when Brannil snorted in contempt. He took a pouch from his loincloth and blew a sparkling dust Rhians way. The wind caught it and Rhian sneezed when it was inhaled.
"I be hearin somethin!" one of the raiders called out. The horses moved back towards their vicinity.
"Now!!" Iden said while Brannil mentioned something about letting her rot under his breath but they could hear him. Rhian moved slowly and picked herself up to stand. "On your knees, or theyll see ya!" Iden told her.
She did as he asked as her mind became a little cloudy. Iden grabbed a lace at the front of her tunic and led her through the bushes. It seemed like she had crawled forever going down small hills farther into the forests where the trees grew so tall and vast that not much sunlight got through. She had no idea where she was, but she didnt think she could find her way out in the state she was in. She smiled a little in her stupor as she looked to the tiny humans..., brownies, she corrected herself as they scampered with ease through brush and dead vegetation. She could tell this one to Jace... but Jace was gone too, or at least she was pretty certain she would never see him again.
"Almost there human," Iden told her.
She looked to the brownie. "Where?" she asked.
"To the Anu."
"Anu? What is that?"
Brannil snorted from a branch high up in a bush nearby. "Didna your kin teach you of the otherworld, human?"
Rhian nodded slowly and almost collapsed as her fuzzyheaded state almost couldnt handle the movement. "Aye, where the dead go."
"Stupid..." Brannil stopped at Idens glare. "The netherworld is for the dead, human. The otherworld is the passage to it. Tis where the Tuatha and those who are more than human live."
Rhian stopped. "Im ta die?"
Iden rubbed his arm where it nearly got jerked off as Rhian sat back. "Be quiet, Brannil! Ya are makin it worse!" He looked to Rhian who even kneeling towered over him. "Donna listen to Brannil. He doesna like humans. The Anu is a passageway. On Samhain all may pass through. Donna worry, human. Tis not your time." Iden glared at Brannil to keep his mouth shut as Rhian followed him once again.
The raiders looked through the brush and high bushes. One of the men stopped and called out. "Blood! Tis still wet!"
The head raider called out. "Then we be searchin through them. She couldna have be gettin too far."
"I didna know raiders had become so charitable as ta be helpin the wounded?" a dark and deadly voice called out from behind them. They looked to see a seething Cait with her blade in her hand glaring at them as she sat astride Kyn near Ulas dead carcass. "Then again, mayhaps the fletchin from those arrows be lookin a touch like the ones in your quivers." She arched an eyebrow at them as they could see the bloodlust fill her eyes. "And if I be findin ya harmed a hair on Rhians head, I be summonin you back from the dead ta kill you again."
The head raider looked at her and saw she was very capable of carrying a full broadsword, and only one woman could do that. He unsheathed his own. "I look forward ta be cuttin down the Cat of Caerloach."
Cait gave him a nasty grin as the other men looked scared. "And I be lookin forward ta sticking your head on a pike outside my city gates as a reminder ta all the other scum such as yourself that they be receivin the like." She didnt give him a chance to reply as she charged with a full battle cry that held more fury than the scream they had used earlier on the travelers.
The head raider caught her blade with his own as she swiped down only to have Cait reverse her swing the moment she deflected his blade away from her and struck the back of his hand with the bottom edge of her blade and pulled back severing his fingers off. His blade landed on the ground then she hit him in the temple with the pommel of her sword and he dropped like a rock. Cait snorted at how easy it was as she turned to the others with an unkind look and began to decimate them without a second thought.
Rhian stumbled out into a small clearing where the sunlight was very dim since only small shafts of light could seep through. She was in a ring of trees. Hazel trees she noted as she sat with a thump and pressed a weary hand to her forehead now encrusted with dried blood. She looked down to see a long rip in her leggings on the left side and a good gash from the middle of her shin up to her thigh.
Iden came over and looked at her leg. "Tis a good thing ya be not a brownie, human."
Rhian looked at the size of the gash and then at the size of the brownie. It could have taken out about six of them without leaving a trace behind. "I wouldna be feelin the pain if I was."
Iden smiled. "Tis na like the other humans you be. Most donna believe anymore."
Rhians brow furrowed as she looked around the still area. "Believe what?"
"In otherworlders," came the reply.
Rhian sighed. "I didna see you until today. Mayhaps I be wakin up on the morrow and believe you all a dream."
Brannil stomped by to stand next to Iden looking at Rhian with contempt. "She be comin."
Iden nodded. "Rest, human," he told Rhian.
"Did ya not hear me?!" Brannil said loudly. "She be..."
Iden clamped a hand over his mouth. "Aye! I heard ya! She willna be found until tis time! Now be quiet!"
Brannil stormed away and Rhian looked after him. "Why do ya put up with him?"
Iden rolled his eyes. "Tis kin. Twas born in a foul mood. Our kind are na like him."
Rhian looked at him then at Brannil who was scampering up a tree like a squirrel. "Your kin?" She said a little disbelieving, the two were nothing alike.
Iden nodded. "Your mate, she be lookin for ya, human."
Rhian frowned. "I havena a mate, Iden."
He snorted. "Tis only a matter of time, human. Tis the gods will."
"Ach," Rhian said. "Tis not mine."
Iden looked at her oddly. "Donna spurn the gods, human. Twill damn you for certain."
Rhian bit her lip and said nothing more even though she really wanted to. The brownies left and Rhian was on her own. Slowly, like when the sky turns dark and the stars begin to shine, lights began to glow and shift in the shade of the trees. They brightened enough so that Rhian could see past the clearing. Then a few of the lights moved towards her and Rhians eyes went wide as she backed up until she thunked into the trunk of one of the hazel trees. One came the closest to only a few feet from her and Rhian saw what it was...
"A fairie?" she whispered.
The fairie was smaller than the brownies. The fairie smiled. "Aye, Rhiannon of Teyrnon." the fairie spoke.
The fairies voice was so close to a musical sound Rhian almost didnt make it out. She had the wings and soft glow about her. Slowly the fairie moved forward until Rhians face was lit in the soft light only to have tiny fingers run across the tip of her nose before the fairie moved away as a shimmering light filled the clearing.
Rhian looked up with wary eyes.
This was turning into one netherworld of a dream.
Rhiannon, a voice so gentle whispered to her.
"Aye?" Rhian said quietly.
A form appeared in a swirling light. It was a woman. Ageless, and beyond comparable beauty. Long, white blond locks, as white as the womans gown, flowed about her shoulders. Rhian swallowed hard when she noticed her unshod feet didnt touch the ground. The woman smiled at her kindly. Full circle you and your mate have come once again, Rhiannon. When you reach your journeys end the rewards will be beyond that of the stars themselves.
Rhian blinked. "I donna understand..."
You are too young to understand all, Rhiannon. Your journey in this life has just begun. And as time passes you will comprehend my sayings.
"Then I na be goin to the... netherworld?"
The woman smiled. "Does death frighten you so, Rhiannon? It is only a passing from one life to the next. Even when the eternities of this world have passed, death is not a constant.
Rhians eyes glazed over in confusion and the woman smiled softly at her, like mother to child. Believe in your heart, Rhiannon. It will guide you in things that your mind cannot understand. You believed in the fairies and all that is magical when you were but a babe in arms. I know in your heart that you still believe. The woman looked to the fairies about her. Etain will go with you. She will be your guide in the ways of the otherworld.
Rhian slowly shook her head. She didnt want anything. "Nay..."
The woman moved forward and cupped Rhians face and kissed her forehead. One gift of mine you have accepted, Rhiannon. As you hold my bond about your throat, I hold your heart about mine. So if there is one thing I know, its your hearts desires.
Rhian touched the necklace about her throat as she looked to the womans chest where a single diamond was looped on an incandescence chain. Within the diamond was a swirling teardrop. Rhian looked up as the woman pulled back and the shimmering figure transformed in a blur into the dumpy, old Jace.
"Ach, my lady," he said with a familiar voice. "Ya are destined to be more than an orphaned waif. Tis the Lady of Teyrnon I be seein with my old eyes."
Rhian couldnt even get a word in before the figure was gone in a wisp of light and the fairies shimmered into the forest, save the one. Etain flew forward and disappeared into the pendant on Rhians necklace showering her lightly with fairie dust. Rhian sneezed as she heard a familiar voice.
It was Cait. Rhian sat for a minute trying to make sense of it all before she stumbled to her feet and made her way towards the voice. She was so overwhelmed she couldnt speak out, but it wasnt long before strong arms held her close. Cait saw the blood and dirt on the small blond. She kissed her forehead, her knees weak with relief at finding her alive.
Rhian didnt say anything as Cait hoisted her up onto Kyn and mounted behind her and held her close. Cait made sure not to go anywhere near the remains of her horse and the head raider tied to a nearby tree. If he was still alive in the morning she promised hed get a nice look at her dungeon before she executed him. Cait pulled out a cloak from her saddlebags and wrapped Rhian up tight, watching as the young woman fell asleep.
Cait wasnt happy as she made the trek back to Teyrnon. The closer she got to the city the angrier she became. More at herself than anyone else. Damn, bloody raiders! She swore in her mind. And she was not pleased with her guards that they let Rhian out on her own. The guards turned white when they saw the Lord of the castle come riding up with a sleeping Rhian in her arms. She didnt say anything but the look on her face spoke volumes. The guards at the castle gate didnt look thrilled either. She rode up and dismounted as servants came out. Cait took Rhian personally to Ronan. It wasnt long before Nara and Draig showed up at the magis door.
Draig was angrier than Cait. "You be killin them all, right?!"
Nara turned from where she stood with Ronan as he cleaned the gash on Rhians leg. "Shh! If you be yellin, do it outside! Give Rhian a moments rest!"
Draig glared and Nara glared back. Slowly Draig looked away and he became a little wan looking. "Twas no problem in Versy with her ridin."
Cait rolled her eyes as she watched Ronan work. "No place to hide around Versy, tis all plains," she said softly. "Here there be deep forests and more mountains..." She sighed heavily. "Tis a danger to go out alone."
Nara snorted. "I donna remember the group you be ridin out with, Cait," she looked at her. "Did I miss seein them come in with you?"
Cait glared at her this time. "Donna push your luck, Nara. I still rule Teyrnon."
"Aye," her cousin shot back. "Tis a lame excuse." She looked to Caits face. "I wouldna like to be here if the day came, Cait." Cait glanced at her. "If you passed to the otherworld, Teyrnon would become a war itself for the right as clan chief." They were all silent for a moment. "Not without an heir."
Cait rubbed the bridge of her nose as she looked to the pallet Rhian laid on. "I could name someone..."
Nara slowly shook her head but there was a kindness in her eyes. "Twould still be conflict, Cait. If you are serious about Rhian, then be careful and set things in place quickly. We have many kin that wouldna like to be seein you joined."
Cait sat back against a table in deep thought. "I still would have no heir, Nara. Rhians na threat to anyone."
Nara gave her a look and Cait grunted. "What of it?" Nara asked. "There is somethin about the two of ya... You be settin the clan on ear with you givin yourself to Morrigan. The Tuatha be remembered only at festivals anymore. And none be believin that the goddess herself would mark ya, many are beginnin to turn back to the old ways. And now, here we are na four days in Teyrnon and you be settin the clan on ear again." She motioned to Rhian. "Na since you were Rhians age did you be lookin to another you might join with. Everyone be seein it, Cait. You defer to her, you be spendin a good share of your time with her, you be followin her alone today outside the gates. Most of our aunts were gossipin at dinner about that itself."
Cait glared at her. "What do you want? I canna stop how I feel?"
Nara shook her head. "Tis not what I be askin. You be thinkin your greatest feats are on the battlefield or fightin those that would wrest away your power. I be thinkin that tis just the beginning. I also be thinkin that when you and Rhian join,... if you get around to actually courtin her..." she said sternly with a glance. "Tis more than our clan on its ear, but the Vale and the whole of Ireland."
Cait shook her head. "Tis only the gods who be carryin such power, Nara. I be a Chieftain and Rhian a young woman, nothin more."
Nara gave her a look of contempt. "Keep tellin yourself that, Cait. And one day, mayhaps the gods will believe it also."
Cait came to supper in the hall with Malcolm and her war chief, Guy trailing behind her. Cait had been lost in thought for the rest of the day. Nara and Draig had Rhian tucked into her bed letting her sleep through the draught Ronan had given her to help her heal and rest. Then Nara made Cait go wash and change her clothing. Cait looked to herself and found she was covered in a bit of blood. None her own, thank goodness. She sat in even deeper thought as she bathed away the remainder of the blood and the dust from riding. She had never thought about the consequences of mating with another. She had never planned to, and figured the clan would either become stronger or kill itself off fighting for the title once she had passed into the next life.
Now she had someone else to think about. If she turned away from the dreams it would be easier. Let Rhian lead her own life and Cait to her own as well. She didnt like the feeling that left in her stomach. But if she did heed them, and she and Rhian were joined... the small blond would become a target. That, Cait would not allow.
Cait made her way into the hall and the people rose from their seats as she took the center seat on the high table. Naras seat was to her right, and still empty since she was with Rhian, and tonight one of her uncles sat on her left. She looked to them and they saw the familiar anger that lit up Caits half closed eyes that had been absent the last few days. She sat silently throughout the whole meal. She ate a few pieces of meat from her trencher but she was too preoccupied with her thoughts. It was close to the end of supper when one of her aunts nearby cleared her throat. Cait glanced her way. There had been light music and a little entertainment but without Caits wishes nothing more was done. Instead of nodding her agreement for dessert to start she jammed the dagger she had sliced her meat with into the table by a good inch, then stood.
She looked at all of them as the talk and music died as they looked back, a little scared at the deadly woman. Most of her aunts and uncles and a wide array of cousins were there, along with a variety of visiting guests as well. "I be na one ta be mincin words with you this eve," she said disdainfully. "The day my da died I became the new chieftain of the OBrennans and the Lord of Teyrnon. I havena takin ta task much of either of them in my time as head of the clan. But I be tellin you this." Her voice went hard. "If you confront me or mine you rue the day it be comin ta your daft head. I be clearin all of ya out of MY rightful home and bannin ya from Teyrnon and disownin ya if you do. And if tis not enough, you can challenge me to both titles. But if the ones I love come ta harm... then the lot of ya be damned."
She left the silent room. Everyone had a stake in the clan as kin. But Cait could do just what she threatened which would make them lower than the peasants out begging in the streets. No one wanted to make their kin angry since none of them would win a challenge against her, and they didnt have any skills at a craft to do something for income. And Cait was not known to be kind to what she considered a traitor.
Cait stormed down the hallway. She heard someone behind her. It was Malcolm. She turned sharply. "What?!"
Malcolm swallowed. "Cait... the men have been sent ta retrieve the raider..."
Cait glared at him. "Ya stopped me for that?!"
"Nay," Malcolm said quickly. "Tis a man come from travelin on the road. He be wantin ta thank the woman that saved his life."
Cait frowned. "There werena travelers..."
"Tis his word that the woman was a slight blond with a reddish touch ta her hair."
Cait blinked. Begods... Rhian...
"Said she shot the lead raider..." Malcolm continued as Cait changed direction for the court hall.
She came through the double set of doors just to the right of her seat on the dais. Cait quickly assessed the colorful yet garish man and wasnt impressed. He looked stunned at the tall, striding beauty and stood from the seat where he waited. "Oh my..." he stuttered. "Youre in charge?"
Cait frowned. "Aye. Who might you be?"
He gave a slight bow and grinned. "My name is Amenophis."
Cait scowled. "What kinda name is that?"
He preened with pride over the name. "Egyptian, actually. Though Im from the northlands, but Ive traveled all over these parts. Even into Persia. Amenophis sounds quite grand, dont you think?"
Cait sat down in her seat not taking her eyes off from him. "Amina..."
"A-men-o-phis," he repeated, pronouncing it for her.
Cait nodded slowly repeating it in her mind and storing away the awful name incase she heard it again.
Amenophis shrugged. "Guess Ill have to find a new one while Im in barbaric lands."
That really got him a scowl. "Ya tread a fine line with that mouth of yours."
Amenophis sighed. "My greatest gift and my greatest downfall. Usually it works out for the better." He moved in a little closer and Cait shifted slightly. Amenophis could see that she was wary. "I was hoping to thank the young woman that saved us..."
"Aye, tis Rhiannon Kelan," Cait told him.
Amenophis smiled. "Rhiannon, beautiful name... It was the bravest thing Id ever seen. They were going to cut me down, and then the scary man with the sword... this arrow just appeared in his back... and believe me, I almost wet myself when he screamed about that. I thought he was going to chop off my head or something," he continued on waving his hands about wildly as he told his short version of what took place. "Then they all took off after her. Im glad shes alright..." Amenophis looked at her questioningly.
Cait nodded slowly. "Tis fine, she is."
He nodded gratefully as he looked curious. "I thought there was a Lord to Teyrnon... did I misunderstand?"
Cait winced at his pronunciation of Teyrnon. "I be the Lord of Teyrnon."
"Uh... huh..." Amenophis drawled out looking at her with skeptical eyes as he thought about that. "And how does that happen... exactly?"
This got him a full glare and he almost shivered at the deadly looked he earned from it. "I be the heir ta my das title! The ruler of the castle is the Lord! How daft are ya?"
Amenophis backed a step away from the angry woman. He could see the rumors about her around the Vale were true. And she looked extremely dangerous at the moment. "Im terribly sorry. I didnt mean to offend you. But what about when you get married?"
"Married..., joined..." Cait reasoned and Amenophis nodded. "Then she be the Lady of Teyrnon."
Amenophis stood there quietly looking sort of shocked at an invisible spot in front of him, his lips pressed thin. "You have to marry a woman?" he finally asked.
Caits brow furrowed. "Nay... man or woman, it doesna matter!" She was really annoyed with this pudgy man.
"Then a man would be a Lady..." Amenophis said completely confused.
This got a look of contempt. "He wouldna have a title other than that of my mate!"
Amenophis nodded. "I understand."
Cait glared at him. "Thank the gods," she muttered.
"So all women can be Lords," he concluded.
Cait shook her head in disbelief. "Only if they be heir to a ruling seat. I still be a Lady but a Lord also!"
Amenophis gave that same blank look. "So then what do people call you?"
"And youre still the Lord of Teyrnon?"
Cait clenched her jaw and ground her teeth a little. "Aye." She stood to dismiss him, much angrier than when she left the dining hall. "I be tellin Rhian that you gave your thanks."
Amenophis nodded. "Shes not available then?"
"She isna." She gave him a full out murderous glare.
"Ahhh... I think I should be leaving now..." Amenophis said backing up as he watched the ice blue eyes grow colder. "Ill be around in the city for a couple of days, selling things... You need anything, just let me know. I can give you a great deal!" he said loudly as one of the guards escorted him out.
Cait rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "Ach, tis one that woulda been better off with a sword in his belly."
"Rhian?" a soft voice called.
Rhian groaned. "Na more fairies."
Nara looked up from where she bathed Rhians face with a cool cloth. She, Cait and Draig sat nearby in Rhians room where they had taken turns sitting with her through the night. "What tis it with fairies?"
Cait shook her head. Rhian had been mumbling things all night about fairies and such. A few were heartfelt cries for her horse and a few more for Cait that made the woman want to hold her close.
Draig grunted. "Our da told her stories at night about the fairies and such. She loved them. Said she was goin to see some if she looked hard enough."
Nara was worried. "Ronan didna think she be hittin her head that hard."
Cait closed her eyes for a brief moment. "She didna. But that doesna mean she canna be sent through a loop from it."
Slowly Rhian opened her eyes and she looked up to see Nara smiling back. "Ach, Rhian. You be puttin yourself in ta trouble once again."
Rhian shook her head as she tried to sit up. Cait helped her and Rhian looked a little scared at her. "The people on the road." She looked to Draig. "I saw them, fairies and brownies. And a woman all in white." Her body went still. "Ula?" She glanced at Cait.
Cait nodded slowly. "Tis true, Rhian. But the lot of the raiders joined her."
Draig patted Rhians foot under the covers as tears welled up in Rhians eyes. He knew what that horse meant to her. "We be findin ya another, sprite."
"You canna replace her," Rhian said softly.
He nodded. "I know." He took her chin firmly and made her look at him. "You canna dwell on it, Rhian. Ulas gone and ya canna bring her back." His eyes locked with hers as they both remembered the state she had been in when their father and brothers had been killed.
Slowly Rhian moved out of his grip and leaned towards Cait, which surprised the dark headed woman but she held her close tucking the blond into her arms. It had been an subconscious act and Rhian froze after a moment. Cait felt it and sadly let her go.
Rhian moved away and looked to anything but her. She wasnt sure what to feel anymore. She wanted her near but she didnt want someone elses life to destroy. Nara brushed back a bit of her tousled hair. "So, you be seein fairies now, aye?"
Rhian nodded. "And brownies and the woman... I be thinkin she was a goddess..." She frowned at the looked they gave her. "I be na touched!" she finally exclaimed.
Nara kissed the top of her head. "Didna say you were, Rhian. Just rest for a while. And at dinner you can be tellin us what happened."
Rhian looked to all three of them again. They were thinking shed gone daft! She looked to Cait. "Twasna a dream," she insisted, but the questionable note in her voice was there.
Cait smiled gently and cautiously tucked back the reddish blond hair over Rhians ear. "I be believin myself when I was but a child that fairies and sprites were about the place. Even brownies. But tis a childs dream, Rhian. With the bump on your head I be na surprised that you dreamt such things."
Rhian laid back and looked to the ceiling sadly. "Twas so real in my mind. And the woman..." She rolled up on her side and wiped away the newest tears. She touched her necklace. It felt the same. "A dream then."
Cait stood up. "Aye, rest Rhian. Twill seem much better when youve slept more."
Draig looked to them. "I be stayin with her for a spell." Nara and Cait left and Draig sat down on the bedside and Rhian looked up to him.
"Do you think I be losin my mind, Draig?" she whispered.
Draig smiled softly and held out his arms and Rhian moved into them. Draig stroked her hair and held her tightly just as he had done many times since they lost their family. "Nay, Rhian. But you be a dreamer of such things. You would tell stories that ya had heard or that ya made up. I didna know how you did such things. But tis special. If anyone be believin, tis you." He kissed her cheek and held her back. "Give it some time. Think of what be happenin, and if you still believe... then I believe."
Rhian squinted at him skeptically. "Draig, even I donna mostly believe it. Why would you believe it because I say tis so?"
Draig chuckled. "Because you say tis so, sprite. I have never known you ta lie unless somethin more dreadful than das belt was in order. But about this..." He shook his head. "You are comin close to eighteen, Rhian. I know I be coddlin you a bit. But you be my blood and I cherish you." He looked at her seriously. "Tis time to let you be what you will be. Even if you were ta be a beggar in the streets, I would believe in you."
Rhian bit the inside of her cheek and looked up at her brother from where she sat. "The woman... in my dream..." She glanced away for a brief moment to look back. "She said I was to be the Lady of Teyrnon." She frowned at the bedspread. "No, twas old Jace who be sayin such a thing, but he be the woman first... but she changed inta him after she be sayin she held my heart..." she shook her head as the things in her mind became clustered.
"Ach, the Lady of Teyrnon?" Draig chuckled. "Ya couldna just be a stable maid or part of the court? But the LADY of Teyrnon. Now I know you be daft."
Rhian frowned. "Shut up, Draig," she muttered.
"Do you wish that I start callin you milady now, or after ya mate with the Lord of the Castle?" He looked at her with wide eyes and a grin on his face.
"Shut up, Draig!" Rhian said more forcefully.
He snickered with a chuckle as he looked to Rhians red face. "Yes, milady."
That got him a full glare. "You can go now!"
He chuckled even harder. "Tis a command, milady?" Rhian caught her right foot on his hip and pushed him with a hard shove onto the floor. He laughed as he landed. "Ach! Tis the poor man who be sentenced to the cold, hard floor by the Lady of the Castle."
"I hate you," Rhian said half heartedly as she began to smile.
Draig looked up at her thoughtfully. "You know, tis the first thing Nara said to me when she found she was with child." Rhian looked down at him. "Ignored me in bed for four nights and I began to hate me too." Rhian bit her lip as she tried not to laugh. Draig sat up and put a hand on her knee. "Twas then that I undertook the chore of buildin that damned chair."
Rhian let out a snort of laughter. "What did ya hope to gain with that?"
Draig turned a little red. "None of your business."
Rhian laughed as she laid back down on the bed and let out a sigh of relief. "Tis due soon."
Draig snorted as he sat back up on the bed. "Aye, and knowin my mate I be the one stayin ta home and changin a messy nappy."
Rhian shook her head slightly. "I donna think Nara would trust you that much, you big oaf."
Draig smiled. "Tis a secret among men so they donna have ta. Da had to learn pretty quick with the likes of you."
Draig left soon after he was assured that Rhian wasnt so melancholy. Rhian looked to the window as she lay beneath the warm blankets and closed her eyes. She could see the images in her mind. A bit blurry, but they were there. She reached up and lightly rubbed the pendant in her fingers as she rolled onto her back wincing at the slight pain in her leg. "It did seem real.." Rhian said softly as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Cait sat at the desk in her chambers staring at the heavy book Rhian had given her when she first came to Teyrnon. She never really had the time to look at it since the young woman had pretty much consumed her thoughts. And now she wasnt sure if she wanted to. She bit her lip as she sat back glancing between the book and the fireplace and everything else. She had a few papers Malcolm had given her... nothing much. A few reports from outlying towns on OBrennan land, another from a well liked uncle in charge down in Oppida saying that Maughan was shaping up now that she was outcast from Teyrnon. Finally she looked back to the book.
The leather was a little worn but in very good condition, it had rounded metal corners to keep it from wearing on the edges. Other than that, nothing identified the piece. She looked back to her work and set it aside and pulled the book forward and gave a heavy sigh. "Whatever you are, donna let it be bad." And with that she flipped open the cover.
Cait stared at it for a moment then blinked with a pained look on her face. "I donna know if tis better or worse.." she muttered to herself.
It was written in a runic language. Older than time itself. Cait had seen it inscribed on a few things, but no one knew what it meant anymore. Slowly she flipped through the thick pages that had turned a little yellow with age. There were pictures drawn with a fine hand on most of the pages, some of them weapons being used in battle. That intrigued her enough to want to know what the writing was. She flipped through the rest of the book stopping at the gory battle scenes and tried to figure out what was going on.
Then she flipped through the back section and stopped at two pictures on the same page with writing all around it. She knew both of them. One marked her shoulder and bicep and the other was on the pendant around Rhians neck. The symbols were intertwined to fit perfectly. Cait shifted her right shoulder blade. She had never actually seen the whole mark of the dark cat with its tail lashing out to circle her bicep but she had gotten comments on it when it was visible.
Her brow furrowed as she willed the words around it to be known. Frustrated she slammed the book shut. Someone had to know what it said. Shed talk with Ronan and see what he knew. There were a few scholars about Teyrnon... She looked a little bleak when there was a polite knock on the door.
"Come!" she called out.
Terence, one of the young servants stepped in and gave a respectful bow. "Melord, tis the Lady Nara, melord. Said ta tell ya tis time to eat."
Cait nodded and sent him away as she stood. Well, time for another round with trying to get to know Rhian but not get to know her. She grunted as she moved into the hallway. It wasnt this frustrating when she was younger. Half the fun was sneaking around behind the adults, especially her parents. Now even they were gone.
It wasnt long before Cait found herself in the kitchens. Annwn was bustling about with all the other servants and Rhian, Draig and Nara were at the corner table near the fire. She use to eat in here when she was smaller and her parents were busy. Not that she didnt mind it. She had tons of cousins to occupy her time, especially Malcolm and Nara. And Annwn had been like a second mother in some ways. Always watching out for her and giving her some sage advice.
Now she stood a few inches taller than the large cook. The servants looked up to see that she was staying for dinner, not to give instructions, which made them stand up a little straighter and behave a little more. All of them bowed or curtsied as best they knew how and gave Cait her space. Annwn, however, didnt. The heavyset cook watched her come through and she gave a knowing smile.
"Not a word, Annwn," Cait threatened without the malice.
"Tis a small slip of a thing, Lady Cait..."
"Annwn.." she warned under her breath as she walked past.
The cook chuckled under her breath as Cait came over to the table. She saw that Rhian was looking better but a little haunted from her experience. The space on Rhians right was left open and Cait slid into the seat.
"Be you well?" Cait asked.
Rhian nodded. "I hope you donna mind eating here."
Cait shook her head and she looked to Nara. "Nara and I used to spent a good share of our time around Annwns kitchen."
Annwn came up with a trencher and set it in front of Rhian. "Ach, and I never be forgettin it either." Cait saw what she had done, serving Rhian first, just to get her to admit to something and Annwn showing what she knew. "Where do ya think Nara learned to wield a spoon so well?"
Rhians eyes went wide as Nara and Draig smiled. "Tis your fault then? Annwn, tis wicked thing to have taught one as strong as her." She nodded to Nara.
Annwn smiled as she set another trencher in front of Cait. Looking into her eyes. "If she did it. Then twas most likely deserved."
Rhian glared. "Twas not."
Annwn pointed to the trencher. "Be eatin somethin or the wind will carry ya to the coast."
Rhian glared a moment longer but she couldnt stay mad and the food smelled divine.
Cait watched in amusement as Rhian consumed everything on her plate. She even stole food off of Draigs plate. She sat her own plate in front of her. "If you be that hungry, you can be finishin mine." Annwn chuckled from the tables as she was preparing for that evenings supper.
Rhian flushed a little, embarrassed at her appetite and slowly shook her head. "I be fine."
Draig nudged her a little. "Ach, liar."
Rhian glared at him. "I be matchin that kick I gave ya in your other leg."
Cait couldnt believe it had only been two nights ago. It seemed like an eternity. Draig frowned. "Aye, sprite. I be forgettin about that."
The two argued for the better part of a candlemark. Cait did notice that Rhian finished off what was on the plate she had given her. And when Annwn set a fruit dessert in front of her Rhian didnt stop. Where did the slight woman put it all?
Finally Nara cleared her throat. She had enough arguing between the two of them and she couldnt stand the lost look in Caits eyes as she watched Rhian. Begods, her cousin had it bad. And in four days, that had to be some kind of record. "Rhian, would you tell us what happened yesterday?"
Rhians brow furrowed but she nodded slowly. "Aye. I was going for a run..." She looked to her hands in her lap as she went silent. "...with Ula," her voice broke slightly.
She slumped down at little in her seat and closed her eyes. Most of her waking moments since she woke were how foolish she had been. If she hadnt gone out Ula would still be here. That traveling party wouldnt and Cait wouldnt have caught one. And she wouldnt have dreamt of the brownies and fairies, and that woman with the golden voice. She thumbed her pendant and took a breath and began to tell her tale. It was more somber than her usually display of what the fight was actually like but she moved her hands enough that they got the idea.
Rhian left out a few points. Like that the brownies considered her and Cait mated. Yeah, that would go over well. And she smiled slightly as she told her dream of the clearing and the woman and what she did. "It does still seem real," she finished. She opened her eyes and found that most of the people in the kitchen had stopped working to listen.
Draig blinked out of his reverie. She could tell stories for a living and never go hungry. He looked the empty plates. Well, almost. "Tis a noble thing you did, sprite."
"Ach," Rhian dismissed with a wave. "Anyone would do the same."
Cait leaned over. "Nay, Rhian. There be na many with your heart of gold."
Rhian flushed bright red at the compliment and Annwn made a noise only to have Cait and Nara glare her down. She raised her hands slightly in compliance and shook her head going back to work. Rhian looked up at Cait. "Tis kind words."
The green and blue eyes locked and everyone else faded away. Slowly Cait moved her head down and Rhian swallowed as she knew what was coming and she felt her heartbeat increase. The eyes never wavered until Rhian jumped in her seat from a loud clang of metal nearby.
"My Lord," a mans voice grumbled from nearby.
The spell broken, the man winced as the blue eyes were flat and dark as she glared at him. "What?!" she hissed. She had missed again.
He stammered for a moment. "The prisoner tis locked away in the dungeon."
She smiled angrily. "Is that all?"
"Nay... tis not a good shape he be in, my lord." He almost squeaked it out from fear at having the deadly blue eyes drill into him.
Cait scowled and motioned him to leave. "I best go and see to him."
Rhian warily touched her hand. "I would like to go as well. If I may?"
Nara shook her head. "Rhian, you are still recoverin from yesterday."
Rhian looked to her. "I be wantin to know why he killed my horse."
"To draw you out," Cait said softly. "And because he could." She stood up. "Tis the only reason." She held out her hand. "But if you want, then come."
Rhian took her hand feeling the warm, smooth fingers with calluses from hard work. Cait led her out and it was only the others in the kitchen that noticed the hands had stayed together as they left. Annwn wiped away an imaginary tear. "Tis beautiful."
Nara and Draig laughed until real tears came.
The dungeon was just like Rhian had thought of one. It was damp and dark and smelled like old hay and unwashed bodies. The individual cells were made of thick hardwood with small bars in a tiny window so the guards could look in. They almost reached the door when Cait gently released Rhians hand. Rhian felt empty losing the warm security of Caits hand in the chilly, frightening place.
The guards saluted Cait who smiled slightly. She looked at the door and they looked at her and finally the older of the two quickly unlocked the door and jerked it open. Rhian stepped in just behind Cait and saw that the man indeed did not look that well. He was chained by all four limbs to the wall. His right hand was missing all four fingers leaving dark bloody stumps that looked incredibly painful. Then there was the massive knot of swollen flesh on his temple. His eyes were a little unfocused but he was still alive.
Cait nodded slowly assessing the wounded man. "I think you be livin through the night, scum."
He spit at her and she backhanded him so hard you could hear the crack of the back of his skull against the hard stone wall. Rhian was shocked by Caits coldness. She laid a gentle hand on her arm and Cait calmed down a little.
Cait slowly placed her other hand on Rhians and gently removed it. "Guard!" One came in. "Please escort Lady Rhiannon into the hallway."
Rhian frowned but Cait wasnt watching her as a firm hand was on her elbow and she was assisted into the corridor. She listened as Cait spoke quietly to the man and he swore at her. His sudden screaming startled Rhian and she moved back to re-enter only to be blocked by the guard. "Mayhaps I should escort you out of the dungeon, milady," he said kindly to the young woman.
"Tell me who it tis!!?" Cait bellowed loud enough for it to ring through the dungeon.
"Burn in damnation, bitch!" the man cried out as something snapped and the man screamed again.
Rhian sat down against the cold stone wall opposite the cell door, not believing the sounds of Cait torturing the man in the cell. She put her head between her knees and breathed hard. It wasnt long before the door slammed open. "Get Guy! I want a platform raised for an execution by morning!" Cait growled.
Rhian looked up in totally horror. "You canna just kill him! Not in cold blood!"
Cait looked to the young woman. "I can, and I will."
Rhian looked her over. Cait had blood on her hands and a mean look in her eyes. "Tis what you desire? To hurt others?..." A tear came to her eyes as she shook her head in disbelief. "Then you be no better than they!"
Cait frowned as she saw the disgust in Rhians eyes and a little of the compassion for the beautiful blond came back from her heady rush of bloodlust. "Tisna what you think, Rhian..."
"Tis so! You could offer him mercy..."
Caits brow furrowed and she strode up to her. "Did ya think they would have mercy on you out in the woods, Rhian!? Did ya!? They would be slicin your throat open and leave ya to the animals! Where be the mercy in that!?" She crouched down with clenched hands. "Tis my right, Rhian! Donna overstep your bounds here!"
Rhian stood shakily but flinched when Cait reached out to steady her. She glared and nodded slowly. "Aye, my Lord. I know my bounds. And I be knowin yours now too. I be the foolish one for thinkin ya felt somethin. Love, compassion, or remorse, mayhaps... Tis a game to you?!" Tears welled up. "I thought I felt somethin for ya! And now..." she shook her head as the tears slipped down the pale cheeks. "I be thinkin you be takin me for the fool."
Rhian ran up the stairs as Cait watched in dread. She looked to her bloody hands then to the stairs again. Then her eyes went dark. "Makes sure he stays alive," she growled and strode up the stairs. The shoulders a little slumped as she ascended.
Nara watched as supper progressed. Something had happened. Something bad. She looked between the heavily brooding Cait who didnt eat anything, to Rhian who talked with an older gentlemen seated next to her, completely ignoring the high table. She looked fine but Rhian hadnt touched anything either. And for a young woman that could almost out eat her brother, that was something. She would have asked, but she knew her cousin, and the look on her kins face said do not disturb. That and the meat knife in Caits hand kept her silent.
She would talk with Rhian later. But for now she had to keep Cait from lashing out at anyone who came near. Warily she touched Caits shoulder and the blue eyes flickered to her instantly. "Tis a fine night for a walk..."
Cait looked annoyed but nodded slowly as she looked to Rhian once more and sighed so heavily Naras heart almost broke. "Aye, Nara. Thanks." She stood and left the hall and Nara noticed that Rhian watched the dark woman leave. Their eyes met once and the sadness in the emerald eyes confirmed her suspicions. Something had driven a wedge between the two.
Rhian entered her room late that evening after evading the ever persistent Nara. She even had Draig harassing her to find out what was wrong. She paced back and forth until she began to get a little dizzy. She didnt know what to do anymore. She knew she was out of line in the dungeons. Cait could have stuck her into the one next to the raider for questioning her, and she would have had a right to do so. Rhian bit her lip as she moved to the windows that looked out into the square. She leaned forward just enough to press her forehead against the cool, thick glass and looked out into the darkness of night.
How could Cait be so calm about it? It was like the mans life didnt even matter to her. Would the day come when Cait would discard her just as easily? Something in the back of her mind told her no. In fact it almost screamed it. Then the rumbling in her belly outdid the voice in her mind. Rhian pressed a hand to it and moved to where her saddlebags sat.
Cait had brought them with her when she brought Rhian back. And the soldiers had returned her saddle that day. She caressed the worn leather as she pulled out an apple Annwn had given her for the other day. She held it up to take a bite, stopping right before she bit into it. She inspected it to find tiny bites taken out of it. She grimaced. Rats, or some kind of rodent had made its way into her satchel. She put the apple to the side and pulled everything out. The wrapped dinner had been nibbled at, but it was time to throw that out anyway. Everything else had been untouched. She did find plenty of pale short hairs about her stuff. She sighed. Could the day get any worse?
Word of the execution stormed through Teyrnon like wildfire. Cait was a tough Lord, but fair. This would be the first public death in her rule over the city. The tattered remains of the other raiders Cait had cut down in the forest were strung along the road by poles to remind the other raiders out there what was waiting for them if they were caught.
And she was certain it had not gone unnoticed.
The city was bustling with merchants and the common people as a platform was erected high up enough for everyone to see the execution take place. Nara and Cait watched from the second story of the castle. "You donna have to do it yourself, Cait," Nara said softly.
Cait nodded a little and raise an eyebrow. She looked tired. The dream had come, only this time Rhian evaded her. Every time she desperately reached for the blond she was just out of reach and she had woken up several times in the night frustrated. "Donna think tis all for show, cousin."
Naras brow furrowed at the slight hint of dismay in Caits voice. She had been like this since last night and the silence between the potential pair bothered her. She didnt get anything out of Rhian. But once she heard about the execution and the guards who had been on duty in the dungeon spread small tales of what had happened between the two... Nara sighed to herself. She knew Rhian didnt like death. Even through her story when she told about killing the two men that were chasing her, there was great sorrow in her voice. And now the two were at odds. Neither of them were ones to back down from a fight. Cait was bound and determined that this would take place and she was the one who was going to do it. And Rhian couldnt see what killing him served as a just cause.
It was Caits right though. She was the head of the clan and the Lord of the city. She could do anything she wanted, and death did not bother her cousin at all. But she knew Cait was disturbed that Rhian was upset with her.
Nara looked to her taller cousin. The strong profile and the feral glint scared most of her people into submission alone. Nara had seen it so much it was breathtaking to her. "You be tellin me tisna?"
Cait glanced down at her, the beautiful smiled appeared, showing a look rarely seen on Cait. "Nay. Tis a death deserved. And for what he would have done to Rhian... that alone I would have impaled him alive..." Nara looked at her gravely and saw that Cait was deadly serious. "Tis someone else Nara," Cait said softly as she jutted her chin briefly to the platform. "The man in my dungeon is a lackey. Tis someone smarter than him. Someone who knows the ways of avoiding my men and avoiding me." She turned to look fully at her. "Whoever is tis will be watchin." She raised an eyebrow and looked back into the city square. "Whoever it tis will want revenge for the display."
"Revenge on you," Nara said somberly.
"Aye." Cait nodded. "On me." She grinned darkly. "And I await them. And they be dyin by my hand and I will slaughter them all until the roads and forests are free once more."
Nara looked to her cousin fully until Cait glanced down at her. "And what of Rhian, Cait? She be a passin fancy to you then?"
Caits brow furrowed. "Nay... I care for Rhian deeply. You be knowin this. But I canna let her stop this. Tis a cruel world. And I willna stand by and let my lands be overrun. An example must be made." She saw the worry in Naras eyes. "I be stoppin this, Nara. I have seen it."
"I see a daft fool to be thinkin you be unbeatable!" Nara said angrily under her breath.
Cait tensed slightly then let it go as she put a comforting hand on her cousins shoulder. "Do not think me daft or impetuous. I know the day be comin and my life will be naught..." She stopped for a moment and sighed, then released the light pressure on Naras shoulder. "I can feel the lust of the fight course through my blood, sing to my very soul..." She looked to the skies. "For many summers twas all I cared for. I be slaughterin many on the battlefield beyond the Vale in the outer lands of Ireland. I donna feel remorse for them. Tis what I am, and they knew of this when we faced the other. But I feel more now. I be feelin a peace within that I didna before."
Cait smiled softly as she looked to the white pillowly clouds. "I feel love for another and it equals that love for the hunt. Twill come a time when it surpasses the bloodlust." She looked back to the people and the forests surrounding the massive city. "But the skills I have be many, Nara. Far better than most men and if I didna use them I would be more daft than you say I be. Something will happen, Nara. Twill be the apex of change." She glanced to her cousin again. "I willna fail. I canna fail. If I do, then my life isna worth livin."
Nara frowned. "What are you talkin about, Cait?"
Cait smiled sadly and shook her head. "I donna know for certain. But twill be a time remembered."
It was mid morning when the raider was brought out of the dungeons and hauled through the streets towards the platform. The people were watching as they passed through the castle gates out into the main center square of the city. He had a rough rope with a lead tied about his neck and he winced as the guard drug him through the streets. His right arm now hung uselessly. Cait had broken it at the elbow and it was severed of all blood but the nerves still worked and it caused him more pain than anything else. His left eye was gouged, encrusted with dried blood and he had a variety of bloody wounds on him.
He knew they were watching. He knew his leader would take interest to see his death. Not out of compassion, but out of curiosity. Just like the bitch that did this to him. The people booed and hissed at him. Some even spit on him. Not like it mattered anymore. They threw rotten food at him, cursed him. He was a filthy mess by the time they drug him up the stairs.
And there she was, waiting. Magnificent in dress and beauty. And every bit as lethal as the Cat of Caerloach should be. He looked about. There was no hanging post. Hanging was the way for a formal execution of the OBrennan clan. Drowning was the other way, but he didnt see any water around for that.
"One last chance," Cait said quietly, so he could hear her underneath the fury of the collected mob. "Your leader. For your life."
"So I can hang in your dungeons the rest of me days?" he snorted in contempt.
"So that you can die with some honor..." she took a step closer. "I willna bury you. I willna taint Teyrnons ground with your filth. I be hangin your remains as a banner to all that try to oppose my laws." She took another step closer and the darkness in the blue eyes bore down on him, making him tremble a little. "And leave your bones to the dust and wind as an adornment to my walls. Your soul will walk the Vale for eternity as your voice joins the howl of the winds cursing the name of OBrennan. I will revel, knowin that you will never find peace." He stared at her for a moment, then out to the people. "There is none ta save ya." She looked out to the crowds. Looking them over. "You will die here, now, as somethin lower than a beggar. Or you be livin out your meager life in my dungeons. Tisna other way."
He looked out to the crowds then back to her. His eyes half closed in disdain. "Tis better to die now than ta hang in that pit."
Cait shrugged. "So be it."
Rhian entered the kitchens a little bleary eyed since it was late into the night before she fell into a troubled sleep. She didnt dream about her and Cait in the fields, or even the death of her family. She dreamt of a dark place, where bad things happened. And she had caused them. She had woken with tears in her eyes and cried herself to sleep only to now awaken to the bright morning sun as it filled the skies.
She had heard the people out in the city square as she dressed and left her room. She had even taken a quick glance and saw hundreds had come to watch. Rhian took in the sight of the magnificent form of the Lord of the city and she found she was holding her breath as she watched her move. She was so breathtaking, Rhian felt her knees tremble...
She shut her eyes and put that thought away. She reminded herself she was angry with her. Rhian took one more glance out and her heart sank as she saw the man being led like an animal to the platform. She couldnt watch anymore, and left the view to head down into the lower levels of the castle. She wasnt going out into the city for anything today. Not to see the morbid affair, or to show that she approved, by being there. And since she hadnt had any breakfast shed have to throw her grumbling stomach onto Annwns mercy.
She scowled at that. There are some who could learn about showing mercy to others. Even if she had to put him to death, it could have been with dignity...
Annwn wiped her hands on her apron as she watched the beautiful blond enter into her realm of pots and pans. She had heard the news of last night. Everyone had heard it, and Annwn grimaced to herself at the sorrow in Rhians eyes, but gave the shorter woman a friendly smile. "Ach, young Rhian. Tis late in the day for you to be wanderin about down here."
Rhian smiled softly, shaking her head. "I didna sleep to well." She looked at the knowing eyes about the kitchen as the servants watched her. "Tis no mystery of why, to be sure."
Annwn patted her shoulder gently and escorted her to the table and a seat by the fire. "Anythin ta do with Cait tis sure to be about the place mighty quick." She winked at her. "And the likes of yourself as well."
Rhian rolled her eyes as she sat. "Tis nothin a secret?"
Annwn smiled then she began to laugh. "In the castle?!" She laid a motherly hand on her head. "Rhiannon Kelan. Tis new ta the castle ya be. Learn once and well, lass. Tis nothin a secret. Rumor more than naught ta be believed unless quelled by the truth. But I be feelin the truth about the two of ya be very true." She raised an eyebrow at her.
Rhian looked to the table. "I didna know I would be on display for all of Teyrnon," she said quietly.
Annwn smiled sadly. "Tisna such a bad thing, love. Ya have the Cat of Caerloach watchin over ya. And none be sayin too much lest they be wantin to involve themselves with the likes of her."
Rhian glared a little. "I can care for myself, Annwn." She looked up at her. "Twas doin it long before I even came to this city," she said defensively.
Annwn smiled as she moved back to the tables filled with food at different preparation stages and began to fill a plate. "Aye, tis what Nara be tellin me yesterday." She came back with a plate piled high with all varieties of food and set it in front of her. "And I be believin ya. But tis none that be doin it all alone."
Rhian looked up from the plate of food. "Cait would differ with you on that."
Annwn glanced at her from where she stood at the fireplace where a huge roast cooked on a spit above the giant flame. "Aye, she would." She turned and faced her. "Strong and gifted she may be, Rhian. But tis still a woman born of flesh and blood. If one was meant ta be alone, then of the gods they must be then."
"She wouldna listen to me, Annwn," Rhian whispered as she set down her fork, her food untouched.
Annwn sat next to her and picked up the fork. "Donna dismiss Cait so easily. She be listenin, more ta ya than most others. But she be havin her own way. None expect ya ta be somethin ya canna. Ya canna expect the same of Cait. She be livin by the blade. Make na quarrel about it. She doesna expect ya ta be like her, and ta most they donna understand her ways. But ta be sure, she be a smart one, Rhian. She doesna do somethin foolish unless angered to a point beyond reason." Annwn handed her back the fork and slowly Rhian took it. "Tis the first execution in the square in Teyrnon since her leading the clan and the city. There be many who have warranted death. And she has dealt with them all justly. Tis a point she be makin today, Rhian. Donna be so blinded by your compassion ta see what she be doin." She stood up waving her hand about to dismiss the whole thing she spoke of. "Ach! Tis enough from me. Eat up so that tunic doesna look so big on ya."
Rhian looked thoughtfully at her as she poked the sliced meat on her plate as she thought. Slowly she began to eat as she continued to think, maybe she had misjudged... She would have to think more on it.
It was just starting to get really warm when Amenophis threaded and pushed his way through the crowd to the square. He had found a place to stay in a nearby inn and had told his story about the raiders and the beautiful young blond that saved him. The innkeeper was very intrigued and told him about the other night when a young woman sounding like this savior had given almost everything she had for a needy family.
It was another patron of the inn who told about Lord Cait and a newcomer to Teyrnon and how she had caught her attentions. Gossip had been alive that night in the comfortable inn. The innkeeper said that everyone approved the two of them together, now that it was public knowledge. Then a guard from the castle who stopped for a drink told the two were at odds over the execution for the next morning.
That had sobered a few up. Cait was known to be a driven woman with her troops. They had a reprieve since Rhian came to town and her attention was focused on the young woman. They had hoped it would last.
Amenophis came back from his thoughts as he watched from a distance, at the tall, lean figure of the Cat of Caerloach. Every bit as regal as a queen, and as lithe and deadly as a warlord. Her long, black hair whipped out a little in the light wind and the piercing blue eyes surveyed the crowd with keen interest.
He had seen her and the raider exchange words. He couldnt hear what they were saying, but from the look on their faces it wasnt good. He felt someone bump into the back of him hard.
"Excuse me!" he said a little angrily as he looked back. He looked into brown eyes, right up next to him. They were hard and curious. Amenophis blinked rapidly in surprise at the anger he saw in them only to find when he cleared his vision the eyes were gone and there was no one next to him. Ireland was becoming too frightening for him. Those eyes would haunt him for a long time. Maybe it was time to move on from this strange land.
He turned back to look up as the raider had been forced to kneel on the platform. The Lady Cait had been handed a long sharp sword. Amenophis knew what it was. The swords design was for one purpose only. To behead a condemned person. The bald man looked around at the crowds as they cried out for blood and screamed in anger for her to give him what he deserved. It grew louder as Cait watched the raider sweat with fear. She easily flipped the sword in her hand and then turned in a graceful, fluent half circle and before he realized it the mans head was gone from his body.
A great cheer went up as Amenophis felt his body rebel a little, tempting to return his breakfast, but he kept it down. His eyes stayed glued to the platform as the headless body shook for a moment then slumped forward with a thud to the wood planks of the platform. The merchants eyes glazed for a bit as blood began to run freely from the corpse and his stomach won the battle.
Cait looked around the area finding nothing out of place. People cheering, her guards were hauling the body to a stake and someone had found the head. With every sense on overload Cait knew the one she wanted was there, in the massive crowds, watching. She would find them, she swore it.
Handing the sword back to one of her soldiers, she looked to the castle and bit the inside of her lip. She had to settle other matters as well. But for the moment she would give Rhian her space. She didnt want to lose her. It would take time.
It was sundown when the guards had the remains of the raider staked out on long wooden poles just out from the entrance to the city. They had gone back in and the gates sealed for the night. But there were still those who watched from the forests a short distance away, hidden in the massive foliage. One of them in a black cloak and cowl watched with great interest as the others watched the cloaked figure. It stopped at the edge of the trees. The cowl tilted to the side just slightly and the attention from within the dark folds was redirected to the castle. Finally, graceful hands, covered in black leather gloves grasped the edges of the cowl and drew the hood off.
A long towheaded braid was curled at the base of the neck as the cowl dropped down. Brown eyes, distant and lit up with a faint wisp of psychotic glee watched with an intelligent gaze. "Well, well," the beautiful, feminine voice came from the figure. "I be believin my Lord is lookin ta find us." The eyes hardened as the woman in the dark cloak transfixed her eyes on the castle as if she could see inside. "And she will."
"Leitis," one man spoke up with a hint of fear in his voice.
The beautiful woman turned and gazed at him with a kind of sick sympathy of contempt. "Aye?"
"The Lords men be watchin as we speak..."
She smiled brightly with a bit of disdain. "Tis so?" She tilted her head the other way and looked thoughtfully at him. "We could be leavin you as a gift ta make them happy?" His eyes went wide with fear. "I didna think so..." she turned back and looked to Teyrnon.
"I want ta know..." she said musically in the night air. Her men shifted nervously. It was loud enough for the city guards to be wondering. "About my lovely Cait..."
She hooked her hand about a tree trunk and swung herself about with childlike abandon until she faced them. "I want ta know, what she holds dear..." She grinned with a hint of a maniacal smile. "And then, I be wantin it for myself."
She clapped her hands. "Brody..." she said playfully. A handsome man came up. "Brody," she said in a girlish pouting tone. "I be thinkin that my Cait needs to know I care..." She patted his chest. "Make sure she does."
Leitis headed for her horse as her men swarmed over the one that had spoken to her. There were a few quiet screams of pain from the man, but it wasnt long before all was still.
"Alive Brody," came the command from the towhead. "I be knowin how much my Cait loves the kill. But be certain hell not be tellin about us." Leitis looked to the ex-raider and his frightened eyes. "Twould not want to ruin the game."
She looked once more at Teyrnon before she and ten of her men rode away. "Sleep well my lovely." She blew a kiss toward the castle and chuckled happily to herself as they rode into the night.
THUD! THUD! THUD! "Milord?!"
Cait was awake and rolling out of bed at the first pound on the door, instantly reaching for her sword. "Aye!" she called out as she realized it wasnt an attack and looked around for her sleeping shirt and pulled it on.
"Milord! Tis the guard, milord! At the..."
The voice stopped when Cait pulled the door open with a jerk. The soldier looked a little wild eyed at having to wake her, and even more bewildered at the sight of the dark woman in only a shirt and sleep tousled hair. "What?!" Cait asked impatiently.
He pointed in the direction of the gates of the city. "Tis the raiders, milord. At the gate..."
Cait frowned. "The raiders are at the gate?!"
He blinked in confusion but shook his head. "Nay, milord. Tis a message..."
"Leave it." Cait said interrupting him as she understood what he was trying to tell her. "Tell Guy, I be comin." He saluted and left in a run. Cait glared a little as she shut the door and began to dress. "And I be tellin him to send someone who be a damn sight smarter than a rock next time," she grumbled.
Cait was not in the best humor as she strode down to the main entryway of the castle where four guards waited. She raised an eyebrow at that. Trust Malcolm to bring out an honor guard for her, even in the early morning. She didnt even stop for pleasantries as she continued on her way. She took the steps outside three at a time and waved off her horse that was waiting for her. She planned to walk through the city. She had enough excess energy to burn with everything she had dreamt through the night about.
It was still a bit on the dark side of morning as the streets were quiet. There were a few wanderers out, but it was common in a city the size of Teyrnon. The small group walked in silence. Cait felt the chill of summers end. Soon it would be the festival of Samhain and everyone would settle in for the long winter. They lived high enough that there was plenty of snowfall, and it would close the pass into the Vale and trips to Versy would be few and far between. Cait scowled a little deeper as she thought about the boredom of doing nothing for three full moons. She raised an eyebrow as the possibility of sharing very long and private days with a certain blond woman... winter wasnt looking so bad.
She came to the gates finding there were plenty of guards about. She spotted her war chief Guy, just beyond the gates and she joined him. "My lord," Guy nodded respectfully.
Cait looked his way. Guy was getting on in years. His hair and beard were beginning to gray at the sides and his muscle was becoming softer over the years. He had been her fathers war chief and she was happy to have him as hers as well. He was smart and resourceful and he always encouraged Cait to try harder when she was younger. He had three sons all around her age and most of them she beat in the training yards on a regular basis. "Tis the crack of dawn, Guy."
He smiled. "I be thinkin you want to see this with your own eyes."
She nodded and saw a glint in his eyes that made her curious. She followed him out to where the mass exodus of soldiers from the city stood. A raider was tied to a tree at the edge of the forest in plain view of the city gates. All around his mouth was blood. "And he be noticed... when?" she asked.
Guy cleared his throat. "Less than a candlemark ago."
Cait nodded slowly, not pleased with the guards lack of attention. The raider was still alive and staring at her with pure fear. "And what has he told you?"
Guy gave her a look. "Nothin." He held out a wrapped up cloth. "Twas tied like a pouch around his neck."
Cait glanced inside the folds then at the raider. She let the folds fall away to reveal what was left of the mans tongue. That explained a few things. "I guess you willna be needin that anymore." Guy cleared his throat a little more and glanced at her. Cait frowned. "What?"
"Tis more, Lady Cait." Caits frown deepened. Guy nodded and the closest man pulled up the raiders black tunic. Guy watched as Caits eyes turned ice cold and her jaw set in anger.
"Burn it," she whispered angrily as she turned away and strode back towards the gates.
Guy looked at her startled. "My lord?"
Cait swiveled around and Guy was actually scared for his life as her deadly gaze bore down on him. "Him! The tree! The whole damn forest if ya have ta!" she yelled as she temper blew. "What doncha understand, Guy?! I want it gone from my land! And I be wantin a group leavin for Tadhg before sunrise! And if I find tis true, and she be back in the Vale I willna rest until she is dead!" She looked at him from beneath hooded eyes. "And neither will any of you," she warned him in a dark tone.
She turned and stalked back into the city. One of the soldiers came up to him. "Sir?"
Guy looked back at the carving in the mans chest. It was of a flower, a rose. He knew what it meant, so did Cait. "Clear the brush away from the tree... and burn it."
The soldier gave him a funny look but did as asked and the group set about to keeping the soon to be fire to the tree only. Guy watched as Caits stiff form disappeared into the dark. Finally he turned back and saw the captive was struggling with his restraints. Guy moved up to stand in front of him. "Tis Leitis, who had this done?" The man nodded vigorously. Guy glared into the dark forest beyond. "Could ya lead us to her?" The man nodded again. Guy looked thoughtful. "Tis what she wants, Caits anger."
He turned back to the city rubbing his thick fingers through his beard. "Tis how she won last time," he muttered quietly to himself. He turned back to him with a very serious look. "I canna go against my Lord, ya know that." The raider nodded grimly. "I be offerin ya mercy in return for your knowledge." He glared at the men around him. "And it doesna go back to her. Or I will tar and feather ya myself." The men understood.
Rhian rose to the sound of people going through the halls and the commotion outside. Slowly she rolled over and looked out the window behind the headboard to see great plumes of smoke drifting into the air. She laid her head back down for a moment as this thought registered and she climbed out of bed when the curiosity got the best of her. She made it over to the window and looked out at the fire beyond the gates.
"Begods," she swore under her breath. She pushed the window open a little and saw that there were a lot of soldiers just standing around watching as a single tree burned. Rhian closed the window and rubbed her arms to take the chill off of the cold air. The sun had just barely risen and the fire in the hearth was a little low.
Rhian took her time dressing. The bump on her head still made her a little weary and she checked the wound on her leg. It was healing nicely and soon it would be gone. She bit her lip a little as she belted her tunic up and pulled her hair back away from her face. She had plans for today. Shopping was one. Nara had given her enough to buy a few things she lost from the tragedy in the forest. Ula she couldnt replace in her heart. Horses were expensive anyway, and she didnt like handouts. She did like to shop, and bartering was the funnest part. That and it would take her mind off her other plans.
There was a soft knock on the door and it opened with Draig looking in. "Tis not midday and you be up."
Rhian glared at him. "I canna take so much ribbing from the likes of you this morning."
Draig nodded watching her for a moment. "It canna go on like this forever, sprite."
Rhian looked up at her brother. "Tis that angry, is she?"
Draig shrugged a little. "At you?" He shook his head. "Tis a good person she is, Rhian. You be knowin that. I be thinkin the last thing she would want, was ta hurt you." He gently brushed the bruise on her temple. "But you be havin to make amends before the rift widens."
Rhian looked away. "Why so brutal, Draig?" She looked back at him not understanding. "I can see her wantin ta make an example. But twas enjoyment in her eyes." She gazed at his face hoping he would help.
Draig held her close. "I canna answer, sprite. Only one can." He held her back and crouched down a little to look into her eyes. "You will have ta be talkin to her."
Rhian nodded slowly. "Aye."
Draig smiled. "Off ta the market with ya, or twill be suppertime by the time ya come back."
Rhian made a face at him and he laughed. "Be glad I donna have to cook for you anymore."
"I be livin longer," he teased.
"Ach!" she muttered as she moved away from him to get her boots.
He laughed for a moment. "I be havin one of the guards go with you into the market."
Rhian looked up. "Why?"
Draig looked to the floor. "Tis Caits orders."
Rhian frowned. "What?!"
Draig looked to her. "I canna blame her, sprite. You be gettin into more trouble than when you were a wee thing in Kel Glaghna."
Rhian pulled her boots on angrily. "She canna do that!"
"She can. And I wouldna go barrelin in ta argue with her about it. She be madder than a hornet over somethin. Even Nara be stayin away."
Rhian watched him to find he was serious. "Tis from the fire?" she asked gesturing to the window where the smoke could be seen.
Draig shrugged. "I donna know, but Guy Parkin be upset as well."
Rhian shook her head a little. "Who?"
"Caits war chief. He knows, but tis stayin away too."
Rhian nodded slowly. "Later then."
Draig nodded back. "Aye, twould be best."
Rhian found her purse and tucked it under her belt. Sadly she picked up the reins out of the tack on the table and fingered it in memory. She looked a little more closely to find that the metal was spotless but the leather on the edges were frayed. She shook her head slightly as she examined it. It was hers, but it was new. She had gotten it in Versy just before they left. Nothing should have been ruined. She sighed and set the piece back down.
"But then what do I be knowin?... I be dreamin about fairies and such." She rolled her eyes and left her room. She looked annoyed at the guard waiting for her. "I donna need you to follow me about."
He nodded. "Tis my orders, milady."
Rhian grimaced. "Ta follow me about?"
He nodded again. "Aye."
"Tis foolishness," she grumbled as she stepped past him and headed down the hallway.
Guy looked to the angry figure near the hearth in the master chambers. It was just the two of them. He was the only one left after Cait stormed about early that morning exploding up at anyone over Leitis reappearance. "My lord..." he tried again.
Cait glared at him. "Donna try ta placate me, Guy!" Cait stood straight. "She was banished! And now she be makin her way back into the Vale! Past everyone! Includin me!"
"We be findin her..."
Caits eyebrows rose. "Tell me how, Guy?! I be wantin to know since we havena found her yet!" Her voice rose with a thunderous tremor. There was a knock at the door to interrupt her tirade. Cait turned her glare on it. "What?!" she called out.
The door opened slightly and a young guard showed his scared face in the opening. "Milord, twas told ta be tellin ya when the Lady Rhiannon left."
Caits brow furrowed. "Did she have a guard with her as ordered?"
"Aye, milord. Tisna a happy face the Lady did show over it. Did see that she spent a few with the Chatelaine. She didna come out lookin much happier, milord."
Cait closed her eyes for a brief moment. She knew Rhian wasnt going to be happy about it. But she had argued the better part of the morning with Nara over keeping her safe. Especially since Leitis was a threat to Cait. She was now a threat to Rhian also.
Nara was very insistent that Rhian not be blocked in like she had no freedom. Cait argued back that Rhian was of an adult age. She had to take responsibility for what was going on. That did not set well with her cousin. Cait was surprised that their shouting didnt wake the dead. It did get Naras unborn children moving about inside her, forcing Nara to lie down and take a rest. Cait sat down next to her cousin and the two looked at each other. The anger gone but the dispute was not rested.
"Rhian tisna a fool, Cait," Nara said softly with the hint of steel in her voice.
"I be na sayin that, Nara," Cait replied with frustration.
Nara sighed. "Damn this OBrennan blood sometimes," she muttered. Cait gave a twitch of a smile. "She be knowin the ways of the world. But there are some things that she canna change in her heart."
Cait looked her way as she thought about it. "Her kindness," she said retrospectively.
Nara nodded. "She didna think of puttin herself in danger, Cait. But she canna let others suffer. Tis unimaginable to her."
Cait grunted in reply. "Then I be puttin a guard at her side when she leaves the castle."
Nara snorted in disbelief. "Then you better be pickin an expendable one."
Cait looked her way in shock. "Why?"
Nara rolled her eyes at her cousin. "You be considerin Draig a good soldier?"
Cait nodded as her brow furrowed. "Aye."
"When I first be meetin the two of them, Draig was a might protective of Rhian. It use ta drive him ta the point of chainin her down just ta keep her near, when shed slip away from him just to get away." Nara looked up at her. "I have a feelin you be puttin the guard that fails to watch over her into a place very unpleasant."
Cait blinked. "Even for her own protection?"
Nara chuckled lightly as she slid her fingers over her large belly calming her brood. "I remember the time your da thought the same was needed of you. Did ya feel protected or furious at na bein trusted?"
"Tisna the same thing, Nara," Cait said building her voice up a little in defense.
Nara nodded slightly to consent that Cait was very competent in the affairs of caring for herself. "You were furious. To be sure that Rhian willna be pleased at the prospect either."
"She be unable to defend herself...." Cait started.
"Aye, and if you had been thrown from your horse and knocked unconscious by a rock I be thinkin you be a might helpless too."
Cait frowned even deeper. "So you be wantin her out there alone then..." she was not amused.
"I didna say that. A guard tis a good idea. But donna try an break her spirit, Cait."
Cait looked to her cousin. "Is that what you be thinkin?"
Nara shook her head. "Nay, but tis only so long a young willow can live in the darkness of the protective trees above it before it begins to die from lack of sunlight."
Cait nodded. She understood what her cousin was saying. But she still wasnt amused. She left and ordered a guard as detail for Rhian.
Now it seemed as though the young woman wasnt ready to confront her on this. But went to Nara instead. Hoping for her to talk to Cait about it.
Rhian was still a little put out as she left the castle grounds, heading for the gates to the city common with the guard still a little ways behind her. Nara had done little to ease her displeasure at being treated like a child. Rhian could have sworn she had thought it all out before she went in to see her. Nara had been polite but she reaffirmed what Cait decided. The small red head bit her lip lightly as she nodded to the guards as she past through the gates into the city. She could have sworn she would have gotten Nara on her side and she would have talked to Cait about it to get her to back off on the guard.
The dark headed woman filled Rhians vision for a moment. She blinked to get the image from her dreams out of her mind. She had too many things to accomplish today to be sidetracked by the reoccurring dream. First was to get rid of her guard. The tiniest glint of a challenge formed in Rhians bright green eyes as she headed for the closest vendor.
"Milady..." the guard called out from behind her.
Rhian turned to look at him. "Aye?"
She had been shopping for the better part of the morning. She bartered with every vendor to the last copper piece. And as her escort, the guard had been given the honor of carrying Rhians purchases, which were accumulated enough so that he had his arms quite full.
"Do... you...." he stuttered for a moment as she turned her full attention on him.
He was a summer or two older than her and had been very polite. Every guard wanted the duty of watching over her. Not just because the lady was quite beautiful. But the Lord of the castle would notice them as well. A good job and report with the Lady Rhiannon would surely be cause for an advancement in the ranks. He was a competent swordsman. But he was from peasant stock, lucky enough to have the skill to be accepted into a better duty than foot soldier.
"Should we be returnin, milady?" he asked as he lifted her purchases up slightly.
Rhian gave him a smile. "Only a few more and then we can." She watched as his thoughts evaporated as his knees trembled slightly at her smile. She turned back to her original course and headed through the throng. She wondered if that smile would work on someone else in the same way.
There were a few things Rhian heard more of in small talk around the area. One, being the execution. She heard the grisly details so many times she might as well of attended. The other was the tree burning this morning. Apparently no one knew what happened only that Cait had ordered it to be done and she had been furious.
Rhian had to grit her teeth to keep silent. She direly wanted to ask questions about it all. But then another bite in the rumor mill was of herself and what was going on between her and Cait. Very few of the people got the facts somewhat right. The argument in the dungeon, and the two werent on speaking terms. A few had suggested that she had wanted to kill the raider herself only Cait wouldnt allow it. By the gods... Rhian muttered to herself. Next they were probably going to think that she had gone hunting for them on purpose.
It was getting close to midday when Rhian noticed the increase in shoppers around the vendors. She gave a slight glance over to where her guard was struggling to keep up. So far so good.
Rhian shifted a little to her left and out of the sight of her guard. She heard the yelp of surprise from the guard and for a brief moment she felt some pity for him. The man was only doing his job. She stopped abruptly when a huge figure stood in front of her.
"Ach, Sprite. Where are ya goin?"
Rhian grimaced at she glanced up at her brother who was standing directly in her path. "Around you," she replied with an innocent voice.
Draig snorted in disbelief. "You left your guard back there." He motioned with his head to the guard who was trying to catch up with them and not lose all of Rhians packages at the same time.
"I donna be needin him, Draig," she whispered as the guard came closer. "I can take care of myself." Rhian looked up at him. "I didna realize that comin ta Teyrnon was goin to make me lose my freedom. Or I woulda stayed back in Versy."
Draig looked down into the slight sadness in his sisters eye. He slid an arm about her shoulder and she hugged him tight. The guard came huffing up.
"Sorry, sir!" the guard began to apologize rapidly.
Draig shook his head. "Tis of no moment, lad." He pointed with his chin to the castle. "You be takin Rhians things back and tell Lady Nara that I be takin care of Rhian." The guard tried to salute but found he couldnt, so he nodded respectfully and turned back.
Rhian let him go. "Draig..."
The huge man held up his hand. "We need to talk, sprite."
Rhian saw that he was serious. "Tis somethin I be regrettin later on?"
Draig smiled briefly. "Nay, sprite. But we havena spent much time together since comin to Teyrnon. And tis almost midday. I be seeing your belly rumble from here."
Rhian backhanded his stomach and he laughed heartily as he led her through the crowds for the closest respectable inn.
Draig left Rhian in front of the door to her room. They had talked in a small inn for some time and it reminded her of the past when she was young and Draig or Grady would watch after her and Conlan in the evening as her father and a few of his helpers would help out guests. She never remembered a night when the inn wasnt full. She could have sworn a few times she had heard the echo of her fathers laugh while she and Draig ate their meal. Her father was a big man, not the size of Draig but close.
She could remember her father being teased by the townsfolk that Draig, only sixteen summers along would be able to take him on. It was almost as much as they teased him about the diminutive daughter he had. All her brothers has teased her about being short. Even Grady and Conlan were as tall as her father.
Her father found her crying out by the woodpile one evening after she couldnt take it anymore. He said it didnt matter, she was her mothers daughter. And her mother had never been really tall. Rhians one wish had always been to know her mother. Then it had changed over the years to wishing her family was still with her. Now... now she wasnt sure. Her nightmares were being replaced with exciting dreams about the Lord of the Castle...
Rhian was startled when the door to her room opened. Nara was standing in the doorway. "Ach Rhian! I didna think it would be takin your brother so long ta hunt you down!"
"For what?" Rhian asked as her brow furrowed.
Nara clasped a hand about Rhians forearm. "The dresses be done. Deirdre be needin to see how they fit."
Rhian rolled her eyes as Nara dragged her into a room full of women. She wasnt surprised why he hadnt told her. She would have snuck off after he left her alone.
Cait watched as people came into the dining hall for the evening dinner. She saw a few she wished to talk with. And there were a few that she had just put on her hate list. Merchants..., by the gods, if they werent necessary shed ban the lot of them from trading in Teyrnon. She and Malcolm and the head of the treasury haggled over the price of taxes for selling their goods there. And the weird old druid, Medr found his way back in again. And thats when her temper skyrocketed. The old fool had given her father a headache when Cait performed the ritual to the Goddess Morrigan claiming she had no right since she wasnt of the Druidic clans to call on the gods of old.
Medr had gotten laughed out of the court since no one had seen a Druid in scores of summers past. But now, since she had the mark of Morrigan and her prowess to back up the mark, Medr changed his tactics. Believing he was now to be her personal advisor. Cait rolled her eyes at this memory. For years he had warned her about the fox that would come and take claim over her. And not only that, but this fox would restore the two worlds with their own. The otherworld and the netherworld. And the mystical and the Tuatha would return to the Vale of Caerloach.
In one way Cait couldnt argue with him. She believed in the Tuatha. She had since she was a child. Especially the goddess of war, Morrigan. She was always awed with stories about the womans skills and her warning of coming death. Since she took up the right at sixteen summers old and she had wandered out of the Vale and fought in the name of OBrennan she had proven her skills at battle. In the space of a few summers she had proven more as a wise tactician, just like her father.
But now she was just fed up with the old fool. She had him banished from entering the city and to make sure the guards went with him and he packed up what he could carry and escorted to the gates of the city. Cait was no fool. The man would be back, one way or the other and one day he would over step his bounds completely and she would have to put him in the dungeon just to keep him out of her hair.
One thing that was cleared up for her since she had time to think about it was the fox that would hold a claim on her. She smiled a little to herself at that. There was one little fox that she knew of. But as to who would claim whom... That was still left for serious debate and Cait never lost to anyone or anything. That little fox would be no different.
The room was a little quiet as the creature first and foremost in her mind came into the room. If it hadnt of been for her jaw already being tense, it would have dropped onto the table. Silken blond red hair done up in a delicate bejeweled clasp and a dress of fine white linen with deep red trim, one of the OBrennan colors.
Cait watched with the rest of the crowd as a servant pulled out a chair and Rhian sat. It took a moment before the conversation about the room started up. And the old man next to Rhian looked overjoyed to sit next to the young woman. And for the first time in Caits life she was extremely jealous. She looked over to where Nara sat next to her. Her cousin leaned in a bit.
"It be turnin out lovely," she whispered softly.
"What?" Cait asked.
Nara looked at her. "The dress." Cait blinked and her brow furrowed. "On Rhian. The green one tis just as beautiful." She sighed and looked to her vast waistline. "I donna be thinkin I ever twas such a small size." She looked back at Cait. "Tis called big boned, my ma said. Tch! Tis a good thing men like big boned or the world would be without children."
Cait snorted slightly at Nara criticism. Not only at herself but the male gender as well. All in the same breath. But she had to admit, Rhian looked... delectable. Cait raised an eyebrow at that word. She realized that no matter what had taken place in the dungeons she could never stay angry with the young woman. She had pretty much forgotten about it, except for the way Rhian had looked at her. She had found her goal for the evening. To see if Rhian would forget about it too.
Dinner went smoothly. Rhian took care not to spill anything on her new dress. She had to admit. After years of wearing trousers and tunics she found the feel of the full skirt about her legs was wonderful. And the look of the mens faces as she strode down the hall to the dining room. She had to pause around one corner to laugh silent as one of the younger men smacked the side of his head against the stone wall in an effort to see her continue on.
The only thing she hadnt liked was the hours it took to get her ready. By the gods, what a pain! She had plans once Draig had left. Like finding out about that burning tree. And the gossip going around about her and Cait. One she had heard just from wandering about the market square was that Cait held grudges. And she was ruthless in carrying out her revenge. That made her a little nervous. She knew Cait had a temper, but she didnt think the woman was so bloodthirsty. Even after yesterdays execution.
She wanted to get by herself and ferret out all these pieces of information. She wanted to know what she was getting herself into. She had glanced up a few times to the high table only to be caught in the hooded blue eyes of the Lord of the Castle. To keep her senses about her Rhian turned back to the old man next to her. She crossed her legs to keep the pressure she was feeling from building any further. The blue eyes had burned into her soul like a brand. She had seen it before with overbearing men at the castle in Versy. But she never felt anything about them except annoyed.
She overheard talk about the city getting ready for the festival of Samhain. Which meant that the seasons were changing to cold ones. It amazed her that everyone still celebrated the old custom, but no one really believed in it anymore. Rhian wasnt sure if she believed in it herself. But the idea of fairies and powerful gods and goddesses always captured her heart and she was taken away.
Just like the other night, she reminded herself. She had dreamt of fairies and brownies and the woman in white. Maybe she did have an overactive imagination. Rhian sighed as dinner winded down.
Cait felt a nudge from her right. She had been staring at her dessert for longer than she could remember. She glanced over to see the serious look in Naras eyes then they shifted out to a direction in the crowd. Cait looked to the same spot and found Rhian had become the center of attention with some of the young men in the crowd. Jealousy sparked up in the blue eyes and she slowly stood. Not that she could blame them. The young woman was devastating, but she didnt belong with any of them.
She made her way down to where they stood and she cleared her throat. Everyone looked her way. Included a pair of the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen. Cait held out her hand, palm upward. "My lady, would you care ta walk with me?"
That right there was to find out if Rhian was still angry with her, and in a way to make some peace between them. Rhian looked at her intently for a moment trying to gage what mood the blue eyes were showing. She found a hint of delight with a lot of desire mixed in. Just like the eyes in her dream of the field. And for some reason, Rhian couldnt resist.
Slowly a smaller hand slid into Caits upturned one. Cait smiled slightly and as any honorable noble would do. She led her out of the room respectfully. It was when the doors closed that they could hear the noise of gossip rage through the dinning room. It didnt matter, both of them thought. Nara would tell them in the morning.
For a short while they walked about the lesser used corridors of the castle. Neither of them saying a word, but taking in each others presence. It hadnt been so long ago that to Rhian the Cat of Caerloach was just a myth. And now here she was, in less than a fortnight taking a leisurely walk with the tall woman. Rhian had been shocked and pleased that Cait had come down and with a few words took her out of any running with the young men in the room. At least she knew that Cait wasnt really angry with her. If she was, she could have just left her to fend for herself. Though now that she thought about it, Cait was probably just as bad as twenty young men. Usually men stammer about and dont get anywhere for the longest time. They make up bad poetry and display themselves and their physical prowess to her until she wanted to burst out laughing.
Cait didnt do any of that, she knew what she wanted and she wasnt embarrassed by it at all. Rhian blinked out of her reverie as she heard Cait say something softly to her.
Rhian looked up slightly confused and the edge of Caits lip curled up in a smile and repeated her question. "How are you feelin?"
Rhian blushed a little that she had been caught off guard. But she liked that smile. She nodded slightly. "Quite good," she replied.
She didnt dare to admit that her leg was killing her from walking most of the morning, then having to stand as the women got her ready for dinner.
Cait nodded politely as they turned another corridor. She was surprised to see that every corridor they entered was empty. Even at night there was always servants or guards about the place. "Im glad you came ta walk with me," she finally spoke up. She saw Rhian glance up at her, the pale brows furrowed a little. "I didna think you would care ta since we last talked."
Rhian thought back. The dungeons, two days ago. "You be havin every right ta bein angry with me. Twasna my place ta question you."
Cait gave a soft sigh as she led her up into the front of the castle. "I did listen, Rhian. But ta show mercy ta the scum... I willna see it. Ever."
Rhian turned her full gaze on her. "Why?"
Cait stopped her in the hallway just before Rhians door and faced her. "Anyone who dares ta hurt you will never deserve it."
"I donna want people dyin over me," Rhian said softly as she looked to Caits boots.
Cait lifted up Rhians chin with gentle fingers. "We can argue about many things. But your safety..." Cait shook her head as she slid her thumb over soft lips. "Tisna one for discussion."
Rhian swallowed as the sensation made her shiver.
"Care ta invite me in?" Cait asked.
Cait looked around Rhians room for a moment to see that it was a little messy. Another dress of green was laid on the clothes press. The room looked more lived in and used than the last time she was in here. The fire was a little low and the room was halfway dark. She pushed the door shut with her foot then moved up to slide her hands around Rhians shoulders. The young woman was nervous. She could tell every time Rhian looked up at her.
"Donna tell me this is the first time bein kissed?" Cait said softly with a smile.
Rhian smiled back. "Tisna," she replied back as Cait leaned over. But it was the first one she truly wanted.
Cait smiled as she cupped the back of Rhians neck, sliding her fingers into the long, soft hair. She supported her with her other hand about her waist as she drew up along her body. Rhian closed her eyes as Cait bent to kiss her.
"Gods!" Cait swore loudly and Rhian opened her eyes. The kiss never came.
"What?" Rhian started to get out.
"Bloody rats!" Cait muttered as she kept a tight hold on Rhian and searched the floor with her eyes.
"Rats?" Rhian said as she was bodily lifted off the floor and dumped onto her bed.
"Stay there," Cait ordered. She stalked to the fire and stirred it up bring much more light into the room. She began to scan the room as she took out her dagger. The only time a rat ever attacked a human was when it had an illness. Usually one that killed many people in the process. She couldnt have a plague in her city. Let alone near Rhian.
"Tis over there!" Rhian pointed.
Cait looked in that direction. "Thats a bag, love," Cait told her.
Rhian looked over at her. "What did you call me?"
Cait didnt answer her as she caught the sign of a movement on the ground near the bed. Cait quickly flipped her dagger to grasp the sharp blade and cocked it back, aiming it at the furry rodent.
Rhian felt something tense about her throat. The pendant shimmered and Cait stopped from flinging the dagger as a small fairie appeared in front of her.
Cait took a step back in surprise at the tiny creature. She squinted as she looked to the tiny face and saw a smile. Faster than she had ever seen anything move it returned to Rhian to look at her and make a musical noise then with a splash of light the fairie was gone. Caits eyebrows rose as she looked to Rhian who looked just as surprised as her.
"I be guessin your dream isna a dream," Cait got out.
Rhian slowly nodded. "She said na to hurt the brownie."
Caits brow furrowed. How did she understand it? "What brownie?"
"This one," a tiny voice replied.
Cait looked down where it stood at the end of the bed. Rhian scooted over and peered over at it as well. "Begods..." Cait muttered.
Rhian smiled a little. "Did she send ya?"
The brownie looked up at her. "Well... ta be tellin the truth I didna ask."
Cait grunted in contempt as she sat down on the bed near Rhians legs. "What do ya be wantin?"
Rhian frowned a little at her, but Cait didnt care. Damn it! One day she was going to get to kiss her and a whole lot more and the gods be damned who gets in her way! Cause shed slaughter them all.
"Your name?" Rhian asked politely. She could understand Caits frustration at being interrupted. But to know that she wasnt dreaming it was important to her.
"Houdain," the brownie said proudly. "Houdain the brave!"
Cait looked up from where her eyes were tracing the smooth curve of Rhians hip. "Tisna an Irish name."
Houdain fidgeted for a moment. "Tis of Britannia."
Cait snorted. "What be possessin your da to name you from a weak land such as that?"
Houdain frowned at her. "Tis nothin wrong with me name!" he shot back.
Cait stood before she let the urge to run her hand along Rhians hip get the best of her, cause she knew she wouldnt stop and she wasnt going to give the rat a show. She looked down at the brownie, completely annoyed with the thing. It had dirty brown hair and its nose looked out of proportion with its face. "Ach! Tis some reason you be named such a thing!"
"Tis none of your concern!" he replied.
Cait smiled a little cruelly. "I be lord of this castle. Everythin about here concerns me."
Rhian took Caits hand in her own. "Let it be," she said softly. "Tisna a time ta argue amongst ourselves."
Houdain smiled in victory. Cait gave him an evil grin as she held onto the smaller hand. "You best be watchin yourself. One day you could be findin yourself with the rest of the rats about this place."
"Cait!" Rhian sighed out.
The woman looked down at her. "What?"
"Be nice," she answered.
Cait smiled slowly like the mark on her back. "Ta you, always. Ta him... tis an unsure thing."
"For me then," Rhian asked.
Cait rolled her eyes and looked to the smug look on Houdains face. "Aye, for you. But he best keep from angerin me or I canna live up ta that."
Rhian nodded. "Thank you." Cait nodded in reply. Rhian looked down at Houdain. "Why are you here?"
Houdain looked from Caits predatory eyes scowling at him. To the bright, pleasant face of Rhian and he smiled back. "I be here ta help!"
"With what?" Cait muttered.
"The book, the book of mysteries."
Rhian looked curiously at Cait who shrugged. "What book is that?" Rhian asked.
Houdain sighed. "The Labor Gabala."
Cait looked at him. "The book of the gods?"
He nodded. "Aye... I be readin it for ya." He directed that at Rhian.
Rhians brow furrowed. "The one I be givin ta Cait?"
Houdain looked to the glowering woman. "You be givin it ta her?!"
"Yes, she did," Cait growled. "So I be guessin that you be workin with me." She let her lip curl up lazily and Houdain gulped in horror at the look.
A distance into the forest the castle of Teyrnon could be seen. It looked like a childs toy. One to play with, and to crush beneath ones hand if so desired. Medr watched it with fury since he knew who was in that castle with Morrigans chosen. The fox... and what she would do with the Vale. The holiest of all places in Ireland. Where the center of magic was held.
The girl! He had seen her. The bewitcher had Cait in her grasp. He would not allow it! The druids owned the right to serve the Tuatha. Not normal people. He turned as he heard horses riding towards him. Five raiders came up and all of them with their swords drawn.
The head raider smirked at him. "What ya be doin out in the woods old man? Didna ya hear? There be raiders in the forests. Take everythin ya own and then chop ya up for fun."
All of the raiders laughed at this. Medr looked at them contemptuously. He hated raiders. Ruining the beauty and mystery of the forest. But now he had no choice. "I be wishin ta see your leader."
The head raider snorted. "And what makes ya be thinkin we be doin such a thing?"
Medr snorted slightly as his disdain grew for the murders. "I be thinkin your leader will be wantin some knowledge about the Lord of Teyrnon."
The head raider looked him over. "Why donna you be tellin me and I be takin it back."
Medr scowled. "So that you be cuttin me down once you have it? I have more important things ta do than end up on your sword. Take me or not, but you be regrettin it if your leader loses out on what I be knowin."
The head raider looked to the other in the group, then slowly nodded. "Follow."
Medr took one look back at Teyrnon and smiled. Soon the fox would be gone and all would be right in the Vale once more.
She couldnt help it. Cait sat across from Rhian at the desk in her chambers as the rodent Houdain scurried back and forth across the pages pointing things out to Rhian and completely ignoring Cait.
It didnt matter anyway. Cait wasnt paying attention. And as far as she was concerned if Rhian would let her she would have slammed the book shut more than a candlemark ago ending the annoyance in front of her. What caught Caits attention was when Rhian leaned over to look at something closer in the book. She groaned internally as the strawberry blond did it again. The most beautiful cleavage she had ever seen was in arms reach and here she was denied it.
Cait tracked the brownie like a cat would a mouse as he helped Rhian flip another page over. Cait toyed with her empty mug long since drained as Houdain came near stepping off the book. With a easy turn she upended the mug over Houdain and slammed the book shut. Rhian was startled with a little jump as she looked to the glowering Lord.
"Cait?" she started to ask only to be stop as Cait leaned over the table and kissed her. Cait even shoved the book to one side as she climbed over the table not willing to break the contact as she held Rhian close to her letting the kiss deepen. Rhian felt her skin flush as her thoughts scattered. Willingly, she put her arms about Caits neck and Cait grumbled in the kiss as she began to move her back towards the bed.
Rhian felt herself being lowered onto her back as the kissing intensified, Cait nibbled her lower lip only to kiss her firmly once again. Laces found by deft fingers to her dress were undone. Caits lips traced a hungry pathway along her jaw and down her neck as the last of the laces were removed. Cait moved back a little to look deeply into Rhians eyes and the redhead blushed making Cait smile wickedly. Leaning over Cait kissed her tenderly.
"Am I goin to fast, love?" she asked softly.
Rhian blushed harder at the pet name bestowed on her. Nara had called her love on occasion, so had a few other older women. But when Cait said it Rhian knew exactly what she meant and it wasnt out of friendship. Rhian didnt trust herself to speak so she shook her head and rose up slightly to kiss her gently.
Cait accepted the kiss gladly feeling an overwhelming rush of love course through her body as she leaned her back into the sheets only to begin peeling back the shoulder of her dress while applying gentle kisses to the revealed skin. Rhian let her mind take it all in. The body covering her. The warm breath and soft lips on her skin. The strong arms that held her so. She didnt think it would ever be this wonderful as Cait began her trail of kisses up the gentle rise of her breast.
Caits pulse was pounding, Rhian could feel it beneath her fingertips as she ran them through the long, dark hair and against the sides of her neck. Only a bit more of cloth and her chest would be bare. She swore Cait didnt need to breathe as the constant kisses continued.
A pounding came at the door and Cait growled but the kissing didnt stop as she pulled the cloth back further.
"My Lord?!" came a call from out in the hallway. It was Guy.
Cait swore angrily against Rhians skin. This could not be happening to her! She planned to spend the rest of the night uncovering the beautiful body beneath her.
"Caitlin?!" came another call from Guy.
Cait looked up to see Rhian biting her lip to keep her quick breath from escaping. It wasnt fair! She wrapped her arms about the redhead and nuzzled her cheek into the firm rise beneath her. Maybe hell go away.
The door began to open. Rhian stiffened at the idea of being found in a compromising position. Caits eyes slit into pure anger as she began to get up, releasing her prize. "I be killin him," she muttered as she went for her sword.
Rhian smiled until she realized she was serious. "Cait!" she whispered loudly.
Cait looked back at the concerned young woman and jerked the blade free. "Stay there!" she muttered back.
The door opened wider as Cait stalked across the large room and faced her stunned warchief. "What ever you be wantin Guy, better be damn good or I be makin you a head shorter!" she said angrily as he backed up into the hallway staying away from her wavering sword.
She watched as he visibly swallowed. She listened as he tried to gain his voice, hearing in the background as Rhian collected herself and she knew her seducing the redhead was over for now. That made her angrier. Slaughtering a lot of people sounded really good since her body was so keyed up and her warchief would be an excellent place to start.
"WHAT?!" she bellowed.
"Tis news, my lord," he started. The glint in her eye got harder. "Hard riders comin through the pass. Loaghais be taken over a fortnight ago. And the raiders burned most of Kern to the ground na to long ago. Survivors from both be headin for Teyrnon."
Cait bit the inside of her cheek to tamper down her frustration. She honest didnt care if all of Ireland was being run over. She wanted a quiet place with no interruptions and a very naked and willing Rhian in her arms. "When do the riders be at Teyrnons gates?" she asked in a calm, quiet voice Guy knew so well and he flinched at the thought of how many people usually ended up dead from the intent in it.
"Late on morrows eve," he replied.
Cait slowly nodded as she stared at the lit sconces in the walls. "And the lot from Kern?"
"Most be walkin, no less that four days journey."
Cait looked directly into his eyes. "So what do you be wantin me to do about it this eve?"
Guy paled as he saw a glimpse of Rhian through the crack in the door as she moved to the table where Houdain was trapped under the mug. "Forgive me, my lord."
Cait nodded slowly as she tried to loosen up on her anger. "Aye, I do, Guy. But you be listenin and tell the rest of your men. Unless the whole of Teyrnon be burning down. I donna want to be disturbed when I be retired for the eve." She came in closer and stared him straight in the eye, which made him swallow at the cold look. "Understood?"
He nodded. "Aye, my Lord."
"Get Malcolm to find places for those from Kern to stay. I be wantin the riders from Loaghais brought to the hall when they come. And be sendin word out to the guard at the pass that the survivors are ta be stopped until I be hearin what happened."
Guy nodded again. Loaghais was a big city. And from the tell of it the survivors were coming in mass numbers for the Vale. He watched as Cait moved back into her chambers and shut the door tightly. He heard the bar slide into place locking out anyone from entering. She had scared the hell out of him. But he grinned at the thought of Cait finally settling down.
Morning had come and some ways into the forest outside of Teyrnon unseen by those who traveled the road passed by a small enclosed camp. Medr watched as he was led to a large tent in the midst of many raiders and horses. He stopped as a young woman with pale blond hair stepped out and into the light. She was quite a beauty. Flawless skin, delicate... Her dark brown eyes latched onto him. And where he could see an intelligent woman, the flicker of insanity waited in the wings to rear its head and he knew she was the one in charge.
The lead raider that had brought him looked to her with a bit of respect and a whole lot of fear. "Leitis, I be bringin ya a fool that says he be helpin."
Leitis looked to Medr then to the man. "I be hopin youre right, or you be joinin him as my next gift ta the Lady Cait."
Medr swallowed and stepped in. "Leitis..."
The brown eyes shifted back to him and he fell silent with the piercing gaze. It was much like Caits own look only more cold and distant. She looked him over again. "A druid?"
He smiled with a crook toothed grin. "Aye."
She snorted in contempt. "Come."
He watched for a second as she went back into the tent and he almost tripped over his tattered robe to follow. He found himself in a small antechamber closed off from the back of the tent. Leitis sat in an ornate chair. "I was told you be comin. You have news for me."
He nodded slowly. "I be wantin to get rid of the fox."
Leitis leaned back in her chair and slung one leg over the other and began to rock it absently in the air. "The fox. As in the panther and the fox."
He nodded. "Aye."
The eyes became hooded and unkind. "And who be this fox?"
"The Kelan. The redhead that Lady Cait be dotin on. Rhiannon of Versy."
Leitis did not look amused. "And how do you be knowin this?" she asked in a dark tone.
He backed up a little, Medr was beginning to wonder if it was wise to come to this woman. "She be havin the gift of Danu about her neck. The one that will bring the Truth to the Vale again. And all of Ireland will be as the ancient times."
The frown on Leitis creased. "This Rhiannon is Danus chosen." Her voice went a little funny as her head tilted a little to one side.
He nodded again as he saw the madness creep up a little. "Aye, she be talkin about fairies and such when your men be huntin her down the other day."
Leitis smiled for the first time. "So this Kelan isna able ta stand up for herself."
Medr shook his head. "She be a slip of a lass. Lady Cait be the one bringin her back."
Leitis nodded slowly as she tilted her head to the other side as she thought. Finally she stood abruptly scaring Medr into staggering backwards into the side of the tent. Leitis gave him a look of disdain. "Come with me, Druid."
Leitis walked through the curtain to the back, shoving the heavy cloth out of her way. Medr followed to find a room littered with various things. Most of them were rather wicked looking bits of metal and chain. There was a small bit of bedding in one corner and a low slung table made from crudely hewn wood opposite it. On it was a was a piece of sandstone. Carved on the top of it was an elaborate woven design showing it to be of true Irish nature. Square in size it looked as if a strong man could lift it up.
Medrs eyes went wide as he recognized the stone. "Tis much smaller than I be thinkin." Leitis gave the stone a glance but said nothing and he continued. "I didna think it was possible to be gettin it from the Scots. They be guardin it life and limb."
Leitis gave him a full smirk. "They be thinkin they have the true Stone, fool. Has never left Ireland since the gods created it. An it never will."
Medr moved a little closer to look at the stone. "Will it be givin you the power to defeat the fox?"
Leitis glared at the stone then looked away. "I mean to be findin out." She looked around the room with a scowl. "You have some answerin ta do!" she told the air about her. Medr looked at her as though she was now completely gone in her mind.
The ground beneath their feet gave a slight tremble as the earth seemed to shift. Medr looked scared but Leitis acted as if it was an everyday occurrence. Slowly dirt and rock built upon each other as a muted light surrounded it. with one last burst the matter changed into the form of a woman. Dark brown hair was pulled back severely, showing an angular face with bright brown eyes. She was beautiful and yet seemed to the essence of coldness herself. No taller than Leitis, she was quite thin and the dress she wore was a marvelous black like onyx itself.
No sooner than the woman appeared Leitis confronted her. "What be this?! I am the fox! Not some Kelan! You be promisin me that Cait and Teyrnon were mine!"
The woman looked at her with a stony gaze, which even Leitis couldnt hold for long. "I promised you nothing of the kind." The woman told her calmly. Medr winced at the grating tone of her voice. It was deep and gravelly, like two stones being rubbed together. "You believed what you wanted. Only one may be the fox, and it was not destined for you."
Leitis frowned angrily. "You think to be makin a fool out of me!" she hissed back.
The woman smirked slightly. "Only you can make yourself a fool. Do not look beyond reason." She looked to Medr. "I was hoping that your raids would bring a higher Druid to my presence."
Medr frowned. He was of the highest blood in the Druidic clans. The woman laughed abruptly. It seemed as though her alabaster skin would break from this, but the laugh was not kind, nor did her face crease into a smile.
"You think to highly of yourself," she told him. "You are a vagabond of the clans. The blood is no longer pure. Even Danus chosen carries more eldritch blood in her veins than you. And once she has found her true power she will contain the lifeblood of all Druids in her." She looked back to Leitis. "There is no time to seek out the head of the clan anymore. Danu and Morrigan have made certain that the Labor Gabala is in the possession of Morrigans chosen. We will not get it. You must bring the Fox to me. Only then can we transfer the gift into you."
Leitis grinned. "And I will be the fox then."
The woman smirked. "No, you will be a new part in the destiny of Ireland." She reached out and cupped her cheek only to have Leitis scream and pull back covering her cheek with her hands as though she had been burned. "Remember who you pledged your life too, Raven. Remember who freed you to slaughter your own in Tadhg. Remember who has given you the skills to steal the Stone of Destiny. Remember who controls you now."
With a wisp of light the woman was gone and the rocks and dirt crumbled to the earth. Leitis grabbed a shard of mirror from nearby and looked at her face to see the mark of a raven marring her cheek. With a scream to the heavens she flung the mirror away and began to pound into the pile of rocks with her fists as though she could beat the woman herself.
Medr backed himself into a corner praying that Leitis wouldnt notice him. Most of her anger was burnt out by the time she did. Her gazed turned on him. She was madder than he had ever seen anyone. "Get out," she hissed.
Medr scrambled to do it as quickly as he could. Leitis looked to the rocks beneath her bloody hands. "For now Queen Mabh. But when I be gettin the gift of Truth. You will be na more."
Cait woke up in her bed.
Giving a brokenhearted sigh she rolled over to see where Rhian would have lain if various factors had not separated them the night before. To make matters even worse she had dreamt the night away of what would have happened and she had woken many times during the night holding a pillow close wishing it was the red head.
The night with her had ended when she barred the door shut only to find that Rhian had released the little rodent who was spitting mad. Houdain stopped his tirade when he saw that Cait was much madder than him. Rhian decided that it would be best to start on the following day. Cait sincerely hoped that Houdain would just disappear and she would have an opportunity to coax the younger woman into bed. But the brownie stayed until Rhian had left, leaving her with a chaste kiss and he followed her out.
She laid in bed for a while until a servant knocked at her door and she told them to come in. She got up and asked for her breakfast to be served in her chambers as she washed and dressed quickly.
Cait brightened up to see Rhian at her door not much later. "Come in," she said softly as she leaned down and gave her a slow kiss, which had the servants watching with grins.
"Cait," Rhian whispered with an embarrassed flush. "You be havin the whole of Teyrnon talkin about us soon."
Cait chuckled as she gave her another kiss. "Tis already known, love." She looked Rhian in the eye. "I be wantin the whole of Ireland to know of my love for you."
Rhian went bright red and Cait hugged her close. She was happier than she had ever been before. Even after her best battle or the bestowing of Morrigans gift to her. Rhian was now her life.
"Should we be gettin back to the book?" Rhian asked from her comfortable position.
Cait looked at her then around the place. "Where is the rat?"
Rhian lightly slapped her side. "Tis a brownie," she admonished. "Most likely he be around somewhere." She backed up a little out of Caits arms. "Why do you be hatin him so?"
Cait made a face. "Tis like an itch ya canna scratch, luv. Tis only there ta annoy ya."
Rhian thought about that for a moment and then smiled. "You need to be learnin patience."
Cait chuckled. "I know patience ta my hearts content. But na with overbearin fools."
Rhian looked up at her. "How many you be thinkin that?"
"Na as fools?" Cait asked. Rhian nodded and Cait looked thoughtful. "One." Rhian looked up at her with a furrowed brow and Cait rested a finger on the shorter womans nose. "You."
Cait escorted her to a chair and servants brought in trays of food. Rhian smiled as the two dug in. Soon the trays were empty and set to one side as Cait brought out the book.
"So...." Cait asked as she looked around. "Where is he?"
Rhian sighed as she sat back. "You upset him last eve."
Cait rolled her eyes and snorted. "Methinks the daft rodent should learn to leave when na wanted." She leaned forward. "I willna be makin the same mistake of lettin someone interrupt us again."
Rhian flushed as Cait smiled. She liked this game a lot. And making the red head blush was the best game of all. Other than figuring out how to get everyone to leave them alone. Rhian looked up. "Nara was talkin this morning about the festival comin."
Cait nodded slowly as she flipped through the book. "Aye, Samhain be less than two days from now." She glanced up. "Malcolm, man that he be, was tryin his best to do somethin with it before all of you came here. But begods, between the two of us, na a damn thing be gettin done."
Rhian smiled. "Nara has always been rather keen on festivals. She be doin more at Beltaine in Versy than most other women combined." She looked down to the book between them. "But she wasna carryin so much then."
Cait nodded as she slowly reached out and held Rhians hand. Her thumb stroked the back of her hand and she could swear she felt Rhians heart beat faster when it stroked her wrist.
"Ach!" came a tiny voice. "Someone be helpin me!"
Both Cait and Rhian looked down to see Houdain stomping around beneath the table. Rhian looked to the glint in Caits eyes. "Be nice," she said quietly.
Cait looked back and pulled a face at her showing how much she didnt want to be. Rhian held her hand out and Houdain stepped on her palm and balanced carefully as he was lifted up to the table. He hopped down and headed for the book. He glared at Cait then he began to translate for them again.
It was almost midday when Cait closed her eyes and tried to think straight. Everything that the rat had told her was jumbled up together. She knew she was Morrigans chosen. Not that she had ever seen her goddess or even spoken to her. But the fire in her blood connected the two and she knew that it was the goddess herself that made that possible. She knew she had skills beyond the ordinary warrior as well. But from what Houdain was saying, that she had more than Morrigan had yet to show her.
Then there was Rhian. What he was telling them was even more mind boggling. Morrigan was the Goddess of War. That was easy enough. But Danu... She was the essence of life itself. The mother of the Tuatha and the mortals. Every living thing was by her hand. Cait glanced across to the young woman whose brow was furrowed as she tried to take in all that Houdain was telling her. Her gift when she somehow came into it was control of that very essence that was contained in every living thing.
She didnt know why it was called that. Cait found herself lost as Houdain just kept reading. Rhian would be powerful. But then that didnt surprise her. She had taken down Irelands greatest warrior without even lifting a blade.
"No!" Houdain exclaimed to Rhian and Cait focused back on the conversation. "Tis one in the same!"
Rhian looked at him skeptically. "How can that be? The Truth, if what you be tellin me is right is life itself. But eldritch magic..."
Houdain huffed out in contempt. "Tis the same thing! It comes from the earth. Every creature be knowin this! When did humans get so daft?!" He felt Cait shift behind him and he jumped out of the way when a dagger was imbedded in the table right where he previously stood.
He looked up to see Cait glaring at him.
"I donna like you to begin with, rodent. Be careful how you speak to Rhian."
Rhian put her hand on Caits to calm her down. "He meant nothin by it."
Cait looked at the brownie grimly. "Helper or na. Donna disrespect her again."
Houdain nodded quickly but he scooted over to Rhians side of the table anyway. Rhian gave a soft sigh as she looked back to the page. "What does this be sayin?"
Houdain gave Cait one last glance as the tall warrior leaned back in her seat and watched him through hooded slits. He nodded as he focused on what the text was saying. "Tis about the Stone of Destiny and the Song of Truth."
Caits eyes opened wider for that. "Does it say where the stone be?"
Rhian looked to Cait. "I be hearin of the Stone. But my da told of it being stolen by the Scots..."
Cait shook her head. "Tis what all hear. But if that be so, then why havena the Scots taken in a strong king? One that be stronger than Britannia? Or even the Chieftains here? Tis said that stone will bless the ruler that sits on the throne." She looked to Rhian. "And tis said to be the crux of all eldritch magic."
Rhian glanced to Houdain. "Tis true?"
Houdain nodded. "Brownies and fairies and such be knowin all of this."
Cait rolled her eyes. "And where be the stone now?"
Houdain looked at her. "Twas taken when the Tuatha left."
"Why would they be takin it?" Rhian asked. "I thought tis of this world? Na the otherworld."
"Aye," Houdain nodded as he scratched his head. "I donna seem ta remember that part of the story."
Cait glared as she shook her head and started to repeat what he had said. "Donna seem ta..." she bit her voice off as she began to get angry.
Rhian held her hand and stroked it to calm her down. "Tell us the rest of the page, Houdain."
Houdain looked at the two women and nodded quickly. Rhian and Cait looked at each other for a while until Cait calmed down and Rhian smiled. Cait lifted one side of her lips and kept a firm hold on Rhians hands when the red head was going to let go.
Houdain read for a while longer then he stopped and read silently and he didnt look amused. Soon he flushed a little as he read on and he glanced up at Rhian then Cait only to stare at the book as though he was watching something embarrassing.
"What?" Rhian asked before Cait could say it a little more forcefully.
Houdain shifted in his tunic as he gave the pages in the book a nervous look. "You... um... tis..." he stopped again and pulled at the neck of his tunic.
"What?!" Cait growled under her breath.
He looked very nervous up at her and took a gulp of air in. "You be knowin of the druid rituals?" He stopped again and flushed as he looked from her to Rhian with a knowing look then back to her with his eyes a little wider.
Caits eyes narrowed as she shook her head not understanding. "Druid rituals? About what?! There be many of them, rodent!"
"You be learnin them all?" he asked with the flush still in his face.
Cait looked even more confused and Rhian didnt even understand what was going on. "Houdain, just tell us what it says," Rhian told him.
Houdain looked her way and flushed even more. "There be a grove to the west of the city.." Rhian pictured the place instantly in her mind and she looked to Cait who was looking from the brownie to her. She blushed and Caits eyebrows went up. She enjoyed the blush but wanted to know what she was actually blushing about.
"The joining tis a bit older than eldritch laws..." Houdain said as he looked to the book not wanting to see the blinding energy the two created. It was there all the time, but at that moment it was radiant.
"Joining..." Cait said as she looked into Rhians eyes. She slowly grinned. "Tall grasses... moonlight..." the blush in Rhians face deepened and moved down her neck. She leaned in and Rhian looked to the table. "When does this be takin place, rodent?"
Houdain was going to go look for a very big drink as the energy flowed so strongly. He was surprised at the question since Cait was moving in closer towards the gentle redhead who was looking very nervous and thrilled at the same time and the dark lords full attention was on her. "Samhain eve," he croaked out as he began to look for a way to get down from the table and leave the room before the primal power between the two of them overwhelmed him.
"Thank the gods," Cait murmured as she kissed Rhians lower lip.
Nara watched in amusement as Cait and Rhian strolled down the corridor. Hand in hand. The two had spent the day in Caits chambers. But she heard tell that it was to study that odd book that Rhian had given to Cait the first day in Teyrnon.
"Milady?" came a voice from behind her. Nara looked away from the couple to see a serving girl with a basket full of colorful streamers. She sorted through them then nodded, they would be fine for decorating the great hall. She looked back to see Malcolm talk with Cait and the dark headed woman nodded and resumed their course with Malcolm beside them. She gasped a little when two arms came about her holding her carefully.
"I believe the magi told you to be stayin in bed."
She looked over her shoulder to see Draig looking down at her. He carefully held her ever growing stomach.
"Ach, someone has ta be watchin over the festival," she replied. But honestly she was pleased that he had brought it up. She had carried really well, but this morning her back had started to give her pains. "Tis my duty as chatelaine."
Draig chuckled in her ear and kissed it. "This comin from a woman that was just sayin last eve that..."
Nara quickly placed a hand over his mouth as the servants around them smiled. "Hush... you..." she warned. "Besides, you best be thinkin about handin Rhian over to Cait soon."
Draig looked to the distant figures down the hallway and shrugged. "Twas a done deal the second day here."
Naras brow furrowed as she turned and looked up at him. "What?!"
Draig smiled. "As subtle as it may be Nara, I be na blind to the two of them."
Naras brow furrowed more. "Draig, you can be as daft as a poleaxed ox when it comes to two people fallin in love."
It was Draigs turn to frown. "Nay!" he replied indignantly.
Nara snorted undaintily as she prepared for an argument, she was in the mood for one. And there was no where her mate could hide from her for so long. "I nearly had to hit you over the head with a pan to get you to pay attention to me when I first came to Versy!" Draig looked thoughtful as he tried to remember. But that didnt stop her from continuing. "Then I be havin to draft poor Rhian to help me..." she stopped in the middle of her tirade. "What do ya mean twas a done deal on the second day?!"
Draig smiled. "Your cousin and I did have a small spat out in the trainin yards." He waved his hand slight about like it was no big deal.
Naras eyes narrowed to slits. "Tisna small spats when Cait be fightin, Padraig! Explain yourself!"
He did. He told the story of the two fighting and them coming to an understanding. Naras face was almost red. "You didna see fit to tell me this sooner?!" she cuffed his ear and the servants discreetly began to head for anywhere not near the two of them and Draig looked like he wanted to join them. "I spend all this time worryin over the two of them and my cousin has already decided beforehand and you donna tell me?!?!"
Draig began to respond when Nara winced putting a hand to her stomach. Draig grabbed her arms to support her. "Nara?"
She shook her head. "Tis nothin," she said with the tinge of anger still in her voice. She opened her mouth to start again when she was almost driven to her knees with pain. Draig held her up with a scared look. Easily the big man picked her up in his arms and headed for the their rooms in a quick step.
"Find the Magi, and get Lady Cait!" he bellowed to a nearby servant as he hurried away with Nara holding her stomach tight.
Cait entered the great hall with Rhians hand still clasped in hers and Malcolm walking with them on the other side of her. The day with Houdain and the book had not ended well. The kissing had been very nice and she got the redhead into her lap and held her close whispering softly to her which led to more kissing when Houdain finally returned insistent on continuing. It was late when Houdain left in a huff not only between the closeness of the two, but everything he was telling them was too much to encompass in one day. She could tell that Rhian didnt like the idea of being a chosen one, nor the fact that she was to be given this Truth.
Honestly Cait couldnt see why either. Not that she didnt think Rhian wasnt strong. But the young woman didnt care to be the center of attention. And this would most definitely make her a center of attention. Not only in the Vale, which was happening anyway since the two were so close, but in Ireland and eventually the world. If she could Cait would take it on herself. With what she had already and the Truth combined to it, she would be unstoppable.
Cait looked around the hall to see that there were quite a few people waiting to get on with the evening business. Usually Cait was very on top of things. She looked to the pale hair to the side of her and shrugged mentally. The affairs concerning her title mattered, but now it wasnt as important. Cait also saw what brought Malcolm to seek her out. Two riders from Loaghais. Both were tired and dirty. But first Cait escorted Rhian to a seat nearby vowing that once they had been mated that she would have one so that she could sit next to her.
For a moment that shook Caits mind. Even with past love interests she had never thought that before. To want someone so close that she would almost make them her equal. Everybody watched as Rhian sat, the red head noticed this and she blushed slightly but kept a strong look on her face as Cait moved to her seat and Malcolm stood nearby.
Cait beckoned the two riders forward as she leaned back in her seat, now very curious. As much as she enjoyed the peace around the castle she still loved the talk of war. Just so long as she was the one making it, not the one defending it. "What news have you?" she asked.
They both came on bended knee before her. "Lord OBrennan," it was a tall skinny man. The older of the two riders. And he wasnt that old to begin with. "Twas the Britons. Lord Hanraoi wasna ready for them. Did storm Loaghais in the night slaughterin all in their path. He sent us ta plea for aid. Na one can defeat the Cat of Caerloach, he be sayin." The man looked up at her. "We be holdin them back for the most part. But there be those that could escape the fightin, women, children..."
Cait held up her hand to stop him. If there was one thing she didnt have a fondness for it was Britannia. The only ones worse than them in trying to overtake Ireland were the Norse. But at least they tried to find a way to live with them, not obliterate them. And Loaghais was always one open for the taking, right on the coast facing Britannia.
"Lord Hanraoi be knowin of Britannias attacks. Why was he na prepared for this?" she asked.
The rider nodded. "The troops be double in size, my Lord. With me own eyes I saw na only surcoats with the crest of Britannia, but many that be bearin a cross of some kind on them."
Cait frowned. A cross? She had never heard of such a crest for a king before. She knew that Britannia had left the old ways far behind them many years earlier. Even the Scots were of the same mind to move on. And she knew the two would never ban together unless under a common cause. And the Scots had no ire with them.
Malcolm leaned over a little and whispered to her. "Tis the news of the Empire to the South..."
Cait frowned. "Romans... aye." She nodded as she sat and remembered the news by way of passing when she and some of her men had gone to battle against a wandering group of raiders from the Northern countries. "There wasna word of Britannia overthrown."
The rider spoke up. "Na overthrown, my Lord. This King of Britannia," he said the title in disgust. "Is believin in the one god himself. The Roman King be lettin him keep his throne only for show."
Cait nodded. "And now they be plannin to take Ireland as their own as well," she muttered unhappily.
Her eyes took on a light that the men in the room smiled at. She let the fire in her burn. It was one thing to overrun a city all for spoils. She did it many times herself when she was younger to prove herself as a warrior. But to want a land all for the sake of a god. And to destroy what was there all for that? It was senseless. She would fight for her home to defend her rights to believe what she wanted. But to go out and force others to believe what she did all because they were stronger? Begods. She looked to the men in the room, then to Rhian who did not look amused. Cait noticed that it seemed to go deeper than that. She had the young woman to look after now. She had pretty much laid claim to her and she would live to protect her. The thought of Rhian bowing to this Roman King and his one god made her ill.
Slamming her fist hard on the arm of her chair she stood. "Guy, be sendin word to the Kelans in Versy. Let them know what is takin place. And set riders out to form up the warriors in the Vale." She looked to the groups. "I know some of ya be from lands outside the Vale. Send word as quickly as you can. No one will own Ireland but the Irish."
A fierce cry went up as people set about. Malcolm leaned over again. "Cait... Samhain tis startin on the morrow."
Cait sighed as she noticed that Rhian looked at the talk about her, but the small redhead was lost in her own world. And it didnt look like a nice place to be. "There be a few things to clear up before settin out."
Malcolm nodded. "Mayhaps a wedding?"
Cait glanced at him seeing the amusement in his eyes. What was private in her castle?! But she responded. "Much more. But keep the men workin around the festivities. And send scouts to see how many hapless be headin here from Loaghais."
"And the raiders?" he asked.
Cait shut her eyes as her head started to hurt and the fire of the battle was tucked back for the sake of thinking through her affairs. "I be worryin about that after the festival."
Malcolm nodded and left her side as a servant came running in. "My Lord!" Cait looked his way as the young man stopped. "Tis the Lady Nara!" Cait stood at that and so did Rhian as concern took over them. "She be givin birth!"
Cait and Rhian looked at each other in shock for a moment then Cait grabbed Rhians hand and the two headed quickly out of the hall with a few others following them.
Rhian and Cait came to a stop outside Nara and Draigs room to the sound of screaming on the other side of the door. That worried them along with the sight of Draig who was upset at the sound of his mate crying bloody murder. Two servants and four guards were holding him back from entering the room.
Rhian went over and put a hand on her brothers arm. He spun, glaring, thinking it was another person to hold him back. He saw her and surprised everyone by picking her up in a huge hug crushing her to him, holding her close. Cait could see the look of pure fear in the huge mans eyes. She remembered what had happened to their mother who had died giving birth to Rhian. Losing ones mate through such a time was unspeakable, but unfortunately something that the gods deemed to come. She waited by the door watching brother and sister and listening for the coming of new life.
Rhian slid her arms about her brothers neck and hugged him tight. Nara cried out again and she umphed as Draig held her tighter. "Ach! Ya big bear! Ya be crushing me to death!" she said tugging his ear firmly but gently.
Draig loosened his hold but didnt let her go. "I remember the day you were born, sprite," he whispered hoarsely. "All of us sittin on that long wood bench near mas kitchen. Grady and Conlan were fussin about. I was watchin da pace from one end of the hall to th other. Ma soundin so much like now and da worryin about it."
He kissed her soft cheek and hugged her. "After what be seemin like forever all got quiet. Then a small cry of a babe. Da went in and the three of us be waitin what seemed like another lifetime before he came out holding you." He stopped for a moment and swallowed. "So tiny. All pale and wrinkled with a little halo of red hair on your bald head. Conlan wasna amused at you bein a girl.
Rhian made a noise that she wasnt surprised and Draig smiled knowing that even though the two youngest had fought quite a bit as children they fiercely stood up for each other. "But somethin was different than all other times before. I remember with Grady and Conlan that we be goin in to see ma and the new one. But na this time." Rhian laid her head down on Draigs broad shoulder. "So I be askin about ma. Why wasna the babe with her?" Draig swallowed again. "Das face be goin all white like a wraith and he held you close. He said you were a special gift from ma."
Tears slipped down Rhians cheeks into Draigs shirt. She had always wished to know her mother. "And then I knew," he continued. "Da be workin to make our family strong. But he be losin a part of him that I never saw again."
Rhian looked up at him wiping away the tears. "You canna be thinkin this way about Nara, Draig."
He nodded slowly as he stroked her long pale red hair. "I know. But na matter how many children come I will fear this."
Night had come and sconces lit as they waited for news. Every so often they would hear a noise from inside the room. Cait finally took Rhian from Draigs side where the man had slumped down on the ground near the door holding his head in his hands to wait. Rhian was looking drained and tired herself. Cait settled herself in a nice chair she pulled from a nearby room and put Rhian in her lap and cuddled up close with her. Rhian looked at little surprised but Cait shrugged. Everyone knew anyway so she wasnt going to hide it either. Rhian laid her head in the crook of Caits neck and let her body settle into the strong form around her.
"What did you think of the word the riders from Loaghais brought?" Cait asked quietly.
Rhian shifted slightly. "Will you be goin to war?"
Cait shrugged. "Dependin on their intent. Loaghais has been seein more than their fare share of invaders. But then a town on the coast will always be bringin the likes of such. Sooner or later they be part of Ireland or run out."
Rhian nodded slowly as she ran her fingers over the laces to Caits tunic. "But you donna think such this time."
Cait looked down at her. "What is it? I can sense somethin is wrong, Rhiannon."
Rhian smiled softly. It was rare to hear her full name nowadays. She glanced over at her brother to see that he was far enough away. "The men that attacked Kel Glaghna... their surcoats bore a cross..."
Cait hugged her close and kissed her forehead. "I be wonderin how many attacks these Romans have made on Ireland so far."
"Tis soundin like Loaghais is the largest yet."
Cait nodded. "Aye." She tilted Rhians chin up to have her look at her. "But they havena met me yet."
Rhian smiled and Cait smiled back. "I wish to go with you."
Caits smiled faded quickly as she shook her head. "War is no place for you, Rhian."
Rhian put her head back in Caits neck. "I just found you, Cait. I willna be left behind."
"Is that what you be thinkin, luv?" Cait said softly. "You must have faith in me, Rhian. I will be comin back."
They sat quietly for a moment when the sounds in the room changed to the strong high pitched voice of a baby wailing. Draig stood instantly to hear the sound of another join in. He didnt even wait. He shoved the door open and entered.
"You!!!" came the bellow from the room.
Rhian looked up at Cait. "I be thinkin Nara is okay."
Cait nodded with a smile and leaned down to kiss her tenderly. "I be thinkin that Draig will regret going in so soon before Ronan could give Nara a draft to ease her pain." Rhian covered her mouth as she laughed, knowing that even incapacitated Nara was a force to be reckoned with.
Calming down she looked into Caits light blue eyes and gently ran her thumb over a dark eyebrow. "I love you."
Cait smiled deeply. "Thank the gods, because I love you too. Wouldna want it to be one sided..." she was quiet as Rhian covered her mouth with her fingertips. Cait kissed them as Rhian lifted herself up a little to replace her fingers with her lips and Cait accepted eagerly and tucked her into her arms and the world around them was forgotten.
Draig came out with a slightly red face from Naras dressing down about her misery and suffering and how it was his fault. He held one of his children in a bundle of cloth only to see his baby sister and the Lord of the Castle necking wantonly. He covered the sleepy eyes of his newborn son. "I donna think ya need to be seein that yet."
Amenophis was awake early on the first day of Samhain getting his wares ready for the day. The sun was barely up, but there were quite a few merchants out to get an early start on what was to be the biggest selling time of the year. Even more than Beltaine. Amenophis was sure he would be out of Ireland before then, but now that he thought about it he better make sure what Beltaine was all about, just in case.
He also found out that apparently the three day festival of Samhain was to celebrate many things. The harvest, the coming of winter and a time when the otherworld was open to allow the dead to cross into it from this world. The older man shivered a little at this morbidity as he shook his head as he settled his brightly colored robe about him while he and a young helper he had hired for almost nothing set bolts of expensive cloth and little trinkets around then took a step back and looked at their work in the pale light.
Amenophis decided while he rearranged a few things that he would never understand the Irish. He had seen many religions, myths and fads in his travels around the world. But one to celebrate the dead leaving to go to another plane... He scratched at his beard for a moment. "Not really any worse than the Greek and the river Styx I guess," he muttered.
"Wha was that, milord?" the young lad at his side said.
Amenophis shook his head dismissing his words. "I dont suppose you know wh..." the merchant stopped for a moment as the words were stolen from him as he looked across the large city square to see something frightening familiar. There was a woman staring at the castle not to far away from him. It wasnt the woman herself. Though she was very pretty with long blond hair and a slim stature, it was odd that she held part of her cowl over her left cheek, but it was her eyes. Hard and brutal. Amenophis put his hand over his mouth in to stop himself from blurting something out as he felt fear come into every pore of his body. Normally he wouldnt have noticed anything, but he had this... feeling, a gift actually, if you asked him about these things. It was the woman from the execution!
He waved the boy away and moved a little out of the womans line of sight and watched her and on occasion watched what she was so riveted on. He looked towards it to see the drawbridge being lowered then he noticed that the woman had flipped her cowl up and moved into the dying shadows of the stalls and carts about them.
Horses, he could hear them. Amenophis looked back to the woman who was very still. He returned his attention to see an impressive group of horses come thundering across. In the lead was the magnificent form of the Lord of Teyrnon and she didnt look amused. However, this sight had made the hard eyed woman move quickly. At first he thought she was going to try and stop Cait, but she moved like a shadow through the stalls towards the castle as the riders moved for quickly for the city gates.
Amenophis watched as the woman slipped up with a small group of people walking through towards the castle, apparently to go to work for the day. The feeling in his gut worsened as he looked back to see that Lady Cait... or was that Lord? He shook that confusion out of his head as he got back to his original thought. She was to far away for him to talk to her. He was pretty sure she wouldnt talk to him anyway. Amenophis looked thoughtful for a moment. Lady Cait might not, but the young heroine Rhiannon probably would.
He nodded to himself as he looked to the castle as the drawbridge began to close. He bit his lip and ran as fast as his portly body could carry him, which was about between a half jog/half quick walk. "Excuse me! Hold that please!" he called out. The guards looked at him curiously but one held the gate and the drawbridge stopped.
"What business do ya be havin in the castle?" one asked as Amenophis huffed out a short breath willing his heart to slow down.
He put a hand on the mans shoulder as he took in a long breath. "Long run..." he took in another. "Im from a land far to the south...," another breath as he straightened, "Ive brought many wonderful pieces of cloth that the young lady Rhiannon had asked to see when she was out in the market the other day." He looked between the guards as he continued. "Unfortunately, I didnt have all that she wished to see and just now my associate has brought them this morning. Im sure shed want to see all that was available..." He looked again and the guards shrugged.
The one that held the gate finally sighed. "If ya havena business..."
"Please," he said sincerely.
The guard shook his head. "I be gettin one of the servants ta see if the Lady Rhiannon will be seein ya."
Amenophis poured on his charm in one last attempt as the gate was being closed. "I can give you a really good deal on some lovely silk floral print cloth for your wife."
The guard shook his head and Amenophis looked to the castle and headed back for his stall. "See what being nice gets you around here," he grumbled.
The room was quiet. Dawn was coming over the mountains and Rhian looked on through the window from Naras bedside only partially awake. Before the kissing could go much further news had come that the raiders had been nearby attacking a band of travelers coming to Teyrnon for Samhain. Rhian smiled at the thought of the jovial festival. But not at the thought of spending part of it alone. Cait and Draig had gone with a large group of men to hunt them down. Cait was angry... No, not just angry. Furious. Cait swore on bended knee she would come back and continue what they started in the hallway, only in private. And as she kissed her, before the group left, she mentioned something about getting married.
Rhian didnt take that in at first but as they rode over the drawbridge she blinked in shock replaying Caits words in her mind. She looked up with wide eyes to see Cait smiling with a roguish look and then she winked and turned back to lead her men out. Even Nara noticed the smile on her face as she came back to sit with her and her sons, Grady and Conlan.
Nara was asleep and the two boys were tired from their long experience. So Rhian offered to stay with them for the time being. Not like she was going to be getting any sleep for a better part of the day. Her body still tingled from Caits touch. She gave a soft smile at that as she reached into a cradle nearby and stroked a fuzzy little head. Grady and Conlan.... She had been a little surprised that Draig used their brothers names. But she was flattered. More than that, but he and Nara asked her first about naming them after their siblings.
"Cait will be makin sure you boys grow up long past to becomin granddas," she whispered.
The thought of having children had scared Rhian when she first understood why her mother wasnt around. She never really thought about it as she grew up. She was too busy with work and playing with her brothers. And then when the men in the longboats came and killed everyone and she saw the majority of her life destroyed she pretty much assumed that not having a family or a love was best.
"Guess I donna have to be worryin about that now," she murmured to herself as she sat back in the large overstuffed chair. Her feet were tucked beneath her and she leaned her elbow on an arm of the chair, resting her chin on her fist she looked out to the golden sun peeking over the mountains. She had her love. She smiled wistfully at the image of the strong woman and knew that they were meant to be together. But she sort of knew that from the first time she met her. But children...
She closed her eyes briefly. She knew how things worked, when Cait passed on, the title and castle would go to a relative. Rhian didnt bring it up. There was no point. But there was a little light inside of her that just wished that she could... Grimacing she pushed the thought out of her mind.
"Stop this melancholy, Rhiannon Kelan," she muttered to herself as she sat up. "Tis gettin ya nowhere."
"I agree," came a voice in the room. Rhian sat up straight and looked about and spotted a woman around Caits age in a dark corner of the room near an open window on the other side of the bed where Nara was stirring from the noise. "But then I rather be likin melancholy," the woman finished.
Rhian stood feeling for her dagger, which normally hung on her belt only to realize that since her day with the brownies and fairies she hadnt worn a weapon. She felt a thread of fear go through her as she took in the slim, blond. Her brow furrowed slightly when she saw the mark on her cheek and the woman scowled as she produced what Rhian had searched for. A long broad bladed dagger, which from the womans stance she knew how to use.
"Who are ya?" Rhian asked softly as she tried to figure out where to go. Protect the boys or head for Nara and watch over her. She couldnt do both.
The blond woman gave her a smirk. "Just bein a friend of the family. Tis a sure thing that they be missin me for so long."
Rhian glanced down at Nara who was still asleep. "What do you be wantin with Nara?"
The woman grinned. And not to kindly. "With Nara? Nothin." The brown eyes went cold. "With you, I be wantin quite a bit." She strode forward a little, shifting the dagger into a fighting position.
"But I donna know you," Rhian said as her brow furrowed and she steadied her stance, crouching a little. Her da didnt raise a coward.
The woman saw this and the eyebrows went up with a wicked smile. "So the wee lass that has my Caits eye is gonna fight me?" she moved towards the bed and Rhian watched her hand with the knife in it. The woman was close enough to easily jump her but Rhian held still since the blade of the knife looked very sharp. "I be thinkin ta slit your gullet!" The woman hissed as she stilled on at the edge of the bed and her body became stiff. "You be comin into Teyrnon and takin whats mine!" She was getting louder and Rhian noticed that Nara shifted a little at the noise.
"I was ta be the one at Caits side! The Lady of Teyrnon!" the woman continued. Her eyes were glazing over with an odd look and Rhian didnt know how shed handle a crazed woman. The womans eyes focused back on her. "And anyone that be thinkin of takin it from me " She smiled evilly and shrugged. "be dyin."
She said it so simply that for a second even Rhian thought it sounded reasonable, until she understood what it implied and she felt the chill of death run down her spine. The covers shifted on the bed and Nara groaned. Rhian glanced down to see Nara wake up. "Rhian " Nara croaked sleepily. "What be " her gaze shifted to the other woman at the bedside and her eyes went wide as she looked at her. "Leitis," she hissed.
"Tis good to see you as well, Nara," Leitis said in the same tone. "I canna be believin someone mated with such a fat old cow."
Rhian blinked at that knowing that no one ever talked to Nara that way and lived to tell about it. Nara smirked back. "A better thing than bein banished from Teyrnon and rejected by Cait in front of the ."
Leitis screamed at her before she could finish and drove the knife at her. Rhian intercepted her by throwing herself over the bed and grasping Leitis dagger arm and taking the blond down with her onto the other side to the floor. They wrestled around. Rhian being the smaller of the two got in a few good hits, but when Leitis slammed her back into the stone wall Rhians eyes glazed over slightly and Leitis held her down with the dagger at her throat. Her eyes wild and she wore a hideous bloodthirsty grin. She brought the dagger back to drive it into her when Nara made it out of the bed and collapsed on top of her.
"No," she said breathily as she fought with Caits ex-lover. "Youll na be takin Caits happiness again," Nara got out.
Rhian sat up slowly blinking fiercely as she tried to make her sight visible. She heard Nara grunt. "Stop!" Rhian said when she saw Leitis get the upper hand. Both women looked at her. "Let her be and I be goin with ya," she said wearily.
Leitis brow furrowed. "Your promise?"
"Aye," Rhian said. "Let them be."
Leitis sneered at Nara. "Tis the only one in Teyrnon with good sense." She slammed her fist into Naras face knocking her out and she stood. "Remember your promise," she warned looking to the crib and Rhian stumbled as she rose. Leitis grabbed her and pulled out a cloak from her pack and shoved it at her to put it on. "Then you be quiet while I be gettin us out of the city."
Rhian got the cloak on. "You willna be hurtin Cait."
Leitis smiled wickedly as she roughly grabbed her arm. "Hurt my Cait, never. Be makin her my eternal slave " she laughed not finishing her sentence as she pulled Rhian along keeping her dagger close.
They moved through the castle the way Leitis had made her way around without being seen. Soon they were outside and moving with a group leaving for the commons. Rhian looked back to the castle as she was led down through the center square. "Come along, little fox," Leitis hissed in her ear and pulled the cowl firmly back over Rhians face. She didnt want anyone seeing who was with her. "We need ta be seein an old hag about a stone and then we see who be the Lady of Teyrnon."
With a swallow of fear Rhian allowed the firm hand on her back to guide her towards the gates of the city.
Amenophis watched the people around him as he grumbled. "What does it matter?" he muttered to himself. He smiled a little too brightly at a customer. "Yes, the peach would match your eyes, but if you dont mind me saying so it doesnt do much for youre um complexion ." The woman said something he somewhat paid attention to. "Uh huh no ." The portly man looked back to the castle gates again. Other people were leaving over the drawbridge and he glared. "What?" He turned back to his customer. "Oh yes " he waved his hand. "Five coppers would do fine," he said not fully paying attention as he saw some of the people from the castle go past him.
He felt that chill from before. Amenophis turned a little more and looked towards the center of the square. Then he saw it, the cold brown eyes looking at him. He was stunned into staring as the figure in the cloak next to the blond turned and worried green eyes peered back. His eyes went wide when he realized who it was. Amenophis looked back to the blond and the eyes had gone ice cold. Then with a small flash he saw the glint of a dagger near Rhians side. He glanced up and saw a cruel grin on the blonds face. Dont say a word or shes dead was written in that look.
Amenophis stood still with fear until the two were out of sight. There were people around him demanding attention and he just watched where the two had been last before he woke up a little out of his stupor and looked around.
"Im sorry, the shop is closed for a moment," he said as he hurried to find a soldier leaving furious customers behind.
Cait stormed through the hall toward the great hall. Everyone got out of her way. She slammed the doors open to see the short merchant on his knees with a swarm of guards about him. "Tis him?!"
One guard saluted. "Aye, my lord."
Cait looked to the annoying man. She had just been up to see Nara who was only semi conscious but got out that Leitis had come and taken Rhian, who gave up to save her and the boys. It was midday and Cait had returned to find the castle and the city in an uproar looking for Rhiannon and the traitor Leitis. Her group of men had hunted down a small share of raiders outside the city gates and she knew now that they had been a decoy for her to leave the castle and away from Rhian.
She strode over to the man and he looked up at her scared and worried at the same moment. "Let him up."
Amenophis stood and backed up a little. Everyone in the hall looked scared. Cait was bristling with anger. "You have to hurry " he started.
"They be gone," Cait said. "But I will be findin them," she swore. "You be tellin my steward that Leitis be wearing a mark on her face."
He nodded quickly. "Ugly thing," he spit on the ground. "Nasty, really."
"What be it?" she asked.
"A bird," Amenophis told her. "Something like that all black and big."
Cait raised a hand and stopped him then turned to leave. "Give him a reward. Then escort him out." She left the hall to hurry down the hall leaving behind an upset, but happy merchant. She looked out to the dimming sky. Soon it would be dark and Leitis could have Rhian halfway through the pass before morning.
Malcolm and Guy followed her as quickly as they could Malcolm huffing as he tried. "Cait!" he called out.
She looked back. "Guy, gather every able bodied man with some trainin. If I have ta, Ill be burnin down all of the forests to find her."
Guy looked worried knowing that she meant it. "Aye, my lord."
"Cait!" Malcolm called out again as Guy hurried off.
"No," Cait said angrily as she turned on her cousin and he skidded to a stop. She pointed a finger at him. "She be more important to me than any title! ANYTHING!" she yelled as she jammed the finger into his chest. "I be livin an outcast life even to be with her! BUT if I do " A tear came to her eye and it was the first time in years he had seen such emotion from his cousin. "Every raider, every criminal in my path will be dyin." She said through clenched teeth. "No remorse, Teyrnon will be the bane to all who be breakin the law."
She left him to head at a run for the stables. Everyone got out of her way, even the stable hands as she checked Kynthelig to see that he was rested. For a moment she rested her forehead against her horses neck and almost broke down. She had never felt such fear in her life, even in battle, it was bloodlust that sang through her veins. But now, it was different, and it scared her.
Cait looked out before she readied her mount to see an old woman through the slats of the stall. She was at an old barrel filled with rain water washing clothes. She squinted to see that the womans face wasnt visible, even though the woman was looking right at her. She blinked and found that the woman was gone but the clothes lay in the water, drifting.
Cait stiffened as she felt a presence nearby and she turned slowly to see the old woman crippled with age and wearing old rags to watch her. Caits brow furrowed. "Who be you?"
The woman smiled with a toothless grin. "A warnin," she told her. She reached out a gnarled hand from beneath her too long sleeve and gripped her arm feeling the corded muscle and nodded. "I be doin good with ya," she cackled slightly.
Cait looked frustrated as she pulled her arm away. "I na be havin time for this! I be goin to find "
"Your mate," the woman nodded. "Aye, tis a good thing." She looked to the horse. "But na on that." She looked to her. "You be using only part of your gift, young lass."
Cait looked at her surprised. No one had talked down to her like that in ages. "Say what you be meanin old woman!"
The womans toothless grin lit up at that. "Aye, the fire in your belly! Use it! Can ya na feel it?!" she said gleefully. "The wind about ya! Drivin something deeper from inside ya ta come out!"
Cait knew what she was talking about, but had no clue how to do what she was asking. "Explain yourself!" she demanded pulling out her blade and pointing it at her. "I donna have time for your riddles!"
The old woman slowed down. "I be thinkin Danus chosen had been givin ya more patience but I be seein tis not occurred of yet."
Cait growled and advanced on her. "Answer me!"
The old woman looked at her not at all worried about the weapon pointed at her. "I be helpin ya this once. Learn well from it."
Cait shook her head. "You be wastin my time! Did Leitis be payin ya ta stall me?!"
"Mabhs chosen?" the old looked amused and disgusted at the same time. "I be thinkin na."
"Mabh?" Cait asked in a whisper as her mind worked quickly. "Queen of Earth."
"Which she be takin too serious," the old woman said. "If you be askin me." She moved around. "You will na be needed all of that, when my gift is much better than a shard of steel."
Cait looked back at her. "What do you be meanin?"
The old woman looked at her seriously. "Have ya na figured it out, Caitlin?" She moved and in the next instant she was taller than Cait in armored leather with a magnificent sword in her hand. "You will not have time to ride about on a beast to find Danus chosen before Queen Mabh and hers drain the very essence from Rhiannon."
Cait looked stunned. "Morrigan?"
Morrigan snorted in indifference. "Remove your clothing, unless you want it shredded."
Cait looked up at her. "What?"
Morrigan sighed in a huff of impatience and she waved her hand baring Cait down to nothing. Morrigan appraised her with approval. "You must find Rhiannon before they do any damage to her, my chosen. The otherworld will open when the moon reaches the highest point." She moved in and grabbed Caits chin and look at her with godly eyes. "Your destiny must join with hers this eve or Mabh will win and the otherworld will be closed." She gripped her hard and Cait winced. "Do you understand? Rhian will be lost to you forever."
Cait looked back at her, their eyes matching one another. "Aye," she growled.
Morrigan grinned wickedly. "Remind Mabh what happens to those who meddle with the ruler of Teyrnon."
Cait smiled back just the same way. "What do I be doin?"
Morrigan let her go. "I will change you this once, you will concentrate to change back. From then on it is up to you."
Cait nodded and she looked to her shoulder where her mark was and saw that it shifted and began to take over her body. She looked back to Morrigan having to lift her head as her body changed. Smells and sounds became heightened as she looked back to see she was a sinuously huge cat, black as night and her bright yellow eyes looked up at the goddess who grinned savagely at her. "There are no prisoners, my chosen."
Cait looked at her a moment more then in a single graceful move leapt over the stall and sprinted out into the night causing a commotion when humans saw her.
Rhian found herself on a horse not to far out from the city gates. Her head had cleared up a bit. But by that time her wrists were firmly bound together and raiders on all sides surrounded her.
Normally shed be a little more active in getting loose, but she had the feeling that Leitis would use her dagger most gladly to cut her up into shreds. Personally she couldnt believe that Cait knew someone as crazed as this woman seemed to be. She looked to the men about her and her best bet would be to stay silent cooperative until they got where they were going.
It was late midday when they reached a camp deep within the forests of Teyrnon and Rhians feeling for getting herself out of this wasnt a good one. She wasnt even sure Cait could do something about it.
She was pulled roughly off her horse and Leitis clicked her tongue at the men doing so. "Ach! Be good to the fair Lady, boys," she glared at the red head. "I wouldna be wantin her to be hurt," she smirked. "Not when tis an honor for me to be doin it first." Leitis swept her cloak around and entered into the large tent in the center of camp. Rhian was dragged in behind her. She looked around and found that it was a spartan looking area. Nothing save a stone on a table and a bed.
Leitis looked about. "Na much for a guest of such high standin," she said amused. The blond waved casually to a couple of strong poles that held the tent up. "But I think they be doin fine for the likes of ya."
Rhian was bound with her arms out standing between the poles. She tested them a little only to find she wasnt strong enough to move them. Leitis came up and patted her cheek. "Comfy, are ya?" she laughed at her own joke while Rhian looked disgusted at her. Leitis looked to the necklace about her throat. "Tis a pretty thing, that is," she said looking up to her. "Did Cait be givin this to ya?" she tapped the pendant with the fox on it. "The fox," she muttered with a little anger in her voice. "Tis me that should be," she said more angrily. Leitis slid her fingers underneath it and twisted to pull it off.
Rhians eyes bulged when it wouldnt. "Stop!" she gagged out before her air was cut off.
Leitis jerked angrily but when it wouldnt budge she let go and drew out her dagger. "Then I be cuttin it off!"
"Leave the girl alone," came the voice of Queen Mabh.
Rhian winced at the grating sound and Leitis looked around. "You canna tell me what ta do!" Leitis said angrily to the air about her. "I be the one comin to you! You put this gods forsaken mark on me! And now I be havin to let this " she glared at Rhian, "whore alone?!" She yelled. "I be thinkin na!"
The rocks shifted and soon the image of Mabh appeared and Rhian looked stunned. Leitis turned on the goddess with the dagger in hand. "Begone!" she screamed at her. "I didna summon ya!"
Queen Mabh looked to her. "You do not summon me," she bit out. "I come when I wish, do not mistake my presence with obedience. No one controls the Queen of the Earth."
Rhian had just about heard everything and soon Leitis was off screaming a huge fit at the stone goddess when an arm stretched out leaving a trail of dirt to drift down to the ground as the hand caught Leitis about the throat.
"Do not test my patience," she told her with a voice that shook the ground. "You have much to do this eve," Mabh said as Leitis struggled in her grip clawing at the immovable fingers. "Morrigan sends her chosen after the Fox." The stony eyes looked to Rhian who flinched. They were dull and gray, reminding her of the dead look from a snake. She let Leitis go who dropped to the ground coughing and gasping for breath.
"Midday draws past, Raven, and we have much to do," the goddess told her. "Leave the Fox be until she is needed."
"For what?" Rhian asked.
Mabh glanced her way. "All of Tuathas undoing," she replied before dismissing her and the stones that shaped her collapsed and in the same instant reformed to the other side of the spacious tent. Leitis sneered at Rhian then joined the goddess where they argued in private.
Rhian tested her bonds a bit more finding that she was still in the same predicament. "What am I to do?" she whispered. She was still alone as the young woman watched the suns light drift past the cloth towards the west. Soon with the sun both the goddess and Leitis left the tent and her in the dark, uncertain of the nights coming.
With one intake of air the sleek figured panther that now formed the Lord of Teyrnon could sense many things she couldnt in her human form. She could feel the power in her body that could not be match as a human female. She took another sniff and her canny senses caught the scent of Rhian. She also caught the scent of another and the intelligent gold eyes narrowed. Traitor that of Leitis. Easily she brought the new body she was in to begin to follow the scent through the trees. She sifted out that of prey, for that of humans still prey, but much easier to catch than a wary rabbit or deer.
The lithe cat padded silently through the dense underbrush weaving and jumping with ease as the forests grew quiet in her wake. They knew the hierarchy of the forest, and Cait was ruler, just as she was with humankind. Cait made good pace as she found her first up close scent, horses, and unwashed human males. Slowly she slunk through the outer perimeter watching as her sensitive eyes took in all around her. The men were raiders and they were not on guard. Well, not for her. She still had a ways to go before she would reach her goal, Rhians scent was stronger, but the men and horses nearby overwhelmed her. And she definitely didnt want anyone following her.
One whiskered lip curled revealing a gleaming white fang as the cat crouched and with a flick of her tail she sprang out to the scream of horses and men and the dying cries of all.
"Wake up, Chosen," came the sweet melody of soft singing words.
Rhian slowly rolled her head forward feeling the tight knot of pain in her shoulders and neck. "Ow," she muttered unhappily. It was dark, well, almost dark as she blinked at a small light nearby.
"Night is drawn, Chosen," said the light. "Tis destiny come. We must begin or all is lost."
Rhian blinked again and looked closer. "Fairie?" she whispered as she began to wake. She wasnt sure when she had fallen asleep, but it seemed darker than before. She could see the flicker of campfires outside of the tent and the talk of many men guarding the well hidden raiders camp.
"Aye, Chosen. The Song must be sung. The Stone must be brought to life by your will and no other lest Queen Mabh and her Chosen prevail."
Rhian looked to the tiny fairie that had once saved Houdain from Caits dagger. "Etain What song is this? I donna understand "
"You have read it, in your mates book. The Song of Truth," the fairie informed her.
Rhian thought and shook her head. "I know of no song, Etain."
The fairie came up close. "Look, Chosen," the fairie said kindly, and she put a tiny hand no larger than a berry on Rhians cheek and pressed to her right. "Look and remember."
Rhian looked to the stone on the low table and in the darkness she tried to see what it was. She had hardly noticed it when it was light, not with the Leitis trying to strangle her to death to remove her necklace. "I canna see it, small one."
Etain whisked over to light the design on top of the stone. "Look, see the Truth in the Stone, Rhiannon. Tis like no other, even the power of your mate cannot control such greatness."
Rhian almost shook her head again when her eyes almost seemed to lock in place and the pendant of the fox about her neck began to glow with the interlaced weave of the Stone. From deep within the stone itself a form arose in the center. That of a magnificent tree. "Tis the tree of all Living things, Chosen," Etain told her with happiness. "Speak the words, let Danus power come to bear."
Rhian struggled in her bonds wanting to go to the stone as words she had glanced at in the book but not remembered came to mind.
Peace to the Heavens,
Blessings to the Earth,
All in Life tis Truth itself,
Strong is my rebirth.
Falias for the power,
Gorias leads to all glory,
Findias comes the end of life,
Murias to restore.
Formed out of the Sidhe,
The Anu shall bring to pass,
The Coming of the Chosen,
And the Eldritch that it casts.
They came and in a sweet slow lilt of her gentle voice Rhian spoke the words of the Song of Truth. The glow about the stones shimmered as the power was released.
"No!" came an unearthly scream as the form of Mabh appeared directly in front of the red head. She covered her mouth as Rhian tried to continue the song struggling to be let go. Leitis came running in with Medr behind her looking bewildered. "The vial, now!!" Mabh screeched in her stone voice to her Chosen.
Leitis stumbled across the tent to grab a small vial filled with a black elixir in it.
"She is receiving too much!" Mabh ground out as she forced Rhians mouth open with her stone formed hands bruising her cheeks. Etain tried to make Leitis drop the vial only to have Medr catch her. Leitis poured the mix down and they let Rhian go after she had swallowed. She coughed as she tried to get the disgusting drink out.
Mabh tried to move the necklace from Rhians neck to find it was disappearing and the form of the fox melding with her skin. "She has taken in too much," she informed them angrily.
"What do we be doin then?" Leitis asked in just the same tone.
Mabh looked her way as the stone shifted. "We must kill her."
Leitis smiled wickedly. "I knew there be a reason ta join with you."
Mabh snorted in contempt. Apparently the feelings were not the same. "We must begin now." She looked to Medr still struggling to keep Etain confined. "He will have to do as proxy to the girl."
Leitis glanced at the old man. "As?"
This time Mabh gave the best smile she could which scared even cold hearted Leitis. "A sacrifice."
Rhian blinked slowly as she looked about the room. Everything spun and she was so hot, she couldnt make out anything. Slowly she licked her lips that seemed so dry. "Cait?" she whispered hoarsely.
"Aye, my love," came the reply.
She couldnt see clearly as a cool hand touched her head. "I hurt," she told the figure nearby.
"Donna worry," she was told. "It willna hurt much longer."
Soft but greedy lips took hers and she scowled. It didnt feel like Cait. She shifted her head making the room spin more. "Cait?"
"Leave her be," came a voice that made Rhian cry.
A hand cupped Rhians left breast and fondled it roughly. "No one be savin her."
"Now," the harsh voice went hard and tears streamed down Rhians face at the humiliation of being abused and the pain the voice caused her sensitive ears.
"She is coming," Etain whispered to Rhian just near her ear.
Rhians head dropped. "Goddess " she moaned. "Please be stoppin the pain," she begged.
Etain looked to her mistress then about the room. She had been freed when Leitis had brought down Medr and the old man lay on the ground unconscious. She stayed in the shadows of the dark tent. She was immune to many things, but Mabh was of the Tuatha and she could crush a tiny fairie such as herself. She looked to Rhian and she was fearful. The elixir they had forced her to swallow was hurting the young woman. The power she had joined with from the Stone was evident, but slowly being absorbed back into her body. Not that it would do much good since it was causing her to fever greatly. She listened to the forest, the great cat was coming, and she prayed to her goddess that she would not be too late.
Cait sped through the woods and as the large panther with blood on her mouth and claws she was a terrifying sight to behold. She found all she had to do to gain passage through the woods was to take down a horse and a few men and the rest of them scattered into the night. The scent of her mate was getting stronger but the hint of fear and sickness mingled in with it.
She crashed out into the woods and found herself in a small clearing filled with campfires, tents and men. Out in her own forest, where no one truly would have ever found them. Caits blood began to boil as she growled at the first guard. He shook as he saw her sleek coat spattered in blood and he knew that she had made it past all the other guards. The golden eyes looked to him and a long wet tongue snaked out and licked the fresh blood off its lips and looked to him as a midnight snack. He turned and ran for backup as men began to get their swords.
Cait leapt at the nearest one and sank her teeth into the jugular vein holding on with her claws wrapped around the mans body. He gurgled out a breath as he went down with a thud his clean sword releasing from his dead grip. The cat landed on the ground gracefully and looked to the men and growled making the whole valley floor vibrate with the pure viciousness and the men were stunned. Man and cat looked at one another and the cat attacked first with massively sharp claws.
Cait fought her way through the men taking nicks and cut along the way, but it was with broad swipes that she tore down men with one blow. Then she saw a flap to a tent open and she hissed at the figure.
Leitis, beautiful as ever and just as insane as the day she tried to kill Caits father. All others forgotten she moved towards the slender blond.
"Tis a beauty of a cat to be cuttin down," Leitis said pointing her sword at the large cat. She looked about to see she only had a handful of men left standing. Many were down, but it seemed that most of them were missing. The blond looked back to her adversary. "Come then, my beauty," she told the cat. "Come impale on my blade and I will have a lovely fur for my bed."
"Do not strike," Mabh warned as the cat crept forward watching the sword. Leitis glanced around without loosing sight of the cat. The goddess was not to be seen. "The gift of Morrigan. To lose her is to lose yourself."
Leitis looked confused for a second before her eyes lit up. "Caitlin," she purred at the cat that now took on a whole new look to her. "You be comin back to me."
Cait moved in a little closer, unsure of what to make of the change in Leitis attitude. She took in a breath and smelled Rhian on Leitis. She blinked as she watched her warily. The fear marked the scent about the blond like a blood stain. She was the danger to her mate, and for this she must no longer be.
She leapt forward nudging the sword out of the way as she and Leitis crashed through the tent knocking it down while Leitis screamed and beat at Cait with the pommel of her sword.
There was a cry of alarm from outside and Rhians head jerked up a little trying to focus on what was going on. Leitis went for her sword and headed for the doorway to the tent. Mabh looked up alarmed and the stones that kept her there crumbled to the ground as the tent came down.
Rhian went down with them and she rolled a bit to find she could get her bonds loose from the poles that held her up. She clasped her hand to her forehead as everything spun and her stomach finally rebelled and she heaved up what she could of the vile liquid. Rhian stumbled back as she watched Leitis and a large animal tumble about in the tattered remains of the tent as her head cleared a little. There were men about and Rhian pulled herself to her feet and stumbled away from them only to run into a tree. The tents were catching on fire and the men were scrambling to get away.
The red head slid to the ground for a moment as Etain flew up to her. "Chosen, you must concentrate."
Rhian looked her way, but her eyes didnt focus on her as sweat beaded down her face and neck and she wearily pulled the ropes from her wrists off. "We are all dead," she said hazily as she looked beyond the fairie to the massacre in front of her. "I be so tired."
"Sleep, Chosen. Your mate will care for you," Etain told her.
Tears welled up in Rhians eyes. "I will never see my Cait again."
"Chosen," Etain started as Cait screamed a roar when Leitis struck her hard with her booted foot. The blond pushed the large cat off and Cait landed near Rhian who cried out shuffling back on her hands away from the black monster that was going to eat her.
Cait scrambled up in full fury as her bloodlust overwhelmed her. Leitis also was madder than a hornets nest as she found her sword and stood up, her brown eyes blazing to kill. "I be killin ya Caitlin OBrennan!" she screamed at her. "You be na better than your da, the spineless fool that he be!"
The cat stiffened ready to strike and Leitis laughed as she prepared herself to clash with her again. Cait bunched up and shot forward faster than you could blink in a powerful leap. Leitis raised her sword to skewer the cat on it as a mist swept up around her from the Earth and the cat landed on nothing, only to hear an infuriated scream from the gone Leitis that the cat had not met her sword.
Cait looked around now that Rhian was no longer in danger to find that the young woman was missing. She jerked back with her cat senses on overload as Etain flew up to her. "Hurry! Hurry! Mabh has bewildered Rhiannons mind and she has run to escape from here!"
Cait watched the fairie hurry into the night and she followed eagerly.
Rhian found herself running as best she could from the situation she was in. She was still sweating and she came close to blacking out a few times. Along her way she was too ill to notice that the area about her shifted and soon she was far away from where Leitis had held her captive. She stumbled along the bank of a small pond when she finally stopped.
Rhian looked to the rushing water and felt herself though feeling less ill than before she still ever so hot. She took in a breath to relieve her dry throat as she pulled her dirty and stained tunic off as she waded into the cold water letting it course over her bare skin. The chill of frigid iciness surrounded her and Rhian sighed in relief as the heat from her body left her and she soaked as her mind regained control. She laid back and let the water take her over as her mind melded into a gray mass as she healed.
Rhian looked up once before she drifted off and saw a multitude of stars, far beyond was she believed to be normal.
"Hurry!" Etain shouted at Cait in her feline form. "Her mind is still drifting!"
Cait growled in response and bunched her muscles up tighter and sped on quicker, weaving her way through the trees and undergrowth. She could feel Rhian drift away as well. Cait shot out into a glade near the small pond and was stunned briefly as the torch lights from Teyrnon could be seen in her excellent vision. There was no way Rhian could have walked so far in such a short amount of time, but the scent of the red head told that she was nearby.
"This way!" Etain called out, bringing her back to her purpose.
Cait saw Rhians body in the water floating lifelessly. She growled angrily as she dashed into the freezing water while trying in vain to change back into her human form as Etain disappeared back into the mark that was the pendant on Rhians necklace.
Rhian moved at the sound that brought her to her senses. Something big was in the water with her. Her chilled body responded and she woke out of her stupor as she righted herself, still weak and tired but she was no longer so ill. She felt waves wash to her right and she looked to see the giant cat wade into the water, the golden eyes lock right onto her. Blood washed off from the cat looking in the moonlight like a black pool that formed a ring around the feline. Rhian stumbled back. It was the same cat she had seen in Leitis camp, tearing down all the raiders with wickedly sharp claws.
Her mind snapped into semi working order as she began to slowly waded back towards the opposite bank of the pond. The cat had followed her all the way here. Her heart began to speed up as it slunk in a hunting crouch striding along the edge of the pond. The gold eyes never leaving her... she knew it could easily catch her.
Rhian felt the edge of the pond with her feet as she began to rise out of the water. "Nice kitty..." she whispered fearfully. "Go away," she pleaded.
The cat looked a little amused as the gold eyes narrowed briefly, but didnt stop as it moved to the sparse grass, lining the shore. Rhian glanced behind her to see tall grasses no more than a few feet from her, were in her way when she also noticed the lights of the large city just beyond. Teyrnon was too far away and Rhian had a feeling that the cat would finish its nightly meal of one very scared and tired Kelan.
With strength given to her by her fear Rhian pushed off and leaped into the grass running for her life. She didnt know where her predator was since the only thing she could hear was her own ragged breathing. She made it halfway through the glade before the burst of strength was gone. She slowed down, catching her tired breath as she looked about. Images flashed in her mind.
She looked to her body, she was as naked as in her dreams. But this wasnt a happy dream anymore. This was real, and her would be lover wasnt stalking her. As her breathing calmed she listened while watching her moonlit area. There were no sounds. She thought that was good until she realized that even the friendly creatures of the forest werent making any noise either. That meant something bigger and more dangerous than them was in the glade. She knew what it was. But she couldnt see it. If she tried hard enough she could swear she felt its dangerous aura nearby.
Warily Rhian moved back a few steps and stopped. Nothing moved. Maybe she was making herself paranoid by thinking it was there. Maybe it had lost interest in her? Maybe she had lost it? Something moved to her left.
Maybe she was wrong...
With great caution Rhian focused to where the high grass had moved slightly and she backed away from that area. She jumped slightly and shifted as another noise was made just behind her. She scrambled back away from it. Rhian saw the grass part just a little in front of her and she moved away but it shifted to the side right next to her. She screamed as a huge black paw shot out to bring her down.
Rhian felt herself go down as she tried to get away. She expected claws and teeth and lots of dying. Instead she felt warm hands on her as a larger figure held her down in the dew drenched grasses.
"Rhian... tis alright, Rhian!" a familiar voice told her.
Rhian looked up to see the shining blue eyes of Cait above her. "Cait!" she cried out happily holding her close before she quickly let go and looked about the area. "The cat!" She tried to get up as Cait didnt let go.
"Donna worry, Rhian," Cait replied. She clasped her hands and gently lowered her down into the tall grass. "Twas only me."
Rhian looked at her. "Cait..." she started to argue then she looked into the amused and hungry eyes. "Cait?" her voice softened as she realized that the cat had been her.
Cait nodded slowly as she looked to the beautiful form beneath her. Both of them were bare but she could feel the chill on Rhians skin from the water and the heat of her own from the battle. "Tis Morrigans gift." She leaned in closer and Rhian caught her breath. "Twas the only way to be protectin ya." She slid her body down Rhians wet form lightly resting on her as she brought the blonds arms up above her head to rest as Rhian shivered with the sensual touch.
"Tis Samhain," Cait whispered as she brought her head down and slowly kissed the woman beneath her. She released her lips by a mere inch and looked into the luminous green eyes. "Tis a full moon," she added and kissed her once more lengthening the kiss. She released her again. "Tis our destiny." The next kiss lasted long heartbeats until Rhian needed a breath.
She panted out softly as Cait found the familiar territory of Rhians neck. She nibbled and kissed a path up to her jawline. "Cait..." Rhian whispered as the blue eyes locked with hers. "You know what this be bringin..."
Cait smiled as she kissed the tip of her chin. "Aye."
They had both read the Labor Gabala and though it wasnt fully understood by either of them, Cait knew that something amazing was going to happen between not only the two of them but also the whole of Ireland. Even Rhian had changed, the necklace was like a mist about Rhians throat and the image of the fox was taking on the shape of a mark like the one about her arm. Something had happened at the raiders campsite, but it could wait until the morning to find out exactly what.
"It doesna bother ya?" Rhian got out before Cait kissed her again.
Cait sighed a little as she looked down at her. "Tis time for change, Rhian." she said softly as she let the smaller womans wrists go and Rhian slid her fingers into the long dark hair. "Tis time to believe again. In things forgotten, before they be gone." She lowered herself a little closer noting that Rhian arched up a little at the movement and the young woman wasnt so cold. "Twillna be a one god here," she whispered in one ear as she nibbled on the lobe of it.
Rhian let out a slight gasp at the tender touch of Caits teeth. "I be knowin of your prowess, Cait. But how will you be stoppin whole legions..."
Cait raised up a and gave her a look. "Even if Caerloach is to be forgotten by man and the rest of Ireland under this one gods thumb...." she shrugged. "An OBrennan never be concedin to such a thing." Rhian opened her mouth to speak and Cait glared at her. Rhian looked up at her as she began to realize exactly where they were. Slowly she began to blush making Cait laugh.
Cait leaned down sliding her hands beneath Rhians bare back letting them rest on the grasses that made an odd bed for them as she slid their two bodies completely together. She moved them up far enough to cup the back of Rhians head and tangled her fingers in the fair hair as she gently pushed a strong thigh between Rhians legs, smiling deep as she was allowed the room.
With a gentle shift upwards she stroked her thigh against Rhians center and the younger woman gasped with the sensation that tore through her whole body. She repeated the stroke to have the young woman tremble beneath her as she lightly forced Rhians head back arching her smooth neck to be taut making her breasts press upward into her as she licked and kissed the firm muscles down to the hollow of her throat where the mark of Danus chosen now seemed to be permanent.
Rhian grasped Caits strong arms as the pace increased. "Goddess, Cait..." she whispered out in a husky breath as she arched back harder wanting more of Caits strength against her.
Cait kissed and nibbled her way down slowly not missing an inch of sweet soft skin until she could bury her face between two beautiful breasts. Cait was breathing hard herself as she slowed down, her thigh moving smoothly against Rhian as moisture flowed to create an easy pace.
Callused hands slid from Rhians hair and moved from beneath her to reverently cup the pale globes waiting for attention. Gently her thumbs reached out and rubbed the hard nipples and Rhian cried out softly arching up hard. "Cait," came a strangled response. The grip on her arms tightened as Cait stimulated Rhian until she was ready to scream.
Letting go Cait raised herself up enough to continue pumping with long smooth strokes as she lowered herself enough to capture a nipple between her lips. It was enough to push her over the edge as Rhian cried out to the heavens as she came. Her whole body tightened as Cait didnt let go with her mouth and she dug her thigh in harder and faster as Rhian moved with her, breathing harder as her mind seemed to soar into the stars above.
Rhian came down from the most blissful and heavenly place she could ever have imagined as Cait slowed down. Both of them covered in dew from the grasses and sweat. Cait kissed her way up to take her mouth. Rhian wrapped her arms about her neck and held her close. Slowly they backed off with small kisses until they looked each other in the eye.
"Cait... that was.. ," Rhian stopped when she couldnt describe it in words, only to run her fingers lovingly over the smooth, tan cheek above her.
The dark headed woman smiled. "Do you be thinkin tis all?" Rhians eyes went a little wide with startled curiosity. Cait chuckled wickedly as she kissed her way down her mates body. "I be holdin on ta somethin if I were you, luv," she warned her between kisses.
Rhian lifted her head enough to see Cait pay attention to each breast making Rhian moan, but gradually move down her body. She swallowed as Caits hands stroked her hips and felt her hot breath and tongue licking their combined juices off her stomach and she laid her head back down knowing that what she felt before was going to be nothing compared to whatever her lover had planned.
Cait marveled as Rhians abdomen tensed with each lick of the salty moisture. She moved further sliding her body between Rhians thighs forcing them to separate to fit her shoulders between until she was nestled firmly between them. Glancing up she saw her love reach each hand into the grasses and make a fist around a bundle of them and hold on tight.
Smelling the scent of passion Cait leaned down to take her first tentative lick between moist folds, Rhians whole body clenched at the feeling and the red heads strong thighs gripped her shoulders tight wanting to bring them together. Cait looked up to see Rhian wasnt even watching, her whole body focused on what she was doing. She smiled as she plucked a stem of grass from nearby. The crown of it was a tuft of soft bristles. Cait passed it over the bundle of nerves and Rhian gasped in surprise and half lifted herself up to see. Cait inhaled and took the nub between her teeth and Rhian lost any nerve to keep herself up with that as she let herself back down with a small thud into onto their bed of tall grass.
It only lasted a few moments when the lips were gone and Rhian groaned deeply with the loss. Soon the odd rough texture was back stroking her and she didnt even look up this time as bolts of fire coursed through her body with each touch.
Gently Cait took her legs and put them up over her shoulders so Rhian was more comfortable as she cradled firm, round buttocks in her hands when she saw Rhian shiver with anticipation. "Rhian?" Rhian took in a deep breath and shivered again. "Luv?"
"Oh gods Cait " Rhian got out. "Please "
Cait heard the sweet sound of desire in Rhians voice. She was ready for this as much as Cait was. Cait slid one hand up just enough to allow her thumb to stroke Rhians clit and the red heads hips arched up as she heard the strangled plea again.
With that Cait lowered her head and caressed her moist folds with soft lips barely touching. Rhian thrust up wanting her mouth fully on her. Cait backed off far enough until Rhian settled back and she repeated her tease a few times more until Rhian realized that it was Caits way or no way. She gave in with a whimper.
Cait smiled as she focused on bringing Rhian such great pleasure the night would never be forgotten. Unnoticed by the two of them as Cait slid a few fingers deep inside her lovers was that the plethora of stars began to shift and change above them.
All about Ireland markers that had stood for centuries began to glow and with the coming of Samhain. Magic that was bound to the otherworld began to build and take shape. Ghosts from long ago rose up and walked on the eve of the last day of Samhain and the creatures and gods of long ago found the barrier between their world and this one were joined again at last.
Many of the long forgotten mythical creatures stopped to form a respectful and protective circle about the couple as Rhians grip in the grasses tightened but the rest of her lost control as her mate combined their eternal love with her scream of passion igniting the air about them.
With that primal cry the air about them began to glow with mists of cool air and gentle light. The grasses blew and the leaves in the trees fluttered as a shift in the universe itself took place and the stars returned to their normal position as Cait kissed Rhians sensitive flesh and moved back up curling her body possessively about the younger woman. Rhian turned into her and let the tremors that coursed through her slowly subside.
"Are you well, my love?" Cait whispered to her as the earth calmed down and soon the two were left alone with a peaceful night to themselves.
Rhian had tears in her eyes as she rested her hands on Caits abdomen. "Aye," she replied back softly. "Gods above, Cait. Never do I be dreamin of such a thing." She looked up at her. "Tis so powerful."
Cait smiled at her. "Only with one you be lovin."
Rhian nodded, understanding. "What of you?" she asked feeling the need shiver through her mates body.
"Tis of na moment, Rhiannon," Cait told her.
Rhian looked at her disbelieving as she tentatively stroked the outer curve of Caits breast. "It would be cruel of me not to please my lover," came the loving but nervous reply.
Cait smiled fondly at her. "Then I be teachin you, my mate."
Rhian glanced up at her again. "Tis so?"
Caits chuckle turned into a gasp as delicate fingers found their way down between them to a very sensitive spot. "Oh aye," she said hungrily as she swallowed deeply groaning as the curious fingers found more sensitive flesh. "Tis a union blessed by the gods, Rhian. We are mated."
Rhian nodded as she felt Cait tremble beneath her gentle but wandering touch. "Tis so then." With any strength she had left she got Cait onto her back and she straddled her larger partner as Caits hands rested on her hips. Leaning over she kissed one nipple then the other then rested on her as she kissed her lips and Cait hummed with delight. "I be ever so patient in wantin to learn," she said as she kissed her again. "But I willna wait too long."
Cait laughed as she rolled them both over holding Rhian close. "By the gods I be hopin na."
Rhian lay in Caits strong arms listening to the steady heartbeat of her formidable companion as night slowly began to drift into early dawn. It wasnt until she heard the sound of voices that she began to come out of her blissful reverie. "Cait?"
"Ummm.... I be hearin them," was the sleepy reply. The arms about her tightened slightly as the blue eyes opened. "I also be thinkin your bear of a brother tis in the group of searchers."
Rhian looked up at her and she saw the teasing glint in her eye. "Donna jest with me, Cait."
Cait chuckled as she kissed her forehead. "I be na jestin. And what will he be thinkin, seein his baby sister on the ground, naked as a bluejay and in my arms?"
Rhian tried to move but Cait didnt release her. "Cait!" she said impatiently.
Caits eyebrows rose. "Aye?" Rhian huffed out a measure of testiness. Cait chuckled as she let her go. "What are ya gonna do, love?" she asked as she laid back in their nest of bent wild grass watching her mate worry herself as she paced a little, watching out for the bodies attached to the voices. The grass covered them from prying eyes, but it wouldnt be that hard to walk past them and notice the indentation in the grass.
"Cait!" Rhian turned on her, her brow furrowed.
Cait laughed softly as she stood up and slid her arms about her and held her close noticing that the searchers were some ways off. "Donna worry, luv. I be gettin you home without ya turnin too red."
Rhian looked up at her. "Ach!" she grumbled as she laid her head on Caits chest, giving in.
Cait caressed her fingers over the mark that was a faint green that symbolized a fox, the necklace was gone leaving bare skin. "I never be leavin you again, my love," she told Rhian as she held her close. "I would surely be dyin to save you."
Rhian sighed as she kissed the skin nearby. "What happened?" She looked up and blue eyes peered back at her as the sun rose higher into the sky. "With Leitis and Mabh?"
Cait shrugged. "I be sendin out a group of soldiers to find out. Leitis disappeared, twas surely by Mabhs doin."
Rhian nodded and laid her head back down. "And becomin a cat?"
Cait smiled and flexed her muscles remembering the thrill of the hunt in the perfect form. She was surprised to find that as human her cuts and wounds were only minor scratches. "Morrigans gift."
Rhian smiled in understanding. "Twas a Stone in that tent, Cait. One like no other I be seein." She reached up and felt where the mark was at the hollow of her throat. "Etain be callin it somethin I canna remember what, I donna remember much of anythin that be happenin there."
Cait rubbed her back and Rhians arms slid about her. "Let us be gettin back to Teyrnon first then we be findin out about this stone of yours."
Rhian didnt want to think about what could possibly happen to try and get back home. "It doesna worry ya about such things," she said softly as she looked up to her. "Does it?"
Cait smiled. "Well many years before it wouldna. But I be believin that the Lord of Teyrnon and her beautiful wife comin home in nothing more than a few sparse twigs and shafts of grass willna make for good company durin the winter to come." She looked to the sky for a moment. "Better yet, might be too much company for that."
Rhian blinked at this then began to giggle as she thought about it. "Then what do we be doin?"
"Ach, tis quite a simple thing," came the reply.
Rhian watched from their bed of grass as Cait calmly strode toward the men who had spotted her and were coming quickly on their horses. Rhian was amazed, Cait didnt even blush as she ordered a few of them to shed a couple of tunics and a belt or two. She donned one herself and came back with the other. The men just watched, and as Cait had predicted Draig was in the group watching with a fully red face.
Cait guarded Rhians body from any unwanted views as she helped her put the gigantic tunic on and with the help of a belt wrapped around her waist a few times she was ready to go.
"Good enough until we be gettin home?" the Lord of Teyrnon asked.
Rhian blushed a little as she took Caits hand and the two walked back towards the group of men. She leaned against Cait when she looked to her brother who was watching her suspiciously. It was one thing to be necking behind closed doors, it was another to be caught out in the middle of a field with nothing on knowing that SOMETHING had to of happened. When they came into the group one of the men was relieved of his horse and Cait got herself and Rhian up on it.
Cait looked to the shyness her mate had taken on and the look on Draigs face. "The rest of ya be movin on," she told them firmly giving them the location of the remains of the raiders camp. "Be bringin back anythin that tisna dead nor burnt." She told Guy specifically about the Stone Rhian had told her about.
Soon it was the two women and Draig making the trip for Teyrnons gates. The tension between sister and brother was almost palatable as they rode on until Cait shifted a bit.
"Speak your peace, Draig," she told him.
Draig looked to Cait then to Rhian. "Twasna right," he told her. "Rhian is na commoner to be taken "
Cait raised a hand stopping him as she felt Rhian shiver in her arms. "Did I na ask for the right to be seein her?"
Draig slowly nodded. "Aye."
"And we be havin words about my intentions with Rhian," she said firmly looking his way. He nodded that they had.
"I didna be takin your sister like a common whore, Padraig Kelan. Our matin be blessed by the gods themselves," she informed him daring him to question her.
It was silent for a while longer until Cait spoke again. "If needs be twill fight those who be thinkin differently."
Rhian looked to Cait then to her brother. "Draig " she started.
He shook his head. "I be trustin ya, Rhian. Tisna an easy thing for a brother to grasp about his baby sister." He looked at her and took her hand in his. "Twill be two who stand for your honor should anyone dare to put the Lady of Teyrnon to shame." Rhian blushed red and Draig smiled looking to Cait. "Did she na tell ya?"
"Draig " Rhian warned him.
Cait shook her head. "What?"
Draig smiled. "She be knowin about bein the Lady of Teyrnon some time back."
Cait looked down to Rhian who was becoming redder. "Truly? Tis a soothsayer in our midst?"
Rhian still blushed but answered. "Oh aye tis a great one I be. Tis a great force be comin upon us when we be back in Teyrnon, and na one of us be safe from it."
Cait looked at her with a smile. "And how do you be knowin this?"
Rhian snorted. "Nara be livin there."
Cait began to laugh and soon Rhian and Draig joined in.
The trio were welcomed into the city of Teyrnon by swarms of people who stood by the buildings and cheered at their return. Cait stopped their horse near Amenophis and nodded to him from where he watched. "I and all of Teyrnon be givin our thanks for your help in returnin Rhiannon to me."
Amenophis nodded happily wiping away a few tears from his eyes. "I can give you a great discount on a gown for the upcoming nuptials."
Cait glared a little at this but Rhian put a hand on her arm. "Bring your wares up to the castle," red head told him.
That got them a huge smile from the merchant. "Of course, milady!" he said happily as he began to scurry back to his kiosk.
They rode on up through the castle gate and into the courtyard where Nara and Malcolm along with many others were waiting. Nara took Rhian into her arms and nearly crushed her to death hugging her so tight.
"Begods, Rhian!" she said gratefully as she released her and cupped her face in her hands. "Tis trouble you were born of!"
Rhian smiled at her with the blush coming right back to her cheek. "Tisna my fault!" she proclaimed. "Tis his," she said nodding to her brother who looked a little surprised at this.
"Really?" Nara said giving her mate a once over and the big man glared at her.
"Aye," Rhian confirmed. "I be na knowin Cait for as long as I have that big bear over there."
Nara looked from her husband to over Rhians head to her cousin who grinned. "I be concedin to such a point, Rhian." She kissed her cheek and let her go. Cait took Rhian back into her arms and Nara watching them through narrowed eyes. "What happened after Leitis be takin ya from Teyrnon?"
Rhian sighed. "Much, Nara."
Malcolm stepped forward making their small circle complete. "What happened between the two of you?" he asked coming to the point Nara was trying to get across.
Cait cleared her throat. "Tonight be the last of Samhain. And the day the whole of Ireland will know as our joining."
Nara looked between them then to Draig who made it a point to stand out of her reach. Rhian however dared knowing that Cait wouldnt let anything happen as she rested her hand on Naras arm. "Twas more than honorable, Nara."
Nara looked to her cousin who gave her the same look back, she dared her to disagree with her mate. Nara growled softly. "Then we best get all of Teyrnon ready for the celebration."
Malcolm smiled and bowed respectfully to Rhian. "Welcome home Lady Rhiannon OBrennan."
Rhian smiled and kissed his cheek. "Tis a wondrous place to call home," she told him as she turned to hold Cait close.
The great hall of the Lord of Teyrnon was filled to capacity, not only with nobility, but servants and those invited by the Lord and Lady of the castle. Annwn, Amenophis and a few others Rhian insisted on attending. It was a jovial time with a band of musicians playing a beautiful tune.
Rhian was radiant in a floor length white gown, deeply cut in front and the mark of the fox brought out her beauty even more. Cait was next to her in black leathers with a deep red tunic over top. The day had been hectic for all but the couple who had retired to the masters chambers and slept for the better part of the day. Once the couple had emerged to participate in their ceremony and to celebrate it and the end of Samhain word about things not seen in Teyrnon spread like wildfire through the castle and the city.
A satyr was spotted at the edge of the forest. Sprites and fairies were found drifting through the shadows of the city. And some creatures were seen scurrying through the forest, yet to be identified.
Then the party of soldiers had returned with an alive but wounded Medr, and four other raiders along with various things and between two horses on a quick made stretcher was the stone Rhian had talked about.
The two were officially joined and the partying began, as always with tradition dancing and the ale flowed freely. Cait and Rhian joined in a dance or two before they bowed out and watched from their seats.
Along with the festivities was talk of the invasion of Loaghais. The refugees had started on their way through the pass and Cait had decided to take what Teyrnon could in. However, she stipulated to the scouts who came before them that every able bodied warrior would help in fighting if it came down to it. She would never let them get close to the Vale of Caerloach. Innis Kelan, Lord of Versy also agreed that they would take in those homeless as well and the Kelans would fight along side the OBrennans. He was a bit put out that he didnt make it to the wedding, but he liked the idea of a Kelan married to the Lord of Teyrnon.
It was late into the night and Rhian was dressed in a sheer nightgown as she leaned against the sill of the window looking out over the glade where she and her mate had spent their first night together. She shivered slightly at what had brought her there and she wondered if it would be the last they would see of Leitis and Queen Mabh.
Warm arms wrapped around her from behind and she leaned into Caits body as the dark haired woman looked out with her into the night.
"Tis somethin I never be believin in all the time I be lookin out this window," Cait whispered to her softly as she kissed the top of her head.
Rhian smiled as she looked with her. Light flakes of snow dusted the ground showing that they were in for an early winter. That wasnt the amazing thing, however, out in the glade mixed in with the high grasses and thick trees were shifting lights, like the stars had come down out of the heavens and busied themselves around.
Fairies had come to make the glade their home, and it was fully protected under the Lords rule.
"What of the Stone?" Rhian asked as she took in a breath.
Cait shrugged as she held her mate closer. "Many of those in the castle and throughout the Vale be hearin of the Stone of Destiny. I be thinkin tis time to look through our book to understand more about it than the glance we took before."
Rhian smiled and looked up at her and received a kiss for it. "Etain would have told," she said as she felt her throat for the necklace no longer there. That and the book were what started her whole adventure. "I be hopin shes with the others." Rhian nodded to the glade filled with fairie light.
Cait nodded in agreement, the small fairie had led her to Rhian. "I donna think she be far away." She easily picked Rhian up in her arms and carried her back over to the bed and settled both of them in. "I be hearin stories about this nice red headed lass by the name of Rhian." She looked to her mate who was snuggled beneath her in the warm blankets. "Twillna surprise me if all the fairies and whatnot that roams about the Vale come to you." She leaned in and kissed her deeply. "Tis a special one, you are."
Rhian smiled up at her companion and brushed her fingers over her cheek. "Na more than you my Lord."
Cait wiggled her eyebrows at that. "Ach, milady," she said in the commoner tongue. "Donna be makin me blush."
Rhian laughed and put her hands behind Caits neck. "And you have never done the like to me," she replied.
Cait shrugged. "You be quite beautiful when ya blush," she told her as she lifted up the hem on Rhians nightgown and caressed from her hip up to stroke the firmness of her breast and soon the blush came making Cait smile. "You already be ten times more beautiful than any woman alive," she said softly.
Rhian went red as she tightened her hold about Caits neck and the dark headed woman lowered herself gently on top of her and held her as they kissed passionately. Cait released her and looked down to her as she slid out of bed. Rhian looked a little surprised at this as Cait pulled on a tunic and held her hands out to Rhian.
"Come with me," she told her.
Rhian looked at her even more curiously. "To where?"
Cait smiled. "Tis a surprise."
Rhian frowned. "Tis the middle of the night," she replied back.
Cait grinned and reached underneath her and picked up her. "Donna be gettin stubborn with me already."
"Cait," Rhian said as she wrapped her arms about her neck.
"Do you be rememberin " the Lord of Teyrnon said as she walked towards the door to their chambers. "Back a ways, to our deal? You be ownin me a favor."
Rhian blinked at this but she nodded. "Aye. I do."
Cait smiled. "Then I be claimin it now," she said as she lowered her to her feet and led her into the corridor.
The two of them were hardly dressed as Cait snuck her through the back corridors out to the stables. Snatching a torch from outside Cait led Rhian into a stall.
"Are ya lookin to have your way with me in every part of Teyrnon?" Rhian asked as the enclosed area was lit up.
There stood a beautiful golden white mare. With a white mane and gentle brown eyes looking at both of them. Rhian looked back to Cait who smiled fondly at her. "Rhian, this is Inish." She nodded to the mare. "Inish, be a kind, but spirited young thing. I didna sell her at the last fair," she told her as she rubbed the horses muzzle. "I believe she was waitin for you."
Tears came to Rhians eyes as she remembered her last beloved horse and she looked to Cait who carefully placed the torch in a holder and held her in her arms. "I be knowin she canna replace Ula. But every Lady must be havin her own horse."
Rhian looked to the beautiful mare and slowly walked over and brushed her soft coat and the horse took it all in. Slowly she leaned in and circled her arms about the mares neck and let the tears fall for the last time in the soft coat about her lost animal friend. She murmured a few things to the mare whose ears went back as she listened. Finally Rhian wiped away the last of the tears and turned to look at her worried mate.
"Thank you," she told her. "Inish and I will be gettin on fine." She looked at her funny. "Tis an odd favor you ask of me."
Cait chuckled. "Inish be na the favor, silly. Tis my gift to you, she be the only one Kynthelig can stand."
Rhian rolled her eyes at that, knowing it was half humorous and probably half true. "Then what of my favor to you?"
Cait smiled as she slipped a bridle on Inish but no saddle. She helped Rhian up and then mounted up behind her. "A night ride," she told her as she held her close.
Cait caught up a cloak and pulled it around both of them as she took up the reins and led Inish out of the stall and into the crisp air and Rhian looked up as a flake of snow landed on her cheek. Soon they were riding down into the glade and the fairies swarmed about and welcomed the lovers.
Return to Main Page