For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
There was a smile on her lips and song in the air as Donal saw to the morning's activities in the castle. The kitchen fires were burning bright, smells of fresh breads and meats wafting seductively under the brunette's nose. For the first time in nearly two weeks she had an appetite, and couldn't wait for the first meal, which would be served around ten that morning. Though she'd had little sleep the night before, she felt lighter and more alive than she ever had before.
Just to ease her own mind, she had checked on her most welcome guest first thing, seeing the blonde sleeping peacefully. Her bruises stood out darkly this day, as the wounds settled in. She knew the healer would be hurting badly, and ordered a fresh bushel of arnica to be brought in, along with white wine. She knew that was what Cara would prefer for her wounds. She also knew better than to presume she could do it better than the great healer, herself, so just had the ingredients brought up to Cara's room, along with breakfast and fresh clothes.
It had been a busy morning. The Donal had already convened with builders, and a separate, private bathing chamber was being planned for Cara's bathing pleasure. No doubt she was still as adamant as ever about her daily baths. A grin was imminent as the brunette's thoughts turned to so long ago, hooting and hollering about having to take so many baths. In their first month traveling together, she'd taken more baths than she had in her entire life up until then.
Spying Grace, she grinned and winked. She'd told the girl earlier that she had a surprise for her later, and the young blonde seemed beside herself at the prospect, though Donal had made sure no one who knew the Healer's true identity told her. The brunette was almost beside herself to reunite the sisters, both thinking the other long dead. Donal couldn't remember feeling so giddy as she made her way up the stairs, taking two at a time. Each jolt made her shoulder ache slightly, but she didn't care. There was nothing that could bring her down that day.
One of the double doors was open, Evela already with Cara, helping her dress. Blue eyes noted the arnica already had been pulverized to make the healing paste. A telltale rag covered with the goop, indicative of the excess having been wiped away. The two women stood by the window, the fresh air coming in to gently blow blonde locks back from Cara's face. Evela was speaking to her in soft tones as she brushed the short strands into place.
Donal stood back from them, hands clasped. Evela glanced over her shoulder, smiling when she saw the unsure look on the brunette's face. The smaller woman called for her with the hook of her finger, then put a finger to her lips. Getting the idea, the tall woman moved silently to the pair. Mid-stroke, she found the brush in her hand, Evela moving back away, silently making her way out of the room. Cara's soft voice continued.
"... Germany from France." She stopped, a soft smile brushing her lips, eyes half-hooded as she enjoyed the feel of her hair being gently brushed, the strokes relaxing and soothing. The strands had long become knot-free, but she was enjoying it so much, she said nothing. "'Twas then I learned many, many healing herbs." She sighed, hands gently playing with the flowing material of her yellow dress. "Ta answer yer earlier question, I came back to England four years ago. I've been in Kendal ever since."
Donal said nothing, just took in the feel of the golden hair against her hand as she ran the brush over the nearly glowing strands. Her eyes studied them up close, seeing each individual strand, some fluttering from her own breath. Her eyes ran down to Cara's ears, the very tips slightly flushed, her own natural coloring. Her slender neck, wisps of gold brushing it before it disappeared into the dress.
Eyes closing, Donal brought her nose to inhale the fragrance, immediately recognizing the freshness of cleaning herbs, as well as fresh air, and most importantly, the smell of Cara.
"Evela?" Cara's voice was soft, wistful, almost a whisper. Donal's eyes opened at the sound. She waited for the blonde to turn around, and for her to be found out, but to her surprise, Cara continued. The brunette changed the brush to her left hand, raising her right again, gently touching the golden hair, sighing softly as her fingers ran through it. She was surprised to see a resulting shiver run briefly through Cara before it was gone. Smiling, she waited, loving the coolness of the hair, the softness, so wonderful. "Has," the blonde paused, "Donal, taken care of herself?"
The brunette was surprised as her title and adopted name sounded so foreign on the blonde's tongue, like she wasn't comfortable with it. She swallowed, nodding, though she knew Cara couldn't see it.
"Aye." Her voice was just as soft as her companion's. She wasn't surprised to see Cara whirl around, wide green eyes taking her in. Smiling sheepishly, she raised the brush, wiggling it before handing it back to the blonde. "Donal did 't best she could, filling her emptiness with 't love 'o her people, tryin' ta find what she lost."
Cara stared at her for long moments, eyes filled with a myriad of emotions and unnaturally glistening in the morning light.
"Yer Highness," she said, her voice shaky, eyes turning angry.
"Please dona call me that, Cara," the brunette begged in a whisper. She tried to plead with her eyes.
Without a word, Cara pushed past the brunette, hurrying from the room. Head falling, Donal studied her hands, the feel of golden hair still like a ghostly touch against her skin. Blindly, she found her way to a large chair, sitting heavily. She wasn't sure how long she sat there when she heard soft footsteps walking across the room. A soft touch on her hand, then Evela's dark eyes as the small brunette fell to her knees next to the chair, her dress gathering around her on the floor like a small ocean.
"Merryn?" she asked, concern knitting her brows. Tortured blue eyes looked at her.
"She hates me."
"No," Evela shook her head. "I thank she's angry with ye. She had 't pox, Merryn. She was saved by a friar."
Donal's eyes widened at the news. "Pox? Friar?" She saw her friend nod. A smile was pushed out of her, as was a sniffle. "Father Michael," she whispered, remembering the friar well. Her head fell. "She was dead."
"Nay, Merryn. She was not."
A stab ripped through the brunette's heart at this. She had left her? No! About to open her mouth again, an out of breath Caleb ran into the room.
"Donal!" he screeched, his changing voice shattering on the word. Blue eyes flew up to him. "'Tis Paul."
Donal and Evela burst out into the Keep, seeing a huddle group near the gate, a horse being led away by his reigns. Seeing a flash of dark hair on the ground, the brunette ran over to him, pushing people out of the way as she fell to her knees.
"Get outta my way!" she snarled, scaring the daylights out of a cobbler. He quickly jumped from the fray, watching from the hushed sidelines. Frantic blue eyes took in the boy's pale face, body splayed out. His eyes were closed, blood pooling on the dirt from under his head. "Paul?" she said, her hands cupping the boy's face. "Paul?" she asked again, her voice becoming higher, tingeing on hysterical. Terror making her act irrationally, she began to shake him, becoming more and more frantic as he didn't respond.
"Yer Highness, stop."
Ignoring the soft request, she shook him again. "Paul! Wake up, lad! Wake up, son." Trying to push away when she felt cool hands on either side of her face. The touch refused to fall away, and in fact, she was almost painfully grasped.
Looking up, blue eyes wide, saw intense green eyes looking back into her own. Cara refused to lose her gaze. "Stop. Let me do me job."
Nodding slowly, the brunette sat back on her haunches, watching the healer, and praying for a miracle. It was deathly quiet as everyone watched Cara. She checked his pulse, then leaned over the boy, carefully opening first one eyelid then the other. Calling for a liter, someone ran off to do her bidding.
Getting to her feet, Donal watched numbly as her son was loaded onto the liter, then carried inside the castle, up to his rooms. She followed, doing her best to stay out of the way. She could see that the lad was breathing, his chest rising and falling, relieving some of his mom's fear with every breath. She also knew that if anyone could help him, it would be Cara.
She sat in the corner, listening as the blonde called out orders, various herbs and flowers, wine, water and privacy. No one dared ask Donal to leave. With a brief, comforting hug, Evela was the last to leave, closing the doors behind her. Blue eyes never left the boy, nor the woman hovering over him, asking the boy questions, her voice soft and soothing. To the brunette's immense relief, Paul was able to answer her questions, though his voice was thick, his tongue swollen from biting down on it when he was bucked from the horse.
"Very good, Paul," Cara said with a soft smile after the boy had wiggled the fingers of his right hand. "'N 't other? Nicely done." Sitting on the side of the bed, the blonde raised three fingers. "How many fingers do I hold, Paul?"
He studied her for a moment, squinting his eyes, then raised a weak hand, holding up three fingers.
"Very good, aye." Green eyes lifted, finding Donal watching anxiously. "Would ye help me, Yer Highness?"
Swallowing with a nod, Donal got to her feet and made her way to the large bed. Together they rolled the young man over. The pillow beneath his head already had a decent sized spot of blood. Seeing that, worried blue eyes turned to the healer.
"He'll need stitches," Cara explained, her fingers coming to rest at the wound, feeling around in the dark hair to see if it was just one wound, or several. The blonde nodded to herself. "Aye, a dozen should do it."
"Why does he bleed so?" Donal asked, confused with only a dozen stitches. Green eyes met her own again, then squinted slightly at the small smile spreading across angelic features.
"Come now, warrior. Ye should know how badly head wounds bleed."
Feeling stupid and chastised, Donal nodded, lowering her eyes. She watched Cara work her magic, holding her son's hand as she knew how painful stitches could be. He did well, was brave. Like his mom.
Cara began to clean up her medicines, the handsome young man comfortably sleeping. He would be fine, and the relief on his mother's face had made it all worth it. The blonde started slightly at the light touch to her shoulder. Glancing over her shoulder she saw blue eyes.
"Thank ye, Cara. I cannot show my gratitude enough." Donal's voice was soft, filled with all the relief in the world. Her heart warmed slightly at the small smile and nod she received. Swallowing, Donal decided to take a chance. "Would ye come with me?"
"Where?" the blonde asked, turning to fully face the brunette.
"Just come." Donal held out her hand, which Cara looked at for a brief moment, before hesitantly putting her small, pale hand in it. Feeling the soft flesh within her own, Donal closed her fingers over Cara's, and with one last look at her son, led the blonde from the room.
They walked the long halls of Saoirse, Donal smiling at those they passed, many thanking and congratulating Cara in her achievements. One servant even gave the small blonde a crown of fresh flowers she'd made in thanks for all of Cara's healing powers. The blonde smiled graciously, accepting the gift with a small hug.
"Ye know, Yer Highness," she began softly, a slight smile edging her voice. "I believe ye keep making these things happen ta keep me here."
Donal glanced over at her companion, a smile of her own gracing her lips. "Ye do, do ye?"
"Aye." Cara sobered slightly. "I was gonna leave."
Donal felt her heart fall. She said nothing, praying that maybe she had one last card up her sleeve to keep the healer with her.
Turning down one last hall, the closed door at the end of the corridor. Smells of fresh baked goods already filled the air. The kitchen door opened, and a figure stepped out into the hall, her soft footfalls silent. The girl was wiping her hands on the white cloth wrapped around her waist, her protruding belly making it difficult to keep her apron in place.
Donal heard a gasp beside her when the girl at the end of the hall looked up. Watching Cara's face carefully, the brunette saw green eyes opening impossibly wide, the blonde's hand flying to her mouth. Glancing down the corridor, she saw the blonde kitchen wench standing there, head slightly cocked to the side, her brows knit in thought. Turning back to Cara, Donal saw her face crumple, a small cry released from her throat. Golden head shaking in disbelief, she took a careful step forward, then stopped. Tear-filled eyes looked up to Donal, who nodded slightly. Turning back to the young women, who had begun to take careful steps toward them, Cara took off at a dead run.
Donal watched in wonder as the two sisters met halfway, nearly knocking each other over. Cara was crying heavily, holding the younger girl to her so tight that it was almost painful. Pulling away slightly, hands buried in the long, blonde hair, just a tad lighter than her own, she saw Grace's red, tear-streaked face. Green eyes peered back at her, glowing from the upset. Unable to believe her eyes, she pulled the girl to her again, gently rocking her back and forth, the younger sister sobbing into her neck.
"Oh, Grace," she whispered, a sense of peace flowing through her in waves, the need to love and protect this girl almost overwhelming. Pulling away again, she brought her hand up, brushing tear-slicked strands of hair back from her sister's face, tucking them behind reddened ears. "Oh, my Grace," she said again, wonder in her voice. "How is this possible?" Her voice broke again, fresh tears running down her cheeks.
Donal watched from her place at the end of the hall, her face about to break open with her smile. She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling her own emotions grow heavy with tears of her own. Holding them back, she decided the sister's needed some privacy for a long overdue reunion. Pushing off the wall she'd been leaning against, she quietly made her way back down the long, cold corridors to her son.
He still lay in his bed, breathing calm and even. The bandage Cara had wrapped round his head was still clean, no new bleeding. She sat on the side of his bed, careful to not jog him. Reaching out a hand, she felt the cool skin of his cheek, but he wasn't clammy, which meant no fever. A soft smile brushing her lips, so filled with love and pride, she brushed some hair back from the top of the bandage, her long fingers caressing his cheek lightly before taking his hand in both of hers. His dark features stood out in such stark contrast to the paleness of his features. A handsome boy, dark hair, dark, finely shaped brows. His features were proud and strong, as was his young body.
She had prayed a long time ago that the boy wouldn't want to be a fighter like her. She'd gotten her answer many years ago when the boy's interests, even as a small child, leaned far more toward the curiosities of life. His brain was like a sponge, absorbing and begging for more. He was incredibly bright, and followed around any scholar he could, picking their brains with his thirst for knowledge. Donal had seen the way he'd followed Cara around already, longing to learn this new sort of knowledge- the ability to heal.
Someday the lad would make a wonderful ruler. His mind was sharp, temperament even and fair. Pride shone anew in the brunette as she leaned up, kissing his forehead.
Grace closed her eyes as the soft cloth was run over her face, gathering her tears, which she couldn't get to stop flowing down her cheeks. Her beloved older sister smiled at this, catching all the new ones, too.
"Is this 't surprise Donal spoke of?" the girl asked, Cara's free hand wrapped possessively in her own, cool ones. She refused to let go. The healer smiled, brushing back more hair.
"I know not, my sister." Cara smiled as her own fresh tears began. "My sister," she whispered, taking the young girl in her arms again, pulling Grace from the stool in the kitchen where she sat, holding her tight. Sighing deeply, she felt her heart beginning to slow, the cadence returning to normal. Pulling away again, she helped the younger girl sit once more, mindful of the girl's swollen belly. She'd ask about that later, but first she had to know how this had happened. "Ye did not die with our mother?" she asked, wiping at her own tears. The younger blonde shook her head.
"Taken, I was. Brought ta Middleham."
"Ye were in Middleham?" Cara whispered, tears filling her eyes all over again, thinking of her own captivity. "Fer how long?"
"Two long years." Taking a deep breath, Grace ran trembling fingers through her long hair at the memories that admission brought forth. Sensing this, Cara took her sister's hand. She remembered her own brief time in the clutches of Edward III.
"How did ye get out?"
Instantly Grace's face brightened, a smile spreading across her features like the sunlight blesses the land. "Donal. Rescued me, she did! She brought me ta live with her." Squeezing her sister's hand, completely unaware of the healer's relationship with the ruler. "She's so kind, Cara! She's brought in 't orphans from 't black sickness, and had them schooled! She has saved this land, she has. 'N everyone in it."
Cara listened, brows slightly knit as she heard the obvious love and appreciation in the girl's voice. She listened as Grace spoke of the brunette's standing up for her, and even fighting a fellow soldier once who was trying to take advantage of a then fifteen year old girl.
"Sister, please stay," Grace finished, her voice falling in profound pleading. "Please, please don't leave me again. Mother," her eyes began to fill again, "when ye didn't come back on the second day, as ye promised, she thought ye were dead." She brought a hand up, swiping at a tear that was squeezing out from the corner of her eye. "She had already come down with 't sickness. Dyin', she was. I waited, prayin' ye'd come back fer me." The girl lost her control, outright crying once more. She had no idea she could cry so much! And two very different types of tears within moments. Feeling the warm, strong embrace of a sister long missed, she fell into the embrace, allowing the tattered remains of her shattered childhood to heal.
"'M so sorry, Grace," Cara whispered, kissing the top of the girl's head. "Please forgive me fer not bein' there fer ye. I thought ye were dead, too." She stroked her sister's back, warm circles over the taught dress the girl wore.
Donal watched the sun falling from the sky. Standing from the chair in her son's rooms, she gave him one last kiss, and tucked him in further, then headed to her own rooms. The hours she'd spent with Paul had given her torturous thoughts. She'd done it again. She'd failed Cara in the worst way possible.
Closing the large double doors behind her, she looked at the roaring fire that had been prepared for her, then turned away. There was no heat that could melt through her frozen soul. Walking over to the massive desk tucked in the corner, she drug the huge chair over to the double window. Pulling open the shutters, she felt the cool breeze of night wash in, gently pushing at a few strands of her hair. The night air was actually warmer than the castle around her. Sitting heavily in the chair, she stared up at the moon, whose light shone down, painting her face in shades of silver and blue.
For not the first time that night, she thought back to that cabin she and Cara had called home for the happiest times of her life. The way they had cleaned it, made repairs, and then made it their own. The walls of the small structure had seen so much laughter and love. Donal couldn't keep the smile from her own lips in memory. Such bitter, bitter sweet memories they were. It didn't take long for the memories to turn dark. Cara had started to get sick so soon, within days. There had been no warning, no inkling of what was to come, nothing.
Donal felt the tickle of a tear at the corner of her eye as she remembered holding the delirious blonde in her arms.
Merryn's eyes opened, feeling heavy and filled with sand. She tried to figure out what had awoken her.
"Mum, 'tis Cara." Cara's voice was so soft, so filled with awe and longing. Merryn pushed herself up to her elbow. Cara lay on her back, eyes open and unfocused. She reached a hand out, fingers spread. "Mum."
Merryn gathered the blonde, so hot, skin slick with sweat. "Hold on, lass. Just hold on," Merryn whispered, cradling Cara's head in her arms. The blonde's eyes closed, face pale. Her breathing was becoming labored. "Please, Cara. Please," Merryn begged, a tear slipping down her cheek. She felt Cara's body go limp in her arms. "Mo Shearc, please, please don'a leave me. Please." Her words were cut off as a sob escaped her throat, her face buried in Cara's hair. She couldn't breathe, her body shaking as the strength of her sobs grew, finally shaking them both. Raising her face to the Heavens, Merryn squeezed her eyes shut. "No!"
A stream of tears were flowing from the brunette's eyes, her heart shattering all over again. How could she have been so wrong? Cara was dead! She slammed her fist into the hard, wooden arm of the chair she sat in, her anger at herself beginning to rear its very ugly head. She promised.
"I dreamed you'd come for me," Cara whispered, eyes tightly closed as she inhaled all that was Merryn- sweat, leather, dirt mixed with rain, and all that made Merryn. Her fingers dug into the brunette's shoulders, terrified that she'd be ripped away again.
"'M so sorry, Cara," Merryn whispered, her face buried in golden hair. "I'll not leave you again. I swear it. Never!" Her promise was so passionate as to almost frighten the blonde, if she hadn't been so relievedby it.
Burying her face in her hands, she felt the tears coming in earnest, though she tried to hold them back. There was no use anymore. Part of her wished she still thought Cara dead. At least that way the blonde wouldn't hate her, and she'd already dealt with the pain. This pain was nearly worse than any other she'd ever known. Was this to be her Hell?
Donal was startled when she felt a hand come to rest on her shoulder. Expecting to see the gentle concern of Evela, she was stunned to see Cara standing next to her chair. Green eyes were filled with overwhelming understanding and dare she say it? Love?
The dam broke anew, raw sobs pulled from the brunette's throat. "'M so sorry, Cara!" she sobbed. "So sorry."
Cara moved around to stand before the woman who was falling apart before her very eyes. With gentle fingers, she brought the dark head to rest against her chest, hugging her arms around Merryn's head. She leaned down, resting her own cheek against the top of her head. Eyes squeezing shut, she felt her own tears sting behind her lids.
Merryn's arms wrapped tightly around the blonde's waist, hugging her so close, her sorrow and grief finally able to be let go. She needed Cara to know just how sorry she truly was, how deeply, profoundly she hurt. She felt gentle fingers running through her hair, heard the soothing heartbeat of her healer, could smell the fresh scent of herbs and flowers on the blonde's dress, against her cheek.
"I love ye so much, Cara," she whispered, her tears still flowing, but the sobs calming.
"I love ye, too, Merryn," was whispered back.
Blue eyes closed, relief flooding her body, her soul filled to the point of bursting with gratitude and love for this small woman she held. She refused to release her hold, instead snuggling in deeper into the warm embrace, feeling the warm breath of the healer atop her head, ruffling the dark strands of her hair.
"Thank ya fer caring fer Grace." Cara kept her eyes closed, allowing herself to feel safe for the first time in more than ten years. The heat that radiated from Merryn's body filled her with peace, her devastation that had lasted for so long finally finding a balm. She could feel the ends of her heart starting to mend, though she knew it would be a very slow process.
"I'twas 't only gift I could give ye. I knew how much ye loved her," Merryn explained softly. She felt Cara pull back slightly, but just enough so she could look down into the wounded face before her.
Reaching down, Cara used her thumbs to wipe away the tears, which were quickly replaced by more. She stared into the tortured eyes, which at one time used to be her home. Merryn had always been the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen, and that had not changed. All around Europe she'd been, meeting royals and peasants alike. None could ever offer the pure, radiant beauty of the brunette.
Looking back to Merryn's eyes, Cara saw the exhaustion, and figured, like her own, it was probably both physical and of the heart. She knew it was time they both got some rest, but somehow she was afraid if she let the brunette go, she'd awaken to find it had all been a dream, and she was still wandering, heavy heart and pain restored. Making a decision, she stepped back, taking Merryn's hand in her own, tugging gently until the taller woman stood. Looking up into fearful eyes, Cara smiled, resting a hand on the side of the brunette's cheek. Blue eyes closed as Merryn immediately leaned into the touch. When her eyes opened once more, they glittered.
"Come." Moving away from the chair, the healer led Merryn to the huge bed, pulling the blankets down. Using gentle pressure, she pushed the brunette to sit on the edge, grabbing her boots and pulling them off, one at a time thudding to the floor. With careful fingers, she removed Merryn's tunic, tossing it and her weapons belt to a nearby chair.
"I'd like ta check yer wounds," Cara said, her voice hushed in the large expanse of the room. Merryn nodded. The brunette's heart was thumping in her chest, a tempest of emotions flowing through her. The feel of Cara being so close to her was bliss, but she was terrified what the morrow would bring. Never would she want the blonde healer to know just how much she truly hurt, but seeing her in her rooms, Merryn had lost control. She had wept the fears and pain that she had kept locked up for so long. And to hear that Cara loved her still ... Merryn took a deep breath, swallowing back fresh tears of joy and relief.
Looking up at the blonde, who was so skillfully checking her healing wounds, made the ruler's heart beat all the more. Tender, warm fingers, fingertips slightly shriveled from wiping away endless tears, both of Merryn and Grace, touched slightly discolored skin. Cara was amazed at how quickly Merryn healed. Some things never changed.
Satisfied that all was well, she walked over to the wardrobe, taking out a thick, comfortable gown. Helping the brunette into it, she smiled softly, tucking a few wild strands of dark brown back into place.
"Time fer ye ta get some rest, Donal." She grinned. "Healer's orders."
Merryn smiled, though it was sad. She hated that their night had to end. Standing, she wiggled the gown down the length of her body. Cara held the covers back for her to slide in between. Dutifully she did so, looking up at the beautiful blonde standing next to the bed.
"Cara?" she said, her voice a whisper.
"Aye?" the healer whispered back.
"Promise me ye'll be here t'morrow."
Cara smiled wide. "Scoot."
Stunned, but almost giddy, Merryn slid over in the expansive bed. She watched as Cara removed her shoes, then her dress, leaving her underdress on. The blonde slid in beside the ruler, immediately pulled into a warm, protective embrace. A golden head laid on the brunette's shoulder, arm resting over Merryn's midriff. The healer quietly asked if she were hurting Merryn by laying on her shoulder. Though it did make it ache a wee bit, Merryn kept her there. There was no way she was going to push Cara away now.
She felt the healer settle against her. With a soft smile, Merryn fell asleep.
Blue eyes slowly opened, soft, warm breath on her face. Focusing, she saw green eyes looking back at her, no more than a half an arm away. Cara was laying on her side, facing the ruler, studying Merryn's face, taking in her features, following the curve of her nose and brow.
The healer wanted to tell Merryn just how beautiful she was, but something stopped her. Instead she felt soft fingers tentatively reaching for her, a fingertip brushing along her cheek, down to her jaw line, over her chin, then finally a hand cupping the side of her face. Merryn smiled slightly when Cara didn't pull away, but instead seemed to lean into her touch. She was in awe of the sight before her. Tenderly her fingers began to move again, feeling the smoothness of Cara's skin until she reached the scarring at the left side of her face, back by her ear. The blonde's eyes closed, her head shrinking away from the brunette's touch.
"Shh," Merryn cooed. Cara opened her eyes, looking at her again, but they were guarded. The brunette traced over the slightly pitted skin, figuring it must have been from more of the pustules during her pox outbreak.
As she ran her thumb over a dark blonde brow, green eyes closed, Cara's body relaxing into the caress. A soft sigh escaped Cara's lips, which pulled a smile from her companion.
Merryn's eyes were drawn to the double doors of her bedchamber as one side was opened. A servant tip-toed in, his eyes focused on the fire, which was beginning to burn out. Quickly re-stoking it, he turned to leave when he spotted the two women. Eyes growing wide, his mouth opened a bit. Merryn chuckled.
"Thank ye, Matthew," she said softly. Cara glanced over her shoulder, suddenly feeling shy. She turned back to the brunette, burying her face in the taller woman's upper chest.
"G'night, Donal." The lad scurried out of the room. Merryn knew that what he had seen would spread through the castle like wildfire, no matter had innocent it was.
Turning back to the healer, Merryn smiled, running her fingers through the blonde hair on the head that was still buried at her upper chest.
"He's gone," she chuckled. Cara pulled back, giving her a sheepish grin, which quickly disappeared. The blonde had something on her mind.
"Why do ye wish me ta stay, Merryn?"
Merryn looked deeply into her eyes, and without a second's hesitation, she spoke her heart. "If t'weren't for my fear 'n grief, we'd still be in 't cabin, by 't woods."
"Do ye mean it?" Cara whispered. At the nod she received, she swallowed. "And what of her people? Ye'r the leader of this land."
"I'd give it all up 'n a moment." She smiled at the memory she was about to impart. "When on 't battlefield, 'n things seemed they could get no worse, I used ta dream of ye, lass. Ye'd smile at me, 'n give me 't courage to go on. Somehow I knew ye'd want me ta do whatever it be I was doin'."
Cara looked at the darker woman for a moment, stunned. "I used ta dream of ye, too, Merryn. Though I didn't want ta." Her smile was sheepish again. "Ye would come ta me, comfort me. 'Tis madness, I know." Her eyes fell, and she sighed.
"Cara, I don'a want ye ta leave. I," she swallowed then tried again. "I understand ye have yer own life, now, in Kendal. But-" she cut herself off when the most beautiful green eyes looked at her. Swallowing yet again, she finished, "please allow me ta be in yer life. Somewhere."
"I won't go anywhere, Merryn." She shook her head. "There'r too many reasons fer me ta stay."
"Oh, thank 't Heavens!" From the smirk she got, Merryn blushed at the extent of her outward enthusiasm and relief. She was relieved for the reprieve when she felt Cara turn to her other side, reaching back to grab the brunette's arm. Tugging it around her waist, and clasping in her own, the blonde began to relax to fall back to sleep. She smiled at the warmth that enveloped the entire back of her body as Merryn spooned up behind her.
Merryn walked to the Great Hall, body relaxed and comfortable. Her wounds had all but healed, and she felt relieved to have her blades back in place. It felt like life was coming back to normal, with a bonus. As much as she didn't want to allow Cara out of her sight, she had to return to business as usual. Besides, it gave Cara and her sister a chance to spend the day together.
"Donal!" Angus grinned, long strides eating up the distance between him and the ruler. The brunette grinned, taking the brief embrace from her comrade.
"How goes it, Angus?"
"Good, good. Though I'd say not as good as ye, eh?" he raised a brow. From the smile he got from his long-time friend, and respected leader, Angus put a hand to her uninjured shoulder. "Cara's back with ye, eh?"
"Aye." Blue eyes met dark. "She's come back ta me, Angus." Her voice was a whisper of awe, eyes large. The dark man's face split into a wide smile, thrilled for his friend.
"Well, take some 'o that good luck with ye fer this meetin'."
The long table had already been set, jugs of wine and plates of meats and cheeses were set out for the honored guests. Torches and lamps lit the large space, a roaring fire glowing over the hearth to warm it.
"Yer Grace," Merryn bowed, her eyes never leaving the dark, beady ones of the man dressed in a white robe with red, satin shoulder cape. A large, golden cross hung from a gold chain around his neck.
"Yer Highness," Bishop of Rutherford nodded acknowledgement. He held his hand out, a large gold ring balanced on his left ring finger, dark ruby caped with a golden crown with a cross through it. Merryn all but clenched her jaw as she placed her lips to the cool stone. The man's finery almost matched her own.
"Please, enjoy 't bounty we have brought fer ye." She smiled, sitting at the head of the large table, Angus sitting to her right so he could be her right hand man. The Bishop's people sat on his side of the table, at the other end, a large entourage. The elderly man looked at the ruler, disdain and disapproval clear on his wrinkled face.
"I've not come to enjoy anything, Donal." He shoved at the servant who had approached him with a tray of food. Merryn felt her anger begin to build, the muscles in her arms and thighs already beginning to tense, ready to push herself up from the chair where she sat. She felt a hand on her arm. Glancing at Angus, she tried to relax.
It was well known throughout the English empire that Donal and the Church did not see eye to eye. Unlike those before her, Merryn refused to give the Church the power they craved through their hypocrisy and domination through fear. Though she didn't believe in the Christian God, she felt it was wrong to use His name and Word as a management tool. The people were not allowed to pray of their own volition, nor were they able to read the Bible as it was written in Latin. The average villager could barely, if at all, read English, let alone an ancient language.
Looking across the expanse of the table, seeing the Holy man in his fine robes and glittering gold, Merryn suddenly felt her anger building again. Keeping her mouth shut, she waited.
"His Grace, the Pope, wishes for more influence with your righteous people. And," he raised a heavily jeweled hand, "with you, Yer Highness."
"I see," Merryn said, sipping from a goblet of wine. She remained quiet as the pompous arse continued.
"His Grace does not feel he has yer support in matters, Donal. He feels, as do I, that you are in fact, working against the Church." He laughed politely. "Surely this is not so."
"'T Pope is yer boss, Yer Grace- not mine." Merryn kept her voice low, not allowing her anger to take over. It was not the place. Though she may not agree with the Church, nor their ideals and doctrine's, she had to keep the peace with them. "My people find peace and solace 'n their god. Not 'n ye."
The good Bishop looked on, his small eyes widening. "Careful, Donal," he warned, "some might mistake ye for a heretic. His Grace, John XXIII can offer guidance to you and yer people, Donal. He is the only one who can save them-"
"Wrong!" Merryn shot t her feet, slamming a fist to the table. "My people need protecting, they turn ta me. What is John gonna do? Pray?"
"Donal," Angus hissed under his breath. The brunette ignored him.
"My people turn ta me, Yer Grace. I rule, I decide," she pounded her own chest. She was tired of the harassment by the Church, clerks and priests being sent to ensure support amongst the ruler. "Ye sit there in yer finest robes. More went inta that outfit than a man in London could spend in a year's time! 'N ye do it by takin' coins from 't trusting," she hissed, her long-held disgust seething. She had a deep seeded hatred for the Church and those who ran it from her days as an orphan in one.
Incensed, the Bishop got to his feet, followed by his entourage. His nostrils were flaring, eyes never leaving Donal. "Ye'll burn in Hell, Donal," he growled. "Unnatural as ye are. Burn in Hell!"
"I'll see ye there."
With a huff, the Holy man stormed out of the room, yelling for a castle servant to get out of his way. Merryn felt her body vibrating with rage, both old and new. She had lost control, and it would mean trouble.
"What have ye done?!" Angus yelled, once the Bishop was gone. He was near trembling with rage.
"I lost control," Merryn meekly explained, a hand running through her hair.
"Ye've done more than that, lass." Dark eyes met blue, daring her to correct the title he knew she hated. He knew she was in no place to make any sort of demands at that moment. "'T Pope already resents a woman tellin' what he can and canno do." He stared her down, seeing recognition of the truth in piercing blue eyes. "Now ye go 'n insult him? And his Bishop?" Angus' anger was returning swiftly to the surface. He shoved her, watching her stagger back a few steps.
"My people deserve ta make their own choices, Angus," she defended.
"Aye, that they do," he conceded, "but a good ruler is diplomatic, Donal! Today ye were a beast! Retribution will be swift." He calmed, mind racing.
Merryn sighed, again running her hands through her hair. She had to fix this, knowing full well that Angus was right. Despite what was taught, the Church was not a forgiving entity.
Sighing, she turned to her highest officer. Standing tall, her full height, unflinching. Making a decision that could change much, she spoke her mind.
"Angus, I canno fall to the Church. I have not o'er these past years, and I will not now. They will not rule me, or this realm. Do ye understand me?"
The dark man also stood tall, breathing in through his nose. He heard what his Donal had said, and though he agreed, he was also a practical man, knowing when it was time to agree just to keep peace. Alas, it was not his decision. He nodded.
"Good. Now come," she slapped the man on his back. "We've a festival to arrange."
Green eyes sparkled as Cara listened to her sister prattle on and on about her life in the castle, and how awed and overwhelmed she'd been at first. She told the healer all about Cayshire, and how Donal and Angus had brought in anyone who needed a place to stay, or who wanted a better life.
Cara watched Grace, unable to take the smile from her face, so proud was she at the beautiful, intelligent, responsible young adult the girl had become. She knew their mother would be so happy to know she would have been a grandmother.
"What?" Grace asked, noticing that she was being stared at. Her sister smiled, shaking her head before putting an arm around her shoulders. They continued on through the gardens, gathering a fresh supply of herbs and selected weeds for Cara's collection.
"I am just tryin' to absorb the fact that yer here," the older blonde said, gently squeezing the narrow shoulders in her grasp. Grace smiled.
"Aye. 'T same fer me." Slinging her arm across her big sister's back, she pressed their sides together. "Cannot wait fer David to come home ta meet ye." The girl's grin was infectious.
"When do I meet the boy?"
Grace sighed heavily, her free hand resting upon her belly. "When the wars in Novgorod end."
"'Tis where Donal was wounded. So scared, I was," the younger blonde whispered.
"Scared for Donal?"
"Aye. More so that it was me David brought back."
Cara nodded in understanding. Releasing the younger girl, she squatted next to a patch of parsley, arranging her cloak around her body in the chilled day. Glancing up to the skies, she could see rain was near. She could smell it.
"Hold this, Grace." Once the girl had taken the small basket from the healer's hand, Cara turned back to the small patch. Digging through it, she bent down until her face was mere finger-lengths from the wild herb. Using her nose, she separated the spongy green plant until she found what she was looking for. With a triumphant grin, she found a sprig that was about to turn bad.
Pulling a small dagger from her belt, she sawed at it, the plant coming free in her hand. Rising to her knees, she held the plant up, examining it from every angle. Satisfied, she handed it back to her sister to place in the basket, which was already half full.
Grace grinned, helping her sister to her feet so they could continue on to the next batch. She arranged a few of the herbs so as to make the basket more room-efficient.
"What?" Cara asked, noting the big smile.
"Makes me think of when we were children, back home. Mum yellin' fer us ta hurry up fer supper."
Cara sighed at the happy thoughts. "Aye." Hugging her sister close, eyes squeezing shut in relief, she released her with a smile of her own. "Come. Let's go fer the buckbean I saw a bit back."
They began to make their way back into the trees when Grace stopped, eyes opening wide. Cara glanced over at her when she felt a stopping hand on her arm. The girl's mouth opened, but nothing came out. Not until a scream was ripped from her throat.
Merryn waited for the towncryer to finish writing what she'd said. His wife stood nearby, shyly smiling at the ruler. Donal smiled at her, trying to put the fidgeting woman at ease. Finally her husband finished scratching the announcements on his parchment. Handing it to the brunette to read over and make sure was correct. Opening her mouth to ask for a change, Donal's head snapped toward the archway of her throne room at the piercing cry that echoed off the stone walls.
Throwing the parchment at the stunned cryer, she ran toward the noise. Eyes wide, she saw a couple servants running toward the physician's room. Following them down the dark hall, she stopped just shy of bowling over a group of curious onlookers.
Whispering followed her as she made her way through them until she was finally in the room, itself.
"Stop, Grace! Do not push." Cara's brows were knit as she placed her hands upon her sister's swollen stomach. Closing her eyes, she allowed her sense of touch to take over. Her hands smoothed over the heated skin of Grace's belly, her head raising as she concentrated on what she felt. "Yer child is breach, my sister," she whispered. Cara's eyes opened as she felt a presence beside her. Seeing Merryn's concerned blue eyes, the blonde smiled softly, then turned back to her patient. "I need ye ta hold still fer me, Grace. Can ye do that?"
"Aye," Grace whimpered, head lulling from side to side as pain ripped through her insides.
Cara quickly untied her cloak, tossing it to the floor in her haste to get to her task. Arms and hands bared, she glanced down between her sister's spread legs. The girl's sex was swollen and moist from her water breaking. The girl was dilated and seeping, body readying itself for the miracle of birth.
Hovering over the end of the table, Cara's brows knit once more as she pressed her hand against the incredibly hot opening of the birth canal. Her fingers slid easily inside, followed by her thumb. Inside the girl to her wrist, the blonde glanced at her sister, gauging the girl's state of health. She was relieved to see Merryn standing Grace's head, leaning over her, whispering soft words of encouragement into the girl's ear, as well as gently stroking her hair and side of her face.
Turning back to her hand, Cara concentrated on what she felt. Soft warmth and liquids surrounded her flesh, softening the skin as it wrinkled. She tried to ignore the murmurs and whimpers of pain from the younger blonde. She had to do this. Both mother and child were at risk if she couldn't get the baby turned around to come out properly.
Reaching fingers came into contact with the soft skin of what felt to be a foot. Cara winced as a sharp toenail sliced at her thumb. Knowing she was where she needed to be, she grunted slightly, biting her lower lip as she reached for the baby's head, feeling the umbilical chord floating around, brushing against her wrist. It was thankfully not wrapped around the baby's neck. Feeling the side of her hand brush against a tiny cleft, Cara smiled.
"I believe ye have a girl, Grace," she said softly, meeting her sister's eyes for a brief moment before returning her attention to her niece. Gently urging the tiny body inside her sister's womb, Cara got her turned around so that her head was facing downward. The baby immediately began to slide downward. Cara also felt the inner muscles of Grace's cervix pushing a bit on her hand. Quickly removing it, she watched as her hand, covered in blood and a dark liquid emerged.
"Push now, Grace!" she urged. The girl cried out, eyes squeezing shut as she pushed with all her might.
"That's it, lass!" Merryn cried, standing, taking hold of one of the young blonde's hands, the smaller fingers squeezing tightly, painfully so, around her own.
"Almost there, Grace, come on." Cara was panting with exhilaration as the baby's head crowned, Grace screaming out her agony when the child managed to push through, her tiny, sickly white shoulders squeezing out of the tiny opening.
The angered cry of a brand new babe split the peace as she took her first breaths. Immediately Cara had her fingers in the child's mouth, clearing the airway of any left over mucus or liquids. Coughing, the baby resumed her crying, tiny body shaking with every strong pull of her lungs.
"It's a girl," Cara breathed, tears running from her eyes as she looked down at her niece. She quickly wrapped her up in a cloth handed to her. Grace watched, half exhausted, half beside herself with happiness. The baby was given to her, Cara still helping to support her, afraid that in Grace's weakened state, she wouldn't be as careful as she normally would be.
Merryn stood off to the side, arms crossed over her chest as she watched the beautiful scene unfolding before her. As Cara handed the child off to a mid-wife, she turned to the ruler, her face split with a smile. The brunette opened her arms, and the blonde flew into them.
"Good on ye, lass," Merryn whispered. "'M happy fer ye 'n yer sister."
They watched as the mid-wife stitched a sleeping Grace up, first making sure the after birth made its entrance into the world.
Grace was sound asleep, her head turned to the side as her body found some peace after nine months of strain and exhaustion.
Cara stood at Chloe's crib, the baby in her arms. She looked down into squinted blue eyes, faint, blonde brows drawn in infinite concentration. She smiled at the little sounds her niece made, tiny fingers wrapped around one of hers. Her eyes scanned her pinched face, taking in the tiny nose, nostrils flared as the baby instinctually took in everything around her, smells in the air that would remind her of her mother.
"'Tis a beautiful child, Cara."
The healer turned to her right, an instant smile matching that of Merryn's. She nodded, turning back to the child in her arms.
"Aye." She looked again at the brunette. "Would ye like ta hold her?" Merryn's smile at the offer warmed Cara's entire being.
"Very much so."
"Support her head," Cara whispered as she handed the tiny body into the brunette's tender embrace. The ruler looked down into the child's face, her smile grown soft and wistful.
"Hello, little Chloe," she cooed, bringing a hand up to touch the soft skin of the baby's face, lightly tapping her pert nose with a fingertip. Cara moved behind Merryn, resting her chin atop her shoulder, seeing what the brunette was seeing. For a moment, it seemed as if the impossible had happened, and the child in Merryn's arms was their child, borne of the love they had once shared. "A miracle, 'tis."
"Aye." Cara sighed with contentment, bringing her own hand up, tracing a light track down the babe's cheek. She smiled as the newborn's tongue instinctively lulled to that side of tiny, puckered lips.
"She hungry?" Merryn asked, never taking her eyes off the bundle in her arms.
"Nay. Grace fed her before I gave her an herb ta sleep."
Merryn nodded her approval. "Let us let ye sleep, little Chloe," she whispered in a sing-songy voice, turning toward the crib. Gently lying her down, she watched as Cara tucked the baby in, her swaddled body tiny and barely squirming.
"G'night ta ye, my love," Cara whispered, placing a soft gentle kiss atop the baby's forehead. Standing once again, she turned to Merryn. She felt uncertainty grip her. A feeling she did not like.
Merryn looked into exhausted green eyes. She knew the blonde needed sleep badly, and she also knew she wanted Cara to join her again in her bedchambers. The thought of sleeping soundly, knowing her healer was somewhere nearby, was unthinkable.
Cara felt her body beginning to sway as the need for sleep became a demand instead of a wish. Merryn had said nothing, had not invited the blonde to join her. She would not press an issue that she, herself was uncertain of. Eyes faltering for a moment, she ran an unsteady hand through her short locks. Turning slightly, she said over her shoulder, "G'night then, Merryn."
Return to the Academy