For complete disclaimers see part 1.
Note: WARNING: Much violence.
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Merryn head footfalls behind her as she slammed through the double doors that led to a small garden. Staring up at the mono, she wanted to howl.
“Yer leg still bothering ye, is it?”
Merryn didn’t have to turn to know it was Evela who stood not three steps behind her. She also didn’t answer.
“Perhaps it should be looked at?”
Merryn shook her head. “Nay.”
“What troubles ye this night, Merryn?”
“’R all men so stubborn?” she looked over her shoulder at her friend, blue eyes narrowed. They narrowed further when they saw the emerging smile on Evela’s lips.
“Never married, then?”
The brunette chuckled, shaking her head.
“Save fer perhaps…” Evela let her words drop away, no need to finish. Merryn looked at her, surprise jumping to her eyes. The soft smile she was receiving made her face ease from its pensive expression. She sighed long and deep, turning from her friend to look out into the night once more.
“A miracle has happened, Evela,” she said, her voice soft and filled with the wonder she felt.
“And what is that?”
Merryn felt a soft touch on her shoulder, then she was slowly turned to face her friend. Evela’s head fell slightly to the side as she saw the glimmer of emotion in those expressive, blue eyes.
“At ‘t castle,” Merryn began, “I saw someone, a young girl, who,” she swallowed, taking a deep breath to keep her emotions in check. It was a losing battle. “She looks just like her, Evela,” she whispered. Evela said nothing, her hand dropping from the taller woman’s shoulder, caressing her upper arm. A watery smile spread across full lips. “Grace. Cara’s Grace lives.”
Evela didn’t understand, but could feel the mixture of Merryn’s tumultuous emotions oozing from every pore.
“Come here, Merryn.” She eased the brunette’s head onto her shoulder, her own dark eyes closing as she rubbed gentle circles over Merryn’s back.
Merryn allowed herself to be held, her own arms wrapped around the small woman’s back.
“Cara spoke so of’en of her,” she said absently, finger licking against a loose string on Evela’s dress.
“Who is Grace?” the smaller brunette asked, her hand rising to gently caress Merryn’s dark hair, fingers running through the soft, cool strands. She smiled at the soft sigh that evoked.
“Younger sister. Cara thought she’d perished with her mother.”
“So what has ye so angry?” Evela gently pulled away, just enough to look into blue eyes, caressing the soft skin of Merryn’s face with her thumb.
“Angus.” Merryn ran her hands through her hair, wincing slightly as her fingers grazed a bruise that had to yet to heal.
“What of him? What has he done?” Evela saw Merryn’s rueful smile.
“’Tis what he won’t do. Evela, he could lead these people.” Merryn felt her heart beginning to pound with the passion this subject aroused. She looked into dark eyes, patient and listening. “Edward, he’s weak! We could bring back the land, free these people.” She swung her arm over the expanse of the garden. “This country is bein’ ripped apart by sickness ‘n fear. Edward has done not a thing, not but run away. These people ‘r dyin’, Evela.”
Evela looked up into the passionate eyes and couldn’t help but feel inspired and moved. Something inside told her that if the land was to be saved, it would be Merryn who could do it.
“Is afraid.” Merryn sighed again, giving her back to the other woman.
“So make him unafraid, Merryn. If anyone can, ‘tis you.”
Merryn looked at her friend once more brows drawn. She saw nothing but honesty and affection in those dark eyes. Evela smiled at her uncertainty. She reached up and cupped the brunette’s cheek, thumb running along a prominent cheekbone.
“Be the leader ye were born at be, Merryn.”
Merryn closed her eyes, feeling a gentle tug on the back of her neck. Her heart began to pound, blood racing as she felt warm breath on her face. The soft touch of lips on her forehead made her sigh in contentment at the human touch. How she missed being touched.
Opening her eyes, she looked at her friend, sharing a smile.
Merryn walked the long halls of Cayshire, her thoughts tumbling over each other, not one staying long enough to sort through. She did have a destination in mind, however. The smells and sounds told her long before she arrived that she was headed for the kitchen.
A swarm of women bounced around the small, stone room. It was hot, steam wafting from two huge cauldrons placed over well built fires. One woman stood near one such cauldron, bringing a wooden spoon to her lips, blowing across the broth she’d scooped from the simmering stew.
“’Tis not ready,” she announced, sticking the long-handled spoon back into the pot, using both hands to stir.
Merryn looked around, seeing a small group of women standing near the bread ovens, talking and tittering like young girls. The brunette smirked, amused at their giggles. She’d never understood such behavior. One woman in particular caught her eyes, the dark ones quickly ducking.
Tamara quickly excused herself from the others, and wiping her hands on her skirts, headed over to the taller girl.
“C’n I ask ye a favor, lass?” Merryn asked, leading the timid woman to a small alcove. Tamara nodded, meeting her eyes for just a moment. “The young girl, Grace, brought from Middleham,” Tamara nodded in recognition. “I want ye to sort of take ‘er under yer wing, lass. Teach her what ye know, let ‘er help ye here in the kitchens.”
Merryn smiled with a nod of thanks. Leaving the small brunette to join her friends, Merryn went out in search of some solitude.
Dropping her weapons in her room first, Merryn felt light, and somewhat naked, in her tunic, tights and boots and cloak draped over her arm. She stopped into Tamara’s room before heading up to her favorite place. It was late, and she was glad to see Paul had gone to sleep already.
Kneeling next to the large bed the boy shared with his mother, she brought the warm blankets up further, tucking them just under the boy’s chin. Brushing dark locks back from his face, she leaned up, placing a soft kiss on his forehead.
Satisfied that the lad was warm and comfortable, Merryn headed up to the turret. Wrapping the cloak over her shoulders, she shrugged into it, clasping it at her throat. The cold night felt good against her skin, making her feel alive and attentive.
She couldn’t help but smile as she thought of recent events. Never would she believe she’d find a purpose in life, other than basic survival. And who would have thought it would involve so many, and such a wide scope? Sometimes she still thought it madness. Perhaps Angus was right.
Eyes closed, Merryn inhaled the refreshing, smoke scented air, allowing it to fill her lungs, and her being with peace. Her body still hurt terribly fro the beating she’d taken at Middleham, and wasn’t even entirely healed from her row with Gerik. She smiled, thinking of Paul. He’d sat upon her lap, big, brown eyes studying her face. He’d reached up a small hand, placing a light touch on every bruise and cut, wanting to know what had caused each. Merryn had gone into a tale for each, satisfying the boy’s unending curiosity.
Cara would have loved the lad. So inquisitive and smarts to spare. He and Merryn had come to some sort of gesture understanding. He would respond with movements in his hands, eyes, cocking of his head. There wasn’t much that the brunette didn’t understand from the boy.
Grace. Yet again Merryn’s mind flew off in an entirely new direction. She saw the young girl earlier that day, so quiet. She was nothing like her sister, who could talk to anyone, putting the angriest of men at east with just a smile. Grace was shy and soft spoken. Her eyes were guarded. They were nothing like Cara’s, always so filled questions and wonder. Their coloring was near exact, though.
Merryn thought of no greater gift she could offer to Cara, than to care for her beloved sister, making sure the girl was properly treated and happy. She’d do everything in her power to make sure that happened. Tamara was the right person for the job, that she knew. Their temperament seemed to be somewhat similar, and Tamara didn’t have an intimidating bone in her small body.
Confident that all would be well with Grace, Merryn’s thoughts turned once again to Angus, and his sudden cowardice. She wondered if he still stood at his window, looking out over the same night she, herself watched over. What stopped him? They were so close. More than one hundred of the surviving soldiers from Middleham had joined them. For those who did, they were allowed to help plunder Middleham, keeping their prize as their raise in pay.
For those who refused… Merryn sighed, not wanting to think about that. It had been regretful, but necessary in its brutality. As it was, they’d be forced to face Edward’s finest, as this would not go unpunished. It was now they needed to take this bull by the horns, turn the people against their king, gaining their favor and loyalty. The nobles, as well.
“Blasted, Angus,” she hissed, slamming her scarred fist into the stone she rested on. Once again she saw the terrified people running from those open cell doors. Some were too frightened, and had to be coaxed to freedom.
When they’d left the castle, a small regiment of soldiers staying behind with some officers, the captives who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, had traveled with them. Most were so grateful, they offered any and everything, any skill they had, any assistance Merryn had been deeply touched by their gratitude. Placement within Cayshire had been swift upon arrival.
That was three days ago. Action was needed, and needed now.
Merryn nodded to herself, new determination making her stand a bit straighter, head held a little higher. She’d talk with him again. She had to.
Whistling with new purpose, Merryn tossed her breakfast into the air, snatching the apple as it fell before taking a healthy bite. Her boots echoed through the stone halls with long, confident strides. The sunlight of the cold, January day shone down upon her as she entered the Keep.
At the end of the yard, by the stables, she saw whom she was looking for. Trotting across the expanse, she caught the reigns of the great, black horse. The rider looked down at her. She met his gaze head on.
“We need ta talk, Angus.”
The dark man sighed, looking out over the Keep, and those who hurried along with their daily duties. Finally meeting demanding blue eyes, he sighed again.
Merryn stepped back as he dismounted, his grunt of pain in such contrast to his usual, poised grace with a mount. His black hair flopped over the white bindings around his head.
With long, loping strides, Merryn led Angus to the blacksmith’s shop, which was quiet. Ezra and his men hadn’t started work yet. She wanted somewhere quiet for them to talk.
Turning to the dark men before her, Merryn was almost giddy with what she had to say. Once she’d gone to bed the night before, she’d lain in bed, her mind a whirlwind of thought and ideas.
Eyes bright, she began. “We’re gonna finish this, Angus. Do it not, ‘n we die where we stand.”
“Meanin’?” he spread his legs wide, arms crossing his chest.
“Meanin’, do ye think Edward is gonna jus’ roll over dead when he hears Middleham has been sacked?” Merryn saw Angus’ jaw clench briefly before he shook his head. “We’ve strength in numbers, Angus. Our army has doubled o’er night, the king’s own men joinin’ our fight.”
“Aye,” he was listening.
“I’ve got it all worked out in my head.” Merryn took a breath as she got her thoughts in order, wanting to say it all just right. Looking him in the eyes, she spoke in an even, calm voice. “First, we use the nobles against ‘im…”
The two horses rode along the dirt path, dust and debris flying off the beating hooves. Cloaks flew from the riders’ shoulders, the winter wind blowing them from hunched backs, the riders urging their mounts to ride faster, harder.
“… We give them a choice, lettin’ them decide their own fate…”
“Lord Robert expects you,” the guard said, his face impassive as he led the guests through the halls of the grand estate house, finally opening double doors. Beyond lay an expensively appointed study with roaring fire at its core. A massive oak desk sat near the back wall, the nobleman sitting behind it, head bent as he scribed with his quill. Glancing up, he smiled at his guests.
“Welcome.” He sat back in his chair, eyeing the man and woman before him, fingers steepled under a bearded chin. “You sacked Middleham and wish for my cooperation.”
“… If they dona cooperate, …” Merryn raised a brow.
“Guard!” the young scribe ran from the room, ashen face a twisted mask of horror and stomach sickness. The household was chaos itself as Lord Robert of Weshire was released from where he’d been pinned to the wall of his study, a bejeweled dagger pulled from his throat.
“… then we convince them.”
“You are wanting an army, yes?” the Barron of Middlesex asked, pacing before his guests. He eyed them, knowing he was in the room with Satan, Himself. But then again, he had been promised extensive lands, including that of his idiotic, and very dead cousin, Robert, as well as more titles. John stopped, a smile spreading across his pasty features. “You have full use and loyalty, of course.” Bowing at the waist, the Barron glanced at the woman, eyes twinkling as he took in her womanly curves. Ignoring the sneer he got in return, he stood to his full height. “Tell me what you need, and it shall be so.”
“… ‘n we will grow, Angus.”
The sun gleamed off the helms of thousands of soldiers, all bearing the colors of the rebels, the rising power of England. The men stood in lines, row upon row of steel and pure human will.
Merryn flexed her fingers around the grip of her blade. She held only one, the other hand holding her shield against her body, its heavy weight known to her flexed forearm. She felt the comforting hang of her other blade against her hip
She felt the body heat of the men around her, could feel their anxiety and anticipation. Across the field stood similar lines of soldiers wearing the colors of their king, Edward III, who watched, mounted on a steed.
Merryn could feel the blood pulsing at her temples, heart racing as her body twitched, muscles restless and ready to move. Raising her sword, eyes still glued to the army across from her, she swallowed then shouted.
The men at the rear were too far away for her to hear their answer to her calling, though she was able to hear the call of her officers as the request was shouted back through the ranks.
Lowering her arm sharply, she shouted again. “Fire!”
Almost holding her breath at the sheer beauty of it all, a blanket of arrows caressed the skies, covering the overhead sun, like a black fog. Her eyes scanned down to the soldiers across the way, watching them as they stared up to the Heavens, then brought up their own shields, arrows pounding into them, cries barely able to be heard through the thick, spring air.
Merryn raised her sword again, signaling the second wave of arrows. Once again, English soldiers were brought down, others hiding behind their shields.
“… ‘n we will fight…”
“Charge!” Merryn led the cry of her men, each surging forward, blade raised in aggression. The clang of meeting steel was nearly deafening as the two sides collided.
“… ‘n we will win.”
Merryn felt a fresh wave of blood wash over her as she slit the soldier’s throat, not bothering to watch him fall before she raised her left blade, blocking a blow from behind, her leg reaching out in a flash to sweep the soldier off his feet. Once he was down, she pounced, her blade easily slicing across his exposed throat, his male and plate armor useless.
Crying out in pain and surprise, Merryn turned, feeling the sting in her thigh, knowing the blood was soaking through the material of her pants. She met her attacker head on, nearly frozen when she saw her own colors. Perhaps he’d made a mistake, overtaken by battle lust, and attacked blindly?
Merryn quickly threw that idea out of her head when she saw the look in his eyes; murderous intent shone clear. Rotten teeth bared, he struck again, his blow easily blocked by one of Merryn’s blades.
“There will be those who fight against us,” Angus said, his words slow and thoughtful.
“Aye.” Merryn nodded. “’N those who betray.”
With a deafening cry of rage, Merryn pressed her blades together, whipping around, the double edge slicing clean. Wide blue eyes watched in horrified fascination as his head toppled to the ground, rolling a few steps before rocking against the body of a fallen English soldier.
“We will overcome,” Merryn said, nodding at her own belief. Angus smiled, holding out his hand. The brunette quickly took it, unifying their shared goal and vision.
“Aye. We will overcome.”
Eyes fixed firmly on the figure before her, Merryn grabbed the reigns of the horse, using the full force of her body to shove the soldier from the mount, and flinging her own body upon its back. The horse whinnied and reared in surprise at it’s rough handling. Getting the beast under control, Merryn kicked the animal hard in it’s flanks, following upon the heels of the pinto the king raced on.
“Ha! Ha!” Merryn cried, urging her mount on faster and faster. Edward of England looked over his shoulder, eyes opening wide when he saw he was being chased down. Merryn looked like a savage, her face bloody, hair flying behind her as she leaned dangerously over the animal’s neck. Reaching out, she managed to take hold of the king’s cloak, yanking the man off his mount. Throwing herself from her own horse, the brunette landed with a grunt, rolling to get out from under the galloping hooves.
Shaking herself out of her daze, Merryn saw the English ruler trying to get to his feet, his heavy armor keeping him down. Throwing herself over to him, her leg too badly injured from her fall to get to her feet, she pinned him with her own body.
Edward tried to get to his feet, or at least turn to his back, but the brute upon his back would have none of it. Merryn brought out a dagger from her belt, and with little fanfare, grabbed the ruler by his hair, lifting his head. A quick slice across his throat, and the king was gasping, blood gurgling from his fatal wound.
Raising herself from the monarch’s prone body, Merryn cried out as pain shot up through her leg and into her hip. No matter, as she was overwhelmed by her soldiers, pulling her to her feet, then off of them as she was launched onto shoulders.
Merryn smiled huge as the deafening voices of victory filled her ears and heart. A chant began, though was unintelligible for but a moment. The brunette was surprised to hear what was being shouted all around her:
“Donal! Donal! Donal!”
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