Destined by Gods
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 wasn't 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 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 Kyn's 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 cook's face. If there was one thing she knew, Annwn could spot things from a good ways away and the look on Cait's face when she came in that morning... she grunted to herself as she nudged on Kyn's 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 wouldn't take her role in the fortress lightly. She was happy that her cousin found someone, she still couldn't 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 didn't mind staying to home if the young strawberry blond was part of the picture. It wouldn't 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 wouldn't 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 didn't 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 wasn't careful. And second... well, she'd think one up if she needed too.
Rhian let Ula's 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 Ula's 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." Ula's 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. Rhian's 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 Ula's 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 woman's presence. The grass wasn't crushed where she knew the woman had knelt and the dirt wasn't 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 wasn't 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 men's 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 traveler's 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 didn't 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 didn't 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 wasn't 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 you're a smart man. What with your pillaging and all... and that must get hard sleeping on the ground all the time... Heaven knows I can't 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 can't find one around here like this."
The raider came up and touched the tip of his sword underneath the bald man's double chin forcing him to look up at him as a small prick of blood came out from the sharp edge at the man's throat. "I can 'ave what I want. I donna need you to sell 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. I've the bloody bitch of Teyrnon huntin' for us, and I donna want to see the inside of her dungeon or the blade of an executioner's axe."
"Wasn't 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 weren't going to let them live. She reached for her bow and saw that her hands were trembling. She hadn't killed anything since that day over two years ago. Even she had surprised herself with the rage that consumed her to kill another. It wasn't 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 raider's back. She watched as time slowed for her as the arrow spun on it's 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.
Rhian's 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 she'd come out close to the road and the gates of Teyrnon. It was the forests where they would catch her if she wasn't on the stick and watching her horse's 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 swivelled slightly aiming at the closest man behind her. She let go and watched for a second until the shaft hit it's 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 horse's 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.
Rhian's 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 horse's 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 didn't 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 didn't 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 didn't 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 wouldn't have done, but if anything happened to Rhian... she'd 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 wasn't 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 it's last breath and the men surrounding the mare laughed and Rhian fought every urge to fight them barehanded even though she knew she'd 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 didn't 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. "Tis not 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. They're 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 Danu's chosen, Brannil. And donna mock Morrigan's."
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 Rhian's way. The wind caught it and Rhian sneezed when it was inhaled.
"I heard 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 they'll 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 didn't 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 couldn't handle the movement. "Aye, where the dead go."
"Stupid..." Brannil stopped at Iden's glare. "The netherworld is for the dead, human. The otherworld is the passage to it. It's where the Tuatha and those who are more than human live."
Rhian stopped. "I'm 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 search through them. She couldna have gotten too far."
"I didna know raiders had become so charitable as ta help 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 Ula's dead carcass. "Then again, mayhaps the fletching from those arrows looks a mite like the ones in your quivers." She arched an eyebrow at them as they could see the bloodlust fill her eyes. "And if I find you harmed a hair on Rhian's head, I'll summon you back from the dead and 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 cutting down the Cat of Caerloach."
Cait gave him a nasty grin as the other men looked scared. "And I look 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'll receive the like." She didn't 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 feel the pain if I was."
Iden smiled. "You're na like the other humans. Most donna believe anymore."
Rhian's brow furrowed as she looked around the still area. "Believe what?"
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. "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'll na 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 Rhian's 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 fairy?" she whispered.
The fairy was smaller than the brownies. The fairy smiled. "Aye, Rhiannon of Teyrnon." the fairy spoke.
The fairy's voice was so close to a musical sound Rhian almost didn't make it out. She had the wings and soft glow about her. Slowly the fairy moved forward until Rhian's face was lit in the soft light only to have tiny fingers run across the tip of her nose before the fairy 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 woman's gown, flowed about her shoulders. Rhian swallowed hard when she noticed her unshod feet didn't touch the ground. The woman smiled at her kindly. 'Full circle you and your mate have come once again, Rhiannon. When you reach your journey's 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.'
Rhian's 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 didn't want anything. "No."
The woman moved forward and cupped Rhian's 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, it's your heart's desires.'
Rhian touched the necklace about her throat as she looked to the woman's 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 see with my old eyes."
Rhian couldn't 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 Rhian's necklace showering her lightly with fairy 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 couldn't speak out, but it wasn't 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 didn't 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 raiders tied to a nearby tree. If he was still alive in the morning she promised he'd 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 wasn't 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 didn't say anything but the look on her face spoke volumes. The guards at the castle gate didn't look thrilled either. She rode up and unmounted as servants came out. Cait took Rhian personally to Ronan. It wasn't long before Nara and Draig showed up at the magi's door.
Draig was angrier than Cait. "You killed them all, right?!"
Nara turned from where she stood with Ronan as he cleaned the gash on Rhian's leg. "Shh! If you are goin' ta yell, 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 rode 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 Cait's 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 see you joined."
Cait sat back against a table in deep thought. "I still would have no heir, Nara. Rhian's 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 set the clan on ear with you givin' yourself to Morrigan. The Tuatha are remembered only at festivals anymore. And no one believed that the goddess herself would mark ya, many are beginning to turn back to the old ways. And now, here we are four days in Teyrnon and you be settin' the clan on ear again." She motioned to Rhian. "Not since you were Rhian's age did you look to another you might join with. Everyone can see it, Cait. You defer to her, you spend a good share of your time with her, you followed 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 it's ear, but the Vale and the whole of Ireland."
Cait shook her head. "Tis only the gods who carry 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 didn't 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. Nara's 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 Cait's 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 Cait's 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 not one ta mince words with you this eve," she said disdainfully. "The day my da died I became the new chieftain of the O'Brennan's 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 will rue the day it came ta your daft head. I will clear all of ya out of MY rightful home and you will be banned from Teyrnon and disowned 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 didn't 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 wasn't impressed. He looked stunned at the tall, striding beauty and stood from the seat where he waited. "Oh my..." he stuttered. "You're 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?"
"Egyptian, actually. Though I'm from the northlands, but I've traveled all over these parts. Even into Persia. Amenophis sounds quite grand, don't you think?"
Cait sat down in her seat. "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 I'll have to find a new one while I'm 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."
Amenophis smiled. "Rhiannon, beautiful name... It was the bravest thing I'd 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. Then they all took off after her. I'm glad she's 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?"
Cait glared at him. "I be the heir ta my da's 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. "I'm terribly sorry. I didn't 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.
Cait's 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.
"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 you're 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. "She's 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. "I'll 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 Rhian's face with a cool cloth. She, Cait and Draig sat nearby in Rhian's 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 hit 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 Rhian's foot under the covers as tears welled up in Rhian's eyes. He knew what that horse meant to her. "We'll find 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. Ula's 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 wasn't sure what to feel anymore. She wanted her near but she didn't want someone else's life to destroy. Nara brushed back a bit of her tousled hair. "So, you are seeing fairies now, are ya?"
Rhian nodded. "And brownies and the woman... I be thinkin' she was a goddess..." She frowned at the looked they gave her. "I'm 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 tell us what happened."
Rhian looked to all three of them again. They were thinking she'd 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 Rhian's ear. "I believed myself when I was a child that fairies and sprites were about the place. Even brownies. But tis a child's dream, Rhian. With the bump on your head I be not 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 you've slept more."
Draig looked to them. "I'll stay with her for awhile." 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've always been 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 believes, tis you." He kissed her cheek and held her back. "Give it some time. Think of what happened, 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 da's belt was in order. But about this..." He shook his head. "You are comin' close to eighteen, Rhian. I know I coddle you a bit. But you're 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 was sayin' such a thing, but he was 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 Lady Caitlin?" 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 Rhian's 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 diaper."
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 wasn't 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 wasn't 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 O'Brennan 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 Rhian's 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 it's 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. She'd 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. "Melady, tis the Lady Nara, melady. 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 wasn't this frustrating when she was younger. Half the fun was sneaking around behind the adults, especially her parents. Now even they were gone.
It wasn't 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 didn't 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, didn't. 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 Rhian's right was left open and Cait slid into the seat.
"Are 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 Annwn's 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?"
Rhian's 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 couldn't stay mad and
the food smelled divine.
Cait watched in amusement as Rhian consumed everything on her plate. She even stole food off of Draig's plate. She sat her own plate in front of her. "If you be that hungry, you can finish mine." Annwn chuckled from the tables as she was preparing for that evening's supper.
Rhian flushed a little, embarrassed at her appetite and slowly shook her head. "I'm fine."
Draig nudged her a little. "Ach, liar."
Rhian glared at him. "I can match that kick I gave ya in your other leg."
Cait couldn't believe it had only been two nights ago. It seemed like an eternity. Draig frowned. "Aye, sprite. I forgot 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 didn't 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 couldn't stand the lost look in Cait's 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?"
Rhian's 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 hadn't gone out Ula would still be here. That traveling party wouldn't and Cait wouldn't have caught one. And she wouldn't 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. "Not so, Rhian. There are not 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 man's 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 is locked away in 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 better 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 Rhian's hand. Rhian felt empty losing the warm security of Cait's 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 Cait's coldness. She laid a gentle hand on her arm and Cait calmed down a little.
Cait slowly placed her other hand on Rhian's and gently removed it. "Guard!" One came in. "Please escort Lady Rhiannon into the hallway."
Rhian frowned but Cait wasn't 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 wasn't 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 Rhian's eyes and a little of the compassion for the beautiful blond came back from her heady rush of bloodlust. "Tis not what you think, Rhian..."
"Tis so! You could offer him mercy..."
Cait's 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 slice 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 Lady. 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 didn't eat anything, to Rhian who talked with an older gentlemen seated next to her, completely ignoring the high table. She looked fine but Rhian hadn't 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 kin's face said 'do not disturb'. That and the meat knife in Cait's 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 Cait's 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 Nara's 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 didn't 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 of 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 man's life didn't 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 it's 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. The Lady Caitlin 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. "Donna think tis all for show, cousin."
Nara's brow furrowed at the slight hint of dismay in Cait's voice. She had been like this since last night and the silence between the potential pair bothered her. She didn't 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 didn't 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 couldn't see what killing him served as a just cause.
It was Cait's 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 tis not?"
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 will die 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?"
Cait's brow furrowed. "Nay... I care for Rhian deeply. You know of this. But I canna let her stop this. Tis a cruel world. And I will not stand by and let my lands be overrun. An example must be made." She saw the worry in Nara's eyes. "I be stoppin' this, Nara. I have seen it."
"I see a daft fool to be thinkin' you are unbeatable!" Nara said angrily under her breath.
Cait tensed slightly then let it go as she put a comforting hand on her cousin's shoulder. "Do not think me daft or impetuous. I know that the day will come and my life will be naught..." She stopped for a moment and sighed, then released the light pressure on Nara's 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 have slaughtered 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 feel a peace within that I didna before." She 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 are 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 O'Brennan clan. Drowning was the other way, but he didn't 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 Teyrnon's 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 O'Brennan. I will revel, knowin' that you will never find peace." He stared at her for a moment, then out to the people. "There is no one 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. Tis no 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 didn't 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 couldn't watch anymore, and left the view to head down into the lower levels of the castle. She wasn't 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 hadn't had any breakfast she'd have to throw her grumbling stomach onto Annwn's 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 Rhian's 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 the Lady 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. "Tis not such a bad thing, love. Ya have the Cat of Caerloach watchin' over ya. And no one be sayin' too much lest they want 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 no one that can do it all alone."
Rhian looked up from the plate of food. "The Lady 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 the Lady Cait so easily. She be listenin', more ta ya than most others. But she has her own way. No one expects ya ta be somethin' ya canna. Ya canna expect the same of Lady Cait. She lives by the blade. She makes no quarrel about it. She doesna expect ya ta be like her, and ta most they donna understand her ways. But ta be sure, she is 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 have been 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 Lady 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. The Lady Cait was known to be a driven woman with her troops. They had a reprieve since Rhiannon came to town and her attention was focused on the young woman. They had hoped it would last.
Amenophis 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 couldn't hear what they were saying, but from the look on their faces it wasn't 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 sword's 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 man's 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 didn't 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 believe the Lady Cait 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 Lord's men are 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 Lady 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 lovely Lady 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 wasn't long before all was still.
"Alive Brody, I be knowin' how much my Cait loves the kill. But be certain he'll 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.
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