Story: 'Destined by Gods' Part 1
Disclaimer: None, unless I do something wild, but that's not likely to happen. And every place isn't real unless for some reason my mind and reality coincide with each other unbeknownst to me.
Summary: Set in a Mythological Ancient Ireland where fairies and dragons and magic are somewhat real... Rhiannon Kelan, seventeen and orphaned, with only her brother and his wife for kin come to the city of Teyrnon where the new Chieftain of the O'Brennan clan sits on the ruling seat. Also considered to be the greatest warrior in all of Ireland, the Cat of Caerloach. (I'm not telling anymore. Go... read... FEEDBACK!)
My Nitpicking Column: I've mixed a bit of everything in Irish history into this story. So doncha be gettin' your knickers in a bind over it! Everything I've ever learned about the Irish Celts and their history is off the net... I started reading books about the Celts after writing this first part and I find that the people on the net were sort of off in the time line of historical events. Or published books were. Anyway, you can take them to heart, or with a grain of salt. It's just a story. All you need to know is that Christianity hasn't come and women could rule the clan.
SO! If you read this, and I hope you do.
Just enjoy the spirit of the thought behind it. Because I find history
is good for reference to a story, but mixing it up and using it as you
wish is much more fun.
DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER! Actually it's just a warning: - I really thought about holding back in the area of subtext and general ruttishiness since I read this myself and said, 'Inyx (which isn't my real name, but I figured you knew that) what are you thinking of?! Two women having wild, unbridled sex out in the middle of the woods?! You can't write about that, or their feelings toward each other, or what happens afterward! And I said to myself, HA-ZAH! ..........'
I won't tell you what my mind said, but
it was right. For some reason it's always right, but I still liked my answer
anyway. And then I realized that if you read most Xena alt. fiction, that
wild sex out in the middle of the woods is rather common place. I guess
it's just the degree of... detail?... you put into it. Hmmmmm.... I wasn't
that bad. But if ye are under the age of 18 or you don't like that kind
of thing... well... what are you doing here then?
P.S. This is my first published alt. work.
So feedback is nice to see if I should write more. You can reach me at
firstname.lastname@example.org . I look forward
to your response.
Destined by Gods
Rhiannon paced her horse well in the woods. It was a glorious day and the miles whipped by. She thought she would never love any place as much as Kel Glaghna. But Caerloach was green and lush and so fertile with rich soil, it was paradise. And Versy, she was glad she and her brother were accepted back into the clan's stronghold as kin. She had never been around so much kin before. The Kelan branch in Kel Glaghna where she was born and raised was small from illness and many traveled on to Eire, only two days ride away, where most stayed.
Rhiannon thundered through the open fields just to the east of Versy then slowed and trotted her horse in through the city gates. It was close to evening meal and she knew Nara would be in need of help. She sighed. Why did her brother mate someone with the same temper as his own? And Nara was with child to boot. Begods. She loved her sister dearly but even she could push Rhiannon's gentle patience at times. She stabled and curried her horse knowing full well that if she didn't Draig would be after her. Not that she wouldn't anyway. Ula was a good mare, not the prettiest, but she was quick and she and her mistress understood each other.
She made her way inside after watering and feeding her. She could already hear Nara's voice to the maidservant, their cousin, Clan Chief Innis Kelan had given them to help out. "Tis mush, Ardra! Why did ya not look after it?!"
Begods, Rhiannon prayed. Let me have patience and the speed to stay out of range of Nara's wooden spoon.
Rhiannon came in. She was slight and beautifully shaped and most men in Versy would stop and watch the graceful young woman pass, or they would run into something as they walked by. Nara stood a hand taller and a few good stone heavier than her. "Rhian! Begods, where have you been?!" Rhiannon opened her mouth. "Riding, I know," her kin interrupted. "You should have taken someone with you! Draig would have my head if anythin' happened to you!"
Rhiannon nodded and came over and took her hand making sure to take the spoon out of it. Her behind was still sore from the wayward spank she got last evening for not getting home before dark. Draig had chuckled saying she was slowing down if Nara got a whack in. "I'll take care of it, Nara. Rest your feet and Ardra and I will take care of supper for you," she said gently.
Nara sighed. The beautiful woman was so calm. She let her lead her out into the living room and to the chair Rhian and Draig had made. That had taken some time, seeing that her impatient brother didn't want to slow down and get everything in order for it to be perfect. That had gotten him chasing Rhian around when she took away his hammer. And everyone in Versy laughed as she kept away too. None of her brothers could catch her out in the open. Finally he gave up and conceded to her. Only when she came near did he haul her over his shoulder and smacked her bottom in play causing her to yelp and he'd carry her back home. Rhiannon slid a footstool up for her to rest her feet and placed a soft blanket over her lap.
"Do you need anythin'?" Rhian asked softly.
Nara shook her head and ran her fingers through Rhiannon's thick, soft, straight reddish blond hair. "Nay, Rhian. Tis a good thing you are here or your brother would surely be dead by my hands."
Rhian smiled. "Tis more amazing you married a man with a temper the same as your own."
Nara smiled back. "Tis true, and now I be payin' for it." She put her hand on her vast waistline. "Tis either a big brute like it's da or more than one."
Rhian giggled. "Ach, two of Draig runnin' about? I think tis time for me to move away."
Nara chuckled. "Think so? I think nay. Draig would haul you back and paddle you for such a thing until you mate. And it surprises me that you are not yet."
Rhian rolled her eyes as she settled a cup of tea from the fire into Nara's hand. "Tis not likely at all, Nara. Tis a few that catch my eye but never hold it and any that might would have my whelp of a brother to deal with."
Nara snorted. "I be dealing with your brother if you find the one, love. Donna worry about that."
Rhian bent and kissed her cheek. "Rest a while. Twill be alright." She moved into the kitchen and Ardra looked relieved. Rhiannon smiled. "Do I need to find you a place to sit as well, Ardra?"
"Nay, Rhian. Twould get me ear cuffed, I would. But I thank ye for savin' me hide."
Rhian patted her shoulder. "Now what did you turn to mush?" she asked grinning.
"Ach, the potatoes. Tis not mush, but close."
Rhian opened the lid and looked in. The rich scent of the tuber drifted out. "Soup? With a bit of meat so Draig doesna think it tis for the pigs."
Ardra giggled. She was older than Rhian by a few summers, but none of the gentle grace or good sense. She ladled some water into the pot just enough to cover them as Rhian took some herbs and added that and mashed a few of the potatoes to thicken the stock. Ardra cut up some big chunks of ham to put in. "Me mum works in the Laird's castle ye know. Heard that Keeley O'Tory was lookin' ta ya and askin' about the place if he could court ya."
Rhian shook her head and smiled. "Keeley O'Tory is a braggart, Ardra. And he drinks too much, and has no place of his own. I would sooner mate the magi or the nearest bull than him."
Ardra snorted at the thought. "I think the magi would drop over dead at the shock of your loverly self, and the bull would never look ta another cow and then where would Versy be?"
Rhian laughed. "I be thinkin' I'd look a might ugly to a bull or a cow, Ardra."
"Ach, and I be thinkin' you better watch yourself, Rhian. I know of plenty who would like ta tumble in ta bed with ya."
Rhian sighed. "Begods, I have never a bunch of ruttish people about these days."
Ardra smiled. "Aye, but then just about everyone looks at you that way."
Rhian shook her head. "I'm seventeen, Ardra. Even my da, rest his soul, wouldna give me over to one until I was a bit older."
"Eighteen then?" Ardra asked and the two laughed.
Padraig Calum Kelan came home. His wife rested in her rocking chair by the fire napping and the soft voices of his baby sister and maidservant came through from the kitchen. The table was set and most of the food was laid out. He went out back and pulled his dirty tunic and surcoat with the Kelan colors off. He was a man at arms for his cousin and a good one at that. He was big and very strong and tall enough he had to duck through doors. He looked in from the water barrel where both his mate and sister insisted he wash before supper. He was used to it with little Rhian who refused to eat with him until he did when they lived up in Eire. He looked in on her. She had been riding from the clothes she wore. He smiled. She was the apple of his eye since Kel Glaghna was no more and their da and ma were both gone along with their two brothers between them.
Nara loved the young woman just as much as him and tried to teach her to be a lady for the day she mated. Rhiannon would roll her eyes. She could do a neat stitch but only to repair or hem, other than that she got bored. Twas her families fault and they knew it. Her ma dying at her birth, the youngest of four and all the rest boys and men. She grew up outside, surviving with three older brothers. All of them towering over her and all of them guarded her honor fiercely. She was a beauty of a woman. Fine pale skin, long reddish gold hair and the deepest emerald green eyes that lit up when she smiled. She was well bestowed with generous curves and a gentle patience. But she had a strong will and a bit of steel that gave her a fire to her eyes. And her look fooled most until they found she could wield sword, crossbow, dagger and bow, just as well as a man. She had to learn if she wanted to keep up with her brothers. With bow she was better than her brothers, even riding horseback she was excellent. She could take care of herself to a degree. She was not into killing and couldn't watch as animals were slaughtered, but if she had to, to survive, she would.
Draig pulled on the soft, clean tunic left by Rhian out of habit. Ardra would wash his dirty clothes in the morning. He came in through the kitchen and Rhian and Ardra looked up. Rhian smiled and he picked her up as though she weighed nothing and hugged her tight. "How's my sprite?"
Rhian wrapped her arms about him. "Good, you big bear."
He chuckled and squelched a kiss on her cheek and she giggled. "You went riding?"
"Aye, after I helped Nara with the pantry and Old Jace Turin with his horse to the cobbler. I didna understand why he keeps such a fine animal when he canna even get up to ride it."
Draig grinned. "Mayhaps he likes your company?"
Rhian gave him a wide-eyed look of mock horror. "Begods, donna tell me he's one of those old ruttish men lookin' for a fair behind to pat?"
Draig laughed. "Nay, you didna judge him by his looks or age. And I didna know where you keep these stories that you tell to amused him so. I think you be the best thing the man remembers when the dark god comes for him in the night."
She smiled. "Tis a good thing then. He is a gentle man, though a bit doddering. And I hear that nasty drunkard O'Tory's been askin' about me again. Begods, will they never go away?"
He grinned. "Nay, I fear not. Too beautiful is my sister and I have seen many a man and woman turn their head to appraise you."
Rhian laughed. "Then I pray it be a woman and mayhaps I'll get a mate with some common sense."
"Ach! What am I?!" Draig protested.
"My big oaf of a bear who needs to let me down so I can get your supper finished."
He chuckled. "Tis a good thing you can cook better than sew."
"I can sew. I just donna like to." He set her down and she poked his stomach. "Now be off with you for the moment, tis almost ready."
He chuckled and moved into the living room. He knelt down by Nara and rubbed her growing belly gently. "How is my love?" he whispered.
Nara opened a grayish green eye. "Tis better now that you are home."
He smiled and kissed her tenderly only to be interrupted by a pounding at the door. Draig straightened and unsheathed a sword by the door and opened it. It was a messenger. "Aye?"
"Be you the mate of Nara O'Brennan?"
"Aye, tis Kelan now," Draig said.
The messenger bowed slightly. "Tis a summons from her distant cousin, Chieftain of the O'Brennan's and Lord of Teyrnon." He handed him a sealed scroll with the rearing stallion crest embedded in deep red wax at the edge of the scroll. "I await your reply."
"Aye," Draig nodded and handed him a coin. "Tis a tavern on the corner. Get ya a drink and I'll find ya there."
He nodded. "Tis been a long journey."
Draig nodded and shut the door. He moved to Nara and sat down next to her handing her the scroll. Nara had moved here to mate and be with Draig when she came to visit the Kelan clan for the Lord of Teyrnon a year early. She broke the seal and pulled it open.
"Begods," she whispered. "Donal O'Brennan has passed on due to ailments." They looked up as Rhian stepped just out of the kitchen door, listening. "Tis his heir..." She read quickly. "Begods,... has summoned me to Teyrnon to become chatelaine of the castle."
Everyone was silent. Chatelaine was just below the lady of the Lord. Nara was stunned. "I grew up with her. Begods, but I didna think this."
"Tis a woman then?" Rhian asked.
"Aye," Nara nodded. "Lady Caitlin O'Brennan."
"Ach, the Cat of Caerloach?" Draig asked.
"Aye, tis one in the same."
Rhian looked confused. "I thought the Cat of Caerloach was the greatest warrior any clan has ever seen?" The Cat had been heard of even in Eire and Kel Glaghna.
Nara smiled. "Tis true, Rhian. Once you have seen Lady Caitlin to fight, all will pale in comparison. Regretfully but even my beloved comes in second."
Rhian now looked skeptical. "I can use a sword, but to fight well against a man you need a broadsword and for that you need a good amount of strength. I havna to see a woman do that."
Nara chuckled. "Then you will be impressed." She looked to Draig. "What say you?"
He looked to her and to Rhian. "You canna turn your kin down, Nara. Mayhaps with your place in Teyrnon I can get in the guard."
Rhian stood up straight from where she leaned against the wall, her brow furrowed. "You are leaving Versy?"
Draig smiled. "Nay, we are. You are coming as well."
Rhian shook her head, looking at him in disbelief. "We have just come ta our clan that welcomes us home, and now we are ta leave?!"
Nara looked worried. "The Kelan's and O'Brennan's have always been close as kin anyway, sharing Caerloach. Teyrnon will welcome you, Rhian."
Rhian shook her head and her lip trembled. "We thought the same at Erie. And they didna even help at Kel Glaghna when the Saxons came."
Draig stood up. "Tis not the same, Rhian. Nara is your kin and she is O'Brennan. Tis not the same as Eire.
Rhian wiped away a tear from her cheek. "Tis so! Only Nara as kin and the rest care not as to what we are and we are beggars once again! Throw away your name Draig, I willna!" She barged through the kitchen and outside only to have Draig hurry to catch her before she made it outside in the open. He did, thank the gods, and he held her as she cried near the stables.
Ardra looked from behind Nara where they watched at the cottage door as the big man comforted his slip of a sister. "Tis the nightmares of losing her family?"
Nara nodded with tears in her own eyes. The confrontation at Kel Glaghna had been brutal and swift and no one had come away unscathed. Draig had gotten Rhiannon out of the town at his father's command. They were the only two to survive out of a three hundred and most of them Kelan. "Aye, but the O'Brennan's will take her in. And Draig will get her to come."
The smell of burning wood and the even more awful and distinct smell of burning flesh. The call of her da as he fought. She herself shot down soldier after soldier that came on shore with her bow. She didn't have the strength to wield a broadsword, but she had a shortsword her brother Grady, had smithed for her as a birthday present a season earlier. She was so angry at them as she had ran four of them through before she was caught off guard by a big soldier and her sword arm cut deep. He was about to kill her when Draig roared at the man and cut him in two with a single stroke of his huge blade. Her da was yelling at Draig to get her away. Conlan, her brother just older than her had fallen near him and Rhiannon watched as four uniformed men killed Grady as he fought by his side. Draig had hauled her up and found a loose horse and the last image she saw was her da's face watching them go as she begged Draig to wait, and her da was slaughtered before her eyes as twenty men ran over him.
She woke sweating and breathing hard as the tears streamed down her cheeks to feel the coolness of a wet cloth on her forehead. She looked up in the dim candlelight from the small table in her room. It was Nara who looked saddened. "Twill lessen in time, Rhian," she said softly. "You'll not forget them. But mayhaps the better times will dwell with you at night."
Rhian looked to her with fear and worry in her eyes. "I donna want to be a beggar again, Nara."
Nara smiled. "You willna, Rhian. Caitlin is a kindhearted woman. She will welcome you to Teyrnon."
Rhian sighed. "And if she doesna like me?"
Nara chuckled. "Rhiannon Oriana Kelan, I have yet to see someone not like you. Donna worry. As chatelaine I'd get you a big room and a maid and a soft down bed that feels like a cloud to sleep on."
Rhian's brow furrowed. "In the castle, itself?"
"Aye, you daft girl. In the castle. I canna do my duty to Cait if I donna stay there and Draig will be there and he willna let you out of his sight. So the castle."
Rhian looked up. "Do you think I could get a duty in the stables?"
Nara smiled. "Aye, once they see how those beasties love you and you care for them, how can they not?"
"I be a woman, Nara. Men can be daft about the stables."
Nara snorted. "Tis Teyrnon, and the Lord of the city is a woman and a warrior to boot. How can they say no if I speak of such injustice to her lady?"
Rhian's eyes went wide. "I donna want any trouble with her lady, Nara. If they willna take me, I will find somethin' else."
Nara tweaked her nose. "Ach, you are too shy for your own good, Rhian." She stroked her cheek. "To sleep then?"
Rhian sighed. "Aye, but I find no joy in it."
"Then I'll leave you the light. But no goin' out of the house lest Draig take you over his knee for somethin' so dangerous."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Aye, no leavin'."
Nara stood slowly and stretched her back putting a hand on her swollen waistline and made her way back to hers and Draig's room. Rhian looked out the small window in her room. The moon was high and there were many candlemarks until daylight. She sighed and turned on her side and watched the flicker of the candlelight until she fell to sleep again.
"I be takin' that chair, Draig!" Nara yelled at her mate. "I spent enough time listenin' ta you curse and moan... and poor Rhian, havin' ta boot you in the bottom ta do it right! I'll not be leavin' it here!"
Rhiannon watched from the doorway as Draig and one of his soldier friends loaded the wagon he bought to carry their stuff. Everything Rhian had she could put in her saddlebags. Nara, however, had clothes in trunks and a few cooking things and the chair. Finally Draig strapped in with rope on top and turned to his mate. "Tis enough, woman?!"
Rhian sighed. They had been arguing all morning and if they made it out of Versy before dark she'd be surprised. Lord Innis had bid them farewell and told them they were always welcome there and was sad to see the prettiest Kelan and the best man at arms leave. Rhian smiled and nudged Draig. 'He called you pretty.' That got the court roaring and Draig swore he'd get her back for it. Even Lord Innis was delighted at her humor. And now here they were at the end and both tempers made her stay well away from them both. She was still young enough for both of them to paddle her and she didn't want to give them any reason to.
"Rhiannon Oriana Kelan!" She jumped back, startled. It was Draig and he was heading for her.
"Whatever it tis, I didna do it!" she defended herself against whatever made him yell at her..
He snorted. "Tis Old Jace wantin' to see you before we go. Donna take to long," he said angrily.
Rhian moved away from him as he stormed into the house and she headed for the cobblestone street. "If we move any time soon I'd be amazed, what with all the yellin'," she muttered.
She moved to a rickety old shack with a single stall to the end of it down in the end of the street. It was once a nice cottage, about fifty summers ago. Now it was a sad lump of old, rotting wood. She knocked loudly on the door since he was a little deaf. "Jace?!" she called out. "Did you want to see me?! Tis Rhian!"
The door slowly opened and the stench was strong of an unwashed body that came through. She had roundaboutly tried to hint at a bath but he never took it. "Rhian, my friend. Come in," he said with a mouthful of non existing teeth. She did and the place smelled even worse. She had tried to clean up but there was so much... waste. It would be better to knock it down and start anew. "A seat for my lady?" He smiled.
"Thank you, Jace. But my brother tis angry with the move and all, and Nara is not helpin'. I best get back soon lest one of them come lookin' for me."
He chuckled and nodded. "I can hear them all the way down here when they get a mindful of it."
Rhian smiled. "Tis not a surprise. You should be up close. Tis much louder and more vexing."
He nodded. "I believe you, my lady."
Rhian rolled her eyes. He always called her 'my lady'. Why? She didn't know, but it was sweet. Old Jace was from down at the southern end of Caerloach where there were tiny villages and lots of open farming. He said he had been a magi for a few of them when he was young. That was interesting, since the magi were highly respected and never left to dodder away in a shack. "I will miss you, my friend," she said sincerely.
He nodded and tear formed in his filmy hazel eyes. "I have lived in Versy for over twenty years and you have been the kindest to me since I came." He patted her hand and moved into the room. "Knew of you before, when I was young. Down in Fingal, tiny village on Kelan land. Saw you in a vision and knew you would come before my life was given to the dark god."
Rhiannon looked skeptical and he chuckled. "Donna believe me? Tis a good head on those slender shoulders, my lady. Had I met me in my youth I wouldna believe me either." He chuckled some more as he pulled out a moldering old satchel from under a pile of rotting junk and set it on the table cluttered with old food and bugs. She grimaced, but he didn't mind.
"Aye, tis the thing I be wantin'." He pulled out a small jewelry bag and opened it. Rhiannon couldn't see what it was but he seemed happy with it. He looked into the satchel again and hefted out an old book beautifully bound in leather. Now she was really surprised. Books were very expensive, even she only had two small ones in her possession, both of short stories from distant lands. "Come," he beckoned and she made her way around the waste in the shack. He put the bag in her hand. "Tis yours, my lady. Wear it as a gift from an old magi who visioned you from long ago."
Rhian opened the bag and tipped it out into the palm of her hand hoping it wasn't a bug. It was a beautiful necklace with fine silver workmanship and beautiful emeralds that matched her eyes and a pendant with an engraved fox and runes carved in the outer rim. "Begods, Jace! Tis beautiful." It was also worth a small fortune with the fine workmanship and the gems placed in it.
He smiled. "Do you believe me now, my lady? I have seen the color of your eyes in my mind for more than two score. Tis the pretty fox you are. And only one shall call you that. Tis your mate. And when they find you it shall be a new age for the people of Caerloach."
Rhian's brow furrowed. "Do you know who it tis?"
He smiled. "Aye, but tis your destiny to find them on your own. I be not tellin' you."
"And the runes? What do they say?"
He smiled again. "Tis your place in Caerloach, my lady. And Teyrnon shall be your home."
"You're not goin' ta tell me?"
"Nay, my lady. The same will tell you the runes meaning."
"How did you have it done?"
"Tis with my own hands when they were agile. Tis my tribute to the most beautiful woman I will have ever seen," he said sincerely.
Rhian was silent. "Tis a priceless gift, your words, Jace," she said softly. "I will wear this always to remember you by."
He smiled. "Then I have my reward for waiting for you to come."
Rhian slipped it on and tucked it beneath her shirt to lay against the hollow of her throat. She looked curious. "Tis warm, odd."
Jace grinned. "Tis the magic of the pendant, my lady."
Rhian smiled at him. "I thank you for your gift and your kindness and friendship, Jace. I will visit when I can."
He shook his head. "My time is anon, my lady. I have gifted thee and completed my journey in this world. Save one thing."
She looked to him. "What is that?"
He patted the book. "I have need of your help, my lady."
"Whatever I can, Jace."
He nodded. "Tis a gift to the Lady of Teyrnon. Will you give it to her?"
Rhian nodded slowly. "Aye, Nara will be her chatelaine. She will..."
He shook his head slightly letting the wisps of white hair float in a halo above his head. "Nay, from your hand to hers, I beg you."
Rhian nodded slowly again. "I pledge it Jace, my hand to hers."
He smiled. "Tis good then. Best you be off before Draig comes a lookin' for you."
Rhian took the book from him then leaned over and cupped his weathered old face and kissed his cheek. "I shall miss you Jace," she said softly.
Jace reveled at the smell of her hair, like wildflowers and the breeze. "And tis the memory of your kiss I will have with my last breath."
Rhian stood back with tears in her eyes. "How can you speak so calmly of it?"
He smiled and gently wiped a tear away that escaped to her cheek. "I have been waitin' a long time, my lady. When you come to my age you will look for the dark god with joy as well." He shooed her. "Off you go, my lady. Draig willna wait so long."
Rhian nodded. "Goodbye my friend."
He smiled. "Safe journey."
She smiled back through the unshed tears. "Aye, and to you as well."
He nodded and she left clutching the book tightly. Jace opened his hand to show the tear he had wiped away was now turned to diamond with the tear trapped in the center of it. "Tis more than you know, my lady," he said softly with a deep voice unlike his own.
Rhiannon said goodbye to quite a few people on the way back to the house. She was loaded down with foodstuffs from the baker whom she helped with the shop when his mate was ill. And the tavern keeper with a bottle of fine whiskey, whom she pulled out of the muck when he was too drunk to do it himself. The cobbler with a new bit and reins for her help with the horses when they came in. Nara chuckled as Rhian carefully made her way back and unloaded her arms at the seat of the wagon.
"Begods!" Rhian swore. "Tis a celebration and I didna know of it?"
Nara laughed and Draig came storming out to stop and see the look of bewilderment on Rhian's face and the seat full of stuff the neighbors had given her for her kindness. He smiled. "Tis only your sweet self, Rhian," Nara told her. "Never do you take a coin in return, only to help and be a friend. Tis worth more than gold, and they will miss you sorely."
Rhian looked confused. "Doesna everyone do this?"
The two laughed. "Nay, Rhian," Draig said as he held her close and kissed the top of her head. "Guileless you are. Tis the shirt off your back to a beggar in the street with no thought for yourself."
Rhian shook her head. "Tis only me, Draig. You make me sound like a magi."
He chuckled and so did Nara. "Magi would take the coin, Rhian. You wouldna."
She sighed and pulled out the foodstuffs and handed them to Nara. "Tis enough for the journey, almost."
Nara smiled. "Aye, if you brother goes hunting for his own supper it tis."
He looked to his wife. "You know Rhian can eat almost as much as me."
Rhian scowled at him, but it was true. She was hungry quite often. Finally she shook her head and grinned and handed Draig the bottle of fine whiskey. Draig smiled. "Ach, you're giving your gifts away, Rhian. Tis yours."
"I donna drink, Draig. What am I to do with it?" Rhian asked.
Nara sighed. "Donna give it to him. Tis how I ended up with this." She rubbed her round belly.
"Begods," Rhian whispered. Her eyes wide as she looked to Nara in horror. "Tis best to stay away from the tavern then Nara, if tis all it takes to get you with child."
Draig laughed and Nara backhanded him in the belly making him wince. "Tis thin ice you are walkin' on young lady."
Rhian chuckled. "I be jestin' you, Nara. Twill be a good day when you have the babe. Tis a better mood you be in." She thought about it. "Then again, mayhaps not." She skirted away from the wagon as Nara tried to swat her behind, cursing and promising to get her until she pleaded for mercy, all the while Draig was chuckling and he moved out of her reach too.
"Tis the blackguard of the Kelan I be stuck with. Begods." She lamented pointing at Draig. "You I can deal with. Rhian, I can see lurking at the stable, and you wait young lady. Tis a cold day in the otherworld before I forget to paddle your behind for this."
Rhian drew her horse out. "I'll gladly take it Nara, if you do it to Draig as well."
Nara smiled. "I might just take you up on that."
Draig frowned. "I will not be paddled like a child."
Rhian snorted. "Tis one you be acting like," she said as she tied Ula to the cart. That remark got her chased almost to the gates of the city before Draig stopped, panting and heaving. "Ach," Rhian said from a good distance away as she leaned up against the city walls near a guard that about fainted from the beautiful young woman standing so close. "Tis a good thing you warriors donna run so well. You might be able to catch your game with your bare hands instead of gallivanting around on a horse to do your dirty work for you. Then what would they have to do?" The soldiers at the gate laughed as Draig growled and went after her again. She led him back to the house and Draig only made it part of the way. Nara had packed Rhiannon's stuff away in her saddlebags and was on the wagon seat chuckling with the rest of the people on the street.
Draig slowly made his way back as Rhiannon mounted Ula. "I make you a deal, my mate. I'll hold her down and you can paddle her until you are satisfied."
Nara looked wickedly at the nervous Rhian. "Tis a deal I like."
Rhian shook her head. "Ach, I be camping far from the likes of the both of you then."
Nara sighed deeply. "Campin', tis an awful thing."
Draig shook his head. "Tis a soft life you've had then."
"Tis soft in the head you've become," she countered and the two were off at it again as Draig got in the wagon seat and took the reins and they were off.
Rhiannon said goodbye to another city as they headed on the well traveled road to the east. Versy sat down low in the valley with the castle on a hill out in the middle of the great plains of grass and plowed fields for crops. Teyrnon sat high in the mountains, it was the fortress to the Vale pass into Caerloach and no great force could enter all at once and the Lord of Teyrnon could decide to block the pass forever breaking the clans in Caerloach from the world if so threatened. And with that impending it was a good thing that the Caerloach was self sustaining. It was a massive valley and a mite short of a fortnight's journey from Versy to Teyrnon. With leagues beyond showing in that alone that Caerloach was a magical place of Ireland since most had traversed about the high mountains around the vale within the space of a few fortnights. Yet to journey from Teyrnon to the opposite side of the vale inside was three fortnights alone. And where Versy was somewhat quiet, the city of Teyrnon bustled with travelers and was huge with the common people and the great O'Brennan fortress sat up high tucked in the mountainside. It had never been sieged against and the massive flag of the gold rearing stallion on the deep red field flapped from the highest purchase in the fortress showing that the Lord of Teyrnon was to home.
Journeying had been... interesting with Nara along. Rhian was well used to it with Draig and they tried their hardest to help the pregnant woman as best they could. Rhiannon had coaxed her way back into Nara's good graces and had found the flat end of her spoon when she least expected it. Begods the woman was strong! And Rhiannon had shifted in her saddle the whole rest of the next day. But she forgot it when Teyrnon had appeared. She had seen it from a distance when she and Draig first came in from the Vale pass for Versy. It was impressive and somewhat overwhelming. Amazing enough she couldn't believe how big it was the closer they rode to the gates of the city.
Nara handed the scroll from Lady Caitlin to the guard at the gate and he saw the seal. Was enough for him but he looked it over and bowed. "Lady Chatelaine, I'm certain the Steward of Teyrnon is eager to meet with you."
She nodded and took the scroll back. "Aye, since when is a steward not eager?"
The guard smiled. "I await the day, my lady." He banged his halberd clumsily against his helmet in shock and salute when Rhian came riding up and reined Ula in beside the wagon.
Nara smiled, not looking back, knowing what put the gaping look on the guard. "Tis a little slow you are Rhian."
Rhian smiled. "Hardly, Nara. Tis a field and lake to the west and begods, it is magnificent."
The guard smiled at the beautiful woman. "Tis the Lady's own."
Rhian looked worried. "I didna mean to trespass."
He smiled beatifically at her. "I donna think she'll mind, my lady."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Tis hardly a lady I am, good sir. Only a Kelan."
Draig snorted. "Only? Ach, you make us sound like peasants."
The guard smiled. "Tis not a peasant I see before me."
The big man glared. "Aye, tis my baby sister. So have at you."
The guard looked to the big man. "Aye, my lord. Forgive me my lady, twas quite rude."
Rhian smiled. "Tis not the first time I have experienced such. I'm sure twill not be the last, good sir."
They rode on through and all the guard turned to look at the magnificent woman riding into the city. "Begods," one of them muttered. "I await duty in the halls to see such a lovely woman again."
The guard that had spoken nodded in agreement. "I wouldna want to cross her kin though. Ach, I have a bad feelin' he'll be in the man at arms and we be gettin' a sore contest to better ourselves from it."
That made all of them groan.
The threesome stopped at the gate to the castle and they were admitted once again. All of the soldiers looking to Rhiannon as they passed through. She looked back and two of them tripped over each other to stand up right from being caught watching. She shook her head. Ruttish here as well. She dismounted and was going to offer to take care of the horses when a look from Nara stopped her. Rhiannon had never lived in a castle before. She grabbed her saddlebags and got the book out before Nara plucked the saddlebags away and gave them to a servant.
"Tis not your place anymore to do that, Rhian," Nara told her quietly in a firm voice as the Steward came out.
He was a tall, thin man with a kind face and looked a few summers older than Nara or Draig. "Nara, tis a pleasure to see you again!"
Nara hugged him close. "Malcolm, I wish it werena under such dreadful circumstances. But I have missed you."
He smiled as they let go. He glanced to Draig then stopped at Rhiannon who was startled and looked behind her for what he was looking at. "Ach," Nara bumped her. "Tis you my cousin be staring at. And I'll swat him up the side of the head if he does not stop."
Malcolm grinned. "Begods, please introduce me, Nara."
Nara snorted. "Malcolm this is my mate's sister Rhiannon Oriana Kelan. Rhian, this is Malcolm Kyr Kendhal, my cousin. And this is my mate Padraig Calum Kelan."
Malcolm looked from Rhian to the massive Draig and he gulped. "I think it might be wise to step lightly around your kin."
Draig glared and nodded. "Aye, tis a very good idea."
Nara nudged him to. "What happened to Maughan, Malcolm? She wasna that old as Lady Chatelaine."
Malcolm cleared his throat. "Tis a scandalous thing, Nara." He looked around to see that they were alone. "Seems when Donal passed on and Cait was to succeed him as Lord of Teyrnon, Maughan produced a son whom she claimed was Donal's son by birth and deserved some rights as an heir."
"Gods above," Nara muttered. "Tis a daft woman, but tis dumb and blind too?"
Malcolm snorted. "Tis so. Caitlin was sorely put out that Maughan would befoul her father's name and asked what proof she had. Maughan was sorely stumped since she hadna gotten Donal to claim him as a son, and in respite Cait sent her and her own down to Opidda to stay. It twasna long before she had a letter to Versy for you. You know I've been steward for less that four seasons and Cait runs a tighter house that Donal ever did."
Nara snorted. "Tis hardly a surprise, Malcolm. Caitlin expects nothing but people's best."
Malcolm chuckled. "Tis she who has forgotten your sharp tongue. Tis good you are here." He proffered his arm to Draig. "And you, it takes a hell of a man to marry an O'Brennan."
Draig smiled. "Dona I know it."
The two laughed and Nara gave him a look. Malcolm showed them to the court room in which there was soft arguing taking place. On the Lord's seat was a beautiful dark headed woman in well worn deerskin leggings, a deep red tunic with gold embroidery and soft leather boots that rode the better part up her long calves. The court room was massive and well lit with the grand fireplace and the sconces in the walls. A man in over embroidered robes that looked to be in dire need of washing stood directly in front of her ladyship with a very angry face. Malcolm hurried forward as did Draig who loosened his sword. The two looked up to the small crowd. The man was dressed as a druid and whatever he was saying was not making the Lady happy.
"Malcolm, see this man thrown out," Lady Caitlin said in a low dark voice.
"I warn you now Cat of Caerloach. Tis a fox that will be your downfall! I have seen it!"
Lady Caitlin stood to her full height which was a little taller than Nara and grasped the front of his robe and literally hoisted him off the ground a few inches. "Medr, you are a fool! No fox is going to bewitch me! And you havna even told me why or how! Begone back to your shack in the city and mayhaps I willna have it torn down to spite thee for this intrusion!"
Rhian stayed back. The Lady was incredibly beautiful and the dangerous aura around her came off in waves. Rhian felt her heart leap to her throat. Then the vivid ice blue eyes of the Lady locked onto hers and she was frozen in place and they softened as the eyes slowly roamed the rest of her body approving. Without a word she released the man with a bit of a throw and he stumbled to the ground as she turned to the rest of them while Malcolm and a guard that rushed in at the noise escorted Medr off. "Nara!" she said smiling. "Tis good to see you again!"
Nara chuckled. "You did sound just like Malcolm a moment ago." She curtsied to her. "Tis an honor you have chosen me to serve you, my Lady."
Lady Caitlin snorted and sat down rolling her eyes a little. "And I know you will serve me and mine well, Nara. Who is your company?" She looked to Draig then to Rhiannon. "Siblings?"
Nara smiled. "Aye, tis my mate Padraig Calum Kelan and his sister Rhiannon Oriana Kelan."
Lady Caitlin nodded and smiled. "Welcome to Teyrnon, Padraig and Rhiannon Kelan. The O'Brennan's offer you a place in Teyrnon for as long as you wish."
Padraig bowed. "Tis a magnificent place, Teyrnon is, my lady."
She smiled. "Tis a warrior you are?"
"Aye, and if it please you, call me Draig."
Caitlin nodded as she relaxed back, her eyes straying to the silent Rhiannon taking in her beauty and seeing the gentle shyness in her. "So you are from Versy then?" she asked Draig.
"Nay, Rhian and I are from Kel Glaghna near Eire. We moved to Versy only a summer ago to be with our clan."
Caitlin's brow furrowed. "Kel Glaghna was destroyed two summers ago."
Draig nodded. "Aye, tis true. Rhian and I were the only ones to make it out alive."
Draig shook his head. "Lost our mother to the birth of Rhian and our da and two brothers between us to marauders. Almost lost Rhian from a sword wound. Twas lucky it wasna deeper."
Caitlin nodded slowly. "The Lord of Eire didna come to revenge their display?"
He shook his head. "Twas over and done before two days had passed, my lady. And his lord didna seem too interested in doing a thing about it once they found the butchers had gone from Ireland."
"And what of you Rhiannon? Or may I call you Rhian, as your brother has?"
Rhian looked up and the eyes connected. "Rhian is fine, my lady." She stepped forward and held out the book. "Tis a gift from an old magi in Versy who I pledged to give to thee, my lady."
Caitlin looked to her thoughtfully. "Tis odd, I know of no magi in Versy."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Tis his claim, but I doubt it highly myself, my lady. But a book is to be cherished and I gave my pledge. Do with it as you will."
Lady Caitlin nodded keeping her eyes on her only to glance down briefly at the book. "I sense you have some humor in you."
Nara snorted. "Begods, Cait. Tread carefully lest she catch you off guard with a quick word. Twas her own brother she tweaked in front of Lord Innis less than a fortnight ago."
Caitlin's eyebrows raised at Draig as Rhian blushed and Caitlin found herself wanting to feel the heated cheek under her fingers. "Tis so?"
Draig grunted. "Aye, the sprite did use our cousin's words against me."
Caitlin smiled. "Then I look forward to seeing what happens."
Both Nara and Draig swore. Rhian drew back a little. "That depends, my lady," she said quietly.
"Whether you be as strong as Nara and have as flat a wooden spoon as she. Mayhaps as flat a sword, I would correct, since she has said you are the Cat of Caerloach. If you will excuse my boldness."
Caitlin looked to Nara. "Why does no one believe it until I've proven myself?"
Nara shrugged. "I donna know, Cait. Then again I grew up with you, watchin' you beat the living daylights out of your father's men. And Rhian can hold her own for a while against Draig. So it might be more interesting to someone who knows of fighting."
Caitlin looked to the giant Draig and the beautiful Rhiannon. "Forgive me but I canna see you as a fighter, Rhian."
Draig snorted. "She did shoot down more than a dozen invaders with her longbow and cut through four more with a shortsword until one got the better of her."
"I see no weapons on you?" she said to Rhian, but she was more respectful in her voice toward her.
Rhiannon's voice went soft. "I only carry a dagger and longbow. I donna wish to fight anyone."
"I am sorry for your loss, Rhian. Perhaps on the morrow your kin will allow me to show both of you the soldiers training grounds and I may prove myself as the Cat of Caerloach."
Rhian looked up. "You need not prove anythin' to me, my Lady."
Caitlin smiled. "I know this. But I find it helps my men stay sharp and try harder when I come to tourney with them."
Draig sidled up to Rhian. "Mayhaps Lady Caitlin will tourney in the longbow with you Rhian." Caitlin raised an eyebrow at this. "Tis heard that you are the best in all weapons, even barehanded which I would delight to see, my lady. But Rhian is a better shot with a bow than I have ever seen. Even on horseback her aim is true."
Caitlin smiled. "I like a good challenge. Then tomorrow after our tour, I challenge you Rhian to a longbow tourney."
Rhian glared at her brother. "I must accept for fear that if I decline you might ask for broadsword instead and I'm afraid you might have to wait for the pulley to lift it up for me."
Caitlin blinked, then she smiled, then she laughed a deep, rich laugh. Then she wiped a tear from her eye. "Begods, is this what you warned me of Nara?"
"Aye, Cait. Tis a silver tongue in this one when she opens it."
Rhian bit her lip. Could say something back in reply and Caitlin could see her hold it in. "Then I'm sure you would like to get settled in. Malcolm has randomly found you rooms and I pray in all earnest Nara, that you take over once your are settled in and straighten our cousin out."
Malcolm sighed. "I am never appreciated."
Caitlin snorted. "In caring for the court Malcolm, not the house. You'll run it into the ground before the season is out."
Rhian's eyes lit up and Caitlin smiled back.
Lady Caitlin watched Rhian through hooded eyes at supper. She was slightly disappointed to see her still in a tunic, though clean and nicely cut showing her as an upper class and kin to a clan. She seemed to desire to see her in a dress showing every graceful curve of her body. Begods she was beautiful and Caitlin felt something inside she hadn't felt before. She tapped the tip of her knife on the high table as she half listened to one of her aunts sitting next to her. She nodded but had no idea of what the woman had said as her eyes moved back to Rhian.
Tomorrow she would see what steel was in Rhiannon. Regardless, she could feel the hunt surge in her blood. She wasn't sure about the urge stirring in her but it had to do with the red-gold haired young woman. Her lip curled up slightly.
She talked with guests and kin as the din rolled on and she saw a kindness in Rhiannon that was rare in upper class women. She may have steel, but the softness of a flower surrounded it. She found her feelings correct when a servant spilled dessert and there was backbiting to the servant from others at the table. Rhiannon was the only one who helped the servant up and asked if she could be of assistance in cleaning up. Caitlin heard a soft groan from Nara. But she smiled. So it begins, she thought to herself. She had never seen the likes of one such as Rhian before, and now... she would watch and wait and see what the gods had in store.
Rhiannon room was a large bed chamber with a huge bed filled with down to one side, just as Nara had promised. She had only taken off her boots and curled up in the center and tucked the soft blanket over her before she fell to sleep. But it wasn't a well rested sleep as the nightmare she normally had wasn't there, it was a strange dream...
Someone was stalking her, not threatening, but her heart pounded just the same. She was in a beautiful glade and she was naked and the dew of the high grasses drenched her body as she heard a predator growl, deep and low from nearby. She scrambled away as the grasses moved, then a warm, strong hand caught her thigh and she wriggled to get away only to find herself on her back with the beautiful Lady Caitlin nestled over her on all fours. Her feral blue eyes glinting in the moonlight as they held her in place, just as they had done in the court hall that afternoon. Slowly the beautiful woman smiled and bestowed her a kiss that melted her heart and she longed for another. It was given as the Lady began to lazily kiss her all over.
Rhiannon awoke in a heated sweat of a lovers passion when the Lady had nestled between her legs. Her strong, firm hands holding her in place and with a wicked glint in her eye...
"Gods..." Rhiannon's hands trembled. She had never dreamt such things before. She felt her whole body aching to be touched as it had been in her dream and she knew of only one that it craved for. "Begods, has my body gone mad?!" she muttered to herself and she got up and used the light of the banked fire in her room to strip her tunic off and bathe her upper body. In the pale light she could see her breasts which had always been to her dismay... a little large for her liking. And from the looks of them it seemed as though every part of her had felt this desire. She grunted in disgust at herself as she looked back at herself to the vivid green eyes flickering in the firelight. "Tis not going to happen, foolish body of mine," she firmly told herself. "She's the lady of the manor and has no time for a half-witted dream from an orphaned Kelan." It didn't matter, it wasn't listening and still wanting.
She muttered as she stripped down the rest of the way and found herself very wet and not from her 'womanly time'. She glared at herself in the mirror with more of a curse on her lips for being all the more foolish. Then finished bathing herself entirely only to find herself more aroused than she had ever felt before in her life. She gritted her teeth and bared herself to finish then slid her nightshirt on and knelt in front of the fire and stirred it up, too awake to go to sleep now. Damn, she thought. She was lusting after the Lady and no better than a common peasant rutting in the gutter.
"Begods, I've only known her a day," she berated herself. It was just nonsense. No more of this, it wouldn't happen again. Besides, who in their right mind wouldn't dream after the dark haired, long legged, blue eyed... "Stop it!" she told herself. The feeling was coming right back.
Rhian looked up from her 'thoughts' to see the door to her room open slowly, and she had no idea where her dagger was to defend herself. But was grateful the figure was of a very pregnant Nara coming in. "Rhian, are you alright?" she asked worriedly.
Rhian nodded. "Aye, I am fine Nara."
"The nightmares again?"
Rhian closed her eyes and gritted her teeth lest the memories return. "Nay, somethin' more daft than that."
Nara came over and cupped her cool forehead. "Tis late. To bed with you."
Rhian nodded. "In a moment, Nara."
Nara stroked her long hair. "I'll have Aine bring you a bath as the sun comes."
Rhian nodded again. "Tis kind of you."
"Ach, tis a good thing you are not chatelaine, love. Less the whole of Teyrnon be overrun with kindness," she snorted.
Rhian smiled at that, then stole up her courage. "Nara?"
Rhian looked up at her. "How did you know you were in love with Draig?"
Nara's eyebrows went up. Rhiannon had never talked about something like this before. "Did someone catch your fancy, Rhian?"
"I donna know. I have never felt like this," Rhian whispered only to shake her head. "But it doesna matter. Nothin' will become of it."
Nara's brow furrowed at the tone of hopelessness in Rhian's voice. "So easy to dismiss your feelings? Tis not a good thing. Love makes us stronger and our hearts deepen." She reached down and stroked her fingers through the soft pale hair again watching as the strands of red in Rhian's hair shown brighter in the firelight. "Though I havna to know how much deeper yours can go. But donna make light and hold it in, Rhian."
Rhian shook her head. "I have lost almost everythin' I have loved save you and Draig. Did I fail somewhere to be given this lot? Do the gods hate me so?"
Nara was concerned that Rhian was so negative. "Nay, Rhiannon. Tis the fate in your life. You are safe, and so am I and Draig. Nothin' will come to us and soon you will have more kin in a short while."
Rhian wiped away a tear. "I thought all was well in Kel Glaghna, Nara. I sorely missed not knowin' my mother. But my da and my brothers filled that up as best they could. I didna want to live after that. Only Draig and his threats to haunt me in the otherworld kept me with him. I canna love anyone, Nara. I canna lose more lest my soul go with them."
Nara held her close and Rhian's ear was over her large belly. She could hear the heartbeat,... heartbeats. "Tis two I think, Nara. I can hear two." She cupped the belly and leaned closer. "I pray they donna share the same path as mine."
Nara was melancholy when she left Rhian by the fire and shut her door and headed back to her own rooms. She knew her kin was afraid of her nightmares. But she never realized how much. The masters bedroom opened down at the end of the hall. The figure of a very naked Caitlin stood leaning against the doorway. "Ach, Cait. Tis the death of the servant boy ta see you as naked as a babe in the hall."
Caitlin chuckled. "And you have lived in Versy too long, Nara. Though I canna believe they are quaint about such as this. I remember a time down at the pool when you had come to your womanhood and begods if you didna show your stuff to the boys."
Nara held up a hand to stop her talking. "Donna you be embarrassing me. And tis not of Versy. Draig and Rhian are from the North and they are slightly but shocked if you go runnin' about like a squirrel with no fur."
Caitlin smiled. "Then we will have to teach them the O'Brennan way in Teyrnon."
Nara sighed. "Ta bed with you lest Draig comes out and dies of a still heart at the sight of you. And I will not bare and raise two little ones alone."
"Twins, then? Tis good. Though only from my view I be thinkin'." She grinned showing a breathtaking smile of gorgeous straight, white teeth. "And where be you this late in the night?"
"Ach, poor Rhian. She still has nightmares of her family being slaughtered in Kel Glaghna. She doesna sleep well. Though I didna know the extent of her ache until tonight."
Caitlin was concerned. "What do you mean, Nara?"
"She is determined she will not love someone lest she lose them too. But I think it tis not to be that way. I think she will find one that will take the heartache away and supplant it with something much better."
Caitlin slowly nodded. "She is coming of the age when suitors for one as pretty as your Rhian will come callin'."
Nara snorted. "You should have seen the men in line at Versy then, Cait. Tis longer than the day goes by and she didna look ta one of them. I be thinkin' the one that catches her heart will be the only one, forever."
Cait raised an eyebrow at that. "Then you think she is touched by the gods?"
Nara shrugged. "I have yet ta see it fully set to the like with such as yourself, with your fighting and smarts and such." She smiled at her cousin who smiled back. The hint of the mark on her right shoulder was almost visible in the sconce light in the hallways. A mark when she gave herself to the Celtic gods to defend Caerloach and in the same instant making her the Cat of Caerloach since none could hold a candle to her prowess. "But I think it be there."
Cait nodded. "The ways of old will hold true, Nara. This one god willna come into Caerloach. Mayhaps Rhian is another sign of just such a thing."
Nara looked worried. "Then I hope they are kind to her, Cait. For she truly believes her life is doomed to lose all and that would break her soul. I'll be prayin' that they see fit to reward one as kind as her for a happy life."
Cait nodded and watched as Nara moved to her rooms and shut the door. She looked down the hallway to the end where Rhiannon's room was, her eyebrow raise in thought. "I be thinkin' they will, my friend," she whispered to her cousin's departed presence.
Rhiannon's long tresses were almost dry as she stamped on her boots and latched the clasp on her belt. She had eaten and it was soon to when she and Draig would go with Lady Caitlin to the training grounds. She had slept a few hours more after Nara left as her body finally relaxed from want of the Lady. She swore if it got worse she's hunt down the magi and find something to stop it.
There was a knock on her door and she opened it to find Lady Caitlin and she almost blushed as the real thing of her dream was right in front of her. The Lady smiled slightly noticing the pink in her cheek and was curious as to what caused it. "Are you ready then? Your brother went on ahead to see the smithy and we'll meet him there."
"Yes, my lady," Rhian replied as she stepped out and combed her fingers through her thick hair.
Lady Caitlin almost ran her fingers through again just to feel the silken locks she had dreamt of last night. Gods it was glorious, in the long grass with the moonlight to guide her and the sweet scent of Rhiannon. She caught her and made the most passionate love to her and the young woman responded as a lover should. She had licked off the dew and nuzzled the round curves and tasted the sweetest nectar... She sighed to herself.
She knew enough about the gods to know when they were interfering. And this was one such time. She glanced down at the slender figure and grunted to herself in frustration. If that dream came too often... begods. Heaven help the poor young thing, because she'd do it. Not that she didn't like the dream, ohhh, she did. She woke up in a sweat and a pitch frenzy not long before Nara came back from Rhian's room, she was wanting to hunt her down and take her right there, it was so overwhelming. But once she had calmed down she stopped herself. She had followed the fate of looking to mate once before and found a traitor instead. She swore she wouldn't do it again... Seems the gods had their own ideas. She grumbled about that for a moment.
Cait ran her fingers through her own deep, soft black locks. That hung just as straight as Rhian's. "Please, call me Cait. All of my close kin call me that."
Rhian looked up and her and they felt the connection. She looked away. "If it pleases you, of course, Cait."
They headed for the outside as both collected their thoughts. "What do you think of Teyrnon, Rhian?"
Rhian nodded. "Tis a grand place you have Lady... Cait," she started only to catch herself. "At first I thought it would be somewhat dirty like Eire since it tis so big. But tis clean as Versy and Evnissyen."
"You've been to the O'Malley clan then?"
"Aye, but only in passing to Caerloach. But even those cities are not as big as Teyrnon."
Caitlin nodded in agreement. "Do you think you'll like livin' here then?"
Rhian was quiet for a moment. "I have never lived in a castle before. And Nara keeps tellin' me what I can and canna do since she is the Lady Chatelaine and I am her kin. Tis odd." She looked to the tall woman. "But I donna see how anythin' gets done if you have to wait for the servants to do things for you, when it tis faster to do it yourself?"
Caitlin chuckled. "I myself have thought this many times. But servants have their place in Teyrnon and I have never cared to carry bucket after bucket of hot water for a bath up the stairs."
Rhian nodded. "Tis true. But I donna see how one can need a maid to help you dress." She looked down at herself. "Tunic and leggings really only takes one."
Caitlin grinned. "And what of dresses then?"
"Ach, if they are that hard to get into, then damn the lot of them."
"You have never worn a dress?"
Rhian giggled and Caitlin smiled. "With three older brothers and a da that had to keep us in line? I wore hand me downs until I had too much hip for straight leggings. And then I had no need for wandering about the Kel on horseback in a dress."
Caitlin smiled. "Maybe one day you will favor my court with one and I can watch them fall over in faint at the sight of you."
Rhiannon snorted. "I not be needed a dress for that," she said in a sarcastic tone.
"Then to show you are a true Lady then."
Rhiannon gave her a funny look as her heart pounded a little faster at the sight of the dark haired woman smiling her way. Her blue eyes glinting down at her almost like in her dream. "My da was an innkeeper and head of the branch. I am no Lady, to be sure."
"I beg to differ. You are more a Lady than most of the Ladies here. As a favor then?"
Rhiannon bit her lip. "I donna know."
"I will have Nara help you will the dressmaker."
Rhiannon looked up at her. "I have yet to see you in one either, Cait."
Caitlin chuckled. "I donna want to take away from your light, Rhian. For me?"
Rhiannon sighed and thought for a moment then consented. "Aye, but twill be odd."
Caitlin chuckled more as they headed through the yard to the grounds. Their first true conversation and they talked as if they had known each other for some time. It amazed her since she had a tendency to keep away from most people.
There was a clanging of steel on steel as they neared the grounds and the men around the arena gave way to the two women. Caitlin offered Rhiannon a seat on a bale of hay near the fence and she sat cautiously knowing that the Lady of the Castle should be sitting, not her. She tucked her feet up on the edge of the bale and wrapped her arms about them and was surprised to see Draig and another man as big as him dueling in the morning sun with broadswords. Draig was smiling happily as he curved his opponents sword away and elbowed him in the gut. It wasn't long before he flicked the sword from his hand and the man yielded.
"Twas a good duel, Draig," the man said.
Draig nodded. "Tis true, you are very good indeed, Guy."
Guy was older than most in the training area. He had a graying beard and the beginning of wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and along his cheeks. He looked to see Caitlin and a young woman from the dining hall had come to watch. "Begods, tis heaven."
Draig looked in their direction. "Tis my sister, Rhiannon."
Guy looked to him. "Surely you be to ugly to have a sister as beautiful as she." He grinned and Draig cuffed his arm. "Mayhaps the Lady Caitlin will try you at arms." He looked to the woman who sighed and stood straight and lightly touched Rhiannon's shoulder before she went to arm herself with a broadsword. Guy looked to Draig. "Tis your sister unattached?"
"Aye," Draig said slowly looking at his sister then at the retreating form of the Lady Caitlin curiously. That touch and the deference to let her sit showed that Caitlin was deferring to Rhiannon. And that meant... "Begods," he muttered.
Guy chuckled. "Donna worry, lad. The Lady Cait would never do your sister wrong."
Caitlin came out stripped down to a light shirt that showed the power and fine muscles in her arms and the tail end of her marking on her right arm with a huge broadsword easily held in her right hand. She saw that Draig had seen her deference to Rhiannon and the overprotective glint of anger in his eyes. She had not solely meant it in deference, but as reassurance that she would be fine there since she herself had never sat and watched them train or duel for long before joining in. And the pat on the shoulder.... Well, maybe he'd be angry enough to give her a challenge. The blond man's eyes were a little shocked and hard at the same time and she smiled. "Are you ready?"
He nodded. "Do you need time to warm up?"
She shook her head. "Nay, no need."
They gave a brief salute and the swords clashed. Rhiannon sat enthralled. Cait could weald a broadsword and easily. She also outmaneuvered Draig with a skillful flair that almost made him look like a novice and that was making him angry. He came roaring in with an overhand blow to Caitlin's head that would have split her skull wide open if she were any less of a fighter. She locked swords with him up at the hilt and held it and Rhian's eyebrows shot up to see that Caitlin was definitely stronger than she looked.
They were face to face. The light blue eyes caught his own grayish blue. "Tis not as you think," she told him quietly enough to keep the conversation between the two of them.
He grunted and tried to shove her down only to be stopped with a solid hold he couldn't budge, his muscles were straining at it was and Caitlin didn't even look like she was going to break a sweat. He began to realize that the legend the woman was making in Ireland as the most feared and awesome opponent was very real and very true. "I be thinkin' you have an eye on my sister!" he hissed back.
He really was angry and all she had done was shown slight deference to Rhian. "Then I have news for you." Cait countered. "Everyone be lookin'. Tis a beautiful young woman for kin you have." Draig looked into her eyes as he tried to shove her down again but her hold stayed true and his arms began to weaken slightly. He saw Caitlin was serious. "You canna hide her behind your glares forever."
He relinquished a bit of his blade. "Then you mean to court her?"
Caitlin slowly nodded. "Mayhaps. Will you hinder my advances if I do?"
He drew back slightly more and glanced to see they were watching though none of them could hear their conversation. "Nay," he said softly. "But be gentle with her. Tis strong, yet timid and I willna see her hurt."
Caitlin nodded. "So be it."
They fought without the rage on Draig side after that and he yielded when Caitlin finally took his sword from his hands with a graceful and deadly countermove with the edge of her blade.
It was soon after that Cait was showing them around the massive soldiers barracks and stables and looked to Draig. "I am always in need of a good man at arms. I would be honored if you would wear the Teyrnon colors."
He looked to Rhian and nodded looking back to Cait. "Aye, I would be honored to wear them."
The group of men and women welcomed him. He looked to the Lady. "Did you still wish to tourney longbow with Rhian?"
Caitlin looked to Rhian who shrugged that she didn't care. Caitlin smiled. "Guy, have the targets set."
Caitlin and Rhian were left alone for the moment as the second to Caitlin's warchief took Draig for a surcoat and clothing. "Do you fancy a wager, Rhian?"
Rhian looked up to her. "What sort of wager?"
"A favor perhaps. Where the victor may ask the other for anything they desire."
Rhian snorted. "Tis not much in my possession. If you won, you would sorely be disappointed."
Caitlin smiled. "I think I would still give that as a wager. What say you?"
Rhian looked away then nodded uncertainly. "Very well."
The targets set in place. As challenger, Caitlin shot a quiver full first. All in the yellow center. Then Rhian shot and she equaled. The targets moved back they shot again and two more times with the same tally. Back to the farthest point and Rhian's arms ached as she held her aim. It was a good distance, and she rarely had to shoot that far. Caitlin had gotten all in the yellow again and with Rhian's last shot it went a mark off and into the blue not a hair width from the yellow. Caitlin was the victor.
"Tis a good shot you are," Caitlin said. "I feared we would tie and then what would we do to settle the score?"
Rhian set the bow down and flexed her fists as they burned with an ache of holding the bow for so long. "Not wrestling mind you. I couldna lift a finger against you."
Caitlin looked concerned and saw Rhiannon's hands tremble. "Come, tis an ointment my magi has to help with that. I forget that most do not shoot tourneys that long with rarely a break between."
Rhian shook her head. "It will pass. Donna worry about it."
Draig rested a hand on her drawing shoulder and felt the spasm in her muscles. "I think not, Rhian. Go with Lady Caitlin to the magi."
Rhian did, but not so willingly. They headed for the lower section of the castle. "Are you upset with me, Rhian?" Caitlin asked as the normally cheerful young woman was silent and her eyes distant.
Rhian shook her head. "Nay, Cait. Tis only my stupidity in not restin'."
Lady Caitlin smiled. "Then tis my folly as well. I should have asked you."
Rhian bit her lip. Something was going on between them, something odd and it scared her. "So what of your prize, Cait. What would you ask of me?"
She smiled. "I will tell you in due time, Rhian. But donna worry, it shall not be nothing more than a request and a bit of your time."
Rhian slowly nodded. They came to the door of Caitlin's magi down in the lower levels of the castle. She knocked and the door was opened a moment later. It was a kind gentleman with graying black hair and a somewhat big face and big hands for so lean of a body. "My Lady! And a beautiful companion you bring to my door! Come!" He waved them in enthusiastically. Caitlin told him of Rhian's predicament and he nodded. "You matched her ladyship? Then a good shot you are indeed." He motioned to a high table. "Sit and if you would please remove your tunic so I made feel the muscles better."
Rhian's brow furrowed at the thought of undressing, but she did as she was asked only to discreetly tuck her tunic about her front for proprieties sake.
Caitlin about sank to her knees at the sight of the half dressed woman with only a beautiful silver and emerald necklace about her throat. And it wasn't even her entirety. And so like in her dream she looked to her emerald green eyes and Rhian flushed. Caitlin leaned back against the magi's work table as acted as if she was only a kin she had come to help while she berated herself. Things were happening too fast, she barely knew her. "Rhian, this is magi Ronan. Ronan this is Rhiannon Kelan, her brother is mated to Nara O'Brennan."
He smiled. "Ach, Nara. Sharp tongued as ever?" Rhian smiled and Caitlin steadied herself as the green eyes twinkled. He chuckled. "And I know Lord Innis quite well." He looked to her face. "But I would've remembered one as fair as you of the Kelan clan."
"I am from Kel Glaghna up by Eire. I didna live in Versy but more than a summer round."
Ronan nodded. "I did hear of Kel Glaghna. Tis a sad state, lass. I am truly sorry."
Rhian nodded once. "Thank you, magi. But it is gone and what can be done?"
Caitlin saw the pain in the green eyes. Ronan took her arms and felt the muscles through them and through her back and down to her waist. He gave Caitlin a disgusted look. "Tis a good thing I didna have to work on your men, Lady Cait. She is going ta be a bit sore in the morn." He gently patted her shoulder. "But you are lookin' fit, young lass. Even the scar doesna show to much."
He moved to his herb table and Caitlin came close avoiding to look at the fine pale skin and the scent of it she knew from her dream. "May I see this scar?" she asked. Rhian held out her right arm, the one that trembled so. A light line as thick as a cord coursed for the better part of her upper arm around the bicep. "Tis good it didna cut all the way through."
Rhian shrugged. "I stopped a good share of the blow with my sword but his broadsword reft it in two and it stopped at the bone. Draig got me to a magi that lived a league out of town and she repaired the muscle so I could use it again. I can draw a bow but I donna have the strength to stand much against Draig with a sword anymore. I donna care to anyway."
Ronan peered at them and saw the binding between the two. It was brilliant in a shimmering gold and he felt the urge to go find his mistress and have his way with her for some reason. He looked away and his eyes went wide. Begods! Then he smiled and peered once more then away. Tis true, they are to be mated and it looks as if the Lady Cait begins to circle her prey. He finished the ointment and brought it over in a small jar and handed it to the Lady. "If you donna mind it would be best for someone to soothe it into your muscles where you may rest for a spell. It will burn slightly but only because of it's heat from the comfrey. And once more in the evening and the ache will be but a slightness of a day then no more. And if Lady Cait doesna mind she might help thee since I have put a good amount on her aches in her years. I would suggest you practice more or let your body rest before you try that again."
Rhian nodded and slid her shirt back on. "Thank you, Magi. I will heed your advice."
The two left and Ronan hurried to his private rooms.
Rhian bid her into her room. Caitlin looked to see it was just as bare save a few items of a traveler. "You donna collect much by the way of personal things."
Rhian looked about. "Ach, to look at my horse, though not a pretty sight she may be, tis a good saddle and strong bags that are more important than adornments for the walls."
"You like to ride then?"
Rhian nodded as Caitlin motioned to the bed. "Aye, I was hopin' I could find a place in your stables to work with the horses."
"And the more ladylike things?" Caitlin asked as Rhian sat and looked at her warily as she shed her tunic again to wrap it about herself once more. "Twould be best if you laid down, Rhian."
She did, on her belly, and Caitlin sat by her side and dug out a bit of the ointment and began to work it in to the aching muscles. Rhian closed her eyes and tried not to think of the dream, her hands were just as warm and soothing. "You could ask Nara about my joy of sewing and the like of that. Tis a good thing to repair and hem well, but beyond that, ach. Give me a smart horse with sure, quick feet, and an open field any day."
Caitlin chuckled. Gods, Rhian was like she remembered. Soft warm skin and she kept to herself not to scare her by leaning over and kissing along her back to help soothe her aches. "Then you and I think much alike. Four walls for all the day and I would be mad by the end of it." She took up some more ointment and knelt down and took up her right arm and rubbed the ointment in. She could see Rhian was beginning to fall asleep. "Tis a beautiful necklace, you have. The emeralds match your eyes."
Rhian looked to her. "Twas a gift from the old magi that I gave you the book for." Caitlin had moved down all the way along her arm and massaged her fingers. "Gods, you are good at that."
Caitlin smiled. "I should be. I had put it on many a time when I was younger. And even Nara was enlisted a few times to help."
Rhian snorted. "I wager she gave you a piece of her mind as well."
Caitlin chuckled as she moved around and did the other arm. "Aye, but kindhearted she is."
Rhian nodded. "Aye, I think she worries too much."
Caitlin smiled. "In general? Or about you?"
Rhian turned her head to look at her. "In general. Things will get done, only she must argue about it anyway. And you've seen Draig's temper, now ya put them in the same house."
Caitlin stopped working for a bit. "Begods..."
Rhian smiled. "Aye, twas keep the peace or get out before receiving a swat or two from one of them."
Caitlin chuckled. "I need to get the chest muscle." She touched her own muscles above her breasts to show what she meant. "They will be sore as well."
Rhian's brow furrowed a little but she rolled over and covered herself and Caitlin sat down on the edge of the bed again. She looked up into Rhian's eyes and saw she was trying to figure her out. She smiled and rubbed the ointment in then sealed the lid. "I'll leave this here and come back tonight before bed and help again?"
Rhian nodded. "Thank you, Cait."
Caitlin smiled. "May I look at your necklace?" Rhian nodded again and moved to slip it off. "Stay, you are relaxed." She bent in and looked at the fine work and the pendant with the fox on it. She rubbed her thumb over it and she saw Rhian swallow hard. "Tis beautiful workmanship. And the fox... reminds me of you. Tis a beautiful creature and most think it for show but it is quick and wily." She looked to the runes about the edges and gently replaced it to her throat. She smiled and brushed back a bit of red-gold hair as Rhiannon's eyes began to close. "Sleep well my pretty fox," she whispered. Rhian looked startled at that but sleep overcame her and Caitlin leaned over as impulse took her and lightly kissed her lips. "Soon," she said softly then rose and tucked her in with a warm blanket and watched her for a moment before she left.
Two servants were at the end of the hallway and they both bowed to her. "Aine, Nara has put you as Rhiannon's maid?"
The pretty young woman nodded. "Yes, milady."
She nodded. "Good. I want you to find the chatelaine and tell her to have Rhiannon fitted for dresses. Deirdre should be close at hand. And once she has a few for wear about the castle I wish to see the dressmaker in my study before the day is out."
Aine nodded. "Yes, milady." She scurried away.
"Aye, tis well she shot," Rhian heard softly spoken about her as she struggled to wake. "If it werena for the wound to her arm I think she would have equaled her." It was Draig.
Rhian slowly blinked to see Nara and Draig to the side of the bed. They looked down on her. "How be you feelin', love?" Nara asked.
Rhian nodded. "Better, the ache is less."
Nara snorted. "Ach, tis a good thing twas Lady Cait that did it then. She knows all about aches and pains from training so hard." She motioned to Draig. "You be off, you want to look good for the warchief and now tis women's stuff we do."
Rhian sat up and saw four women in an open area of the room. She looked to Nara who answered. "Tis Deirdre the finest dressmaker in the castle. Lady Cait sent her and I hear you agreed to wear a dress to supper some evening soon."
Rhian rolled her eyes. "Begods, twas a favor she asked. I didna think she would remember, let alone get to it so soon."
Nara gave her a look. "I be tellin' you somethin', Rhian. Lady Cait never forgets nothin'. Tis a favor she asks, she never asks lightly. But you have a marker now and if you ask one of her she will grant it." She looked to the women fussing about and sat down on the bed and looked to her close. "Rhian, who is it you did dream about last night?" Rhiannon looked to the covers. "Twas it Lady Cait?" Rhiannon blushed. "Twas it real?"
Rhiannon looked up. "Did seem real, Nara. But it canna happen. I willna lose someone else. And she is the lady of the castle. Tis a fool's dream," she whispered softly.
Nara's face screwed up a little as she thought. "Tell me, Rhian. What do you feel when she is near?"
Rhian looked thoughtful. "Nervous, shy, conscious of her being." She glanced at her. "Please tell me this isna love, Nara. My stomach aches to hard."
Nara chuckled more fully and cupped her cheek. "Do you think if she advances, you can resist?"
Rhian swallowed hard at the thought of the beautiful dark headed woman feeling the same about her. "I donna know... maybe?"
"Then I await to see how well you fend her off. Because the attraction is mutual and she be Lord of the city and you be a subject. She doesna take no for an answer."
Rhian laid back down. "I should have stayed in Versy," she sighed.
Nara patted her thigh. "Well you are done for regardless if this comes to head. She knows of you and you canna run anywhere she willna find you. So get up and be fitted for a dress."
She did with a little more prodding. Deirdre had her strip completely making Rhiannon blush and the women lustful and envious at the same time. Nara supervised and she was pleased with Rhian's curvy but athletic form. Slightly heavy breasts, a nice but not over generous hip settled below a trim waist and full, round, firm buttocks and well formed thighs that took the silken cloth to her form and made her even more desirable. Two gowns. One in deep green like her eyes and another in cream white soft linen with deep red trim that set off the red in her hair. Both, they agreed with a low waist to ride her hips and a comfortable but form fitting top and a little low cut and curved to show her nice cleavage. Laces down the front to tie up once on, since Rhian was totally set on dressing herself. And deep sleeves with a bell cuff. Pinned on she looked into the mirror.
"Begods, I'm still naked." They laughed and she smiled and looked to Deirdre. "May I ask if a steel plate may be put in back to stop the unseeming pinches that will most likely bruise my poor behind if I go out in ta the crowd like this?"
Deirdre smiled. She was into her fifties and she looked to be well set with an overbearing girth. "Ach no. Tis payback from those who donna look as beautiful as you."
Rhiannon rolled her eyes. "Tis no fault of my own, good lady."
"Then tis no fault to me that your bottom get a good pinch from an admirer."
The dresses would be ready by the next day and Rhiannon begged out of supper in the hall. She was still stiff and didn't want to have to fidget under Lady Cait's gaze now that she admitted to herself she liked the woman and that the woman liked her. She rested on her bed as Nara said she would have something sent up from the kitchen.
Pretty fox. Gods, she called her that just like Old Jace said. She tried to think about the idea of being mated to Lady Caitlin. She would be Lady Rhiannon. She smiled. Begods, how silly. And what of later on when she came back before bed to work the ointment in again knowing what she knew now? She fingered her necklace. Old Jace said she would know the runes if she were truly to be her mate. She thought to the idea of curling up in her arms at night and having the beautiful Lady bed her like in her dream. Gods, she wanted it. But in the same instance she didn't. If she gave herself to Lady Cait and something were to happen to her... it would kill her. And there could be no heir save kin since she couldn't bear her one since only she could get her with child as her Lord. And that was impossible since they were both women.
She rolled onto her side and curled up. And she would have duties about the castle and to Cait and her freedom to ride and work in the stables, gone... She frowned. Going back to Versy didn't seem so bad anymore.
Dark had come and Rhian pulled herself out of her reverie. She didn't know what she was going to do about any of this, but at the moment she was hungry and nothing had come so she pulled her boots on, combed her hair and headed for the kitchen. As always it was down and in the back of the castle with a huge heavy door leading to an entrance for supplies to come and a few others going out to all over the castle. She knew the serving of the hall would be over and dessert left. The kitchen was noisy and there was yelling and hollering. Rhian dared a slight peek. An angry man with a portly belly the size of a boulder was yelling at a well set woman in an apron and she was holding her own by yelling back. The door squeaked a little and the two looked at her as all the underlings scurried away now that their attention was on someone else.
"Begods! Not another one!" the man yelled. "Away with you harlot!" Rhian blinked confused. Who was he calling a harlot? He thundered across the kitchen. "Did ya not hear me?! Away!"
That was enough for her and she backpedaled back up the stairs. Well... she had never seen the city itself. Maybe it was time. She grinned and felt her purse tucked underneath her belt. She had enough for supper and maybe a few small items she needed and she would get a treat for Ula. She headed back to her room for her long dagger which she placed at the small of her back so it wasn't so noticeable. She tied her hair back and her travel cloak and headed for the gate. The guards noticed her too well.
"My lady," they both bowed and the woman guard at the gatehouse looked down and smiled.
She nodded. "Good sirs. The gate isna closed so early, is it?"
They looked concerned. "Tis not good to be roamin' the streets after dark, milady," one said to her.
She smiled. "Only to stop at a vendor good sir. Twill only be gone a moment."
"I donna know, milady. For one as fine as yourself."
Rhiannon smiled an the dagger slid out and she flicked it around easily. "I know my way around the streets. Tis the first time for me livin' in a castle."
"Ach, my head if you are hurt," the guard replied. There had been talk in the barracks about the beauty, and about her in Lady Caitlin's presence for the better part of the day.
Rhiannon smiled. "Hardly. Tis only through my kin's mate that I be here. Twill be none the wiser that I even be gone."
Even with their misgivings he let her through. She made it through the gate and into the city. This was better. Cutthroats, thieves, whores, common folk... and no Lady Cait to confuse her thoughts for the time being. She set off making sure her purse and dagger were hidden and secure. She found a respectable inn. Inn's she knew very well and she found a seat to herself in the back.
A man well dressed in home spun clothes with a bit of boughten mixed in to show his place did fairly well came up with a half apron on slung about his waist, it was a little smudged and dirty from a hard day's work. "Aye, lass. What can I do for ye?"
"Whatever is for dinner, if you have some," she told him.
He looked her over. "Be ye clan blood?" Clan was nobility and though many didn't belong to a clan, people dressed nicer with noble kin on the lording seat.
She nodded. "Kelan. But I didna grow up here. In the northlands, my da was an innkeeper and the head of the branch. Your place does remind me of it."
That got him interested. There were branches even of the O'Brennans out of Caerloach. But it was rare that they go. "Who was your da?"
"Weylin Padraig Kelan."
"From Kel Glaghna?"
Now it was Rhiannon's turn to be interested. "Aye."
"Did journey north for a spell ten summers ago to Eire. Dirty place it tis. Me wife is from there. Found Kel Glaghna and did think of stayin'."
"Tis good you didna."
He nodded. "All of Versy and Teyrnon mourned the massacre of Kel Glaghna. Though I didna know there were any to come from it alive."
She nodded. "Me and my brother tis all."
He patted her shoulder with a strong hand and she winced to herself since it was stiff. "Where you be stayin'?"
She sighed. "At the castle. My brother's mate has come to be Lady Chatelaine to Lady Caitlin. But I tell you, tis common folk I prefer to be around. You know what's coming and puts me well to ease."
He laughed. "Aye, but all of Teyrnon is proud of our Cat of Caerloach. And a fine woman she is. I think she be a better Lord of the city than her da. May he rest in peace."
Rhian nodded. "That she is. I have nothin' but respect for the Lady." He moved off to get her and plate and Rhian almost wanted to put her head down on the table. Nothing but respect... and passion, desire, longing, awe, fear... the images of her dreams came again and she shivered. "Begods," she whispered.
She was halfway through a nice dinner of meat stew with a chewy flavorful slice of bread when a poor looking family came in, not much better than street fair. She remembered when Draig took her to Eire with nothing but their name. He got on as a common soldier working for almost nothing to pay for a room at a hovel of an inn and enough for a magi and elixirs to help her heal and the two to eat. She cried in his arms every night at the horrors of her nightmares and the pain in her arm didn't help any. She looked to this family. Three small children and the mother was with child again. The father looked in earnest for anything that could help. Work, a bit of food, whatever the innkeeper would give them. The innkeeper didn't have much but she didn't blame him. He had mouths to feed too. She wasn't hungry anymore. She stood and the innkeeper came over. "Is somethin' amiss?"
She smiled. "Nay, twas good, good sir. But I feel others need it more." She handed him a few coppers and a silver coin, almost all she had. "Give them what they need for their meal and a room if you would. And if the man has any soldier skills to find Draig Kelan at the barracks in the morning to see if he can get on."
He looked to the coins and fisted them. "Tis a kind person you are, milady. Most wouldna care."
She nodded. "I've been there. I know. I donna want to see others suffer when I can help. At least in my own small way."
"May I know your name milady?"
She smiled softly. "Tisna important, good sir. I hope to see you again."
She left and the man watched her leave and his mate came up. "Has put me to shame, she has." He looked to the coins, a third his night take and he had seen that her purse was not that full. "Get some supper for these folk, Moreen. And have Egan clean up the large room for them to sleep in for the next day or so." The young family looked to him surprised. "Tis a good woman and a fine lady that you should be thankin' the gods tonight for."
Rhian sighed. Well that took out most of anything she planned but at least she so wasn't hungry. And she felt pretty good. She found a late apple vendor with bright red ones. The woman looked almost to peasant class. "Apples? Milady?"
She smiled. "Aye, how much?"
"Five a half copper."
"Tis a fair price, good lady." She pulled out her purse. "Much business this eve?"
"Ach no, milady." She smiled. The beautiful woman had address her as a commoner and they both knew she wasn't. "Tisna the best, the crisp ones come in de fall. But I make do wiv' what I can."
"Tis a rough journey." She handed over the half copper and the lady let her pick her own. She slid three into a pocket in her cloak and carried the other two. She saw a young child no more than four behind the old woman. "I hope I do not sound misplaced, good lady. But tis yours?"
The woman cackled a laugh and Rhian smiled. "Nay, milady. Tis a waif me daughter be leavin' from her whorin' days before she caught the runs and passed on two summers back."
Rhian looked to the child. It was so dirty she couldn't tell whether it was a boy or a girl. And it didn't look healthy. She knew the woman couldn't afford a midwife to care for it. "Do you live on the streets?"
"Nay, a shack to the slums, milady. I canna care for the babe from me back. He must toddle after me an' the cart."
She looked to her. "I wish to help if I may?"
With her mind set on the woman and boy she tucked her cloak in the cart and helped them home then straightened up and cleaned the boy. Begods, he was infested with everything and she did the best she could. She made the woman tea and found the cleanest blanket she could and covered her lap and put the child to bed with a story. She gave her, her last coppers.
"Mayhaps this will find a laundress and midwife for the boy. I will come back to see what I may do further, if I might?"
The woman smiled gratefully. "Tis sent from the gods you are. Never has anyone cared like you have for a peasant and a sick boy."
Rhian smiled and patted her hand. "I must get back lest I be in for it."
The woman grinned. "Aye, the gates be closin' soon. You be stuck on this side if they are."
Rhian said farewell and hurried off with her cloak in hand. The guard was waiting as she ran up and they breathed a sigh of relief. "Tis best you hurry. All is going to bed soon, you'll not want to be missed."
She smiled at them. "Thank you."
They nodded and noticed her clothes were dirty. She made it up the back steps to hear a thunderous. "What do you mean she's not in the castle?!" That was neither Nara or Draig. It was the Lady Caitlin. Damn. Rhian set her shoulders. She didn't run her life. And she was fine. She kept on to her room only to be faced by the dark headed woman who came around the corner and the hard blue eyes filled with worry and anger locked onto her. "Begods, young woman! Where have you been?!" Lady Caitlin said angrily through clenched teeth. Her voice was deep and dark showing she was not pleased and a tremor of fear shivered through Rhian's spine at the timbre catching something deep down inside showing that it was pure fear in Caitlin's voice.
"Out. Did you need somethin', Lady Cait?" Rhiannon asked with a calm voice and polite air about her, showing that she wasn't going to let her intimidate her even though she was.
Caitlin looked to the woman. She looked like she had been doing hard labor, and though her eyes were wary she was okay. "You didna tell anyone you were leavin'! And you left alone in the night!" she replied a little more calmly but the darkness in her voice was still there.
"Twas the middle of the city. And there was no one to be tellin'. And I'm fine, my lady."
Lady Caitlin did the unexpected and hugged her close. "Gods, you scared me, Rhiannon Kelan. Donna do that again, I beg you," she said fiercely with a passion of worry to her voice.
"As you wish, my lady," Rhian replied. Gods it felt good to be held by her as she felt the strength and tension in the strong arms about her. All the reserve to argue back was gone and it was gone from Caitlin as well as she leaned in closer to catch a soft scent of warm leather and spice.
"You be needin' a bath," Lady Caitlin said holding her back. "What have you been doin'?"
Draig came around the corner and breathed a sigh of relief to see her there. "Rhian, where in the bloody hell did..." He looked to her clothing. "Who did you find now?"
Lady Caitlin looked to him then to Rhian. "What is this?"
Draig shook his head. "What was it, sprite? Not enough peasants in a castle to keep you busy?"
Rhian glared at him. "Tis not all peasants, you big bear! And donna you be talkin' bad about them. They did nothin' wrong for their lot."
Lady Caitlin cleared her throat before the siblings started arguing. She still had a hold of Rhian's arms. "What are the two of you talkin' about?"
Rhiannon glared silently at Draig. "Ach, don't you be brooding at me, sprite," Draig said. He looked to Caitlin. "Forgive me, my lady. Rhian has always been, by nature, very charitable. I canna take her anywhere unless she helps a couple of the downtrodden on the way."
That got him a hard kick in the shins from his sister and he grimaced leaning to the side to grasp where it hurt. Caitlin chuckled as she clasped her arms about Rhian and held her from doing him anymore harm. "You are quick aren't you my pretty fox?" she whispered to her. Rhian went still and Caitlin looked to Draig. "Best have Nara look to your leg. I'll get Rhian to a bath and see if her clothes are salvageable."
Draig snorted and flexed his knee at the sharp pain shooting up it. "Tis a good thing you can run fast, Rhian. And her clothes usually can. Ask Nara, she'll find someone who can take care of them." He left with a limp and Rhian hadn't moved.
"What ails you?" Caitlin asked.
Rhian moved a little and Caitlin had to let her go or hold her tighter which was exactly what she wanted to do. "Tis nothin'. I can find a bath myself, but thank you," she said quietly.
Cait nodded seeing that Rhian was uncertain about everything between the two of them. "I'll come by later and finish the ointment in your sore muscles then."
Rhian looked like she was going to say no when she saw the glint in Cait's eyes daring her to refuse. Slowly she nodded. "Very well." She stepped out of her reach and quickly headed for her rooms.
Cait scrunched up her face a little in thought. "Tis odd," she said to herself. "I have the feelin' my pretty fox has been dreamin' the same thing as myself." She tapped her lip lightly with her fingertips in thought as she muttered softly out loud to herself. "And her bear of a brother wouldna be tellin' her about the talk in the training field... Nara..." She rolled her eyes figuring out who had let Rhian in on the talk. "So be it, she knows I desire her. I know she feels somethin' for me. Begods what that might be..."
"Milady?" A servant said from behind her.
She turned and looked at him. "Yes?" she said smoothly as though she had known he was there.
He looked around. There was no one for her to talk too. "Did you need somethin'?"
She looked over his head at the wall since she was taller than him. "Send a bath up to Rhiannon's room. And have Aine take care of her needs."
He nodded and left, still with a confused look on his face at his lady's talking to no one.
Caitlin watched him go. She hadn't heard him. When she thought about it, her extraordinary senses had picked him up but she had been too preoccupied with Rhian and herself. She looked to the ceiling as though she could see the heavens. "If you're gonna bewitch me with the lady at least let me have my senses to keep us both alive for a good while," she muttered to any of the gods that might be listening.
Rhiannon was combing out her long, wet hair when there was a slight knock at the door. She was dressed in her nightgown and the servants had taken the bath she used away and Aine had gone off tsking about her dirty clothes. She moved to the door and opened it to find Caitlin there. Her heart went still for a moment as the dark haired beauty smiled.
"Are you ready?" she asked quietly with a warm, rich tone that made Rhian almost sigh out loud.
"Um, sure," Rhian said in a very unsure voice.
Caitlin came in and Rhian looked at her for a moment before she blinked back into her normal mind and shut the door. Caitlin found the ointment where she had left it and turned back to her. "You look much cleaner."
Rhian nodded, still a little out of it. "I feel cleaner."
Caitlin smiled noticing the odd detached sound like she was stunned. Not that she hadn't done that to a woman before. She cleared her throated and Rhian totally snapped out of it. "Shall we?" Cait said holding up the bottle.
Caitlin was impressed with how Rhian got her nightshirt to her waist and she didn't see a bit of curved chest. She settled down on the edge of the bed and began to work the ointment in on the supine woman. "So, what was it you did out in the city this evening?"
Rhian opened her eyes just a little. Her hands felt so good on her back. Stop it! she told herself. None of that! "Nothin' much," she answered.
Cait looked at her oddly. "Nothin' much got your tunic that dirty? Begods, you must look a fright when actually doin' something."
Rhian smiled and chuckled softly making Cait smiled back as she rubbed lower on her back into the graceful curve of her spine, and Rhian did sigh as Cait released some of the nagging ache that sat there. The two were in a comfortable silence as Cait worked on her arms. "Roll over," she said to the relaxed young woman.
She did without a second thought and Cait moved over her to get the upper chest muscles as Rhian opened her eyes and the flash of the dream she had last night came to her mind where they were in the same positions. She gasped and Cait gave her a soft smile. "You've had the dream," she said softly. She leaned over sliding her strong hands beneath Rhian's back to lower herself slightly against her body and she kissed her. It was a soft, tender kiss. One filled with promises of many more to come. Blue eyes gazed into green for a space in time. Cait kissed her once more then she was gone.
Rhian blinked as the door shut quietly. What just happened? She covered her eyes in disbelief at the way that kiss made her feel. She looked down to see that she was bare from the waist up. She had been so relaxed by the lady's presence and so caught off guard by those eyes and that kiss. And then she left... Rhian sat up and looked around, the ointment forgotten on the side of the bed and she was all alone.
"She left," she whispered softly. Was she relieved or hurt by the sudden departure?
Caitlin O'Brennan paced in her chambers. They were huge and decorated pretty much like how her father had left them. In rich red colors of the O'Brennan clan with a huge master bed and a space for study and work as the lord of the castle needed. Another space for sitting by the fire in comfortable chairs and a separate space for bathing. And the last, the presses with clothing. She paced from one end to the other. Her face indecisive. What was that?! She had the most gorgeous woman she had ever seen in her arms in a soft, beautiful setting and she left!
She glared at the ceiling. "I donna know what's goin' on, but begods you better make good of this!" she hissed like a cat that had struck and missed it's prey.
Cait crumpled into her favorite chair and stared at the fire as she gnawed lightly on her clenched fist. Right at that moment she would of had Rhian deep in the bed covers. Kissing and stroking and... she growled in frustration. She couldn't go back, as much as she wanted to just stalk right back down the hall... the mood was gone and Rhian... she didn't know what the gentle red head would think of this. Cait leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and she rubbed her face and stared into the fire more. It was going to be a long night.
Rhian tightened the cinch on Ula's saddle. Her horse looked back at her as to her mistress' anger. Rhian grunted. "Doncha be lookin' to me like that, Ula." She looked up at the castle still in the predawn darkness of early morning and pressed her forehead against the care worn leather. The dream had come again and like the night before she had woken up in a sweat. And the kisses Cait had bestowed on her... "Tis a curse, you think?" she whispered to her horse. Ula snorted out a little hay. "Aye, I be thinkin' that too." Rhian agreed.
She checked her long dagger and her bow and quiver of arrows. She had to get away, even for the day, from Teyrnon and the enchanting blue eyes and soft touch of the beautiful Lady Caitlin. She looked through her saddlebags and found enough there to last her and she absconded a few coins from Draig to buy a few things in the market since it seemed like the kitchen was off limits.
"Whatcha be doin'?" a firm but kind voice asked.
Rhian jumped slightly at the voice and turned to see the woman from the kitchens yesterday. The one the man had been yelling at and then had yelled at her. "Nothin', just taking my horse for a ride."
The woman's brow furrowed. "You were the one at the door last eve."
Rhian nodded slowly. "Aye."
The woman looked her over. "Ronald has a lashing tongue. And you donna look like a harlot." Rhian was silent. "What's your name?"
Rhian looked to the dark brown headed woman. She was a bit on the heavy side and she was slightly pretty and her face seemed trusting. "Rhiannon Kelan."
"Ach, a Kelan. Nara's kin?"
Rhian nodded. "Tis my brother's mate, she is."
The woman smiled and she was much more pretty. "I be Annwn Moore. Head Cook of the castle."
Rhian nodded. "A pleasure."
Annwn looked to the beautiful, slight young woman. "Tis still dark out. And I havna made breakfast. And you look to be settin' out for an all day ride."
Rhian shrugged. "So it tis."
"You plan to go hungry then?"
Rhian glanced at her. "A bow tis better than for just shootin' at targets."
Annwn gave her a stern look. "Ach, Nara would have me head on a platter if you went with no breakfast and something in your pack for midday."
Rhian shrugged again. "Donna worry yourself over that. I can take care of myself."
Annwn snorted. "I donna doubt that. But I'll not be sending a young, slight thing like you off with nothin' in your belly." Rhian looked like she was going to argue. "Ach, you may be Kelan, and tis respected in the O'Brennan clan. But you're a mite to my summers gone I willna take any lip over it."
Rhian saw she meant it and she moved from her horse. "For a moment then."
Annwn looked her over. "Tis no softness on ya 'cept what the gods gave ya. Just like Lady Cait only she has worked most of that off as well." She headed for a nearby door and Rhian followed her in.
The huge kitchen for the castle was bustling with servants and undercooks to Annwn. There was a large empty table near the huge fireplace back in one corner. "Be sittin' yourself unless you want to help."
Rhian raised an eyebrow. "What help would that be?"
Annwn looked to see she was serious. "None, now that I know you're not a lazy one like most clan women in the castle. Twould be a delight to see the Lady Cait get them up and do some good about the place." She waved to the empty table. "Be seatin' yourself." Rhian did, taking off her cloak and laying it to one side. "Do ya always wear weapons about?"
Rhian felt the dagger at the small of her back. "Nay, outside tis a must."
Annwn looked to her as she sliced some hot bread. "So you know how to use it then."
Rhian nodded. "Growing up with three older brother and my da. I didna have much of a choice."
Annwn swatted the back of a young man's head who was watching Rhian instead of his work. "Lonnie, what are ya doin'?! Donna be staring at the lady when there's work to be done!" The young man scuttled away. "And donna be starin' at her so anyway!" she finished. "Begods! You think he'd have seen a beauty such as yourself before now."
Rhian looked to the table. "I'm surprised most donna look at Lady Caitlin that way."
Annwn looked at her and most of the people in the kitchen were wary. "Ach, tis a roamin' eye that will get you a black one soon after Rhiannon."
Rhian looked up. "Rhian, if you don't mind."
Annwn smiled and set a trencher of bread soaked in a thin gravy with thick slices of meat on top of that in front of her. "Rhian is tis then. But ya are right about the Lady. Tis a beauty she is. But tis a handful of fierceness in her as well. She's na called the Cat of Caerloach for nothin'." Rhian nodded as her mouth began to water at the delightful aroma of the meal in front of her. She sliced the meat and the bread through and took a bite and Annwn looked to the beatific look on Rhian's face and laughed. "Tis a good thing I called ya in." Rhian smiled as she chewed. "And donna let that pompous ass Ronald be drivin' ya out. He's scared ta death of Nara. And I be thinkin' the Lady Cait would have a few words with how he be treatin' the women of the castle." She snorted as she set down a glass of warm milk by Rhian. "Harlots, begods. Twas harlots about, Lady Cait would send them away."
Rhian ate as she listened to Annwn tell about the castle and the people in it. She finished the whole trencher off and felt much better than she had before. She waited for Annwn to stop talking to get a word in edgewise. "How long have you been at Teyrnon?"
Annwn looked to her. "Goin' on about twenty summers now. Came in when both Lady Cait and Nara were to me thigh. Even then Lady Cait was a wild one."
Slowly servants started to send trays about through the castle as people were starting to rise, Rhian stood ready to pick up her used plate to help. "Donna worry about that," Annwn told her. She handed her a good sized parcel filled with food for at least three people for a meal. "Are ye goin' with someone?"
Rhian slightly shook her head. "I'm used to bein' off to myself for a spell."
Annwn nodded. "Then the castle is a might different than what ya be use too. And donna go too far out. Raiders and a bad lot they are wanderin' about. Tisna safe for anyone."
Rhian nodded slowly. "Aye, thank you Annwn. Twas a delightful breakfast and conversation."
Annwn smiled. "Tis good to have one who appreciates me cookin'. Lady Cait would eat anythin' as long as it weren't burnt or raw. Though the raw I might be thinkin' twice about." She touched her arm gently. "Come here for breakfast anytime, Rhian."
Rhian smiled. "Thank you." She headed out and Annwn watched as she untied her horse in the dawning light and mounted easily.
It wasn't too long before Nara herself came looking for Rhian only to find out she had gone riding. Annwn could see Rhian was confused at being here. What was more intriguing was when Lady Cait come down a moment later after Nara had left to ask if she knew where Rhian had gone riding too. Annwn smiled to herself as she rested from her busy morning with a cup of cold cider to the look on Lady Cait's face and the curious one from Rhian about the Lady. She chuckled softly and thought about a pool to be going for the couple.
Rhian made it out of the castle gates easily enough since it was a new watch and they didn't know her. Carts were being pulled out and a few early risers out on the streets to begin a new day. She nodded to a few people who nodded in respect to someone from the castle. She made it easily through the cobblestone streets to the city gates which had just opened.
The head guard looked to the young woman and saw she was alone. "Tis dangerous out on your own, milady. Lots of raiders through the pass and none of them be lookin' with a kind eye to ya."
Rhian nodded and patted her horse. "Thank you for the warning, but I donna plan to go near any raiders today."
The guards looked past the beautiful face to the shy humor and they smiled. "Stay toward the road. Plenty of scouts and guards to watch the travelers, milady."
Rhian nodded. "I'll do that."
Once they were out of sight she let Ula pick her pace which was a nice easy canter. Rhian sighed. The sun was climbing and the slight chill of the morning wind flowed through her hair. She saw the beautiful glade to the west of the city walls and sighed. She had only gone to the edge but it was a sight to behold with it's ancient trees and high grasses that could whip about your knees. And she could have sworn she heard a waterfall back within the mountainside. She blinked as she caught her breath looking at it even from where she stood now. The glade was the area in her dream. She clenched her fist holding the reins and swung Ula to go closer off the road.
The trees were just like she saw and the
grass was still wet with dew, but not as heavy as in her dream. She shivered
and looked to the castle which now outside the walls wasn't that far away.
She hadn't seen the glade in this much detail when she passed by a few
days back. She swung Ula back and headed for safe ground for them to ride
on. She looked back once more and shivered as her body responded to her
thoughts. "I be thinkin' a cold bath might be in need, Ula," she said to
Continued in Part 2