Midday - 16 March 2021
Colleen had plans for the day when she drove the Rover through the gates at the end of the drive. A quick glance in the mirror showed nothing behind her and the four wheel drive vehicle was tossed in reverse. The Land Rover rolled back through the gate and stopped. Something felt wrong, like a storm churning in the air. "I'm not dressed fer auto repairs," she muttered as she climbed out to check the tires. The crunch of boots on gravel just outside the boundary of her land had her attention. She straightened slowly and was met with the image of a strongly built man with a familiar face. Her eyes rolled back and she shook her head. "Not a good choice fer a disguise. Now, tell me who ya are 'n' what ya want afore I remember who I used ta be."
"It's who you used to be that I require. We rode together in battle, you owe ..." He took a step forward and was thrown back once he connected with the perimeter ward.
"I owe ya nothin'. I owe nothin' to the Lord ya once served. Ya betrayed yer kin then 'n' ya'd do it again. Even when ya were on leadin' strings ya were selfish little shits. The pair o' ya."
"What of you? You were our queen."
That remark caused the redhead to break into fits of laughter. "I was never anyone's queen. Unless ya count on the chess board."
"You taught my sister that lesson, Lady, but she's dead now."
"How?" Collie didn't let the ache in her heart reflect on her face. "What happened ta Merilee?"
"Assassinated." He couldn't help the malicious smile on his face that spoke to his elder of betrayal of yet more of his kin. "We've come for one of your blood to lead."
"No." Nothing else, just a single word.
"No? You tell me no?"
"Gérard, get the dung out o' yer ears." Colleen's expression hardened. The words spat from her lips like venom from a viper. "I watched a lot o' people die serving yer Da. He was a good man and deserved better than what yerself 'n' yer turncoat cousin did. I buried yer parents. I didn't end that war fer ya ta start another."
"I want them or I'll take one of yours!"
"Them..." the light suddenly dawned for her, a child for child, "if I had her children here, yer body would already be writhin' in death throes. Unless ya forgot what it is I do now."
Arms across his chest, Gérard remembered.
Winter foliage and flowers were appearing as the summer ones faded in the garden where Gérard paced. A marriage had been arranged with the Duke’s younger granddaughter. While she would have a considerable dowry, children born to them would be secondary to her sister’s line. He would do his duty to family and wed the child, but once there was an heir, he planned to avoid her. Maybe even be rid of her somehow. The marriage was a convenience, a political alliance. He needed to tread lightly. Even the invading English soldiers avoided this bit of Irish ground. The rumor was the family guarded a gateway into the lands of the Faire Folk. Better to not tempt fate and at least give lip service to an old religion.
Unlike her sister, Celia was a demure creature always trying to please people. She made no complaints to her grandparents about their choice for her. The fifteen year old Count seemed a good prospect. But was he?
Gérard studied the lithe figure as she approached and pictured what a beauty she would become in a few years time. She could give him children, he thought. The other one could have made him a Duke in time, but she’d have been harder to control. There were stories aplenty about her riding with men and how she was training with weapons. She was said to have been somewhere between Aoife MacMurrough and Boudicca. Neither of those women would have fallen prey to his prey to his schemes. Better she was in Scotland, she was as wild as the Picts.
Even now, someone advocated against him.
Within the walls of the keep, the older of twin girls had finished reading aloud. The thirteen year old’s fingers curled around the rough ones of her grandfather. He’d been ill for some time. While it was hoped he would recover, his wife and two granddaughters had kept a vigil. The girls attended to his meals and read to him at various times of day. Other things were left to his wife and the servants.
“Please don’t make Celia marry that man. Another husband, someone that will treat ‘er better. He means ‘er harm ‘n’ ya know how ‘n’ why I know this! He’s….” the words stopped as she saw red.
“He will treat her well ‘r ‘e knows what ‘e loses if ‘e doesn’t.” He brushed hair out of the girl’s eyes. “My Katie, there’s a marriage in the makin’ fer yerself, too.”
“I know.” She nodded solemnly. “Scotland was m’father’s home. I’ll be fine there. Yer sendin’ ‘er ta France! She barely knows please ‘n’ thank ya in that tongue. He’s evil.” She scowled. “He’s that serpent’s tooth o’ a child that’s been warned o’.”
“The bargain be already struck, m’girl. There’s no goin’ back, now.”
“There’s another way.” She squeezed the old man’s hand, sending warmth into it. “He has brothers unpromised ‘n’ half-brothers. Ya owe ‘is father not him.”
“Some o’ the brothers are promised, but ta the church. Better France than the presented alternatives, Richmond ‘n’ Somerset.”
“Hrmph,” she grumbled. “Last thing they want is the likes o’ me within a hairsbreadth o’ a chance bein’ Queen.”
“Last thing I want is yerself caught up in that family. When a man puts his wife aside…”
Holding up her free hand, she waved it twice. “I know.” She closed her eyes as something sunk into her often thick skull. “This is about t’other place, the Otherworld.” A low growl of frustration escaped the young teenager before she murmured to her grandfather, “Ya could’ve told us ‘n’ saved a lot o’ trouble. It explains that man out there ‘n’ much more.”
The sisters made their preparations and were sent off to their new homes. Neither would be in attendance at the other’s wedding. Gérard Boulanger knelt at the altar of the already aged church named for Saint Denis. His fingers curled around his bride’s as the nuptial mass was spoken in Latin.
Latin was a language Celia understood well enough. Her response to the question of whether or not she would marry the man beside her, however, was a simple, “Oui.” She had come to terms with things. As Comtesse Boulanger she would be expected to run the household and fill her primary duty, to give birth to at least one heir. By the end of that summer, the impending birth was announced.
Midday - 16 March 2021
It was a while before either spoke again. Colleen’s left foot pawed at the ground like an agitated horse readying to fight. “Come ta the point, Gérard. What. Do. You. Want.”
“I want my inheritance. I’ve come to you to claim it.” The words were hissed at her through clench teeth. “By force if need be.”
She pressed her thumb against her left temple and used the fingers of the same hand to massage the other temple. “Yer tryin’ m’ patience, man. I have plans fer the evenin’. I have nothin’ that belongs ta ya. The things yer father left behind, that I claimed, were given ta me by him on his deathbed.” Her eyes narrowed. “Ya remember that, don’t ya? Ya put ‘im there.”
His brows lifted and that sick twisted grin appeared again. “It was you then.”
“When he died, ya mean? Aye, I was there. So was yer sister. I should say half-sister. Seems ya killed ‘er, too.”
“She was …”
“He named her wit’ his last breaths. The others were dead ‘r like yerself turned out ta be ... missin’. Merilee was the last one standin’.” She could feel his rage as he realized the failure of his plans had been of his own making. “What’s the trouble, Gerry, lad, someone walk over yer grave?” Sarcasm dripped.
“I’ll return with help if need be, Lady. Those artifacts are mine.”
“Do that, but if it’s a war yer really wantin’, yer should remember how the last one ended. I still have a standin’ army.”
He broke into fits of insane laughter. “Your army is being led by a child! She’s barely out of swaddling…” Before he could finish the sentence, a line of freshly fired arrows were lined up like pickets just inside the fence line.
“Tangod haid!” she called out to the unseen archers. “That child is not much older than I was when ya first laid eyes on me. I want ya ta think back ta what I was capable o’ doin’.”
The Frenchman blanched. Those same capabilities were why he wanted to win her over.
“Mm.'' The noise was guttural. “Go home afore ya start another war. Ya don’t want ta be on the receivin’ end o’ that weaponry’s sting. I really don’t want the heir I have in mind ta need ta use it on ya.”
“You still blame me…”
((Author’s note: “Tangod haid!” is Sindarin for “Hold fire!”))
The sun had begun to set as the couple walked, hand in hand, through a meadow. She was silent as they paused to admire the view.
“What’s going on in that head of yours, lass?” He drew her to his side with one arm and kissed her temple.
“There was word from m’sister.”
“She’s well, I hope.”
Her smile quivered. “Her French is gettin’ better.”
“And?” he prompted.
“She’s got a bairn comin’.”
“That troubles you?”
“Aye, but not because we don’t. Her body isn’t ready.”
He was empathetic to her concerns and drew her closer. “You know that how?”
“I’ve helped midwives. They’ve tol’ me that just b’cause a girl starts ‘er courses doesn’t mean she’s ready fer carryin’ life in ‘er womb.” She rested her head against his chest. “Our mother was taken that way.”
“I ken that well. It’s why we’re waiting. Handfasting first. Marriage and children will come in time.”
“Aye, ‘n’ soon enough we’ll leave the comforts o’ this place.”
“Do you know the Laird of Dunvagen chose you?”
“I expect I do. Someone has ta keep that precious cloth from slippin’ inta the wrong hands.”
“Who better than one of the line that gifted it?”
“Hmm. He could’ve chosen m’sister.”
“No, Neamhnaid,” he shook his head, “you are stronger. You will always be stronger.
26 January 1534 - From the Journal of Catriona NicLeòid
Devastation is the only way to describe what one feels when they are told the person that shared the womb with them is dead. I don’t blame the widower for Celia’s death. I blame him for the coldness in his words when I saw him. I blame him for the lack of care and respect he gave her memory. I hate him for not even choosing a name for the child that died with her. With magic that can’t be spoken of, he brought their preserved remains to be buried in ancient hallowed ground. I might forgive one day, but I shall never forget. The loss of one that grew from the same seed will never truly heal.
(( Author's notes:
The cloth referred to is the Fairy Flag of Clan MacLeod. A little more on Collie’s association with that artifact can be found in Chapter 6 - Rhiannon Harker
Neamhnaid is Scottish Gaelic for pearl.
NicLeòid is the feminine form of MacLeod in Scottish Gaelic and meaning daughter of Leod.))
Last year, I was brought from the grandeur of Dunvagen to the little village near Lochs Shiel and Eil. It was there that we were handfasted at Beltane and were set to marry by the same time this year. Most of the sept treated me with respect. However, there were a few that had previous and imagined connections to my betrothed. They were not pleased to find another mare for the stallion to chase. With the exception of one, they came to terms with the fact that I had no more choice in the arrangement than he did. I held their hands as they pushed their bairns into the world. They began to give me their trust except her.
Maybe she now blames me for what he had become, rather, what he’d been revealed to be. After a battle, he laid close to death for days after what should have been a fatal wound. When he recovered, devilry was suspected. That woman looked to me, the outsider, as the source of the trouble. I did not bother to protest my innocence when she flew at me. She was ready for a fight that likely included biting and hair pulling. When I grabbed a long knife from the cook’s cutting table to defend myself, she backed away. I was not the delicate flower she thought me to be. No, Neamhnaid, you are stronger. You will always be stronger. I finally understood the full meaning of those words.
Banishment rather than death was the punishment. It has always troubled me when people are punished in some way for simply being different. People wish to destroy what they do not understand. With him being sent away, it was decided to return me to my people. Despite this, my father’s surname was never to be used for me again. It was the price of that bargain between my grandfather and Clan MacLeod. They have already chosen someone else for me.
Leaning one arm on the Rover’s hood, she tried not to let her growing weariness show. “M’answer is still no. Yer not gettin’ those things.”
“You will help me, woman, or I’ll take things from you again.”
“Don’t threaten me, Jerry. I’m too old fer yer games.” Her mind was racing as to how she could cross the boundary of her land and get through the warding charms to kill him before he could get to her. The risk to others if he got past her was too great. She would bide her time.
“Not going to ask?” The man’s twisted expression had returned.
“About what? Ya think I don’t remember m’sister ‘n’ the daughter ya should’ve been raisin’ together?”
Gérard stiffened visibly. That lost child had been his only offspring in half a millennium. It was as though he’d been cursed to never have more. He blamed the woman before him for that. Had she cursed him as revenge for her own pain? If she had, her vengeance was well deserved, but how could she have known? Had she ever learned the real crime he’d committed? That sin on his soul that could never be forgiven as long as he lived. “The daughter I took from you. I could take another just as easily.”
Her eyes narrowed then her expression became unreadable. All those years ago, Shay’s death was thought to have been a case of mistaken identity. The girl had been five when she was found with her throat slashed. Having previously lost two sons - one presumed dead and the second stolen - before the girl, the third loss had been another knife in the mother’s heart.
Realization struck him as he clenched his fist. “You didn’t know.” Monstrous laughter came from him, but it didn’t last long. The hatred that appeared on her face caused him to rush back a few paces. That was the opportunity she’d been waiting for!
She was outside the boundary line in a moment. The warding acted like water and allowed her to become part of it as she moved through, no gap was open for him to enter. “You. Hideous. Bastard.” She enunciated each word. “Ya came here demandin’ aid ‘n’ weaponry from me ‘n’ when ya didn’t get it, ya finally confess ta murderin’ m’ child?” Laughing voices and hoofbeats were heard in the distance. The bodice dagger was at his throat as she hissed, “I won’t allow them ta watch me gut ya. Next time I see ya will be the last. Mark those words.” She shoved the big man back with one hand and a blast of magic she’d kept at bay for centuries. The glamour fell. What stood before Gérard Boulanger’s sprawled form was the visage of the Grandame that once stood as regent for the Court and family he betrayed … twice. Her mother’s line was of the Tuatha Dé Danann, ancient and powerful. She’d honed those gifts over time, but in Rhydin only the healing ones were known to be particularly strong.
Something else lurked under the surface of that angered woman that he didn’t recognize. He couldn’t move, she’d paralyzed him, and he had underestimated her. She hadn’t grown soft as he thought. Motherhood had changed her from a formidable warrior into a guardian force of nature. All he could do was groan.
Once she was certain the paralyzation spell had worked, she crouched and whispered, “That little girl o’ mine that ya killed, she’s one o’ the two reasons I made sure all those what come from me are ready fer things like yerself. Listen well, if anythin’ happens ta Merilee’s children, no matter who does the deed, yer the one what will pay.“ She brushed her fingers over the man’s temples as she caused a temporary memory loss to come over him. She helped up and got him on his way. Once Gérard was down the road a bit, she whistled for one of the farm’s dogs. “Finn, have the pups follow; you stay back fer now.” The dog with a wolfish face sent the younger members of his pack to watch the man.
It was only a moment, but it felt like hours when she heard a ghostly voice, “Why did ya let ‘im go, Katie?”
Colleen turned her head toward the voice and let go of the breath she’d been holding for what seemed like forever. “He did no’ fool me, Ce. He knows where those children are. Kill ‘im ‘n’ the knowledge dies wit’ ‘im.”
“Mmm… you always were better at plannin’ ahead. Beltane … that be the best chance ta cross in. Can’t hold a path open more ‘an a fortnight.”
“Dependin’ on how things go, might have ta call in help on yer side o’ things.”
Celia faded away as Colleen moved back across her borders. She needed to find those riders.
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest