Crossing Deadly Waters

Prologue
Twixton Manor – 1272

The end justifies the means.
The room was cold and dark; the fire, although it was burning fiercely, did little to abate the gloom. A low keening split the cool night air and was followed by a hysterical sobbing. The richly dressed man standing so deep in the shadows that it seemed as if he were composed of them, showed no signs of hearing his daughter’s distress.

A brief knock at the door was followed with the entry of a servant. His rigid back and carefully blank face sought to hide his trembling from his lord and master.

“M’ lord, the High Priest has arrived and is awaiting your summons in the antechamber without.”

The shadowman nodded tersely and gestured for the slave to show the man in. The priest entered, but did not bow to the warlord who had so terrified the nomadic tribes of the northern plains, nor did the shadowman bow to the priest as was usually required. Both men merely inclined their head slightly in respect of the other’s undoubted power. The priest was the first to break the silence, and both ignored the sobs emanating from a dark corner within the room.

“I heard tell, my Lord,” he crooned, making the title sound like the gravest of insults. “That you had a proposition for my… most humble order.”

The shadowman repressed a snort. Humble order, indeed! “You heard correctly.”

“Then you will know that there are… certain payments.” The priest’s voice had a habit of pausing to lend greater… malevolence to certain words.

The shadowman nodded again, he knew all this. “Would you care for a drink while we discuss my proposal.” It was not a question, and he did not wait for a reply before offering the priest a glass of good Vinesburg wine from the table nearby.

Both men sipped their drinks quietly, and as their silence filled the air, all that could be heard was the girl’s terrified tears. She was ignored and the conversation continued.

“Whom do you wish us to… discuss matters with?” asked the priest in silken tones.

“The Royale family of Aire… I would hope that after your discussions that they be… damaged. Permanently.”

“Of course. It is the nature of my humble order’s worship. Is that all descendants then?”

“No, of course not. You need only trouble yourself over the legitimate descendants, no bastard could ever hope to threaten my plans.”

“That makes… eight participantes. That is, if you wish to include the Queen?”

“I do.”

The priest sighed. “This venture will prove… costly.”

The shadowman replied by tossing down a bag which clinked heavily on the low table which had held the glasses.

“50 000 gold Kings,” he breathed softly, enjoying the irony of it.

The priest barely breathed as he murmured, “And our god?”

Finally the shadowman looked at his tear stricken offspring. “My daughter. Turned sixteen this past month – she will make a fine sacrifice for your god.”

The priest then started towards the poor girl with ill-concealed glee in his eyes and she shrank back, screaming.

“Is she pure?” he asked as he fondled and groped her body in the aloof manner of a stableman checking a pedigree broodmare over before buying.

“Of course,” replied his lordship, coldly.

“Very well,” sighed the priest releasing the girl. Looking into his eyes, the shadowman realised that the girl’s fear excited the man far more than her body ever could and it disgusted even him. “The price is acceptable, the j…”

“PLEASE! Papa!” Shrieked the girl through her tears, “ Father! Please don’t let him take me!”

Her father ignored her and addressed the priest, “I do apologise. You were saying?”

“The job will be done within the year. Consider your offering to The Shadow Lord accepted.”

The High Lord of the Northern Tribes, Warlord of the North and Scourge of the Plains nodded curtly. “Be so kind as to take your payment with you now. I am beginning to get a headache.”

The priest gestured to his accolades who had stood silently in the shadows ‘til this moment and they advanced on the shadowman’s only daughter. As they seized her roughly by her wrists, she began to scream in earnest. The High Priest of the Temple of Perpetual Shadows, otherwise known as the Order of Darkness, strode towards her and struck her viciously across the face.

“Save your screams for the temple, girl! [i]Our[/i] Lord loves to hear all screams!” and he chuckled as she was dragged from the room. He then made a mocking bow to the High Lord and left.

The shadowman sighed as silence finally reigned. As his serving man hurried to attend him. He smiled, a rare event and nodded at the door through which the High Priest had left the room, “I rather liked him really.”

He then called for a slave woman – he was bored, perhaps he could find some way to have her entertain him. As a dark smile curved across his lips at the prospect of raping a young beauty he left the echoes of his daughter behind him with a spring in his step; leaving the room to its lonely darkness, as the fire burned itself out.

Chapter 1
Southcastle – 1284

If you are brave of heart, you may overcome all hardship.

The sun rose over the sparkling waters of the Tigath River and struck the cobbled streets of Southcastle, beaming down upon the ramparts of the castle for which the town was named. Slowly it cast its lazy eye on a lone homestead on the outskirts of the town. The inhabitants of the homestead were, unlike most of Southcastle’s populace, wide awake and active. In a lean-to by the house, which served as a forge, a man with black hair dusted through with silver and arms like tree trunks was already stoking the fire.

In the courtyard beyond, a young girl of seventeen winters danced in the early morning sunlight. Her tawny hair which was tied back with a leather thong, flopped forward into serious grey-blue eyes as her lithe body, clad in worn hunting leathers, dipped and swayed to a music only she could hear.

First, she performed the dance very quickly with a grace and agility unusual in one so young, then she performed it again very slowly, each movement controlled and beautiful. Both dances hinted at strength and power concealed within her youthful body and both hinted that the one performing it was a force to be reckoned with.

The man stopped working for a moment to watch her, remembering the day she had learnt it. She had been only seven winters old, and yet even then she had had a stubborn streak that would rival a mule’s. For days she had watched the nomadic adepts from Kairon sparring against one another, and for days she begged them to show her their training regime. Finally, they agreed and taught her the dance: Tai Chi. It gave the body a strong work out which served to invigorate and release tension.

The man smiled as he remembered those days and as he watched his daughter he felt an acute sense of pride, but also of sorrow. He sighed, he could put it off no longer.

Despite this, he wished that he could live to see her in her prime, to see the beautiful woman that she showed such promise of. He also wished that he could protect his daughter from his past, but knew that he could not.

Glenn, the sole smith of Southcastle often called Glenn Smith, put down his tools and sat down in his chair with a weary sigh.

“Ally,” he called, “Come here a moment please.”

She stopped her dance and stepped towards him, “Aye, Da? What’s wrong?”

“Sit down daughter,” he murmured, “There is a tale I must tell ye’.”
Aline Smith, known to all and sundry as Ally, frowned and overturned a milking pail to sit on.

“Twelve years ago in 1272, the High Lord of the Northern Tribes invaded our land. His hordes were fierce and ruthless, they cared naught for honour nor the rules of war. The King’s Champion at the time, a knight called Sir Alwyn, called forth the kingdom’s armies and for a time it seemed like we would repel the invadors.

“But then disastor struck and the royal family: the Royale House of Aire, was slain. Killed by treacherous assassins, followers of the Shadowgod. Whilst the Kingdom was in turmoil, the High Lord’s spies managed to split our army. Soon all that was left was a small band of veterans loyal to Sir Alwyn. They were brave and they fought hard, but the numbers of the High Lord’s hordes were too great and Sir Alwyn’s Veterans were soon defeated. With the royal family gone and no army to deny him, the High Lord marched to The Holy City and there proclaimed himself King of Aire and The Northern Plains.

“He has ruled our lands for twelve years now, and in all that time he was occupied with repulsing attacks from the barbarians to the west and stopping rebellions in the Northern Reaches. But now he has signed a piece treaty with the men of the Westlands and has put down the last rebellion. His eyes now turn to the body of men who dared to oppose him; Sir Alwyn’s Veterans, of which I was and remain a member.”

Ally’s eyes widened with shock and worry, she loved her foster-father dearly and could not bear to think of him in harm’s way. But she bit her tongue and let him speak, for she respected him too.

“I haven’t much time left.” He gave a deep sigh. “Which is why I am sending you away.”

“No!” This was too much for Ally to contain.

“You will go to my brother’s house in Ealnor, you will be safe there as he was too young to join the army. You will go there with my love and affection and you shall stay there.”

“Father, how can you ask me to leave you to face this danger alone?” She exclaimed.

“I’m not asking, I’m telling. Your cousin is already on his way to escort you there, he left last week so he should arrive tommorow.”

“But Da!” She burst out impetuously.

“No buts! Now, I have a few last matters to attend to and I want you to take this letter to Swordmaster Foren up at the castle. Wait for his reply and then come back here.”

Ally refused to answer, but tears ran down her cheeks as she took the letter. Her father sighed and gently tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“I’m sorry, love. But I have to do this, I have to keep you safe.”

She nodded numbly, turned and stumbled out the door. Her earlier grace was forgotten, as her mind reeled. She made her way numbly towards the castle.

It did not take Ally long to reach the castle and she still felt like a nervous wreck as she staggered through the gate. As she was crossing the courtyard a cold hand reached out and drew her into the shadows. Ally looked up into a man’s face and shuddered. Her mind instantly cleared as she realised the danger she was in.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t little Ally Smith, all… grown up!” he breathed into her ear in silken tones. Then he smiled, which only made Ally shiver worse. Everyone in the town hated and feared Brother Eêtes, and no one wanted to know him well enough to know which order he belonged to. He wore dark grey woolen robes and his eyes were black, cold and oily. Everything about him was oily, in fact. His hair, his voice, his looks, his manners and as every girl over sixteen in the village knew: his god awful hands.

So far, Ally had managed to avoid his attentions. Until now, because now, those god awful hands were caressing her face. She tried desperately to pull away from him, but his hold was too tight and she, despite training everyday, could not pull free.

“Brother, please. I have business.”

He smiled again, “Your business will wait a moment. I am trying to work out who it is that your pretty face has put me in mind of.” He gave her a searching look and then his eyes widened, “[i]Now[/i] I understand, everything makes sense now! You are a fosterling, are you not?”

Ally nodded, terrified. She had not liked the calculating look in his eyes as he asked her that. Nor the way that the greasy little man suddenly seemed to emanate danger in the abrupt quickness of his movements.

“And how old are you Ally Smith?” he asked holding her eyes, mocking her weakness.

“Seventeen, sir. Or thereabouts.”

“Perfect!” he exclaimed and gripped her wrist even tighter, “Just you come with me young Ally Smith.”

“No, [i]please[/i] sir, I really must be going.” said Ally, struggling once more with desperate strength from this certain danger. She had heard tales of what happened to some of the girls who had allowed themselves to be drawn away by the brother. There was no proof, only rumours; but still she feared him with a deadly fear, more than anything else.

“Ally!”

The shout cut across their violent tug-o-war, startling the brother and allowing Ally to finally pull free. She turned and sprinted across the yard, into the blessed daylight.

“Owyn,” she panted and then smiled. She would rather die than admit to Owyn that she was afraid of anything or that she was upset, “have you seen Swordmaster Foren?”

Owyn frowned, ignoring her question for the moment. He was just past the age where his mind was beginning to notice the other sex and the dangers apparent for them, “Was he bothering you?” he asked gesturing to the Brother, concern evident in his voice.

“No,” replied Ally easily, tossing her long tawny hair over one shoulder, “At least, not more than usual.”

He nodded accepting this, as he always accepted anything she told him. Owyn was a year younger than her, but old enough to see how glorious she was in her youthful beauty. He was quite tall despite the fact being only sixteen, and although his blonde hair was cut short, it was not short enough to hide his gorgeous curls. His eyes, he had been told were the colour of the sea. He didn’t know whether this was true or not as it was a good two days walk to the shore, though if he had ever been there he would find that they were closer to the colour of the sky.

And he adored Ally. It was obvious to all but her and no one would be so cruel as to point it out. They would let the youngsters come to term with their own emotions, if they wanted advice, they would ask for it.

Owyn was panting slightly, and his face was lightly sheened with sweat. He wore a blue tabard with the Southcastle insignia: a white owl in flight on a shield of green. In his large, clumsy hands he held what looked like a toy sword.

Ally glanced at this, “Training?” she asked with more than a little sympathy.

“Aye,” he replied, “The town seems determined that as I am the only unclaimed fosterling left, I should have all the chances I can get. And old Foren has insisted that I take part in the training for soldiers. At least until I have an apprenticeship, besides – he says it’s good for me.”

“And so it is!” roared a voice from behind them, making them both jump. “He’s coming along well, as are you Miss Smith. Although you do favour the longbow,” He made it sound like a disappointment, rather than an achievement.

“I prefer it, Swordmaster.”

“Ah, well. You can’t have everything in life, now can you?” he laughed his booming laugh.

“I was looking for you, actually,” said Ally, suddenly sobering as she passed him the letter, “It’s from Da.”

The Swordmaster grunted, ripped open the letter and proceeded to read it’s contents.

“It says here that your father is ill and is sending you to his brother,” he smiled at her frown, “I gather you’re not pleased with the idea.”

“No,” she said shortly.

“It also says that his brother needs a new apprentice, he’s a carpenter, and Ol’ Glenn had you in mind for it, Owyn.”

Owyn, who’s heart had sank at the prospect of Ally moving away, could hardly contain his grin.

“I’ll take that as a sign that you want to go then, shall I?”

“Yes please, Swordmaster Foren,” replied Owyn a little breathlessly.

“I’ll be leaving tommorow. My cousin is coming to [i]escort[/i] me,” she sounded disgusted at the very idea, “and we can pick you up here at the seventh hour.”

“Good,” boomed Foren, “Now, I’ll go and organise some things for you Owyn, don’t be too long.”

“Aye sir,” he glanced hesitantly at her, “Aline. You do want me to come, don’t you?”

She smiled beautifully, and Owyn’s heart almost broke. “Of course I want you to come! I… I’m just worried about Father.”

“Of course,” He nodded.

“I should go back actually, Owyn. I’ll see you tommorow.” And with that she turned and sprinted out of the castle.

“Goodbye,” murmured Owyn.

Ally rushed in the front door crying, “Da! Da!” She was terrified that he had been murdered in the short time she had been gone. Glenn glanced up at her from where he was sitting; on the table beside him was a saddlebag packed full of clothes that she would need, a quiver full of arrows and her best longbow wrapped in an oil cloth and… a sword. He drew it from it’s sheath, it was light, its blade long and slim, and it was a work of art.

He smiled. “I have been working on this for a long time, it is my final gift to you.”

Ally was awe-struck as she gazed at the small gem in the hilt – a sapphire, her birthstone. “It’s beautiful, but how could you afford the stone?”

He chuckled, “I saved. And it’s not only beautiful, it’s functional too.”

She took the sword, resheathed it, and strapped the bundle to her waist.

“I have one more thing to give you,” he said softly, “That day I found you by the river, you were wearing this.” He handed her a beautiful silver necklace, a gorgeous elven intertwining symbol hung from a slender chain.

“I didn’t give it to you before now because it looks to be valuable and I wanted to put a new chain on it. The old one would not fit you now. It has your name on the back in common, but the rest I cannot read, it is written in some archaic language.”

Sure enough the tiny thing had letters engraved on it’s silver surface and on the back it said “ALINE”. Ally didn’t know what to say, finally she managed to murmur softly, “Thank you, thank you Father.”

It was amazing, this tiny link to another life, a different future. She couldn’t really remember her birth parents, they had been killed in all the chaos surrounding the Great War. All she could recall of her mother was a soft embrace, masses of auburn hair and a gentle singing voice; of her father, she could remember even less, just the feeling of being swept up into the air by strong arms and a deep throaty chuckle.

She put the necklace on and smiled at the man who had raised her, “I love you, Da.”

He smiled back at her. “I know. I love you too, heartling.”

Chapter 2
Southcastle – 1284

Blood ties you all.

Day came far too soon for Ally’s liking. As she made her way to the main room she could not help but hope that her cousin Diarmuid had been detained. Unfortuanately the door was open and she could hear soft murmuring from within the room. She paused outside the door to see if it was her cousin. She was a little curious about what he would be like, as she had not met any of her cousins before.

“I just don’t understand why you’re not leaving too.”

“The danger’s getting worse. With every year that passes I worry more, and I must stay here to protect your trail. I can not be sure that they won’t try to harm the people around me. Promise me you’ll look after her and the young lad.”

“About this boy, who is he? Will he be a good apprentice to Father?”

“Aye, he’ll be a fine carpenter. The poor lad hasn’t any family, never has. So be sure to care for him whilst he’s under your charge.”

Ally wasn’t sure that she should be listening to this conversation so she hesitantly walked into the room. She glanced distrustfully at the young man standing next to her father, but could not help but notice the fact that he was very good looking.

“Ah, Ally. There you are,” Glenn turned to the young man, “Diarmuid this is Aline. Ally, this is your cousin Diarmuid.” He smiled wryly at his daughter, for she was gazing at her cousin’s slim but muscular body in an almost worshipful fashion, not that he could blame her. Diarmuid’s dark hair and vivid green eyes made him a fine specimen for any young lady, and his skin bronzed from working in the sun only enhanced his comeliness.

He only hoped that his nephew would treat her infatuation with respect, but after a glance at Diarmuid he decided to be worried on Owyn’s account instead. Because Diarmuid was appraising his daughter in much the same fashion, his eyes took in her tawny hair, uncommon in The South and her bright, intelligent grey-blue eyes. They roamed approvingly up her slim girlish body, which was already growing to be more like a woman’s and less like a girl’s.

Then Glenn’s protective fatherly streak cut in and he harrumphed loudly at the pair. He prayed they would be discrete – for everyone’s sake. Ally however was liking the idea of travelling with her handsome cousin more and more; she felt no disappointment at the fact that he was her cousin as Glenn was only her adoptive father and besides, it wasn’t uncommon for cousins to wed in The South.

Diarmuid smiled brightly at her, flashing perfect white teeth against the dark tan of his skin, “I am pleased to meet you, cousin.” And he bowed gallantly, causing Ally to flush deeply.

“Eihwaz’s blessings on you,” she replied automatically, flustered.

“Are you ready to leave?” he inquired.

“Yes,” she said, still blushing. But she glanced at Glenn.

“Go,” he ordered and she rushed from the room.

She gathered her saddlebags and kissed Glenn goodbye. They had said all they need to say last night. Then together, Ally and Diarmuid rode off, but Ally glanced back over her shoulder at Glenn, one last time.

As their horses clattered into the main courtyard, Ally swung down from her horse and called out to Cook’s assistant to ask Owyn to come, if you please. She then turned to Diarmuid, “I’ll be back soon but I have to go and pay my respects to the Swordmaster,” and with that she was gone. She was just returning when she ran into Owyn and at the sight of her, his breath caught in his throat. Her face was flushed from running and her hair which had come loose from its tie was tumbling down around her shoulders; she looked magnificent and Owyn had to gulp before he could speak.

“Are we going then?”

“Yes,” she replied smiling, completely unaware of the effect she was having on him, “Go and get your things, Diarmuid will be wondering where we are. I’m just going to talk to Cook.” Owyn smiled reluctantly at this, [i]talk[/i] meant beg for food. But Owyn did not like the dreamy look on her face or the tone of her voice when she said the name, and he disliked Diarmuid even more when he arrived in the courtyard where the man waited patiently.

Tall, strong and handsome, Diarmuid cut a fine figure on his beautiful chestnut mare. A much finer figure than Owyn with his patched, second-hand clothes and the small shaggy southland pony gifted to him by the castle. The only new thing he owned was a sword and belt gifted to him by Swordmaster Foren. It had originally been for Foren’s son, but he had died in a border clash with the Westland many years ago. And so lacking a son the Swordmaster of Southcastle Keep, bequeathed it to Owyn, as good a son as he could ever have asked for.

Before Owyn could say a word to Diarmuid though, Ally had returned with flushed cheeks and a bag of supplies, gifted lovingly by the Keep. She vaulted on to her horse and gestured impatiently for Owyn to do the same. Owyn mounted clumsily and was barely in the saddle before Ally and Diarmuid had started off eagerly. Over her shoulder Ally called back, “Diarmuid, this is Owyn. Owyn, my cousin Diarmuid. Now let’s go!” and with that she kicked her black gelding into a steady canter, leaving poor Owyn behind in the dust as he tried desperately to kick his stubborn pony into a canter also.

He didn’t catch up with them until they stopped for the night, and the first thing that Diarmuid said to him was, “Try and keep up Owyn. There’s a good lad.”

Owyn contented himself with glaring and cursing under his breath while he gathered sticks for the fire. Diarmuid glanced at Owyn and sighed, “I’m sorry Owyn, we shouldn’t have ridden so fast.” Owyn glanced up, surprised and mumbled that it was alright. Ally remained blissfully unaware of this exchange and had unslung her longbow with a sigh.

They remained there all that night and Owyn and Diarmuid continued to surprise each other. Diarmuid was amazed to find such maturity in one so young, whereas Owyn was stunned that Diarmuid was not once condescending or arrogant. Ally, just basked in the company of good friends and tried not to blush to much when Diarmuid spoke to her.

Two days later when they stopped at nightfall, they had settled into a comfortable routine. Diarmuid set up camp, Owyn gathered firewood and Ally saw to the horses. Ally returned to the camp with Owyn in tow. They were laughing and chatting, Diarmuid watched them both and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach.

Just then, a young woman with hair the colour of fire rode into the clearing and vaulted off her horse, she was beautiful.

“Diarmuid!” She exclaimed, green eyes laughing, “I’ve been looking for you!”

Diarmuid’s attention switched to her instantly, “Skye!” He ran towards her and swept her up into his arms, spinning her round, laughing. He put her down again and kissed her fore-head gently.

“What are you doing here?” He asked, still laughing, elated with her presence.

“Well, maybe I missed you. Besides, you know as well as I do that anything you can do, I can do better!”

He grinned and turned, “Owyn, this is my younger sister, Skye. Skye this is… Where’s Ally?”

Owyn shrugged, “She said she left something with the horses.”

Diarmuid started after her, but Skye stopped him with a gentle touch on the arm, “I’ll go,” she said softly and left.

*

Ally watched Diarmuid embrace the stunning red-haired woman. She thought she wasgoing to be sick, so she spun on her heel and left. The tears came in fast floods, as she silently scolded herself.
[i]He can have a lover if he wants. I don’t even know him and he’s older than me. What does it matter to me if his girl comes with us?[/i] But secretly in her heart of hearts, she knew. Ally reached for the comfortable warmth of her gelding, Greylock. She buried her head in his mane, breathed in the musty horse scent of him and sobbed her heart out.

A slight cough behind her alerted her to someone’s presence. She swiftly dried her tears and spun to face them, praying that her face wasn’t tear-stained. The woman, [i]his[/i] woman, stood before her. She had beautiful red hair, gorgeous deep green eyes and an incredible figure, she might not like it, but she could certainly understand why Diarmuid loved her.

“Diarmuid’s my brother. He’s not my lover,” she said kindly.

“What?”

The woman smiled gently, “I’m your cousin.” Ally looked shocked.

“Reading my mind?” She asked bitterly.

The woman smiled again, “No, just your face. It’s a knack I have, but your face in particular is a very open one. What you think, your face expresses.”

“I’m sorry… I was rude. I’m Ally.”

“Oh don’t be sorry, I perfectly understand. But I’m very pleased to meet you Ally, I’m Skye.”

Ally flushed bright red as she suddenly understood the full concept of her cousin’s kind words, “You won’t… I mean, er, you won’t tell him, will you?” she pleaded.

Skye laughed and the sound was musical as she smiled affectionately at her young cousin. “Of course not! But come cousin, he’ll be wondering where we’ve got to, so dry your eyes.”

That night was passed with much merriment and songs, Skye was a good camp mate as she knew numerous stories and songs. She inspired the others to forget their fears for Glenn and enjoy the cool night air. It would not be long until such gaiety would be forgotten, but they would enjoy it whilst they could.

It was late in the morning, almost noon when they crossed the bridge of the Tigath river into the bustling settlement of Riverpass. Riverpass was smaller than Southcastle but a busy place nonetheless as its situation on the river made it an ideal stop for merchants and their barges. These barges populated the shores of the Tigath and travelled up and down its length constantly. At Southcastle, the river was too far away and too shallow to be much use for anything except lovely walks, but here at Riverpass the river broadened and deepened enough to be used for transport. Ally had never seen such a colourful place, so full of life and movement before, it made her own Southcastle look large and sleepy in comparison. She decided that she couldn’t wait to board one of the small boats manned by rowers used to take passengers to the small landing near Ealnor called Pita’s Landing, but once aboard the gently rocking barge she changed her mind.

Skye glanced at her sympathetically, “Oh Ally, you poor thing! Are you feeling sea sick?”
Ally nodded mutely as her face gradually took on a green hue, Skye quickly took her to the back of the boat and made her sit staring at the horizon. Diarmuid and Owyn were carrying on, trying to help the rowers and Skye glared at them, as if it were their fault that they were healthy.

Owyn pitied Ally because he had never felt so alive in his life. The open sky, the smell of the river and the sun reflecting off clear, glittering waters; he grinned, he could get used to this life. Then, with much splashing and laughing, Diarmuid and Skye, who had abandoned Ally, tried to teach Owyn to swim. He took to water like a fish, in that he couldn’t seem to stay on the surface and instead sunk. But after much coughing and spluttering he began to get the hang of it and could soon beat even Diarmuid in races up and down the length of the barge.

Chapter 3
Pita’s Landing – 1284

To love is to open yourself to pain.

It took them five days to reach Pita’s Landing and even that short space of time felt far too long for Ally. They had originally planned to travel straight to Ealnor, but Ally’s sickness forced them to seek shelter at Pita’s Inn. Pita was a warm woman of about thirty years and the Inn and the Landing had been in her family for generations; even the High Lord or “King” as he called himself could shake their roots.

She welcomed them to her house and gave them two rooms to share; Skye helped Ally, who was still green-faced, into one, while the two boys disappeared into the other.

The next morning Ally awoke feeling revived to an empty room. She walked cautiously downstairs to look for the others, and overheard Pita in the kitchen whispering furiously and another woman’s voice, deep and low.

“I tell you there is no one here of that description!”

“Then why did five people tell me they saw her and three others arrive here yesterday evening? Can you tell me that?” The unknown woman’s voice was soft and dangerous.

“Yes, they arrived here, but they are here no longer! They travelled on yesterday,” replied Pita sharply.

“I will go then… but if I discover you lied…” there was a muffled thud and Ally could hear Pita give a soft sob, “if you have lied, then your daughter will bear the same fate as your husband.”

Ally waited for the kitchen door to open and close, she watched a grey-cloaked figure leave the building and then entered the kitchen. Pita was huddled against the outside door, cradling a broken arm and holding a young girl in her uninjured arm. Ally swiftly spotted and got down a healing box. As she splinted Pita’s arm and calmed the young girl she asked her what happened.

“Folk looking for you,” gasped Pita, wincing at the pain, “But I’ll help no servant of the false King!” And she spat onto the floor.

“What did she mean about your husband? Who was she?”

“She was a follower of the Shadowgod, a temple of assassins and murderers and my husband was taken by them a year ago. He was one of Alwyn’s Veterans, they were going to torture him for information on the others, but he died rather than betray his friends” a tear ran down Pita’s face as she mentioned her husband and his bravery, but she did not seem to notice.

“What is this temple? I’ve never heard of it,” Ally’s face was steady, but she could not disguise the disgust in her voice.

“The Temple of Perpetual Shadows. They are followers of the Shadowgod, their Shadow Temples are spreading through the larger cities but, praise the Ealdor gods, there are none in the South except for Whitecliff Point. Their base is within the Holy City and they are killers for hire; their patrons do not pay them gold alone though, a sacrifice is offered to their god.”

“What do you mean a… sacrifice?”

“Usually a young girl, always a virgin; the sacrifice is tortured until the job is done. Rumours say that the sacrifice can not be killed until the job is done or the one who hired them is killed by the target’s own hand. And the fact that they are searching for you girl, is not good. You need to get out of dodge, and fast!”

Ally nodded soberly, “We’ll leave as soon as we may.”

Pita nodded, “I’ll pack you some food before you leave.”

Ally handed Pita a silver queen for her troubles and then left the room.

“Goddess bless you child, may you find yourself.”

*

Ally raced for her companions and found them in the common room playing Old Maid, swiftly explaining the situation to them they each departed to pack their things. They met in the courtyard below and after thanking Pita once more left via a back road towards Ealnor.

They arrived in the late afternoon to find Ealnor in uproar. A passerby shouted at them to watch themselves their was a fire at the Dyna’s, at this all colour drained from Diarmuid and Skye’s faces.

“Mama,” cried Skye and set her horse at a gallop down the crowded streets. Ally, Diarmuid and Owyn rushed after her and were in time to see the house, overcome with flames, collapse in on itself. Diarmuid fell from his horse and dropped to the floor in shock, but Skye let out a dreadful wail and threw herself at the remains of her home, screaming for her parents. Ally swiftly pulled her back and held her shaking form in her arms.

Owyn returned from talking to one of the fire officials, shaking his head, “They never made it out,” he said softly, “I’m sorry.” He then hung his head in shame, “I’m sorry” seemed inadequate in the face of Skye’s pain, but Ally gave him a thank you smile.

“We need to get out of here,” he told her softly, “we attract too much attention.” He didn’t tell her what else the fire official had told him though: that a woman in a grey cloak had been seen leaving the building minutes before it went up. She nodded and glanced about for Diarmuid, Owyn, seeing the direction of her gaze went to help the older lad on to his horse while Ally did the same for Skye.

In unspoken agreement they headed for the Ealdor Forest, most folk said it was haunted and they knew that no one would bother them there. They were looking for a campsite when the heaven’s opened and rain poured down on them. Skye looked upwards, thinking how appropriate it was that the weather matched her mood.

They found a spot and made camp in silence, but when the chores were done brother and sister finally allowed the tears to come and finally allowed themselves comfort in each other’s embrace.

“They never harmed anyone,” sobbed Skye.

Diarmuid gulped back his tears, he had to be strong for his little sister, had to protect her now, “I know love,” his voice was choked, painful and she took comfort in his shared pain.

After a time Skye drew back from her brother’s arms and reached wordlessly for Ally and Owyn’s hands, they all linked hands and, holding back her tears she carefully intoned the simple version of the prayer of farewells.

_“I call for the White Lady
For the Oak and Holly Kings.
I beg that you watch from wooded glen
Over these poor, lost souls.
Take them into your hearts
And love them well
For they are gone from this world
To a different realm.

Fare thee well, mother.
Fare thee well, father.
Fare thee well and Goddess bless.”_

“Goddess bless,” repeated the others.

“To aunt and uncle!” Cried Ally, observing the Ealnor custom of never speaking the names of the dead.

Then Skye turned away from the circle and allowed her tears and sleep to overcome her at last. Owyn shifted uncomfortably and tried not to begrudge Diarmuid Ally’s arms and comfort at a time like this. He turned and walked silently into the trees, hoping to give them some peace. He soon came to the conclusion that he loved this forest, it was beautiful, thick and full of graceful foliage. He heard the gentle murmurs of a river and made his way towards it, hoping to again practice his newly learned swimming skills. He found a stream trickling into a secluded, deep pool.

Owyn shed his clothes and dived into the water like an otter, sleek, fast and full of grace. He swam several lengths, trying to give the family in the clearing the time and space they needed to grieve.

Ally’s treacherous heart beat faster as she held Diarmuid tight against her, trying desperately to plug his tears with her warmth. Diarmuid sighed as the tears gently slowed and he drew Ally closer to him, wanting nothing more than to hold her forever and forget about the evils of the world.

Skye, waking and seeing them intertwined, crept silently away to sit by herself and think and remember. Her father had always been a bit of a mystery to her, but she had adored him as a daughter always adores her father. She had learned all she could from him, but had always felt a little uncomfortable around him. Skye was a very open and generous person, forever touching and hugging people on a whim, but her father was much more reserved. She couldn’t remember the last time he had allowed her to hug him.

Her mother on the other hand was more like Skye in nature if not in looks, small and dark her mother had taught Skye all that she knew about their magical healing gift. A gift that neither Diarmuid nor her father knew of. They feared witchcraft in the South and it was not worth the heartache of discovering that their family could not accept them.

“It as much a part of you as the colour of your eyes, as your personality. Promise me, Skye, that you will never reject or neglect it. A gift as powerful as yours is meant to be used.” Those were her mother’s last words to her, it was almost as though she had known her time was coming to an end. Skye sighed softly, she knew what her mother would say about her tears too, “Tears will always make you feel better, but nothing is better than someone who understands your pain.” She was glad that Diarmuid had Ally, she knew that Ally did understand, and Owyn too, up to a point, but he had never had parents so he couldn’t completely understand what it felt like to lose them. With a miserable sob, she realised that she was lonely in the company of friends who could never truly understand her unhappiness.

Owyn shook the water from his hair and dressed quickly in the cold night air. He did not see a shadow fall across the surface of the river, nor hear the stealthy footsteps behind him. He did not notice until a strong arm wrapped around his neck and another covered his mouth.

Chapter 4
Ealdor Woods – 1284

If you are brave you may go where angels fear to tread.

Faya blinked in surprise. Who was this youngling, who dared to swim in the Oak King’s sacred waters? She crept up behind him, intending to startle him and then box his ears for his audacity, but then she noticed those ears. They were rounded and had lobes, she pushed him away from her, hard and Owyn fell to the floor. He looked up at her, winded.

“You’re human!” she snarled at him, “How dare you come here! To our home and… and defile our holy places!

Owyn cowered, she was impossibly strong and fast, and incredibly beautiful, in an alien sort of way. He didn’t know what to make of her. Then she flicked her midnight hair out of her eyes angrily, and he saw them. Pointed ears, lobeless, the mark of an elf.

“You’re an elf!” Then he saw her eyes flash dangerously with rage.

“We are the Ealdor, human Blerseich!” she spat, “And you shall call us that!”

Owyn swallowed, this elv… Ealdorwoman was obviously much stronger than him and he did not wish to anger her further.

He gulped and spoke in a quavering voice, “Please, my Lady. I wish no harm to you or your folk. I apologise if my actions were…” he bit his lip, “if my actions were harmful to this place. I would never knowingly disrupt the balance of such a beautiful place.”

Faya’s frown softened, she could not stay so angry in the face of his sincerity. She scrutinized him again, looking closely at his youthful face. He was beardless, short but solid, with the beginnings of hard muscles filling out his shirt. He was only a boy, she realised, barely more than a child.

She smiled suddenly, and he was stunned; he hadn’t realised she was capable of it.

“Look youngling, I apologise for my anger. You may not have done as much harm as I originally thought and it may be that you can put it to rights again if you truly honour this place as much as it seems. We shall have to see.”

“I would like to help in any way I can, but… my companions?” he looked back in the direction he had come.

“Someone will guide them to our home, for now you come with me.” Then quick as a flash she had him pinned in her arms as she swiftly blindfolded him. His cries of outrage were muffled by her hand across his mouth once more and so she led him to the dwelling place of the Ealdor in silence.

*

Ally was ecstatic and repelled by turns. She was elated that Diarmuid had turned to her for comfort, but then she would remember why and be disgusted with herself. She sighed as she hesitantly ran a hand through his soft black hair, she could not help it she realised. She could no more stop her feelings than she could stop the sun from rising.

Diarmuid was concentrating on his pain because if he allowed himself to be conscious of Ally’s body, so close to his, he would lose his control completely. Ever since he had met her he had been keeping a rein on his emotions and he was afraid of what would happen if he let go.

I’m too old for her. And Owyn’s obviously in love with her, she probably returns his feelings but is too shy to acknowledge it. I couldn’t do that to him. He thought, and turned from this dangerous train of thought to the more recent pain of his mother and father’s deaths. A house fire! He could hardly believe it, his parents had been so careful to protect against fire.

Neither Ally nor Diarmuid heard the muffled footsteps behind them, they were each busy with their own private thoughts. They did not realise that they had company until they were pulled roughly to their feet and blindfolded.

Skye had been sitting in the gentle embrace of an old oak tree. She let the tears run down her face unashamedly and looked at her hands. They were her mother’s hands, Healer’s hands she had called them. Skye looked up suddenly and saw a swarthy young man grinning at her, white teeth flashing in the sunlight. Even locked in her sorrow she could sense the danger of the situation and her hand moved with lightning quickness to the three knives she kept at her belt.

She threw one at his throat, but he had already moved. With impossible quickness, he caught the knife as it spun through the air and was upon her before she could make another move. In a moment she was bound and blindfolded, by the stranger. The instant he bound her feet she stopped struggling wishing to lull him into complacency and also unwilling to injure herself.

The clearing was spacious and surrounded by beech trees planted in a perfect circle which left a wide gap towards the north. Stone seats also followed the circle on its way around and at the south sat a cold, stone throne with tow smaller thrones on either side. Behind the two smaller thrones was an Oak tree and a Holly tree and behind the largest throne was a large birch tree. The sun lit up the circle, making it shine with brilliance and the morning dew sparkled from the grassy leaves.

Faya knelt before the center throne with Owyn kneeling blindfolded at her side. He couldn’t see a thing, but he could hear women’s voices talking swiftly, gracefully in another language. Suddenly he heard a commotion at the other end of the clearing and turned his head towards the source of the noise.

“Audric!” Then heard a question in that other language and he was pulled to his feet and the blindfold was pulled roughly from his face. To his right he saw his companions and his heart bled when he saw the chafe marks of ropes on Ally’s wrists and ankles. Faya stepped towards him, but before she could say a word, Ally began shouting angrily at her captors.

“Who are you to bring us here in this manner?” She demanded, “How dare you! We have done you no harm!”

“Be silent Blerseich! You will speak when you are spoken to!” Shouted the swarthy young man who had captured Skye, he stepped forward to slap her but Faya caught his wrist easily and spoke calmly.

“Audric, they are our guests here and have every right to be angry.” Owyn was stunned to see Audric touch his forehead in a gesture of respect and murmur, “As you wish, clairseingha.”

Faya turned to the captives, “Untie them.” She spoke as a leader, one who expected to be obeyed without question. “We apologise for your discomfort, but we had need of you here and could not risk you either leaving or of revealing our location to the hated Lord-King.” She bowed to them and touched her forehead in that same gesture of respect.

“My daughter, you have yet to tell us what you do here,” said an the woman sitting in the throne. Her hair was snow-white with age but her body looked as young as a maid of twenty-one’s. Her voice, deep and musical held a hint of humour in it as she smiled at her new ‘guests’. Audric stepped away from them to stand before the throne on her left, he wore, noticed Owyn a wreath of Holly about his head.

“My mother,” said Faya kneeling before her, “I went, as is my duty to meditate before the Oak King’s waters only to find this man-boy had swum there.” An angry gasp ran through the crowd of Ealdor listening and the Queen delicately pursed her lips.

She looked at her daughter, “You know as well as I what this means Faya.”

“I do. Trial by Combat.”

Owyn blinked at her in surprise, “I thought you said I could set this to rights?” He asked her.

“You can,” she said softly, brushing past him, “Just don’t prove me wrong.”

Diarmuid knew better than to argue with the Ealdor, he just stepped forward and clapped Owyn on the shoulder, “Remember lad, they play for keeps here. Goddess bless.” The two girls hugged Owyn fiercely and had he not been worried for his life he would have enjoyed the feel of Ally’s slim arms round his body.

Audric stepped forward, and placing a wreath of Oak about Owyn’s head, he then stripped off to his waist revealing a leanly muscled body. Then he pulled out two daggers, one of which he handed to Owyn. Owyn too, stripped off his tunic and dropped low into a fighter’s crouch. He had seen Faya’s speed and knew that if this man was anywhere near as fast as her he would have little chance.

Skye bit her lip, she had seen first hand how fast Audric was. Suddenly she lunged forward and wrapped her arms around Owyn again as she did so she whispered in his ear softly.

“He’s incredibly fast, but he has a wound on his left leg. You could see him limping slightly, just remember, he may be faster, but you’re stronger and younger; make your own rules to this fight.” Owyn nodded and gently disentangled himself from her embrace before turning once more to face his opponent.

Someone struck a drum and Faya cried out, “Let the fight commence!” Owyn dropped low as he saw Audric’s muscles bunch. Audric’s leap carried him over Owyn’s shoulder and Owyn struck out with his knife as he went by. A shallow cut appeared along Audric’s side and he winced in pain before lashing out with his foot in a round house kick which knocked Owyn across the clearing. So much for me being stronger, he thought to himself as he leapt to his feet once more and turned to face the attack, suddenly remembering his adversary’s speed he threw himself to the left. A cut which would have gutted him instead sliced into his side and he lashed out, catching the older man in the shoulder with his blade. Then he punched the Audric as hard as he could knocking the slighter man to the floor.

Owyn felt like he had punched a brick wall, but he could see that Audric had felt the pain of it too. Chasing after him, Owyn leapt at the Ealdorman, kicking, punching and stabbing in a flurry of blows which Audric neatly blocked. Owyn wiped blood from his lip after a punch to the face knocked him back into the dirt. Suddenly he saw Ally and Faya standing together out of the corner of his eye. Ally had tears running down her face and turned away as if unable to bear it anymore, but Faya met his gaze squarely and he was shocked at what he saw there, worry.

Their fear for him gave him strength, and with a roar he leapt to his feet. He charged Audric, knocking him to the round. With one hand he forced Audric to let go of his blade and then he stood, triumphant holding both blades. Audric surged to his feet and struck Owyn in the chest, but Owyn merely winced and reaching up, struck the taller man a blow to the temple with his knife. Audric fell like a stone to the floor at Owyn’s feet and he stood there, bloody and victorious.

Faya stepped forward and laid a gentle hand on his arm, “The kill is yours,” she said softly and when he blinked at her in surprise she nodded at Audric. Owyn stared at her in horror, then he threw both blades to the ground and stalked out of the circle. Ally, Diarmuid and Skye made to go after him but the Ealdor Queen stopped them with gesture. Then she looked at her daughter, “Go.”

Faya knelt and lifted the Oak wreath from where it lay trampled and forgotten, then with quick easy strides she walked after Owyn.

*

She was not surprised that he had found his way back to the pool where they had first met. “Boy,” she called softly.

“Owyn,” he replied, “my name, is Owyn.”

She stepped towards him and swiftly tearing a strip of cloth from her tunic she dipped it in the water. Without waiting for permission she began to tend to his wounds. He allowed her to continue in silence, when he finally he spoke, he sounded once again like the man-child she had first encountered.

“Why?”

“Here we follow the Ealdor gods, the White Lady and her consorts. Every year the Oak King battles the Holly King for the honour of being her consort. The Oak King is the Lady’s summer consort and the Holly King keeps her company through the slow months of winter.” She paused to dab at a particularly bad wound before continuing.

“Our Queen has come to a time where she will pass into an advisory role and a new Queen will take the throne and lead our people.”

“You,” he said, his voice devoid of emotion.

“Me.” She agreed with a smile, “Audric was last year’s Holly King and his time was at an end, whenever the change is near the Queen or in this case the new Queen meditates before the pool of her consort to find the new king. In this case, I took it as a sign that I found you there.”

He looked at her, confused, “So what do I have to do?”

“Your duty. In five days time it will be the feast of Beltane and you will hopefully provide me with an heir.”

Owyn coloured and looked at the ground. Faya smiled, noticing, “You needn’t worry, we can tell your friends that it is a ceremonial position only. They don’t have to know.” But still he looked at the floor.

“Ohhh,” she said realising, “You have not yet lain with a woman. Don’t worry Owyn,” she smiled wickedly at him causing him to flush even deeper, “I’ll be gentle.”

*

In the days leading up to Beltane, Ally, Diarmuid and Skye saw little of Owyn as he was learning his role in the ceremony. Skye knew well what his ‘role’ included, but chose to keep silent for his sake. When they did see him he was quiet and introspective, Ally couldn’t understand it, but Diarmuid realised that Owyn was shocked with himself. He had almost taken a life, but what was worse was that for a moment, he had wanted to.

In reality, Owyn was terrified. Terrified of himself and terrified at the thought of making love to a woman who was not Ally, a woman who he did not know, or love. Faya seemed to realise this and spent much of her time in Owyn’s company. After a while he learnt to relax around her, and even to laugh and smile.

Chapter 5
Ealdor Woods – 1284

When duty calls, who will raise their head?

As the moon rose gracefully over the many fires around which the Ealdor celebrated Beltane, Faya lead the circle. With Owyn on her right and each Ealdor holding hands she raised her head and cried,
“Mother Moon
Goddess of light and dark
shining bright
hear our voices.
Father Sun
God of heat and warmth
gone from our sight
hear our call.”

Then the Ealdorwoman on Owyn’s other side continued the call,
“White Lady,
Oak King,
join us in our festival
grant to us a boon.
Hear our song.”

Then Faya and Owyn dropped hands with the others and walked towards the fire at the centre of the cirlce. Hands clasped they leapt across the flames, but once on the other side Faya dropped Owyn’s hand and with a beckoning gesture she ran into the night. Owyn ran after her as the circle danced to the insisting tattoo of the drum.

The circle dropped hands and began to dance, faster and faster they went, hands brushing and lips caressing at each pass. Faya led Owyn through the dance to the largest of the bonfires. Her body swayed to the beat of the drums in a way that can only be described as suggestive. Owyn flushed red as blood coursed through his veins and his eyes were on her alone. She gently drew him through the dance until they stood, staring, under the oak tree planted for this night.

“Owyn are you prepared to do your duty?” she asked, her voice hard.

Owyn flinched at her tone but then, as a gentle breeze shifted the oak leaves allowing moonlight to penetrate them, he saw her eyes. Wide, worried and full of fear.

Strictly to ease her worried mind and certainly not because of the pumping in his veins, he answered softly, “Yes.” And then he lowered his mouth to her own. Fire surged through his entire being, sending his mind reeling. He could not tell whether it was the kiss or the magic in the night air that made his blood dance, but he did not care.

Ally, who until now had never been far from his thoughts, was not in his mind at all. All he could see was this beautiful woman in his arms. He was lost in the feel of her, the scent of her, Goddess, even the taste of her and he did not ever want to find his way again.

Slowly they sank to the ground and as the flames from the bonfire danced over their sky-clad bodies, there underneath that sacred oak tree they did their duty.

*

“I still don’t see why we can’t go to the celebrations!” grumbled Ally, her voice bordering on the petulant.

The old queen smiled, and shook her head fondly at the impatience of youth, before replying in her deep musical voice, “Because, my dear child, you are human and I have no place at such a festival anymore.”

“Owyn’s human!” snapped Ally, “and he’s the guest of honour!”

Skye grinned at Ally and said softly, “Only those initiated to the ways of the Ealdor Gods would survive such a celebration and humans are rarely admitted, unless for very good reason. Owyn was initiated early this morning, next time he goes swimming you will see a small tattoo on his back, a tattoo of a robin, the mark of the Oak king.”

The Ealdor Queen glanced at Skye in some surprise, “You know a lot about it for a human,” then she reached out one slender hand and brushed Skye’s forehead with it.

“Ah,” she sighed, “that explains it.”

Diarmuid and Ally exchanged curious glances with one another. Ally was about to ask yet another question, when the drum beat suddenly stopped.

“They have done their duty, the Ealdorfolk will now be going in pairs to secluded areas to make love in honour of the White Lady and her consort.”

Diarmuid frowned slightly as the greater meaning of the words suddenly dawned on him, “Do you mean…. What exactly is their duty?” he asked softly.

The Queen smiled, “Together they lead the celebrations with some incantations and song, then together they lead the dance around the fires. Then under an oak tree they exchange words to mark the occasion,” she replied carefully.

Diarmuid sighed in some relief, glad that his guess had been wrong. He didn’t know how Ally would have handled it if his suspicions had been correct.

*

As the fires began to burn low, Faya gently eased herself away from Owyn’s sated body. Never before had she felt this way, never had a lover ever made her feel this mixture of delight and trepidation. As she pulled away, she sensed that he was awake.

Softly, desperately trying to control her trembling voice, she said, “You have done your duty now,” she wet her lips carefully, “and you may leave if you wish.”

The moon shining through his golden curls and onto his tanned body so close to hers made him look like a sun god, and she gulped. Owyn’s face was in shadow but he reached out and carefully took her hand in his, “Do you wish?”

She turned away from him before answering so softly he could barely hear her words, “No.”

She felt his smile and then his arm slipped around her waist and he drew her into his body once more as he said, “Good, me neither.”

“Our duty is done, but… there is nothing that says we cannot honour the White Lady and her consort once again,” Faya whispered, her voice like a breath of wind.*

When morning dawned Owyn was alone, he stood up nervously aware of his nakedness. Around him other revelers were waking and he walked away into the wood so as to avoid embarrassment, as it was he had to meet the amused, unabashed gaze of one young Ealdorwoman. Instinct lead him to the Oak King’s glade and sacred pool, there he saw Faya swimming naked in the glistening waters.

She heard his heavy step and turned to smile at him. Her smile lights up the morning, thought Owyn, before sitting down on a nearby stone to wait. He knew, subconsciously that to enter the waters at this time would be sacrilege to the power of the night before.

Before long Faya stepped out of the water, her gait was graceful as she unconsciously swayed her hips. She slipped on a beautiful embroidered robe, green like her eyes, which lay by the water’s edge, and then stepped up to Owyn. Suddenly they were two awkward adolescents who didn’t know how to share their emotions, but then Faya shook her head before leaning close to place a gentle kiss on his lips.

Their bodies did not touch, but still the kiss deepened and improved in on itself until Faya swooned slightly and pulled away. She smiled ruefully at him.

“We should really be getting back,” she breathed.

“Yes, we should,” replied Owyn drinking in the sight of her.

“You’re not moving,” Faya accused him.

“Neither are you.”

“We really should go.”

“I know,” he said before reaching for her again.

They lay in each others arms, hands gently caressing, and Owyn gave a tiny sigh of happiness. He had never felt this way before, not even with All… Oh Goddess! Ally! Faya raised her head to look at him as his entire body tensed.

“Owyn, what is it?” she asked fearing the worst, she had seen the way Owyn had looked at the girl, Ally, but Faya had hoped that it was a mere infatuation, nothing more.

Her expression melted his heart, and he pushed all thoughts of Ally from his mind. He then looked at this amazing woman in his arms and smiled. He was incredibly lucky to be able to touch this powerful woman, he had felt her power last night when she had led the circle through spell after spell.

“Nothing, dear heart, it’s nothing.” He then settled her head back on to his chest and gently stroked her glorious raven hair.

She sighed into his chest, “You are sure? I… I saw that girl and how you looked at her.” She was determined to get the pain over with as soon as possible. Surely it will only hurt more if I wait. She was surprised to admit how much it would hurt, surprised by the depth of her feelings for a human boy.

He sighed, and thought carefully before answering, “Yes… but that was before last night. Last night changed me, the magic changed me. You changed me. You are in my soul now and I would do nothing to dislodge your hold there.”

She smiled, “I love you too, Owyn.”

Neither saw the young woman standing in the shadow of the trees hearing every word. Neither saw blue-grey eyes flash with anger or tawny hair flick in the sunlight as she turned and walked away, anger suffusing her every being. Neither watched her go.

*

Ally found the old Queen in a secluded glade to the north, she stormed up to her and yelled, “You knew! You knew didn’t you?” Her entire body radiated anger and pain.

“Yes,” replied the Queen calmly, “I knew.”

“Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you stop it? He’s only 16 for Gods’ sake!”

“I know. Let me ask you something, dear girl. Why do you care? That boy, sorry, young man, has been infatuated with you for a long time. Anyone can tell that. So are you angry because you believe we took advantage of your friend, or are you angry that you have lost a source of constant adoration? Because anyone could see that you did not return his feelings.”

Ally was stunned, she stood speechless, her mouth hanging open. Then she shut her mouth and hung her head in shame, “I suppose that makes me a terrible person.”

“No,” smiled the Queen, “it makes you alive! All living creatures feel these feelings, whether they be Ealdor, human, dragon or dwarf, but a wise person does not allow these emotions to rule them.”

“You need to learn, Ally, to use heart and mind together because only then can you make truly wise and compassionate decisions regarding those around you. Only then will you be able to lead. Don’t look at me like that girl! I know the mark of a leader when I see one and you’ve got it!”

Ally dropped disbelieving eyes, and then spotted a fairy stone at her feet. Swooping down she picked it up and the necklace her father had given her slipped and lay on the outside of her tunic.

“What’s that?” The Queen’s voice was sharp and for the first time she seemed caught unawares.

“This?” asked Ally, turning it around in her fingers, “it’s just a fairy stone.”

“Don’t be a fool girl! I know a fairy stone when I see one, I meant that necklace about your neck. Where did you get it? Who gave you it?” Her eyes narrowed, “Or did you steal it?”

“How dare you!” snapped Ally, “my father gave it to me!” Then she stormed off into the woods, leaving the Queen cursing her heavy handedness with the girl’s young pride.

Ally found Owyn with Faya, Skye and Diarmuid. She blushed slightly upon seeing Owyn and Faya, but plunged on regardless.

“We need to leave.”

“WHAT??” yelled Owyn, surging to his feet. Then he blushed and shuffled slightly, “I mean, we’ve only just got here.” Faya smiled fondly at him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I agree,” she said softly and as Owyn looked at her with infinite hurt in his eyes, she rushed to explain, “I’ve been talking to Skye about your parents’ death, it sounds like the

Crossing Deadly Waters

Ellen A

Joined May 2009

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