Star Dreamer

Chapter XXIII: Nearly at Full Strength


The girl shot Rudolpho a surprised and annoyed look when he asked “are we there yet?”, and hissed, “De ye went more company – that tis whet chatter shell buy ye.” She led them through dank corridors, that stank of refuse and animal leavings. Occasionally a rat would startle as the group went past. Beyond the pipes echoed eerily.

But despite the phantom pipes the silence of the corridors managed to wrap itself around the three. Rather like the cloying, thick fog that came with the Spring. Nor was the stillness dispelled as Beud cautiously pushed open a door, and revealed the flickering light of the kitchen fireplace.


From the other end of the kitchens, Bronwyn pushed open another door – there were cellars below, which could be easily barricaded, and she knew that many of the other serving women, and their by-blows, would have taken themselves there. “Empty ‘tis,” she whispered to Jacques, “boot I’ll be off to the cellars and ye ken be off to the fightin’, if you want.” Not that she particularly wanted to see the jester go, the presence of a man (and one seemingly at ease with knives) would have been a comfort. “And if afterward we both still be livin’, then mayhap we ken -“

But she didn’t finish that sentence, for as she turned towards the cellar, she caught sight of another man coming the other direction, with a big BIG knife in his hand, bigger and sharper looking than the carving knife she still held. Dark-haired, dark-eyed – Anger made Bronwyn bite off her words and curse, “Fhaolain!” Blessed Bridget, the man had betrayed the welcome the chief and his own daughter had given him. Hissing, Bronwyn lunged at him, knife out-stretched.

Almost casually, Fionn grasped the woman’s arm and twisted, just enough to make her drop the blade, and pushed her backwards forcefully. “Quiet!” he hissed back in highland, glancing briefly at the jester before beckoning Beud and Rudolpho to come forward so that they could be seen. Let the girl speak, she had been serving with this young woman, perhaps she and Rudolpho could convince Bronwyn and the jester that he was not the one who had betrayed the Hillrovers.


When the Fhaolain lunged forward Beud had feared the worst and followed in with her hoofpick held ready. (Though she would admit – a hoofpick left much to be desired as a weapon.)

For several seconds she looked between the jester and Bronwyn, and when it looked like things were settling she said, despite her own reservations, “He brings warning to the Chief. As do we…” She gestured at the wineskin Rudolpho carried and said, “Someone poisoned the wine.”


Rudolpho stepped forward where he could be seen better. He wasn’t used to letting someone else step in front of him, as he had had no one to defend him for two long years now. Still, Fionn seemed to be the type who knew what was going on, and he knew the language so… “It’s true we have to hurry! I think some people have drunk this already. We have to go see if we can do anything to help them. You should have seen Fionn! He single-handedly beat the guys who was going to kill the lookouts. But I can tell you about that later. Which way do we go?”


Having followed Bronwyn through to the kitchens, pup in hand, Jacques was beginning to feel more and more frustrated. When Rudolpho and Fionn and the girl appeared, he became even more irritated. Though he couldn’t say at what exactly.

And then when Fionn rough handled Bronwyn he at least had a suitable outlet.

He glared at Fionn, and muttered a sarcastic “I’m sure he did,” under his breath at Rudolpho’s comment on Fionn’s martial prowess. Then he glared at Beud, for a second, before finally turning his glare on Rudolpho.

“Too late boy, the poison’s already done its job.” The knife flipped idly in his hand shifting its aim from Fionn, and he moved his head from side to side trying to find something else to glare at.

Fiend let out a whine, and Jacques huffed into his moustache.

“Here,” he thrust the pup into Bronwyn’s hands. “Take care of the animal.” The glare softened, and he flushed with embarrasment for a second. “And yourself,” he added quietly.

He pulled another knife from a pocket somewhere in his clothes, and balanced each lightly in a hand.

“C’mon boy, let’s see if your mama gave you half a brain.” He turned and began heading for the stairs where Laurelyn had gone. A head count she’d said – though he hoped there would be bodies attached.


Bronwyn looked down at the pup in her hands, then at the knife on the floor, and settled for Fiend, for now. “Ye coom back fer yer pup,” she said, before scowling at the Fhaolain. She didn’t like leaving the other three with the dark-haired highlander, but carving knife or no carving knife, she would be more hindrance than help. Best just to get the other serving women to let her into the cellars.

Fionn shooed Rudolpho in front of him, gave one short nod to Bronwyn – who at least seemed less inclined to gut him where he stood – and followed after. Every moment that passed made him more anxious to find Maeve and Rue and leave the Hillrovers to their fight for the Dun. But if the jester (who didn’t seem any less inclined to gut him where he stood) knew where to find Laurelyn, then better to follow the man with the belled hat than stumble blindly around the tower. “Not just poison,” he said in a low voice as he followed the others to the stairs, “Gairge Hillrover and others – Iogan and Sannt – have turned and will stand with the MacLenans.”

Bronwyn shifted Fiend to her left hand, and stooped to pick up the carving knife again; the light from the fire was orange and red on the blade. “Beud,” she whispered to the younger girl before she slipped after the others, “do ye know who in the servers was in charge of the warriors’ winebags?” Before she slipped into the cellars, she wanted to know who among the women might be entwined in the plot. Gairge Hillrover had his favorite, as did Iogan and Sannt – but there might have been more.


Beud thought hard and said, “Guanag and Nochde did. Theugh Mam might be able to tell us who else.” She looked back at Rudolpho – who seemed to be about to disagree with the jester, so she decided to hold her tongue.

But as she followed Bronwyn towards the cellars she whispered, “Be ye protected!”


He didn’t think he had heard Jacques correctly but then it sunk in. A dark scowl painted itself on his face. He willed himself to calm down and responded to Jacques as they continued on. “Don’t… Please don’t say anything about my mother.” Not having much else to say on the matter, and not trusting himself to stay calm about it, He decided that he would be of more use in another form, if they were to find Laurelyn and the others. He reached into his pouch and found one the the hairs he had collected from the hounds about the Dun. With a few muttered words he looked just like one of them and bounded ahead. It helped that he was familiar with everyone’s scent in the party. Most people weren’t noticing animals just now and he could give warning if there was anyone coming.


With a blink of surprise at Rudolpho’s reaction, Jacques considered what he’d said, and shrugged.

Regardless, he thought as the boy shifted into a hound and bounded off down the hall, the kid had proven that his mama had given him half a brain. There were far worse options to choose, shape wise, in this place at this time.

He glared at Fionn, just to be sure he wasn’t losing the formless, aimless anger that he was building up. Though he couldn’t think why, it somehow seemed important.

[Near the Cellars – Beud]

Before leaving the kitchen Beud stuck her hoofpick in her pocket, as a hold-out weapon, and picked up a carving blade – much like Bronwyn’s. Then she joined the other woman at the door to the cellars – trying to convince the others that they should be let in.


Guanag, Bronwyn thought as she kicked the thick oak door to the cellars and called out for someone to let her and Beud enter. The curly-haired blonde woman had been spending much time with Sannt in the past weeks. But Nochde – was she involved? She hadn’t passed any unusual amount of time with the known traitors… Quickly, Bronwyn schooled her face into the proper expression of fright, and cradled the pup closer to her – relieved to find Beud’s own mam had crept alone to the top of the stairs to unbar the door from the inside. “Poison in the wine,” Bronwyn hissed softly so that none below could hear. “Iogan and Sannt are ‘gainst the chief, and Gairge is said to be, too.” Not that she trusted the Fhaolain’s word, but she did trust Beud. As well as the girl’s mam’s ability to figure out the mystery of Guanag and Sannt.


Beud’s Mam wasn’t much older than Bronwyn, but the woman hennaed her thick hair to hide the grey, and her waist was a bit thick from the next blow-by she carried. For her the herbs that either prevented or ended problems only worked half the time. She looked relieved to see Beud, but that relief turned to anger when she heard Bronwyn’s words. “I wes wenderin’ where seme of eur girls get te.”

Deasgann glanced down the stairs and said, “Ne wender Guanag is leekin’ se sure ef ‘erself. Girl deesn’t even heve the sense to act freghtened.”

Once the other two women were in she pulled the door shut and barred it. She added, “And Bronwyn meke sure thet pup keeps its trep shut.”


Bronwyn nodded, though she knew from the way the pup had been howling in the great hall that little Fiend could be quite vocal when he wanted to be. And when others would prefer that he keep himself quiet. She kept the carving knife hidden behind her skirts as she followed Deasgann into the dark cellars – there was little light here in the cold chambers, except for one or two smoky torches that had been placed in the sconces at the end of the stairwell.

She paused for a moment as she reached the bottom of the stairs, looking over the faces of the other women, trying to figure out whose fright was genuine and whose was faked. Deasgann was right, the thin-faced Guanag wasn’t even bothering to look worried. Bronwyn had to crush the urge to stride across the cellars and bash the other woman’s head against the stones. Maybe later – but not until there was some certainty that others weren’t involved. “Some of the warriors’ wine was poisoned,” she announced, brown eyes again sweeping over everyone. Should they announce that the treachery was known? Would that draw out those who had cast their lot with Iogan and Sannt?


Many of the women murmured in shock, and stared wide-eyed amongst their group, and back to the newcomers. Most realized now why some of the other women hadn’t reappeared.

Beud, who had been following on Bronwyn’s heels, said, “Aye, a terrible sight – all threshin’ around and bloody at the mouth!!” While she hadn’t seen the feast hall she had seen the horse, and was more than willing to embroider on that – if it could shock someone into confession. And she wasn’t about to admit that the image of the dying horse still filled her with horror – because it could have well been Rudolpho and herself. And whether it was Beud’s comment, or just the added horror, some of the women started wailing in hysterics. And others looked contemplative – as they realized that some of their competitors had been killed off. And obviously in an unpleasant way.

“Shet ye up!!!!” Deasgann bellowed at the women, “De ye wesh the enemy eny seener dewn here te teke whet they went and slet eur threats efter?!”

Beud almost challenged her mother by saying that the chief’s daughter had brought powerful mages with her – ones that might have the means to stop the Dun’s curse from falling on their heads. But she clamped her impetuous mouth shut when she remembered that they had traitors amongst them.


Guanag, definitely, Bronwyn thought to herself, but the pale-faced shock of Nochde, whiter than the older woman’s hair, convinced Bronwyn that she at least had been among the deceived. But Beitidh, who had shared Iogan’s bed for well over a year, had fallen silent, with a sick look on her face not of one surprised, but one with fear of discovery. That be two, Bronwyn remarked. With the shielded fingers of the hand holding Fiend against her breast, she pointed two fingers at Beitidh so that only Beud and Deasgann could see.

“Mayhap they woon’t hart us,” Beitidh ventured finally, falling silent for a moment as some of the other women looked at her. “The McLenans ha’ thare wimmin, and they may joost take us …”

“Ye ha’ reason to hope fer that?” Bronwyn asked, tone even as she moved through the crowd of women. “You theenk to find kindness thare?” Her brown eyes flashed, and she knew the carving knife in her hand had been seen when young Maili gasped at the sight of the long, sharp blade she held nestled against her skirts. When she stood face to face with Beitidh, she stopped, and lifted the knife to hold the point just beneath the other woman’s nose. “Did ye theenk of any kindness to those ye poisoned?”


At first the girl just stared up at Bronwyn, but she could feel the hostile stares of the other women on her, and knew that no matter what she said she had been condemned. She whimpered, ”’E told me et was but a sleepin’ draught. Jest a sleepin’ draught…...”

“Ge get seme rope,” Deasgann told Beud, “Oover there – en the cerner.”

“Yes Mam,” Beud said, heading for the back wall and a coil of rope.

“We’ve ne rafter to heng ‘er frem,” one of the women said.

“Nay, net hengin’,” Deasgann said, “We’ll sefe ‘er fer the Chief’s lew….and ef the Dun helds true then she’ll be the first bleed te be spelled dewn ‘er.”


Nochde herself, who had been in charge of the winebags, leapt to tie Beitidh thoroughly in knot after knot, old fingers moving nimbly to truss the girl. But that still left Guanag, who had shrunk back, knowing that Nochde, and the others recalled who had been in charge of pouring the pitchers full from the winebags. “Yes, an’ ye, tew,” Bronwyn snarled, turning towards her, “I theenk ye need to stand befeur the chief. Or better yet, cower an’ beg his maircy.” From the look that moved quickly across Guanag’s face, Bronwyn had no doubt the other woman wanted to leap at her, claws bared – but the carving knife stopped her. Too bad, Bronwyn thought. She had half-hoped the stupid wench would spit herself on the blade.

[Near the guest rooms]


“Yes, yes quite so.” the healer muttered in response to Thomis’s suggestion that he look to Maeve’s injuries. He poked the pile of blankets in the corner with his staff to assure himself that the witchy woman had really gone. “Yes, bring her in and I’ll take a look, Master Thomas.” Keir waved at the straw pallet to indicate Maeve should sit, oblivious to the fact that she already sat on the stool. “What is going on out there?”


As Laurelyn strode into the hall she saw Thomis go into Master Keir’s room with Maeve, and heard the sound of the healer’s voice. Two more accounted for – she too had heard Rue’s cry.

Before heading to talk to Thomis she went over to Daron and asked, “Are you ill….?”

A worse thought hit her and she said, “Is your stomach cramping up?” She lightly touched the other woman’s arm and said, “Perhaps Master Keir should see to you?”


Daron looked into Laurelyn’s blue eyes, noting the storyteller’s concern. “Aye, I feel like I’ve been kicked by a mule… but I think I’ll be fine…” Seeing Maeve’s battered face as the woman passed by her with Master Thomis on the way to Master Keir’s room, the artist resolved not to divert the healer from where he was needed with a trivial complaint of a stomach ache.


“The consensus seems to be that the McLenans are on their way,” Thomis answered Keir matter-of-factly. He tore an edge of blanket off and wetted it in the stone pitcher that had been set in one corner for the guests’ use. Kneeling by Maeve’s side, he carefully started cleaning the blood from her face. Few cuts, so little if any scarring, he noted, though she already showed signs of some nasty bruises. At least the nose didn’t look like it was too badly dislocated. She did not flinch, but held herself very still.

Stronger than you think you are, lass, the Oath-bound thought to himself. Even if she had not seen fit to check her babe, who had settled into a displeased, but not frightened, sound of hiccuping.


One floor down, the Fhaolain ignored the occasional glares the jester shot in his direction, and followed quickly as Rudolpho, in dog form, scrambled through the halls in search of Laurelyn. Up more steps, and suddenly the highlander recognized the stone passageways surrounding them. Now, without needing the boy to track the scent, he sprang ahead, taking the steps two at a time, to emerge at the top. Laurelyn Hillrover, the tall foreigner Ulric, and the black-haired artist. And beyond them, from the room given to the small man – Master Keir they had called him – the sounds of Rue hiccuping.


At the sound of people approaching Laurelyn let go of Daron’s arm, and drew her dagger. But she soon saw it was Fionn and Jacques and a hound. “Is it two or three that I can account for…?” she asked, looking at the hound.

She moved to the door to Keir’s room and said, “Master Keir, you may need to take a look at Daron – she’s not looking well and I fear she drank some of the poisoned wine.” The fact that so far, well after the warriors and their women had succumbed, that Daron was still standing reassured the storyteller.

Her gaze traveled from those in the room to those in the hall. Finally Laurelyn said, “I go now to stand with my Father – those who wish to fight with me are welcome, though in this Dun those who are the defenders have always been cursed with defeat. So it could well be all I can offer is a chill grave.” She looked back at Maeve – then to Fionn, and added, “And I’ll hold no grudges to those who wish to find a way free of this dark place. To them I will give my gratitude for what aid they’ve already given and wish them safe travels. In truth, this is my and my kins’ fight and no other.” Except Thomis’s she thought sadly; for she knew that he would be by her side till the end.


“Definitely three,” offered the jester as he slipped each knife blade into a pocket, the handles poking out as if from a makeshift scabbard. He didn’t entirely trust Fionn, but considered that, firstly, it was just his frustration making him feel that, and secondly it was Laurelyn’s call to make.

Just so long as the man wasn’t standing too close to him in any forthcoming violence.

He considered what Laurelyn had said, and what she’d offered.

“Ain’t nobody going to get out of here at the moment without goin’ through whatever’s in the way. May as well die here as anywhere else,” he offered with patently false cheer.

And then realised, at last, where all the frustration and anger was coming from. It was joining with an incredible sense of deja vu that, now he knew what it was, he began to steadfastly ignore it.


Daron sagged against the chill stone wall, keeping it from tumbling down. Her hand tightly gripped her dagger. “While I have breath in me, I’ll fight with ye, Mistress Laurelyn,” she declared.

The artist was suddenly grateful she had not drunk more of the wine, remembering again how it burned her throat going down…


Rudolpho was about to shift forms to answer Laurelyn, but stayed as a hound when the others confirmed that it was him. For the moment he smelled a slightly familiar scent on Daron. He padded toward her and began to sniff at her direction. After a moment he realized where he recognized the scent from. Daron might have drunk some of the poisoned wine. If she had, they would not have much time to try and help her. He quickly scented the remaining members of the party. The others, it seemed, had not had any of the tainted wine, or did not smell of it. He quickly shifted back to tell Laurelyn, and most importantly Keir, that Daron might need immediate help.


“Take care who ye set at yer back, Hillrover,” Fionn said. He ached to push through the hall and make certain that both Maeve and Rue were safe, but there were things that needed saying before he could make any decisions of what they would do. “Ye have traitors in the clan—Iogan and Sannt sought a Fhaolain’s aid, and took me to meet Fhios McLenan in a room ‘neath the stables.” He indicated the dog. ”’Twas Rudolpho here who felled Sannt after Iogan and the McLenan had gone.”

He didn’t wait to hear her response, a groan from Keir’s room had sounded too much like Maeve in pain. “The McLenan thinks he has Gairge Hillrover to stand with him. I cannae say whair his sire, Geill, will stand.” Fionn stopped in the doorway, gape-mouthed at the sight of Maeve’s bruised face, looking as if he were about to dive for Thomis – for the Oath-bound had just pulled his own hands away from straightening the girl’s nose.


Rudolpho bounded over to Keir and tried unsuccessfully to contain his excitement about the poison he had scented on Daron. “Keir! Keir! You have to help Daron! I smelled something like the poison on her while I was still a dog. You gotta do something quick! She might not have much time if she drank any of it!” It was only then that he noticed Maeve’s nose and Fionn glaring at Thomis. He wondered if Fionn thought that perhaps Thomis was the one who had done it. He didn’t want to wait to find out. Fionn had to be distracted till there was time to find out more about the situation. He ran up to Fionn, keeping up his level of excitement, grabbed his hand, and tugged on it. “Fionn! Do you know of anything that can stop the poison?”


Leaving his staff in the corner Keir strode over to Thomas and Maeve. He was beginning to regret his choice of one of the smallest rooms as it was quickly changing from cozy to downright crowded. Taking the cloth Thomis had used to clean Maeve’s bloodied nose he soaked it in the basin, wrung it out and began whirling it rapidly. “I don’t suppose anyone knows what poison was used or didn’t happen to save any of the poisoned wine?” It was obviously not a rapid acting poison, at least in the quantity Daron had imbibed, but any information he could gather would help him make a correct choice for treatment – the wrong choice could not only be fatal but painful as well. “Here, this should be cold enough now.” he said, handing the damp bit of blanket to Thomas. “Use it as a compress, it’ll help stem the bleeding.”

He wished the air was warmer and dryer for it might have cooled enough to numb her nose as well. “Best lay her on bed.” he added, meaning Daron. “Rudolpho, could you give me a hand here?” He started to move the baby rabbits to the pile of blankets in the corner and hoped having the boy carry the child to Maeve might calm him some.


Remembering that he still had the remaining wine from the cask Beud had brought to the stables in his pack, Rudolpho disengaged his hand from Fionn’s and ran to Keir. He didn’t like to do it, but there were enough people to stop Fionn if he went for Thomis. Besides, Thomis could take care of himself. “I still have some of the poisoned wine. One of the serving girls brought…nevermind how I have it. Here’s the wine.”


Though Laurelyn herself had suspected that the artist might have been poisoned – she also remembered how quickly those in the hall had fallen. She said, “From what I saw in the hall – the poison is fast-acting and nasty. And the fallen were at the warriors’ tables, which would have the coarser wine. Not at the guest table – unless the serving girl mixed up her wine pitchers.”

She turned to Rudolpho and said, “I know you would like to protect such a pretty lass, but you better tell us where she came by that winebag? Particularly since she was one of the servers at your table.”

Much as Laurelyn wanted to hear Keir’s verdict and Rudolpho’s explanation she could feel that time was getting very short; she could hear it in the insistency of the Piper’s music. And soon Death in other forms would be stalking these halls. She said, “Master Keir, as soon as Daron is able – I think it would be best to take her, and Maeve and Rue somewhere else. The young and the wounded would be considered the best hostages against me.”

Her expression became even grimmer as she continued, “We’re wild cards amidst this treachery – with few doubts who we’ll throw our lot in with. So the traitors and the McLenans will seek to eliminate us as fast as possible – and they know where our quarters are.” She looked to Rudolpho and Fionn as a thought hit her, and she said, “Rudolpho, with your ability to shift – you would provide them with good defense and surprise. And if any of us are left alive by the dawning of the morrow you would be able to track us down. And Fionn – if you also wish to guard your kin that I do understand.”


The highlander nodded, shortly, relieved that Laurelyn had recognized, without having to ask, that he would stay with Maeve and Rue. He had stepped away from her, and someone had done something terrible to the girl. The only thanks he could express to Ulric was another short nod.


The storyteller looked towards Jacques and said, “You’re far too right, Jacques, there is little chance of safe escape. So no matter what any of us desire – the fight is upon us.” Her eyes swept to Ulric, and lingered on Thomis as she looked into Keir’s small room, and she asked, “Are you good gentlemen ready?”


Laurelyn’s plan answered another question Keir had, that of his vow to guard her back. Her instruction to stay with the ill and wounded solved his dilemma, for he had taken a vow as a healer that predated his one to her. As to moving, he wasn’t sure that was best for here there was a strong door and neither Daron or Maeve looked up to going very far without assistance. If any of the others were wounded in battle, they’d know exactly where help lay. On the other hand… “Mistress, I don’t know what your people call them but there is a witch around who can seemingly come and go at will and has an interest in Maeve’s babe.”


Puzzlement shown in Laurelyn’s eyes and she asked, “When did you see her? And did she try to do Rue harm?....” She remembered the condition of Maeve’s face, but the woman had said that Gille Hillrover and Hector MacRorie had been the cause of it.

She was truly hating the tangles that seemed to form with every heartbeat.


“Witch?” Fionn asked, startled. He moved further into the room, crowding it even more, to scoop Rue up and hold her, gurgling, before his face. Her dark eyes wandered, as a babe’s were wont to do, but she otherwise seemed untouched. “A tall lady, with black hair and eyes?” Fionn asked Keir softly. The description might have been one for the days when Rue herself became a woman. “And a smile that could freeze your bones?”


The healer’s head snapped around, staring at Fionn in disbelief. “Yes, yes that’s her exactly!”


“You know her?” the storyteller asked, studying Fionn.


“Aye, too well,” Fionn muttered. He had laid Rue back down and was quickly unswaddling her, to check for all her fingers and toes. But everything was hale and healthy, and Rue even gurgled a bit in protest at having her creamy smooth skin exposed to the chill air. When he spoke again, it was in the highland tongue. “The bards might know her, and you might, too, Laurelyn Hillrover, as Luatha. My clan’s fey mother.” Just as quickly, he swaddled Rue up again “She’ll take no part in this battle, so ye need have no fear of her.” Nor did Fionn himself seem afraid – simply angry.


Laurelyn nodded, and answered in kind, “But she well might protect young Rue during it.”


Ulric nodded as he walked out to where the hallway met with another, and readied his hammer. He didn’t know who their allies were, but anyone approaching with malice in their eyes would get a good share of his rage, he would make sure of that.

“Where is your father, Laurelyn?” he asked quietly.


Since Ulric hadn’t moved too far from the rooms Laurelyn heard his question as she stepped back out into the hall. “Measail will have told him of the poisoned men, but my father will still be in the central courtyard.”

She saw that the others were ready; for which she was grateful – she barely could stand another minute’s wait. Her father had to know of Gairge’s, and possibly Geil’s, betrayal.


Rudolpho was torn. He didn’t want to leave Maeve and Rue here in the room without protection and Laurelyn had a good point about his abilities. He realized ironically that this was the first time she had complemented him on his worth to the group, at least that he could remember. He also knew that he didn’t want to stay here cooped up in this room if he could be helping stop the attack. He didn’t want to leave Daron if she was sick, unprotected. But she woudn’t be unprotected. She and the others would have Fionn and Keir to protect them. He had seen a bit of Fionn’s fighting ability and he was no slouch. He was still trying to decide what to do when he remembered Beud and how she had looked to him to help protect her. He would be helping many more people if he helped Laurelyn, Thomis, and the rest. Now how would he tell Laurelyn?

He could not remember being this nervous in a long time. “Umm… Laurelyn? Umm… I think that maybe… well I might, um… be of better use if maybe… I guess I came with you.” He rushed to get the rest out. “I know that you want me to stay here but you could use me out there. If you used the element of surprise out there, maybe this would be over more quickly and less people would have to die.” He looked at the floor and waited nervously for Laurelyn to answer.


The tiniest of smiles broke Laurelyn’s grim expression at Rudolpho’s display of heart and nervousness. The boy was right – he did have special talents that gave him the element of surprise; nor did he hesitate when it came to battle – as he had proved against Grumhog’s men. Yet, then, he had managed to keep the glow of youth and exuberance about him even after that battle – something she considered quite precious; she knew that if he lived to survive the Dun that such a glow would be dimmed. Laurelyn studied at Rudolpho with a quiet sadness in her eyes – as if memorizing the idealism in his face so she could mourn its passing later. Then she said, “You can come with us.”

She could say no more and began walking towards the stairs – sword ready. Already listening for what could be awaiting them around the next turn.


“Take them to the high battlements,” Thomis said to Fionn before turning to follow Laurelyn. “They seem seldom used,” that was where Gille and Hector had taken Maeve and Rue to toss them over, but Thomis didn’t see a reason to tell Fionn that much. And the girl herself nodded. “You should find a defensible nook. Master Keir,” he added with a nod, “guard them well.” The Oath-bound’s voice and expression betrayed no doubt in the Hortus’ abilities – after all, he had seen the other’s use of his staff, and he knew the strength of Keir’s courage.

And with that, he followed after Laurelyn, in search of her father.


The artist wanted to protest that she was fully able to engage in battle. If only she could rid her tongue of the fur that seemed to cling to it.

Daron silently vowed that, if it be her destiny to meet her end in these chill stone walls, she would have a large honorguard to accompany her…


He couldn’t tell why Laurelyn was looking at him the way she was, but didn’t really mind when she said he could go. He followed after her trying not to say much so she wouldn’t change her mind. He spoke to her quietly as they walked. “Laurelyn, the serving girl you wanted to know about, Beud, got the wine from the stores I think. She didn’t know it was poisoned when she brought it. She had brought it to the stables and mentioned something about it being intrysting. I’m not sure I know what she meant. But she was surprised when one of the horses drank from it by accident and passed on. You mentioned that we were going to find your father. Do you have anything with his scent on it?”


“I’m afraid I don’t,” Laurelyn said – almost smiling at the fact that Rudolpho didn’t know what Beud had been about. But again sorrow erased what small smile might have come; this night Rudolpho would be learning the facts of death, instead of life, and the fact that such a young girl as Beud would only know one profession had its own sadness. The lot of the campfollowers had always been a fact of clan society that Laurelyn had found hard to swallow; not because of what they did, but because often the camp dogs got more consideration than the women. Though she had to credit her father for seeing that the women got the same food and shelter the warriors received. He too knew that it would be near impossible to stop the women from being brought along, but since they too aided the warriors – and sometimes acted as medics – he made sure that they at least had that equality.


Rudolpho knew that they would be traveling through the halls onces again and decided that the form he had adopted before would stand him in good stead again. They were about to go to a place where lots of warriors were assembled. People seemed to get funny if women hung around, not to mention “children” when it came to fighting. He counted on lots of people underestimating him as always. This would be the best way he could be an asset to Laurelyn. If only he could find out who led the traitorous group and get a hair or something from him…

In the meantime, he once again shifted into the form of a hound and kept a lookout a few steps before the group.



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