With the parlay done, and Toisich leading Fhios off, Bheag was left to work with Acair and Naomha on what needed to be done. And with them so occupied Laurelyn had taken the opportunity to actually check on Thomis – and simply to revel in the fact that they both were alive.
Though she knew she would very shortly need to go check on her other companions she felt almost too weary to move or think. And Thomis had said they were accounted for – looking reasonably intact.
[And, announcing the arrival of a new character, shoe-horned into the storyline with little care for continuity or even making much sense …]
Within the castle, not far from Laurelyn, a dark mist swirled for an instant before the mage appeared. His cloak was pure black, and on the left sleeve was the silver rune of a League mage. He was cold and tired and hungry and short on silver, and his high black boots were in need of repair and had not seen polish in far too long.
He hoped that Laurelyn would recognize him, though they had met only briefly during her days in Seldez.
Laurelyn stumbled back into Thomis – and feared for a couple of long seconds that she was delirious. “It can’t …..,” she murmured. But at the sight of the Hillrover and MacRorie warriors preparing to deal with the intruder – with some encircling Acair, Naomha and Bheag, Laurelyn quickly called out, “Hold!”
Thomis had left his own sword sheathed, though Farrell MacRorie had whirled and raised his broadsword, ready to charge the stranger if he so much as looked at Laurelyn in an unfriendly manner. “One curse after another,” Thomis murmured, steading Laurelyn with a hand on one elbow. “The ghosts keep rising from the grave.”
She nodded in agreement and forced herself to think. The only reason she could think of for a Seldez mage to be here was that for some unfathomable reason Seldez had tracked her down – and she knew they didn’t take kindly to having their personnel killed. The mage’s face looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place a name. However, while she might keep him from being run through, that didn’t mean that tact was required – she was too tired! Laurelyn stared at him and said, “What by the Hells are you doing here?” And in some small part of her mind the thought wandered through – “he’s in one piece – he can help move the wounded.” Fortunately, the wounded weren’t too hard to find – they were actually staying in one place; as opposed to the dead who now were simply wandering about – and what was frightening was that it wasn’t a completely aimless wandering.
Clearly, the warriors were edgy; but this was unsurprising, since they had only just finished the battle. Still, he had no desire to be skewered over some misunderstanding! Looking around at the scene of battle, he added “I can see that you have led your soldiers to victory!” After a brief pause, he added “But perhaps you do not remember me well? I am Enris, a technical specialist with the Committee for Seldez Security, warrant officer level 3.” He loved the way the words rolled over the tongue; and was quite proud of his rank, even if it was only the equivalent of a captain. “I have been a League envoy to these lands,” he looked around, forcing an expression of cheer at his assignment onto his face, “in the hopes of opening trade negotiations.”
In complete sincerity he added, “I regret that I was not in Chatterton when the riots took place – and that I was not here sooner to give what aid I could. Though you clearly did not need it – but if there is anything I could do to help now, please tell me.”
Laurelyn decided that she was a bit delirious, because she had to fight down laughter. Not at Enris, but with relief that she was dealing with one stray mage (dangerous enough) and not a long arm of Seldez authority. She managed to rally her thoughts enough to say, “That is … unfortunate.” In
“As for the battle – victory belongs to my father, the Chief, and the bards…And our dead…,” she said watching a glowing eyed cousin stumble past. She had been hoping they would simply collapse after the parley, but so far none seemed to be doing so, and she had a suspicion that the dead were pursuing whatever had been a primary concern in life. “But your help would be appreciated. If you know any healing spells those would be of greatest use. If not, then help in finding the wounded or gathering supplies would be of use. We’re soon to be evacuating the Dun.” There was one thing Laurelyn did know was that League soldiers weren’t squeamish – a useful trait this morning.
Farrell MacRorie had pushed forward, to stand glowering at, and towering over, the shorter mage. “De ye ned me to skewer hem fer ye?” he asked Laurelyn in a conversational tone, opting for the highland tongue so as not to startle the stranger into sudden action. All this talk went right over his head, but he could tell by the way Thomis’ hand stayed close to the hilt of his sword that the man’s sudden appearance had made both the storyteller and her husband uneasy. “His head meght meck a pretty bauble on the walls.” He looked sideways at the girl. “Then agen, Mairaid meght flog me bludey ef she fends out whet a weddin’ geft E gehve ye.”
“Nay,” Laurelyn said in her highland tongue, “Ne need to anger Mairaid. Fer now he might be able to aid.” But that didn’t mean she accepted Enris’s tale at face value – for while it had the possibility of being true she also knew that Seldez efforts to “open trade” west of League-controlled lands were not to be trusted. That more often than not the truth lay buried and twisted under many, many layers of deception.
What little he could pick up of the Highland talk suggested he wasn’t the most welcome of guests. He nodded and replied “Yes, I know something of healing battle wounds. But I could also be very effective in helping you to… achieve a final resolution of the prisoner problem.” Enris smiled pleasantly. “And I know something of interrogation, though I admit that I am not an artist like some of my comrades.”
He added to the tall highlander Farrell “Are you a friend of Laurelyn? If so, it is a real pleasure to meet you.”
The tall, sandy-haired highlander just harrumphed, and continued to watch the stranger without comment.
Laurelyn was grateful for the light, but steading presence of Thomis’ hand on her elbow. Instincts from month’s past were demanding that she tread carefully – all may not be what it seemed, and she didn’t dare risk declaring herself anti-League. Even if Enris was by himself she didn’t know the extent of his abilities if he took affront – again, not a risk she wanted to take with the bards exhausted. But there in lay her problem, her thoughts were moving sluggishly from fatigue. Not up to the sword dance required when dealing with either Seldez or the League.
She decided her best bet was simply to give the lay of the land, and let Enris cope with the customs of the mountain clans. Laurelyn shook her head, and said, “Your offer is appreciated, but this day Oaths have been sworn to our High Bard that the killing has ended.”
The storyteller gestured towards the walking corpses and added, “And our dead have meted out the Justice of our clan on our enemies.” She almost asked if he had any necromantic skills to help lay the dead, but decided to leave the question. She really didn’t want to know what Seldez did with necromancy – the results of the Bard’s ancient spell were bad enough! Instead she said, “Your healing knowledge is of greater need and appreciated.”
The mage glanced at a walking corpse and nodded agreeably as he commented “Good way to demoralize an enemy. And I certainly understand about oaths. Sometimes they must be given, though it is not always possible to be sure that everyone is properly informed.” Again, Enris smiled pleasantly. “But I am sure that would not happen in this case.” Of course, if it needed to be arranged, a lifted eyebrow or a cough would be all the signal needed….
He busied himself with helping to heal some of the Hillrovers. His spells, while more oriented to battle and destruction, sufficed to remove pain, heal internal injuries, and knit broken bones.
Laurelyn had made her way over to her father to explain the situation with the Enris’s arrival – as much as the mage had said so far. And though the mage was being watched Acair agreed that for now the extra healer was welcome, since Master Keir, the campfollowers, and the few functional bards had their hands full. The situation with the CRS mage would have to be sorted out later.
Which led Acair to another problem – and one that both he and Naomha knew needed to be dealt with, and better dealt with by one of the Chief’s close kin. And that was to recover the bones of the Piper now that it was known where they had been so dishonorably thrown so long ago.
Laurelyn got the directions for where the Piper had been last seen, but before going to perform her duties as the Chief’s daughter she waited till Thomis had snagged a clean bandage for her shoulder. She thanked the gods of sea and stone that her husband – she was still delighting in that idea – had come through relatively unscathed. And at least what wounds he did have had been managed to be cleaned. Later they would ask Master Keir to check the injuries – after the healer had some rest.
“There, that will hold you for a while,” Thomis said matter-of-factly, checking the makeshift bandage one last time. He would have preferred putting Laurelyn somewhere to rest, but the task set her by her father carried with it a matter of clan honor—and he half-suspected that even if her injury had been greater, she would have been determined to carry it out. And since he had learned from Mesani I’Se to stay out of the way, he said nothing about stepping aside and giving the job to someone else.
As they entered the Dun itself, manuvering carefully between the wounded and the healers, Laurelyn looked for a way to carry the Piper’s bones. And while a shield might have been more appropriate all she could find was a relatively clean cloak. Nor did she miss the chance to take a quick head count of her traveling companions. Rudolpho and Maeve still sat with the brave serving lass. Keir seemed to have headed off to sleep – after determinedly overseeing much of the care of the wounded, in conjunction with the women. And Enris had been good to his word with his healing spells.
Fionn was helping where he could. And though she didn’t see Daron about – she had seen her not too long ago so wasn’t worried about her. As for Jacques – she saw him looking dark and glowering at Bronwyn and Fiend. With a glance at Thomis and a quick “who better” she went over and said, “Jacques, Would you mind giving us a bit of back up? While the halls seem relatively clear I prefer to play it safe.”
Laurelyn gestured to the cloak she carried and said, “I need to bring the Piper down so he can be properly buried – as a Clan Piper should be.”
About to respond with a suitable acerbic comment to Ulric, Jacques turned at Laurelyn’s question.
A knife appeared in his hand as if by magic. It wasn’t. At least, not magic as most of them would have considered, but a form of magic nonetheless. From a lighter time. He shrugged. “May as well. I ain’t dead yet.”
He didn’t sound entirely thrilled with that particular eventuality. And then, with what seemed suspisciously like a genuine smile, he bowed lightly. “Lead on, McDuff!”
The storyteller managed a tired smile and said, in a somewhat lighter tone, “I think they’re in the lowlands.”
He turned, and almost left Bronwyn with the pup, and without a word. Somehow, he thought, they suited each other.
The jester paused, and turned back to Bronwyn and the pup. His face was lighter, but there was still a darkness in his eyes.
“You two be good while I’m gone now.”
He winked at Bronwyn, and then eyed the pup carefully. Fiend remained in his trembling, whimpering mood, and was obviously eyeing the jester back nervously.
“I don’t know, either, boy,” Jacques offered very quietly. “Maybe I’m a schizo-manic-depressive.”
Then he turned back to Laurelyn.
“Well, you take the high road, and I’ll take the lowlands,” he offered. “And hopefully there’ll be a lager there before me.”
There was a certain natural curiousity about the interior of the dun, and he had picked up that this piper of theirs had something to do with all of the corpses walking around. This was well worth gathering some intelligence on!
He commented “Yes, let us see what we can do for your piper. So, was he a courageous defender of the people? Why do you honour him in this way?”
“I understand they do a decent ale,” she said to Jacques before turning to Enris. “Pipers are held in high esteem,” she said, “And this particular great-uncle of mine, Uncle Seol, did die warning his Chief…..about a hundred or so years ago.”
She had to stop herself for a moment, finding herself so tired that she was intermixing the brief descriptions she had heard of the revenant with her images of Brion – not a combination she wanted to deal with. “But it is a cursed act to murder a piper, particularly in the dishonourable way the McLenans chose, and ….” she said, gesturing towards the walking corpses, “It seems that this day he managed to claim his revenge.”
As she looked at the corpses a question began to form in her thoughts, and a brief glance at Thomis told her that he too was wondering the same thing. Would Great-Uncle Seol, once the Warpiper of the Hillrover clan, be in the mood to have his bones carried down in a cloak?
It wasn’t a question anyone could answer, short of finding the Piper and asking him directly. But the Oath-bound did make sure to stop Farrell MacRorie and obtain a small sash with the Hillrover tartan. At least the cloak would carry the clan colors.
He nodded and replied “Your uncle was an admirable soldier, to have fulfilled his duty to the leader in such a fashion. Truly, it will be a pleasure to honour him in any possible way. It’s good that his spirit got vengence.” Enris looked about to determine that no McLenans were within earshot before adding “But wouldn’t he be more pleased if we got on with neutralizing these prisoners? I realize that you had to tell them they could surrender so as to minimize your own casualties, and that’s admirable…but now that they are disarmed, it would be a simple matter to settle the conflict with them permanently.”
“Sure,” offered Jacques with enthusiasm, and what seemed like nothing but sincerity. “But why stop at killing them? Let’s find their women and children and kill all of them too to make sure that they don’t grow up and attack. And when we’ve done that, we should move on to the next clan and do the same.”
He paused, and eyed Laurelyn carefully.
“After all, you never know where the next attack is going to come from, so we should make sure there’s nobody able to do so! And then of course there are the animals around here. Dangerous wolves, bears, lions, rabbits – that kind of thing. Kill ‘em all I say!”
Then he turned to one side and spat at the ground.
“Hell,” and all the enthusiasm and sincerity vanished, to be replaced with absolute disgust and weariness. “There’s nothing I like more than a good bloodbath…”
As Jacques began, Enris listened closely, a smile beginning to grow on his face. On the suggestion of killing innocent civilians, he began to nod agreeably as he murmured “Yes, it’s important to make sure that enemies have been completely destroyed, after the immediate threat has been dealt with.”
It was obvious that this dedicated warrior, who had clearly fought valiantly on the Hillrover side, was exhausted by his efforts. “You’re tired of all the fighting. I’m sorry to have been so insensitive.”
The jester simply glared at him. Clearly the man was an idiot. Still, there were enough idiots around that one more, or less, wouldn’t make any difference. So long as this idiot didn’t take it into his head to try and follow-up on his foolishness.
“Damn straight I’m tired,” he muttered, and spun the knife in his still bloodied hand before turning to Laurelyn. “Come on, let’s go bury the caterwauler so everyone can get some rest.”
Laurelyn looked between the two men. She could tell that Jacques was at a fine and snappable end. And she had forgotten how “enthusiastic” Seldez enforcers could be! She said, “Jacques, this is Enris. Enris, this is Jacques.”
And knew that she had really explained nothing. Half under her breath she muttered, “I wonder if a couple of centuries aboard the Star Dreamer might be rest enough?”
Thomis raised an eyebrow at her comment, as if he wondered about what edge she was wandering near. Laurelyn said, “I’m fine. Though I have to admit I don’t care if we have to carry the Piper down or just lead the way…”
“As long as he follows willingly,” Thomis murmured. Already, after a short time, the mage had began annoying even the Oath-bound – an indication of exactly how aggravating the man had the potential to be. Or perhaps an indication of how tired Thomis himself was.
As they proceeded, Enris commented affably “A pleasure to meet you, Jacques.” and continued “Where is the Piper located? Perhaps it would be easier to use some of my magic to bring him down with us… more direct.”
“But I seem to have overheard talk of abandoning this dun. It is the scene of a great victory; why would you even want to leave it?”
Laurelyn looked at the walls of the Dun – nearly imagining them slick with the blood of centuries. As she led them, having failed to note Enris’ offer of summoning the Piper so great was her fatigue, through the halls, and towards the stairs she said, both softly and angrily, “All it is is a testimony to the hollowness of such ‘victories’... Hillrovers have taken it and then lost it to the McLenans… McLenans take it and lose it to the Hillrovers.” Her voice became sharper, and bitter, “And so it has been for centuries, with the Dun drinking our blood!!”
In her quiet anger Laurelyn forgot who she walked with, and maybe didn’t care anymore. She pointed towards the poisoned warriors and campfollowers and said, “More than a few believed that finishing off all in a clan is a worthy notion. Until this day, when the consequences have caught up with us all.”
She led the way up the stairs and said, “The Piper deserved his right to vengeance. But now it ends – debts have been paid. Ones that were owed over the centuries. And it is time for this place to become what it truly is – a cairn!”
Having not bothered to suppress a snort of contempt at Enris’ comment about the victory, Jacques nodded slightly to himself through Laurelyn’s words. The sound of the bells ringing faintly set off a strange echo down the hall.
It all came back to blood in the end, whatever way you turned.
It was surprising to hear this. The Hillrovers had, in the end, won. True, it was a hard fought battle, and no doubt a bitterly expensive victory; but, they had won! And, the Presidente’ had taught his loyal followers about situations like this. He murmured “But remember, Comrade Laurelyn, what Lord Adelu, my beloved leader said about such places. ‘Territory consecrated with soldiers’ blood stands as a monument to their courage’.” But whether this meant he agreed with her thinking about a cairn or not remained indeterminate!
Enris had been shocked by the sight of dead Hillrovers and their camp followers. What sort of security forces did they have, that such an act could have been perpetrated? Apparently, they had not taken to heart one of his leader’s other teachings, ‘Eternal vigilence is the price of security’. No doubt Laurelyn’s anger was generated by this obvious failure of those responsible for protecting her clan to fulfill their duty!
As they climbed the stairs he added “Truly, I will hope to buy you an ale and hear more of the legend of your piper.” He meant it, too.
The storyteller met looked over at Thomis – as he walked beside her up the stairs. His hand rested lightly on his sword, and as always his expression was calm. The one steadying factor in her life these days – and the one shining fact in what seemed to be a long bloody night, which for her seemed to stretch back to Chatterton. He looked over at her, but made no commentary in response to Enris.
“You’ll be meeting that legend soon enough,” Laurelyn murmured, bracing herself for the meeting with her ancient kin.
Ahead was the once-secret door, which now gapped open, revealing only a dark passage. Laurelyn closed her hand over the material of the cloak and stepped forward into the blackness. Her heartbeat echoing in her ears, along with the sound of the others’ boots behind her.
“We should have brought a torch,” Laurelyn whispered, loath to break the stillness, and hoping that either Jacques or Enris had a light spell. Or that Thomis still carried one of the light sticks. But no sooner had she spoken when a sickening yellowish gleam filled the tunnel ahead of them – and in the center of the wavering, pulsing light was a skeletal figure, whose visage occasionally revealed his last torments – that the flesh had been peeled from his face.
Were he not deaf to the threads, Thomis wondered, would he heard whispers of fear? Or sorrow? Would the tone be that of a wailing dirge? The light around the spectre was not the bright flame called by the threads, but still it moved with more purposeful rhythm than that which drove the other, nearly mindless dead in the Dun. A purpose of vengeance, perhaps fulfilled.
Laurelyn fought down bile, but didn’t back up – much as she desired to flee another horror of the Dun. But she would not run from kin – nor from a sacred responsibility to see a piper given an honorable rest. Rest and peace – those were what he deserved … all their dead deserved… Instead she stepped forward and said, “Seol, kinsman and Warpiper of the Hillrover clan I come as one of your blood to carry you to your rest.”
Hollow, gleaming eyes in a shredded face turned towards her – then examined each who had come with her. Skeletal fingers, that obviously had been broken, gestured for both hre and Thomis to come forward.
The storyteller looked over at her husband, who gave the minutest of shrugs, and joined her as they walked towards the specter’s outstretched hand. And made herself extend her hand, since the Piper’s hand was still raised. It looked at Thomis – who also raised his hand.
The Piper, whose gleaming and ghastly, fingers of bone closed over his great-niece’s and lay her living hand over Thomis’s; all three hands engulfed in the pulsing yellow light.
Then a sigh echoed through the tunnel, or from the Piper – Laurelyn was never again sure which, and the Piper disintergrated. With him going the light. The storyteller blessed the darkness, for it hid the tears on her cheeks, and she knelt where she heard the bones fall. And while she knew that far grander words would be spoken by Naomha over their piper she repeated a verse that some said described the heart of the mountainborn. Maybe once it had been part of a Bard’s incantation, but had long since come into the lay tongue. With belief and gentleness Laurelyn said, “Stones are our bones. Rivers are our blood. Wind is our breath. Fire is our heart.”
“This is the breath,” Thomis murmured in response, giving to Laurelyn and her kin what honor he and his could give. “This is the blood.” And though he could not sing the threads to him and cast the weaves that would echo the words, still he spoke them. “This is the making, and unmaking.” He touched her hand briefly in the darkness. “The patterns have woven us together. The threads will carry you home.”
There was a scuffling noise, a muffled squeak, and then a fierce, penetrating light burst forth from the jester’s hands, throwing its glare into even the cranniest nook, and wiping shadows completely from the room.
“Sorry,” he muttered, and the sphere in his grasp dulled until the light was more akin to the normal torchlight elsewhere in the Dun. “Damn thing hates the dark as much as I do.” He gripped the 3 inch sphere tightly in one hand, his knife just as tightly in the other, and glared around the room.
“Ugly sonofabitch,” he breathed through his moustache.
Fire is our heart, thought Jacques but said nothing. More like fire is my bones, blood is our rivers, and stone is my heart.
On the floor at his feet, were a rubber chicken, a small, stuffed-toy in the shape of a yellow rabbit, and a pair of silk roses.
Despite the apparent lack of conflict, Enris knew that he had to be prepared at all times; and, he had kept a spell in mind, should battle come to them. The light from the Piper’s room was odd, but not alarming of itself.
More surprising was the Piper himself; clearly, he had suffered at the hands of enthusiastic – and perhaps even capable – torturers. To see this proud warrior, who had stood at the ready for centuries – who had remained loyal to his duty and his mission, despite the intervention of death! was both humbling and inspiring. He recalled what his leader had said – ‘Honor is a soldiers pay, a fitting exchange for heroic blood lost.’
Jacques’s light was helpful, though his comment about the Piper was jarring… still, soldiers in battle sometimes hid their deeper feelings with such a show. Enris lifted his staff, and spoke briefly; deep and somber music echoed through the chamber. Enris felt sure that it was appropriate for this courageous man. He then brought himself to attention and saluted in a gesture of admiration and respect.
As Laurelyn and Thomis finished their simple but sincere ceremony, he murmured “Thank you for letting me come with you.”
Laurelyn managed, “You’re welcome,” though she still stared at the darkened bones, and at the dry skull that looked past her. Then she made herself shift around to glance back at Jacques and Enris and say, “Thank you.” For the light and music – for both were appropriate. Jacques had a heart within him that was more guarded than any dragon’s treasure. And while she didn’t trust Enris, she knew enough of Seldez and its soldiers to know that his words and actions this hour were sincere. Seldez did honor its fallen heros. Nor was she a hyprocrite to say that there were great differences between the clan warriors and Seldez soldiers; for while the beliefs that drove them were subtly different it all came down to certain elements -territory, blood, and killing.
Thomis knelt beside her and gently took the forgotten cloak from her arm in order to spread it on the dust-covered floor. Together they lay the bones on the fabric and worked out a way to carefully lift the bundle.
After the bones were placed in the folds of the cloak, and its edges carefully draped around them, Thomis indicated that Laurelyn should lift the fragile package so that he could wrap the tartan sash around it once, twice, and a final time, to tuck the ends into the folds. “His pattern and yours, the colors of your clan,” he told her softly. When the bones came before the Chief, they would wear with them the Hillrover badge, carried in honor by a daughter of the blood.
As Thomis and Laurelyn carried the Piper’s bones down to the main hall, accompanied by Jacques and Enris, they were quick to notice that all of the corpses had collapsed. Laying like sad, discarded dolls that the spirits had left behind. Laurelyn simply gave up fighting her tears, and let them flow down her face, making red streaks where the water washed at the blood that had splattered on her. She whispered, “Now they can be gathered.”
Which was what they found occuring; both Hillrover and McLenan warriors were laying out their fallen kin on the stone floor of the Dun – arranging kilt and weapons for the afterlife. Some of the campfollowers had come to help their fallen sisters, but since many of the women were still needed for the wounded some of the warriors were helping – being surprisingly gentle as they lay out their lovers. “There are too many to bury,” Laurelyn said, though she wasn’t really sure who she was explaining to, “And the soil is too, too hard.”
As they made their way towards where Acair was coordinating affairs with Bheag and Naomha, Laurelyn noted that efforts were being made to move the wounded out to makeshift tents outside the Dun.
“Here are the bones of Seol Hillrover, Warpiper of the Clan Hillrover,” she said as they approached Acair, and held out the lumpy, but respectfully wrapped bundle.
Acair gently touched the bundle as Naomha took it from Laurelyn, and said, “Welcome back, Uncle. And thank ye for ye’re defense of ye’re kin.” Then the Chief of the Hillrover moved and gently wrapped his arms around Laurelyn, “And thank the Powers that ye made it, lass….and for bringing with ye good friends.”
The storyteller held on for a long moment and when they separated said, with a glance at Naomha, “The gods of sea and stone blessed us with bringing us together.” She smiled over at Thomis and added, “Definitely blessed.”
“Rest ye – both,” Acair said, firmly, “Ye have done enough this night and there is a tent waiting for ye. At twilight we will have ceremonies for the dead – and seal this thrice cursed place forever!”
“That we shall,” Bheag McLenan agreed, “The battles between eur clans er se old thet net nene of us remember whet begen the feuds. Let the Dun of Br’on stend es testimeny the blood spilled and eur feelishness.”
Laurelyn nodded tiredly, but said, “I need to check on how my friends are doing…..”
“I’ll heve someone check on them,” Acair said, “Along with gethering up ye’re gear and meunts.” He looked to Thomis and said with a touch of a smile, “Geed luck, to ye Thomis Parch – they’re all hard-headed women – on her mother’s sede.”
The storyteller managed a half-laugh.
Bheag chuckled and said, “Ey best keep thet in mind sense Ey weuld sey Hillrover women heve a bet of determination te them teu. Et hed been me theought thet in the future a alliance between the clans meght be wyse, but E’ve been firmly teld thet these dey ye’ve wed. Se Ey’ll de the next best and wesh ye beth Geed Fortune.”
Thomis merely nodded, lacking the energy to make even an obligatory mock gesture at defying any effort to steal his wife from him – as if she would not have defiance enough of her own. There had to be more than enough Hillrover women, related to the chief through his clutch of brothers and uncles and cousins, to make the alliance, if there would be one.
“Thank you,” Laurelyn said – well aware of how the Fates had turned this day. From a killing field – to a possible alliance, though that would have to go slowly, there were many old grievances that would have to be faced. But she suspected that if Bheag led the McLenan clan that such an alliance had a better chance.
Yet she was also aware what it would take for Bheag to become Chief of the McLenans – since Toisich was still alive, and her mind balked at wandering back into the darkened rooms of bloodshed.
He noticed the fallen corpses… too bad it didn’t seem to be some easily reproduced spell. This could have been quite useful. And it sounded as if the old enemies would be at peace for awhile, though it was certain that they would be at each others’ throats later… as Vactor Adelu had written “So long as one enemy lives, peace cannot be born.”
But right now, he was hungry and a lot more tired than he had been. Unlike others, death didn’t bother him; the dun, even now, was no worse than battlefields he had seen before. Enris made discreet inquiry about a place to sleep…and some rations…
In the collection and laying out of the dead, even the MacRories and the few Calhouns in the Dun accepted Fionn’s assistance without protest. With a dead man stretched between them, held at shoulders and feet, there was little inclination to take up again the clan grudges. As he straightened from rearranging the broken limbs of one corpse, and draping the Hillrover tartan over the unnamed warrior’s face, Fionn covered a yawn, and looked around the courtyard to consider the survivors. Thomis Parch already was leading Laurelyn Hillrover from the Dun, doubtless to find a resting place among the tents.
It might have been best to have sent Maeve in the same direction, but the girl had settled in by the injured Beud and half-dozing Rudolpho in hound form, and slept half-curled in one corner. One of the campfollowers, who had recently lost her own babe to a fever, had agreed to feed Rue, perhaps welcoming the chance to cradle something small and warm in her arms, rather than the shattered bodies of the swordsmen. Fionn walked over to her, a bit unsteady on his own feet, to crouch down and brush the dark hair from the infant’s face. Rue, suckling contentedly under the woman’s shawl, merely twitched in response, and continued with her dinner.
“She be a fair one,” the woman whispered to him with a slight smile. He couldn’t recall her name, but her lined face – probably no more than thirty years on her, if that – was familiar from the feast so many long hours before. “E’en ef she be pert Fhaolain.” As Fionn glanced up at her in surprise, his own expression almost darkening, the woman laughed softly. “Theu ye be a reght hendsome clan,” she added, smile widening into a grin.
Though sleep was a fleeting, elusive thing, Rudolpho did manage to catch short naps. He would awake to a sound or a movement nearby and glanced at the hourglass. He wondered if there was a way to make the sand fall faster. Maybe I can shake the thing… no, Keir will know. Where is he? He tried to focus on Beud and her condition but the sights and sounds around him wouldn’t let him. All around him were the dead, and the ones who grieved for their passing. He couldn’t help but think of Mother and Father.
So many time he had thought of them, wished they were still here. So many times he had been able to push those thoughts aside and go on. Now, it was impossible. He could not ignore the presence of death around him now. Worse yet he had been the cause of some of it. He had taken three lives. He opened his eyes and noticed a woman who had lost her own child, nursing Rue. Overwhelmed the tears streamed from his eyes. He didn’t care.