“Send Puck to me,” I’d instructed Murdoc after Emmelyne had fallen asleep. Breathless and excited, the young lad rushed to my tent, aiming to accomplish whatever I asked of him. I couldn’t turn back now, even though I knew of the danger this would put him in. He was a smart boy, more brain than brawn, and I knew I could trust him for those reasons.
“Ye called for me, Killian?” He puffed, cheeks flaming red.
“Aye, I have a task for ye. But ye canna say a word of it to anyone, understand?” I said, crossing my arms and puffing out my chest to frighten him a bit. He nodded eagerly.
“I need ye to gather all the maps ye can of the clan lands, past and present, and any books that may have information on them.” I demanded. I stood above him on the creaky wooden step that lead into our tent. My heart fluttered in my chest. Requesting maps was dangerous; only Agnar had them. He kept them to ensure his subjects wouldn’t flee, while simultaneously choosing which spots to raid next. I had a good idea of the lay of the land, but only for so many miles in each direction. Murdoc knew more than me as well, but I wasn’t ready to drag him into this. Yet.
“Go.” I barked. Being young and bright, Puck could simply ask for them to study up. Agnar would be too dull to suspect anything. He turned and ran back down the path.
It was clear to me now that we needed to leave, but I couldn’t risk just running away; I’d need a methodical plan in place before I did so. I could no longer afford to risk Emmy’s life and innocence because I lacked courage. I made my way back inside, pulling up a chair to position at the foot of the bed. I stared at her for what only felt like minutes. Dawn soon crept over the horizon, turning the inside of our tent to a deep violet. She barely stirred, snoring a bit every now and then, always clutching my plaid.
The vision I’d seen of her wearing that crown of flowers frightened me; I wasn’t bred to fall in love and marry, but I’d immediately known what it meant. It was chilling, to see my future. I didn’t understand how she’d been able to cope with everything she must have seen.
Each clan had different traditions as far as what the bride wore. My only hint was those small white flowers. I had an eery feeling that that type of crown and her clan were connected. That’s where we needed to go. I needed to take her to her true home and pray her people had sympathy on us, that they could protect us.
I sighed deeply, rubbing my tired eyes. Outside, crows called to one another in the early morning light. Quick footsteps crunched up the path. I stood fluidly, meeting Puck at the stairs before he had a chance to even greet me. His arms were overflowing with parchment, his saddlebags used to carry thick, heavy books. He opened his mouth to speak, but I grabbed him by his collar and yanked him inside, peering around to make sure no one followed him.
He stood quietly, staring down at Emmelyne.
“Do ye want to die, lad?” I growled. Thankfully, she’d chosen to sleep clothed. His eyes snapped to me as he shook his head quickly. I nodded to the table.
“Best get to work.” I smirked. We sat, unfurling maps and placing cups along the edges to keep them in place. Some were ancient, riddled with holes and stains, others of lands I’d never heard of.
“What are we lookin’ for?” Puck whispered, glancing again to Emmelyne. I sighed heavily, sitting back and crossing my arms, staring at the pages laid before me.
“A clan.” I said simply. He raised his eyebrows.
“A…A clan?” He said incredulously. I stared at him, pressing my lips thin and nodding.
“I’m no’ sure,” I whispered, leaning forward again, wracking my brain for any clues. Emmelyne could help, but she’d had enough stress to last her a lifetime. This I needed to do alone. I rubbed my eyes again, a thought springing into my mind.
“It has a castle, and a wide river.” I explained, remembering when she had described aspects she had tucked away in her memory. Puck nodded, glancing over the maps. I was thankful he seemed out of questions for the moment.
“And…there’s a tradition…for a bride, of wearing a crown of flowers, on her weddin’ day,” I said, feeling a blush rise in my cheeks.
“Alright,” he nodded, reaching for a black, leather bound book and cracking it open. “Ye look at maps, I’ll search for traditions.” He suggested. I smiled at the lad.
“Thank ye, Puck, truly.”
His eyes snapped up to my face. He returned my smile, nodding.
We pored quietly over the maps and searched through the books for hours. Emmelyne had awoken, startled at seeing Puck, who smiled and waved nervously. I left him to continue his research, taking Emmelyne to Murdoc’s.
“Ye can help Ama prepare dinner tonight, eh?” I said, smiling down at her. She gave me a sour look.
“You’re hiding something from me,” she squinted up at me, scrutinizing my face. I feigned innocence.
“Just checkin’ maps for previous raids. The lad wants to learn is all.” I said curtly. We paused in front of Murdoc’s. I could hear Ama humming inside, smell bread dough rising. She crossed her arms, standing on a step. It didn’t help much to compensate for our height difference. I crossed my arms, ready to fight.
“You…saw something, when we…kissed,” she said quietly, blushing. I felt a hot flash through my body. I nodded slowly.
“What did you see?” Her brows knotted together.
“Ye mean, ye didna’ see it?” I asked, quite surprised. She shook her head, looking confused and helpless. I smirked, feeling triumphant.
“I s’pose ye will have to wait and see,” I winked, leaning in to give her a peck on the cheek, unsure of how to proceed with any physical intimate actions. She blushed deeply, trying and failing to hide her small smile.
“Go on,” I jerked my chin to the door. “I’ll see ye tonight, hmm?”
She nodded, her eyes still locked on mine as she chewed her lip. She made to move away, before she turned and spoke words that made me feel ash in my mouth.
“I saw your dream of us, once. You seemed to be enjoying it,” she blushed but laughed as my face drained of color, turning and leaving me alone in the frigid air. The little devil had learned my tricks, it seemed, and was turning my own humor against me. The door closed, sealing her inside. I growled, biting my lip as I leaned my head against it, unable to stop my risqué thoughts. I yearned for the day when I could take her in my arms, when I could give her everything I had to offer. I growled again, shaking my thoughts away and returning home.
Puck was fast asleep on the bed. I rolled my eyes, but decided maybe a rest was in order. I could barely keep my lids from sliding shut. I crashed onto the bed and fell into a dreamless sleep.
I awoke, hot and parched and disoriented. I shot up, feeling another heavy, hot body next to mine. It wasn’t Emmelyne. My head pounded from exhausted and dehydration. I heard a low chuckle near the fire.
“Aww fuck,” I muttered, wiping my face as I found Murdoc. He sat, leaned back casually, his dagger point on my table as he spun the blade. He’d seen everything. I reached over and punched Puck, who was much too close for comfort.
“Huh?” he sat up in a daze.
“Weel, aren’t ye two quite the merry pair?” Murdoc teased. I groaned.
“Dinner’ll be ready soon. Thought I’d fetch ye. Seems there’s a bit more to this story, though, lads,” he said, nodding sagely to the maps and books. I sighed, swinging my legs over the side and doubling over.
“I didna’ want to involve ye.” I said curtly.
“Think I’m too old and stupid to realize what this is?” He quirked a bushy eyebrow at me. I glared.
“O’ course not.”
“What are ye lookin’ for?” He said, his eyes boring into mine.
“A clan.” I whispered.
“Oh? And who’s clan would that be?” His brow furrowed. I turned to him, locking eyes.
“Emmelyne’s. She was orphaned while traveling. Dal was not her home.” I explained. He nodded, glancing down at the maps before a wicked smile curled onto his face.
“Ever considered I may know more than you two dolts combined?”
“Aye, even in yer old age.”
He rolled his eyes, motioning to the maps.
“What do ye have to go on?”
I sat up a little straighter, surprised at his willingness to help us do something so risky. Puck and I exchanged a glance.
“There’s a castle, and a wide river. And their brides where white flowers on their weddin’ day.” I said quickly. He thought a moment, stroking his beard, his beady black eyes scrutinizing.
“I know of a few places that would match that description.” He offered. My heart soared.
“Ye do?” Puck said eagerly. He nodded.
“Aye, and I also know how foolish and dangerous this will be, Killian,” he said, staring pointedly at me. I felt defensive.
“I have no other choice. She’ll die here,” I growled, standing up. Murdoc was calm as ever as he smiled up at me.
“I said it was dangerous and foolish, but I never said I didna’ want to come with.”
We invited Puck to dinner, our spirits lifted greatly, knowing we had more help. We sat, cramped in Murdoc’s stone cottage, the smell of bread overwhelming my senses. Murdoc passed around a flask of whisky, which I greedily reached for.
“Now, this dinner is of Emmelyne’s making.” Ama said, settling into her chair. I glanced at my woman, at her blush, proud of her. Ama ladled a thick, creamy soup into each of our bowls while Murdoc gave us each a slab of beef. My mouth watered.
“What is it?” Puck asked nervously, glancing at the soup.
“Potato soup.” Emmelyne said quietly. She seemed nervous, so I dug in without hesitation. And it was delicious.
“Mmm,” Murdoc sighed contentedly. I reached under the table, hesitating before placing my hand on her thigh. She jumped a bit before I winked at her, giving her a reassuring squeeze. Blushing, she began to eat. Silence befell the room as we devoured dinner, our bellies stretched to the max, our eyes heavy. We sat around the table, telling stories to pass some of the long winter night. I tipped the flask back, feeling the burn of alcohol. Grinning, I handed it to Emmelyne. Her eyes widened.
“Go on,” I encouraged, holding it closer to her. She gripped the shiny metal with two hands, wrinkling her nose before tipping it back quickly and taking a long pull. She held the back of her hand to her mouth, her eyes watering, face bright red as we laughed. She coughed, a few tears leaking out.
“A true clanswoman,” Murdoc said, raising his glass to her. Emmelyne smiled. I felt it, in my heart, how happy she was in this setting. I knew a true clan life would suit her, would suit me as well. I could see in Murdoc’s eyes his readiness to leave, and I also knew Puck wouldn’t hesitate to follow. All these lives, being risked for one purpose or another. I knew we were ready for that change.
We stumbled back to our tent, drunk and giggling, though Emmelyne had indulged much more than I had. I held open the tent for her as she sidled inside, collapsing onto her back on the soft bed. I tied up and moved to stand above her. She erupted in a fit of giggles. I rolled my eyes, propping her boot on my thigh to untie them and take them off.
“Ye canna hold yer liquor, woman.” I chided. She laughed.
“I’ve—” hiccup “never drank—” hiccup “before.”
“Oh aye, I can tell,” I laughed, pulling her second boot off before I kicked mine to the side and crawled in next to her. I propped myself up, staring down at her beauty. She smiled drunkenly.
“You’re handsome,” she cooed, attempting to roll over. I chuckled, pressing her shoulder down.
“Stay put, ye wee faerie,” I said, feeling her shudder at my touch. She yawned deeply, her eyes sliding closed.
“Killian?” Her small voice asked.
“Hmm?” I said, loosing her braid from its tether and winding my fingers through the silky lengths.
“Can we…do it…soon?” She whispered, struggling to form coherent words. My brow furrowed.
She blushed, still somewhat conscious. I reached for her face, brushing my thumb across her parted lips. A slumbering beast within me was awakened, beginning to rage through my body.
“I…don’t want it…to happen, that way, my first time,” she whispered, her eyes flashing open to meet mine. My heart clenched.
“It’s no’ goin’ to happen.” I growled. She shook her head.
“It will,” she promised. “But maybe…it wouldn’t be…so bad, if you and I…” she trailed off. My thoughts and heart were cloven in two. She was asking me to take her innocence, something I desired so greatly. But it was for different reasons, dark reasons. Then again, how could I deny her this one request? I sighed, rolling so I was straddling her. Her eyes sprang open, her mind sharpening through the fog of whisky.
I place my hands on the bed on either side of her face, leaning down slowly, planting a deep kiss on her lips. She sighed. I pulled away, gripping the hem of her skirts and pulling them up. She shivered and trembled, fright clear in her eyes. I smirked, bending to kiss her again. She was more stiff this time.
“Emmelyne,” I whispered. She swallowed and opened her eyes to stare at me.
“Yer no’ ready,” I smiled, knowing all along she wasn’t, knowing I’d have to prove that to her. She blushed but smiled a timid grin, nodding.
“Ye’ll know it, when ye are, and I’ll be here for ye, I promise,” I said softly, bending so my lips would graze her jawline. I rolled off her, pulling her close so her head rested on my chest.
“Sleep now, wee one,” I said, brushing my fingers through her hair. She sighed, her small hand gripping a fistful of my shirt.
“I really really like you, Killian,” she yawned. I snorted and kissed the top of her head.
“I really really like ye, too, Emmy.”