I sat by the fire, sharpening my dagger, my sword, my knife—each tool I had at my disposal. They’d become rather blunt as I sparred with Puck each day, forcing him to learn to fight with real weapons. Emmelyne watched me, her demeanor deeply saddened, though I knew she’d never admit it. We were both stubborn, in that way, always trying to bluff and hide our true emotions. It never worked for long.
As I’d feared, Agnar had commanded I join the raid. With the snow pack and the distance, we’d be gone close to three months. And I was set to leave at dawn. Both Murdoc and Puck were to stay behind. I knew Emmelyne would be safe and comforted in their care, but it didn’t change how I felt, knowing we’d be apart for so long. We’d discussed her vision of the attack, coming to the conclusion that I had indeed changed the future. That was a main reason for my going. As soon as I returned, as the spring began to thaw the land, we’d leave forever.
But right now, my heart only ached. Emmelyne stood suddenly from her spot on the floor, making her way to me. I set my work aside carefully, holding my arms open to her. She curled herself into my lap, resting her head on my shoulder. I gripped her tight to me.
“I know this feeling,” she whispered, fidgeting with her hands.
“I’ve only felt it from a vision, though, from another woman.” She explained. My skin prickled.
“Who?” I asked.
“She has the most fiery red hair. She misses the man she loves. It…it hurts her. And now I feel it myself,” she pulled away to stare at me.
“We will meet her, someday.” She said simply. I could only stare in response, still unable to form coherent thoughts when it came to her visions.
“Are ye sayin’ ye love me, then?” I teased, watching the blush rise in her cheeks as she smiled coyly.
“I’ll miss ye,” I said as she placed her head back on my shoulder. I gave her a kiss, staring into the fire. I felt quite guilty, having not shared with Emmelyne the entire truth of this raid. Agnar had shown me the route, the farthest south we’d ever gone. It would take us nearly to the clan Macdara and a few other clans we’d thought Emmelyne may have been from. Puck and I had researched more, narrowing down Emmelyne’s origin. When I’d asked Agnar why we weren’t just raiding them as well, he’d let slip the size of their defenses, how their men (and women) were renowned warriors, and how they hardly traded in silver or gems.
After this trip, I’d know which route to take, which towns were friends or foes, and how to remain undiscovered. I’d know how to take her home.
“Come back to me.” She whispered, tears thick in her voice.
That was the first night I saw his face. I knew not of who he was, how he would relate to either me or Emmelyne, only that his eyes pierced my soul, that he seemed to be the only match in this world for my strength and skill and sheer will. Those coal black eyes stared at me with a lividness I’d not seen before as a storm raged around him, the sea battering his ashen face. He remained still, though—still as stone against the wind and rain and dark waves. If ever I believed in ghosts, it was now. He felt just beyond the veil, just out of reach. I was left unsettled, waking in a cold sweat, Emmelyne’s hand falling from my face as I moved. She’d been asleep, unwittingly sharing her visions.
I calmed my breathing, dragging my hands along my dripping face, pulling them away to stare as they trembled. I threw the blankets aside, stumbling in the near pitch blackness to the books scattered across the table. The fire burned low, offering me little light to find what I desired. I flipped hastily through the leafy pages, my whole body trembling with a fear I was not accustom to. My breathing ceased as my eyes fell upon the image I’d been seeking, the very incarnation of my vision.
Drawn with precision was the crest that had been pinned to the man’s chest; a crow who chased a bear who chased a wolf, encircling the flower of their lands. I let the book fall with a light thump to the table, knowing then what it all meant. The ghost beckoned me to bring her home.
Home to Macdara.
I urged Ari into line behind the rest of the Brotherhood, Rollo following me. I had refused a goodbye, had denied us both of any show of intimacy, knowing that it would make our parting all the more sorrowful. I steeled myself for what lay ahead, abandoning thoughts of her back home. I prayed she wouldn’t discover the vision she’d shared with me. Not until I had the time to allow her to process what it would mean. I couldn’t shake his livid face from my mind, couldn’t shake the feeling that reality would be here all too soon.
The days blurred, the scenery changing little by little, trees thickening the landscape. Finally breaking free of Mount Tier’s icy grasp, the snow dwindled to mere inches, improving our pace. Rollo and I talked often during the long nights, discussing Agnar’s future alliances. With six hundred men in tow and encamped around us, our words of dissent were dangerous. I wanted to urge him to leave with us, but something always called me back from the brink.
There was much hushed talk in the towns, however, of a clan making an allegiance to Mount Tier, something that had never happened in the course of our history. People also spoke of the mountain’s princess having run off, that she’d been stolen by a savage man. I paid close attention to their gossip for once, knowing these political schemes would now have greater worth to me. I wanted to be on the right side of history for once.
It wasn’t until a month of being on the road that Agnar and Rollo quietly disappeared together during the night. I silently followed, realizing Agnar’s true motives for this raid. I crouched in the brush, holding my breath as Agnar and Rollo approached a giant of a man, his armor glistening in the torchlight. He was tall, built with hard, sinewy muscle, his nose long, his brown brows thick, his dark hair slicked back across his skull. His eyes glinted with such evil and malice that it rivaled that of Agnar’s.
“Viktor,” Agnar said, stepping forward in greeting as they clasped each other’s forearms. Rollo stepped forward as well, a bit less convinced than his brother, but the power emitted from the man seemed to be enough to entice him to agree with his brother’s decision to hold this meeting. The man, Viktor, nodded, a small smile tugging up his full lips.
“I’ve brought you a gift, something to persuade you to join our alliance,” Viktor clasped his hands together and stood aside as one of his burly men ushered a young woman forward. I peered between the stark, tangled branches, craning to get a better look. The woman had long brown hair with a slender build. She was bound, breathing heavily, clearly frightened as her eyes darted around the clump of men.
Viktor motioned to her.
“My half-sister. One of my father’s many bastard children.”
Agnar’s eyes widened at the girl’s beauty. He reached for her greedily. This man was vile, but also very intelligent. He knew how to garner support of those he needed, however tenuous. I felt my fists clench as this alliance unfolded.
“Borthwick thanks you.” Viktor said. Agnar waved his hand, too focused on his latest prize to care much.
“What do ye want from us?” He said gruffly, tearing his eyes away from the trembling woman. Viktor smiled.
“I’ll need your men to…root out a little problem, come the late summer. Timing is everything in these matters of war, is it not?” Viktor said. Rollo huffed and crossed his arms.
“Our men don’t go to war.”
“Ahh, but things are changing, I’m afraid, and everyone has some role to play.” Viktor countered. He moved forward, commanding Agnar’s attention once more.
“We’ll make you as rich as kings. You’ll be given a quarter of the land we seize,” he said temptingly. Agnar nodded, eyes alight. Even Rollo seemed to fall under this man’s spell.
“You can have all the virgins you desire, create laws and decrees at your leisure.”
Before Viktor was finished, Agnar stuck his arm out again, grasping the giant’s.
“Aye, we agree.”
Rollo nodded, shaking his hand as well. My heart sank for my friend, knowing I’d have to abandon him now. This was the beginning of war, and the end of life as we had always known it.