Warning: Graphic sexual content near the end of the chapter.
“So, Rollo really…killed Agnar?” Emmelyne asked, breaking off another hunk of cheese from the wheel. I sipped my whisky, nodding. She raised her brows, glancing at the tabletop, my plaid shawl wrapped around her nude body. It was late, and though we were both exhausted from our reunion, there was much left to discuss. She fiddled with the cheese as she thought, her brows furrowing together. She leaned on the table to support her tired body.
“What is it, wee faerie?” I asked, concerned.
“It’s just…well…” she said, rubbing her forehead. I waited patiently for her to continue. The firelight threw deep, dancing shadows along her face.
“I figured I would have seen something like that happening…I mean, it’s pretty important, is it not?” She asked, her eyes meeting mine. I thought a moment, leaning back in my chair, my back stiff and aching from the journey home and our other, more intimate pursuits.
“Aye, ’tis important. Can ye control it, then? Yer visions?” I said. She shook her head, her eyes holding frustration within them.
“No, they just happen. Sometimes it’s the past, other times I find out it’s the future.” She said simply.
“Weel, he’s made me second in command.” I admitted. This she seemed to expect.
“What will we do?” She asked quietly. I sighed, dragging a hand along my tired face.
“I know where ’tis we must go, and now that spring is here, we can leave soon. We just…we must be very cautious.” I warned. She sat up a little straighter.
“Where is it we are going?”
I stilled, wondering how much I should divulge. Part of me knew she would figure it out sooner or later, with or without my help.
“Macdara.” I said, opting for the truth. I didn’t have to tell her of my vision of Jon. Yet. She shifted in her chair nervously. I narrowed my eyes at her; it seemed we were both hiding something. I decided to press her on the matter, though, damn fairness.
“What?” I asked. Her eyes snapped to mine again. She shook her head slowly, turning her gaze to the fire as she gripped the edge of her seat.
“I see…I see that red haired woman, very often now.” She said. My body felt chilled.
“And?” I asked, my brow furrowing. She squinted.
“I…I watched a great storm batter the ship she was on. She lived…but her husband, well, I can’t tell where he is now.”
I sat forward, waiting for more of an explanation, for the connection.
“She’s the princess, from the mountain, the one we must find, and I believe her husband is some sort of…leader,” she stood suddenly, going to our shelf and pulling a very familiar book from its spot. Clutching it to her chest, her eyes fluttered closed for a brief moment before she brought it to the table, opening it to the exact page I’d viewed to confirm who the man from my vision was.
The crest of clan Macdara jumped at me from the old page. I felt sick as I stared at it.
“I keep seeing this symbol, this crest. I know we have to go there, that we must find her,” she sat again, reaching for my hand. I gripped it, her fingers icy and smooth. Our eyes met, and within hers was a deep, unexplainable sadness. I smiled reassuringly, wondering why she would be sorrowful on a night such as this.
“I love ye, wee one, and we will make a new life for ourselves, eh?” I said, squeezing her fingers again. She smiled briefly, nodding once, before she spoke words that chilled me to my core.
“We can’t try to change the future anymore,” she whispered. “Fate will always find a way to do what must be done.”
I lay awake most of the night, listening to Emmy’s soft breathing next to me. What had she meant, about trying to change the future? Were we not supposed to leave, not supposed to go to Macdara at all?
I fell into a more fitful stupor than actual sleep, being roused awake at dawn, hearing Rollo yell for me.
“Shit,” I muttered, tugging on my breeches before he barged into our tent. Emmelyne gasped, sitting up and thankfully pulling the covers to her chest. I wiped my face, staring up at him. His once carefree demeanor had been replaced with constant aggravation. He smirked maliciously, glancing at Emmy.
“Fun’s over,” he barked, jerking his head, indicating I should follow. He stomped out, leaving me to hurry and dress. I gave Emmy a quick peck.
“I love ye,” I said, cupping her porcelain face. The same sadness from the night before was still etched into her eyes.
“I love you, too.” She whispered. I left without a backwards glance. The snow outside was melting rather rapidly, the sun shining, the sky blue. I followed Rollo to what had once been his brother’s home. I sighed deeply, pausing at the threshold before entering.
“There’s a bounty,” he began, his fists on the long table as he leaned over a yellowed map. I glanced at it, noticing it was a map of the entire continent. My blood stilled.
“A bounty?” I asked. He nodded.
“Aye, for that damn mountain princess. First it was a bounty from the clans to kill her. Now ’tis a bounty from her family to slice that pretty little neck o’ hers.”
I felt queasy.
“What are ye suggesting, then?” I asked, squinting at him through the darkness. He smirked.
“Yer my best man. I’m sendin’ ye out to find her and kill her. Agnar was at least bright enough to make an alliance before I killed the bastard. But now, I’ll do things my way. Her family and the people we are allied with want her dead, so we’ll do it.” He explained. I rubbed my forehead, feeling the worry etched into my features.
“Rollo, this seems folly. Where is this woman, anyways? And why does she matter so much?”
“Have ye truly forgotten, then, the stories of old?” He asked, straightening up and crossing his arms. I shrugged. Obviously I had. He shook his head.
“There’s a prophecy, of a fiery woman, who will supposedly bring peace to the lands, who will vanquish us and save the free folk.”
I remembered, then, the stories my mother and Murdoc used to tell me. I rolled my eyes, feigning nonchalance.
“Ye really believe all that faerie rubbish?” I said. He glared.
“Aye, I do. She’s a threat to our way o’ life.”
I heard a shuffle then, a movement in the dark of the tent. A man materialized from the shadows, clearly high born and from Mount Tier. He had a long face, pointed nose, and pale blue eyes that glinted with evil. Though his hair was whiter with age, his short cropped beard was tinged with red. He wore fine linens and glinting armor. He seemed a pompous, arrogant asshole.
“Killian, this is Eli of Mount Tier.”
It took me a moment to recognize the name, the importance of this man and his status. He was their leader, their king. I jumped, bowing a bit. When I straightened, the man smiled, though it did nothing to warm the coldness of his calculated gaze.
“Will you help us, then, young man? You’d be handsomely rewarded for your troubles.” He said smoothly, is voice deep and melodic. I thought through my options quickly, knowing that denying them meant my death, meant Emmelyne’s torture. I nodded, breathing through my nose to stave off the wave of nausea.
“Aye, I will. Only I have a few conditions.” I said, gambling. Eli’s eyes narrowed at me, Rollo glaring.
“And what would those be?” Eli asked, voice silky.
“I’ll require help, and time to gather that help.” I said. Rollo relaxed, glancing at Eli.
“Seems a fair demand, considering.”
Eli nodded, staring levelly at me, measuring me.
“I’ll wish to take Murdoc and the lad, Puck. He needs to learn how to raid properly as it is,” I said, chuckling nervously. Rollo was underestimating me, but Eli clearly wasn’t. I realized, then, the gift I had been given. A way to escape, unnoticed and under false pretenses.
“Aye, ’tis fine.” He said. I exhaled in relief as Eli continued to stare.
“That’ll be all.” He quipped, dismissing me.
“Aye, thank ye. I’ll round them up, we’ll leave day after next.”
Rollo nodded, smirking.
“’Tis so soon, lad,” Murdoc said, scratching his beard. Ama stared with concern. Puck fidgeted in his seat, all too excited to leave.
“The women will hide in the caves. We’ll collect them on our way out. By the time anyone suspects something of their absence, we will be miles away. Most will only think they fled or killed themselves,” I shrugged, gripping Emmelyne’s hand. Murdoc nodded.
“I s’pose yer right,” he turned to Ama. “Best start packin’, woman.” He said. She glared at him, her hands on her hips.
“You best rethink your demands, Murdoc.” She warned as the rest of us chuckled. Our plans devised, we set out to prepare for departure. Emmelyne was closed off, nervous most likely. This was dangerous, after all. I cradled her close to me in bed, warming her frigid body.
“Yer always so cold, wee one,” I teased, kissing the top of her head. She smiled up at me but said nothing.
“Are ye worried?” I asked, cupping her cheek. I could feel her heartbeat pulsating against my chest. She nodded.
“Ye know I’ll keep ye safe,” I promised, hugging her close.
“I know you will.” She whispered. I reached for my bedside flask of whisky, taking a long, celebratory pull, before falling into a deep slumber.
I dreamed that night, hellish nightmares that I couldn’t wrestle away from, no matter how hard I tried. I felt hard, calloused hands gripping me, tearing me apart, beating my face and abusing my body. I saw their eyes, one pair brown, the other pale blue, their lips smirking, their breath tinged with drink.
I stared up at the tree tops, my body feeling so small, pressed deeply into the frigid snow. I felt their bodies on mine, felt their hands grip my wrists and pin me down. I felt so weak as I fought against them, the world a blur in slow motion. They took turns, hurting me, hurting me in a way I never had experienced before. I cried out for anyone to help, but my words were lost, the stars and the black night engulfing them.
I felt violated, the sensation knocking my breath from my lungs, burying itself in my chest. The torture of my body continued. I fought against the clutches sleep, praying for morning, praying for this night to end. But it didn’t, not until much later.
I felt my bare feet, nearly numb as I walked across the snow and dirt and rocks, stumbling, bloodied, aching all over. Wishing it hadn’t had to come true. Wishing it was only a nightmare. I pried open the tent, not knowing of where else I could go, though not quite ready to face reality. I stood near the fire, stripping the shift from my body, holding it in my trembling hands, unable to feel the warmth of anything.
In a flash, my mind sharpened, waking me up. I gasped, sitting up, my body feeling strong and normal, though my head felt foggy. I glanced at the flask near my bed, wondering at the source for this fitful sleep. I reached out, feeling for Emmelyne. Her side of the bed was cold, empty.
I caught sight of her, then, standing in front of the fire, bruises blossoming along the backs of her arms, her shoulders. She gripped her bundled shift, the whiteness stained with blood and dirt. Her hair was a wild mess, her whole body trembling. With a sickening lurch of reality, I realized then that my nightmare hadn’t just been that. I glanced at the flask again, then back to Emmelyne. I stood quietly, fighting back the rage that wracked my body as reality dawned on me. I stood behind her, reaching out, brushing my fingertips across her bare shoulder. She jumped in fright, turning to face me, tears leaving streaks down her dirty, battered face. I felt my own tears pool. I’d seen and felt everything that had happened to her, unable to save her.
I withdrew my hand, knowing the touch of a man at this moment would be the last thing she desired, even if she loved me. She looked as hollow as a dead person, taking a deep breath before she raised her brows and spoke.
“I’d like to go to bed, please.” She whispered shakily. I nodded, my fists trembling as I moved to the side, waiting for her to pass. She turned briefly back to the fire, letting her shift tumble from her fingers and into the flames. She made her way stiffly to the bed, clearly in pain as she pulled the covers back and crawled in. I could smell their pungent scent on her, clinging to her as if to tease me at what they’d done.
I sat on the edge, staring at her. She closed her eyes, squeezing her final tears out. The rage crashed over me like a tidal wave, but a deadly calm replaced it. They’d die at my hands for what they’d done. Emmelyne’s vision had ultimately come true.