I kissed Emmelyne’s soft cheek, watching as she curled further into her blanket, the firelight warming her exquisite features. Finally, she was sleeping peacefully. I sat back, resting my arms on my knees, staring into the woods. It was quiet, serene. An owl hooted nearby while crickets chirped. The melody of the forest calmed my restless soul. The fire in the distance was glowing bright, though I could tell my father was at the creek. He had an odd habit of only sleeping close to the hours before dawn. I used to wonder why, until I stopped caring. My hatred for the man was stronger than my will itself.
I stood, turning to see if I could spot him. I was rewarded as I made out his bald head in the moonlight. I glanced to Emmy, smiling softly as she sighed in her sleep. This wasn’t a moment she needed to be involved in. She’d find out one day, anyways.
I walked to him, not caring to guard my steps; I wanted him to be warned of my approach. He didn’t stir in acknowledgment as I sat beside him on the rough boulder.
“I never thought to ask why ye sat up all night, starin’ at the moon.” I said. If it weren’t for Emmelyne and her ability to share what she’d seen, Dougal would have been dead the moment I’d seen him. As it was, I knew I had to give him a chance to explain himself further. He shrugged, arms crossed, as he continued to stare at the night sky. A cool breeze drifted off the gurgling creek.
“’Twas her favorite, the moon and the stars,” he whispered, his voice deep and rumbling in his thick chest. I turned my head to stare at him in shock, knowing of whom he spoke.
“Mother’s?” I confirmed. He nodded.
“Aye, she’d make me stay up wi’ her, counting the stars. It was the only time outside of our home we could be ourselves,” he turned his head slightly to glance at me, raising a grizzled, grey eyebrow. I felt my gut wrench in remembrance of her, seeing her anew, knowing she had loved the man who now sat next to me. I felt I understood him more clearly, now that I had Emmelyne. How we couldn’t be ourselves in the Brotherhood, how our freedom of expression was limited to the cave or our tent. It had felt like imprisonment.
“Madeline,” he breathed her name to life as it rolled past his lips. My heart felt pierced. I waited, sensing he would share more if I remained quiet as stone.
“I’d never claimed a woman. I wasn’t born into the Brotherhood, so I knew right from wrong. I only did what I had to do to survive,” he said, glancing down and pushing a few, smooth pebbles around the sand with the toe of his boot. He returned his gaze to the spotted night sky.
“Our leader at the time didna’ care if we claimed women or no’, but I figured I could save them. Then I found Madeline.” He said. I waited, my eyes stuck wide and staring at the man before me, the man I’d hated.
“I took her to town, to free her, but she stamped her damn foot and told me she wasna’ leavin’ my side, damn the consequences,” he chuckled, bouncing a bit with the laughter. I smiled, immediately picturing Emmelyne in one of her fits of rage.
“I’m sorry, for bein’ hard on ye,” he glanced at me again, a devilish yet apologetic glint in his blue eye.
“I knew ye’d need to be a tough bastard to survive there on yer own, so I made sure to give ye that, at least.” He said. I leaned forward, resting my arms on my knees, staring at the rushing creek.
“Aye, I get it, now.” I said.
“Good.” He answered curtly. As gruff as our words were, they were the most pleasant we’d ever exchanged. It was as close to forgiveness as we’d ever get, and we both knew it.
“I knew ye were a good lad, the day I caught ye plowin’ that girl,” he chuckled again, causing me to redden and grow hot. I shot him a glare as he laughed harder.
“How did ye figure that?” I asked, laughing as well. He sobered a bit, the seriousness returning.
“Because, I knew ye did it to help her. Ye may have gotten a good reward for it, but ye did it to make her future easier.” He said. His eyes were full of a deep respect for me, a look I’d craved as a boy and teen but had never received. I nodded.
“Aye, I did it to help the lass,” I whispered, glancing down to my hands.
“What about yer faerie?” He asked, leaning back, raising a brow. I inhaled sharply, wondering where to begin. I blew the air from my lungs, sitting up straight once more.
“Agnar forced me into claimin’ a woman. He made his men do it publicly,” I said, offering him an explanation of how new leader’s had changed the rules. He rolled his eyes.
“So, I cut her, made it look real, and brought her home. She started…sharin’, her visions wi’ me. She knew things that…only I would have known,” I shook my head, still in awe of the woman I’d grown to love and adore.
“She saw what would happen to her.” He guessed. His face was serious and austere, though his eyes blazed. I nodded.
“Aye, and when the time came, I saw it…I felt it,” I whispered. Instead of berating me, instead of saying it was my fault for failing her, he only nodded once.
“She saw me comin’, then?” He asked, changing the topic. I snorted.
“She only made mention of it the moment ye stood before me.” I said. He laughed.
“She reminds me of yer mother. Feisty, is she?” He asked. I laughed as well, remembering all the things she’d thrown at me through the months we’d spent together.
“Oh, aye, ’tis an understatement.” I said. We both laughed some more.
“Where do ye go from here, lad?” He asked. I sighed roughly, running a hand through my curls.
“Macdara.” I said. His eyes widened.
“What?” I growled. He shrugged.
“’Tis a long ride south, some place I’ve no’ been yet.”
“Hmph.” I answered, thinking.
“Why there?” He pressed.
“Emmelyne’s an orphan, and we’ve pinpointed her origins to that clan,” I shrugged. “I’m takin’ her home. Seems our best option for the time bein’.” I said. He thought a moment.
“I’ll see what I can find out about their clan.” He said. I nodded, smirking a bit.
He stood, stretching. I followed suit.
“Best get back to yer woman,” he jerked his head in her direction. “She needs ye more ’an I do.” He teased. I nodded.
“Aye, that she does.”
I made my way back to our small camp, smirking at the little bundled near the fire. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. My back ached from riding and sitting on a freezing rock, my brain hurt from the upheaval in my life, and I felt drained from everything else. I wrapped Emmy in my arms, tucking her head beneath my chin. She sighed in her sleep again. I fell into a dreamless sleep, holding tight to the woman I loved, forgetting my troubles for the time being.