I felt a cold, rough hand press tight to my mouth, another arm pressing down hard onto my chest. Without a thought, my fingers fumbled for my dagger, hidden just beneath the straw mattress, though they came up woefully empty. My eyes sprang open to darkness as I shoved against the force holding me down, readying for a fist fight. My only thought was Emmelyne. If someone wanted her, they’d have to kill me.
I calmed immediately at Dougal’s words, though my heart thumped erratically in my chest. I tore my face away from his grasp, wiping my stubbly chin.
“What are ye doin’?” I growled quietly, the threat no identified.
“Get up, ye fool! Ye need to get gone!” He whispered urgently. My mind blanched at his words as Emmelyne stirred next to me. She’d recovered from her small fever over the week, thankfully, but I’d still refused to let her work.
“Why?” I sat up further, pushing my father away. As my eyes adjusted to the hours before dawn, I could make out his sturdy silhouette.
Those two words made my blood run cold. My hand shot out, grasping what felt like Emmy’s thigh. She jumped with a startled yelp, sitting up.
“Killian?” Her voice was laced with worry.
“How do ye know?” I asked to Dougal.
“I rode in, just ahead of em’,” he whispered breathlessly, standing and tugging me up. “Go, lad!” He urged.
“How many?” I asked, ignoring Emmelyne as I stood and pulled on my breeches.
“At least a dozen, maybe more, clearly on the hunt for ye two,” I heard him gathering our things together. The morning was chilly, moisture clinging to everything.
“Killian!” Emmelyne’s voice was more urgent now, angry. I pulled on my shirt.
“Get dressed, wee one, and quick, we must go,” I said, pausing to reach across the bed and squeeze her hand. I felt her trembling as our fingers wound together briefly. I let her go, turning back in time to catch my broadsword that Dougal tossed to me. I heard Emmy scrambling behind me, her boots thumping the wood floor as she dropped them in her nervous haste.
“What way?” I asked, cinching my belt, reaching for my jacket, as Dougal threw food and water into a bag. I felt eerily calm; part of me had always been prepared for this moment, and any other instance like it. I knew as soon as I’d tortured Rollo and left him to die that demons would follow in the wake left behind. I was prepared to meet them all, to give each and every one their bloody end, if it meant saving the woman I loved.
“Ye must make for the gap of Mount Tier, ’tis the safest, clearest shot to Macdara from here,” his deep voice rumbled in the darkness.
“Ready my horse,” I commanded.
“Killian, there’s no’ enough time,” Dougal growled. All stilled and quieted for a moment as grey dawn lit the distant hills. In that silence, the thundering of hooves shook the ground.
“Go! This way! Don’t ye stop, I’ll find ye when I can!” He urged, shoving the bag in my direction and pulling Emmy to her feet. He gripped my bicep in one hand and hers in another, his eyes flicking between both of ours.
“Get to Macdara, keep each other safe.”
With those last words, I reached for Emmelyne as we escaped into the darkness.
We ran until the sun peaked, until our sides ached—until there was no sign of humanity left. The way Dougal had instructed us to go was all untamed forest, and without a horse, our going was rather slow. We now faced many more dangers than just that of men. There were bears, lions, poisonous plants. These things I could combat easily enough on my own, but with Emmelyne in tow, my task felt insurmountable. There were no more towns. There was no more hot meals, ale or whisky. It was her and I and the wild.
We walked quietly, both of us adjusting to this unfortunate turn of events. I wondered if Dougal had survived, though I found myself not worrying all that much. He’d faked his death for a substantial amount of time. He could escape from the Brotherhood now.
I glanced at Emmelyne beside me, her long hair slovenly pulled together as we’d walked, her face smeared with dirt and scratches from low hanging branches. She kept her eyes on her feet as she walked, chewing her lip.
“Are ye alright, wee faerie?” I asked. The sun was at its peak, though I still knew we were headed due south—the right direction. There had to be a trail near here. I knew the forest was frequented by thieves and the like who used the cover of trees as their highway.
She glanced up at me and nodded, though I was unconvinced.
“What is it?” I pressed. She returned her gaze to her feet, picking her way carefully over rocks and roots.
“I…I never saw that coming,” she whispered, pushing a fern out of the way. She seemed ashamed of herself for not seeing that part of the future. I stopped, drawing her attention to me. I crossed my arms, staring down at her and quirking an eyebrow.
“So ye can control it, then?” I asked, though I knew the answer, as did she.
She gave me a withering look, kicking at the dirt with the toe of her boot. Birds called to one another in the distance, happy, lighthearted noises.
“No,” she shrugged.
“Then why are ye upset, woman?” I chided gently. She gazed up at me, her striking blue eyes melting my heart and calming me in an instant. I reached out to her, gripping her forearm and pulling her into a hug. I pressed her cheek against my heart, feeling the heat of her. I kissed the top of her head.
“Ye’ve given me so many gifts already, seein’ into the future the way ye do. But ’tis no why I love ye so,” I said, giving her a squeeze. Her hands rested on the small of my back, but she pulled her face away to stare up at me coyly.
“Why do you love me so?” She asked. I chuckled, rubbing my thumb across her full cheek. I smirked, enjoying how she’d grown to learn to tease me in such ways.
“Because yer everythin’ I never knew I needed.” I said, more serious than teasing. Her eyes searched mine before she allowed herself to smile. She could see the truth of my words written there. I bent down, pressing a kiss to her full lips, winding my hands into her hair. She deepened the kiss urgently without much warning. I pressed the small of her back tighter to me, my need for her apparent suddenly. She threw her hands around my neck as I lifted her off the ground, wrapping her legs around my hips. I walked us to a broad tree, pushing her back into it, both of us breathless and heady with desire.
Having to run as we did just hours before, our adrenaline still simmered just below the surface, ready to spring into action once more. The thought that we’d come so close to capture and death made this moment of turning ourselves over to our primal desires all the more pertinent.
“I need you,” she breathed, holding me tight. With one hand, I untied my breeches as she pulled her skirts out of the way. I wasted no time, my lust peaked as it was. I needed her, too, like the very air I breathed.
I pushed into her, holding her up, using the tree to help support her. She leaned her shoulders back onto it, her legs wrapped tightly about my hips as I thrust into her, winding my hand back into her hair, pulling her face to mine, our foreheads touching. She gasped at the veracity with which we made love, though she ground her hips against mine as well in response. I kissed her neck, wanting to hear her moan. As she did, I knew I was hopelessly done for.
“Killian,” she breathed, gripping my shoulders, my hair, my arms. I could feel her press harder against me, tightening. She cried out, reaching her peak, before I allowed myself the same release. I held fast as she withered around me, still thrusting. I needed to feel her again. I gripped the back of her neck, her eyes wildly searching mine.
“I…can’t…” she breathed. I smirked, though, more than willing to accept her challenge.
“Aye,” I huffed. “Ye can, for me.” I growled. I was immediately rewarded, though, as another wave of pleasure hit her, this time much more forceful. She was unable to make a single sound. I drove myself further into her, giving up my control, finally feeling my own, deep pleasure. I groaned, tucking my face into the crook of her sweaty neck, feeling her heartbeat against my cheek. It was the most precious thing in this world to me, that hammering of blood through her veins.
She moaned as I extracted myself, settling her back onto her feet. She wobbled, though, gripping my arm for support, grinning dreamily up at me. I placed a kiss upon her lips, feeling my own smile as I tied up my breeches.
“Ye she-devil,” I growled against her. She laughed quietly, wrapping her arms about me and gripping me tight to her. My heart felt so full I swore it could burst. It didn’t matter that we were on the run. It didn’t matter that we had no food, no shelter or water. What mattered was our journey, our trek to her home. What mattered most was that we had each other. I sighed in contentment.
“You’re the one who insisted we weren’t done,” she teased. I glanced down at her still-smiling face. Sun streamed down through the canopy of the trees above.
“Oh, aye, we weren’t. I wanted to make certain ye’d have a hard time walkin’, so ye canna ever leave me.” I teased. She laughed, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment at my words.
“I don’t think that will ever have to be a worry with us,” her voice lowered, her wide eyes searing.
“No, wee one, that will never be a worry.”