My breath left my lungs as I sighed in temporary relief. I hoped Agnar would turn his sights elsewhere for the time being, until I figured out exactly what to do with the woman that was now technically mine. I turned back to her, seeing how the men circled around, nearly drooling in their lust. She convulsed in shivers, struggling to pull the hem of her shift back down. I took a step towards her, though I was stopped by a hand on my arm.
“That was a convincing performance, even to me.” Murdoc said quietly, danger in his voice. I whipped my head to stare at him, shocked he’d seen through my plan.
He set his mouth and raised his bushy brown brows.
“Yer lucky Agnar was in his cups all day, too drunk to see properly.”
My chest tightened. He released me as Rollo clapped me on the shoulder.
“Told ye it was easier than ye thought it would be, especially with that looker,” he nodded to Emmelyne, her eyes darting from me to the men who were ready to fight me for her. I pushed my sword back into my sheath, reaching down to tie up my breeches, my face flushing hotly. At least Rollo had been convinced, but that didn’t say much, considering his level of intelligence.
“I’ll need yer help tonight,” I said, looking back to my friends. Murdoc nodded.
“Aye, we’ll keep watch.”
I bent to Emmelyne, tears staining her cheeks as her eyes stared past me to Rollo and Murdoc.
“It’s alright,” I whispered. “Ye can trust them, too.”
I reached for her. She recoiled, her hands shuddering, stained with blood. My chest felt tight; it was only natural that she’d fear me, but I wasn’t expecting it to hurt me as it did. I pushed an arm behind her legs, the other on her lower back, hoisting her up into my arms. I felt rain drops, the increase in the wind. A new storm was rolling in.
I walked her back to her cottage, mounting the small steps. She began to squirm in my arms, causing me to nearly fall. Once in, I set her on her feet. She stumbled back, tripping over her bed frame and sprawling onto the mattress. It seemed the shock of the night’s events were finally hitting her. I sighed, closing the door, spotting Murdoc and Rollo walking the perimeter of the dainty cottage.
I moved to the small hearth, readying firewood and kindling to warm the space. I could hear her quiet sobs behind me. I hoped she’d cry herself out and fall to sleep soon, though I knew I’d have to help clean that cut I’d given her. I found a sturdy iron pot filled with water, setting it over the fire to boil.
She faced away from me, shaking, hugging her knees to her chest. Having very little experience dealing with inconsolable women, I had no clue where to begin. I rubbed my hand across the back of my neck in thought.
I sat on the edge of her bed, which quieted her cries for a brief moment as she scooted away from me. I smiled softly, though it faded as I imagined what her reaction would have been if I’d truly claimed her.
“Emmy?” I tried, reaching out to her, placing my hand on her hip. She ceased her trembling and quieted, though still recoiled. It must have still been traumatic for her, though, knowing how close we’d actually been to that sort of union.
“I need to clean that cut, then I’ll leave ye be, alright?” I said. She shrank further into herself. My frustration began to build.
“Emmelyne.” I said, my voice stern even to my ears. She turned her shoulder, her gaze piercing, her eyes red and swollen. My heart sank.
“Come along,” I prodded. “Sit up.”
It occurred to me that she’d likely obey anything I asked of her, whether it was because of her upbringing or because she feared me. She pushed herself up, looking anywhere but my face. I moved to the fire, reaching into the small bag at my side, pulling out dried lavender and yarrow. Fighting was in my blood, though healing had been taught to me. I was excellent at both. I crushed the lavender with my hands, letting the dustings fall into the roiling water. I put the bitter yarrow in my mouth, chewing. I walked back to Emmy, perched on the edge of her bed, her tears now silent. I pulled out my dagger, causing her to shy away. Unable to speak for the moment, I held up my hands. She understood.
I reached down, slicing a length of her shift, tossing the dirty hem aside. I cut another, cleaner length, bringing it back to the fire and dropping it in the boiling water. Once satisfied with the consistency of the yarrow and the cleanliness of the boiled strip of cloth, I used my dagger to pull it out. I let it cool a bit, wringing out the excess water, turning back to her. I folded the cloth, spitting the clump of mushed herb into it, and folding it again. She stared at me as if I were a faerie come to life.
“Alright, up ye get.” I motioned for her to stand. She obeyed, although it caused her steady shaking to begin again.
“Be best if ye throw that away,” I nodded to her bloodied and grimy shift that had once been white as snow. Her eyes widened, but she slowly complied, pulling the shift over her head and balling it in her hands, covering her bare breasts. I tried not to stare, though her natural beauty and shyness made it difficult. For the second time tonight, I felt that jolt, like I’d been struck by lightning.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts, watching her cheeks flush hotly as I moved closer to her, bending onto my knees to examine the cut I’d given her. It still bled slightly, a three inch long slice right below her left hip bone. I used the boiled cloth to blot it, feeling her wince.
“This will help yer blood clot.” I said. She remained silent, her skin erupting in goosebumps wherever my hands touched her. She jumped as shouts sounded outside her door. It seemed Murdoc and Rollo were fighting off the first wave of those dumb enough to try and get past them.
“Killian?” Her small voice came from above me.
“Hmm?” I said, distracted as I dabbed at her cut.
“Am I…am I unclean now?” Her knees knocked together. I closed my eyes, sighing.
“Ye mean no a virgin anymore?” I asked, peeking up at her.
“Yes,” she whispered, lowering her bundled up shift to cover more of herself.
“I didna’ take ye.” I said, trying to be curt and cut off the conversation. She backed away a step.
“But…I thought…I thought you did, that you had to…” she trailed off. I followed her, still waiting for the yarrow to do its job.
“I did have to, so Agnar and other men wouldn’t. But I only made it seem like I took ye. I wasna’ ’bout to force myself on ye like that.”
“When will you do that to me?” She asked quietly. I could hear the tremor in her voice. Finally, her cut began to clot. Sighing, I stood to face her. She shrank away from me, averting her eyes.
“I won’t.” I said simply, though my heart was warring with my mind. I craved her, more veraciously than I’d ever craved a woman, but I knew I couldn’t have her. Her wide blue eyes flicked up to mine, peering at me through unimaginably thick lashes.
I felt my jaw clench.
“Because, I’m no that kind of man. I promised to keep ye safe, and that’s what I’ll do.”
“What about that…big man…” she blushed profusely, the color staining her neck as well. Anger simmered within me as I remembered Agnar groping her.
“I have no problem killing him, if it comes to that.”
Fear flittered in her eyes. I knew the look on my face must have frightened her.
“You’ll stick close wi’ me, and my friends, and ye will be alright.” I said. She nodded, biting her lip, casting her eyes to the floor. I could sense she had more questions. I waited patiently, listening as the wind howled past her cottage. Questions of my own sprouted forth, but I bit them back.
“What happens…how is it done…I mean, when you, you know…” She struggled to find the right words for her awkward question. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. I decided being blunt with her would be best, seeing as she’d now be surrounded by five hundred men—men who wished to take her from me.
“What were ye told it would be like?” I asked, crossing my arms. The warmth of the fire finally began to fill the space. She shifted, attempting to cover more of her nakedness. After all I’d seen, her nudity didn’t bother me.
“Umm…” she blushed, biting her lip even more. “That you’d, well, put that—” she motioned slightly with her small hand to the lower half of my body. “You know…in…” she now motioned to her lower half. It was nearly impossible to bite back my laughter. She blushed so deeply that I could almost feel the heat coming off her.
“Aye, that is what happens,” I said, my lips trembling as I fought off the urge to chuckle. Her eyes widened, her mouth slightly agape as she stared at the floorboards.
“But that can’t be…possible, I mean, you’re so…so…”
I couldn’t fight the laughter any longer. It burst forth, wracking my body as I bent over, crying from the shear hilarity of the moment. Standing straight, I gazed at her confused face.
“I’m glad ye think I’m so well endowed, though I had no fear of that to begin with.”
I could sense that I’d somehow hurt her feelings by laughing at something she took so seriously. It had felt so good to laugh though. It had been years since I’d truly felt such a raw emotion. Especially in such a tense and awkward situation.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered, sobering up. “Let’s get ye dressed and I’ll let ye sleep.” I suggested, knowing she’d need to rest up for the journey back to the Brotherhood lands. She nodded, reaching for the discarded shift that Agnar had found. I turned away to stoke the fire, giving her some privacy. We’d likely stay here for a week or so before we prepared to head north, giving us time to grow our trust a bit. I knew we’d need it, especially on the road. These men were never satisfied enough.
Emmy lay in bed, curled up under the thick blanket, staring at nothing. Her lips trembled again as fresh tears threatened to overtake her. There was another scuffle outside the cottage, proving my intuition was right. Protecting her would be the most difficult thing I’d ever do.
The next two days were spent confined to the cottage. The men of the Brotherhood were quiet, their lust quenched for now. I knew it wouldn’t last long; Rollo had told me that Agnar had already killed his woman for defying him. I guessed that the other men had likely done the same, or were bored with their conquests. Everyone was agitated at the lack of ale and whisky this clan had, though we had all known of their ultra-pious leanings. Apparently, these people weren’t keen on drinking.
I stayed outside the majority of each day, giving Emmy time to acclimate to her new life. At night, I’d sleep on the floor and listen to her pitiful cries as nightmares overtook her. I had thought my want for her would ebb, but it only increased, making it nearly impossible to be around her for long. I began to hate myself, for forgetting Maeve, for lusting after such an innocent, demure young woman. I knew I’d never act on it, knew I could never stoop so low.
I stared up at the grey clouds, heavy with more rain. Nightfall was nearing, the men becoming more restless. Murdoc leaned against the cottage, using the tip of his dagger to clean his teeth. Rollo picked his way over the debris caused by the raid.
“Agnar wants ye.” He said. I rolled my eyes, standing and stretching.
“Probably wants to heckle ye about yer little faerie.” He shrugged.
Everyone had started to call Emmelyne that; faerie. Down here, not many believed in the superstition. But up north, faeries were revered, talked of constantly. It was a term saved for a woman of pure beauty. My heart clenched along with my jaw.
“Fine. Keep a close eye on her, go inside.” I said to Murdoc. He grumbled but obliged, understanding my need for protecting her. Rollo followed me as I trudged away to the largest structure in their town—a long and squat mess hall. Agnar now commanded it. Rollo pushed the heavy doors open with a grating sound. The space was littered with long tables and upturned chairs, torches lighting the side walls while a huge hearth burned brightly. Agnar sat in what could only be a throne of some sort, a small blond woman on his lap.
He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, kissing her jawline. Her eyes were ringed underneath in black; she likely had a broken nose. My fists clenched as his eyes fell upon me. He smirked.
“Not nearly as beautiful as yer little faerie, but she does the trick.” He said as I came to a halt in front of him.
“What do ye want?” I growled. He feigned innocence.
“Only to check up on ye, see how ye like yer woman. I’m still kickin’ myself for not takin’ her from you.” He sighed, his eyes dancing.
“She’s fine.” I said.
“Nothin’ quite like a virgin. So endearing, how they have no clue what to do or expect.” He smiled. My stomach roiled.
“This one here had a husband. Poor fella, threw nothin’ but a chair at me.” He chuckled.
“Are we done here?” I asked, trying to reign in my anger.
“No,” he smirked. “We will be feasting tonight, and I expect ye here, with yer woman. You’ll no hide her forever, Killian. Ye’ve claimed her, so what’s there to worry about?” He said. I caught the threat in his voice. He’d want to challenge me for her at some point.
Knowing I had no other choice, I nodded.
“Aye, we will see ye tonight then.” I turned to leave.
“At least ye don’t have to share this one with other men.” He said, his voice dripping with malice.
“No,” I said, smiling back at him. “And I never will.”