Momentous events are happening

Hi guys! So I hate to leave you with a cliffhanger like this but a number of important things are happening. First of all I have now registered www.mhalwae.com so I will be moving there! Hurrah! This will probably take about 10 days (maybe less though) especially since I am going away to Gotland (small island off the coast of Sweden) for a holiday for a week, on Saturday. So basically this means that if you have me on your RSS feeds you’re going to need to change the address to the new one when it’s available. Also I am going to have to close comments to backup the whole thing.

But don’t worry… I won’t be gone for long and when I get back we will find out what happens to everyone.

Keep simming :)

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A star falls

Hi guys… just a quick warning. This one is a bit violent and gory so if you think that sort of thing would upset you don’t read on and I can fill you in, in the comments later (just ask). Most of it will become evident in the following story.

Harndall slid out of her arms and onto the ground as a small figure thumped into her. She was so surprised at the interruption that the other woman managed to push her away from the priest.

“Leave him alone”, the woman shouted, her voice muffled by the snow.

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Merila turned to face her. Ah yes. She remembered this one, Valeriya. This one’s husband had tried to force himself upon her. Well, she would just have to suffer for his sins, not too mention her own. Merila had been enjoying the taste of Father Harndall very much and she did not like to be disturbed when she hadn’t finished her meal.

Valeriya was gazing up at her in terror, her mouth wide open with shock. She watched as Merila slowly licked her lips, tasting Harndall’s sweet blood that was drooling from the corner of her mouth. Valeriya gasped in horror.

“Mella?”, she asked tentatively.

Then Valeriya looked down at Harndall who was moaning on the ground, leaning against the bench.

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Merila could taste the fear rising from her in waves. It was intoxicating, the power she held over this frightened being. She would make it painful for this one.

She threw Valeriya bodily to the ground, jerking her up again and slapping her face with on open palm. Liking the feeling off this, the thud as her hand collided with the delicate face, she repeated with her fist closed. This was better even still.

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She was disappointed that the woman was not screaming or trying to fight back. No matter how hard she hit her, her body was limp as a ragdoll’s. The peasant woman had writhed and shrieked when Cebrien and she had feasted upon her body. Cebrien had left her to finish on her own. He didn’t like to hear them scream saying it offended his sensibilities. But she did, oh how she did.

Harndall was different. She remembered he had been kind to her in life, and some small part of her did not want to cause him pain. She was almost glad this one had arrived. Now she would have her fun.

She stopped, holding the young woman upright before her.

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“Why aren’t you crying bitch?”, she snarled.

Valeriya didn’t answer, only stared at her defiantly, her entire body trembling.

“I asked you a question whore! Answer me!”, she grabbed a fistful of the woman’s long, golden hair, yanking Valeriya’s head close to her face.

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She leant down and murmured into her ear, “You’re going to die Valeriya. Not only that but he is too and there is nothing you can do about it. And what’s more you’re going to burn in hell for all the dirty sinful things you’ve done”.

“Now cry”, she whispered, her teeth sinking into the soft skin of the girl’s earlobe, causing her to cry out in pain.

She stood up and watched as Valeriya crumbled, burying her face in her hands and shaking silently, the only thing holding her upright, Merila’s iron grip on her waist.

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This would not do, damn her if she would not weep and sob and gnash her teeth. Merila would make her scream.

Grasping the other woman’s hair again she tilted Valeriya’s head far back, listening to her moan in terror. She tore at the supple flesh on Valeriya’s neck, sinking her teeth deep into the jugular, the thrill of the woman’s thumping heart rushing straight through her rotted veins.

A shriek of agony ripped from the woman’s throat as Merila fed on her.

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But something was wrong, the blood tasted sour and she began to feel slightly ill as it pooled in her decaying stomach. She pulled back from the throat, feeling dizzy. Perhaps the woman’s blood was tainted somehow, or perhaps she had simply fed too much for one night.

She threw the limp body to the ground, watching with glee as the blood from Valeriya’s wounds stained the snow red. Merila could not stay to watch them die, her stomach was churning and she must get below ground before the sun rose. The men would be out looking.

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Valeriya managed to crawl over to Harndall’s side. The young priest was staring up at the sky, his eyes glazed, a drowsy smile on his face.

She patted weakly at his face and croaked, “Harndall… Harn..”, before collapsing at his side.

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Harndall was gazing at the sky. There were so many stars up there. How had he never noticed it before.

He gasped in wonder as one appeared to fall from the heavens, plummeting towards the ground with a bright flash.

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“Valeriya!”, he mumured sleepily, “Did you see that my girl?”

She didn’t answer him. Perhaps she had already gone to sleep. He knew she had, had a hard day what with Morven giving birth and all.

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He would just quickly wake her to tell her about the falling star. He wanted to shake her gently, but he found to his surprise he could not move his arms.

“Valeriya… Valeriya… wake up love… wake up”, but he was sleepy himself and he found himself dozing off, his face buried in the warmth of her soft, golden hair.

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Harndall is engulfed

Harndall stared up in astonishment and blinked. It was Sister Mella but he barely recognised her. The last time he had seen her she had been crazed, covered in scratches from her own nails, naked and dirty, her black hair in tangled knots. Now it hung in a luscious black curtain over her shoulders, doing nothing to hide the indecency of the rich, burgundy gown she wore. Her skins was perfect, pale as the snow that lay around, only her eyes surrounded by dark circles. Her eyes though, there was something strange about them he couldn’t quite make out in the dim light cast by the moon above.

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“Hello Harndall”, she said smiling cruelly at him.

This was strange too, he had never heard her speak except for the one time she had cried out in the church service. Now here she was, standing before him, speaking coherently, smiling, clothed in fine robes after having been missing for more than three months. It was all too much to comprehend.

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She reached down and grasped his hands in her icy ones, pulling him to his feet with a strength he had not thought she possessed. She was gazing at him with an intense look. He would have almost said hungrily.

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He couldn’t understand why she would have left them all terrified for her safety. They had searched for weeks, desperately looking for her and then trying to find her body so she could at least have a decent burial. They had come to the conclusion that she had thrown herself from the cliffs into the sea, her body crashing onto the rocks below, the sea sucking it down. Many nights he had lain awake thinking of how he had failed her, or awoken in horror after dreaming of her body being smashed to pulp on the rocks. He pushed her away angrily taking a step backward.

“Where have you been Sister?”, he asked his voice filled with confusion and barely suppressed fury, “We looked for you for so long… the people… they risked their lives to search for your body at the cliffs and here you are!”

His voice was becoming shrill with a rage he had never felt before, “Where have you been? Where have you been!?”

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“Shhh Harndall… it’s alright”, she whispered, her velvet tone soothing him, “Everything is fine now. I am here”.

As she spoke she reached up her hand to gently touch his face. He gasped at the touch of her icy skin against his but as she stroked he began to feel more calm, his anger dissipating.

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“See… there now. I told you it would be alright”, she purred.

Of course it would be alright now that she was here. Why had he ever doubted her. He looked into her eyes noticing how beautiful they were, how they glowed such a pretty colour of red in the moonlight.

She continued to caress his face smiling at him. She was so good to him, so he smiled back at her. He seemed to remember a long time ago there had been another woman who had touched his face like this, but these thoughts were melting away like the snow in springtime.

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Then she pressed her body against his, wrapping her arms around his shivering figure and pressing her mouth to his. He choked slightly as the taste of blood filled his mouth and her tongue slithered against his. But she kissed him harder, biting his lips licking at the small cuts the sharp points of her teeth made there. He could hear her growling in the back of her throat, but it sounded distant and dull compared with the buzzing in his head.

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Then he felt her tongue and teeth scraping against his neck as she leaned him back so far he thought he must fall. He felt the pressure as her teeth slid into his veins, but there was no pain only ecstasy so intense he thought he would die in her arms.

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Tiny flakes of snow floated down from above and settled on his face, achingly cold against the inferno that was raging through his body. He dimly recalled that it had stopped snowing when Valeriya had been there with him. But that had been such a long time ago and he was weary of the world now. All he really wanted was to be allowed to sleep, away from the pain, and the suffering. To lie his head down on her soft shoulder and bury his face in her long golden hair.

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She was so very beautiful. The last thing he saw was her exquisite face before him as the blackness began to close in around the edges of his vision

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Harndall cannot rise above it

Tiny flakes of snow floated down from above settling on Harndall as he sat. He liked to come out here where it was peaceful and sit in what would become the church one day. For now the workings were abandoned and would not begin again till spring’s delicate touch melted the snow and warmed the fields.

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It seemed Morven would never see the spring again, would never get past the icy embrace of winter. Hepsie had called Harndall in to the room many hours ago. The poor woman had been labouring all day and night and still the baby would not come. Hepsie had said there was no use, she was too far gone and they could not save her or her baby.

He had carefully read the last rites over her, his voice trembling as he recited the words. The finality of it was unbearably grim as thought he held the scythe in his own hand. Still she had been struggling onwards when he left, but the women had said it would not be long. Her body was exhausted, her life slowly ebbing like the tide drawing away from the shore. Perhaps she was already gone now.

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It seemed so cruel to him, but he had to remind himself that God had a purpose for them all and perhaps Morven’s and her baby’s lay with him in heaven. He could not help but wonder what could justify such suffering as he saw about him, and he hated himself for it. It had been so much easier to trust in the Lord when he sat quietly reciting prayers in the high-arched rooms of the monastery. The melodious Latin choruses soaring upwards to the roof and beyond to the very ears of the Lord himself.

But now there was no quiet, no peace and everywhere death and sorrow and temptation was rearing up in a blackened tide, threatening to drown him if he could not rise above it. He did not know if he was strong enough. Already his head was sinking below the surface, coming up again, spewing the putrid waters that were staining him inside.

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He heard soft footsteps in the snow and peered out into the moonlight trying to make out the distant figure making its way through the trees.

As it drew closer he recognised the graceful walk, the head held high even as the world was slowly crushing her down. It was Valeriya and his heart gave a painful throb.

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He stood up as she walked to were he had been sitting.

“They told me I might find you here”, she said softly.

“How is Lady Hwratar?”, he asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

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“She revived for a time and has delivered two baby sons this last hour”, Valeriya said quietly, “But they are tiny creatures and they are barely breathing. Goodwife Cade is doing all she can but she cannot say whether they will live or not”.

She paused taking in a breath and smiling sadly, “Morven is still fighting, but her heart is so weak now they cannot feel it beat anymore and they do not expect her to last the night”.

The light of the full moon shone down softly upon her saddened face, as she stood before him. He took a sharp intake of breath. She was so beautiful, her lips parted softly, her hair falling back from her face in golden waves that he longed to drown himself in, the crescents of her fine brows curving above her sorrowful eyes.

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He could not speak, he could barely breathe as he stared into those eyes, the colour of mist hanging above the ground in the chill hours around midnight.

“But you must be so cold”, she startled him from his thoughts by reaching up an unthinking hand to stroke the frigid skin on his face.

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He gently reached up and took her hand in his. It was icy too and he suddenly noticed that she was shivering, her lower lip trembling.

“I think you are cold yourself”, he replied, not letting go of the delicate hand he held in his own.

He stared down at it in wonder, gently stroking the fine skin on her wrist where it was so pale a network of blue veins were visible just beneath the surface. His felt the thumping of her heart through the tips of his fingers, the beat rapid like that of a frightened rabbit.

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Then he realised what he was doing and tried to remedy things by taking both her hands between his and roughly rubbing.

“Here this might help bring back the circulation”, he said in hearty voice. But even she must have heard it waver and his heart was beating so hard he was sure she would feel that too.

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When he looked up from his task, he became aware that his face was very close to hers. So close, that he could feel the warmth of her breath on his lips. She was staring at him, her eyes wide and frightened, her breath coming rapidly between her parted lips.

He was so close, he could have closed his eyes and his mouth would have found hers in the darkness.

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“Valeriya!”, he cried pulling away, “We… we can’t. This is wrong”.

She gave a strangled sob and fell forward burying her face in his hair and weeping against his chest. He felt as though his heart had been torn out, and thrown on the snow-covered floor. There it lay, slowly freezing solid in the cold, to thaw rotten and blackened in the spring.

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Eventually she straightened, wiping the tears from her eyes. Now she was proud and tall again and he wished she was still the sobbing woman he could comfort in his arms.

“I think you are needed back there Father”, she said her voice calm, “Goodnight”.

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She turned on her heel and walked away without glancing back at him once. She was no Lot’s wife.

When she had gone he fell to his knees, heedless of the icy snow, clasping his hands so tightly that the knuckles were as white as the moon that hung above him.

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“Please Lord, help me. I am only a man!”, he called up to the stars.

“I am only a man”, he murmured and began to weep bitterly, covering his face in shame as he knelt there among the foundations of the chapel and the ruins of his soul.

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He heard the muffled sound of heavy skirts stirring above him.

“Do not cry Harndall. I am here now”, an unfamiliar voice crooned from above him.

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Alexis makes a promise

Alexis did not know how many hours he had sat there beside her, listening to each laboured breath as it rattled in and out of her chest. It seemed to him that time did not matter anymore, all that was important now was this room, the chair he sat in, the swollen form of his wife and the bed beneath her.

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And the lamp, the little, green glass lamp sitting on the table shedding the only light into the dim, musty room. Perhaps that was the most important thing of all, he thought, for without it he would not be able to see her little face in the dark. It had certainly been important to her, a gift from her beloved father from some far off land he had travelled to. When he told her they must flee, among the woman demanding chests of dresses all she had asked for was her lamp and her cat. He had managed to save some of the dusty volumes she had lying around and bring them too. Oh, the look on her face when she saw that he had brought them. And what she had done to him afterward.

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But now the pretty, green lamp only cast ghastly shadows on her fever flushed face, illuminating the hollows or her cheeks, the strands of red hair stuck to her clammy face and the dark shadows beneath her eyes. She was still beautiful, as she lay there in the embrace of Death himself. Alexis was a jealous man, Morven a faithful wife, but Death was a lover no woman could refuse. Even now Alexis could picture the skeletal fingers gently stroking her face, her body wrapped in his bleached arms.

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And his son! Their baby. He had not even known him yet, it seemed far to cruel that Death should take them both from him now.

“God!”, he sent out a silent prayer clasping his hands together piously, “I know we haven’t always been on the best of terms and I am not a good man. But please do this for me… for her… for our baby. Please spare them. I cannot live without her”.

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He thought for a moment, “If you spare her now I will be a good and faithful husband for the rest of time. I promise to shun other women… please… I am begging you… don’t take her from me”.

He started as Morven groaned next to him. Her face was a contorted grimace of pain, her breath coming out in ragged gasps. He reached out timidly and stroked her face, his hand resting on her chest feeling the desperate pumping of her fading heartbeat.

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“Oh God!”, he sobbed, jerking his hands away and burying his face in them.

He wept hard and long, washing away layers upon layers of grief. But never did he come to the final surface, it was endless, there would be no respite.

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He heard footsteps in the corridor and then a soft knock on the door. He hastily dried his eyes with his sleeve. He had cried enough for today.

“Enter”, he called out in a low voice.

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The door clicked open and Hepsie walked in. He tried to muster some sort of greeting for her but the best he could come up with was a strained smile.

She was accompanied by a tiny mewling sound.

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He looked down at her feet to see the tiny figure of snowflake, squeaking at him affectionately.

“Well, would you look what the cat dragged in”, he said with a wry smile.

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“How is she Alexis?”, Hepsie asked gently.

There had been so many days now, so many visits that he had finally been able to convince her to call him by his first name, not Sir Hwratar. He liked the way it rolled off her tongue, the shape of her lips as she made the soft s sound.

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“She…”, his voice caught in his throat so he had to start again, “She seems to be in a lot of pain today”.

He was interrupted by a frantic but very small yowling at his feet. Snowflake had run around to where he was sitting, though it had taken her a while and was now throwing herself at his feet, trying to climb onto his boots.

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He stooped down and picked up the squirming kitten who instantly began purring ecstatically.

“Can I be takin’ a look at her then?”, Hepsie asked.

“Yes… yes of course”, he answered shakily, clutching the small creature to his chest and moving out of her way.

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Hepsie bent over and began to examine his wife, with her deft and practiced hands. He could not help but stare as she worked, she looked so alive next to his fading wife.

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As her hands moved over his wife, taking her pulse, feeling her brow, he watched transfixed. Her lips were slightly parted, as she concentrated and he could see the moist inside of her mouth. Her dark hair was tucked neatly behind perfect little ears that he longed to take between his teeth and nibble.

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His eyes slid down her graceful neck, the smooth skin of her throat coming to rest on her succulent round bosom rising from her dress. Her breasts were swollen as was her belly from the coming baby, and they did not fit inside her bodice as well as they used to. He longed to pull the ties on that bodice and watch them softly slip out of their containment and into his waiting hands. Her arm brushed against one of them, causing it to bounce slightly before it settled to rest in it former place. He waited with baited breath to see if it would happen again.

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Suddenly Morven cried out in pain, awakening him from his reverie. He realised with horror that despite his fervent promise earlier he was already thinking sinful thoughts. God help them all, they were surely damned.

Snowflake meowed worriedly at the sound and was wriggling in his arms, straining towards the bed. He put her on the ground and she ran underneath it.

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“Alexis”, Hepsie was saying to him, “I just need to be examinen’ beneath the sheets. Yew might want to be turnin’ around”.

He did this, grateful to be able to hide the blush that was rising in his face, and to turn his sinful thoughts away from her.

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“Alexis… yew can be turnin’ back now”, she said, carefully smoothing the sheets back into place.

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She looked him in the eye, “I think it’s bein’ time now”.

“Time?!”, he squeaked, bile rising in his throat.

“Time for this here baby to be born is what I’m meanin'”, she hastily replied, seeing the look of terror on his face.

She walked over to him and gave him a quick squeeze on the arm, “Yew’d best be sendin’ fer the other women… and perhaps some menfolk to wait with yew”.

Her little face was so open and beautiful he felt a pang of love for her at that moment. She was taking care of his wife. Surely Morven would be alright if such an angel was watching over her.

“Will you take care of them for me Hepsie?”, he asked his voice thick with emotion.

“Of course I will yew silly man… “, she smiled sadly at him, “Now yew best be gettin’ goin’ then”.

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“Can… can I kiss her first?”, he asked, trying not to let out the sob that was building in his chest.

“Of course”, Hepsie said, “I’ll just be being outside the door… yew best come too little one. This ain’t no place fer the likes of yew”.

She bent down and scooped the small, white kitten out from under the bed and left the room, softly closing the door behind her.

He crept over the bed and leant down planting a soft kiss on his wife’s fevered brow. She moaned, turning her burning face away from his lips.

“You’ll be alright Morven my love, be strong like I know you can. I love you”.

And then he left the room as tears began to run down his cheeks.

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Lochan laughs again for a while

Eallair sighed deeply staring down into the foamy dregs of his half-finished ale. They had been sitting holed up in the King’s private quarters for what seemed like most of the night. Lochan would not have been surprised if the sun was already poking its head over the horizon outside. In here there was not sense of time.

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It had been many hours since the King’s steward had come to awaken Lochan telling him that the King was running around in a panic in his underwear. Of course Lochan had dragged himself out of bed to sit with his cousin, his best friend, through this most important of nights. Garrick was with them too… Lochan had met him in the galley, sitting before an almost empty tankard of ale.

And so the three of them sat together, Lochan and Garrick trying to make conversation while the King sighed.

“Do you think she will be alright? And the baby?”, he asked his brows knitted into a worried frown.

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It pained him to see his younger cousin like this. Eallair had always been the cheerful one, dragging him up into the light even when he thought he had sunk so low into despair he would not return.

And so he met every question with a reassuring statement, every sigh with a distracting comment. He was reminded of the sad little boy he had found hiding in the pantry after he had accidently broken one of the chapel windows with a skimming stone. They had sat together Lochan trying to distract him while he waited for the inevitable thrashing that would occur when his father found his hiding place. His face had broadened with age but the expression was the same.

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“Alright then lads… listen to me!”, he exclaimed as jovially as he could manage, “I have a test for you then, let’s see how good your memories are, you old dogs”.

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Eallair looked at him with a confused smile. His brows were still sitting above his eyes in a most distressing fashion but this was something at least.

Garrick took a long swig of his ale, “Alright then Lochan… out with it”.

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Lochan screwed up one eye, opening the other one very wide and hoisted his left shoulder towards his neck.

“Now then ya… ya young hooligans! Stay away from me armoury or ya’ll all be in for a hiding ya will!!! What did I tell ya! Take off that chainmail ya bunch of ning nongs!! Ya look like a flock of ladies what with it hanging around yer legs like a dress!! Get out of here! Get away!”.

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Garrick, who had been taking another drink from his tankard began to choke, spraying ale across the table.

“Ha! I know who you are!”, Garrick roared, “It’s old limping Anfar that used to be in charge of the armoury… you sound just like him… and the eye… it’s perfect!”

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He peeked to the side at Eallair’s face and saw the young man was smiling wider, chuckling softly, the brows beginning to soften. He would have to do better.

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“Oh my gawd and you Prince Eallair look at what ya’ve done to my chickens… look at them running about… poor things are terrified… what was ya thinking waving swords at the poor dears! Look… they’ve lost all these feathers from the fright of it!”

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“You should be acting more prince-like and less like a pissed-faced buffoon ya idiot! Ya young fools’ll be the death of me… look at these grey hairs sprouting out of me poor old beard”, he theatrically pulled out a tuft of hair, “the Lord take me now before I ever have to deal with the like’s of you lot again!!!”.

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It was the memory of being called a “pissed-faced buffoon” that did it, a rolling laugh bursting from Eallair until he was clutching his sides, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Stop… stop Lochan… please… my stomach can’t take it anymore”, he pleaded, the fit of laughter beginning to subside.

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“Ha! And do you remember when Lochan snuck into the armoury and greased all the handles of the swords so that when it was time for the knights to practice they slid from their grips with a mighty clang as soon as they clashed! And what a hiding your father gave you after that one. You couldn’t sit down for a week”.

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This brought on a new fit of laughter from the three of them as they remembered the woes Lochan had experienced from not being able to sit down. It was funny that he could laugh about it now, Lochan thought, at the time he had not thought it amusing in the slightest and had been very cross with the other two for teasing him about it at every opportunity they got.

It felt good to laugh, it had been such a long time since any of them had heard the happy sound.

“Those were the days weren’t they lads”, Eallair sighed happily reaching for his ale.

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The door clicked open and Valeriya walked in carrying a small bundle that was making a large amount of noise.

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She looked at the three men, who were red in the face from the laughter and the ale and smiled slightly. It seemed like such a small expression but Lochan could see the amusement flickering in her eyes. And behind it in the foggy depths, an all consuming sadness, so tangible he felt as though he could reach out and stroke it. Her face was pale and smooth, expressionless as a carved marble statue, but one had only to look into her eyes to understand the pain that lay beneath. Lochan knew. It was like gazing into a mirror.

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Eallair had leapt to his feet before the others could react and was rushing over to where Valeriya stood.

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“Is Madlenka alright?”, he asked worriedly.

“Yes, she is fine. Tired but fine”, Valeriya replied.

“Is that… is that mine?”, he wavered pointing to the baby she held which had stopped its lusty wailing and was now staring up at the King with his own big grey eyes.

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“Well who else’s would it be… look at him Your Highness. He has your eyes and if I’m not mistaken your hair too”.

“Meet the heir to your throne Eallair”, she said more gently.

The baby was looking up at him with curiosity, his brows knitted with worry and although Lochan couldn’t see it he was pretty sure Eallair was gazing back with the same expression.

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“Can I hold him?”, he asked in a quavering voice.

“Of course you can, he’s yours isn’t he”, she carefully passed the baby to Eallair, with a hint of reluctance, Lochan noticed.

Eallair held him at arms length as though unsure what to do with him.

“Well look at that”, he said in amazement, “He really does have my eyes”.

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The baby reached out and patted him softly on the nose with a tiny hand.

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“Ha! Did you see that Lochan! It seems the young lad likes my nose! Well I hope you do my boy because there’s a good chance that you’ll have it yourself one day”.

Lochan couldn’t stop staring at the sight of his cousin, a happy father holding this healthy baby in his arms. He felt as though his world was screwing inwards until finally it would reach the centre and he would implode.

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He closed his eyes and gasped quietly trying to fight the feeling of suffocation that was growing. Spinning and spinning, sucking into a single point and all he could do was helplessly hang on and hope that it would stop before he was crushed into oblivion. His head was growing light and he had a strong desire to scream and sob and to gnash his teeth, beating his fists against the floor.

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He opened his eyes and looked up and suddenly everything stopped. Her soft grey eyes were fixed on his own, holding him in place, a feeling of calm emanating from her. Those eyes were telling him to be strong, and he knew he must for be for the sake of his cousin. He took a deep breath and tried to smile as Eallair turned to face him.

Garrick_Valeriya_1

“This is your Uncle Lochan little man”, he proudly presented the baby for Lochan to examine.

He was indeed a fine, strong baby, Lochan thought with a happy pang. He was very glad for Eallair and he must remember that tonight.

Eallair_Kendrick_Lochan_2

“Well done Eallair… he’s a very fine lad.”, Lochan asked, swallowing to try and wet his desperately dry throat, “What are you going to name him?”.

Eallair looked him the eyes and answered, “Kendrick”.

Eallair_Kendrick_Lochan_3

Then he clutched the baby tightly to his chest, choking back a sob.

Kendrick had been Eallair’s father, the King shot down by Faldorn’s arrowmen. The wound was still raw for all of them, but Eallair in particular. He had always been his father’s favourite.

Eallair_Kendrick_2

Life was all about grief, thought Lochan. They may have these small happinesses along the way, but when it came down to it, they spent their days collecting woes like shells on the beach, storing them carefully away to pull out and admire in the light. But tonight he would push them back away into their dark cupboard and be happy for his cousin. Tomorrow was another day to caress the bleached lines of their eroded forms, to gaze inside their hidden depths and watch them spiral into nothingness.

Eallair_Kendrick_Lochan_4

Madlenka deals with the husband

Madlenka sat up with a start suddenly very awake, her eyes wide. Something was wrong.

“Oof”, she gasped as a throbbing pain shot through her abdomen, pushing the air from her lungs.

Madlenka_8

She pushed back the blankets which were now weighing heavily on her tender stomach and tried to adjust herself to a more comfortable position. The baby was always most active during the night and would often choose the moment just as she was drifting off to sleep to kick out hard with its tiny little legs.

Madlenka_9

She had to admit she was getting a bit sick of this pregnancy thing. She felt swollen and irritable, her feet were sore, her back ached, and she was unbearably hot despite the frigid temperatures outside. And Eallair kept snuggling up to her in his sleep so she had to stick her feet out the edge of the bed to find some sort of equilibrium.

She carefully sat up. Perhaps she would take a walk around the room, that often calmed the baby so they could both sleep again.

Madlenka_10

Eallair was of course sleeping soundly, snoring gently the covers pulled up to his chin. That man could sleep through an invasion, she thought to herself and then wished she hadn’t. The thought of his entire family murdered and a large percentage of their people, was still raw in her mind. She could only pray to God that Faldorn had not managed to cross the mountain range that lay between Branwhuld and her home country of Lomorrad.

Eallair_14

“Oof”, she cried out louder sitting bolt upright, a grimace of pain flitting across her face, “Oh dear. OOOF!”.

Her last cry had been quite loud and surprisingly, Eallair began to stir next to her, his breathing growing shallow.

Madlenka_11

He sat up, pushing back the covers, blinking drowsily.

“Did you say Oof my love?”, he asked, his voice groggy with sleep, “What do you mean oof?”.

Eallair_15

She could breath again now that the pain had subsided but she was quite certain that it was time. She was surprised by how calm she felt. She had been half-afraid throughout the whole pregnancy, worried that her mother’s problems would become her own. But she had made it this far and now the end was in site. She would not think about her mother.

“It means that your going to be a father soon dear heart”, she said softly, swinging her legs to the edge of the bed. She had heard that walking around could sometimes help the pain.

Eallair stared at her uncomprehendingly his mouth falling open.

Then suddenly it clicked, “What?!”.

He leapt to his feet and ran around to her side of the bed clutching his head, his hands pulling at his hair.

Eallair_Madlenka_3

“What?!”, he was almost hopping from foot to foot and she thought if he tore at his hair any harder it was going to start coming out in big brown clumps.

She stared at him, somewhat surprised by his reaction. But she had heard that men were exceedingly silly when it came to this and the best thing she could do was send for the women.

Eallair_Madlenka_4

She felt a laugh rolling up from her belly and there was nothing she could do to contain it. She couldn’t help it, he looked so foolish, the King, standing there in his underwear, his eyes wide as saucers and his hair sticking out in all directions.

Madlenka_12

“Why are you laughing? What’s so funny? I don’t see anything funny about this situation!”, he exclaimed, “What are we going to do?”.

She tried to answer but she was hit with another wave of pain, this time so intense she almost screamed, gritting her teeth and waiting for it to pass.

“Oh my God!”, Eallair cried extending his arms out towards her, “Oh my God! Are you alright?”.

Eallair_Madlenka_5

She breathed deeply as the pain dulled to a throbbing ache and then turned her attention to her panicking husband. It was clear to her that he needed something useful to do.

“Eallair dear”, she began gently, “Do you think you could light a candle for me? It’s awfully dark in here”.

Eallair_Madlenka_6

He nodded his head eagerly, glad to be able to help in some way and trotted off to find a flint.

Eallair_16

He bounded back when it was done, almost tripping over the bedspread that lay tangled on the floor.

“What are we going to do now?”, he asked scratching his head.

She could see she was going to have to be gentle with him, he was obviously so terrified his mind had completely shut down.

Eallair_Madlenka_7

“Well… do you think… OOOF!!!”, she was interrupted by a clenching pain in her lower abdomen, so intense that she clutched at her belly, breathing rapidly.

“Oh my God! That oof was bigger than the others! What are we going to do?!!”.

Madlenka_13

When she could speak again she turned her little face up to his.

“Eallair… do you think that perhaps now would be a good time to send for Goodwife Cade and the other women?”, she asked delicately.

Eallair_Madlenka_8

“Why yes of course”, he said excitedly, “Why didn’t I think of that myself… they should definitely be here. I’m sure they will know what to do”.

“Yes… I think they probably will”, she replied with a weary sigh.

It was one thing trying to deal with the pain, but trying to deal with the husband was almost worse.

Eallair_Madlenka_9

He turned to leave, almost tripping on the folds of the heavy quilt again.

“Eallair”, she called out softly, “Do you think I could have a kiss before you go?”

Eallair_Madlenka_10

He turned back to face her, and she could see from his expression how very frightened he was. Her heart gave a painful throb as he looked at her with sad grey eyes, the dark of clouds before the rain.

“Yes of course my darling”, he leaned forward and gave her a soft kiss on the mouth.

Eallair_Madlenka_11

He stood back still staring at her and then kissed her again solemnly.

Then he pulled her into his arms, “Three for luck”, he choked and kissed her passionately, his arms clutching at her, his fingers tangling in her hair.

Eallair_Madlenka_12

He turned to leave, rushing out the door.

“Don’t forget to put some clothes on”, she called after him.

Then she carefully lowered herself onto the bed and tried to make herself comfortable until the women came.

Madlenka_14

Gena waits in the dark

Gena sighed happily as she softly stroked the smooth wood of the cradle Noah had built for their baby. It was a fine crib, made with loving hands that had carefully sanded down each tiny splinter in preparation for the tiny, soft skinned creature that would lie within.

Gena_5

She knew that she should not be so filled with joy. A dreadful threat to their happiness lurked somewhere on the island and she felt that she would usually have been terribly worried by such things. But she could not help but feel warm and glowing, knowing that before the next moon she would be meeting the tiny creature growing inside her belly.

Gena_6

Her drowsy reverie was interrupted by her rumbling stomach and sudden thoughts of dinner.

“Oh goodness, what a silly old biddy I be bein’ then”, she scolded herself, “I’ve been forgettin’ entirely to put on that poor man’s dinner and he’ll be comin’ home any minute”.

Gena_7

She hurried into the other room and hastily stoked the fire which was starting to die.

“Now… what on Earth am I going to make”, she thought to herself.

This wasn’t like her, she always had dinner ready on the stove when Noah walked in the door. She knew he worked hard and was usually starving by the time he arrived home.

“It’s bein’ your fault little one, yer addlin’ me brain yew are”, she gently chided her enormous belly.

Gena_8

“Well I better get too it then”, she bent down with a sigh and tried to reach the bag of flour at her feet. It wasn’t an easy task and she managed to spill a large quantity down the front of her apron. She manage to get to her feet again and stood their breathing heavily, pushing the strands of hair that had fallen into her face back with fingers stained white with the powdery substance.

Gena_9

“Oof”, she cried out loud as the baby casually extended a foot, “This is no time for yer fun and games yew little squab. I’m in hurry now… yew can be kickin’ me all yer like later”.

The candles, she remembered suddenly. She could happily potter around their small cottage in the dark, it made no difference to her of course and it did save them a lot of wax. But her husband, it wouldn’t be very nice for him to arrive home to a completely dark house. She felt around for the flint, and standing on her toes carefully lit the flames.

Gena_10

“He should have been home already”, she thought to herself with concern. The rational part of her brain was telling her he was fine, she knew he was out searching for the vagabond, perhaps even a murderer with the other men. But it was impossible to quiet the tiny voice that kept saying, “But Gena… what if something has happened to him, perhaps he will never come home and you will be left waiting in the dark alone”.

She went to the door and opened it wide, a gust of chill wind battering into her, icy snowflakes prickling her face.

Gena_11

She wrapped her arms around herself, to protect her body from the bone-chilling cold that was penetrating her woolen dress. She hadn’t realised until now what a fine house her husband had built her. She had no idea it was so freezing outside, happily tucked away in the warmth of their little cottage.

Gena_12

She heard a distant crunching sound, over the howling voice of the wind as it rushed through the willows by the creek. It was the tread of footsteps in the snow.

It must be Noah! She called out his name tentatively but the fingers of the wind immediately whipped it away, out to sea.

Gena_13

“Noah!”, she called out more loudly, a tendril of fear delicately curving its way around her heart.

Her cry was answered by a long howl that sent shivers of dread down her spine. Amongst the crunching footsteps, she could now hear a panting sound, the smacking of strands of saliva as they were licked up by a tongue. The footsteps were coming towards her rapidly and the creature would be upon her at any moment. She had not time to run and braced herself for the impact of its heavy body with terrified sob.

Gena_14

She had expected to feel the rows of sharp teeth piercing her soft flesh, the heavy body standing over her ripping at her throat. Her arms were wrapped protectively around her belly. If the beast took her perhaps they could still save her baby.

She screamed as she felt a long tongue slide over her hand, leaving a sticky trail of drool. She felt a cold wet nose desperately pressing against her, inhaling the scent of her dress and hands. Her ears were filled with the sound of joyful woofing.

Dog_Gena_1

“Get off her yew dumb beast”, she heard the deep voice of her husband, and his heavy tread crunching through the thick snow.

She almost sobbed in relief, her husband was here to rescue her from this creature. Although he didn’t seem to be taking the matter very seriously. His well-placed footsteps indicated he was walking slowly up the path. Shouldn’t he be running to save her?

Noah_5

“Well me love”, he said in his even-toned voice, “I see yew’ve met Dog there”.

“And as fer yew, yew silly mutt”, his voice raised slightly as he scolded the dog, “I told yew not to be boundin’ on ahead like that scarin’ the poor lady”.

Dog_Gena_Noah_1

“Sorry Gena love, I didn’ realise yewed be standin’ there on the porch waitin’ fer me. Let’s be gettin’ yew inside, yer not dressed fer a dreadful night such as this ‘un and yer shakin’ like a leaf”, he took her arm gently and led her inside, shutting the door carefully behind him and drawing the bolt across.

“Are yew arright then my darlin’ girl”, he asked softly putting his arm around her waist.

“Yes… yes I’m bein just fine”, she replied, trying to make her tone as easy as possible.

She didn’t want Noah to know just how frightened she had been. What she did not know was that her feelings lay open like a book in front of him, he could not help but read.

Gena_Noah_12

He wrapped his arms around her trembling body, pulling her close to him. She pressed her face against the cold leather of his jacket, listening to the sound of his strong heartbeat just beneath.

“Yew know yew really shouldn’ be out there… it told yew to keep that door their locked”, he murmured, “it coulda been that man instead oh me yew know”.

Gena_Noah_13

He squeezed her more tightly at that dreadful thought.

“Oof!”, she said.

“Oof?”, he asked puzzled drawing back from her, “Did that there baby of our’s kick yer poor self again?”.

“No”, she chuckled, “Yew just poked me with something”.

Dog_Gena_Noah_2

“Oh.. sorry”, he grinned, “My sword… we all have to wear them now by the King’s orders”.

Another man would have made a crude joke, but Noah was not the type and Gena was glad of it.

“But love”, she said softly, “Yer not a fightin’ man, yer a carpenter… a farmer perhaps”.

Gena_Noah_14

“If that man is comin’ here”, he said, his tone suddenly serious, “I want to be havin’ this sword so I can protect yew and the little ‘un”.

He was interrupted by a snuffling noise from behind them.

“What’s that noise bein’?”, Gena asked, confused having entirely forgotten that the dog was still there.

Dog_1

“That noise is bein’ that damn dog… Dog!”, he said angrily, “Get yer head out of that there flour bag!”.

Dog turned his head to Noah with a puzzled expression, and sneezed blowing flour from his nose.

Dog_2

“Yew ruddy thing! That’s our winter supply of flour… yew should be keepin’ yer big dumb head out of it!”.

Gena couldn’t help but chuckle. Her husband was normally so calm and took everything in his stride. Here he was, as close to angry as she’d ever seen, over a silly dog.

Dog began to whine theatrically, between sneezes his ears back and his head bowed.

Dog_Gena_Noah_3

Finally Gena could not bear it anymore. She lowered herself slowly to the her knees and held out her hand for the dog to sniff, this time with her permission.

“Hello there”, she said, “We haven’t been introduced yet… I’m bein Gena and yew must be Dog”.

Dog took one look at the extended hand and slurped it with his big pink tongue, his tail thumping happily against the floor.

Dog_Gena_2

“That’s right… I’ve been so distracted there I’ve been entirely forgettin’. It thought what with that vagabond on this here island I’d be wantin’ yew to have a bit more protection while I’m out in the days. So I’ve been askin’ the King and he’s been lettin’ us have this here dog fer yew. Not that he’s bein much use to anyone”, he glared at the dog, who whined again and buried his face in Gena’s dress.

“So yer goin’ to be bein’ my guard dog then are yew Dog?”, she asked him.

He replied by falling on his side with a thump and rolling over all legs in the air to expose his big white belly. Gena rubbed his tummy as he grunted with joy, his tongue lolling from his mouth.

Dog_Gena_3

“Some use yer goin’ to be as guard dog”, Noah said frowning, a desperate urge to laugh building in him.

The dog woofed happily in reply as Gena tickled his tummy, his legs sprawled in a most undignified manner.

Noah couldn’t contain it any longer, and a chuckle burst forth, “Well at least yew two are gettin’ along then, even if he isn’t the most savage of dogs”.

Noah_6

Harndall feels out of place

Harndall pushed open the heavy door and entered as quietly as he could. He knew he was running very late for the meeting but he had found himself unable to leave the distressed peasantry that was residing in the chapel. Valeriya had been right, the people needed him. He had no right to be wallowing in his own misery in his room when such troubled times were upon them. He had put all thoughts of his own inadequacy as a priest from his head and thrown himself into his work. Still, there were nights when he woke up sweating, his limbs twisted in his sheets after dreaming of the touch of her lips.

Harndall_11

And now the King had called a meeting to discuss the latest developments. Harndall had already been to see Goodwife Rawtharn after her frightening meeting of the night before. The peasant woman had seemed distant somehow, not terrified as he would have imagined. She had sat and listened to him talk, cradling her small child in her arms, her face blank, answering his questions in a dull voice.

The men had not noticed his entrance yet, so involved in their heated discussion where they. The King had insisted that all the nobility be present for this discussion. Harndall’s stomach turned slightly, seeing Radomir sitting in place between Sir Inbar and Lord Murchadh. He seemed to be the focus of the conversation.

Harndall_men_1

Eallair looked up noticing him standing awkwardly at the door and weakly smiled at him.

“Ah… Father Harndall. I am so glad you could join us. Please… take a seat”, the strain was evident in his voice, which was bordering on exhaustion.

Eallair_10

They were all of them tired, he thought, all had spent the day searching for the vagabond that had attacked the poor woman.

The room went silent at the sound of the King’s voice and he felt all their eyes upon him. His hand reached out shakily and found the chair left for him.

Harndall_12

He carefully lowered himself into it, glad for its solid wooden build beneath his trembling hands. He felt out of place, he was a man of the church, not used to being involved in discussions of the court. He knew the King had invited him because he had been the last to see Sister Mella before she disappeared and also he had been the only one to get a sensible answer from Goodwife Rawtharn and her distraught husband.

Harndall_13

When he looked up Sir Inbar was looking at him expectantly. He felt sorry for the man but wished he wasn’t putting so much faith in him. This was not his domain. Sigurd was someone who came to see him on a regular basis, almost weekly. He had spent many hours pouring his heart out to the priest and weeping on his shoulder for his lost babies. His wife by contrast, came to see Harndall only occasionally and when she did it was simply to recite a list of small indiscretions and receive her penance. He wanted to help the man but he did not know what to recommend to him.

Harndall_Sigurd_1

“I just do not understand how we can be so sure that this woman is telling the truth”, Radomir was saying loudly.

Harndall had not seen the man for a long time. He had heard the Earl had been ill and in truth his face looked gaunt, his dark eyes sunken and his cheek bones protruding slightly.

Radomir_Sigurd_1

The King and Eallair were staring at him in astonishment.

“Are you seriously trying to tell me that this woman is making this all up?”, Lochan asked incredulously.

“Why would she lie about this?”, Eallair asked obviously confused.

Eallair_Lochan_Radomir_1

“Perhaps she wants the attention”, Radomir replied, waving his arms in annoyance, “I don’t know… all I’m saying is that we can’t necessarily take what she says as definite truth”.

“I know she is one of your subjects Radomir, but I think we can definitely take her word on this. She may have been confused but why would she have wounded herself in such a way. I don’t think it would even be possible to be perfectly honest. She had a human bite mark on her neck. Unless her husband bit her, which I seriously doubt, we are dealing with an unknown killer on the island”, Lochan retorted, “And even more worrying is it was almost identical to the wound on the dead peasant girl, Nell’s neck”.

“Fine, whatever you say, Lord Murchadh”, Radomir said, with emphasis on Lochan’s title.

Radomir_6

Harndall was suprised by his reaction, it was not like Radomir to back down in a fight.

“Do you think she could possibly have been attacked by the same creature as I was?”, Cordell asked earnestly, “I mean she was wandering out in the forest alone and we know there is a violent black dog out there somewhere”.

Cordell_Garrick_1

“But Cordell”, Alexis cut in, his voice dull, “Goodwife Rawtharn was inside the house which makes it unlikely that it was a wild animal. And unless she is totally delirious then it was a man that attacked her. You may be right about the death of the peasant girl though”.

Harndall gazed at Alexis’ face as he spoke. His face was pallid, only serving to highlight the dark bags underneath his eyes. The sparkle that had always danced in his eyes had died, doused by the waters of despair. There were whispers that his wife would not make it to the end of her pregnancy, so ill and swollen was she now. Harndall had spoken with Goodwife Cade who had told him that he should be ready for her when she called, he would be needed straight away. Still Morven struggled onwards, her heartbeat thready and irregular, so weak and exhausted she could not move from her bed. And Alexis sat there by her side, holding her pale hand until he had been summoned by the King himself.

Alexis_Cordell_Harndall_1

“Are we seriously discussing this!”, Radomir almost shouted, “Violent black dogs! Strange men! We know there is noone else on this island, we have been around the whole place. We would know, especially if there was some nobility hiding themselves here! Where would he be living!”.

He noticed a beetle crawling along the table and squashed it beneath his thumb and gesturing angrily, “You sound like a bunch of snivelling women!”.

Cordell_Radomir_1

“Now Radomir, I think you’re going a bit far, everyone is just putting forward their ideas. There’s no need to get angry”.

The King’s expression was one of open concern, and it was obvious to Harndall that Eallair was having a great deal of trouble controlling the passions of his men.

Radomir made a snorting noise and was silent.

Eallair_11

“Do you know what I think”, Garrick added, slurring slightly.

Harndall thought it was odd for the large man to be drunk at such an important conversation. It was not like him, but then again it had been many months since Garrick had last visited him for confession. He had no concept of what was going on his head.

Cordell_Garrick_Lochan_1

“I think it was one of Faldorn’s men”, he continued without waiting for encouragement, “I think it was a scout sent here and if we don’t find him he will be paddling his way home and the first thing we will see when spring comes is Faldorn’s flotilla on the glowing horizon”.

“And then”, he said sighing melodramatically, “it will all begin again and we will be doomed”.

Garrick_2

“This is a good point Garrick”, Lochan mused, “But I think you might be overreacting slightly. If it is one of Faldorn’s men we will find him and make him talk”.

“But it really doesn’t explain why he would have bitten her on the neck”, he said with a puzzled expression on his face, “Actually… why would he have even gone to see her at all. If he was a scout for Faldorn wouldn’t he already be heading back with the good news that he has found us. No I don’t think he’s one of Faldorn’s men. But where he’s from then I do not know”.

Lochan_5

“No Lochan, I think you’re wrong! He was definitely one of Faldorn’s men and every moment we sit here on our behinds is more time he has to gather information and leave the island. We should be out there searching for him right now!”, Garrick glared at him through squinted eyes.

Garrick_3

“Men, men… you all have excellent, valid points. But there is nothing we can do right now. It is pitch black outside and there is a blizzard raging. If he is one of Faldorn’s men he won’t be going anywhere tonight and we will find him tomorrow. If not then he won’t be going anywhere anyway and we will still find him”.

Eallair_12

“But your highness”, Sigurd piped up timidly, his eyes wide like those of a startled deer, “Should we be worrying about our wives… it seems to be the womenfolk that this man, if that’s what it is, is going after”.

Harndall_Sigurd_2

“Ha…”, Radomir chortled, “You’re worried about our wives being eaten by some strange creature eh? Don’t you think given the current company you should be more worried by the danger posed by your own little creature that likes to come out in the dark. It seems like that’s what’s doing the most damage to our womenfolk these days”.

Radomir_7

He looked pointedly at Alexis who reeled back as if he had been punched. Harndall had often spoken with Alexis, the young man seeming to find it humourous to regail the Priest with all the sins he had commited each week. Harndall knew from these conversations that Radomir despised Alexis. Alexis had often laughed about this, claiming that he had stolen Morven’s heart from the blackened claws of the beast. In reality both men had asked for her hand in marriage, but Morven’s father, unlike most had given her the choice of the two and she had chosen Alexis. Wisely, Harndall though with a sigh, an image of Valeriya’s sad face appearing in his mind. She was a lucky girl to have been given the right to choose.

Alexis_5

“Oh… oh Alexis… oh my goodness. I am so sorry. I… I really didn’t mean anything by it. I didn’t mean to say anything wrong. Oh… I am so very sorry”, Sigurd turned to Alexis, wringing his hands with a distressed look on his face.

Harndall wished he would be quiet. He had not said anything and perhaps Radomir’s comment could have been ignored, but Sigurd with his bumbling was making it a million times worse.

Alexis_Sigurd_1

“No… don’t be silly Sigurd. It’s fine… you haven’t said anything wrong. It was just a joke. I am sure noone meant my Morven”, his voice cracked when he said Morven, and from where Harndall was sitting he could see Alexis’ lip trembling underneath his neatly trimmed mustache.

Alexis_6

“Sorry… I… I think I have something in my eye”, he said, rubbing furiously at his eyes with his sleeve. From where Harndall was sitting he could see the tears welling up in Alexis eyes.

Alexis_7_6

“Well”, Eallair said stonily, “I think this conversation has gone on well and truly long enough. We will spend tomorrow searching again, the same groups as today. We WILL find this man. I am sure of it. Now go and get some sleep. I will see you all in the morning”.

Eallair_13

Aisling cries

Darina stared out the window, watching as tiny flakes of snow stuck to the frigid glass. The full moon was hanging in the sky above the spindly fingers of the dead trees. She thought the sight was strangely beautiful, but not wanting to her waste her time on silly fancies turned away to stir the pot on the stove.

Darina_17

Engin should be home soon, dusk had come and gone and she wondered where he was. She wasn’t sorry he was home late. Perhaps it meant he was actually doing some work for a change. The pot of stew boiling on the stove would wait and so would she. She just hoped nothing bad had happened. After the disappearance of the Sister months ago and the death of that poor peasant woman Nell, everyone was on edge.

She heard a sharp rap on the door and hurried to open it. Who could it be this evening? It wasn’t Engin, he wouldn’t knock, but perhaps the King had come to commission her for another dress for the Queen. Or even to see little Aisling again, he had been quite smitten the last time he had come to visit.

But it was not the King, but a strange man dressed in fine clothes. A large ruby hung around his neck that was reflecting blood red in the candlelight that fell on it when she opened the door. Tearing her gaze from the huge stone she looked at the man. He was not wearing warm clothes despite the freezing temperature outdoors. She was frightened that she didn’t recognise him, he was not one of the inhabitants of the ships. Was he one of Faldorn’s men? Had they managed to find Eallair here on Mhalwae somehow?

Cebrien_2

“Good evening Mistress Rawtharn”, he said his voice low, “May I ask how you are this fine night?”

How did he know her name? Had they been infiltrated so easily. Perhaps one of the others was a traitor. She must act calm, perhaps if she denounced the King they would let her off lightly and spare her and her family.

Cebrien_Darina_1

“I’m sorry but I don’t think I be knowin’ yew sir”, she replied.

“Oh no of course, we have not met. My name is Cebrien de Voire. Very pleased to make you acquaintance. I hope to be knowin’ yew a lot better very soon”, he imitated her rough speech with a snide grin on his face.

Cebrien_3

She didn’t like the way he spoke to her, nor the way he was mocking her speech. She did not think he was one of Faldorn’s men, he had a thick accent she did not recognise and his skin was very pale.

“I think you should be inviting me in now Mistress Rawtharn, it’s cold out here and it would be the hospitable thing to do”, he said again with the same chilling smile.

She clutched at the doorframe for support. She would be strong, she must be for her daughter sleeping quietly in the next room.

Cebrien_Darina_2

“I don’t think I will be doin’ that Sir deh vwah. I don’t think I’ll be doin’ that at all. I think yew should just be on yer way and go and speak wif someone in charge. My husband will be comin’ home any minute now and I don’t think he’ll be bein’ pleased to find yew here”.

“Of course”, he said with a throaty laugh, “but I still think you will be inviting me in”.

He reached out his hand to her as she stood in the doorframe. She tried to move, to slam the door in his face and throw the bolts across but she was frozen to the spot.

His hand moved up to softly stroke her face. His touch was icy, so cold her skin burned with it. His eyes were on hers and she was horrified to see they were blood red too, the colour of the ruby that hung around his pallid neck. She tried to look away but his gaze held her head in place.

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“There now”, he said in an oddly comforting voice, “I think you will be inviting me to come inside after all.

He continued stroking her face but she felt as though his frigid hand was closing around her heart and squeezing tightly. His face was so close to her’s now they were almost touching. She could feel the chill of his breath on her lips, almost taste its metallic tang. She finally reached up a trembling hand to weakly push his away.

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“Yes, yes… I suppose yew better be comin’ in then”, she said in a shaking voice that did not seem like her own.

Inside some part of her was screaming at her not to let him in, to take the baby and run, but that part was locked away and all that was left was the complying woman that carefully shut the door behind him.

As soon as it was closed with a gentle click he was upon her with a growl, wrapping his arms around her waist and burying his face in her neck. She felt a dreadful pain, mixed with an aching pleasure as she swooned in his embrace. She could feel tears pouring down her face as she moaned at the touch of his cold mouth on her hot neck.

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Suddenly he had thrown her backwards so she almost fell to the floor. She looked at him blurrily in suprise. He was rubbing at his face with the sleeve of his tunic, gasping and gurgling with a dreadful hacking noise.

“What have you done you bitch”, he growled at her throatily.

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She stared at him uncomprehendingly, her arms hanging useless at her sides.

A high keening noise began to come from the next room. She realised it was Aisling, wailing in terror. Some part of her understood she should do something to protect her child but her mind was clouded and all she could think was that it was strange the little girl was crying. She was usually such a quiet baby.

Cebrien cocked his head at the sound, then glanced down at her still slightly swollen belly, his face contorting in anger and disgust.

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He pawed desperately at his face, coughing and spitting up great gobs of what looked like blood. That was very strange, Darina thought, very strange indeed. And she knew men didn’t always like babies but this man’s reaction was a bit over the top. He would probably be just fine if he actually held a little one in his arms. Most men were.

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Then he turned and ran through the door, slamming it behind him with a thud.

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Darina stood still in the middle of the room, staring at the closed door. How strange that he had left so suddenly, when they had been getting along so well. She should have invited him to have dinner with her and Engin. Oh but of course, the baby crying had upset him so much he had, had to leave. She should tell Aisling to be more quiet next time he visited.

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She shook her head slightly. And goodness what a pain she had in her neck. She must have slept badly the night before. Not suprising with the way that her husband snored. She reached her hand up to rub the offending muscles and winced in pain as it came in contact with an open wound.

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She pulled it back in shock staring uncomprehendingly at the blood smeared across her fingers.

Suddenly her mind was clear again and she gazed at the door in horror. She could hear poor Aisling crying in the next room, her tiny voice tinged with fear. What had she been thinking to let a strange man into the house when Engin wasn’t home. Oh God he could have hurt the baby. What if he came back?!

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She rushed over to the door and slammed the bolt into place and then ran into the room where her little daughter was.

The poor thing was sobbing in her crib, writhing around her little fist clenched and her face stained with tears.

Darina bent down and carefully picked her up. As soon as she was in her mother’s arms the crying stopped and Aisling peered up at her. Her tiny face creased into a worried frown as she gazed at the blood staining Darina’s dress. She reached her little hands up towards her, as tears began to run down Darina’s face.

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She clutched Aisling to her chest, her heart pounding, sobs wrenching from her throat until she could scarcely breath. The little girl whimpered patting at her chest until her mother finally stopped crying. They stayed there, Darina holding Aisling in her arms pressing the warm baby tightly to her, feeling her small fluttering heartbeat against her own pounding one until Engin came home.

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