Lyiss is only Lyiss

Lyiss tentatively gazed over at the men who were standing chatting together and warming their hands before the blazing midsummer fire. She felt awkward and self-conscious and was beginning to wish she had not come. If it had not been for Nyawe she probably wouldn’t have.

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She was what they called one of they unlucky few. The girls and women who had not had a husband when they came to Mhalwae. The men where scarce and there was not much chance of making a good marriage. There was barely any choice as it was. And for woman of her status there was not one man. She would marry beneath her if she were lucky enough to marry at all. And she was sure she wasn’t, she was only plain Lyiss. Who would want her compared to the other girls? She gazed over at them giggling together and felt even more sure. Soon she would be the only “unlucky one”.

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Her brother turned to her and murmured gently, “Are you really sure you want to go along?”

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She appreciated his concern but she had already agreed to go along with the other girls and it would have humiliated her even more to back out at this point.

“No… it’s fine I…”, she began softly.

“Of course she wants to come along silly… don’t you Lyiss dear?”, Nyawe was suddenly beside her crowing.

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“It is ever so much fun and who knows who she may dream of. To be sure I never dreamed it would be you Garald”, she chuckled throatily.

Lyiss shrank beside her, feeling more plain than ever, her dusky freckled skin fading away next to the pale glory that was handsome Nyawe.

“So perhaps we might not be putting so much faith in it after all”, she mused, “but it is a good laugh anyway”.

“Alright then Lyiss… if it’s what you want…”, Garald muttered but was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Kelgar.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies”, he cried with a flourish.

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“It is I who is to be your guide and guard on this dangerous journey of yours tonight. But never fear, I will lead you valiantly to success in your mission and who’s to say by the end of the night perhaps one of you lucky ladies will be a husband richer”, he jeered with a wink.

Lyiss flushed, unable to forget that Kelgar was one of the only unmarried men on the island.

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The other girls had begun to giggle helplessly.

“Yer to be our guard good sir… but yer one of them very husbands we may be dreamin’ of tonight if yer bein’ that lucky”, Maire cried boldy while Igrayne snickered beside her.

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“Oh I’m not bein’ the only potential man out there for you lovely young ladies. Why just over there by the fire stands our friend Arran Barran and what a fine young man he is isn’t he girls?”

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He pointed in the direction of the fire as Arran began to shift nervously from foot to foot, aware that they were discussing him.

“So I think I have a bit of competition eh?”, he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at them.

Lyiss began to feel sick and faint, the blush in her cheeks spreading helplessly over her neck and breast. Oh why had she agreed to this. She should never have come.

“If yer could excuse me fer bein’ so daft good sir but if yer to be bein’ our guide tonight then whose to be protectin’ our maidenhood from the likes of potential husbands such as yerself”, Maire cried in mock outrage while Igrayne tried not to giggle beside her.

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“That’s where I fit in my dear ladies”, Nyawe chuckled stepping up beside Kelgar, “I will be your chaperone tonight”.

“So you see my lovelies… tonight you’ll be well protected”, Kelgar chuckled, “both from the dreadful beasties that be creeping outside the castle walls and the other beasty that be hiding in a much closer location”.

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“A closer location hmmm…”, Igrayne mused, “perhaps we should be playin’ hide and seek and findin’ out that location. I think I be havin’ a fair idea where that beasty is a’ hidin’ I do”.

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Lyiss was shocked by their brazen words. They were hinting at things she could only vaguely grasp at, things that were not to be spoken of. She was ashamed to be part of such conversation with her brother standing right beside her. She could feel his body growing rigid beside her as he flinched with embarrassment at his wife’s behaviour.

“Come now ladies… enough of this mindless chatter. Save the hide and seek for later when your in possession of a wedding ring. I believe it is time that you stopped speaking altogether. It begins now. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you or you’ll have to begin all over again”, Nyawe commanded with a hearty laugh.

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Maire and Igrayne looked at each other in despair. Lyiss too was wondering how they could manage to stay quiet for the entire time. It would be a much less difficult feat to find seven different flowers than for them to hold their tongues for even an hour.

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Lyiss felt her brother’s worried eyes gazing at her. She tried to smile to reassure him but found it all but impossible.

He opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by Nyawe.

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“Come along now sister dear… it’s a husband we’ll be finding for you tonight”, she grabbed Lyiss firmly around the waist herding her in the direction of the other girls.

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“Oh but wait… I must be getting a kiss from my own husband first since I’m lucky enough to have one!”

She thrust herself forward, all hips and breasts and lips. Lyiss watched as her brother arched his body away from his wife’s and turned his face so that she collided with his cheek instead of where she had been aiming.

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“Alright ladies, that’s done. Let’s be going then”, she said loudly and turned on her heel leading them away from the fire to hide her blushing face.

For a brief moment Lyiss actually felt pity for her sister-in-law. But it quickly faded as she trotted awkwardly behind.

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Radomir is noticed

They sat in silence as always. She never looking at him and he with his eyes fixed on her in the hope that she would. That was the way it was.

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It was approaching midsummer and the days had grown long and unbearably warm. Valeriya lay atop the sheets, her thin nightdress clinging to her wasted body, like strands of a cocoon wrapping round her lethargic limbs.

Her once curvaceous body had been reduced slowly these past months of illness until she was now all drooping angular limbs. Radomir still thought her exquisitely beautiful, though he would have never dared to tell her so. Her translucent skin, tinged bluish by the veins that pumped exhausted just beneath the surface. The freckles gently sprinkled over the pale skin of her nose and cheeks. He had never really thought them ugly though he had told her so many times for reasons he himself did not quite understand. Her melancholy mouth, swollen like a ripe plum so that he longed to bite into it with his teeth and feel the supple skin split between them. Even the dark shadows around her eyes were beautiful.

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He had been told she was improving but it was hard to tell. It was almost as though she had gone to some other place, leaving the rest of them behind to gaze at her with concern from a distance. But then, he had never been in the same place as her really.

Her hands rested protectively over her emaciated body, moving slowly up and down as she breathed, her slender fingers trembling with each exertion.

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He gazed down at his own massive hands resting awkwardly on his lap. He had never been quite at ease with those hands, grasping clumsily throughout his life at things he wanted, but never managing to quite hold on to them without crushing them.

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If only she would look at him! But no, she was gazing dully at the ceiling. Her grey eyes were glazed, her thoughts flitting elsewhere. Would she never think of him? He was sitting right here in the room with her but she did not even seem to notice.

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His meaty hands clenched involuntarily in his lap, the strong fingers curling inwards. He had a dreadful longing to drive those fists into the the fragile structures of her face. Then she would notice him. He could feel the blood pounding in his temples, and out towards the powerful fingers, the knuckles turning white as it was trapped in the ends of his fingers. They throbbed and ached as his fingernails made rows of red crescent marks on the softer insides of his hands.

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He could force her to do as he wanted with his fists and his strength. He could throw her frail body this way and that, pin her to the bed and thrust himself into her until she cried out and he finally had something from her. Then she would notice him.

He choked back an unwarranted sob. He could do as he wanted, it did not matter. She would never love him. He could hold her in his meaty hands, crushing and crushing until her fragile wings were broken and she would never fly again. He could hold her shattered body, press her against his desperate heart until she was nothing but a mess of mashed up limbs and flesh. And still she would not love him. There was no one in this godforsaken world that ever really had.

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He carefully uncurled his fingers and placed his hands flat on his thighs, pressing down hard until the throbbing subsided. He was ashamed of what he had thought, ashamed of what he had done. And there was no way to ever make it right again. He was frightened, frightened of what he still could do.

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“Radomir…”, she murmured, barely moving her lips as the word hissed painfully against her lips.

She said it so softly and did not turn to look at him, so he worried that he was hearing things now. But his heart gave a thrill just to hear his name on her lips. It had been so very long.

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“Yes my love?”, he replied as gently as he could manage with his deep, rasping voice.

He was not accustomed to gentleness, but to shouting and rage and anger. It was hard for him to know how to be.

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“Would you please get me some water”, she sighed her eyes never turning on him.

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“Oh yes… of course! You must be very thirsty. I will go at once my love. You just wait here. I will be back in no time at all”.

He launched himself hurriedly from his chair, not quite able to suppress his smile, even thought she would not have seen it anyway. She had noticed him. She had even spoken to him.

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He could have taken what he wanted. He could have forced her to do as he wished and fooled himself that it was her choice.

But at this moment the thing he most wanted of all was to bring her water.

She did not look up as he left the room.

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Steen is that scared

“Alright lads… I’ll be countin’ to three and then yew all got to be pushin'”, Noah’s voice rang out.

Steen braced his back in preparation, glad to have a distraction. It was Hepsie’s time and each moment his mind strayed over that thought he panicked and forgot how to breath. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation and so he was happy to focus his breathing on moving the heavy stones into position.

“Alright then… one… two… three… PUSH!”

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“Yew need to be movin’ it a bit to the left there Sermak”, Engin’s voice whined from behind Steen, “And Arran, yer not pushin’ hard enough… put yer back into it lad”.

Steen was once again glad that he was distracted, otherwise he would have been unable to fight the strong compulsion that was growing in him. He wanted nothing more than to plant his fist right in the middle of Engin’s over-sized nose.

“Okay… now be lettin’ go… well done lads”.

“It be lookin’ a bit crooked from over here Noah… yew might need to be doin’ it again”, Engin said pompously.

Now that Steen’s hands were free he thought perhaps he would just give in to the urge. Just a little bop on the nose couldn’t do Engin that much harm and it would do Steen the world of good.

But as he turned he saw Juzzine standing a little away, gazing at them nervously, waiting till they had finished what they were doing.

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His heart was in his mouth, so that he was choking on it, his tongue bouncing around as it thumped and thumped so that he couldn’t manage to say anything at all.

“Er… Steen dear… I think yew better be comin’ with me”, Juzzine said delicately.

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Steen managed to untangle his tongue from the wet-meaty lump and blurted out, “Hepsie… she.. I… we… Hepsie…”

Juzzine looked shocked when she realised what he had thought, “Oh no… oh no… she’s bein’ just fine… it’s just well… yew really best be comin’ then”.

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“I… the baby… the baby… what about the wee baby?!”, Steen heard his voice growing more and more high pitched until he thought he was shrieking in a rather womanly fashion and tried to compensate with a deep growl.

“The baby”, he finally settled on.

“Oh… it’s not here just yet love… it’s just… well really… yew gotta go there I be thinkin’. We sorta be needin’ yer help”.

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In an instant Steen was running through the courtyard, leaving Juzzine and the men behind, scattering chickens in his haste. He ran towards the small room in the west wing where he and Hepsie were staying until their cottage was finished.

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The door began to open and he skidded to an abrupt halt, and a chicken that had been desperately running before him gave a relieved squawk and toddled off to the side.

It was Hepsie, her swollen belly swaying beneath her flimsy underclothes as she waddled hurriedly through the door. Gena was following behind, feeling her way along the door frame as quickly as she could manage.

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“Please Hepsie love… yew got to be comin’ back inside. Babies comin’ it is”, Gena trembled, reaching her hand around trying to find where Hepsie was standing.

Hepsie looked up and saw Steen standing rooted to the spot, unable to think straight. Wasn’t she supposed to be lying down. Steen didn’t really understand how the process worked nor did he really want to as it terrified the pickles out of him, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to happen here in the courtyard in front of anyone who walked past.

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Hepsie’s face suddenly changed, her brows coming together in a ferocious frown, her lips curling down as she glared directly at him. He almost looked behind him to check it wasn’t aimed at someone else, but he felt fairly sure the only living creatures around were the chickens and he did not know what they could have done to provoke such a face.

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“Yew!”, she shrieked, and rushed up to him, pounding at his chest ineffectually with her tiny fists.

“Look a what’ve yew done to me yew big ruddy fool!!”

Steen looked around in a panic, but he couldn’t see anything that was different, nor imagine how he could have been responsible.

“Yew put this thing inside me yew big damn oaf and now I got to be bloody well gettin’ it out again now don’t I!!”

Steen didn’t think he had ever heard his good-natured little wife swear before and now she had the mouth of a common fishwife.

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She poked him again hard in the chest and was about to do it again when she crumpled over in pain.

“Oooooh… “, she clutched at her heaving belly as Steen hovered before her unsure of what to do.

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When the contraction passed she looked up at him, the anger gone leaving behind only the face of a frightened girl.

“I don’t want to be doin’ it Steen… it be hurtin’ that much and I don’t think I got the strength to do it. I don’t want to anymore… can yew just be takin’ me home now and we forget this whole baby thing? Please Steen… can’t we just be goin’ home to our little cottage? I don’t care that it’s only bein’ half built. Please?”.

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Her lower lip was trembling as she looked at him, tears forming at the corners of her eyes and threatening to spill down her flushed cheeks.

“Well I dunno love, but I be guessin’ there ain’t much in this here world that’s gonna be stoppin’ that wee baby from comin’ whether yew or I be likin’ it or not”.

“And if I ever knew any woman that was bein’ strong enough it’s bein yew Hepsie… yer just about the strongest woman I ever been meetin'”.

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“And surely since yew been bringin’ that many littl’uns into this world yew can be doin’ it fer our own. Just think love… soon we’ll be havin’ our own little son or daughter. Our very own and we can take the wee thing back to our cottage and be startin’ our own little family”.

Hepsie was gazing sadly at the ground, all the anger gone out of her, her shoulders drooping wearily.

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“Yew just got to be doin’ this one thing now and yew got to be bein’ brave fer yer old Steen and that littl’un who’s bein’ so desperate to be comin’ out an meetin’ his Ma. And I know yew can Hepsie… yer just about the bravest woman I ever knowed”.

And then she flung herself into his arms, clinging to him like she never had before.

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“I’m bein’ that scared Steen”, she whispered in his ear.

“I know love, but yew’ll be alright. Yer strong and brave and from all that kickin’ I been feelin’ these last months so’s the littl’un”.

“Now give yer old Steen a kiss and be off with yew”.

He pulled her gently to him, kissing her soft lips and tried not to let in the thought that perhaps this would be the last time he ever would. He ran his fingers through her long black hair and felt her warm body pressing against his. She was strong. She was brave. They would be alright.

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“Ooooh… damn… bloody hell!”, she drew away, shouting obscenities as another wave of pain rushed through her body.

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Steen rubbed her arm until it passed.

“I guess you gotte be goin’ real soon then love. Seems like it won’t be too much longer”.

She nodded and allowed herself to be led away by Gena.

Darina was waiting at the door, coaxing in an uncharacteristically gentle voice, “Come on then dearie… best to get it over with. Won’t be too much longer then”.

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“I love yew Hepsie”, Steen called after her.

“I love yew too Steen… ooooh”.

And then the door shut and as Steen thought of the room beyond he realised he was “bein’ that scared” too, but he was glad he had not told her.

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Garrick is kissed

Garrick stirred lazily his body heavy in the blurred summer light that was streaming down through the smudged windows. The heady scent of horses mingled with the musty smell of the hay he was lying amongst. He heard the rustling of the straw scratching together and felt the stack beneath him gently shifting.

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He opened his eyes blearily but it was only Isabelle, crawling in beside him as she liked to do late at night when everyone else was sound asleep. Then they would lie with their arms around each other, chattering and laughing, or comforting if the day had been hard. Well into the night she would stay until their eyelids drooped heavily and they were close to sleep. Then she would patter off softly on her little feet lest their father discover them there in the morning.

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She was wearing her thin white nightgown but it was streaked with dirt. There was dirt clinging to her flaming red hair and he could see shadows of black beneath the perfect crescents of her fingernails. Then he remembered she had sneaked into the stable to be with him, so of course she would have got dirty. His heart gave a great pounding throb as he looked at those dirty little feet and he thought of the lengths she must have gone just to see him.

She tentatively reached out a pale hand towards him. He could see the fingers trembling as she held back from him, her slender body perched awkwardly on the edge of the haystack.

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How could she think him angry with her, as she sat there as though waiting for permission to approach him? He reached forward and grasped her chill hand in an instant, twining his fingers around hers, tangling his heartstrings with hers.

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He heard her sigh, as her shivering body relaxed against his in relief and he wrapped his arm around her. She was so very cold! He held her tighter, rubbing his hand against her frail arms trying to impart some of the warmth of the stable to her freezing skin. She had become so thin since he had last seen her. He thought he almost could have snapped her bony arm between his hands.

She leaned her little face against his, into the crook of his neck where it had always fitted perfectly and he gave an involuntary shiver at the chill of her skin, the dampness of her hair. She was gently stroking his hand with her fingers, leaving icy trails along them.

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He buried his face in her hair to smell the familiar scent that always clung to the strands, the earthy smell of the forest, of oaks and birches and autumn. The scent was still there, but only faintly, underlying a powerful stench of moist decay and disintegration that filled his nostrils and made him choke.

“Where have you been my Isabelle? You smell like a tomb. You know Father will beat you if he catches you in the crypts again. Your curiosity will get you in trouble again, it will”.

“Garrick…”, she whispered, her voice the dry rustling of the wind moving through the dead leaves of autumn.

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“It’s alright my love. I’ll hide you from him, if he finds out. We will tell him it’s my fault, that I made you go down there and he can beat me instead. I am stronger”.

“Oh Isabelle how I have missed you!”

She squeezed feebly at his arms, her limbs all skin and bones and angles and then he felt her drawing away from his embrace. He tried desperately to cling to her, but his arms would not move properly and it was as though her body was smoke, winding away from his clutching hands.

He sobbed in despair, “Isabelle please… please don’t leave me again… please…”.

She leant down over his useless body and hissed, “I will come to you again my Garrick”.

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She kissed him softly on the cheek and an icy burning pain flared there as his eyes began to blur.

“We will be together Garrick…”, she whispered and then she was gone.

“Garrick! Garrick!”, he heard the loud shouts of men and the frantic whinnying of the horses in his pounding head, trying without success to block them all out.

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“Yer Lordship… wake up!”, he felt strong hands shaking him and opened his eyes blearily.

Noah stood above him, and he could see Arran’s worried face bobbing around behind him.

“I’m fine…”, he managed to croak, his throat dry as he struggled to lift himself up with trembling arms.

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He looked around in confusion, for he was lying on the floor and where was Isabelle? And then he remembered with a dreadful hollow pang and he understood where he was.

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He looked up at Arran’s peaky face and the boy was staring at him with that same wide-eyed terrified expression that seemed to flit across his face a hundred times a day.

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“What… what is it boy?”, he snapped as he stumbled to his feet.

“It’s just… it’s just… what’s happen’ to yer face me Lord?”, he wavered.

Garrick brought a hand up gingerly to his face, shuddering in pain as his fingers touched raw open flesh.

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He brought his hands slowly down before him, staring in disbelief at the blood that was smeared on his trembling fingers. In his ears he thought he heard the hollow echo of her whisper, “We will be together…”.

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Garrick surveys the workings

Garrick found he was almost panting as he made his way from the ships, up the hill to the workings of what was to be the castle. His stomach churned, broiling in the scorching heat, beads of sweat forming on his brow and trickling down his face.

When he saw who was guarding the gate he suppressed a groan of annoyance. Kelgar had a very high opinion of himself, particularly since he had been made, out of necessity castle guard. Garrick was not in the mood for his sarcastic comments, particularly not today.

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He belched, an unpleasant acidic wave burning its way along his oesophagus as he forced himself to swallow it back down. He would not degrade himself by losing the contents of his stomach in front of an upstart fool like Kelgar.

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Unfortunately Kelgar had noticed.

“Had a rough night then have we Your Lordship”, he drawled, his lips turning up slightly into a condescending sneer, as he stepped to bar the way into the inner courtyard.

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“I don’t know about your rough night Sir”, Garrick scowled, “but I was sound asleep in bed with my wife”.

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Which was true. He had been, it had just taken a few tankards of ale to get there. Well perhaps more than a few. He had stumbled to bed as usual, ashamed as Cindra shrank away from his hands, his attempts at gentle caresses turned to fumbling pawing.

But he couldn’t bear it if he did not drink. Then she would come to him in his dreams, always dancing away from him, teasing as he reached out to touch her. To experience the pain of losing her again every morning when he woke was too much and so he drank to keep her away.

He only wished he could find a way to stop his wife from dreaming of her. But he could not help that, someone must have told her what he had done so of course she now found him repulsive. And it was natural for her to have nightmares about such a thing, but it frightened him a little that she was growing so exhausted she had not even realised Atholt had burnt his hand. How it could have happened he could not conceive of but there it was, the evidence that Cindra’s attention must have wandered for a moment. And then how she had woken in the night screaming about it. But of course she had such a terrible fright that night so she must have forgotten about Atholt’s little accident.

He was now standing directly in front of Kelgar, glaring down at him. Sometimes it was a definite advantage to be so tall.

“Now if you would mind standing aside sir, you are in my way”, he snarled.

“Of course, of course your Lordship”, he said with a smirk, stepping aside and waving Garrick through, “can’t be too careful these days you know. There’s all sorts of bad types on this here island”.

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“I hope you are not implying I am one of these “bad types””, Garrick said scornfully, pushing past before Kelgar had a chance to answer, tired of the other man’s snide remarks.

What a start to the day. He had managed to drag himself out of bed, head pounding and mouth dry, long after Cindra had already left. It was his job to oversee the building at the castle, and he hadn’t impressed anyone lately with his efforts.

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Noah and Arran were working on the East wing. An anvil had been set up there for Noah, who was at this very moment hammering out new iron supports for the side wall. He was issuing instruction to Arran who was all but jumping from foot to foot like an excited puppy.

“Now then lad, are yew bein’ ready for it? Remember it’ll be bein’ mighty hot so don’t let it be touchin’ yer skin else yew’ll be getting a nasty burn there”.

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Arran nodded in agreement, then realising Noah was concentrating on the task and hadn’t seen him squeaked, “Yes… I’m bein’ ready for it”.

“Arright now then lad… now!”.

Noah drew back, and Arran darted forward seizing the glowing hot pin in hands wrapped in a thick cloth and plunging it into the nearby bucket of water, where it hissed noisily, a cloud of steam rising from it.

Now that this process was finished Garrick cleared his dry throat noisily. The heat of the fire was scalding his face and he could feel rivulets of sweat trickling unpleasantly down his back. How he too longed to plunged into the bucket, where the cool water would soothe his sizzling skin, pour into his parched mouth and wash the grit from his bleary eyes.

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Noah looked up at him, while Arran was still gazing, fixated at the cooling pin.

“Somethin’ we can be doin’ fer yer Lordship then?”, Noah asked, as Arran turned around with a start, not noticing Garrick’s presence till then.

“I’m just coming to check on your progress”, Garrick croaked.

He cleared his throat in embarrassment, turning to Arran who was not gazing at him as acutely as Noah, “So then lad, I see Noah is showing you the ropes. Have you ever done any blacksmithing before?”

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Arran stared at him, his moss green eyes wide and startled. He reminded Garrick of a rabbit he had once shot while hunting, the look of surprise at the thud of the arrow before the pain began to flow through its soft body. The thought brought up a dreadful pang of guilt and sorrow, rushing up through his body so he thought he might be violently ill right there on the ground before those startled eyes. He would never shoot an arrow again.

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“N…no Yer Lordship… I ain’t done nothin’ like this before. I ain’t got no experience whatsoever”.

The young man suddenly looked as though he thought he had said too much, “But I am doin’ me very best yer Lordship and I do think I’m qualified fer this here job yew’ve given me”.

“I really really am tryin’ me very best”, he reiterated.

Seeing the young man’s discomfort Garrick tried to change the subject, “So when will you be putting up the next retaining wall?”

Arran stared blankly at him, his fingers tapping nervously at his sides, “errr…”

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“We will be bein’ puttin’ up that one next week yer Lordship. We’ll be needing more men fer that so some of those that be workin’ on the church will be comin’ over here to be helpin’.

Arran was nodding his head furiously in agreement.

“But we still got to be makin’ a whole lot more of these here supportin’ pins”, Noah said.

Garrick listened feeling increasingly ill, the fire unpleasantly close, “It’s bloody hot today it is”, he said wiping the sweat from his brow.

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“Perraps yew should be goin’ in the kitchen and gettin’ somethin’ cold ta drink and havin’ a bit of sit down”, Noah suggested, “Yer not lookin’ to well there yer Lordship if yew don’t mind me sayin'”.

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“It sure is bein’ hot today”, Arran nodded helpfully.

“Perhaps your right, I’ll do that and let you men get back to your work”.

They took the hint and turned back to what they were doing as Garrick stumbled away, heading across the courtyard towards the makeshift kitchen.

He didn’t make it, suddenly feeling intensely ill, guts wrenching upwards and he rushed in through the nearest door, into the stables. He bent over clutching his writhing stomach until the sensation had passed then leaned heavily against the stall.

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A soft-nosed mare stuck her head through the bars whinnying softly as she butted her head against his trembling arm.

“Sorry lass… I don’t have anything for you today”, he muttered and then his whole body was screaming with pain and he was on his hands and knees crawling towards the piles of hay in the corner.

He didn’t make it, the world turning red at the corners followed by the dragging curtain of blackness.

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Blackness and the soft patter of little feet on dry clay.

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Cindra walks the path a different way

Cindra had met Eallair in the hall rushing hurriedly from the room, the roar of Lochan’s curses ringing behind him. Evidently Eallair in his nervous state had said the wrong thing and been sent away. But it was not a time to be alone so she had crept through the door, carefully pulling up a chair beside Lochan without a word, tentatively reaching out a warm, sure hand to rest over his trembling one.

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And so they had sat as the hours ticked by, in silence, the only sound the ragged breath whistling between his grinding teeth.

Finally he turned to her and in his eyes she saw such boundless terror that she was frightened herself.

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“Cindra…”, he moaned between chattering teeth, “Cindra what if…”.

She didn’t let him finish cutting him off with, “What if what. None of your nonsense then. There will be no what if. She is with Goodwife Cade, the best midwife our kingdom has ever had and all will be well”.

“All will be well”, she repeated again with the best smile she could muster, patting his hand awkwardly.

But even she realised it was a poor replacement for her usual laughing mouth and he must have known it too.

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But it was the best that she could do. It was not supposed to be like this. He comforted her, there had never been anything else and now she was terrified of setting a foot astray and ruining everything they had rebuilt over the last months. She had always had his hand to guide her as she tottered on stumpy legs through puddles, his strong arms to lift her when the wall was too high.

But she was all he had as his wife lay moaning and screaming in pain and she would not falter. She would help him along this path as he had done for her so many times before. She squeezed his hand a little more tightly, interlacing her slender fingers with his.

“They will both be fine”, she said again in a firm voice, though to her shame she did not quite believe it. Isaura had awoke bleeding which was not a good sign.

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Lochan’s lower lip was trembling as he bit furiously, his eyes swimming with unshed tears.

“I forgot to tell her I loved her before I went”, he said, his voice low and hollow.

“She knows Lochan”, Cindra replied.

“But what if…”.

“I said no what ifs Lochan. She knows and soon you will be able to tell her again yourself”.

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She opened her mouth to speak more words of comfort but shut it abruptly at the sound of footsteps coming down the wooden hallways.

Lochan leapt from his chair, gazing in horror at the door that would soon open and admit the rest of his life, whether good or bad.

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Cindra silently steeled herself in case it was bad.

The door clicked open and the Queen walked in carrying a squirming bundle in her arms. Cindra did a quick count of limbs, fingers and toes but the baby seemed healthy enough. It was gazing with interest at Madlenka’s thick ponytail the tip of which was dangling within reach of the clumsily grasping fingers. It batted wildly with tiny hands, trying to catch this fascinating object but could not muster the coordination needed to succeed.

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Still Cindra was frightened to look upon the woman’s face and see what lay there. She glanced at Nyawe who was smirking slightly but that did not give her the answer she sought. Nyawe was the sort of woman to smirk at another’s misfortune, particularly if it meant one less wife in the world.

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She breathed a heavy sigh of relief when she saw the joyful smile that was plastered across Madlenka’s rosy face. Surely if things had gone badly she would not have been able to smile so.

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“My wife…”, Lochan managed to croak.

“She’s doing fine Lochan, a little tired but otherwise fine. She’s resting now but you can see her soon”, Madlenka replied.

“And I have a little someone here who is very keen to meet you”.

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Cindra peered around Lochan’s shoulder to see the baby gazing with rapt attention at her father. What a dear little thing it was! And so robust. She could not quite believe it had come from the belly of Isaura. All her energy must have gone into this small pink thing which was now snuffling softly in Madlenka’s arms.

“This is your daughter Lochan”, Madlenka said softly, holding her out to his outstretched trembling arms.

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Lochan took the baby carefully, as though frightened she would break if he bumped too hard, cradling her tiny body in his arms.

The two gazed at each other, the baby awkwardly patting at his face with her soft hands.

“My daughter… “, he repeated in awe, his mouth working painfully between a smile of wonder and a grimace.

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“Alright then, we should leave the two of you alone to become acquainted. Come on then ladies”.

“I want her to stay”, Lochan murmured, his mouth against the soft skin of his daughter’s head.

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“Of course she can stay with her papa, I meant the rest of us silly”.

Cindra moved to leave but Lochan said softly, “I meant Cindra”.

The smile dropped from Madlenka’s face as she stared at Cindra sourly. Her disapproval was obvious and Cindra knew why. It should have been her husband there with his friend, not Cindra. It was not the place for the women to be that night.

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“Very well then”, she said haughtily and turning on her heel they left, closing the door with a loud click behind them.

A rattling sob rose in Lochan’s throat, muffled by his daughters neck.

Without a thought Cindra rushed up, wrapping her arms around the two of them. She stroked Lochan’s shivering back, burying her face in the warmth of his hair. His wife was not here to comfort him and so it was obvious that she must.

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They stayed like that for a long time as Lochan wept, with Cindra and the baby clinging desperately to his shaking body.

Still no post and off again

Hi guys. I guess you’ve noticed there still is no post. Sorry about that… this week has been crazy and now I am going to be away till Friday in France so I won’t get to post till I get back. I have had a bit of a play around with Bon Voyage when I got a chance so I have a sneak preview for you of the site where the castle is being built (there is nothing there at the moment but there will be soon). I have to say, the thing I am loving most about Bon Voyage is the new lots for it… they are perfect for Mhalwae.

Okay… so without further ado here it is (not terribly exciting but I am excited). And yes that is swimmable beach!

Castle site

Castle site 2

Hehe… gotta love the taxi driving out the front :)

Have a nice week and I will really try to get a post out next weekend.