WIP – The Will and The Way – Great Druids Excerpt
The smell of wood burning, food cooking and the hint of fear filled the air as the grey skies lightened as the day brightened. The sun would never touch the green hills today, it was hidden behind the heavy clouds and fog concealing the encampment.
Abigail groaned, holding her breath as her maid finished tightening her corset, as she finished dressing. Her dark green skirt was gathered around her as she sat still, letting the woman braid her hair tight. “Where is my husband?”
“He be out oiling his blade ma’am. Shall I tell him ye need him?” the maid inquired.
Abigail shook her head. “Nay. Go see if they need your help finishing breakfast.” And with that the maid was dismissed. Abigail rose to her feet, fighting down the wave of nausea again and slid the sgian dhu inside her boot and belted her dagger on her waist before moving to the chest and pulling out her bow and arrows, quickly restringing the weapon before pulling the quiver with arrows over her chest and shoulder and putting the bow over her other shoulder.
She stepped out from the darkness of the tent, squinting at the brightness of the day through the cloud cover. Her eyes searched for her husband, touching over each campfire till she found him. A smile lit her face as he ruffled a boy’s hair and chased him off. Her hand moved down her stomach before she moved towards her husband.
Michael heard the swish of skirts and looked up to see his wife moving towards him. Without hesitation, he put his sword aside, rising and walking towards her to meet her halfway. Strong arms encircled her, pulling her to him as he kissed her deeply, breathing in her scent. She smelled of heather and lilacs.
“Have you eaten yet Abby?” he asked softly, studying her face.
She smiled, shaking her head, “Not yet, but I will. I promise.”
He took a deep breath. “Abby, I’ve got a bad feeling about today. Is there anything I can say or do to convince ye to stay back here at the camp? Even if it’s on the edges? Ye have good aim and good distance with yer bow, there be no need for ye to be there with me.”
Her eyes moved up his body to meet his as her hand moved to his, then moved it towards her stomach. “I will nae be going with ye my love. Ye hae already given a reason for me to stay back.”
It was a few moments before his eyes registered what she said and his eyes widened. “Ye be with child Abby?” He kissed her soundly pulling her to his body. “How far along?”
Abby swallowed before answering. “Six to eight weeks.”
He blinked. He wanted to be angry with her, but couldn’t. “Ye should be at home! Where it is safe. Not here where there would be battle. Ye’ve known for that long?”
“I suspected just before we came here. I wasn’t positive until two weeks ago. And ye couldn’t make me stay behind. My place is here with ye.” She answered. “But I will not put you more at risk by being by your side this time. Ye knowing I carry your child and am fighting next to ye would distract ye.”
Michael put an arm around her, moving her towards their tent and a fire there. “I will feel much safer with ye here in the camp. I fear it will be a bloody battle.”
“Most are,” she answered softly.
“I just hae a bad feeling about this Abby. We’re going tae win, but….” He shook his head, “something bad is going tae happen.”
Abby couldn’t help but smile, “Men do nae hae the sight Michael. Women do. Good, bad, ye will return to me. More so now.”
Michael grinned, “If it wasn’t nearing time tae move Abby, I’d tumble ye here in now and teach ye about now.” That brought a laugh out of her before she kissed him passionately.
“I love ye Michael. Ye are my heart, my soul. Know that if ye die, my death follows in hours, that is how close we be.”
He held her to him. “I know love, I feel tha same way. Hae no fear, I will return to ye.” He held her for a few more moments, then departed with a soft kiss.
She sat there, wondering just what it was he was feeling, sensing and what would make him so worried. She, not he, was the one who often had feelings, instincts, that turned out to be right, sometimes for good, sometimes for naught. Abigail shook her head, rising to her feet and moving through the camps, talking with the other wives as their men, their husbands moved to defend the recent wave of invaders. Invaders who spoke a language similar to theirs but were nothing like them.
One of the older women, Corine, smiled warmly at Abigail and invited her to sit with her as she fixed a tea. “This will help with the nauseousness lass. Then ye’ll be able to eat something. Don’t let the wee bairn boss ye around too much. He needs food as much as ye do.”
Abigail nodded, “Thank ye Corine. I appreciate it.”
Several hours had passed and Abigail moved around the camp, her eyes moving to the hill, watching the fighting, looking for her husband. He was easy to identify, a lord, leading his people. She had left her bow by Corine, realizing they were out of shot earlier and just would have to wait. She didn’t need to fight, she just wanted to.
Suddenly, Abigail froze, the fabled sight showing a feint, a deceit, perhaps the bad feeling her husband had had. Fighting to not be sick, she ran, screaming, “Defend yourselves we’re being flanked.”
Moments after that her words were found to be true. Soldiers were grabbing the women and children, not killing them, but holding blades to their throats. Abigail grabbed her bow and started picking targets. As she reached for her fourth arrow, her hand was grabbed from behind her and she felt a sharp pain in the middle of her back as her attacker pulled her to him. The pain was so intense her bow dropped to the ground and she didn’t fight. The baby…remember the baby…she told herself.
“Walk wench, or I will drag you by your hair,” the attacker growled in her ear, letting her hand go and putting a knife to her throat.
From behind she heard the shout, “Camp’s secure.”
Her attacker nodded and the pain in her back was getting worse as they moved. Her mind reeled. He had stabbed her in her upper back, just below her ribs and was using that to control her. She knew she had no choice.
“I’ve got his wife. Sound the parlay call, when he hears it from behind he’ll stop.” He nudged her a bit with the knife “Keep walking.”
Abigail whimpered, but did as was told, feeling both the knife at her throat, causing a small cut until they were halfway between the camp and the battle field. The horn had sounded the third time for parlay and as the man predicted, Michael turned around.
“You will say nothing. You will do nothing or your life is forfeit. Do you understand?” the man behind her asked. Abigail nodded, praying her husband didn’t realize they had her.
She was forced to her knees with a cry of pain. It hurt to breath. There was a shooting pain from the wound down to her legs and back. Her eyes rose up the hill to where her husband was and saw him drop his weapons. Oh gods, he knows….please no.
And suddenly, she knew that this was another deceit. This wasn’t a parlay, it was to stop them from fighting so their companions could recoup and attack from behind while the fighting had stopped. They would kill the men and rape the women, if not kill them too.
Her attacker shouted “We wish to speak with your leader. I have his wife right here, unharmed. Bring him to me and we will parlay for the lives of your wifes and children.”
Michael stalked down the hillside towards them, “I am he. That be my wife ye hold. Let her go.”
Abigail’s eyes went to her husband then to the hill behind him. She wanted to scream, but couldn’t and suddenly, she knew what she had to do.
Often times as a child when she had been in bad situations, she had felt an uncanny power around her that had allowed her to escape it. This time, she knew what it was, what she had to do, even though she was reluctant to do so. Her eyes rolled as she opened herself to the flows of nature. The skies darkened, thunder rolled. And just as suddenly, lightning struck all around them. Targeted strikes hitting the enemies that were there to bring them harm, striking them down to death.
“Unto nature you are committed, for sins against earth’s children, you are hereby condemned.” The words came unbidden from her mouth, uncontrolled as her own attacker fell to the ground, his blade slicing superficially across her throat, leaving a line of red as she collapsed to the ground.
All around them, in the camp, on the hill, anywhere her eyes had touched an enemy, the enemy lay dead. Several of the older women mouthed the words “Great Druid”.
Michael ran, screaming inhumanely before he dropped down by his wife, pulling her limp form into his arms, against his chest cradling her to him. He saw she still breathed, but felt her warm blood from her back spilling against his legs. His hands trembled as he stroked her face, tears streaming down his face. “I need ye wife. Do nae leave me. I love ye to much. Fight. Be strong Abby.”
Corine, while shaken, came with another woman to Abigail and Michael. Corine spoke softly “We will do what we can m’lord. Bring her to yer tent.”
Michael nodded, too stunned to move for a moment then picked her up, rising to his feet as well. Corine paused, then motioned for him to wait a second. She reached beneath Abigail and pulled the dagger out. Without a word he moved through the camp, his eyes only on his wife, his life and soul, and placed her in their tent, sitting and holding her as the women began their work.
Her throat, luckily, he saw was just a hairline cut. There was no pressure on the knife when it was drug over her throat, just the sharpened blade doing superficial damage. It would heal and was cleaned and bandaged. Her back was another story.
Corine shook her head, speaking softly, “Ye need to take her to the druids. Everyone here knows what she is. Everyone here knows that she has more power than even the oldest druids here. And everyone knows it was a result of the danger around us. They can heal her and they can teach her…and you.”
Michael nodded, swallowing hard before asking “What of the child?”
Corine hesitated before answering, “So far, the child survives. If it did not, she would be bleeding as if her moon cycle had begun, but worse. She does not bleed, so I believe it is strong and fights as she does.” She continued bandaging and redressing Abigail. “Ye need ta leave tonight Michael. The wound in her back does nae stop bleeding and blood loss will kill them both. We will do what we can to slow the flow, but the quicker she is tended to, the better chances she has.”
There was a cough outside the tent. Corine looked out then let them in. The young man spoke softly, averting his eyes from his despairing lord and his injured wife. “Sire, the leadership from –them- are here under a white flag of truce. He said with the power of a Great Druid in our camp, he does nae wish to continue this fight and will pay reparations and gifts to the lands for committing such a travesty and angering the druids.”
Michael wrapped a blanket around his wife, pulling her limp form to hold her against his chest in his lap. “Bring them here. Now.”
The messenger hurried out of the tent and moments later returned with three men. Their eyes went from stubborn defiance to shocked-fear as they saw him with his unconscious wife in his arms.
Michael studied them.
“The Great Druid you angered is the woman you see here, hanging on to life by a thread. She is my wife and was nae a druid by power or ways until today. She bleeds and the earth trembles as her blood was spilt. Ye are at fault for what happened today, for what happened to her. What coward sends troops to attack the women and children?”
The man in the middle swallowed. “I would be that coward, m’lord. My orders were to capture the women and children, not to injure any of them, to use them as….leverage.”
Michael nodded. “I am leaving this night, taking my wife to the druid groves in hopes they can save her life and my child’s life. If either, or heaven forbid, both die, your life is forfeit. Terms of surrender and reparations will be made upon my return, whenever that may be. Until then, you will be treated no better than criminals and will be put to work as such, along with your men. This is not a negotiation. If you argue, your surrender will be ignored and you will be executed. Any questions?”
It became obvious that at least one of the three men had lost bowel control. The “leader” shook his head. “A fair exchange m’lord. And for your wife and your sake, not mine, I hope she recovers.”
They were escorted out and Corine moved back in. “Your horse is ready Michael. There are provisions as well as your sword and blankets to keep her warm. Ride swift, ride carefully, but do not tarry.”
Michael moved, gently laying his wife down on the bed as he changed his clothes, grabbing a cloak and kilt and donning them. Looking outside he saw Corine’s husband and motioned to him.
“When I am in the saddle, bring me my wife…please.” Michael asked, putting his hand on the saddle horn and pulling himself up, watching the man move into the tent then bringing his wife out to him and handing her up to him. Abigail moaned in pain as she was lifted up her head falling back against her husband as he settled her on the saddle in front of him.
“Ride east Michael. You will find the grove, you know where it is,” Corine spoke up to him. Her hand rested on Abigail’s knee. “The gods watch over her, but do not tarry. She is not doing well. Blessed be.”
Michael nodded, spurring his horse into action, racing east through the camp, many eyes and faces watching as they left, many whispering the same words of “Blessed be.”
It had been a very long time since a Great Druid was “born” in the midsts of others.
Michael rode his horse hard, slowing down occasionally to not tire her out, but rode her harder than he normally would. He could feel her breathing against his chest. His heart hurt at seeing her injured as bad as she was.
“Michael….” Abigail croaked out his name, almost a plea and he slowed down the horse.
“I’m here love. What is it?” He kissed her neck, still surprised how she smelt of heather and lilacs and, strangely, of lightning.
“I hurt, Michael…” Her words were slow, pain-filled. “I’m cold. Where are we going?”
“Taking you where you can be healed love,” he pulled loose his cloak and pulled it around her and him. “We’ll be there by morning love. Sleep. I won’t let anything else happen to you.”
Abigail murmured something unintelligible before she fell silent again, back in a deep sleep.
Michael rode fast, but more carefully, until they reached the edge of the grove. Dismounting, he led his horse with Abigail on it slumped over, deeper within, till a deep voice seemed to come from everywhere within the forest.
“Who dares to enter the druid’s grove?”
“I, Michael of Sorn, with my injured wife Abigail. She be a druid. Corine Drammon sent us here saying that druids would heal and teach one of their own,” Michael answered, following the instructions she had been given.
The grove was dark, yet seemed almost living. When they had first entered, it had felt oppressive, trying to drive them out, yet he persisted. After he had given his answer, the atmosphere within it had changed, to almost friendly. From across the way, two older individuals approached – a man and a woman.
The woman spoke first. “Please, take her from the horse and bring her to me. My husband will take care of your beast while we talk.”
Michael nodded and dismounted before carefully pulling Abigail down into his arms. He winced at hearing a soft cry from her as he did so.
“I’m sorry love. I do not mean to hurt you. They will help you.” Shifting her gently, he followed the woman who lead him to a dwelling which had been carved into the trunk of an ancient large tree..
He was awed by what he saw. The tree continued growing around the home that had been carved and created from its roots and trunks. The structure was situated in such a way that unless the oppressive feeling of the forest let them continue, it wouldn’t be easily seen.
“This is where we keep our guests. Most of the druids here live in huts in the canopy of the trees,” she motioned above them, “or in cabins in the grove. But when we have injured, we cannot expect them to be taken into homes up above when they themselves cannot get there. Nor is a second day’s journey to the grove good for them.” She led him through the front room, where a fireplace was built against an exterior wall of the tree, to another room that had a bed on it. There was a a carved staircase just to the left of the room, he assumed, leading up to another story or two. “Place her there. Tell me, is she the one we felt this afternoon controlling the storms?”
Michael nodded, placing his wife on the bed then sitting next to her. “Yes. She is.”
The woman nodded. “I be Sarah. My husband is Connor. We both sensed it. Everyone did.” She motioned him off the bed, “Ye’ll be in the way there.”
She moved over to Abigail, unwrapping the bandages on her throat, then moving to get some herbs to grind to help use on it. “Tell me what happened. Leave nothing out.”