AN: Thanks to everyone who left reviews last chapter! There were a couple of questions about Eric’s maker. It was Ocella, who was slain in battle by Niall (it was talked about early on in the story as Eric reflected back on his capture).
Here’s a quick recap of the last chapter: Eric and Sookie escaped from Faery and initiated a blood bond while Crogher, Niall’s tracker, was hot on their heels. This chapter addresses what is going on with Claudine since she was knocked out by Niall for helping Eric escape and Colman, who was imprisoned for treason. Next chapter will have more Eric/Sookie action.
Thanks a million to my wonderful betas/pre-readers, VAlady and Virala!
Fintan teleported to the main room of the healer’s wing, startling a nurse who was carrying an armful of linens. Her eyes widened when she recognized them as Brigants. She immediately shoved her burden at an assistant and ushered them into one of the nearby private patient rooms.
“Please call for Sláine or Seanan. Quickly,” Fintan told the nurse.
‘Yes, right away my lord,” she said softly before bowing and teleporting out of the room.
Fintan lay Claudine on the bed and immediately turned to the two guards who had followed them.
“Remove the iron cuffs,” he ordered. “And then depart immediately. My niece cannot be healed with armed guards hovering over her.”
The two men looked at each other, both hesitant due to fear of reprisal from Niall for disobeying orders. After glancing back at Fintan, the older guard stepped forward and unlocked the manacles that bound her wrists. He had been a soldier for countless years before becoming a royal guard and was skilled at reading men’s faces. Thus, he was able to perceive the thinly veiled anger that threatened to burst out through Fintan’s normally calm veneer.
As he placed the cuffs in a protective pouch attached to his leather belt, the taller and younger fae glanced at his partner disapprovingly. While he respected Fintan, he wanted to prove his loyalty to the Prince since he had aspirations of promotion to Niall’s elite personal guard. He gave a stiff bow before boldly addressing Fintan.
“Lord, Prince Niall gave us strict orders to guard the princess Claudine. While we understand her need for medical attention, we cannot disobey him and allow her to escape given her…”
Fintan interrupted him, his voice low and deadly. “You will do your duty. But you will do it outside her room. She will not leave this chamber until she is cleared by one of the physicians, never fear; then you can hold her under arrest in her private chambers. You will leave. Now.”
The young guard blinked and looked as if he was going to retort, but his partner grabbed him by the arm, hurrying him out of the room after hastily bowing to Fintan.
Fintan slammed the door behind them. He drew in a deep breath and took several precious seconds to calm himself.
He let his eyes caress the room. The sanatorium was constructed to be conducive to healing not only the flesh, but the mind and spirit. The air had a clean, wholesome quality not found in any other part of the castle, and Fintan felt it reminiscent of breathing air in the Great Forest after a gentle spring rain. The lighting was subdued and colors were soothing, with white and sky-colored furniture and accents decorating the room. The bed had an overstuffed mattress with a soft white down comforter that was woven with magick and such skill it was akin to floating on a cloud for those who rested upon it.
He pulled a chair up to the edge of Claudine’s bed. She remained insentient, which worried him. Niall’s blow to her head was hard, but surely she would have roused by now…He frowned as he gently stroked the hair back from her face.
Fintan turned as Sláine, one of the most skilled healers of the kingdom, came through the door. She was flanked by two of her assistants as she hurried up to him.
He stood and received her.
“Thank you for coming so quickly. My niece requires succoring.” He turned his gaze to Claudine as he continued. “And as you can see, she is with child.”
Sláine approached Claudine, concern etching deep lines into her face. “Yes. I see.” She glanced nervously at the door, worried about the meaning of Niall’s guards.
Fintan continued without directly addressing her unspoken question. “Several minutes have elapsed since she was struck on the face by my father. She has not roused since she fell.”
Sláine’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t respond as she turned back to her patient.
Fintan backed away to the foot of the bed as the ancient doctor went to work. She gestured distractedly to her assistants, who handed her various instruments and small vials at regular intervals. As she examined her, Fintan heard her muttering under her breath. She placed her hands on Claudine and began to probe her inert form with her fingers, starting at her head and making her way to her abdomen, which continued to glow softly through her gown. Finally, with a relieved sigh, she stood and turned to Fintan.
“Well, the good news is that she and the baby appear to be in perfect health.”
Fintan frowned again. “Then why does she not rouse? I feared that Niall had gravely injured her; that she had a wound inside her head that we could not see. I was afraid…” His voice trailed as he suppressed the emotion that threatened to choke him.
Sláine smiled softly. “No, she is fine. She does not wake because the clever girl cast a protection enchantment that surrounded her in a healing cocoon when it perceived a threat to her or the baby. She simply rests. I can expedite her waking, but I deem it best to let her wake naturally. Until then, we will keep her comfortable and monitor her.”
Fintan’s relief was immediate. He ran his hand down his face, as if wiping away the heavy burden that had been plaguing his mind.
“Good. That is good.” He closed his eyes and began rubbing his temples.
Sláine’s forehead creased in concern as she appraised the exhaustion that marred his handsome countenance. “My lord, forgive me, but you are also in need of attention. I would have you rest here. We can bring your food in here if you’d rather stay by your niece’s side.”
Fintan smiled. “Aye, food and drink would be most…welcome. I cannot recall the last time I supped.” He shook his head. “Unfortunately, I cannot keep vigil by my niece’s side for much longer. But I will stay and eat if you’d be so kind as to call down to the kitchens for me.”
Sláine signaled to one of her assistants, who immediately teleported away to the kitchen.
The old healer approached Fintan with a questioning look on her face. He nodded his assent to allow her to evaluate him. After she finished her examination, she said, “The arm is healing nicely. The bones and sinew have knitted well. I suspect you will have full use of it in 2 or 3 days, though I daresay it will at first feel a bit stiff to you. Otherwise, you are likewise fit, just tired and hungry, the latter of which will be remedied soon. If you would heed my recommendation, I would beg that you rest in one of our beds, but I doubt you will accept the offer. I recall that as a wee lad, you were ever on the go and never one for staying still for long.”
Fintan laughed softly. “Oh, Sláine, you have no idea how sweet a soft feather bed after a warm meal sounds to me…especially after roughing it for so long on the front lines, but alas, I fear it is not to be. After I eat, I must depart. But I would have the nursemaid Muirne sent for to look after Claudine in my absence.”
“Of course, my lord. She will be summoned. A good choice, I might add. All of her charges are at her mercy once she has them in her sights. Claudine will have no choice but to submit to her ministrations.” She chuckled quietly, which prompted Fintan to join in.
“Verily. Indeed, she was my and my brother’s nursemaid all those many years ago…” Fintan’s visage became somber as he thought of his twin.
His sudden melancholy turn was not missed by Sláine’s perceptive scrutiny. She leaned against the edge of Claudine’s bed.
“You worry about Dermot. How long has it been since he was taken?”
Fintan shook his head. “Too long. So long that I lose hope for his continued survival. I doubt that the súmaire have kept him alive all this time, even though he was taken as a tool for barter…”
Sláine nodded and they were silent for several moments. Fintan looked up into her sympathetic eyes. “But I cannot lose hope. To my knowledge, he has not paid the final visit to one of our clan on his way to the Summerlands. Therefore, I will keep the faith until the very end, until I have no other recourse but to accept that he is…dead.” A lone tear escaped down his face as he thought of his brother. He wiped it away in irritation and straightened as Sláine’s assistant arrived with a tray of food. He stood and thanked her as she sat the tray on a small table in the corner of the room. He pulled a chair up to the table and began to eat despite his heavy heart.
Sláine spoke softly to her assistants, who nodded and set off on their appointed tasks. She turned and re-examined her patient, who appeared to be sleeping deeply. She stayed busy while Fintan hurriedly finished his meal. Afterwards, he stood and approached her, bowing low.
“I am much obliged, my lady. As always, this place is a balm for the very soul. I feel much better. Now, unfortunately, I must attend to some urgent matters. I trust that you will take excellent care of Claudine while I am away.”
“Of course, my lord.”
“I have not yet mentioned it, but as you must have surmised given the guards posted at her door, she is to be on house arrest, quartered in her chambers, after discharge from your care. She must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to leave here unattended. I am sure the palace gossip regarding Colman’s arrest must have reached your ears?”
“Her first thought will be to go to him. This must not be allowed. My father is in a grim mood and will turn on anyone who hinders him, regardless of blood relation.”
Sláine shook her head as she shot him a dubious look. “How am I to accomplish this?”
“Remind her of the baby. The baby’s welfare is paramount and must be stressed. That will likely be the only factor that restrains her actions.”
She glanced at Claudine as she answered him. “Yes, I reckon you are likely right. And with Muirne’s help, hopefully she will listen to reason.”
Fintan gifted her with a small smile, but it did not reach his eyes. “Thanks again, dear Sláine. I leave her in your capable charge. I would have you apprise your counterpart, Seanan, about this situation as well.”
“Yes, I will let him know. He has been tirelessly tending the wounded you brought back from the front. But he will want to check on Claudine himself once he hears she is with child.”
Fintan nodded, satisfied that his niece would be left in the best of care. He walked over to Claudine and placed a light kiss on her forehead. He needed to act fast, and a plan began to hastily form in his mind even as he teleported back to his chambers.
Sláine watched him leave and sighed. It was obvious that Fintan had the weight of the world on his shoulders. She wished she could do more for him, but the years of war had taken a collective toll on their people and limited her healing craft.
She stood bedside as she waited for the arrival of Muirne. She hated that the house of Brigant was showing signs of instability during such troubled times. But what could she do? She became lost, deep in thought as she pondered the recent turn of events.
Suddenly, she was startled out of her reverie as Claudine rose up in bed screaming, as if in a fit of hysterics.
“NO! Colman, no! Leave him alone…Someone, please, help him!” She looked around wildly, as if to bolt from the room. Sláine rushed to her side and held her, crooning and rocking her as if she were a small child.
Claudine burst into inconsolable sobs as the reality of the situation became evident. She had awakened to a living nightmare. Her lover had been taken prisoner, tortured in the palace dungeon and she knew deep in her heart there was little she could do to help him. Not without risking their unborn child…
Colman panted, his head hanging low over his bare chest as he fought to catch his breath. The chains binding him were tight, limiting the circulation in his arms. All four of his limbs were cruelly stretched behind him and manacled to the back of the iron chair that was bolted in the middle of the cell. Blood dripped from the needle-like probes that were stuck in various spots on his head, neck, spine, and upper chest. The leads were attached to an ominous looking device that was manned by Faolan, one of Niall’s infamous interrogators.
Niall gave a signal to Faolan to hold off on further efforts to force the truth out of Colman, who had been infuriatingly resistant to the meaisín fírinne. The sorcerer had refused to divulge any information about his and Claudine’s role in the súmaire’s escape, nor had he revealed knowledge of Sookie’s motivations for committing treason.
Niall strode over to him and grasped a handful of his long hair in his fist, yanking his head up at a painful angle. Colman’s eyelids fluttered. He teetered on the razor’s edge of consciousness, but was somehow able to maintain a semblance of awareness as Niall bent down close to his face.
“You are stubborn. I see that pain is not a motivator for you,” he hissed.
Colman blinked slowly as he stared into the Prince’s eyes. His whole body ached after being subjected to several rounds of the “truth machine,” which had sent lightning shocks into his nerve endings, traveling up into a molten explosion in his mind. He well understood how it worked, as he had been consulted when Niall first conceived the idea for the device: it was geared to literally electrocute the truth out of the neurons. Never did he suspect he would be subject to the horrors of such an instrument…Although he was capable of escaping his captors, he knew it was crucial he endure this torture for the sake of Claudine and their child. Niall seemed capable of anything and he would not risk those he loved above all…
At the beginning of the interrogation, he had tried to inform the Prince of his visions of the future and the crucial role the súmaire would play in saving their realm, but he was silenced at each attempt despite the truth in his words. Eventually, he had had to shut his mouth after savagely biting his tongue and merely tried to endure the seemingly endless rounds of torture. The blood that had poured from his wounded mouth had long since dried, but it had left a ghastly reminder down his chin and chest.
Niall produced a grim smile and whispered in Colman’s ear. “Pain will not loosen your tongue, but I suspect the well-being of your lover and bastard child will.”
Colman choked, his eyes widening in horror as he envisioned Niall subjecting Claudine to similar torture. There was no doubt in his mind that it would cause her to lose the baby.
Niall smiled as he watched the thoughts and emotions flit across his face. “Ah, I see that may have sparked your memory. Perhaps now we can have a more…illuminating discourse regarding your intent for allowing that vermin to escape. You are perhaps planning to overthrow Faery with the help of the súmaire? You mean to displace me and take the throne?”
Colman was stunned. Niall’s accusations revealed just how suspicious and crazed he had become…even in his pained and half-delirious state, the irony of the situation was not lost upon him. Not without reason, he was purported to be insane, the “crazed sorcerer.” But at least for the moment, he was the more sound of mind. He desperately needed Niall to hear the truth in his words, but would he listen to him? He doubted it, but he would try again for the sake of Claudine and their unborn child.
Colman licked his cracked lips, and began to try to reason with him.
“My lord, please heed what I have to say,” he whispered, his voice hoarse from prolonged screaming. “I tell you naught but the truth. I beheld a vision in which the súmaire army invades Faery, laying waste to our land, our people. I saw that you will be…assassinated. The súmaire prisoner is our only hope of stopping the invasion. He is the key to stopping the complete genocide of our kind, I swear it.”
Niall backhanded Colman, causing his lip to split and blood to spray from his mouth.
“You lie!” He glanced over at his interrogator who shook his head, indicating that Colman indeed was telling the truth.
Niall paused for a moment, thoughtful, as he continued. “Though, I deem there is some truth to your words. You likely do see an invasion of Faery, but it is from your plot to supplant me as ruler. Admit it!”
Colman turned his head to the side, spitting blood before responding to him. He shook his head. “No, I swear I speak the truth. Our effort to free the súmaire warrior was done to save Faery from destruction. To preserve your realm and all those who dwell within.”
Niall shook his head as he paced in the cell.
He scoffed, “Why would the warrior agree to help our people? He is bloodthirsty, a vicious killer of fae. He would want nothing but to seek revenge on me for his imprisonment, you fool!”
Colman raised his head and futilely attempted to shrug the hair from sticking to his bloody mouth. He met the Prince’s stare.
“No, my Prince. He will not seek revenge. He will save our people. I have foreseen it.”
Niall laughed grimly. “Oh, yes, of course! You have foreseen it! And just why, pray tell, would a ravenous and ruthless beast do that? It is against his very nature.”
Colman looked him straight in the eye as he answered him. “Love,” he whispered.
Niall froze. “What? What did you just say?”
Colman cleared his throat and held his gaze. “He will do it because he loves your great-granddaughter, the princess Alana…Sookie.”
For the first time in a very long time, Niall was rendered speechless as he stared at the sorcerer. He did not need the meaisín fírinne to know that Colman told him the truth.
He turned to Faolan, signaling for him to remove the device from Colman. Without another word, he motioned for a guard to open the cell and rapidly strode down the catacomb’s dark corridor.
AN: Anyone out there interested in a glossary for this story? I carefully chose the names for original characters (each has a special meaning), as well as used words and phrases based on English to Irish translations (whether they are accurate or not is dubious, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed). I’m not sure how long/complex this story is going to be, but if there is enough interest, I can post it on my bio page and update periodically…it might help me keep track of what the hell I wrote if nothing else.
As I write this story, I visualize certain actors in various roles. For some reason, I see Colman as Stuart Townsend (though with shoulder-length hair). For Eric, Vladimir Kulich (Buliwyf in The 13th Warrior) although of course at times I picture Alex Skarsgard as well. What do you think? Curious as to who you guys have in mind for the other characters…
BTW, I’ve also moved all my stories to FictionPad under the same penname, just in case… ; )