Fallen

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Chapter 46

“I’m surprised yer able to walk,” Bane guffawed as Jon and I appeared in the mess hall the next morning. Jon smiled impishly.

“Aye, I made sure she was well satisfied.” He winked as I turned hot with embarrassment.

“I was talkin’ ’bout you!” Bane laughed even harder, pointing to Jon. It was his turn to become flushed as I laughed. Bane slapped his knee, tears trickling down into his beard.

“Feels good to be home,” I said, smiling up at Jon. He rolled his eyes as he threw his leg over the bench and sat next to Bane. There was a massive platter of hash—bacon, eggs, potatoes, vegetables. My stomach growled, knowing that what I was about to eat would be the best meal I’d had in months. Jon piled his plate high with food, me following suit, reaching for a hunk of bread as well.

Today, we’d meet with the council, and Jon would decide the best course of action. Boudica had declined Jon’s offer to join us in the safety of the Macdara lands. I worried constantly about her. Charles had returned to Mount Tier, given strict instructions to simply spy and not try anything to overthrow my grandfather’s plans.

I spotted Remi at the end of our table, sitting next to a brown haired, wiry boy with big brown eyes. I smiled, my heart content as I watched them, their innocent relationship bringing some purity into this wretched world.

Jon chose to sit amongst his people, unlike Thran. He’d never once sat in the impending chair that loomed in the darkness, staring down at the rest of the tables. It was another thing I admired of my husband; his humility. I ate happily, shoveling the delicious food into my mouth, each bite better than the last. I sensed a presence behind us, turning to see who had cast a shadow. It was his cousin, Eva, the one Freyja had warned me of. She was tall, lithe, with long, light brown hair and hazel eyes. There was nothing particularly special about her, other than the constant sneer she wore on her face. I’d been introduced to her last night, her reaction less than kind. Something I had become used to out here.

Jon turned and glanced at her, chewing his food. His smile faded as he turned back around, not caring to look at her as he spoke.

“What do ye need, Eva?” he said, swallowing.

“I’d like to come to the meetin’ yer havin’.” She said. I peeked at Jon, his arms resting on the table as he bent over his plate. I could see how it pained him to remain civil. He shook his head, his mop of curls wild and loose today.

“The meetin’ is for council members and advisors only.” His voice cut through the light chatter in the hall. She glared pointedly at me.

“I hear yer mountain whore is to be attendin’.” She spat. My blood boiled, my mouth reacting before my brain could stop it.

“You’ll have to be more creative with your insults. I’ve heard that one many times before.” I said, staring up at her. Jon snorted as Bane laughed and laughed.

“You’ll no talk to me that way, ye wee bi-”

Her sentence was cut off as Jon stood and turned in one, threatening and angry motion. He stared her down, his eyes as black as the deepest parts of the sea. Before anyone else could say or do anything, Mel appeared, her arms crossed as she, too, stared down her cousin.

“Best be movin’ along, because although ye may have forgotten who it is yer talkin’ to, none o’ us have.” Mel said. I glanced around the now-silent hall, seeing the surreptitious way the men had started to pull their daggers out of their sheaths. With a final sneer, she turned and left. Jon sat, sighing heavily.

“I think this one needs to be in command of yer army,” Bane laughed, reaching behind Jon and clapping me on the back. Jon smirked.

“Aye, I know they’d fall at her feet and worship the very ground she walked upon.”


The mess hall was now quiet and relatively empty. The council sat, the tables moved to form a large square so we could better see one another. I fidgeted with my hands, nervous for the decisions that were about to be made. Miss Meerie had made me a new dress while we were away; I wore it now, the brown and green plaid pattern something I’d grown to love, for it signified no status other than being part of the clan. It made me feel welcomed, truly home.

Thaniel leaned near the empty hearth, the sun outside much to warm to keep fires going. Jon had demanded he be part of this meeting, though Thaniel had felt uncomfortable. Bane, Bjorn, Frigg, Freyja, Meleryn—everyone sat, their quiet anticipation building. Jon cleared his throat.

“Ye all know why we must meet.” He began.

“I have it on good authority that Borthwick and Mount Tier have allied. It seems they wish to take hold of all the land here, then set their sights on the nearby kingdom of Norm. Battle encampments from Borthwick are already on the edges of that kingdom, so our first priority is to get word to their king, and if everyone here agrees, form an alliance with them.”

Everyone began to whisper to the person next to them, weighing the decision. Thaniel stared off in the distance, chewing his bottom lip and nodding. He spoke up before anyone else.

“What are their numbers like?”

“Decent. They’ve been fighting Borthwick on their lands for years. They may be too weary for more war,” Bjorn answered.

“Aye, so what are the odds of them joining us for help?” Bane asked, scratching his beard.

“I’d say good. Their leader is known to have an excellent mind for war, and his son is a renowned fighter.” Bjorn said, crossing his arms, cocking his head to the side. “The only problem is we’d have to send them help first before they’d be willing to come here.”

Everyone nodded, but ultimately the decision rested on Jon’s shoulders.

“Hold on,” Thaniel said, his brow furrowed.

“I remember hearing about this prince through my crew. We are sometimes chartered to sail to Norm. They said they saw him sneakin’ ‘round the ports behind his father’s back, askin’ to hire mercenaries.”

My heart clenched. Jon smirked.

“His father must think it dishonorable to hire hands for war.” Jon said. Thaniel shrugged.

“I suppose so.”

“How did it end?” Bane asked.

Thaniel’s eyes glinted maniacally, the scar on the side of his face accentuating his devilish look.

“Aye, seems to have went well. Lost half my crew.”

The room erupted in laughter.

“Alright,” Jon said, shifting forward, looking from Thaniel to Mel.

“Thaniel, gather a crew and sail for Norm. Offer our help to rid their lands of Borthwick’s presence, if they agree to help us push back here.”

Mel’s face turned bright red, her entire frame quivering. I felt an outburst was coming, having experienced many before, most directed at me. Jon gave her a warning look.

“Meleryn,” his tone was curt as he shifted on the bench.

“Yes?” She seethed.

“Ye best pack up, ‘cause yer goin’ to keep an eye on him.”

Relief flooded her face as she tried to hide her smile. Thaniel looked to the floor, his arms crossed, as he hid his own broad smile.

“Agreed?” Jon asked the council. Everyone voiced their approval.

“Alright, onto Boudica.”

Jon briefly explained my parentage to those who were unaware, how my mother commanded a vast army who was more than willing to fight with us. Frigg nodded, her eyes closed as a small grin played at her lips, as if she’d known this all along. Part of me wondered if she had somehow sensed it, the gods giving her clues. The tension in the room eased considerably.

“I see no need to discuss that further,” Bane shrugged his bulbous shoulder. “If she’s been preparing for war this long, then I have no doubt she’ll be ready to fight when the time comes. Aye?” Bane asked the room. Everyone agreed. Our odds began to look better and better the more we discussed.

I listened intently as they talked of smaller, neighboring clans who had been allied with Macdara since the ancient days. Jon’s cousins (Eva aside) were preparing their people for war. Eva’s father was still in charge of his clan, trying his hardest to marry her off, though no man had taken his offer yet. I wondered why sarcastically.

The alliances and plans to travel abroad cut clear, the council moved to discussing military tactics. Thanks to Charles’ work, we knew exactly what my grandfather had been plotting for years.

“The location makes sense,” Freyja shrugged, looking at a map Bane had unfurled. They had marked the spot with a small, carved wooden figure of a mountain to represent Mount Tier. It was close to the mountain itself, meaning they knew the land well—better than anyone here—besides Jon. Thaniel’s eyes became pinpointed as he stared at the map. I felt it in my core, then. This was where they’d been held prisoner—been tortured.

“We’ll wait on word from Charles before we move out,” Jon said, standing to stretch. The meeting had lasted nearly the entire day.

“Send for our allies, tell them to gather here. Start making more provisions for war. Send word to Boudica and tell her to meet us near the homestead when the time comes. We need to produce as many weapons as possible, train every able bodied man and woman each day, and start rationing away food.” Jon said, his palms flat on the table as he stared into the eyes of each one of his people. I realized then what this meant for me, for my family. They may perish as a consequence. Jon stared into my eyes, already reading my thoughts.

“Make it known,” he said, still holding my gaze. “That we will spare the lives of my wife’s siblings, mother, grandmother, and father, though only if he repents.”

My fists clenched around my skirts, balling them up. I willed myself not to cry at this gift he was giving me. Motion to my left caught my eye. Bane placed his fist over his heart and nodded, saying only what I assumed to be ‘yes’ in their ancient tongue. Freyja again followed his lead, until everyone in the room had agreed. Tears flooded my cheeks. These people who had hated me now welcomed me home, treating me as though I was born in Macdara. I smiled broadly.

“And one last order of business,” Jon said, turning towards Meleryn.

“I wish to have my only sister married, before the war comes, keeping with the tradition of our people.”

For the second time today, she began to tremble in anger, her fists balled at her sides. My mind reeled, wondering which eligible man from the clan Jon would trust his only remaining immediate family with. I felt deep empathy for her, knowing exactly how it felt to have someone else decide your fate. It was all the worse when your sights were set on someone else, someone you cared deeply for. She began to shake her head. Jon stepped to the side, motioning behind him.

“I’ll no have my sister travelin’ alone with this scoundrel, unless she’s good and married to him.”

Thaniel’s face went white, his hands dropping limply at his sides. Again, Mel’s anger dissipated as quickly as it had come. Jon beamed at her, the council standing to clap their approval of the match.

“So, Thaniel, will ye have this she-devil for the rest of yer life?” Jon asked, quirking an eyebrow. Thaniel’s tanned face positively shined.

“Aye, I’ll have her and no other, for as long as we live.”

Meleryn, unable to contain her happiness anymore, let out a small cry of joy, moving to Jon and throwing her arms about his neck. He hugged her back fiercely.

“Father would want ye to be happy,” he whispered, holding her head. She nodded.

“Plus, I just don’t have it in me anymore to keep up wi’ ye. It’s someone else’s turn to tame ye.” The room laughed.

“Oh, and tame her I will,” Thaniel winked. Jon rolled his eyes as he let go of his sister.

For the briefest of moments, I felt no fear of the future, knowing who I’d have by my side through it all.

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