“Oh no you don’t,” I growled, ripping the flask of whisky out of Jon’s slippery grasp. He leaned across my shoulders, teetering as we made a circuitous route to our tent. Celebrating the planning of a war and Mel’s betrothal had caused my husband to lose track of how much poison he was consuming. I’d never seen Jon drunk, and although it was a bit annoying and tiring to wrangle someone who weighed at least fifty pounds more than me, it was also quite humorous.
“Elisssseee,” he slurred. I rolled my eyes, forcing one foot in front of the other, our tent within sight.
“I lobe ye,” he blubbered like a child. Well, at least he still loved me when he was drunk.
“I love you, too,” I patted his burning chest. I’d have enlisted Bane for help in this matter, except Freyja was currently dragging him, inch by inch, into the castle. Of all people, I’d thought Bane would be able to hold his liquor.
“Come along, we’re so close.” I encouraged. I’d not exerted myself this much in a while, and it showed as my breaths came in ragged gasps, sweat coating my temples. I threw open the tent flap, releasing Jon as he stumbled inside and fell in a heap onto the floor. He snored immediately.
“Thanks for all your help,” I sighed, closing the flap and standing outside to enjoy the summery breeze as I wiped sticky sweat from my brow. Chanting floated to me through the darkness of the woods, an eerie voice repeating words in Macdara’s language over and over. The more I listened, the more melodic it became. My stomach churned, remembering their annual sacrifice to the gods. The words were nearly identical. I glanced back at the tent, hearing Jon’s grating snores. Curiosity getting the best of me, I pushed into the dense trees to investigate.
I spotted Freyja, lingering on the edge of the forest, staring at old Frig, who moved in circles around a pointed pile of rocks. It resembled a miniature mountain.
“What’s she doing?” I whispered. Freyja shrugged, her arms crossed.
“She’s a seer, like Vala, only she canna control when she has visions.”
We stared as she continued her strange yet beautiful dance, her song continuing to build. I imagined how it would sound accompanied by drums and flutes, as it had been during their sacrifice. Chills ran rampant through my body. My hands trembled.
In a sudden flash of white hot heat, the pile of rocks erupted in flames. I hadn’t seen how she had done it, only seeing how the rocks blazed in the night, the fire licking the starry sky. Frig stared into the flames, her song ceasing.
As I watched the fire rise, heard the rocks crack and roll away, I knew what this meant.
Mount Tier would burn.
The next few weeks were spent planning every aspect of this impending war with the council. I’d often find myself bored, wandering to the kitchens where I knew I could be of use. The clan lands began to crawl with new faces. I met Jon’s other cousins, the twins Kristjan and Katrin. They gave me a warm welcome into their family, unlike Eva.
The tension throughout Macdara lands could be felt, could be seen as men practiced their fighting to stave off their restlessness. No one had heard any word from Boudica or Charles. We waited as patiently as we could, doing as much as we could.
The premonition of the mountain burning would often catch me off guard, causing a deep unease to grow within me. Frig had shared her vision with the council, though no one seemed to believe her. I’d learned to find a bit of truth in everything.
I watched as Jon flourished as a leader and grew as a man. He was diplomatic, kind, resourceful with his wealth of knowledge, and would bring joy to those who were frightened. The thought of losing him became more potent than ever. I knew I’d do anything to prevent that from happening.
I stood outside the castle with Miss Meerie, boiling shirts and other articles of clothing. The day was unseasonably cloudy and dreary, but I was thankful for the respite. My back ached from the constant work, but I found I was growing stronger still under this new pressure. I felt a large hand on my rear, giving it a playful squeeze. I jumped and turned around to glare up at my childish husband. He wore his usual smirk. I was glad he was able to maintain his sense of humor under this stress.
“Shouldn’t you be working?” I quirked an eyebrow at him.
“Oh aye, I just needed some incentive, that’s all.” He grinned. I abandoned my job for a moment to throw my arms around his neck and stare into his eyes.
“Well, I can always give you that.”
“Ye can?” His eyes gleamed with excitement.
“Oh, aye,” I teased, knowing he loved it when I attempted his accent. His grin grew wider. He bent to my ear, his lips hovering above it.
“Stables?” He asked. I nodded eagerly. He pulled away from me, gripping my hand as we escaped.
Stables were not the best for lovemaking. The smell of manure, mingled with straw and rotting wood, combined with hay poking you constantly, was not ideal. But the notion that we could get caught at any moment made it all the more exhilarating.
I was perched atop Jon, both of us lost in the euphoria that our connection always brought.
“Mmm,” he groaned, his eyes closed, his teeth sinking into his bottom lip. His big hand curled into my hair as the other repeated its earlier action of squeezing my rump.
“I wish this could last forever,” he said, his tongue curling around the ‘r’ consonants. I knew he was done for the thicker his accent became. I ground my hips faster, hearing him moan again.
“Me, too,” I said, my breathing rapid. In typical Jon fashion, he flipped me over in one, swift motion, forcing me onto my knees as he gripped my hips and took me from behind. It was my turn to moan, causing him to quicken, in turn causing both of us to gasp at our shared release. Shuddering, he bent across my back to whisper in my ear.
We dressed quickly, needing to return to our duties before anyone had noticed we’d slipped away.
“I love ye,” he said, bending to kiss my lips quickly as he tightened his belt.
“And I love you.” I smiled, fastening the ties atop my bodice. Grinning like fools, we left the stables and made our way to the clearing in the middle where I’d been working. I blushed as Miss Meerie raised an eyebrow at us.
“Better be makin’ me a grandchild!” she teased, only causing my blush to deepen.
“Oh, aye, we’re makin’ ye two or three.” Jon said. Everyone nearby chuckled, thankful for the humorous distraction, however brief. Jon winked at me, turning to leave.
A horse galloped into the clearing, then. A beautiful bay mare with a finely dressed man astride. Shouts were heard, men running to him with swords in hand. He’d already made it past the guards, who I knew to be Bane and Bjorn at the moment. Jon held up his hand to his men. Charles swung down, smiling deeply at Jon. They gripped hands as I walked forward to embrace him in a hug.
“I have news.” His blue eyes danced.
“Yer sure this will work?” Jon asked, skeptical. We sat in the mess hall with the council, listening to Charles’ carefully constructed plan.
“Yes, very certain. Eli will be home at this month’s end. We can get Elise’s family out before the fires start.”
I glanced at Frig, feeling the eeriness as her vision came to life before my eyes.
“What about the innocent people?” I asked, my heart sorrowful.
“Those who are on our side have been evacuating each day, making their way to Phantom Peak.” Charles smiled kindly at me, though his eyes constantly darted to Jon.
“And my father?” I asked. Charles glanced at his lap.
“He says he must stay for as long as possible. He says he will not risk his family again by making rash decisions and raising more suspicion.”
I nodded, though my heart felt heavy.
“We’d have to leave tomorrow, or the next day, then,” Jon said, leaning back.
“Yes, it’s pertinent that the timing is correct.”
Jon nodded, staring at the table, at his untouched drumstick and mug of ale. His eyes flashed to mine.
“We’ll travel faster with less people. Have the rest of our army follow behind, making camp at Phantom Peak. Send word ahead to Boudica on your way to the port town, Thaniel and Mel. Tell only her of our plan.”
Thaniel and Mel nodded.
“Yer weddin’ will have to wait, though we can bring ye two together before ye leave,” Jon nodded to Frig, who smiled.
“Ye have my blessin’. Get on wi’ it so ye can leave.” He smiled at his sister, who’d been in the best of spirits lately.
“Bane, gather five o’ our best men to accompany us to Mount Tier. Bjorn, you’ll lead the army to Phantom Peak. Agreed?” He asked to the council. Every head bobbed. I stared past him as the brilliant sun set cast golden and orange light through the tall windows.
This is it, I thought. This is the beginning of the end.