Chapter Twenty Nine
Chapter Twenty Nine
Holding the torch aloft. I walked deeper into the cave. It went further than I would have expected. In the centre sat the remains of a campfire. Glancing up high above, a small fracture in the ceiling created a good outlet for smoke to escape.
I was very glad I had brought extra blankets it was considerably cold, this far up and in this cave. At the back of the cave was a small running waterfall raining into a basin cut into the base of a stone on the floor. The basin was large enough so two people could bathe together. A channel ran backwards carrying the excess water into a worn hole in the wall.
“Well at least we have running water.” A welcome essential for staying in a cave for a few days. Beside the campfire a heap of dry branches and twigs had been left for the next fire to be started. Someone had been here before.
They put the saddle bags and luggage against the left wall. Conall got a fire started and Dougall went to the cave opening and stood overlooking the path with hands on hips. Then he sprinted inside like he was being chased.
“Lass get ye bow.” Dougall yelled. I made a dash for her. “There’s a wolf heading this way.” he yelled.
As soon as Dougall said wolf I dropped Abbey back down shaking my head. No doubt the silver wolf had followed us up the mountain ridge.
I went to the cave entrance. Sure enough, the wolf was padding along towards the cave. I waited for him to arrive and threw my arms around his neck. Much to the shocked look on Dougall’s face.
“There you are my silver boy.” I cooed. Wherein he plonked himself down. I looked back to see Conall telling the story of the wolf to Dougall his face changing from horror to surprise as he listened.
We were fairly exhausted from the climb so dinner was dried meat, apples and cheese. Washed healthily down with cold water from the waterfall, and cold it was.
“Dougall when are you going to go get the Druid?” I asked finishing off my cheese. Not that I was in a hurry to get this blasted parasite out of me, but I was. The sooner it was out the better, and the sooner we could be on our way.
“When am finished eating lass.” he said with a reassuring smile.
Conall spoke to Dougall in Gaelic. It felt a little awkward being the only one of us that couldn’t speak Gaelic. It was also irritating considering I was a Scot and had never been taught the language. When they finished talking Conall removed his pendant with the ruby in the centre and handed it to Dougall. He promptly put it around his own neck before grabbing each other’s forearm and Conall warning him to be careful.
“Lass I wi get back as soon as I can.”
“I know you will Dougall. Please be careful, we will hold the fort down until you return.”
Dougal gave Conall a strange look. Conall laughed and shook his head.
“Haste ye back bràthair.”
“Aye. Right then I’ll be off.” Dougall walked towards the back of the cave. Closing his eyes, he repeated the same words that Conall used.
“Beannachadh dhiathan” Wherein Dougall disappeared immersed in a grey fog.
“How long do you think it will take him to find the Druid?” I was worried for Dougall’s safety crossing time. Although I assumed that Conall had done it more than a few.
Conall shrugged. “I no ken lass. Could be an hour or several days. He kens the year but it no means the Druid will be around when he gits there. We just have to sit an wait.” Conall laid down the blankets close to the fire. “Ye could do wi some sleep. Twas a hard climb ye did.”
“I suppose so.” He had placed the blankets parallel to each other with his being on the cave entrance side. I could see the wolf still laying at the entrance to the cave. I had no doubt that if anyone approached he would let us know. I thought Conall would also know this as well.
“Do you think Dougall will be ok?”
“Aye, he is a resourceful lad, strong too, smart, braw and wily.” Conall answered with pride.
“You love your family. I noticed how close you are with your dad and other brothers too. Well your dad and Murtagh, not sure about Aiden.” I smiled.
“Aye I am close with em.” Conall felt guilty. He knew Morgan had been alone for many years after the death of her mother. The last thirteen months spent with a foul and malicious dead man. He had always been surrounded by love of family and friends.
He had, had many battles with his brothers, and on the rare occasion his father. But he also knew they would give their lives for him as he would for them. It disturbed him gravely to think how hard and lonely it must have been for the lass, at least until Ula and Sloane had found her.
He sat on his blanket watching Morgan staring into the fire, lost in thought. Her face consumed him. She was beautiful and bewitching, his gaze drifting down her cheek. He could feel the silkiness of her skin on his lips. Her braided hair hanging down her back glowing red in the glimmerings of light from the fire. She took his breath away, causing his own body to react with an inferno of need.
He wanted, needed to move closer to her, but he was spellbound, even though he also had to remind himself of his mission. He continued to watch as she broke her gaze with the flames and lay down with her back to him.
“Once we send the pendant home. What will you do?”
Conall hadn’t thought any further than getting Morgan to the stones after their visit with the Cailleach. Before that he was solely focused on protecting her without thinking of journey’s end.
“I no ken.” Just the thought made him feel sad, they had had a hard few days, His fondness of Morgan continued to grow, well he thought maybe a little more than fond, damn it a lot more than fondness. He didn’t want the journey to end. He had spent his life learning, and training to be her protector, and the odd short missions for the Cailleach, the thought of her not being in his life made him feel empty.
He looked over to the wolf still laying at the entrance. He would take a few hours to sleep knowing the wolf would stay to protect Morgan. Somehow, he knew that the wolf was bound to her and would always be near, or at least for the length of this journey.
I was thinking about the last attack. If the Brollachans were only after the pendant why were they trying to kidnap me as well? Did Nuckelavee want me as well as the pendant? I suddenly remembered what the Cailleach has said about the sacred dagger. The dagger held the ability to enter the off world with the blood of a virgin. A virgin that was unique and gifted.
“That has to be it!” I declared sitting up.
“What has to be it.” Conall asked surprised by my outburst.
“Nuckelavee wants the pendant to release him from his prison, but he also wants my blood so he can gain entry to the other world. That’s why the Brollachans at the cottage tried to kidnap me.” It was starting to make sense now. At least what Nuckelavee wanted. Why he wanted to go to the other world was another question.
“Didna Agnes say that the blood had to be from a lass that has no lost her…maidenhead. So, ye have nay to worry, tis only tha pendant he wants, to release him from his prison.”
“I beg your pardon!”
When he saw my face, his own went pale.
“Lass ye maidenhead is no intact, is it? I think my face told him that it was. Conall jumped to his feet and paced the floor.
I didn’t take his last statement well. How dare he assume it was or wasn’t without at least asking me first. “You assumed I wasn’t a virgin. Well thank you very much for your supposition.” I stated vehemently.
Conall stopped pacing and stared at me. “I’m sorry lass I just…expected….no I mean…I ken ye did not with Joe…but…God’s blood.”
“Keep going Conall you are doing a fine job of burying yourself.” I got up and went to the base of the waterfall to wash my face and settle my ire. Returning to my blanket Conall was still stood in the same position. He looked a little embarrassed, so he should be, making assumptions about my virginity. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. I laid down in a huff.
“I’m sorry lass.”
I huffed but ignored him, turned my back and prepared to sleep. Conall said no more but laid himself down.
When Conall rose just before dawn the wolf still lay in the entrance as still as a rock. He retrieved a small pot from one of the saddlebags and added water and oats. The wolf still did not move. He stoked the fire and added some wood. He thought that he should check on the wolf seeing as it hadn’t moved and didn’t look to be breathing. Walking quietly towards it he was greeted with yellow eyes looking back at him. Feeling relieved he brushed away silly thoughts.
Returning to the fire to stir the oatmeal Conall was grateful that Morgan had added bowls and spoons in her saddlebag. If it had only been him he would not have thought to do so, the lass was resourceful like that.
I woke to sunlight streaming through the cave opening and the smell of porridge. I sat up to see Conall standing at the entrance leaning against the wall focused on the view ahead. He turned seeing I was awake strode to the pot in front of the fire and placed some of the contents into a bowl and handed it to me with a spoon.
“Are ye hale lass.”
“I love porridge.”
“Aye I like parritch too.”
“Parritch? Is that what you call porridge. I thought I had misunderstood Sloane when he said it?” When I looked for the wolf he had gone, before I could say anything Conall answered my thoughts.
“Ye wolf took off when I got up. I expect he’s gone to see to his ablutions.”
“That’s exactly what I need to do.” I looked around the cave. Well I can’t do it in here. “So where do I go for mine?” I asked looking down at my bowl.
“As ye go oot the cave at the right side there is a wee path to a small meadow. Ye canna get ta it from anywhere else as tis surrounded by a rock wall. Ye will be safe there.”
Conall was relieved that Morgan didn’t seem to be angry with him over what he had said last night. I should say I’m sorry, he thought, but if I do I risk her becoming angry with me again. He decided to say nothing for the time being.
I finished my oats and went to the small meadow. It was larger than I expected. But as Conall had said it was indeed surrounded by a rock wall. When I returned I cleaned my teeth and washed up in the small pool at the back of the cave. I was still angry at him but thought not to discuss the issue again. At least for the present.
Conall had returned to his position at the entrance. I walked over and stood near him.
“Can you tell me about the Dragon Blade?”
He shot me a vexed look, his arms folded as he learned against the wall. He obviously wasn’t happy to discuss it. I was however, curious and persisted. “Did your family give you that name, or your trainer?”
Conall let out loud sigh. “When I was ten and four I found out that I was a protector of the Tuatha de Danann descendant. Ye have to understand tis a great honour to be so. It also meant my training was double, sometimes triple. I worked harder an fer longer hours than any other warrior. By the time I was ten and eight summers I was stronger, and faster. I was sent to the Isle of Lewis, from there I was taken to Tir na Nog.”
“Tir na Nog?” I asked
“Aye. Tis tha home of the Tuatha de Danann. The other world. It was no a place like I have e’er seen. They have…er…dragons there.”
My eyes lit up and my mouth turned into an O.
“Well, ye see dragons are verra special, sacred like. I was headstrong an a wee bit wild, and a wee bit over confident. I jumped on tha back o’ red dragon. He starts flying an I thought it was fair fun, but when I started swinging my blade like, the dragon went wild an…well…he flew through the castle window, wi me still on his back. It was no a pretty sight the mess it made in the queen’s bedroom.”
I put my hands to my mouth trying to quieten my giggles. I had a vision of Conall riding a dragon, claymore swinging, and screaming a war cry like a warrior charging into battle.
“Tis no funny lass, by the time tha dragon was free of the castle, it had flattened a few servants and fair scared Mrs Crowther’s tha cook. She was still wailing when I left tha day after.” Conall said looking stern.
“Oh Aye, it is” I laughed. “And the name?”
“Ah well, Sloane had ta come wi me, an he saw me riding yon dragon with me claymore swinging.” Conall shrugged his shoulders. “So he told da. Da near blew ma ears off with the bawling out I got. Me bràthairs were listening at the door but all they heard was dragon and blade”
“Ha, I see. So they named you the Dragon Blade”
“Aye they did, then they spread it around, an before I ken it everyone kent the name. Before long bards sang that I had slain a nest o’ dragons so most were too afraid of starting a war wi the Sutherlands. No to mention locking their daughters up if’n I was near.”
“Did you like riding the dragon.” I asked
“Aye it is the most amazing thing I ha e’er done.”
“You know Conall, the name Dragon Blade actually suits you”
He frowned at me as if he didn’t believe what I was saying.
“It does Conall, truly. It validates your warrior side. It’s a name that send a message to your enemies that you are to be feared. To be respected, to be….”
“Ok lass I get ye meaning”
“Well, I like it, and I think it suits you down to the ground” I retorted as I walked back to my blanket and sat down. “Even if you are an assumptive ass.” Conall’s head whipped around to glare at me.
The strangest conversation entered my head of someone asking me, as if I was in school. What is your boyfriends name? and me seductively replying in a husky voice ‘The Dragon Blade’. I giggled to myself. Of all the stupid things to think of. Er… boyfriend. Dear me. Morgan get your silly head together. Conall is your protector, not your boyfriend. Sweet mercy. I slapped my shaking head.
“Lass are ye havin’ a private conversation or can anyone jump in?”
Oh, Lucifer’s ghost, did I say all that out loud. No, it was my facial and frantic hand movements that Conall caught, not the words. I exhaled heavily with relief and busied myself taking to bowls to wash, also to hide my embarrassment.
With little to do I decided to give Abbey another wipe down. I needed to make some more bolts for her. I looked through the wood that was stacked beside the fire pit and found a piece that I could cut and shape into bolts.
The wood wasn’t as good as what I preferred but they would do the job. I borrowed a dirk from Conall and set about the task, using my sgian dubh to do the finer shaping and a rock to smooth them. I could have done with some sandpaper to smooth them instead. I rubbed them against the rock to at least make them fit enough to use in Abbey. Conall sat at the entrance watching me as I worked.