Faye stood back up and faced Tadhg, who was looking at her like she was a shiny new toy.
“Now untie my damn hands,” said Faye, holding out her hands to him.
“Oh, I like you,” said Tadhg, catching her tied hands and pulling her close to him, “What else can you do?”
Instead of answering him, Faye raised an eyebrow and nodded at her tied hands.
“She can tell when you’re lying,” said Colm, “She told me so. Now give us Sorcha back.”
“Good boy,” said Tadhg, “Go get your girl. No one will stop you. She isn’t worth the sword. Whereas this witch you’ve given me will prove very useful.”
Colm ran to untie his sister. Lorcan stayed standing where he was until she was free. Then he walked to his siblings, watching Tadhg the whole time.
“Now get out of my sight,” said Tadhg. Lorcan didn’t move. He stayed where he was and pointed to the cages.
“What are you going to do with them?” he asked. Tadhg narrowed his eyes.
“I’m going to sell them,” he said, “I’ll sell the ones smart enough to come out of the hall before I get bored too.”
Faye noticed how white Lorcan’s fists went. She noticed the way he clenched his jaw. She checked his aura and didn’t like the decision she could see he had made.
“Go,” dismissed Tadhg, “Before I change my mind.”
Lorcan nodded once, but not at Tadhg. He looked at Faye while he nodded. Then he started making the way through the crowd with his siblings. Faye didn’t like the way Tadhg looked after the siblings. She pushed her bound hands into his chest, drawing his attention back to her.
“Let my hands loose.”
Tadgh raised an eyebrow at her, clearly not used to people giving him demands. He huffed and cut the ties. Faye spread her fingers. The rope had been a little too tight and they had begun to get a little numb.
Faye walked to the table to pet the hawk, who only tried to remove one of her fingers. She carefully took the beads from it and checked it’s wings. Amazingly, nothing had been broken by the Guardian. The only damage Faye could see was that its beak was so slightly bent. The hawk watched her curiously as she checked it. As soon as she was done, the hawk took off. It circled her and Tadhg low, and showed its talons to some of the men near them.
Faye expected it to fly off, but it came back to her, landed on her shoulder and nuzzled into her face. It’s talons were sharp and she knew that under her shirt, her shoulder was bleeding. Faye barely noticed. Again she had tried to touch the bird’s emotions, but this time it didn’t push back.
Instead it showed her a memory of it returning to its nest, only to find that the Guardian had destroyed its home and eaten its chicks. Faye returned the favour and showed what had happened after the Guardian had knocked the bird out. Faye wasn’t exactly sure how she did this. Sharing memories was not part of her abilities, but it came naturally and easy to her.
All the while, it appeared to everyone watching that she was just petting the bird.
“Go after the boy,” she whispered to the hawk, “Don’t let him come back here.”
The bird pecked her face, in what Faye guessed was an affectionate way and flew off. Tadhg watched its flight for a moments and then came over to Faye and caught a handful of her hair.
“That was mine,” he said.
“Should I really give you what’s yours?” asked Faye, in a dangerous whisper. He smiled in a way she didn’t like and let her go. He walked back to the head of the table and sat down. He slapped his lap, inviting her to sit on it. Faye fought the urge to roll her eyes and went to stand next to the chair. He laughed and pulled her into his lap.
“So how does a girl become a witch? Is it something you learn?” he asked. He didn’t ask if it was something you could teach, but that’s what he wanted to know. Faye shook her head.
“I had to learn, but it was something I was born with.”
“Are you very bad?” he asked, “What’s the worst thing you’ve done?”
“That’s a secret,” she said, reaching over the table to grab an apple.
“Hungry? Have a proper meal. The beef could be less tough, but it’s tasty.”
“I don’t eat meat,” said Faye.
“What kind of witch doesn’t eat meat?” asked Tadhg, putting a hand on her leg.
“This one,” she said.
“So what’s your name, sweetheart?”
“Aoife,” lied Faye without hesitating.
“Eee-fa?" he repeated, "A pretty name."
Faye smiled at him, as if she actually enjoyed talking to him and the slight of the brand on his head didn't make a hot rage build in her stomach.
Ger had been put into one of the chairs and was trying to eat, but he kept looking at her every time she spoke. Tadhg hadn’t noticed, he was too busy trying to feel Faye up. After a while, he got bored and called a man forward.
“Now,” said Tadhg, ”This man is going to tell you about his life. Your job, Witch, is to tell me when he’s lying.”
What was the point in asking for her name if he was just going to call her Witch anyway? She stood up to look carefully at the man as he spoke, going to stand in front of him. She didn’t need to get any closer to him to preform the task. Faye could tell if he was lying from miles away with an unobstructed view. However, Faye found it a good excuse to get off Tadhg’s lap.
“Well, my name is Séan,”said the man, whose name was not Séan.
“Lie,” said Faye.
“Fine. It’s Séamus,” said Séamus, pausing to see if she would correct him, “I grew up in a town like this one. My father was one of the warriors there. He taught me how to fight.”
“Lie,” said Faye.
The man smirked, annoyed.
“You’re right. It was my aunt who taught me to fight. She taught me how to make a man piss himself, too. She died of a fever-”
“Right. Again. The old bitch died in her sleep. Of a case of the stabs, brought on by the sword she bought me that day.”
Tadhg laughed, apparently delighted at the thought of killing old women in their sleep. The man smiled, and bowed as if he had just told a great joke.
“Anything else?” Séamus asked Tadhg.
Tadhg took a few moments to stop laughing and compose himself.
“Yes. There is,” he said with gleaming eyes and a wide grin, “I want you to tell her how loyal you are to me.”
Tadhg was almost bouncing in the chair as he asked. His feet were drumming against the floor. This was dangerous. Faye looked back to Séamus and, to her surprise, he was smiling widely too.
“I would die for you,” he said loudly, so the crowd behind him could hear. Then they both looked at Faye.
“It’s not a lie,” she said honestly.
“Good,” said Tadhg, and addressed the crowd “Now tomorrow all of you are going to line up and declare the same in front of my new Witch.”
The crowd cheered loudly, but Faye could already see the ripples of anxiety that spread out over much of the crowd.
“Afterwards,” said Tadhg, still talking to the crowd, “We will celebrate your loyalty with food, drink and a huge bonfire.” He indicated the hall.
Another cheer went up, more genuine this time, and drink was past around. Faye took a seat next to Tadhg before he could pull her back onto his lap. She stayed silent and separate, watched every interaction that happened around Tadhg. She didn’t mess with his aura in any way, wanting to see what he was like in his natural, relaxed state.
It wasn’t good news.
Tadhg was surrounded by violence and excitement, but he remained extremely calm. There was no undercurrent of anger, fear or joy. He didn’t lie to any one he spoke to, even when someone was brave enough to ask what would happen to people who failed his test in the next day. He told them that he would kill them all, but said so with a laugh and a wink. Faye could tell he was telling the truth. He seemed to always tell the truth, although sometimes he made it seem like he was joking or exaggerating.
He wasn’t bothered by being approached by his men, and spoke to them all in a casual, friendly way. Outwardly, he seemed to be enjoying conversing but Faye could hardly see the dulled, barely there traces of joy. All of his emotions were dull, she realized. When a fight broke out, his aura lit up with happiness for a moment, and then it dulled again. When one of the fighters fell, banging his head against the corner of a table and drawing blood, it briefly lit up again.
The flashes lasted for only a moment or two, but they made Faye nervous. She sat back and exhaled slowly, cutting her sense off. She had used it too much in too short a time and exhaustion was beginning to set in. She wouldn’t be able to rest properly until she was out of there and safe. However, she could try to relax as much as possible. If she wasn’t careful, the gift would shut down completely and she wouldn’t be able to use it for days.
It was hard for her to relax with cages full of people watching her. Faye never looked at bars when she could help it, but having them at her back didn’t feel a whole lot better. She ate more apples, even though she wasn’t hungry. She would need the fuel later. Every now and then someone would try to talk to her. Faye just stared at them until they went away. After she had done this several times, people stopped trying to talk to her and gave her a bit more space, which was welcome. Faye tried not to look too closely at anyone’s face, knowing that she couldn’t trust the emotion they showed without her gift. It was hard with so many faces, so many people, so close to her.
Tadhg watched her throughout, probably noticing her discomfort. Faye did her best to ignore this, to not look at him. After a while he made that impossible by leaning too close to her to whisper into her ear. He whispered softly that he liked that she didn’t speak to anyone else. Apparently her behaviour was appropriate. She didn’t respond, so he twirled a piece of her hair around his finger.
“I like that you’re the quiet type. So many people have to talk all of the time. It means so much less to have them make noise. Besides, I don’t want you getting too friendly with anyone besides me. They’re all idiots anyway. Loyal, and brave, but fucking morons.”
“Glad you’re glad,” said Faye, not really knowing what she was supposed to say. He smiled and handed her another apple, as a reward for good behavior.
He stood up suddenly not long after that. He gathered his men in front of the Hall and started singing songs at the people inside. They sang war songs, homecoming songs, love songs and lullabies. Many of them them broke off to laugh during the love songs and lullabies.
Then they gathered the small bit of food that remained. One of them started to throw it into the cages of people, but Tadhg stopped him. He took the food from the man and tossed them into the embers of a dying fire. He used his sword to break up the ash and stir the food into it. Then he grabbed a shield from one his men and scooped the mixture up. He walked up to the bars of the cage, where the people backed away from him. He tipped the mixture onto the floor inside the cages. The prisoners looked at it as he walked away. The free men cheered and began to throw the food at the cages with force. Faye saw one young man pull two children behind him and a middle-aged woman stand in front of an old man, protecting him.
It was getting dark, so the invaders went into the houses and pulled out the little furniture inside to burn. They made several small fires and one large one. It illuminated much of the area and made it very hard for someone, like Faye, to slip away undetected.
Tadhg drank some more while they set up. He pulled Séamus aside to ask which of the houses had been the nicest, and if they had left the furniture inside like he had ordered. Faye barely noticed the exchange. She was trying to count how many of Tadhg’s men had gotten drunk enough to pass out. So, she was surprised when Tadhg grabbed her hand and pulled her to standing.
“Come on,” he said, rubbing his hand over her shoulder, “Time for me to unwrap my present.”