I knelt on the ground, my body shaking with sobs. I couldn’t believe what had happened. How was I going to get home, to Conall? Was he looking for me? I know he is, he would never stop looking. Oh God, even if he came to this year, he would never find me without my pendant.
I remembered picking up the pendant at the Callanish stones just before I gave the box back to the spirit of a woman imbedded in the mother stone. Hitting my head and waking up to find myself in the room of Leonardo da Vinci, not that I could remember who he was, and Solai. They had been so good to me.
“CONALL!” I screamed again loud enough for everyone to hear me in a mile radius. It felt my heart was being ripped apart, I so missed him. What if I never find him?
I jumped at Mario slowly approaching me with his hands up, looking terrified.
I wiped my tear stained face with the bottom of my skirt. “Mario…I thought you had left.”
He stopped ten paces away. “Senora, I’m sorry please don’t cast a spell on me.” He thought I was a witch.
“No, no it’s ok, I’m, not a witch, I’m Fae. Mario my name is Morgan.” By the look on his face I don’t think he understands what I said. To him he sees me as a witch having destroyed the camp with my earth ability. “I won’t hurt you.” He looked visibly relieved but kept his hands up.
I took a step towards him; his hands were shaking he was nervous, no he was terrified. “Mario, we need to get out of here, I need to get back to the gypsies.”
He looked around at the devastation and I’m sure he was hoping some of the other soldiers would return. “We don’t have a horse and it’s, well a very long walk.”
I didn’t care, taking a deep breath and brushing my hands down my skirt I gave him a weak smile. “Then we had better get started.”
“You want me to go with you?” He was surprised but I would rather walk with Mario than by myself, not that I was afraid, it was just better to have someone else to talk to on the way and he was the only one who knew the way back.
“I…don’t think I should leave.” He spluttered.
“Mario, I think you should come with me, at least for now. Perhaps you will find the rest of your…friends, er… soldiers. You could be my guard, keep me safe.” He let out a sound that was close to a laugh, but hey, what else could I say.
He nodded. “Ok, but I will have to gather some supplies before we leave.” He looked around again with unease stretched across his face. “That is if there is anything left.” He glanced back at me. “You won’t put a spell on me or turn me into…a frog or anything?”
I was tempted to laugh at him, frog? “No, Mario I am not a witch, I can only move the dirt and rocks, that is my earth ability.” I didn’t look totally convinced.
I waited while he searched through the debris coming back with a pack containing food and water. “Come then.” He said still watching me with caution as he led the way through the trees along a dirt track.
My stomach growled making Mario jump, yep it was as loud as a wolf growl. “Mario I’m really hungry.”
He reached into the pack keeping his eyes on my stomach and flinching when it growled again. He pulled out a cloth, unrolling it to four large biscuits. I grabbed one and bit into it, not waiting for an invitation. “Thank you.”
“Do you always make those noises when you are hungry, it is quite loud, no?” He said pointing at my stomach keeping his distance.
“Yeah, unfortunately it always is.”
“You would not be good at hiding senora.”
“No, I guess not.” It reminded me of someone else saying much the same thing, Dougall. I laughed at the thought, he was as shocked as what Mario was of how loud my stomach was when I was hungry.
“Perhaps that is why you are important.” Mario started walking backwards. “If you were stolen by the enemy, we could always find you.” For the first time Mario stumbled on a rock and then laughed. He had quite a nice smile with dimples in the side of his cheeks and straight white teeth.
He turned and walked beside me both of us laughing at the absurdity of what he said. He talked about his family, his sister who married a man from France, which he didn’t seem to be happy about. Once he had started talking, he relaxed a little more.
“Morgan you didn’t mention where you come from, your accent is a little strange.”
“Ah, well that’s a…complicated story, perhaps I will tell you one day. How did you end up in the army?”
He gave me a side glance with a raised brow, aware that I had asked a question instead of answering his. For a young soldier he was observant.
As night fell and we couldn’t go any farther we settled down in a small clearing Mario built and lit a fire. I was a little nervous at going to sleep, he could leave, or I could end up being tied to another damn tree. My eyelids though were heavy and before I knew it I drifted off to sleep. No longer plagued by shadows, mists and faceless people running and screaming.
I woke with a start, dawn was just breaking birds singing in the trees and the scent of pine wafting through the chilled air. Mario was sat across from the now cold fire watching me intensely.
“You were talking in your sleep.” For the first time since I had arrived in Milan, I hadn’t had a nightmare and couldn’t remember dreaming.
“Oh, I was?” I got up and stretched not really wanting to know if he heard what I had said. Especially if I said anything that he thought might be strange.
“What is a Broll…akana?” He asked still sitting on the ground eyeing me suspiciously. Yep that was one of the strange things I had hoped he hadn’t heard.
I stretched again working the knots from my back, from sleeping on the ground. “It’s nothing important.”
“You were afraid of them.”
I did not want to tell him what a Brollachan actually was, the poor boy would never have a restful sleep again. “It is…an animal, something like a bear.” I lied.
It was obvious he didn’t believe me. His tongue ran around the inside of his cheek, rolling his eyes at me. Yeah, a sign he most assuredly didn’t believe a word I said. He dug out a skin of water from the pack and handed it to me with another one of the biscuits.
“Eat and drink then we will begin walking again.” He said keeping an eye on me, as if I might attack him. I had no doubt said more than just the word Brollachan to make him a little twitchy with me.
Something suddenly occurred to me, now that my memory had become clearer.
“Mario?” Mario stopped and turned to me. “Were you born in Milan?”
He shook his head no. “I was born in Florence, why do you ask?”
“Mario, from what I remember of the Pope’s Holy Soldiers, they weren’t…well they weren’t from Florence or from Milan. They were all Swiss, and only Swiss.” He looked at me as if I had just told him he had no clothes on.
“We, or my troop are the Popes Holy Soldiers.”
“No, I’m sorry Mario but you have been led to believe you are…but you couldn’t be. Have you ever seen the Pope?” He shook his head. “Rome?” That was a no as well. “The Swiss soldiers?”
“Yes, I have seen them once, last year.”
I swallowed, convincing him was not going to be so easy. “Do you remember their uniforms?”
Mario narrowed his eyes at me. “Yes, they wore blue and gold striped braccas and torso armor.”
“That is the uniform of the Pope’s Holy soldiers Mario. I am sure you are in the army, but not…I’m sorry a soldier of the Holy army.”
Mario crossed his arms over his chest, biting his bottom lip. He stood there for a moment before dropping his arms and pacing. He stopped several times to look at me, shake his head and then continue to pace mumbling to himself.
I said not a word giving him time to process the information. I believe he trusted as the other soldiers did they were hired by the Pope himself. I wonder if Ronaldo knew or if he was tricked into believing the same lie. No, I was convinced Ronaldo did know, and the forged lie was his doing.
Mario ceased his pacing, giving me a stern look. “We will be on our way now and speak no more on this matter.” Okay, it would seem Mario needed more time to think this through, time I would give him.
We continued walking resting in the middle of the day for water and another biscuit. He asked me quite a few questions about myself, most I couldn’t answer. It wasn’t easy to talk about myself with Mario, only because I couldn’t exactly tell him much about my life, where I lived or how I had ended up in Milan. I did tell him how I stayed with Leonardo da Vinci and how he had begun a portraiture of me.
“Your husband’s name is Conall, that is an unusual name, where does it come from?”
“I do not know of this place.”
“It is at the top of England.” I replied.
“Ah, so you are Inglese, this now makes sense why your accent sounds strange.”
“Yes well, I suppose it does.”
“How did you get to Milan, on a ship? Where you captured? I know there are many pirates on the sea.”
Damn how was I going to answer this question? “I…my memory still has some blanks, so I really don’t remember.”
“And your husband, this Conall, he will come for you?”
“Oh God I hope so.”
“I think you ask much of God.” He said shaking his head.
“Do you think he listens?”
Mario stopped looking deep in thought. “He listens, but he has much to do and one voice amid many would be difficult, would you not say?”
“I suppose, does he listen to you?”
He shook his head. “I think I am not important that I should be heard.” Mario turned and started walking along the trail. I felt sorry for him that he would think himself not important.
“Mario.” He stopped and turned to me. “Never think you are not important, you are. You are kind and considerate, funny and smart.” He gave me a perplexed look.
“Tell me Mario if you weren’t in the army what would do?” His face softened looking almost shy.
“I am good with numbers I would be a tabularius, but I am not I am a soldier with the Popes Holy army.”
“Ah, we call them accountants, and bookkeepers.” His eyebrow flashed up before he shook his head and continued on walking.
We came across a small stream that I hadn’t noticed on the journey riding in front of Ronaldo. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, especially with the arsehole slurping and biting my neck.
I sat by the water happy to be able to wash the perspiration away from walking.
Mario handed me a small chunk of bread and a slither of cheese. We sat for a while not speaking, Mario seemingly lost in his thoughts.
Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
“Mario tell about being in the army, do you like being one the Pope’s Holy soldiers?”
He sat and looked out over the water, the ripples of fish coming to the surface to catch insects that got to close.
“I suppose, it is a good thing to be a Holy soldier to keep our Holy Father safe. This is not easy with war coming, though I do not understand why. Men in charge are…complicated by nature, I think.”
“This is a war with France is it not?”
He nodded. “Yes, they are coming to fight us, though again I am not sure why.”
“War is never an easy thing and many of the reasons for wars are down to a bunch of politicians arguing and wanting to be stronger than anyone else or seize land and make their purses fatter. They don’t care how many men are killed, even women and children. They are just ungrown children with greedy, nasty and hateful personalities.”
Mario nodded his head in contemplation. “No one wins in war I think, land they take but the cost is always too high.”
“The cost is always great Mario.” Watching him it would seem Mario had demons of his own in his head. “It would be so much nicer if they fought with balloons and confetti.” I said smiling at him to ease the tension coming from him.
He laughed. “Senora you have strange ideas, no?”
“I made you laugh.”
“So, you did Senora Morgan. Come we must be on our way.”
By the time the sun began to sink we had found a small campsite to light a fire and bunk down for the night.
I had gotten to know a lot more about Mario, he was avid with his belief in his religion and proud to be a soldier, even though his life from the age of ten had been a difficult one. If I thought bullying was bad in my own time it was nothing compared to this time.
I was just settling myself on the ground to sleep when I was set upon by a handful of men, no, bloody soldiers. They quickly tied my hands behind my back, gagged me and tied my feet. Then I saw him. A face swollen and bruised, dry blood on his face from cuts on his head, Ronaldo.
“So, little witch you thought you could escape me.” He growled. Shite I should have killed him when I had the opportunity to do so.
“Tie her to a tree.” He shouted as I was roughly picked up and once again tied to a bloody tree. Here we go again.
I couldn’t hold my mouth shut, as usual. “Why have you led all these men to believe they are soldiers of the Pope’s Holy army, when they are not?” I gave him a defiant look noticing several of the soldiers spun to face me.
Ronaldo shot me a gaze that said he wanted nothing more than to wring my neck.
“You are mistaken witch. This is just another evil trick to cause distraction. Gag her!” He ordered his men.
My hands were tied firmly behind my back, pressed painfully against the rough bark of the tree. I couldn’t spit at him as a dirty rag was stuffed in my mouth. I watched horrified as Ronaldo had several of his men beat Mario mercilessly. They left him groaning and bleeding on the ground. He was still alive, his face from what I could see in the fire light was a mess.
No one approached me during the night, everyone carried on as if I wasn’t there. I received the occasional grimaced sneer from Ronaldo, still he didn’t come near me. I was grateful for small mercies, but could have done with some water and food, didn’t think that would happen.
I had slept off and on during the night, my back aching from being tied so tight to the tree, my legs wanting nothing more than to collapse on the ground. It didn’t help trying to breath in and out through my nose.
Mario was dragged into the trees, the two soldiers returned a moment later without him, I hope they didn’t kill him. My heart broke for him, he didn’t deserve what they had done to him. I liked Mario, he had after all been kind, and he did agree to come with me, instead of staying behind to help his commanding officer.
Tears dripped down my face thinking about Conall, how I missed him, where was he, did he miss me too. Remembering the feel of his arms wrapped around me, his breath on my neck and the way he loved to tease me.
I thought of Ula, she was my savior, hiding me so Joe couldn’t find me, telling me of my parents and who I actually was, and Sloane, how I missed the big guy, his laugh and his voice, and Silver, I missed the wolf and his foul breath after hunting. Even Dougall and his silly antics, yea I missed them all, but especially Conall. I shuddered a sob, wishing he was here.
Would I ever see him again, I think I had just about run out of time? There was no way Ronaldo was going to let me live after I destroyed his camp and nearly killing him. The man was a maniac, as bad as a Brollachan. If only my hands were free, I’d make sure to do a better job next time.
I looked up to the night sky and gasped to see a falling star, I closed my eyes and made a wish. Remembering the last wish, I had made when Conall and I had camped out in the Scottish highlands.