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Reedsy contest #96

Start your story with the arrival of a strange visitor in a small town

Winter held the village in its grip. The storm screamed, sleet driven bullets of deadly droplets turning the stranger into a walking exoskeleton of ice glimmering under the lone streetlight. The pub door gave as he pushed inside, wondering what he would find. Would this be the place where he could rest for a spell? Or would he find a grim faced group of people who provided because they must?

Murphy’s Tavern, he looked up at the worn grey sign swinging on its chains, barely readable as another sheet of of windblown slush roared through the night. Friend or foe it mattered not. He had to get out of the weather.

He spotted her sitting behind the bar. Her red gold head gleaming in the lamp light. Clever, an old kerosene lamp glowed on one end of the polished oak slab, and candles of every shape from squat rounds to slender tapers flickered as the gust of fresh air he brought with him flowed into the smoky interior. Glancing up he noticed the blackened beams supporting the roof, and the gleaming white plaster between them.

Lorcan snorted softly. He knew the chore well. His own family’s pub shut down yearly to whitewash the ceilings. Peat fires were notorious for their smoky nature, even when they burned hot a clean like the one he headed for now. There were only a few foolish souls who had braved the weather to find comfort and company, the soft lilt of their conversations, music to his lonely ears.

The sturdy chair he lowered his tired body into was made to order for his long frame. He dropped his backpack to the floor leaning it against the hearth, grateful for the warmth. He pulled his overcoat off, draping it over the back of the chair and turned to find the woman he’d spotted behind the bar was already coming to take his order.

She was taller than he thought. In fact, her slender body rivaled his own. Her smile a genuine flash of welcome as she wove her way between the tables bearing a mug and a menu.

“Welcome! What will it be, a coffee or a pint? Or perhaps both?” She tossed her thick braid over her shoulder with ease. He stared at her and she met his scrutiny with bold unwavering blue eyes.

“A pint of stout, and water please. Coffee is merely a scent I enjoy,” he answered.

She slipped slender elegant fingers back through the handle of the mug and nodded. “The special is shepherds pie, my brother is an excellent cook, and we’ve apple crumble for after.”

“I’ll take both,” His voice caught in his throat. Had it really been so long since he’d used it? Wandering from village to village on the wild western coast of Ireland photographing the ruins of ancient castles, he hadn’t been close enough to anyone to say two words for over a week. The weather was the only reason he sought to come inside.

“I’ll be right back,” she spun, returning to the bar, dropping both menu and mug as she strode through the arch beside it.

“Doug, one special and a crumble for after.”

A dark rumble acknowledged her call, and she reappeared, turning to the taps with a thick pint glass in her hand. He watched her draw his ale. What was it about her? She fascinated him with simple tasks. Her jeans emphasized long lean legs and a taut backside. Her waist narrow, a wide leather belt cinched around it with a loose jersey tucked in hiding her bosom unless she stretched. The act of placing clean pint glasses on the shelves had him staring like a lovesick fool.

“Killa, your order’s ready,” the voice boomed over the murmur of voices around him. It seemed the cook was a trifle impatient.

“Be right there,” her tone was sharp, as she stepped back from the mirrored wall behind the bar.

Returning from the kitchen with a tray against her waist, she grabbed his pint of dark ale, slipping it and the utensils wrapped in a snowy white serviette onto the salver.

“Killa, another Guinness for your uncle, sweetheart,” the grizzled head at the table in the corner requested as she strode past.

“Aye, Uncle Aiden, would you sing for us? Tis a good night for music,” Kill suggested.

“If you can convince your cousin to bring out his fiddle,” Uncle Aiden agreed.

“I’ll get Harry to come over with it. He’s still at the inn,” her American accent charmed him. Murphy’s pub had been here for centuries. He knew it again, as he had before. Every lifetime had brought him here in search of her and this time, his heart stuttered.

Did she dream?

And he knew her name now. Killa, a lovely Irish name, and it suited her. His thoughts pulled him back to the time they met, but he shook his head, dragging his hands over his face. She probably didn’t know him from Adam, never in all the times he’d found since the first time they parted. Him with his stubborn need to serve the great Irish King MacCarthy, the third of ruler of that great clan.

It was fitting she bear the name from the first time. Killa O’Connor daughter of a rival king, and talented healer and seer. She had the sight, she told him he would die in a battle against the strange invaders from north. Normans she had named them, and still his need to serve and keep the MacCarthy from defeat drove him away. Even when she told him she would bear his child.

“Damn it, Doug Quade! You might be my brother, but you’re in ass. The crumble is too hot!” Killa’s shout echoed from the kitchen

“You should know it, little sister. The oven mitts are right there.”

There wasn’t a hint of apology in Doug’s reply.

Lorcan scanned the room. The old man sat at the corner table, he could see his strong chin in Killa, and as he watched, Uncle Aiden’s eyes pierced the distance between them, his message clear. Lorcan held his gaze steadily and knew he was welcome. And he knew in the same moment, Killa was loved here and woe be to him who hurt her.

“Be careful, perhaps you should let this cool, or I can take it and put a scoop of ice cream on it for you.”

Killa’s delightful voice roused him from his introspection.

He looked up into her bottomless blue eyes, and pondered, asking himself if they would change when they made love. They always used to.

“I’ll take the ice cream. Is your hand all right?”

“It is, I’m a capable of healing myself.”

“Healing yourself? Are you a healer?” Lorcan knew it was probable, his Killa was skilled, a witch of great power who healed the hurts and sickness of many.

“I can dress a burn as well as anyone with a little first aid training,” Killa yanked her hand from his.

“I believe you, but you haven’t a trace of blister, no red mark. Nothing. Yet I heard your shout. I know it hurt.” Lorcan wasn’t going to let her get away easily.

He conjured a Band Aid and fastened it around the tip of her middle finger. Raising her hand to his lips he dropped a quiet kiss in her palm.

“You’re a wizard?” Killa’s voice lowered to a throaty whisper in surprise. “How did you know?” She smoothed the symbol of her hurt with a quick stroke.

“I don’t expect you to believe me, but I can feel your hurts. I’ve felt them in every lifetime since we first met, Killa mine.” Lorcan let her hand go. “Get the ice cream. I’ll be staying at the inn. We’ll meet on the cliffs when the storm is over. I’ll not let you disappear from me ever again.”

“You should ask me properly. I might be there, and then again, perhaps not. And keep your mind from wandering into mine, I won’t have you peeking.” She whirled taking the offending dish of apple crumble and the spicy sweet scent of it wafted to him as she went.

A talented witch, his Killa, he thought. Was she free? Did she have someone in her life. Did she feel the bone deep connection, like he did? His heart unlocked as he’d tended to her burnt fingertip. Only the remaining sting of pain lingered. She’d already cast the spell to cool the unbearable heat, and she’d felt his probe as he slid past her defenses to ascertain whether she had truly healed herself.

Feisty, independent, and proud, he knew her soul once again. Now all he needed to do was convince her she still loved him. Each time in each of the centuries as they’d met again, she hadn’t forgiven him for leaving her. Perhaps this time would be the right time. Perhaps this time he would join her and end the lonely ache throbbing where his heart once was.

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