Burn Baby Burn

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Chapter One: And So It Begins

“Your own parents didn’t want you! They left you out in the woods to die as a

babe. Everyone knows the tale!” Cadeyrn taunted as he shoved Ella to the ground. He looked around his group of friends, a leer stretched across his lips. “I bet her mother was a Roman whore!” he shouted.

Cruel laughter sang out all around her. Ella’s cheeks began to burn as she dug her nails into the damp earth. With a growl, she jumped to her feet and swung. Her fist connected with Cadeyrn’s jaw. A crack snapped through the sudden silence as pain shot through her fingers.

“You whore!” Snarling, he lunged for her.

Ella braced herself, her eyes flashing fire. She knew how to fight. She had three brothers, after all. They might not be related by blood as Cadeyrn claimed, but they’d taught her how to throw a punch.

With a fierce yell, Ella twisted to the side. The little boy’s momentum had him sailing past her, too fast to stop. She shoved him hard, knocking him off his feet. His angry sneer turned into a slackened jaw. His eyes widened as he crashed to the ground, arms flailing. Ella jumped on top of him, her little fists swinging. She grunted with each hit. Pain shot up her arms, but she did not stop.

Cadeyrn was twice her size and the blacksmith’s son. She couldn’t let him regain his wits and hit her back. But even as she raised a hand for another punch, he bucked beneath her. She flailed, her eyes growing wide. She tried to scramble off him, but he yanked on her ankle and rolled her beneath him.

Fighting her wild swings, he grabbed at her hands. She twisted as much as she could, rubbing her skin raw, but eventually he managed to pin her. His chest heaved. His face was heavily bruised. Blood ran down his nose and mouth. One eye was swollen. The other a thin slit of anger.

Growling, Ella promptly spat in his face.

He raised a fist high above him, his glare threatening severe retribution.

Meeting his scowl, Ella refused to cower. She knew how to give a punch and she knew how to take one.

“I’m going to kill you,” he sneered.

“A lot of talk for a boy that can barely see!” And then she swung at him again because like a fool, he’d released her wrists to get in a shot of his own.

Screaming, he hit her. Pain exploded in her face. Her head snapped sideways. Her teeth ripped into the inside of her cheek. Blood stained her lips and ran down her chin. The next blow closed one of her eyes. Now they were like two matching dolls and that just pissed her off.

Grabbing a handful of dirt, Ella threw it at his face. He cursed as it went into his one good eye. Taking advantage of his momentary blindness, she shoved him off her and jumped to her feet.

She tried to make a tactical retreat, but Cadeyrn’s group of friends closed in on her. They shoved her back and forth until their leader could see again. When he grabbed her from behind, she sent an elbow into his ribs.

“What are you fighting over now?” a man roared.

The crowd instantly dispersed, the boys vanishing into the trees. Cadeyrn held Ella pinned to his chest, an arm wrapped around her throat. His grip relaxed at the sight of her father. Dropping his arm, he quickly stepped away.

“We were just playing,” he mumbled, looking down at the ground.

“Just playing? Your eye is swollen shut!”

Ella grinned smugly.

“And you!” Her grin promptly disappeared. “What have I told you about picking fights? You are about to be a woman soon. You can’t go beating up people. No one will want to marry you then.”

“I’m never marrying!” Ella said stubbornly. “I’m going to be a warrior like you!”

He raised his blue eyes to the sky. “Rhiannon give me strength,” he muttered. Looking back down, his scowl deepened. “We have discussed this. You are a chieftain’s daughter, my daughter. You will marry either Fergus or Aengus.”

“I’d rather marry a frog!”

“Don’t tempt me!” he roared.

“It’s true! Fergus smells like an ogre and Aengus fights like a girl!”

“You’re a girl!”

“Aye, well.” She crossed her arms, not quite sure what to say to that.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, her father sighed. “We will discuss this later. Right now –”

“So are you saying that it is up for discussion though?” she cut in hopefully.

He groaned. Shaking his head, he said, “You have too much of your mother’s brain in you, aye.”

Ella’s smile faltered, but she wrenched it back up. She didn’t have anything of Artula in her. As Cadeyrn had so cruelly reminded her, she was not their child.

“But as I was saying, right now, we must discuss your punishment. Fighting is not to be allowed. It is –”

Ella screamed as her father stumbled forward. His face turned ashen as cries of war and terror rose up behind him. Smoke billowed in the air, followed by fire, but all Ella could see was the large spear sticking out of her father’s back.

“Dad!” she cried as she rushed forward to catch him. But he was too heavy. He crushed her beneath his weight.

“Run,” he rasped.

“No, I’m not –”

“Take her, Cadeyrn. That’s an order.”

“Dad!” Tears burned her eyes as Cadeyrn grabbed her arm and dragged her out from under their chieftain. She fought him with everything she had, but once he’d lifted her off the ground, there was very little she could do. She was barely ten summers old. He was thirteen and hadn’t wasted all his strength on their fight earlier.

“Dad!” she screamed as Cadeyrn dragged her further into the woods. The fire was now roaring. Another spear was chucked in their direction. It slammed into a tree. So close, but she didn’t care. Her dad was struggling to his feet. He drew the sword he always carried from the scabbard at his waist.

With gritted teeth, he hacked at the wood sticking out of his back. He cried out as that moved the metal inside him. Blood poured to the ground, but he stayed standing. He stayed strong. He was going to be okay. Ella had to believe that.

Three men rushed forward to meet him.

“Go!” he roared. Bracing himself, her father raised his sword. He cut down the first man, spun and dodged the second’s attack. The third kicked him in the knees. Ella reached down and bit Cadeyrn’s arm. Cursing, he dropped her. She lunged forward, pulling out the dagger she’d been given as a gift last summer.

Flinging herself into the fray, she jumped onto the third man’s back. She stabbed in quick question. Once, twice before he ripped her off him and tossed her into a tree. She crumbled to the ground. The air left her lungs. It hurt to breathe, but she pulled herself to her knees. She looked up just in time to see the second man slice at her father. Blood spurted into the air. Tears burned her vision. A ghoulish scream ripped from her lungs as he collapsed to his knees.

His sword slipped from his hand.

His eyes found hers.

“No!”

The world blurred. A rough hand yanked her into the air. She kicked and screamed, but it wasn’t a boy she was fighting this time.

A fist collided into her skull. Her cries stopped. Cadeyrn took them up, but his were deeper, more focused. He must have charged at the man holding her because she was suddenly dropped to the ground. She whimpered as she looked at her father. His eyes were open, but he no longer saw her.

Choking on a sob, Ella crawled forward. She grabbed one of his hands. It was still warm. He could still come back. She’d heard of the fae being able to heal people from terrible wounds. As long as they were still warm, they could do it.

She just had to get him to the stones.

Desperately, she looked up. Which way was it? She couldn’t see the sun through the clouds and smoke and tears. She couldn’t –

“No!”

Heavy hands jerked her back. She was dragged along the ground by her hair. Strands ripped free, but not enough to free her. She lost her grip on her father. His eyes stayed watching her. She tried to scream his name, but she couldn’t breathe.

She couldn’t breathe.

And nor could he.

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