Mac woke Eliza and me at first light. As soon as my sleepy mind registered where I was, I quickly remembered what had happened the night before and I scrambled out of bed to finish getting ready for the day with nervous hands as I worried about Joel. Since I had changed in the middle of the night when I thought we were going to help him and had gone to bed still dressed, I only had to quickly pull a comb through my hair and make sure that I had everything I needed to go.
Mac, who was already dressed, had gone next door to wake Glenn and Siofra while Eliza pulled on her leather tunic and leggings. I watched in surprised when he came back into our room a minute later to pick up a pitcher of water that had been brought up for bathing and disappeared through the door again. I was just finishing a check of my belt pouch to be sure that everything was still in place when I realized what Mac was intending, which was a split second before I heard Siofra’s outraged scream from the next room. I was moving to stand next to the door to the hallway when Mac blinked back into our room, a satisfied smile on his face.
“Breakfast first,” he said as he replaced the pitcher and picked up his gloves from the bed. I looked at him disappointedly, hoping that we would go directly to the castle as soon as everyone was ready. Apparently that wasn’t the plan.
I bit back everything I wanted to yell at both of them, but I knew that outbursts would only delay out departure. I was hurt by the way they had treated me the night before and I was determined to not give either of them any more justification for treating me like a child if I could help it.
“Are you that hungry?” Eliza asked when she glanced up and saw me waiting by the door anxiously. I crossed my arms over my chest and didn’t answer her, remembering the fact that she had used some of her abilities on me to get me to go back to bed. The silent treatment may be childish, but I didn’t really give a crap. “How did you sleep?” she asked as if nothing was wrong, Mac right behind her.
“I’m not talking to you right now,” I said, avoiding making eye contact with her as I turned to open the door to the hall so we could go downstairs. No one said a word as we made our way downstairs until Glenn, Siofra and Kenaz met us in the dining room a few minutes later.
During the meal that I only pretended to eat, we watched to see if Peorth and Os-tur would make an appearance. When they didn’t, Mac suggested that we go back to our rooms to wait out of sight while he went to see if he could find them.
I was antsy to get underway to the castle, but I managed to sit on the bed after Mac left us. I tried to keep my mind from drifting to different possible torture scenarios that Tayend would be putting Joel through, but it was no use. We had to get to him and quick, that was what kept going through my head.
Soon there was a knock on our door and I bolted to my feet to answer. It was Os–tur, looking as if he had dressed rather hastily. “Your lord wants you to come quickly,” he said in a rush, as if he were frightened about something.
I was aware that Siofra was just entering the room to see who had come to call as I took a step forward to go with him. “Let’s go,” I said. If Mac had sent the other man for us, then it had to be important. He might need help and my mind slipped from worrying about Joel to Mac without considering anything else.
“What are you doing?” I heard Siofra call out, but I was already starting to shut the door behind me.
“I’m going,” I said, determined to get to Mac as soon as possible. The other’s quickly followed and when Os-tur and I arrived at his room, I saw that Peorth was still in bed and Mac was kneeling beside her, his hand on her forehead. The room was cold like it always was when Mac was using his new found magickal abilities and I watched as he became aware of our presence and held his hand out to us.
Siofra quickly stepped forward and took Mac’s hand; Glenn followed and laid his hand on her shoulder, while I took hold of Glenn’s other hand. Even though he never really discussed his abilities with me, I had come to assume that Mac could in some ways enter the dreams of others, much like Joel had been doing during our first meeting. We were linking our powers together so that Mac, who was obviously in Peorth’s dream, could help her escape whatever it was that was holding her there. I closed my eyes and opened myself to the power of Mother Earth to make the magick available to him.
Behind my closed lids, light came from everywhere all at once, but not from any one source. I opened my eyes again and could see Peorth’s form as she was free falling in a tunnel that was lined all around with rock and seemed to have no end. What I couldn’t see, however, was myself when I looked down at where my hand should have been joined with Glenn’s, which threw me. I couldn’t see Glenn either, or Siofra, who should have been on his other side. I could still fell his warm fingers where they held mine, but there wasn’t any sign of either of them visibly.
“Where are we?” I heard Siofra ask from where I had last spotted her in front of Glenn.
“Peorth’s dream,” came Mac’s voice.
“Taeynd is punishing her because she gave me information. We need to stop her from falling, bring her out of it.”
Siofra continued. “Okay. What do you want us to do?”
“I’m going to try to stop her. Either back me up with power or do it yourself.” Since I had no idea how to stop the falling woman myself, I manipulated the magick within me so that it in turn coursed through the line of Glenn and Siofra and into Mac. I felt the magick as it flowed around me and after a moment the other woman slowed and finally came to a stop. She looked around her in surprise, unsure of what was happening around her.
“You have to change your surroundings,” I told her, knowing that she wouldn’t be aware of where my voice was coming from.
Peorth looked around her jerkily. “Who’s there?”
I felt power surge through the connection between the four of us and I had a feeling that Mac was attempting to make us visible to Peorth so that she would trust us enough to listen to what we were saying. She had to be the one to free herself of the dream she had been trapped in. He succeeded in making Siofra, Glenn and I totally visible, but he still remained semi transparent so that he looked like a ghost. Peorth jumped slightly as we came into view, but she quickly realized that we weren’t a part of the nightmare that Taeynd had created for her and relief was evident in her expression.
“You need to do something to change the dream,” Siofra told the other woman.
“Can we do it?” I asked. There was no telling how long Peorth had been falling in her dream state and I was afraid that she didn’t have the strength left to pull herself out of it.
Glenn seemed to agree. “Maybe we should decide what to change it to before we do it,” he advised.
“The common room of the inn,” Mac instructed Peorth. “The table.”
“The table we were sitting at last night,” Siofra added.
The well around us wavered slightly as Peorth’s body turned so that she was no longer in her free falling position, but standing instead. The walls of the common room in the inn took the wells place and soon we found ourselves standing near the table where Peorth and Os-tur had introduced themselves the previous night.
Peorth glanced around in confusion as she took a minute to re-acclimate herself. “By Ishmonir, what is going on?” she asked.
“Taeynd was controlling you,” Siofra informed her. The four of us were all still linked together physically and no one made a move to break contact. I didn’t know what would happen if we did.
Mac nodded. “She stuck you in a nightmare.”
Peorth frowned as her eyes rested on him. “How did you end up in my nightmare?”
Mac looked back and Siofra, Glenn and myself, then returned his gaze to the other woman. “We came in. This is all still a dream.”
“You’re lying in bed in your room,” Siofra added.
Peorth thought a moment and by her expression, accepted what we were telling her as truth and she began to nod her head slowly. “I see. So we wake up and everything is fine?”
“We’re already awake,” Siofra confessed.
“We need to figure out how to get you awake,” Mac said.
Peorth looked around the room and crossed her arms in front of her, looking like she had no idea what to do next. “Does this happen often in your world?”
The grin was apparent in his voice when Mac spoke and glanced at us again. “Yes.”
That coaxed a slight smile from Peorth. “Any ideas on how to wake up? Maybe some cold water?”
Siofra sniffed, not doubt remembering her rude awaking not long ago as she glared as Mac nastily. The last thing we needed was for the two of them to start sniping at each other so I quickly described some simple methods to Peorth on how to wake up that Jared had taught me. Within minutes we were all back in the waking world once again. Os-tur quickly came forward to check on Peorth and Eliza, who was standing by the door to the room, ran a worried glance over Mac and me to be sure that we were both okay as well.
We left the inn for Horsetower within the hour, making a quick stop at one of the shops in town so that Mac could buy oil and wicks that he deposited in the back of the wagon. Peorth also wanted to stop for a new cloak that she claimed would allow her to enter the castle.
So she wouldn’t be recognized, Siofra had changed her appearance before we left the inn because she’d had such an up close and personal talk with Taeynd. She had decided to wear the male clothing that she had purchased the day before and she rode one of the horses with Mac and our new friends. Glenn drove the wagon that contained Eliza, Kenaz and I. Gwrhyr stayed close to Mac’s horse as we made our way out of the town.
“What are you going to use lamp oil and wicks for?” Eliza asked Mac as we made our way north.
“Lamp oil is highly flammable,” Mac explained. “If we have to seize the castle, we need some kind of ammunition.”
Eliza blinked at him in surprised. “You’re going to make Molotov cocktails?”
When he nodded I felt me eyes bulge slightly at the thought of blowing things up, but I was sure that Mac would only let that happen if there was no other solution to the situation. Regardless, I was a little worried about how things were going to turn out. I was still really scared about Joel and what Taeynd was doing to him. Since we still had a while before we would get to the castle, I pulled out my Ogham sticks and cast them on the floor of the wagon. All the signs pointed out that the plan would work so I felt a little better as I put them away again and faced the looming structure of the castle.
Kenaz asked hesitantly where we were going as we moved closer and closer to the castle. She had made it very clear that she would help us get to the town, but she had been very adamant that she would not go to Horsetower. Her body language said that she was upset and I understood that her young mind had probably heard all kinds of horrible stories about Taeynd, but there was no way that we could leave her to her own devices when so many had seen her with us the day before. I didn’t want to be responsible for Taeynd harming the girl because of our actions.
I looked at her kindly and said, “We’re going to save Joel.”
“But where are we going?” she pressed.
I took a deep breath and prepared to deal with her outburst as I answered, “We’re going to Horsetower.”
Fear clouded her young eyes and she shook her head. “I don’t want to go there.”
I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with children so I tried an aversion tactic that I hoped would keep her mind off thinking about where we were headed. “Why?” I asked her, trying to move my body so that she could no longer see the castle as we continued to move toward it.
“Because I don’t want to go there. She said I didn’t have to go there,” she almost whined as she pointed toward Siofra who was ahead of us, riding on horseback next to Mac.
“But why don’t you want to go there?”
The distraction technique was failing miserably as Kenaz started to get to her feet by holding onto the side of the wagon. “Because I don’t want to go there, she said I didn’t have to. Stop the wagon, I want to get out. I wanna go home.”
I glanced up to the front of the wagon as I reached over to take a hold of Kenaz’s arm. “Glenn? Stop the wagon.”
“What’s going on?” Glenn asked over his shoulder from the wagon seat where Eliza was looking back at us as well.
I caught her gaze and tried to implore to her without words. “Eliza, tell her that she’s not going to get hurt at Horsetower, that she’s gonna be okay.”
Her brow lifted in surprise. “So you want me to lie to her?” she asked, obviously missing the fact that I was trying to calm Kenaz down, instead the girl renewed her efforts to pull away from me and to get over the side.
I tightened my hold to keep the struggling girl in the wagon and glared at my birth mother. “No, I want you to just tell her that everything’s going to be okay. You know, like you did last night with me,” I said pointedly, trying to tell her without words to do to Kenaz whatever she had done to make me go back to bed without further fight the previous night.
Eliza rolled her eyes and glanced ahead of us to where Mac and Siofra were riding. “Where the hell is your father at?” she asked under her breath as she twisted on the seat and tried to catch Kenaz’s eye, but the girl wouldn’t look at her. She was adamant about getting out of the wagon and getting louder about it.
“Here,” I said to Eliza, holding out my hand, “I’ll hold the crossbow; you come back here and deal with this.”
“Can’t you deal with it?” came her reply. “Do something?”
“Like what, tell her its okay?” I asked in exasperation. “Been there, done that.”
“You’ve got spooky boo things, can’t you use it? Give her a good paddling, maybe that will work.”
I couldn’t believe that Eliza was being so crass. I wasn’t about to spank the poor girl for being frightened and I had my hands full trying to keep her in the wagon to think of anything I could do magickally to calm her down. Kenaz pulled free of my grasp and started to climb over the side again. I caught her by the arm and pulled her around so that she was looking at me then. I covered her mouth with my hand to quiet her and said, “Look, there’s a man’s life that hangs in the balance here. You need to calm down, and you need to shut up, because if you draw attention to us and cause him harm, I’m not responsible-” The girl screamed beneath my hand and sobbed inconsolably and I pulled her onto my lap. “I understand that you’re scared, but if you can tell me why then I can help you.”
Kenaz started to cry and became partially limp in my arms and I pulled her to my chest to sooth her. She was sobbing that she was convinced she would die if she went to Horsetower, that no one would be able to stop it.
I let her cry for a few minutes, understanding that she had fears that were obviously very real to her. When she had calmed down a little I took her head in my hands. “Look at me,” I urged as I used my thumbs to wipe the tears from her face. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Why would you think otherwise?”
“Because everybody dies who goes to Horsetower,” she told me, her breath still shaky.
“Joel’s at Horsetower and he’s not dead,” I replied, needing to believe it myself. “And he’s not going to die.”
The girl shook her head in disagreement. “My mother was taken to Horsetower, and she died. My Dad went to Horsetower, and he died. Everyone who goes to Horsetower dies.”
Kenaz’s admissions shed a new light on why she had the fears she did concerning the castle. My heart went out to the girl for seeing such horrible things come to pass in the few short years of her life. The fact remained, however, that we had to go to the castle and it was too late for us to do anything with her but take her with us. “They might not have had the gifts that we have,” I told her, hoping to ease her fears. New tears gathered in her young eyes and I found myself saying, “I swear to you that nothing will happen to you. Something will have to happen to me first, and nothing is going to happen to me.” I pulled her to my chest again to comfort her and I stroked her hair like my own mother had many a times when I was a child. “You will stay with me; nothing is going to happen to you.”
Kenaz calmed eventually and when we neared the bridge that crossed the great river, Siofra traded spots with Glenn, who lagged behind the wagon on horseback to bring up the rear. We were within two hundreds yards of the castle after we crossed the bridge and it was easier to get a better idea of its size and how big it really was.
Horsetower sat on a hill. Its walls were high, and the keep at the center looked much older than the rest of the out buildings. The guards at the gate and on the walls were alert in their chain and plate mail, and quite a few of the general population of the city was moving toward the castle with us for court. The guards were questioning everyone pretty closely by the look of things as we got in line and I could see that they carried both pistols and swords. They performed random searches on a few people, dragging some off for reasons that seemed to be random.
Mac turned to Peorth and Os-tur and asked them to move toward the back of wagon.
“Why?” Peorth asked, sounding slightly offended.
Mac glanced at her, then to the guards as if he were judging if we were being watched as he used his thumb to indicate Os-tur. “Because you are highly known to Taeynd and he’s a flying kitty.”
Peorth smiled slightly. “There’s lots of flying kitties, and that’s what the cloak is for.”
Mac eyed her suspiciously. “You don’t think you’re going to get recognized?”
Mac shrugged and turned forward again. “Okay.” Peorth must have thought there was something to what Mac had said because she looked at Os-tur knowingly and the two of them fell to the back of wagon near Glenn without another word.
I rose to my knees and positioned myself behind Eliza and Siofra where they sat on the wagon seat. Kenaz joined me, clutching at my cloak with her little hands. I put an arm around her and leaned down to whisper that she should look at things like she had never seen them before. I did the same, but it was easier for me since I hadn’t in fact ever seen the castle. I was eyeing the men on the wall closely in preparation to help with magick if they decide to shoot at Mac, or any of us.
By what I was able to hear, the guards were asking the same series of questions as each new group of people approached them. What’s your name, origin? What’s your business in Horsetower? They asked the men if they were looking for work, saying they were looking for guards and soldiers to employ at the castle. The better dressed women were asked if they were looking for work as well, the reason being that the Lady Taeynd was looking for ladies-in-waiting.
They seemed pretty standard questions I guessed. One thing I found odd was that they were looking at the ears of anyone with dark hair. That seemed odd to me, but I said nothing as our turn neared. I reached into my pouch and took out my sapphire and moonstone for magickal defense and protection respectively and held them in one hand. I didn’t know if they would do me any good, but I figured that it couldn’t hurt to have them out either. Their presence in my hand was a familiar one that warmed me somewhat.
Finally we got to the front of the line. The guard who was doing the questioning looked fairly intimidating, but Mac was his usual sure self. He gave the name Macalister when asked and when the guard inquired about his business in coming to Horsetower he replied, “We’re here seeking the lady of the keep’s ear for a moment. I seek employment.”
“And the other members of your party?” the guard asked, looking up at Eliza and Siofra and myself.
“Are members of my party,” Mac told him.
“Are they looking for employment as well?”
“They are in my employ.”
The guard looked back at Mac. “Where are you from?”
Mac adjusted himself in his saddle. “Around, I’m a traveler.”
“Where are you from originally?”
Mac took a deep breath then laid into a story that would have made any natural storyteller jealous of. “Thirty winters ago I was born on the road, discovered by…..”
The guard let him go on for a minute or two, and then waved for him to stop, asking if there were any elves in our party.
The guard looked us over again then gave Mac a name and time to report to the armory. “We need people like you, you’re obviously trustworthy,” he told Mac, who was smiling at him slightly.
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