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"In the twilight moments before one wakes, be wary of the fragmented dreams of truth."
~Chronicles of the Fae
Beneath the Hill of Tara, Ireland, Mid Autumn — the season of harvest and feasting in the Fae Realm
Smoke filled his lungs, strangling his pitiful cries for mercy. Dust coated his mouth, and his eyes burned, reminding him of the flames of dragon fire during raging battles. Repeatedly, they continued to pummel his face, while his hands and feet remained bound as he knelt on the ground. Some threw stones at his head and others spouted vile obscenities and spat on him. He choked back the copper taste of blood and attempted to reason with any one of his captors.
Did they not understand who he was? Did they not know he could boil the blood within their bodies and peel the skin from their bones? He, a great Fenian Warrior could obliterate their entire city!
But he would not. Death would come far more quickly if he harmed so much as a hair on their pathetic bodies. In truth, he was honored bound by an oath to these deplorable humans.
"Bind ... me to ... the stake," he pleaded in a choked voice. "Take me." Fighting the wave of panic and the pain slashing his body, mind, and soul, Rory blinked in an attempt to focus and faced his tormentor.
His captor grabbed a fistful of hair, forcing Rory to view the scene in front of him. "Your time will come, ye spawn of the devil. But ye will first watch how your witch shall die."
"Nae a witch," he hissed.
"Liar!" the man shrieked, spittle flying. "Did she not tell wee Alan the charms came from the faeries?"
"A lad's tale to amuse his friends," he argued, during fits of coughing spasms.
"Nae!" A woman protested, pushing through the crowds of people. She charged forward and delivered a slap to Rory's face. "Ye are bewitched by the lass and spout lies about my son."
She wagged a finger. "Ye should burn with her. Ye have the painted markings of the devil on your body."
"Leave and go tend to your son," ordered the man.
Hastily making the sign of the cross, she quickly departed.
"Please, have mercy," begged Rory.
"Mercy," he echoed. "So that she may return and cast her evil ways upon us? Nae. She has been found guilty of her crimes." Releasing his hold on Rory, the man nodded to another.
Rory uttered a curse and looked at the woman bound to the burning stake. Eyes wide with fear gazed back at him as the flames took hold of her dress, licking a path up her body. Not once did she let out a scream of terror. Choking on the scent of burning flesh, he swallowed the bile threatening to heave and attempted to stand. He would not let her die like this. She had done nothing wrong.
Yet, the effort cost Rory when his captor shoved a blade into his side. Pain dulled his senses, and he fought to move forward.
He broke free from his bindings and heard the crowd gasp in horror. No longer caring if any witnessed his power, he lifted his arms, only to have another bash him over the head.
Rory's last glimpse of the woman he had forsaken were her screams of his name before he succumbed into the dark abyss, praying death would take them both swiftly.
Awakening on a guttural cry, Rory turned and emptied what little he had in his stomach onto the ground. Gasping for breath, he waited for the spasms to settle within his body and rolled on his side. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he leaned against the cool crystal wall of his prison, and let his head drop back. Gazing upward, he watched as the stars glittered like diamonds against an inky velvet night sky.
The dream had once again come unbidden to him during his time spent in the Room of Reflection. Never once had he dreamt of her until he entered his imprisonment. Nae. He had banished the memories — tucked them away to a remote part of his being. Hardened himself against any emotions. Struck her name from any thought and vowed never to reveal to his fellow Fenian brothers his involvement in her capture, imprisonment, and death.
Only one visible sign of evidence remained. And only Rory understood its meaning. It was hidden among the layers of his tattoos from the Brotherhood — twisted and puckered along his right rib cage.
His hand shook as he brushed his trembling fingers over the ancient scar, recalling how he refused the pleas of the Fae healer to bind the skin. It would always be a reminder of how he failed her.
Rory dug his hands into the soft earth. "Why?" he uttered into the silence of his cage.
He snarled at the stillness mocking him. There would be no answers. Despair and bitterness were his companions, but they refused to offer him any comfort.
When he first entered his prison, days blended into weeks, and those turned into months. Then the first dream entered, sending him spiraling to the place within his mind he had locked away. It brought forth all the reasons why he often times despised the humans. Always narrow-minded and prejudiced in their thoughts and actions. They were quick to make judgments and feared any who were different.
Once, Rory had sought out the elders of the Brotherhood, requesting to leave mortal Earth, so he could return and remain in the Fae realm. They denied his appeal, since he gave no cause as to why he deemed it necessary to relinquish his powers and rights as a Fenian Warrior.
Now he could not fathom why the dreams had started, or why they continued in earnest to torture his soul.
Lowering his head, Rory rubbed vigorously at his eyes. "Enough," he muttered.
Bells chimed the morning hour, and he glanced upward. His starry attendants were fading as the dawn's dance started anew.
Folding his arms over his bent knees, Rory waited for the first meal of the day to appear magically within his prison, along with several books. He almost laughed out loud at the selection presented. Some were volumes of folk heroes and knights in shining armor. Occasionally, there would be one pertaining to his homeland of Taralyn, and his humor vanished.
Home. Green meadows, lush with foliage. Their colors made one's head spin, and teemed with wildlife that dwelt in harmony. Instead of one, there were three moons. When they rose in a luminous arc during their fullness, the sight would steal the breath from a Fae's body. And how could he forget the cool, scented waters of the lakes and streams that soothed the skin and calmed the mind.
These images teased him within the pages of the tome, calling him forth. Was this to be his curse — his punishment for helping the Dragon Knights? Only reading on parchment about places he could no longer visit? He growled his resentment at those who could not comprehend what he, Liam, and Conn had done for their world and the human realm.
A soft mist of colored lights flashed on the other side of the room, and a table appeared. Silver bowls held an array of fruit, vegetables, cheeses, and an assortment of breads. At the end set a goblet, as well as a wooden jug with water. There were a few other silver bowls, but Rory cared naught for food or drink.
It would not matter if the most delectable food in the realm appeared, it could not tempt him. His appetite had waned. In truth, he believed it was due to his imprisonment, since he no longer had the will to eat, drink, or even greet the new dawn.
Life did not reach out to him, so he retreated within, preferring the cold hard floor of his cell. Even his Fae guards had backed away when they issued an order demanding he take in some nourishment, and he responded by bellowing a curse at them. Eventually, the guards gave up and never returned to his prison.
As the first shaft of light entered the room, Rory pushed himself farther away from its radiance and retreated deeper into his anguish.
* * *
Conn MacRoich paced within the outer gardens of the royal palace. His hands fisted as he waited with uncertainty. His meeting with the Fae council had ended with terse words on both sides. He had argued that Rory MacGregor not be forced to endure a trial. His time spent in the Room of Reflection was enough punishment. Furthermore, he heard the account of how the Fenian Warrior had slipped deeper into a dark abyss, and Conn judged it was wise to step in and offer a solution.
The Fae council was not pleased. They found it difficult to argue with their prince, especially when he used his royal status to influence the other members. He reminded the council that Rory was under his command, and it was their duty to adhere to his convictions. In the end, they relented. Nevertheless, there were conditions.
Conn let out a frustrated sigh, and rested against a rowan tree. Folding his arms across his chest, he mulled over the multiple decisions and actions. For one, he could remove Rory and secure him in a place of his choosing. Another, simply ignore the Fae council entirely.
The air shimmered and Taran MacLean — friend and Fenian Warrior appeared.
Conn pushed away from the tree. "Give me the account."
Taran shook his head. "Not good. The Fae guards no longer greet him daily. They bring his food inside the room magically."
Confused, Conn's brow furrowed, and he folded his arms over his chest. "Why?"
"Rory threatened them. They now fear the warrior."
"I heard the account given of how his mood shifted, but cannot fathom as to why he would do violence against another here in his homeland. Have you seen him?"
"Nae, he has blocked the vision mirrors in the room."
"By the hounds! There must be another way," argued Conn.
Taran shifted slightly. "You could seek him out."
Conn glanced sharply at his friend. "Asked and denied by the Fae council. Although, I might have a way to see inside the room."
Arching a brow, Taran inquired, "Care to share your knowledge?"
Clamping a hand on the warrior's shoulder, Conn responded, "I shall seek out the seer."
Taran snorted. "Good luck with gaining entrance. The last time you attempted any information, she banned you from her land."
"Yes, but I was only a Fenian Warrior. Now, I am the Prince of the Fae seeking help for one of our own. In the meantime, you return to Rory's room and stand guard. The Fae council has granted a stay of his trial, but I do not trust them. My instincts warn me it's only a matter of days before they call him forth. If they should come for him, seal the doors and alert me. Use whatever means, including how the orders came from Prince Conn."
His fellow warrior let out a soft curse. "Will the king support you?"
"He will always defend his son's actions."
Giving Conn a mock salute, Taran vanished in a flash of light.
Waiting for a few moments, Conn reflected on his friend's words about the seer. Shoving aside the doubt, he waved his hand in an arc and magically transported to the edge of the seer's lands.
Breathing in deeply of the crisp, autumn air, he strode with purpose across the wide path lined with oak and rowan trees. Her home was perched beyond the valley of the Fae, secluded within a thick grove of pines. She favored the forests and deep glens and never came to the palace. On the contrary, all went to seek her for wisdom and guidance. Her counsel was regarded with respect, though Conn knew firsthand that the seer's wisdom was not always accurate.
Closing the door on his own past, he moved along quickly. An owl hooted from within the thick branches, and he nodded in greeting. Dark eyes regarded him for a few seconds before taking flight deeper into the trees. Most likely, the bird was alerting its mistress of his presence. If Conn were not welcome, he would feel her wrath soon.
Shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun, he caught a glimpse of a lone figure at the end of the path. Her ebony cloak swayed in the light breeze, and she leaned upon her crystal staff. Stunned to find the seer waiting for him, he quickly masked his surprise and walked toward the woman.
The seer inclined her head slightly. "Prince Conn."
"Lady Emer," he acknowledged, and clasped his hands behind his back. "Thank you for greeting me."
A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. "Did I have a choice?"
"There are always choices to be presented."
She waved him off. "I am in no mood to banter philosophy and words with you, Conn. I know what you seek."
Surprised for a second time, he asked, "Then you will grant what I need to see?"
"State your reason to see within the Fenian Warrior's prison."
"The warrior is refusing food, drink, and all communication. I fear he is retreating, and I must unravel the reason. This is not the warrior I know."
"It is his choice."
Tempering his fury, Conn explained, "A Fenian Warrior does not give up. Our training —"
"Our?" she interrupted. "You are no longer a Fenian Warrior."
"I will always be a part of the Brotherhood, Lady Emer. Furthermore, as the warriors are now under my command, I consider it my right to protect all, especially Rory as he awaits his trial. I have already spoken with the Fae council, and they will be calling him forth soon."
Lady Emer lifted her staff and stepped back from Conn. "Walk with me."
He followed alongside as she made her way through the trees. As he pushed away heavy pine limbs, the path narrowed and she took the lead. Onward they went, and he pondered why she did not magically transport them. Her movements were slow, but steady, and he found himself losing patience.
"Temper the anger," she ordered.
He rolled his eyes, but smiled. Taking a deep breath, he released his anxiety on the exhale.
As they made their way through the dense trees, the landscape opened to reveal a cave within a moss-covered hill. Vines snaked around the top, and Conn spotted the owl perched off to the side. Making their way upward through the soft grasses, they soon came upon the entrance.
The seer turned toward him. "Once you are inside, do not utter a word. Seal your mind and tongue. Do you understand?"
Upon entering the cavern, warmth enveloped them. Lady Emer lifted her staff, and brilliant lights glittered in the darkness. She tapped it once to the ground, and the place exploded in an array of dazzling colors. Crystals of different shapes and sizes littered the area. The walls of the cave were smooth, and the radiance of the crystals surrounded them in its glow. In the center of the cave sat a huge rose quartz fountain. Water bubbled softly upward, filling the cave with the scent of roses.
Gesturing for Conn to sit on a polished boulder, Lady Emer moved silently to the fountain. Placing her staff on the ledge, she raised her hands outward and the water took on a crystal globe suspended over the well. Lights sparkled within the sphere, changing and illuminating.
Conn leaned forward and braced his arms on his thighs.
Images of the realm passed through the globe in a kaleidoscope of multicolored pictures until they settled and formed outside of the Room of Reflection.
"Brush aside the darkness and set forth the light of truth," the seer uttered softly and closed her eyes.
Conn stood and watched as the doors vanished to reveal Rory's prison. Memories of his own confinement opened old wounds, but he quickly banished them. As he searched within the room for his friend, worry took hold, and he took a step forward. Food, drink, and books remained untouched on a table, and his bed showed no signs of being used.
Finally, he glimpsed a black shadow in the far corner of the room, and his fists clenched by his sides. He barely registered the outline of his friend. Worry turned to fear, but Conn kept silent as he waited for the seer to finish.
Lady Emer frowned, and her hands shook. "No." Her voice shook with emotion. "This cannot be." Opening her eyes, she dropped her hands, and the image vanished, sending the crystal sphere spiraling back into the water.
Conn's patience was unraveling.
Eyes that held sadness gazed at him. "He dreams."
Stunned, he could no longer keep silent. "Not possible. Once we enter the Brotherhood and take our vows as a Fenian Warrior, we are no longer able to dream. The ability is stripped from us. It helps to keep us sane with all that we must do, especially for those who travel the Veil of Ages."
She arched a brow and pointed a finger at the fountain. "Nevertheless, Rory MacGregor is having the same dream — nightmare each night within his prison. He is hiding something."
"Can you tell me anything else?" he demanded.
"The answer to your question lies with the Fenian Warrior. The warriors are the most powerful — the elite. In addition, I have witnessed a similar occurrence. It is only spoken of in hushed circles within the realm of certain warriors who have walked this path of despair and loneliness hundreds of years before my time."
The walls of the cave felt as if they were closing in around him. Conn uttered a curse and stepped quickly out of the cavern. Glancing up at the azure sky, he took in deep calming breaths. This could not be possible. Not to a Fenian Warrior. Not to his friend.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Oath of a Warrior"
Copyright © 2018 Mary Morgan.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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