Keira woke up feeling her body sore of the stone where she slept on. Her eyes searched for the one shelter she now had but she found his place empty. For a few seconds she rubbed her eyes and questioned herself about what she had done. Was she right? Was that the right thing to do? What would her father think? But then, once again, she concluded marrying Cahil would only bring her misery as well as to him. For the brotherly love she felt for him, she knew she was doing the right thing by freeing him from the burden to have her as a wife. Cahil deserved someone who wanted him and not someone who would never fully commit to him. As she heard some noise outside, she got up to go there. Colin was already busy walking from one side to another. Though she was sure he had felt her presence he didn’t say anything, not even good morning. He continued walking from one place to another like a busy ant gathering things and pretending he didn’t notice her. She couldn’t but to curl an eyebrow at his behavior and it infuriated her a little.
“Hey!” Keira said. He didn’t look at her right away, it took him a few seconds to do so.
“Do you have any food?” He asked and Keira shook her head.
“You didn’t bring any?”
“I didn’t have the time!” She claimed.
“Not even horses?”
“It’s not like I do this now and then to have everything planned in my head.” Keira shot.
“But at least you could have thought about how we would travel right?” He opened his eyes at her and his hands flew a little up in the air. He was still mad.
“Right…” She rolled her eyes. “I ran away from there without thinking much alright? We can walk.”
“I know we can walk…but will you take it?” Colin asked.
“I’m stronger than you think.”
“Alright miss stronger…then bring your stuff outside because we need to begin our journey.”
“Aye!” She nodded and came back inside.
Feeling rather disappointed with his behavior and even with his coldness towards her, she was still feeling her heart beating fast. That time not because of him but because in the village soon they’d know she was missing and her heart ached for her father more than anyone else. Egan would be so disappointed knowing she turned her back at her people, at her future. She also knew he’d send men after her so she needed to be as far away as possible not to be found right on the first day away. She rolled her things around a fur and brought it all outside. Then she remembered she didn’t have the time to do her hair or to change to a clean tunic. She concluded she must have looked awful or even dirty and she wasn’t used to it.
“Can I clean first?” She asked. He laughed a little which annoyed her very much.
“Go ahead.” He said. “But if you are caught don’t blame me for it.”
“But I must look awful!” She said.
Colin looked at her. He was going to answer dryly once again but as his eyes hit her face no words came out. His chest shrunk as tightening against his back. She didn’t look awful, she never did and even if she was not as neat as she used to she looked perfect.
“We don’t have time for it now.” Colin said instead of the rude words he actually wanted to say. “I also want to wash but I am not going to do it.”
“Can we do it later then?”
“We need to find something to eat first. That’s our priority now since you didn’t bring any food.”
“That’s not a problem. There’s a lot of berries we can eat. I know which ones are good and which are not.” Keira explained. “It’s not winter yet, there’s no snow…”
Colin felt a shiver running over his body. “It’s rather cold.”
“Here.” Keira said giving him one of her furs. “At least I brought shelter for the cold.”
Colin ended up smiling. “Let’s get going then.”
Keira nodded and their way began. Colin grabbed both sacs so she didn’t carry any and by the corner of her eye she watched his figure. That time her heart beat faster. The will to run a hand over his hair was much as well as the will to run the other over his face. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen and his eyes the bluest of all. Though a warrior he seemed delicate, maybe it was the white tone of his skin that made him seem so.
“Do you miss your people?” She asked him to distract her thoughts.
“Kind of.” He told her.
“Kind of like what?” She insisted.
Colin missed his people and his daily life but at the same time he didn’t. Something was holding him back and now instead of going South he was going North, even farther. That was never his plan. His plan was to join his people as soon as he felt better and not walking the opposite way. He didn’t want to explain much to her for he missed the perfect explanation.
“I miss my people yes.” He said just to shut her up and not explain too much.
“Already? But we just started.”
Keira sat on the ground. Her cheeks flushed and she was gasping a bit. He stayed there looking at her, tore between telling her to keep walking and letting her rest for a bit. At that pace he knew it would take them ages to get to their destination but Keira was not used to walk much, she was not used to hard work. Rough times were coming and that was just beginning, so he didn’t say anything and put the sacs down. As he took another look at her face she looked even prettier even if her hair was a mess. He controlled his hands not to flew to it and comb it.
“What?” She asked noticing he was staring.
“Nothing.” He told her.
“I look awful don’t I?” Keira grabbed her sac and began to look for her brush
“A little…” He giggled and Keira opened her mouth incredulous.
“You’re hideous!” She exclaimed beginning to brush her hair. Colin began to laugh loud and she ended up smiling. He sometimes had that power over her and his smile was just the most wonderful thing she had ever seen.
“Why did you run away?” He asked her.
“You know the reason…”
“But something triggered that decision. You left the cavern saying you would not run away. I assume it must be very hard for a woman to take such a decision so something must have made you come to that conclusion.”
“I don’t love Cahil. I love him but not as a man, as a brother. I wish all the best for him and I want him to be happy. I agree when everyone says he’s handsome and gentle and tender. I understand and recognize all that but I don’t see him that way. He was raised as if being my family and I see him that way. I like him as much as I like my sister but I will never love him enough as my husband. I would make him unhappy so because of that I decided to leave for that was the only way for him not to be tied to me. Cahil would marry me expecting me to love him some day and some day he would wake up the most miserable man in the world.”
Colin listened to her amazed with her words and determination. It was not just her beauty that captivated him, her courage came first. Keira was the type of woman that fought and stood up for her beliefs and that was a rare thing in a woman. She fascinated him more than any other woman he had met. He had never been that intrigued by one.
“And you Keira? What do you expect to find now?”
“Peace.” She simply said.
She wanted to tell him she wanted to find true love. She wanted to be loved and love unconditionally but held her thoughts back afraid of being misunderstood. Somehow she didn’t have the courage to talk about these deep feelings with him. Looking in his eyes clouded her reason and she was afraid she’d be lost for words.
“Fair enough.” Colin said after a while.
He watched as she braided her hair while she talked to him and all the time he wanted just to bend over her and plant a kiss on her puffy lips. That will was corroding him, for Keira had been very clear they were enemies and even then…there they were talking like friends and he was feeling things beyond friendship. When she was done, he got up and grabbed the sacs again.
“Can we go now?” He asked her. Keira got up and nodded.
“I am starving Colin. We must stop to find some berries to eat.”
“Let’s walk a little longer and then we do that. We are not that far away, there’s still the chance they catch up with us.”
“We have been walking for quite some time now.” She argued.
“But they have horses!” Colin told her. “And it’s going to rain. It’d be good if we’d find some place for shelter.”
Keira remained silent. The sky looked dark grey indeed and the wind was blowing stronger and cold. Rain was being announced and she had always had a place where she’d stay cozy. The thought of wandering out in the cold rain scared her but her legs were aching too much and her empty stomach was making her dizzy. Berries should have been easier to find.
Cathleen walked fast down the main street rolling her cloak tight around her body when she saw Cahil coming out of the tavern. He looked like he had slept there, his hair was a mess and he was rubbing his eyes. She looked up at the sky trying to see at what time of the day they were but there was no sun, only dark clouds crossing the sky at high speed. Still she was sure it was past noon already.
“Cathleen!” He exclaimed when she passed by him.
When she looked in his face she was sure of her suspicion. His eyes were still red and swollen and his face still a little wrinkled from the pillow. As anyone else in that village she knew what men went there searching for and inside she felt a little envy of the woman he had spent the night with. Cathleen shook the thoughts away and greeted him.
“Hello Cahil.” She smiled.
“Coming from seeing Keira?”
“Aye!” She affirmed. “But she was not there.”
“She must be at the forest looking for her herbs.” Cahil told her. It was not unusual for Keira not to be found in the village during the day.
“Probably, but the sky is so dark and it’s menacing rain and when it’s like this she doesn’t go.”
“Maybe she just needs to clear her mind, that’s all.” Cahil said.
Cathleen noticed some sadness in his eyes as he pronounced the words and concluded something must have happened between them.
“Is everything alright Cahil?” She asked him. His eyes hit hers making her heart beat fast. Mentally she tried to control its pace but his glare was not giving her a rest. “Did you fight with her?”
“I don’t think I should talk about this with you. I mean…certain things are not supposed to be discussed with anyone but between me and Keira. It’s very personal.”
“I know Cahil but Keira and I barely have secrets and I’d like to help you. You look so…” Cathleen shut up for she didn’t want to say sad but no other word occurred to her to describe his semblance. “…sad.” She ended up saying. “You have been looking so sad Cahil and distressed. It’s impossible not to notice it.”
Cahil’s lips opened to speak and then shut again. No words came out for he didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to break his vow to Keira and tell the things she had told him and tell he had touched her in a more intimate way and that she ended up refusing him. He respected her…he loved her…
“It’s the marriage.” He said then.
“You don’t want to marry her?” Cathleen’s eyes opened wide.
“Oh no…no…” Cahil shook his head. “Never such thing crossed my mind. I just feel she is insecure that’s all.”
Cathleen nodded. “I see…we see marriage in a different way Cahil. It is more stressful to us women. There’s duties…”
“Oh Cathleen…” He stopped her. “I don’t think we should be having this conversation. It’s not right.”
“No one is listening.” She smiled. “The wedding night scares us Cahil.”
Cahil’s body jerked a little. Was she about to have a sex conversation with him nonetheless?
“I think Keira will love you Cahil.” Cathleen changed the course of the conversation which made him relax. “She would be such a fool if she didn’t. You are an amazing man.”
“Thank you Cathleen.” He said bowing his head a little. “I should be going now.”
“Aye!” Cathleen nodded and without saying anything else he left.
She stayed there watching him going away. Her eyes raked every bit of his body, from feet until his head. Her heart was racing fast and the whole time while talking to him she wanted to take a hand to his hair and fix it. Cahil looked back to find her still there looking at him and his heart raced acknowledging she was there just watching him. Right there he wanted to hold her, to pull her to him and kiss her lips. He turned his head again and looked away. He frowned reprimanding himself for the thoughts that he couldn’t control. Keira’s question came up to his mind, if he desired someone more than he desired her and he knew it had been quite some time that Cathleen occupied most of his thoughts. It had been that question that made him end their discussion, it had been that question that tickled on his mind the whole night.
Egan watched the whole scene without being noticed. He watched while they talked and then watched while his daughter didn’t leave until Cahil was out of sight. He shook his head at the realization that his youngest felt something for her sister’s husband to be and that Cahil was reacting nervously during the time they were talking. Egan got out behind the pile of wood and went to Cahil’s chamber.
“Cahil!” He called from the outside.
“My king…” Cahil bowed at the door and then made space to let him in.
“Have you seen Keira?” He asked.
“No.” He shook his head. “Cathleen hasn’t seen her either.”
Egan curled an eyebrow. “She was supposed to come with me to the place you’re going to be married.”
“She must me in the forest, she will come back soon,” Cahil said. Egan looked at him and said nothing.
“Are you happy with the wedding Cahil?” The king asked then.
“Of course I am.” Cahil smiled. “I have been waiting for this day for quite some time.”
“But it has been quite a long time. Keira is eleven years younger and I know you are a man of word.” Egan said.
“What are you trying to tell me?”
“That you are a man of word and I know you would not do anything but to go with it.”
“I want to marry Keira sire.” Cahil told him.
Egan nodded. “I am going to look for her. I have other duties and I need to find her.”
“I will go with you.” Cahil said and the two men left.
Hours later it had started raining hard. Colin and Keira searched for a place to shelter almost in vain. Their clothes were drenched and the rain was rather cold. Keira was shivering though she kept walking and her lips were violet.
“It’s getting dark.” She said noticing how the visibility was diminishing.
“There must some place to stay.” Colin muttered feeling frustrated.
“I don’t think so. This is deep forest…” Keira stated. Her stomach rumbled and she frowned. They had found almost no berries on their way.
“Hunters stay in deep forest. There must be some around here.”
“I told you people are afraid of the forest Colin. My people are very superstitious.”
“But there’s more than your people around.”
“If you say so…” She said almost not believing his words.
“Look…” He pointed feeling a little victorious. A wooden cabin was in sight.
Even feeling tired they both ran towards it. The cabin must have been abandoned for quite some time for one of the walls had fallen down and there was nothing inside. Still they both appreciated the fact they had a roof to protect them from the heavy rain that started falling meanwhile. Colin pilled some wood choosing the dry branches that were under the roof and made a fire.
“Come closer.” He told her knowing Keira was shaking with cold.
“All our things are wet.” She stated looking at their sacs.
“I told you this was going to be hard.”
“I’m hungry…” She whimpered feeling her stomach ache. Tears probed in her eyes that moment making his heart break a little.
“Here.” He extended a hand full of berries at her. “Have mine.”
“But that’s all you have to eat.”
“But I can take it. Have them.” He insisted.
Keira looked in his eyes and her heart began to race. His gesture was noble and showed loyalty and kindness. Tenderness maybe?
“I cannot accept it.” She shook her head. “You also need to eat. That’s your share so it belongs to you.”
“I’m not hungry.” He lied. “Really…”
“Seriously?” She asked and he nodded. “Thank you then.” Keira took the berries and devoured them.
He was used to starve when on battle. He was more resistant than her. Keira was used to have everything so he disposed of his share. Plus somehow he couldn’t take her complaints, not in a bad way but as it cost him to see her cry and see her shivering with cold and complain about food. Exhausted, she fell into deep sleep and he arranged the sacs around the fire so their things could dry. When done, he just sat there looking at her. She looked so broken and at the same time in peace. He grabbed another fur and put it over her and then pulled one to him. He laid his body on the ground next to her but with a respectable distance. Still, if he stretched out his hand he could touch her face and her hair. He did so. At first just the tip of his fingers, then he fully caressed the top of her head. Her face was warm and only his rumbling stomach disturbed that perfect moment. He was starving but her figure was all it took to calm him down. Just like the storm had turned into a soft and peaceful drizzle, that moment where they were nothing to one another and they had nothing to eat or to sleep on, had turned into a peaceful and perfect moment according to his standards.
“Colin?” He heard her sleepy voice calling him.
“I thought you were sleeping.” He said. She opened her eyes and looked at him. Her heart raced from having him lying down right next to her.
“I was.” She said. “Thank you for giving me your food.”
“I would not let you starve.” He told her.
“I’m sorry I said we’re enemies.”
“That’s alright. But you didn’t have to say that. I understand very well what my position is and I told you before you’re not my type of woman.”
Keira’s eyes narrowed and she raised her head. “You’re not my type of man either!” She shot. “I was being nice and you are always so stupid and rude.”
“Trying to be nice? Why? Just because I gave you my food? OH…” He turned his back at her and Keira groaned and turned his back at him too.
“I don’t want to be your type of woman.” She said.
“Fine.” He mumbled.
“I am nobody’s type of woman in fact.”
“I said fine.” He said in a monochord tone.
“I ran away from an amazing man. I doubt there will be anyone as Cahil. If he wasn’t the one then no one is and I don’t care about that. I am happy alone and independent. That’s all I want to be.”
“Let me sleep.”
“You are rude and….and…” She stuttered looking for other adjectives to describe him. “RUDE!” She said again a little louder failing to find another one.
Colin got up. “I am going to sleep on the corner over there.”
“FINE!” She shot and the conversation ended.
Cathleen raided Keira’s things with terror written all over her face. She knew her bedroom by heart as well as she knew all her sister’s things and part of them was missing. She sat on the bed blaming herself for not noticing it sooner. She was sure, Keira had run away. It was dark already and neither her father nor Cahil had come back. She was sure none of them had found her. Tears fell down her face. When she heard the noise of horses she ran outside and found Cahil and her father arriving.
“Did you find her?” She asked with her heart beating so fast. Cahil shook his head.
“We didn’t find her Cathleen.” Egan said visibly affected. “I am going to reunite the men and instruct them on a broader search. She must have been taken by the enemy.”
Cathleen said nothing about her suspicions but when they were leaving she called Cahil. “I need to talk to you.” She said. Egan looked at them not sure if he should leave them but Cahil was disturbed by Keira’s absence and Egan thought he could let him free for while.
“I need you later to talk to the man.” Egan simply said and left the two alone.
“Come inside.” Cathleen told him.
Cahil descended from the horse and followed her inside Keira’s chamber. “What is it Cathleen?”
“Some of her things are missing.” She said.
“I think she ran away Cahil.” She said almost whispering for she hated to be the one giving him that news.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” He argued. Cathleen approached him and held one of his hands in hers. “I think it might have been the wedding.”
“What do you know?” He asked.
“I don’t know anything. I swear.” She said not wanting to betray her sister. All she knew she would keep inside. She wouldn’t say anything about her suspicion of Keira being in love with another man.
“You must know something Cathleen!”
“I swear I don’t know anything. I know as much as you do. I was worried and came here to see if she had come back but she was still not here and I searched her things and noticed most of her tunics are missing and her hair brush.”
“Oh…” Cahil sat down on the bed feeling the world coming down his shoulder. “What have I done?” He asked looking at her. “What have I done to deserve such a shame?”
“Oh Cahil…” Cathleen whimpered. “None of this is your fault.”
“The shame….my shame to have been abandoned days before the wedding. My bride rather ran away than to be married to me…”
Cathleen shook her head and patted his shoulder. “It’s not your fault.” She said sitting by his side. Cahil looked at her and without betraying her sister she continued. “Keira was very distressed with the wedding Cahil. You must have noticed it. She likes you but as a brother and I think that’s why she ran away.”
“Leaving me here alone with a whole village pointing their finger at me now” Cahil shook his head. “I will never forgive her for this. NEVER!”
Cathleen shook with his yell in the end. “No one is going to point the finger at you Cahil. You are our best warrior and of trust of my father and that will not change. Please don’t hate Keira…she was lost…”
“There’s not an excuse for what she’s done.” He said getting up.
“What are you going to do?”
“Tell your father.”
“Not yet!” She ran to him and placed both her hands on his chest. “Let’s wait until tomorrow to see if she comes back. If she doesn’t then we’ll talk to him. Please Cahil…”
He looked in her dark eyes and surrendered. Cahil nodded and Cathleen even if with tears in her eyes smiled at him. Then she threw herself against his body holding tight against his chest. His whole body jerked and he wasn’t sure about what to do. The will to profit of that embrace won and he wrapped his arms around her. The two of them stayed like that for a few seconds. Cahil’s eyes closed, fully living that rare moment. He had never felt her that close, never felt the warmth of her body against his. They fit perfectly he thought but he shook the feelings away for the moment wasn’t right. Keira had left him and he should be mourning that event. Cathleen felt her whole body heat like never before too and scared and she strayed.
“If she did run away I know her intentions were the best.” Cathleen said.
“The best for whom?” Cahil smiled ironically.
“Keira is not a bad person and you know that. If she left like this it’s because she had her own reasons. Even if she didn’t want to marry you. Think Cahil…if she never loved you, would you be happy?”
“And now every woman is going to question her motives and every father will too.”
“Don’t be silly.” Cathleen told him. “You are wonderful and all women would be happy to take you.”
“I’ll be the clown of the village.”
“Don’t be so harsh on yourself.” She exclaimed.
“I want to be alone.” He said then leaving.
“Stay calm.” She asked holding his hand.
“I am calm.” He said but something in his eyes told her he was not. There was this glitter that she had never seen before.
“I am worried about her and worried about you too.”
“You don’t have to worry about me Cathleen.” He said. “I see the picture now clearly; I should have seen this coming. Keira didn’t want to marry me and I noticed that quite some time ago and the solution she found was to leave Avon. I am alright. I just need to be alone.”
“I wonder how she is doing.” Cathleen’s eyes flooded with tears.
“That’s her problem. Not mine.” With that Cahil left.