Colin woke up just as the day began to peak. There was no sun and the sky was still dark. It would rain again but hopefully not enough to delay his plans. He took a look at Keira who was still passed out on the same corner he had left her the past night. He rested his hands on his waist and just stayed there looking at her. He could do it, she was asleep so she wasn’t seeing it. Her beauty overwhelmed him and though he used to tease her, something in him, deep inside him was growing into something he had never felt before.
He had questioned himself many times why he spent so much time thinking of her. Why he’d see her when he closed his eyes at night or how his heart always skipped a beat when the time to see her approached. He felt nervous around her most of the times. At first he thought it was because he had discovered she was a princess but that thought was shaken away quite fast. He had questioned why he was so eager to help her escape. First he thought it was because she had saved his life and he needed to do the favor back but gratitude doesn’t make one’s heart beat faster. He made himself these same questions while staring at her in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t find a plausible answer. He didn’t know what it was, he just knew that it felt right and that he liked to have her near him.
After all the rush inside his head first thing in the morning was gone and having waking up with what he considered one of the best sights ever, Colin knew he had to provide them food. He simply shook his hair with his fingers and then passed them along it, then he rubbed his hands on his eyes vigorously and finally left. He searched for a few branches and then began to arrange them with a knife. The tips were sharpen enough to perforate the skin of an animal. He couldn’t live of berries and neither could she. His lips opened a smile at her innocence and his head shook lightly. Half an hour later, he had three ready and considered his work done.
Colin left further away from the cabin to hunt and managed to kill two rabbits that ventured out on that humid morning. Maybe the fresh herbs were better in the morning but that didn’t go very well for them. Satisfied, he began his way back and when close, he sighted Keira already up looking around. He noticed she was cleaned and had changed her tunic. Her hair was also perfectly combed in a long braid.
“The clothes dried?” He asked.
“Yes.” She affirmed giving him a smile. The fight from the previous night seemed forgotten and Colin preferred it that way.
“You’ve been hunting?” Keira blurted surprised but her eyes shone at the sight of fresh meet. Colin threw the rabbits on the ground and began to gather some wood.
“We couldn’t live on berries could we?” Keira smiled looking at him. It was obvious he was picking on her but she kind of liked it.
“How did you kill them?”
“I made a few sharp branches. I am trained to survive under very hostile environment.”
“Do you want me to skin them?”
Colin’s eyes opened wide. “Can you? I mean do you know how to do it?”
Keira giggled. “My father also hunts. I sometimes help to arrange and salt the meat for winter. I know a few things, it’s not like I haven’t done anything during my yet short life.”
He liked to see her in such good mood. “Then go ahead. I am trying to make this fire and it’s not being easy. The wood is humid still.”
Keira put a rabbit on the ground and with the tip of a knife she skillfully cut the skin on the rabbit’s belly. Colin watched her doing so and liked how she grabbed the meat with no effort. Actually Keira knew exactly what she was doing.
“There’s a lake down there.” She pointed. “I am going to take it with me to wash it.”
“Take both. It’s easier.” He suggested.
Keira nodded and then began to arrange the other. Meanwhile, Colin managed to lit the fire and he gathered some stones to put on it. She knew the stones would heat enough to cook the rabbit and at least they’d have a decent meal that day. When she came back he put the rabbits on the stone straight away. The noise of the meat grilling mixed with the forest ones and a nice smell of roasted meat invaded their noses. Keira’s stomach rumbled right there and she took a hand to it.
“I am starving so much.” She said.
“I am sorry sometimes I am rude.” He said suddenly.
“I guess it’s a clash of cultures. Maybe it really has to do with the fact that we come from enemies. I am not saying we are, I mean our people are.”
“I’m glad you are rephrasing all that.” Colin told her pleased.
“I truly cannot say we are enemies. We are not. I saved your life and now you are saving mine. I guess friends would be a better term. I am sorry I said that. I was very nervous…”
“Now you’re not?” Colin asked without letting her finish.
“I feel calm now. I know I did the best thing. For me and for Cahil too, though right now I am not sure if he sees it.”
“I am quite sure he doesn’t.” Colin said. Keira looked in his eyes and they stayed in silence for a few seconds. “I mean…” Colin continued. “…if he really loves you and wants to marry you he doesn’t understand why you’ve done it.”
“Something happened between me and Cahil the night I ran away.”
Colin felt his stomach forming a knot. Something happened? “What?” He asked not containing his curiosity.”
“I tried…” She began but then she shut up for she didn’t want to tell him she had tried to make love to him. “…we had another conversation.” She said instead. “…we had some sort of a fight and I asked him if there was another woman he desired more than he desired me and I swear I saw Cahil hesitate. Usually he is very secure but there he was a little taken aback. I felt it.”
“Hum…” Colin mumbled with his eyes on the rabbits as he turned them. “It bothers you?”
“No…” She shook her head looking at the rabbits as well. “Not at all. I just want him to be happy but it made me think if there is a woman he wants more maybe he is just stuck with me because he respects my father so much and didn’t have the courage to turn down his offer.”
“It’s offensive to turn down the king’s offer.”
“Exactly!” Keira said enthusiastically. “So I knew I had to go away to free him. I wish him no wrong Colin. Really…I like Cahil as much as I like my sister. He’s not my brother in blood but he was raised with my family and I see him as an older brother. I hope one day he can forgive me…”
“Right now he must hate you and you must understand his reasons. He stayed in the village where everyone will know he was abandoned by his bride. People are going to question his integrity.”
Keira shook her head denying Colin’s statement. “In the village they all know he is a great man. Oh Colin…” Keira laughed a little. “…all women would like to have Cahil. It must be hard yes, but if someone is coming out ugly out of this story that one is me for I left and denied such a great man.”
“The rabbit is ready.” Colin announced putting a piece on a leaf.
“It looks great.” She said.
Their hands slightly touched when he handed her the food. Keira smiled and to him she looked even more beautiful that morning. He didn’t know if it was because she was in such a great mood, or because she looked so rested and peaceful but Keira looked perfect. She offered him a smile and he smiled back, then he took his hand away though he felt like leaving it there until she was tired.
“Then we have to go.” He said.
“My legs are still sore.”
“But we have to continue. Your father will send men after you for sure.”
“I am certain he will but I don’t think he will know which way I took.” Keira said biting a leg of the rabbit.
“You could have taken many paths…” Colin said thoughtful and stopped talking. Keira gazed at him for a few seconds waiting for him to say more but he didn’t and he still thought.
“What is it?” She asked then.
“He will think you’ve gone South. I don’t think your father will think you came North.”
“But the South is crowded with the en…Saxons and the North is mostly inhabited by friendly people.”
“Well…there’s that too. It’s a risk to take.”
“Still it won’t be that easy to find me.”
Meanwhile in Avon Egan was gathering all men to search for his daughter. Cathleen watched all that feeling nervous. There was still a knot in her stomach and a lump in her throat. She had spent most of her night awaked thinking about her sister and wondering if she was alright. From the bench where she was she saw Cahil approaching and she stood immediately. Her goal was to intercept him before he reached the king.
“Cahil wait…” She called him and mindless grabbed his arm. He looked back at her and she noticed big black shadows under his eyes. Cahil looked so restless she felt sorry for him.
“I need to talk to your father Cathleen.” He said calmly.
“You’re going to tell him she ran away aren’t you?”
Cahil nodded. “He needs to know the truth.”
“I don’t think my father is ready to face the truth Cahil.” She whispered near his ear.
“Your father is the king.” He said firmly. “He is more than ready. He was born a leader.”
“But this is not about Avon this is about one of his daughters.” Cathleen argued. “The heart is not the same. As much as he loves Avon, Keira is his own blood…”
Cahil raised a hand. “He needs to know the truth.”
Cahil left and Cathleen followed him. The king was giving orders to which directions he wanted his men to go. With a nod he greeted Cahil and continued giving instructions but Cahil was determined to comply with what led him there.
“My king…” He called out loud. “I must have a word with you.”
“Now?” Egan asked. “I am instructing the men to look for Keira.”
“It is about her my king.” Cahil said.
Cathleen felt her heart beat faster. Egan was about to have the biggest disappointment of his life and that hurt her.
“Aye!” The king nodded. Cathleen closed her eyes and bent her head down but stayed there as Egan approached.
“You better dismiss the men for now. “ Cahil said. With a gesture Egan told them to go.
“I stay!” Cathleen said as her father looked at him. “If it’s about Keira I have the right to stay.” She felt her eyes burning with tears.
“My king…” Cahil began. “Keira was not taken by someone, she ran away.”
“What?” Egan asked curling an eyebrow.
“It was Cathleen who called for my attention for it yesterday when we came back. She found Keira’s chamber cleaned of her clothes and some of her other possessions. There is no sign of struggle. A kidnapper wouldn’t take her things. She went on her own free will.”
Egan looked at Cathleen waiting for her explanations but his youngest simply nodded. “But why would she do such thing?”
“Because she doesn’t want to marry me.” Cahil said firmly.
“Did she tell you so?” Egan asked more and more surprised.
“She did not tell me directly. Keira always respected your decision and me as a matter of fact but I could perceive that from some conversations I had with her. If you don’t mind I won’t tell the contents of it for respect and loyalty.”
“I…” Egan stuttered. “I…I don’t know what to say…Cahil…” Egan walked around feeling completely lost. “I…” He shook his head.
“You don’t have to say anything. It was her decision…”
“Her decision?” Egan asked looking at him. “Her decision?” He yelled loud. “Her decision brought shame to us! She denied the man I have chosen for her abandoning that man days before the wedding. Keira brought shame upon me!”
“Father!” Cathleen whimpered and held onto him.
“I think It’s better to leave her free my king. If Keira ran away it’s because she doesn’t want to be with me.”
“Still I have to bring her home. I have to punish her for what she did. She has to face the shame of abandoning her father’s command.”
“Don’t say that father…” Cathleen cried.
“My men are still going after her. I want her here where she belongs.”
“I do not wish any punishment on her.” Cahil said. Cathleen’s head turned to look at him and so did Egan’s. “I do not wish to marry her either.”
Egan nodded. “You have all the right to say so.” Cahil saw the king covered in shame for the first time and sympathetically he bowed a little to give the king some strength.
“But I do not wish any punishment on her and I want that to be clear.”
“She brought shame upon this house, upon my reign…”
“Keira is still sweet Keira.” Cathleen defended. “She is still your daughter. She might have ran away but she had no other choice. Maybe she has her reasons and we should all listen to them. I am sure she has an explanation.”
Egan groaned and walked away. Cathleen put a hand on Cahil’s arm and looked up in his eyes.
“Please put some sense in his head.”
“You’re asking that of me nonetheless…”
“Because I know how great your heart is. Cahil…you like my sister…you and I both know how she felt.”
“Her gesture cannot be forgiven.” He affirmed. Cathleen curled an eyebrow.
“Are you sure?” She asked sweetly. “Oh Cahil…I know this is not right, that she went against the rules of our institution but we still live in a world where love is worshipped. Would you really want to wake up next to someone that didn’t love you back, in the way you wanted anyway?”
“I…” Cathleen raised a hand to shut him up.
“You and I know she wasn’t in love with you. I know marriages are arrange but somehow love always grows between two people and if by now she wasn’t in love with you then she would never be. If I know Keira the way I think I do I know she is also thinking of you. She might have not loved you as a man but she surely does as a brother, never doubt that.”
“But the village is going to talk and life won’t be easy for me and it’s a shame as your father say.”
“The village will forget.”
“I don’t wish anything bad upon your sister.” Cahil told her. “But I cannot deny my broken heart.”
The last words stung on Cathleen stronger than she thought. “Someone will fix that broken heart.” Her black eyes looked deeply in his blue ones.
“I am going to help your father.” He said not taking her deep glare. His heart was racing fast and he was afraid it’d show.
“Aye!” She whispered and looked down at her feet.
As Cahil went away her glare rose from the ground to capture his figure. Her heart accelerated once more and her legs trembled a bit. Frightened by the emotions she turned around fast and walked away. Cahil approached the king one more time.
“If I may Sire I wouldn’t like to participate.” Cahil said kindly. Egan nodded understanding his point.
“Did she ever speak to you about a place where she would like to live?” Egan asked him.
“I never even suspected she wanted to live elsewhere!”
“I am truly sorry Cahil.” Egan said again.
“Don’t be…” He sighed and ran a hand over his hair. “I just hope she is fine.”
“I will find her. I promise.” With that said Egan beat the horse and went away accompanied by most men of the village.
Cahil watched them serene. He had never asked for that to happen and he was sure he was not to blame. If all he had always been very respectful with Keira, he had always treated her the right way so nothing of what was happening was is fault. He just hoped that the village would see things like he did. Cahil turned around to leave and found Cathleen right behind him. He had been so distracted that he didn’t notice her.
“I thought you left.” He told her.
“And I did but then I think you might want a little company.” She smiled.
“I think I need it too.” He agreed pleased to have her attention.
By the end of the day Keira was exhausted again. That day they didn’t find anywhere to sleep so they settled under a tree. They both had furs wrapped around them to cope with the cold and Colin had managed to light a fire. Keira looked at the flames as if hypnotized and he looked at her wondering where her mind was at. Suddenly Keira realized she was being watched and offered him her most tired smile.
“I told you this wasn’t going to be easy.” He said.
“I never expected it to be easy but I never expected it to be this hard as well. I won’t give up. It doesn’t matter how many adversities I have to go through I won’t come back.”
“Things can get worse Keira.” He warned. “Winter is coming so the cold will be stronger. Starving is a possibility. Sleeping under the rain, we’re being very lucky tonight. Thieves…”
“Let’s not suffer with the anticipation. One day at a time. Baby steps…”
Colin nodded. “That’s the way to look at it. I am just opening your eyes to all the danger out there.”
“I miss my sister and my father too. I have never been apart from Cathleen for two days in a row, that part is very hard.”
“You have a good relationship with her don’t you?” Colin handed a piece of the second rabbit he had caught that morning,
“A very good one. It costs me that I left her on a time where she needed me so much. She lost her fiancée in battle…”
“The one you say I killed…”
Keira nodded. “Yes. Jacob…”
Colin watched how she ate and how cute she looked with a piece of meat sticking on her chin. He controlled the will not to take his hand to it and clean her.
“Was that the real reason why you decided to leave, I mean what you told me in the morning?”
“That question again?”
“He didn‘t do anything to you?”
“No…no…“ She said shaking her head. “I do want him to be happy…” She said and then shut up. Colin waited. “…I asked him if there was a woman he desired more than me and for the first time ever I saw him unsure. Cahil didn’t answer straight away and I could see in his eyes I had caught him off guard. That look in his eyes let me know there is another woman he wants and if he wants he more than he wants me maybe he doesn’t love me and is just deluded. Leaving him alone will open his eyes for that oppressed feeling.”
“How do you know it is oppressed? He might have been with her.” Colin suggested.
“Nah…that’s not Cahil’s. He hasn’t been with that woman. He is oppressing that feeling.”
“That’s very noble of you.”
“He won’t see it that way.”
“I will never be able to come back to my people.” He saw her eyes fill with tears and a little crack in his heart formed. “Sometimes I think I am a coward. I should have stood for my beliefs but then what choice did I have?” She sobbed a little and Colin approached her.
“It’s hard to be a woman in this society.” He said.
“You are a man so you really don’t know.”
As she sobbed a little, he risked to caress her and ran a hand over her hair. Keira didn’t shake him away as he expected. She was vulnerable.
“You’re right I don’t know but I know that I don’t want you t cry.”
Hearing his words only made her cry more and he pulled her to him. Her face buried against his chest and he wrapped his arms around her figure. He felt his heart race and his body became rigid with the tension and at the same time it felt so right to have her there under his arms. Keira didn’t pull away. His scent invaded her nose calming her down and she stayed until she fell asleep.