Keira woke up the next morning to find Colin still sleeping. For a while she sat on her bed and watched him. He was laid on his stomach, his back slightly uncovered but his breathing was steady and soft. He was sound asleep for what she could tell. She then got up and walked near him. Gently, she pulled the fur up his back so he wouldn’t get cold. He was still too fragile, she thought, to catch fever; it could be fatal in his case. Then and even if she wanted to move on, her gaze rested on his figure as if she had been hypnotized by his bright hair and then the amiable conversation they had the night before rang in her mind. Her lips opened a soft smile, she had enjoyed their talking indeed. It had been honest and clear and straight forward.
She continued to getting dressed. Quickly she changed to a white tunic despite the rain outside. It was raining heavily she could tell by the noise and the wind was blowing strong for the leaves of the trees near whistled. She braided her hair patiently while sitting on her bed and mindlessly her eyes were set on the man sleeping on the corner of her room but her thoughts were on Cahil that very moment. Cahil was a handsome man but she grew to be used to his beauty and it had done nothing for her than to see him as great friend or even a brother. The man in front of her eyes was a mystery to her. His beauty enchanted her in ways she didn’t know and she was becoming more and more curious about him but tried not to show him. He had moved her more in two days than Cahil and still she still saw him as the enemy.
Done, she left the chamber leaving Colin sleeping peacefully. The rain left the streets covered in mud, almost impossible to walk through but Keira ran with a fur covering her head and another rolled tight around her. The winter was definitely coming and it should be a very cold one as it was menacing.
“May I come in?” She asked out loud at the door of Cahil’s chamber.
“Yes!” She heard a very anxious voice inside.
Slowly, Keira appeared at the door. Cahil was seated on the bed with his head turned to the door waiting expectantly for her to appear. Her face rubberized again the moment she set eyes on him. The kiss was relived inside her head and she had the will to run away from there again.
“Keira…” He called seeing she was not approaching him. She then walked up to him and sat in front of him with her hands on her lap.
“I am sorry I left the way I left last night.” She apologized not able to look in his eyes. He too had dreadful blue eyes that she could not face.
“What have I done?” Cahil asked knowing it had to be something he had done.
“Nothing Cahil…” Keira shook her head. “Nothing…really…it was me…I…” She felt her legs trembling.
“Was it the kiss Keira?” He asked. She remained silent and his eyes opened wide at the realization. “It was wasn’t it?” She still sad nothing too embarrassed. “But I have kissed you before…”
She took the courage to look at him. “But not like last night…”
“We are to be married…there’s nothing wrong with the way I kissed you.”
“I got scared…” She got up. “…I didn’t know what to do…I…you know I never kissed anyone…I got a little lost and embarrassed I am sorry.”
Hearing her explanation made him smile. “It’s ok not to know…I know you’re pure…”
“Ugh…if only I had my mother to tell me what to do Cahil…you know I have no one to explain to me how to please you. That’s a mother’s job and mine is gone.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. I will teach you how to please me when the time comes. You don’t need to be scared.”
“Do you really want to marry me?” She asked out of the blue making him confused. Cahil’s expression changed and a curled eyebrow appeared above his right eye.
“What questions is that?” He asked surprised. “Of course I want to marry you. I’ve waited for you all these years.”
“Maybe because my father gave me to you…”
“I love you Keira!” He claimed. “I could have said no to your father, you know that but I love you. I am marrying for love and not because it’s a good contract.”
“I was only a baby when I was given to you and you were 10! That is what I mean…”
“I still could have said no to your father but you have grown up and I can’t think of anyone else to be my wife and mother of my children.” He said but somehow she sensed some uncertainty in his words. Something she couldn’t explain. Cahil had never been deceitful to her nor had he been rude. He has always been gentle and doting but his words hadn’t come out with the security due.
“Don’t tell my father we had this conversation Cahil, please.” She asked.
“You know very well that I won’t.”
“He would think that I am questioning his choice for me and that is not it.” She told him but Cahil stared at her silent.
“If you had free will…if you could choose…would you still marry me?” He asked her.
“I don’t have free will Cahil…”
“But if you could choose…” He insisted. Keira got up. That was something she didn’t want to answer.
“I have to go now. I haven’t eaten anything yet.” She said.
“You wouldn’t!” He whispered looking in her eyes.
“I never said that.” She said looking back.
“No…you went silent…” Cahil stated. “…which is the same thing.”
“This conversation went all wrong. This is not what I wanted.”
“You still haven’t answered…” Keira came back near him and sat on the bed.
“If I had free will things would be easier indeed. I cannot deny that but we women are confined to the choices of our fathers and we accept that. You don’t have to worry Cahil because I am sure if I had free will I would be in love with you for you’re smart and caring and a strong warrior. You are very handsome…”
“But you grew up knowing you would belong to me.” He said.
“Yes…” She lowered her eyes.
His hand flew to her face in a caress. “So you are confused about the feelings you have for me…”
“Yes…” She affirmed knowing she could be risking her integrity.
“I know all that.” She looked in his eyes that moment surprised. “I will treat you so right that you will love me.”
“Can I go now?” She asked.
“Aye!” He consented knowing that conversation was finished.
Nothing of what she said surprised him. Things were different for men, men married for love. They would come to the girl’s family when they were in love with her but she had no choice if her father decided the man was the right one for her. He always knew there was not love in her gestures. Tenderness, companionship, respect even but love probably not. One thing he believed was that with time she would learn to love him.
His head turned as he heard noise and he thought Keira was coming back but instead he saw Cathleen coming inside his chamber. She looked restless, like she hadn’t slept more than two hours during the night. Somehow he felt disquieted when looking in her dark eyes and he felt his throat going dry.
“How are you?” He asked her as she pulled an old bench near his bed.
“Trying to wake up and find out this is all a nightmare…”
Cahil knew Cathleen loved his brother or he thought she did for she had always been more dedicated than Keira ever have been.
“Don’t be harsh on yourself…you lost the man you were going to marry.” He said.
“And you lost your brother.” Cathleen added.
They stared at each other for a few seconds in complete silence. Once more he noticed how beautiful she had turned. It had been a couple of time now that he knew her beauty betrayed him. He had caught himself looking at her as a man looks at a woman. Cathleen’s beauty corresponded to his ideal. Keira was wonderful and to many people, prettier, but to him Cathleen was just astonishing. Her dark eyes and hair made him dizzy, not in a love way but in a manly way and that was something he could not control nor did he blamed himself for it.
“I have.” He agreed. “What are you doing here?”
“I came just to see how you are doing. Keira told me you were doing fine but I still haven’t had the time to come here to see you.” She explained.
“I am recovering…” He smiled. “The wound still hurts immensely but your sister’s medicines are amazing. I think it’s healing fast or that’s what she says.”
Cathleen smiled. “Soon we are going to be family.”
“Aye!” He said. Cathleen observed his tense expression.
“Is there something wrong?” She asked.
“No…” Cahil shook his head. “I am sorry things turned out so bad Cathleen.”
“I don’t know what will be of me now.”
“Oh…your father will find you a good man that will deserve you.” Cahil told her. Cathleen pulled her hair away from her face revealing its perfect lines. “You are beautiful Cathleen, only a fool would not have you as his wife.”
Cathleen’s eyes opened wide surprised with his words. She couldn’t remember Cahil telling her she was beautiful. “Thank you.” She said.
“You better go now. I need to rest.” He said.
That visit had disquieted him enough. He loved Keira but Cathleen awaked his man instincts and he didn’t want to do anything bad or disrespectful. He always wondered if Cathleen tried to seduce him if he was strong enough to resist it or would he let being carried away. Keira meant love to him but Cathleen and very secretly meant pure lust. Her lines made every inch of his body crave for her but that was a desire he would never fulfill. One thing was the women of the tavern, Cathleen was Keira’s sister, daughter of the king and once bride of his brother.
“Hope you feel better soon.” Cathleen said getting up. Cahil said nothing.
Cathleen joined the others in the saloon to have the first meal of the day. Apples and brew were being served. She spotted Keira and sat by her side. The two sisters exchanged a smile and Keira put an apple in front of Cathleen.
“I came from visiting Cahil.” Cathleen told her. Keira’s expression changed and Cathleen frowned. “What?” She asked.
“I just had a strange conversation with him.” Keira said.
“About what?” Cathleen whispered to make the conversation more private.
“Our wedding.” Keira said then went silent.
“He asked me if I could choose if I would marry him and I think in a way I said no. I mean…I didn’t say that but…” Keira shook her head. “It was a mess and I don’t know how he will interpret what I said.”
“Cahil is smart.” Cathleen said. “But if you want to know he didn’t seem upset or sad when I was talking to him. I think he is fine Keira. Don’t worry.”
“I am afraid my big mouth is going to get me in trouble…”
“But quite frankly Keira…I do not understand you.” Cathleen began. “Father got you the best man in the village. He is the best catch one could possibly have. Cahil is strong, honest, respectful and handsome! What more can you possibly want?”
“I…” Keira opened her lips to speak but refrained as her sister put a hand in front of her face as if stopping her.
“Any woman in this village would be glad to have him. I am quite sure that most of the single women dream about him. Have you ever noticed how beautiful he is Keira? He has these amazing blue eyes and he is muscled, tall…” Keira looked in silence at her sister. “…and he loves you…I really don’t know what more could you ask for.”
“I never knew you observed Cahil so well.” Keira told her.
“It’s impossible not to Keira. I loved Jacob and god is a witness of my love but it’s impossible not to notice Cahil when he passes by us.” Then Cathleen giggled. “And women say he is good in bed.”
“Oh!” Keira got up. “I do not care about that!”
Cathleen ended up laughing loud. “That is exactly what I mean sister. How can you not have sinful thoughts when you have that man at hand?”
“Cath!” Keira reprimanded her.
“Keira even I have had them.” Cath said.
“How can you?” Keira whispered sitting again.
“Because I am a woman and I am curious about it. Cahil is a handsome man with a certain fame. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to you Keira…that is not it but I am just opening your eyes. I don’t know what you are waiting for but I am afraid you have the best already and haven’t noticed it.”
“I want love Cath.” Keira said.
“You better open your mind Keira for your wedding must be near.”
“I have to go now.” Keira told her sneaking some apples inside a sac.
“Now that…” Cathleen said pointing. “…is going to get you in trouble.”
“Not if you don’t tell.” Keira said kissing her forehead and then left.
She made her way running for the rain was falling heavily. Keira felt her feet splashing on the mud and drops landing on her dress but she didn’t care. Colin jumped as she entered the chamber in such a rush.
“It’s only me.” She said.
“You scared me!” He blurted just to acknowledge how soaked wet she was.
Strands of her hair glued to her face and tiny drops of water hanging on her chin. Her lips violet and her tunic was glued on her body. Keira looked more beautiful than ever and yet she looked so broken.
“I brought you breakfast.” She said looking for the apples in the sac, then she extended them to him.
“Thanks.” He said taking two apples of her hands, then Keira turned his back at him to start working.
He watched her as she moved and chose herbs and macerated them. It all seemed so weird to him but he knew she used to put these mixtures she makes in the wound of his neck. Her face was so concentrated that she missed to notice how captivated he was. Colin observed her every trace to conclude something was still bothering her.
“Are you still mad?” He asked out of the blue. Keira continued mixing her herbs and didn’t look at him.
“I am not mad. Where did you get that idea from?”
“You were upset last night and you are still upset now. I can tell.” He insisted.
“I am not.” She simply said.
In silence, Keira waited for him to finish and then started cleaning his neck and putting the new mixture in it.
“What are these things you put in my wound?”
“So it can heal. I told you I was a nurse.” Keira answered.
“Is it witchcraft?” He asked.
“Of course not!” She said indignant with his suggestion. “It is not witchcraft! It’s medicines. I use herbs to heal. It has nothing to do with witchery.”
“It looks like it.” He insisted.
Keira pulled away looking offended. “If you keep suggesting that I let go.”
“Alright!” He rolled his eyes. “I didn’t mean to offend you! You take everything so serious. I am just trying to understand what this is. I’ve never seen such thing.”
“So you concluded I am a witch.” She looked in the blue of his eyes.
“What is upsetting you?”
“Don’t change the subject. You called me a witch!” She said offended.
“I did not!” He yelled a little. “I am just surprised with all this.”
“Does this not exist among your people?”
“No!” He told her.
“It is common among us. I learned from an old lady called Eva. She taught me everything I know and I use my knowledge to cure people. It is curing you, you should be thankful.”
“Your fiancée is the one thing bothering you isn’t it?”
“I will not talk about Cahil with you.” Keira said almost horrified.
“I am trying to be a friend!” He claimed.
“We are not friends. As far as I know you are the enemy.”
“But you are helping me.”
Keira stared at him with no words to say after that. It was true, she was curing him and still there she was claiming he was the enemy. Did she still have the right to say that? With her gaze locked on his she questioned it over and over again not to reach a conclusion. His eyes distracted her from any deep thought she would try to have.
“My sister just told me…” She stopped and looked away a little embarrassed. “…hum…Cahil is handsome and that she has sinful thoughts when she sees him…”
“And you are jealous?” He asked. Keira shyly shook her head.
“No…” She whispered after and unable to look in his face.
Colin looked at her amazed with her simplicity. That woman, better say that girl looked so defenseless, mistreated for the dirty tunic and wet hair and still the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen. He couldn’t explain what he felt that moment where she looked like she needed to be hugged. His heart leaped strangely.
“You are not jealous of him?” He asked then to continue the conversation.
“I know he is good looking. Cahil has a beautiful smile and beautiful eyes, that is not the point. I know every woman would like to have him but I…”
“…you don’t…” Colin attempted to finish her sentence.
“I am promised to him so I am going to marry him.”
“You can always runaway.” He suggested. Keira looked too serious at him making him regret his words immediately. “I was joking.” He added. She ended up laughing loud and the sound of her laughter made him shudder in a very good way.
“That was funny.” She said when her laughter began to subside. “But I could never do that. My father would chase me until he found me.”
“He probably would.” Colin agreed. “Can I have a bit of hot water to wash my face?”
“I’m going to grab a bit from the fire.”
“You might want to wash yours too.”
“Are you telling me that I am dirty?” She asked him raising her tone.
“No…No…” James raised his hands in surrender. “Truce! It’s just that there’s a bit of mud on your cheeks.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed taking her hands to her face to clean it. “I didn’t know!”
“It’s raining outside isn’t it?” He still wanted her to talk.
“Yes!” She said from the corner where the fire was. “I think winter’s coming sooner this year.”
“Soon it will be snowing.”
“Here.” She gave him the bowl with water.
“Get on your knees.” He told her. Keira stared at him and he pointed at the floor. He soaked the rag in the water and then started cleaning her face. “I told you, you had mud on your face.”
Keira looked at him from that close. His eyes were even more hypnotizing from that tiny distance and she felt her heart skipping a beat and her stomach looping. Her skin was perfect, he thought, even if with mud on it. The scent of her wet hair infiltrated in his nostrils. He looked in her eyes to find her looking in his. He could stare at that green glare for ages and not being tired of it. Her eyes pierced in his like digging into his soul.
“I think it’s good now.” Keira blurted pulling away. She needed to free herself from his spell.
“I need you to turn around Keira. I want to wash the rest of my body.” He said.
Keira did so, feeling him going further into the corner of the room. For once she felt so curious she wanted to look back but she refrained afraid of being caught. Her fists clenched as she fought her will.
“Can I turn around now?” She asked aloud.
“Not yet.” He said.
She felt his voice was muffled somehow and soon concluded he was turned at one the stoned walls. Slowly she began to look back just to confirm her suspicions. He was facing the wall and back turned at her but she could see his figure all too well. His skin was so white and his body was toned. The muscles of his legs caught her eyes as she almost refused to look up. Nevertheless she did look up and her eyes stopped on his buttocks. It was the first time she was seeing a man naked and also the first time she wanted to look. She felt her body being invaded by a sudden and unknown heat and that made her turn to the wall once again. After a while, which seemed ages to her, he called her.
“You can look now.” He said.
Keira didn’t say anything, she just burst outside and began running to the woods not bothering if it was still raining though less.
“Keira!” He called her but she didn’t answer. All she wanted was to get away from there.