Keira ran under drizzle until she reached her secret place and by secret it is meant no one at all knew that place. She had discovered it when wandering through the forest searching for herbs. The cavern was far enough from the village not to be discovered and she searched shelter in it whenever she wanted to be alone and not be found or disturbed. She had taken some furs during the winter and she grabbed one just then for she was cold due to her soaked tunic. She rolled the fur tight around her and sat on a stone looking at the tiny drops of water that fell from the sky steadily.
She was facing new emotions, feelings that she didn’t know at all. The blame from having peeked on Colin consumed her that moment and for the first time she felt she was betraying Cahil for admiring another man and betraying her father too for disregarding the man he had chosen for her. Nothing could be worse for a daughter to do, especially her that was the heir to the throne of Avon. Keira stayed there for as long as she could, until her breathing subsided to a normal pace. Until her heart had come to a normal beat and the lump in her throat disappeared. It had been a rough morning that day, first the conversation with Cahil and then the episode with Colin. Lunch hour was gone by as she noticed the sky almost dark. It was time to come back for she couldn’t cross the forest without any light. It wasn’t until she got up that she felt her stomach rumbling for she hadn’t eaten anything but breakfast that day.
On her way back to the village she knew she had to see Cahil and then, even worse, to see Colin in her own chamber. Many questions began to assault her mind while she walked. The first and the one she made time and time again during the day was why Colin caused her so many different reactions? Why was she helping him when he caused her sister so much suffering? What was with him that captivated her so much? She couldn’t answer any of these questions for her head was nothing but a huge mess that didn’t have a solution.
As she entered the village a gust of wind made her shiver with cold. She pulled the fur she brought from the cavern up until her nose and began to walk to the saloon to join all for dinner. She passed by her chamber without looking at it and even her pace accelerated. It seemed like she was afraid of her own space.
“Where have you been?” Cathleen ran to her when she saw her coming in.
“Our there.” Keira said vaguely not wanting to give away her hiding place.
“But you missed an extraordinary thing!”
“I did?” Keira asked a little confused. “What happened while I was away?”
“Cahil Keira…” Cathleen showed a huge smile. “He was up. He came outside and walked half of the village to talk to father.”
“But…” Keira frowned. “…he’s not supposed to get up just yet.”
“He did!” Cathleen’s eyes wide opened as she told the good news. “He’s healing…you cured him.”
“But do you know what he wanted to talk to with father?” Keira asked fearing Cahil would not comply with his word, though it was not like him to do so.
“I don’t know.” Cathleen shrugged. “The only thing I know is that father asked to gather the men after dinner. Something is going on and they are not telling us.”
“Where’s father now?” Keira looked around trying to see him.
“With Cahil in his chamber.” Cathleen said. Keira got up immediately.
“I’ll be right back Cath.” With that she took off running. If Egan had called the men then something serious was happening and she had to know what it was.
The voice of the two men became a whisper when they heard noise outside. Their heads were turned at the entrance as she stepped in.
“Father…” Keira approached him and kissed his forehead.
“Where have you been? We looked for you the whole day.” Egan told her.
“I was in the woods looking for new herbs.” She forced a smile trying to look natural. Cahil’s blue eyes were set on her. “And you…” She turned to him. “…you have been up and outside. You can’t.”
“I had something very important to say.” He said.
Keira looked at her father waiting for him to say something. Usually he’d share everything with her and her sister but Egan, for some reason, remained silent.
“What’s happening?” She asked then. Both Egan and Cahil said nothing though a glance of complicity was exchanged. Her head turned from one to another seeking for an answer but the two men were not intimidated by her glare.
“We were talking about your wedding. As Cahil is feeling stronger it shall take place next week.”
Her heart stopped beating for a few second hearing the news. She tried to look normal but the news was just too devastating for her not to break down a little in front of them. She felt both men looking at her waiting for her reaction. Even that morning she had talked about it to Cahil. Grabbing strength from inside, she forced a smile.
“That’s good news.” She said with shaky voice. Cahil’s head bent down. The dismay in her voice was undeniable. It made him sad in a way.
“It is isn’t it!” Egan cheered but there was just something in his look that made her sure that was not just it, though this news were enough to take her sleep away.
“But that is not just it, is it father?” She still asked.
“I shall leave now. Keira, don’t stay here long.” The king said, leaving the conversation with an empty ending.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes. I just need to talk to Cahil.”
Egan left and the couple stayed alone. Cahil stared at Keira mortified with her perfect features. Her nipples were playing peek-a-boo as her tunic was wet glued to her body. He couldn’t ignore that even if he wanted to.
“So…” She sat on the bed oblivious to her condition. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
“It’s nothing important.” He said.
“Nothing important…you just said it was important and that’s why you got out of the bed…”
Cahil smiled at her and grabbed both her hands in his. “Don’t worry really.”
“You never lied to me.” Keira looked in his eyes but Cahil was just too distracted.
“Your father came to deliver the news of our wedding. Even I was taken by surprise.”
“You are still not telling me everything. Cahil…I’ve known you since forever, I know when you are lying and you are lying to me right now.” She insisted.
“You aren’t even a little bit happy with the wedding news are you?” He asked instead. “I saw how the news hit you in a bad way.”
“Oh Cahil…” She shook her head. “…no…don’t take it like that…it’s just that…I am terrified with it. I respect you and I like you…”
“Close your eyes.” He whispered.
First she didn’t, she just stared at him but as he insisted she closed them. Keira knew he was going to kiss her and soon she felt his nose touching hers. Cahil’s lips pressed against hers in a gently way and she responded by kissing him back. Unlike the previous night, he didn’t try to kiss her further and he remained just with the touch of lips on lips. His arms embraced her and she felt his body gluing on hers but she did nothing, she remained still and only her lips obeyed to his. Soon Cahil left her lips and began spreading kisses along her face, then down her neck until he reached the curve of her shoulder. He was being driven by intense desire but felt frustrated for being there alone. Her breathing was heavy but from panic and not from lust. He pulled away.
“Don’t just stand there.” He said looking in her eyes. Keira felt so dizzy that moment and wanted to cry. In fact her eyes filled with tears.
“I don’t know what to do.” She said choking. “And it’s not right…”
Cahil knew it was not just it, most of her panic was that she didn’t want to be touched by him and that was as clear as water.
“We are getting married next week…” He insisted but Keira got up leaving the bed and he shook his head knowing he couldn’t just act like that with her. “I’m sorry…” He breathed.
She stayed there looking at him for a while and then came back near him. “I am so sorry I am disappointing you. I wish I could have the same desire you have Cahil but…” He covered her mouth with his hand. He didn’t want to hear the rest. He knew she was going to say she didn’t and that hurt him so it was better to leave it unsaid.
“I am a man Keira. I have my needs and I simply don’t want to look for the women in the tavern anymore but I won’t force you to anything. I will be patient and I will wait until you let me go until the end.”
“Now…will you tell me what is going on?” She asked again.
“We didn’t say anything because we didn’t want to scare the people. I remembered seeing Jacob’s murderer coming here after he killed him.” Cahil said.
“What? What do you mean?” Keira’s eyes opened wide.
“No…don’t be afraid.” But Keira was not afraid of it, she was afraid Colin was about to be discovered.
“After killing my brother, that man walked in direction of the village. I was fighting but I remember that perfectly well. I know he was wounded, it can be that he is dead but it can be that he is hiding here somewhere and we must find him to be sure.”
Keira got up suddenly. “I…I have to go.” She said.
“Keira wait…you don’t have to be afraid.” Cahil said.
“I am not.” She tried to disguise.
“Your father will put a guard on your chamber tonight and your sister’s too.” Cahil said.
Keira’s head started spinning. No…a guard would make everything impossible for her. “I have to go now Cahil. I don’t want father to be mad at me for staying long.”
“Aye!” Cahil nodded.
She decided to go for supper first; just not to give away something was wrong. During it she cooked a plan to neutralize the guard that would be near her door. One thing she was sure, Colin had to leave. Leaving in a hurry with some piece of dry fish hidden, Keira encountered the guard already at the door of her bedroom. Politely, but still a bit nervous she gave the man a nod as greeting him and a soft smile and right after she disappeared inside the chamber.
“Shush…” She whispered at Colin.
“There’s a guard at the fucking door!” He whispered back a little disturbed.
“I know…They are looking for you and we need to leave. I mean…you need to leave but I have just the place for you. I just need to get rid of him.”
“I can kill him.” Colin suggested. Keira almost laughed.
“That’s a bit stupid I shall say.” She said as if owning the truth.
“Oh really?” He asked back facing her.
“Yes really!” She rolled her eyes. “If the man appears dead at my door, they will know for sure something wrong was happening here. I already have an idea so keep quiet and still.”
Colin remained silent while watching her going through her herbs. Keira found the pot of valerian and put it on a cup, letting it fever with water making some sort of tea.
“If I put a high dose of this, he will fall asleep.” She explained.
Colin watched her amazed and at the same time not confident. He didn’t want to call her a witch but the things she did were so far from what he knew. Meanwhile, Keira began to gather a few things that he concluded were for him to have on that place she was taking him. Then she handed him the dry fish.
“This is disgusting!” He made a face.
“It’s food. Be thankful for it.” She shot.
“This doesn’t look anything like it or tastes anything like it. It tastes like…” He paused a little thinking about the right term. “…death!”
Keira frowned. “And how would you know what death tastes like…you’re such a fool.” She shook her head in the end.
Then she poured the tea she had made into another cup and signaled him not to make a noise. Keira disappeared outside and he heard her talk to the man. From what he could hear, she was offering him a hot drink on a rather cold night and it seemed like the man trusted her for her accepted it with no second thoughts. After five minutes she came back with the empty cup in her hand.
“Now let’s give him about ten minutes and then we can go.”
“What if he wakes up?” Colin asked.
“He won’t. I gave him a very high dose.” She explained and then she sat on her bed just waiting. That’s when he noticed she looked even worse than in the morning or the night before.
“Have you been visiting your fiancée again?” He asked.
“How do you know?” She asked him innocently.
“Because these last couple of days every time you went to visit him you came back with a sad look on your face and today it is the same.”
Keira stared at him but preferred not to say anything. The rest of the time they spent it in silence and then, without explaining anything to him, she got up and went outside just to come back a few seconds later.
“I think we can go now.” She said grabbing the things and then waiting for him to support his weight on her.
“I don’t think I can walk very far.” He told her feeling a little dizzy for giving just a few steps and not being out of the chamber yet.
“It’s not that far but I promise you it is safe.”
“Was I right?” He asked.
“Keep quiet!” She hissed. “Someone might hear us.”
“Was I right or not?”
“Shut your mouth!” She hissed again making him smile.
“I was right.” He said.
“Gosh!” She groaned really low. “Do I have to gag you?”
“You wouldn’t!” He teased.
“Try me.” She menaced. “One more word and I will gag you.”
Colin turned silent, not because he was afraid of her but because something was now really bothering her and it seemed not even her had sank it yet. Keira looked lost and still so very owner of her will and mind and he liked that in her so much. They walked through the dark forest until they reached a cavern and she settled him there.
“No one will come here. I am the only one who knows this place.” She said after settling him as cozy as she could make him be in that rustic place. “I might not come here twice a day but I will bring you enough food. Please don’t venture outside until I say you can do so and even then you have to be careful not to be seen by someone of the village. There’s the river near. Usually they don’t come so deep into the forest because of superstition but one never knows.”
Colin curled an eyebrow curious. “Is the forest the evil?”
“At night. There’s too many trees and that’s why it is dark but you know how people are afraid of the unknown. There are many different noises and they say it might be demons.”
“That’s from animals.” Colin laughed.
“Don’t make fun of my people. It’s their belief.” She reprimanded him.
“But you come this far…”
“Because I am always looking for herbs and usually the great ones are hidden. I used to be like them but one day I ventured and ended the myth for me.”
“You are not a nurse are you?” He asked. “A simple nurse would not have a guard at her door.”
“I must go.” Keira said avoiding the subject.
“Why don’t you trust me a little?” He made her stop. “If I have to trust you my life why don’t you trust me with simple details of your life, like who you really are.”
“Not today…I am so tired.” She confessed. Again that sad look clouded the green glare that captivated him.
“Please sit Keira…let’s talk like we always do before we go to sleep.”
First she was reluctant but she smiled and sat back on the stone she was before. Could she be making a friend of an enemy?
“My father decided I should get married next week.” She dropped the news and somehow it stroked him stronger than he thought it would.
“Next week?” He whispered like he couldn’t speak any louder than that. Keira nodded.
They both fell silent. He asked himself why was he bothered by it and she wondered why she cared to tell him her life. Why she looked at him the way she should look at Cahil. Why he made her heart race when he looked deep into her eyes and even being annoying she thought he was funny and always found a way to make her laugh. Even the looks, never a man seemed so handsome to her eyes. His blond hair still fascinated her and it was not new anymore. The tone of his voice soothed her and his laughter was clumsy but she liked it. His manners were outrageous and still she liked him.
“What are you thinking?” He asked her suddenly.
“A way out.” Keira answered.
“Is there a way out Keira?” He asked back and she shook her head.
“I am Princess Keira of Avon. The king is my father and I am the heir to the throne. I could never say no to whom he has chosen to be my husband. Cahil is the bravest warrior in the village and of my father’s trust. I have no way out…”
“Maybe you should accept your fate then.”
“My fate…” She whispered as if thinking out loud rather than talking to him. Colin gave her the time to think. “We should be owners of our own fate.”
“You can always runaway.” He suggested.
“You’ve said that before but my father would chase me. He would never let me escape and where would I run to? Here? Not a good plan is it…” She ended up laughing in the end.
“No…but running away far would probably be a good plan.”
Keira stared in his eye. He was serious.
“What are you talking about?”
“In a week I will be feeling better and if I am not we can hide here for a couple of days. We can go North. I can help you escape. You helped me…I will help you.”
“But your people are in the South.” She argued.
“If it’s the case I will help you.”
“Are you serious?” She asked to be sure and Colin nodded.
“I am a man of word. Now, I will not lie to you…you better think carefully about it. Think if it’s really worth it. You will not be a princess anymore protected by the father. It’s a wild and rough world out there. Winter is coming. It’s not easy.”
Keira shook her head. “I will never do that. My father would never forgive me and that would be so disrespectful to Cahil.”
“Indeed.” Colin agreed. They looked in each other eyes and then Keira got up.
“I must go back now.”
“You’re not afraid?”
“No….I’ll run until I reach the village.”
When Keira reached her chamber she found the guard still sleeping but jumped scared when she saw a shadow inside.
“You scared me!” Keira said looking at Cathleen.
“Where is he?” Cathleen asked.
“Hidden.” Keira simply said. This time she wouldn’t say, not even her sister, where he was for she didn’t want to tell about the cavern. It would remain her secret place.
“Why is the guard sleeping?”
“I gave him a valerian tea. It’s not dangerous.”
“Father told me about the good news.” Cathleen smiled.
“What good news?”
“Your wedding!” Cathleen clapped. “It’s next week!”
“Oh!” Keira blurted and Cathleen curled an eyebrow.
“You’re not happy?”
“I am…I am…I am just tired and I need to sleep Cath.”
“Oh Keira. You should be jumping around in joy. It’s a blessing to be married and especially to Cahil.”
“You say that because you were in love with Jacob, so everything seems really easy to you. I am not in love with Cahil and this makes things a lot different.” Keira answered irritated. For a few seconds Cathleen looked at her a bit startled but then she spoke.
“Well…there’s nothing you can do about it so you better get used to it.”
“Leave me alone Cath. I really need to sleep.”
“You never said you were not in love with Cahil.” Cathleen continued. “You always said you didn’t know what you felt. What is different now?”
“I don’t know…I just know that I am not in love with him. I like him like a brother and that’s all. I don’t have any sort of woman and man desire. I can see he’s an attractive man with a wonderful smile and beautiful character. He’s amazing, really…I can see all that but I don’t love him.”
“You’re so stupid Keira.” Cathleen blurted.
“For not loving him?” Keira asked.
“For not seeing how lucky you are.” With that Cathleen turned her back to leave. “Sleep well sister.”
“Goodnight.” Keira said.