Racing the Wind, Part 6

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Photo via Visual Hunt

The skies were gray, but Angharad didn’t care. It had taken three long months but the day had finally come. Her mother fastened the lace covered gown and ran a brush through her daughter’s golden curls.

“You look beautiful, Angharad,” Lady Moirea said. “I think this is the first time I have seen you in anything so fine.”

“Yes, and unless my husband insists I go to court I won’t wear anything like this again,” Angharad said. “This is too easily damaged.”

“You are too rough and wild,” Lady Moirea said. “Your father did you no favors by letting you run free.”

“Mother, you’ve been saying that for years. Nothing will change the past, and I now have a husband who loves me for my spirit and will let me be who I am,” Angharad said. She turned and smiled at her mother. “You’re a wonderful chatelaine and absolutely brilliant when it comes to solving problems for the tenant farmers. I can only hope that, when the time comes, Eridan and I will be able to do half as good as you and father.”

Lady Moirea laughed and hugged her daughter, keeping an eye on the dress. “You two will rule in your own way, and do a good job. You work well together and know how to compromise, though sometimes you don’t right now.”

Angharad smiled ruefully. She and Eridan had their fair share of arguments over the past few months, mostly because both were equally as stubborn and when one got an idea in their head they didn’t want to give it up.

There was a knock on the door. Lord Idwal poked his head in. “Moirea, I need Angharad. She has one last custom she must fulfill before the ceremony. Eridan is already outside.”

“What does she have to do?” Moirea asked, puzzled.

“The Heir’s Climb,” Angharad said.

“Not the pyre,” Moirea said, her face aghast. “She’ll destroy her dress and injure herself. She could die.”

“If I’m careful I won’t,” Angharad said. “I can do this, Mother.” Lady Moirea still looked doubtful but followed when Idwal led his daughter out of the room.

Eridan stood not far from the huge pile of wood. “Your father told me about the custom. Are you sure you can do this?” he asked.

“It’s not as hard as it looks,” Angharad said. “I’ve scaled this thing dozens of times, even though I wasn’t supposed to. I knew my day would come and I wanted to be prepared.”

“Yes, but you weren’t constricted by a gown with a long, flowing skirt,” Eridan said. He gripped Angharad’s shoulders. “Please don’t make me watch another person I care about burn to death.” This was whispered in her ear.

“I won’t,” Angharad promised.

Angharad joined her father at the edge of the towering pile of wood. “Are you ready for this?” Lord Idwal asked in a low voice. Angharad just shrugged. Lord Idwal cleared his throat. “Angharad, daughter of Idwal, granddaughter of Oran, it is time to take your place as the inheritor of these lands.” He handed her a lit torch. “Climb as high as you can and light the fire.”

Angharad stared at the oil soaked wood. She looked down at her skirt and train. She reached down and looped the delicate lace over the arm that wasn’t on the side with the torch and began to climb.

Eridan had been right. It was much harder with the dress than her usual outfit. She didn’t get very far up before she realized if she went any higher she would tear something. She paused and then dropped her skirt. She let everything flow around her. “I am Angharad, daughter of Idwal, granddaughter of Oran. I claim Heir’s Rights as proclaimed by the ancient Laws of Blood.” She took a deep breath and hurled the torch as high as she could. It struck the wood and lit it immediately.

Angharad grabbed her skirt again and started climbing down. She moved as fast as she could, but between her gown and her more fragile shoes she was slowed more than she’d expected. She felt the heat as it got closer. She looked up and saw the flames were crawling closer to her outstretched hand.

She increased her speed, trying not to tangle herself in her skirt. Though she hadn’t climbed as high as she’d planned, the branches snagged at the fabric and she had to work it loose. It was slowing her descent just enough that the fire was catching up to her. The roar was drowning out everything below her.

She paused to untangle her skirt for the hundredth time when her upper hand erupted in pain. She screamed and yanked it down, forgetting her skirt in an attempt to brace herself. Her hand was badly burned. It wouldn’t hold her weight anymore.

She looked up. The flames were coming for her like an eager monster seeking to devour her. She glanced down, saw Eridan’s stricken face, the horror on her mother’s, the glee on her brother’s, the pain on her father’s. She gauged the distance to the ground. Taking a deep breath she let go of the wood and jumped.

She struck the ground and rolled. Eridan was at her side in a moment. “Angharad, Angharad, answer me,” he said.

Angharad dragged herself to her feet. “I’m alive,” she said, holding her hand against her chest. She took a moment to assess the rest of the damage to her body. “I’ve been burned badly, and I’ll be a lovely shade of purple in several places, but that’s it,” she said, leaning against Eridan as he held her.

“Let me see the hand,” the house mage said. Angharad held it out while Eridan only shifted his position enough to let her do it. The mage held his hands over it and muttered some strange words under his breath. The pain faded and as she watched the angry red color vanished. The blisters sank back into her skin, though they left behind terrible scarring. When the mage pulled his hands back, the only sign of the burn was the severe scars. “I can’t get rid of the scars. You’re stuck with them for life. But now the wedding can continue as planned.”

“After that fall? Angharad needs to rest. We have to postpone the ceremony until tomorrow,” Lady Moirea protested.

“If we do that, she’ll have to do this again,” Lord Idwal said. “She might not survive.”

“I’m fine, Mother,” Angharad said. “I want to go through with this.”

“All right,” Lady Moirea said.

Eridan wrapped one arm around her waist and held out his other so she could brace herself on it. “You’re hurt worse than you’re saying,” he whispered.

“I am, but as father says, I’d have to do this tomorrow and I don’t want to risk my life two days in a row,” Angharad said.

“Then let’s get this over with so I can get you to the healers,” Eridan said.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Angharad said. She rested most of her weight on her almost-husband and smiled. The gods had finally answered her prayers, though they’d tried to claim her life as their payment. Life with her beloved would be interesting, but it would definitely be worth every moment.

 

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Racing the Wind, Part 4

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Photo credit: 10b travelling via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The next day Angharad led Eridan to a large field behind the keep. Several small cylinders were set up in a row with four of them wrapped in red cloth. “What is this?” Eridan asked.

“Archery,” Angharad said. “The goal is to hit the red targets.”

Eridan looked grim. “I have never been an archer,” he said. “This may end our courtship.”

Angharad fought to hide her disappointment. “You’ll never know until you try. The gods may favor you.” She lowered her voice. “As I do.”

Eridan raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The two of them took their places at the firing line. “Eridan, as the suitor, you have the right to choose. Do you wish to go first? Or would you prefer to see Angharad go before you?” Lord Idwal asked.

Eridan was silent for a moment. “I’d like to see Angharad shoot. I want to know what I’m up against.”

“Very well,” Lord Idwal said. “Angharad, take your place.”

Angharad stepped into place in front of the targets, which had been placed 180 yards ahead. It was just short of the farthest limit any longbow could reach. She took a few deep breaths and then fired the first of three arrows. The first one went wide, striking one of the dust colored cylinders. Her next two struck the red covered ones.

“That’s two out of four,” Angharad said, a slight catch in her voice as she stepped back. “You’ll have to hit all three to beat me.”

“Eridan, take your place,” Lord Idwal said.

Eridan took the spot that Angharad had just vacated. One of his servants handed him an ebony bow. Angharad marveled at the beauty. “Idwal, that could be a magic bow,” Lady Moirea said. “I’ve not seen one of that color before.”

“My lady, it isn’t magical,” Eridan said. “But if you wish to have your house mage examine it, I will allow that.” He paused. “If he puts a spell on it, I will kill him.”

The house mage was summoned. “Angharad, you hold the bow. You’ll know if I try to cast anything on it,” he said. Angharad accepted the bow. The mage closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, they were pure white. Then they returned to normal. “It’s an ordinary bow, my lord. Nothing strange about it, other than the fact that the wood comes from an ebony tree. It’s one of the rarest trees in existence and whoever gave this to him must have held him in high regard because there’s no way he would have been able to buy this on his own.” The mage bowed and he headed back to the keep.

Lord Idwal gestured to the faint line drawn in the dirt. “Eridan, take your place.”

Eridan moved to the spot once more. He drew out his first arrow and sighted down it. Angharad watched him take several deep breaths. He adjusted his stance and his grip. A light breeze picked up. Eridan changed the position of the bow. His eyes closed for a moment before he opened them and released the arrow.

Angharad held her breath as the black and silver projectile sped towards the tiny targets. It slammed into one of the top red cylinders. She bit back a cheer. He still had to take down two more.

Eridan lifted his second arrow and repeated the process. thwack A second target went down. Angharad clutched her bow in both hands. She began praying, begging the gods to give him the accuracy to remove the third target.

Eridan lowered his bow and wiped his forehead. He wiped his hands on his pants and motioned for his servant to bring him a cup of water. His eyes were haunted and he was as pale as the shirt he wore.

He lifted his bow one last time. He slowly sighted down the arrow, holding himself rock steady. His breathing was slow and mostly steady, though every now and then there was a minor hitch. Angharad clenched her teeth together, willing him strength.

Eridan released the arrow. A sudden gust kicked up some dust and the arrow’s trajectory shifted. Angharad gasped, sure her chance of having the man of her choice as a husband was gone.

Eridan grabbed a fourth arrow and shot quickly, knocking it back towards the target. Surprisingly, the trick worked. His third arrow slammed into a third red cylinder and it toppled over.

“That’s cheating,” Colum said, his words slurred. He slurped from a pitcher of wine, ignoring the dark red liquid slopping all over his tunic. “He shot a fourth arrow.”

“I see no cheating,” Angharad said. “If the wind can alter the direction of the arrow, there’s no reason why we can’t fix that. I’ve done it too, though I’ve never been that successful.”

Lord Idwal nodded. “Angharad is right, Colum. I’ve allowed her to do it. I’m going to accept Eridan doing the same thing.” He paused, then smiled at Eridan. “Eridan, congratulations. You have done what no other man has. You have won my daughter’s hand.”

Angharad dropped her bow and flung herself into Eridan’s arms. He grabbed her and pressed his lips against hers. She felt the scar. It was rough on her face, but she didn’t care. This is what she’d been dreaming of since they’d gone to get the horses.

“It seems our daughter approves,” Lady Moirea said wryly.

Angharad stepped back, blushing. “I’m sorry, Mother.”

“Don’t be,” Lady Moirea said. “The light in both of your eyes proves you two were meant for each other.”

“Come,” Lord Idwal said. “Tonight we will have the normal dinner. Tomorrow we feast!” Angharad followed her father into the keep, her fingers intertwined with Eridan’s. His hands were trembling and he was still pale. The haunted look hadn’t left him, but there was definitely some happiness there too.

Eridan took her hand and pressed it to his lips. “Join me in the library this evening, after dinner,” he murmured. “I will tell you why I look more like a ghost than a man right now.” Startled that he recognized what she thought, she nodded. He kissed the top of her head and they took their seats at the table.

Racing the Wind, Part 2

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Photo via Visual Hunt

Angharad smiled at Eridan and opened the door. “Here then is your room. I hope you find it satisfactory.”

Eridan looked inside. “This is more than I expected to be given, Lady Angharad. You and your lord father are very generous.”

“We may put my suitors through rigorous challenges, but we want them to be comfortable while we do. There is no reason to treat them cruelly,” Angharad said. “And you don’t have to call me ‘lady.’ I have no rank until my parents die and I inherit the lands.”

Eridan nodded. “Angharad, I hope you don’t find me rude,” he began.

Angharad laughed. “I’ll leave you to your rest. We’ll send a servant to wake you for lunch.”

“Thank you,” Eridan said. “Could you have them knock? If I don’t answer, send for one of my men to enter and wake me. I can be violent if I’m startled awake.”

“That is a trait of a soldier who has seen too much,” Angharad said softly.

“You know?” Eridan asked.

“My grandfather fought in the Mad King’s grandfather’s wars. He was like that for as long as I can remember,” Angharad said. “He took his own life when I was a wee child.

“I have long thought of doing that,” Eridan said. “My two guards have kept me living even as I have kept them alive.” He paused. “Do not let this influence you. I want a true challenge when we compete.”

“I don’t let anything get in my way when I fight,” Angharad said.

“That’s good,” Eridan said. He walked into the room, his saddle bags over his shoulder, and closed the door behind him. Angharad went downstairs to her father’s office.

Her mother was there, along with her father. “What did you learn?” Lord Idwal asked.

“He is very tired, and his guards have kept him from committing suicide,” Angharad said. “We aren’t to send a servant in to wake him for lunch. We’re supposed to have them knock on the door. If he doesn’t respond we’re supposed to send for one of his men and have them go in and wake him up.”

“Did he say where he was from?” Lady Moirea asked.

Angharad shook her head. “We need to learn that at lunch,” Lord Idwal said. “If he has run from his rightful liege lord, instead of him dying and the soldiers gaining their freedom, we’ll have to send him back.”

Angharad sighed. “I know it must be done, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“You already like him?” Lady Moirea asked. “He’s ugly.”

“His mind is sharp and his body is fit in spite of the scars,” Angharad said. “I can see beauty in that.”

“You have a strange idea of beauty then,” Lady Moirea said.

“I just thought of something,” Angharad said. “Colum.”

“Your brother will make a fool of himself, and possibly insult our guest beyond the measure of patience he has,” Lord Idwal said.

“We can’t refuse him entry to the dining hall,” Lady Moirea said.

“Forbid him to speak,” Angharad said.

“You know that doesn’t work,” Lord Idwal said.

“I don’t want him to drive off the first suitor I truly hope can beat me,” Angharad said.

“Will you let him win?” Lady Moirea asked.

“No. He wants as much of a fight as much as I do,” Angharad said.

“We’ll have to see what happens,” Lord Idwal said.

Angharad nodded. “It’s time for my history lesson. I’m off to annoy Master Ruairi.” Lord Idwal laughed as Angharad skipped out of the room.

Her lessons went well and lunch was served. The servant was able to wake Eridan and he joined them. He looked better than he had when he arrived and smiled at everyone. Just as the servants laid out the meal, Colum staggered in, already drunk.

“Colum, you’re a disgrace,” Lord Idwal said in disgust.

“So you keep saying,” Colum said, slurring his words. He flopped down in his chair and took a swig from his jug. His eye fell on Eridan. “Who’s the ugly bastard making eyes at Angharad?”

“This is Eridan, a warrior of great renown,” Lord Idwal said. “He is her newest suitor.”

“Well I hope you’ve got wings, Ugly,” Colum said. “Angharad will outrun you and you’ll be sent off after the first challenge.”

“That test has been removed from the list of challenges,” Lord Idwal said. “And you will address our guest by his name or you won’t say anything at all.” Colum rolled his eyes, but started eating. Lord Idwal turned to Eridan. “Eridan, I know this will most likely upset you.”

“You wish to know who my liege lord was,” Eridan said. “To be certain I told you the truth.”

“Yes,” Lord Idwal said.

“You can understand our concern,” Lady Moirea said.

“I do, my lady,” Eridan said. “My liege was Lord Brogan, called the Red Bull.”

Lord Idwal stared at him. “You were the Red Bull’s soldier?”

“I was an officer, my lord,” Eridan said.

“You would have to be a nobleman,” Colum said. “Or at the least a knight.”

Eridan looked between Lord Idwal and Angharad. He took a deep breath. “I’m not a common man, my lord. I am the Red Bull’s youngest son. Because he considered me expendable he threw me into the army and forced me to march with him whenever he went out.”

“Then you are more than welcome in my house, Eridan,” Lord Idwal said. “I know of the Red Bull’s death, and how his sons were thrown out of their lands by the Mad King as a punishment for their father’s failure to capture some important prisoners.”

“Yes, the Mad King doesn’t appreciate failure,” Eridan said bitterly.

“Take your ease here for as long as you like,” Angharad said. “No matter the results of the challenges. You may stay as my personal guest if need be.”

Eridan smiled, his deep blue eyes lighting up. “Thank you, Angharad.” Conversation died down as they all settled in to eat.

To be continued……