LJ Chat, Day three, post three November 20, 2011Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in author chat, Princes of Air.
Originally posted 11/19/2011 at the Circlet Press Livejournal
And here we have the next section of The Ice Raven. Yes, there are spoilers here. But no sex yet. For those of you impatient for the smut, it starts tomorrow. Also tomorrow come the real big spoilers, so it’s a good thing that Princes of Air rolls out tomorrow, too.
On with Oscar and Muirenn.
It being the middle of the night, I had to wait until morning to follow my first instructions. Oscar had pointed to one of the two beds, dowsed the lamps, and thrown himself down on the other bed without another word. I wrapped myself in my cloak and lay down, listening to him breathing in the darkness. What had brought him to the college now? I fell asleep wondering, and woke in the gray hour before dawn with an aching head. Silent as a mouse, I crept out of the cottage and ran to the deserted bath house.
The spells to heat the water were simple ones, and I was soon submerged up to my neck in hot water, attempting to tease bedraggled feathers from my long, matted hair. I had to renew the spells on the water four times before my hair was clean and combed free of tangles and knots; by the time I was finished bathing; the sun was well over the horizon before I made my way back to the house where I’d left Oscar. He was not there, but my belongings were bundled up on my bed, so I changed into my other leine and went looking for my master.
By this hour, the college was awake, full of students and ollamhs going to the morning meal, or on to their classes. I did not see Oscar anywhere I looked, and for some reason, everyone I asked stared at me as if they’d never seen me before. I assumed it was because I was far more presentable than I had been in a long time. Unable to find Oscar, and uncertain if he’d eaten, I decided to collect something for the both of us to eat, and to return to the cottage to wait.
I was carrying a basket down the path towards the cottage when I heard the raven calling behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see the bird sitting on a barren branch over my head; as I watched, it launched itself into the air and flew towards me. Before it had covered half the ground between us, the raven shifted, changed, grew, and Oscar fell in next to me, shortening his stride to match mine, his cloak billowing behind him.
“Ah, you thought to get us something to eat. Thank you,” he said, looking over the contents of the basket.
“Oh… will you show me how you did that?” I breathed. “Is that something I could do?”
He looked at me, and again I saw amusement in his eyes. “Perhaps. We shall see. You are lovely, Wildling.”
His idle complement stopped me in my tracks, abruptly enough that he kept on walking a few steps before he noticed I’d stopped. “What?” I stammered.
He turned to face me. “Looking for complements, Muirenn?” he asked. “Surely you know that you’re a beautiful woman?”
Stunned that he would think so, I shook my head. “No. No one has ever told me that.”
He sniffed. “I’m not surprised. We’re surrounded by idiots. Come along, Muirenn. We’ll eat, and then I will tell you what your next duty will be.” He turned and walked into the cottage, and I followed him in a daze. Oscar, perhaps the most powerful sorcerer in all of Eire, possibly in the entire world… thought I was beautiful?
We sat at the table together and ate the food I had brought, and Oscar served me with his own hands, leaving me even more dazzled. I watched him as I ate, trying not to be seen as I studied him, the sharp planes of his face, and his amazing eyes, which seemed to move between blue and silver-gray. He was possibly the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
“You’re staring,” he murmured. I felt my face grow warm, and dropped my eyes.
“I apologize,” I answered. “I just…”
“Curious?” he asked. “Curious about the freak?”
“What?” I gasped.
“That’s what they call me,” he nodded towards the door, indicating the world outside. “I’m the freak. Or the Ice Raven. Even my own brothers call me that. That one I’m rather fond of, actually. Surely you’ve heard those?”
“No!” I sputtered, shaking my head. “No, I’ve never heard that. And I wouldn’t call you that. You’re no more a freak than…” my voice trailed off. Perhaps that wasn’t the best comparison?
“Than you are?” Oscar finished. “Accepted. Both the sentiment, and the compliment. Thank you, Muirenn. So why are you staring?”
“It’s just… you’re fascinating,” I said, deciding on complete honestly. “And… I’ve dreamed about you, Oscar.”
“Have you?” Now he looked intrigued, as if he were studying me. I looked down at my plate and nodded.
“Yes. For years now. I… I hoped you might chose me as your apprentice.” I looked at him, then asked, “Why have you never taken an apprentice before?”
He shrugged one shoulder and tore a piece of bread into crumbs. “Who told you that I hadn’t?” he asked, not looking up. “Gaynor?”
“Gaynor doesn’t speak of you,” I answered. “I asked the sorcerers here at the college. I forget who told me.”
“Whoever it was, they know nothing,” Oscar said. He sat up straight and looked past me, and I turned on my stool to see through the window a pair of Brehons coming up to the cottage.
“About Bricriu, I imagine,” Oscar said. He stood and walked towards the door, his cloak furling behind him. I rose and followed, standing just behind him, feeling safe in his shadow.
Then my world fell apart.
“Oscar mac Morrigan, you are summoned to answer before the Council,” one of them announced as Oscar unbarred the door and opened it.
“Summoned?” Oscar sounded surprised. “For what purpose? What is it that I’m to answer for? Defending my apprentice?”
“No,” the brehon answered. “For the creation and unleashing of the deamhan aeir. You will come with us.”
Oscar staggered back a step, bumping into me. “Before the Council? Eogan would not…”
“Cathbad ordered it,” the brehon interrupted. “You will come with us.”
“Cathbad,” Oscar breathed, and it was as if he cursed. “Of course. Again…” He stepped back, almost stepping on me as he did so. His eyes met mine, and he took a breath. I saw him hesitate, consider… and then he swept his cloak off his shoulders and held it out to me.
“Keep this safe for me, Muirenn,” he said. “Until I return.”
I gathered the cloak in my arms and held it to my breast. “Yes, Oscar. Should I… should I come with you?”
He hesitated again, and this time, I could see he was wavering. He wanted me with him, for what reason I knew not. But he shook his head and answered me, “No, Muirenn. Bar the door and allow no one in. No one, do you understand me? And… should anything happen to me, bring that to my brothers. They will know what to do.”
A chill ran through me at his words, and I shook my head to deny even the concept. “Nothing will happen to you!” I said vehemently. For the first time, I saw him smile, a real smile that lit up his face, and I wished that I could see that again. To my surprise, he leaned down and kissed me gently, barely brushing my lips with his.
“I’ll be back for you, my wildling,” he told me. Then he turned and strode out of the cottage, leaving the brehons to scramble after him. I watched them go, then closed the door and barred it as he’d ordered. But I could not stay and wait, alone and ignorant. And he had not ordered me to stay, only to bar the door. I put his cloak of feathers over my shoulders and crawled out the window to follow.
The Council met in a grove of trees located halfway between the college and the High King’s hall of Dun-Righ; I knew where, and I knew that I could make my way there unseen. I crept through the undergrowth, making no more noise than one of the forest beasts, and so came up to the Council grove. There was not enough cover to hide myself and still hear, so I clambered into one of the towering pines and lay along a wide branch, hiding my face with my hair so that I might not be seen.
Below me in the circle, I saw the half-circle of Druids, Ollamhs and Brehons already gathered, with Cathbad at their heart. I saw, too, that the place at the middle, the one usually taken by the High King himself, was empty. I worried at my lower lip, wondering how they could hold Council without the High King. Unless this was not a proper Council meeting? But then, what was it?
I had somehow gotten here before Oscar and his brehon guard, and so I was was watching as he entered the grove. To my surprise, he stopped just inside the trees, looked up at me, and winked. Then he continued on to the center of the grove, where he stopped, folded his arms over his chest and scowled.
“And what is the meaning of this?” he asked. “Cathbad, this is your doing. Revenge for my revealing your boy’s shortcomings? Or simply another stab in the back for old time’s sake?”
Cathbad’s face went red, never a good sign. “Oscar mac Morrigan, you are summoned before the Council to answer to your peers…”
“Are there any here?” Oscar interrupted. Cathbad turned even more red and continued.
“To answer to your peers on the charges that you, through carelessness and complete disregard for life, have created the… the monster that is preying on the countryside.”
Oscar nodded once, clasping his hands behind his back. He paced across the grove, back and forth, then shrugged one shoulder and said clearly, “Yes.”
“Yes?” I nearly bit my tongue at the sound of that voice — it was Gaynor! “You admit to this?”
“I admit it. I have already admitted it to the High King and accepted his judgment.” Oscar stopped and stood there, tall and proud. “I created the creature, out of my desire for revenge on the mortal man who tortured and imprisoned my youngest brother. I cursed him, and I imprisoned him within the roof-post of a hall that Eogan then ordered burnt. That he is freed now is none of my doing.”
“No, you simply created him, created a monster that lives on mortal flesh and cannot be killed!” Cathbad shrilled. “He admits his guilt, and must be punished! I call for the highest penalty!”
There was a low rumble from the other members of the Council, and I saw visions of the great woven wicker prisons that were used on only the most vile of criminals. I had seen one such execution once, and I still had nightmares about it. That they might do that to Oscar was unthinkable.
“Cathbad, we cannot contradict the will of the High King!” Gaynor called out. Then he asked. “Penalty has already been set, you say? Oscar, what punishment did the High King lay on you?
Oscar raised his chin and said, “I believe he accepted the murder of my brother as punishment enough for my… misjudgment, Gaynor, and he has charged me to destroy the beast, no matter the cost. If he had been summoned to this Council, he could have answered the question himself. Which calls the question. If this is a Council meeting, then why was he not summoned?”
Gaynor frowned and looked at the rest of the Council, who were starting to murmur uncomfortably. “I do not know, Oscar. Cathbad, when you summoned the Council, why was a messenger not sent to Dun-Righ?”
“This is not a matter for the High King,” Cathbad said stiffly. “This is a matter for sorcerers. It should be our justice that prevails, not the High King, who knows nothing of these matters. Again, I call for the bonfires!”
Oscar looked at him, sighed deeply, and shook his head. “Cathbad, this grudge you insist on keeping alive is grown very old and very tiresome. Enough of it. I have admitted my guilt, and my shame, to my King. There is no reason for this… farce, unless it is for revenge for something you know well was none of my doing, and all of yours.”
Cathbad’s face was nearly purple, and he sputtered and stammered until Gaynor stepped forward and asked, “Revenge? Cathbad, what does he mean?”
“Enough!” Cathbad shouted.
“Yes, Cathbad. Enough. Now, I call for justice of my own,” Oscar interrupted. “Gaynor, Cathbad’s son attacked Muirenn last night.”
“Muirenn?” Gaynor gasped. “My Muirenn?” He wheeled on Cathbad; in all the years I had lived with Gaynor, I had never before seen him this angry.
“She’s fine, Gaynor,” Oscar said quickly, laying his hand on Gaynor’s arm. “I stopped him, and that is, I think, the heart of this matter.” He looked over his shoulder, towards where I hid in my tree, and called out, “Come down, Wildling.”
I felt my face grow warm, and I slowly climbed down the tree and made my way into the grove. Any other day, I would have gone to stand with Gaynor, but today was different. Today, I took my place next to Oscar, taking his cloak from my own shoulders and offering it to him. He took it with a nod, swinging it over his shoulders. Then he looked oddly at me.
“Thought I told you to stay,” he murmured.
“You didn’t,” I answered. “You told me to bar the door.”
“So?” I could see his lips twitching, and I couldn’t help myself.
“I went out the window,” I answered. “But the door is barred, just as you ordered.”
Oscar’s jaw dropped, and the look of sheer amazement on his face sent me into a fit of giggles. Giggles that were, apparently, contagious; Oscar started to laugh, and we laughed together like idiots while a dumbfounded Gaynor just stared at us.
“You,” Oscar said accusingly when he could talk again. He pointed his finger at me as he spoke, “You are going to force me to pay attention to what I say, aren’t you?” I smiled sweetly at him, and he laughed again, pulling me close and hugging me tightly. “Thank you,” he murmured into my hair.
“Oscar…?” I heard Gaynor’s voice, the confusion in it. So did Oscar, who let me go, but kept his arm around my shoulders.
“Gaynor,” he said pleasantly. “I believe you’ve met my apprentice?”
“Ah…ah…ah… apprentice?” Gaynor stammered. “Apprentice? You… you’ve taken an apprentice? You?”
Oscar sighed, “Try to keep up, Gaynor? Yes, I’ve taken Muirenn as my apprentice.”
“But… Muirenn?” Gaynor’s eyes flickered from Oscar to me, and then back again. “Oscar…”
I felt Oscar stiffen, and I looked up to see his eyes had gone cold. “Gaynor, I cannot believe that you have any doubts about your daughter’s abilities. Unless you’re like the rest of these idiots, and cannot see beyond the surface, or who think that a woman cannot control magic as well as a man.” He looked past Gaynor to where Cathbad was pacing, and pitched his voice lower. “Gaynor, where is Bricriu?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him.”
“I bespelled him. He’s caught in a truth-telling, that will only be released when he tells what he tried to do to Muirenn to one of the Brehons. I’ve demanded an honor-fine and that Bricriu be expelled from the college.”
Gaynor hummed softly and said, “That won’t sit well with Cathbad.”
“I know.” Oscar went silent, considering, then looked at Gaynor. “Gaynor, tell the Brehons to find Bricriu.”
Gaynor nodded, “Of course. And… I’ll speak to the rest of the Council as well. I do not like that Cathbad is attempting to use us to attack you. Calling for the fires, and without the High King’s say? This is more than an old grudge, Oscar.”
“You know I’ve always thought it might go this far,” Oscar said.
“Yes, I know. But now… if necessary, I’ll go to Dun-Righ and speak to Eogan.”
“Ward yourself, Gaynor,” Oscar warned, making me shiver slightly from the chill in his voice. “Cathbad guards his position like a leithbrágan guards his gold. And is likely to turn as violent when threatened.”
Gaynor nodded soberly, then quirked an eyebrow and asked, “Will he throw shoes like a leithbrágan, do you think?”
Oscar rolled his eyes at the jest.”Be careful, my friend.”
“I will. And you take care of Muirenn.” Gaynor smiled, and there was something knowing in that smile that I didn’t understand. Nor did I understand Oscar’s answer.
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