Forlorn Part VI
by Shannon Leigh Rivera
Tormaigh woke to the smell of smoke. Attempting to bolt upright, his head swam in a thick cloud of pain and he was forced to lie back down. The world was swirling around him and pounding against his temples. He clutched the sides of his head, rubbing his fingers in small circular patterns. He noted that his hands had been left unbound, but it wouldn’t have mattered either way. As the world came into focus, the King of the Southern Realms noticed that he had been locked inside a witch’s cage. The same cages that his men had used during the war to subdue the magic of their enemies. The faint dark blue hue of the Hunter’s magic charms seeped out of the metal bars. Through the haze magic, Tormaigh watched as Darkwood Village burned in the distance.
Tormaigh woke to the smell of fire. Attempting to bolt upright, his head swam in a thick cloud of pain and he was forced to lie back down. The world was swirling around him and pounding against his temples. He clutched the sides of his head, rubbing his fingers in small circular patterns. He noted that his hands had been left unbound, but it wouldn’t have mattered either way. As the world came into focus, the King of the Southern Realms noticed that he had been locked inside a witch’s cage. The same cages that his men had used during the war to subdue the magic of their enemies. The faint dark blue hue of the Hunter’s magic charms seeped out of the metal bars. Through the haze of the weakening charm, Tormaigh watched as Darkwood Village burned in the distance.
What have I done, he asked , pulling himself to his feet.
“A lovely sight, isn’t it your majesty?”
The king grunted as Duana’s deformed face stepped closer to the cage. She was trying to smile but the destroyed part of her face made her look as if she was forever grimacing in pain.
“You’ll burn for this, witchling.”
“Posturing won’t get you anywhere with me. I know you have no power of me or my kind. Not anymore.” She ran a hand down the side of her scarred face. “Plus, you’ve already tried that, remember.”
Tormaigh pushed back the throbbing pain echoing through his flesh and bones as he took a step towards the bars. He grasped the thick metal and let the Hunter’s charm burn into the palm of his hands. Searing white heat shot through the very marrow of his bones, yet he kept his eyes trained on Duana, staring into her one good eye with fearsome determination.
“I’m not posturing. You under estimate my people and my hatred for your kind.”
The witch clenched her teeth together and took a step closer to the cage placing her face against the magic barrier of the cage. A trail of smoke rose from her skin.
“And you are foolish to think that your weak magic can hold us back a second time. I’ve come for revenge, but the Queen of the North, she has come to reclaim a kingdom.”
“Lady Duana,” the gruff voice of a Furbolg forced Duana to break eye contact with Tormaigh. As she turned to address her servant, the king pried his hand from the metal, the fire of the Hunter’s magic still burning in his veins.
He sat and listened as the messenger gave his report.
“The legion says there are not more than two and a dozen creatures, possibly some sort of animals.”
“Both have magic.”
“Witches or Hunters?”
“They cannot tell. There is a block of some kind.”
Tormaigh watched as Duana turned to face the light of the village pyre. “It is Saoirse.”
“Shall I tell the Queen?”
Duana turned quickly on the furbolg and clutched it around the neck. “You won’t speak a word of this to anyone or I will slit your throat and eat your children for dinner.”
The massive bear-like creature whimpered under Duana’s unnatural strength. “Y-yes, Lady Duana.”
As the furbolg disappeared into the black of the forest, Tormaigh kept his eyes trained on the witch. He knew she was too arrogant to keep plans to herself. She would gloat, just as she always did.
His former queen was too prideful not to.
“Saoirse? That is the witch that lives in the mountains above the village.” Tormaigh offered, his voice shaking from the weight of his injuries.
Duana turned with an icy glare smeared across her face. “What of her?”
“Is she not working with you?”
“Ha! My sister? Working with me?” The scarred witch clutched her hands into tight fists. “No, no, no. That little bitch of a half-ling spurned my goodwill towards her and turned against our kind. I had thought she died during the war, but it seems that she was more clever and conniving that I had ever realized.”
“Turned against your kind?” Tormaigh asked, playing the fool.
Duana glared at the king. “Yes, Cormac. My sister betrayed me. Until this morning, I had thought her dead. But the Queen of the North ran into her at the lake in the mountains. She has turned to using white magic and apparently taken it upon herself to whore herself out to you filthy humans.”
Tormaigh grunted. “Sounds familiar.”
The witch laughed as she twisted her hands together. “You were a boring man, Cormac. I couldn’t help myself. You could have easily let me continue my games and fun. I suppose if you had, we would have never gone to war.”
“You chose war, ‘Ana. I gave you many chances to redeem yourself.”
The witch’s eyes burned with fury at the pet name as it left the king’s lips. She scowled and approached the bars of the cage. “You don’t ever get to call me that again.”
“It is too bad that you choose to make me your enemy. Your sister chose the right side. Remind me to reward her for her loyalty when this is all over.”
Duana looked down on Tormaigh who sat clutching his burnt hands. “She betrayed me, just as you did when you tried to take my powers from me. And when this is all over, you will be dead, and so will she.”
“How much longer?”
Saoirse grimaced and motioned to her newly acquired pack of hounds to follow. She ignored Liam’s incessant questions as they neared the hidden trail north of her cottage. The woods spiraled down into Darkwood Village and then snaked westward along the mountain rivers that spilt down over the Glengar Falls. The paths on this route were dangerous, but Saoirse was counting on the witches tracking her movements. Her knowledge of the terrain would keep her, the hounds, and Liam safe—if Liam could manage to be quiet.
“I have never seen this place before, are you sure it’s safe?” Liam asked as he stumbled over a branch and nearly tumbled head over heel into Saoirse.
She abruptly turned around and shoved a finger over Liam’s lips. “No more talking. This path is too dangerous. You must follow me carefully, like the hounds.”
“But,” Liam began.
“I don’t remember you being such a coward, Liam. Trust me. I know where I am going and this is the safest path into Darkwood. Think of your wife, let the need to save her drive you on. And stop blabbering will you?!”
Not giving him the chance to respond, Saoirse spun on her heels and skipped forward, clearing a few jagged boulders scattered along the path. Liam followed without another word, until they came to the bottom of the trail near the first patch of bog.
“Bogs? Just how are we supposed to manage through this?”
Saoirse placed a finger to her lips and motioned for Liam and the hounds to sit along the grass. She pulled a small ceramic jar of salve from a pouch tied at her waist and began to rub it along the bottoms of the dogs’ feet. By the time she reached Liam, there was a trail of tears quietly trailing through the dirt on his face.
“I shouldn’t have left her alone.” He told Saoirse as she rubbed the mixture along the soles of his leather boots.
“It’s too late for that. Better for you to focus on what you can do.”
He grasped her by the wrist before she could stand. “I love her, Saoirse.”
“I know, Liam. I know.”
Before she could pull away, he tugged her towards him, wrapping his arms around her waist. She didn’t have a moment to think before he pressed his lips against hers. Ardal growled and the other dogs followed suit. Saoirse pushed against Liam’s strong grasp, but he only released her after she jabbed him behind the ear.
“What did you do that for?” He asked as he ran his hand along the injury.
“You’re married. That is a covenant, an oath of fidelity and love. You won’t break it on my account.”
“Saoirse . . .”
“Liam, no. You once promised to marry me, but those days are long passed. You wed another and it is time you move on, just as I have. It was just this morning that you thought I had gone on some rampage because you wed Brigid.”
“But it wasn’t you.”
“But you thought it was and it’s the thought that haunts my every step.” She turned from Liam and wrung her hands, pacing to the left and then the right before speaking again. “I saved your life and gave you my heart, my soul . . . my body. You rejected me for her.”
She turned to watch Liam hang his head in shame. He gave her a tortured glance, but her gaze was full of fire.
“Don’t get me wrong. I had thought many times about turning her into something hideous or casting a spell of ill over you both. In the end, I realized that you gave me freedom, and for that . . .”
Liam stood to his feet and reached his arm out to touch Saoirse. She backed away, grasping a nearby tree. “I am better off without you, without any man. I am meant to do more than be a lord’s wife.”
“I never stopped loving you.”
“Then why did you think it was me? How could you think it was me that would attack your happiness?”
Liam looked up into the sky as cloudy patches of fog drifted over the stars. The fog was not far away, laying heavy over the bogs ahead of them. “I thought you were jealous. I needed you to be jealous.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Do you remember the day I came to the woods to see you? That night we were together, I wanted you to tell me not to marry her. Instead you gave me your blessing and let me walk away.”
“So, you wanted me to force you to defy the king, who has been like a father to you? You wanted me to tell you to run away with me?”
Liam laughed quietly. “Sounds dramatic, I suppose.”
“It sounds like something an immature princess would do, Liam.” Saoirse offered with a comical gesture. “You could have just told me you wanted me instead. You could have told your uncle about me.”
They both knew that the king would have never approved of the match. Given the history the king had with witches, it wouldn’t have mattered if Saoirse turned away from the dark practices. Saoirse’s half sister had seen to it that King Tormaigh would never trust another witch again.
There were several moments of silence between them before Liam spoke again. He motioned towards the indistinguishable path in front of them. “What happens if . . .”
“Don’t think about the worse. Let’s just take it one step at a time.”
“Follow me closely and be prepared. I am not sure what kind of creatures my sister and the witch from the North have rallied to their cause, but there are many dark beings in these parts of the wood. Be on your guard.” She handed Liam a line of rope. “If we make it through, we can finish this conversation in a more appropriate setting.”
Liam took the rope and tied it to his waist. “One step at a time.”