Once in deeper water, Prince Linus set his second sail which stiffened in the breeze, hauling the boat far from land. So taken and concerned was the Prince with Gwyn, that he gave little heed to where they were sailing too. He held the woman in his arms, wondering at her fragile beauty. When the ship left the shelter of land the waves became fatter, pitching the boat. Gwyn’s eyes fluttered open, waking from her delicious dream. Her eyes slowly recognised Linus hovering above her, the sight of him was life itself. He had come back for her after all, it hadn’t been a dream. The Prince tendered her, as a mother tends a child. He touched a dish to her lips, tipping drops of honey water on her withered tongue. Gwyn’s body so desperately needed the nourishing liquid that even a few drops worked magic. Gwyn sucked lustily at the liquid, now that she had something to live for it was important to fight. By the hour she got stronger, taking in more of the sweetened water each time it was offered. By noon she slumbered once more, the Prince covered her with his finest silk, darned with threads of purest gold. At the helm, a crew man had been holding the ship into the wind, ignorant of a destination, just happy to be moving once more. “My Lord,” he greeted the Prince who relieved him at the teller. Prince Linus studied the sky and the sail, judging the home of the wind. With a flick of the oar he adjusted the angle of the boat, filling the sails even more, the agile ship responded sweetly.
“Which port shall be next, my Prince?” asked the crew man with humble respect. These men had travelled far with him, facing adventure and death as one, but always his birth right set him apart. The Prince knew this deference was not forged out of fear, but of love.
“I have the urge to see the house of my father once more,” Linus said. A huge smile spread across the face of the sailor.
“You are as wise as you are hansom, my Prince,” laughed the man. His humour was infectious.
“You silver tongued scoundrel, no wonder husbands fear you making land,” laughed the Prince gripping the man by his shoulder.
“What course shall we set,” enquired the sailor when the mirth subsided.
“Our home lies where the sun wakes, the storm has set us far off course. I noted its position in the sky while we were at port. It had the custom of burning the top of my head as a boy, today it lies to one side,” said the Prince pointing out the sun which lay to the lee of the bow. “We should sail across the ark of the sun until it rests above our heads. Then we must turn and follow the rise of each day.” The sailor pondered on the Princes words, finding truth in his logic he simply nodded and began harrying the crew to set the ship for its new heading.
A day and a night they sailed across the wind through ocean swell. Gwyn was sick to start with, Linus kept refreshing her with water and food, even when she protested her fill. By the dawn of the second day she was eating unaided and her body had become accustomed to the movement of the ocean. Prince Linus had set his crew the task of building a shelter. Gwyn was going to be his wife and as such her private moments were no sight for his crew. He wisely instructed the cabin be big enough for two. Midway through the second day land appeared, causing the crew to celebrate wildly believing they were home. Only Prince Linus held his cool. He studied the position of the sun and the nature of the shore before him. It was similar to Beanntrai in colour but a little dryer. This was not their homeland, not yet. The prince pointed out the position of the sun in the sky and shattered the dreams of his crew.
“We can’t sail further across the sun, my lord we shall run aground,” protested a crew member. Linus studied the wind, the water and the land. He thought of the conditions of his outward journey, the wind in his face and the storm at his back.
“Keep the land in sight, to the lee of our bow and turn her into the wind,” commanded the Prince. As the crew made good his order, Gwyn appeared at his side touching his hand with hers. Her eyes were full of questions but her language was beyond his reckoning. He touched his chest saying, “Linus.” She smiled and touched his chest repeating his name after which she touched her own heart and said “Gwyn.” The Prince smiled and said “Gwyn.” She frowned and grabbed his hand holding it to her chest nodding for him to repeat the word. The soft swell of her breast filled his hand with warmth, the thump of her heart, the heat of her body took the Prince by surprise. When he said her name again his voice was cracked with want. The prince tried to draw his hand away but Gwyn held it firm, smiling she moved the hand a little lower and to the right. The Linus eyes widened causing Gwyn to smile delightedly. The prince laughed at the brazenness of this woman, taking her by the hand he ran the length of the ship dragging her along with him.
“Perhaps the rest of this lesson should be in private,” he said vanishing with a laughing Gwyn into the newly finished cabin at the bow of the ship.
Corri walked sadly back to Trean’s cottage which lay unharmed after the smoke had vanished. She found Fia wailing on the ground, watching the mast of the Prince’s ship vanish into the ocean far, far away. She ignored the wicked woman and sought out the Druid. Once he had been told what Fia had done, he was furious beyond reason. Grabbing a stout branch from the wood pile he ran to where she lay and began raining blows on her shoulders. The truth be told she barely felt them so great was her misery at seeing the Prince sail away in the arms of Gwyn. The old Druid was soon breathless and dropped the branch from his hand. Fia’s skin wasn’t even broken.
“You wicked girl, you have betrayed me, you have betrayed us all with your treachery,” panted the Druid.
“I don’t care what you say, Linus should have been mine. I love him so much.”
“Your wicked and you’re stupid, a dangerous combination,” the Druid said dragging Fia across the ground, into the house. He locked her into the sleeping chamber until he could decide on her fate. It didn’t take long for the story to spread through the village. It was evening when the Warlord and a precession of elders marched up the hill toward Trean’s hut. The Druid waited on the edge of his land for the mob to arrive.
“You have never needed so many to show you the way to my door in the past,” Trean said to the Warlord.
“We have come to seek Fia, there are stories of witchcraft rife through the village,” said the Warlord which raised a rumble from the mob.
“She is my wife, it is me you have to deal with,” said the Druid firmly. This stopped the Warlord Breann in his tracks. Man handling a young witch was one thing but taking on a powerful Druid such as Trean was a different matter completely.
“She had been casting spells I have been told,” the Warlord boomed for everyone to hear.
“Ha,” snorted the Druid. “You were not so quick to complain about spells when your crops came to harvest or your children were born with sturdy limbs.” The mob seemed to falter, not one among them had not visited Trean in the past asking him to cast one fashion of spell or another.
“Those were mere blessings, Trean and you know it. I am talking about spells of a vial nature, dark magic,” countered the Warlord. It was Trean’s turn to be held in check. He considered the words of his chieftain and the deeds of his wife, searching his mind for the right path to take.
“She is a witch,” a faceless voice in the crowd called.
“Bring out the witch,” echoed another.
“She has been foolish, and even spiteful,” said the Druid powerfully. “She is not a witch.”
“Has she been using her powers for her own benefit?” asked the Warlord, causing the crowd to hush with anticipation. Trean was trapped, if he lied, his own position in the clan would be in pearl. If he told the truth he condemned Fia to death. In the end the Druids self-interest won out. “She did.”
“She’s a witch so,” said the Warlord.
“Bring out the witch,” several of the mob cried.
“Burn the witch,” howled a woman’s voice.
“There will be no burning today,” Trean bellowed stopping the mob with one sweep of his staff.
“Who knows which of us she will turn on next, she is too dangerous to let live,” the Warlord reasoned.
“Fia will be banished,” said the Druid.
“That’s not good enough,” said one villager feeling brave in the midst of the mob. “What is to stop her coming back and casting her spells in the dead of night?”
“Slavery then. I will sell my own wife into slavery with the tin miners of Croom. Will that keep you sleeping soundly in your bed, you little weasel?” Trean said advancing on the man who questioned him. The Warlord knew the Druid was at breaking point and could well curse them all. “Aye, that will do well enough,” he agreed. He turned and walked back down the hill to the village at the shore side. With their leader gone the mob soon scuttled away. Corri emerged from the hut, wrapping her arms about Trean. He may be a powerful Druid but he was still only a man. He was a kind husband and a gentle soul.
“I thought they would kill her,” she sobbed on his shoulder.
“You were very nearly right, how could Fia be so foolish and spiteful. Didn’t I always treat you well, were you all so unhappy with me?” Corri realised that only a day ago, Trean was the husband of three women. Today, one was taken across the oceans by a Prince and one forced into banishment as a witch. Trean’s house had been devastated by lust and betrayal.
“What will you do?” she asked.
“I have given my word. Fia is destined for Croom. We should leave this very night before they change their minds and burn us all in our sleep,”
Trean bid Corri to pack a travelling bundle for the three of them. As the moon rose once more into the sky, Trean bound Fia’s hands. Her eyes had grown hard and hateful. Her body was still that of a young woman but her mind was that of a crone. “You’ll gladly make me a slave?” she hissed as he finished knotting the thong on her wrists.
“It was this or a scorching death, and it was your own actions that landed you here,” said Trean.
“I would rather death than life without Linus,” she snarled and spat in Trean’s face. Without realising his actions Trean’s hand whistled through the air, rattling the teeth in her head when it landed. It was not the first time Fia’s skin had felt the touch of a man’s hand, but this blow stung both her cheek and her pride. Rubbing her face with her bound hands she let her hate filled eyes play over her shocked husbands face.
“At least in the mine there might be a real man to make me squeal, something you could never do with that withered little wand of yours,” she snarled at him. When the blow landed this time it was Corri’s hand which felt the heat of Fia’s cheek.
The journey to Croom was not easy but with the treat of death following hot on their heels the journey was speedy. For the last half days walk, they climbed constantly upwards, the dense timberlands giving way to barren hillside. Countless streams crossed the narrow path, washing away what thin soil lay on the stony mountain. Soon the mouth of the ‘Valley of Croom’ lay before them. Bolder strewn and desolate, the mines of Croom were a dreadful place. A stinking stream of water treaded its way along the valley floor, clogged with silt and human waste. Thread bare ponies grazed at wisps of grass on the end of long tethers. Trean stopped long before he reached the huts at the head of the valley and announced his presence. The Croom men were not kindly disposed to visitors.
“Bless all who hear my voice,” the Druid called and held his hands aloft showing his unarmed condition.
“What want you old man?” asked a voice belonging to someone out of sight.
“Simply to trade. I come in search of Tin.”
“With what will you trade?” boomed the voice around the walls of the valley making it seem like the speaker was everywhere at once. Trean dragged Fia forward by her bound hands. “I wish to trade this woman,” Trean said unable to keep the sadness from his voice.
“Woman,” chortled the voice. “I see you have two, why not both?”
“Only this one,” said Trean firmly.
“What if we keep both, trade or not,” threatened a voice accustomed to violence.
“That would be a dreadful mistake indeed, do you not recognise Trean the Druid when you see him,” Trean said standing tall and true. Minutes passed before a filthy beast of a man with matted hair all over his body came from behind a nearby boulder. In his hand he held a knotted root of an ash tree driven with spikes, a formidable war club.
“It is true, you are indeed the Druid but years are creeping up on you.”
“For a wizard the passing of years simply strengthens his magic.” The filthy man came closer and circled Fia, using a long nailed filthy hand he tested the solidness of her arms he rubbed the firm skin of her shoulder, probing the mussel underneath.
“This little thing will last no time in the mine, she is too soft.”
“She is a hard worker and tough for her size.”
The miner guffawed, grabbing a fist full of breast. “The only hard work this one has done was lying on her back,” he laughed. “She will have plenty of that here while she is remains pretty and sweet.” Fia slapped away the hand with her clench fist and flew at the man with bared teeth. With the slightest flick of his enormous arm, the minder send her crashing to the bed of the stinking stream.
“How much do you want for this unbroken filly?”
“Two carts of ore.”
“Two! You have spent too long on the road old Druid. One and you will be lucky to get it.”
“She is easily worth three but two is what I want.”
“You can have one and may keep the pony and cart as I noticed you have neither.” This miner is a wily one. Trean knew he was being robbed but he couldn’t do anything about it.
“Trade,” he said sadly holding out his hand. The miner slapped the Druid’s palm, “Trade.”
While the ore was being loaded by a gang of ragged slaves, Fia was dragged away by the miner. She spat a Trean as she passed crying “I will never forgive you, pig.” The ore couldn’t be loaded quickly enough for Trean’s tastes. It was a blessed mercy when the pony took his first stumbling steps forward. The sound of the timber wheels crunching over pebbles masked the cries coming from the miners hut. Fia had gotten her wish it seemed. The men of Croom were more than able to make her moan. Corri shed silent tears as they passed the hut were a queue of miners waited to take their turn.
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