Ireland, 512 AD
A SPECTER OF war hung heavy on the Irish horizon. Gwenevieve scanned the yard, seeking it out. Surely, an outline of its ghost hung there in the bare branches of the trees. Would that she had a little more light, but the sun was slow to rise this morning. Bucket in hand, she strode out the door of her family’s roundhouse, headed for the spring. Dots of ice hung here and there from the trees and as the sun’s first tentative rays touched them, sparks plumed across the emerald landscape. She adjusted the gold clip that held her grass-hued wool cloak closed. She wore green to beckon spring.
A little sympathetic magic never hurts.
A dozen or so new huts dotted her family’s property. One was for her mother’s laying in, but they’d built the others for a different purpose.
She remembered the work their family put into them in preparation for the arrival of the harshadwarriors, only praying they never arrived. The Tanny and other men around the area whispered that the Macken family must be out of their minds to build structures that would stand empty. But their family knew that they would be put to good use.
Last night, several men and women had come. They now occupied those huts.
She prayed they weren’t the warriors for whom they’d been built. Though, she suspected otherwise.
Gwenevieve sniffed the air, seeking a sign the fabled war crept ever closer, but smelled only frost. A raven, sitting on a tangled branch in the grove, sensed something amiss and let out a screech.
“Hush you,” she said. Whether or not the bird listened or grew tired of screaming, it fell silent. The silence satisfied her. She didn’t need its prophetic voice. She felt the dread thick in the air.
Regardless, there was no going back to sleep. She paused at the edge of the spring and knelt down, dipping the bucket in.
Filled, she set it aside and drew her hands through the icy water. Shock tingled down her fingers. She grimaced at her reflection, the pink the weak sun was already placing in her light, thin cheeks and nose. Her red curls askew, the crimson sleepy streaks radiating across the whites of her forest green eyes.
Gwenevieve drew her hands from the water. Cold wind threatened to chafe her skin and still, she raised her hands to the sky, ignoring how the breeze affected her bones. Cows and horses called for their breakfast and she knew it wouldn’t be long before more members of her clan joined the morning routine.
With the chill tickling her nose, she took a deep breath and settled herself. “Hallowed Mother, bless our night, and our day.” She lowered her hands, sprinkling droplets on the dried grass beside her. She leaned forward to splash water on her face. Wind whipped up her sleeve.
“You’ll never catch a fish that way.”
She gasped, lunged for the knife in her boot, and flumped, forearms first, into the water.
Enraged, she growled and pushed herself away from the spring. A man stood not far away. Tall, with strong arms crossed over a broad chest.
“By the gods!” she gasped, wiping water from her arms. “Warn a lady if you plan on sneaking up on her.”
She couldn’t remember seeing anyone out this morning save herself.
“Where is the fun in that?” He offered her his strong hand. That hand connected to a fine forearm, to a bulging bicep. If one didn’t stare above his throat, anyone might consider him fetching. That craggy face of his, though, ruined the effect.
“Come, now,” he said, a hint of mirth in his voice, “it’s too cold to play in the water like that.”
Her father’s guards always watched over her, but this one was new, arrived only last night. She didn’t recall his name. Malcolm or Marchan, or some such name like that. “What if I was stepping out for a bath?”
The man smiled. “Then it is indeed my lucky day.” He grasped her forearm and helped her stand.
Water trickled between her breasts. She frowned and swiped at it with annoyance. “If you followed me there was no luck involved.”
“Aye, maybe I was following you, but you’re Sir Fintan Macken’s daughter. Gwenevieve by name, if I remember correctly.”
She nodded. “That I am.”
“Then you, especially, shouldn’t be out here alone.”
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