Authors: Deborah R Stigall
Since when is it a game for a father ta’ try and protect his daughter and look after her best interests?” Caymber growled in frustration. “Ye’re too young to know what’s good for ye. I willna’ see ye toss yer wee heart aside to be broken and yer life ruint’!” Laird Caymber paced across the room in agitation. Where had the child learned such willfulness? The earth realm must’ve contaminated the lass completely when she was growing up.
I am thirty-five years old, father…have you lost count? I think that’s hardly a child!” spat Kaitla in reply. Stubbornly, Kaitla taunted the glowering Laird, noting his rising color with pleasure.
Laughing scornfully in her face, Caymber asked, “Thirty-five? Ha! Ye think that’s grown! Ye’re but a mere bairn…have ye any idea how old I am, lass?” He strode to the chair in the corner, throwing himself to the seat in an effort to get a handle on his rising temper. Fatherhood was turning out to be more frustrating then he’d anticipated. Why couldn’t the hardheaded lass understand? Perhaps she’d acquired this stubbornness from her mother’s side of the family. Laird Caymber knew of no one on his side that had ever behaved this way!
Your age is not the issue here,” Kaitla retorted. “We are discussing my ability to make my own choices…to live my own life!” Kaitla glared at Laird Caymber hotly. She never imagined having a father could be so exasperating! Why in the world had she ever wanted one!
I’m four hundred and eighteen years old,” Laird Caymber interrupted, glaring crossly at his angry daughter.
At this revelation, Kaitla’s quick retort froze on her lips as she stared open-mouthed at her father. Eyes round with amazement, Kaitla was struck dumb at the idea of the lengthy life span that Laird Caymber was suggesting he had.
Gloating at finally silencing her, Caymber folded his arms across his chest, “Aye, do ye now see what I mean when I tell ye, ye’re naught but a child?” He cocked his head to one side, smugly awaiting her reply.
I don’t see how that can be possible,” replied Kaitla finally finding her tongue. Her anger quickly resurfacing, she blurted out like spoiled child, “Anyway…it d-doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re still intent on manipulating my life!” Kaitla floundered miserably, attempting to steer the discussion back to the point. Father/daughter arguments were entirely foreign territory to her and she felt she was definitely losing ground.
Shaking his head slowly in exasperation, Laird Caymber rose from the chair. “Manipulate your life!…How could ye say such a thing? I’m merely tryin’ to protect ye. Yer my daughter, lass, and ye’ve finally come home ta’ me! I love ye, child…and I’ll not stand idly by and see ye hurt!” Clutching her by the shoulders, Laird Camber gently shook Kaitla, trying to make her see. “Have ye any idea how anxiously I’ve waited to finally see ye again?”
Kaitla looked up into the great golden eyes, realizing with dismay that she’d met her match in willfulness. Obviously, arguing with the hardheaded Laird was going to get her nowhere. Ranting at him apparently wasn’t going to get her anywhere either. Placing a hand to the weathered old cheek, Kaitla mentally decided to attempt a different tactic, “I’m glad to have finally found you,” she reasoned slowly, “You have to know that.” Staring deep into his eyes, she softly continued, “For the time being, I’ll do as you ask…but you must give me your word that you will allow me to make my own choice when we finally reach Cuchailard Keep.” Eyes narrowing, she watched her father closely for the response she wanted.
I will give ye my solemn oath to hear ye out. I canna agree to more then that, lass,” Laird Caymber shrewdly responded. He would not give in that easily…though he did admire the lass’s tactics. Smiling to himself, he thought, “Perhaps the lass is like her father after all.”
Sighing with resignation, Kaitla set her jaw with determination, “Well, I guess I can’t ask for more then that now, can I?” she retorted, wryly cocking an eyebrow.
Smiling down at his daughter, Caymber planted a kiss in the middle of her forehead, “Aye, ye could ask, but ye more then likely wouldna’ get it!” Chuckling to himself, Caymber turned to leave, “Get some rest, lassie. Tomorrow we must rise early and each of us begin our journey.”
Kaitla frowned in agreement, glaring at her father as he left the tent. Crossing over to the pile of sleeping pillows in the corner, she threw herself into the middle of the pile, pounding the pillows in frustration with her fist. After several hours of tossing and turning, she finally managed to drift off into a troubled sleep.
The next morning Kaitla reluctantly awoke to Etain’s gentle prodding, “Rise up, lass. Ye must have something to eat before ye start your journey.” Etain spoke with urgency, anxious to at least have Kaitla well fed before she departed with Macvorn. She worried about the child going off alone with Macvorn. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust him…there was just something about the lad that made her feel uneasy. Kaitla was still so new to the realm and still so unsure of her powers. Many dangers awaited the unsuspecting lass and Etain wasn’t quite convinced that Macvorn might not be one of them. Etain gazed at Kaitla, worried lines creasing her forehead. How had things managed to get so muddled again when they had just seemed to be falling into place?
Kaitla slowly sat up amid the pillows, rubbing her face wearily in an attempt to remove the last traces of her fretful night. She hadn’t slept well at all. Alternately dreaming of lying in Jared’s arms, then being torn out of them by her father. She’d relived the attempt on her life over and over, only each time in the dream, it had been Jared who’d saved her life and she’d been unable to restore him as she had Macvorn. She had always awakened just as she started sobbing over Jared’s lifeless body. Kaitla ruefully decided she probably would’ve felt better, if she hadn’t slept at all.
Blearily focusing on the breakfast tray the tiny servant girl had placed on the floor beside her, Kaitla decided to only attempt a hot cup of tea. Her appetite seemed to have left her, leaving in its place a heavy lump of dread in the pit of Kaitla’s stomach.
Kaitla! Ye must eat, lass,” Etain scolded. “Ye will be traveling for hours and who’s ta’ say how long it may be before ye stop and rest.” Shaking her head in dismay, Etain huffed in agitation, as she paced back and forth across the room.
Ignoring Etain’s theatrics, Kaitla continued to barely sip at her tea. “I’m not hungry,” she finally stated flatly, her tone clearly informing Etain it would be useless to say anything further.
Muttering under her breath about
the stubborn clot heid
at her feet, Etain deftly wrapped up the warm rolls and fresh fruit into a linen napkin. “I’ll place these in your saddle bags along with the other provisions I’ve packed for ye. When ye get hungry later, --AND YE WILL, ye can eat them then.”
Remembering the argument with her father, Kaitla interrupted Etain’s monotonous tirade, “Etain, how old are you?” she asked, squinting her eyes thoughtfully, as she mentally calculated a guess at Etain’s age.
Raising her chin proudly, Etain replied, “I’m seven hundred and twenty-eight, why do ye ask?”
Her mouth dropping open in astonishment, it was a few moments before Kaitla could respond. “What’s the average life span in this place!” she finally uttered in amazement.
Well, let me see…” Etain’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she tapped at her tiny chin, “I believe the oldest I’ve known anyone ta’ be is…. hmmmm. I’m not sure, lass. I think it’s at least a few years past a thousand, --I’m afraid most deaths in this realm are not usually due to
causes, ye see.”
That’s amazing…how can people live to be so old here?” asked Kaitla, shaking her head slowly with wonder. Awaiting Etain’s answer, she slowly finished her tea, then rose stiffly from her nest of pillows to dress for the journey ahead.
Before answering Kaitla’s question, Etain rang for the servant waiting just outside the tent. Handing over the bundle of food, she whispered her instructions to the servant who quickly took the bundle then disappeared. Finally turning to Kaitla, she replied honestly, “I have no idea, lass. Our great age is one of the mysteries to the realm only revealed to the Auld Ones and their acolytes.”
At the mention of the Auld Ones, Kaitla recalled her father’s pending journey with Etain to meet before the Great Council. “Explain to me about the Auld Ones, Etain” She asked with renewed interest. Kaitla had noticed how the Auld Ones were revered throughout the realm and was curious to know more about the mysterious sages.
The Auld Ones are the beings of the realm that have proven themselves to be the most powerful in the ways,” Etain explained carefully, “Modron, the first of the Auld Ones is the most powerful of them all. This group of chosen ones maintains the balance of the realm, intervening when necessary to save the realm from destruction. All secrets of the Creator are known to them,” she finished simply.
What business does my father have with them?” Kaitla bluntly asked. She was too tired to try and wheedle the information out of Etain, so, she decided to blatantly cut to the chase. She had her suspicions about the unexpected journey and was curious to see if Etain would confirm or deny them.
Ye must work on that art of subtlety ye have there, lass. Ye’re sore lacking in that gift…” Etain observed wryly. “Your father wishes to have audience with Modron. He would speak with him of his son.”
Which means….” Kaitla prodded, nodding her head for Etain to continue. Folding her arms across her chest, her face was grim with expectation.
Which means exactly what ye think it means…he intends to offer ye to Macvorn. A fine union that would surely strengthen the clans and produce offspring of untold powers,” Etain explained without preamble. There was no reason to attempt to keep the truth from the lass; she had warned the Laird that Kaitla would not be easily deceived.
He’s wasting a trip and everyone’s time, Etain,” Kaitla curtly declared. Checking the room one last time to ensure she had forgotten nothing, she turned towards the archway to leave, “I’m not breeding stock, nor a bargaining chip to gain more lands….the sooner my father figures that out, the better off he’ll be.” Stomping her way out of the tent, Kaitla headed toward the group of horses and riders preparing to depart. The dark menacing look covering her beautiful features warned everyone to steer clear of the Laird’s daughter.
Following Kaitla to the waiting horses, Etain shook her head slowly. “Ye must be careful, lass. The journey will be a dangerous one.” Eyeing the waiting group up ahead, Etain quickly gave one last word of advice, “Ye must remember, lass, everything is not always as it seems.”
Curious about the ominous sound of Etain’s advice, Kaitla turned to get more details but was interrupted by Laird Caymber’s booming voice, “There she is! ‘Tis time ta’ leave, lass! Are ye ready?”
Etain nodded to Kaitla, silently urging her to obey her father. With a quick hug and a whispered, “Be careful my wee one.” Etain mounted her horse and waited tearfully for Laird Caymber to make his good-byes to Kaitla.
Crushing his daughter to his chest, Laird Caymber murmured in a barely audible voice, “I’ve just recovered ye and here I must say goodbye to ye already.” His voice cracking with emotion, he brushed a hand across his eyes as he continued, “Be careful, daughter and remember how much yer auld father loves ye!”
Returning the crushing bear hug, Kaitla whispered back, “I love you too, father. Don’t go…we can all just travel to Cuchailard together. Please.,” she pleaded, assuming the most vulnerable look she could muster. There had to be a way to dissuade the Laird from turning her over to Macvorn. Gazing tearfully into the Laird’s face, Kaitla realized with a start that she also wasn’t ready to leave her newly found father
Sniffing slightly, the Laird nervously cleared his throat, “Ahmmm, ---Kaitla, ye remember our agreement. This is fer the best and ‘twill be but a week until we are together once more.” Glancing up at the approaching Macvorn, he continued, “Besides, lass…it’ll give ye the chance ta’ renew yer bonds with the land. Macvorn is a good companion for ye, as well. He can protect ye as well as show ye more of the ways along yer journey.” Laird Caymber loved his daughter but he had clearly seen through the vulnerable act and wasn’t about to give in now. He didn’t want to be separated from her either but her future now depended on it. The lass would someday thank him for arranging such a wonderful life; blessing him with a lap full of gifted grandchildren as well.
Kaitla sullenly pecked her father on the cheek and turned to mount her horse in resignation, stubbornly ignoring Macvorn’s hearty greeting of good morning. Seething with frustration, she eyed him coldly, wondering just how involved he had been in the Laird’s plan for her future.
Reading Kaitla’s mind quite clearly, Macvorn arched a questioning brow at Laird Caymber, “Are ye sure?” he asked quietly, inclining his head slightly in Kaitla’s direction.
With a curt nod of agreement, Laird Caymber mounted his horse. “Keep her safe, Macvorn,” he admonished in a stern tone. Pulling up alongside Kaitla’s mount, he gently patted her shoulder, “Goodbye, lass, I love ye.”
Goodbye, father. Take care,” Kaitla replied, teardrops gathering at the corners of her eyes. Then without another word to anyone, she curtly turned her horse and spurred it to a gallop west for Cuchailard Keep.
Watching her ride away, Laird Caymber turned for one last word to Macvorn, “Good luck, lad. Dinna disappoint me. I know her destiny lies with ye.” He peered at Macvorn sternly, silently willing the lad to keep his daughter safe.