Daughter of the Witcher Ch. 04byTaLtos6©
***I'm moving the spotlight away from Louhi for a little while. This will tie in later, but for now, we're looking at the border country which separates England from Scotland.
The year is not 1000AD yet but I needed a clan who could have been active there near the border and had a feud running with their opposite numbers on the other side. I picked a name, but then I remembered that those folks weren't really there yet, coming from Norman stock originally. Besides, I didn't want to tick anybody off who might be descended from that famous bunch who actually did become one of the border reiver clans, so I changed the name.
At this point, there are no active reiver clans, not for another 200 years or so, but I'm betting that there was already a little spitting over the fence going on. :)
Oh yeah, a side note. Just about everybody in this chapter speaks the local tongue, so I saw no need to torture my brain working out the color of it phonetically.
As far as the central character's name in this, ... Well I'm no Scot and I don't speak Gaelic. I might be wrong, but I *think* that 'Màiri' is pronounced the same way as 'Mary', though I doubt that it's the same name. I just know that when it was anglicized, that's what it became.
Màiri Ciar lay naked on her front while her friend and kinswoman Beathag Cossford inspected the very recent tattoo work on her arm and her lower back with a critical eye, also using her fingertips to seek for scabs or areas which were not healing well in the places were the work was darkest and heaviest. She found none, but the style and the boldness of the work were striking to her and she said so.
Màiri would have been a lot more forthcoming in her responses – even likely telling Beathag of the significance of everything and why it had been chosen, but her answers were much more along the lines of either monosyllables or just quiet grunts.
She didn't mean to be rude; she was just distracted by the nature of the things which she'd seen the night before as she'd sat scrying through the mists rising from a moonlit river. The subject matter had been riveting and very compelling, but she'd normally have put it down to a freak, one-off event, given that she hadn't gone there with the thought in mind. It had just happened as her walk took her past the optimal spot to see it.
Sadly, what she'd seen as she'd been walking and what had compelled her to stop and stare matched what had been made manifest to her earlier that evening using her more normal method of a scrying bowl. She didn't possess a bowl, but she had a goblet and with a little water and the light of a candle, ...
So she was troubled, to say the least.
"Fine," Beathag said with a little smile, knowing when not to press Màiri over something, "you may keep your secrets, Màiri. I don't really care. I was only trying to make talk between us."
Màiri apologized profusely, "I'm just bothered by something that I saw last night before you found me out walking while you looked for me, Beathag. To answer you, I put the markings on myself with a mirror and some careful thought."
Beathag was amazed. "This is too fine and too far behind you to have done it yourself. How then?"
Màiri smiled, "As I have said, a mirror and some careful thought. It was done all at once in an instant, not with the needle but with the mind."
"Well I hope you are not too bothered any more this night, "the other one said a little quietly, "Me, I am happy that you're back with us at last. After you were taken, I thought that I would never see you again." Her voice faded a little after that point from some old emotions which rose in her, and she thought it best not to say too much.
But Màiri caught it and she turned to look back with a soft and slightly sad expression.
"Here now, my old friend. I'll have no weeping. The thing is that I AM alive and I AM back. If we let ourselves go, we'll both be wailing all over again soon, and I can't have it – not this night when I am to be tested by the laird."
The other one nodded in understanding and got to her feet to bring the small platter of food to Màiri and they sat together eating and looking at each other. The quiet moments brought thoughts to them both as they looked at how the passage of half a score of years had changed them.
Beathag and Màiri were cousins and had been together on and off for all of their childhoods, their mothers being close and lifelong friends as well. Beathag was a little shorter and had always been pretty – but not much more than that back then. She was the daughter of a backwoods witch who hadn't had much of any ability other than to craft a little medicine and use a bit of folk magic to help her neighbors. As well, she was a midwife of some renown, but again, that was far away from any place with many people.
Beathag was the product of her mother's union with a handsome thief. The two had tried to make a go of things, but he'd been killed in a brawl one night and Beathag had never really known her father. Neither of her parents were directly related to their clan, coming from the Cossfords, a sept of the clan which they owed allegiance to.
The same sort of story could be said to have occurred in Màiri's origins, though her father still lived, a strong and good man who worked as the right hand of the laird of clan Ciar. What had brought about his daughter's conception was a combination of several factors.
Màiri's mother had been at the point of her rise as a capable witch to have needed a man to help her along. As well, she'd been more than ready to take a man out of her own want of one, and she didn't want to mate with a stranger.
She'd just wanted to mate. The couple were young at the time and they'd always loved each other, so once in a while, when the man's duties took him near to the rough hovel where Màiri's mother dwelt, well, ...
They'd always been close, and what they did then was just an extension of that and their love was just a well-kept secret; just a quiet and deep thing between a young man and his sister.
But where Beathag could have easily been called pretty her whole childhood long, Màiri had been the ugly duckling – the emphasis being on the adjective. Her pale white skin topped with a flaming and unruly mop of bright red hair added to her skinny and shapeless form had often caused her father to think in terms of the actions of the sins of her creation as being a judgement on her which she'd played no part in and she was certainly undeserving of it to his mind. She was lovely to him as any father might see his daughter, but he knew that she hadn't been given much in the way of gifts beyond her quick mind and sparkling friendliness. It had caused him to always love her fiercely.
Màiri was aware of the circumstances of her immediate family and she knew that it was a thing which was to be kept quiet about. She just loved her father whenever he came; happy that he loved her and did for her whatever he could.
Because of those circumstances - meaning poverty and the remoteness of where they began to grow up while learning of themselves and what they were and what they could do, the two girls were inseparable for most of their childhoods. While it wouldn't be fair to say that they'd been first lovers out of intent – since there were no other choices of any kind which appealed to them, it could be said that they'd been more than close and had experimented a little bit during their eighteenth year until everything came apart because of a band of raiders from out of northern England.
With nothing at all which might be of interest to men who came to rob and plunder, the only saving grace in that terrible day had been the way that their mothers had told their girls to run toward a hiding hole in the ground with a trap door of old weathered cedar stumps on the top.
The atrocities weren't worth remembering, but the net effect was that both of the mothers had been killed, since what they were was easily seen and deduced. Màiri had just gotten Beathag into the hole when she'd been spotted because of her red hair and so she turned away and ran off, leaving the dark-haired girl alone.
But both of them knew the outcome beforehand.
Beathag sat weeping and trembling in fear in their hiding place and Màiri had run for her life, but it meant little in terms of the ending, since the raiders were on horseback. It took no time for them to run her to ground. But she was spared by the thoughts of a warlock who had come along with the rest of his family to raid over the border. Màiri had been trussed up and thrown over the back of a horse and Beathag had known nothing of her friend ever since.
In time, she'd crept out of her hiding spot and gone to see the laird, but she was nobody and doubted if he'd have much of an interest, other than the news of the incursion. That was likely what would have happened too, but for her chance meeting with Màiri's father.
Things had been heading in this direction anyway, but faced with the murder of his beloved sister and the loss of his daughter – whose true identity he still maintained as a secret, he was able to ask for a little retribution over the death of his sister and Beathag's mother and it also lent a little weight to his words that he could remind his liege that his sister was a little thought-of, but nonetheless direct relation to the laird himself on his father's side.
It began out of retribution, but it became a long-standing thing which had only grown slowly worse over the intervening years with riders crossing the border from both sides to plunder and kill.
But only very early the morning of the day before, things had changed when a single woman walked out of the thinning night mists to the gate of the laird's manor, saying who she was and asking to be let in.
Màiri's father and the laird were away to the north at the time, so it was thought to keep the red-haired mystery locked up until their return. That was what was to happen, but Beathag had come to see to the stranger and brought her a little food and water. She'd heard the claim that this person had made about being the daughter of a murdered backwater witch, but she'd come prepared to unmask an assassin.
Màiri knew Beathag at once, though now it could be said that she'd gone the rest of the way from pretty to lovely. But Beathag had to be convinced that Màiri was who she claimed to be. It set off round after round of subtle questionings where Màiri had laughed her way through the interrogation, easily knowing the answers to whatever Beathag asked of her. As well, she'd laughed a little more whenever Beathag had tried to ask about something which had never happened, knowing the red herring when she saw it.
Beathag was almost convinced, seeing things in the other's expressions and mannerisms which kept prodding her to accept what was said. Yet there remained one thing which kept Beathag on the edge of becoming annoyed over the way that this person claimed to be someone who had meant so much to her long ago. The audacity of the ruse, if that was what this was kept her cold and withdrawn.
Finally, Màiri herself had become annoyed.
"Well, it's a sad thing to see that my dearest friend cannot believe me," she said, "And here I've answered everything that was set for me for the past hour and more. What has happened to cause you to doubt me, Beathag?"
She reached her manacled hand up to wipe away her tears, "You claim that I am not Màiri Ciar and cannot be. But you were my best and almost only friend for all of my life." She drained her goblet and threw it against the wall.
"I came home.
I came home to find out what I had left before I went to see what has become of the burned-down place where we were born. Here you come to give the prisoner food and all that I want is to hold you, not believing who stands before me. But you say that I am not Màiri."
She turned away and sat down on the straw bed of the cell, "Strange how I can recall the way that it felt to hold your body against me and how your lips tasted to me all that time ago in the trees next to the little river near my mother's home." She glared at the other woman for a moment.
"And strange it is that I can remember the taste of something else that I loved about Beathag my friend.
Perhaps it is you who are not genuine. If you cannot remember those times with me; then perhaps it is not that your memory has failed you. It was a time for me that I have never forgotten because the Beathag that I remember was important to me. If you are my Beathag, then I can say that it hurts me to know that it was something that you claim that you do not remember."
She was too agitated to remain sitting. Màiri wanted Beathag to leave her alone, if this was how things were now. She almost said the hurtful words which came to her mind, but she restrained herself and thought of what was perhaps the last proof that she could offer.
She got to her feet again and stepped closer to the raven-haired girl. Looking nowhere other than right into those blue eyes, boring holes into them with her green ones, she pulled up her dress and holding it there with her left hand, she pulled her red pubic hair aside just a little and pointed to the spot where her leg met her body, "I have a little more hair these days and nothing to trim it with, since I walked alone all the way after I set the horse free at the border. Maybe you might remember this."
Beathag stared and then sank slowly to her knees.
There was no gainsaying what she saw there. This woman was beautiful and her long and slightly wavy red mane was not the tangled flyaway thing that her friend had always struggled with. The thin frame had filled out to a body which was perfection if not far from it. There were breasts where it had looked as though there would likely never be any long ago and there were markings on that body which spoke of a slightly different sort of power from what they'd learned at the hands of their mothers.
The sound of the voice might be a trick, as might the mannerisms which she saw. Those things could be learned as well. Beathag was aware that the laird of the clan would be seeing this person and she was quite obviously more than the simple hedge-witch that Màiri would have grown up to be had nothing happened all that time ago. So it was up to her to be certain. All of the things which she'd seen would have been almost good enough for her to brush aside the rest if it was only up to her.
But she didn't want to say that yes, this was the Màiri Ciar whom she'd known and not someone sent by the English to gain an audience with the Scottish lord who vexed them. Beathag had kept this top of mind, demanding ever more proofs. But this, ...
She was looking at the spot right next to the crease of where this person's thigh met her trunk. It was just at the edge of her mound and it was the same birthmark which she remembered.
She stared a moment longer and then she held her face in her hands and began to cry.
Màiri stood and watched for only a moment and then she reached to lift Beathag up and they stood weeping together for a long time. As the emotion of it passed, Beathag went to see the master of the guards and had her friend released into her custody and most of the day was spent in listening to what had happened to Màiri.
"I cannot say that I was treated badly, once the mage took me to his home. I was free to go where I would as long as he knew where I was or would be and of course I was bound not to leave by his will," she said. "I was given a room and I could bathe when I wanted and he was not unkind to me – quite the opposite of what I'd been afraid of.
The second morning, he asked me if I was still a virgin and of course, I lied to him, but he did not show whether he knew better by looking at me. He was strong this way.
When I said it, he only nodded and said that I was to remain this way then. He never forced me in anything, Beathag, though I had to please him in many other ways quite often once he knew I was of age. He told me that it was an agreement between us. I had to do for him and in return, he would take me as his learner, and he was never cheap with his lessons to me. So many times I thought that my poor head would burst from all of the things which he taught to me.
He taught me to fight in many ways and he also gave me gifts in abilities. I was his companion much of the time, and when anyone asked, he did not say that I was his girl or even his learner. He lied and said that I was his daughter, though after a time, I think that it was the reason that I was taken – because he wanted someone to pass the knowledge to.
The one time that I saw his rage was when he gave me over to a man to teach me to ride well. That one had me backed into a corner and trying to fight him off, but the mage came then and the man cowered before him. It did him no good and the mage tore him to pieces alive, though he didn't so much as touch him with his hands at all. After that, I was taught to ride by the mage himself."
She looked away for a moment in a bit of thought, remembering, "By the time that he knew that I was eighteen, I slept in his bed every night and I learned many ways to please him, though he never tried to mount me to take my cunny. He gave me pleasure as well, but he never tried to fuck me there even once. By then, I did not dare to tell him that I was no virgin out of fear, or not knowing if it would have changed anything between us.
I can say that I loved him in a way and if it had only gone differently and if he was not so many years older, I could have been happy because he kept me from being hurt or killed that day that we last saw each other. But I always remembered that I had been taken away against what I wanted and I never forgot my mother and yours and how they were killed.
So it came to be six long years that I have been a prisoner of his in a way and deciding that it was enough and that he had little if anything more to teach to me, I slew him and left. I had more than enough power by then anyway.
Now, besides coming back to the clan which I have never forgotten, I want to tell the laird something that he should know. That family – and I never learned their name – is now without their mage. There is no one there now who knows much of the wisdom and I set the place alight when I left in the night."
Beathag nodded, "The name is known, Màiri. I went to see the laird after and I saw your father. Because of that, it was the beginning of a long feud which runs still to this day. The only thing which remains unchanged is that they began it. Now we do the same, riding over the border and I can say that we are no better and there are other clans now who begin it, and not only us. The English come to raid and we go there to raid. I am sure there are cows who have been stolen three and four times over from it all."
As the evening came on, Beathag had moments where she held Màiri and only looked at her for long moments at a time, but the red-haired girl shook her head at last.
"Beathag," she smiled softly, "I can see that you have thoughts which I also have. But I can say that my father is coming at any moment. He is already here and he learns now that there is a woman here who claims to be someone from the clan lost for years. He has no want to believe it and will set me a test before the laird sets me his own, thinking that I cannot pass his own test for me. I also know that he will come here soon. So it would be a bad time for it, though I can say that I have the same questions as you. I think that we will need to wait. I need to prepare to see my father again."
She stood up and her clothing changed. The poor rough weave dress was gone and she wore a cape with a high collar which was fastened around her throat. There were long boots on her legs which ran to only inches below her hips and they were crafted of rough brushed leather though they were obviously supple and matched the shade of her long hair exactly. Around her chest, under her breasts was a braided band of soft black leather. It was matched by the ones there on her biceps and fastened to these were long black sections of veil.