Guardians of the Treasure Ch. 01byArtOfLove©
May the golden butterfly lead you throughout your
reading of the journey of the last MacEirc royal bloodline
The story began when Coinneach was just a little boy.
The servant picked him up and kissed him once on the cheek. Tears streamed down as she cradled his tiny body in her arms. Together they penetrated through the chilling mist of the border-crossing bridge, leaving the lines of carriages due for another transit post in Beinn Dearg. Indeed, they were heading further North, the most unfavored destination for any man wishing to blend with the civilization.
"'Tis silence and peace, lad, I promise I'll be here," she whispered.
What am I to do, Laird, what am I to do with him? At first, the poor woman kept on slipping this question inside her head while praying for Laird Croibhdhearg's and Lady Inghean's souls. Just then, the gentle North wind blew. Soothed by an unknown force, she was assured that both gentle souls watched over them from heaven.
She was right. White mist might have blinded them, days and days of non-stop walking had certainly torn her feet, the numbing hunger might have clouded their minds; any sane man would wager them dead by nightfall. But the peace, aye, the peace and silence of the white clouds did not block away the spirit of Angus calling after them.
With the worn ragged clothes, the torn feet cover and her faltering vision, she moved forward still, growing even more certain that they would reach Angus' keep.
Coinneach did not cry. The boy barely had any strength left after the crying fit he threw the night before. The servant's whisper constantly cooed him with kind words, soothing him to forget the unresolved hunger.
She remembered protecting him from the rocky earth as her walk turned to lifeless sway and her knees hit the ground. But that was one of the last memories she had. Tears dried, legs no longer felt, whisper of comfort lost on unmoving lips. Dissolving into the chill, she tried to rise but collapsed onto the ground. Nobody heard her weak sobs and silent prayers for his survival, but neither did she.
After what seemed like eternity, the earth rumbled; vigorous gallops approached from the distance. Had there been any strength left, she would have woken up and run for safety. But even the golden butterfly that landed on her ear could not help her now.
'Twas the beginning of winter 1301.
'Twas a night before winter 1327, and the night before the fall of the black-hearted Baron Sighere, when Eanfled was being dragged in ropes towards a small cottage in the middle of nowhere. She was barely conscious as the drowsy potion forced upon her for days on the horse ride still lingered.
A lady was giving her a treat before everything disappeared. Eanfled had no idea how many days or weeks it had been, but she remembered being shifted from one ride to another. When allowed meager food or drink, she was blindfolded and bound. Her fingers could barely touch anything before the bleak unconsciousness fell upon her repeatedly.
The last pair of hands that carried her did not force down the drowsy liquid anymore. He dragged her towards the cottage; a cluttered old place, as fragile as his body seemed to be. Racing against the time to her complete consciousness, he bound her ankle to one corner, and announced that Baron Sighere himself would personally collect her tomorrow.
"Don't waste your scream. Have I not been dreadful for my head, you would be writhing by now, Lass. Aye, I can tell you I am as strong as a young horse." It was all bluster, of course, for the shameful fact was that Baron Sighere had castrated him many years ago, and he did not actually have the heart to hurt this maiden.
But Eanfled, no older than thirteen summers, could barely comprehend the strange language as he blended it with as much English as possible to help his captive understand, which made it even harder to.
The old man, Oswyn, did not move much from his seat in front of the hearth, obviously enjoying the relaxing warmth throughout the evening. He looked incapable of harming her barehanded, but her ankle was chained to one corner. Although the chains allowed her to walk a few steps away from the bed, it was not long enough for her to reach out for anything and throw.
That night, a slap of wind shook the cottage. Strange, but the old building possessed much more strength than it appeared. Series of storm trapping them for the next few days did not blow off the roof either. Many times Eanfled woke up in fright, but her esteem kept her mouth shut. Until one night when the storm raged the hardest, she began to cry.
Oswyn took pity on her. Despite the thin blanket, his belated Dísa's tattered clothing, the cold meals he had provided, and a piece of metallic bucket for her private use, somehow he felt there was nothing else he could provide to help comfort her. The lass might miss her home, but truth be told; she was destined to suffer and die. All he could do was extend his frail arms for her. There, misery and sorrow threw away any sense of fear she had left. She soaked his ragged tunic with her tears.
Eanfled knew Oswyn was harmless. Despite the language problem, soon she comprehended his heartfelt stories; that he was forced to survive the cruel life in the secluded area alone after the passing of his wife Dísa. He had to serve Baron Sighere who bound the rest of his family into life long slavery at the keep. The baron spared him the hard labour but made him run certain evil errands which required his frail disposition and old age as disguise.
But there was one thing Oswyn did not tell her; that he meant to end his life, just as soon as this last captive was taken away from him. Yes, she would be the last of Sighere's slave, at least he hoped so.
But all went wrong, for neither Baron Sighere nor anyone else had knocked on the door to claim her. At first, Oswyn assumed that the storm had kept anyone from visiting them. But the spring went by, the summer, and then the fall. After a year there was still no news of the baron. It occurred to Oswyn that his duty to isolate her may turn out longer than expected. As soon as Eanfled showed the first sign of needing thorough privacy, he lengthened the chains, providing more room to move about in the cottage. He seemed to care for her like his own daughter, but because his family's life was in Sighere's hands, he had to keep her bound to hide her from anyone else except the mysteriously silenced baron.
At nights, Oswyn would try to console the captive by telling her heartwarming tales of the past and taught her his language to keep her preoccupied. Never once did he confide in her the depression he had been having lately.
The poor lass had given him a spark of hope to remain alive. Her fiery hazel eyes penetrated straight into his heart, as if she understood him deeply. Whenever she grew exasperated over the confinement, she would yell indecent words, forcing him to see the anguish he had given her. He had to save his valuable belongings from her grasp and throw, not that he had many.
But he knew the lass had pure heart, for she would apologize and fall crying in his arms again, admitting that condemning him was a faulty judgement. She knew he was just another victim like her. She did not realize, however, that her rage and trust had kept the only flame in him to live and protect her, burning.
'Twas a month before Fall 1333.
It took Oswyn six stubborn years to consider including Laird MacEirc into his plan. He was terribly afraid of this man, and for certain reasons in the past, his family had been avoiding the MacEircs as much as possible. But now he knew they had no other option, something was definitely amiss because Sighere had not claimed Eanfled. Deep inside he prayed that the cruel baron had died and his family survived; but why had they not returned yet?
He knew the way to Sighere's holding and was determined to find out what happened there himself. But he dared not leave the little captive alone, for the distance was ten days of hard ride away; he could not risk the possibility of Sighere's men stealing her away without honoring the deal, or find the cottage empty and kill his family. Nay, he would not put his children's life in jeopardy, if they were still alive. The baron's reputation for committing such foulplay was rather well known.
Finally, Oswyn decided to execute the only alternative plan there was. Intending to barter his life over Eanfled's and his family's at the same time, he sent the pigeon with a short note. Angus is here.
Laird MacEirc would understand the meaning, for it was the very same code Oswyn and Angus had used to summon each other for secret meetings here far away from their clan. The laird knew of this cottage, he was here searching for Angus seven years ago.
When Eanfled was handed over to the powerful laird, Oswyn would hear of his family before hanging himself. This would make it look like the savage clan had done it after taking Eanfled and would taint the MacEirc's name. But this plan would keep his children and Eanfled safe, for the time being. Yes, he was dead as soulless corpse now anyway, no longer a living man since his beloved wife died.
The laird would take good care of and protect her from harm; nobody would dare offend him, especially not any English men, for they would buckle at the mere sight of his shadow from a distance. And they would have to get through him before laying a finger on Eanfled.
These few days, Oswyn waited further away from the cottage for the MacEircs, he had meant to explain everything before allowing them entrance. The band of warriors in war paint was very impatient though. They arrived three days earlier than he had expected, and as soon as they spotted him, the chief jumped down from the horse to shake him by the shoulders, demanding a quick answer to Angus' condition. The ruthless clan was well-known for their gruff direct approach to everything, it took strong-willed people not to wilt before them.
Before Oswyn was done with his explanations, however, the laird muttered expletives for Oswyn had offended them by the deception in his message. He struggled to complete the rest of his explanations while the MacEircs fought the urge to beat him. Harming innocent or weaker ones was not within their blood; Oswyn was not innocent but weak, disgustingly weak. They were disappointed because apparently there was no real lead to Angus or Sighere's new ally. The warriors had been rushing to this very spot, expecting to find their long lost Angus and break a real war at somebody's fortress. Instead, they found another riddle and there was nothing they could do to wring out Angus' whereabouts from Oswyn for the foolish man apparently knew lesser than they did.
"This better lead us to Angus, Oswyn, or I swear I'll cut your tongue out before killing you, and no vow would save your worthless traitorous life!" If the giant's hard shove on his chest did not give Oswyn a heart attack, the disgruntled glowering from the other warriors was enough to wilt him with panic for being the center of their attention right now. But still he stood ground that they would be led to Angus if they had Eanfled, at least that was what he had in mind.
Unaware of the ruckus outside, Eanfled allowed the warm water embrace her exhausted mind inside the wooden tub that Oswyn had thoughtfully made for her bath at one corner. There, he had brilliantly engineered an endless supply of running water and drainage that they called Oswyn's water channeling. Despite the odd circumstances that brought them to know each other, nobody else had treated her better than he did. She would be out when Sighere claimed her, but did not think she would welcome that day as much.
Feeling all clean and fragrant, she went on wiping the whole cottage absent-mindedly, resuming the task she had been doing for the last three nights. She could not comprehend why she was very restless lately, sometimes she could swear there was a golden butterfly flying about the carefully sealed cottage. 'Twas the first time she saw such an unusually shiny butterfly. Perhaps she was beginning to lose her mind. Yes, that could be it. Perhaps she could use this excuse to persuade Oswyn into letting her out of the cottage for a quick breath of fresh air.
Often she laughed at his paranoia of her escaping. Why, she might not reach further than the barbaric land of ruthless pagans that everybody in the past had told her about. Right here at least she had everything she could ever need, and she could save Oswyn's family by fulfilling his duty to the baron. After which she would take the next opportunity available to escape. Yes, Oswyn had provided her with enough linguistic and basic survival skills that could be put into good use, and he had made her memorize this map to a secret passage that would bring her out of Sighere's keep. No one, not even his clansmen nor his children knew about this as he had not the chance to tell anyone before Sighere captured them.
The vegetable soup she was making on top of the fire gave out a nice delicious scent that would surely please the old man. Hearing heavy footsteps and the door swung open, quickly she tasted it one last time before turning around, feeling very pleased of herself.
"Oswyn, I think you would like the...," her sentence turned into a sudden chilling silence. Horror filled her face at the shocking view in front of her.
Instead of Oswyn's stooped tiny figure, she saw the most gigantic man ever. The tall wide doorframe could barely fit him, but Eanfled thoughtfully assumed that he had ducked down before entering because she had not heard any thud, and he was already inside the room now, standing with his muscular legs braced apart.
That was not all; she saw Oswyn with a gag on his mouth, another gigantic man behind the first giant held him like merely dangling a tiny ragged doll. War paint made them look even more savage and fearsome. Lord helped her, she was suddenly grateful she had not attempted to escape before, at least right here she had Oswyn to accompany her to... or did she? Eanfled quickly sealed her predicament with a silent prayer. Lord, please let her stay here with Oswyn for another six years, she would treat him better and not throw things at him again.
Oswyn was trying to say something through his gag but the grab on his arm silenced him. The first giant did not say anything but matched her scrutiny. Eanfled surmised he was the leader of the pack; because dozens of heathens that had suddenly appeared outside the cottage, and the second giant clutching onto Oswyn's arm, no matter how huge she thought they were, did not look any bigger than him. Why, The Beast, yes, she would call him that now because he had not said a word of introduction yet, had very broad shoulders and huge muscular feature that the attire and war paint could not hide, there was no pinch of fat anywhere on him.
The set of strong jaw and perfect symmetrical facial feature; looked as hard as the rest of him. His wavy blond hair did not reach his shoulders and the cut was not neatly straight but complimented his face well. He looked savage yet beautiful at the same time; this combination fascinated her. Despite the chilling effect his gray eyes had, she found herself captivated by it, especially now that he was giving her full attention. Strange, staring at people was not her favorite pastime, yet she could not get enough looking at him.
"Unhand him, Sir."
'Twas the first words she gave the two giants to release Oswyn, but the old man's eyes widened instead, shaking his head at her and kept glancing nervously at The Beast. It could not be fear, for Oswyn used to tell her the only worst devil that worthed the fear was Sighere, and this man in front of her was nowhere as pretty as Oswyn's description of the frail old Sighere.
"What did you do to him?" She hoped this time The Beast would answer to her authoritative calm voice, but instead he asked Oswyn without breaking the stare with her. "'Tis the orphan you told me about, Oswyn?"
Oswyn quickly nodded, caught her eyes and frowned at her. Something worried him but she could not decide what it was. Little did she know that he was afraid for her lack of manner towards Laird MacEirc. Nobody had dared to use that tone on him before, especially not when he was upset after Oswyn's explanation earlier.
"I said unhand him, Sir," Eanfled repeated firmly and strengthened her gaze to emphasize her seriousness. She caught a glint of amusement on The Beast's eyes before it turned chilling again. Strong aura of power radiated from him, the golden glow seemed to grow brighter at each passing second she could almost feel the heat.
She refused to feel intimidated, however, and decided it was enough rudeness for him to ignore her words. Furiously, she walked towards him, intending to settle any problem once and for all, she could punch and kick him if she had to. Oswyn's eyes widened further because he knew just what she would do when her temper flared like this. The sudden jumpy reflex when he pressed his back against the second giant drew the captors' frown of confusion; he was afraid of the young lass!
Unfortunately, the chain on her ankle stopped her just two steps away from the trio; it was only then that she realized she was bound. The Beast folded his arms with obvious impatience.
But suddenly, as if he were reminded of something, he turned to Oswyn with deep seriousness in low but angry tone. "Not an orphan kid, Oswyn, she's a maiden!"
Oswyn shrugged and muffled out some words that nobody could understand. The Beast groaned exasperation before reaching out for his gag, but Eanfled mistook it as an initiation to harm the old man. Impulsively, she interjected. "I am Baron Sighere's slave. Oswyn's family is in danger." She knew it was hasty, but she would do anything to protect Oswyn from The Beast's wrath, at least delay it a bit longer.
The Beast knew what she was doing and sighed with obvious irritation. "Old Sighere is dead. We took over the fortress six years ago."
A look of defeat appeared on Oswyn's eyes, he must have heard the news before they entered the cottage. But Eanfled was too taken aback to notice that. "And what of Oswyn's family, Sir?"
The Beast's eyes narrowed, studying her. "The innocents were free to choose. They chose to serve me." From both giants' look of disdain at the mention of Sighere's name, Eanfled assumed they were on her side; enemy to the cruel baron. If Oswyn was not part of their clan, then he might be their ally.
The Beast finally tore their staring match to frown disapproval at her chain. The light in his eyes gradually turned from surprised to deadly furious. Without shifting focus, he asked Oswyn in quiet but dangerous tone, "You bound her?"
Poor Oswyn had actually trembled, muffling quick words under the gag. The second giant holding him captive rolled his eyes and removed his gag who quickly blabbered, "I had to, Laird, lest Sighere killed my family!" Nothing Oswyn said could calm the burning rage that built up in his chilling gray eyes, however, rudely he shoved Oswyn to the hearth where a set of keys was visible.
But when the old man stumbled, The Beast decided they had wasted enough of their precious time with him. One large hand suddenly held Eanfled's left ankle in place and a swish of blade cut the chain on the floor with a thud. She had not even drawn a complete breath when he returned the blade to the sheath on his waist, lifted her into his arms, and headed to the door with Oswyn running to pass her key to the second giant who took it but shoved to forbid him from following.