The Flamebearer Chapter Twenty-Nine

CIARAN FOUND HIMSELF growing restless and irritable. Lightning surged through every limb, awakening the inner fire, charging him with an explosive new power.

“Choose your weapon,” he instructed Evaine.

She cast him a sideways glance, head tilted, brows drawn.

“Look,” he said. “If we’re to live as fugitives, you must learn to defend yourself,”

Evaine pursed her lips and exhaled noisily, but refrained from making any remarks. She knelt before the small array, studying each one, trying her grip.”They are all so heavy,” she argued unhappily. Finally, she chose Gwilym’s sword, the smallest of the lot. Even that proved a challenge for her, but she mustered the necessary stamina to lift it.

Ciaran wrapped his arms around her, showing her the proper placement of her hands on the hilt.

“The two things you must memorize first are your stances and guard postures,” he explained, relishing his role as skilled master. “Think of them as ‘ready positions’ from which to strike or counter-strike. We’ll begin with your left leg leading, haft in right hand, like this.”

“Left leg leading, haft in right hand,” Evaine repeated.

“First position: The Ox. Draw your blade up and to the outside, as follows.” Ciaran raised Evaine’s arms high above her head. “Aim your point somewhat up or down, but typically you target your opponent’s face or throat.”

“Saints, I can scarcely hold it up at all!” Evaine cried. “If you let go, I’ll drop it!”

Ciaran kissed her cheek. “You’d do better with arms built for your smaller stature,” he conceded. “But don’t lose heart. Perhaps we ought to practice with a branch instead of the real thing until you get your bearings.”

Evaine huffed, already exhausted. “A branch!” she exclaimed. “Some warrior I make. This is far more demanding than I imagined.” She sighed gloomily. “I fear I’ll never grasp it.”

“Don’t give up,” prompted Ciaran, relieving her of the weapon. “You’ll catch on in due time. We’ll try again later. Simply watch me for now.”

He effortlessly demonstrated the offensive and defensive moves, gliding fluidly from one to the next.

“You make it look like child’s play, with your graceful turns and thrusts.”

“Aye, but give me a needle and thread and I’m a fumble-fingered oaf,” he confessed, laughing.

“I adore you,” was her unequivocal reply.

Evaine was the first to see them.

Gathering vines and lengths of trailing ivy to craft into personal adornments, she wandered near the rippling stream, and there on the other side, partially hidden behind a moss-covered stone, hovered a being so pale and translucent she might have mistaken it for a sunbeam or a shaft of light reflected off the surface of the water. For the space of several breaths, they simply looked at each other, both of them stunned into silence by the sheer presence of the other.

Evaine at once understood what she had done. Unwittingly she had opened a portal into the Otherworld.

A luminous veil hung between them, wavering gently as if moved by an unseen breeze. Just as she found her voice to offer a greeting, the creature faded into mist, leaving nothing behind but a faint, shimmering rainbow.

Ciaran knew by her expression something had happened. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost,” he observed, only half-joking.

“Not a ghost,” she replied softly. Her voice expressed genuine awe. “A faerie – pale, almost white, like you, but female. So beautiful!” She gazed off toward the brook, lapsing into worshipful silence.

“Did she speak?” Ciaran asked.

“No. We just stared at each other. No doubt she found me as uncanny as I found her. By the time I collected my wits, she dispersed into the air like a mist.”

“Most likely a keeper of the spring,” Ciaran surmised. “There are sure to be others, then.”

“They wouldn’t harm us – would they?”

“In fact, I think they are protecting us,” said Ciaran. “But we would do well not to offend them. Perhaps an offering of some kind -”

“I think I still have a coin,” Evaine proposed. “We haven’t much else, I’m afraid.”

She hurried back to toss her token into the water, but this time she did not linger. She quickly returned, settling into a shady spot where she sat entwining her fragrant woodbine and honeysuckle with twisting tendrils of ivy.

Satisfied that she seemed happily occupied, Ciaran indulged his need for activity with swordplay. Working up a good sweat slashing and thrusting did wonders for his temperament. He loved the heftiness of the blade in his hands, the sweet swishing sound it made as it sliced the air. Breath and blood and sinew, alive and throbbing, gave meaning to his very substance. To truly inhabit his flesh freed his spirit to soar. Within this primitive dance, whirling in earth and sky, each long sweep of his arm unleashed his warrior’s ecstatic heart-song.

Evaine laughed with authentic delight. “My love, you are a true-blooded, shining boy!”

That night, enfolded in the velvety cocoon of their love, all boundaries dissolved, the illusion of separateness melted away. “You are the sweetest dream,” he murmured, holding her close. “I never want to wake from you.”

Chapter Thirty

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