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A River Enchanted: Part 3 – Chapter 27

Frae was dreaming of the river. She was standing in it, uncertain if she should follow the water downstream or go against the current to reach home. She saw Moray in the distance, walking toward her.

“Come with me, Fraedah,” he said, and her heart beat with fear.

She turned to run, but the water made her slow, and she knew he was going to catch her.

“Frae,” he growled.

She was afraid to look over her shoulder. His voice was changing, though. It sounded strange when he spoke again, and she realized the dream was breaking.

“Frae? Frae, wake up.”

She startled, opening her eyes to find Mirin hovering above her. It was dark, and for a moment Frae was confused. But then she heard the noise beyond the shutters, beyond the walls of their home. The clash of swords, shouts, and grunts. Horses whinnying, the thump of hooves on the ground. Sounds of pain and fury.

“Mum?” Frae whispered, and terror spun a chill through her. “Mum!”

“Shh,” Mirin said, stroking Frae’s hair. “Remember the rules?” She took Frae’s hand and drew her from the bed. Mirin had laid Frae’s enchanted plaid on the bench, and the sword was already belted to her waist, as if she had been ready for this night.

Frae waited as her mother knotted the plaid over her chest, to protect her heart.

Without a word, Mirin led her into the common room, to the corner by the hearth, where the fire flickered. Frae sat first, and then her mother unsheathed the sword and settled in front of her like a shield. This is nothing more than a dream, Frae thought, leaning into Mirin’s back. But over her mother’s shoulder, she could dimly see the chamber, the shadows and the firelight that fought each other. The violent sounds grew louder, closer, and Frae began to cry.

“We are safe here, Frae,” Mirin said, but her voice was hoarse, and there was fear buried within it. “Don’t cry, my love. We are strong; we are brave. And this will be over soon.”

Frae wanted to believe her. But her thoughts became a roar, and all she could think was, This is just a dream. Wake up! Wake up …

The back door blew open.

The Breccan warriors spilled into the house like a flood, their blue plaids the color of the sky just before dawn. Frae clung to Mirin and watched as they searched the house. They took note of Frae and her mother in the corner, the sword in Mirin’s hands, but the Breccans didn’t approach them.

Frae recognized Captain Torin stepping into the house, blood streaming down his face. One of the Breccans held a dirk to his throat.

This was bad. This was very bad, Frae thought, and she whimpered and buried her face in Mirin’s hair.

It suddenly grew quiet and still in the house, as if ice had formed. Frae lifted her head to see what had inspired this strange reverence.

A tall man stood in the chamber. He was dressed like the other Breccans, but there was something different about him. His face was softer, kinder. His hair was red like fire. Like copper. Like her own, Frae realized, and grabbed the end of her braid. His hands were bound behind him, and Frae wondered what he had done to become a prisoner of his own kind.

The man stared at Mirin, anguished.

Frae could hear her mother’s breath catch. The sword clattered from her hands, and Frae tugged on Mirin’s chemise, thinking she shouldn’t have dropped it.

“Mum!” Frae whispered, tremulous.

But she sensed her mother was far away as she stared at the Breccan and the Breccan stared at her.

“Mirin,” the man said. Her name was sweet in his voice, as if he had spoken it many times before, as a whisper, as a prayer. “Mirin.”

Frae was astounded. Her mother knew him?

Frae felt his gaze shift to her, and she couldn’t fight the draw of his stare. He looked different in the firelight, but she recognized him with a gasp. He had stood in the yard weeks ago. It had been him she had seen, the man who had visited the garden with his horse, staring at the cottage by starlight.

He began to weep as he looked at Frae. Deep, broken sounds emerged from him. They made Frae’s tears surge again, and she didn’t know why it felt like someone had punched her.

“You’ve looked upon them both,” a Breccan with a scar on his face said to the red-haired man, “as per our agreement. And the legends will remember you not as a keeper, not as a man of valor and strength, but as a fool. They will call you traitor to your clan, Niall Breccan. Oath breaker.” He motioned to the men gathered around him. “Now take him back and lock him in the keep.”

Three Breccan warriors surrounded the weeping man. They drew him away, and before Frae could wipe the blurriness from her eyes, he was gone, dragged from the house.

Gone, as if he had never been.

Mirin flinched, as though she wanted to follow him. She began to lean forward, her hands reaching outward, her breaths turning fast and shallow. Frae’s terror swarmed. She clung to her mother’s arm, holding her back.

The Breccan with the scar on his face began to walk around the chamber. He studied Mirin’s loom, running his grimy fingers over it. He studied the dried wildflower chain hanging from the hearth. His eyes then settled on Mirin and Frae, and he smiled. “This house will do just fine for the exchange. The winds work here as they do in the west, don’t they? Tell the captain to summon Cora. Or should I call her Adaira for now?”

Torin was hauled up to his feet and dragged out the front door into the garden.

Frae hunched in her corner, holding tightly to Mirin as she cried. She was frightened until she thought of Adaira, and she wiped away her tears and her runny nose. She had heard the mean Breccan’s story yesterday, when he had been bound to the chair. She had heard every word, even though she struggled to fully understand what it meant.

But there was one thing that Frae did know, and it settled over her like a warm plaid.

Adaira would come. Adaira would save them.

Torin stood in Mirin’s garden, a blade shining at his throat.

“Summon her,” the Breccan ordered.

Torin couldn’t form a coherent thought. Blood continued to drip from his beard, and he felt dazed. They had arrived so swiftly by river. The Breccans had overcome him and his guards with hardly any effort. And even though he had been prepared for the worst—for the Breccans to descend in their customary way—Torin had been bested.

The defeat spread through him like a disease, softening him from the inside out. He could hardly stand upright.

“Summon her,” the Breccan said again, shifting the dirk so Torin could feel its sting against his neck.

Torin gazed at the stars. When he felt the wind pass by, he spoke her name, and he put the last of his hope into the sound.


Adaira stirred, uncertain what had woken her. Jack lay close, his breaths deep with dreams, his arm draped across her waist. She listened to the crackling silence and watched the curtains billow in the slight breeze. The night felt serene, and she languidly shifted, her legs sliding along Jack’s.

Her eyes were closing when she heard it again. Torin’s voice, calling for her.

Adaira stiffened.

She knew Torin was stationed at the river. If he was summoning her, then the Breccans must have come in the night, disregarding the agreement she had with Innes. Which meant they had arrived with vengeance.

Jack,” Adaira said, sitting up. His arm was heavy; his hand glided across her stomach. “Jack, wake up.”

He groaned. “Adaira?”

“Torin’s summoning me.”

Jack went still, listening as the wind carried Torin’s voice a third and final time.

“Is he on my mother’s lands?” he asked.

“Yes,” Adaira said. “We need to ride there immediately.”

Jack launched himself from the bed, scrambling in the dark to find his trail of clothes on the floor. Adaira rushed to light a candle and opened her wardrobe. She decided to dress for potential battle and grabbed a woolen tunic, a leather jerkin studded with metal, and an enchanted plaid woven of brown and red. She had a moment of grief as she pinned the plaid at her shoulder. It might be the last time she wore these colors, and she swallowed the lump in her throat as she hastened to tether her boots up to her knees.

“Were there guards at my door when you arrived?” she asked, glancing across the room at Jack as he also finished dressing.

Jack met her gaze. “Yes.”

“They might not let me leave.”

“You’re serious?” Jack sounded angry. “Even under Torin’s orders?”

Adaira nodded, motioning for Jack to align himself with the wall, out of sight. He did so, and Adaira steeled herself as she unbolted and cracked open her door.

One of the guards turned to look at her.

“Will you stand aside and let me pass?” Adaira asked.

“We have orders to ensure you stay in your chamber until further notice,” he said.

“Is this my cousin’s order?”

The guard was silent, choosing not to answer her. Adaira knew Torin would never lock her in her room and offered the guard a watery smile. They had lost faith in her, and she tried to ease the pain of this revelation as she shut the door.

Jack had already opened the panel of the secret passage. She grabbed her cloak, knowing she needed to conceal her hair, and drew up the hood, following him into his quarters.

“I doubt they will let me request a horse from the stables,” she said to Jack. “You’ll have to do it. I can find a way out of the castle walls and meet you by Una’s forge.”

Jack hesitated. She could sense his reluctance in the dark, to be separated from her.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll find you there.” He kissed her brow before they slipped out into the corridor.

They rushed through the winding, quiet hallways of the castle, going their separate ways when they reached the lower level. Jack headed to the stables, and Adaira turned to the southern wing of the castle. She stepped into the moonlit garden and moved soundlessly over the flagstone pathways. Passing the door that led to Lorna’s turret, she found the hidden egress in the wall, covered in ivy.

She and Torin had found this secret passage when they were young and bored one summer. Or rather, Adaira had discovered it and eventually consented to show Torin when he realized she had been sneaking out of the fortress without notice from the guard. It led directly to the castle wall and another hidden door that would spill her out close to Una’s forge.

Adaira followed it now, her hands reaching out in the dark. The corridor was narrow and cold, and the air smelled like damp earth and stones. She eventually reached the end. The door cracked open, and she entered a side street of Sloane.

She found Una’s forge, darkened with sleep, and waited in the shadows for Jack.

He arrived moments later, astride her favorite horse. He shifted, making space for her, and Adaira mounted, settling in the saddle before him.

His arms wound tightly about her as she took the reins.

She rode through the city, a trace of fog in the streets. Once free of Sloane, Adaira diverged from the road, choosing to go by hill. The folk lent their aid, just as she hoped. Four hills became one, and fifteen kilometers became five. The eastern wind came behind her and Jack, blowing at their backs as if they were a vessel on the sea.

The horse was lathered by the time she finally saw Mirin’s lights in the distance. Adaira let the mare walk to cool down. She took those precious minutes to mentally prepare herself for the meeting, to run her fingers through her tangled hair. She didn’t know what she would find inside the house, but if everything played out as she had planned, then she had nothing to fear. She unsaddled the horse beneath an oak tree before she and Jack approached the house on foot with trepidation.

Jack’s hand found hers, lacing their fingers together.

As they drew nearer, Adaira could discern figures standing in the yard. Breccan warriors. They had the cottage surrounded, and off to the side toward the byre was a ring of them, illumined by torches. Adaira slowed her pace. The East Guard and the watchmen must have been overcome, and while she didn’t see any bodies lying on the ground, she sensed they were all held captive.

“Halt,” a voice commanded her, breaking the tense silence.

Adaira returned her attention to the yard gate and stopped. Two Breccans aggressively stepped forward to meet her, but as soon as they saw her face by moonlight, their stances changed, softening.

“It is her,” one of them said, lowering his sword. “Let her pass to the door.”

She resumed her walk, drawing Jack in her wake. She felt the Breccans’ gaze on her shoulders, on her hair, as tangible as the wind. All too soon, she reached the front door, and her hand shook as she touched the iron handle.

It swung open, and Adaira stepped into the firelight.

She was overwhelmed by the sight that greeted her. A sea of blue plaids. Mirin and Frae cowering in a corner. Torin on his knees with a dirk shining at his throat.

Innes wasn’t present, and it soon became clear that a scar-faced Breccan with matted blond hair was in charge.

“Cora,” he said to her, granting her half a bow. “It is good of you to come.”

Adaira stared at him coldly. “Where is your laird?”

“She’s not here. We’ve come to settle this matter with you, since word has spread that you are holding our heir in your dungeons.”

“I won’t settle anything with you,” Adaira said. “Call your laird. She is the one I will speak with.”

The blond smiled. His upper teeth were rotten. “Come now, Cora,” he crooned. “This will be a simple exchange, one that we can do without bloodshed.”

She was silent. From the corner of her eye, she watched as Jack knelt with Mirin and Frae in the corner.

“Your brother is intent on seeing you home safely,” the Breccan continued. “If you will release him from the dungeons and follow him into the west, we will bring the three Tamerlaine lasses back to you.”

Torin winced. Adaira glanced at her cousin. She could read the defeat in his face as a small tendril of blood began to stain his throat. She had never seen her cousin vanquished, and the sight alarmed her.

“I won’t negotiate with you,” she said, returning her gaze to the Breccan. “Summon your laird. I will only make an arrangement with Innes.”

“If you refuse to settle with us,” he said, waving his hand toward Torin, “then we’ll slit the captain’s throat.”

“Then you would be slitting the Laird of the East’s throat,” Adaira said calmly. “And I will see to it that Moray’s head is sent back to the west by sunrise.”

The Breccan paused, brow arched. The realization dawned on him, and his smile deepened. Adaira had given up her power, which meant she must not plan to stay in the east. He turned to one of his men and said, “Ride to the west and bring our laird back with you.”

The warrior nodded and slipped out the door.

The period of waiting felt like a year. The silence roared, but Adaira didn’t move or speak. She remained rooted to the floor, waiting for her mother to arrive.

At last, the door creaked open.

Innes stepped into the house, dressed for war.

“What has happened here?” the laird demanded, but the frown on her face eased when she looked at Adaira.

Their gazes met. Everything around them melted into obscurity as Adaira studied Innes and Innes studied Adaira, the emotion rising like a wave coming to shore. Adaira swallowed it down, holding it deep in her chest as she began to see all the features she had stolen from her mother. Her hair, her sharpness, her eyes. She wondered how she hadn’t noticed it before, when they met on the northern road.

“Did you know?” Adaira whispered, unable to help herself. “Did you know who I was when I saw you last?”

Innes was quiet, but a flicker of pain passed over her expression. “I knew.”

Things came together in Adaira’s mind. She now understood why Innes was so quick to apologize for the raid. Why she had brought the Elliotts’ winter stores back, including an overpayment of gold. She had known Adaira was her lost daughter, and she had sought peace with her.

“Then you also knew that Moray was stealing Tamerlaine daughters?” Adaira dared to continue. “That your son was kidnapping and holding innocent lasses in the west while their parents mourned for them in the east?”

Innes’s frown deepened. For a moment, Adaira was terrified of her as the laird’s gaze swept the room, landing on the scar-faced Breccan. “I was not aware of this. Is this true, Derek?”

Derek seemed to shrink as he said, “It is, laird. Moray sought justice for you and your family. For our clan.”

Innes’s hand shot out to strike him. Her leather bracer caught Derek in the mouth, and he stumbled back, blood drooling from his lips.

“You have acted without my permission,” she said in an icy tone, glancing around the chamber at the other Breccans. “All of you have let my son lead you astray, and you will pay for these crimes in the arena.” Innes paused, bringing her attention back to Adaira. “I apologize for this pain. I will see it rectified.”

“Thank you,” Adaira whispered. “I would also ask to see the blade removed from the throat of the Laird of the East.”

Innes glanced at the Breccan holding the dirk at Torin’s throat. Her shock was only noticeable for a split second before her expression became pointed, and the warrior released Torin with a slight shove. It took everything within Adaira not to rush to her cousin and help him to his feet. She could only watch as Torin stood and limped across the room, coming to stand behind her.

“You wrote to me of a settlement,” Innes said.

Adaira nodded. “Moray trespassed yesterday morning with the intent to steal another lass. He has committed crimes against the Tamerlaine clan, and although he is your heir, the east will want to hold him in chains to pay for his sins.”

“I understand,” Innes said in a careful tone. “But I cannot return to my clan empty handed.”

“No,” Adaira agreed. She could feel the perspiration dampen her skin as she prepared her next statement. She hadn’t spoken of it to anyone. Not Torin. Not Sidra. Not Jack. It had come to her the moment she had ripped apart her old shawl. She didn’t need counsel; she knew what she wanted, and yet it still was difficult to acknowledge aloud. “If you will see that the three Tamerlaine lasses are safely returned within the hour, then I will follow you into the west. You can take me as a prisoner if you prefer, or as the daughter you lost. I will agree to remain with you and serve you and the west, so long as Moray remains shackled in the east. He won’t be harmed in his time of service, but the Tamerlaines will be the ones to determine how long he is to remain imprisoned, and when he is to walk free again.”

Innes was pensive, her gaze on Adaira. Adaira waited, uncertain if she had just insulted the laird or if she was genuinely considering her offer. The silence deepened. It was the hour just before dawn, and a chill had crept into the room. But at last Innes reached out her hand.

“I agree to those terms. Take my hand, Adaira, and we will seal this agreement.”

“Laird!” Derek protested. “You can’t give our heir up to the east, leaving him to be shackled like an animal.”

Innes’s eyes riveted on him. “Moray acted without my permission. His fate is of his own making.”

Derek drew his sword. Adaira felt Torin grab her arm and haul her backward as Innes responded, unsheathing her blade. The laird was quick; the firelight flashed on the steel as she effortlessly dodged Derek’s cut, granting him a mortal wound in return.

Adaira watched in cold numbness as Derek gasped, falling to his knees. The blood poured from his neck, staining Mirin’s rug, as he succumbed to the floor.

“Are there any others who defy me?” Innes taunted, looking at Moray’s warriors. “Step forward.”

The Breccans were still, watching Derek breathe his last.

Adaira could hear Frae crying in the corner, and Jack’s hushed whispers as he comforted her. She stared at the pool of blood on the floor, wondering what sort of life awaited her in the west.

“I agree to your settlement, Adaira,” Innes said again. With one hand, she held her sword, but she stretched out her other. Speckled with blood and waiting for Adaira to take it.

“You don’t have to do this, Adi,” Torin murmured. His grip on her arm was like iron.

“No, but I want to, Torin,” she softly replied. She wasn’t sure where her home was anymore. She wasn’t certain where she belonged, but she knew she would find her answer once she had beheld the west. The land of her blood.

Torin reluctantly released her.

Adaira stepped forward. She held out her hand, but just before her palm could touch Innes’s, she said, “I would like for there to be peace on the isle. If I come with you into the west, I would like the raids on Tamerlaine lands to cease.”

The laird studied her with eyes that suddenly looked old and weary. Adaira wondered if peace was only an illusion, and if she was naïve to still hope for it.

“I can make you no promises, Adaira,” Innes said. “But perhaps your presence in the west, where you belong, will bring about the change you dream of.”

It was the best answer Adaira could have expected in the moment. She nodded, and her heart quickened as she took her mother’s hand. Firm and strong, scarred and lean.

Years had been lost between them. Years that could never be regained. And yet who would Adaira be if she had never left the west? If her birth parents hadn’t surrendered her to the forces of the isle?

She caught a glimpse of herself, marked in blue and blood. Cold and sharp.

Adaira shivered.

Innes noticed.

Their hands fell away, but the world had changed between them.

The laird’s demeanor was collected as she looked at Moray’s warriors. But Adaira heard the catch of emotion in Innes’s voice when she said, “Return the lasses to the east.”


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