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A month and a day after dreaming that peculiar dream, Lord Farrel woke before sunrise, as had become his habit of late.

Restless, he climbed from his curtained bed and strode naked across the polished wood floor. He threw open the shutters and leaned out, inhaling the wet chilly air. With dreamy eyes he gazed across the dim, wood-bordered fields and watched as morning drifted grayly into the world.

The spring weather had been excellent, with abundant, nourishing rains. Already stalks of barley and oats stood high in the well-tended fields. Lord Farrel had spent the past several days riding the circuit of his land, seeing for himself the condition of the crops, reviewing accounts with his landholders, visiting guardposts in the mountains and at the river fords. All was in order. Farrel rubbed his bearded jaw and grinned. This June day he was free to roam the hills alone.

By the time the first sunlight shone on the land, Farrel was crossing the courtyard before his manor house. Dressed for riding—in leather breeks and boots, linen shirt, and green wool cloak—he entered the stable and saddled a sleek bay stallion.

Farrel was leading the stallion outside when he met two of his men. Lecan the overseer and his son Garan had come to take the horses out to pasture. The clansmen bade their chieftain good morning, and Lecan started to ask about some repairs needed in the outbuildings.

“Make whatever decisions you deem proper,” Farrel told him, climbing into the saddle. “I will be hunting the hills all day.”

Farrel kicked his horse and rode, leaving the overseer in the midst of another question. Such conduct, Farrel realized, would only add to the rumors about him—the young lord who hunted alone, without spear or bow, hounds or companions. Farrel scarcely cared. He craved solitude, and relief from the tedium and responsibilities of his position.

Nearly a year and a half had passed since his parents died, both carried off by fever in the same bitter winter. Farrel, the sole heir, had only recently returned to Tronwall from the south where he had been raised in fosterage by his mother's cousins. At nineteen, barely of age, he found himself master of the land. He had thrown himself into the role, anxious to assure his people—and the neighboring chieftains and earls—that Tronwall was in strong and capable hands. Diligent and quick-minded, Farrel had won respect in all quarters. But the unending toils and duties had drained his spirit. The past winter had been long and dreary, and when spring finally came Farrel felt ready to burst.

Then there came that eerie dream on Beltaine Eve. Memories of it still haunted him in idle moments.

Leaving the courtyard, Farrel spurred the stallion to a gallop. He raced along a curling road, past outbuildings and cottages with their plots of vegetables and herbs, past long narrow fields of grain. Farrel shouted and slapped the bay's shoulders with the reins, exhilarated by the wet breeze in his face and the fleeting sense of freedom.

At the first opportunity he made for the hills, spurring the stallion to leap a stone wall and gallop over a fallow field. He pushed the bay through meadows and patches of wood until he sensed the mount near exhaustion. Then, remorseful, he climbed down and walked for a while, before taking the saddle again and proceeding at a gentler pace.

As the sun climbed, the day grew warm. Farrel shed his cloak and rolled up the sleeves of his loose linen shirt. Through the late morning he traversed a dense tract of forest that glimmered in the June sunlight a hundred shades of green.

Beyond that wood lay the Wormwell Marsh, a broad wetland bordered by a half-ring of hills. The bay ambled along a muddy path that skirted the bogs. Farrel paused at one place to gaze at a distant hilltop, where he could just discern the ruins of an ancient ring-fort.

For a moment he was tempted to ride to that hilltop. In the past weeks he had wandered this way several times and felt the same temptation. Each time he had put the impulse aside. He was not sure what he hoped to find in the ring-fort. Indeed, he only vaguely remembered the dream, which had seemed so shockingly real at the time. Mostly he recalled gruesome scenes of horror, his clanspeople attacked by monsters out of legend. But there also lingered a haunting, delightful memory: that of a redhaired faery-child with light foot and half-mad eyes.

Farrel shook his head and nudged the bay. Best to shun the glades and ruins frequented by faeries and their ilk. This was only common sense. So Cadron, Farrel's foster father, had impressed on him from childhood.

He roamed aimlessly over the downs, till he reached a small stream that flowed sluggishly into the marsh. On a whim he turned to follow the stream as it wound up into the hills.

In the hottest part of the day, Farrel stopped to rest in a narrow, mossy clearing shaded by towering oaks. The climb had brought him into steep, wooded uplands and the stream had become a brook that rushed over smooth gold and gray boulders. Farrel dismounted at the edge of the brook and sniffed the cool damp air with pleasure. He lay down on the bank, took a long drink from the brook, then dunked his sweaty head in the cold water.

Lifting his head, he heard the dripping of water from his hair and beard mingled with mirthful laughter. Farrel whirled his head, scattering drops as he searched the dark green spaces of the wood.

No one.

The laughter sounded again, from the other side of the brook. Farrel jumped to his feet and crouched tensely as he scanned the opposite bank. His eyes picked out a flurry of motion—a brown hare darting into the underbrush.

Wary, Farrel stepped sideways to his horse and drew his long sword from its sheath on the saddle. The laugh rang again, blithe and mocking. Farrel peered at the spot where the hare had disappeared.

“You won't need your sword for protection, Lord Farrel,” a girlish voice chimed. “I will not harm you.”

Another moment elapsed before Farrel spotted her, perched on the limb of a tree, half-hidden by leaves and shadows, a long-legged girl with bright red hair.

Farrel lowered his weapon. “Who are you? How do you know my name?”

Nimbly the girl swung down, hung a moment from the branch, dropped to the ground. She stood on the opposite bank, dressed in a plain white shift and a woven belt. Her skirt was gathered up daringly to her knees, revealing bare feet and trim ankles. She gazed at Farrel with bold and merry eyes.

“We have met before, my lord. Do you not remember?”

“No,” he answered. Yet she did seem weirdly familiar.

Farrel slipped his sword back into its sheath. As the girl crossed the brook, stepping lightly on the boulders, the bay whinnied nervously.

A sorceress, Farrel thought and glared at her.

“Do not be alarmed, my lord,” she said as she reached the mossy bank. “You see, I am barefoot, as a token of fealty. I have come to offer you my services.”

“I am grateful,” Farrel answered, concealing his suspicion with a shade of irony. “Though I know not what service I might need from a wood urchin.”

The girl laughed easily. “There are many ways I could serve you, Lord Farrel.”

She stepped close, a lilting step like that of a maid beginning a May Day dance. Her blue eyes glinted with amusement and challenge. Despite his unease, Farrel's blood warmed in response to her.

She sauntered around him, glancing over his height. Abruptly the young lord gripped her wrist and pulled her close. Her scent, of musk and flowers, fanned his desire.

“As your first act of service, I might claim a kiss.”

She grinned. “That service I would gladly give.”

Her fingers slid up through his beard, to curl in his hair and pull his head down to her. Her body, warm and arousing, pressed against him. The taste of her kiss set Farrel's head spinning.

Suddenly he knew her: the faery-girl of his dream. Dazed, he stared at her face, alight with tenderness and passion.

“You are Kerrawyn.”

“So you do remember me. How lovely.”

He held her at arms length, frowning, struggling to understand. “I remember you … from a dream. But there was—"

“Hush, my dear,” she whispered, touching fingers to his lips. “Do not think of that now. We two are well-met, wondrously well-met. The rest of the dream may never come true. If it does, we will know of that in time.”

Farrel gazed into her eyes and forgot what he had meant to say. The grim and ominous feelings that had possessed him a moment before shrank to nothing in his mind. He saw only the slim, wild girl with the gold-red hair who stood before him, a dream come to life.

“Kerrawyn ... How is it we have met?”

The hint of a smile played on her lips. She turned from him and strolled away. “I arranged our meeting, my lord. That is, I came to these hills and called in my mind, to see if I could bring you here.”

She had approached the stallion, which snorted fearfully at first, but grew quiet when she stroked its neck.

“But why did you call me?” Farrel demanded.

“I told you. I have come to offer my services. It is not unfitting for one with my gifts to serve a worthy lord.” Suddenly grave, she bowed to him formally. “My lore and power I would pledge to you, and make my talents yours to command.”

Farrel put aside his lingering wariness. If he was bewitched, he did not care. “I had not realized my land needed the services of a sorceress. Yet for my heart, Kerrawyn, I cannot refuse your offer.”

He held out his hand to her. Kerrawyn, grinning, walked forward and accepted it.

“There is one memory of that dream I cannot put aside,” Farrel said. “That is of how lovely you looked, and how I desired you more than I thought I could any living woman.”

Fire kindled in her eyes. “Farrel, strong and lovely lord, I have dreamed of you since I was a child. I believe we must be lovers many times in other lives.”

He stopped her words with a kiss. Kerrawyn answered it willingly, her slim arms coiling round his neck. Whispering, laughing softly in his ear, she drew him down upon the bank.

In silvery twilight, Farrel returned to his manor, Kerrawyn mounted behind him on the stallion. Leaving the horse with a groom, the young lord entered his manor house, leading the sorceress by the hand. He presented her as lady and guest to the servants in the main hall, and took little notice of their gaping. Kerrawyn regarded the servants with cool serenity. But she knelt smiling and petted the wolfhounds who trotted forward to lick her hand. Farrel ordered supper served in his study, a cozy chamber adjacent to the main hall.

In her bare feet Kerrawyn trod the fine Persian rug, glancing at the tapestries and the chiseled rosewood mantle. She carried a lighted candle with her to examine the rare, leather-bound books which stood on a shelf against one wall.

“Some of these are volumes of incantations and secret lore,” she observed.

Farrel's mouth dropped open. “I had not imagined your talents included the reading of books.”

She laughed. “My education is broader than you think, my lord. I can read Gaelic, Latin, French. I can also read languages of which you know nothing.” She glanced about the ceiling. “I can discern, for instance, the lingering traces of spirits who regularly visited this room, though not in the past year or so.”

“That would have been in my parents' time,” Farrel said. “I have heard that they dabbled in arcane lore and magic charms.”

A knocking sounded on the door and at Farrel's permission an old woman entered carrying a large tray. A kitchen boy, holding ewer and cups, followed on her heels. Moread, Farrel's chief cook, was not in the habit of carrying meals from the kitchen herself. Doubtless, she had wanted a look at Kerrawyn, of whom she must have heard from the other servants. Moread placed the tray on Farrel's writing table and lingered unnecessarily while the boy poured the wine. All the while the old cook, with a dour frown, scrutinized Kerrawyn through the corner of her eye.

“Your servants disapprove of me,” Kerrawyn noted when the pair had gone. “To be expected, I suppose.”

“They have been worried about me,” Farrel replied, “fearing for my sanity since I've taken to roaming the hills alone these past weeks. But I believe that will end now. I have found what I was seeking.”

The chieftain spoke with an open heart. He had known and loved comely lasses before, in the south and here in Tronwall. But never one that pleased him as Kerrawyn did.

The girl lowered her eyes, smiled faintly, but did not blush. Farrel took her hand and led her to the table.

They sat down to a supper of grilled trout, barley bread, and peas. Farrel ate with great appetite, Kerrawyn lightly, nibbling her food and sipping from the silver-worked goblet.

“You were telling me of your parents,” she said. “They were followers of the Old Ways?”

“It seems they were,” Farrel answered, “Though they never discussed those things with me. I was barely acquainted with them when they died. I had just returned to Tronwall from fosterage in the south.”

He told her something of his boyhood. Like many noble children of Ireland, Farrel had been raised by foster parents. He had grown up in the house of Cadron O'Neil, lord of Gartheven and a cousin of Farrel's mother. A stern, pragmatic man was Cadron, though not unkind to his foster son.

“He mentioned once that my mother and father dabbled in sorcery,” Farrel said. “Naturally he disapproved. Cadron considered the practice of magic and druid arts to be nonsense at best—and dangerous lunacy at worst.”

“Is that also your opinion?” Kerrawyn asked.

Farrel shrugged.

“I hope not,” the girl smiled. “From what I can see of your path, it is overgrown with magic thick as grass.”

“I do not know of that.” Farrel reached across the table to grasp her hand. “But I am bewitched by you, Kerrawyn.”

“Indeed.” Her eyes gleamed with amusement. “That is what your servants are saying, I am sure.”

“I care not what servants or cousins or all the lords of Ireland may say,” Farrel answered fervently. “Though you be witch or faery or madwoman of the woods, I will keep you mine.”

From that night on Kerrawyn slept in his bed, though usually he would wake in the morning to find her gone. Run off to the woods, as he soon learned, for only there was she truly at home.

Farrel followed her into the wilds as often as his duties would permit. Long afternoons they passed together, in sunny glens thick with ferns and high meadows glorious with wildflowers. Often they lingered beside a mountain pool fed by a waterfall and shaded by rowans and yews. Kerrawyn gathered their food from the forest. She spoke with hares and birds to learn where the sweetest berries could be found. With lilting song, she coaxed the bees into sharing wild honey.

At times uneasy questions prodded Farrel's mind. If Kerrawyn was real, must not the rest of that eerie dream also prove true? Pieces of the dream recurred to him: an arc of blue light stretched across the sky, a plague of death upon the Wormwell Marsh, and always the fearful, gruesome invaders stalking his land.

When he mentioned these things to Kerrawyn she pressed a finger to his lips. “We need not think of that for now, my love,” she would say.

Somehow her voice—or her touch, or her eyes—stilled all thoughts of trouble.

How had such a creature as Kerrawyn come to be? Farrel learned her tale in fragments, after insistent questioning. She was born on the first night of spring, to a girl of the lowlands who claimed to have lain with an elfin lord on Midsummer's Eve. From earliest childhood Kerrawyn had shown a love of wild places and an understanding of things beyond her years. At age seven, she disappeared into the forest for nine days. On her return she explained that she had been taken to visit her sire's countrymen, who offered her fosterage. From that time on she lived in both the human and faery worlds, alternating every fortnight. The village folk did not try to prevent her going, for fear of offending the faeries. Besides, the child brought luck to the neighborhood—finding lost objects, curing livestock of various ills, predicting the weather. Of her life among the Good Folk Kerrawyn would say little, save that she dwelled in a wonderful house belonging to a faery countess. There the child learned to read and write, and to use her elfin gifts for making spells and incantations. She conversed with earth spirits and elementals, and danced with the faeries on moonlit nights.

“The moon will be full in a few days more,” she told Farrel, one afternoon. “You must come and watch me dance.”

The young chieftain accepted her invitation. The rising of the full moon found Farrel beneath an oak on the edge of a misty glade, a jug of wine in his hand. Barefoot, Kerrawyn stood within the glade, head bowed. Suddenly she sprang into the air. Her hands clapped over her head. Her feet touched the ground for an instant, then lifted high again, kicking round as she spun through the moonlight.

Her dance was a spell woven of leaps and whirls, of gliding limbs and bright, flying hair. No music played, no maidens danced with her. Yet the dance proved so infectiously merry that soon Farrel jumped to his feet to prance and caper beside her.

For a long time they filled the moonlit glade with their dancing. Panting and laughing, they circled close and parted again, never touching. At last, in the center of the clearing, Farrel stopped and held out his hand to her. Kerrawyn reeled by him, turned, reached out. Their fingers touched.

A cloud fled before the moon, dimming the glade with its shadow.

Kerrawyn froze, gasping. A look of haunted terror whitened her face in the returning moonlight. With a soft cry she dropped to the grass and curled up on her side.

Farrel knelt and touched her. “What is it?”

She would not say, only hugged her knees and shuddered. Farrel took her in his arms. His heart seethed with anguish that anything should cause her pain—and that he should be helpless to stop it.

At last, with his coaxing, she spoke in a timid voice. “As our hands touched I saw a vision, a glimpse of the future. I saw myself dancing before you another time, a dance of power that would bring an awful weight upon you. Oh, Farrel, I fear a dreadful time awaits us.”

“You speak of the things we dreamed on Beltaine,” he muttered.

“Yes.” She clung to him tighter. “I fear what we dreamed that night.”

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About the author

CorbinJay

Bio: Wandering scribe washed ashore in this strange and wondrous land.
Published in other places under the name "Jack Massa."

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