Chapter 3 of The Warrior's Inheritance
I felt lonely and frustrated after Zamiel left. Our fifteen days together had been everything I had ever dreamed about: enjoying the loving attentions of a handsome, intelligent man. So it was no wonder I was sad. For the first time in my life I felt I had a noble purpose, and that purpose was to use my skill as a swordswoman to fight at Zamiel’s side.
I was welcomed back among the other Audh girls, who tried to get me to tell them everything we had done in the Little Castle. I told them nothing except we had enjoyed ourselves, although that did not satisfy the girls. Some of them felt that the handsome Zamiel would have had much more fun with them than with me, the studious one.
But, as I well knew, this was not the case. The last words he said to me were, “You have given me all the pleasure I thought possible, of the body and also of the mind. My life has been changed by our time together.” However, I had a secret that I meant to keep well hidden.
Before I met with Zamiel I had made a potion to render myself infertile, at least temporarily. I had no wish to go through the dangers of bearing a child at sixteen, which would mean an almost certain end to my studies and my skills with the sword.
Many would be disappointed when I was proved sterile but I would be free to live a full life. Would I leave the Audh? That I did not yet know. Life with the Audh was all I knew and I loved them all.
But life with the Audh was at times very restraining, like always having to ask the lady Sequana or someone else in charge for a new book or some money to buy a rare plant. One of the reasons I had worked hard to learn other languages was that I wanted to travel, to see the lands over the seas and talk to the people there. The Audh never went anywhere, so if I stayed in the clan I saw myself withering away until it was too late.
Being with Zamiel and hearing him talk of far off lands and peoples had made me even more determined to see them for myself. Zamiel had told me that the Germanic Celts had both male and female fighters, and it had been a woman on horseback wielding a huge sword that had given him the jagged scar he bore on his shoulder.
Two weeks after Zamiel left, I started my menses. The lady Sequana, although disappointed I was not with child, put an arm round my shoulder. “Do not be despondent, little one. You are young and your time will come again.”
Some of the girls made jokes about Zamiel being half Roman and how the Romans were not as virile as the Celts, but they were never serious. Others felt I deserved my fate because I spent too much energy practicing sword fighting or studying plants and languages.
After a few days it was all forgotten, when another warrior was invited to stay at the Little Castle with the bright young Kirah.
Meanwhile I continued practising my fighting skills. Up to now I had used a jute sack filled with hay as an adversary, tying it higher or lower to simulate it being on horseback or on foot. Sometimes I used a dead tree or a large log in the forest.
There was another girl, Philomena, who was a good swordswoman and we often practised together. One day I told her my aim was to travel across the two seas to Belgica, and even further to Noricum, where the world’s best swords were made. I was surprised when Philomena said she had often thought of travelling, but to Albion now that the Romans had left. She did not seem interested in going over the second sea.
I wished I could have written to Zamiel. I wanted to know if he still thought about our time together. Of course, he imagined I would be with child and not able to join him. I just wished I could talk to him again, and tell him I missed not only him but also Phelan, with his cold wet nose in my hand or his tongue on my wrist.
Then one day, just over a month after Zamiel left, a messenger came to the inn. He was a man from Albion, either a Saxon or a Jute. I saw him talking to my lady Sequana and motioning to a long parcel he had brought with him and laid on the table between them. My lady Sequana saw me and motioned me to join them.
I walked over to their table, my hands by my sides in the way we had been taught, and waited for my lady Sequana to tell me why she had summoned me. Possibly to help with interpreting for the messenger, I imagined. My lady has not studied tongues and always calls me to do this duty.
When I approached she bade me sit on the bench next to her. “This is the lord Egfrid from Colunia in the east of Albion. He brings you a gift from his friend Zamiel.”
My heart started beating like a caged beast in my chest. I had to try very hard to keep control of myself and not let my lady Sequana see how I felt.
Egfrid was short and strong with a large moustache and hair cut short. He smiled at me and I saw his teeth were good if rather stained.
I spoke to him in the Anglo Saxon language, using the formal Gesith title, although I realised Egfrid was not attendant to a king. “Thank you for bringing this gift so far, Gesith Egfrid. I am humbly indebted to you, and to my lord Zamiel.”
“I bring this with pleasure, my child. For Zamiel I would do anything. He is a great fighter and a noble man.”
My lady Sequana had drifted off as she understood not a word of what we were saying. This gave me a chance to obtain news of Zamiel.
“My Gesith, I would be happy if you could tell me news of my lord Zamiel.”
“He is in good health, my lady, and hopes that you are also.” He dropped his eyes quickly to my belly and saw that it was as flat as could be. “I think he imagines you are with child,” the Gesith continued.
“No, that is not so, Gesith Egfrid. One day, when I am older that may be the case, but now I hope to travel.”
Egfrid raised his thick blond eyebrows. He seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. “When you are ready Zamiel will be pleased to meet you. He leaves for Belgica in two months, when the weather is more settled.” The Gesith nodded his head and smiled. “You will like Colunia. The town is very large, it was the Roman capital for some time. Now it is only Anglo Saxon, so you will be able to converse with all the people.”
Then he leaned towards me, as if imparting a secret. “There are many temples there belonging to the new religion brought to Anglia by the Romans. Some of them are very fine with mosaics and portrayals of their god, a man from Jerusalem, one of the Roman provinces.” He shook his head. “No one worships the old gods any more, I believe.”
My lady Sequana returned and offered Egfrid a drink, which he elaborately refused. It was plain to see he was more used to warfare and soldiers than talking to ladies of whatever age, although his conversation with me had been comfortable and relaxed.
He rose to leave and, waving a hand in the air to all in the inn, he hastily walked out of the door to where a horse was tied up waiting for him.
I took the long parcel over to the Big Castle, where I went into a small room I often used for study. I laid the parcel on the table and started to peel off the wrappings carefully. I had an idea what it was, and I did not dare to hope.
Under the many many layers there emerged a magnificent sword with a finely engraved scabbard and hilt. I took it into my hand and was happy to note it was far lighter than the heavy blade I was used to practice with, which had been made with a man in mind.
On the blade was inscribed, in Anglo-Saxon: for Irira who is beautiful and strong. I put my head in my hands and cried with love, with gratitude, and with loneliness.