Chapter 2 of The Warrior's Inheritance
From the day I was told I was to be the companion of Zamiel the warrior I started dreaming about our time together. I had never been inside the Little Castle, where we would be staying, but I knew it was a magical place, nestled under two spreading oak trees, with its own small garden surrounded by high stone walls.
I had last seen smoke curling from the carved stone chimney when Afra stayed there with the warrior Caomh a year ago. Then last summer, when Naia was with Yorath, as I walked past the high wall I could sometimes hear their voices. Sadly, they were often raised in anger.
Naia was disappointed in the match, mainly because she was thought to be the most beautiful of the Audh girls. Many thought that because of her beauty she would be the companion of someone more noble than the amiable but fairly unattractive Yorath. In a month or so Naia will bear her child.
I am not a great beauty, that I know. I am too serious about my many undertakings to bother about the style of my dresses or the clarity of my skin. Many of the Audh women wash their faces with ewe’s milk and comb their hair with camomile buds steeped in hot water. They stay in the shade when the sun shines and cry in anguish if they find a freckle on their nose. I am not one of these.
My interests are those that concern the mind and many say I am knowledgeable beyond my sixteen years. From our wise women I have not only learned of the stars and their powers, but also of the medicinal properties of plants. I have also learned to speak the tongues of several of our neighbouring clans, as well as that spoken by the people of Albion across the first sea, and I am also conversant with some of the language of the last remaining Romans who have strayed across to our Hibernia since their occupation of Albion ended.
My lady Sequana told me she has invited to be my companion a man of local Hibernian birth, but whose father came from over the seas. She told me Zamiel, as he is called, values learning highly, which is why I was the one chosen.
Now we are at table together, drinking a toast to our fifteen days in the Little Castle. Zamiel is gentle and considerate towards me, being ten years older, and encourages me to eat as much as possible. For my part, I am too nervous to eat more than a few mouthfuls.
The women of the Audh clan have very little contact with men, so I am curious to watch Zamiel, and I have to admit that I like the way he looks. Because of his Roman father he has dark eyes and black hair that falls onto his neck in gentle waves. His skin looks as smooth as ivory and he is carefully close-shaven.
Our repast finished, we are joined by my lady Sequana.
“Irira will lead you to our Little Castle, where you both will stay.” Then she smiles down at Phelan, Zamiel’s wolf-dog, who is looking from one to the other of us, not sure what is going to happen. “Phelan may accompany you, as I know you are loath to be separated from him.”
“That is very pleasing to me,” Zamiel said, leaning down and stroking Phelan’s ears. “Phelan is my loyal companion and I am responsible for him, as he is for me, in his way.”
When we leave the inn I look up at the sky. It is the very darkest indigo and full of stars that shine down on us as we walk to the Little Castle. It is now 30 days past the Winter Solstice and the nights are getting shorter so it will not be long before small white flowers are pushing their way through the grasses and the first shoots of daffodils and crocuses appear.
Zamiel takes my hand to help me over the path, while Phelan runs round and round us nosing for rabbits and other game.
We open the heavy wooden door and stand at the threshold looking into the dark interior. I am surprised when Zamiel turns to me and, encircling my back and my knees, lifts me up and carries me inside.
“This is an old custom among us Celts, and it is a good one.” He smiles as he places me on my feet on the flagstones. “We shall be very happy here these two weeks, of that I am sure.”
Phelan runs inside, nose close to the floor following all the new smells. Then Zamiel closes the door that makes a bang that echoes all over the room.
I look around for tapers to light the rush lamps. I feel embarrassed. “You must excuse me, but I am as much a stranger here as you are.”
“We have many days to find our way,” is Zamiel’s reply that seems to come from far off. “There is no need to hurry.”
We light the rush lamps, our hands working together surprisingly well, and the long high-ceilinged room slowly comes to life.
There is no fire lit but kindling and twigs have been laid over oily rags in the large fireplace ready to be ignited. Zamiel does this without delay, using a taper, and within a few minutes the fire gives the whole room a shimmering glow. We stand side by side, with Phelan between us, watching the flames. Then we turn towards each other.
“You are beautiful in the firelight,” he says. “Almost as beautiful as in candlelight.”
I blush and lower my head. I want to say something in return but I cannot think of anything that is right. Instead I use a Roman expression I hope he will understand.
“intra in cubiculum meum, ignis cunctis onustrum.” Come into my room, I have prepared a fire.
Zamiel smiles at me.
“genio indulgere nostra,” he replies. We shall enjoy ourselves.
Then we both burst out laughing, happy that the other’s Latin is just as ungrammatical as our own.
Zamiel piles some more logs onto the blaze and almost like children we walk round, hand in hand, smoothing the velvet on the chairs, feeling the grain on the highly-polished table, and admiring the embroidery of the quilt over the huge bed.
I know Zamiel has spent most of his life among soldiers and must be unaccustomed to such comfort. I too have led a simple life, as do most of the Audh women. We sleep in a dormitory, eat in the refectory and work hard in the daylight hours.
As we walk around the room I watch Zamiel, without him knowing, and feel myself getting more and more excited at the night to come.
I have only one reservation. I usually keep my arms covered when with strangers. I am afraid Zamiel will see my well-developed muscles from the many hours of practicing with the sword, and I am fearful he might think this unfeminine or even laugh at me. Women are not fighters, many say.
When we come back to stand near the fire we almost trip over Phelan, curled up on a sheepskin fast asleep.
“Come, my lady,” Zamiel says. “Our friend here knows what to do at this time of night, and so should we.”
With one hand he leads me towards the bed and with the other he slowly pulls off the muslin covering my head, held in place by a circlet around my forehead. With this removed my hair falls loose and heavy over my shoulders, hanging straight to my waist. I hear Zamiel catch his breath.
“Your hair is the colour of a summer sunset,” he whispers. Then he takes my chin in his hand. “And your eyes are blue like the sky at dawn.”
He bends his head and gently lays his lips on my forehead. “tempus est iocunditum,” he says, “in cubilum.” It is time for pleasure, in bed.
He lifts me once more and lays me on the heavily embroidered bed cover. Then, in one leap, he joins me and is again by my side.