Mòrag marched to the stables. The normally heart-lifting sound of the communal nickers from the herd did nothing to improve her mood. She paced straight to the end stall where Shand stood awaiting her, instinctively knowing she was not in the mood for jovial behaviour.
He nickered softly as she stretched out a hand to scratch his neck and her heart skipped a beat as she realised his eyes had changed. No longer Brax’s pale silvery-blue, but not back to brown as she had expected. His eyes had shifted to a deeper royal blue — the colour Brax’s eyes had been when he had lost his temper with James; the colour they had been the last time she saw him. ‘I knew it. You’re still connected with him, aren’t you?’
Shand snorted, ‘I am, Màthair.’
‘I have something for you,’ she cast, pulling the silver bridle his father had left for him from the soft leather sack she carried. He sniffed and snorted at the ornate piece of metal before lowering his head to allow her access.
‘What will it do, Màthair?’
‘I’m not sure, but there was a reason behind your athair giving it to Brax.’
‘It will awaken some of the gifts of his heritage,’ Ceò said behind her in his deep watery tone. His presence washed over her in a comforting wave. She placed the bridle on a hook next to Shand’s stable door, turned into Ceò’s waiting embrace, and broke.
‘I am here, Ban Phrionnsa.’
His salty scent swirled around her — an aroma she associated with parental love and safety; security; home. His scent filled her earliest memories and his presence filled the rest. She emptied herself of tears against his naked chest, his skin soft as warm waters’ caress.
‘Ceò it hurt’s,’ she sobbed, finally feeling the utter devastation she had tried for so many days not to feel.
‘I know it feels as though you cannot live without him, but you must, Ban Phrionnsa, you must.’
She tightened her grip on him. ‘I don’t want to.’
‘Do you not think I see what you long for?’ He closed his arms tighter around her, almost swaddling her in the watery depths of his solid form. ‘The darkness in you is growing, Mòrag. You must have a care of your heart; else all is lost.’
‘How can I when it’s broken? I will never see him again. I am duty bound to keep my distance, when all I want to do is rip apart one soul after another until I reach him.’
Ceò stiffened. ‘You cannot mean that, not really,’ he took her face in his hands and encouraged her to look at him, his stormy eyes drawing her into their endless depths. He regarded her for long moments, then kissed her forehead and drew her back to his chest. ‘These feelings will pass, I beg you not to act on them, Ban Phrionnsa.’
She let him cradle her there against his chest and closed her eyes, imagining for a fleeting second that he was Brax until tears rose anew.
‘I will go to him,’ Ceò said finally, ‘I will go to him and I will take him Shand, would that make you feel any better?’
‘Aye,’ she whispered, ‘it would. He’s cut me off completely, I know he’s doing it to protect me, but he’s the one in danger not me and he’s—’
Ceò hushed her. ‘I will go to him,’ he said and released his grip, reaching instead for the silver bridle she had hung next to Shand’s door. He lifted it, inspecting the exquisite and intricate design of the metal; it caught the light from the overhead lamps and sparkled like sunlight reflecting off ripples in a pond. ‘This belonged to my athair, and as such holds a great deal of power. I took it from him when he tried to end your life,’ he said turning to regard her.
Mòrag looked from the bridle in his hand and back to his face, full of affection and just a hint of sadness. ‘I… Didn’t know.’
‘How could you,’ he said, his smile now full of sorrow, ‘you were only a few hours old, and he made me chose between him or you and your màthair, there was no choice to make. He lost his life through his own closed-mindedness.’
His revelation hit her hard. Ceò had given up so much for her — more than she had ever known — and he was still willing to give more. She strode the few steps separating them and wrapped her arms round his waist; breathing in the salty scent of his mane which hung long down his naked back. ‘I wish you were my athair. I wish none of this was real.’ Her statement sounded absurd, even to her; but she meant every word.
Ceò let out a soft watery chuckle. ‘If you were my bairn by blood, you would be a half-breed — an exceptionally powerful one — and I would name you Ban Phrionnsa of the Each Uisge. As it happens I am not your athair by blood; never the less I have always considered you my bairn in spirit if nothing else.’
She increased her grip, holding him so tight she thought if it were anyone else they might snap in two; but not Ceò. Ceò was a force of nature; stronger than any rock or metal and far more deadly.
‘I will take Shand and teach him the ways of the Each Uisge, and then I will go to Lunnainn and do what I can. Go now… Confide in your golden-haired friend, and try not to despair. I will return with news; or with him if I can.’
Mòrag spent the walk from the stables back to the medical wards deep in thought. Ceò was going to venture into the unknown for her. She considered returning to ask him not to go; to just send Shand who could blend in and wouldn’t be recognised or hunted; but she knew he would already be gone and wouldn’t answer her calls.
Now that the floodgates of pent up feeling had been breached, she was finding it difficult to maintain equilibrium. Her body shook with an intensity she had never experienced before; fear for those she loved; sorrow for the lives lost; anger at those who’d brought them to their end; and fury at their masters, all combined and shot electricity through her veins.
She flitted between tears of grief and rage for several paces until rage was the only emotion left — the emotion that swamped all others, and the tears stopped. Her gaze fell upon the path that would take her to the lower cells where Fletcher was being held, and her feet followed.
Ceò’s gentle plea for her not to act upon her rage echoed in the back of her mind, but it was soon drowned out by the blood rushing in her ears; the thump of her heart in her chest; the frightened whimpers Fletcher made in his attempt to get as far away from her as humanly possible.
‘P-please… please don’t hurt me,’ he forced out, flattening himself to the back wall of the cell. ‘I’ll do anything you want, just please don’t hurt me.’
She couldn’t deny his terror was empowering — part of her wanted to rein in the desire she had to see how far she could twist his fear until he broke; another part wanted nothing more than to hear him scream. She sat on the edge of his basic bed and looked him up and down. ‘I have an angel on this shoulder,’ she said pointing to her left shoulder, ‘and a devil on this one,’ she said pointing to her right. ‘Now is your chance to impress that angel before the devil gets bored. Tell me Fletcher, why I shouldn’t rip you into thousands of tiny pieces.’