The Soul Teller
By Maeve A. MacDermod

Part 1

The sun was setting over the cliffs casting a blue- orange glow over the ocean and the land itself. Conor, the brave leader of the Alliance, often went to this site think about life, for this was the place where Galen first took him to hear the roar of the land and now Conor receives comfort from being there. The sun continued to lower and Conor knew that if he didn't return to the sanctuary soon, Fergus and the others would begin to worry about him.

The young prince stood, and slowly began to walk back to the caves in which his people called home. His brooding thoughts, as Fergus would call them, were troubled today, as he thought of his true love, Clare who had been murdered only months ago by her father. It pained his heart to know that she gave her life to save him. He did not know why she was on his mind today. Recently he had begun to think of other things, and had even enjoyed spending time with Fergus' daughter, Molly.

Conor had almost reached the cave, when he noticed a person and a child walking distantly in the faint light. They did not seem to notice him, and if they continued in the direction that they were traveling, they would pass the Sanctuary completely. Studying the figure in the distance closely, Conor realized the person was a woman from the length of her hair. He hurried his pace to arrive at the cave swiftly and alert his people.

"Fergus, Catlin, Tully!" he called into the mouth of the cave. He knew that they would be close to the entrance, waiting for his return.

Fergus emerged first. "What is it, Conor?" Catlin and Tully came up quickly behind the larger man.

"Look!" he pointed into the distance, "A wanderer. I wonder where she is going?"

Catlin peered out. "I don't know, but it will be dark soon. She'll not be safe out there wandering around in the forest. One of us should go get her and bring her back here."

All three of them looked to Conor. "Why me?" he asked.

Fergus smiled. "Well you are the leader, and you did see her first. We'll have a hot meal ready for the three of you when you return."

Conor was not moving. "Come on. Will one of you not come with me?"

"Ah, Conor, stop your whimpering. Are ye afraid of a little woman and a child?"

Conor put a warning tone in his next words. "Fergus, I ought to..." he threw a fake punch at his friend.

Fergus dodged it and chuckled. "Aye lad, your right. Tully will go with you." He said without even asking the boy if he wanted to.

"Me?" squeaked the dark boy.

Catlin smiled. "Good, then it's settled. We'll see you both when you return," she and Fergus moved back into the sanctuary, leaving the younger men alone.

"Well then, I guess we had better get moving, Tully, if we want any food to be left when we get back."

"Shall I get the horses?" Tully asked.

"No, we can walk. They are not all that far away."

They traveled for only a little while, before the woman and child noticed them and started walking towards them as well. They were about forty paces from each other when Conor finally got a clear look at the woman's face.

"Sweet Brigit!" he exclaimed. "It's Clare!"

Tully was confused. He had only seen Clare once and that was at her funeral, before they burned her body. From what he could remember, the woman trudging towards them was akin to Conor's love.

Conor had to get closer. He immediately quickened his pace, and realized that once he got nearer to the woman, that it was not his Clare. The stranger was about Clare's height, and they both had the same build, not to mention similar hair, but this woman seemed tougher than Clare would ever be. Her walk made it quite clear that this woman had been through a lot. She was wearing a tattered shift that was barely being covered by a filthy cloak. Her hair was a mass of curls and she had dirt smeared on her face. The child, a small somber girl, was in a similar condition.

At ten paces the woman called out to the two men. "Are you friends?" she asked with a weary, but musical, voice.

"Aye, we are. We have come to offer you and your child shelter for the night," answered Conor.

The woman breathed a sigh of relief. "Go raibh maith agat thank you. I am Abiageal, daughter of Adair and wife of Vaughn. This is my own daughter Taithleach," she said motioning to the child of about three nestled close to Abiageal's side. "Who might ye be?"

They set off towards the Sanctuary. "I am Conor, son of Derek, and this is Tully."

Abiageal looked Conor over. "You are Conor? The leader of the Alliance? You don't look like much," she commented doubtfully.

Tully chuckled. "That is what I said!"

"That is enough out of you, Tully." Conor blushed. "How do you know of us, Abiageal?" he asked the woman.

"There is great talk to the north of tribes that are joining into one, to protect the land and its people. An old white-haired druid speaks of your exploits, with such passion that I had to see for my self, if such fantasies could possibly be true."

"Galen," Tully said, in a surprised tone, and looked to Conor, who could only shrug, so the boy smiled at Abiageal. "It is very true, my dear, and Conor here is our leader our support our inspiration "

"Tully! Enough!" Conor snapped.

"And what of your followers? Where are they?" she smirked, making it sound as if she was not really believing that this tale was actually true.

Just then, the group of travelers reached the mouth of the cave, and Fergus emerged. "Sweet Brigit!" he exclaimed, just as Conor did, when he saw Abiageal. Conor brushed him aside and ushered the two weary females into the Sanctuary. The enormous cave was home to many people of many different tribes, but here they all lived in harmony. The first thing that most new arrivals usually do, is exclaim at the beauty of the massive waterfalls near the entrance, but Abiageal did not. She almost seemed as if she expected to see them there. Abiageal and Taithleach were lead by Conor through the caves, past the staring crowd of people who now call this place their home, with Fergus and Tully following them. They finally reached the center of the living area, and found Catlin, who was waiting for them. She was kneeling near a slab of deer meat that was roasting on a spit over a fire.

When she saw the woman, Catlin abruptly stood. "Hello," she started uncertainly. "I am Catlin."

"I am Abiageal and this is Taithleach. We appreciate your kindness to us." Abiageal turned to Conor, who was standing a few paces behind her. "From all of you. We have come a long way to find the fabled Alliance, and to see that it is true, is like a dream."

"From where have you traveled?"

"Many days away. We come from the village of Airdsgainne, near the height of the cliffs, on the north side of the island."

Catlin sounded concerned. "That is a long journey for the two of you to take alone. Where is the rest of your tribe?" she asked.

Abiageal bowed her head. "They are dead. All dead."

Conor was shocked. "Why? What caused this?"

"We were attacked by Romans, and ordered to follow them. We resisted and they all died. My entire family, my ma, my da, all of our tribe is gone, as is our land."

"Sweet Brigit!" said Fergus. "You're lucky to have lived,"

"Aye, Fergus, but right now all I want to do is sleep. I know Taithleach and I have been through a lot, and we could use a place to rest."

Catlin smiled. "I will get you both settled in right away, but you really should eat first, Abiageal. Have some of the deer meat, and then I will find you a place to slumber."

"You are a very wise woman, Catlin. I now see who keeps all these men in line," Abiageal chuckled, which lit up her face.

Fergus knelt down by the small girl and offered her a piece of deer. She soundlessly took it from him and started to nibble. "Your girl does not say much, does she Abiageal."

"Taithleach has not spoken a word aloud since out tribe was murdered, but she is strong. I know her spirit will return to me one day."

They ate the rest of the meal with only polite small talk, Abiageal answering questions when asked to her. Finally, Catlin took charge again. "Let's allow our guests to get some rest, shall we. I will show you where my lodging is, and you can lie there for the night. Tomorrow we can find you more permanent bedding."

"Dubhghall and Dubheasa are marrying soon. I'm sure that you can have one of their huts, after the ceremony."

"Aye, that is correct," Catlin agreed, and the three females walked off into the darkness of the Sanctuary, leaving Conor, Fergus and Tully alone.

"Diana is attacking the villages to the north much sooner than we expected. We should journey out that way soon, before there are no more tribes to unite with," started Fergus.

"She mentioned meeting a druid who told her where we were. You don't suppose it was Galen, do you?" asked Tully, excited at the thought.

"Lad, Galen is dead," Fergus began, but the younger man would not hear it.

"You don't know that for sure, Fergus. He could be alive still, isn't that so, Conor?"

Conor's mind was not on the conversation, and all he could think of was the mysterious Abiageal.

"Conor?" Tully questioned.

That snapped him out of his reverie and he was brought into the present. "What?"

"Galen could still be alive, couldn't he?" Tully's expressive brown eyes were pleading with the leader to say yes.

"Tully, I want with all my heart to be able to tell you that Galen is still out there, but I don't honestly know. If he is, then he'll return to us when we truly need him again. Have patience."

Catlin rushed back to the group of her friends, by the fire. "That child is so beautiful, it is a shame she had to witness such brutality. It has got to stop, Conor. These wars will ruin the souls of the children, if they are allowed to continue. Then who will we have to pass the freedom onto?"

"I know I know. What are your thoughts on Abiageal, Cat?"

"When I was a slave, I knew of another slave girl who was of Airdsgainne. She told stories of how beautiful and free it was there, and oh, how I wanted to go there. She spoke of the king and queen, and of their daughter, Abiageal. The slave girl loved her home so much because of these people and the hope of returning there one day kept her alive. I get a good feeling from her, but there is one thing that the slave told me about Abiageal, which I cannot remember, but I'm sure it will come to me."

Tully spoke next. "She sure is a beautiful one." Not one of them said what was exactly on their mind. They all wanted to speak of the obvious fact that the woman looked like Clare, but they remained quiet. They did not want to upset Conor.

Conor had a somber expression on his face. "I believe I will go to sleep myself." he stood and said his goodnight to his closest friends and wandered off through the Sanctuary, but not towards his hut. Before he realized it, he was nearing Catlin's lodging, where she had led the two females to sleep. Walking past the door, Conor was able to glance inside and see Abiageal and her sleeping daughter, who was snuggled close to the elder woman.

Abiageal was of unending beauty, even as dirty as she was he could see that. She had darker, a deep reddish brown, hair than Clare, but it fell in the same mane of tousled curls that Conor adored so much on his beloved. Just gazing at her now, Conor noticed how delicate the stranger seemed, but there was something in Abiageal that Conor could not quite figure out that made her so much different than Clare. He felt his heart yearn for his love, and then realized the pain that he was going through just being near this woman. As he was going to turn away, he remembered the sight of Abiageal's eyes. They were piercing green and felt as if they could tunnel right into your soul. Finally Conor broke away, went to his own bed, and fell into a troubled sleep.

Part 2

The next morning, Abiageal and Taithleach were awoken by a deep voice nearby. "Abiageal," whispered Fergus, "I hate to disrupt your sleep, but Catlin felt that you should now that we are going out to hunt for some food. She didn't want you to wake and not know where we went."

"Thank you, Fergus. May the hunt be well for you and your party this fine morning," she said, groggily.

"Catlin also left the both of you some fresh clothes to change into. You can clean up in the pool at the waterfall. We shouldn't be too long," he said as he started to walk out the door. "Then we can properly get to know each other. Feel free to explore the Sanctuary, and meet our people. They are very curious about you and your little one."

"Fare thee well, Fergus."

Abiageal tidied up the sleeping area after Fergus left them, washed herself and Taithleach in the water, and the two strangers wandered their way through the caves following the scent of delicious food, until they found a some people eating a meal. The woman, who was cooking, greeted them.

"Hello. You must be Abiageal. I am Dymphna." Then she bent down to the child's level. "And this must be Taithleach. Fergus told us that you joined our clan last night, and we would like to welcome you. Are either of you hungry?"

Abiageal nodded, "Aye, Dymphna, we are very famished." The cook offered the two a bit of the stew that she was stirring. "It is nice to see a cook with the name and the heart of a poet. What else has Fergus told you of us?" She questioned, curiously.

"Not much, seeing as he just met you himself, but apparently he's said much of me. Did he tell you I was a poet?" Dymphna asked, but then didn't give Abiageal a chance to answer as she noticed the ornament around Abiageal's neck. "That is a beautiful torc, but it is rather large for your delicate body."

"It belonged to my father. I removed it from his body after the massacre of my tribe. It means a lot to me," she explained, gently running her fingers over the cold braided metal. "How did you find yourself to be here, Dymphna? I assume you have a family in this sanctuary."

"Aye, that young one over there is mine," Dymphna gestured over to a small dark-haired girl of about seven years. "Donella. She certainly is a spitfire like her father. He was killed in an attack of our village one summer ago."

"I am sorry for your loss, Dymphna."

"And I, yours. It is hard to lose the ones that you love."

"Aye," she nodded in agreement. "Dymphna? What do you know about Conor?" Abiageal asked, out of nowhere. The quickness, in which she asked it, surprised even her.

"Ah, that poor boy. He has lost so much, and overcome his grief to lead us against the Romans. In fact, now that I mention it, you are similar to her. Maybe a little taller you are, your hair is darker, and there is something else that I cannot place different, but you do have a lot in common."

"Dymphna, you are speaking nonsense woman. What are you talking about?"

"Conor's love. She was a beautiful lass, almost as beautiful as you are, but she was killed trying to protect him from her father's sword. He murdered her, as well as Conor's whole family. Only Conor and Fergus survived." Dymphna patted Abiageal's arm. "He is still hopelessly devoted to her. You should know that."

"Aye, I do. More than you can imagine." Abiageal realized what the horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach meant. It was Conor's feelings for her that were in the air.

"There is still hope, lass. One day he will move on, and the way I see it, is that the two of you are about the same age. Perhaps you will free his heart from Clare and make it yours."

Conor and the rest of the hunting party returned to the Sanctuary as the sun was reaching its zenith, shortly after Abiageal and Taithleach finished their stew and as they were helping Dymphna clean the cooking area. They had killed four rabbits, three chipmunks and two large deer, which will provide plenty for the upcoming wedding. Fergus seemed sullen upon his return, and the cook was the first to notice it. Dymphna grinned at him. "Ah Fergus, what is it? Did you not catch anything?" He shook his head. "Not even a chipmunk?" She joked mischievously.

"Not even a chipmunk, Dymphna," the sullen man repeated. "Is there any ale around?"

Conor interrupted. "Fergus, you know the ale we have is being saved for the upcoming wedding. No dipping into our already dwindling stock. Besides Cat killed enough to make up for you're not getting anything." Dymphna chuckled. "Catlin, you got both of the deer?" The satisfied smug on Catlin's face let them know the feat was true.

"Well," said Dymphna, dipping into the stew pot, "I guess we should feed our champion." She handed the clay bowl full of steaming stew past Fergus, to Catlin, who still had a satisfied smug on her lips.

It was obvious that Fergus planned to brood the rest of the day, but Abiageal was not going to let him. She enjoyed the big man's company, and asked him to walk with her outside the Sanctuary, leaving Taithleach with Dymphna and Donella. They traveled deep into the forest, then sat in a grassy clearing.

"Fergus," started Abiageal, "why do you fight?"

"Why?" he asked. "We fight for our land, our people and our freedom."

"No Fergus. That is why 'we' fight. Why do you personally fight?"

"To repay a debt," he murmured quietly.

"To Conor?"

"Aye, and to myself." The woman gazed into his eyes and deep in to his soul. They both sat in a silent trance for along time until she broke off eye contact with him. After that time of quietness, Abiageal knew almost everything there was to know about Fergus.

"You love your daughter very much I can see that."

"Aye, I most certainly do. Did Dymphna tell you that I had a daughter?" He was confused.

"Nay, she didn't have to. I can see it in you." She got to her feet.

"Come on, we should get back. I don't want Taithleach to worry of us."

Abiageal and Fergus returned to the cave and sought out Conor, Tully and Catlin. They were sitting all together under a large tree, discussing the next village that they were going to visit.

"I think that the next one should be Coilleach. They are near the forest and will be valuable allies in the fight against Diana." Conor turned when he heard Abiageal's voice.

"The Coilleach have drawn themselves in to seclusion. They will allow no one near their village, since a rival tribe tried to force them into uniting with them and bloodshed broke out. They are fearful of all strangers and will kill any who near the gates."

"We do not want to force them into unity we want them as our allies and, partners," swore Tully.

"It does not matter to them. All who near will perish, as a survivor told me."

"We will try to reason with them, as always. Once they hear the reasoning of Unity, they can decide their loyalties. We were wondering where you went, Abiageal. We just wanted to let you know that you and Taithleach are welcome here for as long as you wish. Time will heal your wounds." She reached down and picked up his sword that was at his feet.

"I want to fight, Conor. I want to bring those Roman bastards to their knees."

"Abiageal, let us handle the fighting. You have greater responsibilities here within the Sanctuary."

"NO!" she exclaimed. "I will not be put down here. I may not be the strongest or the fieriest one here, but I do have some battle experience, and I can use a sword. I want to fight!"

He was surprised at the emotion in her voice. There was a fire in her eyes that he had never fully noticed before. She turned away and appealed to Catlin, Tully and Fergus for assistance.

Conor spoke to her back. "Why? Why do you wish to fight so deeply? You have a greater purpose here as Taithleach's mother."

Abiageal made eye contact with Fergus, who raised an eyebrow to agree with his leader, and she almost got lost in his chaotic soul again. She broke away and faced Conor a second time.

"I don't want to live, as my husband died on his knees before the Romans, begging for his life. Taithleach deserves so much more." Conor was without words. "Abiageal, some men are destined to become great leaders " he trailed off.

"And it's obvious that Vaughn was not one of those men, isn't that so Conor. Well then I shall pick up where he failed. My family name will not be dishonored because I married a coward." She took his sword and stuck it point down in the stone at Conor's feet. "I will fight with or without you, Conor." She paused for a moment and peered into his soul and did something that no one expected. She started to quote a speech that Conor gave several months ago. "'This is the first step in uniting our land. Now when we fight, we fight for each other, for our freedom, our future and those that have come before us. This is our home, and we a people who will not be put down. We'll not be broken and we'll never be silenced.'" She pulled her gaze away and stared at her feet. "Did you mean it when you said that, Conor? We're you being true to yourself when you spoke those rallying words?"

The young man in front of her was again at a loss for words. He did not trust himself to answer her question, so he instead put his hand over hers on the hilt of his sword. "You can fight, but you have to get your own sword. This one belongs to me." He then grasped the sword and left the Sanctuary.

Abiageal watched him go, then turned to the trio of friends that were gathered openmouthed behind her. "I'm sorry. I never meant for that to happen. I just got so angry for a moment and forced myself into his thoughts. I will get my daughter and leave this place, before I hurt Conor anymore.

Fergus stepped in front of her as she tried to walk past him, "Let's not be hasty, Abiageal. Go talk to Conor. He is a very understanding lad, trust me, I know. Let him know how you feel "

"How do I feel? I don't even know anymore, nor do I know where to find him."

"He'll go down to the cliffs," said Catlin. "That is where he likes to think things over. Go after him, Abiageal. It has to be done."

As Abiageal left the trio she heard Catlin say to the men, "I remember now, she was raised by the Druids, not by her family. They say she has special abilities "

She reached the cliffs and Conor was right where Catlin said he would be. He had his left hand resting on the hilt of his now sheathed sword, and was just staring out into the deep blue ocean. Abiageal walked up behind him.

"You think of her often, don't you?"

"Aye, but in recent, not as much as I used to " he paused, " until you came."

He still hadn't turned to face her. "It hurts you to be with me. It is painful for you to see me because I remind you of her. The last thing I want to do is hurt you, Conor, after you've been so kind to us."

"You don't think of Vaughn at all?"

"Nay, I never loved him. It was a marriage of convenience for me ma and da. The only good thing that man did for me, was give me Taithleach."

"How could they do that? Force you to marry another when there is no love?"

"I accepted it as inevitable. My father was very old and he knew that he would not survive much longer. Our family had no male heirs, so he felt that the best way to keep the clan safe was to marry his only daughter off to an influential family. I loved my father dearly, and he was a very wise man, but he was wrong in this regard. And our clan paid the price. It hurts to know that the last words out of your husband's mouth, before he was run through with a Roman sword, were, 'Please spare me. Take my wife and daughter instead. They will make you much gold in the slave market'."

"What a cretin," he said, taking her hand and helping her to sit down on the cliff edge next to him.

"He deserved to die," she said simply.

"No one deserves to die, Abiageal."

"Not even Gar?"

He didn't know what to say. "That was different," was all he could manage.

"Why?" Her eyes showed the fire in her soul. "Why is it different? Is it because you wanted revenge against Gar? Because you needed to avenge your family's death? Well so do I. I didn't get the chance to kill my cowardly husband, but I do want the chance to get to get some of those Roman bastards who murdered my clan. Children died Conor. Children much younger than Taith, who had their whole lives ahead of them, were slaughtered along with their parents and elders."

"Our fight is not about revenge anymore, it is about Unity."

She did not answer him, and instead gazed out into the calming sea. "The ocean is beautiful here. It reminds me of Airdsgainne. We have beautiful cliffs there near our fort. I used to take Taithleach there when we wanted to get away from Vaughn." Conor noticed a slight flash of guilt in the woman's eyes, but did not know of its source. "Taith would love it here she would sing at the sea at home for hours until her throat was hoarse, and still be a happy child."

"She will be well again soon, Abiageal. She is a strong child."

Abiageal sighed. "I know, but it still hurts not to be able to help your child." He placed a hand on her shoulder and she leaned against him. "Oh Diarmid " she breathed out.

Conor was confused. "What? Who is Diarmid?"

"Why do you ask?" Abiageal said, keeping her head on his shoulder.

"You just called me Diarmid."

Now it was her turn to be confused. "I called you what?" She lifted her head. "He's no one."

"Abiageal, don't lie to me. Please, I would like to know."

"He's no one, Conor." She gazed into his eyes and begged him to stop his questioning. "Please " a single tear ran down her cheek. "There is nothing to forgive, Conor. You did not a thing wrong. Favor me by just sitting with me here for a while."

Conor wrapped his muscular arm around the woman's slight body and held her tight, forgetting that she was not his Clare. But he didn't care, for he felt strongly about this stranger, almost as much as he did Clare. "I will, as long as you'll allow me." And she simply laid her head down and felt his love.

They returned to the Sanctuary well into Fergus' story-time with the the children. The both of them approached the mob of tribe's children clustered around the large warrior in the center of the cave, and Abiageal was pleased to see Taithleach there next to him. Catlin advanced cautiously towards the two new arrivals.

"Is all well?" she asked, hesitantly.

"Aye, Catlin. All is well," responded Abiageal with an outwardly glow.

"What tale is Fergus spinning today for the children?" questioned Conor.

Cat chuckled. "Who knows. Another one where he is the champion in the end, most likely. The children really like that though." She glanced at Abiageal. "Taithleach appears to be having a good time with Fergus. He is very well-disposed with the children here."

"Aye, he is. He has a very gentle heart for a warrior."

Tully approached the trio. "Conor, can I speak with you? Alone?"

"Aye, Tully. Let's go over by the waterfall, though. I could use to wash up before supper."

Conor gave Abiageal a meaningful look and then followed Tully off to the pool. Catlin grinned at her. "What was that all about?"

Abiageal shrugged, "I don't know, but we should go see if we can help Dymphna with supper. I'm starved!"

Conor waded out into the water, wearing only his pants, and splashed the cool water on his bare chest. "What is this all about, Tully?"

"Did you ask her how she knew?"

"What? What are you talking about?"

"How she knew what you said to us after we stormed Gar's castle? Did you ask her that?" There was urgency in the boy's voice.

Conor shook his head. "No, we did not talk about it. I didn't think to ask."

"A woman reads your mind, and you do not think to ask how? Tully snapped. "Why don't you keep your mind on being the leader here, rather than on all the women."

The man in the water stopped in mid-splash and stared at his friend. "What? What is your problem, Tully? Why all this concern of Abiageal?"

"Catlin says she was raised by Druids, not her own family, and she is thought to have special powers. But I'm sure that wouldn't interest you, since you can't seem to get past the fact that she looks like Clare. She is not Clare. Clare is dead, and you have to come to terms with that," he said bitterly.

Conor ran through the water and up to the shore. He leaped out of the pool in a fit of anger and punched Tully in the face, who fell to the ground. "I know she is dead, she died in my arms! Don't you ever speak of her like that again." He was shouting over the figure of his friend on the rocky ground, with blood coming from a cut he inflicted on the dark boy's cheek. The angered leader's voice alerted others to the argument. Fergus was the first on to come to the pool.

Part 3

Conor waded out into the water, wearing only his pants, and splashed the cool water on his bare chest. "What is this all about, Tully?"

"Did you ask her how she knew?"

"What? What are you talking about?"

"How she knew what you said to us after we stormed Gar's castle? Did you ask her that?" There was urgency in the boy's voice.

Conor shook his head. "No, we did not talk about it. I didn't think to ask."

"A woman reads your mind, and you do not think to ask how? Tully snapped. "Why don't you keep your mind on being the leader here, rather than on all the women."

The man in the water stopped in mid-splash and stared at his friend. "What? What is your problem, Tully? Why all this concern of Abiageal?"

"Catlin says she was raised by Druids, not her own family, and she is thought to have special powers. But I'm sure that wouldn't interest you, since you can't seem to get past the fact that she looks like Clare. She is not Clare. Clare is dead, and you have to come to terms with that," he said bitterly.

Conor ran through the water and up to the shore. He leaped out of the pool in a fit of anger and punched Tully in the face, who fell to the ground. "I know she is dead, she died in my arms! Don't you ever speak of her like that again." He was shouting over the figure of his friend on the rocky ground, with blood coming from a cut he inflicted on the dark boy's cheek. The angered leader's voice alerted others to the argument. Fergus was the first one to come to the pool.

"Conor, are ye mad, boy? What is going on here?" he asked, pulling him away from Tully.

"Ask him," he said bitterly. "Tully is the one who's mad!"

Abiageal and Catlin came up behind the large crowd that was gathering. "What is going on here?" asked Cat, just as Fergus did.

Abiageal knelt down by Tully. "Are you alright?" She dabbed at his wound with the hem of her shift. "Let me get a closer look at that, Tully." She helped him to his feet and led him away from the crowd. The two men glared at each other as they walked past.

She led him to an area that was well lit with torches. Ripping a piece of cloth from her skirt, she wet it in the small pool of water nearby and dabbed at the blood on the boy's face.

"It was about me, wasn't it?" she asked suddenly.

"No, it's about Conor and his inability to lead us."

"You don't mean that, Tully. Something is clouding your judgement towards Conor. Tell me the truth, please. It *was* about me."

He nodded regretfully, "I don't know why I angered so much. I could hear the words come out of my mouth and I knew they would hurt him, but I didn't seem to care. I just said them anyway."

"For as long as I can remember, I could look into anyone's eyes and read their soul. It has always been there and is a natural part of who I am. My parents sent me away as a child to live with a local band of Druids, because I would be the cause of many arguments in the village. It would disrupt life there, just as it has here. For some people just being near me causes chaos in their lives, and that is the last thing that I want to happen here. I should leave now, before it gets too difficult."

Conor, Fergus and Catlin stepped out into the area from the shadows. "No," said Fergus, "you can't leave. We want you to stay with us. Conor and Tully can work out their differences like men, and then there won't be any more problems, right lads?" They both nodded grudgingly. "Good. Now lets go eat supper. I smell a delicious feast coming from Dymphna's direction."

Abiageal stopped them. "You don't understand, Fergus. None of you do. I have seen things in other's souls that no person is ever meant to. No woman should be able to live through that, and the Druids that raised me feel as if my soul deals with it by pushing the negative emotions to those near me. It can tear loving marriages and lifelong friendships apart, and I don't want to see that happen here. I would rather die, then see that happen, after you've been so kind to me."

"Nonsense, woman. If you can live with the strain of this gift then so can we," explained Fergus.

Catlin took her hand. "You belong here, Abiageal, I can feel it. You and Taithleach make our clan complete and we want you to stay for as long as you wish."

"I will stay, for I feel at home here as well, but..."

"No 'buts'," interrupted Conor. "You will stay as long as you want. Never feel pressured to leave because of this ability."

Abiageal simply nodded and allowed herself to be led off to supper.

Part 4

Several days had passed with no incidents and the day of the wedding arrived. It was a beautiful day and all of the Sanctuary inhabitants were out to celebrate this joyous day. The ceremony was set up in the main cave area, where sunlight streamed in from above right onto the area where the Druid and the couple to be joined were standing. Conor stood near the two, with Fergus, Catlin, Tully and Abiageal at his side. In the past days, Conor had grown accustomed to having Abiageal by his side, and felt empty when she was away. This feeling alarmed him, for he felt as if he were betraying Clare's memory by feeling so strongly about this new woman.

Many of the tribe children got together and decorated this area with fresh, colorful flowers and green vines, and everyone's attention was on the man and woman who were getting married. They joined hands and prepared to speak the words of love and commitment that would bind their souls together. Laoise, who was wearing a ravishing white dress stitched with delicate flowers, began her vows.

"As I step into this sacred circle, the burdens of a lifetime slip from my soul, for as I gaze up into your eyes, I see only me, only love, only life. This is what I've waited for, searched for, and longed for. In your arms I feel protected, in your presence I feel warmth, in your love I feel whole. The love we share binds our souls. Together we will create living legacy that will be a reminder of our love long after we come to dust. For now, for always, I am yours. With you I am complete. This I swear to you before all, my life, my love, my husband...."

Dubhghall gazed into her eyes lovingly, and took his turn. "As I step into this sacred circle, I leave behind all that I was before you, for as I gaze down into your face, I see all that I have missed and searched for in my life; love, compassion, comfort, tenderness. You are all that is soft, pure and true. You are my hope, my salvation: You are my friend, my lover. You are my strength when I falter. You are my heart. Without you I am only half a man, lost and alone. The love we share binds us together, forever. I will always stand beside you. For now, for always, I am yours. With you I am complete. This I swear to you before all, my life, my love, my wife...."

At last the Druid consecrated the marriage. "I am the wind that blows across the sea, I am the wave of the deep, I am the Roar of the Ocean, I am the Stag of Seven battles. O'n saol seo go dti' an saoleile. From this life to the next."

The couple both repeated this vow and then embraced in a lasting kiss.

Conor stepped forward. "Friends, we are here to celebrate this union and celebrate we shall. These two souls are forever intertwined with each other and let no man ever separate them. Rejoice!" The crowd gave a elated roar for the newly married couple and then the music began. Tully and a few of the other tribes men were playing instruments and people danced cheerfully. Abiageal noticed Conor sitting alone, and went to his side.

"You seem sad, Conor. What distresses you on this joyous day?"

He motioned towards Laoise and Dubhghall. "They are so happy. This day reminds me of my brother's weeding day, before it all happened. It was a day such as this."

"Your family," she said, kneeling next to his rock, "they died that day, isn't that so?"

"Yes."

Abiageal took his hand into her own and told him how sorry she was, with her eyes. He gave her one of his crooked grins that she secretly found so adorable and melted her heart.

"Enough of this sadness. I said we are to celebrate this day, and we shall." He gently pulled her to her feet. "Dance?" he asked.

"Why I'd be honored, Conor." He led her to the main dance area in front of Tully's band, near Fergus and Dymphna. Taithleach and Dymphna's daughter, Donella, were also dancing nearby, and Conor was pleased to see the smaller girl enjoying her self. He noticed right away what a graceful dancer Abiageal was, and again he thought of Clare. Abiageal gazed into his eyes and saw his sad thoughts, even though he was trying to cover them with laughter and a grin.

She reached up and lightly brushed his cheek with her fingers. "I'm sorry..." she breathed, and started to walk away. He stopped her by taking her outstretched hand, and after holding it to his face a moment, moved it to his chest over his heart.

"I am here with you today," was all he said, and they continued to dance in silence.

After some time, Fergus came over to the two linked dancers, patted Conor on the shoulder, and then moved to face Abiageal and spoke to her. "Might I have this next dance, lovely lady?" he asked and then glanced to Conor and back to Abiageal. She nodded and Conor passed her hand off to his dear friend, not really wanting to let go. Finally he did, then went to sit down.

"Are ye being kind to the ale this even', Fergus?"

He laughed a big belly laugh that shook Abiageal. "Ah, lass, I never met an ale that I didn't like. Might I say that you are a lovely dancer."

She blushed. "Thank you, Fergus. You are too good-hearted."

"No darlin, you are too king to let an old timer such as myself to dance with you. Conor didn't want to let you go, you know."

"Nonsense, Fergus. I believe the ale is going to your head. Perhaps you should lie down," she giggled.

"My dear, you of all people should see what is on his mind."

The woman sighed, "Aye, Fergus, I do. I see images and thoughts of Clare whenever I am near. He doesn't see me, only the 'her' inside of me. I bring him pain, yet he allows me to stay. I do not understand."

"Conor is a good man and he will not allow his personal feelings get in the way of your happiness here. One day his pain for Clare will fade and you will be there for him."

She studied Conor in the corner wistfully, then returned her attention back to Fergus. "I hope you know as much about love as you do about ale, my Champion."

He gently squeezed her arm, "I know about Conor and that is what matters." The song ended and the band needed to take a break, so Fergus went off to find more ale while Abiageal sought after the newly married Dubhghall.

She did not have to search very far. He was over in a corner, to which Abiageal was fortunate to find him alone.

"Comhghairdeas, Dubhghall^ÅCongratulations! You both seem so--." Abiageal cut herself off as she looked in to his eyes and saw the awful truth. "You are a spy," she hissed. "You are a Roman spy!"

Part 5

The song ended and the band needed to take a break, so Fergus went off to find more ale while Abiageal sought after the newly married Dubhghall.

She did not have to search very far. He was over in a corner, to which Abiageal was fortunate to find him alone.

"Comhghairdeas, Dubhghall^ÅCongratulations! You both seem so--." Abiageal cut herself off as she looked in to his eyes and saw the awful truth. "You are a spy," she hissed. "You are a Roman spy!"

The shock on his face registered instantly. "How do you? It's not like that. I can explain!"

"There is no explanation for what you are. I am getting Conor," roughly he grabbed her arm.

"NO!" he exclaimed loudly, knocking her to the ground. His out burst quieted the sparse crowd near them. "You will not tell Conor anything!" he growled, springing on the downed woman and hitting her several times.

Somewhere deep inside Abiageal, her warrior spirit woke up. She tucked her knees up to her chest and pushed the large man off of her body, then sprung to her own feet. "Conor, Fergus!" She yelled out, and they came running immediately to her aid. Once Dubhghall saw them coming through the gathered crowd, he abandoned his fight and left the Sanctuary. Fergus, Catlin, Tully and a few others attempted to follow him.

Conor stayed with the injured woman. There was blood streaming from a small cut at the side of Abiageal's mouth, and one side of her face was beginning to bruise. Conor took her face into his hands and tenderly dabbed at the cut with his tunic.

"Are you all right? What happened?" he asked confused at the whole thing.

"Dubhghall is a Roman spy. I saw it in his soul. He infiltrated your clan by the commands of Diana."

Catlin, Tully and Fergus returned to where they two were standing, amid a group of onlookers. "He is gone, and we found no traces of his tracks," said Catlin. "What was that all about anyway?"

"Dubhghall has been spying on us for Diana and the Romans," explained Conor.

"What!" exclaimed Fergus. "He's been here a long time, even longer than you and I, Conor."

"That can't be possible," said Tully. "Galen brought him here in the last winter. That was way before you and the quest for unity. There must be some mistake."

"There is no mistake, Tully. I saw it in his inner self. He is a Roman operative sent here to report back to Diana and her army."

Laoise heard the ruckus and came to see what was ruining her wedding day. "What is going on here? Where is Dubhghall?"

Fergus took her arm. "Laoise, Dubhghall is gone. He attacked Abiagael and ran out into the night."

She shook her head. "That can't be. I don't believe you. Where is my husband?"

The large man tightened his grip on her small arm. "Listen to me, lass. He is a Roman spy. Dubhghall was in league with Rome. He would have killed us all, given the chance."

Laoise was in denial. "No he is a good man, a gentle man. He is my husband!" She turned to Conor for an appeal. "HE is your friend Conor, you know that. Dubhghall would give his life to save yours, for the cause, for unity. Don't tell me you believe all this."

"Laoise, look at Abiagael. He hit her and knocked her to the ground because she found out what he was. Look at her^Åshe's bleeding because of him. That's not something the man who was my friend would do." stated Conor.

"What if he found out she was the spy, and attacked her for that reason?" the woman tried to sound optimistic.

"Why would he run away if she was the spy?" asked Fergus, turning her towards her again. "Listen to reason, woman!"

"Dubhghall knew of the love between Conor and her. He probably realized that Conor wouldn't believe in him, for our leader is following his heart and not his head!" she yelled in Conor's direction, but Fergusjerked her back.

"Let her go, Fergus," said Abiageal. "She is going through a lot right now. Let the woman go."

He did as she requested, but it wasn't a wise idea. Laoise immediately sprang for Abiageal. "This is all your doing!" she screamed. "You have turned everyone against my husband, and now he is gone. How would you know that he is a spy anyway. You are..." she was pulled away from Abiageal, who just stood there during the whole tirade, "you are just jealous of the happiness that we found together!"

Catlin held the woman back again as she lunged for Abiageal, "Laoise, calm yourself. Abiageal has a gift for seeing into the souls of people, and finding their darkest secrets."

"What kind of dark magic is this? You let evil into our Sanctuary, Conor. That woman is purely amoral. She has corrupted you all!"

The others of the crowd started murmuring, but Conor put a stop to it right away. "I will not have this happen again. The last time, you banished Shannon, I went along with it, and she died. If you banish Abiageal and her daughter, I will leave and never come back. I don't care what each of you thinks. This is not an evil woman, she is just like you. The Romans killed her family, burned her home, and she was brought here by destiny, just as all of you were. I will not have you dismiss her because she is different. Abiageal has hurt no one here, not even you Laoise. She has a right to be here as much as the rest of you do. It is not her fault that your husband is a spy."

"You promised to protect us, Conor," a man called out from the crowd.

"I will protect you. WE will protect you all, but this woman is not a threat to you. She has done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment, and I for one will not stand by and watch it happen." He took her hand into his.

Catlin reached out for Abiageal's other hand, "Either will I." Tully moved in front of the woman to separate her from the growing crowd and Fergus took to the back of his group of friends. They started to move as a group to take Abiageal and Taithleach to Conor's hut. Abiageal stopped them for a moment, and turned to the now sobbing Laoise, who was being comforted by a friend,

"He does love you, I could feel that. I hope you can take comfort in that thought. Laoise continued to weep, so the group continued onward towards Conor's hut.

Part 6

Four days have passed since the wedding day. Abiageal and Taithleach were slowly being integrated back into the Sanctuary life. Every night, Fergus would bring Taith to his story time, and she would sit on his lap as he told the story. He wouldn't let the young girl out of his sight for anything. But this night, Donella, Dymphna's child, approached the champion with a smile.

"Fergus, may Taithleach sit with me this evening? I will watch her as carefully as you do," she asked sweetly.

"Aye, Donella, just exercise caution with her."

"As always, Fergus. She will be only a short distance from your diligent watch." Donella took the small girl's hand and led her to a spot near the fire. Taithleach still had not spoken a word, not laughed since she had been brought to the caves 12 days previous. Usually, Fergus or Tully could manage a slight smile out of her, but even that was getting rare. Fergus couldn't help but to wonder if perhaps the girl could sense something bad was going to happen soon.

Abiageal and Taithleach had been moved into Dubhghall's old hut, much to the dismay of his bride, and for protection they had a guard that would watch over them during the night. In recent, the opposition to them staying in the Sanctuary has passed, and people were getting used to the two strangers. Conor was confident that soon all memory of the incident would be but a shadow in the past.

In the past days, Abiageal would leave her hut to wash, eat and for battle practice, which was going very well for her. She was given a sword that the Sanctuary blacksmith, Ioasef, forged for her and she was quite proficient in its use. A day ago, Conor asked her where she learned to fight.

She answered cryptically. "From when I lived with the Druids."

"The Druids taught you how to fight?" he asked surprised.

"No, a local boy," and that was all she would say. Conor wanted to ask if it was the one named Diarmid, who he often heard her call out to in her sleep as he was guarding her tent, but he held his tongue.

Catlin came by the hut, as Taith was busy with story time, and the two women decided to go outside of the sanctuary for a stroll near the river. As they were leaving, Abiageal saw the expression on several of the people's faces.

"They're afraid of me."

Catlin studied the clansmen near them. "People fear what they don't understand. It's a natural feeling."

They exited the cave and hiked out towards the river. "You're afraid of me, Cat, aren't you?"

"Why would you say that?"

Abiageal rested her hand on the hilt of her sword. "You haven't met my eyes for four days, since the wedding. What am I supposed to think of that? You fear my abilities, because you have a secret that you don't want anyone to know."

The woman put her long bow on the bank of the river and sat down, submerging her feet in the cool water. Abiageal followed her example, and felt the water rush by her bare feet. "I don't fear you, I dread what you will think if you know the truth that have been so well at hiding from everyone, including Conor and the others.."

"We all have secrets, Catlin, and we all must be accepted for them. Conor and the others have secrets, as do I. That is what separates us from the deer and the trees. There is a balance that must be achieved between the two sides of our selves: our public side and our private side." Abiageal hesitated for a moment and then continued on, in a rush. "I wasn't there when my clan was slaughtered. That is how Taith and I survived. We were at the cliffs trying to get away from my terrible husband, instead of helping my family fight. I will die with the knowledge that I could have helped, but I didn't."

"What could you have done? They were up against an entire Roman battle troop. You would have died with them. At least now you can help our cause of unity. We want and need you here, Abiageal."

"It's still hard to know that you should have died with your family."

"Don't think that way. God...ummm...the gods didn't feel it was your time." Catlin felt so comfortable around Abiageal, she almost let her own secret slip. "It was destiny that you were gone that day. You are protected."

"Sometimes I just wish I died with them, for it would make every thing so much easier."

Catlin patted her hand. "Don't say that, Abiageal. Death is the easy way out, but you...you are a fighter and cannot be silenced that effortlessly." She picked up a stone near her leg and carelessly tossed it into the rushing river. "As is Conor."

"May I ask you a question, Cat?" Abiageal removed her feet from the cooling waters and turned to her friend.

"Anything," Catlin immediately responded without even hesitating.

"Conor...there is a love for him in your heart, am I correct?"

She abruptly looked to her companion. "Conor is a good man, a kind man. He saved me from a life of slavery and for that I will be forever grateful. He was the first man to be kind to me, and never expect anything back in return. He has a love for our people, and this land, which makes him a natural leader, and I am honored to stand at his side through all this. Conor--they all have: Fergus, Tully, Galen-- has given me a trust in people, and that, in turn, allows me to feel a love I never knew existed in my broken soul."

Catlin and Abiageal continued to speak of the past, until the sound of approaching horses were heard. The two women immediately scouted the best area for cover, and were about to run for it, when Tully and Fergus hurried into the clearing on horseback.

"Catlin, Abiageal," shouted Tully. "Conor is searching for you. We have just received word that the Romans are gathering for a strike on Creag."

Abiageal has a confused look on her face, for she was unsure of the location of Creag. "It's a large village about a quarter day's walk from here," clarified Fergus. "Come on, lasses. We need to get going."

"Fergus, by the time we reach the villiage, it may be too late," said Catlin.

"They are an Allied Clan, darlin. We have to at least try to help them." He reached out and helped Abiageal mount his horse, as Tully did the same for Catlin, and they galloped off back towards the Sanctuary.

Part 7

Conor had all of the Sanctuary warriors lined up and was readying them for the upcoming battle. The women and children were nearby watching nervously, as their husbands and fathers prepared to go out and kill for the sake of unity. Abiageal found Taithleach there with Dymphna and Donella. Dymphna walked up to Abiageal as she jumped down from Fergus' horse.

"Where do you think you're going, young lass? How can you leave her here like this to go off to fight?" questioned the elder woman, gesturing to the young child by her side.

Fergus stepped between the two. "Woman, we don't have time for this. Abiageal has made her choice and we must respect her decisions."

The younger female took her daughter's hand and led her to their hut. She needed to change out of her flimsy shift. "Taith, Dymphna is right. I should stay here, but I have to go. There is something pulling me to this battle, just as it led us here. I know the gods will protect us both from harm, but if something should happen, I want you to know that I love you with all my heart and soul, and nothing can ever end that, especially something as trivial as death."

The child's only response was to barely smile. Abiageal pulled on a pair of leather pants, which Catlin helped her to fashion, and a shortly cropped tunic. She then strapped her sword and scabbard to her slight waist, and pulled her wild hair back with a piece of rawhide. All except one piece, which she braided one end of and then cut it off with her dagger. Abiageal handed the bundle of her hair to Taithleach, and then did the same to her daughter's hair, tucking the strands in to the waist of her pants.

"There...now we will never be apart," she hugged her child, and then led them both outside, to the warriors.

Dymphna and Fergus still seemed to be arguing. "Dymphna, I have made my decision, as he said, and Taith understands that. I would be honored if you would watch over my little one while I am away... please."

Dymphna understood what her last plea meant. If anything were to happen to Abiageal, she wanted the cook to take responsibility for her child. "Aye, lass...I would be honored to have such a task bestowed on me. I shall protect her with my life."

With one last hug to the child, Abiageal headed off towards Conor and the others, as Fergus lingered behind. He turned to Dymphna. "You look after her well, and yourself, woman."

Tears filled her eyes. "Fergus..." she started and then broke into silent sobs.

"Hush, love," he said taking her face into his hands and brushed the tears away gently. "I will be back soon, and I will bring her with me."

"May Brigit herself watch over you, my love." She embraced him, tenderly and after she released him, he joined his leader.

Conor was speaking with Abiageal but Fergus only caught the end of the discussion. The young man asked her, for the last possible time, if she still wanted to go through with this. She had a demeanor of stone about her, and would not crumble to the pressures from everyone to stay. Fergus admired that in the young woman, just as he hoped that it would not bring her untimely demise.

Conor stood in the middle of the group again and raised his voice. "Now we leave, to defend our Alliance Brothers. We do this in the sake of Unity, with pure hearts and that shall help us triumph. The unity we strive for is not unlike the mighty tree, for even with many branches, it still always is joined in one sturdy trunk. Today we defend a branch to fortify the trunk of our tree. Peace be with us, my friends, and we will prevail, for we fight for our land, and each other as it should be!" There was a great roar that followed his speech. "Those of us with horses shall ride ahead, and the rest of you catch as soon as possible. We will need your defense to back us up."

Since Abiageal did not have a horse, she rode with Tully. They rode quickly, so she had to hold on tight. Part of the way there, the boy slowed the horse, explaining that she needed to rest. Abiageal could understand that, for she was tired from just riding the animal. As they trotted along, Tully twisted his position so that he could speak to her.

He hesitated a moment, and then continued on with what he wanted to tell her for days. "I was pulled from a trade ship when I was four years old, by Galen, the man who used to bring people to the Sanctuary before Conor," he started.

"I know. I can see that in you."

"Then I suppose you know what I am going to ask," he answered, quietly.

"You wish to know about your life before, isn't that so?"

The lad nodded eagerly. "I remember nothing before a time when I became Tully, Galen's apprentice and son. If you could just help me, please."

She held to him tighter, "Tully, you are loved here, isn't that enough for you?"

"It should be, but I still hunger for more."

She had him stop the horse, he jumped off and then helped her down. They sat on the ground, knees touching, as she stepped into his soul's past. She witnessed him as a young babe, being separated from his family by brute force, and pushed onto a trader ship. Abiageal dug even deeper. She saw an elegant dark-skinned woman holding an infant before a cluster of people similar to herself, and heard her speak a mysterious tongue. Abiageal did not understand the words, but the emotion was evident in her speech. The woman was presenting her new son to her family members and they were obviously joyous.

"Tully, you have lived a life full of such love, you are truly blessed," she broke contact and then wiped the forming tears from her eyes.

"Did you see my mother? Is she as radiant as my weakened memory recollects?" he asked enthusiastically

"Aye, Tully. She is a vision. The traders had to take you from her by force, she didn't want to let you go."

A weak smile passed over his face. "That is what I wanted to hear. She did not give me away by choice, as I feared."

"If you thought that, then you are horribly mistaken. She would have rather gone in your place or even died, then let them take you."

He was going to respond when another horse rode up. "What is this all about?" questioned Conor, somewhat angrily.

Abiageal stood. "Nothing. The horse needed to rest," she intervened before Tully could speak.

"The horse looks plenty rested to me. We have allies that are depending on us to protect them. Tully, mount your horse and get moving. Abiageal will ride with me."

That made Tully upset. "Who are you to say who she rides with?"

"I am the leader. If your horse is so badly taken care of that she is fatigued by two riders, then she should ride with me." With hostility in his actions, Conor jumped down from his horse, and moved to challenge Tully.

Abiageal stepped between the two. "STOP IT--" she yelled, "--both of you. How can you speak of unifying the warring tribes of the island, when you can't even settle a petty argument between two dear friends? This is my fault. I warned you before, offered to leave, but you wouldn't have it. Well, neither will I any longer. Either get over it and move on, or I will."

She stared at the two men for a moment, and when neither of them said a word, she simply set off walking towards Creag.

Both Conor and Tully were speechless after the woman's outburst.

"She's right you know. We've been acting like children," started Conor.

"Worse even," laughed Tully, then he became serious. "I'm sorry, Conor, about what I said... about Clare."

"And I'm sorry about hitting you, Tully, and what I said about your horse. Friends?" Tully nodded. "Now let's get going. We have a date with the Romans..."

"We don't wanna be late for that," agreed the younger boy. "Go get her, Conor. I'm sure that's what she wants."

Part 8

**a bit of back tracking....**

Abiageal stepped between the two. "STOP IT--" she yelled, "--both of you. How can you speak of unifying the warring tribes of the island, when you can't even settle a petty argument between two dear friends? This is my fault. I warned you before, offered to leave, but you wouldn't have it. Well, neither will I any longer. Either get over it and move on, or I will."

She stared at the two men for a moment, and when neither of them said a word, she simply set off walking towards Creag.

Both Conor and Tully were speechless after the woman's outburst.

"She's right you know. We've been acting like children," started Conor.

"Worse even," laughed Tully, then he became serious. "I'm sorry, Conor, about what I said about Clare."

"And I'm sorry about hitting you, Tully, and what I said about your horse. Friends?" Tully nodded. "Now let's get going. We have a date with the Romans."

"We don't wanna be late for that," agreed the younger boy. "Go get her, Conor. I'm sure that's what she wants." Tully got up on his own horse and rode off in Abiageal's direction. As he passed her, he called out, "How did you become so wise?" But she simply smiled.

Moments later, Conor rode up behind her and stopped his horse. "Will you ride with me, Abiageal?"

"Have you two worked out your differences? I don't want to come between your friendship."

"Aye, we have settled it, Abiageal. Will you ride with me?" He reached out his hand towards her.

She submitted, and took his hand. He helped her climb on the back of his horse, and then he took off quickly. "We have to hurry to get to Creag, now." He explained.

She held him tighter. "I feel so secure with you, Conor. Not that I didn't when I was with Tully or Fergus, or even Catlin, but there is something more when I am with you. Perhaps it is because you remind me of him..." she trailed off. Conor immediately knew whom she was talking about.

"Diarmid?"

"Aye. You don't necessarily look like him...it's more what I see in your soul that is similar. Honor, truth, trust, love...."

"Who was he, Abiageal?"

"He was my first love," she nestled her face into his back, trying to stop the tears, "and died in my arms."

Conor slowed the horse a bit. "You don't have to..."

"I want to. It's time for you to know." She hesitated, then began. "I met Diarmid on the celebration of my sixteen years of life. He was a son of a local tribe leader near the druid temple where I was raised, and would often come to the temple to draw, and compose great poetry. His father never approved of these activities, and certainly never approved of our friendship, but he didn't care. He wanted more out of life than to be a warrior, for he saw the beauty in all things, the land and the people. We became very close, and eventually fell in love. His father became enraged, swore that he would destroy all that I loved, was determined to slaughter the druids that raised me..."

"Why?" asked Conor. "Why did he hate you so?"

"My clan and his had warred for many years and, at the time, had a very shaky peace agreement. He thought that I was sent to lure his son away from him, and to weaken his power."

"The druids would never have had a chance," commented Conor.

"No they wouldn't have, but Diarmid gathered a group of his friends and attempted to hold off his father...and was struck down in the process..."

"Just as Clare was..."

"Yes. He took his last breath in my arms, and it was then that I knew..."

"Knew what?"

She glanced into the distance, "hmmm?"

"You said, 'It was then I knew,' knew what?"

"Nothing. I left the Druids soon after and returned home to marry Vaughn. I will always carry my love for Diarmid in my heart though, just as you carry yours for Clare." she raised her head and looked before them. "Is that Creag?" Abiageal asked, pointing to the fort inthe distance.

"Yes," replied Conor, "but they don't seem to be under attack. I wonder what is going on?"

They reached the fort and were met by Tully, Catlin, Fergus andanother man, who approached Conor.

"It was good of you to come, Conor. I knew the son of Derek wouldn't let us down."

Conor grasped his forearm in greeting. "You sent for help, Tiarnan, but I don't see any reason for it. We got word that the Romans were gathering on your borders."

"That they are, Conor^Åcome see," the leader of the Creag clan led Conor's group of friends to the highest point of the fort. In the distance, a large group of Romans lingered.

The new comers were all surprised. "What are they doing, Tiarnan?" asked Catlin.

"I'm not sure, but it seems they are waiting for something. What, I do not know."

Almost if they were answering the man's question, the Roman troops started to advance towards the fort. The group of them watched as a light resistance near the far borders met them, but that was quickly crushed.

"Let's go," exclaimed Conor, and they all quickly moved onto the battlefield to pick up where their fallen friends had left off.

The battle was a treacherous one. Abiageal took a brief moment to glance around the field and notice all the dead bodies lying carelessly around her. She silently wept for the souls of her fallen friends, but forged forward. A roman man came at her from the left side, but she ran him through with her sword and continued on. 'This battle is for our land', she repeated to herself, over and over every time she killed again. 'The Druids would understand my reasoning for that'. But in reality she knew they wouldn't. Every roman that Abiageal killed took another part of her soul away, and she wanted to stop, but the sight of Conor and his friends ahead of her kept her moving. 'I asked for this. I forced Conor into letting me fight and I will not let him down.'

As almost in mention of his name, Conor turned and searched for Abiageal in the battle carnage behind him. He prayed that she was still alive and fighting hard. He let out a sigh of relief as he watched her kill another Roman soldier, and the woman persevered on.

Fergus' voice to his left alerted him to the fact that he was not paying attention to the battle, and Conor swiveled just in time to avert a near deadly blow and kill his attacker.

"Keep focus on the battle, Conor. What do you think this day is, a stroll in the meadow?"

Conor's only reply was to give out a tremendous roar, as he smashed his next would-be assassin with a crunching blow to the head. He raised his sword, roared again, and started running towards the front line of the battle. Inspired by his war cry, most of the other able bodied Celts followed.

Queen Diana stood far away from where her soldiers were engaging in battle with the rats of this island. The hill that she was standing on gave her an excellent vantage point from which to view the battle. Finally, she spotted what she was searching for.

"Longinus, that must be her," she said, turning to her advisor and lover and pointing out the auburn-hared Abiageal in the battle.

"And how can you be so sure, Diana?" the cloaked man asked her.

She returned to watching the battle. "Look at her^Å the hair, the build, the spark in her fight^Åthis must be the same woman Dubhghall spoke of."

"A woman with the power to read minds would be a great ally, in our search for the spear. Do not allow her to get away, to get killed."

Diana faced away from the battle. "GUARD!" she yelled, and was greeted moments later by a ruddy-faced Roman guard. "I want that girl and anyone around her at the time brought to me," she demanded.

"Yes, My Queen," he replied and slowly began to back away.

"NOW!" she barked, and he quickened his pace.

The battle raged on. Several times during the bloodshed, Abiageal saw Conor, Fergus and Catlin, but she still had not spotted Tully, and worried for the boy's safety. Another soldier ran towards her, and in the instant before she stabbed him in the stomach, she made the mistake of making eye contact with him. There, in his soul, she found the heart of a poet, a husband, a father, and a son, but it was too late. He was already dead on her sword. Finally, Abiageal broke down, and sank to her knees over the Roman's body.

"For the love of Dagda, why did this have to happen? Seanan, my Druid father, why did this boy have to die?" she yelled towards the sky.

Heavy footfalls came up behind the weeping Abiageal, which caused her to reach for her sheathed dagger. A hand came out and stopped her, and she realized that Tully was standing behind her.

"Abiageal? Are you hurt? Can I help?"

"I broke the vow that I swore to the Druids, Tully. My soul is lost among the breeze of the wind."

Tully was confused. "Abiageal, you need to get off the battlefield, before you get killed. Please, follow me," he urged her.

As he was trying to pull Abiageal to her feet, a Roman guard came up behind him and tried to hit the dark-skinned man, but he ducked, and Tully was able to knock him out. "Abiageal^Ålet's go, NOW!" The sound of him raising his usually soft voice seemed to disrupt the woman's trance, and she got to her feet. Glancing down at the discarded sword on the ground, Abiageal stooped to get it, in time to see a soldier come up behind Tully with a knife. Abiageal slid her sword between the Roman's ribs.

"You saved us, Abiageal, not killed another. It is survival of the strongest--kill or be killed. You must understand that, as do the Druids. You are not at fault for trying to survive, now let's get-." Suddenly Tully was attacked from behind with a club, and was lying motionlessly at her feet.

"TULLY!" she screamed. "You bastards!" Someone grabbed her from behind and started to haul her away. "Release me! TULLY! CONOR!"

The roman was struggling, trying to get her to leave the field with him, but she was resisting with all her might. He finally got her back far enough that another soldier was able to help him. The second one hit her over the head, and she fell into unconsciousness.

The first Roman turned to the second. "Should I go back for the dark-skinned one?"

"No, this one is going to be enough to handle as it is. We'll take some of the wounded barbarians with us. That should keep the queen happy."

The first adjusted his helmet, and laughed, "Nothing will keep that woman happy except her freak!" They both laughed, as they carried Abiageal back towards their own fort.

Part 9

**tad bit o' bactracking**

At that time, a guard called up from the courtyard to Diana. "My Queen? What shall I do with them?"

Diana studied Abiageal's face and then yelled back down to the Roman. "Kill them all," she said dispassionately.

"No!" shouted Abiageal. "Conor will never allow you to kill his people."

"That's it! You remind me of my late husband's daughter, this Conor's girl. That is until she was murdered. So... do you take her place in his bed now?"

Abiageal, in a fit of rage, struck out with her foot and kicked the queen in the face.

"You will not live to regret that, girl," she swore, spitting blood from her mouth. "Guard!" she called down into the courtyard.

"Yes, my queen?"

"We will be postponing the execution until tomorrow. Show me one of the prisoners." A young boy, not more than fifteen years, was pushed into Diana's sight. "You are being released. Go back to your leader and tell him that there will be a public execution of his followers tomorrow, as the sun reaches it's highest point. Tell him that this one," she said pointing to Abiageal, "will be first!" As the scared boy ran out of the fort, Diana turned back to the guard behind Abiageal. "Throw her back in the dungeon."

"Yes, my queen."

"No better yet," she said with an evil glint in her pained eyes, "put her in Mistress Clare's old room. I think she'll like that."

Abiageal was forcefully taken from Diana's chambers and then thrown in a room that was decorated beautifully, but less than the one she was just in. She sat down on the lovely bed, and wept.

The young boy that Diana released ran all the way back to the sanctuary, and straight up to Conor.

"Bevyn!" exclaimed his leader. "We feared that you had been captured."

"I had been Conor, but the queen allowed me to leave. She has a message for you. All of those who have been captured are to die tomorrow noon, starting with that woman who had just come to live with us."

"Abiageal?" asked Tully, who was being attended by the sanctuary healer, Luisaidh. She hushed him and forced him to lay down again, lovingly.

"Yes, the dark-haired one. I think that was her name. She is to be killed at sunrise tomorrow, followed by the rest of the prisoners Caolán, Darragh, Lorcán, Naoise, and many others. My father is there, Conor."

"Sweet Brigit!" exclaimed Fergus.

"Why did the cow let you go? She knows we'll try to save her," announced Catlin. "It has to be a trap, but why?"

Conor shook his head. "I don't think that it is a trap. Diana doesn't want me as a prisoner, at least not yet. I think Abiageal did something that made her angry," he stated.

"Angry enough to kill? And why let us know about it? Diana isn't thinking too clearly lately," said Fergus.

Conor pondered that thought for a moment. "She must have noticed the similarity between Clare and Abiageal and feels that if I am there to watch her die, then her vengeance is complete."

"Abiageal seems to have really angered queenie. Way to go, lass," smiled Fergus.

Catlin frowned at him. "Well, let's save her before we start celebrating, Fergus." She moved to the center of the cave for better torch lighting. "We'll need a good plan for this. The queen will be expecting us."

Abiageal dried her tears long before she heard the door open, but since she was facing away, she was unable to see who entered.

"Clare! Sweet Jesus, you are alive!" Abiageal turned, but was immediately taken into the arms of a petite dark-haired woman. "They said that you were dead, that Conor killed you, but you are alive!" She pulled back and looked straight at Abiageal, the realization showing clearly in her eyes. "No... no... I wanted you so much to be her," she said flatly.

"I am sorry. I wish that I could be her," Abiageal answered.

"You are both very much alike, but now that I look carefully, you are less like her. I am Livia, Clare was one of my closest friends."

Abiageal was mildly surprised. "You are Roman?"

Livia nodded, "Yes, but that never mattered to Clare. She had a kind heart."

"I am Abiageal. You were very fortunate to have such a wonderful friend. She was loved by many."

Sadness clouded Livia's eyes, "Until that barbarian Conor killed her. He said that he loved her and then he cut her down with his sword," she said bitterly.

"How can you say that? Conor loved Clare more than life. He would have gladly died for her that day, but it was not meant to be. Clare was murdered by her father as she tried to protect Conor."

"I don't understand. Queen Diana told us that Conor killed her in cold blood... she's lied to us all this time?"

"I'm sorry, but you should know the truth."

The door opened behind them and both women turned to see who was entering the chamber. It was a tall man draped in a dark cloak that swirled around his feet. Livia gazed at him lovingly for a moment and then bowed her head to him.

"Leave us, girl," he ordered, and the woman at once bowed again and moved out of the room.

The man examined Abiageal from head to toe, an act that gave her the chills. "How does it feel to know that you are going to die tomorrow?" Longinus asked her, staring into her eyes.

A total feeling of solitude washed over the woman as she searched his soul. It was an ancient soul that seemed to never end, and she has to break away before she got lost in it. "How does it feel to know you will never die?" she asked him in return.

A total look of shock passed over his face. "You can see that in my eyes?"

"No, I see it in your soul. You are not an evil man, just done some evil things. Please let me return to my friends and my daughter."

Longinus ignored her request. "Will I ever find the Spear of Destiny?" he questioned, pleadingly.

"I am not sure. My abilities are not to see that what is the future, but to speak the past and the present of the soul. I cannot tell you what will occur, only what has already passed in your life."

"DAMN YOU!" he screeched at her, but she was no longer afraid of him.

"I feel your pain, Roman, but I cannot bear it myself. I am not to blame for your eternal life, and I cannot help you. Remember that I am to die tomorrow. It seems your queen has already damned me."

Longinus did not respond, only turned on his heel and swiftly left the room and Abiageal alone.

Part 10

Summary:
Abiageal has been captured by Diana and Michael Bolton...er I mean Longy... and they are singing a duo of "Said I Loved You But I Lied" to torture her into helping them find the Hair Pick of Destiny... Not really, but I wanted to see who really read this section.

here it goes!

Conor and his friends sat in his hut trying to construct a feasible plan to rescue their captured warriors.

"Diana won't be stupid enough to put Abiageal in the slave pen with the others. It would be too easy for us to release her. She must have her in the castle itself," explained Catlin.

"How well do you know the layout of the fort, Cat?" asked Conor.

"As well as I know the Sanctuary, better even. It was my home for so many years, and I could get around there blind."

Tully interjected. "What if we created a diversion and then sneak in with our people."

"She'll be expecting that. Tuaigh has already reported seeing the number of guards at the gate double. We'll need something more."

A voice at the door interrupted them. "Conor, there is talk that you are going to attack the fort of the Roman Queen," said one of the men who was so against Abiageal staying at the sanctuary, Quin.

"It is true."

"That would be suicide, boy. Our numbers are low and more will die just so you can save that woman."

Fergus growled angrily and advanced towards Quin, "You shut your mouth, or I'll shut it for you." Quin steadily backed out of the hut and the four of them followed only to be greeted by a large group of Sanctuary inhabitants.

Conor glanced out at all the men and women that he assumed backed Quin's concern.

"You think that I am just doing this for her, for Abiageal? I am doing this for all of them... Caolán, Darragh, Lorcán, Naoise, and the others who do not deserve to die at the Roman's hands. I am not forcing any of you to follow me. I will do this myself if necessary, but don't ever think that I would risk anyone's life for a woman. I am doing this for our freedom and theirs." He turned and went back into the hut, leaving all of them to do as they pleased.

Tully was the first to speak in the hushed silence of the room. "Let's get back to our plan." Conor went to a corner and pulled on his cloak.

"Where do you think that you are going, Lad?" asked Fergus.

"I'm going to the Druid settlement in the crook of the river. We helped them fend off the Romans earlier in the spring and they owe us. I shall return before supper."

They all watched him go, as Catlin turned to Fergus and Tully. "He really does love her, doesn't he?"

"I'm not sure, Catlin, but there is something there. A feeling of familiarity that exists between the two of them... I feel it myself as well."

"As do I," both Catlin and Tully said at the same time.

Fergus looked at both of them, two of his three best friends, and smiled. "I think I will go with Conor. You two will tend the home fires? Tully, remember Luisaidh wants you to rest tonight."

"Aye, Fergus. How could I forget." If the dark boy was blushing, none of them could notice, but he did have a hint of something in his eyes that betrayed his feeling for the healer.

Part 11

Summary:
Abiageal gets captured by Diana, Conor and Fergus went to Druids for help... And Blah blah blah...

Diana stood in the dining hall drinking wine from a chalice to try and dub the pain when Longinus entered.

"You cannot kill that girl, Diana. She has a power that will be useful to us."

"I want her dead, Longinus. She is too headstrong to be any use to our search for the spear." She stepped closer to him and into brighter torchlight. "Look what she did to me. We could never control her."

"There must be a way!" He said sternly. "She was able to look into my eyes and search my soul, Diana. With her on our side, force would be unnecessary on this island. We could go from tribe to tribe and steal the information from the native's minds."

"Unless you know of another way to control that woman, the execution will go on as planned. I swore that she would die for what she did to me and seeing that I have no other use for her, she will."

The anger in Longinus's eyes was quite apparent and he spoke in clipped words to his woman. "What about her daughter? Have you thought of using the child as leverage."

She downed another glass of wine, "Of course, Longinus. I'll just go pick her up from their hiding place and bring her here," she slurred. "How do you know that she has a daughter?"

"She begged me to allow her to return to her child. We can surely use that to our advantage." He called into the hallway, knowing that his servant would be waiting there. "Livia! Get in here girl."

She swept in, momentarily bowed and then met her master's eyes. "Yes, my Lord. How might I serve you?"

Diana scoffed, but Longinus silenced her with an icy stare. "Bring Dubhghall to me right away." The woman bowed again and backed out of the room.

"I don't like her, Longinus. Why does she fawn over you so much?"

"Her presence here is my doing. She is my personal servant and does a very fine job. You could say she performs the same duties as your personal guard does to you..."

The queen looked at him openmouthed, knowing that he was referring to the guards that she used as play toys. "What I do with them is none of your concern--."

He cut her off. "As is what I do with my servant is none of yours." Livia returned with the Roman spy trailing behind her.

"Ah, dear Dubhghall... The Queen has a very special request of you," started Longinus.

"Anything for you, my Queen," he said facing her.

Diana stood silent for a moment, the wine rushing to her head, not knowing exactly what Longinus had planned.

Longinus stepped in front of her and draped his arm around the burly man. "Dubhghall, we are in need of your knowledge of the location of the Prince's Sanctuary."

"I do not understand, Longinus?"

"Of course you don't. Tell me where you were living the entire winter and summer that you lived with the natives of this island. I know it was a cave, but I need to know where."

"So you can take siege of it? My wife is there... she may be killed in the battle."

"Your wife? Your wife?" Longinus's fury exploded and he tossed the man, twice his size ,across the dining hall. "Did you think that removing the woman who betrayed you to the others would make it able for you to return to your life with them? Do you think that they would just all forget that you are a ROMAN?!?"

"No, Longinus," he said cowering into a corner, and wiping the blood that was streaming from his mouth.

"Tomorrow, after the execution of the other prisoners, you will lead me and an army of men to the sanctuary and present me with that woman's daughter, so that I will finally attain what I desire, and IF you refuse, I will kill you myself. Is that clear?"

"As rain water, Longinus," Dubhghall rose and limped out of the hall.

Longinus turned to the two women in the room and searched their eyes. In Diana's he saw fear, but strangely enough in Livia's, he found admiration. "The woman lives, for a little while longer, but she does not need to know that. Nor does the Prince. I have a feeling that he will be coming out for the festivities tomorrow." He moved over to his servant and stroked her ivory face. "I want you to go out and collect these herbs and other things," he handed her a scroll with a list. "When you return, wash the woman's hair in a mixture of the ingredients and rinse it out after a while."

"Yes, my lord." Livia departed on her search.

"What are you planning, Longinus? You know that I have no need for the prince's capture," Diana said, her drunkenness beginning to really catch up with her.

"That is not my intention at all. If we can get the boy truly angry, he will leave his home unprotected long enough to take the child without losing too many of our own men."

She sauntered over to the ancient man, in a haze forgetting that she was angry with him only moments earlier and covered his mouth with her own. "You know, this is why I truly love you, My Longinus...My Roman Centurion..." She led him away, into her private chambers, as Livia stood in the other hallway, embittered with jealousy.

To Be Continued......