She thought of her conversation with her father. Why do I have to apologize? But she knew she did. What right did she have to insult Bronach Sloane, a woman she didn't even know. And the story he'd relayed to her in the Wood of Whispers? There was something odd in his telling of it. The words seemed caught in his throat, as if choking him. They forced past his lips and he had looked at his feet when telling of it too, yet he did not appear ashamed by the violence the story portrayed. Had it really happened that way, she wondered. He was a kind man. A gentle man. Somehow she knew the story couldn't be true, but why make up something like that?
Her stomach grumbled and she took a chunk of boar meat from her purse, sniffed, and then took a bite. It smelled spicy, laced with bitterness like unripe apples. It tickled her tongue. Holding it up, she inspected it more closely and plucked the several pale hairs embedded in the charred flesh.
The flapping of bird wing shattering the air made her look up; it loosened dew from the trees and dappled her nose and chin. It was dark beneath the oaks, the bird too quick in its flight, though she caught the scent of new blood and the sting of fresh air upon her cheek like a slap. Dropping her gaze, a large shadow darkened the road below. She looked up sharply and then swiveled her head around. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the sight of a curved beak; sharp tipped like that of a blade and two glassy black eyes rimmed in gold.
Her heart thudded wildly as it flew precariously close to the ground.
She dropped to her knees, sucking in a breath and pulling her head cloth overhead.
It lunged at her.
She ducked then sprang to her feet.
The bird did not give up.
She ran, skipping and bobbing from the bird's low swoops like an apple in a barrel. She came to the chariot road. With the bird's next low descent, she fell headfirst into a rowan bush covered in red berries, catching her dark tendrils in the branches.
Forgetting the bird, she struggled to free her tangled hair, cursing and clawing at the leaves and twigs, the half-eaten meat still clutched in her other hand. Finally she broke loose. She reeled backwards, off balance, and landed with a smack on the road.
The bird squawked overhead.
It came at her again, broad wings flapping wildly, flogging the air like the lash of a whip.
With a flash of ingenuity, she untied the head cloth from her neck and circled it overhead like a banner.
The bird swooped down.
She felt a tug and the woolen cloth slipped through her fingers. Up and up. It was carried off into the sky.
She sprang to her feet, breathless, and gazed up, horrified. The blue checkered head cloth swished through the air, trailing from the falcon's claws like the tail of a phoenix.
Raising her fist, she screamed, "Come back you dirty bird!"
Geileis had weaved that cloth. There was no other like it, for she' weaved into the checks tiny threads of Tyrian purple, a dye made from the secretions of tiny snails. A prized possession, now it was gone.
As she continued along the chariot road, she wondered if Dubthach was missing her. Surely he had reached the bruidean, had some woman on his lap, a drink in his fist, and his disgruntled daughter forgotten, like an old cow set out to slaughter on the morrow. Her eyes clouded briefly and she wiped them with the ends of her shirt.
The road turned sharply to the right, past green hairy ferns and a low stone built enclosure containing several cows and three small roundhouses.
The sun had risen. She rested on a large boulder and rubbed the spot on her arse where she had fallen from the horse, thinking what a fool she had been. It had been her fault, after all, Dubthach losing his temper like that. She had been rude and irreverent, and he'd responded like any honorable man would. He had protected his wife's reputation. Was that what he was doing by telling her the story? If he refused to have Bronach Sloane dishonored, was it in him to humiliate her mother?
The realization came to her. Dubthach loved Bevin and for however long it lasted, she had once loved him too. There was something in her parents' past that transcended all time, made sense to only them, perhaps nothing to anyone else except to a daughter who had the ability to see clearly what others could not.
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