((Originally posted to the Ning August 4.))
The wind blew harshly outside the old cottage. Grace pulled her chair closer to the fire and extended her fingers to the warmth. Through the window she could see how the wind stirred the thick air into strange patterns, obscuring the edge of the steep cliff on which the small house was perched.
Grace shifted slightly in her seat and turned to gaze at her visitor with a wary feeling in her heart. She sensed his aura of danger, but was relatively certain he was not a danger to her.
“And you say you have news, Mr. …?” Grace leveled her gaze at the black eyes brooding under a dark brow.
“Aye, Miss Toussaint, I bring news,” he replied, his voice rasping as if rarely used. “But I carry no name, Miss.” He stared into her eyes and set his jaw, daring her to press the matter.
At that moment Roisin entered, bearing tea and biscuits on her tray. Grace caught her eye and nodded slightly, indicating to the girl to set the tray and remove herself from the room. Roisin carried the tray to the table, set it down silently, and then quickly spun on her heel, anxious to be away from the stranger’s sharp gaze.
Before she could slip out the door, the gruff voice again cut through the air. “Your servant should stay, Miss Toussaint, as my news pertains to her in a most peculiar fashion.” Roisin froze midstep, her back to the worn, hard face.
“I bring news of the girl’s father, you see,” he said, slowly turning his shaggy head to stare once more at Grace. At his words, Roisin’s hand twitched against her side and her breath left her in a rush.
Grace quickly tried to compose herself, hoping her face was not betraying the fear that had suddenly flooded her heart. She shook her head with a small movement and then found her voice once more. “Roisin’s father, Sir? But she is an orphan.”
The visitor merely grunted and stared into the flames.
“Well then, Roisin, come sit here by the fire and we shall hear this ‘news’ together.” Roisin turned and Grace met her wide-eyed gaze, hoping to silently express to her the need to stay calm. Roisin passed behind the stranger’s chair, giving it a wider berth than necessary, and knelt on the far side of her mistress’s chair.
The women watched the man as he watched the fire dance in the grate. The wind buffeted the windows, sending icy tendrils through the worn sills. The stranger slowly shifted, leaning forward to gaze into the fire even more intently.
“Miss Toussaint, Miss Hollow, I know your secrets, even better than you do. I have been sent here to bring you news of Conall Hollow, the last of the lucht siuil.“
Roisin glanced up at Grace, her brow furrowed, her eyes quizzical. Grace’s eyes never left the rugged profile of the visitor. Hearing those words pronounced had nearly stopped her heart. If this stranger knows Roisin’s father, she thought, then he must know what Roisin is as well. Grace felt her body tense as the man drew a long breath.
“Your father, beautiful girl, has been captured.” His head turned and he regarded the pale creature kneeling near the hearth. He watched the emotions flicker across her face: confusion, anger, fear, disbelief.
“He has been taken by the Consortium.” His voice deepened and his eyes suddenly crackled with anger. “We fear they have found a way across. They are using your father as a bridge.”
Roisin looked from Grace to the haggard-faced man and back again, confused as to his meaning. Grace had become perfectly still, every nerve in her body tingling, her heart crashing in her chest.
“Things have fallen apart,” he muttered. “The aoire are not strong enough to fight this on their own any longer.”
((The names in this story are old Irish names. I can only hope that I have translated what I mean into the correct words – relying on internet translations often ends up making you look like a fool. If anyone actually speaks Irish, I apologize if what I have constructed is completely wrong.))
Roisin = rose
Conall = strong as a wolf
Lucht siuil = traveller
Aoire = shepherd