The Lady Katherine Chronicles, Number 4
Lady Katherine And The Pagan Witch
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction but uses characters that bear a striking resemblance to those that are copyright of Paramount Pictures. No infringement on their copyright is intended by the author in any way, shape or form - this is just a bit of fun. This story includes an all female relationship so if you don’t like that then look away now.
Codes: uber J/7
Time Period: This story is set in 12th Century England (though no claims are made about its historical accuracy!)
Thanks: to Trek and Jay for beta reading this for me :)
Lady Katherine Johnson felt the rays of the July sun playing warmly across her face as she closed her eyes and lay back. The water that surrounded her bore the weight of her body and she outstretched her arms to allow herself to float upwards on the surface of the lake. She lay there for some time, basking in the warmth of the sun and the calming sensation of being buoyed up in the silence of the shallow waters. It was one of the few times she’d had to relax over the past couple of weeks since the French Ambassador had left Markham. After his departure there had been a flurry of trade meetings with various other local lords that had also been on Pierre’s itinerary. It appeared things finally seemed to be getting sorted out and Katherine had taken the opportunity to slip away from Markham Manor for a few hours and come to Sherwood Forest to meet up with Anne. They hadn’t seen each other much over the last two weeks apart from a few snatched meetings when Anne had sneaked into Katherine’s bedroom or Katherine had gone out for solo rides across her lands. Hopefully now the pressure on Katherine was lessening, they might be able to get back to their more regular meetings, though things were always somewhat difficult due to the clandestine nature of their relationship – what with Anne being an outlaw and Katherine a supposedly respectable noble lady.
They had come down to Anne’s favourite secluded spot in the forest, a small lake whose waters were pleasingly warm after being heated by the summer sun for the previous couple of months. Since the lake was so secluded they hadn’t seen the harm in taken an impromptu dip in the waters. It was unlikely they would be disturbed as the only people who frequented this area of Sherwood Forest were the men of Robin Hood’s outlaw band, of which Anne was a member. They were all busy off on some mission with Robin and Anne had reassured Katherine that none of them ever came down here anyway. They tended to be more interested in whiling away their spare time drinking or gambling back at the camp, rather than enjoying the natural beauties of the forest.
Katherine thought how that was another thing that set Anne apart from the other outlaws, along with the fact that she was the only woman in the group. She had an appreciation of the world around her and intelligence far beyond most of the other men, save perhaps Robin himself. Katherine wondered what sort of a woman Anne might have grown up to be if she hadn’t been living with the outlaws for the past fifteen years, in their harsh world where she’d had to fight to survive, where she’d had to be guarded of her emotions. Would she have been different? Would Katherine have fallen in love with her? She knew she still had to talk to Anne about what Friar Tuck had told her a few weeks previously, about Anne’s past. She hadn’t found the right time to ask Anne about her pagan upbringing and her parents. Until she did, she felt like there was a bit of Anne that was closed off from her, and she knew she must broach the subject soon. Maybe today was the right day?
So distracted in her musings was she, that she didn’t notice the slight ripples disturbing the lake to her left until a form sprang up out the water and flipped Katherine over, sending her splashing under the surface. She popped back up to be met by Anne’s grinning face, her long blonde hair dripping wet and trailing down over her tanned shoulders which poked from the water. Katherine shot her a mock frown before sweeping her hand across the surface, splashing Anne directly in the face with a cascade of droplets.
“Ooo, you want a fight do you?” asked Anne playfully, diving under the surface again.
Katherine glanced around, to see where the young woman had gone. Suddenly her legs were pulled from beneath her and she was tugged under too. Once she had gained her footing again, the water only actually coming up to her chest level, she leapt at the laughing Anne and pushed her head under the water. As Anne surfaced, spluttering and advancing on Katherine, the older woman raised her hands in a placating gesture.
“All right, all right, no more, I surrender!” she said.
“Does that mean, that as the victor, I get to claim my prize?” asked Anne, quirking her slightly scarred left eyebrow.
“I’m all yours…” said Katherine, smiling in return.
Anne wrapped one arm around Katherine’s waist and drew their naked bodies together against the resistance of the water. She used her other hand to brush the wet strands of Katherine’s auburn hair from her face and tilt her chin up so that the young woman could cover Katherine’s lips in a slow, sensuous kiss.
Katherine’s hands glided through the water and slipped up Anne’s back, softly trailing rivulets of water across the smooth flesh as they went. She felt the warm press of Anne’s bosom, as their bodies slid seductively against one another, their limbs entwining below the surface of the lake.
Anne released the lock she held on Katherine’s mouth and brushed her lips across the older woman’s cheek until her breath was gusting hot over Katherine’s ear. Despite the fire that raged within her, Katherine involuntarily shivered as the warmth ghosted by her ear. Then Anne’s tongue was slowly tracing a path around it. Katherine could hear Anne’s ragged breathing, so close to her ear, and it served to inflame her desire even more. As Anne gently nibbled on her earlobe she let out a gasping cry and dug her fingernails into the bare flesh of the young woman’s back.
As Anne continued kissing on down her neck Katherine brought a hand round to tease one of Anne’s nipples, which was already stiff with arousal. She rubbed the flat of her palm across it before taking it between her thumb and forefinger and gently tweaking it. Katherine heard a soft moan come from the mouth that was still kissing her shoulder blade.
Then Anne’s mouth was suddenly back on her own, devouring her lips as Katherine found herself being swept around in the water in the young woman’s strong arms. Katherine let herself be consumed by the intense passion of the kiss, Anne’s tongue sliding hotly against her own.
Katherine slid her hands down Anne’s body, letting them dip below the surface of the water, freely gliding over the slick skin as they went. Reaching the juncture of the young woman’s legs Katherine’s fingers slipped through the mixture of Anne’s own copious juices and the lake’s waters. First one finger, and then another easily slipped inside Anne; Katherine revelling in the sensation of the combined sources of moisture. Anne groaned lustfully and buried her hands in Katherine’s long auburn hair, pulling Katherine even deeper into a frenzied kiss.
Katherine tantalisingly slid her fingers in and out of Anne, gently, teasingly; eliciting fresh moans from the young woman with each slow thrust. She could feel Anne’s building fervour, so without allowing the young woman to climax, she withdrew completely and drew her fingers up through the soft folds to the apex of Anne’s sex, her fingers slipping over the hard nodule there.
“Oh, Katherine…” groaned Anne, as Katherine continued her enticingly slow ministrations.
“Please…” moaned the young woman.
“Please what?” asked Katherine huskily, her breath floating across Anne’s face as the young woman tipped her head back to gasp while Katherine flicked her thumb across her clitoris.
“Please…oh…please…,” cried Anne, “Do not torment me any longer!”
Katherine smiled to herself and slipped her fingers back inside Anne, keeping her thumb rubbing on the hard nub. She flexed her digits within the young woman, sliding back and forth against the slick walls. She increased the speed of her stroking until she could feel the walls constricting around her fingers. One final flick of her thumb and Anne was gripping onto Katherine’s shoulders and crying out while her body shook from the orgasm ripping through it.
Finally Anne bowed her head onto Katherine’s shoulder, the water easily bearing the rest of her weight as she leaned against the smaller woman. Katherine softly stroked Anne’s damp hair.
“You should be careful, you’ll be scaring the wildlife,” laughed Katherine.
Anne laughed too and brought her head up to regard Katherine with her soft blue eyes.
“I think you’re the wildest thing in these parts!” remarked the young woman.
“Oh really?” said Katherine, raising her eyebrows.
“Indeed, and I shall prove it to you,” stated Anne with a seductive smile.
Some time later, they finally made their way to the shore of the lake. After repeated attempts by each of them at trying to prove that in fact the other one made more noise when they reached orgasm, they had determined that they could come to no definite conclusion and would just have to study it further another time. Katherine decided it was time to bring up what had been bothering her earlier. She thought it best to start off on an innocuous, light-hearted track, and work from there.
“It must be time for me to make another guess as to why your nickname is Seven,” she remarked.
Anne laughed, “You’re not still trying, are you?”
“I told you before, I will find out the reason, it’s only a matter of time,” Katherine replied.
“All right, give it your best shot then…” teased Anne, stepping from the water.
Katherine was momentarily distracted by the bewitching sight of Anne smoothing back her long golden hair, squeezing the droplets from it as she tipped her head back. Beads of water flowed across her chest and down her body, tracking down the long, smooth limbs. Katherine could feel the desire rising inside her once more and she had to look away to stop it from overwhelming her. She sat on the grass, pushing back her own auburn hair and allowing the warm sun to dry her body. She found herself joined by Anne who came to sit beside her.
“So…let’s see…your name…,” pondered Katherine.
She could see Anne smiling to herself out of the corner of her eye. This had become a bit of a joke between them, Katherine’s inability to fathom the reason for the nickname. Of course, Katherine often just used her guessing to lighten the mood, as now, though she did have a genuine curiosity as to the story behind the name.
“Is it…is it…the number of times you’ve cooked dinner for the outlaws?” Katherine asked.
“No,” laughed Anne, “I’ve only done that the once! They didn’t seem too keen for a repeat performance after that for some reason. They decided it was much safer to stick with Nicholas’ cooking.”
After Anne had stopped chuckling to herself, Katherine turned to regard the young woman.
“Of course, there are also some other things I still don’t know about you, that I’d like to,” she began.
“Mm-hmm?” mumbled Anne, her eyes closed against the bright sun, her head tilted up to catch the rays.
“I just feel like you’re holding something back from me,” continued Katherine slowly, “I want to be a complete part of your life, Anne, I want you to feel like you can tell me anything. That you can trust me with your feelings.”
Anne didn’t say anything for a while, just letting Katherine’s words hang in the air.
“You’re talking about my parents again,” she finally said without opening her eyes or turning towards Katherine. The words were a statement rather than a question.
“Yes,” replied Katherine.
Silence fell between them once more. It didn’t seem as if Anne was willing to offer anything more herself. But Katherine decided that since she had finally brought the subject up, she might as well see it through to its conclusion. She thought it best not to mention that the friar had already told her the partial story of Anne’s pagan upbringing - that Anne actually had the potential to become a powerful pagan mystic. She didn’t want to antagonise the young woman in any way. This topic was highly sensitive, and Anne had been liable to get defensive and angry in the past when it was mentioned.
“What happened to them, Anne?” Katherine asked softly.
Anne suddenly got up and grabbed her clothes, swiftly pulling on her trousers and sleeveless black top. Katherine did likewise, thinking the young woman was going to leave and that she might need to follow. However, just as Katherine was slipping her own light tunic top over her head, Anne swung back round to face her.
“You really want to know?” she said, an annoyed edge to her voice.
Katherine didn’t miss the tone, but knew now was not the time to back down from the challenge.
“Yes, I do…” she said gently, “…please?”
Anne sighed and threw up her arms.
“Fine!” she said exasperatedly, “You’re not going to let it lie are you, even though you know I don’t want to discuss it!”
“It’s obviously eating away at you…I think you need to discuss it…,” suggested Katherine.
“Oh you do, do you?” said Anne, “You think you know what’s best for me?”
“No…” replied Katherine, “I just think that this is something we need to talk about if we want this relationship to go further. I love you, Anne, but I just feel there’s a whole part of your life I know nothing about.”
Anne just glared at Katherine and the older woman wondered whether she had misjudged things, whether she really should have left it. Anne broke the eye contact and turned to look out over the lake, bowing her head before she spoke.
“All right,” she began quietly, still facing away from Katherine, “From the beginning…”
Katherine waited patiently for Anne to begin her story, giving her all the time she needed, as the young woman remained staring out over the lake. Katherine glanced out over the waters too, noting how the afternoon sun caught the small ripples that broke its surface. When Anne finally began speaking Katherine turned her attention back to the blonde head in front of her.
“I was born in the village of Oxton, on the borders of Sherwood Forest, 26 years ago,” said Anne with little inflection in her voice, as if she were reciting the words from a book.
“I was an only child,” she explained, “Though my parents did try for more children, it seemed the fates had decided that I was to be their only one. My upbringing was little different from any normal peasant child - working on the village lands, tending the animals, basically being part of the village community. It was a hard but honest life and everyone in the village was close and supported one another.”
Anne paused for a moment, but Katherine didn’t interject, just letting Anne compose her memories to continue. Anne slowly turned to face Katherine, fixing her with her icy blue eyes. Katherine thought they were strangely emotionless, as if Anne was trying to distance herself from the words she was speaking.
“My childhood was the same as any other child in the village…apart from one thing - my parents were druids, upholders of the pagan faith,” she stated.
Katherine just nodded her understanding, indicating she wished Anne to carry on.
“Not that being a pagan was particularly frowned upon in rural areas at that time,” continued Anne, “In fact the druids were generally respected and many of the people were pagans themselves. This was all before the church-led crackdown on the practice of paganism, though. Nowadays if anyone does still actively practice paganism they keep it quiet and many peasants are fearful of the whole thing, having been taught by the church that it is equivalent to being in league with the devil.”
Katherine frowned slightly at that, she was still as shocked now as she had been the first time she had heard of the church’s intolerance of the pagan faith.
“Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Anne, “Paganism is about peace and being in harmony with nature. It’s not that different from the Christian church in many ways, there’s still the concept of having faith in a higher power, belief in that power to watch over you and protect you if you are devout enough. Pagans just believe in many gods rather than one, those gods being closely tied to specific aspects of life and nature. And as with the Christian church there can also be a…dark side to paganism.”
Anne paused again after the final point, perhaps contemplating whether to elaborate further.
“So, anyway,” she finally continued, obviously deciding against explaining any more about this dark side, “My parents had a number of responsibilities as druids. It was up to them to organise the regular followers, maintain the various shrines to the pagan gods and perform the necessary rituals that were required to appeal to pagan gods for their blessing on a range of day-to-day things. They were the equivalent of the friar in the regular church. People in the village would also come to them for help with their ailments or when they needed a blessing for a particular occasion or reason.”
“And what about you?” asked Katherine, wondering whether Anne would admit to her what she already knew anyway.
“Me?” said Anne, slightly confused.
“Were you an active participant in these duties of your parents?” said Katherine, clarifying her question.
Anne regarded her for a moment, narrowing her eyes slightly. Katherine guessed she was pondering the older woman’s line of questioning.
“I followed paganism, if that’s what you mean,” said Anne, “Basically I knew no different - paganism was the norm to me.”
“You were just one of the regular followers of the faith then?” asked Katherine.
She knew she was probably skirting a bit close to revealing that she already knew of Anne’s innate mystical abilities, but that was one of the things she most wanted to know about.
“That’s right,” said Anne, looking at Katherine suspiciously.
Katherine merely nodded. She knew Anne was lying, but she couldn’t press her on it, not without disclosing she had discussed the young woman with Friar Tuck. She wondered why Anne still wasn’t telling her the full story.
“Sorry, carry on, you were explaining about your parents duties…” prompted Katherine, to get back to where Anne had left off.
“Indeed,” said Anne, still eyeing Katherine with a hint of wariness but continuing on anyway, “So, they were devout followers of paganism. They believed wholeheartedly in the pagan gods, had faith in them to care and nurture for them and the people around them.”
Anne stopped once more and her eyes flicked down to the floor. Katherine could see that she was taking a few deep breaths and also licking nervously at her lips as if what she had to say next was proving difficult to express. When she continued this time, the tone of her voice had notably changed – becoming much softer and emotion laden, whereas before it had been coldly detached.
“Then when I was eleven everything changed,” she said slowly.
“Go on,” said Katherine gently, sensing Anne needed some encouragement to proceed.
“It was a day like any other, my parents and I were at the shrine to Gaia preparing the next service as we had done a hundred times before. Only on that day we had some…unexpected visitors,” said Anne, still keeping her eyes fixed on the floor as she spoke.
“It was a group of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men. With Oxton being on his lands it was not unusual to see them around the village. However, that day my parents must have known they were not there to pay their respects because as soon as they came into the shrine they secreted me away behind the altar before the soldiers saw me.”
“From my hiding place I could see and hear everything that was being said. The men had been sent by the Sheriff to round up the local pagans and destroy the shrine. The soldiers demanded that my parents hand over the Stone of Gaia, no doubt the fact that it was a rare jewel having made the Sheriff keen to get his hands on it.”
“Of course, my mother and father refused to surrender it since the stone was sacred to Gaia and my parents were devoted pagans. Despite the fact that they were unarmed against a group of soldiers they refused to back down and allow them to pass.”
Anne paused once more, taking a few calming breaths and swallowing the lump in her throat.
“I can still hear the cruel laughs of the soldiers, see the sneers on their faces as they drew their swords and struck my parents down…murdered them in cold blood.”
Katherine felt a wave of sympathy for the young woman wash over her and she moved closer to place a comforting hand on Anne’s shoulder, as her head remained bowed. She stopped short of enveloping her in arms, sensing Anne still had more to say, though she wanted nothing more to wrap her up and make all those terrible memories disappear. Katherine was horrified by what Anne had just told her. She was shocked that the sheriff’s men could act so callously in his name - killing unarmed, innocent people. And that Anne had witnessed the whole thing must have been unbelievably traumatic.
Katherine felt sick that the Stone of Gaia had ever been in her possession, now she knew the story of how it was acquired in the first place. Despite the fact that neither she nor Mark had known of its source when the Sheriff had given it to Mark as a gift, she could not help but feel guilty and somehow culpable. She also now understood what had sparked Anne’s anger when she and Robin had taken Katherine to Gaia’s shrine nearly three months ago – it was the very place that Anne’s parents were slaughtered. No wonder Anne had nearly tried to throttle her when she had inadvertently made some offhand comments.
Without looking up to acknowledge Katherine’s hand, Anne carried on, her voice quiet and faltering.
“I don’t know how long I stayed behind that altar after they had left, taking the stone with them…but eventually I summoned up the courage to come out of my hiding place…”
Anne closed her eyes, as if trying to ward off the images that were flooding her mind. Katherine squeezed Anne’s shoulder in sympathy, her heart going out to the younger woman as she blinked away the tears forming in her own eyes.
“There was blood…everywhere…over the stone floor…I…I…stepped through it…my father’s eyes were still open…lifelessly staring at the ceiling…I don’t know how long I stayed there…just…looking at them…”
“Oh, Anne…,” Katherine sighed.
Anne wiped away a stray tear that had escaped down her cheek before steeling herself to proceed. Katherine could feel her shoulder stiffen under her hand and Anne finally looked up, her eyes once again cold and emotionless as she regarded Katherine. When she spoke her voice had regained some of its composure.
“Anyway, at some point some people from the village came and took me away, “ said Anne, “It wasn’t safe for me in the village anymore, though, not with the pursuit of pagans by the church. Since I had no other family, I went to stay with Robin, who had always been a friend to my parents. He looked after me, brought me up as a surrogate sister of sorts. After what had happened, I understood what it was Robin and his band were fighting against – the injustices meted out by the nobility and ruling classes. It was hardly what you might call a normal upbringing, growing up amongst a band of thieves and outlaws, but I welcomed the chance to get away and forget about my past life and embrace that lifestyle instead.”
“So you gave up everything of your past life, including your pagan beliefs?” asked Katherine.
Anne suddenly brushed Katherine’s hand off her shoulder.
“Those beliefs killed my parents,” she said, anger now creeping into her voice and flashing in her eyes, “If they hadn’t been so foolishly devoted they would have just given up the stone. But no! They stood there and let themselves be killed - and for what?! For their principles? For the high and mighty pagan gods?”
“It was hardly their fault…” began Katherine, rather shocked at Anne’s sudden switch in mood.
“Wasn’t it?!” snapped Anne, cutting her off, “They knew those men would kill them and yet they stood there anyway? How stupid is that? How blindly devoted is that? Devotion? Delusion more like!”
Katherine tried to interject once more, though she realised that Anne obviously harboured a great deal of resentment towards her parents.
“Anne, you can’t blame them, they were willing to stand up for what they believed in...”
“I can blame whomever I like!” cried Anne, “Oh, don’t get me wrong I hold those soldiers responsible too. Their faces are etched into my memory and if I ever saw any of them again…I’d kill them.”
Katherine was taken aback by the venomous edge to Anne’s voice and had no doubt whatsoever that she would carry out that threat.
“But, though the soldiers may have delivered the final blows, it was my parents foolish beliefs that killed them,” stated Anne.
“And so you turned your back on those beliefs?” reasoned Katherine.
“Yes,” agreed Anne, “I didn’t want anything more to do with paganism. I wanted to learn how to fight, so I could look after myself properly and not be left with just my beliefs to defend me against the world.”
Katherine felt sad for Anne, she had obviously hardened herself, to protect herself from getting hurt. She was amazed that she managed to get the young woman to open her heart to her thus far and realised how much that must have taken for Anne.
“So, it’s not something you’ve ever wanted to investigate again?” asked Katherine gently.
“What is this?!” cried Anne angrily, “Are you a secret pagan or something, trying to convert me?”
“No,” said Katherine, holding up her hands in a placating gesture, “I just think you’ve barricaded these events away, to stop them hurting you, but at some point you need to face up to your past, explore that aspect of yourself.”
“Aren’t you listening?!” spat Anne, “I don’t want anything to do with that anymore! Why do you always have to push me!”
“I’m not pushing you…” said Katherine, still keeping her voice calm and soft in the face of Anne’s fury. She moved towards Anne again but the young woman stepped back.
“You could have fooled me!” said Anne fixing Katherine intently with her blue eyes, “You always think you’re right don’t you? That everything should be done your way!”
“We’re not talking about me here…” said Katherine.
“Well maybe we should be!” suggested Anne, “About your need to control everything. We always have to fit in around you, don’t we? Do things your way, meet when you say.”
“I’m not trying to control you, I just want to help you…” said Katherine reaching out once more.
“Well, maybe I don’t need helping – did that ever cross your mind?” said Anne, batting away Katherine’s hand, “I don’t know why you’re so bloody interested in me following my blasted pagan roots anyway - it was your people that killed off paganism!”
Katherine realised Anne was irrationally angry and most likely didn’t mean what she was saying, but that didn’t stop her words hurting.
“Anne, please…” began Katherine slowly.
“Oh just save it!” exclaimed Anne.
“Just leave me alone!” yelled Anne before turning on her heel and stomping off into the trees.
Katherine was left standing there dumbstruck for a moment, staring at the space where Anne had disappeared into the forest. She contemplated following the young woman, but decided that it might be a good idea to give Anne a bit of space and time to cool off. It had obviously been painful for her to bring all those memories to mind again. She’d been surprised by the degree of anger Anne felt towards her own parents, though. She supposed it was because Anne had actually loved them very much that it had been so hard for her to bear losing them. She had needed someone to blame, even if that included her parents themselves and their beliefs. Katherine wondered for a moment if she should have brought it up, the last thing she wanted to do was cause Anne pain. Ultimately, though, she thought she had done the right thing. It seemed to her that Anne had closed off that part of her life and never really dealt with the repercussions of what she had seen - directing all her emotions into anger instead and burying away the past.
Sighing to herself and rubbing her temple, Katherine walked over to where she had left Delta and untied his reins. As she clambered onto her horse to head back to Markham she didn’t notice the small man emerging from the nearby undergrowth with a satisfied look on his face.
Anne angrily swatted away the branches from her path as she crashed through the forest. Normally she would be much more stealthy, since you never knew who might be lurking in the trees, but today she just couldn’t be bothered. Her mind was preoccupied with other thoughts, pre-eminent of which was Katherine. She couldn’t believe her sometimes, she was just so damn…arrogant!
To think she knew what was best for Anne all the time, like Anne didn’t know her own mind, couldn’t make her own decisions. Katherine had being pushing and prodding at her for the past month or so on the subject of her past until Anne could take it no more and had told her the whole sorry story. No doubt Katherine was feeling pity, sympathy, guilt right now. Well, she could keep her pity! She hoped that Katherine was happy and satisfied that she had got her story, because Anne certainly wasn’t.
Anne had buried those memories for a good reason, and now her mind was crowded with unwanted thoughts and images again – things she had tried to forget.
She kicked out at the twigs lying strewn on the forest floor, sending a hail of them crashing into a tree trunk. She stopped and looked at the detritus, her fury simmering ever closer to the surface. She felt so angry; she just wanted to hit something to release her pent up frustrations.
Why had Katherine made her remember those things? That life was gone now - she didn’t want to think about pagans, about her parents.
She quickly drew her sword and slashed wildly at the undergrowth, hacking the top off a nearby bush. She watched with faint satisfaction as the lopped off section flopped onto the dry ground. She swung again at a small tree, putting all her might into the blow. Her sword buried itself deep into the trunk and she placed her foot on the bark to brace herself and grunted as she yanked her sword free, stumbling backwards as it came loose. She chopped at the tree again and again, the sweat starting to glisten on her bare arms at the exertion. It felt good, not thinking, just hitting.
She could feel another familiar sensation building within her as well as her anger. It was one that never seemed to be far away at times of high emotion - a strange connection she felt with the world around her, like the earth itself was talking to her. Normally she tried to fight it, to push it away, since it was another link to her past. She and her parents had known from an early age of her innate mystical abilities and they had tried to teach her the best ways to harness them. They had insisted to her that it was a blessing, though she had never been quite so sure. She didn’t know why she had to be different to all the other children in the village. Of course all the lessons had stopped when her parents had been killed and, with no one to guide her, she had pretty much tried to ignore the fact she possessed those abilities. She didn’t want the reminder of her past anyway, and was more than happy to live her life without tapping into that side of herself.
However, today she allowed the sensation in. She felt the energy of nature itself cascading through her, infusing her body, adding to the strength of her blows. The elemental power flowed through her, almost consuming her until she hardly knew where she began and it ended. At this moment she didn’t really care, she wanted to be oblivious to her own thoughts. She could feel the warmth of the soil under the summer sun, the whispering of the breeze as it swirled around the forest, brushing the leaves on its way. The sounds of the many animals around her filled her mind, chattering away with a thousand different voices.
Just as she was almost completely lost by the many sensations assaulting her, a creaking sound signalled the end of the tree trunk’s resistance as she finally managed to hack through it. As it crashed to the ground, she pulled herself back from the edge, pushing away the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. Dropping her sword, she sank to her knees and viewed her handiwork. She breathed heavily as her anger abated somewhat and with it the heightened awareness of nature that had been empowering her. She raked her fingers through her loosened blonde hair, sighing and closing her eyes to try and shut everything out.
After a few moments she stood once more, picking up her sword and sheathing it as she did. She sat down heavily on the fallen tree and put her head in her hands, as thoughts of Katherine crept slowly back into her mind. Even now she couldn’t seem to forget about the older woman, even when she had angered her so. Part of Anne just wanted to dash back to the lake and see her again, but her other stubborn side refused to do that.
“Are you all right?” came a voice from behind her suddenly.
Anne started, leapt up from the tree and swivelled round. She quickly drew her sword again and held it out in front of her, in the direction of the person who had disturbed her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” said the stranger softly, holding up her hands to ward off any potential attack.
The speaker was a woman, maybe a few years older than Anne. She had long straight, black hair that fell about a classically defined face. Her bright green eyes regarded Anne intently.
“Who are you?” demanded Anne, keeping her weapon pointing at the other woman.
“Look, I just wanted to see if you were all right, you looked like you were upset. But if you want to be left alone, that’s fine,” said the woman, turning to go.
“No, I’m sorry,” said Anne, sighing and lowering her sword, “I’m just a little on edge, I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“That’s all right,” said the woman, “You look like you’ve had a bad day”
She took a few steps in Anne’s direction, maintaining eye contact with Anne the whole time. Anne felt almost mesmerised by the green eyes, like she couldn’t look away, even if she had wanted to.
“I’m Bronwyn, by the way,” said the woman.
The woman held out her hand, and Anne slowly took it. As their flesh touched Anne felt a strange feeling creeping over her, accompanied by a kind of tingling dancing up her arm. It was slightly unnerving and she looked at the other woman quizzically as they continued to shake hands. Bronwyn showed no signs that anything was amiss, just smiling back at Anne.
As they disengaged their hands, Anne finally remembered to speak, now the spell of the sensation evoked by the contact was broken.
“Well, pleased to meet you, Anne,” said Bronwyn genuinely.
Anne found herself smiling back at the other woman - there was something about her that Anne found intriguing. She couldn’t quite place what it was, but she sensed she wanted to know more about her.
“Sorry again about the whole sword thing,” said Anne apologetically.
“Forget about it,” said Bronwyn with a dismissive wave of the hand, “So, is it anything you want to talk about?”
Anne quirked her left eyebrow questioningly.
“The reason for your bad day?” clarified Bronwyn.
“Not really,” replied Anne.
“Well, maybe another time then, if you want to?” suggested Bronwyn.
Anne searched the other woman’s face for any hint as to why she was being so kind, but it seemed her offer was just an honest one of help.
“Maybe,” said Anne warily.
“You can usually find me about these parts, if you just want to talk some time,” offered Bronwyn.
“That’s funny,” said Anne, “I’ve never seen you around before, and I don’t think I would have forgotten seeing you.”
Bronwyn let out a small laugh at the implied compliment.
“I live in a small cottage just on the edge of the woods, about a mile east of here,” she explained, “I guess I’ve just never been lucky enough to bump into you before.”
Now it was Anne’s turn to blush slightly.
“I come into the forest quite a lot to gather wood and supplies,” continued Bronwyn, “And you…you are an outlaw aren’t you?”
“Yes I am,” confirmed Anne her eyes steadfastly meeting Bronwyn’s as if challenging her to make something of it.
“It’s all right,” laughed Bronwyn seeing the determined look on Anne’s face, “I agree with what the outlaws are doing. I’m not going to give you up to the lady of the manor’s troops or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Anne stiffened at the mention of Katherine.
“I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?” asked Bronwyn, noting Anne’s change in demeanour.
“No, it’s not you, it’s just I have certain…issues…with her ladyship,” explained Anne.
“Really?” enquired Bronwyn.
“Yes, but maybe that’s something for that other time,” said Anne, not really wanting to discuss Katherine right now.
“Well, as long as there is another time,” said Bronwyn, a small smile curving her lips.
“I’m sure there will be,” agreed Anne, smiling herself, “Now, if you’ll excuse me I really must be going.”
“Of course, goodbye Anne, and remember, feel free to drop by any time,” said Bronwyn warmly.
“Thank you,” said Anne with a nod, as she turned and headed off into the trees towards the outlaw camp.
Bronwyn stood watching Anne’s departing form in quiet contemplation for a few moments, before her thoughts were disturbed.
“So, what do you think?” came a voice from beside her.
She turned to regard Will Scarlet, who now stood next to her. He looked anxious as he quite often did in Bronwyn’s presence, shifting nervously from foot to foot and glancing agitatedly about him. She smiled to herself at the affect she had on weak-willed people.
“Oh, yes, she has it all right,” noted Bronwyn with satisfaction, glancing off at the trees once again, “I could feel it as soon as our hands touched – she has the power, she just doesn’t know how to harness it properly.”
“And you are going to be the one to show her?” asked Will.
“Naturally,” said Bronwyn, smiling wickedly, “And even better it seems all is not rosy with the lovely Lady Katherine.”
“Really?” asked Will with interest.
Bronwyn knew of his dislike of Katherine and that he would like nothing better than to see a wedge driven between her and Anne. That was one of the reasons he had been more than eager to help her out when she had approached him. She also thought he had some foolish notion regarding himself and Anne, since they had at one time shared a relationship.
“Indeed,” said Bronwyn, “She didn’t let on much, but I would say they’d had some sort of argument. Which makes the timing of our first contact just right.”
“So it went well then?” asked Will.
“It went very well, Will” confirmed Bronwyn, fixing her piercing eyes on him and moving closer, causing him to flinch, though he tried to hide it.
“And I think she is receptive to seeing me again,” she added.
“Everything is going to plan then?” said Will.
“Oh yes,” agreed Bronwyn, “Perfectly.”
Katherine shoved open the door to Markham Manor, not caring about the huge crash it made as it impacted against the inner stone wall. She was feeling frustrated after her earlier conversation with Anne and the ride back to the manor had done little to help clear her mind. So it felt good to let off a bit of steam on an inanimate object like the solid oak door.
The sound drew the attention of those present in the main hall and a half a dozen sets of eyes swivelled in her direction. She met them all with a steely gaze and the eyes were all quickly averted once more. The peasants and workers around the house knew the lady of the manor well enough to know to avoid her when she had that particular look in her eye.
One occupant of the cavernous room was obviously feeling either exceedingly brave or foolhardy, however, since he approached Katherine before she could make her way across the floor to the stairs.
“Good afternoon, Katherine,” remarked Charles Kirby amiably.
Katherine considered letting off a bit more steam on another inanimate object, but just about managed to prevent herself from punching him. The last thing she needed on a day like today, though, were the totally unwanted attentions of the lecherous knight.
“Charles,” she acknowledged with barely suppressed disdain.
“Is something the matter?” he asked with concern.
“I just have a few things on my mind,” she replied shortly.
“Well, if there’s anything I can do to help?” he offered, not taking the hint that she wanted to make this conversation as brief as possible.
“There isn’t,” she said, knowing she was being rather rude, but not having the desire to observe normal courtesy right now. She just wanted to get up to her room and be on her own.
“All right,” he said, still smiling, “I can see I’m keeping you.”
“Yes, you are,” said Katherine curtly, “Good day, Charles.”
And with that she swept off across the room, not waiting for any kind of reply as she left him standing.
Kirby watched Katherine swiftly crossing the hall and climbing the stairs to her quarters. He smiled to himself as he considered that no doubt the reason for her short temper was that she’d had some sort of disagreement with her young lover.
Kirby had doubted the sanity of his French spy when he’d first come to the knight with news of what he’d discovered about Katherine’s secret. But as time went on, and the spy had continued with his surveillance, Kirby had come to realise the veracity of the man’s reports. As hard as it had been for Kirby to comprehend, Katherine was indeed having some sort of relationship with a female outlaw.
Kirby had to confess to being slightly…aroused…at the thought of Katherine with another woman and had been tempted to accompany Leon more than once to witness it himself. He tried to reason to himself that the main reason for any such action would be that he needed first-hand proof of her affair, but he knew deep down it was just the sheer titillating prospect of it that was the main driving force behind his desire.
Of course, he realised that what Katherine was doing was a sin and she would be going straight to hell for participating in such ungodly activities. Unless, that was, he could redeem her soul for her.
He was certainly willing to give it a go and the nature of her current relationship was perfect fodder to realise his plans for both Katherine and the manor. Once he had gathered enough evidence she would be at his mercy. Pretty much everything about what she was doing was wrong and would bring immediate disgrace and probably much worse if it were ever discovered.
He decided he needed to get back to his house at Ollerton so he could find out from Leon exactly what had upset Katherine so this afternoon. Leon had been most proficient and Kirby was sure that the man would have been present at whatever had occurred between Katherine and this Anne woman. The spy seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Smiling evilly to himself one more time, he turned and exited out the manor house’s front door.
Katherine heaved a huge sigh of relief as she entered her bedroom. She knew she had been unbelievably rude to Kirby, but she just couldn’t stand the man and her present mood had made it impossible for her to make her normal attempt at even a semblance of pleasantness between them. She crossed to her bed and collapsed onto it on her back, staring up at the ceiling.
“M’lady?” came a voice from the corner of the room.
Katherine bolted upright.
“Jesus Christ, Beatrice, don’t do that to me!” cried Katherine, glaring at the young maid.
“I’m sorry, m’lady,” stammered Beatrice, “I was just putting away some things, I’ll come back later.”
She hurried across the room and out the door before Katherine could say another word. Katherine groaned and flopped back down onto the blankets, putting the back of her hand to her temple and curling her fingers shut. Great, now she was scaring the servants too.
She knew she had to try and get a grip of herself. It was one thing to allow herself to be affected by her arguments with Anne in private, but to also show her feelings so publicly was courting disaster. And she and Anne certainly did seem to have their fair share of arguments. She guessed it was just a by-product of them both being such determined, opinionated and plain stubborn women. It was only healthy to have some degree of disagreement in a relationship, though at times she did wonder at their levels of antagonism.
However, she knew that one of the primary attractions of Anne was her strong-will and passion and Katherine wouldn’t have her any other way. Not to mention the fact that Anne was completely gorgeous and Katherine felt like her heart would beat right out of her chest every time she saw her. Added to that was the small matter of how Anne constantly occupied Katherine’s waking, and non-waking, thoughts. Basically Katherine was desperately in love with her and couldn’t imagine her life without her.
She just wished Anne would be a touch more…agreeable sometimes.
Take today, for example. All Katherine had wanted to do was understand and help the young woman, yet somehow their earlier conversation had ended in Anne angrily departing into the forest. She wasn’t trying to control Anne, was she? She knew she could be a little insistent, but she only wanted what was best for Anne.
As she lay on the bed, she pondered that she might, just might, have been a little too pushy. Perhaps, in her quest for understanding, she hadn’t fully considered Anne wishes. But it was hard to be objective when you cared so deeply for someone - emotion had a way of clouding judgement. Considering the things Anne had revealed to her, though, Katherine thought she could possibly have treaded a bit more cautiously. Mind you, how could she have guessed at the true horrors of the young woman’s past? To see your own parents killed in front of you, it was just beyond comprehension.
Katherine resolved to go and see Anne the next day. She didn’t want to leave the younger woman alone too long with those things preying on her mind and no one to discuss them with. That was, of course, if Anne wanted to discuss them – Katherine had learnt her lesson and wasn’t go to push if Anne was unwilling. Thoughts of those tragic events of fifteen years ago played repeatedly on Katherine’s mind for the rest of the evening and long into the night.
Anne deftly pushed aside the branches that blocked her path and continued on her course through the forest. It was two days since she had last seen Katherine, but fortunately she had managed to keep herself busy in the outlaw camp to stop her mind wandering to thoughts of the older woman, as it had a habit of doing in spare moments. Today, however, things had been quiet back at the camp, so Anne had come for a walk in the forest to try and distract herself. It was another warm July afternoon and the sunlight filtered through the trees and dappled the forest floor.
Anne still felt some degree of residual anger towards Katherine and had decided that she wasn’t going to be the one to make an effort to contact her. If Katherine wanted to speak to her, then she could come and find Anne. Anne was somewhat surprised that Katherine hadn’t sought her out over the past 48 hours - she didn’t normally like to leave things unresolved for long. Anne did find it rather difficult to resist the urge to go to Markham Manor herself, but she was going to be strong. She knew it wasn’t the most charitable of things to think, but part of her wanted to make Katherine suffer, and hopefully some separation would do that. Anne chose to ignore the fact that the same separation would have a negative affect on her too.
Trying to force Katherine from her thoughts for a while, Anne’s mind drifted back to the encounter with the woman named Bronwyn a couple of days ago. She had said that Anne was free to visit her, and since she had nothing better to do, Anne decided she might as well take her up on that offer. She thought it might be refreshing to talk to someone completely unconnected with either the outlaw camp or Markham for once.
Following the directions that Bronwyn had given her, she eventually came to the edge of the forest and spotted a small dwelling on its own just beyond the treeline. Checking that there was no one around, she stepped from the trees and cautiously made her way over the open ground to the door. There was no response to her knocking and Anne cast her eyes around to see if there was anywhere else the other woman might be. Perhaps she was out in the forest somewhere, she surmised.
“Hello there,” came a voice from behind her suddenly.
Anne swivelled round abruptly.
“Sorry, I seem to be making a bit of a habit of surprising you,” said Bronwyn, a warm smile on her face.
Anne glanced around suspiciously, unable to work out where the other woman had come from.
“How did you manage to sneak up on me?” she asked, her eyes coming back to rest on the dark-haired woman.
Bronwyn laughed. “I didn’t sneak up on you, I was just round the back, tending some of my plants. I thought I heard some knocking.”
Anne considered this for a minute. It was plausible, but she still couldn’t help being somewhat unnerved by Bronwyn’s sudden appearance. It was unusual for anyone to be able to get the drop on her like that and if she didn’t know better she would have sworn the other woman had appeared out of thin air.
“Come on, why don’t you come in for a drink?” suggested Bronwyn cordially, heading towards the door.
Realising Anne wasn’t behind her, Bronwyn turned back round.
“Are you coming?”
Anne guessed it couldn’t hurt, she had made the effort to come here after all. Nodding she followed the other woman inside. It was a small hut, consisting of just the one room that made up both the living, cooking and sleeping space. There was a small fire burning in the corner with a pot balanced above it containing some sort of liquid that was bubbling away and sending a plume of steam up the chimney.
“My witch’s potion,” remarked Bronwyn, following Anne’s gaze.
Anne’s eyes flicked to Bronwyn in surprise.
“That was a joke,” said Bronwyn, noting Anne’s look of horror, “It’s really a herbal and fruit concoction, it’s very tasty.
Bronwyn ladled some of the brew out of the pot and into a small cup, holding it out for Anne.
“Here try some,” she offered.
Anne hesitated from taking the proferred cup.
“Honestly, it’s not dangerous – just fruity and quite tasty,” said Bronwyn, with a small wink.
Anne took the cup and gingerly sniffed its contents. It did smell lovely, with a strong hint of raspberry. Tentatively she put it to her lips and took a sip. As the liquid slid warmly down her throat, her eyes shot to Bronwyn, who smiled back.
“Didn’t I tell you it was rather nice?” said the other woman.
“That is a slight understatement,” said Anne, “What is it?”
“Ah,” said Bronwyn, placing her finger on the side of her nose and tapping it, “Secret family recipe.”
“Well, in that case I thank your family and you,” said Anne sincerely.
“Thank you,” replied Bronwyn, “Here, why don’t you have a seat?”
Anne lowered herself onto the offered stool, Bronwyn herself taking up a matching one opposite Anne. Bronwyn seemed slightly distracted, as if she were contemplating something she wanted to say, her gaze having fallen to the floor.
“I think there’s something you ought to know about me, before we go any further,” she began nervously, “After I’ve told you, you may not want anything to do with me, which I will completely understand. I just feel I want to be honest with you from the outset if we are going to be friends.”
“Go on…” said Anne warily, wondering what this terrible thing could be, but also pleased that Bronwyn wanted to consider her as a friend – she didn’t have many proper friends, certainly not any female ones.
“There is a reason I live out here on my own,” said Bronwyn, “I believe in something, that many people don’t approve of…oh, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just spit it out – I’m a pagan.”
“Oh,” was all Anne could manage.
“I knew it,” said Bronwyn, with a sigh, “You think I’m some sort of devil worshipper or just a lunatic. It’s fine, really, I’m used to it. I won’t think any the less of you if you want to leave now. But I promise that if you stay I won’t try and convert you to my ungodly ways.”
Anne certainly contemplated the option of leaving for a moment. Here she was trying to get away from all things pagan and she had inadvertently stumbled into it again. And yet it wasn’t as if Bronwyn was trying to push it down her throat, unlike some other people, she didn’t even know anything about Anne and her own situation. She was just being honest, and Anne appreciated that and the courage it had taken to own up to something such as being a pagan. Added to that was that she sympathised with Bronwyn’s lonely existence to some extent, she knew what it was to be ostracised from society.
“No, I don’t want to leave,” said Anne finally.
“Really?” said Bronwyn, her eyes coming up in surprise to regard Anne.
“Really,” confirmed Anne, “It’s all right, you’re entitled to believe in what you want.”
“Well, I have to say that makes a refreshing change, most people run a mile when they find out,” said Bronwyn.
“I know the feeling,” muttered Anne to herself.
“Sorry?” enquired Bronwyn.
“Nothing,” replied Anne.
“Everyone tends to think I’m either crazy or demonic or both,” continued Bronwyn, not pressing Anne on her inaudible interjection, “ Plus they don’t want to be seen associating with a pagan for fear that they will be labelled as one too and hauled off by the church. In the end, it just seemed easier to live out here on my own, where I’m free to do what I want and not be regarded as a freak.”
“I can understand that,” agreed Anne.
“You can?” asked Bronwyn seemingly surprised by Anne’s sympathetic stance once more, “I have to say you’re the first person I’ve been able to talk to about this in a long time, the countryside isn’t exactly awash with other pagans to chat to.”
“Well, I do know a thing or two about it,” confessed Anne, not quite sure why she was confiding in the other woman so. It just seemed like the right thing to do, since Bronwyn had been so honest and forthcoming.
“You do?” said Bronwyn, raising her eyebrows questioningly.
“I was brought up as a pagan myself,” admitted Anne, “Not that I practice anymore,” she quickly added.
“Ah, well, if you ever want to take it up again,” said Bronwyn, smiling and offering Anne a small wink.
Anne couldn’t help laughing at the cheery way the other woman had put it.
“But I understand why you wouldn’t,” added Bronwyn more seriously, “It certainly is a lonely religion these days.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Anne.
“Anyway,” said Bronwyn with a wave of the hand, “Enough about all that! Let’s talk about something more interesting, now I haven’t managed to scare you off with my revelation.”
“Sounds good to me,” agreed Anne, “Especially if there’s more of this drink on offer.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” smiled Bronwyn taking Anne’s cup to refill it before rejoining her to carry on their conversation.
Katherine stood in the courtyard at Markham Manor, watching the group of men departing out the gate as the summer sun lowered behind the manor walls. As the imposing doors were swung shut behind the party by her guards, she allowed herself a deep sigh. Closing her eyes, she brought her hand up to massage the back of her neck, trying to ease the knots that had gathered there.
“Still no success?” asked a voice beside her.
“Unfortunately not,” replied Katherine, turning to look at Tobias who had joined her in the grassy yard, “Neither of them is willing to back down, we just seem to be going round in circles.”
“So they will be back tomorrow for more mediation?” deduced the tall man.
“Yes,” said Katherine, an edge of exasperation creeping into her voice, “Though I’m getting seriously close to the point where I’m just going to bash both their stupid heads together – we’ve been at this for three days straight now!”
And those were three days when she’d been unable to get away and see Anne. After their heated conversation by the lake, Katherine had resolved to go and see the young woman the following day. However, her plans had been thwarted when two of the local farmers had come to her with a boundary dispute. As lady of the manor it was her duty to help settle such matters and so she’d been locked in discussions with them for the last three days.
“You have something else on your mind too?” asked Tobias.
Katherine regarded the captain of her troop’s stoic face, which revealed nothing as always, maintaining a steady gaze straight ahead.
“Perceptive as ever, Tobias,” she replied with a small smile.
“Is it anything to do with your…lady friend?” he asked, tripping over the last phrase and causing Katherine to snort a laugh at his terminology.
“Yes, it is to do with my ‘lady friend’,” she confirmed.
She wasn’t quite sure if she wanted to discuss this with Tobias or not. She pondered that there wasn’t really anyone else she could confide in, apart from the friar, and he was away visiting another parish and wasn’t due back for at least another day. She knew Tobias could be trusted to keep her confidence, but he wasn’t exactly known for his understanding of emotions.
“May I speak freely?” he asked, interrupting her train of thought.
“Of course, Tobias,” said Katherine, interested to hear what he had to say on the matter.
“It is no secret that I do not approve of your liaison with this woman,” he began, “I think it is highly dangerous for you to be involved with such a person.”
He held up his hand at this point to forestall the objection that was starting to issue from Katherine’s lips.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “I have known you for many years and I do not believe I have ever seen you as happy as when you have been with her. I’m sure you know we were all…worried about you after Mark’s death, but she seems to have brought you to life again. So despite my misgivings, at this point in time I have to conclude that what is best for you personally is Anne.”
Katherine smiled warmly up at the dark man, she couldn’t quite believe that he was practically giving her his blessing. She knew he would never outright object to her personal relationships, but for him to say he pretty much approved meant the world to her. There was no man she respected or trusted more than Tobias and she greatly valued his opinion.
“Thank you, Tobias,” she said, reaching out and stroking his arm.
“However,” he added, “I can only assume that, given your somewhat…erratic behaviour over the past few days, the two of you have had some sort of disagreement?”
“You could say that,” said Katherine with a sigh, “It’s too complicated to go into, but basically things were left rather unresolved and I had been hoping to go and see Anne at some point during the last three days, before all this blew up. There just isn’t enough time in the evenings to go there before it gets dark, not to mention getting back, and the friar hasn’t been around to convey a message either.”
“Ah, I can see how that would prey on your mind, leaving something unresolved,” noted Tobias.
Katherine laughed and rested her hand on his arm again.
“Oh, Tobias, you really do know me too well. Alas, it looks like I’ll have at least one more day to wait before I can do anything about it.”
“Actually, I have a suggestion,” said Tobias.
“Oh yes?” she enquired hopefully, her eyes flicking up to his face.
“I think you should go and see Anne tomorrow,” he said, meeting her gaze.
Katherine shook her head. “A nice idea, but I have these negotiations to oversee,” she reminded him.
“I will take your place,” he informed her, “I think it is in everybody’s best interest if you resolve what is distracting you.”
Katherine’s eyebrows crinkled into a slight frown and her hands made their way onto her hips.
“Is that your polite way of saying that I’m letting my emotional state cloud my judgement and impartiality in these discussions?” she said, keeping her eyes fixed firmly on him.
“I would never be so presumptuous as to suggest such a thing,” he replied evenly.
“Well, if you had, you would be right!” said Katherine, rolling her eyes and casting her hands up in exasperation, “I just can’t seem to concentrate, my mind keeps wandering to Anne at the most inopportune moments. It’s ridiculous, I’ve always been in control of my feelings before, been able to separate my personal life from the running of the manor.”
“Maybe your feelings have never been as strong before,” remarked Tobias.
“I believe you could be right, old friend,” she concurred, “What I feel for Anne…it’s beyond anything I’ve ever felt for anyone else, even Mark. It just feels like she completes me, I couldn’t imagine my life without her.”
She stopped, noting Tobias starting to look a bit uncomfortable at the direction the conversation was heading in.
“Well,” she continued, getting back on track, “I guess since you so kindly offered to step in for me, it would be rude of me to refuse. Thank you, Tobias.”
“You are welcome,” he said, nodding, “and good luck tomorrow.”
“You too, though I’m not sure which one of us will need it more,” said Katherine ruefully as she patted him on the shoulder and headed indoors.
Anne smiled as she accepted another punnet of blackberries from Bronwyn – the small fruits really were the most delicious examples of them she had ever tasted. Anne hadn’t intended to come here again today when she had left the outlaw camp, but had somehow subconsciously drifted in this direction. When she had realised where she was, it had seemed silly not to call in on Bronwyn, especially after they’d had such a pleasant afternoon the day before, just talking about all sorts of things for hours. It had successfully managed to take her mind off Katherine for the afternoon and Anne had certainly needed a diversion again today as Katherine was obviously being stubborn and had still not come to see her. Well, thought Anne, she could be stubborn too, and she didn’t need Katherine all the time – she had other friends. She had been here most of the afternoon, and the sun was now starting to drop behind the low hills that marked the Nottinghamshire countryside.
“Anne, do you mind if I ask you something?” said Bronwyn, swallowing another berry herself.
“Not at all,” replied Anne.
“You can tell me to mind my own business if you want, but it’s something that’s been bothering me since we first met,” explained the raven-haired woman.
“Mmm,” mumbled Anne rolling one of the fruits around her mouth.
“It’s just that I…sensed something within you,” said Bronwyn tentatively, “And I know you mentioned that you were once a pagan – so I was wondering if you had ever noticed that you had…abilities that others didn’t?”
Anne didn’t reply immediately, her eyes flicking up to meet the piercing green ones of her companion. So Bronwyn had felt something that first time they shook hands then. Anne guessed there wasn’t much point denying it, and, since Bronwyn was a pagan herself, she would hopefully understand.
“Yes, I had noticed that,” she confirmed, not wanting to give anything else away at this juncture.
“You don’t seem too pleased by it,” remarked Bronwyn.
“I’m not. Would you want to be the strange child with the odd powers in the village, the one everyone was a little bit scared of?” said Anne bitterly.
“Oh, Anne, you speak as if it were some sort of curse,” sighed Bronwyn.
“And isn’t it?” said Anne.
“No, absolutely not, it’s a great gift,” replied Bronwyn emphatically.
“Now you’re starting to sound like my parents,” said Anne rolling her eyes and sighing.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to preach,” said Bronwyn, holding up her hands. “But those people in the village, they were probably just jealous of you, you know,” she added, reaching out and placing her hand on Anne’s knee in a comforting gesture.
Anne looked down at the pale hand resting on her black trousers.
“So I’m guessing you don’t utilise your abilities in any way?” enquired Bronwyn after a few moments in which neither of them spoke.
“My parents tried to get me to learn,” said Anne, still looking down at her leg, “But hours of study weren’t really appealing to a young girl – it all seemed like too much hard work. And then…well, there were other reasons not to pursue it.”
“Have you never felt empowered at certain other times, though?” asked Bronwyn quietly.
“Well, sometimes when I feel particularly…emotional…I have noticed some strange things, a weird connection to nature. Does that make sense?” replied Anne, glancing up at the other woman.
“Ah, I thought so,” said Bronwyn, sucking in her lips in a thoughtful look.
“What is it?” asked Anne.
“Well, intensive study, concentrating, focusing of your will is one way to access mystical abilities but there is another way,” explained Bronwyn.
“Really?” enquired Anne.
“Yes, the way you have obviously already touched upon, but never really explored – using your emotions to heighten and focus that power,” said Bronwyn, turning once more to regard Anne with her eyes, which now seemed to bore into her.
“That’s funny, my parents never mentioned this other way,” said Anne, looking away from the intense gaze.
“I think some pagans are a little fearful of it, because of the potential for losing control when using something as base as your emotions to draw forth power. Obviously to be of any use the emotions you are using have to be strong ones,” disclosed Bronwyn.
“Such as anger,” noted Anne, remembering the episode with the tree a few days ago.
“Exactly,” said Bronwyn, “But as long as you remain the one in control, bending nature to your will, then it’s certainly a lot easier than all those hours spent in meditation and study.”
“I don’t know, it sounds a bit…dangerous,” said Anne warily.
“Only if you’re not taught correctly,” remarked Bronwyn nonchalantly.
“Well, since I don’t have anyone to teach me, I guess it’s a bit of a moot point,” said Anne with a shrug.
“I could teach you,” stated Bronwyn.
Anne’s eyes shot to Bronwyn once again and she found herself caught in the thrall of those piercing eyes – almost hypnotised by their green depths. After a few seconds just staring, she had to shake her head to clear the bizarre feeling that had been creeping over her.
“It’s just an offer,” Bronwyn said, “I’m not trying to make you do anything you don’t want to. Just have a think about it and if you decide you want to know more I’m always willing to help.”
“Thank you, I will consider it,” replied Anne, avoiding making eye contact again, “I have to admit it can be quite hard to control the surge of power I feel sometimes, so it might be useful to learn how to harness it in some way, or at least stop it. Anyway, it’s getting late, I should really be getting back.”
“Of course. I hope to see you again soon,” said Bronwyn smiling up at Anne as she stood, “I enjoy our time together.”
“Me too,” said Anne smiling back, “Goodnight.”
Katherine made her way through the trees towards Robin Hood’s secret outlaw camp, having left Delta safely tethered out of sight just off the woodland track that wound it’s way through this part of Sherwood Forest. He had protested at being left alone, but the foliage was too dense here for her to lead him through it. There were probably other, clearer ways to the camp, but this was the one she had been shown by Anne and was the easiest to find, not being too far off the track. She hadn’t made bad time from Markham, having left Tobias in charge of the negotiations with the two farmers. She guessed that it was about midday, judging by the height of the sun she could just see poking through the leaves above.
She sincerely hoped that Anne was at the camp or close by because she didn’t think she could stand having to keep all this in much longer. What she wanted to say to Anne had been running round and round her head all night, so much so that she had barely caught a wink of sleep. She felt like she was going to go insane if she didn’t get this off her chest soon.
She was so caught up in her thoughts that she barely heard the thud that came from behind her as she neared the camp. She certainly didn’t have time to turn round to investigate before she found herself grabbed around the neck from behind. Instinctively she stamped on the foot of her assailant, causing him to cry out and momentarily loosen his hold. She went to make a break for it but was tripped, sending her crashing to the forest floor, sprawling face-first in the dirt. She just about managed to turn over before her attacker pinned her to the ground sitting heavily on her chest and pushing his knees roughly onto her upper arms. She looked up into the sneering face of Will Scarlet.
“Get…off…me,” she instructed in a low, menacing voice.
“Oops, sorry, didn’t realise who it was” he said, without a hint of remorse, “You can never be too careful on guard duty.”
She shot him a baleful glance with her steely blue eyes as he slowly got up. Once he was off her she clambered to her feet herself, brushing the dust off her top and riding trousers.
“I’m sure you knew it was me,” she said, her voice still carrying a dangerous edge.
“It’s quite hard to see through those leaves, you know,” he replied innocently, “Anyway, what can we do for you today, your ladyship?”
“I’m looking for Anne,” she informed him, ignoring his sarcastic tone.
“She’s not around,” he replied, unhelpfully.
“Do you have any idea where she might be?” pressed Katherine.
“I don’t know,” he said, “Though I guess she could be visiting her little friend.”
Katherine merely raised her eyebrows in inquisition, not really having the time or inclination to play his pathetic games.
“You know, her other lady friend,” he said nonchalantly.
Katherine felt small pangs of jealousy pricking at her heart, though given that it was Will she was talking to she knew she shouldn’t take anything at face value. He was most likely deliberately goading her.
“No, I don’t know,” she replied as evenly as she could manage.
“Oh, I didn’t realise,” he said, though Katherine thought he knew full well what he was up to, “She’s been spending quite a lot of time around there the last few days. Looks like you’re out of favour.”
She could have gladly smashed the smug smile off his face at that moment. Instead she clamped her jaw shut and took a few deep breaths through her nose. She wasn’t going to let him make her lose control like the last time they had spoken, after she had been shot in the leg and had had to spend an uncomfortable few days at the outlaw camp.
“And where might I find this woman?” asked Katherine, through gritted teeth.
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” he replied, “All I know is that Anne’s been coming back late at night enthusing over her virtues.”
“Well, thanks for your…help,” said Katherine, her tone dripping with sarcasm.
“Don’t mention it,” he said, smiling at her again though there was no warmth behind it.
She turned and continued on down to the camp anyway. She didn’t trust Will further than she could throw him and was going to check for herself whether Anne was either there or down by the lake. Only then would she allow herself to contemplate that she might be off visiting this supposed ‘other woman’.
Anne drew back her hand and then let fly, counting the number of hops the small stone made across the water before it finally gave up and plopped below the surface of the lake. Ten. Not bad. She started searching the pebbles that dotted the shoreline at her feet for another suitable skimming stone, one that was nicely flat.
“Need a hand there?” came a familiar husky voice from behind her.
Anne slowly straightened up and turned round to regard her companion who had just appeared from the trees.
“Katherine,” she said simply, making no move to approach the other woman.
“Hello, Anne,” replied the auburn-haired woman, a small smile touching the corners of her lips as she made her way down to the edge of the water where Anne was standing.
Anne was finding it hard not to throw herself at Katherine and devour those lips and had to remind herself that she was still slightly annoyed with Katherine and at least expecting an apology. She schooled her features into a look as of much disinterest as she could manage.
“I’m glad I found you,” continued Katherine, unperturbed by Anne’s outwardly cool demeanour, “I’ve been wanting to speak with you for a few days.”
“Well, here I am,” said Anne evenly.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner,” explained Katherine, “Some stupid dispute between two farmers arose that I had to oversee. Well, actually I didn’t even manage to resolve it, Tobias had to relieve me since I was making a complete hash of it.”
“Oh?” said Anne, realising she needed to keep her answers short to stop her emotions betraying her. She was already avoiding making eye contact with Katherine, since she knew that looking into their blue depths was a sure fire way for her willpower to melt completely away.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you Anne, about our conversation the other day,” said Katherine, her voice dropping to an even huskier timbre.
Anne wondered if there was any way she could cover her ears and not hear Katherine’s voice too, especially when she was using that tone of hers that always made Anne go weak at the knees. Of course then she would miss what Katherine actually had to say, which would be a bit pointless. She would just have to try and resist its temptations, at least for a little while.
“I know I made a bit of a mess of things,” added Katherine, “And it’s been plaguing me ever since. Thoughts of you just kept running through my mind when I should have been thinking of farmland!”
Anne wondered at what point she should let Katherine off the hook and stop being so frosty. From what she had seen before she had steadfastly stopped looking at the older woman, Katherine looked tired, like she had barely slept over the past few days. Anne just wanted to wrap her up in her arms and kiss away all her troubles. She determined that she would let Katherine say her piece, since it seemed she was building up to something she had been preparing to say for a few days, and then inform her that she had actually forgiven her.
“I’m sorry about the way I handled things,” continued Katherine in the face of Anne’s continued silence, “If I pushed you too hard, made you look at things that you weren’t ready to examine then I can only offer my heartfelt apologies. I know I can be stubborn sometimes and I may have let my desire to help you cloud my judgement. But that was the driving force behind my behaviour, a wish to do what’s best for you. Though I also realise that you of all people should know what you want and if it seemed like I was trying to control you, well, that wasn’t my intention.”
Anne listened intently to Katherine’s words, knowing she meant every one of them. She surreptitiously stole a quick look at the other woman and could just tell from the plaintive look in Katherine’s faintly misty eyes that she truly was sorry. Anne guessed she had known that Katherine only wanted to help her, and to some extent Katherine was probably right anyway – Anne did have to face up to her past at some point. She just wasn’t ready yet. Though she could think of no one she would want to help her more when the time came than Katherine.
Anne knew it hadn’t necessarily been fair to take her anger out on Katherine the other day, since it wasn’t really her that she was angry with, though Katherine’s pushiness had annoyed her. It was more that she had been a convenient target at the time for all the anger that thinking about her past had brought forth. And as for that poor tree she had hacked to pieces…well, she was just glad it was the tree and not something else much more precious. She shuddered at that thought. Sometimes she scared herself with her inner fury and she realised that perhaps it was getting to that time when she needed to do something about it. She didn’t think she could ever physically harm Katherine, though, and would never forgive herself if she did.
Anne also realised that some of her comments during their altercation had hurt Katherine and she should probably be apologising too. She had been acutely aware of the pained look in Katherine’s eyes when she had compared the older woman to all other nobles, insinuating that she was as bad as the people who’d had her parents killed. Anne knew that wasn’t true, that Katherine cared a great deal about the common people on her lands and had far too many principles to ever be a willing participant in such nefarious activities.
“You mean more to me than anyone has ever meant,” Katherine carried on while Anne was lost in her thoughts, “When I’m with you it feels like nothing else matters, as long as I know I have you by my side, loving me. With that love filling me, I feel like I can accomplish anything. I think I knew from almost the first moment I saw you that you were special and now I know just how special. I can’t imagine being without you, Anne.”
Anne thought that if this was the way Katherine acted when she knew she had upset Anne, then perhaps she ought to feign being upset more often. Not that Katherine was generally afraid to express her feelings to Anne, telling her countless times how much she loved her and meaning it sincerely every time. But today’s words were being said with added emphasis and meaning.
“I love you, Anne, more than anything,” said Katherine, a slight tremble actually creeping into her voice, “I just hope you can forgive me.”
Anne didn’t immediately reply, still contemplating all Katherine’s words, letting them sink in and fill her heart with the most incredible warmth.
“Well, that was all I came to say really,” added Katherine, “I’ll leave you alone now, if you do want to discuss things then you know how to get word to me or where I am.”
Still slightly adrift on loving thoughts, Anne didn’t realise that Katherine had abruptly turned and disappeared into the trees. Anne stood watching the trunks for a moment. Oh, who was she kidding? Like she could leave it this way between them for any longer? The past four days had felt like a part of her heart was missing. It had been pure agony, an agony she wasn’t willing to endure anymore if she could do anything about it. She started after Katherine but was caught just before she entered the forest by another voice.
“Anne,” came the call from the waters edge.
Anne contemplated pretending she had not heard, but she had already reflexively stopped on hearing her name, rather giving away that she had. She guessed she would still have time to catch up with Katherine if she could quickly get rid of Bronwyn, whose voice it was that had hailed her. She liked Bronwyn and certainly didn’t want to offend her newly acquired friend by being rude.
“Bronwyn,” said Anne, turning to greet her with a smile on her face, “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Well, it was a lovely day and I thought what better way to spend it than coming for a walk in the forest,” commented Bronwyn, “And, of course, I was hoping I might bump into a certain someone.”
Had it been Anne’s imagination, or was Bronwyn actually flirting with her? Not just the words themselves had alerted her to the possibility, but the tone of Bronwyn’s voice when she said them had seemed somewhat…seductive. Anne mentally shook herself and smiled at the comment – it was probably completely innocently meant, she told herself.
“Well, looks like you got your wish, though I’m afraid I can’t stay long,” said Anne, glancing off at the trees.
“Oh,” said Bronwyn disappointedly, “I was hoping we might have a little chat.”
Anne looked between Bronwyn’s crestfallen face and the trees, torn as to what she should do. She supposed she could spare Bronwyn a few more minutes, Katherine wasn’t exactly the fastest mover through the forest and Anne could probably still catch her. As long as Katherine didn’t have Delta tethered too close by, Anne considered.
Bronwyn sat down on a log by the lakeside and Anne made her way over to join her. She realised this was the same spot where Katherine had told her she loved her for the first time and a fond memory of Katherine looking up at her expectantly, unsure what Anne’s reaction was going to be, flitted across her mind. Of course she had happily revealed that she loved Katherine too and then they had made love right here as the rain plopped down softly around them.
“Something funny?” enquired Bronwyn, turning her head to Anne.
“Hmm?” replied Anne distractedly, still conjuring thoughts of Katherine’s naked body to mind.
“You had a rather broad smile on your face,” explained Bronwyn.
“Oh, no, it was nothing, I was just remembering something,” said Anne, a slight blush creeping up her cheeks.
“So, how have you been?” asked Bronwyn, “You seem in slightly better spirits I have to say.”
“I am feeling happier,” agreed Anne, though she would be happier if she could hurry this conversation and catch up with Katherine.
“It’s good to see you with a smile on your face,” remarked Bronwyn.
Anne was still somewhat lost in her memories and didn’t notice Bronwyn shifting closer as she spoke until their legs were actually touching. Suddenly she found Bronwyn’s hand on her thigh, gently stroking it, her fingers trailing across the material moving ever higher up her leg towards…
Anne shot up off the log.
“What are you doing?” she cried disbelievingly.
“Oh, come on, Anne, don’t pretend you didn’t want me to,” said Bronwyn with a knowing wink.
“What? You think I wanted you to…to…,” stammered Anne in response.
Bronwyn was just staring up at her, fixing her with those piercing green eyes and Anne turned away to look out over the lake, to get away from their intense regard. Her mind was awash with confusing thoughts. Had she given any indication that she wanted Bronwyn to touch her in that way? She didn’t think so - she had thought they were just friends. Now it seemed that Bronwyn actually wanted much more. She was beginning to sympathise with the situation Katherine had experienced with Pierre a few weeks ago. Collecting herself, she turned back to face Bronwyn.
“Look, Bronwyn,” she began nervously, “I like you, but I’m afraid we can never be more than friends. I’m sorry if I gave any other impression, but that’s the way it is.”
“Are you sure?” asked Bronwyn, her voice still soft and silky, her eyes not wavering from Anne.
“Yes,” said Anne her voice emphatic now, “And actually I’m already in love with someone else anyway.”
“Really, you never mentioned them before,” said Bronwyn, a hint of bitterness edging her tone.
“No, we had a slight…disagreement earlier this week,” admitted Anne, “But that doesn’t change the fact that my heart belongs totally to them.”
“That is…unfortunate,” said Bronwyn quietly, looking away for the first time.
“I’m sorry, Bronwyn,” said Anne sincerely.
“Are you all right?” Anne added when the other woman didn’t say anything else, just looking absent-mindedly at the ground instead.
“Yes, of course, I’ll be fine,” she stated, her voice having now taken on a hard edge.
“And we can still be friends?” asked Anne.
“Indeed” said Bronwyn simply.
“Good. Well, I’m sorry to have to dash off like this, but I really need to be somewhere,” said Anne. She thought that Bronwyn was behaving a bit oddly, but she really didn’t have time to pursue it right now, she had more important people to speak to.
“Yes, you go,” said Bronwyn, still staring at the ground.
“Right, well, I’ll see you around,” said Anne, turning and walking into the forest.
As soon as she got under the cover of the trees she started to run, leaping over the various fallen branches that littered the way back to the camp and bashing away any other obstacles in her determination. As she came out into the clearing she looked around frantically but there was no sign of Katherine’s auburn head.
“Henry!” she cried, grabbing the young outlaw as he walked past her, carrying some logs.
“Seven? What’s up?” asked the young man, using her outlaw designation.
“Have you seen Katherine?” she asked him desperately.
“Er, yeah, I think I just saw her heading up to the northern track,” he answered.
“Thanks, Henry,” called Anne over her shoulder as she sprinted across the camp in the direction of the aforementioned track.
Her progress was hampered somewhat by the denser undergrowth on the way, though she disregarded the many scratches and scrapes she was receiving as she ploughed on regardless. Finally she burst out onto the track only to see Delta disappearing off down the dirt road with Katherine on his back.
“Katherine!” she yelled, starting to run after them.
She knew it was futile, though – they were already too far away for Katherine to hear her and she would never catch up a horse.
“Damn!” she spat to herself, stopping and kicking up a cloud of dust from the track in frustration.
She let out a long sigh and lent her hands on her knees, breathing heavily from her mad dash through the forest. Looking down the track, she resolved to herself that she would just have to make a trip to Markham tonight, under the cover of darkness, so she could finally speak to Katherine.
Down by the lake, Bronwyn had still not moved from her position on the log. Her fists were clenched tightly shut, resting on the wood, as she sat silently fuming. She had hoped that she would be able to convince Anne to follow her ways willingly, but she could already see that was never going to happen. She was too much in love with that bloody Katherine woman.
“How’d it go?” asked a voice from behind her, “I just saw Anne running…”
Will Scarlet stopped in mid-sentence as Bronwyn swung round to stare at him, fury evident in her eyes. She saw his adam’s apple bobbing nervously as he swallowed. She rose from the log and came round it to stand directly in front of him, barely a hairs breadth from his face. She could see the fear in his eyes and the beads of sweat that had broken out on his forehead.
“It did not go well,” she answered in icy tones.
“Oh,” he squeaked.
“I think it is time to go to plan B,” she stated.
“Plan B?” he asked with an expression of confusion crossing his cowardly face.
“Just go back to the stones, I’ll contact you when I’m ready,” she instructed.
He skittered away and as she watched him go she contemplated that Anne was going to be sorry that she had rebuked her, very sorry indeed.
The last of the evening light was starting to fade outside as Charles Kirby scanned the interior of the great hall at Markham Manor. In the dimness, he didn’t spot Katherine immediately, but eventually his eyes came upon her, sitting hunched over a table in the corner, a few candles lighting up the papers she was perusing intently. He noted that she did not look particularly happy, there was a deep frown furrowing her brow and she would periodically bring up her hand to pinch the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes in quiet exasperation as she did. He wondered if it was the contents of her reading material or something more personal that was the cause of her problems.
Somehow he thought it might well be the latter. After he had seen Katherine four days ago, he had made his way back to his house at Ollerton, which lay some miles to the west of Markham. Once there, his spy had confirmed Kirby’s suspicion of an argument between Katherine and the outlaw woman Anne. Unfortunately Leon did not have precise details of their conversation, as he had to maintain a certain distance to avoid detection, but apparently it had ended with the other woman telling Katherine to “leave her alone” in angry tones. Kirby had immediately dispatched Leon to continue his work. Kirby himself had had to deal with some of the business of his own lands, which he ran under Katherine’s governance, but once done with that, had made an excuse to come to Markham today so he could observe the lady of the manor himself. Only, when he had got here this morning, he found that she was unavailable.
He had received some unlikely excuse from Tobias about her being unwell, the captain of the guard being rather evasive when pressed for any details. When Kirby discovered that her illness also meant that Katherine would be unable to continue with the negotiations she was in the middle of, he knew there was something amiss. Katherine had the constitution of an ox and would hardly let some trifling malady stop her from carrying out her manor duties. He thought it much more likely that she had gone to see her lover, to try and patch things up between them. That suspicion was re-enforced by the fact that she was now sitting at the table still wearing clothes that were suitable for riding, a simple short-sleeved top, a pair of rough dark trousers and some stout boots. Judging by the look on Katherine’s face though, it didn’t appear things had gone too well.
What a shame, he thought to himself, with a degree of satisfaction. Though, he did ponder that it could actually be more in his interests for Katherine to continue her clandestine association for the time being. That way he could gather more evidence against her, leaving her in an impossible situation when the time came to show his hand.
“Feeling any better?” he asked as he approached the table.
She glanced up from her papers and gave him a mildly confused look. Even with her slightly tired appearance, she was still an incredibly beautiful woman and he took a moment to study the way the candlelight played across her loose auburn hair, bringing out a myriad of different shades of red in it.
“Tobias told me you were feeling unwell,” he clarified.
“Oh, yes,” she replied, somewhat distractedly, “Yes, I am feeling better, thank you, Charles.”
“Going over the final agreements?” he enquired, indicating the papers on the table.
“Yes, it seems Tobias was able to reach a settlement in my absence,” she noted.
“Well, I suppose I should leave you to it, unless there’s anything I can do?” he offered.
“No, I think I have everything in hand,” she declared turning her attention downwards once more.
“Good.” He remarked, pausing before continuing, “I was wondering if I might make use of your guest quarters for the night, I seem to have left it rather late to head back to Ollerton.”
“Of course,” she replied continuing to study her papers.
“Thank you,” he said amiably, “Good night, Katherine.”
“Good night, Charles,” she replied automatically though she did not even glance up as she spoke.
Katherine flicked her eyes up and watched the departing knight, wondering if her day could get any worse. She’d had such high hopes this morning when she had set out to see Anne. She had hoped she would speak to Anne, explain things, apologise and then everything would be all right. Only Anne hadn’t seemed particularly receptive to Katherine’s apologies. The young woman had barely spoken during their conversation, maintaining an air of cool detachment throughout. In fact, she had hardly even looked at Katherine, almost as if she couldn’t bear to. Katherine had persevered with her apology anyway, laying her soul bare. However, even when Katherine had left, Anne had remained silent. The whole way back to where she had left Delta, Katherine was secretly hoping that Anne was going to come running after her, tell her that she had forgiven her. But by the time she found the colt where she had left him and clambered on top of his chestnut back without any sign of Anne, she realised her hopes were forlorn ones. The ride back to Markham had seemed excruciatingly long and lonely.
She ran her hand through her tousled hair, eventually letting it drop to bang her fist down on the wooden table, the sound echoing around the empty room. How had she made such a mess of things? She wondered if she had ruined the best thing that had ever happened to her, if Anne was ever going to forgive her. Just contemplating the thought that she may have irreparably damaged their relationship made Katherine feel physically sick.
Now she was also pondering what Will Scarlet had told her. She had disregarded his notion of some other woman at first, considering the source of her information to be wholly unreliable. Yet Anne’s attitude had only added to her fears that perhaps there was something to it. Nagging doubts and jealousy crept into her mind, and she thought that she would have only herself to blame if Will’s allegations proved truthful.
She was distracted enough, staring gloomily down at her fist on the table, that she didn’t notice the other person in the room until they were standing right next to her. Thinking that it was Kirby come back again, her eyes shot up angrily – she’d had just about all she could take today.
“What is it?!” she snapped.
Her eyes were met, not by those of the burly knight, but by a piercing pair of green ones.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Katherine, “I thought you were someone else. Can I help you?
Standing next to her was a woman that Katherine didn’t recognise as being from around Markham. She was a few years younger than Katherine herself and had jet-black hair that framed a pale, yet beautiful, face. She was staring down at Katherine with the most odd expression on that face, one which Katherine would have classed as almost predatory. The lady of the manor actually found herself shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
“Oh yes, I think you can,” said the other woman, her voice a cruel whisper.
Before Katherine could react, the other woman had brought something up that she was holding in her right hand and was aiming it towards Katherine’s neck. Katherine turned and tried to deflect it, but it was too late and whatever it was jabbed painfully into her exposed skin. Katherine cried out at the sudden shock and she felt a strange sensation begin to wash over, like her mind was starting to drift off somewhere else. Darkness began to creep into the edge of her vision until all that was left were the intense green eyes looking down on her before she passed out completely.
Anne crouched in the shadows, watching one of Katherine’s guards march past her hiding place, the moonlight reflecting off his polished breastplate. Instinctively she leant even closer to the stone wall, though she knew it was unlikely he would see her, given the combination of the darkness and her black attire - her hood covering up her telltale blonde hair. She would wait for him to go around the corner of the house and then it would be safe for her to cross the short open stretch of ground between the manor wall and the kitchen.
She hoped Katherine wouldn’t mind her making an impromptu visit like this, but she didn’t want to leave it another day to speak to her after she had failed to catch up with her in the forest earlier. Considering that Katherine had been seeking Anne’s forgiveness, the young woman was pretty sure that Katherine would be happy to see her when she found out that was exactly what Anne had come to give. She smiled to herself as she thought of all the ways they could then make up for their stupid estrangement of the past few days.
Finally the man turned the corner and Anne gave him a few seconds before she stealthily stole from her hiding place and crept across the grass, keeping her eyes peeled for any other guards at all times. She expertly climbed up the side of the kitchen and onto its roof, heading for the small window to Katherine’s bedroom that lay off to the side of it, on the upper floor of the house. She had taken this route many times before over the last couple of months and she hardly had to think about what she was doing as she swung herself over to the window and clambered in.
It was dark inside, just a few candles flickering over by the large bed, which sat in the centre of the room. She could see a form lying there in the gloom and as she tip-toed over, making sure to avoid any of the creaky floorboards that she had learnt would give away her presence, Katherine’s face became more apparent in the candlelight. She was asleep, Anne realised, as she reached the bedside. Her eyes were closed and her chest gently rose and fell with her slumbering breaths. Anne lowered her own hood and then reached out with her left hand to softly brush away a loose strand of auburn hair from Katherine’s serene face. It was then that she noticed that Katherine had a nasty graze down her right cheek that she had not had earlier that afternoon. Anne’s brow furrowed in concern and she reached over and tenderly brushed her fingertips over the damaged skin, wondering if Katherine had fallen off her horse or something on the way home. It also struck her as slightly odd that Katherine was lying on top of the covers and fully clothed in the riding outfit she had been wearing earlier. Maybe she had just been so tired that she had collapsed onto the bed without changing, pondered Anne, but she was starting to get an increasingly uneasy feeling about the situation.
“Katherine,” she whispered softly.
There was no reaction to her initial attempt at waking her, so Anne leaned in a bit closer.
“Katherine,” she said, slightly more loudly.
There was still no sign of any movement from Katherine apart from her continued breathing, not even a slight flicker from her eyes.
“Katherine,” she said once more, a hint of panic creeping into her tone as she gently shook the other woman’s slender shoulders too and still failed to illicit any response.
“Do not move,” came a deep voice from behind her suddenly, causing her to freeze where she was.
Anne felt the tip of a sword poking into her back and she wondered if she could manage to reach down and retrieve the dagger in her boot before whoever it was could react.
“Put your hands out where I can see them,” they ordered, dashing her hopes of retrieving the dagger.
They had the advantage on her for now, so she slowly extended her arms out to her sides, showing her empty hands.
“Now turn around…slowly,” they instructed.
Anne complied and found herself face to face with Katherine’s captain of the guard – Tobias.
“Anne,” he stated, recognising her from the one time they had met previously, nearly three months ago.
From what Katherine had told her, she knew that she was not exactly the dark man’s favourite person, but she hadn’t expected to be greeted in quite this fashion by him.
“What’s wrong with Katherine,” she asked agitatedly, “Why won’t she wake up?”
“We don’t know,” he replied, his dark eyes maintaining an intense perusal of her, “I thought perhaps you might be able to shed some light on it.”
“Me?! You think I had something to do with this?” she cried incredulously. “Is that why you’re waving that sword at me,” she added angrily.
“I know you two have been arguing,” he stated evenly, “And then this evening, after she came back from what appeared to be another fruitless expedition to see you, I found her unconscious downstairs, obviously the victim of some sort of assault.”
“How dare you!” said Anne angrily at the intimation that she was responsible.
She stepped towards the knight and had to be reminded that he still held a sword by him jabbing it at her chest to ward her off.
“Look, will you put that thing down!” she cried, “I didn’t do anything to Katherine, I only just got here!”
He regarded her impassively for a moment, obviously weighing up whether he could believe her or not, before he finally lowered the weapon.
“Thank you,” she said, turning back to Katherine now she was free of being pinned to the spot.
Looking more closely she could see two small puncture wounds on the left side of Katherine’s neck and she subconsciously ran her thumb over their rough edges. She had to fight hard to control the anxiety that was threatening to overwhelm her. Who had done this to her beloved Katherine?
“It appears she was injected with something,” commented Tobias, coming up beside her and noting where she was looking.
“Poison?” enquired Anne in hushed tones.
“Not exactly,” came another voice from the doorway.
“Friar,” said Tobias, identifying the newcomer as the balding man approached carrying a large leather-bound book under his arm, “Did you find out something?”
“Unfortunately so,” he replied placing the book down on Katherine’s desk to the side of the bed.
As he flipped the pages open the other two joined him, Anne casting a look back over at Katherine before she turned her attention to the friar. They briefly exchanged nods to acknowledge each other’s presence. The friar was a friend of both Katherine and Anne and she was happier now that he was here too rather than her just having Tobias to share in her distress. She couldn’t quite believe how calm the tall knight seemed, especially as she had heard from Katherine how devoted he was to her. However, Katherine had also mentioned his stoicism, so she guessed that it was perhaps just his way of dealing with Katherine’s condition. She herself was frantic with worry.
“I was looking through a few of the…alternative…texts that I keep, for any references to such wounds or effects,” began the friar, indicating the book which was intricately hand written and illustrated, “And I did find a few, in connection with one person in particular.”
“Who was?” prompted Tobias.
“Well, she goes by a number of names, having actually been mentioned at various points over hundreds of years,” he explained, “The details are rather sketchy since records aren’t exactly plentiful from those times. It’s also somewhat unclear as to whether the woman who is referred to is supposed to be the same one, somehow able to magically resist the ravages of time, or whether it is a different one who takes on the mantle when the previous one passes on.”
“The previous one what?” asked Anne, getting somewhat frustrated by his long-winded explanation.
“Well, I think the best term for her can be a ‘dark witch’,” he stated.
“A witch?” asked Tobias, his eyebrows rising disbelievingly.
“I know you are rather sceptical of all things mystical, Tobias,” said the friar, noting the tall man’s expression, “But if you’d seen some of the things I have, you might not be so doubtful.”
“And you think it is this ‘dark witch’ who attacked Katherine?” asked Tobias.
“Indeed,” replied the friar.
“But why?” said Anne, mystified.
“I don’t know,” admitted the friar, “All I can tell you is what I do know.”
“Which is?” prompted Tobias.
“I was just getting to that, if you wouldn’t keep interrupting, ” said the friar with an edge of annoyance, rolling his eyes at Tobias, “Anyway, what is known about this woman is that she is very dangerous, using dark pagan magic to get what she wants. One of the things she was known for doing was abducting people and taking them to the spirit realm.”
“The spirit realm?” interjected Anne, as some spark of recognition flickered through her mind.
“Yes, you’ve heard of it?” said the friar turning to regard her.
“Yes,” said Anne, trying to recall what she knew. She attempted to dredge up what little her parents had told her about it from the far recesses of her mind. A troublesome thought crossed her mind - if someone wielding mystical pagan powers had attacked Katherine, then there may be some connection to Anne herself. She shuddered at that notion; not wanting to consider that what had happened to Katherine could in someway, however indirectly, be her fault.
“The spirit realm was mentioned to me,” she disclosed, “Though I never got to the stage of studying it in detail, since it was considered as an advanced topic, for powerful mystics only and beyond my capabilities. All I really know is that it is another…reality…beyond the physical body that mystics can access, though I was never privy as to what end they would do this.”
“That sounds about right,” added the friar, “There isn’t much written about it, it seems to be quite the pagan secret. However, there is mention of the use of a special ‘potion’, I guess you would call it, injected into the neck of the victims, in order to transport them to this realm.”
“You are saying Katherine is in this spirit realm,” said Tobias, seeking clarification.
“I’m afraid so,” replied the friar.
“But she is here,” commented Tobias, somewhat confused.
“Her physical body is here,” explained the bald man, “But her mind, her spirit, her soul, they are not – which is why we are unable to wake her.”
Anne glanced over at Katherine in dismay as the two men continued conversing. The sick anxiety in the pit of her stomach was increasing with each passing moment.
“So what happened to these people, once they were transported to this realm,” asked Tobias.
The friar paused for a moment causing Anne to swivel back round, noting that he had cast his eyes downward to avoid catching her eye.
“What is it? What happened to them?” she demanded.
“They did not come back,” he said quietly, “Ever.”
“But there must be a way to save Katherine?!” cried Anne actually grabbing the friar by the shoulders, unwilling to accept what he had just told her.
“There is one possibility…” he admitted hesitantly.
“Which is?!” she implored in frustration, letting go her hold of him.
“Someone can go to the spirit realm to bring her back,” he declared.
“I’ll go,” said Anne and Tobias immediately and in unison.
“Hmm, it seems we don’t have a lack of volunteers,” said the friar, as the pair of them glanced at each other, “However, not just anyone can take a wander around this spirit plane, only pagan mystics have access to it. Luckily for us we have one present, don’t we…Anne.”
As the friar looked at her, Anne thought that for perhaps the first time she was actually glad of her pagan background, though she now wished she had paid more attention to her parent’s lessons. She could see Tobias regarding her suspiciously out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t have time to be worried about his obvious distrust of anything mystical right now.
“But how do I get there?” she asked the friar, “I’ve never been there before.”
“Luckily for us I do have these pagan texts, though my superiors would have a heart attack if they found out,” he remarked, “They contain details on the ritual necessary for accessing the spirit realm.”
“Ritual?” said Anne.
“Yes, it seems quite…complex,” revealed the friar, “It appears that a state of calm and harmony must first be established through intense meditation.”
“Right,” noted Anne, somewhat worried she would not be able to accomplish what was required. This was one of the reasons she had always been resistant to her parents teachings in the first place – everything always seemed like such hard work with hours of study or meditation needed to achieve even the smallest of tasks. She steeled herself with the thought that she was Katherine’s only hope, in which case she would succeed - there was no other option.
“Perhaps you should read it for yourself,” suggested the friar, “You can read can’t you?” he suddenly added.
“Yes, I can read,” she replied moving over and taking up a seat at the desk so she could begin her study. An image from a long time ago, reading similar books with her mother and father, flitted across her mind but she pushed it away. She didn’t need to think about them right now. If exploring her pagan heritage was the only way to help Katherine then she would do it without hesitation, but that didn’t mean she was willing to start thinking about her parents.
Katherine felt something cold and hard pushing against her cheek as she struggled up from unconsciousness. Gradually she realised that it was the floor and that she was lying face down on it. Groaning she rolled over and slowly sat up so she could survey her surroundings, blinking a few times to try and get accustomed to the gloom. Not that there was really much to see, she soon determined. She was in a stone walled room that was completely bare and empty, save for the single door, which had a small grill in it allowing in the meagre light that illuminated the interior. Basically it was some sort of cell, she deduced.
How had she got here? The last thing she remembered was sitting in the hall at Markham Manor when the strange, green-eyed woman turned up and attacked her. How had that woman then managed to transport her from there to here without any of her guards noticing?
She ran her hand through her disarrayed hair, flinching as her fingers brushed past her cheek. She tentatively brought her hand back down to feel the skin, noting that she had a rather nice scrape down her right cheek, probably from where she had been thrown on the floor. Looking down at her clothes she saw that her previously cream coloured shirt was now smeared in dirt from where she had been lying on the filthy stone.
Hearing a key being jangled in the lock, Katherine gingerly got to her feet – she was damned if she was going to meet her captor sitting on the grubby floor. The door swung open to reveal a female form, clothed in a long dark dress, silhouetted against the light from the corridor beyond. As she stepped inside the light fell across her pale features.
“You,” said Katherine icily, recognising the woman who had surprised her at the manor house.
The woman remained silent, gliding over to where Katherine was standing in the centre of the small room and coming to a halt directly in front of her. She was a similar height to Katherine and her menacing green eyes almost seemed to glow in the darkness as she regarded Katherine, looking her up and down. She had what Katherine supposed you would classify as a smile on her face, though it did not reach her eyes, merely giving her a slightly sinister look.
“Hello, Katherine,” she finally said in a deceptively soft tone, her eyes ceasing their perusal and settling on Katherine’s own.
“Who are you?” asked Katherine, keeping her own steely gaze steady, her head held high.
They remained staring at each other for some moments, neither willing to look away. Eventually the other woman let out a small laugh and then started to walk slowly around Katherine.
“You certainly are a feisty one aren’t you,” she commented as she came around behind the older woman, practically whispering in her ear, “Especially considering your position.”
Katherine turned her head slightly so she could see her, but did not speak, just fixing her with her eyes once more and glaring resolutely at her. Katherine’s attempt at intimidation didn’t seem to be working particularly well though, which could have had something to do with the fact that the green-eyed woman was in control here and she knew it. The other woman completed her circuit of Katherine and came to stand in front of her once more.
“You can call me Bronwyn,” said the woman matter-of-factly, in answer to Katherine’s original question.
“And what do you want with me, Bronwyn?” asked Katherine, emphasising the name with distaste.
“Well, that’s a little presumptuous, thinking I need you for anything,” remarked Bronwyn with disdain.
“Why else would you have brought me here,” said Katherine, clamping down on her jaw to stop her anger at the other woman’s superior and insulting attitude brimming over.
“Perhaps it’s not you I want, but who I know will follow,” suggested Bronwyn.
Katherine furrowed her brow for a moment, before realisation dawned.
“Anne,” she stated.
The other woman merely smiled that nasty little smile of hers, still keeping her eyes locked on Katherine, her head titled slightly to one side.
“Well,” said Katherine, letting out a rueful laugh, “I’m not sure where you got your information from, but you might be in for a long wait. Anne and I aren’t exactly on the best of terms, I doubt she will be coming after me, even if she knew or cared where I was.”
“Really?” said Bronwyn, “Come now, Katherine, I would have expected you to have more faith in your…friend.”
“What do you want with her anyway?” asked Katherine.
“I’m sure you know that Anne has some rather special abilities. I just want to help her realise the full potential of those,” explained Bronwyn nonchalantly.
Katherine somehow doubted that Bronwyn had Anne’s best interests at heart. Their brief encounter was already enough to convince Katherine that there was something inherently wicked about the woman in front of her. More likely she wanted to use Anne and her power in some way. Perhaps she was even worried by Anne’s potential and wanted to stop any chance of Anne challenging her. She remembered what the friar had told her about Anne possibly being an exceedingly powerful mystic if she was so inclined.
“If your intentions were so honourable, then why didn’t you just ask her? Why resort to kidnapping me?” enquired Katherine.
“It doesn’t hurt to have some extra…bargaining power,” commented Bronwyn.
During their conversation Katherine had been weighing up her present situation. Apart from the air of evil she exuded from those cold eyes, Bronwyn didn’t appear any more physically powerful than Katherine. She also hadn’t spotted any other guards of any kind outside the still open door. Taking these two factors into account, she decided that it was time to try and help herself.
Katherine quickly went to grab the other woman, hoping to catch Bronwyn off-guard. However, Bronwyn’s reactions were surprisingly fast and before Katherine could reach her she had turned and thrown up her hand. Katherine suddenly found herself flung across the room by some invisible force, sending her crashing into the hard stone wall. She slumped onto the floor, trying to catch her breath after the shock of the impact.
“Did you really think you could fight me here?” laughed Bronwyn as Katherine cast her eyes up at her.
“Where is here?” asked Katherine, clambering to her feet but maintaining her distance - she wasn’t eager for a repeat performance of whatever it was that had just happened.
“Poor, Katherine,” sighed Bronwyn condescendingly, “It’s probably beyond your comprehension.”
“Try me,” said Katherine through clenched teeth.
“We’re in what is sometimes known as the ‘spirit realm’” explained Bronwyn patronisingly, “Basically it is another reality from the one you are used to. It’s actually just the essence of your being that is here, your body is still back in the real world. It could still be lying on the floor in your manor house’s hall for all I know, though I’m sure one of your little servants came by and picked it up.”
Katherine was having a hard time believing what Bronwyn was telling her – it certainly didn’t feel like she had left her body behind anywhere when she had been flung against the wall. She considered that the woman could be lying, though she wasn’t sure to what end.
“No doubt you are wondering why it still hurt just then,” said Bronwyn, noting Katherine’s puzzled expression. “Though it is just in effect your soul that is here, anything that happens to you here will also be reflected back in the real world, including any…injuries you might incur.”
Katherine kept her features impassive to Bronwyn’s implied threat, though she had little doubt that Bronwyn would have few qualms about carrying it out.
“Anyway, I must be going, I’m expecting guests after all” said Bronwyn heading towards the door, turning when she got there, “Though, if you are correct, and Anne does not come, then we’ll have a long time to chat further…a very long time.”
As the door slammed shut behind her, Katherine slid down onto the floor once more and put her head in her hands. Part of her desperately wanted Anne to come after her, to rescue her, not only for Katherine’s sake, but to prove that Anne did indeed still care for her. But another part of Katherine also wanted to protect Anne from that evil woman. That part hoped that Anne didn’t come, even if that meant she no longer felt the same way for Katherine…no longer loved her. As she sat alone in the dark, she found it hard to fight off the despair that last thought cast over her.
Anne closed the book she had been reading and looked up from the desk, noting that the first rays of the morning sun were filtering into the room. She hadn’t realised she had been ensconced in the pages for quite so long - she had been so engrossed and determined to absorb all that she read. Rubbing her neck to ease the stiffness from having been huddled over the desk for several hours she stood up and turned to her two companions.
“I believe I am ready,” she informed them.
The friar visibly started in the chair in which he was slumped, having drifted off to sleep at some point in the night. Tobias, on the other hand, was still wide-awake, staring at Katherine’s inert form from his chair as if keeping watch over her.
“So what do you need to do?” asked the friar, sleepily rubbing his eyes.
“I could spend another several hours trying to explain it to you,” said Anne with an air of exasperation, “Or else I can just get on with it.”
“Er…all right, maybe you had just better get on with it,” he conceded.
Anne came round to the empty side of the bed and lay down next to Katherine.
“Good luck,” said Tobias sincerely.
She nodded at him in silent acknowledgement of his words, beginning to realise how much he cared for Katherine too. She reached over for Katherine’s right hand, clasping the slender digits in her own, and let her eyes drift shut.
Anne wasn’t sure how much later it was when she finally opened her eyes again - the concept of time had ceased to have meaning as she had slipped deeper into the necessary meditative state. Using the knowledge she had gained from her studies she had managed to tap into the natural energies around her and drift further and further away from her conscious mind. It had not been easy, mind you, several times she had found herself almost waking prematurely as the reality of the situation became all too apparent and her thoughts drifted to Katherine. She’d had to make a determined effort to try and clear her mind of all extraneous thoughts and just think of her goal.
It seemed she had eventually succeeded, as the vista that now stretched out in front of her was quite different to the one she had closed her eyes on.
She was standing in what appeared to be a field of tall grass, a soft, warm breeze blowing and brushing the tops of the long blades, creating wave like patterns across the expansive plane. The sun shone overhead in a perfectly blue sky, and she could almost have imagined that she was just somewhere in the Nottinghamshire countryside if she didn’t know any better. However, she knew she was really in the spirit realm and everything she saw here was actually an illusion, conjured up from the minds of whoever was present, including her own.
Spotting what looked like a stone structure of some kind in the distance, sitting amongst the hills at the edge of the vast plane, she set off in its direction, assuming that was as good a place to start as any in her quest for Katherine.
Katherine let out a curse as she scraped her fingers on the rough stone of her prison again, bringing up the damaged digits to suck away the blood she had drawn. She was attempting to loosen the stones around the door in a vain hope of finding some means of escape, but was having little success. She didn’t know how long she had been trying since there was no natural light here to tell the time, though she guessed it must at least have been a few hours. In frustration she slapped her palm against the unforgiving stone and leaned against the wall, hanging her head.
A sound in the lock brought her out of her reverie and she took a couple of steps back as the door opened to reveal Bronwyn once more.
“Looking for ways to escape?” asked Bronwyn, with a sneer on her face.
Katherine just glared back – she wasn’t going to admit her fruitless attempts to her malicious captor.
“There’s no point, you realise,” continued Bronwyn, “Even if you could get out of here, where would you go?”
She stepped up closer to Katherine, who didn’t flinch, even when the other woman was well within her personal space.
“Only those with mystical abilities can harness the energy of this place and come and go as they please to the real world,” outlined Bronwyn, “So that means you’re stuck here until I allow you to leave.”
Katherine tried not to let her disappointment at that piece of information show on her face.
“In fact,” said Bronwyn, “Even for a mystic it’s not easy to get here. I wonder if Anne will even be capable, if she decides to bother of course,” she added, casting a wicked smile at Katherine.
Katherine silently seethed, but resolved not to lower herself to responding to the woman’s obvious attempts at goading her. Bronwyn carried on with her taunting comments, all said while maintaining an intense regard of Katherine, almost like she was studying her carefully for any reaction.
“From what I’ve seen, her powers are rather under-developed,” commented Bronwyn.
“From what you’ve seen?” queried Katherine, unable to help herself questioning the remark.
“Oh, yes,” said Bronwyn, “Didn’t Anne mention that we had met?”
“No…,” replied Katherine, her voice dropping to a lower, menacing tone despite herself. “You’re this ‘other woman’” she added in realisation.
“An interesting description,” said Bronwyn, with a sickening smile, “But yes, I guess you could call me that.”
Katherine clenched and unclenched her jaw, but did not reply. What in god’s name had Anne been doing consorting with this woman? And how long had it been going on?
“It seems Anne needed someone to talk to,” added Bronwyn, “And I was more than willing to be there for her.”
As Katherine still refused to respond and instead considered Bronwyn’s words, a more rational thought crept into her brain, managing to work its way past the jealousy and insecurity. She realised that if Anne and Bronwyn really were at all close, then there would have been no need for Bronwyn to abduct Katherine. Instead Bronwyn had obviously brought her here to try and coerce Anne in some way, not realising that Katherine and Anne had themselves fallen out.
“Whatever your plan is, it’ll never work,” said Katherine determinedly, “Even if Anne comes, she’ll never help you.”
“Really?” said Bronwyn, reaching up her hand and actually stroking Katherine’s cheek, “You don’t know how persuasive I can be.”
It took all Katherine’s willpower not to shudder at the touch of the cold fingers. She allowed a look of utter disgust and contempt to cross her face as Bronwyn finally withdrew them. Bronwyn looked like she was about to speak again when she suddenly caught herself, her eyes glancing from side to side as if she could hear something that Katherine couldn’t.
“Ah, I think it’s time for me to leave you for the time being,” she finally said, a smile crossing her features. “See you soon, Katherine,” she added before slamming the door shut behind her.
Anne hadn’t really known what to expect from the spirit realm, but the overriding eerie quietness was making her rather nervous. There were no other people, no animals, no sounds apart from the faint whispering of the breeze across the field. At least the wind was warm, she noted, since she had appeared here in the same clothes she had been wearing in the conscious world – a short-sleeved black top with an open neck, and light black trousers tucked into her boots. Unfortunately, she had soon realised that the dagger that had been in one of those boots had not made the trip with her.
Finally she came to the building she had seen from the open ground. As she had got closer it had become apparent that it was a castle-like structure, and now she was next to it she was dwarfed by its imposing façade. She glanced around but it seemed that there were no guards of any kind to protect the invitingly open gate. It was almost as if someone wanted her to come inside, she considered.
She wished that she had her sword with her. Even if this weren’t the real world, having it in her hand would somehow have made her feel more secure as she stepped through the entrance. She found herself in a large hall with a high ceiling, which was again devoid of life and creepily quiet. There were torches affixed to the walls lighting the room, though, suggesting that someone was present somewhere in the castle. The only door, apart from the one behind her, was at the far end of the hall and her footsteps echoed around the cavernous room as she made her way to it. Unsure what she was going to find beyond, she tentatively reached out and lifted the latch, swinging open the heavy door.
Behind it was another torch-lit room, which reminded her somewhat of a church. She was standing on a stone floor, which stretched out in front of her to a few steps leading up to a higher level at the far end of the room. There were a number of solid stone columns dotted around the room, supporting the ceiling. On the raised area there was what appeared to be an altar of some sort, with a black cloth draped over it. Behind this there were three tall windows in the thick stone, letting in faint light from outside. However, the overall impression of the room was one of darkness, giving Anne a strong sense of foreboding.
She pushed down any nervousness she was feeling, thinking instead of her goal of finding Katherine. Keeping her wits about her, she slowly made her way across the room, casting her eyes all around as she did. When she was about halfway to the end, a figure stepped out from behind the furthest column. Anne stopped, surprised when she realised that it was Bronwyn. At least she looked like Bronwyn, though she was now wearing a long black dress and the cold look in her eye told Anne something was amiss.
“What are you doing here?” asked Anne, making no move to get any closer for the time being, maintaining the number of feet that lay between them.
Bronwyn allowed a small smile to creep across her face – a nasty, evil smile.
“I would have thought that was obvious,” said Bronwyn, “I’m the ‘dark witch’ that you have no doubt been reading about.”
Anne tried not to let her shock register on her face. She had thought this woman was her friend, that all she wanted out of Anne was companionship. Instead it appeared she’d had an ulterior motive the whole time. Anne cursed herself for being such a poor judge of character.
“Where is Katherine?” demanded Anne, fixing Bronwyn with a fierce stare.
“Straight to the point, eh?” remarked Bronwyn, with a laugh, “You know, she said you wouldn’t come, but I had a sneaking suspicion you might.”
Bronwyn turned and walked up the steps onto the higher level and Anne in turn took a few more paces down the room, beyond the last of the columns but still on the lower level. Bronwyn made a small signal off to the side and Anne noticed for the first time another figure lurking in the shadows. The man turned and left through a side door at the sign, leaving Bronwyn to swivel back round to regard Anne.
“I’m impressed you made it,” she said, a hint of admiration in her voice.
“Save your compliments,” replied Anne frostily, “Just give me Katherine and I’ll leave.”
“Oh, now, Anne, I thought we were friends. Why don’t you stay a while?” suggested Bronwyn, “Perhaps we can have a drink for old times sake.”
“I thought we were friends too, before you attacked Katherine,” said Anne bitterly, “But now I see you are no friend of mine. What is it you want?”
“You know you are as bad as that woman of yours, always demanding things,” noted Bronwyn, “The two of you don’t seem to realise that I am in charge here.”
Suddenly the door off to the side opened again. Anne gasped as she saw the man Bronwyn had dispatched earlier drag out a bedraggled Katherine. She couldn’t see her face, which was cast downwards, but her clothes were filthy, her hair disarrayed and her bare arms had a number of bloody scrapes down them. Anne felt a painful lurching in her chest as Katherine was thrown down the steps to land face down right in front of her with a sickening thud. Anne darted forward only to find herself bouncing backwards again before she got there as she collided with an invisible barrier. She glanced up at Bronwyn who was now laughing wickedly at the fact that Anne was effectively prevented from getting anywhere near Katherine.
Katherine groaned as she looked up from her position on the stone floor where she had been thrown, pushing away her auburn hair that had flopped over her face. Her eyes came upon a pair of black boots standing a few feet from where she was lying and glancing up her gaze was met by Anne’s deep-blue eyes. She was standing with her hands pressed up against some sort of invisible wall, which sat between the two of them, a look of concern on her face.
“You came…,” said Katherine in amazement, her heart leaping at the sight of the young woman she had thought she might not see again.
“Of course I came,” said Anne sincerely, not taking her eyes off Katherine for a second.
“But I thought…” began Katherine uncertainly, staggering to her feet, “After the other day…and then our conversation earlier…well, I didn’t think you really cared anymore” she added forlornly, casting her eyes away.
“Oh, Katherine, don’t ever think that!” said Anne her voice thick with emotion, “I’m sorry about earlier. I meant to catch up to you, to tell you everything was all right, but someone held me up.”
Katherine looked up in time to see Anne flicking Bronwyn a disgusted look. Katherine took a few unsteady steps so she was in front of Anne and the young woman’s eyes returned to her as she continued.
“So I came to the manor, only you were…you were…gone…” she said, an edge of distress to her tone. “You should know I would always come for you,” she whispered, “I would do anything for you.”
Katherine reached up to place her battered fingers on the invisible barrier so they mirrored the position of Anne’s on the other side. Their eyes locked in a look of understanding and for a moment Katherine could easily have forgotten everything else around her as she gazed into those azure pools, lost within them. She felt a lump forming in her throat as she could feel the love flowing through the barrier, enveloping her totally and she had to blink away a few tears – how could she ever have doubted Anne, have doubted her love?
“Oh, how touching,” sneered Bronwyn from behind them, breaking the moment, “But it’s funny you should mention what you would be willing to do…”
Suddenly Bronwyn was right behind Katherine and grabbed her tightly around the neck with her left forearm, while bringing a dagger up to point at Katherine’s chest, in the proximity of her heart. Katherine saw Anne press up against the barrier again, frustrated by her inability to help. Katherine tried to struggle free, but Bronwyn’s grip was surprisingly strong and the dagger jabbed into her to remind her of her precarious position.
“Let her go!” ordered Anne.
“There we go again with the demands,” said Bronwyn sarcastically, “How do you ever put up with it Katherine?” she added, her voice whispering out past Katherine’s ear.
“Anyway, enough of this idle chit-chat,” came the sibilant voice again, “I have an offer for you Anne, a very generous one, all things considered.”
“Go on…” said Anne warily and Katherine couldn’t fail to notice the look of utter contempt for the woman behind her in Anne’s eyes.
“Basically all you have to do to save Katherine is agree to stay here willingly in her place. If you do, then I’ll let her go,” said Bronwyn matter-of-factly.
“Just like that?” asked Anne suspiciously.
“Just like that,” stated Bronwyn.
“Don’t listen to her, Anne!” exclaimed Katherine before she found her mouth rapidly covered by Bronwyn’s hand
“Hush now, Katherine,” said Bronwyn, “No one asked your opinion. So what is your answer, Anne?”
“All right, I accept,” said Anne, icily glaring at Bronwyn.
Katherine screamed internally - there was no way she was leaving Anne to this woman’s tender mercies, not if she could do anything about it. Summoning all her strength she wrenched herself free of the grip upon her, knocking away Bronwyn’s dagger. The other woman was stunned enough that she didn’t have time to react as Katherine swivelled round and punched her squarely in the face, sending her tumbling to the floor.
“Get out of here, Anne, quick, while you can!” begged Katherine turning to look at the young woman beseechingly.
“I’m not leaving without you!” insisted Anne, meeting Katherine’s eyes with a plaintive, yet stubborn look.
“Then you shall both be mine!” cried Bronwyn, leaping to her feet and catching Katherine across the face with a backhanded swipe while she was distracted. The force of the blow sent Katherine crashing to the ground and left her momentarily dazed.
“You know what,” said Bronwyn coming to loom menacingly over Katherine, “I’m getting a bit fed up with you and quite honestly, now Anne is here, I have other ways and means to ensure she doesn’t leave. So by all accounts, it seems you’ve outlived your usefulness.”
Bronwyn reached down and grabbed the back of Katherine’s collar, hauling her to her knees, while remaining behind her. Katherine’s eyes flicked up to see Anne still stuck behind the barrier, frantically hammering on it. Their gazes met in a desperate, longing look before Anne’s expression suddenly turned to a combination of shock and dismay, though Katherine wasn’t sure why.
Then all Katherine knew was excruciating pain. Her head tipped back, her eyes clenched shut and an agonised cry was ripped from her throat as fiery pain lanced through her chest and shot through the rest of body, assaulting her mind and senses, threatening to overload them and shut them down.
Katherine was dully aware of Anne’s anguished screaming from behind the barrier as her head lolled forward, allowing her to take in the sight of a sword protruding out through her chest from where Bronwyn had rammed it straight through her body from behind. She had a fleeting conscious thought wondering where Bronwyn had got the blade from, before half-gurgling, half-gasping noises escaped her lips and her hands reflexively came up in a feeble attempt to stem the flow of blood or do something about the weapon sticking prominently from her. Bronwyn withdrew the sword back out through Katherine causing her to let out another strangled cry. Katherine remained suspended above the floor momentarily, before she slumped to the ground, a red river slowly spreading out over the stone from her prone form.
Anne watched in horror as Bronwyn materialised a sword out of thin air and plunged it into Katherine’s back with such force that it came bursting out her chest in front. It felt to Anne like she was the one who had been stabbed - straight in her heart. There was screaming, and she only realised after a few moments that she herself was the one doing it. Bronwyn flicked her an evil glance as she whipped the sword back out of Katherine and sent her falling lifelessly to the ground.
“No!” cried a distraught Anne, her hands pressed up against the barrier.
Bronwyn was laughing now, cackling wickedly as she watched the blood pumping from Katherine’s body. Anne’s heart and mind swam with emotions and she stumbled dazedly back from the barrier. She couldn’t think, could barely breathe. There was so much blood on the stone, just like…
She tried to block out the memories, but thoughts of another day fifteen years ago swam to the front of her mind. She brought up her hand up to her temple and clenched her eyes shut, trying to ward off the sick sensation welling up inside her. It couldn’t be happening again, not again! Not to Katherine!
Bronwyn’s continued laughter echoed around the room and wormed its way into Anne’s head. The delight the other woman was taking in the pain she had inflicted turned Anne’s stomach.
No! She was not going to let this happen again, this time would be different – this time she could do something about it!
Focusing on Bronwyn’s sickening laughter, Anne allowed her anger to build inside her while at the same time letting her mind drift and sense the natural energies of this place and draw on those to enhance her own power. She permitted the anger to work its fiery way into all her senses, to take her over, to consume her – just as she had done in the forest a few days ago. It wasn’t hard to do this time as she pictured Bronwyn; she wanted to kill her after what she had done to Katherine. When she felt the burning fury was sufficiently strong enough, she took a couple of steps back and channelled it into raw energy as she ran and leapt at the barrier.
As she contacted the previously impervious, invisible wall it dissipated and she landed on the other side, opposite Bronwyn, who glanced at her in surprise. Anne quickly looked down at Katherine and thought she saw one of her eyes flicker. She prayed that the older woman was still alive and that it was just not a residual, involuntary twitch of the dead. She didn’t have time to check now, though, as Bronwyn had overcome her initial shock at seeing Anne break through the barrier and was coming at her with her sword raised high.
Thinking of what Bronwyn had managed to do, Anne attempted to focus her anger once more, this time into a material form. She closed her eyes briefly, allowing the simmering rage to bubble up again so she could channel the energies. She felt a tingling in her right palm and her fingers closed around a solid object. Anne’s eyes flicked open just in time to see Bronwyn swinging at her, her weapon glinting in the torchlight. Anne brought the sword she had formed up to parry the blow, the clanging of the two blades resounding round the room.
“Impressive,” noted Bronwyn before she flashed another blow in Anne’s direction.
Anne again deflected it and the pair traded blows as their duel moved across the stone floor. Anne was forced back towards the steps and she almost lost her footing as she stumbled up them under a continued assault of wild slashes from Bronwyn. Bronwyn bounded up the steps to join her on the upper level, pausing her vicious attack momentarily.
“We don’t have to fight, you know,” she said, fixing Anne with her piercing green eyes as they circled round each, their swords outstretched in the other combatants direction, “Join me and I can give you power beyond your imagination, show you things you never dreamed of.”
“And what do I have to do to achieve that?” spat Anne, meeting Bronwyn’s stare with a look of contempt, “Become like you? Uncaring? Unfeeling? Willing to dispose of anyone who gets in my way? No thanks.”
“You can’t fool me,” said Bronwyn, with a little smile, “I can sense the anger within you just bursting to get out. Together we could do so much.”
“I’d rather die than join you!” insisted Anne.
“That can be arranged,” said Bronwyn, the smile falling from her features.
The lull in the fight ceased abruptly with the dark-haired woman aiming another swipe at Anne that she determinedly blocked. Bronwyn was certainly an accomplished fighter and it was taking all of Anne’s own skill to fend her off, let alone get in any of her own attacking moves. Anne knew she needed to finish the fight as quick as possible if Katherine was to have any hope, but that was proving hard to accomplish. Thoughts of Katherine’s plight were enough to distract Anne for a moment and she failed to anticipate Bronwyn’s next strike. She could only watch in dismay as her own sword was knocked from her hand and sent sailing over the altar to clatter on the floor behind it.
Frantically Anne looked around for something else to defend herself with as she dodged out the way of Bronwyn’s latest thrust. Her eyes fell upon the altar beside them and she seized the corner of the drape lying over it, whisked it off and flung it over Bronwyn’s head. While Bronwyn struggled to free herself, Anne threw herself across the altar, rolling off onto the floor on the other side to retrieve her sword. She rose just in time to repel another blow from Bronwyn, deflecting the blade into the stone of the bare altar, sending up a shower of sparks.
They both came out from behind the altar, furiously battering each other with fierce strikes and thrusts, but each one was either parried or evaded as the stalemate continued. Suddenly one of Bronwyn’s swipes managed to breach Anne’s defences and slashed across the young woman’s right forearm.
She let out an involuntary cry at the jolt of pain, but maintained a firm grasp of her weapon. Bronwyn paused her assault again and Anne had a chance to briefly look down and note the blood beginning to trickle down her skin and between her fingers onto the hilt of her sword.
“Don’t be a fool,” said Bronwyn in a low whisper, “Stop fighting it. This is where you belong,” she added gesturing around her, “This is what you were born to do – you’re just like me.”
Anne raised her eyes to fix Bronwyn with a deadly stare.
“I am nothing like you,” she said disgustedly.
Bronwyn tipped back her head and laughed.
“Oh, we are more alike than you care to admit,” she suggested, “There’s no need to resist, take pleasure in the raw power that we can wield. Enjoy it, Embrace it!”
She advanced slowly on Anne as she continued to speak in her seductive whisper.
“Leave behind your trivial life, forget about everything else…,” she stopped to point her sword down in Katherine’s direction, “Forget about her!”
“Never!” exclaimed Anne, gripping her sword tightly in her fist and darting at Bronwyn.
The witch barely had time to react and get her own sword up to stop the blow swinging in at her head. The two blades jarred together as Anne came careening into her. Bronwyn pushed Anne off but she came back at her again immediately. Anne grabbed onto Bronwyn’s hand so their sword hands were locked together and they tussled for supremacy at close quarters.
Their faces were inches apart, separated only by the two blades and Anne stared at Bronwyn, her eyes full of hostility for the other woman. She thought she actually caught Bronwyn looking a bit nervous at the way the fight was going before she masked it with her normal passive expression. They twirled around, still bound together, and Anne realised too late that she was near to the edge of the upper level. Bronwyn suddenly jerked free and Anne staggered and tumbled down the stone steps, landing heavily on her back at the foot of them.
She couldn’t help her eyes falling on the other form lying on the floor, a couple of feet to her left. Katherine was on her side facing Anne and the young woman felt the colour draining from her own cheeks as she sure how pale and lifeless Katherine looked. She tried to ignore the ugly red stain spreading out over the stone from the gaping wound in Katherine’s chest and the dread that was creeping over her at the sight of it.
She closed her eyes and tried to focus. She knew the only way to help Katherine and have any hope of beating Bronwyn was to keep her will strong - it wouldn’t do either of them any good if she let herself waver. Everything here was driven by the mind or emotions. She just needed to somehow get a rein on those emotions and harness them rather than let them overwhelm her. She was just finding it so hard to fight off her fear and worry.
Turning her head away from Katherine, Anne opened her eyes to see Bronwyn slinking down the steps towards her. She clambered to her feet, resolutely keeping her eyes fixed on dark witch. It was also partly an attempt to stop them drifting back down to Katherine and allowing her mind to be distracted by her concern for the older woman once more.
“You realise,” said Bronwyn, “That if you are not with me, then you are against me.”
She brought her sword round, arcing it in at Anne who levelled her own to block the attack. Their blades collided repeatedly as they danced back and forth across the floor and Anne wondered how much longer they could go on battling like this, neither of them able to gain an advantage. Finally, Anne saw a slight opening, dodged one of Bronwyn’s swipes and slipped inside her guard to slice across the witch’s leg.
Anne took some satisfaction from the howl of pain the strike elicited and jumped back out of the way of Bronwyn’s wild, slashing response. Thinking she finally had a chance, with Bronwyn staggering uncertainly on her damaged leg, Anne charged back at the witch. However, Bronwyn whipped up her hand and Anne found herself propelled backwards through the air across the room, eventually crashing down onto the hard floor and sliding across the stone for a few more feet before she came to a halt.
Anne was now on the far side of the room, while Bronwyn stood looming over Katherine’s inert form.
“It’s beyond me why you are so attached to this scrawny specimen anyway,” said Bronwyn, casting her eyes disdainfully down at Katherine.
Bronwyn prodded Katherine with her foot and Anne heard a small moan drifting across the room. Her breath caught at the barely audible sound, but there had been no mistaking it – Katherine was still alive! Despite the dire situation, Anne felt herself heartened and she rose to her feet, and steeled herself for battle once more. However, it seemed that Bronwyn had other ideas.
“I think it’s time I put her out of her misery, don’t you?” said the evil witch, glancing up at Anne, a small smile curving the corner of one side of her mouth.
Anne watched in horror as Bronwyn raised her sword, ready to deal the fatal blow to Katherine. Anne started sprinting across the room as fast as she could, though everything seemed to be moving in slow motion and it was like she was actually running through quicksand. She wasn’t going to make it! It was too far!
Time moved with agonising slowness as Bronwyn’s sword started on its downward trajectory. No! She couldn’t let this happen! She had to move faster!
Then suddenly somehow Anne was there right in front of the witch and Bronwyn’s eyes were bulging in shock, her sword still raised above her head. It took a moment for Anne to register what had happened as she continued to stare at Bronwyn, mesmerised by the look of utter consternation on the other woman’s face. She tore her eyes away to look between them and confirm that she had indeed rammed her sword straight into Bronwyn’s stomach.
Bronwyn let out a few incoherent gurgles as she staggered back from Anne, sliding off Anne’s still raised sword. She cast one last despairing look at Anne before she collapsed onto the floor.
As soon as Bronwyn’s body hit the stone a bright flash of white light engulfed Anne and she reflexively put her hand up to shield her eyes. As the light dissipated, Anne found that she was no longer in the witch’s castle but was back on Katherine’s bed at Markham Manor.
Frantic movement off to her side immediately caught her eye and she turned her head to see what the commotion was. She couldn’t help letting out a small gasping cry as she saw that it was the friar, desperately trying to do something about the blood oozing from the glaring wound in Katherine’s chest and soaking the blankets of the bed.
Anne quickly sat up and stared at the friar, who in turn glanced up from his attempts at staunching Katherine’s wound. The young woman frantically searched his face for an answer to her concerns, but the hopelessness of the situation was evident in his eyes.
“What happened?” he asked desperately, still trying to push some rags against the bloody mess of Katherine’s chest. Anne could see many more discarded cloths on the floor, all soaked with garish red stains.
“It was Bronwyn…,” she said, her voice coming out falteringly as she stared down at Katherine’s pale face, “…the dark witch…” she added for clarification, “She stabbed Katherine.”
She flicked her pale blue eyes up at the friar once more.
“You have to do something!” she implored.
“I’ve been trying,” he insisted, “But it’s hopeless, the wound is just too severe.”
Anne vaulted off the bed, over Katherine, and grabbed the friar about the shoulders, shocking him with her sudden aggressiveness. Tobias made to intervene, but the friar shot him a warning glance, indicating that he could handle it.
“There must be something you can do!” cried Anne with exasperation, though she knew the futility of her words.
“I’m sorry,” said the friar softly, unable to meet Anne’s desperate gaze.
“No!” wailed Anne, letting him go and swivelling back round to face the bed.
“No, no, no” she continued despairingly, resting her hands on the blankets by Katherine’s side and bowing her head as tears started to prick at her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Anne,” said the friar gently, placing a comforting hand on her back.
“No!” said Anne suddenly with more determination, shaking off the friar’s hand, “I won’t let this happen, not if there’s something I can do.”
“What do you mean?” asked the friar in confusion, “What can you do?”
“I can heal her!” stated Anne.
“What are you talking about…” began the friar, before he realised where she was going with her thoughts, “…You mean to use your mystical abilities, harness yours and nature’s energies to heal her wounds.”
“Yes,” confirmed Anne, clambering back onto the bed and kneeling next to Katherine in preparation.
The friar shot out a hand, grabbing her arm in order to stop her proceeding with what she was contemplating.
“Anne,” he said, his voice carrying a warning tone, “From what I’ve read, that’s highly dangerous - one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish for a mystic, especially with an injury as severe as this. Not to mention the risks to yourself.”
“I’m willing to take them,” she replied stubbornly.
“But you could both end up dead!” he cried.
“If Katherine dies, I might as well be dead anyway,” she said seriously, meeting his eyes with fierce determination in her own, “So I have nothing to lose.”
“I can see that I’m not going to dissuade you,” he said, dropping his hand from her arm and shaking his head.
“No, you’re not, so you may as well step back and start praying to your god,” she said, turning her eyes downwards once more.
Anne knew in her heart of hearts that what she was attempting was near impossible, but she meant what she had said to the friar – if Katherine died, what point was there in her being alive anyway?
She tried to bring to mind the few childhood lessons she’d had on the subject. She had a vague recollection of actually attempting such healing magic once before, though that was on a small scratch on her mother’s hand and nothing of this magnitude. From what she could remember from those hazy memories, that had been hard enough to achieve as it was. Basically she had to become one with the world around her, ally her own life force with that of nature and then use the combined power to inject new life into Katherine. Well, that was the theory anyway, she considered.
She placed her hands gently upon Katherine’s arm, realising with alarm that it was cold and clammy under her fingers. Fighting off her momentary panic, she closed her eyes and tried to block out the physicality of where she was at the moment. It was not easy, trying to let her mind drift, especially after her recent exertions in reaching the spirit realm, but she tried to summon all her strength and willpower now into one final effort, despite her fatigue.
She scrunched her face up in effort, sweat beginning to bead her brow, but it seemed to be hopeless - she just couldn’t achieve the right sense of calm to extend her mind out beyond herself. The harder she tried the more anxious she became and, therefore, the more difficult it became. As more time passed, doubts started to crowd in on her – It wasn’t going to work, she was going to lose Katherine!
Her eyes flicked open desperately, and seeing Katherine’s face she had a sudden thought, something Bronwyn had talked about sparking in her mind – using her emotions to enhance her power. Of course, Bronwyn had been talking about using negative emotions like hate and anger and Anne had already had some success at channelling those. But what about using positive emotions? She wondered to herself.
Continuing to gaze down at Katherine she concentrated on her, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm herself. She allowed any extraneous thoughts to fall from her mind and instead permitted all the love she felt for the other woman free rein to build inside her. She let it flow through her and suddenly she could feel a different sensation washing over her, touching ever fibre of her being.
She gasped at the power that was starting to infuse her, but resolutely maintained her hold on Katherine’s arm as she felt it begin to flow through her into the other woman. Her arms began to shake with the effort of maintaining her grasp as the amount of raw power coursing through her body threatened to overwhelm her. She ignored the fiery pain shooting through her and clenched her teeth in determination, keeping her focus on Katherine at all times to remind herself why she was enduring this.
Slowly she could see the wound in Katherine’s chest begin to close and peripherally she heard the friar let out an amazed gasp. The pain in her own body continued to build in intensity, but she knew she had to keep going, now she was so close. With one last superhuman effort she forced all the energy she could into Katherine, before collapsing on top of her, panting and spent.
Katherine groggily opened her eyes, trying to bring some sort of focus to her surroundings. She quickly realised she was in her bedroom and it was then that she sensed the weight lying across her chest. Glancing down she saw a blond head resting on her and she could hear ragged breathing coming from the form draped across her.
“Anne, are you all right?” she asked in concern, reaching down to stroke the head of the young woman.
Anne suddenly looked up and Katherine was shocked to see how drained she looked, though she was reassured when a huge smile broke across Anne’s face at seeing Katherine.
“I am now,” said Anne, hoisting herself up off Katherine and wrapping her arms around her neck and shoulders in a warm embrace.
Katherine responded by putting her arms around Anne and pulling her towards her, delighting in the feel of her warm body. For some reason she felt cold and she clung to Anne as if her life depended on it, closing her eyes as she rested her head against that of the young woman.
A small cough broke into the blissful moment and Anne sat up so Katherine could see the friar and Tobias standing by her bed. What were they doing in her bedroom? She thought in consternation. Her memories were somewhat fuzzy and she tried to recall exactly what had happened prior to waking here.
“Well, I think it best we should leave you two for the time being,” said the friar, with a slightly embarrassed tone, as Katherine continued to ponder, rubbing her temple as she did.
Tobias made to say something, but the friar responded with something inaudible to Katherine and then harried the tall knight out of the room before he could object further. Katherine thoughts were finally starting to take on some semblance of order now - she remembered being in the prison at Bronwyn’s castle and shuddered at the feelings of hopelessness she had felt there. Anne must have caught the involuntary movement, because she turned to regard Katherine once more, having been looking at the door and smiling in amusement at the departing pair.
“What is it?” she asked softly.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to see you again,” confessed Katherine, sitting up and reaching out to brush her fingertips across Anne’s cheek.
“You had me pretty worried for a while there too,” said Anne, capturing Katherine’s roaming hand and holding it in place against her face.
Suddenly Katherine remembered the other events at the castle and she looked down at her chest, removing her hand from Anne’s grasp and patting both her hands across her body in confusion, noting the blood red marks staining her top along with the jagged hole in it. Her eyes flicked back up to Anne as her brow furrowed in bewilderment.
“How?” she said uncertainly, “I was stabbed…wasn’t I?”
Anne glanced away, focussing on the blankets of the bed and playing distractedly with a piece of loose twine from it.
“I healed you,” she said quietly.
“What?” said Katherine, still unable to comprehend the fact that she’d had a sword rammed forcefully through her, but now she seemed to be fine and had no trace of the injury.
“I said I healed you,” said Anne, still looking away, “Using pagan magic.”
Katherine just stared at the other woman, dumbfounded for a moment, as she took in what Anne was telling her. Then Katherine shifted across the bed and threw her arms around Anne once more, the other woman stiffening slightly in surprise as if she wasn’t expecting the embrace. Katherine pulled back.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” she asked, unsure why Anne seemed so abashed.
“You’re not upset?” asked Anne.
“What? That you saved my life!” cried Katherine in astonishment, “Of course not!”
“No, that I used pagan magic on you,” Anne clarified, her eyes coming up to look at Katherine uncertainly, “That I have the ability to use pagan magic at all.”
“Why would you think that would upset me?” asked Katherine.
“Because it upsets most people. Or scares them. Or makes them think I’m some sort of freak,” explained Anne, glancing away again.
Katherine reached out and gently placed her fingers under Anne’s chin, tilting her head up so she could look the other woman in the eyes.
“Well, I’m not most people,” she said sincerely, her voice dropping to a soft husky tone, “I think it’s amazing that you can do such things and I especially think it’s amazing what you did for me. Thank you, Anne.”
“Really?” said Anne as if she couldn’t quite believe it, “You don’t think I’m strange or that you can’t bear to be near me?”
“No!” stated Katherine, “Don’t be silly, I would never think that about you. I love you, Anne, everything about you, whatever it is.”
Katherine could see Anne searching her eyes for confirmation so she just looked warmly back at the other woman, allowing all the love she felt show in her expression. She saw a small smile faltering on Anne’s lips, though at the same time she looked like she was about to burst into tears. Slowly Katherine reached out and cupped Anne’s face before guiding her into a soft kiss, letting her lips just brush against those of the young woman.
Anne’s arms came around her back and she pulled Katherine closer at the same time deepening the kiss. Katherine closed her eyes and allowed herself to delight in the sensations those warm lips evoked. She felt a sense of relief flood over her after all the tension of the past few days – finally things were right and she was exactly where she should be. She let out a contented sigh as she pulled back slightly to regard Anne, stroking her cheek once more as she spoke.
“Is that why you didn’t mention your abilities to me before?” she asked, “Because you were scared what I would think?”
“Yes,” replied Anne simply.
Katherine shook her head ruefully.
“Well, I hope you know now that you can tell me anything,” she sighed.
“I believe I do,” said Anne genuinely, “And I also wanted to apologise to you.”
“To me?” said Katherine in surprise, “For what? I was the one who acted like an ass, pushing you and nagging you to open up to me.”
“Well, that is partly true,” said Anne, with a small shrug, though a smile was also evident on her features causing Katherine to let out a small laugh, “But I wanted to apologise for taking out my anger on you,” she added more seriously.
“That’s all right,” insisted Katherine, “You had a right to be angry, it’s not for me to say what’s best for you.”
“Maybe, but it wasn’t really you I was angry with, well not entirely anyway,” commented Anne, “And it wasn’t fair of me to push you away when you were only trying to help me, particularly as you were right too.”
“I was?” enquired Katherine.
“Yes,” said Anne, “You were right that I have been hiding from my past and I know I can’t continue to do that. It isn’t healthy for me to bottle up all these feelings, all this anger, not if it allows events like those of the past few days to occur. I’m not saying I’m going to suddenly be embracing my pagan heritage with both arms, but I would like to talk about what happened in the past, try to resolve some things, if you’d be willing to listen.”
“Oh, Anne,” said Katherine, stroking the young woman’s arm, “Of course I would be willing, I would be happy to be the one that you talk to. And I promise – no more pushing you into things you don’t want to do.”
“Now, don’t be making promises you can’t keep,” said Anne playfully, “I know you and your stubborn streak.”
“Hmmph,” muttered Katherine, in mock consternation, “Well, I’m not the only one!”
She quickly moved her hand to Anne’s stomach and tickled her, the young woman falling back onto the blankets as laughter erupted from her. Katherine flopped down next to her, propping her head up on her elbow so she could look at Anne and take in the smooth lines of her face as she lay on the bed.
“So,” she began, trailing her fingers idly up Anne’s arm, “Would you like to stay for the day…and the night?”
Anne’s face tipped in Katherine’s direction, a broad grin on her features.
“I thought you’d never ask,” she replied.
“Well,” said Katherine, smiling in response, “I don’t know about you, but I could do with a good bath - just look at the state of me!”
“I have seen you looking better,” remarked Anne evenly, taking in Katherine ragged and bloody appearance, though Katherine could see the humour in her eyes.
“Care to join me?” suggested Katherine.
“Now that sounds like an offer too good to refuse,” replied Anne, “Though what about your maid, won’t she wonder who the hell I am when she brings the water, unless you want me to hide under the bed?”
“No, it’s about time I told Beatrice,” Katherine said nonchalantly with a wave of the hand, “Not that I’m about to start broadcasting our relationship to the whole manor,” she quickly added with a hint of caution, “I have to be careful about who I allow into my confidence and the fewer people who know the better.”
“I know,” said Anne, nodding in agreement “I understand that we still have to be discreet and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardise you, not after I just got you back.”
“Thank you,” said Katherine with a warm smile, stroking Anne’s arm languidly, “Anyway, though I know Beatrice has a bit of a reputation for gossip, I’m sure I can trust her with something this important and I know I can trust Tobias. It’s been rather hard keeping it from Beatrice anyway - she’s too adept at noticing my moods and she’s been probing me for weeks on who my secret lover is!”
“Hmm, that sounds exciting…a secret lover,” commented Anne, reaching out and pulling Katherine on top of her.
“Oh, believe me, it is,” said Katherine dipping her head to capture Anne’s lips in a passionate kiss.
Bronwyn opened her eyes and was met by a raging pain shooting through her whole body. The agony was so intense it took her a few moments to register where she was. Her eyes swivelled around, taking in the gloomy trees above her, and she realised she was back at the standing stones. Someone was also prodding her.
“Get off me!” she cried, her voice hoarse.
She brushed the hands aside, noting that they belonged to Will Scarlet who was looking down at her with a worried expression on his face. She tried to rise but was forced back my fresh waves of pain, particularly in her stomach.
“I wouldn’t try to move,” suggested Will tentatively.
“Thank you for that helpful advice,” spat Bronwyn with as much venom as she could muster.
She lay for a moment, breathing raggedly as she recalled what had happened. She remembered how Anne had somehow managed to surprise her and impale her with her sword. She considered that she shouldn’t have underestimated the young woman, especially when it came to the life of her beloved Katherine being threatened. How she hated it when people used love to empower themselves – it just wasn’t right!
She knew she would have her work cut out against Anne now, now that she had opened the young woman up to the possibilities of her mystical abilities. She guessed she would just have to see if she was up to the challenge, but thought determinedly that it was certainly one she was not going to shy away from.
She realised she would need time to recuperate from her injuries. However, once she was better, Anne had better pray that she had learnt a hell of a lot more about those abilities of hers because she was going to need them.
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