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Today we have another excerpt from my Missing Magic, a scene for one of the antagonists in the novel, Snaithan Unagands. His mission is clear: kill Finn macc Líamór. But nothing is ever straightforward and others have their own agendas in the war.
Damned Court games.
Snaithan kept his smile fixed, aware more than ever he’d no one to watch his back in this place. As he followed Governor Regucan and Commander Hrucon, he took the moment’s interruption to glance around the busy Snow Mount hall. A handsome old hall, all waxed wood and dressed stone, with soaring crossed-beam rafters and bright tapestries. Fires crackled pleasantly in the three hearths and the lamplight gave the whole space a warm mellow glow. Easy to forget it was occupied enemy territory.
An interesting mix of folk cluttered Governor Regucan’s supper table: smug Fomorai officers, Leannai nobles with their anxiety hidden behind a thin veil of politic smiles, and cocky Leannai renegades, all tended by harried Leannai and Formorai slaves.
At the head of the table, a tall, slim Leannai woman with downcast eyes sat waiting alone in a heavy, carved and upholstered chair beside the empty matching chair that must be Regucan’s. She wore fur trimmed velvet and jewels, and her gleaming brown hair was done up in a neat crown of plaits dressed with scattered pearls.
Was this Regucan’s captive mistress, Queen Daíríne?
At Regucan’s approach, the woman lifted her head and rose meekly to her feet, her expression blank. She was pale, even for a Leannai. Fingerprint bruises marred one white shoulder. “Good evening, Lord Regucan.”
“We have important guests with us. The Chosen of the Oracle, Lord Hrucon, and his courageous captain, Sir Snaithan Unagands. They have had a most harrowing journey and will be spending some time with us. Sir Snaithan’s brother rests in the infirmary. They will be extended every courtesy.”
“Of course, Lord Regucan.” She turned to face Hrucon. “Welcome to Snow Mount, Oracle’s Chosen.” Distaste flicked in her shadowed hazel eyes.
She turned to Snaithan. Blinked at his green eyes with a minute hitch in her breath, a careful recoil ruffled her reserve as she realized his mixed-blood. “Welcome, Sir Snaithan.”
He was clearly anything but welcome.
Regucan had decided to make a revel of the evening. The bountiful food was tasty and Snaithan enjoyed filling his belly. Conversation bounced and flowed around him. He joined in when prompted, smiled when needed, laughed when required. Just like being back at Court.
Just like at Court, he was the object of sidelong glances and whispers aside. But he hadn’t survived his mother’s house or Court life or battle only to be cowed by this provincial gathering.
He felt the Queen’s eyes on him from time to time. Trying to figure him out? Fair enough, as he was studying her as well. As Leannai went, she was pretty enough, but far too thin, nearly gaunt, her delicate, angular bones making her sad eyes too large and mouth too wide. He sat close enough to note the dark, purpled bruises on her shoulder had older, faded mates.
The acid churn in his stomach annoyed him.
He rapped his cup on the table for refilling. What did it matter to him how Regucan treated his captives?
The evening grew late and the gathering showed no sign of breaking up. Snaithan remained seated, slowly nursing his cup of wine and longing to be shown a bed for the night and rest his battered body. He pondered the quiet Queen at Regucan’s side and pondered their quarry, Stone Son, out of reach at Ard Aibnius. How to get at him, how to breach that impregnable fortress . . .
Regucan’s booming laughter and a rough shaking of his shoulder woke him. “Take yourself off to bed, Sir Snaithan.”
Snaithan blinked, thoroughly dismayed to have nodded off. The sleepless week, tedious evening, comfortable chair, and full stomach had conspired against him.
He hoisted himself up, fighting a yawn. “Your pardon, Lord Regucan.”
Regucan just laughed. “That servant there will take you to your chamber. Join me for breakfast. Someone will fetch you.”
“Thank you.” Snaithan saluted and, seeing the Queen still in her seat, bowed politely. “Good night.”
Queen Daíríne gave him a stiff acknowledgment, her face frozen in formality, but strange pleading filled her wide hazel eyes. Those other terrified eyes uncomfortably rose to Snaithan’s memory. The Queen flashed a nervous look up to Regucan who just grinned and toyed his hand over her neck and groped her breast.
Hrucon slouched lazily drunk in his chair. “Rest well, Sir Snaithan.” He gave a leering smirk and tripped a passing slave into his lap.
Time to get out of here. Snaithan strode toward the door. The Fomorai servant ran to catch up and lead him.
Once outside the door he let loose the jaw-cracking yawn.
The servant led him up a maze of stairs and hallways.
Finally a door. Inside the room a toasty fire glowed in the hearth. He was cheered by the sight of his saddlebags, armor and weapons. Sleet beat against the window panes. Sleep beat against his eyes. He was dizzy with the need for sleep. A sturdy bed lay ahead, piled with quilts and furs. It looked clean and soft and the room was warm. Perfect.
Another cracking yawn gripped him. He dismissed the servant and locked the door. He could undress himself just fine. Shit, sleeping fully dressed was just fine. The boots had to go.
He sat his dizzy, aching body heavily on the bed and yanked off each boot. Having got some momentum, he stripped off his clothes and threw back the covers.
A thin yelp had him leap back and snatch up his dagger.
Then he focused. A naked Leannai woman huddled in his bed, wide pale eyes puffy with weeping, her dark hair and trembling hands failing to cover generous breasts.
Damn it, he did not need this. “Shit. Get out!”
All he got in response was a shivering gasp.
Shit. He’d shouted at her in Fomorai. Naked, angry male with a knife. Right. Not reassuring. He tried to gentle his voice and spoke in Camthcain. “What are you doing in my bed?”
“The– the Governor’s orders.”
He scanned around for her clothes and saw none. He grabbed up the fur-lined robe he’d been wearing and threw that to her. “Put it on and get out. I’ve no need of a bedmate.”
She hesitated only a moment, then dragged the robe on and clutched it around her. But she looked more terrified than before. “I can’t go.”
Damn, he just wanted to sleep. ‘Why the hell not?” But he had a good idea. Yes, the same old Court games. Now he understood Hrucon’s smirk.
“I am chained.” She slipped one slender leg out from beneath the fur robe. Sure enough, a manacle and short, clinking chain led from ankle to the bedframe. He’d have to break the bed apart.
“Where’s the damned key?”
She stared at him like he was a hungry dragon. “They promised to free me in the morning. If I pleased you.” She looked him over and shook.
“If you don’t please me?”
Her face pinched in solemn agony. “They will hurt my Queen.”
“Shit.” He sheathed the dagger with a snap. He dragged the fur coverlet off the bed. At least there was thick carpet near the fire, far softer than the icy ground he’d been sleeping on lately. “Fine. You want to please me? Go to sleep. Don’t wake me up.”
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Photo: Fireplace Series 2 by Dominic Morel