"It has been too long, Lady Maeve. You remain as beautiful as ever."
"As do you, young warrior. I see the centuries have not cooled your blood."
"Nay, your Majesty. Until this blood is no more, I live to fight... and love." He glanced at both women, adding a lecherous grin to the wink.
The Queen laughed, the light tinkling sound echoing in the open space. "Tis surely not why I have summoned thee, though so goes the spoils of war. But I dare say, the Ridre Dubh will have something to say about that."
The man grew serious. "The Ridre Dubh? Then it has truly come to pass."
Maeve leaned forward, also now somber, the goblet disappearing from her hand. "Aye. Just as the prophesy has foretold. One has risen from our blood, powerful and perverse. He can no longer be contained, and his evil threatens all that is sacred...in our world and that of the Mortals."
There was a deep and long sigh from the man, a sense of weariness settling on his handsome features. "And what of Caladbolg? Has it reappeared?"
"It has returned... and been duly claimed. Have no doubt, my Great Warrior. What we have feared for many Earth cycles has finally become the way of things. There is no course but the one that waits ahead. That is why I have summoned thee."
"Then I go to my destiny, Lady Queen. I surrender my arm to the defeat of this spawn of bad seed."
"I have no doubt as to your honor, Lord Cu-Chulainn. You have proved yourself a loyal and courageous defender of the Fay. But you know as well as I the tenets of the prophesy, and as such, the rules that govern our kind. For eons, it has been forbidden to take the life of a mortal. To do so puts our very souls at risk. It is also written that the Ridre Dubh must be the one to...extinguish...this flame of evil. We can no better change our destiny than we can change the shifting of night to day. It will be as it will be."
"Then you frustrate me on all counts, my Queen. What is it you wish from me?"
"The Ridre Dubh is talented on many levels. He does not hesitate to do what must be done. But he is inexperienced in the ways of our kind, and more stupidly stubborn than the roots of the oldest trees. He will need your help in preparing for the destiny he faces. Life as we know it depends on he being the victor. If he fails...we fail...and I dare not think of the future."
"You wish me to act as...teacher? Nursemaid? To a mortal? What you ask is great, Lady Maeve, and in many ways shaming to my title and position. "
Her calm demeanor shifted, and the tips of her pointed ears pulsed with a crackle of energy. "Have you not heard a single word I have said, Cu-Chulainn? All of our destiny hangs here on this quest. There is no time...no room... for petty vanity. Owen must be defeated at all costs. You dare to turn your back on your kind? On your destiny? The Ridre Dubh must be ready for what he will face, and you WILL be the one to see to that reality."
Cu-Chulainn leaned on his spear, turning to look at Beckett and the two other men standing in the open space behind him. Frowning, he uttered a string of mumbled profanity. "I see you leave me no room to argue, Your Majesty. I will do as you ask. I will ready the Black Knight for his destiny. But I ask for a boon in return... as tradition allows."
"I expected no less, Lord Warrior. What do you require as payment?"
He pointed to Maureen and Roxanne. "I will accept these two as payment. They will surrender their love... and their bodies... to me."
Again her ears crackled, and her voice was low and angry. "You try my patience, son of Lugh. You know very well that mortals have been given the gift of free will. It has been my law for three hundred years that potions or spells of love not be used on them at the demand of the Creator. I will...can not... hand them over to you like simple puppet lambs."
"I have no need of magic, my Queen, as you yourself are well aware. I request only that you do not hinder in any way my goal of seduction. I have been without that particular challenge for many moons. I would enjoy the game very much."
Maeve thought for a moment, her tiny mouth curling into the vaguest of smiles. She snapped her fingers, and the goblet once again appeared in her hand. "Very well. Lord Warrior. I will grant you what you wish. You will have access to both women. Seduce them if you can." She took a deep drink from her cup, then added, "Though I believe you will fail."
It was the man's turn to feign anger. "Fail? At the seduction of mortal women? Surely you jest, Lady Queen? You know of my charms...and my reputation."
"You are every bit a delight, Cu-Chulainn. But I still think you will fail in this circumstance. Their hearts and their desire are already spoken for."
He shook his head, again mumbling a string of old Gaelic obscenities. "Against mortal men there is no contest. But if you truly believe otherwise, my Lady, then perhaps a small wager?"
This time her laugh was hardy. "You do bring a sense of merriment to the blackest of days, Lord Warrior. I accept your bet." She undid the clasp of the blue sapphire necklace she wore around her slender neck, and tossed it to the spider who still stood guard next to the tree. "I wager these jewels on my account. As you are aware, they have been worn by every Queen before me for nearly a millennium, and are one of my most prized possessions. If you succeed in seducing either one of them, without the use of magic, then they are yours."
"A very generous wager, Lady Maeve. I expect that you will demand something equally precious."
"Aye. That I will. If you fail in your attempt, then I keep my necklace, and you will relinquish your service to me for an additional two hundred years."
"Then we must not hesitate any longer, Oh Gracious Lady. I accept your proposition...and your wager. I will train the Ridre Dubh, and his proxy, in the ways of Fay battle, and in return you will allow me unhindered access to these mortal women. When I am successful in winning their love, as I surely will be, I will also take possession of your finest jewels. It seems as if this is the luckiest of days for me."
"Then consider this a binding contract between us, Cu-Chulainn. Your word will suffice."
The Warrior bent at the waist in a low bow. "As will yours, Your Majesty. Thus it stands. I will direct the Black Knight's training, Creator be with us!"
It was as if all time had stopped. The trees did not sway to any breeze, the chirping of birds, a symphony of noisy proportions only seconds before, had suddenly gone silent. Across the way, Beckett, Kevin and Ian seemed frozen to their spots, confusion written on startled faces. The man who had stepped out of the mists approached the tree where She Who Was All had taken repose, and the two were engaged in serious conversation, not a word of which Roxanne could understand.
He stood directly in front of them, and with the light of the day filtering through the sheer pants, not a whole lot was left to her imagination. She tried not to stare, but it was hard to draw her eyes away, and it took a direct command from her brain to her eye balls to instead look across the way at Ian, whose face reddened with anger. Next to her Maureen, strained to make out the words between the Fairy Queen and the porn star stranger. Her eyes darted back and forth between her husband and the man in front of her, and if she was affected by the fact his near naked package was only inches from her face, there seemed no acknowledgement on her part.
Across the compound, Beckett stood ram rod straight, his arms at his side, his fists clenched. The Black Knight's face was a blank mask, no expression at all except for his eyes, which burned very dark and very cold. Kevin seemed the calmest of the bunch. He leaned against the fence, eyes closed, lips moving in what she guessed might be prayer. In that moment, Roxie envied him his faith, pondering how wonderful it might be to have something to hang onto when everything else seemed lost, a gift she'd never possessed.
When the two immortals finished their conversation, the atmosphere changed around them. She could feel the warmth of the day again, a sense of the normal creeping back in. The stranger turned around and walked over to where the swords were leaning across the fence, the light shifting, and now giving her a detailed view of his very toned ass. Again she shook the thought from her brain. Why did she keep thinking in that damn direction? It wasn't as he she hadn't seen a naked man before. Lord knows, she'd seen plenty, though none as...well...perfect as this one.
Her tongue seemed to have loosened up, and when the man was out of ear shot, she whispered to Maureen. "Could you make out any of what they were saying? It didn't make a shred of sense to me, though the look that guy gave us was...like...I don't know...some kind of 'come on'. That type of look I saw plenty of when I was dancing at the club."
"They were speaking in some very old form of Gaelic. I could make out a few words, but they were talking so fast, it was hard for me to keep up. He IS, apparently, Cu-Chulainn, though I find that very hard to accept. I always thought he was a mythical figure. Just a make-believe character in some ancient fairy tale. By now, you'd think I'd know better. Anyway, he's in Maeve's service, and she wants him to help Ted get ready to take on this Owen character. He didn't seem very keen on the idea, but I guess they worked out some kind of deal. I missed a huge chunk of the conversation, so I can't be sure what the terms were, but they both seemed pretty satisfied."
"Whatever it was, it can't be very good for us."
"Maeve won't let anything bad happen to us, Rox. She gave me her word. But I'm guessing Ted's not going to be happy he's here. You know what he's like. He wants things to go his way, and if this really IS Cu-Chulainn, then I expect he'll want to be the one who takes charge. I'm worried the two of them won't see eye to eye on anything."
"And I think that's an understatement..."
|A royal wager|
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
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