Boroden escapes the dungeons but is he too late to prevent Aira being married to Midhir?
|As she woke, Aira’s hazy senses comprehended something that she could not place at first, so long had she dreamed of it. Then she recognised the smell. It was the scent of Boroden. She could not believe he had been there and for the first few moments as she was led out she was too intent on sifting the air with a quivering nose and looking about her to realise what was going on.
Of course, Boroden was not there. The horrible trickery of it made her gasp.
‘Are you hurt, Lady Aira?’ Midhir asked. His voice startled her, as for the first time she noticed that he was there. He looked at her with a fixed interest that made her skin crawl.
Krysila took her hand. ‘King Midhir is here to marry you.’
‘No!’ Aira screamed hysterically, snatching away from her.
She shrugged free of them before they could stop her. She ran to the nearest door, but it was thrown back by Delilah who caught her arms.
‘Hush, hush.’ Delilah had been to inform Leanan Sídhe who arrived in a flurry, her hair hanging half loose over her ruby bridal gown.
‘She is mad. Her mind is quite broken. She is not fit to marry,’ Leanan protested.
‘A pity indeed. Her mind was sharp as a diamond. Still, I dare say it will make it easier for me to marry her,’ Midhir said, not disheartened.
Hëkitarka kept close to Aira with a keen watchfulness. ‘I wouldn’t count on it.’
His concern calmed Aira who resolved to play her feigned insanity for all that it was worth, aided by the jolt she had received at the news. She must bide her time, looking for a chance of escape. ‘No. I’ll not marry. I can’t be married. It’s stupid and so is he.’
‘You shall have a fine dress,’ Krysila promised.
‘Mother! I said that Aira was mine. You have no right to take her from me without my say so. She has worked well for me.’
‘Shut your wheedling, child, unless you want to marry Midhir in Aira’s stead.’
‘You make it sound such a trial,’ Midhir said ironically.
‘It would save her?’ Leanan asked painfully.
‘My Lady, no!’ Hëkitarka whispered.
‘I do not value myself so highly. She is a better lass than I,’ Leanan said.
‘Exactly. You’re not the sort anyone would want to marry.’ Midhir turned from her.
Seeing Aira carried away screaming, slung over Mazgrim’s shoulder, Leanan told Krysila, ‘you mustn’t take her. You’ve already taken one brownie as it is. What did you do with him?’
‘He’ll be food for the hobyahs and long gone,’ Krysila sneered before following Mazgrim and Midhir.
Leanan gave Hëkitarka a look that told him that she would search for Boroden whilst he stayed with Aira. Readily he went to Aira’s protection, though he was far from sure of the wisdom of Leanan searching out Boroden, nor that he would comply with her if she found him.
‘This is a horrible dress. I shan’t wear it,’ Aira announced. Lilith had trussed her in a shapeless white sack replete with orange ribbons.
‘Nonsense. You look a love, so sweet. Doesn’t she, Serena?’ Krysila prompted.
‘So sweet. So sweet. Oh, haa, haa, haa!’ Aira skipped about like a frenzied little bird, pirouetting too fast for Lilith to place the wreath on her head. She snatched up the veil and waved it in the air before wrapping it over Mazgrim’s head, laughing. His sour face was priceless.
‘Do stay still a moment, my fair lady. You will grow tired,’ Midhir entreated.
Aira scowled petulantly at him and darted away. Snatching some of Hëkitarka’s freshly baked cupcakes, she laughed, throwing them about the room. Hëkitarka caught one in his mouth and high-fived Aira.
Lilith had arranged large orange hothouse orchids; no wildflowers being found within miles of the evil place. Aira pronged cakes onto their stems, carefully arranging the stems and tossing the flowers away. She started in horror upon finding a withering bloom. ‘It’s dead. Oh, it can’t stay. It’s bad luck. Get me a new bunch immediately. I can’t be wed until it’s done,’ she snapped at Lilith.
Lilith looked bemused but Krysila nodded to indicate that Aira should be humoured. When the girl returned Aira kicked up such a fuss about refusing to be married unless fresh briar roses decorated the room that Lilith was sent to find some. Aira knew that it was an impossible task to accomplish quickly for a maiden without magic like Lilith.
Seeing that Midhir was growing impatient, Aira went to Leanan’s dulcichord to distract the company. ‘A last song or two before I am married.’ She knew that Leanan could give her inspiration for sweet music that would beguile all who heard it to temporary forgetfulness, for its notes spoke of a brighter world. It gave her courage that Leanan had returned to inspire her, though there was such disappointment in the glance that Leanan exchanged with Hëkitarka that Aira’s blood run chill.
Before Aira had chance to settle to her playing, Serena appeared to announce that all was now ready for Midhir and Aira to be married.
‘Wait,’ Leanan Sídhe said. ‘There is something to be done first. I wish Tatty and I to be wed.’ She overruled Midhir’s look of disgust haughtily. ‘This is my household and I have precedence to do as I bid, especially as my marriage has been sanctioned by The Dagda. Besides, Aira has not yet finished her playing.’
Hëkitarka swallowed and looked to Aira almost as if, mutely, he was asking her to save him. Yet she did not know how. He had got himself into this trouble. Was this all that he and Leanan could think of to forestall Midhir? It would not buy Aira much time. Why did they wait? It was as if Hëkitarka was trying to hide that he strained to hear something. His anxiety had been caught by Leanan.
Midhir had to swallow his disgruntlement and bide his time whilst Leanan Sídhe and Hëkitarka knelt to have their blood joined in the marriage bowl. Leanan looked distrustfully at the knife that Serena brought her. She turned back to Aira to distract herself before the spilling of blood and taking of vows. ‘Play on.’
Memories of Boroden rose to Aira’s mind as she played. She relived the happy times and longed for them to come again, for time to melt. The listeners sat awed except for Krysila and Mazgrim who only feigned to appreciate the beauty of the music.
Suddenly Aira stopped. She did not need to look behind her to know who exerted so strong a pull. She rose instinctively, fixing her gaze upon Boroden with an unearthly cry.
Midhir had been in the middle of praising Krysila for ensuring that any noncomplying brownies were killed, especially Boroden whose very name meant trouble. His gaze searched the room in concern after hearing that Aira had suddenly finished her playing. Then he looked behind him. Boroden stood in the doorway looking as ghastly as a corpse and fixing Midhir with a hard glare.
Even as Aira ran to Boroden, Midhir threw a thick, shimmering wall in the air between them. It reminded Aira of how the air danced above slate on a hot day. Its power struck her even from ten feet back. Aira faltered with a gasp, her desperation building.
‘I hardly think that necessary. What can he do?’ Krysila asked in a tone of reprimand, seeing how conjuring the wall taxed Midhir’s strength.
‘It is not what he can do. It’s what I can do,’ Aira declared defiantly.
‘Aira, no!’ Leanan Sídhe yelled, guessing what she contemplated. She tossed her bouquet through the barrier that Midhir had created. It fell at Boroden’s feet, the flowers shredded. ‘It’s what will happen to you if you jump. It’ll kill you.’
‘I’m not afraid of death, not now.’
‘Aira, don’t!’ Boroden cried, seeing her sizing up the leap.
Krysila closed in on Aira. That decided her. Before Krysila could transform and catch her in her kraken form, Aira had dragged the tablecloth from a sideboard laid ready for the marriage feast and thrown it over her head. Charging at the wall of power she stumbled through encumbered by the cloth and startled as the spell that Midhir had cast mauled her.
Boroden yanked her to her feet and she shook off the remains of the smouldering tablecloth. Her skirt was torn into strips, but she was not much hurt.
‘I never liked the dress,’ she called back at the angry faces of her onlookers.
‘We’ve got to go,’ Boroden urged.
‘I’ll think about them later.’ Boroden hustled her before him, the redcaps in close pursuit for Midhir’s spell had faded the instant that the prisoner had flown.
Midhir bore down on Leanan Sídhe. ‘Traitor! You told me that Boroden Ulfharen was dead.’
‘I was merely repeating what others had said. I myself can be little blamed for ordering his death or by mishap letting him free,’ she retorted witheringly.
‘You lie. Ever have you held the brownies in your affections. You have no idea what you meddle with. Well, I’ll have you meddle no more,’ Midhir snarled, pointing his finger towards Hëkitarka and reciting a spell.
Leanan had anticipated him and shielded Hëkitarka. Midhir turned the brunt of his wrath upon her and she was thrown to her knees. ‘Go!’ she urged Hëkitarka, pulling off the chain that she wore around her neck. As she tossed it towards him the charm which hung from it grew, becoming a brownie sized sword. Silvelenon, the blade forged to kill Krysila. The shock of seeing the sword lost him a moment as he sought for a way to help Leanan, for her to escape too. She looked towards Hëkitarka and shook her head as Midhir twisted her arms in a tight restraint.
‘I’ll come back for you,’ he promised, fleeting away. It was a choice between save her and let the other brownies die or save them and risk losing her. She had always found her way back to him before. He prayed that this time would be no different, although her shrieks as Midhir dragged her away made him fear otherwise.
He had too much to deal with to worry for long. Every redcap guard in the Unseelie Court was after him, now seeing him as a threat rather than a master.