"M'Lady, please reconsider. The drought may have passed but there are still reports of tigers near the coastal settlements," even though chatalain Iraen was a good fifteen years younger than Brigdha, she fussed and clucked like a mother hen.
"Don't worry Iraen, Warden-Commander Ruidhri has posted a watch at every mile-castle and watering-hole along the highway. I'll be as safe on the road as in my own bed."
"Aye, that you will ma'am," her companion Bedhwyr gave a wolfish grin as he patted the heavy archers' sword hanging at his hip, "as safe as when the Bloody Knives marched to Glinmar and back."
"Probably best not to dwell too much on that Bedhwyr. The Elven folk are our allies now, and I doubt our King would take much comfort in such tales either. Though I'll admit I sometimes miss those days, the thrum of the bow-string and the swift cut of the blade..."
"Well if the two of you are quite set on this madness," Iraen took a deep breath and forced a smile, "remember not to tarry to long on the road. I've arranged a banquet in Oporto to celebrate our new-found friendship with Caligus and it would be a shame if the guest of honour arrived in a casket."
With which she turned imperiously on her heel and disappeared into the warren of corridors connecting the private appartments with the fort complex.
"You know Bedhwyr, sometimes it doesn't surprise me at all that my sister left with barely a word. How she put up with Iraen as her squire I'll never know."
"Oh I think you do my dear. If ever two women were of a similar temper it was they, and have you never noticed the resemblance?"
"I think Moira would have mentioned something, don't you?" Brigdha's brow furrowed as she considered her own question. The Dubhaine's had always been a matriarchy, and marriage was an institution for which they had little time - so why would Moira have kept Iraen a secret if she were her daughter? She never had any difficulty acknowledging Rhidhana.
"Perhaps she wished to preserve the father's honour? You know how touchy many men can be about the fruits of their liaisons, and it's not like Moira would ever admit her feelings publicly."
"Oh wait, I see where this is going," the Margravine crossed her arms and gave Bedhwyr a withering look.
"Yes, you want me to acknoweldge that damn welp of yours, don't you?"
"Well Naevan is your bloody son Brigdha, and anyone who's seen the two of you together can tell you dote on him. Why are you so determined to keep him a secret?"
"Because I'm a Dubhaine you insufferable, adorable so-and-so. Yes I love the little sod, and Balance be damned if anyone ever tries to harm him, but what kind of life can he expect bearing the weight of our heritage? I'd much rather he inherited your freedoms than my obligations."
"Freedoms? You have noticed we now serve a King? What freedom can there be for any of us?"
"A damn sight more than crushed beneath King Jor's heel. Not all Kings are despots, and I hear good reports of this Traemlin. When we reach Fontan I will speak with him, and then we will see the man not the office."
"Aye, well you still ought to bloody recognise Naevan. Go on, have the courage your mother showed with Cathal and admit a boy can be a Dubhaine..."
"Sergeant, you will either step away from my Mistress or that fancy uniform will look a lot less impressive on the next man who wears it," Bedhwyr's voice was calm but it was clear his temper was reaching boiling point as his hand hovered dangerously close to the hilt of his sword.
"Oh really?" the watch officer's surly tone raised supportive heckles from the half-dozen armed men accompanying him, "We're Margrave Aiden's men and in this city you do as we say or there's a nice dark hole waiting for you."
Until a few minutes earlier the dedication of the new shrine had been a pleasant break from Brigdha's more usual routine of meteing justice in petty land disputes and soothing the damaged pride of well-to-do but disagreeable country squires. It had come as something of a surprise to find such a large congregation in the city, and many who had held their faith in secret during the Caligan occupation came to celebrate this wonderful new gathering place. What was intended to be a brief service turned into a fete and the festivities soon spilled over into the surrounding neighbourhood.
The familiar solemnities were followed with a sermon on the virtues of hard work and self-discipline, virtues dear to Brigdha's own heart and which clearly sat well with the no-nonsense burghers of Fontan. Then an old soldier who'd fought at the siege of Tokat rose spontaneously to bear witness to the power of forgiveness in overcoming loss, prompting many others who'd led troubled and turbulent lives to follow his example. The wealthy and poor alike had found the strength and fortitude to face life's turbulent extremes in the simple doctrines of the Flow, though few outside the priesthood ever truly grasped the essence of the Lilith within and the great responsibility such power conferred.
Unfortunately it seemed the city watch took a dim view of such spontaneous demonstrations and the detachment of guardsmen had burst in as the congregation mingled over a simple meal of wine, cheese and dainty pasteries.
"Bedhwyr, your heart's in the right place but these guardsmen are only doing their duty. They may not have the sense to recognise a Margravine and act with the respect my station is due, but I'm sure their intent is not to frighten these good people and create a scene which will cause their Lord embarrassment. Isn't that true Sergeant... sorry, I didn't catch your name?" though Brigdha's simple black tunic and robe were indistinguishable from that of any other priest, there could be no doubting her voice as that of a noble of high rank and impeccable breeding.
A confused look crossed the sergeant's face as he tried to reconcile these two facts and his men shifted uncomfortably behind him, what they had hoped would be an entertaining afternoon wielding their authority receding into the distance.
"Ur...uhm..." the sergeant appeared lost for words.
"No need to apologise my good man, you were only doing your duty. And with such courage. Bedhwyr here has long been acknowledged as one of the most accomplished swordsmen in these parts and chief instructor at Fort Dubhaine. I will be most certain to mention your bravery to Lord Aiden when I meet him so that you may be appropriately rewarded."
"That errr... that won't be necessary Ma'am..." the sergeant's face blanched somewhat and then he regained his composure.
"Then don't let me detain you. I'm sure you have much more pressing business than my little soire to attend to," and with that Brigdha dismissed the incident from her thoughts and returned to her guests.