The Bed of Vows

(written by the players of Sanders and Sinaedh)




"Lord Cavendish!"

The call went out and Sanders blinked awake. A gleam from his bedpost shining in his eye, he leans his head up, to footsteps coming into his house.

"Lord Cavendish a letter!"

A familiar voice this time, a messenger of his. Quickly he travels up the stairs to quick, pounding feet on his steps to his bedroom.

"Sir, sir, I've a.. ahh!", cried the messenger, flinging his body perfectly up the steps, his feet left behind, tripping him up into the upper room, crashing into the wall, felling a painting along the wall above.

The messenger was a young Arab boy, a Persian supposedly a son of a war, drawn out by the barbarians known as the Vizigoths. He was well known in Camelot for being so ridiculously clumsy, and he was deftly living up to his name here. Dizzily he climbs to his feet, a large envelope in hand.

"Ji gidda rattler L'mord!", he sputters out as he leans against the wall, shaking off the almost audible ringing from his empty head.

Sanders climbs from his bed, tying his robe around him, glaring at the Saracen, then drawing the blinds out to the sun shining through his window.

"Try again, boy. What is it?", he demands, his voice quiet as he shakes his slumber.

The messenger coughs, an excited look on his face. He rubs his head, and gasps through the pain, his head sporting a noticable bump from his spill. He closes his eyes and speaks in a slow, concentrated tone, "You gotta letter, M'lord! From yer Lady, th' one y' wish'd me t' call you on, would I 'ear word of!"

He stops a moment, examining Lord Cavendish's face as his eyes widen, the sunlight seems to shine only to his face, as if the heavens shine only to him for that brief moment. With a quickness of a skilled rogue, he reaches for his pouch of gold and slaps it into his hand, ripping the envelope from the Saracen's hand. He places it to his bed and aggresivly ushers the young man from his room.

"Out out! Take your gold and begone, leave me be to read it!", he commands, pushing him along the floor to the stairs.

"Bu' Sir, I wish t' see wha' was written an' yer paintin' an'..", the messenger manages to squeak out before he tumbles down the stairs again. Shouting below ensues, as a Guardsmen hearing the commotion enters the lavish house, confusing the messenger for a thief.

Quickly Sanders jumps to his bed, lying on it, and opening the letter carefully. He recognizes the penmanship.. it is her.


Her.

Captured in his mind, so strongly and held so closely to his heart. Yes, he was known for his admiration of the fairer of sexes, but such love! All encompasing, his heart breathed her words in, each loving stroke of her pen, forming the words. Feeling the emotion upon the parchment, his eyes gaze over the words, drinking from their content. Sighing deeply, he places the letter upon her heart, finishing it. He closes his eyes, letting the sun beam onto his face at the knowledge gained.

She was coming to him.

He read her note again, and again, reading it as he travelled the City streets, attending to his few errands. Those stopping to address would find him completely unaware of life around him, enraptured by the letter and smiling along, the widest smile Camelot had ever seen. The time was approaching. He rushed, time flew, then stopped as he approached the house from the Forge. Leaning against the gaping door, he felt his entire being grow lighter, his eyes sparkling with her reflection.

Every time he sees her, she grows more and more beautiful. His eyes gleam a loving gaze as she peeks into his house, not noticing him to her left. He watches her nervously fidget her hands, her gorgeous dress draping over her ample curves, he sweet red-hair curling over her shoulders as a waterfall over rocks. Her hips turn to to him, her eyes somehow finding what they seek, time slowing around him. Together they come, he walks towards her, their lips seeking each other in a warm embrace. A hand gently slides around to her, touching the small of her back, leading into his house, upstairs..


A calm breeze, Camelot shines again in the sunlight. Chirping of the locals, chattering of this and that, their daily lives. Birds sang from the rooftops, children played in the streets. One would wonder how war could exist now. Beauty was everywhere, everything breathed with life. Sanders took out of his house, breathing deeply the air, taking in the atmosphere.

"M'lord!", called out the Guard, "How goes it this fine day?"

Quietly his ears perk up, as he opens his mouth to speak, before closing once again to look up to the sky, a smile beaming across his face.

"She said yes.", he quietly speaks.

Puzzled, the guard offers further inquisition.

"Sir.. erm.. she? Yes?"

Calmy Sanders draws his face to the guard, his eyes opening, revealing a twinkle of joy.

"Sinaedh... she will marry me."

-----signature-----

Sanders, the Godless Cleric

She had donned the fine gown he sent to her uncertainly, for it was deepest red, as dark as wine, and from the time she was small her mother had warned her against wearing red, for it would clash with her hair. Still, the dress was so lavish, so beautiful, she couldn't resist. So she put it on, gasping as she turned in front of the small mirror in the upper room of the inn in Cotswold. "Oh, how lovely."

Those words were echoed when he saw her later that evening. "Oh how lovely." His smile, the twinkle in his eyes as he rushed to her warmed and comforted her. She had been standing nervously, unsure again as she waited for his arrival home. The past days had been a whirlwind of hope and desire, of gentle words and kisses, but untried in love as she was, she could only hope that her love for him was echoed in his heart. He said it was, he showed it in many small ways, but the words of one of the Company disturbed her. "He only wants ye for yer body, mark my words, lass. I've seen it often enough." But now, in his embrace, there was no doubt. And when he asked, there was no question in her heart. She would be his wife, be his partner for all time.

"Come now," he said, grinning, giddy as she was. "I wish to see something."

"What is it?" She gripped his hand as he pulled her through the streets of Camelot.

"I want to see if that armor will look better in blue or red." He grinned at her as she gaped at him in amazement. To color the mail would cost a great deal.

"Me Mum said never to wear red," she began, thinking to protest the cost in some roundabout way.

She never expected him to stop dead in his tracks and draw her close. "Of course. Your parents. I must meet them, and ask for your hand in marriage properly." A small frown pulled his brows together. "If they'll consent."

"Oh, they'll agree. They'll see that we have what they have, a deep abiding love. But... it's a far distance to the farm."

He grinned, sweeping her up into his arms and dancing toward the dyemasters' shop. "Were it the highest mountain, I'd climb it. I'd shout my love from it."

What could she do but return his kiss, then enter the shop with him?

She sat easily on the horse, smiling as she looked out over the broad glen. It had taken no few days of riding from Camelot north, past Hadrian's wall, to get them to the land of her birth. Now, with the hamlet of Cref in view, she truly felt as if she'd returned home. Still, it would take many long days of riding before they were at the farm where her parents lived.

“This is wonderful.” Sanders gazed out over the valley, leaning forward over the saddle of the bay gelding. To the north and west of the hill they rested on rose high, broad-shouldered mountains. Here below, the heather was growing lush and green, and wildflowers dotted the meadows. Dots of white and brown were sheep and cattle grazing in the lush springtime vegetation.

Sinaedh smiled up at him. “Tis more than a week still before we get to the farm.”

He grinned at her, a sparkle in his eyes. “A week alone in this land, with the woman I love… how is that a hardship?”

“You’ve a silver tongue, my love,” she giggled, leaning so that they could exchange a kiss. As if to say that the lingering embrace had been enough, her horse stomped and blew a breath out. “All right, Dancy,” she laughed, smoothing the gray mare’s mane. “Shall we, my love?”

“By all means.” Sanders gripped the lead rope of the pack horse he led, securing it as she turned the mare down the trackway to lead them to Cref.

The River Earn flowed in a strong broad band past the gathering of buildings and corrals of Cref. This village was making its name known in cattle trade, a juncture of several droving lanes, and prosperity showed in the many old and new buildings rising there. As the sun gleamed to the west, Sinaedh and Sanders guided their horses toward an inn, the sign swinging over it proclaiming it the Dusty Ox. They stabled their horses, Sanders tipping the boy there an extra copper to make certain they were well fed and watered, then entered the inn arm in arm.

Sinaedh couldn’t help smiling. She’d been smiling for weeks now, it seemed, ever since the flowery words of the man she’d met in Ludlow had transformed into warm feelings, then gentle caresses, then deep love. Sanders guided them to a trestle table, ordering dinner from the serving maid, then sat next to her, his arm around her, leaning close. “My love, each day brings us closer. Each day promises more joy.”

She smiled up to him. They’d spent the days before they left planning for the wedding that was to take place. He was no friend to the Church, but understood her need. “Surely your parents will have nothing less than a proper Church wedding.” She’d nodded, and herself felt the need of security and faith that the wedding would bring. She’d asked Christiana to be her maid of honor after much soul-searching, for Laro had disappeared, and the Avalonian woman was distraught. But they’d talked, and both she and Sanders hoped that involvement in their wedding would bring a much-needed lift to Christiana’s spirits. “And afterwards, a party at the Black Lion Brewery,” Sanders had said. “There we’ll sing and dance… for a time. Until the remainder is ours, my love.” She’d blushed then as he spoke those words before Christiana, and blushed now as the serving maid winked to her as she sat generous trenchers before them both. Sanders paid the woman, then smiled at her. “All will be jealous of our bliss ere long, Sinaedh.” He dug a fork into the mutton stew.

“Aye, my love,” she returned, smiling at him as she took up her own fork. “But for now, they’ll just be jealous of the dinner.” Grinning, he nodded, each of them enjoying the hearty meal and drink, watching those who frequented the inn through the growing fog of pipe smoke and the gusty laughter of drovers at their leisure.

As day drew to a close, they retired, she with the few women who were traveling, sharing bunks in a large dormatory. He stood there at the door, arms wrapped around her, a final lingering kiss. “Sleep well, my sweet.”

“And you, my love. Sweet dreams.”

“Oh, never fear that.” He smiled, squeezed her hand, and turned to find his place for the night.

Their breath misted in the early morning air. The horses were well rested, and the journey up the glen wouldn’t be hard yet, but both of them were anxious to be traveling again. After breaking their fast with hearty porridge and buying supplies from the innkeeper’s friendly wife, they sat in the saddle again, riding west along the banks of the Earn. Sinaedh gestured to the heights looming in the mists hanging over the river. “There’s Ben Vorlich, down to the south.”

Sanders regarded the snow capped shoulders of the mountain. “Will we be climbing such peaks near your home?”

“Oh no, my love… though they do surround us. We’ll pass by the glens and rivers, for it’s an easier trek that way. Here, we don’t travel straight from one place to another, but take the easy paths provided us.” She looked up again at the looming peak, smiling. “The mountains guide us in our travels.”

It was a day of easy riding, moving along the banks of the Earn, letting the horses drink in the cold waters of the loch, talking with the drovers or farmers that they passed. Small cottages and chapels dotted the meadows. In some places the trees grew down to the water’s edge, and they walked the horses on a track surrounded by tall boles, hoof-beats softened by aged leaves. From time to time, Sinaedh would smile at Sanders, and he at she. “Will they like me, do you think?” he asked once.

“How can they not?” she answered, reaching to take his hand. “My parents love me. I’m their only child. You love me.” She shrugged, smiling at him. “How can they not like you?”

She saw her words ease tension from him, and the remainder of the day, as they rounded the western extension of the loch, then turned the horses northwest, climbing into Glen Ogle, was passed in companionable pointing at birds, exclaiming at flowers, and laughing at a close encounter with a shaggy behorned cow and her calf. As the sun sank in the west, stretching the shadows of the hill over the road, they reached the summit of their climb through the glen. Here, a small pond was surrounded by rich meadow. “We’ll camp here, my love, under the stars.”

A beaming smile greeted her as Sanders slipped down from his saddle. He dropped the reins, ground tying the well-trained horse, and quickly was at her side, reaching up to help her dismount. She laughed as she eased down into his embrace, their lips finding a long kiss. “Now,” she finally tugged at his tunic. “You care for the horses, and I’ll make us dinner.”

Another quick grin and kiss to her cheek, then he nodded. Each set about their tasks, she building a fire from gathered deadwood, he caring for the animals. She’d warmed a pot of porridge and the carefully wrapped strips of mutton that they’d purchased, when he settled beside her, his hand falling to her shoulder. “This, my love, is more than I could ever dream.” His eyes gleamed at he looked at her, then up into the skies, where deep purple was revealing increasing numbers of stars. She nodded, serving him dinner. A companionable silence settled as they eased their appetites while the night deepened.

“It is God’s country,” she said softly, smiling at him. “And I’m glad I could show it to you. I’m happy to share it with the one I love.”

His arm slipped around her, and hers around him, and soon the dark countryside was forgotten as they held each other close.

They traveled through land that grew increasingly familiar, and Sinaedh found her smile widening, whether she was watching a falcon hunting through the weathered pine and oak as their horses carried them through Glen Coe, or she was dipping her hand into the chill water of a gurgling stream racing down the heather-clad hills to spill into the river below. Nearly a week had passed since they’d entered what most Britons viewed rather condescendingly as a land of rock and sheep. But she saw none of that in their trip. Sanders marveled with her at the beauty of the blue sky, huddled with his arm around her, both under his cloak as the spring storms dropped rain on them, and gazed up with her at the rainbow that invariably followed. They slept at inns when in large enough villages, bothies when they could find them, and when they could find neither they were under the stars, twined in each other’s arms, warm and comfortable.

Sinaedh drew her horse up, gazing into a broad valley that opened to the left. They’d been following the River Garry to the west, climbing, the trees thinning somewhat, replaced by windswept moor and hills of short grass and heather. Sanders smiled at her as she gestured to the valley, a stream winding it’s way down to meet the river. “Home?” he asked.

She could do nothing but nod. It was still some hours’ ride before they’d be at the hearthside in the Bell’s home, but they were close, very close. A tingle grew in the pit of her belly. He reached to take her hand, linking his fingers in hers. “Soon, my love, your parents will know of our feelings, and of my wish, to take you as my wife.”

Sinaedh smiled up at him. “And of my wish, to have you as husband, to share our love for all time.”

He leaned to kiss her, lingering there until the stomping of his horse moved him aside. Laughing, he nodded. “It seems the beasts are telling us to get on with it.”

Laughing merrily, Sineadh led the way into Glen Kingie, passing landmarks familiar as the day she’d left them, waving at crofters and shepherds off in the distance. She pointed up to the heights of Gairich. “It’s name means roaring, in the old tongue,” she explained to Sanders. “Most likely for the winds that rush down from it, sometimes.”

Sanders craned his neck, looking up at the rounded rocky peak. “Have you climbed it?”

“Oh yes, once or twice. Ewes sometimes feel that they need to find a hidden spot to bring lambs in. Some of the nooks and crannies up there are quite hidden.” She looked at him, to find him smiling, but with a sense he was thinking of something deep and distant. “Love?” She pulled the mare to a halt. The valley was still gentle, but they were climbing, and this wasn’t the place to ride without being aware of surroundings and the footing of your horse. “Is something wrong?”

“Hmm?” Brought out of his reverie, he shook his head. “Oh, no. Very right.” He beamed at her, a twinkle in his eye. “I was just thinking.”

What was he thinking? she wondered for a moment, then dismissed the thought. If his thoughts had been anything like hers, he was transformed one moment by joy, pierced the next with a tingle of fear, then lifted again by love. And now, she was so very close… She grinned, pointing at a cluster of trees surrounding a building or two, off in the distance. “We’re nearly there.”

“Mum?” Sinaedh poked her head into the kitchen and the woman there exclaimed, wiping her hands on a towel then sweeping her up into a hug which was returned heartily. “Oh Mum, it’s so good to be home!”

“Sinaedh, lass!” Tears of joy streaked down Maggie Bell’s face. She turned to look at the other form standing in the doorway. “Who’s this, then?”

“Oh Mum,” Sineadh beamed as her mother looked from Sanders back to her. “This’s Sanders Cavendish. He…”

“Come in, lad, come in,” her mother interrupted, holding a hand out to the man.

With a boyish grin, he took her hand. “My pleasure, Ma’am. Thank you.”

“Mum, Sanders has…,” Sinaedh paused as her mother shook her head, holding up her hand.

“Nay, lass, ‘tis yer Da who should be th’ first ta hear o’ tha’,” she smiled, then hugged her daugher. “F’ now, ‘till he comes down from th’ haying shed, I’ll want t’ ken who ye are, an’ how ye met.”

Sinaedh could do nothing but stare for a moment. Could it be that her mother knew why they’d come? She looked at Sanders, who winked at her, then sat on a stool her mother indicated. As he began telling of himself, Sinaedh looked at her mother. Yes, somehow she knew. Slowly smiling, she realized that perhaps the woman had picked up on the love between the pair. After all, she’d been in love with her father for a good long while.

“So I was raised in the Church orphanage,” Sanders was saying as a heavy boot fell on the threshold, then the door opened. His voice trailed off and he rose to greet the man entering.

“Da!” Sinaedh ran to Gregor’s open arms.

“Now then,” he grinned, hugging her close before holding his hand out to shake Sanders’. “Now then, look wha’ th’ spring’s brought back t’ us, Maggie darlin’. ‘Tis our own sweet daughter. Who,” he continued, smiling. “Needs t’ help her Mum in getting dinner. Sure’n we’ve all hearty appetites. An’ I’m thinkin’ perhaps there’s a bit o’ talk we men need t’ do.” A curious gaze from Gregor caught Sanders, who nodded with a smile. “We’ll just go down an’ check th’ pens, while ye prepare, Maggie.” And with a wink to Sinaedh and a quick kiss to his wife’s cheek, he led Sanders out the front door of the home.

“Tatties t’ mash,” Maggie intruded on Sinaedh’s stunned reverie.

Without thinking, she took the pot of boiled potatoes from her mother and began preparing it. “Mum, we’ve come so that Sanders can ask…”

Maggie Bell laughed, lifting a kettle of stew and placing it on the oaken table. “D’ye no remember, lass, how news travels in the glens?” As Sinaedh smiled, recalling the youthful racing of bare feet carrying tales from one hamlet to the next, her mother continued. “We’ve had news ye were on th’ way, an’ wi’ a braw lad as well. One thing or another popped through our minds, but we settled on one, so ye can tell me, were we right? Does he mean t’ ask yer Da fer ye hand?”

“Oh Mum,” Sinaedh blushed, looking down.

“Now then, daughter mine, tha’ tells me right there.” Maggie lifted Sinaedh’s chin, smiling at her. “Then tell me one more thing, though I ken th’ answer already, so I hope. Do ye love him?”

Sinaedh nodded, beaming up at her mother. “More than everything, Mum.”

Gregor swung the pen’s gate closed, pausing for a moment to look up toward the towering hills to the west, their shadows lengthening as the sun slowly set. “We came here from th’ lowlands when we were newly wed, leavin’ clan an’ family behind. But ‘tis God’s country, no doubt, an’ good friends we’ve made here.” He looked at the man standing close by speculatively. “Still, a man wishes t’ see his daughter happy an’ wed, an’ both he an’ his wife want grandchildren t’ dangle on their knees. Fer some reason, Sinaedh never caught th’ eye o’ any local youth.” He grinned, rubbing his hand over the grizzled beard on his chin. “Might o’ saved me some grief, at tha’.” He looked seriously into the younger man’s eyes. “Tell me true, lad, do ye love her?”

Sanders nodded slowly, meeting the elder man’s gaze. “More than life itself, sir. She’s like the heart within me.”

“Is she now?” Gregor nodded, his expression stern, regarding the younger man. “Well, I’d be a poor host were I t’ rip th’ heart from ye, that’s sure.” Smiling, he held out his hand again, and when Sanders took it, pulled him into an embrace. “I’m happy fer th’ both o’ ye, son. I ken me own daughter, I trust her… an’ if she’s chosen ye’ then I ken she’s made a wise choice. O’ course ye both ha’ me blessin’. Now…,” he glanced back to the house. “Shall we go an keep ‘em guessin’ no more?” With a grin, he led the way back to the kitchen.

-----signature-----

Sanders, the Godless Cleric

A shine from the window glanced in his eyes as he gazed off to the house. Following Gregor, they entered again into the kitchen, a smile etched across their faces.

"Oh Da!" Sinaedh gasped, her excitement brimming. There she stood within all that meant the most to her in life - her love - her family. A look of anticipation panned over her face, looks off unto her father with wide eyes.

"Y' have our blessin's, daughter", he beamed as a proud father, his strong hand up to Sanders' shoulder.

A pause over the four came, swiftly passing to Sinaedh's footsteps across the creaky floor, Sanders moving to her as they settle in a warm embrace, tears of joy streaking down Sinaedh's face.

"Oh now 'im t' cry..", trailed Maggie Bell, reaching her apron up in hand to her cheek, wiping away her tears. She walked, as if floating, across the room, embracing her husband, looking at her daughter with the man she loved.

Sinaedh gently stole a kiss to his cheek, then the pair looked back to her parents, her father pulling out a chair to a table.

"Love dinna grow on'a empty stomache y'know", spoke Gregor, "I 'spect y' two are famish'd from th' ride. Sit, sit.. y' must tell us of 'ow y' met. 'ow things came t' be'n all tha'."

"Certainly, Sir, it was quite a ride. Though such we nearly fed on the landscape,", Sanders replied, pulling his chair for his bride-to-be, hearing a quiet 'Thank you' from her lips, "why, we nearly fed from that alone."

A quiet prayer was said at the table. Unsettling for Sanders.. and Sineadh sensed it. His faith was drowned long ago, yet he settled through the prayer, squeezing her hand gently at the end, letting her know all was fine.

Hurridly, Maggie and Sinaedh moved Pots and Pans around the table, setting food on plates. Gregor shifted in his chair, then sighed as he smelled in his wife's food, smiling to her.

"I'm glad y' came then, fer I'd no' wish y' t' miss my Maggie's cookin'. Y' know, she's th' best cook in all o' the North, an' I 'spect th' South too.", Gregor admired, stopping to eat a bite, then looking back up to grin at Sinaedh, "Oh, an' y've much t' look forward t', for my daughter 'ere learned only from th' best!"

Maggie swiftly woke from her quiet reverie, staring at the young couple beside each other, at the sound of her name. "Oh Husband, y' tell all our guests tha'!" she laughed.

"Oh love, bu' it's true an' y' know i'!", Gregor laughed back.

The four laughed to it, Sinaedh's hand touching Sanders' at the table. How she longed for her father and mother to accept him. Her happiness floated within her, she savoured each moment as precious as it was.

Smiling from his first few bites, Sanders wiped his mouth as he savoured the taste. "My this is good.. " he trailed.

Quickly Maggie spoke up, "Mum. Call me...", she paused, smiling, "Mother."

"Mother." He spoke, a grin panning to his face, before looking down a moment in thought. "It is very good. Thank you very much, for allowing us here. For I wish't to ask you dearly for my love's hand. It did mean quite a great deal to me."

"Aye," Sinaedh whispered, " 'twas his idea."

"Well," Gregor's voice boomed around the small house, " I admire tha' inna man, 'tis noble an' proper. I see yer a true gentleman, Sanders, fer many men wouldn'a done such."

The night drew on as they ate, sitting at the table until the dark of night came across. Kind words, laughing, even a a song. Sanders noted Gregor hadn't much of a voice, but the heart of a lion in singing. merrily as the others clapped along. They drank some old wine Maggie Bell had stowed away for an occasion such as this, until there was no more, and the night grew too late for eyelids to bear.

"Oh y' kids," Maggie Bell voiced, the night slowly defeating them all, " I dinna know how y' cin' stay up an' no' be so tired. Le's all t' bed an' we'll 'ave you men th' finest breakfast y'd e'er seen."

Gregor quickly got to his feet, stretching his massive Highlander frame up from his chair, yawning, then looking to the young couple. "An' before y' cin' object, yer stayin' 'ere an' tha's tha'. Daughter, y' attend to th' dishes, I'll finish m' work for th' night, an' Sanders, you an' Maggie make up a room t' sleep in."


"These. An' these, an' these. Oh an' these sheets." Maggie pilled on the bedding, passing them to Sanders. Quickly ushering him about from room to room, then upstairs to a small room, she spread blankets across the floor, pillows, sheets. Sanders helped her about , draping them over the area, looking up to Maggie Bell every moment he could, examining her.

"You look just like her." he smiled, fluffing a pillow in his hand.

Smiling, Maggie set to the blankets, straightening them about. "Th' boys ne'er thought o' 'er pretty when she was youngin', bu' I see y' look a' 'er now with lovin' eyes."

"Oh, she is beauty to me. I could not imagine her looking anything but gorgeous." he spoke.

"Aye, mayhaps sh' took a bi' o' growin' t' be noticed. Ah reckon 'twas no' bu' until thirteen years o' age when sh' started t' get looks from the young men 'round 'ere. 'till she fill'd out."

Sanders breathed a sigh, then smiled down onto his pillow.

"Oh, an' I certainly see why sh' took such a shine t' ye, " Maggie smiled up to Sanders widely, winking.

"What do you mean?" he inquired.

"Oh, well, e'ery young girl dreams o' meetin' a 'andsome man as yerself. M' dear daughter I know feels special fer tha'" she answered.

A pause hushed over them, as faint humming from downstairs of Sinaedh and Gregor. Sanders breaths a deep breath, looking straight to Maggie Bell, as she looks back to him.

"I love her." he whispers.

A smile darts from Maggie's face, gently touching her hand over his,

"I know."


Closing the wooden door with a quiet touch, Gregor smiles at his daughter, cleaning the plates quietly as she hums to herself on the counter. He sits near her, Sinaedh smiling to her father, humming louder a childrens song of love. Gregor grins, humming along with her. He reaches for a towel, and dries an old mug of his he used, admiring the twinkle of his daughters eyes. Silently they stare at each other for a time before her father speaks, in such a hushed tone she'd not think her father capable of,

"I've ne'er been more proud o' y' then right now, lass. Ne'er."

He gently kisses her cheek, and hugs her tightly, then walks to the stairs, climbing up to his bedroom.

Sinaedh sit there on the countertop, her smile unhidable. She gazes off up the stairs, after her father, a loving look as he turns the corner up the stairs. Smiling still, she looks back to the plate she is drying, slowly whispering to herself,

"Sinaedh Cavendish. Sinaedh Cavendish."

-----signature-----

Sanders, the Godless Cleric

"Son," Gregor said, a hand on Sanders' shoulder, looking him in the eyes. "I've nowt t' give ye like p'rhaps other fathers. I'm nae warrior, nae blade t' share, other'n th' sickle, an' ye dinnae want tha'." He smiled. "But I'd be a poor man, were I no t' give m' new son summat."

"Gregor," Sanders began. "Ye've no need of giving me anything, for I have the richest gift I could have." He smiled, but Gregor shook his head.

"I ken she's a prize, lad. But t' bless yer marriage, since we cannae be goin' down t' the south fer it... tha' needs summat." He frowned a bit. "An' I ken ye've had yer troubles with th' high an' mighty. I understand a bit o' tha', fer me eyes are no blind. So I give ye this... an' hope it dinnae disturb ye. But 'tis th' best I have, save fer me family, an' t' bring ye into th' family, I wish ye t' have it."

Gregor pulled a chain from his pocket, the end heavy, and with a sinking heart, Sanders knew what dangled from it. The older man read his face and continued. "Now, I'm no all tha' much a church man, tho god-fearin' I am, lad. An' Sinaedh has told tha' ye hae troubles wi' the Church. I give ye this because 'tis the best...," he smiled and shook his head. "Nae, th' second best, fer ye hae the best o' me family... so I give it to ye in tha' light, not so's ye'd feel I'm pushin' ye back t' th' Church. Tha's between ye an'.. well, an' God."

He held the necklace out to the younger man. Dangling from the chain was a delicately carved cross, worked in gold with one emerald gracing the center. Sanders stared at it for a moment, then hesitantly reached to allow the cross to rest in his hand, looking up at the man who offered it to him. "Sir, I... I thank you," he finally said, voice a bit rough. "Though it's your blessing, yours and your wife's, that we craved most." Resolutely, he folded his fingers around the cross as Gregor nodded.

A quick embrace was shared by the men. "Take care o' her," Gregor whispered.

"I've heard th' heathens take no prisoners, or when they do, they beat them fer two days, an' on th' third, cast 'em into th' fire," Maggie whispered, tugging at the binding of a sack that contained food for the couple's journey back to the south.

"Oh Mum," Sinaedh placed both hands on her mother's shoulders. "War's no... war's...," she sighed, shaking her head. "I dinnae ken why we continue, but we do," she finally said. "Fer wha' Arthur thought t' make o' th' land, an' fer God. But tho 'tis horrible, there are...," she shrugged, not quite knowing how to explain. "There are those ye meet, an' ye ken tha' they must be aided. Tha's what I do, Mum. I help. I dinna kill. I've never killed, an' pray God I never will. I comfort, I bind wounds, I pray, an' when needed, send those too badly injured on th' way t' heaven."

Maggie nodded. "I ken, daughter mine, tha' ye'd ne'er take a life, not e'en a heathen one. We raised ye right, an' we're proud o' ye." She wrapped her arms around Sinaedh, holding her close. "Ye've found sommat precious, daughter. Protect it," she whispered.

"Aye, Mum, I will," Sinaedh nodded, blinking away a tear, then looking up at her mother. "We together are strong, just like ye an' Da."

Maggie smiled then, remembering her own newlywed days, and after a final hug, lifted the pack, just as the men came into the kitchen. "We wish ye both th' best, an' our blessin's. An' when...," she winked to Sanders, "when ye hae news o' our grandchild, ye'd best rush it up here first thing."

"Oh Mum!" Sinaedh blushed, looking down at the floor. She and Sanders hadn't thought that far yet, though it was something obviously on her parent's minds.

"Rest assured, Mother, we will." Sanders kissed Maggie gently on the cheek, taking the pack from her, then slipping Sinaedh's hand into his. "Thank you for your welcome. And we hope that someday soon we can host you in Camelot, in our home there." He lifted Sinaedh's hand kissing it gently. "We must be going, my darling."

"Aye," she smiled up at him, then both of them were wrapped in Gregor's strong arms.

"Be well, children," he murmured gruffly. "An' blessings on ye... both."

Tears welled up in Sinaedh's eyes as she kissed her father's cheek, then took Sanders' hand, walking out the door with him. They looked back once, to see Maggie and Gregor arm in arm, waving from the doorway. A wave in return, and they moved down the path toward the river, on their way south. "Home," Sinaedh whispered to herself.

Image is from photo taken near Inverness, Scotland  March 1998 by C. E. Shanor

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