“NO father, I will not!” yelled Meme, glaring at him with a look that would kill, had it the power to. How dare he marry her off like this, against her will, simply to appease the Alente clan? Her father, grey haired and built like an oxen, did not wish to do this but had little choice. With two daughters and no sons, he was duty bound to marry one of them off just in order to keep the clan going – it wasn’t his fault he was chief. “I am sorry” He told his raven haired daughter, as she glared at him, rivulets of water streaming down her ashen face. “The deal is made, and there is nothing I ca- will do. We need this! And in time you will thank me for it!”. The girl’s sobs became more desperate but Ronan had had enough. “Get out.” He said quietly. She would have no choice but to go, for this wooden walled hut with its stone foundations and warm fire was his, and his alone. His mate was long since dead and once again he found himself wishing she was here, she would have talked sense into their eldest. As he opened his eyes and ears to the real world again he observed that Meme had done as he had bid. Nodding to himself, he strode out, careful to avoid stepping on the brightly coloured woven mats on the dirt floor. Meme had not been so careful and it was with a frown that the Clan Chief noted this. He would have to get one of the women to clean it for him.
Meme stood in front of her father, tears still streaming down her face. It wasn’t fair! The man had his eyes closed, for which she was glad as the angry auburn colouring to them always made her squirm. His leather boots were coated in dust, which reminded her about one of his rules. Glancing at her feet, she very carefully and silently trod dirt into the woven mats, greying the blue zig-zags and the red isometric loops. Then she turned and ran out of the hut, throwing the wood door wide open with a crash and emerging into the grey half-light of the afternoon. The sun’s dying light illuminated the keep’s stone walls and their fortifications, and the deep shadows that they cast on the huts that had been built beneath them. It was towards these that the girl now ran, hoisting her skirt above her ankles so as not to get the garment dirty, her hair in plaits flying out behind her, and a wild look in her grey-blue eyes. She weaved between huts, barely able to see more than a smear of brown as she headed to the corner opposite her fathers hut. As she neared her destination, a black smoke became visible and danced in the cool air high above, forming patterns and swirling in the breeze before being dispersed. Meme’s pace didn’t slow, not until right before the forge door where she closed her eyes for a half second and took a deep breath, summoning the courage she would require. Her eyes focused on the stained wood door, its slats merging and its knots forming a pattern of spirals and swirls. Almost involuntarily, her hand rose and rapped upon the door.
Luckily, it was Solaris who opened the door, and he didn’t waste long before excusing himself from the forge master and leaving with her to a quiet corner behind the stables. The boy was carefully examining her face, his blue eyes emanating worry, his forehead creased into a frown, distorting his features. His cropped black hair was flattened down and he was covered in sweat from working near the forge, but this Meme didn’t really mind. She looked away from the sparkling eyes, and down to the mud encrusted floor. “Father is going to marry me to Kieran. Tomorrow.” Meme whispered, the sadness in her voice so great that Solaris thought it might come alive and dance around them, laughing at their predicament. She burst into tears again and Solaris pulled her to him, wrapping his tall and bulky frame around her petite one. His heart was clamouring loudly, protesting the injustice of the world, even as his head stopped spinning and began instead of thinking of solutions to the problem. Unfortunately the world is not as easy to solve as a furnace being too hot, or a piece of iron being bent out of shape, and Solaris’s mind drew a blank. Meme too, held in that bearish embrace, was plotting to discover a way out of the trap that her father had firmly set her in. But she could find none. Solaris pulled away slightly, his normally bright laughing eyes downcast. “What are we to do, Meme?”
“I don’t know” She murmured, as she tried to pull him back towards her, wanting his comforting warmth. She shuddered as she imagined ever being this close to Kieran. Kieran was around 30 and looked even older. With dirty blonde hair and a slightly overweight build, he repulsed Meme. He was also the youngest son of the Alente clan chief, which was the reason for the marriage between them. As she thought about Kieran, and what she had heard from the other men about him – that he was a drunkard and reckless person with a tendency to exaggerate – Meme realised something that would turn out to be extremely important.
“Solaris?” She whispered, as her crying intensified again
“yes?” His voice was smooth and soothed her, making her more sure of her demand
“I want… could you…” she paused and took a deep breath “I don’t want to lose my virginity to Kieran.” Solaris drew back, a stern expression that looked unnatural on his face. He was 19 years old, old enough to be called a man, just about anyway. And when he had first come to care for Meme he had lusted for her, but that was then and this was now. She had always been adamant that she did not want his advances – and that was fine by him, after a time, as he had matured and came to love her rather than feel purely a sexual attraction. But this would be the last chance that they would get to be together, as it was already dangerous enough without either of them being tied.
“Are you sure?” His voice was gentle and flew threw her, making her tingle. It wasn’t that she’d never wanted this before, more that she had controlled herself, unsure of whether Solaris loved her of if he simply wanted her body or the position of clan lord. She should have mentioned it to her father but now it was too late, and now she was 18 she couldn’t claim not to be old enough to be married. She nodded, she was sure. “We can’t do it here.” Solaris warned, “it’s too dangerous” Meme started to protest, but paused mid flow, her heart sinking. He was right – there was too much risk here, with soldiers drunk and with Kieran around. Hopelessly, she sought a place that they could go to. “The woods” whispered Solaris, the light of new hope shining in his eyes. “Up the hill, right at the top, there is a clearing – you know the one with old stones? If we wait until nightfall… you could go to bed early and forbid any to enter – say you’re preparing to be wedded tomorrow, and I’ll…” He paused, a flaw in his plan. As the forge apprentice, he was supposed to ensure the fire was burning at all times. The only way that he would be able to escape was if someone else tended the forge.
Pulling Meme closer, he almost despaired. Who could tend the forge if not him? He couldn’t ask Cormac to do it – he’d been busy all day. He’d just have to stock it well and hope, tonight was too important to miss for a small chore. “I have to go” he whispered – he had told Cormac that he needed to use the latrines. “I’ll meet you here again after dark, I promise.” Pulling away, he tilted the girls face upwards and kissed her gently on the mouth. “I love you”. He smiled before striding back towards the forge, not looking back. As he entered into the sweltering heat and red glow of the forge, he remembered Arran – the other apprentice. He was supposedly too young to be left to tend the forge on his own, but Solaris was desperate, and what trouble could it cause? He dutifully aided Cormac with the weapon forming and repairs, concentrating purely on the magic that flowed within the forge – songs and prayers for the swords to be straight and strong, to cut their enemies and protect their families. Only when Cormac left did he dare speak to Arran. The 14 year old was eager to spend a night guarding the forge and Solaris warned him of the dangers of adding too much fuel, or letting the fire burn too low. The forge must never fail, for the clan needed it, it was the only thing that protected them from slavery under the Massar. It took longer than he thought to ensure Arran knew the fire spell, and it was truly dark when he finally slipped into the night to find his love.
Moonlight slanted down from the sky, illuminating the tops of the redwoods, and the owls that haunted there. It crept down through the leaves and sought out the owl’s prey, mice scampering through the peaty woodland floor, hiding beneath dead leaves and the few plants that could survive, stripped of much of the sunlight due to the canopy above. The fox too, was bathed in silver as it crept from it’s den, young cubs scampering around it, their first time out of the den since their birth last month. The moon’s graceful sweep through the sky paused, as two figures were illuminated upon the crest of the hill, where the trees dared not grow and the grass grew greener than anywhere. In this clearing was a stone circle, great slabs of granite that had been pulled high above the ground by some force of nature. It was on one of these slabs that a bear fur cloak had been laid, and two humans, barely fully into adulthood, lay kissing. A whisper could be heard, high in the air, that sang and danced on the spring breeze I love you. Neither of the humans were aware as the moonlight caught the ancient runes inscribed on the rock, their physical form long since worn down but the magic still powerful. The circle almost came alive as the moon warmed and the magic stretched its fingers, reaching out to all that it touched and shaping its makers out of the old blood that still lingered. The boy lay exhausted on the young woman, as the magic weaved its way around them and into the newly opened breach, where it found what it had sought for an age. Thus satisfied, the moon continued on its journey across the sky, where it became covered by a pearly white cloud, and, the magic no longer in the moon’s gaze, the eerie blue glow atop the hill faded.
It was with a heavy heart that Solaris returned to the forge, knowing that no longer could he be with Meme. What he found when he walked inside the cosy building chilled him further. He quickly flung fuel into the dying flames, chanting the hearth song as he went, panic almost blinding him to Arran, who lay face down on the floor, his brown hair flopped around his face. As he fought to keep the fire alive, feeding it wood and coal, sprinkling fire dust over it, he began to notice how still Arran lay, and how horrible his breath was, rasping out of a throat that sounded too dry, too broken. Satisfied at last with the flames leaping into the chimney, Solaris turned his attention upon the boy, rolling him onto his back. What he saw shocked him to his core, for the side of Arran’s face was horribly disfigured and his face black with soot, the bright and eager eyes concealed by eyelids, one of which looked badly melted to the rest of the flesh upon his face. As Solaris carried him to the healer, running, he wondered what had happened, and what he would tell Cormac. He didn’t pause at the healer’s hut but charged in and laid the boy on the cot, placed there specifically for that reason. Pulling warmth into the candle, he woke Helena, the old woman who lay in the other cot, and began to pray for the boy as she began her work.