Well, threes of fans, have I got a treat for you!
I’m running around doing family things this week, so I dug out this excerpt of backstory from before the events of Ravenmarked to share with you all. This scene recounts the moment Maeve met Edgar and Culain and sets up the struggle for her affections. I’ve cleaned up some of the words that changed between the moment I wrote this and the final publication of Ravenmarked, but otherwise, this is pretty much exactly how it first came to me all those years ago…
Shadows lengthened around Maeve SilverAir’s body as she stood at the edge of the Brae Sidh village. She sensed them–one tribal, one Taurin. They edged closer to the boundary between tribal and Sidh lands. If they set one toe over the boundary, I swear I’ll– She bit off the unfinished thought and folded her arms and tried to force her jaw to unclench. Stone fragging, water filching, sons of vixens… Words went through her head that her mother should have beaten out of her years ago, but she couldn’t help it. I will not abide hunters near my village. The tribal man should know better.
She wove braids of air around her as she waited, testing each one as it returned, hoping to detect the odor of the men on it and then use it to guide her to them. Finally, from the west, the scent she’d been waiting for. She waited; the magic tingled through her blood just as they stepped over the boundary and through the enchantments and the sun dipped below the horizon. She adjusted the circlet on her head and steeled herself, then let the braids wrap her body.
The braids lifted her from the ground, and she landed before the two men in a breath. A stag lifted his head when he sensed her presence, his ears facing her as he appraised her with a curious eye. Go, dear one. I’ll deal with these two. He twitched his tail, then bounded into the trees. Before either man could react, she had wound the braids of air around them both and hung them upside down from a stout limb of a nearby fir. “What in the name of Namha’s horns are you two bastards doing near my village?”
“Damn it, woman–you scared off the stag!” The older man twisted and writhed, trying to turn to see her. “Let us down!”
The younger man didn’t struggle, but then, he had a better view of Maeve. He shot her a wicked grin, and even in the wan light of early evening she could see how beautiful his eyes were. He had long braids and was dressed in leathers and furs, and one arm held several tattoos. “Culain, when you see who captured us, you’ll wish you’d watched your tongue.”
“I don’t give a goat’s balls who captured us. I’ll be released, now, or the regent will hear of this. Of all the–”
Maeve tightened the braids around the man called Culain. “Your human regent has no authority here. These are my lands.”
“Son of a–”
“Culain!” The other man snapped a warning. “Shut up, idiot. It’s Queen Maeve.”
Culain stopped struggling. Maeve straightened. He twisted his head to look at her. She folded her hands with demure patience and lifted her eyebrow. “Forgive me, your majesty. We didn’t know we were so close to your village.”
“Perhaps you didn’t, but your friend here is wolf tribe. He should have known.”
Culain turned his head. “Edgar?”
The man affected as much a shrug as he could. “You followed the stag. I wasn’t going to let you be disappointed.”
“So at the bottom of this violation of my borders, I am left with two overgrown boys playing hunter over a stag? You risked the lives of my people–the children in my village–for the meat of a single deer?” She folded her arms. “You should both be ashamed of yourselves. I am tempted to leave you there until spring.”
Culain laughed. “You’d have to answer to my wife for that, majesty. And I promise you, even without magic, she may be a match for you.”
Maeve stared at them, considering what to do. “Edgar, is it?” she asked the tribal man.
He attempted a nod. “At your service, my lady.”
She tipped her head. “You know where the boundaries are. You know that animals are protected on Sidh lands. If I let you go, will you swear not to cross the boundary again–not even for a stag?”
“On my honor as a tribesman, lady.”
“And will you be certain your friend here stays away as well?”
“If I’m with him, he’ll never cross the boundary again.”
She nodded, satisfied. She looked at the other. “Culain?”
“Duke Mac Niall, if you don’t mind, your majesty.”
“Taurin titles don’t impress me.”
“It wasn’t meant to impress you.”
She bristled. “Son of a vixen–”
“Actually, my mother was a well-bred Eiryan woman with several generations of nobility on her family crest. She was refined and proper and would never have thought to utter the kind of foul-mouthed curses that I’ve heard from your wicked mouth, you little–”
“Enough!” Maeve tightened the braids around Culain’s body until he nearly choked. She summoned the elements to her; mists rose from the ground and obscured the forest but for their small circle. The earth rumbled as she told the stones to move under their feet. All around, braids of different colors drifted to and fro between the three of them. “I am Maeve SilverAir, purebred queen of the Brae Sidh and guardian of Cuhail’s Reliquary. I can trace my lineage all the way back to Alshada himself and the first queen he breathed life into. My family has molded mountains that your family doesn’t even know exist. I am gifted in the three elements, and with a flick of my finger, I can encase you in stone, drown you, or choke you to death. You will not insult me, my family, or the Brae Sidh again, and if I ever catch you inside the boundaries without my permission, Culain Mac Niall, I will see that your name is wiped from the memory of all Taura for good!”
She reined the elements back in and the echo of her voice hovered in the air of the great forest. Darkness fell outside the curtain of mist; Maeve channeled her power into the animstone in her circlet, and it bathed her in the aura of elemental magic. Culain was choking, still, but Edgar had a look of awe and–dare she think it?–desire on his face at her display of power. She let Edgar go, and he fell on his shoulders and rolled to a sitting position. “Let him go, majesty,” he said. “If you must blame someone for his crimes, blame me. I’m the one who let him wander through the boundary.”
Culain’s face had turned red, and his breath came in gasps and gulps. Maeve considered it. If I kill him, I’ll bring the Taurins into the forest looking for him. It’s not worth it. She released the braids and he fell, choking, to the forest floor. “Remember that the next time you want to come on my lands,” she said, standing over his head.
“Shit,” he gasped. “Gods, woman… You nearly killed me. I should have your head on a pike for that.”
“I’d love for you to try.”
Edgar snorted a laugh.
Maeve turned to him. “Something funny, tribesman?”
“Forgive me, majesty,” he said, but his eyes twinkled. “I shouldn’t have laughed.”
Maeve stared at Edgar. “Why in the name of Bachi’s teeth would you let him come through the boundary?”
He shrugged again. “Just to see what would happen, I suppose. I confess, majesty–I’ve been hoping to meet you. The rumors of your beauty have been greatly understated.”
He was young, in his early twenties, she estimated, and those brilliant green eyes promised wicked pleasures. Sparsely built, she thought he must have been made of little but muscle and bone and hair. His braids were long, signifying that even at his young age he had earned a place of honor among the tribes. His face was smooth, unlined by wrinkles or tattoos, and his lips were full and soft, but there was a feral air about him–a dog stalking its prey, perhaps.
Maeve hadn’t been queen long, and she had not yet found a worthy consort among the Sidh. She knew that in the past her ancestors had taken human consorts, if only for a short time, but if children resulted, they had never had the three talents or the codagha–the magic that bound her to her people in a connective web. She tilted her head and watched Edgar for a moment. “Rumors of my beauty–where have you heard those?”
“The men of the wolf tribe. Our traitha has been especially complimentary.” He gave her a wicked grin again; she found it at once charming and threatening.
“Hm. Your traitha is an old man with fading eyesight. I would not trust his opinions of me if I were you.”
“I didn’t. That’s why I came to see for myself.” He inclined his head. “I was not disappointed.”
The look he gave her sent a pleasant shiver down her spine. She ignored it and looked down at Culain, who had finally recovered enough to sit up. “You–why is a Taurin duke hunting in the great forest with a tribesman young enough to be his son?”
“Son? How old do you think I am, woman?”
She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to vex him. “I don’t know–Taurins all look alike to me. Forty-five? Fifty?”
He stood. He dwarfed her; she drew herself up and channeled more power into the animstone, hoping to put him off-balance. “I’m thirty-seven,” he said with an edge of disbelief.
“Forgive me. I mistook your gray hair for age, not hard living.”
“Gray hair? Shit, woman, I only have two or three of them.”
“Stop calling me woman. I am a queen; I deserve respect due my rank.”
“And I’m a duke. Eight generations of my family have lived in Kiern and hunted these woods with the permission of the wolf tribe. We have a long-standing friendship with the chieftains and earth guardians of all the tribes.” He stepped closer to her, apparently unimpressed by her magic. She looked up; piercing, dark blue eyes met hers. He gave her a crooked grin from a hard, angular face; she thought he probably deserved a good slap. “I’ll give you the respect you’re due, woman, when you show me what I am due.”
Edgar stepped forward then. “As entertaining as this is, may I humbly suggest a truce?” He looked back and forth between them. “Culain, forgive me. I shouldn’t have led you into the boundary of the Sidh lands. And your majesty, please, don’t blame Culain. Be angry with me. I will suffer whatever consequences you wish to heap on the wolf tribe. I bear the responsibility.”
Maeve looked at them both, then sighed. “I have done enough damage to fragile relations with the tribes tonight,” she finally said. “I will allow you both to go free in the morning if you swear not to come onto Sidh lands again.”
Culain frowned. “In the morning? My wife–”
“I’ll send a letter with you to excuse your absence,” Maeve said, and Edgar coughed a laugh. “It’s out of my hands. You came in the boundary at sunset; you can’t leave until sunrise. Only at the between times can you come or go without my help or an earth guardian.” She looked around. “I presume I haven’t just missed seeing an earth guardian here?”
“No,” Edgar said. “We came through the boundary at sunset, as you assumed.”
She looked at them both. “I could free you now, but what kind of precedent would that set? No, I can’t let any hunter think he can just come and go with my help. You’ll stay until morning, and by then, perhaps you will have learned your lesson.” She inclined her head. “Good night to you both.”
She started to draw the braids of air around her, but Edgar held up a hand. “Wait–you’re just leaving us here?”
She let go of her power. “I don’t see why not. Surely a mighty Taurin duke and a tribesman can spend one night in the forest.”
Edgar gave her a smile that weakened her knees. “Come now, majesty–we’d so love to see that famous Sidh hospitality. And I’ve heard that Sidh oiska gives all of the pleasure of ours without making one ill in the morning. I would enjoy finding out if such legends are true.”
Don’t just fall for a rakish grin and a handsome face, she told herself, but by the gods–Edgar was a stunning creature. She considered him. “Very well. Since you’re in my lands for the night anyway, I will host you.”
Culain straightened his tunic and jerkin. “I’ll sleep here, if you don’t mind. I’ll be gone at sunrise, majesty.”
Edgar clapped him on the shoulder. “Now, Culain, don’t be so stubborn. If the lady wishes to show us Sidh hospitality, who are we to refuse? A warm cup of oiska and a fire are always better than a cold forest floor.”
Culain grunted and folded his arms. “Not if they’re shared with a sharp-tongued woman.”
Maeve put her hands on her hips. “I don’t give a frag of stone whether you stay here or come with me. You want to be a stubborn, self-righteous, uptight Taurin noble? Fine. Stay here. I expect you gone at sunrise.”
Culain’s mouth tightened. He looked at Edgar. “Just for you–so that you aren’t unguarded with this–creature–”
“–I’ll come,” Culain finished, turning back to Maeve. He picked up his bow and the arrows that had spilled from his quiver, as well as the two daggers that had fallen from his belt and boot. “The sooner begun, the sooner we can leave. Lead the way, majesty.”
She was tempted then to string him up in the tree once more. Creature! My blood is more pure than any muddled mess of humanity. Where does this man–? She stopped and put on a practiced smile. My mother would not let them get to her like this. She would host them and then let them go. I can at least do this much. After tonight, I never have to see them again. “Of course, Lord Mac Niall.” She stepped closer to him again. “And perhaps this creature might even be able to teach you something about diplomacy and respect.”
He gave her a tilted grin. “Oh, my lady, I’m more likely to get a lesson in needlepoint from Edgar than learn a lesson in diplomacy and respect from a spoiled royal like you.” He towered over her again. “I have three daughters, majesty; I know what a spoiled princess looks like.”
Edgar put a hand on Culain’s arm. “I know she looks small, but trust me, my friend–you do not want to anger the Sidh, and especially not their queen.” He glanced back at her. “Take this opportunity to learn more about her and her people. It will serve you and your duchy well.”
“A voice of reason from a tribesman?” Maeve shook her head. “And I thought Alshada had finished making new wonders in the world.”
Edgar laughed at that. “My lady, please–show us to your village. I promise I’ll make sure he behaves.”
She watched them both for a moment and then turned and started walking. They fell in step behind her. As the forest swallowed them, she prayed to Alshada for wisdom and patience–wisdom to resist Edgar’s rakish grins and pretty eyes, and patience to deal with the vexing Taurin duke.
Suffice to say that a lot of things happen after this initial encounter–not all of them admirable. But for good or for ill, Maeve and Culain’s relationship did result in Connor, and without Connor, Taura would probably be doomed.
I’m heading into a couple of crazy-busy months, but I’ll try to keep up with y’all and share what’s happening, when new stories are coming out, and how Soultainted is coming along soon. See you next week!