He should have known. He should have been prepared for it. But when it happened, he was stunned and worse… much worse.
He found the sword on his bed; it was late at night.
He had spent the day hunting with Killeen. He needed to get to know the knight, who might be placed at the head of his armies. Killeen seemed to him an honest, sober, and hard-working man, and Fiachrin understood why Caoinlin had trusted him as she had.
Fiachrin had not wanted to leave the Caiseal that day, but he had her under watch. When Killeen had suggested the activity, Fiachrin found he was anxious to be out of the castle, out of the city walls. Killeen did not speak often and his taciturn demeanor suited Fiachrin’s dark mood.
In the two weeks since their confrontation, Caoinlin had refused to speak to him. He set the date for the wedding and enlisted an old friend of his mother’s, Duchess Dunla, to the task of planning the rest. She had come to him, a few days later, concerned that his would-be bride was of ill-composure and reluctant disposition. Fiachrin did not argue with the duchess, he merely inquired as to the state of the preparations.
“I hope you will not think me impudent,” she said, “but I should not think that the prince would want to marry a woman who does not wish to marry him.”
“Is that what she told you?”
“No.” Duchess Dunla’s sparkling hazel eyes were held hard and fast by the same careful judiciousness as her svelte frame. “She expresses nothing to me.”
“Then I think your assessment lacks evidence,” he replied, dismissively.
But Dunla did not blink or dismiss herself. “My concern is but for your welfare.”
“And I appreciate your concern,” he said, “though it is not warranted.”
But he did not appreciate her concern. He did not appreciate the warning. He was finished. Finished cajoling, finished pleading, finished waiting. He knew that he had not won. He knew that they were locked in, neither of them willing to give any more ground. Caoinlin may have been willing to remain in stalemate, but he was not.
After his ride with Killeen, he returned to his chambers immediately, not stopping to see her, as she would not admit him past nightfall anymore.
That’s when he caught glimpse of it.
The firelight danced over its blue swirls, sliding like oil down the curved blade. His approach was chary, disbelieving, as though the sword might start from the bed and thrust at him of its own volition. The sheath was laid beside it, arranged as though to say, do not think this an accident.
Arthor’s sword. Her sword.
He sank to the floor.
She was gone. He knew how she had done it.
The Mhasc Caoin had made a final mysterious appearance and then, just as quickly, vanished.
And he, somehow, had let her.
Neither of them had won. Nevertheless, he had the distinct sensation of being beaten and left for dead.