The Wee Child

Title: The Wee Child
Time Period: August 11, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Edmund encounters a specter while searching for his wife.

Lamp light bathes the slopes of Dornie's Northern Reach in a sallow glow - one by one they flicker on after dark, illuminating the cobblestone streets and scattering shadows into the open mouths belonging to adjacent alleys. It is one of the safest areas to walk alone at night regardless of how many militiamen are out on patrol, but this is probably not of much comfort to Edmund Rowntree.

Mist rising from the loch floats up the hill, shrouding all but the settlement's highest point in a blanket of fog that absorbs the light cast off by the street lamps and lends Edmund's surroundings an otherworldly aura.

He leads his horse through a dream in which time has stopped. Aislinn could be anywhere.

He is alive in a way that he finds uncomfortable. Awake like he will not rest until he finds Aislinn, and never sleep again if he fails to do so in time. The horse is a well-selected mount and barely twitches an ear at her master's obvious unease, breathing out steam into the summery evening air after her race from the castle. Edmund searches briefly, instinctively, for the horse she may have ridden tied up somewhere, but remembers that the man who brought him his had confirmed that the lady's mount was still stabled.

Edmund is loathe to raise his voice, additionally, and interfere with the still, foggy environment, feeling as though he is moving in secret. Instead, he just presses on, trying to find the likeliest looking place, where a cart or stranger horse is tied, signs of life. If he comes across someone, he will ask them frankly where the healer woman has gone to tend to someone's urgent health.

Displaced mist swirls around the horse's hooves and forms fine droplets of moisture on its mane and in Edmund's stubble. When he exhales, his breath leaves his nose and mouth as more of the same - unusual, for summer, but so is the frigid temperature outside and the gooseflesh that spreads over the exposed skin of his neck.

It is cold, and he has a difficult time shaking the impression that he is being watched from all directions at once.

The someone he comes across is a small, pale shape standing in the middle of the road up ahead, no higher than his knee. Tousled ringlets of fair blonde hair frame a round face covered in so much dirt that the child's eyes stand out as two circles of blue light made brighter by the wetness gathering in them.

It could be a girl, or it could be a boy - the child is too young for Edmund to guess at which, and the soiled rags the figure is dressed in do not provide him with any additional clues.

It'd be romantic to think that everyone in this town knows each other — it is sizeable, for its kind, and this child is so small. Trying to shake off his own sense of unease, seeming to pile in addition to whatever else he is feeling, Edmund moves his horse forward, glancing around the street for a supervising adult. There is none.

That leaves him.

Leaning a little in his saddle, he peers down at the child. He's seen them run around the poorer areas, as filthy as this one, almost like the monkeys he's only read about, but this one seems still, and its bright stare is strange. That all said, he is anxious to find Aislinn. "Child," he says, in a tone of voice that is almost kindly. He has been a father too long to not know how to do so. "It's cold. You should be with your family. Can you take me to 'em?" It'd be a start.

"A mac tíre thóg mo chnámha," the child says, raising tiny hands to shyly cover its face and watch Edmund through its fingers. It shrinks away from him, wilting like a flower, and turns to clop up the street on wooden shoes as fast as its legs will carry it.

"Mama!" it shrieks into the dark. "Mama!"

Edmund sits confused for only a short moment, before he runs on physical instinct; he swings one long leg around to dismount, gripping onto the mare's reins and moving to follow even as he wonders if he knows that tongue— and he does— and if any ships have gone that way in any recent time. He doesn't know, can't remember. Impatience and anxiety sparking to a crescendo, he works blunt teeth together but follows with long strides, leading his horse through the chilly street in pursuit.

Edmund's legs are longer than the child's, and yet the specter pulls ahead of him, dissolving into the fog at the same time another emerges from it. There is an instant in which the two shapes appear to pass through one another, which is impossible, he knows, because it receives no reaction from the figure now walking toward him.

He recognizes the plain cotton dress he last saw his wife in and the unbuttoned coat hanging off her shoulders like a heavy wool cloak. Her soles of her leather boots pick up a glossy sheen from the puddles she steps through, leaving behind glimmering rings in the shape of her feet, but none of these details matter as much as the large, inky stain of blood spread across her abdomen and down her bottom half so thoroughly that the material of her dress has become plastered to her legs and shows the meat of her thighs through the fabric.

The sight of blood has a strange effect on short term memory, as it shunts aside his own pause over the disappearance of the wee child (which had his hand reaching for the handle of low-slung pistol) as if it hadn't happened. His hand falls from the leather reins, crossing his expression, his long stride slowing before he barks the two syllables, "Aislinn," without his prior regard for keeping silent and discreet.

Abandoning his horse, he rushes forward.

The shout startles Aislinn into stillness, a little like the rabbits Edmund crosses on the moors - the ones that are caught off-guard and don't have time to bolt for cover, so they adhere themselves to the ground instead, hoping he'll mistake them for a furry patch of earth and keep moving.

Her hands form a knot a few inches above her stomach. The whiteness of her knuckles points to fear that hasn't yet reached her eyes but will before he reaches her.

Edmund should be calling for help, and he probably will, but his focus is zeroed in on her alone and trying to determine what Jain has done to her— because obviously that's what it is, he was too late, he should have sent Jorn directly here instead of risk losing the trail, and maybe if he was less unsettled he'd more objectively be able to guess if this were even her blood or not. "Aislinn," he says again, seeing her fear, mistaking it for something else. He slows. "Are you alright? Are you hurt badly?"

His hands go out, to take her wrists, to draw them away from her body, pull her near, all gentle.

Although her dress may be ruined, Edmund can see that Aislinn's hands are clean when he seizes them by the wrists. She smells of soap, and for someone who has supposedly lost the amount of blood her clothes are covered in, her touch is surprisingly steady and firm as her hands seeks her husband's face despite his grip on them.

"I'm all right, Eamonn," she says, cradling his jaw and pressing a kiss to his mouth to prove it. "I'm all right. Has something happened?"

Relaxation manifests in the fact he stops handling her as if injured; his hands grip tighter even as she raises her's, letting out a rough sound, lacking the presence of mind to kiss back. Blinking, Edmund stares at her for a moment before urging her aside— without actually letting go— to see past her, where the child went. Disappeared. He is very confused, but not as much as he is unsettled, almost too much so to even bother with relief just yet.

"Aye," he says, still tense, but quieter, breathing huffing shallow. "MacCruimein, he was— " The scent of soap, the warm in her hands. "I thought he'd gotten to you."

The fear had begun to melt away until Edmund's aye. Speaking Jain's name brings it back in full-force; she tenses in his arms and simultaneously all the strength drains out of her. Her hands go from searching to trembling and lose their hold on his face - to stop them from shaking, she resorts to pressing them against his chest and splaying her fingers there.

That she does not ask why MacCruimein might be coming for her further validates Jorn's story. "Where are the children?"

"Home," Edmund says, his hands moving to her upper arms, gripping gently, holding. "I had Tobin ward them against familiars, so his creature won't have a go. But that's where you'll be too. I'm takin' you there now." But his panic has finally edged off that he isn't throwing her over his shoulder, refusing to respond in this way any more to what may or may not happen.

It won't now, anyway. He's here and well armed.

It would almost be welcome, actually, for anyone to try anything now. "Can you leave?" he asks, a glance down. He's being delicate. He might have phrased that as: are they dead?

Aislinn's response is a solemn nod, no elaboration offered as to what brought her out here, which is normally a good indication that her visit did not go as well as she would have liked it to. When her patients die, it is not only out of respect for their families that she tends not to share the details with Edmund, but also because spending someone's last few moments on earth with them demands a sort of secrecy.

Tonight it might just be that her mind is elsewhere - with MacCruimein, his familiar, and where they may or may not be. "Bless him." Tobin, she means. "You'll stay with us?"

"Aye," Edmund says. "Unless they catch him, then I might have to see about it."

But even in the chaos, what he'd seen still nags about him. He curls an arm around Aislinn's shoulders but thinks better than to ask if she'd seen it too — he'd know. An omen, then, a vision, things like this do happen in this world. Maybe later, but not now. He walks her towards the horse that's obediently stayed put in the cobbled street, reaching out for the reins before offering to help lift Aislinn up into the saddle.

Whether or not she needs it, Aislinn accepts the help and settles close to the saddle's horn so Edmund has ample room to sit behind her. Her god, she knows, would tell her if MacCruimein was planning something terrible for her family - but isn't her god the same god that warns him of danger as well?

Not for the first time, she discovers that her convictions are not as steadfast as she claims, or even as steadfast as she believes them to be.

"Not even then," she says. "Please swear it."

Edmund hoists himself up after her, settling comfortably behind, arms looped around. Only now, after all else, does he feel safe. The boys are a lingering worry, but he has is wife pressing against his front and in his arms, and one of his best mares carrying them both. It gives him enough security to, as he wheels the mare around, mutter into her hair; "I swear it."

If they find him, he can wait.