Witch Hunt, Part I

Title: Witch Hunt, Part I
Time Period: May, 127 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Edmund discovers that not everyone in Dornie feels the same way toward his relationship with his mage wife.

Warmer weather was breaking through the chill, a crack through the climate.

Not that the cloud lifts very often anyway, but it is now, and Edmund celebrates it by letting the sharp sunlight bask on his hand when he offers it to the window. It's late enough in the morning to be warm, as the sun comes up over the eastern horizon of craggy mountain and pours heat into the little coastal town, bright and pure and bouncing off walls and rooftops as if the structures were made of crystal. It would be a lovely day to go out, onto the fields, perhaps, or even joining the sailors if they desired an extra set of hands, even if that extra set of hands came attach to a family heir. They rarely told him no.

They would have, if they saw him now.

Muscle has depleted after the shock of inactivity has whittled it down, replaced with softness that will, in turn, have to be burned away. His back is pale from where one might be able to see it in the study that is more or less his own — or rather, a study by name, more of a room adjacent to his own that was put under his ownership by default and hardly ever used, except when he'd been grievously injured and didn't want to remain in his room that day. Or go out any further than this. The bruising that lashed over his back has faded, but remain ghostly still, mottled discolouration.

The bandages remain, too, freshly changed, his broken arm strapped, although this is what he is currently untying, slowly, stood towards the windows with his robe draped over wooden chair, soft cotton trousers clinging to his thighs where the effort of moving around has made him sweat.

Aged glass panes distort Edmund's view of the courtyard below his window, all gray stone and early morning light. Seabirds sometimes alight on the sill, but not today — their mourning calls come from somewhere far-off, past the floating buoys and long wooden pier at the loch's edge. It's lonely at Eilean Donan. Aislinn's patients in town take her away from her patient in the castle, and some mornings he wakes in a cold bed with only an impression in the sheets where his wife slept. On these occasions, she leaves a cold plate of food on the bedside table for him when he's ready to take it. Crusty bread, butter and soft goat's cheese with a knife for spreading. Boiled potatoes and cabbage. Small, oily fish split from head to tail and pickled alongside eggs from the market.

She sees to it that he eats, if nothing else. Apart from this, and the second pair of shoes tucked under the bed, there are very few signs that point to someone else living with Edmund. Aislinn takes up very little space and what little she owns she keeps out of the way in an old steamer trunk brought out of storage so she would have someplace to put the clothes, fertility charms and other assorted treasures gifted to her by friends of the Rowntree clan on their wedding day.

Someone's son or daughter is running a fever on the other side of town. It's why she is there and not here, or maybe she's gone to visit her own at the stables, but all Edmund has to do is wait. She'll be back eventually.

Footsteps echo in the courtyard below. Two sets. It seems unlikely that either belongs to Aislinn. They're too heavy.

Edmund pauses in the unwrapping of his sling, and not only because his shoulder is already deigning to inform him that this is going to be a terrible idea. The sound pricks his ears, tucked chin lifting before he moves in his slow, elderly-ish steps for the window to come closer and peer out of it. Letting his injured arm rest in the sling fashioned for it, he cautiously places his better hand on the edge of the glass and nudges it aside to offer him a sliver of clarity. This takes effort well enough, seeing as its this same shoulder that was bitten by the dragon's giant maw.

He has the rotted, brittle tooth on his windowsill, back in his room.

"Bewitched?" someone is asking. "You really think?"

Wool and leathers do not provide the same protection from the wet and the rain as Edmund's kelpie skin coat, but Duncan's soldiers do the best with what they have, which are heavy jackets worn over thick sweaters this time of year regardless of the weather. Dornie's militia has no uniform; he knows them by their stance and the rifles they carry on straps that fit across their shoulders, and might recognize their faces if he could see them. All he has to go off of are the tops of their shaggy heads.

"Really do, and'm not not the only one neither."


"Dunno? She ain't honest, keepin' it a secret for so long. I don't think he knew. So who's to say?"

Edmund is generally quicker off the mark, but he hasn't much in the way of energy at the moment. His new instinct is to simply go still and listen, sort of like how when he heard voices outside his room during the earlier days of his recovery, with opiates in his system and an assumption that he was dead to the world placed over him. He isn't a bad listener.

He pulls back from the window just a fraction. Listener or not, he doesn't like gossip and would sooner clasp his hands over his ears than getting dragged into damnable intrigue and pettiness. But he is also good at sighting danger and it is this priority that takes over the other.

"I don't like it," says the more adamant of the two voices. "Bad enough he married her. He's gonna wake up one night with a pistol in his face and that'll be that. You can't trust women."

"How d'you think she did it then?"

There's a pause. Someone scuffs the toe of his boot against the stone under foot and strikes a match. The soldiers share a cigarette between them. "I heard a piece of hair is all you need. She could've cut it off him while he was sleepin'. Maybe it's in the medicine she gives him."

"He wasn't taking her medicine before."

"No. There's that. Could be just a spell."

Up above them, the creak of hinges sounds out louder.

Edmund is the walking wounded and looks it, but there's a flinty quality to slate-blue stare that rests atop their heads should they not turn their faces towards him first, all pale, mottled skin and stark white bandages, the leaner cut of his face and the slouch of his shoulders. But his mouth makes a hard line across his angular face and icy silence might have been enough, but sometimes he has stuff to say, and he always says it better or at least easier to fellow men, or people he hasn't time for. "I reckon the wives'll be doing their laundry on the rocks here about now," he says, voice projected, but not loud. "Maybe you should take your fucking chatter 'round there, it'll sound all the same t'me.

"And you can tell 'em I knew all along while y'there."

This was maybe not the best conversation to be having directly beneath Edmund's study.

"Sir," starts one of the soldiers, the one with the cigarette currently pinched between his knuckles. He turns his face up, eyes squinted against the glare of the sun, and raises his arm to shield himself from it. Tension in his jaw suggests he has more he wants to say than just that, but he presses his lips together and traps his tongue behind his teeth. A thin hiss escapes his nose, and it's not so warm that Edmund can't see it.

He flicks his cigarette onto the ground and crushes it under his boot. "Yessir."

It turns out that Edmund's timing couldn't have been much better. As the pair is turning to leave, Aislinn comes around the corner, a large white raven perched on her shoulder with its claws hooked in her shawl. Maybe because they know Edmund is watching, they nod to her as she passes them. Backwards glances twisted behind them at the man framed in the window has her stopping at the foot of the steps in order to peer up at him.

"Good morning, Eamonn."

He shies back a fraction from the window, but it's a little too late to disappear unseen — she's saying his name and things, so that means she spotted him. Edmund can't read out of her expression if she heard him at all, dropping his hand to the windowsill, and clears his throat. "Morn'." His eyes shoot a glance passed her head at the sign of glance backs from the two soldiers, as if to demand they keep walking and put their eyes back in their heads, but there'll be no saying that out loud now that she's here. He isn't sure why, but it has something to do with. Not wishing to be visibly bothered.

Not wishing to bother her either.

He glances towards the white creature perched on her shoulder, as if to include him, too, in the greeting.

Aislinn looks down at the crumpled cigaratte on the ground, then back up at Edmund. The soldiers keep walking, and from her perspective they probably have no reason not to — although she appears somewhat ill at ease, fear is absent from her eyes. If she heard, then she did not hear enough to understand. "I've just been to see the Hallidays," she says. "Both their little ones have the chicken pox."

At her shoulder, Hush combs his pale beak through her hair and offers Edmund a low, throaty croak and rustling wings. His toes are fat, pink starfish on the cornflower blue weave of her clothes. "But look at you. How much fitter you must be feeling."

"Yeah? I've seen a lookin' glass."

Wench. But there's an ironical kind of twist to Edmund's grimace, an attempt to disguise maybe he's pleased she'd flatter him that way, for all that his amusement is curbed by the subject matter itself. It's a nice thought, and the reality is less pleasant. "I won't be breaking in any stallions this afternoon, but. You comin' in?" He feels like maybe she should do that, actually, no matter that they've cleared his courtyard. The gates are open and others could come in. That anxiety is a taint on his otherwise brooding, lazy moodiness, a higher strung chord.

"I'll be up quick as a wink." Aislinn shifts up her skirts, hiking them around her knees, and starts up the stairs at a brisk but relaxed trot. Boots made of soft leather that lace up the front dampen the sound of her footfalls and are paired with wool stockings for additional warmth, either because she dislikes showing off her legs or maybe because they need the extra protection given her fondness for taking shortcuts through the woods and its snarled underbrush.

Most likely it's a bit of both. His wife favours clothes with high necklines and modest shapes, at least when out and about in public. The time they've spent together behind closed doors hasn't exactly been conducive to any sort of exploration.

Less than a minute later, the bedroom door groans open and Aislinn steps inside, already in the process of removing her coat and shawl. She carries a parcel under her arm, its contents wrapped up in thick brown paper held together with twine.

By now, Edmund is wearing the soft jacket of warm wool that he's been favouring during his recovery — it's inoffensive against his bare skin and buttons down the front in wide circles of wood, making it easy to negotiate one handedly. There's stretch to it to allow for the fact that his left arm remains tied to his torso beneath the garment, sleeve left to hang loose. He's on his third button by the time she is back, pacing nearer and chin tucked to watch his work. He should also shave and eat his breakfast and watch himself again all over, but he'll sooner take some opiates and a book to bed with him in the lazy noon.

He doesn't ask after the parcel, but can't help querying glance.

Aislinn paces across to the table and lays the parcel down, freeing up both her hands so she can pluck at the twine with the tips of her fingers and loosen the knot. "You were having a friendly little chat," she says of Edmund's conversation with the soldiers, and the complete absence of sarcasm or scorn in her tone tells him how much she overheard. Her apology is quiet and heartfelt. "I didn't mean to interrupt."

She winds up the twine and sets it aside before slipping the edge of her thumbnail under the corner of the parcel with great care not to tear the paper so it can be reused later. Inside: a sketchbook with a lambskin cover and thick, creamy pages that Aislinn smooths under her palm when she opens it. "Like sailcloth," she tells him, smiling, and she means the texture. "Come have a feel."

Of course, he does as she says. New items, well produced and crafted, are things to be appreciated, and its fine, pragmatic make has Edmund drawn closer, sealing up a fourth button to close the jacket around his belly before putting out his better hand to run his knuckles against the smooth, thick pages. His fingers seek out where the book is bound, inspecting it, just a little, and it's a happy distraction from the knot of— generalised negativity at her reminder of.

The friendly little chat.

Words are on the tip of his tongue, but they sink back guiltily. "Whatsit for? The Callows make these, don't they? Or a gift from your visit."

"Your family is richer than Croesus," Aislinn says. "It never feels right, taking things from people, but this— yes. A gift. Mr. Halliday may well have ordered it special from the Callows. I didn't ask." Once Edmund's fingers are clear, she closes the book, wraps her arms around it and hugs it to her chest. "They make pencils from charcoal and sell them in tins at the market, Eamonn. Could we buy some?

"It's for drawing." She drums her fingers against the book's cover and rolls forward onto the balls of her feet. "Or pressing flowers. I think I might do both."

"Maybe y'shouldn't go to the market."

It comes out stilted, a sort of awkward segueway into what he wants to say, but it's not entirely misguided. Maybe a little unnecessary — the sheer publicity of the market, with the witness-watch method of bargain and trade, prevents many an unkind act to happen, but it doesn't mean people can't be followed. But even with every logical excuse in the world— it's still out of context unless he tries to back up his suggestion. It's the sheer multitude of ways he can explain, though, that stalls him, tipping him back into awkward silence.

Would that he could be able to simply go with her and stave off anyone who might think her a danger, but.

Aislinn lowers herself back down until she feels her heels touch the floor, not that she has a very far way to go. The extra half inch of height she had means little when the difference between them is almost a foot. She sets the book aside on the table, no longer interested in the potential contained between its covers — if what's bothering Edmund is so serious that she can't take his mind off it by sharing her joy with him, then it requires a more direct approach.

Direct, for Aislinn, means reaching out and holding up her palms, offering to take his hands. She is not quite bold enough to grab them and draw him in, no matter how gently.

It's a bit like watching a flower wilting, and being the cause of it, and feeling a bit bad about it. Not that this isn't important. Her hands go out and Edmund puts his good one out to be clasped, the other lax where that arm is wrapped.

"Outside, earlier," he gravels out. "They weren't— I wasn't talkin' to them, but I over heard 'em talkin' about you. I imagine they ain't the only ones. About in that you're a…" He's never really liked the word, mage, the way it separates them out from everyone else, for all that there is a divide. A difference. "How you are what y'are. So I figure perhaps you won't want to be wanderin' around a bit.

"'Cause it was a secret so they don't know what you're up to. I told 'em I knew long before."

Aislinn looks down at Edmund's hand as she folds her fingers around it, then lays her other on top. The most reassurance she has to offer is a small squeeze. No lies. She has felt the hostility buzzing electric in the air around the soldiers who guard Eilean Donan and, without the help of any magic, seen the way they look at her.

Hush spreads his wings to cushion his leap from her shoulder to the table, but he hits it with four feet instead of two. Where there was a raven now stands a silky cat with luminous blue eyes turned toward the window. With a flick of his tail, the feline curls up on the sill, either to sun himself or sit guard.

"I like to go to market."


That isn't agreement or concession, but a response that notes he figured this would be the case. That he knows he isn't asking for anything simple or even very logical. His blue eyes track the journey of the familiar, and no matter his own unease about the free display of magic, it tends to be superseded by the memory of the white wolf launching itself at the mouth of the dragon. She had talked about duty, once. Edmund clamps his jaw against his own impatience. "I'll pick reliable men out've Duncan's," he proposes, voice at a mutter. "Ones who wouldn't dare do anythin' to cross a Rowntree."

And probably, ones that didn't raid her home town, but he isn't really thinking about that right now.

"You can take 'em where you need to go. They won't dog your steps none, but watch the place, p'raps."

Aislinn brings Edmund's hand up to her mouth and presses a kiss against the back of it. "Thank you," she says, because he could just as easily forbid her from going into town and let that be the end of it, and as dutiful as she tries to be — that's one promise she might not have been able to keep for very long.

She releases his hand. "Birds must fly free." A look to his arm bent but loose in the sling has the corners of her mouth turning up, although her smile isn't a particularly happy one. Her pale eyes are sad. "Your wing well be mended soon," she adds. "And then you'll soar."