Nature of the Beast

By: Hannah Howell

She was not his. He was not sure she could ever be his or would ever want to be. That knowledge did nothing to silence the primal cry of possession in his heart, however. Berawald had to face the fact that he wanted to claim Evanna Massey in every way a man could claim a woman. It made no sense, for, although she was beautiful enough to stir any man’s passion, he did not really know her. The feelings tearing through his body ought to be inspired by far more than a beauty of face and form. Surely a man needed to really know a woman, know her mind, and her heart, before he became so needy and possessive.

Shaking away his confusion, he entered through the gates of Cambrun, grunting a response to the calls of welcome he received from the guards, many of them his cousins. The sight of spirits clustering near him and the murmur of their voices in his head did nothing to improve his mood. He had quickly become accustomed to the quiet he enjoyed around the Masseys. What he needed to concentrate on was getting some advice and maybe even some answers to all the questions he still had. He also had to tell someone about the men he had seen creeping around the edges of MacNachton land. Since the laird and his lady were off visiting one of his sons, Berawald headed down into the bowels of the keep to find his cousin Jankyn.

When he entered Jankyn’s chambers, Jankyn’s wife took one look at his face and swiftly excused herself from the room. Berawald realized that he must look as bad as he felt, but she gave him no time to offer an apology for his foul mood. When he turned back to Jankyn that man handed him a large tankard of wine. One sniff was enough to tell Berawald that it was some of the specially enhanced wine and he gulped it down, savoring the strength it gave him.

“Sit,” Jankyn ordered, pointing to a chair by a table set close to the fire. “What has the usually distracted but cheerful Berawald looking as if he wants to kill someone?” Jankyn poured himself some wine, refilled Berawald’s tankard, and sat down facing him.

“I apologize for scaring Efrica,” Berawald said.

“I doubt ye frightened her. She but sensed that ye needed to speak with me about something of importance and that ye would probably prefer to do that alone. So, speak.”

“I have guests.” Between sips of wine, Berawald told Jankyn about David and Evanna.

Jankyn frowned in thought for several minutes after Berawald had finished his tale. “She heals quickly?”

“Aye, verra quickly. It was a shallow cut on her side only in that it didnae go deep enough to damage her innards, but it was long and bled freely. Isnae a week too soon for an Outsider to recover from such a serious wound?”

“’Tis completely healed?”

“Aye, naught but a faintly reddened scar is left. The bruises and scratches she was covered with faded within two, three days.”

“That is unusual. And for that someone cried her a demon or a witch?”

“She claims the charge was born of that and having such red, red hair as well as having pale skin so delicate that it cannae bear being touched by the midday sun. Her brother is the same. Neither of them was troubled when I ate some barely seared meat and David e’en took some of it for himself and Evanna. I wondered if they might have some MacNachton blood.”

“It seems verra possible to me. I shall see what I can find in all of the available papers. It also makes it more alarming that she is being hunted.”

“Ye think that these men might be more than simple, superstitious villagers, aye?” Berawald had begun to suspect that they were, but he wanted someone to agree with him.

“Again — verra possible. The ones who mean to eradicate us ken a lot about us, far more than I like. Each thing ye have told me about the Masseys would certainly be enough to stir up their dangerous suspicions.”

“E’en though they are both redheaded, one with green eyes and one with blue?”

“I am nay sure these men would realize the rarity of that. Or, and this is even more alarming, they ken weel that our kinsmen have spread their seed far and wide.”

“’Tis what I fear,” Berawald murmured. “There is one other thing — I think they ken about the spirits.”

“They see them, too?”

Berawald nodded. “They havenae said anything but I am absolutely certain that they do. E’en more curious, ’tis as if they shield me from the spirits simply by being close to hand. In the week they have been with me, I have been little troubled by the spirits that seem to crowd this land, and the voices in my head have been almost completely silenced. ’Tis as if, by their verra presence in my home, they have strengthened the walls between the living and the dead. The moment I reached Cambrun, the spirits and the voices in my head were all back as if they had never left me.”

“That is verra interesting, verra interesting indeed, and it must be verra pleasant for you.” Jankyn smiled faintly. “And this Evanna — she is beautiful with her red hair, green eyes, and delicate skin?” He laughed softly when Berawald blushed.

“Aye, she is beautiful, and, aye, I ache for her. But she hasnae told me the truth, nay all of it.”

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