Title: Tell Me A Story Author: Lassar Feedback: [email protected] Rating: PG-13 Notes: Companion piece to Wielder of Destiny. It's not necessary to read Wielder first, but you may want to check it out at some point.

Kenneth Irons looked down at Ian. His young charge was propped up in bed with extra pillows, probably brought by one of the maids. The women tended to dote on the precocious four-year-old. He had debated firing the lot, but Nottingham was learning to manipulate others to his gain. It was a useful lesson, so he would allow it to continue. However, if Ian began to rely on their assistance instead of accomplishing things for himself, there would be new staff.

One must never rely on others completely; it led to complacency and mediocrity. Neither of which Kenneth approved of in the least. He had plans for this boy, a great many plans. The Witchblade would choose a new bearer in twenty-two years, according to his research. Ian was destined to play a large part in his control of the Wielder.

Were she still alive, Elizabeth would doubtless disagree with his intentions. Some days he didn't know whether to be sorrowful for her passing or pleased that she was spared learning what he was doing. He couldn't help seeing Elizabeth in the dark haired boy. It wasn't just looks, he had something of her spirit and sense of loyalty.

Leaning down, he started to place a soft kiss on the child's heated forehead. At the last moment he stopped himself and changed the gesture to a gentle pat. What had he been thinking? Such an overt display of affection simply wasn't in his nature. The boy was in no danger of dying; Immo had said that the virus was common enough among American children. It even had a foolish and juvenile name, chicken pox. The doctor had given Ian antibiotics. The only thing to be done now was bed rest and plenty of fluids. He would recover soon, and no harm done.

Really, there was nothing to get emotional about. The boy was a tool, and that was all. It would not do for him to forget that. These lapses into unthinking paternalism would have to be watched for and guarded against. Kenneth shoved the warmth such emotions gave him ruthlessly away. Affection was permitted, but love could prove disastrous to his plans. Better to treat Ian as he treated the wolfhounds stretched out on the floor, with control and the occasional kind word.

He allowed none of his inner conflict to show as he gazed at Ian, who was tucked, under protest, in bed. After a few days, bed-rest had paled for young Nottingham. He became restless and inattentive, even during his lessons. Ian would only settle down when Kenneth came to read him his bedtime story, a tradition that both treasured. Usually it was a story that held relevance to Ian's lessons. Right now they were halfway through Dante's Inferno. He had to pause occasionally to explain a word to the boy, but as Ian possessed a formidable vocabulary for his age, these interruptions were infrequent.

Kenneth lifted the book from its resting place on the bookshelf and settled into the sturdy oak chair positioned by the bed. Both were upholstered in dark wine, with a turn of the century Jacquard pattern of gold woven through. The dark colors and heavy wood were the only concession to the vigorous youth who's room it was. Ian had to understand that he lived in a house filled with priceless antiques, which could not be climbed on or have food and drink sloshed upon it.

He thumbed through the aged book, hands caressing the Moroccan leather binding. When Kenneth found the place they had left off, he began to read. He completed a paragraph before a small hand appeared between his eyes and the text. He looked up in surprise, and found Ian kneeling on the bed with a determined look on his face.

Having achieved his goal of getting Irons attention, Ian said, "I don wanna hear 'pol-it-cal satire'. I wanna real story with kings an' mighty warriors an' battles an' the Witchblade."

"How many times must I tell you to be impeccable in your speech Ian? In this day and age words are the mightiest of weapons. Use them with care and precision." Kenneth calmly rebuked the outburst.

"I would like a real story, if you please sir. One about the Witchblade." Ian rephrased his question. There was no way he was going to sit here and listen to a who's who of political figures in Hell. He wanted something wonderful to dream about, since they were making him stay in bed so much.

There was more than a hint of petulance in the child's tone, but Kenneth decided to humor him because he had borne his enforced confinement so well. Besides, it never hurt to encourage the boy's interest in the ancient talisman. "A real story hmmm. All right young Nottingham, it shall be as you wish."

Ian settled back with glee. On the rare occasions Irons told him a story instead of reading one, it was always more exciting. He'd only recently been allowed to see the Witchblade, sitting in its case in the shrine room. All the pictures of the previous Wielders and their artifacts arranged around it had combined to spark his imagination. Now he was going to hear one of their stories. He could hardly sit still he was so excited.

Kenneth closed his eyes, drawing on the legend that marked the beginning of his involvement with the Witchblade. "In the land of Eire, now called Ireland, there was born a prince named Conchobar. Because of his station, the might of the beautiful warrior woman Cathain, and the hard work and clever planning of his chief advisor and cousin, Coinneach, he was crowned king. But Conchobar turned his back on those who had helped him, and heeded only the sycophants that crowded around the throne and heaped false praises upon his head. He even cast aside Cathain, the wielder of the Witchblade, to pursue a beautiful maiden named Deirdre."

"Why would he do that?" Ian asked, his brow creased in confusion. Surely this Deirdre could not have been as wonderful as Cathain. The female chosen by the Witchblade was superior to all other women.

Kenneth leaned forward slightly in his chair, eyes snapping with old anger. "Because he was a fool, and doubly so. For in turning away Cathain he lost the aid of her army as well as the weight of her reputation. Both things had kept ambitious princelings from rising against the Bull of Ulster, for they could not defeat his army and hers. Indeed, Cathain had barely retuned to her isle when the first hints of rebellion began."

"The fool found himself betrayed by his newfound cup-fellows. Cathain, quite rightly, refused to come to his aid. So he turned to his cousin, who's wise council he had ignored since acquiring the crown, and asked for assistance. Coinneach was not so foolish as to offer his people to shore up the king's army. He had no wish to lose valuable vassals. Instead he went to the druids that he had studied with in his youth. He asked them to intercede on the king's behalf. They were charged with convincing Cathain to forget her anger and return to fight at Conchobar's side. It was a magnificent use of resources. If the druids failed to rouse Cathain, the failure would be theirs. No shadow of blame would fall on Coinneach." Kenneth smiled coldly.

"What could druids do to 'fluence Cathain? Didn't they just hang out worshipping nature?" Ian had only read enough about them to know that druids were the priests of the old Celtic religions. They worshipped the spirits of nature, and spent a lot of time off in the woods. It sounded pretty cool to him, but not something that would make warriors pay any real attention to the druids.

Lips curled up in disdain at the question as Kenneth replied. "Druids didn't just 'hang out'. They were the repositories of the wisdom of the people. They were the keepers of tradition and the ones who communed with the gods, interceding on man's behalf. The druids held positions of great power and influenced kings and commoners alike."

"Oh." Ian said softly, amazed and impressed. It sounded like a great deal of responsibility.

"As I was saying, the druids spoke to Cathain, pleading on Conchobar's behalf. They told her that the realm prospered under his rule; he had done great good for the people, and that Conchobar admitted he was foolish to set her aside. They requested that she put away her personal feelings and ride against the rebels. When their pleas failed to move her, they asked what could be done to convince her to come to his aid. She coldly informed them that only when the blood of her rival decorated the stones of Kensaleyre would she set forth from her isle." Kenneth paused and rubbed the interlocking circles on the back of his hand as though the scars suddenly pained him.

"She wanted Deirdre killed?" This was not the image Ian had of the Wielder. How could she demand the death of an innocent woman? Surely Cathain should have helped Conchobar simply because he was he was the king. It was her duty.

"Remember what Juvenal wrote? Quod vindicta nemo magis guadet femina, there are none so vindictive as a woman. The Wielder, for all her special gifts, is still a woman. You would do well to keep that in the forefront of your mind when dealing with her, young Nottingham." Kenneth informed his gravely listening charge.

"I won't forget. I promise." Ian vowed, still trying to adjust his image of the Wielder from near-goddess status to very powerful person, subject to the same feelings as everyone else. He couldn't quite wrap his mind around it though.

Kenneth smiled. This was a good story to begin the boy with; he was already changing Ian's fanciful notions about the Wielder. "Excellent, my boy. At length, the druids perceived that there would be no budging Cathain. In defeat, they brought her demand back to Conchobar. He refused, believing that Cathain would come back to him freely. He could not fathom the depth of her anger and hurt."

"How could he not? To have your offerings of love rejected." Ian trailed off. He knew how much it hurt when Kenneth rebuffed his more overt demonstrations of affection, even if it was for his own good. Great warriors were always in control of themselves, and he needed to learn that restraint. He could only imagine how much worse it would feel if it were done out of a lack of caring. The thought made him clench his fists. How dare Conchobar! Ian imagined sticking a sword in his side and twisting.

The sudden urge to protect the Wielder caught him by surprise. Until now it had never occurred to him that she could need anything more than the Witchblade for protection. Ian made a silent, but heartfelt, vow to shield the next Wielder to the best of his abilities. He hoped he'd be grown before that happened, because he still had lots to learn.

"His cousin understood Cathain's feelings all to well, and knew she would not relent. Once Conchobar returned to the field, Coinneach made arrangements. He had his finest warrior, Ewan, deliver Deidre to the druids." Kenneth tried to continue his story, only to be cut off by another excited outburst.

"His finest warrior? I bet he had a really neat sword." Ian's eyes were shining as he swung an imaginary sword around him, the same sword he had wished in the gut of Conchobar. Beheading might be fun too, and it would definitely be more dramatic. He swung in the air as if taking his enemy out.

"Yes, I'm sure he did." Kenneth watched the boy's antics tolerantly for a few moments before continuing, "Deirdre's life was given to the stone, as it had been done in the old days to appease the gods. Cathain honored her promise and came forth to slay her beloved's enemies. Some accounts say that Cathain personally slew a thousand troops. Although that seems an abnormally large amount, even for the Witchblade, it is possible. They were reunited on the battlefield, with the ravens of the warrior goddess, Macha, circling overhead. The end. Now go to sleep Ian, and we will finish reading Inferno tomorrow night."

Ian wanted to protest, it hadn't sounded like the end, but he had a feeling that he would hear no more. With a sigh he flopped back down in bed and pulled the covers up to his chin. "Good night sir."

"Good night Ian." Kenneth turned off the lights as he left the room and headed off to bed himself.

Downstairs, the Witchblade glowed an angry red. Kenneth had left out a great deal. The gem in the gauntlet began to flicker, images of the distant past sliding across its surface, and three floors up, under silken sheets the color of pewter; Kenneth Irons tossed in his sleep.