Disclaimer: The characters of Roar are the copyright property of Ron Koslow and Shaun Cassidy. No copyright infringement is intended.
PLEASE HAVE A LOOK AT THE END OF THE STORY FOR
This story takes place approximately five years after "Red Boots" and its assumed that the episodes after it haven't taken place. Finally betaed, thanks to Kati!
© Triskell, 2000
The sun rose on the autumn woods, its thinning ray casting golden sparks all over the trees, colouring the world in rich reds and browns.
A silent figure stood near a knoll of weatherworn oaks, leaning on a bow-caster. Her gaze rested on the rolling green hills before her, and her eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly when the soft winds moved the blades of grass in the distance.
She turned round in a flash, battle-poised, at the sound of footsteps and came face to face with Conor. He smiled, brushing aside the sword that pointed at his chest.
"Ya need rest. I'll take over."
She shook her head, her eyes travelling across the vast hills before her once more.
"I don't trust this," her arm encompassed the landscape around them, "it's too quiet, too peaceful. The Romans are lurking in the shadows, they know we haven't found a safe place for the winter yet and we can't keep the elders and children in hiding forever. A few more weeks, and we'll run out of food."
"You're tired. Take a nap. I don't like all this anymore than you do, and I - we'll - figure out a way; we always have until now."
Her eyes softened when he sighed and she turned towards the trees, where their small band had stayed for most of the night. Conor was just as worn and tired as she was, but he was determined to let her get some sleep, and she was grateful for the respite, however brief it might turn out to be.
The young man watched her settle down beside Tully, Fergus and Molly then concentrated on the hills as she had done moments ago.
Conor's eyes darkened with rage when he remembered how the Romans had overrun the Sanctuary, not so many moons ago. They had had to evacuate their hiding place, and thank Brigit no one had been killed. But life in the woods was dangerous - not solely because of the impending chance of being found by the Romans - but more because of the approaching winter, the cold and the absence of proper shelter and enough food and water for all of them. That was why he and his friends had set out to find a suitable place for them all to spend the cold season.
He had undertaken a great responsibility, he knew. The welfare of great many depended almost solely on him, on his ability to provide for and protect them. He hadn't wanted to be a leader, yet fate had left him no other choice. He had accepted his destiny and even though he sometimes wondered at his decision, he knew he couldn't have lived with refusing to honour his heritage and calling.
The fresh morning dew shone in the rising sun - tiny, iridescent sparkles in an ocean of green - and the smell of wet grass was an almost palpable sensation. He closed his eyes for a moment, letting the clean scent wash over him, filling him. The ground beneath his feet seemed to draw deep breaths, just like him, bracing him for the fights that were to come.
A hoarse cry tore Catlin from her much needed sleep. She was wide-awake in a moment, jumping to her feet and drawing her sword. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Tully, Molly and Fergus - poised and ready to fight, then she was drawn mercilessly into the fray.
Roman soldiers had crept up on Conor from behind, and though they hadn't managed to completely surprise him, they had been able to benefit from his weariness to come quite close before he detected them.
There were ten or fifteen Roman scouts against the five of them. It was no question of them winning. Conor's battle cry rose to the sky, spurning them on and Catlin soon joined him, guarding his back. Molly and Tully fought side by side and Fergus kept in their midst. This kind of formation had developed naturally and proven to be most effective and safest for them all.
The Romans stood no chance against the fury of the Celtic warriors, and though they all breathed a lot more heavily when it was over, they shook the last remnants of sleep off, took their small satchels and let the silent woods swallow their traces and cover their retreat.
"We should've taken the horses. We aren't going fast enough."
"Not a good idea, child. Roman patrols are all about; we couldn't hide the horses."
Conor nodded absent-mindedly, his eyes following Catlin's retreating form as she went farther into the shadows to pray.
"We're all burned out and time's running short. We must find shelter for the winter. Sweet Brigit! There must be a place around here somewhere!"
Fergus clapped his hand on his shoulder, managing a grumbling "I know" as he silently shook his head. The odds were against them, the Romans had overrun most of the land and safety for their people seemed like a thing of the past.
Catlin's prayers had always been full of faith, but lately she had pleaded more fervently than ever before. She saw the pain in Conor's eyes, the resignation on Fergus' face, and the forced determination in Tully and Molly. None of them would admit to it, but they all knew they had in all probability already lost the war.
Even the druids had been forced to flee the Romans; no one knew where they were hiding. Villages were raided day after day and the invaders' rule was strengthened by the approach of winter as people sought shelter and food and were therefore easier to track and to hunt down.
"Dear Lord, have mercy on us. We must keep our people safe, we can't let them down, oh Jesus, please, and we need thy heavenly grace to succeed…"
Catlin shook her head softly, tears escaping from her eyes. It was futile. She was losing hope fast, and so was everyone else. What scared her most was that she knew they'd all rather die than fail those that depended on them. So they'd go on searching, fight a foe that had control over most of the isle, and resources of men they could never hope to win against.
So many things had changed in the past years. The fights had cost them dear, all the innocence of their youth was gone, the eyes of men they'd slain burned in their minds, and their sleep was never free of nightmarish visions of their own doom.
A soft rustle behind her and she was on her feet, ready to draw her sword as she turned.
"I didn't want to frighten you."
She shook her head, brushing the tears from her cheeks as Conor approached, flopping down onto the grass beside her unceremoniously. She smiled as she seated herself by his side. He looked into the darkness while he spoke, his voice barely a whisper.
"We're losing, aren't we?"
"I hope not."
His eyes met hers then, a smile playing on his lips. "Did your God tell you we had a chance?"
"No, my heart does."
"There's so many of them…I'd say the odds are against us."
Catlin reached out, laying her hand on his arm. "As long as we fight, there's still hope. The Lord is good, we must believe, even if what we wish for seems impossible at times."
"You have more faith in this than I do. Sometimes I'm not sure if there's any use in going on at all."
"You mustn't say that! Don't resign yourself to a future that's not even clear. You mustn't lose hope that we can win!"
His smile was tinged with sadness; he hugged his knees, his head dropping onto his crossed arms - a protective gesture, a futile attempt to let the world pass him by.
"We must believe, Conor. If it can't get worse it'll just have to get better."
"I wish I had your faith, Catlin. But I'm tired. I've spent the past five years fighting for my country and have seen it taken, abused and burned down by the Romans - and there was nothing I could do."
"You've done so much! You've lead a great many warriors…"
"To their deaths."
"Most of us would rather die than to give up and surrender. You gave those that wanted to fight someone to look up to - and you protected those that couldn't help themselves. You're a hero for the people!"
"And what else am I? Do I still exist as anything but this…this heroic figure that stories make of me?"
Oh, he existed as many other things - at least for Catlin - he was the man she loved, with a passion and strength beyond all she had ever imagined herself capable of; he was someone she'd die for, follow no matter where he might lead her; he was her dearest companion, a true and loving friend, and a compassionate and understanding leader - so many things to tell him, if only she found the words. In these days, life was shorter than one thought.
"You're a very special person, Conor. When we first met you were…more a boy than a warrior, but you have changed, grown by your responsibilities and duties while still retaining your warm heart and your compassion. You've lost so much in the past years, and yet you've never given up. You saved so many lives and even Fergus has accepted you as leader; he respects you for being the man you are - we all do."
Conor fixed his dark eyes on her as she spoke, staring intently at him, trying to convince him. And - by Brigit - she was succeeding. He smiled, taking her hand.
"I won't give up, Catlin, not as long as you're with me." A short pause ensued, then he pulled himself together and rose, pulling the young woman up with him. "Go, get some sleep, I'll take the first watch." She nodded, moving away, then, as if following a sudden impulse turned round and kissed his cheek. Before he could say another word, she rejoined the others and Conor forced himself to tear his eyes from his friends and to concentrate on watching the dark horizon.
"They've found us, get up!"
Tully shook his sleeping companions and the routine of years took over. They were awake and ready when the Roman patrol came into full view. There were about twenty or thirty of them, all on horseback, and they didn't ask questions.
The Celts soon found themselves surrounded, but danger was nothing new and Conor was determined not to let this be the end. Catlin sensed his drawing back and followed him, beckoning to the others to do the same. "We won't go down without a fight." Conor's voice echoed in her ears though he had barely spoken above a whisper. It was a challenge to them all and from the proud grin on Fergus' face, Molly's clenched teeth and Tully's lips moving as if to recite magic words Catlin saw that all felt the same.
They retreated, keeping their breathing even and ignoring the beating of their hearts, their eyes never leaving the men that had surrounded them. They were closing in on them, thinking they were ready to give up. They formed a circle, their backs to each other and when Catlin saw the look of surprise on the patrol leader's face, she nudged Conor.
He cast a look at her, grinning. So this was it - life or death - a decision of fate made at the point of their swords. She smiled back at him, and joined in his roar when he charged the Romans, frightening their horses with the sudden noise and taking them by surprise.
Before the soldiers had time to properly react, five of them lay dead - and the surge of strength the sheer will to live gave the Celts was enough to carry them through almost half of the battle - then the strain made itself noticed. Still they fought on, grim and determined. After having survived the battle this far they wouldn't let anyone defeat them.
"Oh, Lord, help us." Catlin whispered under her breath, just as Conor fell heavily against her back, throwing her forward with his weight. She barely evaded her opponent's sword, and used her kneeling position to ram her sword deep into his heart.
Conor slumped down beside her just then, his face and torso bloody, and the Roman doubled over. On an instinct, Catlin let herself roll on top of her friend, thereby evading the blade that slashed into the man she had just killed and giving her a moment to take Conor's sword that had dropped out of his hand and slicing it straight across her attacker's chest. He collapsed on top of his comrade, his blood seeping into the earth through the reddened grass.
Catlin was on her knees, casting a look at Conor's pain-distorted face, taking in the ugly gash on his chest near his heart, and the cut at his temple. Hearing the rattling of Roman armour approaching, she jumped up with a blood-curdling scream, Conor's heavy sword held high, and bore on the man in front of her, slashing down on him, defending her wounded friend's body with the blazing fury of the agony that tore through her.
She couldn't remember her prayers as she blindly flung herself into the fray, almost enjoying the sound of the blade cutting through flesh, oblivious to the blood that gushed out of the Romans' wounds and onto her tunic. Her throat was raw with her screams; her voice seemed hoarse, as if she was tearing her heart out of her body with every movement.
Suddenly it seemed eerily quiet as the last soldier fell at her feet and she dimly heard a voice behind her telling her to put down the sword, that it was over; then a hand was on her shoulder and the haze that had partly obscured her vision disappeared as tears fell freely and sobs wrecked her body.
Fergus slowly approached her, careful to let her know he was coming, taking the sword from her, and bracing her as she slumped against his chest for a moment. He had never seen her like this and he most certainly had never before seen anyone fighting like this. She had scared the life out of the soldiers; sweet Brigit, she had even scared him…
Catlin forced the sobs down, straightened herself, her whole mind focused on Conor as she pushed past Fergus only moments later and crossed the short distance to where his body lay. Molly had already torn his clothes and was pressing her hand on the wound in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding.
Tully was poised, his eyes darting around, ready to cut down anyone else who might draw near and Fergus took up the same pose as the women tightly bound the wound, pressing a make-shift pad against the bloody gash. While Molly saw to Conor's temple with trembling hands, Catlin carefully brushed the drying blood from his face, smoothing the tumbled, dirty locks from his brow with a tender motion.
Her heart ached looking at him, his heaving breaths growing shallower as his friends sat watching over him. They had moved from the scene of battle, Fergus carrying Conor, pausing only now and then to rest his aching arms for a moment. Hidden in the underbrush they had passed most of the night, and now, as dawn broke, they moved farther into the shadows, each of them praying silently to their Gods to let Conor live.
Celtic symbol of life consisting of three spirals flowing into each other that stand for the three elements earth, fire and water.