Disclaimer: The characters of Roar are the copyright property of Ron Koslow and Shaun Cassidy. No copyright infringement is intended.
A LOOK AT THE END OF THE STORY FOR ADDITIONAL NOTES.
This story takes place approximately five years after "Red Boots" and its assumed that the episodes after it haven't taken place. This story was recently betaed, I take full responsibility for all mistakes and shortcomings that are still to be found in it ;D.
© Triskell, 2000
Fergus had just about finished the preparations
for the arrival of those coming to the new shelter. He had spent the last days
working as long as the sun was out, hardly giving himself a chance to rest. His
inaptitude to protect Conor gnawed at him and the ruthlessness with which he
had left the lad behind with Catlin.
He knew deep inside that he hadn't been able to prevent Conor's being injured. By sweet Brigit, they'd all been in need of sleep, of rest and had barely managed to win the fight. He had to admit, their success was also largely due to Catlin's transformation into a whirlwind fury, chilling the soldiers' blood and dealing out killing blows wherever she struck. What was most amazing, if he thought about it, was that she had done all this with Conor's sword - that was one heavy weapon, and it was hard to imagine the raw rage the poor lass must have been in to be able to summon the strength to wield it at all…
Wherever Catlin was right now, her heart was probably even heavier than his was. She had seen the lad die, had buried him with her own hands…it would be a while yet, but Fergus knew they'd all go to pray for his soul at his grave…
He heard a rustle in the foliage behind him and, calculating swiftly and seeing the impossibility of it being Molly or Tully, made ready to face his death, when, on turning round, he saw…
His eyes widened, his breath caught in his throat…
"You should…sweet Brigit…lad, it's you! Sweet Brigit, you're…"
He didn't even notice that a few tears had slipped past his barriers and were running down his cheeks as he ran towards the young man, scooping him up in a bear hug, only then realizing that Catlin held him up…
"Oh, sorry, I forgot…" He grinned sheepishly, patting Conor's shoulder in what he hoped was a reasonable, calm and fatherly gesture. It only succeeded in Catlin's grin spreading even wider across her face and a suppressed giggle escaping her lips. Fergus coughed, averted his eyes, and then grunted, indicating the makeshift shelter he'd just finished setting up.
"You ought to lie down, lad."
Conor nodded perspiration on his forehead. When Catlin grabbed him tighter round the waist, pulling him up, Fergus noticed her tired, worn features for the first time and made haste to take the young man's weight off her. He led Conor towards the shelter, settling him down on his cloak. Catlin joined them, took off her cape and sank onto the ground beside her friend.
"I need some water, Fergus. And…a clean bandage would be nice too. Something to eat, if possible…"
Once again, the elder man shrank back a little as he looked into her eyes. She was so…demanding in this. But, seeing how tired and fragile she looked, he decided that teasing would have to wait for a while, and, chuckling, he went to do her bidding.
Catlin bandaged Conor's wound, urging him to eat a few bites and to drink plenty of water. Fergus kept out of the way, astonished at the firm gentleness evident in every of her gestures. When she laid back Conor's head, the young man tried to say something, but she hushed him, shaking her head. "Just sleep, you've had a long day."
He complied, and Catlin rose, motioning for Fergus to join her. They sat by the little lake in silence for a while.
"What happened out there, lass?"
Catlin shook her head. "Don't ask me, not now. I…I'd just like to get some rest, you know. Wake me at midday so I can re-do Conor's bandage, will you?"
She rose slowly, as if every movement afforded an immense will power. Fergus grunted, taking her arm and leading her to a nice little place beneath the foliage, where she slumped down immediately. He left her for a moment and on returning found her fast asleep already, and his frown deepened while he carefully covered her with his cloak. By Brigit, the lass sure had had more than her fill of exertion and toil in the past weeks…
Tully and Molly sat by the fire, nervously looking around. It had taken but four days to get to the others, yet, having the whole group going back with them, they had to be far more careful and so they kept to the deepest parts of the woods, and that greatly hindered their progressing at normal speed.
They were both tired, the events of the past weeks etched into their minds, haunting them time and again.
"I can't believe he's gone. I mean…I know he must be, given what I have seen of his state but…"
"I know, Tully, it's as if there was something telling you not to give him up."
They grinned at each other, seeking comfort in closeness. "It won't take us more than two or three days now…"
Molly nodded. "I'll take the first watch."
Catlin woke with a start when Fergus touched her shoulder. She'd been dreaming of so many things, colours, places and faces, all mingled into a horrible farce. Her first thought was for Conor and she gasped at not feeling his body close to hers as she had for the past weeks.
"He's still asleep, lass. Ya wanted to change the bandage at midday, you remember?"
She nodded. "I'm sorry…it was a…hard time."
"Will you tell me about it?"
Catlin flinched. "I can't. All you need to know is that when Conor was well enough to move a little, we began to slowly try and catch up with you. I have no clue as to why we took the path that brought us here, but we were tired and I thought I heard the sound of an axe, so I crept around a bit, and I saw you working…that's all."
Fergus nodded. "Brigit brought you here, that's for sure and certain."
Catlin smiled. "And Jesus too…"
The elder man grinned. "Whatever or whoever it was, lass, you're here and you're both well. That's all that matters."
It was early morning and the sun was just rising in the pale winter sky. Snowflakes were brushing the faces of the people, softly falling across the shadowed land.
"Thank Brigit we're here. I thought we'd never make it before the first snow."
Tully grinned. "Aye, we sure were lucky. You'd better go and warn Fergus we're coming or he'll be on us with his sword…"
Molly winked, amusement glittering in her eyes while she climbed down between the rocks. She caught sight of her father coming out of one of the shelters and waved as he looked up. A happy grin spread over his face and he beckoned her to come to him. She nodded, going back once more to let Tully know it was all right, and then she ran into Fergus' open arms.
"Ya will not believe it, lass. It is Brigit's doing, of that I'm sure…" Fergus broke off, motioning for Tully to join them. He told them to be quiet, leading them towards one of the shelters and opening the door a little, to let them see inside.
Molly gasped and Tully shook his head, looking at the still, sleeping figure of Conor lying there, alive and breathing as if they'd just imagined he was dying. They retreated on tiptoe and, as soon as they were out of earshot, began raining questions on Fergus.
"Hey, keep it down, will you? I don't know how…but a few days ago, Catlin and Conor were here, standing in front of me. She wouldn't tell me what happened, and I doubt she'll tell either of you, but she said that something led the two of them here, so I'm sure it was Brigit who saved the lad and brought them both back to us."
"I don't care how, as long as Conor's alive."
Tully agreed heartily, and Fergus added in a low whisper: "No use asking Catlin - it's only gonna upset her. What about the others? Did you tell them Conor was dead?"
Molly smiled. "We never got about to doing it. We thought it was better to let them think everything was fine. As if we had known that it would be."
Conor was beginning to feel a lot better, he could sit up on his own and his wound was healing exceptionally well. Catlin came twice each day, dressing the wound silently, averting her eyes and not speaking to him. She seemed so distant and distracted he gave up asking her how she was. Molly, Tully and Fergus visited him at intervals, telling him stories, gossiping or just keeping him company.
"Do you know what's wrong with Catlin, Tully? I've never seen her like this. She barely notices me when I talk to her."
"Can't tell you. She seems troubled by something - and she steadfastly refuses to tell us what happened in the woods, how she came across the herbs to cure you."
"Today I looked more closely as she bandaged my wound and I saw that right above it, there was something on my skin that looked like…well, letters."
Tully helped Conor to open the bandage, and then he leaned back on his heels and let out a deep breath.
"My, Conor, do you know that you've got a rune formula (3) written on your skin here? And I can assure you that it wasn't there before we left - so only Catlin can have…"
"That's impossible. She believes in Jesus, not in the old gods. She'd never write down runes, that would mean dishonouring her beliefs…she'd never even consider this."
"I'm not so sure. You know she's the kind of woman who'd do just about anything to save the life of someone she cares for. Even if it meant defying her god."
Conor shook his head. If this was true, and, considering the evidence it was hard not to believe it, then Catlin had given up a part of herself for him. This was the kind of gift he'd never be able to repay - he sighed softly. He needed to know what had happened.
Molly confirmed his suspicions. He had been dying, left with Catlin, as there seemed no way of saving him. And yet he was here, he was breathing and his wound was healing instead of having led him straight into the Otherworld…
The air was icy, but no one cared much for it, the fires had been lit and preparations for the evening's celebration of winter solstice (4) had begun already. Snowflakes still danced from the grey skies, adding to the soft cover that already lay on the wintry earth.
Conor grimaced while dressing himself slowly. Catlin had left the herb paste with him a few days ago, telling him to change the bandage twice a day. He hadn't seen her since then, but until now he had felt too weak to go and look for her. He wouldn't bother Tully or Molly; they were too much engrossed in the planning of the festivities and Fergus had taken to hunting for the big event and had no time to spare for him.
Taking a few careful steps, Conor winced as a stab of pain traveled across his chest. But he could keep himself upright, walk around even without feeling nauseous, so he tried his best to forget about the dull, thudding ache and concentrate on finding Catlin.
He had asked almost everyone, before he finally met with the desired answer: "Aye, I saw the lass. She seemed a little distracted as she passed, in that direction."
Conor nodded his thanks, and forced himself along. He rested every few feet, pulling his cloak closer around his body to ward off the chill. It took him a long time to get to the edge of the woods and even longer before he found Catlin. She was sitting on a log, motionless, staring at the white stillness about her.
He deliberately tried making a noise to attract her attention and she looked up, distraught. He saw the marks of tears on her reddened cheeks and longed to brush her sorrow away, to hold her and keep her safe from the pain that overshadowed the fresh blue of her eyes.
"May I sit with you?"
Catlin nodded, quenching the impulse to run to him and support him as he walked towards the log. He wouldn't appreciate her treating him like fragile pottery. Conor sat down beside her, taking her hand in his when she averted her eyes once again. She shivered at his touch and he noticed absentmindedly how cold her hand was when he began to speak,
"I know you don't want to talk about this, Catlin. I would respect it too, if I weren't involved - but I can't help feeling that whatever's bothering you is closely connected with me, and my being wounded."
"Don't ask me, please."
Conor sighed softly, taking her chin and turning her head towards him, forcing her to meet his eyes. "You know you can trust me, Catlin, don't you?"
She nodded, tears forming and running along her cheeks. He brushed them away with his thumb, then put his arms around her and held her close. She tried to pull back, afraid of hurting him, but his embrace was tight and she couldn't resist the temptation of just leaning against him, safe and warm in the knowledge that he cared for her.
They sat like this for a long time, and then Catlin pulled away abruptly, taking a deep breath. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and met Conor's gaze.
"I will tell you, once, and you must promise never to ask me or mention it again. This is solely between us, and I…want you to forget all of it when I've finished. Anything that…follows these events is something I must and want to deal with on my own."
Conor nodded his agreement, and Catlin began haltingly,
"I had a dream. It was…I remembered my grandmother and…her stories. There was a triskell, and…I saw it again, in another dream. I just…it was like a sign from the Gods and I…prepared a rite to call to Balder (5)…and I performed it. Then I found the herbs for the paste at the foot of a great oak and… waited for you to come around."
Conor's eyes darkened. So she had performed a rite that to her beliefs was heathen in order to save his life. Tully had been right. But he still didn't know why she had done it… Catlin sighed.
"You want to know why, don't you?"
"Jesus is in my soul, he's saved my spirit and lent me the grace of his mercy more than once. But you…you're in my heart, and I believe in the strength and comfort my…love for you give me…"
She broke off, and rose, blushing slightly. She hadn't wanted him to know. Not like this. But it was done and she felt at once elated and full of despair. All she wanted was to be alone; she couldn't look at him and turned into the woods without another word.
Conor was dumbfounded. He just stared after her, unable to call her back, unable to run after her. When he could no longer make out her silhouette in the drifting snow, he closed his eyes, feeling the earth answer him, the Roar rising in his heart.
Catlin loved him - and apparently without the hope of his returning her affections. It was high time to reconsider his feelings for her - he had, admittedly, often thought about her lately. But not of her face, her body or her smile - about who she was, the person, the woman that was so strong and passionate, so true and…
Conor smiled, lifting his eyes to the skies, feeling the soft snowflakes caressing his cheek, melting against his warm skin…like Catlin's touches when she took care of him. He had known a home in her arms, a comfort and serenity that seemed to have gone to the Otherworld with Claire and his family on that fateful day.
He still thought of his lost lover with a deep tenderness, he had discovered the meaning of love with her for the first time, but time had passed and her memory had faded slowly. Though he hadn't believed it possible, Catlin had found her way into the part of his heart he had locked tightly when Claire died. He had vowed not to love another the way he had loved her - and he knew that he hadn't broken his promise, even now.
No one could ever replace Claire. And Catlin was no replacement - she was the fulfilment of his dreams, the woman who had ignited a fire in him that had grown steadily, until it was burning clearly and brightly, its all-consuming flame warming his heart and comforting his soul. She was the one, and he had to make sure she knew just how much he cared.
Being Catlin's friend, he didn't think she'd readily accept a declaration of his as the truth when it was made at a point where she had told him she had saved his life by giving so much of herself. She would, of course, mistake his love for pity and overpowering gratitude. So he'd have to overcome her doubts once and for all…
Fergus grumbled and grunted irritably when he came back from hunting only to find Conor waiting for him, sending him off on an errand.
"Ya know lad, I'm no servant of yours. Ya can do that yourself, I'm sure."
"Trust me, I've got a good reason for sending you. It's going to be a surprise and I don't want anyone to know."
"Who's it for? You're not going to…ask something of Molly…?"
"No, it's not Molly. She's more in Tully's league, if you know what I mean…"
Fergus frowned at Conor's mischievous grin, shaking his head. "Tully, eh…we'll see about that."
"Will you go now?"
"Aye, but you owe me, lad."
Conor just kept on grinning. Now all he needed was a little help in luring Catlin into a little trap…
The sun was setting in bloody reds, flaming oranges and golden hues and the fires danced in the evening breeze. Catlin had just returned from her walk, and, not seeing Conor anywhere round, settled down on a log, her eyes tired and tinged with a deep sadness.
"Catlin! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
Molly sat down beside her friend, nudging her in the side companionably. "I got to show you something, I'm sure you'll love it." She giggled, taking Catlin's hand, pulling her up. She tugged the young woman along behind her, steering her towards the huge brushes that hid one side of the lake from view. They stood, gazing at the still, icy water that lay between them and the dense foliage.
"There's nothing here, Molly. At least not as far as I can see…"
Molly grinned, good-humouredly. "Oh, there is, you'll see!"
A rustling in the branches of a bush opposite them attracted their attention. A tiny sparkle appeared, drifting towards them. It was a burning stick, attached to a piece of bark that floated on the lake.
"Look! Let's get it out and have a good look at it!"
"I don't want to play games tonight, Molly."
Her friend grinned, moving to take a long branch and helping the makeshift ship along its way. She finally managed to get it close to the shores and scooped it up, extinguishing the flame in the process and presented it to Catlin. The young woman took the bark, noticing how the water shimmered in the dim moonlight.
But Molly seemed to have vanished, and Catlin stood alone at the shores, the dark bluish black water looming in front of her. She shook her head, fairly sure it was some kind of joke that her friends were playing on her, hoping to cheer her up.
Catlin almost jumped out of her skin, when she felt a soft touch on her shoulder - she hadn't heard anyone coming and, on turning around, came face to face with Conor. She flinched, backed away, but he caught hold of her arms, pulling her against him. She tried to wriggle free, only to feel him embracing her tightly, pinning her arms against her body. She wanted to say something but found her lips taken in a soft, gentle kiss. The little boat slipped from her hands and fell to the ground unnoticed.
Her mind screamed for her to resist him, to push him away, but her heart and body responded eagerly to his touch. If only for a moment, she wanted to savour this closeness, this connection. When the kiss ended, Catlin once again tried to get away from him, but Conor still pressed her close to his body, bending forward slightly to whisper in her ear,
"I love you and, by Brigit, I'd be a fool if I let you get away from me again."
Catlin shivered, not believing what she heard. Pity - he pities me, thinks he owes me something - it's just gratitude - these thoughts echoed in her mind and she fervently tried to convince herself that this couldn't be true, that she was just imagining it. But Conor's body, his steady heartbeat that had almost become a part of her while she tended to him, his warmth and the way his breath caressed her neck belied her efforts to brush the whole thing off that easily.
"I don't pity you, Catlin. And no matter how much you do for me - I could never belittle you or your feelings for me by pretending I care more for you than I really do."
He knew what she was thinking! And she felt her resolve to leave weaken as the truth trickled into her brain, washing away her fears and uncertainties.
"You really care for me…"
He silenced her with another kiss, and she let herself fall, drowning in the overwhelming happiness that came upon her. Conor finally let go of her arms and she wrapped them around his neck, drawing him still closer towards her and cherishing the warmth of his hands on her hips.
"Where in the name of the gods is Conor?"
"Don't wait for him, Da, he's busy at the moment."
"What do ya mean, busy? He's the leader of this band here, and it's winter solstice - it's his privilege, nay, his duty to lead the dances."
"Give him a bit of time, Fergus. He might be turning up a bit later, you know."
"The lot of you is driving me crazy! First Conor's sending me to get that ring of his, then he doesn't turn up - that's not funny, Molly!"
"Well, I can just about guess what he's gonna do with the ring, Da. And as for not being here - you of all people should be able to understand that."
She winked at Tully, and then they both grinned widely.
"Seems like we gotta start the dance ourselves - you coming, Molly?"
Fergus opened his mouth to say something, but Tully had already whisked his daughter away and was twirling her around near the fire…
"I have something for you."
Catlin lifted her head from where it rested comfortably on Conor's shoulder and smiled up at him. He grinned back, brushing her lips softly with his before handing her a little leather-wrapped item. She took it, carefully opening it to reveal a small metal ring that glimmered a silvery white.
"I know we believe in different gods, but I'd still like to spend the rest of my life with you by my side and I guess we could find a way to get married, if you are willing."
Catlin's heart skipped a beat, then her smile deepened and it seemed to her as if heaven itself was opening before her.
"Aye, I am willing."
She slipped the ring on her finger as Conor's hand cupped her chin and he bent down to kiss her again. Hearing the voices of the others drifting towards them more clearly now, she wondered for a moment if they would be missed.
"I bet Fergus will get me for not coming tonight." Conor whispered, his wide, happy grin belying the earnest tone, however, and Catlin snuggled closer to him once again.
They sat still by the side of the lake, the pale moonlight enhancing their silhouettes in a ghostly haze and the night passed away into their memory as the first of many happy ones they shared in the following years despite the raging war and the looming uncertainty around them.
Celtic symbol of life consisting of three spirals flowing into each other that stand for the three elements earth, fire and water.
they were the alphabet of the ancient Nordic Germanic and Anglo-Saxon Tribes - "rune" means "secret" or "hidden" (compare to the Irish word: rún)
(3) Rune formula:
you can write them with 3, 5 or 7 runes and they serve to make your wishes come true (really works if you believe in it!!); I don't know for sure whether runes were used by the Celts or not, but they are so beautifully mystical that I couldn't resist. Balder, the God I'm using, is a Nordic God as well, so don't sue me for using him ;-). I'm perfectly sure, however, that this rite I'm describing sprang from my own distorted imagination and hasn't ever actually been performed ;-).
I've learned all this from a little book of mine called "Runen und was sie bedeuten" (Runes and what they mean) by David V. Barrett, published by Stürtz Verlag Würzburg, 1996.
(4) Winter solstice:
December 21st, shortest day of the year; one of the most important Celtic festivals
(5) Balder, Nordic God of runes and herb medicine.