Disclaimer: I own nothing. It's all Saban.
Author Notes: This has taken me forever to write. It's all thanks to gnimaerd for introducing me to the series and its wonderful characters who completely inspired me. It's post-finale, is five chapters long in total, and later features one OC who I hope fits in. Enjoy.
'The problem of Deirdre' was what the court elders called it. King Conchobar heard it from his guards too, as they gossiped like old women when they were on duty and didn't think he could hear them.
Now that peace had come to Kells, Deirdre and Garrett should be moving forwards into a marriage. That was Conchobar's wish. Though it was true that the marriage was no longer an essential part of the alliance with Reged, it would certainly cement the bond in the most traditional and long-lasting manner and a royal wedding would help lift the spirits of the people of Kells in this time of great change. It would also surely produce an heir to the throne. But Deirdre, with her stubborn and proud will, was still refusing to go through with the engagement.
Deirdre was beside him now, looking so like her mother as she touched Conchobar's hand worriedly that he had to blink to clear the memory from his eyes. It was at times like these that he missed Brona more than ever. She would know how to deal with this situation, so like the beginning of their own happy marriage.
"I'm sorry, Deirdre," he apologised with a smile, hoping he hadn't been ignoring her.
"Is all well? You look worried."
"Ah, just affairs of court, my daughter. Nothing urgent and no longer of Maeve, thank Dagda."
His concerned gaze must have lingered on her for a moment too long, because Deirdre's expression hardened, her jaw clenching.
"Have the guards been gossiping again?" she demanded. "My choice is not a 'problem' to be discussed at court, Father, let alone by our soldiers! It is mine alone!"
"It isn't when it affects the future of Kells!" he corrected sharply. "Be reasonable, Deirdre. Garrett has more than proved his worth."
"You cannot force me to marry a man I feel nothing but friendship for! I'm sorry, Father, but I won't do it."
Deirdre stormed out before Conchobar could reply, his demands for her to return falling on deaf and unwilling ears.
"My King?" Cathbad appeared at his side, as though summoned by the turbulence.
"Ah, Cathbad. I don't suppose you have any wise words on how to deal with stubborn young daughters who won't obey their father's wishes?"
"Alas, even my magic offers no answers there," Cathbad's eyes twinkled in hidden merriment. "The Princess is still refusing to marry?"
"Aye," Conchobar sighed, feeling every year of his age lying heavily upon him. "She knows how important this is to Kells and yet still she refuses."
She had been correct though; Conchobar would not force her to marry. He was no tyrant, but something needed to be done.
"She says that she and Garrett are destined only to be friends, but cannot love grow from this?"
"Of course," agreed Cathbad. "But the Princess is not always patient, my King, and I fear she is too intent on finding a love match for her marriage. That is what matters most to her and so that is what she seeks."
Conchobar sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. As her father, he understood Deirdre's desires perfectly and would want nothing less than someone she loved and who loved her in return for her husband. But as her King, he needed someone who was suitable in birth and influence. It was an extremely tricky line to walk, as he was experiencing daily
"Prince Garrett, so suited, is willing and she is not. Sometimes I am sure she does this to tax me."
"A trait learnt from her mother perhaps?"
Conchobar chuckled, there were not many who would dare to even mention the late Queen in his presence, let alone make a joke. But Cathbad had known Brona well and he was right. Many a night early on in their marriage Conchobar had bemoaned some facet of his wife's behaviour that he had been unable to fathom. He felt a fresh pang for those nights again, his hand straying to the ring he still wore and always would.
"I can only counsel patience, my King," Cathbad sighed. "The time of no return for Deirdre is far into the future. And who is to say that she will not find someone else who she deems worthy of her affections and worthy of a princess?"
"You do well to remind me, Cathbad."
"It is an honour, my King."
It was only once the druid had left for his chambers that Conchobar mused that Cathbad had sounded as though he knew more than he was telling.
Another soldier hit the ground hard, groaning into the dirt. The next stepped forward, his nerves clear in the tremors of his spear. Deirdre attacked without hesitation, almost splintering his shield in her ferocity. The soldier threw down his weapon and ran.
"Come back here!" Deirdre raged. "I order you!"
But the soldier didn't look back and the others who had previously been lined up had scattered as soon as their comrade did. Deirdre threw down her staff in disgust. Perfect. Now even her own soldiers weren't obeying her, though perhaps this would cause their gossiping to stop.
"I thought you were supposed to fight the enemies of Kells, not your own warriors!"
Aideen fluttered down inquiringly. Deirdre glared, her frustration making an ugly sound from her lips. She had no time for Aideen's blather.
"Deirdre? What's wrong?" the fairy persisted.
"Go away, Aideen. I'm in no mood for company."
"I can see that! What's happened?"
Deirdre sighed, sitting down on one of the steps up to the battlements and reached for a waterskin. The sun was weak today, causing Kells to appear washed-out and worn-down. It fitted Deirdre's mood completely.
"My father still wants me to marry Garrett."
"Is that all? He's a fine warrior, Deirdre, and a prince fit for a princess."
"Not you as well!" Deirdre snapped. "I won't do it, Aideen."
Aideen perched on the battlement close to Deirdre, the better to take in her expression. The Princess did not look happy, creasing her pretty face into a frown.
"He's a good man," Deirdre conceded quietly, almost to herself. "But it's not love, I can't give my life to someone I don't love."
"You're a romantic, Princess."
Deirdre rested her chin on her knees, wrapping her arms about her legs. "Ivar is betrothed, did you know that?"
"Of course! He's going to marry a princess called Miriam from his neighbouring kingdom. They grew up together, it's a wonderful story. I heard him tell Rohan by the fire one night."
Deirdre smiled a little sadly. Her story wasn't like Ivar's at all. She understood her father's worries – an heir was needed and when she was queen, she would need someone strong who, like her, had been raised to rule a kingdom. Before becoming a Mystic Knight, she would never have admitted such a need to even herself. But it was true.
Aideen was still talking "And Angus has a sweetheart, have you seen them at the castle gates?"
"Aideen, you gossip more than a bogey!" Deirdre flicked a finger at her, almost playfully. Then she paused, taking in Aideen's words. "Angus, a sweetheart? Really?"
"She's from the village just beyond the Stone Valley, and wears her hair in beads and braids. Even Rohan doesn't know."
So it really was a secret. There wasn't much Angus didn't share with his childhood friend. Rohan, who hadn't been seen in Kells much at all recently.
"And what of Rohan?" Deirdre asked, her tone a little too interested to be merely casual. "Has he a sweetheart?"
Aideen glanced at the princess from under her eyelashes. Oh, the Princess was eager to know. For a few good long moments, Aideen was more than tempted to tell a tall tale and crush the Princess's hopes. Then perhaps she would marry Garrett after all. But Aideen had experienced what meddling with these human lives could do, it could become very messy and Rohan would be very angry if he found out.
"Rohan has no sweetheart," Aideen admitted reluctantly. "If he did, he wouldn't be able to keep it a secret. He's too honest."
Something very much like relief filled Deirdre at Aideen's words and a smile stole across her face. She felt warmer already. The fairy snorted and kicked up her feet.
"Now your mood has lifted," she muttered, beginning to take flight.
"Yes, it has," agreed Deirdre, dropping the empty waterskin down and stooping to retrieve her staff. "Thank you, Aideen."
The fairy crossed her arms and in her hurry to leave, almost missed the bogey, squelching quietly behind a barrel. Aideen immediately dropped into a dive. Bogeys were never to be trusted.
"What do you want here?" she demanded.
"Nothing! Just....taking the air," croaked the bogey defensively.
"I know you, you're the one who used to spy for Queen Maeve!"
Magic crackled in Aideen's hands and the bogey began to look nervous. When the magic formed into a bolt to be fired, the bogey quickly slimed a portal and disappeared through it. Aideen smiled proudly, Rohan would be very pleased to hear that she'd driven off one of Maeve's old spies. She'd have to go and tell him immediately.
Rohan didn't spend as much time as he used to at the castle of Kells. No one had made him feel unwelcome, it just didn't feel right there any more. Not when he knew Maeve's blood ran through his veins. He felt sick thinking about it.
He took the whetstone to his sword again, watching as the metal gleamed. He had no wish to claim Temra as his own. No matter that it was his birthright.
It struck Rohan that he had become several people since destiny had made him a Mystic Knight – a druid's apprentice, the warrior Draganta, and now King of Temra. It was too difficult to know who he was truly.
"I thought I might find you here."
Cathbad entered the hut without being asked, a full basket of herbs on his arm. He sat down opposite Rohan.
"The King has been asking for you," the druid relayed. "And is most anxious to know why you have not been at the castle."
Rohan's mouth tightened. There was no doubt a great deal the King wished to talk about. What to do about Temra now that Maeve was gone. Perhaps to begin forming an alliance with the once-enemy kingdom. How to persuade Deirdre to marry Garrett.
"So quiet, Rohan?" Cathbad peered at him shrewdly, looking far too knowledgeable for Rohan's liking. "Why do you choose to hide here when there is so much to be done?"
"I hide from no one, Cathbad."
"Except perhaps yourself?"
Rohan dropped the whetstone and sheathed his sword, all the better to avoid looking at Cathbad. The druid's words hit too close to home.
"I don't want Temra," he said at last.
"You have no choice, it is yours by birth," Cathbad was sharp now. "Would you rather other kingdoms fought for it and started another war?"
"No, of course not! But Temra is an evil place, Cathbad. I have been there and been surrounded by its stench. No good can come from it!"
There lay the deepest pain in Rohan's thoughts and Cathbad nodded slowly, allowing silence to fall between them for a few moments. Rohan felt sick again, waves of it rising inside of him, choking him. So often now he felt as though he could not breathe.
"You are of Temra blood, Rohan, that can never be changed. But also you are a Mystic Knight, the warrior Draganta – you have done a great deal of good," Cathbad's words were measured. "And think of all you could do as King of Temra, you could turn that miserable place into a respectable kingdom again, with ties to Kells."
"It is an impossible task, Cathbad."
"Pah!" Cathbad sounded disgusted. "It was said that this war with Temra would never end, that Deirdre would be queen before any peace was brought about. You are a fool to say such words, have I taught you nothing?!"
Cathbad's familiar grouchy temper brought a smile to Rohan's face, though the druid's words painted a picture he had not even allowed himself to consider. A changed Temra, a strong ally to Kells. Could it now become real, in this world where Kells was no longer at war? The darkness of doubt lingered in his mind. Who was he to even attempt such a thing? Power had consumed his mother and surely as her son he was likely to follow the same fate. Deirdre felt even further away. Perhaps that was best for her.
"Come along!" Cathbad got to his feet, grasping his basket. "The King has need of your presence and I'll make excuses for you no longer. Neither will your friends."
Rohan closed his mouth, the crafty old druid had him trapped. His friends had been shielding him it seemed and he would not see them take the blame for his unexplained absence.
"To Kells then," he sighed, getting to his feet reluctantly, feeling as though he was about to enter a battle he was ill-prepared for.
Out in the faint sunlight, Aideen swooped down with sparkles and chatter, weaving amongst the leaves to join them.
"You'll never guess what I did today, Rohan.........."