Kiaran continued onward towards Temra. No longer did he look the part of the handsome prince; his blonde hair stuck up all over the place and his eyes were dark and sad.
Deirdre, Garrett, Ivar, and Angus followed after him. It was Deirdre's idea, really to pursue Kiaran. "He could be useful to us," Deirdre said. "We ought to at least try." And the knights, knowing how stubborn Deirdre could be, agreed, except for Rohan. Rohan was serving a greater mission for the King: finding Maeve. The former queen of Temra had slipped out during the attack on the castle and no one knew where she had gone.
Deirdre reached for Kiaran. He spun around. "I thought you wouldn't follow me now that I've called off my men."
"I just wanted to talk."
"Why are you going back to Nemain? She lied to you."
"I know she lied to me." He glared at her but overall, his expression was one of weariness rather than anger.
Angus frowned. "So if you know she lied to you, why are you going back to Temra with your tail between your legs?"
"Because," Kiaran said. "There are few options available to me."
"Nemain's liable to kill you for real this time," Garrett said. "After all, you failed to take the castle."
"I know," He said. Both he and the knights knew why he hadn't ascended to the realm of the dead: according to Cathbad, Nemain must have bound Kiaran's spirit to an item in her possession. All she would have to do, if she wanted to get rid of him would be to break it.
"So you're going to go right into her hands?" Angus asked.
"No! Not like that," Kiaran said. "I'm going to kill her before she kills me."
"What?" Deirdre's face had turned pale. The audacity of a man who thought he could kill a goddess. But Ivar was calm. "And what do you intend to do, should you succeed in killing Nemain," he asked.
"Do?" Kiaran spun around. "Why rule Temra as its rightful king!"
"Are you crazy?" Deirdre asked.
"Of course not. Swords and steel are what keeps thrones and I have the love of the soldiers. Should I kill Nemain, the soldiers will crown me their king." He paused. "Someone has to rule Temra after all and if your king is unable or unwilling to, why not me? I promise to respect the Temran-Kells borders and show your king the respect he feels he deserves, so long as I am left to rule Temra as I see fit. Plus, since I'm already dead, you need not worry about issues regarding succession."
Deirdre turned red as she often did when her father was criticized. "The Temrans would never embrace my father as King."
"Which is why I would serve Kells well as its King."
But they all knew there was a much darker reason why Kiaran so desperately wanted to return to Temra and kill Nemain. "You're afraid, aren't you," Ivar said.
"Afraid? What' s there to be afraid of? I'm already dead so what's the worst that can happen to me?"
"You feel your existence is unnatural, so you're going to Temra to provoke Nemain into killing you. You have no intention of returning alive from this mission." Ivar had seen this sort of thing before; it is very difficult to talk someone, who has willed themselves to die, out of dying.
He laughed, a choked, strangled laugh. "Now I believe it is you who are the fool. After all I have plenty of things to live for..."
Deirdre joined in. "You have no family to return to and now you know that Nemain can't keep the promises she made you whatever they were."
"So what would you have me to do, Princess?" He spat out the last word like a poison.
"Live and fight for Kells."
"And what's stopping Nemain from killing me should I defect?"
"I don't know," Deirdre said. "But if you choose to stay with us, at least you might have a chance. Go to Nemain and you'll have no chance, period."
He sighed. Nemain had lied about him, had lied about everything. She wasn't going to resurrect his sister, Lyanna, and he would never return home to Galen. If it weren't for Nemain, he likely would be in the realms of the dead by now. But the Princess was right. If he wanted to live, he should stay in Kells. "All right, you have me. If it pleases you, you may take me as your prisoner."
"There's no need for that," Deirdre said. And together, the knights returned to Kells.
Maeve trudged through the slush and snow as she struggled towards the Temran border. The weather had been harsh and her bad leg didn't make traveling any easier, but she knew she had to get to Temra; she'd be damned before she let Nemain reduce it to ash.
She had taken the potion that Mider gave her, had seen what Nemain was doing in Temra. She had seen the castles and mountains beyond the castle; the vision, of men stirring large barrels full of green liquid, remained clear. Nemain was having her men make wildfire. Wildfire. She knew it well.
She knows the Druid suspects she murdered her father and it's true that she did, but he doesn't understand why. It was true she knew she couldn't count on her father to give her the throne—he hated her for not being a boy and for having the mark—and it was true he was taking an annoyingly long time to die, but that still wasn't why. The truth was in wildfire.
Her father, the Mad King of Temra, was obsessed with flames and wildfire and it was for that obsession, she killed him. His paranoia that Kells would invade was another all-consuming obsession, so he ordered his collection of sorcerers and wizards and assorted crackpots start constructing wildfire. When Maeve found out, she and her lover, Dareon, killed him.
She had seen wildfire in use once in her life in her travels. It was often used in demolition in some parts and under controlled conditions, it worked well. But it was so easy for wildfire to get out of control.
Wildfire was designed to burn until there was nothing left; she had seen it burn on water. The only way to quench it was to smother it. It also had to be handled very delicately: it could easily be set off and destroy its maker. Judging by the numerous kegs she had already prepared, Nemain had enough to reduce Temra and Kells to ashes, but why? Why would she destroy her quarry?
Then the answer came to Maeve. Because her goal in this war is not to win but simply not to lose. This was all a game to Nemain, a fun diversion, but should it look like things were going badly for her or if it stopped being fun, she would unleash the wildfire and destroy everything on this island. Nemain would walk away unscathed, while innocents burned.
Maeve clenched her fists as she leaned on her walking stick. She would not, could not let this happen. While her memories of Temra were not fond ones, she wouldn't let it go up in flames.
Then she heard the sound of fluttering wings.