Chapter Three

The moment Brigan arrived at Fort Roen he wanted to race inside and interrogate his mother. But of course he had to hand over command of the fourth branch. Brigan knew that it would take two or three days, then he could ask his questions. The following days were tedious. They involved a lot of paperwork and civility when all Brigan wanted was a proper bed and stone walls around him. He sent the fourth branch with their new cammander east. Brigan was craving a roast dinner and as soon as he was able he headed for the fortress.

Brigan rode with Nash through the gates of the main courtyard. It was then Brigan saw her. The monster woman was there, just feet away from him. She was crossing the courtyard with Lord Archer. She looked up and everyone in the courtyard followed her gaze. Seeing Nash they dropped to one knee and bowed their heads respectfully to their King. All accept her.

The monster woman stood frozen, a look of utter horror and fear on her face that Brigan almost drew my sword to stop whatever could be so terrifying. She was staring right at him. She began to shake uncontrollably. Lord Archer touched her elbow and told her to kneel quietly, but she fell to her knees still shaking. Her eyes were a monstrous shade of emerald, unnatural and unsettling, still wide with fear. Then the gates swung shut and she relaxed a little.

"So this is the filthy monster," Brigan spat, venom in his voice. "We should throw her to the raptors." Nash looked at him shocked. " I am King, it's my decision." Nash spoke with all the authority he held, which considering he was King of the Dells, was a lot of authority indeed. "Besides," Nash continued, "I'm not throwing a woman who look like that to any raptors."

Brigan glared at Nash, then returned his attention to the monster woman. Lord Archer was crouched over the monster woman, his hands on her shoulders. He was repeating her name over and over like a kind of chant. "Fire, Fire, Fire." It didn't seem to be working, she was still staring at Brigan as if he were the monster. Lord Archer turned and glared at Brigan, with hate filled eyes. "If you're going to throw her to the raptors you'll have to throw me as well." With that Lord Archer lifted her into his arms and carried her away.

Brigan glared at their retreating figures. He desperately wanted to go after them, to grab her and lock her up before she could do any harm. But of course, Nash was deveived by a pretty face.

After the encounter in the courtyard Brigan wanted to get away from Nash. He couldn't help but despise Nash for his weakness. Dismounting, he grabbed Big's reigns and walked the familiar path to the stables. Brigan unsaddled Big and brushed her down, giving her a few sugar cubes as thanks for all her hard work. After a few minutes of stroking Big's nose and murmering kind words, Brigan realised how tired he was. He trudged to his chambers and flopped down on his bed with a heavy sigh. Brigan practically inhaled the bowl of beef stew and two small rolls that he found on a tray on the small table in the corner. He returned to his bed and stripped off his boots. Too exhausted to remove the rest of his clothing, Brigan lay down and was immediately asleep.

He slept fitfully, plauged with worries and woke still tired. Brigan decided it was time for some answers. He dressed in fresh clothes and splashed some water over his face, hoping it would clear some of his exhaustion. Looking into the mirror above the wash basin he knew it had not worked. His stormy grey eyes looked dull and there were shadowy crescents beneath his eyes. Brigan's skin looked ashen, he hadn't been eating well recently. Quickly he fetched a servant to bring him a meal. After feasting on an elaborate dish of roast duck covered in delicious herbs Brigan set off.

Quickly navigating the familiar set of corridors, Brigan soon stood at the door of Roen's sitting room. He knocked lightly, and hearing a quiet, "Come in." Brigan entered. Roen looked the same as ever, raven hair with a few streaks of grey, short and slim with kind brown eyes. Brigan glared at his mother. A tiny rueful smile lifted the corners of her mouth. "From the glare you are giving me, it's safe to assume you have met my guest." Roen's voice was calm and polite but Brigan heard the undercurrent of exhasperation in her voice. Brigan was holding on to his temper by his fingertips. "Guest?" he ground out through his teeth, "care to explain?"

They walked through nearly deserted corridors in stony silence. Roen had said she wanted some air, but Brigan knew she just wanted privacy. He didn't think that anyone would be spying on him or his mother, not here anyway, but servants listened and gossiped. Finally Brigan lost it. "Guest! Mother! How? You-you just can't-she-it's a MONSTER for goodness sake!" He was stuttering and nearly incoherent in his rage. And then Roen said something so unexpected that he stopped dead in his tracks.

"Whether you like it or not, my son, Fire is like a favourite neice to me. I won't have you hurting her." Her voice was calm and stern. "Fire is family."

She was smiling a little, the corners of her mouth tilting upwards. Brigan was frozen for several moments. Then he stumbled, coming back to himself. "Mother," he said, trying to sound calm and reasonable but his voice was strained with rage, "do you not understand how much damage she could do? What if she's just like Cansrel?" Brigan snarled the hated name. "I do understand the damage she could do. I understand the full extent of her powers'." She said it like well of course. He was about to shout at her about that family nonsense, when she continued. "But I know her Brigan, she won't. Lord Archer and I had a difficult time convincing her to use her powers, even to protect herself! She isn't going to hurt you, Nash, or this kingdom, so I won't let you hurt her. That's final Brigan. I will hear no more of it." Her voice was steely and unwavering. Brigan could not argue with her.

They were now in the stables, the place where they could talk freely. No one would hang around the stables in the middle of the night, except of course them. "So," Roen began, "what is is that's bothering you?" He was about to say that nothing was bothering him, that everything was fine. "Don't give me that 'it's fine, nothing at all is the matter' excuse. You can get away with that with your soldiers but I'm your mother, I can spot a lie from a mile away. You haven't been eating well and I would guess you haven't had a proper sleep in days. Out with it." Brigan sighed, she was right. As always.

"I fight these looters and smugglers because they oppose the king's rule. But what right to rule do we have, really?" To his own ears Brigan's voice sounded tired and even a little helpless. Roen sounded alarmed, "You frighten me when you talk like this." Brigan knew he was argueing just to vent some of his frustration. All talks like this ended the same way, but he continued. "What has the king done in thirty years to deserve allegiance?" Roen seemed to be getting desperate. "Brigan-" Now Brigan was more frustrated than he had been to begin with. "I understand the motivations of some of my enemies better than I understand my own."

"Brigan, this is your fatigue speaking. Your brother is fair-minded, you know that, and with your influence he does good." Thinking of Nash refusing to deal with the monster woman, he spat, "He has some of Father's tendencies." Roen replied with her 'reasonable' tone of voice. "Well, what will you do? Let the raiders and smugglers have their way? Leave the kingdom to Lord Mydogg and his thug of a sister? Or Lord Gentian? Preserving Nash's kingship is the best hope for the Dells. And if you break with him you'll start a civil war four ways. You, Nash, Mydogg, Gentian. I fear to think who would come out on top. Not you, with the allegiance of the King's Army split between yourself and your brother." She was, of course, right. "Mother, you go too far. I could never break with my brother, you know that. And you know I don't want the kingship." He knew that the 'do we deserve to rule?' argument was over but it always led to another.

"This again, and it's no comfort to me. If Nash is killed, you'll have to be king." Brigan was so sick of this argument. "The twins are older than I." He knew it wasn't a viable excuse. "You're being deliberately obtuse tonight. Garan is ill, Clara is female, and both of them are illegitimate. The Dells will not get through this time without a king who is kingly." She was once again right, but Brigan wasn't ready to give in. "I'm not kingly." "Twenty-two years old, commanding the King's Army as well as Brocker did? Your soldiers would fall on their own swords for you. You are kingly." Roen always had to be right, Brigan thought angrily to himself. Sighing in defeat Brigan muttered, "All right. But rocks, Mother, I hope I'll never be called king." "You once hoped you'd never be a soldier." She pointed out archly. Brigan sighed again, feeling miserable. "Don't remind me," Brigan sounded tired to his own ears. "My life is an apology for the life of my father."

Then there was a long silence. Brigan felt uncomfortable but he knew this was not yet over. "Just tell me you'll do your duty, Brigandell," Roen said, deliberately using his royal name. Briagn was surprised at that. What did she think he was doing, now and always? "I've become such an impressive warrior that you think I run around the mountains sticking swords into people because I enjoy it." He said this with a laughter in his voice and he instantly felt lighter. Brigan didn't get to chuckle often. "When you talk like this, you can't blame me for worrying." She sounded relieved and Brigan was glad. "I'll do my duty, Mother, as I have done every day." Roen always had to have the last word. "You and Nash will make the Dells into something worth defending. You'll re-establish the order and the justice that Nax and Cansrel destroyed with their carelessness."

Cansrel. That cursed name again. Brigan could not escape thoughts of his enemy for long. And now thoughts of his daughter. "I don't like this monster." The humour was gone from his voice and he knew his face would betray his rage. Roen's voice noticably softened, "Nashdell is not Naxdell, and Fire is not her father." The differrence between Father and son was something Brigan understood, but he knew the monster woman was trouble. "No, she's worse; she's female. She's a thing I can't see Nash resisting." Firmly Roen said, "Brigan. Fire has no interest in Nash. She does not seduce men and ensnare them." He replied just as firmly, "I hope you're right, Mother, because I don't care how highly you think of her. If she's like Cansrel I'll snap her neck."

Brigan turned to see two large eyes staring at him. "Poor fellow," he said stroking the nose of a beautiful dun gelding. "We woke you. Go back to sleep." Brigan could see that this horse truly was magnifecent. A horse who has seen love, is always the best to ride. Brigan knew that this horse had seen a lot of love if it could be so kind to the stranger that interrupted its sleep. "It's her horse," Roen said. "The horse of the monster you threaten." Perhaps this horse was just unusually friendly, Brigan thought, he couldn't imagine the monster being particularly loving.

"Ah well. You're a beauty," Brigan said to the horse, his voice light. "And your owner is not your fault." After a small amount of peacefull silence Roen and Brigan left. Roen going back to her chambers for some much needed rest. Brigan wanted nothing more than to rest his tired and aching muscles, but he had a job to take care of first. Now where is that monster...