"A Rollicking Band of Adventurers We"

Prelude: River's Edge

In Which We Meet Quinn.

Posted by DarthKrzysztof

1370 C.E.

Quinn watched Skye wash clothes at the river’s edge, enthralled by the fragments of song she sang to herself here and there. At sixteen, she was only a year older than he, but so much closer to adulthood…

Taking one deep breath, Quinn stepped from behind his tree and started toward her, calling her name. Skye stood up with a start, nearly losing her father’s tunic in the current.

“Quinn!” she shouted. “Damn it, ye nearly stopped mah heart!”

“Sorry,” he mumbled as he came within ten feet. “I didn’t want tae sneak up on ye.”

“Well, ye did. Daft bastard.” She tilted her head and regarded him with cool green eyes. “What’re ye doing here, then?”

“It’s dangerous for ye to be doon here by yerself.”

“I come here alone every day, Quinn. And ye know I can take care of mahself.” For a moment, her hand hovered over the dagger at her hip. “So, what’re ye doing here? Shouldn’t ye be at the pitch?”

“Nah. I’m being punished.” He grinned. “I’m supposed tae be home.”

“And if ye get caught again? Aren’t ye in enough trouble?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t think things could get much worse.”

Skye’s laughter thrilled him. “I suppose not,” she said. “So, I ask ye one more time. Why are ye here?”

“Because ye’re so pretty.”

She stopped working. “What?”

“I think ye’re pretty, Skye. Ye’re the prettiest girl in all the Walkinshaw clan – the prettiest girl Invershire’s ever seen.”

A beam of sunlight cut through the moody sky as she smiled, and her hair shone like gold. “We’ve known each other all our lives, Quinn, and that may be the most ye’ve ever said tae me at once.”

“Don’t make it any less true.” And it had taken him all this time to find those words, and the courage to say them. He had nothing planned beyond this, save for: “And that’s why ye shouldn’t be doon here alone. I fear the Faerie will come and take ye out of sheer jealousy.”

“Is that so? I should finish my work, then, and get back tae the village. Come an’ help me, if ye would.”

Quinn knelt beside Skye and scrubbed soap into a pair of breeches that might have been Skye’s. They worked in silence awhile; at one point, she caught him staring, and he turned his attention to the laundry, painfully aware of color rising in his cheeks.

“So,” Skye finally said. “Why did ye run off?”

“Because I had tae see it for myself.”

“You’re daft, Quinn. You know how dangerous the border is – how dangerous the Faerie are.”

“Nae, I don’t. I know how dangerous the elders say they are.”

She gave him an odd look. “What’s the difference? The Faerie used tae come and steal our babies! No one who went after them was ever seen again!”

“They never proved it was the Faerie what did that. Besides, when was the last time that happened? Before we were born, Skye. Maybe before our grandparents were born.”

“Aye, because we keep watch. And we keep tae ourselves. We don’t go pokin’ their nests. You’ve no idea the kind of damage ye could’ve done.”

Quinn stared down the river for a moment, then said, “Do you think there’s more than this, Skye?”

“More than what?”

“This. Walkinshaw. Invershire. This.”

She snorted and went back to scrubbing. “Suppose. Besides the Faerie, there’re the other Dalelands, and the redcaps and all t’other beasties…”

“No, I mean beyond that. Do you remember that druid who came through here, about five years ago?”

Skye frowned. “The one with elven blood.”

Quinn pointed to Skye and nodded. “She told me there’s a desert tae the east. A desert! Endless sand, far as the eye can see. Hellsfire, the ocean between would be full of things tae see…”

Skye yanked a tunic from Quinn’s hands. “The chieftain was right tae chase her off. Listen tae ye! Ocean. Desert. Is that the sort of thing ye’re thinking of when I see ye with that look in yer eye?”

“Sometimes,” he said, averting his eyes. Truth be told, Skye was on his mind better than half the time.

“How can you think of such things, when there’re troubles as need worrying on here at home?” She began throwing the wet, clean clothes into her wicker basket. “Ye’re a warrior, Quinn, and not a… a poet. Ye should be learning how tae protect the clan, not putting us in danger. Now ye’re strong, and ye’re handsome enough…” She smiled, but only for a moment. “But yer head needs to be in yer lessons, not oot there.”

I’m losing her, he thought, and thrust his right hand into his pocket. “I brought ye somethin’,” Quinn said, holding his hand out to Skye and opening his fingers to reveal a small silver ring, studded with a glittering fleck of quartz.

Skye’s eyes sparkled as she peered at it. “Where’d ye get that?”

“Foond it. At the base of one of the standing stones along the border.”

She reached for it, tentatively plucking it from Quinn’s hand. “Oh, Quinn,” she sighed. “This is…”

Her pinky was her only finger small enough for the ring; as she slid it on, the crystal glowed with a faint green light. “What’s happening?” she whispered. “What’s it doing?”

“I dinna ken. Do ye feel different?”

“Magic,” she hissed. “It’s cursed with damned Faerie magic!” Skye pulled the ring off and threw it into the river with an oath that would have earned her the back of her father’s hand, had he been there to witness it.

“Skye, I didn’t know – “

“Maybe you didn’t.” Skye stood up quickly and snatched her basket up. “So I won’t tell yer Da, or mine, or anyone else. But ye stay the Hells away from me, Quinn Mac Teague. If ye ever, EVER come down here while I’m working again, I’ll tell the chieftain ye tried tae take advantage of me.”

Quinn found it hard to breathe. “He’d have me hanged, if I was lucky.”

“Oh, aye? So mark my words. And stay away from me from now on.” With that, Skye stomped off toward the village.

Quinn sat and stared down the river again. “Well, that coulda gone better,” he sighed.

I don’t belong here, he thought. Maybe I should just cross the border into Faerie. Maybe our men never came back because it’s a paradise!

Don’t be daft, he told himself. One less blade defending Invershire could mean the difference between freedom and tyranny – or oblivion.

There was nothing more important to a Dalesman than blood. His family, his clan, his people – all were bound by blood. To break with them would be to become nothing. Less than nothing.

And yet, in a few years’ time, Quinn Mac Teague was fated to do exactly that.

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