It was clear that Neirin had intended his announcement to be some kind of grand revelation, but Gwythyr merely stared at him blankly. Perhaps it was a result of being drugged or a concussion from what had obviously been an epic beating, but Gwythyr slowly blinked, then swallowed, as if unable to even comprehend what he had been told. He bowed his head as if too tired to continue holding it up. In disgust, Neirin kicked him again, this time aiming for the arm Gwythyr was using to prop himself up. His rival fell into the dirt with a groan, curling away from any more blows.
But Neirin seemed, if not content, then at least unwilling to waste any more time on his brother. Ignoring his other prisoners, he stormed away to stand rigid with rage a few feet away, fumbling with something under his shirt. Deryn looked confused, his eyes darting from brother to brother as if unsure which man was more worthy of his loyalty. Or maybe he was just wondering if he’d be able to talk his way out of whatever Neirin had in store for them. As much as Glory would like to think the best of him or anyone, she also believed the worst was probably closer to the truth. Given the opportunity, Deryn would no doubt betray them to save himself. That’s just the way the world worked.
As if sensing her thoughts, Deryn looked at her and then quickly away. Probably too embarrassed to meet her eyes. So, now he was ashamed because Glory had already figured out what kind of man he was from the few short hours they‘d spent together. Glory was too used to the duplicity of her fellow human beings to feel much more than contempt. At least Tesni wouldn’t have to find out her beloved was coward. Whatever happened, Tesni would think Deryn was a hero for trying to save Gwythyr.
Neirin turned back to them, holding out a bit of glass on a chain so fine it looked like a strand of silver hair. The colors of the glass shifted from moment to moment like the door of Caer Wydr, and Glory knew instinctively that this was somehow a piece of the door, the piece that allowed Neirin to open a portal and send his rivals away to another world, Glory’s world.
Now that he was through gloating over the capture of his brother, Neirin turned his attention to his other prisoners. His eyes passed over Deryn without interest, and the man sighed softly, sagging in defeat. If he’d planned on pleading his case, he’d realized with Neirin’s lack of interest in him that it was already lost. Deryn didn’t strike her as a particularly stupid man, so he must have realized early on that Neirin would not want someone around who knew of his treachery, someone who could spread rumors and stab him in the back when the prince finally turned his attention elsewhere. No villain ever wanted a lackey he couldn’t trust. His hope for freedom had only been a hope and nothing more.
Neirin’s eyes rested a moment on the white doe, his eyes glinting hungrily. Creepy little cannibal, Glory thought to herself, glaring at Neirin with disgust. He was having too good a time gloating to remember there was at least one prisoner who had so far foiled his attempts to cow her. He was taken aback when their eyes met, probably had not expecting anyone to defy him even with a look, but he quickly recovered.
With a vicious chuckle, he raised his hand in a strange gesture, two fingers clawed like horns, and muttered something under his breath. A strange tingling sensation like goosebumps passed through her and an ache deep in her bones as if she were coming down with the flu. For a moment she felt nauseous, but it was quickly over and left Neirin more ticked off than ever.
Nothing had happened. Glory raised a hand to her head, but already her body was forgetting anything had occurred. Sensation was leaving her again as suddenly as it had returned. There was no change, no lingering affects of whatever Neirin had tried to do. With a hiss, he grabbed her by the wrist, twisting her arm as he stared at her tattoo. The wrapping must have come off at some point during their trek through the woods, and now the tattoo, possibly the only symbol of the many that covered her body that would be familiar to the people of this world, was revealed. For all she knew, it was the sword inside her that confounded his spell, but it was the Pictish knot embedded in her skin that Neirin blamed. He pulled out a dagger, probably with intent of slashing her wrist to ribbons in order to deface the design.
“No!“ Gwythyr cried weakly just as Aonghas grabbed Neirin’s arm and roughly pulled him away. Glory fell back into the dirt, and Gwythyr crawled closer, putting himself between any further attempt by Neirin to attack her.
“We have no time for these games,” the Fomorian hissed angrily, glaring at his ally. “Send them through Caer Wydr and have done with it.”
“You have no right to tell me what to do,” Neirin growled childishly, pulling his arm from Aonghas‘ grasp.
Aonghas raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I am merely suggesting that any time we waste here allows others to act against us. If your man there has sent word to your father or the woman has alerted Lady Muireann, we may have less time to act than we thought.”
Neirin considered Aonghas’ words, glaring down at Deryn for the first time as if blaming the man for his own self-centered plots and tantrums. For his part, Deryn tried to appear as innocent as possible, looking down at the ground or his hands, anywhere but his prince. With a noncommittal grunt, Neirin stepped around Aonghas and towards the fire. Removing the pendant from around his neck, he held it up to the light, then brought the sharp point down onto the heal of his hand. A bead of blood welled up, slowly filling his palm, and when the pooling liquid was of sufficient size, he flung the droplets into the fire.
The change was immediate as the bonfire seemed to freeze in midair like glass or ice. It glittered as if filled with an opalescent liquid which continued to shift and flicker without any change to the fire‘s newly hardened skin. Tendrils of color slowly merged and twisted like the door of Caer Wydr in Glory’s world until a mirror image of the door took shape within the flames, albeit somewhat distorted by the many tongues of the frozen blaze.
Glory caught Aonghas staring at her with pity or regret; she could not tell which. As their eyes met, he smiled widely and winked. It turned her stomach when she realized the look on his face was rather closer to a certain form of regret than she was comfortable with acknowledging. Smiling grimly, Neirin turned from the portal and gestured impatiently to Aonghas to send the captives through. Ignoring the subservient role Neirin had given him, Aonghas approached his prisoners as more of his men surrounded them, ready to herd them through the fiery door.
Aonghas chuckled cruelly as he yanked Gwythyr to his feet and shoved him roughly towards the portal. Glory found her feet unassisted, and helped the doe up before any of the men could lay a hand on either of them. Only one of the men managed to land a kick on Deryn’s thigh before he also scrambled to his feet. Glory guided Gwythyr’s hand to Jess’ shoulder, and he gratefully rested some of his weight on the doe. He still staggered in exhaustion or pain as they approached the bonfire, and Glory worried about the extent of his injuries. Would he need medical attention when they arrived, or would his injuries disappear as miraculously as Carys’ age had in this world? She followed behind Gwythyr, ready to catch him if he fell and mindful of how close Aonghas remained as they gradually moved towards the light, hindered by injury and bonds. Jess walked carefully beside them, still hobbled by the rope tangled around her legs, while Deryn cringed on the other side of the doe, as far away from Neirin’s notice as possible.
Neirin swung the pendant in his hand as they approached, eager to finally be free of the brother he had never wanted. He’d have much preferred to turn Gwythyr into a stag and hunt him down, but Aonghas had convinced him early on that this would be too risky. Somehow Gwythyr might still manage to win free. Sending him to the Otherworld would be the only way to safeguard his throne. As his eyes lit on the doe that supported his brother and he smiled and licked his lips. Reaching out, he caught his brother by the arm and yanked him forward so that he fell face first into the frozen bonfire. “Take the doe and slaughter her,” he ordered. “No sense in wasting the meat. She will make a fine feast to celebrate our victory.”
“No!” Glory cried, clenching her fists as several men stepped forward to remove Jess from the center of their group. She raised her hand and brought the open palm down onto the doe’s backside. Jess lunged forward in surprise, and though off balance from the hobbles, it still took her through the fire. Before Neirin could do more than snarl in impotent rage, she snatched the pendant from his outstretched hand, and catching Deryn by the sleeve, dragged him into the fire with her. She just had time to see horror spread over Neirin’s face as a wall of color rose up around her and stole her consciousness.
to Book 4, part 2, page 7