Updated: Sep 23, 2020
This began as a shower thought, that's currently being turned into Chapter 3. But I figured we'd best start with Chapter 1. (Formerly seen on Under Different Stars)
Annan raced down the path, leaping the ditch and hurtling through the forest. He'd be twenty years old in another week. Finally old enough to find a wife, though how a man was meant to choose just one was beyond him.
He'd hoped to be married within the year, like his brothers, but with so many ways women were beautiful... He puffed out a breath, slowing when he reached the hedge marking the paddock boundary. His father, Fynbar, would murder him if he frightened the pregnant ewes.
Wouldn't do, with just a week until his birthday.
Walking now, Annan quickly crossed the field, fending off ewes looking for a treat. They milled around his legs, slowing his progress, but Annan simply patted heads as he passed. Fynbar had sent word for his son, interrupting his afternoon work, to attend him and the elders at the village meeting hall as soon as possible. When the elders called, a young man - especially a young man hoping to marry a woman with good property - didn't dawdle.
"Oi, Annan!" Galvyn waved, one hand still holding a hammer, straightening slightly from his crouch. The smith's bent knees supported the leg and hoof of the horse standing patiently next to him, waiting to be shod. "What brings you into town so early?"
"The elders!" the young man called back. "I can't delay, they're waiting on me."
"Off with you then, but afterwards, I need you and that magic of yours to give me a hand with a beam in my house. Mavis will kill me if she finds out I saw you and didn't say anything."
Annan laughed and waved. "After!"
When he reached the doors of the meeting hall, Annan checked himself, straightening his shirt and smoothing hair ruffled from his run. Once he was sure he was presentable, he knocked on the door and opened it, stepping quietly into the room.
Easily the largest building in the village, today all it had was the elders' table against the far wall. In winter feast times, the entire village fit inside, with room for dancing and games. Crossing the empty expanse between, Annan concentrated on breathing and blessed the fact that the meeting hall was vastly smaller than the average building in Caer Ruidhri, the city only three hours' walk away.
Soon enough, the hopeful young man stopped in front of his father, Fynbar, who must have been the one to call the meeting, as he sat in the center of the table.
Annan bowed to the elders, and waited.
Without ado, Fynbar began, "Annan, I know you've heard the stories from the east." Annan waited. Skipping the formalities was a bad sign. "We believe," Fynbar cleared his throat, "we believe we'll have need of your abilities in the coming months, and well, you'll have to postpone finding a wife."
Annan's mouth dropped open. The country had been so peaceful for so long that men from the magical lineage of Conn hadn't had to postpone coming of age for 200 years. Magic was treated as a trick to bring out at festivals, or a useful tool when a carpenter couldn't be found, or an animal took sick. Any youth could do those things.
He took a deep breath, found it unequal to the task, and took another one, letting his breath out slowly. "I thought that trouble to the east was supposed to be put down in a week. Didn't uncle go with the army?"
"He did, and he's injured. Son, I'm sorry, but you'll have to continue keeping yourself pure." Fynbar glared at him sternly. "Which means you can stop looking at the Byrne girl."
"But what about Torsten?" Annan argued. "He's sixteen! He's got years yet! Or Maddox, he's good enough."
"What you need to understand," Elder Maeve interjected, "is that you're the most talented one we have. After your uncle, you have the most experience."
"And we don't know how long this will take," Fynbar finished.
"Do you know how long I've waited?" Annan ran his fingers through his hair. "I've never kissed a girl, much less seen one naked, and now you're telling me I have to wait?!"
"You're uncle hasn't had a problem-"
"Uncle prefers men, as you well know, Da!"
"Damn it, boy, it's hardly my fault the men in our family have to remain pure in order to use magic, or that it only pertains to women!" Fynbar slapped the table. "The evil is growing quickly, and you're the best we have, now that your uncle is injured. So like it or not, you've been summoned to court, where you will not ogle the ladies for fear of losing your magic! The king has given specific orders, lad."
"Fine!" Annan glared. "But the moment one of the boys shows he prefers lads, I'm only spending my time training him, then he can deal with this evil. Whatever it is. If I'm still young enough for a woman to want me."
Fynbar sighed and gave his son a sympathetic look. "It's not forever, you know. You're being called in only until the evil is defeated. Do that and survive, and the king will release you from service."
Annan pursed his lips. "So what you're telling me is that the sooner it's dealt with, the sooner I can finally touch a woman?"
“Right!” Annan clapped his hands briskly. “According to every legend out there, we need a party with specific skills. Is there anyone here who can handle a sword? No, wait, the king has plenty of those. What else? A bard is usually good to have. Even if we don’t want music, he can seduce our way into wherever we need to go, lucky bastard.” He turned away, muttering to himself, oblivious to the astonished gazes of his elders. “Should be a good one of those at court. Just have to find whichever man the husbands are angry with.
“Let’s see, what else? Someone who’s on good terms with the gods is always handy. That means Beathan. An archer? No, I mean, it’d be useful, but…Aha!” Annan snapped his fingers. “I’ll also need a thief! Is Alan still in the drunk tank?”
“What?!” Fynbar waved his hands wildly. “What are you on about?”
“Listen, Da, if I ever want to get laid, much less married, it’s in my best interest to get this sorted quickly, and get whatever law the king’s laid on me lifted as soon as possible. With the right crew and proper motivation, we could have this sorted in…” he tapped his fingers, counting, “six months?”
“Being a virgin isn’t so terrible, lad,” Auld Aiden said kindly.
“Hah! This coming from someone who was a ladies’ man by fifteen?” Annan spun away, marching for the door. “I don’t think you remember just what it’s like, Elder. If you ever knew,” he finished to himself.
“How will you get them to cooperate?” Fynbar shouted at his son’s retreating back. “Alan isn’t exactly the sort to follow orders!”
Annan snapped his fingers and opened his palm to show a flame cupped therein. A muttered word and it shot up into a pillar that died down as quickly as it grew. “I think I’ll manage, Da.”
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