Another BRIGHID'S QUEST excerpt

Okay - here's a piece of the scene I promised to share (especially with the LUNAtics!). Remember, Brighid has gone to The Wastelands because Cuchulainn has been there too long and Elphame's worried about him. He's supposed to be leading the hybrid Fomorians (or New Fomorians as they call themselves) back to Partholon. Of course let's not forget that his heart is broken from Brenna's death - hence his sister's worry. So Brighid gets through the mountain pass and finds Cuchulainn hunting. Together they go to the New Fomorian village (where Cu's been for a couple of months).

Oh, same disclaimer about this being the unedited version. Ignore the mistakes/typos. I've already fixed them. Here ya go!

CHAPTER 4

The first hybrid Brighid saw was doing something totally unexpected. He was laughing. The Huntress heard him before she saw him. His laughter rolled up the trail to meet them, punctuated by mock growls and youthful snarls.
“They like Fand,” Cuchulainn muttered in explanation.
The warrior and Huntress finally stepped onto level ground and walked around a rough outcropping of rock to see a winged man sprawled on his back in the middle of the trial. Tongue lolling and mouth open as if she were smiling, the young wolf cub’s paws were planted squarely on his chest.
“Fand rolled me Cuchulainn. She’s growing so fast that in no time she’ll be a proper wolf,” he said, chuckling and scratching the cub’s scruff. When he glanced up at Cu and saw the centaur by his side, his eyes rounded in shock.
“Fand, here!” Cuchulainn ordered. This time the wolf chose to obey, hopping off the hybrid’s chest and loping back to her master.
The winged man stood quickly, brushing dirt and snow from his tunic, all the while keeping his large eyes fixed on Brighid.
“Gareth, this is–”
Before he could finish the introduction, Gareth’s excited voice cut him off.
“The Huntress Brighid!” He gushed. “It is, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Gareth. This is MacCallan’s Huntress, Brighid Dhianna.”
Gareth executed a quick, awkward bow, and Brighid realized that what she had taken for a grown man was really just a tall, gangly youth who stared at her with open, awestruck delight.
“Well met, Brighid!” Gareth gushed, his voice cracking on her name.
Brighid could hear Cuchulainn’s sigh and she stifled a smile.
“Well met, Gareth,” she returned the greeting.
“Wait till I tell the others! They won’t believe it. You’re even more beautiful than Curran and Nevin described.”
Gareth started to rush away, then stopped, turned back, and bowed sheepishly to Brighid again. The Huntress could have sworn that the youth’s cheeks were reddened with an embarrassed blush.
“Pardon me, Huntress. I’ll go tell the others that we have a visitor. Another one!” Then he turned and, with wings spread, all but flew away down the path.
“Foolish boy,” Cuchulainn muttered.
Brighid raised a silver brow at the warrior. “I’m even more beautiful than Curran and Nevin described?”
Cuchulainn lifted his hands in a gesture of quiet frustration. “The twins tell stories in the evenings. You are a favorite subject with them.”
“Me? How can that be? Curran and Nevin hardly know me.”
“Apparently they put the short time they spent at MacCallan Castle to excellent use. They listened and observed. A lot. You know how the Clan likes to talk, and the more they talk, the more deeds grow. You didn’t just track Elphame in the night through the forest to find where she had fallen and injured herself – you did it all in a lashing storm, too,” he said.
“I did nothing of the sort. The storm began after we found Elphame. And it wasn’t full dark until after we found her.” Brighid tried to sound annoyed, but she couldn’t help the smile that played at the corner of her lips.
“And then there’s the story of Fand,” Cuchulainn said, sifting in the saddle as if he was suddenly uncomfortable.
Brighid’s silver brows went up. “And who told them about that, Cu?”
Cuchulainn shrugged and kneed the gelding to follow Gareth’s path. “They asked. And they can be very persistent when they want to know something.”
“They being Curran and Nevin?” Brighid asked his broad back.
“No. They being the children.”
And then a noise drifted to the Huntress’s acute hearing. She thought that it sounded a little like the chattering of many birds.
Cuchulainn saw his horse’s ears prick forward.
“Remember that I forewarned you about the children,” he called over his shoulder.
Brighid frowned severely at the warrior’s back. Forewarned her? He hadn’t forewarned her about anything – he’d just asked if she liked children. What in the darkest realm of the Underworld was going on here?
They took another turn in the path and the trail opened up. Brighid moved quickly so that she was beside Cuchulainn. She saw that the road widened and led straight into the heart of the neat little settlement. A heart that was currently filled with small winged bodies that were chattering excitedly. When they caught sight of the centaur the children’s talking was instantly replaced by a collective gasp which reminded Brighid of the coo of doves.
“Oh great merciful Goddess,” the Huntress murmured. “There are so many of them.”
“I tried to tell you,” Cuchulainn said under his breath. “Prepare yourself. They are as energetic as they are small.”
“But how can there be so many of them?” Her eyes were roving the group as she tried to get an accurate count…ten…twenty…forty. There were at least forty young bodies. “I thought you said there were less than one hundred hybrids in total. Do they have multiple births?”
“No. Not usually. Most of these children no longer have parents,” the warrior said grimly.
“But–”
“Later,” Cuchulainn said. “I’ll explain it all later. They won’t stay still much longer.”
“What are they going to do?” Brighid asked warily.
The warrior gave her the briefest of smiles. “Nothing you can defend yourself against, believe me.”
The waiting group rippled and Cuchulainn caught sight of Ciarda’s dark head making her way through the throng of children.
“Come on. It’s best to face them head on.”
Side-by-side they came to a halt before the waiting group just as a lovely winged woman stepped out to greet them.
Cuchulainn made hasty introductions. “Ciarda, this is MacCallan’s Huntress, Brighid Dhianna. Brighid, Ciarda is Shaman for the New Fomorians.” He gestured at the two winged men who had followed Ciarda through the children. “And, you will remember Curran and Nevin.”
The twins nodded their heads, smiling widely at her. She was instantly struck by how well they looked. The last time she’d seen them their wings had been dreadfully torn. Now they looked whole and healthy, with only pale pink lines scarring through the delicate membranes. One of the twins spoke, but they were so identical that Brighid had no idea whether it was Curran or Nevin.
“It is good to see you again, Huntress.”
“We are all so pleased that you have come, Brighid Dhianna, famed Huntress of the MacCallans,” Ciarda said.
Brighid tried not to be distracted by the horde of watching children, even though her eyes kept being drawn to their small faces. All different sizes and shapes, they were beaming sharp-toothed smiles at her as their wings quivered with barely suppressed excitement. Puppies, she thought. They looked like a wriggling mass of healthy, happy, winged puppies.
Pulling her gaze from the children she nodded politely first to Ciarda and then the twins.
“The MacCallan thought you might need a Huntress to ease the burden of feeding your people during your journey. I was glad to be of service to her,” Brighid said.
“And now I understand why I have dreamed of a silver hawk with gold-tipped wings these past several nights,” Ciarda said, looking from the Huntress’s silver-white fall of long hair to the golden gleam of her equine coat.
Brighid kept her face carefully neutral, but the mention of the Shaman’s dream of a spirit guide was like a fist to her gut. Even here, in the far off Wastelands, she could not escape the threads of her childhood. And then, as if thinking about her own childhood had been the invisible signal to release their silence, a small voice from the group of children trilled across the space between them.
“Oooh, you are even more beautiful than I imagined!”
The Huntress’s eyes sought and found the miniature speaker – a small girl child who was standing near Ciarda. Her hair and wings were an unusual silver-gray color, like the breast of a dove. Her large eyes were bright with intelligence.
“Thank you,” Brighid said.
“That is Kyna,” Cuchulainn said.
At the mention of her name the child bobbed excitedly up and down on her tip-toes.
“Cuchulainn, can I come closer? Please! Pllllease!”
Cu looked questioningly at the Huntress. Not knowing what else to do, Brighid shrugged.
“Come on then,” Cu said. As the child sprinted forward with several of the other children close behind, Cuchulainn lifted his hand and said sternly, “Remember your manners!”
Kyna’s headlong rush instantly slowed and the children jostling behind her almost knocked her over. Brighid had to be careful not to laugh when the girl elbowed one of her friends and ordered, “Remember your manners!” sounding unerringly like a mini-version of Cuchulainn. She folded her little wings and walked much more sedately up to stand in front of Brighid.
“You’re the famous Huntress Cuchulainn’s told us stories about, aren’t you?” The little girl’s face was bright with more than just the hybrid’s distinctive luminous skin. She was a beautiful, fey-looking little thing, sparkling with intelligence and curiosity.
“Well, I am the Huntress Brighid. I don’t know how famous I am, though,” Brighid said, throwing Cuchulainn a look of mild annoyance.
“Oh, we do! We’ve heard all about you!”
“Really? You’ll have to share those stories with me,” Brighid said.
“Not now,” Cuchulainn said brusquely. “Now there is dinner to prepare.” He dismounted and began unlacing the ties that held the fresh meat behind his saddle.
“Did you get another deer, Cuchulainn?” Kyna asked, bouncing up and down.
“A wild, white sheep this time, Ky. And you can thank the Huntress for it. She is the one who brought the beast down,” he said, neatly turning the child’s attention back to Brighid.
Dozens of sets of round little eyes refocused on the Huntress.
Brighid shrugged. “I just beat him to the shot.”
“No, you’re special. We already know,” Kyna said. “May…may I touch you?”
Brighid looked helplessly at Cu, who was suddenly oh-so-busy handing the wrapped meat to Curran and Nevin.
“Please?” the child asked. “I’ve always wanted to meet a centaur.”
“Yes, I suppose that would be fine,” the Huntress said helplessly.
Kyna walked closer to Brighid and then reverently stretched out her hand and touched the Huntress’s gleaming golden coat.
“You’re soft like water,” Kyna said. “And your hair is so pretty, just like Cuchulainn said. I think he’s right. It’s good that you keep it long even though most Huntresses cut theirs short.”
“I-I’ve never felt the need to cut it,” Brighid stuttered, completely take aback by the child’s comment. Cuchulainn talked about her hair?
“Good. You shouldn’t.”
“I want to be a Huntress when I grow up!” shouted a voice from the throng of children who were slowly creeping covertly closer to Brighid.
Kyna rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You can’t be a Huntress, Liam. You’re not a centaur and you’re not a female.”
Brighid watched one of the taller children’s faces fall and she felt a little panicky knot begin within her when she saw his eyes filling with tears.
“You could still be a hunter, Liam,” Brighid said. “Some centaurs agree to take on humans to train in the ways of a Huntress.” As soon as she said it she realized her ridiculous error. The little winged male was definitely not human. He’d probably really cry now. What if he started the rest of them off crying? Then what was she supposed to? But Liam didn’t seem to notice anything wrong with what she’d said. His fanged smile was radiant.
“Do you really mean it? Would you teach me?” The boy rushed up to her and soon his small, warm hand was patting her sleek side, too.
Teach him? She had no intention of teaching him or anyone – especially anyone whose head didn’t reach her shoulder. Brighid’s panic expanded. She had just been trying to keep the child from crying.
“If she’s going to teach Liam I want her to teach me, too!” Another child disengaged from the group and skipped up to Brighid, hero-worship shining in his big blue eyes.
“Me too!” said a little girl with hair the color of daisies.
Brighid had no idea how it had happened, but suddenly she was surrounded by small, winged beings who were chattering away about their lives as Huntresses. Warm little hands patted her legs and flanks while Kyna continued to ask never ending questions about how she kept her hair out of her eyes while she hunted, and what she rinsed it with to make it shine so, and did she use the same rinse on the horse part of her, and…
Brighid would have rather been thrust into the middle of a pack of angry wolves, at least she could kick her way clear and escape from them.
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