She watched as the ship's sail unfurled, a bellowing whiteness against the dark blue-gray of the ocean. Sighing deeply she returned her attention the solitary figure that stood at the cliff's highest point. Long strands of black hair tangled around the slender body, it seemed to the her that the girl was watching the ship.
Her heart felt heavy suddenly, the lonely figure had watched nothing for most of her time on the Isle of Skye. Fever had stolen the sight from Nessa within only a few seasons of her arrival, it had stolen even more from her...
Carefully she made a soft noise to alert Nessa to her presense. The once proud warrior turned to her with blind and haunted eyes, "Dia duit."
"The ship is almost ready to set sail, Nessa. Come walk with me back to the village."
"Not yet, Laoch, I've still something yet to do." Nessa said softly.
It was then that she saw the falcon on Nessa's bare arm it was hooded but neither jessed nor belled. Falconry was a gift that had come to the island with this her secert prisioner. She herself had a falcon that this sad woman had trained. A brave and fierce little soul that she had come to love.
Something told her not to force the issue, there was still wildness and rage somewhere inside the woman, "You have stood here as every ship has left for the last eight summers. During rain and snow you've taken your perch. It's gotten so that the captains won't weigh anchor till the "Lady of Winds" blesses their journey. As if there weren't enough legends and rumors abounding this Ilse you have to go and add another."
She took a seat on a nearby rock and continued to watch Nessa as she looked out over the ocean. A distant splash and shouts signaled the ship had weighed anchor and was slowly vanishing toward the horizon.
Nessa turned to her, the watcher was startled at the wild beauty of the woman and falcon. "So I've added another legend. At least this one is nicer than the last I gave to your Ilse." Nimble fingers removed the hood and the falcon blinked furiously at the bright sun.
Nessa turned her attention toward the bird, "There now wild one, you were taken from this cliff and I brought you back. Now fly free and hold that spirit forever." The falcon allowed a gentle caress down it's back and a light kiss on it's head then pushed off with such force that it's razor sharp talons sliced the pale flesh of it's former perch.
"Wasn't that the only fledgling taken this year?"
"Yes but she was untrainable. I would rather release her than break her spirit." Nessa seemed to watch the soaring bird as it screamed it's joy.
She stood and pulled off her cloak, swiftly wrapping it around the badly slashed arm, "Damnu Nessa you need stiches. Ungrateful little begger wasn't it."
"Was it? I took it from it's freedom, I held it captive in the dark. I think it was only right that it got a bit of revenge."
She turned suspcion narrowed eyes to Nessa, "Do you want revenge? I took your freedom and now you live in the dark. Do you want my blood, Outlaw?"
She watched as something flared into life in Nessa's dead eyes....something wild. For the first time in far to long she saw the warrior that had dared step foot on her Ilse.
The runner had found her on the practice field a far too common place for her during those troubled days. One of her warriors defeated, another taken captive and rumoured to have been sold to the most sadistic of the Roman invaders.
The thought of her dayghter, Diedra, at the mercy of that rabid animal was enough to send her into a rage. If she could only prove it....
Again she attacked the practice form with such violence that the runner had taken a few steps away from the field. Almost three seasons had passed and all they had of the outlaw who had done this was the name Demon Hawk and a hand full of peasant stories.
The Demon Hawk was suppose to be a black haired, ice-eyed creature from the depths of nightmares, able to shift at will into the form of a night-black hawk. Death found those who crossed the outlaw, and even the Roman princeling seemed cautious of the outlaw's wrath.
Having watched enough the runner's nervous pacing, she had stalked over to the youth. "Well. What is it?" she had snarled.
The runner had paled, "A Warrior-witch sent me. She want's you to come to the docks right away."
At first she had just started walking away, fighters had often come to challenge her in those days. She simply hadn't been in the mood for another one. Then with a second thought a good fight had sounded like exactly what she needed.
Not bothering to change or even sheath her sword, she mounted her horse and headed to the docks hoping this one had at least some skill. At the crest of the hill that surrounded the harbour she looked down at the newly arrived ship.
Standing on the deck was the one who had undoubtedly sent for her. Warrior-witch was an apt title for the woman, power flowed around her as did a strange calmness.
This one would give her a true fight, this one might even have a chance. She wondered briefly if she could sway the raven haired warrior to join with her rather than challenge.
The change in warrior's expression was so slight only another warrior would have even seen it, the sudden and complete focusing of attention on to someone, the softness, an almost smile.
"Damnu she brought her mate with her." Dismounting she walked down to the dock, arriving just as a hooded form came into her view. A gentle touching of hands, a slight bow of the head, tenderness was rare in a fighter but here it was in full. She no longer wanted a fight, she wanted this one as an ally and teacher.
Striding on to deck with her sword still drawn, she watched as the warrior almost visibly shifted from lover to fighter, stepping between this possible threat and her beloved. The coldest blue-gray eyes focused on her, the warrior didn't draw her own sword but that only strengthened her resolve about this warrior. 'Good she has a quick mind as well. I want this one.` She thought to herself.
"Nessa it's only my mother." The hooded form stepped clear and tossed back her hood. Had any thing seemed as beautiful to her as her lost daughter standing in the morning sun healthy and smiling.
The reunion was one of the few times in her life she had wept openly.
When had she first known something was wrong? Had it been when the warrior had remained silent, only bowing her head slightly and veiling her eyes. Eyes that held such extreme pain suddenly. Or had it been when Diedra had looked so forlorn as they stepped off the ship's deck leaving the warrior behind.
She had called out for Nessa to follow. Her daughter had shook her head sadly, "She isn't able to come here now. If she steps foot on this Ilse or utters a word to any of this Ilse with out your permission she will be forsworn. Above anything else she has honor."
"Who would force such a promise from her?" She had asked her daughter as they watched the ship begin it's slow journey out of the harbour.
Diedra had looked longingly at the black haired form standing as if stone on the deck,"I did."
She had turned in surprise to her daughter,"But why...." She stopped as she saw a look of horror cross her daughters face. Following her gaze to the ship she saw the warrior had a falcon on her arm, just a silhouette at this distance.
"No. Please no." Diedra had whispered as the bird was launched into the air coming straight at them, "Bas is her only protection when she sleeps. He is her eyes and her warning." The silhouette grew closer and settled on to her daughter's shoulder.
It was then she had understood. It was then the ice had started forming around her heart. Bas was not just a falcon, he was a solid black falcon.
It couldn't be her mind had screamed at her. The Demon Hawk was a cruel low bred monster, not the proud and strong warrior. But again her mind saw the night black tresses and ice cold eyes, add Bas and she saw how the peasants had come to believe the outlaw was able to become a hawk.
Anger welled up in her, a black rage had consumed her. The Demon Hawk had been in her grasp and was now slowly slipping away. Catching her away from the Ilse promised to be a tricky proposition.
And worse Diedra looked heartbroken as she gently stroked the glossy black feathers of the falcon. "She saved me mother. She healed me and returned hope to me. Promise me you will give her a chance to prove her honor."
"I'll give her a chance. As soon as I catch her, I'll give her the chance to die honorably." the last was a low growl.
"Mother, she will return here as soon as she has killed the Roman." Her daughter's eyes had gleamed with agony, "Nessa has sworn never to raise a hand against one from the Ilse, not even to defend herself. She won't fight you. She won't even try to defend herself."
"Then she will die quick."
"Please Mother I love her..."
It had taken two moons for the ship to bring back the hooded form, she had stared open mouth at the runner when he brought the message. A hard ride to the dock had not lessened her anger the least bit. Her daughter had forced the promise from her not to kill the outlaw unless she attacked first. She almost relished the thought of tormenting the outlaw until she broke her oath and struck out.
The ship was in the dock but no proud warrior graced it's deck this time, only the sailors working to unload the cargo and an old woman sitting slumped on a crate. Furiously she had strode on board demanding the where abouts of the black-haired stranger from the nearest sailor. He had stepped back in surprise and pointed toward the old woman. The woman had risen on unsteady feet and thrown back the hood of the filthy cloak she wore.
How shocked she had been at the sight, the glossy black hair was tangled and matted with filth, the crystal clear eyes were clouded and the alabaster skin mottled with half healed bruises. The proud stride had become a slow limp, the sleek muscles of the body had given way to an emaciated skeleton. She had surrendered her anger slowly, she had come to fight a warrior and found a walking corpse.
She had ordered one of the sailors to carry the broken body to the healers hut. The warrior had flinched away from him eyes flaring into life. "Laoch, she won't allow a man to touch her. We've tried half the voyage to get her to allow us to tend her leg." the sailor explained.
"Damnu," She had fussed and took a step toward Nessa, "You'll allow me to carry you or you'll have to fight me. And truth be told you haven't enough strengh to fight a babe in it's mother's arms."
Nessa had looked up at her and shook her head sadly, the eyes pleading that the promise she had been placed under be lifted. "Damnu, I forgot that my daughter forced that on you. You may speak freely to me, Nessa of Erie."
How weak the voice had been, "I returned as I promised her. I beg her forgiveness that I cannot remain, but the Lord of the dead calls me to his realm." With that it seemed that all light drained from the eyes and the body slumped to the deck. She gathered the slight form in her arms startled at the lightness of it.
She had worked with the healer through the long night fighting to keep life in the battered body of her enemy. The outlaw's back had been flayed open by barbed whips, her ribs broken and half healed, the bruises still stark against white flesh. The healer had removed an arrow head from her leg, her side bore the signs of a dagger blow. The healer had pulled her from the room at first light, "I need to know if you still intend to kill her. If so then do so now and put her out of her suffering or let me." The healer suddenly looked exhausted, "I don't know how she made it here, but I fear it's to late to save her or the child, the infection has spread to far."
Another shock, "Child?" Still another shock to her had been her sudden and overwhelming desire for the outlaw to live.
"Aye, she's four or five moons gone with child although it's hard to tell as thin as she is. It hasn't a chance, sad the child of the Demon Hawk would be a fighter." the healer laughed at her startled look, "Diedra has talked with me a great deal. The roman was a true demon, the Hawk prevented her death often and somehow bargined for her freedom in the end."
Ice had gripped her heart, "How old did you say some of the injuries were?"
"The scars are less than six moons old, the bites about the same and some of the broken bones are the same. "The healer had narrowed her eyes. "About the time your daughter was released into the ownership of the Hawk."
"Send for my daughter. She might be the one thing to give Nessa the will to fight." She had looked to the rising sun, "And if not they deserve the right to say thier good-byes."
It had taken a full turn of the moon for the outlaw to open her eyes again. The whole time she had watched her daughter tend for the outlaw with obvious love. The whole time she had felt torn, here was the enemy yet she was untouchable.
Word had spread somehow that the Demon Hawk had fallen into her hands. Offers and demands came from the four corners for the outlaw. To one and all she sent out the message.
No man shall live who wrongs a warrior of Skye. As I say it so shall it be.
Both her daughter and the healer had looked at her in shock at that annoucement, she had turned to them after the messenger had left, "And that one in there will be the only woman to have done so. However if she lives she is never to leave this Ilse and no one is to know she lives here. Isolation and captivity on this Ilse are to be her punishments."
Diedra had looked toward the hut where two lives hung in the balance, "She's nothing like the legends. She has more strength than anyone I've ever met yet she is as fragile as a snowflake. Her life has been dictated by survial yet she learned honour, a trait that could have gotten her killed. Her past would have killed the most promising student of Skye yet she rose like a falcon onto the wind and took her freedom. Now you what her to throw it away?"
"Her choice. Isolation and you or she can leave alone. But if she leaves she will be hunted down and killed if not by the Warriors of Skye then by the ones who are flocking here asking for her head." With that she had turned and walked away.
To her it had seemed fair enough then, now she wondered.
It had been a miracle but the outlaw had safely brought a tiny but healthy girl child into the world. She was a sturdy little thing now, slender and small the image of her mother and absolutly fearless. Quick of mind and body she was destined to one day be famous as a warrioress.
The other miracle had been the speed with which Nessa had regained her health after her body was no longer burdened by a child. And the bond she had with Diedra was a wonder to behold, for her she would have plucked the stars from the heavens or broken her body trying. She accepted the isolation easily or at least it had seemed that way.
They had raised the child with love and patience, never hinting to it's terrible begining. Nessa had caught a few of the falcons that had soared on the cliffs and trained them. Her own had been one of those first three.
Time had lessened her rage but the underlying resentment had stayed. She had treated Nessa as a if she did not exist for those first years. She was aware of the habit Nessa had developed of watching the ships leave harbour. She had also become aware of the growing restlessness in the outlaw, a sense of captivity that was wearing at her.
Then night fell on thier lives.
The winter had been harsh and given way to spring grudgingly, when it had the rains had been long and cold. The first fevers had been nothing to harsh, but then a death had come and another and another. Diedra had come down with it first, Nessa had tended her tirelessly. By the time she had arrived her daughter was near dead of the fever and Nessa was so far gone with it her life seemed forfeit too.
Nessa had raised her head and tried to focus gazed eyes on her when she had entered, "Please let me go."
Her reaction was swift thinking that Nessa was leaving Diedra, "No you chose to stay and you will stay for your life."
Diedra had sighed in her dreamworld then stopped breathing, silent death had taken a new lover. Nessa had quietly curled up and burned with the fever and agony. She had been so grief stricken by her daughter's death she hadn't noticed. The funeral had been solemn and numbing as that it was one of to many. Nessa's absence was unnoticed by all but the healer.
She was the one to find Nessa curled in a corner burning with fever, blind and in shock. It was late summer before Nessa came out of the shock and spoke again. But her spirt had been damaged beyond repair it seemed. Quietness and sorrow had worn at the slender form making it guant and pale.
Even the child had been unable to truly reach Nessa, turning slowly to her teachers for support. Time passed and nessa became a shadow of herself existing more in dreams than life. And that was what had led her to the cliff tops today......
Her thought's were jerked back to the present when she felt Nessa's light form collapse. Instinctively she grabbed the body against her and guided her to the ground. At first she didn't understand what she was seeing, Nessa was pale and her lips blue tinged, each breath seemed to be harder on the outlaw than the last.
Then she felt the dampness of her cloak still wrapped around Nessa's slashed arm. The soft gray wool was dark red and heavy, too heavy. She gripped the upper arm tightly and pulled the cloth free. Her fears were realized the falcon had severed the main blood vessels in the thin arm. As she had stood trapped in the past the outlaw had calmly allowed her life to spill out in a crimson flood.
"Hold on Nessa. You overcome worse than this." she mummered as she ripped a piece of the cloak off to use as a touniquet. A slim hand touched hers and she found her self looking into sad blue eyes.
"Please let me go."
She stopped in shock all those years ago Nessa hadn't asked for her freedom she had asked for death. Shaking she drew the outlaw to her in a tender embrace, "When you find Diedra, tell her I love her and I'm sorry to have been so selfish."
The sun began it's slow desent into the ocean as she sat holding her once enemy. Why had she been so foolish? Here was the mate to her child and one she should have been proud to call daughter. Yet for years she had held on to her rage and now it was to late. The falcon screamed once and was answered by a second falcon that seemed to have taken wing from no where.
At first she couldn't believe it, but slowly it sank in, the second falcon was as black as a raven, as black as the long dead Bas, as black as the silken hair that she stroked. The body was still now having released the last breath in a sigh moments before, the black eye lashes had fluttered briefly then settled.
She sat holding the cold body till the sun was long gone and a full moon turned the world silver and gray. She didn't even know she was crying till she saw the salty drops on the pale cheek, leaning down she kissed the smooth brow.
The ship's captain looked up to the cliffs, this Ilse held many legends. Most harsh and cold like that one about the outlaw Demon Hawk. It was said he suffered for ten years before being given mercy and allowed to die. Some said you could hear his screams even now.
He saw that his crew was also glancing up at the cliff tops, uneasily they shifted about delaying the launch in subtle ways. A sparkle of sunlight and there she was standing at the highest point of the cliff, a falcon on her arm. Another sparkle of light and there were two falcons wheeling on the air currants.
"Lets go lads, the wind won't get any better and the sea awaits."