The Warrior’s Wager – Mia Pride

This was where she felt most at peace. Deep in the uninhabited forest with nobody around to nag at her or tell her how to live or how a real lass should act, dress, or behave. The wind howled all around as it shook the thick branches above, causing the leaves to rustle soothingly while the cool summer breeze cocooned her in its embrace. Aye, this is where she preferred to be. Just her and her trusted bow. As the only female hunter in their large tuath of Ráth Mór, and at only eight and ten summers of age, Aislin always felt more pressure to prove her worth. While her female cousins were married and constantly breeding or tending to their homes and husbands, Aislin felt ill just thinking of such an existence. She was not a lass who found comfort in working the loom or mending tunics. Nay. Her home was right here, amongst the trees and wild animals who she considered both companions and gifts from the gods. To be a hunter, one must respect the animals and aim true, eliminating their suffering and honoring their sacrifice. She prided herself on her skill with a bow, even if the rest of the tuath found her desire to hunt with the men irregular. Another strong gust of wind pushed through the trees, causing her unruly red tresses to wrap around her face and block her vision. She had plaited her hair that morning, but with winds this wild, her silky strands never seemed to stay in place. Releasing her bow, she pushed her loose locks behind her ear and gripped her weapon just in time to hear a branch snap behind her.

Instincts honed and bow pulled taught, Aislin silently shifted her stance to face the animal she would hopefully bring back to the village to share with her large family and many others, depending on the size of the beast. Only, no beast was within sight. Furrowing her brow, she focused her gaze and strained her ears for any sound of movement. Leaves crunched and another twig snapped, pulling her gaze to the left. Arrow poised, she waited silently and held her breath, waiting for the approaching animal to come into her view. Another step closer. She could hear its hesitant approach. One more step and she would have a clear shot. Pulling back further on the arrow, she prepared to let it go. When a head of full dark, shoulder-length hair came into view, she instantly lowered her weapon and sighed in annoyance. “Och, Daniel! Have you nay survival instincts, sneaking up on me like that? I was one second away from shooting my arrow through your brains!” She grumbled and tucked her hair behind her ear again, rolling her eyes at her fellow hunter. More and more, Daniel was becoming a thorn in her side, ever trying to encroach on her peace to press his advantage. “I only wanted to see how you fair today, Aislin.” His eyes trailed from her face, down her body slowly, fixating on the hide skin dress she preferred to wear on most days, rather than those over-long and cumbersome linen or wool dresses the other women wore. Aye, mayhap it was a slight bit more form fitting and a great deal shorter, but she could move freely in it and after being scolded for years for attempting to wear the trousers of a man, she decided this would have to do.

But when his gaze found her exposed legs and traveled back up once more, landing on her breasts, Aislin frowned and narrowed her gaze. “I would think you’ve seen enough. You find a way to seek me out and stare me down every day it seems.” Placing her hands on her hips, she tapped her foot in irritation against the forest floor, the leather ties of her boots laced up her calf tightening with every flex of her leg muscle. “And I tell you every day that I work alone. I do not need your help to hunt. I have done quite well on my own most of my life.” “I know you have said as much,” he frowned and finally looked her in the eyes once more. “I only worry about you… alone in the forest.” Aislin snorted and rolled her eyes again, deciding to walk away as she spoke over her shoulder. “I am not alone apparently, for you are always close by.” Daniel did not respond, but as predicted, his footsteps fell in line with hers and he trailed in her wake as she headed back into the village. Today would not be a successful day of hunting. Nor had yesterday been, or the day before… or the day before. Daniel seemed to always show up and scare away any beasts she may have caught.

Another huff of frustration left her lips and she gripped her bow tightly in her hands, straining to control her ire. She was well known for her fiery temper… a temper she had inherited from her mother Ceara, who was one of the famed Sisters of Danu. The Sisters of Danu were well-known for their stubbornness and control over the elements. Where her Aunt Gwynneth controlled water and Aunt Una controlled earth, her mother was the sister who controlled fire. Aye, that fire ran through Aislin’s veins as well, only she was still learning how to control her inner sparks of defiance. You must learn to control your temper, Aislin . Her Papa’s words rang in her ears over and over again. Aye, he was also a man well-known for his own stubbornness and a passion that burned deeply for her mama. If only they could understand that it was not anger that guided Aislin’s every thought, but the need for freedom: to break away from the expectations put on her simply because she was born a lass. She could shoot, hunt, and fight as well as any lad… if only the lads would leave her in peace long enough to do so. As she and Daniel stepped out of the forest and back into the soft green pastures of their village, the strength of the summer sun finally showed itself, warming her skin and caressing her hair. Give her sun or snow, wind or rain… she was content in any climate as long as she was free to roam and exist amongst the bounty of the earth. The sound of men shouting and blades clashing caught her gaze as she strode further into the village. She knew the warriors were training and having mock battles, as they did every day. It was a typical sight and one she was more than used to being around.

Her father, uncles, brother, and cousins were the fiercest warriors in all of Ériu. The High King of Ériu was now her cousin by marriage. Her brother Eoin had taught her at a very young age how to wield a sword and protect herself as well as any man, but the bow had always been her weapon of preference. “Aislin,” she heard Daniel’s voice plead behind her and she stopped in her tracks, spinning to face him. Control your temper. He means well. She had to always remind herself of this when in Daniel’s presence. “Will you please just hear me out?” “Aye, Daniel. What would you like to say… that you have not already said many times before?” She licked her lips to hide her irritation as she raised a red brow in question. Daniel sighed and stepped closer, placing both hands on her shoulders. “All I ask is that you give me a chance,” he shrugged. “I am from a good family, a hunter just as you are. I wish to know you better… to protect you.” Wrong answer. Why did men feel she needed protecting? Had she ever been attacked? Harmed in any way by any man, weapon, or animal? Nay.

She had done just fine all these years… never mind that the men in her family were just as overbearing and insistent on protecting her. The last thing she wanted in this world was another man looking after her every move and telling her what to do. Because, in the end, protection always led to control. She would never be controlled. Shaking her head, Aislin took a deep breath and looked Daniel in the eye. He was a handsome lad. He could have many a woman with his bright hazel eyes and shoulder length dark brown hair. He was tall and lean, yet nothing like the warriors that were sparring several feet across from them as they spoke. Why was he so persistent about courting her? “Daniel. I am not like the other lassies. I do not need protecting. I do not want it. I have plenty enough men in my life doing that very thing.” When his face fell and his hands squeezed her shoulders with slightly more strength, she braced herself for his next argument. “That’s what I love about you, Lin.

You are so strong and beautiful. Your green eyes are like the rolling hills of—” “There you are, Lin!” Her shoulders relaxed just as Daniel hastily removed his hands from her and took a step back. The familiar voice of her brother was just in time to stave off another round of overly-sweet words about her beauty. “I have been looking for you.” She knew he had not. He had been just over with the other warriors training and felt the need to rescue her from Daniel’s admiration… again. Inwardly, she balked at his believing she needed to be saved, but if she was being honest with herself, she was mighty glad Eoin had come along. “Daniel, mate. Are you a hunter? Or a bard? Truly, I thought it was the former until you so adamantly started reciting sweet words to your fair lady love every day. Mayhap you should think of switching professions.” Her shoulders stiffened again. She knew that voice, as well. Why her brother had become such good companions with the new warriors from Alba, she could not understand. Since the day a few new men arrived on a boat from across the sea with her brother Eoin, they had all become inseparable. Mayhap it would not be so bad if this lad, Alastar, would stop trying to win her over.

What was wrong with all the lads in this tuath? There were many soft-spoken, traditional, beautiful lassies who wanted husbands and babes, who worked the loom with ease and wore respectable woolen garments… not animal hide that covered only half their thighs so they might frolic freely in the wild, wade through the river, or move with stealth without the swishing of heavy skirts. Aye, Aislin knew she was not a typical lass, but she had always found herself more comfortable in the company of the lads, besting them with her archery skills or out-sprinting them in their games of prowess. Yet, over the last year or so, things had changed. Men suddenly saw her as a lass who needed protection. They saw her as a lass they sought to speak sweetly to or lure into their beds with those sweet words. Och, she found men interesting and often wondered what it would be like to go to bed with a man, but that was where her similarities with the other lassies ended. The only thing that came from bedding a man was a babe in the belly or a vow of marriage, and neither of those appealed to her in the least. If avoiding a man’s bed was all she had to do to keep her freedom, she could live with that. Daniel stalked away in a fit of temper with his usually olive complexion flushing brightly at Alastar’s taunting words, and Aislin felt a mixture of relief and guilt. It wasn’t Daniel’s fault that she was so stubborn or wild. He had the misfortune of believing himself in love with the wrong woman and nothing more. “You are welcome.” Alastar’s arrogant words floated to her on the wind as her hair began to wrap wildly about her face once more. Removing strands of hair from across her lips, she turned to look Alastar in the eye and felt her heart rate speed up when her gaze caught on his sweaty, glistening bare chest. His muscles rippled when he moved and a sprinkling of golden hair caught in the sunlight, causing her to struggle to catch her breath.

“Watch yourself, Al,” Eoin warned as he looked from his new friend to his foul-tempered sister. She knew she wore the tell-tale flush she always wore right before the loss of her manners, but this man brought it out of her faster than any other lad. From the moment he arrived from Alba a fortnight ago and introduced himself to her with such conviction, as if her life would never be complete without knowing his name, she had sought to ignore him entirely. Nothing could make her ignore a lad more than his arrogance and over-confidence. “I did not need your help,” Aislin said through clenched teeth. “Why does every lad in this village believe I am in need of his aid?” “Och, I must have read that situation entirely wrong, then, because it appeared to me that Daniel had been following you since you left the forest, despite your best efforts. It also appeared that you tried ignoring him, but that did not work. Then it appeared you gave in and allowed him to speak, which led to him encroaching on your space, placing his hands on you, and reciting bonny poetry while you fumbled for a way to be rid of him. Had I truly read all that wrong?” This was precisely why she disliked Alastar. He was quick with his smiles and even quicker with his witty banter, but he also had a way of using that smile and banter to disarm her completely. His sandy blond hair blew with the wind and his deep blue eyes bore into hers, clearly awaiting her response to his obnoxiously accurate observation. His brow rose and then his secret weapons, twin dimples and straight white teeth, flashed at her and made her heart flutter in a most aggravating way. She knew better than to fall for his charms. Every other lass in the tuath had apparently already fallen for his smile, laughter, and unusually companionable personality. She knew men like Alastar.

They were all about the chase. The other lassies may be oblivious to his true nature, but that was their problem, not hers. “Well?” He wasn’t going to let it go, as usual. “I was handling it just fine,” Aislin said, propping her hands on her hips. “Eoin,” she turned to her brother, effectively removing Alastar’s perfect smile and dimples… and his bare chest… from her view. “Treasa asked me to tell you that the babe is asleep, so if you do come home soon, do not allow your sword to accidentally clatter to the floor again.” Her brother blushed guilty, clearly remembering his wife’s ire when he woke up their daughter, Neassa, from her midday slumber the other day. The babe had cried for an hour after being awoken abruptly by her papa and insisted on suckling on Treasa’s breast for another hour before she calmed down, making it impossible for Treasa to finish her chores. As much as Aislin enjoyed her niece and watching her older brother dote upon his beautiful wife, it was moments such as those that made her determined to avoid the web of marriage and children altogether. “Aye, Eoin. Treasa also told me to tell you that she locked your bollocks in a jar and put them where you shall never find them.” Aislin snorted loudly and covered her mouth to keep from laughing uncontrollably at Alastar’s barb toward her brother. His humor was less annoying when it was aimed at someone other than herself. Looking at her with his bright blue eyes, the color of blue belles in the spring, he winked and flashed his cursed dimples. She could have sworn his gaze flicked over her body quicker than a flash of lightning, but before she could decide for certain, his eyes were locked once more on hers.

Narrowing her eyes at him to try and hide her blush, she turned on her heels with a frustrated growl and stalked back to her home where she lived with her parents and Eoin’s wee family. Every moment she spent in the presence of Alastar Mac Murray was a moment of her life wasted. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her of her failure for the fourth day in a row to successfully hunt some game with her bow. She really did need to find a way to turn Daniel away without breaking the lad’s heart completely. Until then, she would head home and hope that Treasa or her mother had been more successful in supplying a meal. *** Watching Aislin turn away from him with a frustrated growl, her curvy hips swaying in consternation with every step she took further away from him, Alastar groaned and bit down on his knuckles. The lass drove him wild. That short hide dress she wore clung to her backside like a second skin. Those leather boots wrapped tightly up her shapely calves made him wish to be one of those thin leather straps. And the quiver slung across her back filled with arrows, her bow cradled under her arm as her wavy red hair blew freely in the wind? The lass was primal and she brought the primal out of him. “I’m right here, Alastar. Can you not watch my sister’s arse as she walks away? Jeoffrey was right, man. You truly have nay shame.” Looking at his new mate Eoin, he could only shrug. He was a man who never shied away from what he wanted, and he had never wanted anyone in this entire world as fiercely as he wanted Aislin, Eoin’s sister or nay.

With the very first glimpse he had of her upon his arrival at Ráth Mór, he knew she was it for him. It was the strangest and most invigorating experience to gaze upon a woman for the first time in his life and want more from her than one night in her bed. Nay. He wanted much more than that. He wanted her days, her nights, her dreams, and everything in between. Yet, he couldn’t even have a cursed moment, for the lass truly despised him. “I would apologize, Eoin, but it would be a false apology and you know I am an honest man.” “Aye, but can you try to at least pretend?” Eoin scoffed. “I shall try when in your company,” he agreed with a tilt of his head as he continued to watch her walk away, eventually entering her family’s home. “Do not believe him, Eoin. The man has no self-control.” Jeoffrey, Alastar’s best mate, came up from behind them and slapped him on the back. “I have known him since we were wee lads and I can tell you there has never been a lass Alastar wanted that he did not get. And he never pretends to not want her.” Eoin groaned and rubbed his hands across his sweaty face.

“I do not need to hear this.” Àdhamh, the other warrior who came over from Alba with Alastar and Jeoffrey, shook his head and laughed. “Och, well the lass has made it clear she has nay interest in him. You can rest easy at night, Eoin. I do not think Alastar stands a chance with that one.” “Aye?” Alastar said with a raised brow. “Wish to put it to the test? What will you give me if I can make Aislin mine?” “You mean like a wager?” Àdhamh asked with raised brows. “You shall not place wagers about my sister,” Eoin growled in warning. Alastar laughed and pounded Eoin on the back. “I will pursue her either way, mate. And I will have her, make nay mistake. But if I can shut Àdhamh’s mouth in the process, and prove him wrong, I am happy to make that wager.” “And what is it you believe I should give you, if you win over Aislin?” Àdhamh crossed his large arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes. “That dagger,” Alastar pointed at the dagger strapped to Àdhamh’s leather belt around his waist. The handle was made of bone and intricately carved with circular designs around all sides.

“’Tis a bad idea, Al. If Aislin finds out, she will use that dagger to cut off your bollocks,” Jeoffrey laughed and shook his head. Eoin stayed silent but frowned as he watched two men make a wager over his sister. “This old thing? I took it off a man I killed in a raid over in Alba. Means nothing to me,” Àdhamh shrugged. Alastar squinted his eyes knowingly at Àdhamh. ‘Twas a fine dagger and even if the man spoke true, any man would wish to own it. “Then you do not mind losing it?” With a snicker, Àdhamh shrugged. “I will not lose. Aislin will not have you. But if I make this wager, we must settle on specifics. When you say you will ‘have’ Aislin, what are you saying? Once? Twice? Forever?”


PDF | Download

Thank you!

Updated: 2 March 2021 — 07:54

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. © 2018 | Descargar Libros Gratis | Kitap İndir |