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Caledonia Destiny

by Lexi Ander

A twist of fate changed both their destinies.

The wyrbears, once a long-lived species, were being lost to the forest in their prime. A people borne of a curse, their abilities not a gift but something wrongly taken, they nonetheless live in harmony with their animal spirits. But over time the curse they lived under changed, mutated, and now what once was a refuge from the world when they became too weary is culling mathan in their prime.

Ewen mhic Friscalach, the leader of his peoples, lost his father too early and is now a widower with four children. The vow he made as a youth to break the curse afflicting wyrbears has been buried by grief and responsibility.

Roi mhic Alric, a priest of Cerridwen and seer, watched his fellow priests slaughtered and his temple desecrated. The only thing that kept him going the last three horror-filled years was the vision Cerridwen had granted him of his emancipation. If freedom came at the cost of his life, well, he was more than ready for the Otherworld.

A fated meeting upon a bloody field of battle. A wrong done long ago. Their choices could save a people… or send them into extinction. Either way, their love will be legend.

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The red haze of berserker rage crowded the edges of Toisech Ewen mhic Friscalach’s vision, and by dint of will alone he held the beast at bay. Ewen and his men had pursued the banner of the invading King of the Isles since the moment the battle began, only for the slick snake to slide through their fingers time and again. However, upon this day Ewen espied the scarlet clad pagan that the King of the Isles’ second-in-command, Gillie Ainndreis, kept close to his side. The bright colour of the pagan’s garment made him easy to follow amongst so many, so Ewen and his men used the pagan as a guide to track their quarry. The heart of the foolish but fierce man was admirable. Every day he had worn the flowing mantle without a scrap of armour, yet strangely suffered no injury. Of a sudden, the scarlet-clad pagan broke away from the king’s men, seemingly quite determined to meet them upon the field of battle, and to all appearances leaving the King of the Isles


nobles no recourse save to follow him. With great elation, Ewen surged forward, his beast catching the scent of the man they needed to kill.

A man-at-arms threw a javelin, wounding and felling the King of the Isles. The voices of the fighters lifted in great cheer, spurring the knights around Ewen to push forward with renewed fervor. In his haste, Ewen almost became separated from his own men and the High Steward of Alba, Walter fitz Alan.

The man in the flowing red robes had markings on his face that could be seen at a distance, as well as the runes and emblems of the old gods embroilered on his rainment, clearly marking him as a pagan. He wore no evident armour, yet wielded his blade and shield with a fierceness that closely matched Ewen’s. Afore they could cross swords, the golden-haired warrior turned aside, and there afore Ewen stood the man he sought to strike low, Gillie Ainndreis himself. Walter fitz Alan came up upon Ewen’s right. From under his helm, Gillie Ainndreis’ eyes glowed with an ambitious light when he laid eyes on the High Steward. But he would have to go through Ewen first, and Ewen was no easy prey.

Over many days of battle, Ewen and his men had closely watched the King of the Isles and his nobles. Each eventide, they assembled in the tents of the High Steward to share their observations. At all times, the King of the Isles kept within a circle of mighty soldiers. Since there was a hefty price upon Gillie Ainndreis’ head for the bestiality and cruelty he reaped upon small villages in the name of the church, the sly advisor stayed within his king’s reach, ever behind the fighting and rarely lifting sword in conflict. Facing him now, Ewen was well aware the man be fresh faced, not battle weary. Natheless, he still would be no match for Ewen and the beast barely contained under his skin.

The instant Ewen stepped to cross swords with Gillie Ainndreis, he caught a sweet smell that called to him like no other, yet there was no time to glance around and find whomever the scent belonged to. Until Gillie Ainndreis drew his last breath, danger lurked. Together, Ewen and his mathan raised their upper lip, baring their teeth in blatant challenge. The berserker haze that had stayed at the edge of his vision during battle darkened, spreading across his sight as the beast within sought to protect the bearer of the enticing scent. The tight control Ewen held over his mathan’s actions slipped away, leaving him utterly a base animal in mind, if not in body, as he engaged Gillie Ainndreis with a single-minded savagery that caused his kinsmen to give him a wide berth.

Ewen ever exercised tight command over the mathan within him, but in battle that tightly held bridle broke. When the animal fury gripped Ewen he came away far more drenched in blood than a common warrior, the bodies of the fallen mauled viciously by his sword or axe. He lost himself so utterly to the animal that he recalled nothing of his actions or deeds, sparking endless worries that he would strike down friend or kin instead of the foes he faced upon the bloody field. Such was the outcome of the old lore of Ewen’s people: of oaths, curses, and battle rage.

When he finally blinked the red murk from his sight, Ewen recalled not what he had done or how long he had fought. The berserker rage he rode vanished of a sudden. Never afore now had his beast calmed so quickly or effectually. More oft than not it took time for the rage to settle, Ewen’s kinsmen ensuring he caused no harm once the battle concluded. Somehow, on this day, the mathan that shared his skin went from combative to curious in the blink of an eye, soothed and pleased.

Ewen’s arms and shoulders tingled and ached from prolonged labour. Sweat stung his eyes as he gulped sweet smelling air. The dying sounds of clashing men rang all about him, a horrible noise he never wanted to remember but would evermore dream of in the dark of night. Wounded and dying men alike cried out in sorrow-filled wails, the sound equalling the haunting keening of a banshee’s song. Ravens added their sharp cries to the discord as they circled above or hopped amongst the fallen bodies, terrible memories he had no wish to take back to his family or his quiet forest, though Ewen knew he would never truly be free of them.

As he strained to catch his breath, shocked at the sudden withdrawal of the beast, he took in the details of the waning battle. The King of the Isles’ invading soldiers retreated now that their king, and many of his lords, lay still upon the bloodied field. The Norman knights of the High Steward gave chase, victory cries leaving their lips as they rode past. Afore him lay the empty husk of Gillie Ainndreis, body armour dented and cleaved in twain as if parted by the powerful blows of an ogre or giant. Nigh to them lay the King of the Isles, and his firstborn and heir.

The High Steward moved to stand next to Ewen and gazed down at what remained of Gillie Ainndreis. Ewen’s kinsmen of Clan Meinnear surrounded them loosely, protecting against a random attack whilst the knights pursued the fleeing men-at-arms. Ewen had a moment of lax regard for the fleeing Gaelic and Norse warriors who had followed the King of the Isles against the King of Alba. The disparity betwixt them and the High Steward’s well-outfitted knights had led to the downfall of the invaders, despite the numbers brought across the firth.

Curiously, the knights rode by the red-robed warrior without slaying him. The pagan approached slowly and with caution, his blue gaze unerringly locked upon Ewen’s. Not knowing his intent, Ewen shifted his feet, readying his shield and sword to engage this new enemi who caused him to think upon Granda’s tellings of the old ways.

Plaited golden hair lay in one long, thick rope over the warrior’s shoulder. Tattoos marked the fair skin of his face, yet even so, the design hid not the scarring that flowed from the right temple down the cheek and neck. The pagan wore a tiny cropped patch of hair, lighter than the colour of his braid, upon the lower part of the chin, his upper lip, neck and cheeks clean shaven.

Eyes so blue they called to mind the land of ice in the far north held Ewen transfixed as the pagan dropped his weapons and knelt upon the far side of Gillie Ainndreis’ body. He held his arms stretched wide, those captivating eyes breaking away when he bowed his head and bared his nape. With his king now dead, this man willingly gave his life for Ewen to take. As he drew in the pagan’s scent, his mathan yowled and chuffed. This warrior’s smell was what had stirred the savage berserker rage, and then soothed the beast. The memory of the long-agone journey with his granda once again tickling Ewen’s mind, he looked back upon the warning given to him then. Many years had since passed with naught coming of Granda’s grave words, and Ewen had begun to doubt all that had been taught him.

The person kneeling afore him could be the man Granda had foretold, the one whose future would be yoked to his, and yet Ewen could only stare, confounded, scrambling for a way to save him. Not finding one, he unwillingly stepped forward, raising his sword for the killing blow, not believing he could bestow it.


About the Author

Lexi has always been an avid reader, and at a young age started reading (secretly) her mother’s romances (the ones she was told not to touch). She was the only teenager she knew of who would be grounded from reading. Later, with a pencil and a note book, she wrote her own stories and shared them with friends because she loved to see their reactions. A Texas transplant, Lexi now kicks her boots up in the Midwest with her Yankee husband and her eighty-pound puppies named after vacuum cleaners.