“You’re worried about him.” Brighid studied Elphame’s strong profile as her gaze shifted back to the horizon.
“Of course I’m worried about him!” She pressed her lips together in a sharp line. When she spoke again her voice was sad and resigned. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to take it out on you, but I’ve been worried about him since Brenna’s death. He loved her so much.”
“We all loved the little Healer,” Brighid said.
Elphame sighed. “It’s because she was special. Her heart was so incredibly big.”
“You’re worried that Cuchulainn won’t recover from her loss.”
Elphame stared at the distant mountains. “It wouldn’t be so bad if he was here—if I could talk with him and know how he’s doing.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t stop him from leaving, though. He said everything here reminded him of Brenna, and that he’d never learn to live without her here. When he left he was just a ghost of himself. No—” she reconsidered her comparison
“—not a ghost of himself. He was more like a shadow of what he used to be…”
Elphame’s voice faded. Brighid stayed by her side while the Chieftain struggled silently with worry for her brother, and Brighid’s own thoughts turned in remembrance to the little Healer, Brenna. She had come to MacCallan Castle as had Brighid, looking for a new life and a new beginning, but the scarred Healer had found much more. She had found love within the arms of the Chieftain’s warrior brother, who was able to see past her terrible burn scars to the beauty of her heart. Brighid remembered how spectacularly happy her friend had been—up until the moment of her untimely death. That her death had set into motion the events that led to the salvation of a people did little to salve the wound left by her absence. And now Cuchulainn had gone to the Wastelands to lead back into Partholon the very people who had brought about his lover’s murder.
“It was at his insistence,” Elphame said quietly, as if she could sense the path of Brighid’s thoughts. “He did not blame the other Fomorians for Brenna’s death. He understood her murderess had been under the control of the madness they all struggled against.”
Brighid nodded. “Cuchulainn blamed only himself. Perhaps bringing the hybrid Fomorians home will serve as an act of closure. Lochlan says many of his people are still children. Maybe they will help Cu to heal.”
“Healing without the touch of a Healer is a difficult process,” Elphame murmured. “I just hate to think about him in pain and without—” She broke off with a dry laugh.
“What?” Brighid prompted.
“I know it sounds silly, Cuchulainn is a warrior renowned for his strength and courage, but I hate to think of him without his family near while he’s hurting.”
“Especially his big sister?”
Elphame’s lips twisted. “Yes, especially his big sister.” She sighed again. “He’s been gone so long. I really thought he’d be back by now.”
“You know the report from Guardian Castle said there was a major spring snowstorm that ravaged the mountains and closed the pass into the Wastelands. Cuchulainn would’ve had to wait for the next thaw, and then he would be traveling slowly, being careful not to overtax the strength of the children. You must be patient,” Brighid said.
“Patience has never been one of your virtues, my heart.”
The deep voice came from behind them. The Huntress and her Chieftain turned to watch the winged man finish his silent approach. Brighid wondered if she would ever get used to the fact that such a being existed. Part Fomorian, part human, Lochlan had been born an anomaly. More human than demon, he and others like him had been raised by their human mothers in secrecy in the harsh Wastelands north of the Trier Mountains. He was tall and leanly muscular. His features were chiseled and attractively human, but the luminescence of his skin hinted at his dark heritage. And then there were his wings. Right now they were at rest, tucked snugly against his back, with just the storm-colored topside visible. But Brighid had seen them fully spread in terrible magnificence. It was a sight the Huntress would not easily forget.
“Good morning, Huntress,” he said warmly as he joined them. “Wynne tells me you returned this morning with a spectacular kill and that we have venison steaks to look forward to at the evening meal.”
Brighid inclined her head in a brief bow, acknowledging his praise as she moved aside so Lochlan could greet his wife.
“I missed you this morning,” he said, reaching up to take Elphame’s hand and kissing it softly.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to wake you, so I…” She shrugged.
“You are impatient for your brother’s return, and it makes you restless,” he said.
“I know he’s a warrior, and I know I’m thinking with a sister’s heart instead of a Chieftain’s mind, but I’m worried about him.”
“I am a warrior, but if I lost you I would lose my soul. Being a warrior does not prevent a man from feeling pain. Cuchlainn has been in my thoughts lately, too.” Lochlan paused, choosing his words carefully. “Perhaps one of us should go after him.”
“I want to. I’ve even thought of it, but I can’t leave.” Elphame’s frustration spilled over into her voice. “The Clan is too new, and there is still so much work to be done rebuilding the castle.”
“I will go.” Brighid spoke in a simple matter-of-fact voice.
“You will?” Elphame asked.
The Huntress nodded and shrugged. “The forest is so lush with game that even the human warriors can easily keep the castle fed—at least for a while,” she added with a smile. “And it will take the skill of a Huntress to follow the path Cuchulainn took through the mountains.” She looked pointedly at Lochlan. “Will it not?”
“It is an obscure trail, and though I know Cuchulainn and the others will have marked it, still it would be difficult to find and follow,” he agreed.
“Besides, game is scarce in the Wastelands. At least I can ease their burden of hunger as they ready themselves to travel.” Brighid smiled at her Clan Chieftain. “A Huntress is always welcome company, especially when there are hungry young mouths to feed.”
“A friend is also always welcome company,” Elphame said, her voice catching with emotion. “Thank you. You have relieved my mind greatly.”
“Cuchulainn will probably think me a poor substitute for his sister,” Brighid said roughly to cover up her own emotions. She had come to care for Elphame as she would a member of her own family. No, the Huntress silently amended, it was from my family I escaped by joining Clan MacCallan. Elphame is far easier to care for.
“He will think no such thing.” Elphame laughed.
“I will sketch a map that will help make your path clear,” Lochlan said. Then he rested his hand lightly on the Huntress’s shoulder. “Thank you for doing this, Brighid.”
She looked into the winged man’s eyes and stifled the urge to flinch under his touch. The majority of the Clan was slowly accepting Lochlan as Elphame’s lifemate. He was half Fomorian, but he had proven his loyalty to the Chieftain and their Clan. Yet Brighid could not quell the nagging feeling of unease that being in his presence always evoked.
“I will leave first thing in the morning,” the Huntress said resolutely.
Brighid hated snow. It wasn’t that it was a physical discomfort. As with all centaurs, her natural body heat effectively insulated her from all but the most drastic weather changes. She hated snow in principle. It shrouded the earth with a blanket of numb dampness. Woodland creatures either burrowed away from it or fled to warmer grounds. She agreed