Olwen was seated on a newly built dais raised at least a foot from the rest of the Governor’s hut she leaned down with a gentle smile, chattering to a group of six children. From their little cross-legged positions on the furs, they stared up at her with rapt attention.
Olwen appeared every ounce the mother of a gaggle of stray pups. Andra held back for a moment. She wanted to watch. To see the woman she loved in a new role.
It had been a hard ride from the Iskian lands, and her remaining soldiers were still recovering. But she needed to offer her report to the Mistress before she could take any rest herself. She couldn’t have slept unless Olwen knew all that had occurred. But she hesitated.
She wanted to watch Olwen, but she was also reticent to break the news that Myrddym had not been killed. At least she had not seen her killed, only watched as she was dragged into the Deep World. Surely the Wizard would not have lasted long?
Carefully she edged her way around the perimeter of the roundhouse, keeping quiet and into the shadows.
The children all seemed healthy enough, bright-eyed with good sun-drenched skin. Although their clothes were a little ragged and old they would do well enough for Olwen’s plans. Each of them would make a fine warrior
She listened carefully to the chatter, watching an Olwen she rarely saw as she performed the sweet and merry mother. She wondered how much of it was real.
Olwen was explaining how they were all to live within the walls of Midwinter Down. Many of them had lived in little hamlets and farmsteads all their lives, looking up at the Keep on the hill, perhaps never even passing through the gates and now they were to live there. Some of them gasped, they chattered to one another excitedly and suddenly Olwen caught her eye.
Andra had broken the spell.
Olwen’s smile spread and she reached out a hand to Andra, who took it eagerly.
The children’s eyes grew wider as they gazed upon Andra’s shining bronze armour.
“And you are especially lucky, little ones,” Olwen continued, “for you, shall not only have one mother but two. This is my Andra.”
They stared up her open-mouthed, some greeted her. One girl, a child of no more than six summers stood up and pointed. “Is that a real sword?”
Andra smiled. “Yes,” she said with a firm nod, drawing the blade so they could all look upon it, she knelt down and held it out to them, some of them reached out but none touched the blade.
“Has it killed anyone?” The round-faced freckled boy looked up at her.
Andra’s mind flicked back to the last man she had killed. Up on the edge of the gorge. He had been brave. He had held her back so his companions could escape. His final stand had been for nought. The Wizard and Elf would be long dead by now. But his bravery would stay with her. His eyes as she slid her blade between his ribs would linger on her mind for many a long night. But death was necessary.
She replaced the blade. “It has.” She stood again and Olwen was quick to call a nursemaid and dismiss the children. They were to go to the long hall to eat. As they were gathered up by a round-hipped Southern Druid, Olwen looked up at Andra with red cheeks and a grin of joy playing at the corners of her lips. Andra hadn’t seen that brightness for many months, perhaps years. She couldn’t help but smile back.
“I thought,” she said, speaking low enough not to be overheard as they children were shuffled from the roundhouse, “we would take in one or two. But all six?”
Olwen laughed. “And they shall only be the start, Andra.” She took a deep happy sigh and waved as they left the hall. Then her brow furrowed. “That one,” she pointed, “it’s limping. How was it injured?”
Andra turned to look but immediately shook her head. “She has a club foot, she would have been born that way.”
“Oh.” Olwen’s eyes narrowed. She stared at the little creature as she dropped a rag-doll and another older girl picked it up and handed it back to her before they both left through the hie covered door.
Olwen shook her head. “I don’t want that one. The Druids are strong, we will not have any more weaklings sucking us dry.”
“You don’t- but,” Andra stammered looking at Olwen, helplessly, “But what would you have me do with her?”
“I don’t care. Smother it, drown it, throw it to the dogs. Just make sure it’s gone.”
“Throw it away,” she hissed.
Anya stared at her mistress. Seated at her great throne, her eyes watching the entrance where the children had been hurried off. There was the smallest trace of a snarl at her lips and her eyes shone with a deep, bright, gold.
There was no hint of jest.
Olwen demanded that her new generation of Druids be strong, healthy, righteous. This would mean encouraging the strong, training them, feeding them, leading them on the right path and Andra realised, cutting down the weak.
All of the weak.
Suddenly Olwen looked up at her. Those piercing golden hued eyes sensing discord. “Something wrong, my love?” she asked.
The use of the word ‘love’ brought Andra back. She was reminded of her loyalty, her love, her duty. Her reason to live.
Andra shook her head. “Nothing.”
A hand drifted towards hers, and their fingers briefly entwined, the touch of the woman whose soul she craved and worshipped steadied her resolve. “I will see it done.”