Ruhn arose, slowly sipping his wine. Catlike, her eyes held his gaze steadily, yet she trembled when she reached up for the clasp on his cloak and let it fall from his shoulders...

“Ah!” She drew back. Slowly her head raised and she looked at him instead of the ugly stump that hung from his right shoulder.

He admired her courage. Many women had been repulsed, even sickened by the same sight. Now her eyes raked over his powerful torso and when she looked up he saw pleasure there.

“It is ye then as he said. You are known as Ruhn.

“How do you know me?”

“Tongues whisper to me in the dark.”

“Poisoned tongues?” Ruhn thought instantly of Bricrui, the Udlah warrior who had met his gaze during the feast. Known as Bricrui the Poisoned Tongue for his acidic criticism of the Red Branch of Ulster he was the one man at the feast that held Ruhn’s eye. It was only for an instant but he was aware of it.

“How quick ye be.” She tossed her head back naturally, unlike so many teasing women he had known and Ruhn felt himself respond to her.

“I know well that ye are no druidess who hears voices of the De Danann at night but a beautiful woman born and I thank the Gods for that.”

Fedelm laughed and drank deeply from her goblet. “You know me then?”

“Aye. You are daughter to Conchobar mac Nessa and Ethne his queen, and you are a most beautiful messenger for Bricrui to send. Tell me Fedelm, how is it that you ally yourself against the High King? Against your own father?” Ruhn watched her as she refilled his goblet and then her own.

Raising her goblet high, she drained its contents before giving a reply. “My father said you could be trusted. My mother is Ethne the Queen, but my real father is Bricrui. I am of his blood, not Conchobar’s. I was conceived soon after he left to war in Leinster. While he was still away I was born, but the date kept secret until this day. My father had always loved Ethne, but she was betrothed to Conchobar at birth.” The words came out of her in a rush, she stood facing him and he saw her lovely neck and chest working as she told him her secret.

She looked up at him, her green gold eyes questioning.

“Do ye think me wrong for devoting myself to my father’s cause, rather than the king’s?”

“No. But heads as beautiful as your own have adorned stakes when kings learn of their treason. Ethne herself would be unable to save ye.”

“My head is for better use than adorning stake tops!” she replied, shaking her lovely hair again with a quick toss of her head. She reminded Ruhn of an untamed mountain pony.

“Conchobar suspects nothing. Bricrui has always been at odds with him and spoken out, hence his name in Udlah of the Poisoned Tongue.”

“What of Cathbad?”

She shivered then, despite the fire and wrapped her arms under her bosom. Ruhn took notice of her fear, while another part of him took notice of the way her breasts swelled against the sheer fabric. He sawthat just the name Cathbad itself scared her. She poured them another goblet of wine before answering.

“He is evil itself. Fear of him is a sign of wisdom. No man, druid or king, holds such power.”

“You fear him?”

“I admit that I do. I only wish my father feared him as much as I. It must be his warrior’s pride that makes him so blind concerning Cathbad the Druid.”

“Then have the druid killed,” Ruhn said flatly.

“There has never been a man who dared. No price could be offered for such a crime.” Her eyes darted to the twoheaded red handled axe he wore at his belt.

“Everyone has his price girl.”

“Not everyone has the courage Ruhn. He has powers that we don’t even know exist. And he has his spies, an entire system of them devoted to him and the High King.”

“So hatching a plot to kill him, hiring the man to do it, and carrying it off ye deem too great a risk.”

“I do. Everyone does.”

“Is that why I am here? To be hired as an assassin?”

“Nay. Bricrui wishes to stir up the feud between Connaught and Ulster. He believes you are the man to do this.”

“And you? What do ye believe of me?” Rudn asked, feeling the wine in his stomach now, rushing through him, bringing on a sudden surge of warmth.

“What do I believe of Ruhn, the Scourge of the North? The greatest warrior in all Eire? I have been hearing stories and holding them close to my heart for years. Minstrels have written many passages about the mighty Ruhn, but none have the heart to sing them aloud in Udlah for fear of Cathbad and Conchobar. I have longed to meet ye since I was a very little girl.” She was leaning over him now, her face so close to his he could feel her soft breath on his lips. Her hands clasped the arms of his chair bringing her breasts tantalizingly close. He felt a rush through his loins and had to hold back from tearing off her gown and taking her right then in front of the fire.

“You are no little girl whether ye live in fear of Cathbad or no,” Ruhn’s voice was strained.

“I still fear him, even with you here.” She left him to stand by the fire, her arms wrapped around herself once more. The mention of his name had changed her from a seductress to a terrified little girl.

“For myself, he is just a druid. There are hundreds like him. I don’t like Druids or their beliefs. Whether they try to wield their powers over a village or over a kingdom they are still only men, flesh and blood like myself. I have yet to meet one that does not succumb to the blade of my axe.”

“It’s easier for you. As a man ye walk about with sword and axe, fearing nothing. Women are not so lucky.”

“Queen Maeve of Connaught wears a sword, and uses it well too. She is beautiful, but cold as ice and hard as a steel blade, not soft and lovely as you. I think I prefer women as women, men as men, and let the miserable druids dally with their gods.”

Fedelm laughed then and shook herself as if to be rid of the fear. She poured him another goblet but Ruhn shook his head and reached for his cloak, cursing to himself all the while.

“I cannot. I must meet with Bricrui and can’t risk a befuddled head in this place.” Even as he spoke the words, Ruhn cursed himself again. He didn’t want to go anywhere. He longed for the warmth of the fire, the wine and her rich scent. He ached to touch her.

“Bricui bade me bring ye to him at dawn.”

“Dawn? Where will he be?”

“At an ancient tumuli in the forest nearby.”

“A tumili? We’re to meet at a druid’s grave? Thy father is strange man Fedelm, one of wandering paths. Surely then he fears no druid.”

“He does not, but ye should still both beware. Dawn is far away Ruhn. I will have ye at the tumuli at first light,” her voice had softened and he took the goblet when she handed it to him.

“Stay here with me tonight Ruhn.” Her perfume wafted over him as she moved against him. His black eyes bore into her’s as they drained the wine together.

When she went up on her toes to kiss him Ruhn responded instantly. He pulled free his axe and threw it beside the bed. Stooping, he gathered her up in one arm and laid her on the bed, then bolted the door. She bared her breasts for him and his breath caught in his throat. His loins felt as if they would explode as he undressed and softly ran his palms over her taut nipples. She was white skinned, beautiful, firm and well rounded. Her eyes danced over his nakedness and she smiled as she took in the enormously muscled body, rich with the scars of many battles.

When he lay beside her she gave a little cry and reached for him, pulling him on top of her, engulfing him as if she had been as long alone as he.