Rowan's heart leapt when he saw Maeryn leading the charge. Why couldn't she see that he was only trying to protect her? But she wasn't doing anything he hadn't planned on doing himself, so he drew his own sword and plunged after her.

He hacked into the nearest raider, then the next and the next and the next, his horse- well used to battle- staying steady all the while. By the time he got a moment to look around, Maeryn was no where in sight. Swearing madly, he drove his horse back down the hill, thinking that Maeryn hadn't been able to make it up the hill before losing her mount. Several of his men rode to him quickly.

"Find Maeryn!" He shouted as he drove his sword into a man's chest. Most of the Gleannmaran men spread out but a few stayed behind with Rowan. They looked anxiously over the field for their almost-queen, but no one could see her.

Rowan's only words now were a steady stream of curses accompanying every blow, until finally it seemed that the battle was dying down and the raiders becoming fewer.

"Rowan!" he thought he heard someone cry. Whirling to look in every direction, he heard it again. "Rowan!" It was Maeryn!

He called out her name in reply as he spotted her surrounded by raiders and towards the top of the hill. Apparently he had misjudged her… He screamed at the horse as it lunged up the hill, and it leapt at the moment the sword bit into Maeryn's shoulder, landing on a Norseman's back. Rowan jumped off and sliced the neck of the raider who had hit Maeryn before he had a chance to move.

Dropping to his knees beside the woman, he tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and tied it tightly around her shoulder to stop the bleeding. She was unconscious.

He prayed desperately as he lifted her limp body onto his horse and climbed up behind her. The wound had looked deep and was bleeding through the cloth already. He had to get her to help!

"Rowan!" A man rode up, covered in blood and out of breath. Rowan recognized him as one Mikal. "They're fleeing milord! Should we follow?" He asked, casting a glance at Maeryn. Rowan ordered the chase and hastily set off toward the rath. The smell of smoke began to meet him as he neared the outer wall and the rider he had sent ahead for help bolted out of a small gate along the side. Even from twenty yards away, Rowan could see that something was wrong.

"Milord! The Vikings! They were already there! They burned the whole thing, milord! All of it!" he bellowed, halting right next to Rowan.

"What?" the king asked incredulously, not daring to believe the words.

"The Norsemen were watching the rath burn, not waiting to attack!" He cried in anguish.

"Are there none alive?"

"There was one in the palace, with hardly a leg left, but I pulled him to safety best I could. But we were too late. . ."

"Get the rest of the men- quickly! They're after the raiders, but I want them to the rath!" Rowan ordered, setting off again toward the gate as quickly as he could. The other man took off at a frenzied gallop towards the rest of Gleannmara.

Once he was inside the wall, Rowan smelled smoke but didn't see any fire. He laid Maeryn next to the wall and walked toward the nearest farmhouse. It was made of logs and a thatched reed roof, but the reeds had caved in, and since the fire had been started from the inside, the rain soaked roof had reduced the flames to a few smoldering ashes. Running to the next house, he found much the same situation, the insides completely destroyed but the houses only standing because of the rain.

Rowan heard horses behind him and turned to see Gleannmara's men galloping toward him. "See if there are any left alive!" He ordered, hoping that there were. "Diarmuid, follow me." A blonde haired man about ten years Rowan's senior fell out of the crowd of fifteen or so.

"The others are coming, milord. Except for Patrick and Ciaran," he said in response to Rowan's calculating look at the men. "Only Connely is seriously hurt, but he won't admit it until someone else does first."

Rowan almost sighed with relief that most of his men were safe, but the thought of the two that weren't and Maeryn lying on the ground stifled any further thoughts.

"Diarmuid, Maeryn was stabbed through the shoulder. Do you have any way to help her?" The shorter man nodded and jumped off his horse, then procured a small leather pouch from under the blanket.

"Can you find me some water?" he asked Rowan

Leading Diarmuid to Maeryn, he was struck by how fragile she looked. She hadn't moved since Rowan had set here there, and her face was pale as death. He shoved thoughts of that away and headed toward the inner rath, hoping that there would be water in a jug as the stream was polluted with blood.

Rowan rode through the inner wall's main entry. The wooden gates were thrown wide and everywhere he looked there were bodies strewn. Men, women, and children. The Norse hadn't spared anyone. . . . His stomach churned but he dismounted and walke toward the palace where he saw a few of his men's horses standing. Tentatively stepping inside the stone building, he allowed his eyes to adjust to the dim light before going farther. He spotted torch light down a hallway and headed toward them.

As he approached, one of the men turned toward him, sword raised menacingly, but lowered it immediately when he saw that it was Rowan.

"There's nothing left, Milord," he said without waiting to be spoken to first. "The fires are out now thanks to the leaky roof, but it's all destroyed." Rowan realized that he was in a bedroom- had it been Maeryn's? The bed frame was crumpled on the floor, all the other furniture reduced completely to ashes.

"Did you find anyone alive?" he asked the three men.

"No Milord, but the one Conor found earlier is in the other bedroom. We thought that Diarmuid could see to him later."

"Yes. Do you know who the man is?"

"The leader- Ailan was his name I think."

Maeryn would be glad to hear that. Which reminded him. . . .

"Do you know where any clean water can be found?"

"Not in this place, but I believe I have some in a wineskin on my horse, Milord, if you wish," the man said.

"Please. It's to help Maeryn," Rowan said before he could ask what it was for.

"I'll fetch it for you then Milord."

"No need. I'll get it on my way. Yours is the dappled horse I think?"


"Thank you then." Rowan turned to leave, then stopped. "Will you see if you can find a room with a decent roof to give Maeryn shelter?" The men nodded and one of them handed Rowan a torch. He took it but left it unlit at the doorway to the palace to use on his way back with Maeryn.

He winced as he stepped into the rain again. He was cold and would have liked nothing better than to be at home in the drinking hall, joking with his men, and to never have even heard of the Cairthan rath, much less the Norsemen. But then he never would have met Maeryn. . . .

He pulled the wineskin off of the gray horse and took the man's drinking cup too, then forced himself to clamber back on his own horse.

"Lord, please be with Maeryn and Ailan and all of us. Protect us, Lord, and give us the strength to go on," Rowan prayed out loud, staring up at the gray sky. He was thinking about his dark-haired betrothed more than anyone, and tears mixed in with the raindrops that ran down his face. The picture of Maeryn's deathly pale face came to mind again. "Please. . ." he prayed.

A/N: i just realized that this chapter is kinda... boring. lol! yeah... felt that way when i was writing it too... idk why i thought it would sound different. lol! but yeah.... it'll get better soon! please r&r!!