For a small fire it put out a lot of smoke. The cursed woman must have put some wet gorse or heather in there with the peat and wood. Gancanagh tried to carefully position himself in the one corner of the cave that wasn’t more ash than air, while Leannan kept sadistically stirring the embers.
“Are you about done making your guest miserable?” he spoke in the old tongue because her Gaidhlig had a few gaps.
She flashed him a predatory smile “I know better than to let you get comfortable. A bit of safe distance between us is what allows us to play nice with one another.”
Outside the little cave-dwelling, some distance into the woods, an animal squealed in agony: Leannan’s feral “children” having a bit of fun at the expense of the local wildlife, no doubt. There were several things about this woman that gave Gancanagh the creeps, but he did approve of the manner in which her tunic hung loosely on her frame, shifting so you could get just a glimpse of nipple here or there. All intentional no doubt.
“Well, what do your coals say tonight?” You never got anything useful out of her unless you asked a straight question.
“That we haven’t got a very good chance.”
“What scheme does these days?”
“This is different. We’re going against the Stag Lord.”
Gancanagh flinched. Leannan had a habit of tossing around the names of the greater Spirits with a bit too much ease for his taste. “True, but he needs the children just as much as we do. More. For the moment he can’t afford to harm us. We’ve planted the seeds. They’ll listen.”
“That’s what the Morrigan thought too. They didn’t listen to her.”
“Why would they? She offered only death?”
“And power. And glory.”
He shrugged, “Besides maybe they did exactly what she wanted them to do after all. You never can tell with her. She could be planning some mischief we haven’t foreseen.”
“My coals see.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” he covered his face with a lovely embroidered piece of linen. He had to take his pipe out from between his teeth to do it, which made him grumpy. “So what do your coals see of the others?”
“The Ghillie Dubh are stirred up. They have smelled you moving through the wood.”
“Of course they have. I talked to them.”
She didn’t react other than to wait patiently for the rest of the story. She never showed surprise, another black mark in his book. Surprise was one of his favorite emotions.
“They’re against us. They haven’t forgiven you for the Ashwood,” he waited for some sign of guilt or regret but she only set her jaw firmly and waited for him to go on. “Sreng will probably go with them. He muttered something about honor bla bla tradition bla bla keeping promises etc… Truth be told I’m glad not to have to deal with him. He bores me.”
“Sreng will be a formidable opponent if it comes to that.”
“The future’s your thing. I’ll let you worry about it.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. She idly stirred her coals and he looked out the doorway at the night sky wondering if he’d hitched his chariot to the right star. She broke the silence.
“There is always Redtooth…”
“No,” his voice was low, but iron hard.
“Perhaps with the Aesir…”
“There is much we don’t understand…”
“I know you don’t remember everything that happened in that valley so I’ll forgive your persistence on this. The answer is still no. We have other options.”
She stared down into the fire and gave it a vigorous stir which sent much more smoke billowing into the air.
Gancanagh rolled his eyes, “That’ll be my cue to take my leave.”
She nodded and stood flashing all sorts of tantalizing patches of skin, “safe journeys merry wanderer.”
He held out his hand with a flourish, “May I kiss your hand farewell?”
“You’ll do no such thing,” she snapped, but she was smiling.
“Not even one?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Not even one,” and she shooed him out the door with smoke billowing behind.