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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

Chapter Twelve

“Uh, yes.” Luke nodded. “I am a master.”

Corin frowned. “Yes?”

“Aye. I mean aye,” Luke corrected. He shrugged his massive shoulders. “I’m a good fighter.”

Dorin barked with laughter. “We’ve got warriors aplenty already inside, including our champion, Ogma.” Dorin turned away, but Luke gestured to him.

“Wait. I’m a good talker.” If he could negotiate for Moretti, he could deal with the devil himself.

Corin shook his head. “Carbrah mac Adeen is the king’s bard, and his poem toppled the king before. We already have a good talker.”

Dorin tilted his head to the side. “Can ye do naught else?”

“I can dance,” Luke lied.

Corin made a face. “We already have plenty of dancers.”

“I can ride a horse,” Luke stated, his shoulders back, and ignored the breathless chuckle from the woman next to him. After three straight days, at least he could stay on the darn thing. Technically, it wasn’t a lie.

Dorin waved his hand. “We already have riders. Dugan Shelley,” he said, turning to his brother.

Corin nodded. “Aye, he’s good. Fast.” He turned back to Luke. “Any other talents, lad?”

Luke waved at the sword strapped to Dorin’s hip. “I can wield a sword.” He’d played light sabers with Petey plenty of times as a kid. From what he’d seen, it didn’t look too different.

Dorin shrugged, his expression bored. “So can any warrior who wants to keep his head on his shoulders.”

Luke pursed his lips in frustration. “Well, what about all of them? Do you have one man that can do all of those things?”

The brothers eyed each other. “He’s got you, there,” Corin said. “We don’t have a talking, dancing, horse-racing, sword-wielding warrior.”

Dorin nodded. “Aye. Ogma does not dance.” He pounded on the doors behind him, and it wasn’t long before there was the sound of wood grating, and then the doors opened inward.

Both Dorin and Corin gestured into the yard. “You and your sister are welcome, Lugh.”

Luke stepped inside the walls, and then Corin grabbed his arm. “Let me introduce you to the king. He’ll want to meet a talking, dancing, horse-racing, sword-wielding warrior.”

“Especially one who stole his daughter,” Dorin stated, tugging at the jacket that hid Nieve’s face. “Lady Nieve. There is no need to sneak by. It’s happy we are to see you.”

Nieve smiled at the men. “Aye, but you can unhand the warrior. He is not the one who stole me. He’s the one who saved me.”

Corin nodded. “Your pappy will want to hear all about it.”

Luke grimaced as his arm was twisted behind his back, and he was pushed into the yard.

# # #

Luke stared at the man who sat upon the throne of Tara.

As a chair, it was impressive. It was a massive carved seat of wood that looked like it was from the trunk of an ancient tree, with ornate silver inlay.

If anything, the man who sat atop it was even more formidable. He had dark hair and a long dark beard, and Luke could see where Nieve got her green eyes from. On her, they were beautiful. On him…they looked seriously pissed off.

“How do you come to be with my daughter?” King Nuada finally spoke in the now-silent hall. The raucous gathering had sobered at the sight of the stolen princess.

“I found her,” Luke stated. The guy was angry—because his daughter had been kidnapped in the first place, or because she’d returned? Balor’s claim still haunted him. What if he was bringing Nieve back to a home that wanted her gone?

“You found her? How? Even my best men couldn’t find her,” the king growled, then glared at the men who sat at the tables that lined the length of the room.

“Father, this man rescued me,” Nieve stated clearly. She stalked toward the raised platform upon which her father sat. “At great risk, he helped me leave Balor’s camp.”

Nuada leaned forward and beckoned his daughter closer. She stood at his side, and for a few minutes Luke watched as they talked rapidly in hushed tones. He saw Nuada’s bushy black eyebrows raise, then lower, then raise again. Finally he nodded and sat back.

“What will you ask of me for reward, young Lugh?”

Luke frowned. “I ask for nothing.”

The crowd started to talk, and Nuada raised his hand to quiet them. He frowned down at Luke. “You think my daughter is of so little value?”

Luke shook his head, his gaze shifting to the dark-haired beauty by the king’s side. “I think she is priceless, and there is nothing that could match her value.”

The crowd cheered, and Nuada’s lips quirked beneath his beard before he threw his head back and laughed. “Ah, my guards told me you were a master talker. It appears they were right. Fetch the man some ale, and let us celebrate my daughter’s return!”

He raised his own cup at Luke. “Songs will be sung of you, Lugh of the Golden Hair.”

Luke nodded. Yep. Everyone really liked to have their own song here. A chair was brought up to the platform, and Nieve sat beside her father.

Nuada never let go of her hand. Luke eyed the connection. It wasn’t a dominating gesture—it was more as though the great man needed to reassure himself that his daughter really was home.

Luke was shown a place to sit, and a young woman hurried over to him, carrying a wooden board with some sort of stewed meat, with lumps of what looked like rough bread. He had no idea what he was eating, but after three days of char-grilled bunny, it was heavenly.

“Here, Lugh, let me drink to your health,” the very large man sitting next to him shouted. Several men around him cheered, and a cup that looked like it had been fashioned from the horn of a bull was thrust in front of him. They’d raised their drinks when bells started to toll. Shouts could be heard outside, and the large man drained his cup and rose, his hand on his sword. The great doors to the hall were thrust open, and Corin and Dorin ran into the hall.

“It’s Balor, milord,” Corin called out. “He is marching up the hill.”

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