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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

Chapter Thirteen

Luke stood on the battlements of the castle and gazed down on the tents below, his lips tight. Balor had set up camp not too far from the castle gate. He’d seen the enemy in action. When Nieve had first mentioned Balor’s “wicked eye,” he’d thought it an exaggeration, but in the last three days, he’d seen things he could not explain. Whenever Balor made eye contact with his enemies, they burst into flame, dying a horrible, painful death as their bodies were consumed by fire, to drift away as ash on the breeze.

Three days, the castle had been under siege. Three days, the Tuatha de Danann had fought valiantly. Each day, more of the Tuatha de Danann died. And each day Nuada stood on the battlements, turned his back on the army below, dropped his pants and flashed his butt at the attacking army.

Apparently it was the highest insult.

Then he’d call Luke to his side, Ogma would join them, and both of the older men would yell orders to Nuada’s troops. Each time, they’d explain their reasoning to Luke, and Luke discovered that, in reality, battle was similar to a game of chess. Nuada would debate with both Luke and Ogma the merits of one move over another, and each night they would drink to the souls lost that day. Luke thought the whole situation was surreal, but the growing piles of dead bodies grounded him in reality.

Nieve had joined them occasionally, and Nuada had insisted Luke be her personal guard. That was a role Luke was determined to excel at, and the king had briefly watched them, a small smile curving his lips, whenever Luke would lead Nieve back to the hall.

Now, though, there was little humor in the king’s gaze as he stared out at the night.

“Tomorrow they will come for us with renewed vigor,” Nuada said absently.

Luke frowned. “How do you know?” So far they’d managed to keep them outside the walls.

“An army eats plenty of food, and when they sit by the fires, they eat more. They’ll be running out of supplies.” Nuada gestured with his right arm, then winced, rubbing his shoulder. “They’ve taken stock of our defenses. They have tested us. Next time they attack, it will be in earnest.”

Luke jerked his chin to the older man’s shoulder. “What is wrong with your arm?”

Nuada smiled. “I had an injury. For a time, I could not rule.” He shot Luke a sideways glance. “For the Tuatha de Danann, you cannot rule with a blemish. You must be fit to be king.” He shrugged. “I wasn’t. Not for a while. But my arm healed, and I was able to resume the throne.” He pointed down at the encampment. “Balor—he will never be accepted as ruler of the Tuatha de. But he will still defend the Fomorian claim to our throne, to our people. Many will die, as neither can accept the other.”

The king turned to face him. “And where do you stand in this battle, young Lugh?”

Luke folded his arms. “I stand with you against Balor.”

The older man eyed him. “But why? This is not your battle.”

Luke stared back at Nieve’s father intently. “Balor made it my battle when he hit Nieve. She told me that it was because she was her father’s daughter that her life was spared.” He glanced back down into the castle’s yard. Nuada’s men were clustered in groups. Some were talking quietly, others were readying weapons. Some were sleeping.

Each of them, over the last three days, had come and shaken his hand, or slapped him on the back, and thanked him.

They’d looked him in the eye. They’d accepted him. The big man who’d sat next to him that first night was Ogma, and he’d given him a sword. Then he’d insisted Luke show him how his baby war machine that Nieve had talked about worked. They’d treated him like a brother, and he’d been humbled.

“If Balor defeats the Tuatha de, he won’t treat them kindly,” Luke said quietly. From what he’d seen of the man, and how he’d treated a woman under his care, he had grave concerns for everyone inside these walls.

“You are right. But what of your family? Would they support your allegiance with us?”

Luke was quiet for a moment, taking the time to consider his answer. “I have no family,” he admitted at last. “I have no name but the one I gave myself when I was old enough. There is no one who would care what I did.”

“How is it you have no family?” The king didn’t hide his curiosity.

Luke shrugged. “All I know is that I turned up on a beach one day. They think my parents died at sea.”

Nuada tilted his head to look at him intently. “Ye just came out of the sea one day, eh?”

Luke nodded.

“That is interesting.” King Nuada turned to stare down at the enemy’s camp not far from his gate. “Verra interesting. Just come right out of the sea. With no ties to any family.”

Luke raised his head to look at the king. There it was. He was a nobody. He had no one to call his own. No father would consider him a catch for his daughter.

Nuada eyed him intently. "Ye know, I recall hearing a story about Balor…"

Luke folded his arms. He'd discovered these people loved their stories, and don't get him started on the songs everyone wanted to sing.

"His daughter lay with one of ours, and bore three sons."

Luke nodded. "Nieve mentioned something like that. Balor had them killed." He shuddered at the evil concept.

"Aye. Two were killed, but one fell into the ocean, and was believed drowned."

Luke couldn't miss the meaningful tilt of the older man's eyebrow. He frowned. "Are you trying to say I'm Balor's grandson?"

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