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Beyond the hidden gate, p.2
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       Beyond The Hidden Gate, p.2

           InkSpell Publishing
 
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rushed toward Aynia and scooped her up into his arms. He retraced his path as the turbulent roar within the tunnel accompanied each step he took. Finally, he returned to his horse. While cradling his precious bundle, he made all haste toward the abandoned cottage he and his companions had used since entering this realm. Once inside, he laid Aynia on the bed, and then placed a dissimulation spell around the exterior of the cottage in the rare event Nathair could find a way to escape his prison. He next made his way toward the bed, and sat down. Blood had saturated the sleeves of her borrowed jacket. He promptly removed the tattered garment, then washed, and inspected the injury to her arms. The claws had ripped into her flesh, but the wounds didn’t appear lethal. On the other hand, the gash on her neck, caused by Nathair’s vicious fangs, could cause a problem if he didn’t immediately tend to it. He released a ragged sigh as he brushed the long strands of hair away from her face and then leaned down to give her a tender kiss.

  “I’ll be right back, my love,” he whispered. “In the meantime, sleep well and know that you’re safe.”

  Aeden made quick work of gathering the medicinal herbs he needed. Once he returned to the cottage, created a poultice and healing tea, he went to her bedside and administered both. Now, he could do nothing more but wait for the enchantments to take effect. He took hold of her hand and as he gazed into her beautiful face, he shook his head in worry and concern. She had naught but good intentions the day she left the Tuatha, misguided though they were. And now, courtesy of Nathair, she had no memory—no memory of him, her life, or the deep love they shared.

  A small moan drew his attention away from his troubled thoughts. His hand traveled the length of her cheek and jaw. The herbs coursing through her veins caused discomfort and a certain degree of pain. Yet, they were necessary. With any amount of luck, she’d sleep through the process, awaken whole, and free of odious spells conjured by nefarious warlocks.

  Time crawled at a snail’s pace. One hour passed and then two more. Still she slept. By the fourth hour, the healing poultice had repaired the injuries to her arms and neck. Now, they just needed to reverse the effects of Nathair’s vile spell and in that regard, he’d no guarantees. Still, he had to know. He inhaled a deep breath, slowly released it, and said, “Open your beautiful green eyes, my love,—it’s time for you to wake up now.”

  Aynia could hear a voice, somehow familiar, yet not. Though he called to her amidst hazy dreams from which she struggled to free herself, she couldn’t identify his voice. Determination alone finally forced her eyes to open. She blinked several times before she could focus on the handsome face, returning her gaze. A slight grin turned the corner of the mysterious rider’s mouth. How that fact presented itself, she couldn’t really say. But of a certainty, the man with the dark brown hair who held her hand owned the white stallion. And right now, his hazel eyes with soft golden flecks looked at her with concern.

  “Where am I?” she asked as she struggled for memory.

  He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and said, “Inside an old abandoned cottage, not far from where you fell. Do you remember the incident?”

  Aynia drew her brows together as she struggled to recall— and then with sudden clarity, she remembered the panther that held her bound and the sound of pounding hooves before she lost consciousness. “You saved me from the panther,” she breathed out as she extended a hand toward his face and then dropped it to her side before making contact.

  A tender expression replaced the concern. He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand and then brushed through her hair with his fingers. “Not the first time, my love. You’ve a history of getting into trouble.”

  Her heart pounded inside her chest for the way he looked at her right now. She took in a breath and held it. Myriad of thoughts raced through her head in response to his comment. The man spoke as if they were—as if they were well acquainted with one another. If so, he could supply the answers to all the questions that had plagued her, ever since she awoke under the willow tree, not knowing quite how she arrived there—

  “How are you feeling?” he asked, breaking into the mush of her muddled thoughts.

  She ignored the question, for she needed answers to her own. So many in fact, she didn’t know in which order to ask them. “Please, I need you to tell me who I am.” A slight shake of his head accompanied a ragged sigh as she asked the question. He looked—disappointed?

  He cleared his throat and shrugged. “Your name is Aynia and you’re the daughter of Midhir Cecht,” he replied.

  She briefly closed her eyes and nodded. At least she had her own name right. She tilted her head to the side then, as she tested the second name inside her mind and found a distant ring of familiarity. “And you are?”

  He hesitated for several long moments and it truly seemed he didn’t quite know how to answer the simple question.

  “You needn’t hold anything back. I’m not afraid of your answers,” she said. “In fact, I welcome them.”

  “All right, then. My name is Aeden, and I happen to be the man who loves you far deeper than I ever thought possible. I’m also the man you promised to marry shortly before you disappeared,” he said. “And don’t think for one minute, a vile spell created by a foul warlock, will absolve you of this promise. I intend to make you mine, Aynia, the moment we return to our realm.”

  Aynia could feel a warm blush spreading across her cheeks over the intensity of his gaze and sought a quick diversion. She placed a hand to her knitted brow and shook her head. “Our realm? I don’t know what you mean by that—”

  “We’re not from here, Aynia, nor do we belong here. At least, we haven’t belonged to this realm for many, many centuries.”

  “No—wait a minute. You’re not making any sense, Aeden—”

  “Ah, but I am, my love. You see, we belong to the Tuatha De Danann. And a long time ago, after the Milesians defeated our people in battle, Manannan cast a powerful spell of invisibility over many parts of Ireland. He cast this spell in order to hide Tir na n-Og within the subterranean levels of this island. We’ve lived within this realm, hidden away from the eyes of the mortals, since that time.”

  She should dismiss his fanciful explanation as ridiculous at best, but somehow she couldn’t. “If what you say is true, then how did I get here?” she asked.

  “Through the portal. There are several such gates and each one leads to a different place and some, even to a different time.”

  “Do you happen to know why I chose to pass through the gate which brought me here?” she asked. “And, why I don’t have any memory of the passing?”

  He twined his fingers around hers and nodded. “You entered this realm in a sweet, but misguided desire to protect me. You can’t remember any of this because Nathair expected us to pursue him after he stole the cauldron. Therefore, he placed a Lethe spell around the entire perimeter.”

  She closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh. “You’ve lost me again. What is a Lethe spell, who is Nathair, and why would he steal a simple cauldron? Are they not plentiful?”

  “A Lethe spell is conjured to make its recipient forget. The noxious curse erases everything of importance inside one’s mind.”

  “Then why didn’t it affect you the same way?”

  “Because you’d already absorbed the whole of it,” he replied.

  She mulled that over for a moment and then nodded. “All right and Nathair?”

  “Nathair is a powerful, shape-shifting, warlock from the Fir Bolg, and the cauldron is no ordinary cauldron. This one, known as the Undry, is magic and once belonged to Dagda. Undry is bottomless and was created to fill the desire of the possessor. The ancient relic leaves no man unsatisfied.”

  As Aeden spoke, hazy memories stirred in a single corner of her mind. She could see the image of a small cauldron—and now, she could see the exquisite room that housed it. The room contained other treasures as well; she could see a spear and a sword.

  “To give you a bit of history, after the ancient ones
conquered the island of Erin and the Fir Bolg, Nathair the warlock, nursed his hatred for all the Tuatha De Danann. A hatred that grew ever stronger as the centuries passed. Somewhere along the way, he decided to steal Dagda’s cauldron, for he believes its power is strong enough to destroy us. My assigned quest, before you interfered, was to retrieve the cauldron and return it to our realm.”

  “I interfered with your quest?” she asked, clearly confused.

  He flashed a charming grin. “Something you are quite adept at, my love, if you believe your course of action will save someone you love.”

  Butterflies swarmed yet again. They began their flight low in her belly and threatened to burst through her chest. She lowered her gaze and just as she took in a breath, he tilted her chin upward, forcing their gazes to meet. Then, without giving her chance to decline, he took possession of her lips. The kiss, sweet and tender at first, grew in intensity. The moment passion erupted between them a host of memories flooded her mind. She could now recollect every detail of her immortal life. More precious to her than any other? Her memories of Aeden and the deep, matchless love they shared. She leaned forward as her arms inched upward and encircled his neck. In response, he wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her closer still.

  As his kisses continued, she recalled the all-consuming
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