Sometimes you Need a Second Blade

FIONN: The Tightening Trail‘ goes out to ‘Paid’ newsletter subscribers in the next two weeks (once the final edits are done).

This – the penultimate book in the series – will be released wide, later this year (in June or July). There’s a link to it in the comments below:

Much of the story in this work concerns a difficult and dangerous journey across the Great Wild. This time, however, having learned from previous mistakes, Liath Luachra (The Grey One) is keen to ensure she has a spare blade in her sheath. This scene outlines some of her planning with Gnathad – another warrior – in this regard.

A small lean-to shelter had been constructed just inside the treeline and when the Grey One arrived, this was occupied by the fair-haired Gnathad and her foster son, Bran. Alerted to her approach by the rustle of movement through the foliage however, both had emerged to stand waiting, javelins raised, when she stepped out of the trees to their rear.

‘Grey One,’ greeted Gnathad. She lowered her weapon to rest the haft on the ground. ‘This is a surprise.’

Bran remained silent but he dipped his head to acknowledge the woman warrior’s appearance.

Liath Luachra returned their greeting with a cursory nod of her own.

‘A word with you, Gnathad.’

She glanced at Bran and, taking the hint, the youth kissed his foster mother on the cheek and started back along the summit path. Both women watched him go, waiting in silence until the sound of his footsteps had receded.

‘You should talk to him, Grey One,’ Gnathad suggested at last. ‘Bran still bears the shame of his actions from your last excursion together.’

The woman warrior shrugged.

‘Bran remedied his errors through his deeds on the return trip to Ráth Bládhma.’

‘Then perhaps you should make that clear to him. Young people don’t always grasp the unexpressed word. Sometimes it’s best to simply say it aloud.’

Liath Luachra made no response as she glanced back along the trail. The distant sound of Bran’s movement could now barely be heard. She turned her gaze back to the Coill Mór woman.

‘I have a task for you, Gnathad.’

‘A task?’

Gnathad’s curiosity was plain to see.

‘Yes. The travel party leaves at dawn tomorrow.’

The fair-haired woman perked up at that.

‘You’d have me join the travel party? Accompany you with the techtaire?’



The disappointment in her voice was audible.

‘I’d have you follow us.’

Gnathad went quiet at that, watching the Grey One warily because of the initial disappointment. Over the years, she’d taken to wearing her hair in tight braids in imitation of the Grey One. Some of these thick, fair strands had worked their way loose, and now she brushed at them fretfully to clear them back from her eyes. ‘What do you mean?’ she asked at last.

‘I’d have you follow the travel party. As a hidden rearguard.’

Liath Luachra paused and turned to look out over the green stretch of the western lands, the endless serrated horizon of green treetops against the blue-grey sky. Her features retained their usual dispassion and her voice remained steady as she spoke.

‘The last time we dispatched a travel party from Glenn Ceoch, events didn’t go as planned. Tadg mac Nuadat had a force waiting beyond the Bládhma hills. They took up our trail and stalked us in stealth, eventually arranging themselves at our rear so we were driven into an ambush.’

The woman warrior turned to fix her grey eyes on the other woman.

‘That’s a snare I’d skirt on this occasion.’

Gnathad considered her words for a moment.

‘It’s unclear to me what you’re proposing. What is it you’d have me do?’

‘Before I say more, I need to know if this is a task you’d be willing to fulfil.’

The Coill Mór woman didn’t hesitate.

‘Of course, it is.’

The Grey One grunted softly in satisfaction.

‘Then, tomorrow, once the travel party’s departed, gather what supplies and weapons you need in preparation for your own departure.’

‘My own departure? We don’t leave together?’

Liath Luachra shook her head.

‘And tell no-one of your intention to leave.’


‘Not even your children.’

Gnathad frowned at that.

‘My children are old enough to lead their own lives without my interference. All the same, that won’t prevent them from worrying should I disappear without trace.’

‘Then provide them with a plausible excuse. Tell them I’ve dispatched you to seek out new hunting grounds.’

The fair-haired woman mulled on that but made no contention, apparently satisfied that such a story would put her children at their ease.

‘When you leave Glenn Ceoch, keep two day’s distance from the travel party for the first six days. Any less, and you’re unlikely to spot sign of any pursuing party. If anything, it’s more likely you’ll expose your own presence.’

She shrugged.

‘There may be no pursuit, of course, but its a precaution we must take. Should you find no trace of activity to our rear, pick up your pace on the seventh day and reduce the distance between us. But stay out of sight.’

‘You don’t want me to enter the camp?’

‘No. I bear this techtaire no level of trust. It’s best he knows nothing of your presence. If any of the others know you’re there, they could inadvertently reveal your presence despite their best efforts.’

The Grey One paused to regard her closely.

‘You will be my second blade, Gnathad. The weapon I keep sheathed unless there’s a need to draw it free.’