They had offered her bread first, but she shook her head, dark, bloody eyes huge with hunger and fixed manically on the coneys, cooling from the fire. Sûlranna had handed one over to her, face worriedly regarding the strange red-eyed woman who seemed to be in appalled fascination with her hot supper. Her hands had been shaking almost uncontrollably as she took the skewer in both hands lest she drop it. But her control disintegrated as, insensible to the heat she had pulled the coney apart and stuffed its rump into her mouth, biting into flesh and bone like a wolf, slavering with the hunger… and then…
Howling at the memory, she hugged herself into a cringing, knotted ball of humiliated self-recrimination. She had literally spat the meat out back into the fire, gagging in disgust at the hot fat and dried-up taste. She ejected the bones as well and again she wailed as she recalled how she had attacked the fire, ignoring the burns to her hands. Trying desperately to pull the scrawny pelvis away from those ruinous flames. It had taken both Dughal and Aerghal to pull her away and stop her doing herself any more harm. And what had she done? Spat at them too. Cursed them with words, they could not understand but discerned the meaning of well enough from her blazing eyes, glowing like red-hot coals. Her mouth and face had contorted into a snarling mask of frustration and hunger as she hit out at them, scratching and punching like some demented animal.
In the end, the two males had managed to subdue her, and she wept once more as she saw the scratches and bruises on their faces that she had inflicted on them. Sûlranna’s children were crying as well, across the scattered fire where their mother rocked them, stroking them tenderly into calm again. The sight of the woman and her children wounded Eiralann as nothing else could, so she had turned her face away from Dughal as he asked what she had been thinking of. And still, he was not angry with her, only worried and confused. Aerghal, understandably, was not quite so conciliatory and had addressed her more sternly.
“Why are you behaving so Eiralann? We invited you to break bread with us and share our meal, and this is your thanks? Answer me!” “So sorry! I am so sorry!” She shuddered with self-loathing and faintness now as her empty stomach growled in protest and yearning at the food it no longer tolerated yet still ravened for. Her voice was virtually incoherent as she struggled to command herself once more. Aerghal’s look of outrage had begun to soften and echo Dughal’s worried concern as they both realised the depth of her contrition and fear. “What is it, my sister? What has been done to you by these… wild beasts you lived with?” Again, he laid his hands on her, more gently this time, but still strong enough to keep her from trying to evade his touch. Holding one of her arms tightly he reached out for her chin with his other hand and made her turn her head to face him. “Eiralann. Look at me. Open your eyes.” The years of enforced obedience took over, though he spoke far more kindly than her old oppressors had ever done. Gradually her eyelids opened, and Aerghal looked deep into the now dulled garnet eyes and saw her fear, the humiliation and despair and profound sorrow. And the terror.
“Please do not send me away…” She could barely speak now, and her voice was cracked with rue. He held her gaze, though she wished she could look away, for she knew he was beginning to understand. His grip on her arm and jaw relaxed a little though he held her still. With his tone hushed, so only she and perhaps Dughal could hear him, he spoke the words she had been dreading… “I remember you now… you were Shiânford’s mate were you not?” She had no knowledge, no memory of him from before, but she knew he was right. He had known her. Known Shiânford better. She could not speak, but she did not need to. He saw his answer in her eyes, no matter how much they had been changed. His gaze was compassionate now, and his hand on her arm was gentle as his fingers stroked her too pale skin. He let go of her face so she could bow her head and cry silently now with exhaustion and shame.
“He was my good friend once, but he left the Lake. Said it was not safe anymore. Not safe for you and your unborn child… Oh, my dear! What happened? What happened to him and to your child?” Aerghal stopped as Eiralann began to utter great quivering sobs. He pulled her deeper into his arms, despite her weakened struggling to get away, rocking her back and forth until her weeping began to ease a little. “But you were not Eiralann then… You were Fae… something…” He spoke softly to her now and loosened his hold, letting her move away from him a little. He dipped his head trying to look at her again, but this time she would not meet his grey-eyed gaze. “She is dead now… long ago… like Shiân… I cannot be her… not anymore.”