Chapter 18 - Phelan's tale

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Every druid started out a bard, Phelan was immediately reminded as he watched Mesmer's awkward apprentice direct the abundant voices and moves into the same direction with flawless rhythm. A pleasant surprise to discover Philip having fun with the roots of his studies.

Raghnall had never returned to those mundane skills, and so Phelan had taken up the challenge to lighten up the first celebrations their village held. He hadn't been there when tragedy struck. His own family had broken up two years earlier over bad harvests and gambling until he had been the last thing left to sell. Whisked away to a nearby town, with no future but to work another one's father's land, the utter destruction of his village had somehow ended up being his rescue. Fate blew a wicked wind from time to time.

Not having to start up the fun himself was a pleasant change, and as he entered, he grasped Phyllis's hand when she twirled round him, and pulled her close. Despite his swift catch, she grinned at him as if he was mouse rather than cat, and he discovered her to be captivating as ever, her green orbs lined black with coal. They deserved the decoration. If Cornelis was right, no sword would ever surpass them.

There wasn't a trace of shyness as she danced with him, and when he checked the reaction it brought about, Philip seemed more affected by his move than Marcus was, a few beats missing in his drum. Marcus had returned to his tibia, encouraging a tune into the racket around him. Phelan could play it better, but he needed his mouth for smooth-talking, so he didn't challenge it. And Marcus wasn't terrible. Phelan could see him glance at Philip every five seconds, like urging him on to do something.

"Philip," Marcus finally said. "The fiddle. Let someone else do the drumming."

It reminded Phyllis he was there: "Marcus! Come dance!"

Phelan gave her a playful smack against the back of her head. "Am I not good enough for you?"

She hit his arm in response. "The more the merrier, no?"

He gave her a toothy grin. "Actually, yes."

The rhythm was erratic, and Marcus was right, Philip was brilliant on that fiddle, wringing sounds out of it that Phelan would have struggled for, and many educated musicians with him. He paused his moves for a moment, resting his hand on Phyllis's shoulder as they both watched the slender boy play his heart out. There was true fondness in her eyes, and it warmed his heart. A slight push and she was gone to join Philip, who blushed as she caught his middle. This time, the rhythm in Philip's music picked up instead of faltering, and Phelan let himself be swept up in it, grinning widely at anyone who passed him. Even the Optio, who, once the initial startle had faded from his eyes, carefully copied the gesture, like he expected to be smacked for it. Since Cornelis hadn't followed him inside, they weren't actually risking that.

He grasped the Roman's hand and pulled him to his chest. Marcus took one stumbling step before he steadied himself and prevented them from crashing into each other. Phelan nodded in Phyllis's direction.

"I like your friend," he said.

Marcus's cheeks had coloured a bit. "Good....I mean, she likes you as well, I think." He shook his head, obviously confused.

"So it doesn't bother you?" Phelan asked.

Marcus's eyes narrowed a little. "Why? No, wait...." He stepped back. "I don't need to know. I don't want to know. Just treat her right. She'll make you regret it if you don't."

Phelan didn't doubt it for a second.

"Where is Cornelis?" Marcus asked. He had nicked an amphora of wine from his Roman friends and offered Phelan a goblet as he returned. It was a sweet cover-up that left Phelan guessing about his emotions on the subject of little Phyllis.

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