“I didn’t understand what this meant until you told me about the inscription on the dagger that foretold Marrock would ally with Rome.”
Catrin gasped, pushed her chair back and rose from the table. Rapidly breathing, she rasped, “No, no, Father, you are wrong! I would never betray you. I love you.” Blood rushed from her face and the room whirled around her. Unsteady, she staggered and bumped against the table.
Amren rushed to her side, cradled her in his arms, and reassured her saying, “Don’t fret, daughter. It’s all right. Sit back down. I need to show you something.”
Catrin gingerly lowered herself in the chair and gazed at the candlelight before shifting her eyes to the back corner where her father picked up a wooden box from a shelf. When he set it on the table before her, she studied the handcrafted oak case, the size of a jewelry box. The panels were inlayed with black and white ravens. A brass-winged deadbolt clasped the lid to the front panel. She assumed it was where her father kept his prized gold torcs and gemstone rings.
The king took out a key from a drawstring pouch attached to his belt and inserted it into the deadbolt. He raised the lid, revealing a lapin-crested dagger on gold brocade fabric. He reverently lifted the dagger with both hands and kissed the blade. After he set the weapon on the tabletop, he sat across from Catrin and pointed to the inscription on the blade. “I had Rhan’s curse recorded on the blade to deflect all misfortune from me. By the time you were born, the etching of the inscription began to blur, giving me hope the curse could be reversed. On the night Marrock abandoned you in the woods and you were found alone with the raven, the inscription transformed.”
Amren’s forefinger skimmed over the etched Latin lettering as he read the words aloud. “The gods demand the scales be balanced for the life you take. At the time your daughter rises out of Apollo’s flames as a raven with the powers of Ancient Druids … Blood Wolf will ally with the Roman Empire.”
Catrin rubbed the rough edging of what appeared to be missing words. “Some of the words are blurred. What does this signify?”
Amren shrugged. “I’m not sure. It’s as if the curse is still re-writing itself. What I know for certain is that something happened on that day you were with Marrock that altered the inscription. As you can see, some words disappeared while others were added. That is why I believe the gods have a divine plan for you.”
Catrin tried to grasp what her father just said. “What plan?”
“I don’t know yet.” The king set the dagger back in the box. “Mortals don’t always understand the ways of the gods and goddesses. Our lives are fated by their whims. When I showed this to Agrona, she told me that she could teach you how to control these divine forces to reverse Rhan’s curse.”
A foreboding chill in the chamber made Catrin tremble. “Agrona’s black magic frightens me.”
The king set the dagger case on the tabletop nearer Catrin. “Forces can be used for either good or evil. Only Agrona can show you how to balance these forces.”
Catrin rubbed the raven inlay on the front panel of the dagger’s case, contemplating what her father just said. How could she possibly reverse a curse cast by a powerful Druidess? She muttered, “I … I don’t have that kind of power.”
Amren leaned on his elbows. “You must have these powers, or will soon have them. The altered curse says you fly out as a raven with the powers of the Ancient Druids. It no longer says you will join with Marrock and overthrow me. This gives me hope.”
“I’m not sure if it was me who altered the curse or someone else,” Catrin said. “My mind is like a blank slate on what happened that day with Marrock. It troubles me that the curse now identifies the empire as Rome.”
The king exhaled a heavy breath. “The Roman visit is a bad sign. Never before has the Roman emperor sent a senator to convey his demands. Every muscle in my body twitches with mistrust. After fighting in the Roman auxiliary in Germania, I know of their tactics to divide foes for their advantage. The senator has forced my hand to re-negotiate another contract to wed Mor and Adminius. The only way I can discover why Cunobelin betrayed me and befriended Marrock is to meet him face-to-face.”
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