T'Roc and Traeth have returned from the mainland and, I'll be honest, it doesn't sound promising. It took two whole days of negotiation to make the arrangements with the Dirrians. The party going will be Arunga (of course), Traeth, T'Roc, me, Al and Rutter. Strangely, there were no other Mairne included in the party. I was curious as to why that may be, but that night, as we prepared for bed, a very large, fat Mairne came to see us. She was ever such a pretty creature though. She was of the long-haired variety and had white, black, ginger and tabby patches all over her coat. She strode into the camp and settled herself by the fire, awkwardly arranging her feet. She sat silently for a while, staring into the flames while we waited.
"Hi," I eventually said.
She looked up and her eyes smiled at me.
"I need you to promise me something, Jenny," she said.
"Of course. If I can, I will."
She shuffled awkwardly. She didn't seem very comfortable at all and noticed my concern.
"You must excuse me. I am heavy with kittens and will birth any day now. It's a big litter too, which is why I can't travel. Not that my dearest Arunga would let me anyway."
Celia (that's her name) went on to explain that Arunga was her mate and this was their first litter. They were both very excited about it, but because there were at least eight kittens there, it was likely that they would come early. Their nursemaid was keeping a very close eye on her, which is why she had been forced to sneak out that evening alone.
Celia was very easy to talk to and chatted wildly about lots of things. I got the impression that between her mate and the nursemaid she hadn't got out much of late.
"Kittens, kittens, kittens!" she exclaimed at one point. "If one more Mairne tells me about their damned kittens and their birthing experience, I think I'll scream! I do have a brain in my head you know! I'm not just a Mairne-making machine!"
How familiar that all sounded.
"But, with regard to Arunga, I want you to promise me that you will take great care of him. He's refusing to let anyone go with him. He won't say it, but he fears the worst. I don't want him to go at all, but I can't stop him, so I'm entrusting him to your care."
"Then I promise to protect him."
"And that means that you mustn't leave him on his own … EVER!"
I baulked a bit as she spat the last word out. She sighed.
"The Mairne are never alone. Solitude is … a fate worse than death. If you leave him alone, he will become despondent. I know Arunga better than anybody. He's being really brave about this but inside, he's full of trepidation."
I assured her again that I would stay with him, but she pressed further.
"Even at night—especially at night … please stay with him," she begged.
I assured her that I would.