Chateaux Devaneaux, 1548
'Please, monsieur.' Marielle stared up into the slender mans implacable eyes. 'I cannot tell you, that which I do not know. Please, I implore of you; do not harm them.'
'Brave words, child.' The man glanced around, as if bored. 'But wasted. I know that there is yet something you are hiding. I will have that information, or these lives all forfeit. Take that one.'
He made no motion, no indication, yet his men knew what he meant. Striding past Marielle, the pair reached out and grabbed the petrified child behind her. The terrified silence of the stables was shattered suddenly by Nirelle's shrill cries. She kicked out wildly, as the brawny men dragged her towards the entrance.
One thrashing leg whipped past Marielle's face, the heel impacting against the side of her head. Marielle toppled to one side, momentarily stunned, as the young girl was hauled into the darkness. Shaking her head, trying to blink away the bright lights that swam across her vision, she hardly noticed, when silence suddenly descended over the stables. She sensed, rather than saw, the leader of the men turn towards the door.
'You.' Marielle heard dimly, the slender man's single, softly spoken word, yet something in the sudden stillness of the air around her made her look up.
A silhouette stood in the door. As her vision cleared rapidly, it resolved itself into the outline of a man. There was something familiar about the shape, and Marielle's heart lurched, as a wellspring of hope gushed suddenly within her chest.
'I will not allow this to continue.' The voice that Marielle had heard so often in her dreams spoke softly. 'It will cease. Now.'
'My men are dead.' The slender man's sentence was not a question. 'Yet ye would not find me so easy a mark, Unseelie Sidhe.'
'Perhaps.' Brand stepped into the stables. If he knew that Marielle was there, no trace of it showed in his calm expression. His attention was solely for the slender man. 'Yet thy master could ill afford to lose such a trusted lieutenant. It might yet be worth the risk, in order to ensure that happens.'
For the first time, the slender man's exterior calm cracked. Marielle saw clearly, a slight glimmer in his eyes, that might have been fear. 'Thou dare'st not!' He hissed. 'Thou would'st violate the terms of the accords. My lord would'st declare *fa'maeril, and thine own existence would'st be forfeit, in order to avoid the consequences of such an action. Thy Queen would have little choice to surrender ye - else be obliterated.'
'Be that as it may.' Branded appeared unperturbed by the other man's words. 'It may yet prove worth mine own sacrifice, to be rid of such as thee. And mine own involvement in thy demise would have to be proven.'
*Fa'maeril - a declaration of breach of trust, and a call for satisfaction by the injured party.