Well, I told you there’d be fiction again! I figure after that doozy of a post, I should lighten stuff up. But I also want to stay on target somewhat. While thinking about what I wanted to write in the previous entry, a thought had occurred to me that I might have another outlet for expressing my anxiety, one that would also allow me to work on the well overdue The Priest of Smugglers’ Run. Of all my characters, the one that would absolutely struggle with anxiety — in fact, I think he does without me even having known about it — would be the titular priest, Protharious.Continue reading “Protharious”
There was something in the way that his shoulders slumped. Perhaps there was too much breath in his sigh, in the barely audible groan that accompanied it. His eyes, always so alive and inquisitive seemed dimmed, focused too much on the ground. Whatever it was that tipped Joanna off, she knew without Kevin saying a word that his day was too long to forget over one drink.Continue reading “sober”
He sits in the breakfast nook, an artfully designed corner of the otherwise empty house with bench seats that look out on the Douglas firs. A cup of tea is before him, as is a single English muffin. This has been his routine now for six months. Get up, run around the property and the hills beyond. Shower, dress, enjoy a cup of tea and a pastry of some sort. And then?
It’s the music… it’s a blast of air, a dive into a cool lake, all of this is what it feels to be spirited away by a song. You tap a few strings, and it’s magical from the start. A vibration in the string, it causes the air to ripple, and you shiver with it. The movement creates a distortion, the distortion creates more motion, and the rules of the physical world bend to your will. To your voice. To you.
It’s the only religion I need…
“Gaedan! Heya chief, how you feelin’?”
The attack by Roisin has changed our village already. Connla now mutters darkly at the intentions of elves, and the greviances against England are forgotten for a while.
“Yeah,” I wave my hand, hoping to stave her off, but Moll, if anything, is persistant. “I’m fine.”
“Did that girl hurt you, chief?” Concern? Perhaps.
I wonder, at this point, did I dream of Roisin? I know now that she exists, haunting the empty space between memory and fantasy like the banshee Fergus claimed her to be. From beyond the veil?, I wonder…
“You don’t look hurt, chief. Let me help you catch something though?” And there is real desire in her eyes.
A choice? Does Moll really lo…
“Looks like the bard-to-be caught himself something already.” Moll gasps, but I knew already who it was. Her. Excitement is hardly the word.
Roisin takes her time approaching us, circling around Moll, who is paralyzed with fear at the moment. I could care less, though. I look at Roisin, drink in every detail, admire how well shaped she is. My crimes are not often greater than that. Roisin grimaces. “Kinda small though. I’d throw it back if I were you, Patrick.”
She turns on me. “Or does this one have her hook into you, I wonder?” she says with a wink.
Moll sputters. “Just what do you think you’re doing here, you almost hurt Gaedan here yesterday and I know you’re just looking to do it again!” Wow. I didn’t know she had it in her.
Pursed lips. I could die right now if I hadn’t just started to live. “Well, if he’ll let me, sure. Do it again and again and again and again until our limbs fall off.” She smiles. “Sound like a plan to you, Patrick?” Oh, how she teases!
“But he’s not Patrick, Patrick is…”
“I know who he is,” Roisin looks me over and picks her nose. “He’s mine.”
“Wha… what… do you mean?”
A rumbling. Not foresight, no, for Moll can feel it too. A tremor? No – it’s above ground, a force, an army? I look to the west, towards the sea, and then inland. It’s on the hill though, that I see them… oh yes, the Siabra. I have foretold your coming, you that want to be the death of me, the ghostly renegades that have defied the Elves.
I squint. They stand on the hill overlooking Connla, letting the town take them in and be afraid. A motley band, not large, 20 men perhaps, but they are desperate people, robbers and cutthroats all. The townsmen scramble – women and children into their meager huts, the menfolk grabbing what weapons they can – mostly rusty falcattas and clubs. Roisin is now missing, which worries me. I wouldn’t think her to back down from a fight. Moll is cringing behind me now, wanting me to be her protector.
Me! A Bard! Protector of only one!
I urge her into the hut nearest us. Some of the older men and boys are inside with bows ready to defend. I take rank with the men, ready to defend our village and our lives.
We bellow out our defiance. The siabra charge.
We leave Dun Ailinne
My companions are somber. Running from Druim Ligen has burned off the excess energy that the prospect of battle can bring. Now they are alert, calm, focused on the grim art of war. We move on speed lent of sound, the only noise we make is by the concerted strings of us Bards. We are upholders of battle, after all. Wise men, prophets, royal advisors, emrys and magicians all are at the heart, living songs, tied inexorably to the eternal battle of our people.
And that is what I am. A living hymn of glory, destined to live and die in battle. And it is my song that will see the day through, make no mistake about it.
It is a responsibility I gladly carry.
And I begin to tell how it may be…
The siabra rush has pulled us off balance. Lugh blind them, they are a canny lot! We recover, however, the loss is dire – Tedwig has fallen, a brave Firbolg lad. I mutter a dirge for him, but carry on with my grim work. I am no Bard yet, I tell myself.
We regroup at the north end of town. The sky is now littered with arrows, neither side wanting to step out from cover after the first rush. The siabra have underestimated us in their first attack, and it has cost them dearly. They still hold the advantage of experience, though.
The arrows stop. The men mutter. Something is coming.
And we see it, all too late. The siabra advance now with interlocked shields, mostly made of wood and lashings, but they hold and deflect our poor arrows. Several of them hold back, looking for targets to expose themselves. The siabra reach our first position, and the din is awful. Arrows seethe into every place we allow – the battle has turned.
My thoughts are frantic. I search for the words I need to turn this battle. I scream, I am a Bard! But nobody hears. Nobody can listen. And in the smoke and confusion, I see my father.
And he is going down.
Confusion clarifys. What was once chaotic has order. The siabra have stopped, their faces blank. A note…
… a song…
My song! I feel the power within surge as the music flows from me, and once again, I enter the veil between worlds.
Come summer, Come winter!
Mouths of harps and bags and pipes!
And she is here.
Roisin explodes into vision, still in her armor, sword in hand, she’s jumped off one of the huts into the fray, her blade tearing the siabra with vicious precision. Her warcry is lost in my song, as is everything at this moment. The air itself is alive with sense, the tingling vibration of my tenor has made the hairs on the back of neck stand at attention, it’s a power I never dreamt of, and it’s mine to command. With a wave of my hand, I see the ills of my people fade from sight, wounds restored as if they had never been delivered.
Yet, I cannot take my eyes of Roisin. She darts from enemy to enemy, her cuts quick and deliberate, never missing, never lingering. The remaining siabra turn to flee from our deliverer, but those that are not cut down as they turn have their lives extended only slightly as we rally.
And as if it were that simple… the siabra are defeated.
… to be continued …
You have heard me before a battle. You have heard me speak of life. Now let me speak of death and the ending thereof. You say I speak in riddles? You say I speak so that you may not understand? No, I tell thee, I speak so that you may understand. For mine is not a tale of easy understanding, after all. Mine is no simple child’s fable about a rat, after all.
The answers are always the same, after all. I tell you this story because I have to. Because I could not imagine not telling it to you.
And like all good stories, it starts with a woman…
“Go away Moll.” I think I might have actually meant that.
“You don’t have to be so insulting, chief.” She’s pouting.
“As a matter of fact,” I say, drawing up to my full height, “I do.” She pouted. She showed me her birthmark again. And she wondered why I’ve been sending her away. I walk away.
“You know, about Patrick…” I stop.
There is a moment in time when things stop along with you, I’ve found. Time is only perception, after all. We think of things as “time really flies when you,” but time doesn’t move, it’s just us moving around it. When time stops, I’m not sure if it’s me that’s stopping, or if I’m really just catching up to time.
This time, time caught up to me.
“Gaedan!” I could hear the puffing on Elara’s lips. “Gaedan! Gaedan!”
The puffing got louder.
An awen. My first, truth be told. Let every man hear!
A faceless mob. A voice in the din. A laugh, a cry, a song. A woman, full as nature itself, offering herself to me. Another cry, this one in lament. Sorrow fading, indifference fading, it’s a song that I can’t deny. I see the mob before me, their arms in the air, cheering me on. I see her at my side, urging me to fall, to jump, to crow like a rooster and sing for the crowds. A laugh and a cry, it all sounds the same when you’re on the stage. I lift my lips, I take a drink of nectar that is borne of no fruit.
And I sing.
“Oh there is no death of me!
There is only wide blue sea!
Send me off, ship me to Western Isle!
For here begins the tale of how truth may be!”
For a moment, all is right. There is nothing, no breeze, no land, just the sea. Then ground reasserts itself to me, and I fall…
And, again, I awake from a dream…
“Oh! Gaedan, you’re awake, chief.” Oh Lugh, why punish me?
“That’s enough Moll, let him be. Why not go tell his parents that he’s awake now, child.” Elara. Bless her.
I open my eyes. The awen hit me hard, but I’m still here, still in one place, in one time. When the foresight hits you, you feel like this. Strange. Alive. Even incapacitated, barely ambulatory, I never felt more alive. Elara is standing over me.
“How are you feeling,” she asks. I nod. Words aren’t comig to me yet, I’m still trying to relearn how to speak. Again. The foresight will do that to you. And it feels great.
“Gaedan,” she begins, cautious around me. As if Bards everyday just started into prophecy, into song, around her. “There was a visitor, an elven woman. She insisted that she see you, but I told her that…”
The door swings open.
And words cease to fail me.
“You!” I cry. I’ve never seen this woman before, but I knew her every detail. The golden hair pinned behind her head, her hair straight and molded, unmoveable, but short, so unlike an elf. She’s wearing armor, too, blood red scale, armor that seems to have been made for her body, so unlike an elf, so full it makes my heart ache.
She smiles, and I am lost. But I know what’s coming. The test. I am the one, after all, that she’s been seeking.
She jumps and nobody sees it. Her arms have now gained five feet of tempered steel, as she leaps towards my resting place, the small hut now resonated with that war cry of hers – a sound, again, I’ve never heard it, but from that moment on, I would never forget the harmony of her challenge.
She comes crashing down into my bed, the sword sheering where my head was, and the world is upside down and then right side up. Down feathers fly everyhere as I lunge for the sword on the wall that I’ve never used. She stands erect, now her face is hidden in shadow, and I think I prefer it that way. Her sword is held out, feathers fly around her, but her eyes are boring into me as I stand ready. She pounces and the fight is on.
We fight, we sing. My blood is pumping now, into every vein, and it’s liquid music and lust and love at once. “Oh Kelley”, I sing, “your rat had better be tough to face us!”
And like that she’s gone, fled before we can be prematurely interrupted, no doubt Elara has run for the guard thinking the woman an assassin of some sort. Oh, let them hear whatever the hell they want to her.
She has come, I think, and I am alive after all!
No doubt, it was attack, they said…
“I tell you, James, she was a banshee, one from across the veil, sent to kill us in our sleep!”
“Thats, ‘take you away in your sleep’, Fergus,” my father said. “And mark my words, she spells trouble from the elves. Even those Shar seem tame close to those creatures.” It’s the midnight council, we’re back in the trees, away from sight and habitation.
“Either way, James, it’s a grave threat to Connla! We must send word up to Howth for protection!” Fergus. At least he’s not Fagan.
“Bah, just be on yer guards and yee’l be fine. Young lad here seems to be rather quick with that blade, aye?” I nod. Old Kennedy this time. I liked that old man. “Aye, and to hear him proclaim today! Aye, lad will be a Bard in a few short years, mark my words.” He took a swig of his whiskey. “Any clue what she be after with ye, lad?” he asks. “Or who she be?”
A name. What was it that hack Merlin once said… a word is given when a word is required. Well, I hadn’t needed much help with this one…
“Roisin.” I wanted to melt then and there.
“Roisin?!” My father exploded. Short temper, but he is a Celt. “Now they take Celtic names!”
I shrug. “So how do you know this… Roisin?” I shrug again.
“I don’t. But something tells me I ought to. Something tells me,” I say, hoping to hide the hope in my voice, “something tells me, she’ll be back.”
And while the old men around the fire spoke of Elvish plots to take their land, I sat, cloak around me, already feeling the stiring of music within take a hold on my soul, and thought… this is the awakening, after all.
This is it, after all.
… to be continued …
The gleeman wrapped his cloak tightly around his body. I thought it was a bit overdramatic, myself. Something that a Britton would do. Still, I was only 9 years old. What could I possibly know?
“He who has ears to listen, let him hear!” the Bard proclaimed, ending his tale. A tale of glory, I guess. Of our High King. I didn’t know Ireland had a High King. I don’t think I even really knew what a High King was. Someone really important, I suppose. All I knew is that I was unimpressed. I was, after all, very young. But listening to the Bard, seeing the manufactored looks of intrest on the faces of my people, I think I began realize something that day. Listening to this man, this Merlin, I think I understood why the grownups often talked in hushed voices, why so many of them had looked so sad. It wasn’t until much later that I fully comprehended this thought, but I was, after all, very young.
Perhaps he spoiled me. Perhaps I thought all Bards were as puffed up and arrogent as Merlin Embries. I didn’t even want to be a Bard myself. It was all her doing, after all. After she came into my life, I couldn’t not sing – it was as if I was besotten or perhaps gaesed like the heroes of old, trapped by an elven woman with a Celtic name. Ironic that, since I’m a Celt with an Elvish name. Perhaps we were meant for each other. Perhaps, in the end, I’ll just find that I ask too many questions.
Well, they say wisdom comes to us all. Eventually.
“Gaedan! Gaedan!” Nothing happened. “Gaedan, hey, what are you doing, Gaedan?” As I recall, it was a nice day – the Shannon was deep blue and smell of salt was faint.
I looked up. “Fishing, I guess.” She frowned.
“You don’t have any bait, chief.” Say what you want about Moll, she always sees to the heart of things. Whether she means to or not.
“I guess I’m just thinking, then.”
She squatted next to me, hands on her knees. “About what, chief?”
“Things. Life. Nothing in general. Just letting my thoughts wander along with the fish, I suppose. Why?”
She looked at me for a while. I had my suspicions about Moll. I think maybe she knew more than she said. “I was hoping… I could help you catch you something.” Then she fell on me and kissed me.
“Why don’t you change your name?” she asked later.
“Why, you think I should?” I guess there was a little edge in my voice.
“Ya, chief. You could be ‘Patrick’. I think you might be a ‘Patrick’.”
“Tell me chief, don’t you want a different name?”
I was 9 again. The golden-eyed Bard held my face in his hand, measuring me for all I was worth, I guess. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t hold his gaze for that long. Not many men could, I’m told. Still… “He has the way of a Bard about him.” Perhaps if he didn’t say that, I might have felt better about the whole thing. But no. Spoiled from the start. “I could, if you like, find fostering for him over in Brittan. My academy always could use a student with his gifts.”
Yeah. Whatever. Go away, Merlin.
“Yes, young Gaedan is rather gifted, Lord Embries.” Fagan. Oh, he was a viper back then as well.
“Gaedan?” Merlin seemed a bit taken aback by that. I’ve heard Merlin had some Celt in him. Maybe he felt a little pecular about Irish names. No doubt Fagan struck the wrong chord in him. Lugh knows he strikes the wrong chord in everyone else. “Tell me boy, don’t you want a different name?” Had I a dagger, I’d have gone for him.
That’s not what he said, of course. But it’s what I heard. And it’s what I’ve heard ever since. Perhaps she didn’t even say it. Maybe she said, “Oh, yes, Patrick is a fine name,” as if she wasn’t talking about someone else while we lay together. Whatever.
I heard what I heard. Let every man with ears hear his own damn thing, it’s what you make of the music that matters, not what the music makes of you.
“… it’s a strong name, or maybe Tedwig, though that’s a Firbolg name, or perhaps … ”
Moll, as you can tell, had a healthy appetite.
It’s the eve of battle.
Tomorrow my warriors and I will defend our lands in this never ending war. We’ll kill them all, or we’ll be killed, and every night it’s like this. Lugh prevent the day when we ever feel this alive again.
And yet we are alive. Look, see, there is Lexinthis, his laugh drowning out the hall, and Kayitlen at his side, holding close to him, sharing with his glee! See how they hold each other, how they live like today is their last. And how all our brave company gathers. I was maybe born for this night, I think. And I smile. There is more sing, after all, and I am not the only Bard that’s lived.
And look! There is Nauc, the unusally boisterous Sylvaan, being taunted by Sonderac, who is teasing him with a torch.
Tomorrow we’ll fight, some of us will die, some of us will live, and we’ll go back to being seperate, the Elves in their lands and us Celts in ours. I’ll probably go back to see my parents in Connla. At times, I envy those that will die tomorrow – they will pass with this night fresh in thier minds.
And since this is the eve of the battle, and since I am a Bard, I am asked to sing…
And sing I did…
As I begin to tune my harp, I wonder, how did I get here? How is it that I was once one of the living dead and now alive, facing death with a smile on my lips?
Ah yes. Her. Well, that is not the story I will tell tonight. Here it begins, however…
“There was, I am told, a family of little means in Connla. It is true, since many families in Connla are of little means. Connla is of little means. This particular family was one of a man named Kelley, and the Kelleys had a problem.
“One day, as they sat to break fast, a rat, one of the largest rats they had ever laid eyes upon entered their house and jumped on their table. The family backed away, as they were in awe of such a large rat, but also scared out of their wits! No sooner had the rat entered and jumped on their table, did it eat all their food and then leave.
“Dinner came and after a hard day of work did Kelley come home and find the rat had just came and left, leaving his family without food for the night. The children’s stomachs grumbled and his wife was near to tears, but all that was cooked and edible was eaten, and the only full belly belonged to the rat.
“‘Lugh help us!’ cried Kelley. ‘We will surely starve to death!’
“The following day, Kelley bought a cat that was known to the people of Connla to be good at catching rats, and took the feline home with him. The cat was of an odd manner, as all cats really are, and it simply sat down by the fire and fell asleep. That night, when dinner was laid out, the rat returned, and finding the newest addition to the family, bristled its back, but made to speak with the cat to see what this curious creature would do.
“‘How goes, friend,’ said the rat in an easy manner. The cat made no reply.
“The rat tried again. ‘I say, how does a curiousity like yourself find itself in this place of all places?’ Still, no answer, but Kelley gave the rat an ominous look as if to warn the rodent of what the cat would do should it not leave.
“Nervous now, the rat backed up from the dozing cat and after a moment of consultation with itself, struck out at the cat, hoping to slay it while it dozed. However, the cat was quick and light of foot, and it dodged the initial attack. The fight was on, and a furious fight it was. However, the cat was beaten by the larger rat, and it slinked off back into Connla to lick his wounds. Woe was the family of Kelley as the rat jumped back on the table and devoured the dinner that had been laid out.
“‘We’re finished now,’ lamented Kelley, ‘That theiving old rat will eat all of our stores and leave us to starve!’
“For three days and nights, the rat returned and claimed the food it felt was owed to him, and yet, there was no sign of the cat. On the fourth morning, however, the cat appeared, and in tow was the largest cat the Kelley family had seen. The first cat resumed its position back by the hearth, but the larger cat settled into a chair back along the shadows. They were fed milk as a token gesture, and the Kelley family prayed mightily that they might be able to stop the rat.
“Breakfast was served, and no sooner did Kelley raise his fork to his mouth did the rat appear, and in seeing the cat back at its place, snickered, and fell in to attack whom it had so easily bested.
“However, when the rat struck, so did the large cat pounce, and the fight was joined yet again, this time with large cat against the rat. The fight lasted all day and into the night, and when the sun set, the large cat finally killed the rat.
“Both cats were given their share of milk for their efforts, they spent the night warm by the hearth, but when morning came, they were gone, never to be seen again.
“Let every man with ears to listen, let him hear!” I have sang and will sing no more tonight before this crowd of warriors. “Tomorrow is a day of battle and no more will be said for tonight!”
… to be continued …
… it was a dream …
“I’ll go,” stood Morwyn, another knight of the ilk of Wade and Gaelis. Phantasee tugged at his hands, biding him to stay. Eurians also stood. “Please, Morwyn, you are needed here as well.”
Morwyn looked at the Bishop and then his wife, the cleric Phantasee. “No,” he said, “I’ll be fine, and Gaelis and Wade need more strength yet still. If you’ll have me, Lord Tehlien?”
The cleric nodded. “Certainly.”
“… Bastard.” Morwyn sank to his knees. He had been down before, certainly, and his calm head had always seen him through tough battles. He wondered why this one should be different, why he should lose his cool now.
Haunt smiled. Yes, that was why. “Ah, Morwyn, one of Barlyics loyal bloody terriers. What a pleasant suprise my brother will have when he hears about this. Already his chief rival’s death has made today quite profitable.” Haunt motioned to the corpse of Tehlien being torn apart by the battle crazed Trolls.
Morwyn forced his mind to calm. He took in the features of Haunt, the short frame, not even simply short for a Highlander, the curtly cut yellow hair. He had always hated this man, this sycophant younger brother of the ambitious Bishop of Cornwall. Hatred. Damn. He was doing it again.
“So, Morwyn, you know what happens now, yes? How should I kill you,” wondered the man in front of him. “The Trolls certainly seem willing to keep going after they’re done over there… hmm… or torture… I really do want to hear you scream, you know.” Haunt chuckled.
A massive Norseman approached Haunt, dwarfing the small man. “Bretwalda,” it said in a halting accent, “a hunter haff fund a smull group uf Saxun wif yur bruther. We shult show you whar.” Haunt nodded. “Excellent, I’ll run out there after this here.”
Morwyn lowered his head, meekness armoring him. His mind, however, raced with plans, knowing that should Haunt offer them his services of speeding them towards Sauvage, that he would certainly lead them all to death. The face of his wife came, unbidden, and his tears were hard pressed to hold back.
Haunt laughed. “Oh this is too rare, Morwyn. I thought I would have never seen this!” He motioned to the Trolls, who grabbed Morwyn and dragged him to his feet roughly. “Make him scream,” said Haunt, and he turned to leave.
Calm had won many battles for Morwyn. Calm was focused, ready, competant. Calm was capable, it was victory.
Calm was gone.
Morwyn’s mind had exploded in fury, all focused at the back of this … man … this Haunt Gravenor, this self absorbed psychotic who now held the life of the only thing Morwyn had ever loved in his soiled hands.
He heaved, strength coming to his arms, shaking himself free from the Trolls that vainly held him. He screamed, fury and spittle on his lips, a true war cry of a Highlander, a shout of defiance and discord, and in the afternoon sky, it was music, it was song, and no ear failed to strain for its call. A broken partisan was lain on the ground, its shaft sundered, but the blade well and sharp. With practiced precision, it bit deep in the traitor’s back. Dark sullen blood spilled from the wound, Haunt fell to the ground, crying out in pain and in shame. Morwyn stood over his betrayer, anger and murder in his eyes.
The courtyard of Caer Erasleigh was frozen in time. Morwyn looked around at the Norse and their hideous allies all staring at him, knowing that at any time now, he was surely dead and his body disgraced.
A Norseman walked directly towards him, unafraid, unchallenging, but in authority. Morwyn dropped the spear’s head to his side, and looked, unafraid, into his killer’s eyes. The Norseman nodded, once, and Morwyn matched his gaze once more, before the Northerner drew his sword…
… and Morwyn thought of red hair and a loving embrace, and then thought no more.
Eurians stopped reading. He could not even gasp out in surprise before the twin daggers found their way home in his wicked black heart. For all of his ambition… the cleric had always disregarded Mertel as a ruined drunk.
It is told in the Underworld that the spirits can carry their burdens from life with them. So did Morwyn, proud warrior of Humberton. And in the killing of Haunt, did Arawn grant Morwyn another chance, a choice… of living again, in constant pain.
For surely would the Rose Bearer need training…
It is told in the Underworld that the spirits can carry their burdens from life with them. So did Eurians, twisted Bishop of Cornwall. And in his attack upon his homeland, did he find an ally willing to give him another chance, a choice… of revenge.
For surely, The Queen of Air and Darkness welcomed all allies…
All this was dreamt. All this was real.
Mericet awoke with a start, his hand now automatically went to the Rose Sword when he did.
His choice would be coming soon.
to be continued …
“And, lo, behold, she that is the Second Apostate.
For as he the First had raised the Rose
So shall she send the Rose to dust.
And the Queen of Air and Darkness will rule once more.”
“This, my young lady, was written long ago, well before your good Roman army came to this Isle. The wild Celt, the deposed, had known for a long time that my mother would come to liberate the Isle of the Mighty.” The speaker, a tall, comely man with golden hair, flashed a wicked smile at his prisoner. “You see, the good folk of Irene are simply freedom fighters.”
The young highlander struggled, vainly, with her bonds; her hands were tied behind the chair in a way that her exposed breast was thrust out before her, her ankles tied to the wide legs exposing her genitals. The action only produced a weak chuckle from her captor. At least it was it only him this time, she thought. He was always the ironic definition of a gentlemen, even with her exposed like a toy as she was, he treated her always with respect. Unless she raised her voice. Always demure, she told herself. Raising her voice would only make him call in the others.
She could no longer bear the thought.
She had cried when alone, which wasn’t often, but her pride had not been broken. A MacFeegle must never show weakness, she thought. Never.
“Ah. She returns. Excuse me, my young lady. Mother is home yet again, and I must attend to her.” He stopped at the door. “She’ll want to meet you.”
The door slammed shut as her heart began to pound. Her. The Queen of Air and Darkness. Her captor was one thing; sure, he was evil incarnate, the unholy result of an incestuous union, but he was still just a man. She saw flaws in his fragile ego, saw his sore subjects (his birth only being perhaps the most tender), and she saw how she could beat him. But her. The young lady doubted that her captor’s mother was even human anymore. Hadn’t the Merlin defeated her once already? Was she, like so many of the poor souls roaming cursed Albion, one of the undead?
The door opened; and all thought was lost.
Everyday Mericet grew more homesick.
Everyday Mericet grew more at ease with the Fourth Wall.
He couldn’t explain how he was able to relive his own life; fighting once again alongside with people he had known for years now, but who had only known him for a few scant weeks. The loudmouth soldier of fortune was never more dead in those weeks Mericet spent with the Fourth Wall.
And they had indeed fought. Along with several other new recruits, he had helped relive the defenders of a remote outpost called “Caledonia” against an attack by a band of Norse bandits and thieves. The old war, even in such a remote and meaningless setting, felt good to fight once more.
Everyday Mericet grew back into Mertel’s life.
However, the question remained unsolved: why had Arawn granted him the Rose Sword? To what purpose was he destined to wield it? All the Innconu had given him wide birth and respect whenever he came back to Gothwaite or Wearyall; but when he had stopped one to ask them about what his claim really meant, it was akin to speaking to the dead.
Yet his powers grew. His skill with the Sword of Roses gained considerably, and with Binge at his side, the two literally tore through any obstacle or enemy. He wielded Arawn’s power with gentle authority, became more aware of the subtle power of his new God’s workings, and spent many an evening discussing theology with Binge.
However, no answers were not to be found.
The war had been taken to the frozen northlands, as the effective Albion counter offensive now focused on reclaiming Merlin’s Staff. The Generals of the Albion army were particularly interested in taking Grallerhorn Faste since hearing the Infiltrator reports of what other treasure lay guarded in the keep. The infamous Horn of Valhalla and Hibernia’s captured Cauldron had powered the mystic power of the Norse, Camelot’s leading professors at the Academy conjectured that should those same relics lay within Caer Myrddin, that they would have a similar effect on Albion’s magical might.
Albion had taken Bledmeer Faste, the first line in Midgard’s defenses, but now had the crucial task of taking the first of four keeps in the Jamtland Mountains, called Nottmoor Faste. The keep would be invaluable as it cut off Albion’s toe hold on Midgard soil from the rest of the realm. It had not proved an easy task, however. Camelot’s army had camped a few leagues off the fort, but the defense stood stalwart, and time was running short, as reports of a Midgard relief column put the second army as close as Blendrake. Barlyic had volunteered his forces to assault Nottmoor in a do-or-die attack on the fort.
Needless to say, it was a somber Fourth Wall that held camp that night.
“Now, the guard routes are… here. Here. And here. We’ll need a force to keep them occupied while Barly’s team takes the gate,” Matt reported. His longbow, always strapped to his back across his shoulders, was torn and even burned in a few places, a testament to what he had done to obtain that information.
Barlyic looked at the map. “Okay. I want two teams; Jonaleth, take Divino and Rhiva. Binge, hmm. Take Mericet and Ellymay, intercept the second patrol. I want you to engage them, then draw them back to the keep. Join us when you’re done, we need every body we can get to keep the defenders off the walls.”
Mericet nodded. He had always loved siege warfare; though not particularly suited for it, his ability to adapt to ever changing situations had always seem him through. He was eager to see how Arawn’s might would lend itself to this type of fighting.
With Binge in the point, they ran out north from the keep’s perimeter, keeping an eye out for Matt’s landmarks and for any sign of enemy action. Mericet was confident that they could take on any stealth or small attacks, with Binge’s strange but unwavering devotion to the Christ, and Ellymay’s inexplicable power to conjure up the very earth to shield them, they would need only fear an attack in force.
“Something’s not right.” Mericet stopped suddenly. He moved, cautiously, his attention quite visibly focused on a lone tree. Binge and Ellymay followed close behind, glancing at Mericet’s attention and each other. Mericet smiled. It had worked. A small disturbance of the air, a little warning to his left, and his foux inspection of the tree had drawn his prey out. A cleaver bore down on Elly out of nowhere, but not before the air around him blistered and burned with the wrath of Arawn. A Norseman yelped in pain as his body materialized from the shadows, and his cleaver only deflected off the sheath of earth that Ellymay had conjured. Binge was right here, however, and drove a solid thrust of his staff into the Shdowblade’s side. The north man began to swing again as Mericet’s shield came barreling into his body, stunning the would be assassin.
Mericet’s mind was a sea of sullen red as he drew the Rose Sword and swung in a style he had never used before on another human.
He was ecstasy. He was life itself. Tugging on the red cord now wrapped around the neck of the Norseman, he could feel the power of Arawn within him as he drained the very soul from his enemy. He sang out in joy… this was the promise of the Rose Sword, this immortality, this theft of life. He released his grip even as the man fell dead at his feet, his skin black.
Ellymay turned around and threw up. Binge just stood, his eyes not judging, but searching every feature of Mericet’s face. He met the friar’s gaze for a while, but his eyes soon dropped to the ground, unable to meet his friend’s face.
“It’s ya style, Mericet, to do those things we may not particularly enjoy.” He sighed, and took out his earthenware jug and raised it to his lips.
It shattered as an arrow whizzed by Binge’s face.
Mericet searched the trees and saw a toothy Kobold drawing back a bow for a second shot. He focused his power and imagined, just as he had learned on the first day, the things soul fleeing down to Arawn, bit by bit. His hand shot out with a gesture as his power wracked the thing over and over, preventing it from drawing another shot.
“You know who that is. MOVE!” They turned to run, as a white wolf sprang from a nearby bush, its teeth bared for the kill, but Ellymay’s barrier held true. The wolf backed up to spring again at her unprotected body. Again, Mericet’s shield found home and stunned the wolf. “No choice, Binge, get her out of here!”
“LIKE BLOODY ELL I WILL!!” Mericet had never seen his friend so angry as he charged the little bowman, but he stopped when the Kobold disappeared into the shadows. Binge began to bite off curses.
“Binge, let’s get out of here, he’ll be back!” Mericet yelled as he finished off the wolf. He noted in the back of his mind that he didn’t have the same level of satisfaction from stealing the wolf’s life. “There!” he pointed to a run down hunter’s lodge. Ellymay lifted her hands to the sky as the wind began to blow at their backs. Aided by the wind, they sprinted to the cottage, eyes never standing still.
It was not much of cottage, just a main room what looked to be some sort of storage room in the back that they had not checked out. Winded and wounded, the three needed to rest first. Mericet had boarded up some of the windows, but knew that upon leaving the building, they’d have to confront the hunter that was surely stalking them. Binge sat in the corner, tears in his eyes as he held the handle to his jug, now just a ceramic loop and a few broken shards.
“No beer… must get… beer…. must…” Binge muttered.
“Quiet, Binge. He’ll be back.”
“What was that?!” Ellymay jumped up. She seemed quite frightened, more than Mericet (or Mertel, for that matter) had ever seen.
“No, no I heard something… in there.” She pointed to the closed door at the back of the room. Mericet got up and slowly approached the door. He put his ear to the door.
“Someone’s … crying?” Mericet took his face from the door. “Hello?”
A frightened gasp came from behind the door. “Uh… hello?” came the gamine reply.
“She’s one of ours.” Mericet turned to Binge. “Binge, the door is locked, can you knock it down for me?” The friar didn’t answer, just stood staring at the jug handle in his hand. “Bloody hell…. Elly, stand back.” He slammed into the thick log door, not budging it one bit. Mericet rubbed his shoulder. “Oh bloody hell indeed.” He took up the Rose Sword.
“Uh… Mericet?” Elly raised her hand, sheepishly.
“Uh… I don’t think a whip is going to do much.” Mericet smiled, but didn’t turn his head when Elly gasped as the Rose Sword solidified into metal. The cord wrapped itself around the blade, the grip became a handle, the rose-shaped pommel hardened, the guards grew from the hilt as if alive, and the Sword of Roses became real.
“Like I said, Elly. Stand back a bit.” Elly dutifully, fearfully, backed up as the Rose Sword grew to its full length. The sound of metal on metal was deafening as Mericet sliced the lock.
The Rose Sword fell to its normal state, glowing a very satisfied red as Mericet slowly opened the door. He gasped as he saw a young highlander woman, stripped naked, tied to a chair in a lewd position.
“Bloody… Elly, get in here, Binge, now!” They both gasped as Mericet had. Binge said a quick and quiet prayer as his healing power washed over the young lady.
Mericet grabbed a blanket that was laying on the floor near the girl, with the Rose Sword, he cut her bonds, and covered her with the blanket. Ellymay sighed sadly when she saw the blanket. “Oh no,” she cried.
“What is it, Elly?”
“That’s a tartan. Look at the colors, Binge.” His eyes widened. “That’s Gaelis’ clan…”
to be continued…
“… so the minstrel and I made off like bandits, heh heh. She was a wicked lass, that’s for sure, heh heh. She couldn’t handle much of the drink, that’s for sure, which was good for me. I think my vows were in danger that night, if you know what I’m talkin’ about, heh heh. At any rate, she left in the morn off to Hurbury and…”
Binge had talked almost the entire time they had known each other, but strangely Mericet found himself liking the man more and more each day. For one, Binge’s fondness of his own voice made it easier for Mericet to simply be quiet and not be forced to share any of his past, which was a welcome relief. There wasn’t a day that he had not thought about the murder of Eurians, and even after the facts surrounding his death became clear, Mericet couldn’t put that act behind him.
Nor could he wonder how he was going to face the world outside the Isle of Apples. He knew, however, that his claim to the Rose Sword was a prelude to some greater calling and that destiny, whatever it was, involved the Albion he once knew.
Of course, much of his thought revolved around the people he knew to still be fighting the war. Eurians death helped the realm quite handsomely. Almost immediately after his treason was discovered, Albion’s warriors went on the counter-offensive, seizing back the realm proper and even recovering the Scabbard of Excalibur. Mericet knew that his old friends still roamed the world, and at times, had seen a few of them in town of Gothwaite, but always from a distance.
“… aaaaand I’m spent.”
“Huh?” Mericet shook the cobwebs from his mind.
“My jug’s empty, and that means it’s time to go shopping, heh heh.” Binge started back towards town. “Hey, ya know I heard they have a new apple cider in Wearyall. Heh heh, I’ve always wondered, if the good folk of Albion ever could make a beer as well as mine, heh heh. I think we should bloody well find out, don’t you?”
“Sure, I could use a horse ride.” Mericet stopped. Before him stood five faces he could never forget, all chatting with each other. One, a female face that seared in his mind with her holiness and gentle love, turned towards Binge and himself, and recognition spread across her features. With her turned the faces that all burned in his memory, Wade, Gaelis, Bregor and Barlyic, and Mericet lowered his eyes, waiting for the storm to begin.
“Binge!” cried out Phantasee. The Scotti cleric ran out and gave the friar a tight hug.
“Ahhh m’lady, you’ve been nippin’ at mah virtues again with that fragrance, huh, heh heh. But I haven’t enough fine ale in mah yet to risk that one’s wrath!” Binge pointed his prominent chin in Gaelis’ direction.
“For shame, my friend, lay your hands off my dearest love, for doubtless your virtue would not stain her, I fear greatly for my wife’s fine clothes and having them smell as if she were a serving maid that spilled on herself.” The highlander grinned and extended a hand. “God’s been good to you, Binge.”
“Aye, and to you for stickin’ all of that in one breath, He’s given you mighty lungs, heh heh!” Binge laughed a little too hard his own joke. “Ah, but where are my manners? Found a lostling in search of friends and some ale, bloody good bloke too, ah Barly, got any ale on ya?” The mercenary laughed. “Anyway, this here is Mericet. No secrets between us,” said Binge grandly before taking a sip from Barlyic’s beer jug.
Mericet nodded, his eyes darting from face to face searching for recognition. All eyes focused on him as he lamely nodded. “Gentlemen. Maam.”
Binge laughed. “Hah, he’s not one for words, but he’s wicked fast with that cord there, heh heh. Bloody tight in a fight too.” He stopped to drain more ale.
“Yes,” a new voice said, “Mericet’s been one of our rising stars.” Another Briton reaver, a man Mericet knew, joined the group. “All of us that serve Arawn know of Mericet Rose.”
Barlyic smiled. “Barlyic Darkhawk, nice to meet you, Mericet. You know Myrik it seems. This is Gaelis, and this gentleman, and I use the term loosely, is Wade Cunningham, these two are my Generals. My pastor, Bishop Bregor, and Gaelis’ wife, Phantasee.” Mericet swam in the information. Gaelis and Phantasee married, Bregor the new Bishop, and suddenly, what was left of Mertel felt homesick.
“You must excuse Mericet,” Myrik explained. “He’s been in training for so long, he’s been so shut off from the home realm. However, Barlyic, I think he would do well to get out with us sometime.” Myrik looked back at Mericet, who stood trying to understand what Myrik was doing. Surely Myrik if nobody else knew who he was…
“I’d be honored, Lord Darkhawk.” Mericet nodded. Heflinched at his words, trying to sound so much different than the man they knew as Mertel. Mericet could see Wade scowling at him and panic fluttered within.
“Please, call me Barly. Very well then, Mericet, welcome to the Fourth Wall.” He smiled widely. Binge gave out a whoop.
“Now let’s get to the drinkin’!”
Wade threw him against the wall later that night. For an irrational second, Mericet reached for the Rose Sword, but found himself unable to draw arms against his old friend.
“Let it all out, Cunningham… don’t… hold back.”
“Shut up. I know of you. I investigated all the rumors of Eurians’ death, and your name kept coming up.” Fear leapt into Mericet’s stomach and knotted. “Funny, the Inconnu all said that the Briton fled to here and met the Rose Sword, isn’t that what they call you?”
Mericet laughed weakly. “Yes, Mericet of the Rose. What does this have to do with an Albion Bishop, Wade?”
“You know damn well what it has to do with. Mertel, the man who murdered the Bishop. What did you do with him?”
Mericet laughed, the irony of it all bitter in his mouth. “He got much more than he deserved.”
“WHAT?! Tell me you tortured him. Tell me just a little bit, that’s all I need to gut you like a pig, you scum.” Wade picked up Mericet by the neck and held him tight against the wall as he pulled a thin dirk from his belt.
Mericet coughed weakly. “He was given a second chance. Would Camelot have done the same?”
Wade frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Let Mertel fade from history, Wade. He fled Camelot long ago, and I’m sure he’d come back if he wanted. If he could.”
“What did you do to him?”
“I did nothing to him. He did it to himself.”
Wade features twisted in hatred. “I swear if I find one more scrap of evidence that you… you…” Disbelief flooded his face. “You. You’re…”
“Mericet,” he growled. “I am Mericet and that as they say, is that, Wade. I am not the same man you knew, and I have no desire to be so.”
Wade shook his head. “People will know. Hell, I knew, even if it took me a while.”
“Will they? Not even Barlyic knew, and he above all people should know my features, my manner, my face. But he didn’t, and neither will anyone else.”
“Fine. Mericet.” He turned away, dropping Mericet in a heap on the ground, who sat clutching at his neck in pain. “You dropped this, you know…” and Wade tossed the long dirk on the ground near Mericet’s leg.
Immediately he recognized the dagger… and remembered whose chest he had left it in.
… to be continued.
“Agh! Bugger me, that’s a bloody hard thing to do!” Mericet’s patience, something he had always marvelled at in his old life, had gone with that life, it seemed. “I swear if I miss that bloody stump one more time, I’m going to tear it apart with this!” He swatted at the sword strapped to his back.
Khalikk looked as amused as his dour face allowed. “I hardly see why you carry that steel stick anymore. Your hand would no longer recognize its use, nor,” his blue tinged face grew sly once more, “do you need it.”
Mericet whipped his head around. His hair had grown out longer now, it was wild and untamed, and he had grown a beard around his chin and nose, giving him the look of a predator. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Learn how to use the Rose Sword, and you’ll know.” Khalikk shrugged and turned away. “Good day, Mericet.”
Mericet replied with a rather unrepeatable remark.
“BLOODY ‘ELL! Ow… ow… sonova…” Mericet held out his arms and concentrated on the skeleton that was mastering him in combat. A surge of power filled him as he felt the life force draining from fragile animation into his tired limbs. His mind exploded in fury. “DIE!” he screamed, and the air blistered around him, shattering the form of the reanimation. Mericet slumped to the ground, spent and tired from his exertion.
A soft chuckle came from behind him. Turning around, he saw another Britton man, flaxen haired and dressed in the unmistakable habit of a friar closing on him. Scowling, Mericet made to get up, but his limbs simply didn’t have the strength.
“Oh, don’t get up on my accord, heh heh.” The friar said a quick prayer, and Mericet felt the life surge in him, the old hatred rising as well.
“Don’t…. don’t do that again, friar.”
“Oh, heh heh, you be one o’ dem reavers wes been ‘earin’ bout. Heh heh.” The friar slumped down next to Mericet. “Beer?”
“Beer.” The friar offered a earthenware jug. “‘s good, made it mysel… excuse me.” He belched. “Ah, better, had that one stuck as a lump for a while, heheheheh. Binge’s the name, don’t ask, chum, I ain’t tellin’ why. Anyway, beer. Have some.”
Mericet’s eyes narrowed. “Uh, no thank you.”
Binge shrugged. “Your loss, eh. Anyway, saws you was havin’ trouble, figgered ya could use some help from a friendly face, and I’ve been told I’ve a more friendly face than most. Heh heh, mostly from people that don’t know me well.” He burped again.
“Do all friars talk as much as you do, Binge?”
“HAHAHAH! ‘Do they all talk as much?’ he says!” Binge looked up at the sky. “Did you hear that one, boss? What a funny man, oh man…”
“Who are you talking to?”
“God, of course. I guess I could ‘ave been talkin’ to that robin up there, but they don’t listen none good and they always shits on my robes, bloody bastards…”
Mericet just blinked.
“Oh, anyway, help, yeah. Saws you slashin and bobbin’ and weavin’ wit’ dem undead buggers and well that ain’t gunna do you none good.” Binge reached into his robe, producing an oaken staff. “Here, lemme shows ya.” He lurched to his feet, swaying slightly. “Whoa, heh heh… steady there boyo, hold the world up a bit for me now.” Binge steadied himself, looked out in the trees and nodded briefly once.
“HEY OVER HERE YA BOTTOM BUGGER BLOODY BASTARD YA IM TALKIN TO YOU YA NINNY BOY PANSY SHITE FOR BRAINS!!” Mericet jumped at the sudden change of the friar’s tone. From the trees, a skeleton, anger fueling its movements, rushed at Binge, and Mericet could feel the rage seething from the undead’s attack. Binge simply dodged out of the way and chuckled.
“Now, heh heh… watch this, eh?” Binge sidestepped, planted his right foot and spun his staff around him so fast that Mericet could barely follow it. With a flick of the wrist, Binge broke the arm at the shoulder clear off the skeleton, and then reversed his swing to break the shin bone next. The skeleton staggered forward, swiping at Binge with its one good arm before Binge deftly shattered the skull with another spinning sweep of his staff. He spun the staff dramatically around him and planted it in the ground with his left hand.
Mericet was impressed… until Binge’s hand slid down the pole and he crashed to the ground with a thump. He rushed to the friar’s side without thinking.
“Ah, that’s a good lad. Now… get me another beer?”
“Its the texture of the thing, Mericet. See, you’re tryin’ to slash at something as hard as rock. Whatcha need is somethin’ that can WHACK! crush somethin’ like that, see?”
Mericet frowned. “It seems unnatural to me. Besides, I’m still trying to figure out how to use this thing,” he shook the Rose Sword coiled on his hip.
Binge nodded. “Try one of these buggers, then.” He took a heavy flail off the weapon rack. The shopkeeper, a burly highlander man, gave Binge a dirty look, which the friar ignored. Mericet took the weapon in his hand, weighing it out in his palm. “Heavy,” he said.
“Heh heh, yeah. Cool, huh?”
Mericet laughed. “Okay, then, let’s give this a try.”
They walked back out to the hill where they met. Innconu and Britton men and women were scattered over the hill, which Khalikk had told Mericet was a training area, the skeletons and zombies reanimated by Priests of Arawn for weapons and magic practice.
Binge pointed out a lesser skeleton. “Now… try that one there. Remember, you wanna shatter, not slash the poor thing.” He made a quick, almost unnoticable sign of the cross. “Now, do it.”
Mericet focused his power as he’d been taught, imagining the soul fleeing, peice by peice, down to the Underworld, and the skeleton, wincing as if it were struck, began to move towards Mericet. He readied his shield, his left hand vaguely remembering what it was like to hold another weapon, and held the flail ready. The skeleton closed and struck a weak punch that Mericet easily blocked. Knowledge clicked, and once again, time slowed for him, just as it did for Mertel once upon a time…
Mericet struck, the flail whistling in the air, shattering the ribs of the skeleton and then crossing back, breaking the skull open. Binge let out a wild whoop, and Mericet felt once again that surge of life. Suddenly, he felt better than he had in what seemed like years. A grin crossed his face, as he felt a small surge of what felt like satisfaction from where the Rose Sword was hung. Mericet looked down at the weapon.
Binge cocked his head to the side. “Did… did that thing just pulse?”
Mericet made no answer, but unstrapped the sword from his back and let it fall to the ground, folded up the flail and tied it down with the sword straps. He took the Rose Sword off his hip, gently, cautiously, even, and looked at the whip, its cord still glowing with the same sullen red. He could almost feel the weapon urging him on, begging to be wielded…
He spun on his heel, eyes seeking out a decaying zombie from the distance and once again, he lured it towards him with that same tug at the thing’s hastily repaired soul. The zombie closed distance but Mericet lashed out with the Rose Sword, tearing a large chunk out of the zombie’s arm, and feeling that surge of life. The Rose Sword sung out in victory as Mericet dealt blow after blow with it, tearing off peices of the corpse. Everything seemed correct at that moment, and Mericet hacked and tore as if it were natural to him, dancing through the corpses that all surged forth from the training hill, laughing and crying all at once, knowing that he had finally discovered who he was.
“Rose I am! Bright red rose of tomorrow’s coming! Rose I have always been! I was a lost boy in a dream! I was a nightmare of reality! The nightmare of Camelot!”
Mericet stopped. Something felt different in his arm, and he stared down at the weapon in his hand. Nothing had ever felt more right in his life, but some corner of mind screamed in alert.
In his hand was no longer a whip, but what he could only guess was why the Rose Sword was named as it was. A length of steel, its blade wrapped in a cord of thorns, that same sullen red glowing along the blade…
The Rose Sword smirked in his mind, with the voice of Arawn destroying all thought…
YOU ARE MINE FROM THIS DAY MERICET…
… to be continued.