Cur’s mocking laughter echoed through hall where no other sound existed.
“Come now, come to die” He cackled mirthlessly.
“No Firbolg, he cannot be beaten” Tuan shouted from the spiral staircase. “We must away!”
“Away where beast? We fight in Magmel itself. There is no escape but through blood.”
“Perhaps there is another way.” A strange tittering voice whistled musically and seemed to be all around them like a flock of birds appearing out of thin air.
Suddenly the entire wall of the dining hall turned to autumn leaves and exploded outward. The masked men were knocked against the other wall of the castle and destroyed instantly. The boy left unharmed stared at the gaping hole in the castle wall cleared away as leaves falling into the ocean and the rocks below.
None of them could believe their eyes as with the leaves had come a giant beast standing nobly in between the carpet of maiden corpses.
A huge majestic stag stood between all gaping eyes. And atop the stag a rider in pale green armor, a helmet topped with branches that looked like the horns of a mighty deer. An axe at his hip of some alien construction and a harp on his other that gleamed with gems.
Balor was awe struck but his instinct was to kill whatever it was that had intruded in his castle. The childs face distending as before in a horrible silent scream as the eye emerged again.
The rider unhooked his harp lackadaisically and played a soothing tune. The melody taming the eye as it shrank back into the aspect of Balor which became limp and motionless.
“Alas I have come for you Firbolg” The strange green rider said in a loud jovial tone as he re-sheathed his harp.
“Who are you spirit? How would you die?” The barbarian hoarsely croaked.
“I would’st not die last of the Firbolg for I am life and life I once gave to you when you lay dying.”
“I know not this name sir, I am known as Bredbeddle” The spirit said, his voice full of mirth.
“The horned one sent you?”
“I know not of this horned one you speak” The riders voice was playful and full of jest.
“No games from you trickster of the woods. What have you come for?”
“I come for last of the Firbolg, I come as there is one that would meet you and put you on the path to your destiny.”
“Is this not my destiny, to be here now, to slay this Balor?”
“No last of the Firbolg, it is not his time to die nor is it yours.”
“Away with you woodsy one, I care not for your ‘destiny’, I care only to slay my enemy”
“But there are more enemies you may slay last of the Firbolg, but what of the one you lost, think to her and what it would mean to have her back.”
“Do not play with me trickster!”
“It is true what I say, you will be reunited with the one you love if you follow the path that I lay out for you”.
The Firbolg said nothing but the horned one knew his answer.
“Come now, we have no time to waste” The green rider put out his hand for the Firbolg to take.
Cur ignored it and climbed the mighty stag using the strange vine-like material that made the saddle to affix himself to it.
Bredbeddle turned to the doorway. “I had not forgotten about you my friend, come now shapeshifter, this concerns your destiny too.”
The sounds of footsteps now approaching, calling and gibbering in strange tongues.
“We must hurry, my power wains while my feet are not touching the noble isle.”
Tuan leapt and in mid flight took the form of a crow and perched himself atop the antlers of the great stag.
Within moments the room was flooded with fomorian warriors with savage barbed weapons. Their dark cloaks covering little of their flabby hideous bodies but all that greeted them was corpses and leaves.
Leaves swirled at Cur’s feet as he regarded his new surroundings. At one moment they were on the dark dreaded dreamlike Tory isle. And in another the Firbolg stood once again outside the fisherman’s shack on the edge of Meenlaragh. Looking out at the sea and the now risen sun hiding behind the slate grey clouds of Inish Alga, his home.
“Why did you bring me back here trickster?”
“There is one inside that wouldst meet you last of the Firbolg, there is a task for you that will lead you to your destiny.”
“Destiny” Cur spat on “I make my own destiny”
The green knight laughed jovially “Of this I would not doubt had I not seen and been a party to it.” The green knight’s mighty helmet fell away from his head as leaves might fall from a shedding tree. Revealing underneath a humanoid face that took on strange aspects almost akin to a deer, furred and spotted with a wide animal nose and black lips. His eyes were wide and circular and yellow with deep brown irises. “But destiny is ever changing and shifting, it corrects itself even now. Rewriting to fit the changes you made and you cannot stand idly by as war looms and the fate of mankind rests in your hands.”
“War?” Tuan said as he turned back into his human form. “With the fomor?”
“Yes son of Partholon, a war looms.”
“It can’t be, not again!” A strange animal fear rang in Tuan’s voice.
“Fear but fear not the fate of Partholon, it will be different this time.”
“Who is this Patholon?” Cur growled.
“In the antediluvian age he was our leader until he brought doom upon us.” Tuan said like a ghost reading a poem committed to memory or on their own headstone.
“What is this nonsense?” Cur spat.
“My people were here before even yours Firbolg, we met a terrible fate at the hands of the fomor. We, like you tried to fight them, and we had success until they unleashed that terrible creature on us, the Knucklavee”
“Knuck-la-vee” Cur mused.
“It spread a foul plague that destroyed us, only I was allowed to live. The god of the sea and his sick sense of humour transforming me into a fish, but I have mastered other forms since then as you know.”
“Why tell me all this now?” Cur puzzled.
“Because now is the time. Before you thought your enemy was Bres alone and at the time he was but now you know that the plague that killed the Firbolg came from them, the Fomor.”
“He tells the truth Firbolg, the Fomor feared your people most of all. They no doubt knew you would not surrender to slavery a second time and you would fight to the last. They waited until you were weak, until the Tuatha had broken your peoples backs to quietly eradicate you until one remained.”
“How history repeats itself.” Tuan cursed. “You see, we are the last of both our races.”
“That’s where you are wrong follower of Partholon.” The green knight said as his form began to fade and change back into leaves “There is another Firbolg.” His voices carried as the leaves blew away into the distance. “She lives still King Eochaid the proud”.
Cur grunted irritably as he watched the leaves shrink away into the forest.
Wasting no time the Barbarian forced open the barn doors of the fishing shack. Inside, the fire pit was lit and Manannán was sat in front of it on a stool. When he heard Cur come in he glanced over his shoulder furtively and made a gesture with his beard to the corner of the room.
“Have no fear fisherman, the Firbolg knows us.” A familiar voice said.
Cur turned to the source of a voice and a diminutive man dressed as a monk came out from behind a drawn sheep skin. His face was covered by a hood but his aspect was familiar, a long strange nose and distorted features that implied life beyond natural years. Suddenly the door was close behind him and the Barbarian turned to see the man clad in black armour, the one known as the Dullahan standing in his path.
Dian Cecht the former healer of the king of the tuatha stood in his decrepit form twisted by foul magics and secrets. He studied the Firbolg with a disdainful disinterest as if he were under glass. “Fear us not Firbolg, we come as friends.” He said in a tone of false joviality.
“I fear not and I friend not” The Firbolg growled making no effort to guard his disdain.
The sorcerer let out a nervous breathy laugh and then dropped his crooked smile as quickly as he raised it. “I have a proposition for you, one you would do well to listen to.”
“I listen not” The Firbolg hissed and grinned broadly chuckling from the back of his throat. He eyed the black knight from the corner, deciding where and when he would strike.
“You have no vengeance with us” Dian Cecht said incredulously.
“I have vengeance with him sorcerer and I would kill you for sport” Cur cackled low and mirthlessly.
Dian Cecht looked over at the black knight, as solemn and as still as a waxwork figure or some sort of clockwork contraption.
“He has no impulse of his own, he is merely a tool, Bres commanded him as I designed and now once again he falls under my spell. That is all.”
“Talk wizard or lose your tongue.”
“Very well, straight to the point. I wish for you to kill a man”
“I have killed many men and I would kill many more, what is this one man to you?”
“You would have me kill your son?” Cur grinned.
Dian Cecht sighed “He is not my son any longer, the Miach I knew, the sweet boy that looked up to his father is gone. All that remains is a lust for recognition and power. He has abandoned us and abandoned the old ways.” His sullen sallow face twitched angrily for a moment and he raised his voice but one octave. ”He creates blasphemies of magic that cannot be allowed to sully my name!”
“Why not have your dog bite his neck?” Cur said gesturing to the black knight.
“As I said, he lacks impulse and a rational mind, he can only fulfill simple tasks, he is a bodyguard and nothing more, he cannot track a quarry as you can.”
“And why would I kill this boy?”
“Because his goal is your demise, he seeks to revive the once dead king Nuada and see him rule instead of Bres. Surely you would not have your own handiwork of killing Nuada undone by this boy.”
Cur laughed and grinned wickedly. “To crush Nuada under my bare heel a second time would bring me joy and glory.” He filled the cabin with his wicked mocking laughter.
Dian Cecht’s face soured and twisted as if the barbarians laughter were painful to hear. “I can give you something” Dian Cecht said as he nodded at the armoured one.
The Dullahan pulled a pouch from under his crimson gambeson and held it aloft for the Firbolg to take.
Cur snatched the pouched jealously from it’s black steely fingers and glared at the sorcerer. The pouch was soft and tied with a loose string, the Barbarian loosened it roughly and reached inside the pouch.
Cur’s eyes seemed to soften as he touched it, as he smelled it, as he held it in his hands.
A single lock of autumn red hair, clasped between his might forefinger and thumb. Standing erect almost as if it were a lock of flame frozen in place.
“Tailtiu” He whispered. Gently he placed the hair back in the pouch and pulled it closed. He spoke calmly as he put the pouch away not looking at the sorcerer “You will take me to her now or you will die.”
“I do not have the means to trap a god Firbolg, I only know of a possible location, information that would die with me before you could even lay a hand on me. You know of my skills, I could kill myself with the prick of a finger, in an instant the knowledge of your and queen would be gone.” Dian Cecht breathed in and reasserted himself. “But if you were to work with me, I would assure that you would be ruinited.
The Firbolg said nothing, breathing deeply and looking at nothing.
“What is it to be Firbolg?”