Six months later.
“Mother, mother?” A small pale boy called in vain alone on the dingy streets of the once shining city of Murias.
“You are alone child, no one wants you, your own mother died at the sight of you” A fowl hissing voice said.
“Look at his skin, how it shines.”
“Like a fish!”
“We should cook him up!”
“Your mother was a whore who laid with a fish!” A voice laughed.
“No mother, mother, where are you?” The boy called, his voice ringing through the empty streets of the shining city, the one of four that flew above the heavens in the lap of Dannuu herself.
“She is dead child, you are alone now… and forever”
Suddenly a stirring in the darkness as one falling off a log stirs in terror, the only sound the flicking and cracking of the dim dying fire. A figure stiffly shifting in the darkness groaned. The man rose from his seated position of waking and walked slowly over to a grand fireplace taking up a poker. The lithe man stabbed and prodded at the fire hatefully as if it had wounded him in some way. The pit spitting back at him sparks and flashes of vicious bubbling light. Illuminating the potmarked scarred face of Bres the once beautiful, king of the tuatha. His face at once was talked about throughout Inish Veil. Now cursed by the bard Coirpre, the treacherous half-blood king hides in darkness for fear of losing everything. For only a perfect king can rule the people of Danu.
He stood solemnly over the fire, the light glinting and lighting up his face in a hanging mirror over the pit. He sighed and touched his disfigured face and cursed under his breath. “Coirpre, how I wish I’d seen you die, I wish I had been there when the Fomor stripped the flesh from your bones. For the fomor care not for poetry.” Bres hissed to himself in the dark. The mirror shone strangely for a moment and a ghostly figure appeared there for a passing second.
Bres turned in fright but there was nothing in the dark waiting for him.
“Who goes there? Babd? I told you not to disturb me witch!” Bres cursed.
“It is me my boy, my beautiful boy” The soothing ghostly voice said.
“Mother?” Bres gasped “How can this be?”
“I call to you from beyond death to deliver a warning and give new hope”
“One comes that would take all this that I bequeathed you.”
“Who? Who would dare?”
“It is true, he returns to take your rightful throne. But do not fear, you must away to your father’s kingdom, he will aid you.”
“High king of the Fomor, Elatha.” The specter held out it’s hand “Take this ring, so he may know you and go quickly.”
Bres reached out his to the specter and it’s ghostly hand slipped the ring onto his finger and it fit perfectly. But the moment the ring was on his finger there was a loud ruckus from outside of the keep of Dun Bresse. The sound of something akin to a battle but then just silence and then shouting, jubilant shouting.
Bres rushed to his tower so he could see what was going on outside by the stars and fire light of the many sconces and braziers lighting the keep.
Amassed was a great gaggle of peasants. A veritable army carrying farming tools and torches as weapons and shouting foul slogans. Some Bres was sure were reciting the poem of Coirpre himself, loudly and more vulgar than was intended by the dead poet.
Bres tightened his jaw as he watched this procession “Guards!” He shouted from the tower, almost immediately a group of armed guards rushed to meet the horde with spear in hand. But something stopped them. A name and a white horse and the man on that horse slowly trotting into the brazier’s fire light. The torches of the peasants parted to allow this grand figure to pass to the front of their grim procession.
A shining tall slim figure in white and gold riding. In his hand he raised the flaming sword of Nuada. The Claíomh Solais, shining brighter than a star, the light from it so bright Bres swore he could feel it’s glow on his marked face.
“Nuada!” Bres whispered to himself. And as he himself acknowledged who it was before the keep at Dun Bresse. So too did the guards, all in turn dropping to their knees at the sight of the once and dead king in his divine perfection.
A solitary inn sat at the foot of the Carrauntoohil mountains at Glencar called ‘the devil’s foothold’ as it was the first rung on the devil’s ladder.
The inn was little more than a weather beaten thatched roundhouse made from clay and half buried by the bitter ice and snow. Inside a fire glowed in the centre of the earthen floor as the foul frozen breath of the mountain beat on the flimsy wooden door. The few travellers huddled around the glow of the fire pit. They sat on crude wooden furniture which was little more than upturned logs exchanging stories in rushed whispers. As if they feared the devils cold would enter them if their mouths were open for too long.
The inkeep was a stout man who dozed with his arms folded teetering back and forth on a stool behind a crude wooden bar. The bar itself seemed warm and inviting in the firelight. Around him were barrels of mead half full. Clay cups for drinking lined the bar and the shelf behind him as he murmured to himself. He was evidently unaffected by the cold and only felt the mead in his belly keeping him warm.
One of the travellers sighed deeply and whispered “Samhain draws closer”
“What does he do with them?” The other travellers asked mordidly curious.
“Who?” The first traveller said.
“Bres of course!”
“Tis not Bres!”
“Then who else?”
“Demons from under the earth, the ancient fomor who once slumbered now awake”
“They awake because of our drunkiness and debauchery our abandonement of the sky cities and turning our back on Dannu”
“Nonsense, an old wives tale made to scare children”
“I have seen them with my own eyes and worse!”
“You are a drunken fool”
“Then where is Bres? We have not seen his face for almost a year, after that business with Coirpre and now Coirpre too disappears.”
“Now I hear tell of Nuada returning.”
“I thought he was dead!”
“He was in exile it appears but now it seems he returns.”
“To end the taxes and tyranny of Bres?”
“He is our rightful king.”
“Then what of Bres?”
“Bres does naught for us but take our corn and milk and allow our children to be snatched into the night and sacrificed to some heathen god!”
“You are no farmer and have no children, why do you care so?”
“I care because we are as one, one people, one blood and it offends the god of the sky.”
“If it offends her so much why doesn’t she do anything about it? Why don’t you?”
“Because mortals must decide their own destin-!”
The voices of the travellers were no more than a whisper but hushed even further into silence as the door to the tavern blew open. A stranger to them walked in out of the cold devil air.
A short ruddy faced girl with a mop of curly red hair walked up to the dozing barman.
The girl gently rapped on the side of the bar but it did not stir the sleepy sod behind the bar so the girl gave it a good round kick. The sozzled barman awoke with a start almost toppling over his stool.
Fighting for balance and waking consciousness he looked at the girl startled and then sighed in relief.
“Child, what are you doing here? Why did you wake me, I was having a wonderful dream?”
“I’m sure, full of wild venison and young maidens no doubt.” Airmed chuckled.
“Drinking the finest wine from dun bresse, what brings you here again and at this hour?” The barman asked dreamily.
“It’s three in the afternoon Cedric.” The girl replied dryly.
“It is? Well what is it you want? The afternoons are getting much darker.”
“They always are at the foot of the devils ladder, in the shadow of the Carauntoohil”.
“Well it’s good to see you anyway, always nice to see a young face not stained with drink.”
“Like yours?” She chuckled.
He sighed “Yes like mine, what is it you want girl, spit it out?”
“I came for more of your famous mead and something a little stronger perhaps.”
“Your brother having trouble sleeping again?”
“If he sleeps at all.”
“Hmm, he is a curious sort, I should like to meet this brother of yours one day, he sounds like a very thoughtful young fellow.
“Ha, fat chance of that, he almost never leaves his room these days, couped up in there with all his books”
“Well there are worse fates than that” The barman said as he produced a small bottle of mead and an even smaller bottle of some unidentified liquid.
Airmed smiled sadly and said “How much do I owe you kind sir?”
“It is I that owes you still for that poultice you gave me, I have not suffered a single day since from that rash we discussed.”
“You’re very kind, then I shall take this to my brother with your regards.” The girl picked up the bottles and deposited them into a hanging satchel that was strung around her waist and went to exit. “Good day to you Cedric”.
“Yes indeed” The barman put his head down to think on it squeezing his double chin before reaching out to get her attention once more. “Oh do be careful child, I hear travellers tell that there is a fetch or a sluagh on the loose. Some women from the village were saying that it took off with their children to devour them in the woods, these are troubling times my dear”.
“Troubling indeed” The girl said as she made her way out into the cold.
The barman watched her go and sighed dipping his head as if trying to go back to sleep. But out of the corner of his eye he saw one that emerging from the shadows of the tavern would follow the maid out of the door and into the cool air.
“They’re coming” Babd whispered.
Bres had bolted himself in his chamber but the sound of commotion and chanting had risen up to him like a bad smell. And now they were outside his door and a rhythmic pounding started as a drum beat to the headsman axe and the inevitable.
The door burst open, swinging wide as if it had not been bolted at all. And in the doorway stood a tall imposing figure donned in the attire of a king, a white gold tunic that shone brightly even in the dim darkness. But his face was obscured and his figure seemed almost distorted and inhuman and the edges of the tunic were dirty or burned. There was something off about the way he stood, like he was a toy soldier trying to be a man standing just too tall and rigid to be a natural living thing. A hood pulled over his head shadowed a smooth, almost too smooth clean white face. A face that was almost cherubin in it’s appearance and it’s beauty but there too was something strange and alien about it.
The figure stepped through the doorway into Bres’ chamber.
Bres sat at the table waiting for this figure to approach him, his face a mask of cool deceit. The figure said nothing and it’s face did not move. It simply stood there waiting.
Suddenly out of thin air Bres lying in wait invisible. Appearing to be at the table but also behind the queer figure struck out with his sword a mighty blow at the imposter’s neck.
The fake Nuada’s head came tumbling down and fell onto the table with a strange sound. A dull sound almost like it was hollow and the chop did not feel like cutting through flesh but like chipping a log. And then followed a ghostly hollow laughter which neither came from the head nor from where the head had been. But seemed at once to be all around them but then localised to an unusual pouch that hung around the imposter’s belt. The pouch moved strangely as if there was an animal inside but that’s where the noise was coming from.
“I come for you Bres” The figure laughed “The beautiful.” It’s voice was Nuada’s but also underneath a horrible mocking imitation of it without emotion or inflection.
Bres was stunned, frozen, his feet rooted in place. So in shock was he he could not even see the blade in the imposter’s hand and could not move out of the way as it was thrust towards his ribs.
But Babd did see the blade and it was she that took Bres’s likeness at the desk. In a blink of an eye she switched places with her king and was thusly impaled on the imposter’s flaming sword.
The sorceress burned from within. “Bres, my love, my king, you must go, save yourself!” She cried as she lost all words.
Bres could do nothing but watch as Babd died, no words left his lips as he saw the light leave her eyes. The headless imposter advanced on him without skipping a beat and Bres felt small and impotent in what would be his last moments on Inish Veil.
Bres looked down on the table and at the head and that horrifying frozen face. It was not a head at all but a lacquered doll’s head made to look like the former King of the Tuatha.
The imposter laughed as he approached and Bres felt himself slipping away. He closed his eyes and prayed to the god of the sky that this nightmare would end and let the blackness take him.