“Good day king of the firbolg!” The dullahan laughed.
His horse whinnying, rearing up its black hooves.
Dawn was breaking but clouds still blanketed the hill of Tara and the rain did not succeed.
“A boon for you mighty king of the firbolg” the horseman taunted. He took his hand from the reigns and tossed something light into the air. Before it could hit the ground he turned his horse and began to canter up the hill towards the stone laughing like a mad man.
The thing hit the mud softly, the firbolg regarded it suspiciously. He walked over to it and reached down crouching into the black muck.
The barbarian grabbed for it before it was swallowed by the gaping maw of the endless mud. He turned it over in his hand. Knestled in his great palm was a dirty lock of bright red hair.
He closed the hair in his palm and rose to his full height and began to walk up the hill.
The wind howled a warning, crows circled overhead and some braver were already feasting on the bodies of the fallen fomor priests. Their beaks tearing into grey flesh, plucking at bulbous misshapen eyes and picking at black strange organs.
The stone of destiny reached into the sky like a giants finger pointing at Dannan herself. It was a cyclopean stone brought by the tuatha from the floating cities of Dannan. But somehow it looked older, more ancient than anything on the noble isle. Standing as if it had been there for aeons and would remain for aeons more when all else was gone.
The horseman’s mount breathed heavily, filling the silence atop the hill.
An echo of clapping rang all around them as the old sorcerer made his entrance, appearing from behind the stone itself. A shileagh cane in the crook of his arm.
The horse man then dismounted and disappeared behind the cyclopean stone.
Dian Cecht continued to clap as he moved in front of the stone looking wearily at the muddy firbolg.
“You did well Killing Tethra, he would have been very troublesome for me to dispatch.” There was a ghostly silence between them as the horse continued to breath loudly. He put the cane down and rested on it, his eyes fixed he clicked his fingers.
The dullahan emerged from behind the stone with him a bound woman with a bag on her head, but still, under the bag could be seen curls of red hair. The dullahan put the woman on her knees in front of the stone next to Dian Cecht.
The firbolg approached them but as he did so the old sorcerer tutted and wagged his finger.
“But you didn’t kill Miach like I asked. So I didn’t bring your woman like you asked.”
The dullahan pulled the bag off the woman’s head quickly. The face was familiar but it was not the goddess Tailtui. It was the gasping squinting face of Airmed, Dian’s own daughter.
“You’ve met my daughter I believe? My son Miach too” as he said it the dullahan brought out another bound captive with a bag on their head.
Placed on his knees next to Airmed the bag was pulled off Miach’s head and he knelt squinting like a new born.
“You found them for me and for that I’m grateful but you did not fulfill your end of the bargain”
“You never intended to fulfil your end” The firbolg said, knowing it all this time. Chasing ghosts.
“You’ve been something of a burden to me, it must be said. You cannot live if this island is to be whole once more. You cannot stand in the way of Nuada.” Dian held out his hand and the Dullahan handed him a strange wooden ceremonial blade.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked and then began to answer himself “It’s a blade made from a blessed branch of a yew tree. It has the power to lift the curse on you and send you magmell where you will reside for eternity.”
The sorcerer regarded the blade fondly, it was an ornately carved ceremonial dagger with a curved blade and an almost surgical point. Interesting swirling patterns were carved into the blade and hilt. And in the base sat what appeared to be a ruby or opal that glinted with menacing intent. Like the eye of a serpent. The blade was a work of master craftsman skilled in magic, the thing stunk of magic, it hummed with evil sorcery. Even at this distance Cur could feel his scars burn, sensing the evil magics held within the small wooden blade.
The old sorcerer handed the blade back to the dullahan who stowed it in his black belt.
“But first our business must be concluded”
Dian Cecht signaled to his servant the dullahan and the giant brought Miach before his father, bound and on his knees.
“Now I will do what you could not” the old sorcerer said pointing the gnarled end of his cane at the Firbolg who simply watched and waited.
A crow cawed, Cur looked up and saw that it was perched atop the stone of destiny looking down at them.
“Please father, I was just trying to make you proud of me” Miach mewled.
“Shut up! You have disgraced me! You shunned our ways!” the old sorcerer calmed himself. “and now you must pay.”
Miach was bawling, his face slick with tears. “Did I? Did I disgrace you or did I surpass you?” he said defiantly.
“That’s it isn’t it, you’re jealous of me, jealous of your own son.”
“You can kill me but you will always know that I was better than you, that I put Nuada back on the throne and not you!”
Dian Cecht flew into a rage hitting Miach with the hard knobbled end of the cane “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” the old sorcerer screamed as he bludgeoned his son.
White blood spattered all over him as he beat him relentlessly with a dull wet thumping sound. But as he stopped to take a breath Miach began to heal miraculously from wounds that should have been fatal. His head caved in and his white greyish brain exposed.
“Damn you!” Dian Cecht exclaimed.
But the old sorcerer did not stop.
“No father please!” Airmed cried as she watched her brother die.
The old sorcerer kept hitting him. White blood and brain and bone covering him like milk and wet bread but Miach continued to heal from his wounds despite being unconscious.
This kept up for what felt like an age until finally nothing was left of the poor lads head at all but a smear on the ground and a few fragments of skull.
Airmed screamed and cried and broke free from the dullahans grasp. She fell on her knees next to her dead brother. Everywhere her tears touched spring flowers sprung, even from her brothers blood and battered body.
She fell onto his body, still bound herself weeping into his chest.
Dian Cecht was exhausted, he breathed heavily, coated head to toe in his own son’s blood and brains. “Now we see to our business”
He stood erect on his bloody cane “Perhaps you wondered who this creature was in life.” He said signaling for the dullahan to come closer.
The firbolg said nothing.
“No? Dian Cecht sounded surprised. “You didn’t wonder how I knew about your woman, how I knew exactly what to say to impel you to my service.” He signaled for the dullahan to draw closer and gestured for him to remove his black helm.
The horseman draw back his visor slowly revealing a face the firbolg felt he recognized. But it was pale and distorted with scars and strange alien markings. And the look in its eye was vacant and dull as if no spirit remained.
“You don’t remember him? You were a king after all, you can’t remember all of your subjects, not even your champions it seems, it was a long time ago.”
“Sreng” Cur said his voice only carrying a small piece of exhausted sadness. Not a question just a banal realisation.
“Was that his name? How strange it is that he was the first to fall and now he will be last after you’re dead” the old sorcerer made a sound like a strangled mocking laugh. “His mind is all but gone, a willing servant, a slave to my wil-“ Interrupted by a low guttural gargling noise in his throat. A small white protrusion from his stomach like the bill of a bone white bird.
The sorcerer turned to the see the black swordsman standing over him, his strange bone sword impaling him. “Sreng?” the old sorcerer said confusedly.
One handed the dullahan Sreng lifted the small tuathan off the ground with the tip of his long barbed blade. With his other he took off his helmet and discarded it. His face twisted in a grim smile as he let gravity do its work.
The sorcerer slowly descending the strange barbed blade of the dullahan. Blood and entrails erupting from his stomach like a guizer of milk. The blade slowly protruding like a beak from a baby bird piercing it’s egg and being born anew.
The sorcerer dying slowly, mewling in agony as the barbs of the sword tore his insides asunder. Cutting his hands as he tried to slow his descent and then finally dying in indignity, skewered like a hog.
The dullahan laughed and whipped his blade in the air, splitting Dian Cecht in half like a ripe fruit he looked at the firbolg and said “He talked too much”.
The crow cawed atop the stone of destiny cutting the silence left by the tuathans death.
Cur looked at the beast and signaled with his head for it to leave and it did so.
The dullahan laughed “Your friend the shapeshifter won’t help you this time , pity, it was very interesting the last time.”
“I can’t say how I broke free from his control. Something to do with losing my head again, going from his puppet to Bres’ back to his, there are only so many masters a slave can have before he breaks.”
“You talk too much Sreng”
The dullahan laughed a wicked laugh.
“Did you ever know where she was?”
“I’ve known where she was from the start” he laughed “in magmell with the rest of our kind!”
Sreng struck out wildly, leaping forward with the terrible barbed bone blade slick with the white blood of the tuatha.