Name written in water
Ernmas awakened on the riverbank, the moon hung bright and high in the sky, the sound of the night music was deafening. Frogs croaked and crickets chirped as she raised herself to look around like a lost fawn.
“Where am I?” She whispered to herself.
The water was still and cool and shone blue like a mirror.
All was serene and peaceful until out of the water a horses white head emerged. The horse crashed and splashed for it’s life furiously.
The horse was drowning and without a seconds thought Ernmas stepped into the icey cold water to aid the creature.
She tried to sooth it with her voice as she got closer, the horse slowed and calmed but still splashed and struggled to keep it’s head above the water.
Ernmas laid her hands upon it’s mane and attempted to pull at the horses neck. But her hands were stuck in place and trying to remove them was painful and burned. The horses eyes glared red and it bit into her shoulder and pulled her under the water.
Ernmas erupted from her dream fighting for air, the wall of sleep a miasmic sheet of icey water covering her and being tossed aside.
She fought for the air in her lungs but from the darkness came a soothing shushing sound and a soft warm hand on hers and on her face.
“Shh calm yourself, you were just having a bad dream that’s all” A young girls voice said.
“Who’s there?” Ernmas whispered softly.
A lamp was lit and a girl with red hair became visible in the dim light. Her face was freckled and slightly plain but the heat from the lamp ignited smells of wild pressed flowers. Her hair was curly and wild like cotton grass and she had a slightly upturned button nose like a doll with pricked pursed lips.
“Have no fear princess, I am Airmed, Miach’s sister” The girl smiled warmly. Her eyes were a deep hazelled green and her voice was soft but strong and reassuring and without pretense.
“Oh hello-“ The princess said confusedly, still in a stupor from her dream.
“If you’re having trouble sleeping, I might have something for you.” Airmed said as she started to rise from the seat she’d taken at the side of Ernmas’s borrowed bed.
The bed itself was simple and elegant, fit for a noble or lord but certainly below the station of a princess.
“Oh no, please, no magic.”
“Is no magic princess, it’s my own herbal remedy, will you come with me?” The girl said stretching out her hand.
Ernmas looked at the hand which looked soft but stained at the tips with green and under her nails there appeared to be soil and it gave off an earthy smell.
“Yes, and please call me Ernmas” She said as she took the girls hand.
In the hallway Ernmas felt a chill suddenly of eyes watching her from the darkness. Although the hall was dimly lit by lamp light she could not miss the boy with platinum blonde hair and bright golden eyes. Staring at her from the darkness of a doorway.
Airmed tutted loudly and said “You should be in bed, away with you now!”
The boy scampered off into the darkness without a word or an expression on his pale little face.
“Who was that?” Ernmas asked.
“It is the wee lad Ruadan”
“Bres’s son?” Ernmas gasped.
“The same one.”
“Won’t his father come for him, is it not dangerous to have him here?”
“If Bres knew where he was I doubt we’d be having this conversation” Airmed smirked cockily lifting the lamp to illuminate the rest of the hall. “Besides all that, soon enough he’ll have grander things to worry about.” She said smiling and tilting her head in the direction of the end of the hall. “Come along, don’t fret I’ll have you tucked in bed in no time.”
In the daylight the guts of the castle were like a maze and in the gloom of the night it felt certainly like an endless dungeon or the bowels of some evil beast. With the howl of the cold mountain wind outside lashing the castle walls trying to get in it would be daunting alone. Almost nothing stood out and the princess couldn’t hope to make it back to her room without Airmed’s aid.
Airmed lead her down a tight corridor with her lamp to guide her.
“I make my own herbal remedies here in the castle.”
“How does anything grow on this mountain”
“Ah nature is a magic of it’s own and life can sustain even in the most harsh of climates. Some of the hardiest of plants can be found on or at the base of the mountain and some of the hardiest people too.”
“How often do you leave the castle?”
“Not that often, only when we need supplies, I trade for most of the essentials with the townsfolk below the mountains. My poultices and tonics can fetch a high price with the village folk.”
Airmed lead the princess through a large dark door opening it very slowly and quietly.
Ernmas tiptoed after her as she lead her through a small office.
The red haired girl tutted “He’s always doing this” She whispered as she put her lamp down on an oak writing desk and picked up a blanket that was hung over a chair. She took it over to what Ernmas could now make out by the light was Miach himself, asleep at his desk, his face nuzzled between the pages of a book. Airmed covered Miach in the blanket and tutted again “He sleeps at a desk more often than he does in his own bed.” She paused to look at him sullenly while he slept before starting slightly as she remembered why she was here. “Oh yes the sleep solution” She whispered to herself as she picked the lantern back up.
Ernmas followed as Airmed lead her to a musty smelling cold store room with a stone floor.
She tutted again as she searched the high shelves “Where is it?”
Ernmas couldn’t see much in the room that was not illuminated by Airmed’s lamp. But she felt strangely drawn to a large glass container which seemed to emanate a ghostly warmth from it.
Although she could not fully see what it was, it was large and placing her hand on it it was cold to the touch but it gave off an energetic charge.
“Ah here it is” Airmed exclaimed, turning and as she did she shone her lamplight into the darkness. Ernmas was standing before the large tank now illuminated by her lamp light.
And inside the tank was what appeared to be the preserved dead body of a mutilated and deformed Nuada.
“You don’t look that special to me” Tuan mused as he rubbed his bristled chin with his thumb and forefinger.
Tuan sat comfortably with his legs crossed on a boulder scratching his chin. A large and odd looking green spotted cow standing directly across from him peacefully chewing cud.
The cow snorted while staring directly at Tuan, who raised a curious eyebrow in response.
“Well I can’t stay here all night.” Tuan looked about himself. The cow indeed wandered freely and through it’s wandering had lead Tuan to a clearing in the woods further inland of the town proper of Meenlaragh. “Well it’s past midnight and the gambler who won you from Balor was very clear that you should be watched all through your nightly wanderings.
Of course he failed to mention the part about your former owner. One fomorian king that can kill with a look and most certainly wants you back.” Tuan paused as if waiting for a response but the cow just continued to chew and snort. “He only said to never take my eyes off you for a moment. Sadly that is precisely what I must do if I’m to pay off my blood debt to the Firbolg once and for all”
Tuan rubbed his chin once more and sighed. “I think neither of us are going to enjoy this next part. Perhaps you should be the one to close your eyes” He sighed again before seemingly disappearing in the blink of an eye.
The cow mooed as it was like to do and continued it’s nightly wandering off deeper into the woods to find more grass and roots.
Unperturbed it nibbled on a bramble bush.
After a moment of chewing the woods became still, the birds did not chirp and crickets ceased to crick. The cow continued to pull and nibble at the bush.
Then as if out of nowhere a small boy’s hand appeared from the bush and stroked the bridge of the green cows nose.
The ocean roared outside, a dull constant metronome of impending doom. A steady drip from the old eldritch castle’s black stone and despite it a melodious humming.
“300 years on Derravaragh, so commenced the spell,
the children would swim to the shore, their story to tell.
300 years on the sea of Moyle, a cruel and bitter place,
The children missed their father here, the smile upon his face.” A sweet voice sang above the din of the ocean’s fury.
Cur lay prone barely conscious on the cold stone floor, naked and bloodied. But he could still hear the voice and it’s song.
“In the sea of Moyle the waves did crash,
and beat the land with might,
The rain fell fierce and the wind blew hard,
the swans all feared for their lives.
Fionnula was strong and wisest of all,
And guarded her brothers from strife.
Under her wings they hid from night,
And waited for the morning light.”
“Finally the day did come,
to leave this terrible sea,
300 more years to live as swans,
then they at last would be free.
To Inish Gluaire the swans did fly,
As fast as they could go.
New lands and kingdoms everywhere -
Fionnula did see down below.”
“There they waited, till at last the day did dawn,
The spell was ending,
they felt themselves transform.
They were now ancient,
their youth was gone forever,
And as they died,
they held hands and went together.”
The girl sighed sadly and then said “I like that story” She sniffed. “It’s so sad but in a way I envy them too, although they died.”
She sniffled once more “They at least were free, they got to live. Sometimes, I wish I could turn into a swan.”
“Samhain approaches and soon all the children will become swans too, but I’ll never join, I’ll never be free.”
The girl sighed again and then a ghostly low rattling laugh could be heard from the cell.
Cur cackled mirthlessly into the floor of his cell.
His voice croaked “How sorry you feel for yourself.”
“Please feed me your misery, your tears” His evil laugh echoed through dungeon.
“You are a monster!” The girl said.
“I am” He laughed.
She paused and breathed in hard. “I can help you escape, but you must take me with you, far away from here, monster.”
“What of it for me?”
“You could have me” She swallowed. “Anyway you wanted, I would be yours”.
Cur laughed until his throat hurt and then there was the sound of the door unlocking and the shiver of cool air. His body ached but he could feel strength rushing on the draft coming up from the castle. He moved his arm and he could feel nothing else. The manacles were gone, he could move again.
His body was heavy and did not want to move but he willed himself up onto his knees to see for himself that the door to his cell hung ajar.
The girl was nowhere to be seen but her humming and pleasant scent hung in the air still and it dared him to follow up the spiral stair case and into the unknown. A challenge the barbarian relished with a devilish grin.