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Night Ride of the Sidhe

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The riding forth of the Sidhe, who meets an old man walking home one night. The Irish Celts knew them as the Shining Ones. Padraic O'Connell experiences a night of joy, wonder, and paralyzing fear.

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Chapter 1

The Faery Folk, once so in love with the green Earth and once its self-appointed protectors, grew weary of the mortal realm. Time runs quickly here compared to the land of Faerie, leaving the Elves far behind. They came increasingly seldom to Telamon with its shrinking forest and growing human population, while at the same time (though some thought perhaps because of this) the worlds continued to drift apart, until only at a very few points, or at certain times of the year, travel could be accomplished between Faerie and the mortal realm.
The Sidhe would ride forth at these times, especially at Beltane and Samhain, with their coursing hounds creamy white with red ears braying in their eerie tones late at night. Mohrtei wouldn’t leave their cozy homes at night for fear of being taken off to Tir-na-Nog, never to see their families again.
In the earliest times, well before humans had developed farming and husbandry, they worshiped the Elves as deities and spirits of the forest. They placated the capricious Fae with offerings and prayers and oaths of service. As Mohrtei grew in experience, knowledge and power, they began to resent the seemingly undying beings and to covet immortality. The Sidhe, whose ambition and curiosity driven days were over, were soon overtaken by the numbers and inventions of humans. They were driven back to their original homeland in Tir-na-Nog or to the mounds built up around ley line crossings and Doorways between the realms to better aid sustaining them with the energy they need to exist in Telamon. These were often mistaken for funeral barrows, which suited the inhabitants just fine. Tales of spirits, wights and other figures of dread grew up around these elven strongholds. Most of the country dwellers went out of their way to avoid the ‘fairy mounds’.
It was from one of these underground living spaces that a Hunt came forth, riding for pleasure and not war--at least this time. The horses were shades of white or grey, the tack made of silver and gold, and the steeds stepped proudly after the Cu Sith (the Faery hounds).
The riders astride these fine horses were no less striking: sitting easily on their mounts, dressed in bright mail and flowing cloaks, flowers in their long hair, bows slung across lean, lithe bodies. Long, pointed ears poked out of their silky tresses, and in the moonlight their skin seemed to glow. Male and female they were, laughing and talking as they followed the great white stag that had come from the land of Faerie.
It was this sight that greeted Padraic, who was walking home late. He had been visiting family in town and gotten rather deep in his cups when he realized he should be getting home. His cousin insisted on him staying the night, but he wasn’t keen on that arrangement, since he knew how noisy the lot of them were; it would be drinking, shouting, singing and arguing all night.
No, there was nothing for it but to take the old winding road through the forest home, and sleep in his own familiar bed. He was an older fellow, balding, but with a friendly face apt to smiling. He had a good singing voice which made him popular whenever there was a get-together, but he felt he was getting too old for such shenanigans. He passed a huge oak tree and almost got trampled by a dozen or so horses coming out of nowhere.
“Here now! Watch it!” he cried out.
“My apologies, good sir,” came a lilting voice from one of the riders.
Padraic looked up to see a dazzlingly dressed, breathtakingly handsome young hunter looking down at him while trying to steady his horse. He was more robust than the other riders, his shoulders broad, with straight auburn hair and soft brown eyes. The old man rubbed his eyes at the strangers...they were Elves! Shiny, pointy ears and all! He could see them, what’s more. Normally, their glamour shielded them from most Mohrtei eyes.
“Are you all right, neighbor?” the half-elf asked him.
“I’m fine, lord,” the human stammered, not knowing if he was a fine lord but thinking he sure looked the part. He noticed beside him astride a white mare was a beautiful maiden whose ears were not as pronounced as her fellows, nor her appearance so otherworldly, yet still different as he was. “My lady,” Padraic lowered his head to her in reverence.
She flipped her white-blonde hair over her shoulder and laughed. “My brother needs to pay better attention to travelers on the road,” she spoke, and glanced pointedly at the man on the grey stallion beside her.
“You are right, as usual, Kanaidwen,” he laughed. “I think we are all surprised to see anyone else at this time of night. Chance-meetings on lonely roads are rarely due solely to chance, my mother used to say.”
Padraic smiled up at the lordly folk. “Aye, that’s a wise mother ye have, sir. I am Padraic O Connell. And who do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
“Well, it seems mortals haven’t forgotten their manners,” spoke the maiden. “I am Kanaidwen ni Imerra, and this is my brother Tirnen Halfelven.”
Padraic bowed and trembled all over; he knew the old tales of the Lady’s Children, bearing the blood of both the highest Elves and noblest Mohrtei. “Blessed be my fathers! It is an honor indeed,” he blurted out.
“Is your home very far? You could ride with us,” Tirnen asked the old man.
“Oh, ‘tis not far,” replied Padraic, then paled. The old tales also warned against accepting gifts or rides from the Faery Folk. Once astride a Faery steed, they would bear you away to gods only knew where, forever and ever. “I wouldn’t dare to impose such lordly ones as you, off on your, eh, Elvish business and all.”
Kanaidwen laughed, a full, throaty, quite human-sounding laugh that contrasted the unearthly appearance of her and her company. “Don’t frighten the poor man, Tirnen. We’re not to be trusted, you see.” Then she turned her large, liquid hazel eyes to Padraic. “You have nothing to fear, lonely bard. We can simply walk beside you and keep you company till we reach your house, if that is all right by you.”
Padraic glanced round at the shining yet open, friendly faces of the Sidhe, and graciously accepted their offer. He began walking, and the Fae walked their horses slowly beside and behind him. The hunters called back their lively white hounds, who bounded around him wagging their tails. He wasn’t sure what could happen if one outright refused the Shining Ones--it was one thing the stories of his fathers wasn’t clear on. “Uh, Lady, how did you know I was a bard?”
“Who would see us for what we are but a bard or a magician?” Kanaidwen answered. “They see and hear things that others cannot, or will not.”
“Your voice gives you away as well,” Tirnen added. “It is as fine as any of our singers. If it would not tax you too greatly, I would ask for a song, Master Padraic.”
The old man granted the request gladly. His heart was lifted in a way it hadn’t been in a long time, and his voice soared forth. He remembered part of a song that he heard when he was a lad, and it went thus:
I am tired and I am alone,
Cutting the bracken, cutting the bracken,
I am tired and I am alone,
Forever cutting the bracken

Behind the knoll, the top of the knoll,
Behind the lovely knoll,
Behind the knoll, the top of the knoll,
Every day, alone

I am tired and I am alone,
Cutting the bracken, cutting the bracken,
I am tired and I am alone,
Forever cutting the bracken

In the fairy hill, oh I will be tired,
And often my heart would be wounded,
When others sing their songs,
I will do nothing but drone

I am tired and I am alone,
Cutting the bracken, cutting the bracken,
I am tired and I am alone,
Forever cutting the bracken
“I canna remember the beginning, but it had to do with a Fae meeting a mortal maiden and falling in love with her, and she him. Her parents wouldn’t let them marry and kept them apart, but the Faery man never forgot her,” Padraic explained.
“It is beautiful and sad,” Tirnen spoke. “I know the troubles that come of such ill-fated love.”
“I meant no offense, Lord Tirnen,” the old bard was quick to add. “I too thought it was beautiful.” Then Padraic noticed rustling and snuffling in the dark brush beyond the road, and heard the braying of canines that were not the Cu Sith. The Faery dogs immediately pricked up their floppy ears and stood still and quiet. “What is that?” he whispered.
“There are things that roam the wild at night,” Kanaidwen answered him softly. “Things that have no love for mortals or Sidhe.”
“Let us be going,” Tirnen insisted, then bade the dogs to stay close. “Make no sudden noise or movements,” he instructed the old man, who was now stricken with increasing dread.
The next fork in the road on the left was the little path that would lead him home, but there were things all around them, in front and behind, left and right, just out of sight. He could hear monstrous breathing and began seeing glowing yellow eyes peering balefully at them.
“Dubu-Sidhe,” muttered the auburn-haired half-elf.
“Come with me,” declared Kanaidwen, who with one hand pulled the startled man up onto the saddle in front of her. “Which way?”
“The left-hand path, there,” he pointed. The white mare sped off in that direction, the other riders right behind Kanaidwen and her passenger. Padraic risked looking back and saw huge black hounds with red ears and feet bounding along the road, nearly as big as yearling cattle. Behind that, gaining ground, were terrifying cloaked riders on dark horses.
He faced forward again, swallowing the growing knot of fear in his belly, to witness his yard bounding up towards them as the horse galloped. The half-elven woman pulled the steed to an abrupt stop. He turned to face her, memorizing her lovely face, every angle and curve of her features, for he doubted he would ever see any of the Sidhe folk again. “I name you Elf-friend,” she spoke, with the force of magick and ritual behind it. “May you have our blessings, you and your line.” She kissed his forehead in benediction.
“Thank you,” he whispered back, then surprised her by threading his arms around her tiny waist in a tight embrace. It was the only way he knew how to express the joy and the memory he would carry to his deathbed. Holding her was like hugging a piece of hardened steel wrapped in velvet, and for a fleeting moment he wondered if all Elves were such strange beings. There was strength and power that belied her slim form. But no, she was part human, too: her kind eyes and rolling laugh were a testament to that.
“Get inside,” she urged him. “Bar the door, and don’t come out. Don’t even look outside.”
"What about you and Lord Tirnen and the others?”
“Never you mind.”
He dropped stiffly to the ground, fumbling with his keys. He ran to his doorstep as the Fae sped away on their magic horses like the wind. After steadying his shaking hands he opened the front door to his cottage and was stepping over the threshold when something grabbed his forearm and stopped him from moving.
He twisted around to find himself in the grasp of a Fae, for her shape, eyes and ears proclaimed her so, but her skin was a deathly pallor and in her mouth were rows of sharp teeth. Her honey-colored hair was tied into many little braids all over her head, and she was clad in black armor and blood-colored cloak. She pulled him easily to her, and he caught the scent of decay and blood about her and tried to look away. She shook him as a dog does a rat. “Who did you meet on the road, Mohrtei? Who is out on a Hunt?”
Padraic couldn’t get his mouth to work or his voice to sound, so she shook him again. “Where are they going, old man? If they are chasing the White Stag, a portal will open for us. Which way did they go, meat? Tell me!” The Dark-elves had been barred from their ancestral lands in Tir-na-Nog, and so were always searching for a way back, along with any excuse to destroy their hated cousins.
“Dana preserve me!” the bard managed to croak. “Unhand me, demon!”
The dark-elf squealed and did just that, as if her hand had been burned. Padraic scuttled inside his house and slammed the door, then barred it shut. He ran to every window, making sure they were all shuttered and secured. He heard the horrible Dubu-Sidhe howl and scream at him from his front yard, but she didn’t enter. She couldn’t enter, it seemed. His heart was still racing as he gazed around the room, looking for something he could use to defend himself. He ran and seized his old, trusty walking stick, and a silver candlestick that he’d had from his mother. She had been a medicine woman and had received many things of value for her services over the years. She also knew spells of protection.
“You cannot enter here!” the old man cried in the Old Tongue. “I have been blessed by the Lady’s Daughter! I will protect the Good People any way I can.” He heard the voices of other Dubu-Sidhe, speaking in their own harsh tongue.
Snarling and sniffing sounds came from all corners of the cottage outside, and the whining of enormous hounds could be discerned. Hellhounds. They devoured their enemies whole, and often began feeding before their prey was dead. Then he heard scratching and the snapping of tremendous jaws, as the evil ones sought a way inside. Padraic sank down to the floor, sobbing. “Go away, go away,” he groaned. “You...cannot enter here.”
The last thing he remembered was hearing the pounding of hooves coming back up the path to his house and the shouts of the Light-elves. He recognized Tirnen’s loud, deep voice ordering the dark ones to be off, and heard the yelps and yells of the hellhounds and their masters, then he knew no more.
Padraic opened his crusty eyes and sat up, only to find he had been on the cold floor all night. The cold had seeped into his very bones, he found when he slowly got to his feet. He also found he was still clutching his walking stick, then remembered why. Against his better judgement, he threw open his front door to be greeted with warm morning sunshine and a pleasant breeze.
He discovered all around his house dried blood and bits of animal fur, but no bodies anywhere. Huge pawprints and hoofprints decorated the surrounding area, proof that there had been a skirmish in the night, but nothing else could be found.
The bard remembered the soft lips of the Lady’s Daughter against his forehead and smiled. A song was already writing itself in his head. He hadn’t been this inspired in a good long time. He went back inside and immediately wrote a song dedicated to the Sacred Lady and her Children. Pieces of it would be lost, but others survived and were passed down through the ages, until dozens of generations later, Marianne ‘Mimi’ O’Connell, guitarist of the glam band Stellalune and bard in her own right, would recite them back to Kanaidwen, and fill the jaded, troubled half-elf with hope and joy.
As they were intended to do.

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