Gimme the prize
“So you’ve finally arrived” Bres smirked as he bit the head off a pear. “Would you sit? Your ward is readying himself, my men and I rode all night to be here, we’re very tired.” He said staring at her as he chewed. His champion Ogma at his side, face bandaged like a mummified corpse, shrouded in a grim countenance. He looked as stiff as a tailors dummy sitting completely erect in his armor. Dian Cecht sat on the end, silent as the grave with his head hanging low trying not to be seen.
“I-I-“ The druiddess stammered.
“Sit down” Bres said firmly but softly.
Birog sat awkwardly on an ornate oak chair with a floral pattern on the green seat cushion. She almost missed the chair as she couldn’t take her eyes off the man that had been chasing her doggedly. Unable to get anything close to comfortable as her mind reeled and her fingers tightened around the box.
“I shouldn’t want to spoil the surprise but I can’t imagine what’s inside that box will save you.” Bres sighed.
“No, he told us where you were going but I pressed no further about the contents of that box” Bres smirked wickedly “I do so like surprises.”
“I won’t kill you in his presence out of respect, but mark my words, this doesn’t end well for you little druid”.
Ogma narrowed his eyes making a face as if it pained him to do so, looking at his king. His king who’s face was beginning to turn an odd shade of purple with red blotches surfacing. “Look at her, she’s beaten, she knows it, we have no need to kill her my lord” He said. “She can still be of use.” He added looking at her, as if it was a question.
“Who is it that tells the king of Inish Veil what he must do?” Bres said without looking at him.
“He must kill me, don’t you see, I know too much” Birog said looking down talking into the box clutched to her chest. Then casting an erstwhile glance at Ogma.
Bres said nothing but tensed his jaw and started to grind his teeth as his face got more colourful.
Just as Ogma was about to get curious the page came back with cold meats and wine.
“You’re just as handsome as I remember you, Bres the beautiful” an unseen woman said.
Bres looked around for the woman.
“We hope you haven’t forgotten us.” Another said.
“How could he do a thing like that?” A third added.
Bres turned his head and appeared a beautiful woman with blonde hair in a white dress. And then one behind him leaning over his shoulder in a black dress with dark hair and then on his lap was a woman in a red dress with red hair.
“How could I forget such enchanting enchantresses” Bres smirked.
“Oh you are a flirt”
“But how rarely you pay us a visit”
Bres smiled “Kings seldom have free time for such things”.
“You came to see the old man not us” The girl in white pouted.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth, I came to see the lovely three Moriggu, if I were to check up on the old man it would be a matter of course, that’s all. How is he, may I ask?”
“Same as usual”
“Away with the spirits” They giggled.
“Who’s this?” The one in red said sneeringly pointing at Birog.
“A pilgrim I met along the road perchance, she’s come a long way to see him”
“She has? Whatever for?” The one in black wrinkled her nose.
“She has a gift for him” Bres smirked.
“A gift?” The one in white said excitedly, her eyes widening like a child’s.
“You can see him, if you promise you’ll visit us again soon” The one in red said.
Bres took her hand and kissed it “Anything for you Babd”.
The other two looked on with cloistered dismay and disdain.
In an instant they transfigured themselves into fireflies of their respective colour. They flitted through an opening in the main room of the anti-chamber.
Birog entered the main chamber behind Bres who pushed the doors open wide, followed up by Ogma who looked on stonily.
The main chamber in contrast to the rest of the fortress was the definition of opulence. Every wall covered in red and purple and white silk. The furnishings were made of the finest materials, gold and silver leaf traced every nook of the room.
It wasn’t just a main chamber or a bed chamber. It was an exquisite throne room with extravagant chandeliers. A banquet table sat in the centre piled high with the grandest smelling food one could imagine.
At the far end of the room a set of stairs carpeted in a deep red velvet, leading to the throne and on it sat the once and former king Nuada Airgetlám.
“I bid you welcome Bres and guests.” He said softly.
“Hail ‘king’ Nuada” Bres said with a mocking smirk.
But Nuada took no hint at his jest. Smiling as if it held no hint of irony. In fact it seemed he could not help but smile and his continence almost that of his image from the tapestries.
He was tall and slender with flowing white hair and his was a beauty tempered by wisdom. But he had not aged a day from whence he conquered Inish Veil and most shockingly of all, his arm was intact.
Birog was stunted for a moment, trying to understand, she looked about the room and couldn’t quite grasp what was going on. Then she heard one of the Sorceresses laugh.
“She’s a sorceress too isn’t she?”
“Yes we know of you”
“Birog the seer” They tittered.
Then at once she understood.
Bres climbed the throne steps bowing almost for each step, laughing as Nuada seemed only vaguely aware of his presence.
“You called him king?” Birog asked.
Bres turned and smiled. “Because in his mind, he still is king”
Birog, agasp looked into Nuada’s eyes, they were vacant. She looked around the room and it started to make sense.
“This is an illusion?” She gasped.
“Yes of course” Bres said.
Glimpses of the room started to flash in front of her eyes, how the room really was. Not the opulent throne room, but a dusty dirty burnt out feasting hall with nothing but stale bread and rotting meat.
And at the throne sat an old man with one arm, gaunt and barely alive, kept in a dream by the one who took his throne.
“Well?” Bres laughed. “Are you going to present him with that box or not?”
“You’ve imprisoned him.”
Bres laughed. “You know when you stole that sword and set out on this little quest, my mind played terrible tricks on me, paranoia. I had no idea what you’d seen, who you’d tell, you could have gone straight to the council of druids.” He paused and scratched at a growing itch on his face, a discoloured blotch. “But nothing could have prepare me such naivety, such purity of spirit not only from you but also the healer of tuatha de Dian Cecht himself.” He laughed and looked over at Dian Cecht who said nothing, was nothing. “You thought someone like you could ‘bring back the glory days’ whatever that means. It’s a fantasy, the people were just as hungry under him, just as poor, but they always look back and see rosey red ribbons.”
Birog swallowed and loosened the box from her chest. “You don’t understand, there’s something coming, something only he can save us from.”
“I know” Bres spat. “And I’m the only one who can keep the wolves from the door, ME!”
There was a noise coming from outside the door, distant muffled shouting coming from outside. The page had entered silently and set down some more refreshments.
“You there, page, would you tell my men to keep quiet out there?”
He nodded wordlessly and exited bowing.
The enchantresses appeared around the throne grinning. The one in white sitting in the old man’s lap, the one in black behind and the one in red to the side leaning on the chair.
Birog slowly ascended the last step and kneeled presenting the box.
“Nuada Airgetlám, once and future king, let this make you whole again, so you may bring back the old ways once more and save us from the coming blight.” Birog spoke as if she were reading aloud an incantation.
She opened the box slowly facing out at Nuada who seemed oblivious, staring on at nothing.
When it was fully opened there was a silence as Bres and the enchantresses looked on in astonishment.
And then abruptly burst into laughter.
“What is this” Bres said laughing hysterically. “Is this a joke?” He said looking at Dian who perked up furrowing his brow. “Dian was this your doing? I must say putting your life on the line for a practical joke is commendable”. He laughed.
“W-what??” Dian stuttered.
Bres took the box out of the girl’s hands and threw it down the decrepit steps of the throne room turned crypt.
The box landed at Dian’s feet and broke in half flinging it’s contents on the ground.
Dian lifted it perplexed. “What is this? A bundle of sticks?” He said examining a tightly wrapped bundle of twigs in his hand. “What have you done” He dropped it on the ground staring at Birog’s back.
The noise outside was louder now, getting closer, the shouts of his men and now the rattling of weapons.
“What is that racket?” Bres shouted, his smile squeezed into an annoyed grimace. “Ogma go check on the men!”
Before Ogma could rise or say anything there was a banging at the door.
All eyes fell on it as it then breezed open slowly under its own weight.
Birog’s horse who she had just named Rolan trotted into the room casually. His hooves echoing through the dusty hall, as the moth eaten banners swayed over head.
The horse cantered right up to Birog and forced it’s head under her hand.
“What in the goddesses name is going on?” Bres exclaimed.
“Where is it?!” Dian Cecht screamed shrilly.
The room fell silent then but for the sound of someone breathing, a heavy harsh burning breath.
A cloaked stranger stood in the doorway waiting to be seen.
“What are you doing here? I have no business with you” Bres stated. “And if you’ve come to see Nuada I’m afraid he’s indisposed.”
The cloaked figure said nothing closing the door behind him and bolting it shut.
“Do you know who I am?” Bres asked.
“Who I am” Nuada mimicked dreamily.
There was a bone shaking cackle, an evil laugh that shook them as if the clouds and thunder themselves were laughing.
Cur turned to face them pulling down the hood of his cloak. “My prize” He croaked hoarsely, his face splitting into a devilish grin.
“Who are you really? Some kind of evil spirit? Speak!” Bres bellowed from atop the throne stairs.
“The king in rags” Nuada mumbled.
“Where is it you dog? You cur!?” Dian shrieked at the Firbolg “What have you done with it you wretch!?”
Cur grinned baring his shark-like teeth, his cold blue eyes turning Dian’s guts to solid slabs of ice.
He laughed again shaking the silence of the hall. With his good hand he slowly pulled the sleeve of his cloak up.
“My goddess!” Dian Cecht cried out.
“Can someone please tell me what’s going on?” Bres shouted.
Birog watched silently in horror as she saw what was under the barbarians cloak.
For once there was naught but a grotesque stump now hung;
An arm of purest silver, shining like the sun and moon.
“He took it for his own” Dian muttered to himself in horror. “The barbarian has doomed us all.”
“What is that?” Bres screamed.
“What was in the box” Birog whispered.
Bres looked at her and back at the silver arm. “I see, very clever, you sought to make him whole after all. What now dead man?”
Cur let his cloak fall back, blotting out the glorious light of the shining arm meant to make a king whole. “Now you die.” He said coldly, the grin plastered on his face like a stone death mask.
“Is that so? Yet you fail to see you walk into a den of sorceresses, with an army at your back!”
“No you musn’t!-“ Dian called out.
“Shut your mouth traitor!” Bres shouted pointing at Dian.
“You don’t understand-“ Dian pleaded.
Ogma hit Dian hard in the gut, the old man folded like fresh linen and fluttered to the ground, not moving.
Calls from outside and banging of Bres’ men could be heard from the otherside of the heavy oak door Cur had barred.
Cur looked at the three women and his expression remained that of a stoney grinning gargoyle. “Wenches leave”.
The one in black laughed.
“I’m sorry” Rolan the horse said at Birog’s side. “but we have a mission too.”
Birog gasped. “Tuan, it was you all along?”
Cur ascended the stairs slowly, tossing his cloak aside, revealing the magical arm in full. It was exquisite, shining, covered in the magical symbols and writing of the tuatha de but moulded to the Firbolg’s body as if it were his own. It pulsated with magic, power uncontrollable magic and it burned Cur’s scar. The arm created a background radiation of searing pain just revealing it to the dim light of the throne room.
Bres signaled to Ogma with a nod.
Ogma nodded back darted across the room to the bolted door.
Tuan jumped down the steps taking the shape of a lion blocking Ogma’s path roaring and slashing at the air. “Best to give them some privacy don’t you think.” He snarled.
Ogma drew his club and walked in a semi-circle around the beast who mirrored his movement.
The sorceress in black laughed and spewed flames from her hands. Barely leaving enough time and room for Bres to roll out of the way, engulfing Cur in flames.
Bres righted himself and patted flames and howled “You could’ve waited until I was out of the way!”
“Oh I am sorry” The sorceress in black said sarcastically.
“Smells like burnt human” The one in white laughed looking at Cur’s shape in the flame.
They froze as they heard that teeth chattering laughter, like steel scraping bone.
The smoke cleared and the Firbolg stood with his silver hand outstretched. It glowed and vibrated with magic that made his scar enervate with pain. A burning pain, feeding his hatred and loathing.
The one in black sneered angrily instantly transforming into a cloud of burning crows that flew at the barbarian with a terrible speed.
The Firbolg was unmoved plucking the woman from the illusion by the throat with the silver arm and continuing to drag her up the stairs by her neck. Her feet flopping against the stone steps as she fought for air against the terrible grip of the silver arm.
His stony eyes fixed on Bres, the barbarian grinned his fiendish grin. Cur let the woman sink into unconsciousness drawing the silver hand away from her throat leaving a seered hand print on her flesh. He laughed as he put his boot on her throat and applied pressure, the cracking snapping noise of her neck sending shivers up their spines.
“You animal!” The one in white screamed, glowing with a primal magical energy, a pure white light beaming from her eyes and mouth as she spoke. “You will die for that!”
Cur wicked laughter erupted and filled the throne room with hateful cackling. He raised his foot again, not taking his eyes off Bres and brought it down with a terrible weight crushing the skull of the once beautiful sorceress. Her white blood and brain matter staining the steps as her head pulped between them with a terrible wet cracking noise.
White light erupted from the hands of the sorceress in white. The firbolg shielded himself from the power as if protecting his gaze from rays of the sun beating down on him. The light was blinding and purest white. The force grew more powerful and his arm shook and vibrated as if it might shake apart as it held the torrent of immense energy. The sorceress gasped and screamed as she forced more energy through her fingertips. She closed the distance between herself and the barbarian she sought to smight.
“DIE MONSTER!” She cried.
His arm shook and he felt the immense crushing pressure pushing him back. But the arm held and he pushed back harder and he crushed the beam in his hand like glass shattering. The sorceress in white paused for a moment as if she forgot where she was.
And then almost instantaneously, reflexively she screamed again opening her eyes and mouth wide, the light forcing it’s way out.
But it was too late, before she could launch another attack to fend off the monster Cur punched a whole through her head with the silver arm. His fist going in through her mouth and out of the back of her head leaving little left over.
Her body crumpled to the ground like thin parchment.
Bres watched saying nothing, his breath caught in his throat.
Cur grinned at the last sorceress, the one in red; waiting for her to attack.
The sorceress looked at the Barbarian and then at Bres and she disappeared.
“Whore! Traitor! Babd how dare you leave me!” Bres screamed.
Tuan slashed at Ogma with his razor sharp claws but couldn’t penetrate his armor. Ogma turned and struck the lion on the side of it’s head and he rolled onto his side.
Ogma strode over to the door and unbolted it; a troop of Bres’ surviving men rushed through the door and to the foot of the stairs.
Tuan struggled to his feet, his four knees shacking. He roared and took the form of a Wyvern and cut across the path of the soldiers breathing lightning at their feet. Terrified, they doubled back falling over themselves to escape as he chased them out of the hall.
Cur ascended the stairs and stood before the old king.
“No please, you can’t!” Birog fell in front of Cur on her knees pulling at his clothes and at the arm. “He’s the only who can save us, I’ve seen it, in my dreams, if you-“ She struggled against his might. “You’ll change everything!”
Cur took both her wrists in one of his mighty hands and tossed her down the stone steps like refuse.
He stood there in front of Nuada.
“Do you know me?” He said in his gravelly voice.
“The king of the men of the bag”
Cur let out a breathy laugh.
“What is it you want king of the bag men? Did we not give you Connact was that not enough for you and yours?”
“Connact is no more, my people are dead.”
“It was not I”
Cur looked at Bres who stood frozen at the side.
“Not I Firbolg-king- Eoichid.” He swallowed “It was them, I swear it” Bres stammered.
Cur sneered at his cowardice.
“Is it personal then?” Nuada asked.
Cur breathed in deeply through his nose whistling “It always is.” He said.
With one fluid strike he cut the old man’s head from his shoulders with the edge of his silver hand.
“Nooooo!” Birog screamed as she watched the wizened head of her savior fall to the ground.
Cur picked up the head by it’s wistful white hair and held it aloft, his face stony and pale and expressionless. He sneered at before he tossed it down the stone steps.
The barbarian turned to Bres, his icey blue eyes fixed the king of Inish Veil in place.
Bres scrambled for his sword and struck out at the Barbarian.
Cur caught it in his silver hand and held it there, in front of his face grinning like a ghoul.
Bres struggled to free it with both hands, the blade turned red and then white and a seering heat burnt his hand and he had to let it go.
He panted looking at his hand and then up at the Firbolg who crushed the white hot blade in his fist shattering it like it was ice.
Bres desperately looked around and then saw only Ogma remained at the foot of the steps over the druidess’ unconscious body.
“If this thing comes any closer kill the girl!” He screamed at Ogma.
Ogma looked up at him and down at the girl.
Cur laughed and moved slowly closer to Bres.
“Ogma! kill her!”
Ogma didn’t move.
“I’m your king, you do as I say!”
Cur laughed with his belly now, a hearty vicious laugh.
“Look at your face” The Firbolg said. “You’re king of nothing now.” He let out a small breathy laugh and said “How we are alike.” He grinned.
Bres touched his face in disbelief and felt a coarse rough flesh, boils and sours all over his once pretty face. Now red and purple and blotchy as that of a leper.
Ogma looked up at him. “You are no longer perfect. You are not my king.” Ogma sighed sadly as he turned and slowly walked out of the chamber with his shoulders stooped.
Bres was speechless, his eyes turning to the monster, pleading with it.
Cur dropped his smile and reached out for the former king, the former beautiful one. But as he did so another stretched from out of thin air and pulled him into a red cloud of mist and he disappeared into the ether.
“Damn sorceress whore! The firbolg cursed.
He turned to the headless corpse of the former king and tossed it from it’s throne.
Turning to look down the steps, he sat on the throne of blood and looked out with lidded eyes at nothing.