The crow watched dispassionately from it’s perch in high Tallaght. It cawed loudly and ruffled it’s feathers and took off in the direction of the woods.
Down below the girl ran desperately through the streets, her lungs burning. All thoughts of using her magic chased out of her brain by a shrieking fear of the eternal. And what could she do without her torque or the sword? All she could do was run and hide and prey to the goddess that birthed her. The sounds of the black hooves and the devil whinney of that black mare grew faster and closer and louder and shook the earth with terrible fury.
“Wake up you big bastard” A strange small voice said. “You’ve got no time to be laying about”
Cur’s eyes fluttered and then opened wide. His eyes bulging as he stared at the sky seeing nothing but a blinding bright light and then closing them again tightly.
He rose and hunched forward in a sitting position and rubbed them with the large palm of his hand.
“I don’t know” The little bird said. “It’d didn’t take me long to find you, a naked giant lying in the forest is hard to miss from above.”
“You were supposed to be watching” Cur groaned and looked at bird in the form of the bird bobbing around on the ground.
“I was watching but something more interesting caught my eye.” The bird seemed to cock a cheeky grin and wink.
“A wench is it?” Cur growled scanning the grove which was now empty and placid and looked like it had never been home to a cottage of any kind.
“Aye, a cumbly wench, a familiar one at that.”
Cur spat on the ground “The fool.”
“Quite right, she must really want her sword back, good thing you didn’t take anything else” The bird laughed.
“Should have let me kill her” He said as he found his clothes lying in a heap in the grass under a birch. He dressed as quickly as one can with a single arm.
“Ah but if you’d killed her you’d have lost your chance at reprisal”
“What talk is this?”
“It seems our little lark has earned the ayer of none other than the black knight of Dun Bresse.”
“Dullahan is here? Why?”
“For the girl I can only assume.”
“What could he want with that scrawny wench?” Cur scoffed.
“Her head perhaps”
Cur seethed angrily rubbing his neck as if there was a faint scar there.
The crow laughed “He took your head once before and you still bear a grudge.”
“What of it?”
“A man took your head only a few nights since”
Cur grimaced growing silent and solemn, He tightened his jaws until his face looked hard and skeletal white.
“He was the first.”
The girl, frantic, tossed her light body about the streets, like a leaf in an errant and erratic wind looking for any nook to hide herself in. She fought not to stumble over herself as she heard the horse’s whine and the hooves resonating through the tight streets.
She stopped dead, her breath burning in her throat almost drooling with fear, mad with it. Her eyes wide and shaking and leaking. She looked up and saw the high stone wall of the guardhouse, one of the only two story buildings in the village. Penned in on all sides but one by the little round house huts and their thatched rooves.
She rattled for the handle and it opened easily with a yawing creak and she fumbled into a large square eating hall. Looking around goggle eyed she spotted a stair case and fell up it as she heard the horse’s cry all around her now.
Hiding in here was her best course of action. He’d have to get off the horse if he would pursue her any further and then she’d at least have some chance at escape. Or enough where with all to use some sort of spell on him.
She waited holding her breath perched on the edge of the wood and stone staircase. Looking down at the only entrance of which she didn’t take the time to barricade. Now regretting it, looking around at all the heavy wooden chairs and tables in the canteen. She cursed herself and thought to go down and hurriedly construct some edifice to slow his pace. But then what? Wait to die?
It was too late, a dull slow almost disinterested pounding on the door shook the whole building. Within no more than three strikes the door gave up the ghost and fell open like a whore’s legs.
As she’d surmised the height of the door was too low and the rider could not pass but he did not dismount his horse. The horse simply poked it’s head inside and glanced around with it’s red eyes without intention or haste. Then after a harsh whiney took it’s head out again and went away.
She gave a pause for a minute, sitting in silence on the stairs. Afraid to take her eyes off the wide open doorway and the door now open banging slightly at the behest of the wind, now the only noise.
The druidess swallowed her fear and slowly and noiselessly descended the stairs. She tried to angle her head so she could see into the street through the door.
Her stomach jumped as she suddenly saw the horses head black head and it’s glaring red eyes as it lunged through the door. The rider lying prone. He sprung to his natural seating position in a most disconcerting way giving rise to bone cracking noises. The druid ran up the rest of the stairs. The rider gave chase with a rushing rising current of clattering hooves and crashing of wood. Broken furniture and glass and stone under the huge black mare as it tore up the stairs behind her.
A crashing cacophony of noise and fury followed in it’s wake as if it were a hurricane. Or a landslide defying gravity instead succumbing to it as the horse fought it’s way up the stairs.
The druidess looked back terrified at the glimpses of it’s visage in full form coming right at her. A black rider clad in armor and carrying a terrible barbed whip made to look like a human spinal column. But with sharp blades on each bone joint on alternating sides.
After clambering up the full length of the stairs she ran as fast as she could through the hall, just running frantically and mindlessly. The rider stopped at the stairs and glanced from side to side then slowly at a canter followed her into the dead end hallway.
The druidess was moving fast and comically like a bee hovering around a flower trying every door in the hall to break the rider’s line of sight. But each door she came to was locked or blocked or broken.
The rider getting closer now, the sounds of the spinal whip jingling were like bones clanking together in a bag. It set her teeth on edge to hear it building and to look back at it as it toyed with her.
Then the horse abrubtly stopped slamming it’s hooves against the wooden floorboards, shaking the beams. It reared up in the tight space and then started to scratch and scrape at the ground breathing loudly and whineying.
The druidess looked back at the beast about to charge and was stricken. Frozen for a moment and then pulled by her heart and her legs, her only instinct to run as fast as humanly possible but to where? There was nowhere left to run.
A window, her only chance, a choice between certain and uncertain death, she cleared all thoughts from her head and jumped.
She fell from the second story building plummeting onto a thatched roof of a small round house below it. She fell through the roof with a terrific crashing noise that sounded like a tree felling.
She groaned and rolled onto her pained side on the earthen floor of the hut not feeling as lucky as she undoubtedly was. All reason bashed out of her head briefly as the room shook. She forgot herself and then bleary eyed through pained tears she looked up through the hole she made.
She saw the horses head looking down at her and making a kneying noise as if angered it pulled back again.
The druidess rose pulling straw from her hair and mouth, she had a head start now she couldn’t afford to waste it by dying right here.
Then suddenly a sound like rolling thunder from the guard building above and she looked up to see the horse jumping from the window.
“Impossible!” She cried as she watched as if in slow motion the thing falling down on her head. “Move!”
She dragged herself crawling across the floor, scrambling for the door like a half squashed cat. “Have to move!”
She managed to half crawl to the opening of the door before it hit. The sound of it crash landing was almost deafening, an explosion of stone and wood and thatching and a crashing sound like a meteor hitting earth. Dust rising in the air, she coughed, holding herself, feeling the ribs in her chest, a couple of which must have broken her fall.
The building was decimated, the roof was completely destroyed and only one of the daub and stone walls was left standing. The surrounding stone foundations too were crumbling away.
She looked back at the rubble and waited holding her breath.
“No-one” She panted.
Before she could say it, she could hear the breathing of the horse and the collapsed roof thatching started to shift.
The druidess turned and hobbled away, she couldn’t tell what if anything was broken or sprained but she was finding it difficult to move.
She sighed and hissed as she tried to stand up straight and move normally, everything seemed to ache.
She turned as she heard stone from the foundation moving and backed away slowly as the thatching started to rise.
The druidess stopped as she backed into a brick wall.
“Move” The brickwall said.
“What” She turned to see nothing but a cloak and then looked up to see the grinning grim gargoyle face of the barbarian she was looking for. “Oh it’s you” She said dimly.
“Move!” He bellowed as he took her firmly with his one hand threw her to the ground. She landed on the ground softly letting her knee topple and her hair fall into her face. She looked at the destroyed house as more stones from the foundations crumbled away.
The black mare emerged from the thatching and rubble and looked completely unscathed. Climbing from the collapsed house as if it were emerging from a lake bed and the stone dust and rubble were just droplets of water falling off it’s back.
The rider was unyielding and unmoving as he sat stoicly on it’s back.
Cur narrowed his gaze and waited for the rider to notice him.
The rider straightened up and upon seeing Cur he spurred his horse and with a sharp flick of his wrist and heel. There was a sound like dry teeth scraping as the bone fragments of his sword slotted together to make a grotesque barbed bone sword. His horse slowed to a canter. Tracing a semi-circle trying to orientate himself in the right direction until he was pointing directly at Cur who stood unmoving. His crude weapon hanging loosely at his side.
“We meet again my liege” The rider spoke with an ironic mocking tone in his voice.
Cur tightened the grip on his javelin head but emitted no sound but the clacking of his teeth.
“You don’t daign to speak to one as lowly as I?” The rider said laughing.
Cur grunted flaring his nostrils.
“Very well” The rider said. He spurred his horse harshly and it leapt into a quick canter which erupted into an almost instantaneous gallop. Tossing behind it a great whirlwind of dust and debris.
The Firbolg stood stolid, trying to hide the corners of his mouth turning up into a devilish grin as he waited for the rider’s approach.
He awaited him in a narrow street bedecked by small round houses very close together with narrow muddy passages between each. Not a sound could heard except of the bleating of a billy goat nibbling at straw from inside of a ravaged round house. The house was backed by the daub and stone surround outer wall. The wall was about eight or nine foot tall with no way to scower it except by climbing onto the unstable roof of a round house and falling through the thatch. It was a dead end.
The rider rushed forward as if carried on a rising wave, his hideous bone sword high over his head, gleaming and thirsting for immortal blood. The mare tore through the soft earth without hesitation or fear, it’s red eyes gleaming.
“Now Tuan!” Cur shouted hoarsely.
Tuan, in the form of the billy goat quickly and roughly tugged at a length of heavy moaring rope used to tie up the small river boats with his powerful jaws. The rope tied by the other end to a heavy support beam of a house at the other side of the alley.
The rope, taut rose to the height of the rider and too quickly for him to dodge or slow and turn back it caught him by the throat.
But to the shock and dismay of Tuan as he watched his efforts from the side and back as the horse screeched to a halt; the rider did not fall.
Only his head.
The horse and its rider rounded Cur in the alley in a tight circle, the rider still, upright, headless. The horse whineying and breathing heavily and angrily tossing up the earth and bouncing on it’s front legs as if it meant for it to swallow the Firbolg.
An indistinct and muffled laughter could be heard from Cur’s feet. “Very good, last of the Firbolg, very good indeed!” The voice laughed.
Cur looked at his feet and saw the head in it’s ornate black skull helmet amidst the straw and debris and dirt.
“Do me the honor of picking my head off the ground would you?” The voice said.
Cur stooped and said “I’d sooner kick it” But he didn’t. Out of curiosity alone he picked up the head by the severed neck stump which was oddly without blood and quite dry. Feeling almost like it was the head of a scarecrow. He felt a slight twinge in his scar as he flicked the head back tilting the visor for a moment. He could have sworn he recognized the face before gravity flipped the heavy visor back down.
“Praise be upon you my liege, praise be” The head laughed.
The horse struck into a full gallop again and came around Cur’s blind side. The rider with sword low but still holding it as if it fastened to his gauntlet then rose it.
Cur sneered at this aberrations but he was too close, the horse came right by him. That monstrous sword came down and pierced the helmet in Cur’s hand and took off with it. In so doing hitting Cur hard with the broadside of the horse’s flank knocking him under the horse and trampling him.
The headless rider, Dullahan took off with his own head at the tip of his horrible sword, laughing as he tore out of the village like a rampaging bull.
“Until we meet again last of the Firbolg!” he cried.