The Calling - Merry's Apprentice

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Chapter 3


MONTH TWO

Things aren’t What they Seem

_________________________________________

September fell away like a leaf from a tree and October took its proper place in nature’s scheme. Though the colors changed to autumnal ones, very little else changed for my new school routine and me. At one o’clock everyday my fellow students, who I had to admit were farther ahead of me in schoolwork than I thought they would be, disappeared to have lunch then they joined up with either Lucan or this Morgana, who I hadn’t met yet. After I ate some kind of sandwich with homemade meat and hard cheese or some real hearty stew, I returned to the barn and then I’d get caught up in my studies with Merry, who seemed to be greatly disappointed with my education up until now.

“Did your teachers at your old school actually have college degrees or did they get some sort of certificate by sending in cereal box tops?” he asked me, as I peeked at the clock on the wall to see that it was almost three-thirty in the afternoon. School was almost over.

“They had advanced degrees,” I answered.

“In what? Mediocrity! How to educate a child inadequately? How far we haven’t come in this world! The Greeks and Romans understood the need for a full education, which taxed the mind. Of course when I speak of Greek education I speak of Athens and not Sparta. They taught boys to be warriors not scholars. I think a few of your classmates would have done well in the Sparta schooling system, especially your cousin,” he babbled on. “I mean I don’t know how you can understand history without understanding the wars that were fought and the reasons for them. Or the great battles how humanity some times rises to the occasion. What would this country be with General Grant’s determination then his willingness to be lenient when General Lee surrendered? Yes, movements and philosophical ideas are important indeed, but they usually came about because of some war being fought. They are not hatch in a void. It perplexes me.”

“Yes, sir,” I said while trying to stifle a yawn that I no longer could contain.

“I know. It is a beautiful 70 degrees out today, the trees are readying for winter, a much milder one than you are used to in Maine, but winter nonetheless. There are the smells of fall in the air, the people are still enjoying the lake before it gets cold and you are stuck in a large barn with a grumpy old man. Do you want me to tell you something that you didn’t know?”

“You are always telling me something that I didn’t already know,” I retorted.

“Ohh, I gather I stated that one badly,” Merry chortled. “How do you say in the current vernacular: my bad? Is that correct?”

“Yes, though it just sounds wrong coming from you,” I replied with a smile cracking my face.

“I agree. You really are having an effect on me. No, what I meant to say is that do you want to know something about yourself that you didn’t know?” asked Merry with a more than usual serious tone.

I thought about the question for a moment. More than likely, Merry was merely going to tell me one of my faults and present it as something I was unaware of. Merry had a way of pointing out my own faults or my deficiencies to me.

“Okay, I’ll buy in. What don’t I know about myself that you can tell me?”

“I was always bound to be your teacher. It was agreed to even before you were born by both your mother and father. They knew someday you would need my tutelage and mentoring,” he stated.

He got me I was surprised by his statement. My parents never told me anything about coming to Tennessee for school. I wasn’t sure that Merry was telling me the truth.

“You think I’m fibbing about this, don’t you?” Merry said.

“I think you are full of it. My parents never talked about Tennessee to me. They never mentioned it.”

“Well, I’m not misguiding you. Though there are times that I can be full of it, so to speak, but this is not one of those times. Of course, you being my student, I was going to wait until you were fourteen years old and had mostly come into your own, so to speak, and you’d be made better prepared for certain things about yourself. However, circumstances brought about unexpected changes in our plan and you are here now, before we are ready for you and before you are ready for us.”

“Merry,” I said using my teacher’s first name, which was a habit I picked up when he taught one on one, “what do you mean by come into my own?”

Lucan once mentioned something like that to me, that I was coming into my own and that had some special meaning. I wanted to know what exactly it meant.

“Ahh, well, the problem with sharing information, especially sharing information with a person who is so unaware of himself, is it always brings about more questions. In this case these are questions I can’t answer yet. Sorry, Bear,” he said with a smile, using my nickname, “you just aren’t ready yet to learn everything you need to know, so I won’t tell you yet, even if it means that you have a bog on.”

“A bog on,” I repeated the unfamiliar phrase.

“Even if it puts you in a bad mood to use a more familiar nomenclature,” Merry explained.

“When will you be able tell me?”

“Soon, very soon.”

“Define soon for me,” I demanded.

“Very good. You are starting to understand that words have very specific meanings, yet their meanings can be bent a bit depending up circumstances and the user of those words. You know that soon with me is always relative, as I look at soon from a longterm perspective. Very good.”

“You haven’t answered my question,” I pointed out to him.

“True,” he said with a smile. “I will tell you soon.”

“Merry, that isn’t fair.”

“Bear, it is all that I can offer you now. You just aren’t ready yet to know more.”

“Just like I’m not allowed to go anywhere, or into the woods, walk around the lake, anywhere without an adult chaperone. I mean you are all treating me as if I’m fragile or...an imbecile of some kind or something. It’s frustrating. I feel like a prisoner here.”

“You are neither fragile nor are you an imbecile of any kind, Bear. We are merely protective of you not because you are weak, but because there are some real dangers in the woods waiting for you. Actually, there are dangers all around you that you don’t even notice,” Merry told me.

“Everyone else, though, gets to run wild after school. I mean I actually saw Lance, Cedric and Fintain playing with wooden swords the other day near the lake. They seemed to be practicing some kind of martial arts moves or something. It looked real intense and sort of dangerous. And fun! I bet you wouldn’t let me do that,” I said petulantly.

“They are ready for such things and you are not ready right now for them,” Merry said in a tone that let me know that argument was over. “For now we should finish up our lesson in trigonometry.”

“Oh, joy,” I mumbled.

“It is a joy. Though everything can’t be explained by mathematics, there is so much that can be that it is a joy to know it and be proficient in it. From balancing a checkbook to driving a car to judging a target based on wind speed and distance, math is necessary and fun. So pay attention and I will teach it to you.”

“Yes, sir,” I dourly replied. “It’s just that I feel like you’re preparing me for college not for high school.”

“No. Once I’m through with you, you won’t need college,” answered Merry absentmindedly.

“I wont’ need to go to college?”

“No, no, you won’t. You might be too busy with other things anyway to indulge anyhow.”

“Other things which math will help me with because math is good for everything,” I manipulated Merry.

“Now, now. Math cannot explain away emotions or deep feelings. You cannot equate sadness, add or subtract joy, nor calculate love. Math has its limitations, as does science has its limitations. Emotions and moods are the purview of the heart and soul not of numbers, the scientific method, and or dissection. The problem with too many human beings is that they tend to not understand that simple fact these days. Our heart and our soul make us human, not science or math, which merely makes us very clever. Even the ever-scientific emotion of curiosity starts in the heart, sometimes in the soul. A cat doesn’t know math, nor does it understand science, yet a cat can be curious. Remember that Bear. Remember the importance of the heart and soul.”

“Yes, Merry. I will try to remember,” I answered in a better mood, as I had gotten him to undervalue math a little.

Merry stared at me for a long moment. Like a snake crawling across the grass a smile crossed his lips: “All right, you win, Bear. School is out for the day. No more math or science or thought for today. Go play video games or whatever it is you do to relax and blow off steam. Trig will wait for tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Merry.”

“You’re welcome, Bear.”

***************

It was Friday at dusk and Kieran had invited Morgana and Branwyn Fey to dinner. This was my first chance to meet Branwyn’s mother, Morgana, a woman I heard so much about from Kieran more so than from Branwyn. Lucan and Kieran sat on the wood benches on the front porch, while Fintain and I sat on the front steps waiting for them.

It was a cool evening, one that made the lake and the mountains seem like a paradise, which seemed hard to believe considering how I felt about the place. Between Fintain and I there had developed a sort of frosty silence. Even though I had tried to act a little more civil lately to Fintain, as well as the rest of my class, the first impression I made with Fintain lingered. To most people Fintain was gregarious, reminding me a bit of my own father and not like Kieran, but with me he now remained distant and silent. It was just another bridge that I’d have to repair in time. I knew it, too, but I wasn’t ready yet.

A white 2002 Land Rover pulled down the dirt road stopping in front of the house. The lake was in the background acting as a picturesque backdrop for the passengers of the car. In the passenger seat I saw the shine of Branwyn’s red hair and her expressive elfin face. Sitting in the driver seat was a striking looking woman. Where Branwyn’s hair was short and spiky, her mother’s was long and full and a rich auburn. She had jade color eyes and her mouth was friendly with a ready and easy smile on it. Separately, as well as when combined, daughter and mother outshone nature, I decided, as I looked from the lake to those riding in the Land Rover.

When they got out, I was shocked to see that Branwyn wasn’t in her usual overalls and T-shirt, but she was wearing a plum colored casual dress that came down to her knees. Her mother wore a black casual dress that also came to her knees. They both wore sandals and, even though, I wouldn’t say it to Branwyn, they both looked too beautiful to be visiting for a simple meal. I sighed, as I remembered the state of my relationship with Branwyn, who always came to Fintain’s protection and defense, was as frosty as my relationship with Fintain. Lucan had told me that Fintain and Branwyn had been close friends since they were both in diapers and playing in the same playpen. Again, I sighed, as Morgana approached the house.

“Hi, Kay, you’re looking relaxed,” Morgana called out.

“Mo, I am relaxed,” he called back.

“You look lovely as always, Morgana,” Lucan chimed in.

“Thanks, Lucan. Always the charmer, aren’t you?”

“Only with those I’m charmed by,” he replied to her.

“Hey, Bran,” mumbled Fintain to Branwyn to which Branwyn waved to him.

Branwyn and her mother walked straight to me and stood in front of me, as if they were presenting themselves. With a sort of reluctance Branwyn motioned towards me and said: “This is him.”

“Branwyn, you can do better than that. Introduce me properly. I’ve raised you to have good manners,” her mother scolded her.

“All right, ma,” Branwyn said then she took a deep breath. “This is Arthur Sean McCoul, my schoolmate, and the son of Arthur Liam McCoul and nephew to Kieran Brian Boru McCoul and cousin to Fintain McCoul. Was that good enough, ma?”

“That’s better, not much better, but better,” Morgan said to her daughter then she turned to me and said: “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I heard you prefer Sean to Arthur.”

“Yeah, I do,” I answered shyly.

“I prefer Mo to Morgana. You can always tell that our parents pick our names for us without our input,” she said then she winked at me.

“I like my name,” said Branwyn petulantly.

“You like being different from most peoplke, also,” Morgana said to her daughter then she looked up at Kieran. “So, Kay, what are you cooking?”

“I was going to grill us some steaks out back. Nothing special just meat and potatoes,” he said.

“Show me to the kitchen. I think we can make a better meal than just grilled steak. I’m starting to think that you have some sort of family feud going on against vegetables and salads,” she said.

“All right,” Kieran said and got up. He paused at the front door. “Are you coming with us, Lucan?”

“Yeah, sure, I will. You might need some help fending off the green beans. They like to attack from behind,” Lucan said then he got up and followed them into the house.

Branwyn sat down on the steps beside Fintain. With her left shoulder she knocked into him. When he didn’t respond, she did it again then he pushed back. They both laughed. The two of them knew each other so well that they didn’t need words to communicate.

“How’s training going with your Ma?” Fintain asked her.

“Not bad. Ma’s a tough one. She likes to work Benedict’s, Etain’s, and my butt off with the same exercises over and over again until we get it perfect. She keeps telling us how far we have to go before we are proficient.”

“I bet Benedict hates that. He gets bored easily with that stuff.”

“Yeah, he does, especially since he won’t give up the thought of being,” she looked over at me then she chose her words carefully, “you know one of you guys instead of one of us.”

“Lucan ain’t happy until we are sweating and we can’t lift our arms up above our heads. Cedric almost passed out the other day from training. Benny would have loved it.”

“He’d rather be with you, but Merry told him he is better with us, that he is more gifted than he even imagines, but first he has to embrace his gift to see just how gifted he is. It’s killing him, though. He wants to,” she paused and again looked over at me then she continued: “He wants to be with you guys so bad that he barely tries, you know, to learn about his gift and all that.”

“I miss him. Lance just cares about technique and Wayne and Garth are wild. Cedric, well, he does as much as he has to, but Benny used to really push me. He was the only one who could match me in strength. I miss him.”

“Merry thinks he’s holding back with us because he wants to get back with you guys. He won’t let him go, though. I kind of miss Merry’s personal lessons,” she sighed then she glanced over at me again. This time I read her expression to say that it was my fault that Merry wasn’t giving them private lessons. I was taking all of Merry’s time lately, as he tried to catch me up to the rest of them.

I listened to them talk, and I felt like they didn’t want me around while they talked. My being there only interfered with their talking freely forcing them to use code words or find ways of saying what they wanted to say without being direct. I had gotten off to a bad start with Fintain and Branwyn on my first day there and it just hadn’t changed much, though in some ways I wanted it to change. Yet, there was something about Branwyn, especially when she was with Fintain, which irritated me to no end. Whenever I had a chance to be friendly with them, something sarcastic or defensive came out of my mouth. It was as if I had no control over what I said to them. Except for Wayne and Garth, I really hadn’t made much of a connection with any of my new schoolmates. I stood up and started to walk away from the steps.

“Hey, Sean,” Fintain called to me with concern in his voice, “you aren’t supposed to walk around here alone.”

“I’m just going to the barn. I think I forgot a book in there that I want to finish reading.”

“Do you want us to come with you?” Fintain asked with a sort of annoyed concern.

“Come on, Fin, he can manage to walk to the barn on his own,” Branwyn goaded me. She looked at me with an expression of be alone if you want to be.

“Yeah, like she said, I can manage this on my own,” I said defiantly then I started walking towards the barn.

I hadn’t left anything in the barn, but I merely wanted to get away from Fintain and Branwyn, who made me feel unwanted. I knew the initial problem with my relationship with them was my own fault, but it seemed over the past month that they were unable to get past that first meeting and that was their fault. In front of me the red barn loomed. Instead of going into it, I decided to take a walk to the back of the barn to the edge of the woods. It was a chance finally to explore a little of the place by myself.

So far all I had seen of the Watauga Lake area was what I was allowed to see with supervision. Yes, I went to the fishing pier with Lucan and watched him fish, and I watched people boat on the lake having fun and all. But I hadn’t really explored the place, not that I was overly interested in nature. I was the first to admit that I didn’t know the difference between a Dogwood tree and a Rocky Mountains Subalpine Fir tree or a Sycamore tree, as I liked the seashore better than woods, but I still felt like exploring this new territory on my own.

With a slate grey sky above me, I walked along the side of the barn until I reached the back. About five feet from the barn, a thick line of trees started. The dark bark of the trees and thick branches and foliage became shadowy and slightly intimidating, as darkness started to fall. It was as if nature had gone from friendly in the day to foreboding and dangerous at night. I started to think about walking into those woods, even though my instincts told me not to do it. I took three steps forward towards the tree line, when I heard some rustling of brush deep in the trees. My heartbeat picked up and my muscles tightened stopping me from going any further. Grrrrhh, a low guttural, menacing growl came from the woods. It wasn’t a dog’s growl, but something more feral. My heartbeat calmed slightly with that sound, as I took control of myself. There was something out there and I had the feeling that it was there for me. Suddenly, I thought of what Merry had told me: danger is all around you.

The rustling grew louder and nearer. I didn’t hear footsteps, though, but some animals were moving around in there. Again I heard an animal because of the rustling of brush, but there was no more growling. It was as if whatever it was, it was pacing back and forth just in front of me, but it was hidden by the trees and the brush. I took a few cautionary steps backwards. Suddenly, someone placed a hand on my left shoulder startling me and causing me to yelp.

“Calm down, it’s just me,” Lucan told me.

I turned and saw that Lucan was standing beside me. He had an ax with a large sharp edge in his left hand, as he stared into the woods as if he was looking for something he expected to be there.

“What are you doing back here?” he asked.

“I wanted to be alone,” I answered.

“Better places than this for that kind of thing. You could walk down to the shoreline and contemplate the water, or go into your room and enjoy some alone time,” Lucan said.

“There is something out there,” I stated.

“There’s always something out there; probably just a stray beaver or maybe a wolf or something like that hanging around the area looking for some dinner. I came here to tell you that our dinner is almost ready to be eaten. You should join us.”

“I felt like whatever it is in the woods that it’s here for me, though, not for dinner,” I admitted to him.

“Don’t you worry about it now,” Lucan said, “now let’s get going. We got us some steak, salad, grilled corn, and Morgana is even baking brownies. How’s that sound?”

“Okay,” I said.

We started walking towards the back of the house where the grill was and which was now lit up by a floodlight. Along with a floodlight, Kieran had a bug light on, which hummed along with an occasional buzz as it zapped a mosquito or fly. Standing at the grill, he appeared to be lecturing Fintain, while Morgana had Branwyn cornered by the back door and she seemed to be lecturing her. I knew that they were somehow in trouble because of me. They were probably told not to let me out of their sight and they did. I felt both useless and annoyed that they were in trouble because of me. I hated the idea of other kids being responsible for me.

Lucan and I walked towards the long wooden picnic table, which had wooden benches on either side of it. I could smell the cooking steaks, see the smoke wafting off grill, as corn, still in their husks and slightly wet with water, grilled. As we passed by Kieran and Fintain, I overheard Kieran’s hard whisper: “He lost his parents, killed by the Aes Sidhe, Fintain. Think about that. He’s your cousin, too, and he needs to be prepared so that he can be presented for Bealtaine during his sixteenth year.”

Aes Sidhe! What was Aes Sidhe? And Bealtaine. What was Bealtaine? Was it a place, a school, or a festival? I had no idea what any of this meant, or even if I was hearing their whispered voices correctly. We continued past Morgana and Branwyn and I heard even more from Morgana: “How can you be expected to protect him during Samhain? I know you’re a child but there is no reason to be childish.”

Lucan and I continued on until we were at the long wooden picnic table. We sat down. I had heard of Samhain. Wasn’t Samhain another term for Halloween? What protection did I need during Halloween? Are they afraid that I might try and overdose myself on candy?

As if he appeared from nowhere, Merry came strolling from the front of the house. He was dressed in a long black trench coat, his chinos, and a jean shirt, and was wearing a black slouch hat that was pulled low almost covering his eyes. Waving to Kieran and then to Morgana, he continued past them until he was at the picnic table. He sat down beside me.

“Lucan, can you please allow me a moment of Sean’s time alone?” he politely asked.

“Of course, Merry, I’ll let you have some time alone. I think Fintain has heard enough from his father about now,” Lucan said then he got up and walked over to the grill.

Merry sighed heavily, as if he was about to say something he didn’t want to say. Taking his hat off, he placed it gently on the tabletop then he began to stroke absentmindedly his beard with his right hand. Patiently, I waited for the lecture to begin.

“I’m sorry, Sean. I am doing a poor job of preparing you for things you need to be prepared for. One of the difficulties of being a teacher is to know when to push and when to allow the student to find his own level, his own boundaries. I believe I need to do some pushing with you, though,” he said.

“Sorry? I don’t understand,” I said.

“Well, you see I wanted to bring you along slowly, but time has a way of being compressed by circumstances, so I must pick things up with you. I shall have Morgana take over the full class load on Monday, so that you and I can really get down to work. Is that all right with you?”

“You mean I’ll be your only student from here on out,” I said with a hint of excitement.

“Yes, that’s what I mean. Your classmates need to do their work without you and you need to do yours without them for now. You will be my sole pupil.”

“Where? In the other barn?” I asked.

“In my place. Does that sound good?”

“I guess.”

“Good,” exclaimed Merry then he rubbed his hands together. “What’s for dinner then?”

“Steak,” I answered.

“Excellent. I was going to have a bowl of soup tonight, but steak is better.”

************

It was cockcrow, an expression my father used to use, Monday morning. The sun brought with it a purple blue sky that seemed to be a harbinger of an exciting day for me. Merry told me that I needed to dress for strenuous activities, as well as mental ones, and that he’d pick me up at 6:30 and we would have a hearty breakfast at his house. I showered quickly then dressed in faded black jeans, a green Red Sox T-shirt, a Bill Belichick hoodie, and my trainers then I went out on the front porch and waited for Merry to arrive. There was a chill in the air.

At 6:29 a pristine and shining 1955 cherry red Oldsmobile 98 Holiday Coupe pulled up in front of the house with Merry at the wheel. He appeared to be in a good mood, which relieved me. In a state of mild awe, as I had never seen an antique car up close before, I opened the passenger door of the two door car and got in.

“This is too much, way too much,” I stated.

“You like my car?”

“Like it. This car is wicked.”

“I hope that wicked means it is cool and not evil. My car is not evil. I always like the slang word cool,” Merry said then he pulled the car out and drove away from the house.

“Where do you live?” I asked excitedly.

“In a very special place unlike any you have visited before in your life.”

“And that would be where?”

“Around, close by, yet very far away and unreachable unless you know how,” he said with a smirk. “You’ll see. It’s on the lake.”

“Oh, okay, it’s by the lake.”

“No, it’s on the lake,” he laughed.

The Oldsmobile turned onto a black top, paved road, which Merry stayed on for merely a few moments then he pulled off of the paved road and onto a dirt one. This dirt road led down towards the lake.

“Merry, where are you going?”

“Don’t worry, Bear, I do know how to find my way home. It is always within reach for me,” he answered then he lifted his right hand and waved it towards the water.

Without warning a light mist appeared at the lip of the water then it developed a tube-like shape on the water leading out into the middle of the lake. Unlike the mist that appeared in Maine, this one was less translucent, cloudier, and somehow this mist didn’t scare me. The red Oldsmobile continued towards the mist, which did concern me since I wasn’t in the mood to take a swim in the cold lake.

“Merry, what’s happening?” I asked nervously.

“I’m taking you to my place on the lake,” he answered.

Unexpectedly, I saw that in the mist there now appeared the outline of an old fashion wooden bridge. It seemed to just be in the mist yet nowhere else, so that as I peered into the mist it appeared to be sitting on the water ready for use, but when I looked past the mist, there wasn’t any bridge to be seen. It was unbelievable. Merry drove into the mist with the care and us disappearing. Once in the mist he drove onto that bridge. As he drove along both the mist and the bridge seemed to move across the water, which I hoped it was some kind of an illusion. I peered into the mist and I saw that the bridge ended on an island that was in the middle of the lake. But I had seen this lake many times and there was no island in the middle of the lake.

I remained calm on the outside, just as my father had taught me to do in situations where I felt that I had no control. Even if you have no control over anything my father told me you can at least control yourself. So calm in appearance my stomach was twisting with a combination of nervousness and fear. I had seen what mist could do and feared it, yet I trusted Merry. As the Oldsmobile pulled on the island the mist disappeared revealing all of Watauga Lake and the surrounding area. Merry kept driving right up to a large log cabin that was painted brown with white window boxes and had a scenic view of the beach and the lake beyond the beach. He parked his car.

“Welcome to my current home,” he said. “You are now my apprentice.”

“Merry, we are in the middle of the lake on an island that doesn’t even exist, can’t exist,” I said half in a state of shock and half in a state of excitement.

I got out of the car and twirled around looking at all of Watauga Lake. They were on a small island where a small island couldn’t exist. Suddenly, I saw a motorboat skipping along the top of the water coming towards us. The motorboat buzzed along and was almost on top of the island’s beach when it completely disappeared. I fell down onto the ground. My legs just gave out.

“Merry, where did that boat just go? Why isn’t it crashed on the beach?”

“It’s still on the lake.”

“Then why didn’t it come up onto the beach?”

“Because you, I, this particular beach, the Oldsmobile, and my mist isle are in a different realm than Watauga Lake. In this case we are in a sort of in-between realm of my own devising. You see this is a mist isle, Sean, which exists only on a realm that is in between other more solid realms and nowhere else,” he calmly explained.

“Mist isle? Realms? Whatever! This is impossible,” I mumbled.

“As your arse is sitting on the ground of a mist isle, I would say impossible is the wrong word at this time. Try improbable, yet true, which is a better way to sum it. We are here, so you can’t argue with that. Are you hungry?” he asked me.

“I’m confused.”

“Good. I find confusion is the starting point for knowledge. To be confused is to be receptive to learning and eventually receptive for enlightenment,” Merry told me.

Before I could get up, the door to Merry’s cabin opened and an extremely large, black, furry dog wearing grey sweat pants that seemed too small for its large body, came walking out of it on its hind legs. I tried to speak but my throat and mouth went dry, so dry that I couldn’t even make spit. The dog, which had to be over six foot ten inches standing on its hind legs, walked up to me and licked its mouth with a large red tongue, as if it was hungry and I was a meal.

“Chota, please, Sean is an important guest and this is no way to greet him on his first visit to the isle,” Merry said to the dog. “Can you transform now?”

The large black dog sort of yawned, licked its chops, and then barked once then it did something I thought was impossible. Feeling as if I was going mad, I watched as the large black dog transformed into a man just under six foot wearing grey sweat pants. The man had black eyes, long black hair, and skin color that fell somewhere in between a suntan and a sunburn. His age appeared to be about twenty years old, give or take a year, but something told me that he was much older than that. He smiled at me: “How?”

“Sean, this is my mist isle roommate, Chota. He lives here because, like myself, he is a man out of synch with time in many ways. Chota is a fullblooded Yuchi and what the natives call a dogman. His father was chief and his brother a shaman and Chota is a shapeshifter.”

“Which means I can turn into a really, big cool dog, whenever I’m in the mood,” Chota said to me then he offered me his hand and helped me up.

“Chota will be in charge of your physical training on the isle, while I train you scholastically, as well as in other ways,” Merry told me.

“Hey, you’re a Patriots fan, I see,” Chota said to me, as he looked at my hoodie.

“Yeah! Are you a Pats fan?” I asked him.

“Naw. I always root for the Redskins,” he said with a big smile then he made the tomahawk chop cheer.

I didn’t know if Chota was kidding or not, but felt a little too confused and overwhelmed to ask him. The three of us went into the cabin, where a big plate of pancakes sat at a table with three waiting plates. We sat down and Merry served each of us a good sized-stack of pancakes. As he applied a great quantity of maple syrup on his pancakes, Chota started talking to me: “Pancakes are a Native American thing, did you know that? You see the pilgrims came and the Pawtuxet Indians...oops, Native American, taught them how to grind corn to use, which is one of the ingredients of pancakes. A pancake was first known as a journey cake then because of your strange accents in New England a Johnny cake and now it has morphed into a pancake. See how much you owe us?”

“Uh huh,” I replied between bites of pancakes.

“I love maple syrup,” Chota stated then he took a mouthful of pancakes. “I give you guys credit for that. I’ve never been to an IHOP, but I bet they’re pretty darn good to eat at.”

“Merry,” I said, as Merry poured me a glass of milk, “you have a lot of explaining to do to me because I am sort of lost right now.”

“Yes, I do,” he said, “but not right now. As I said before to you, Sean, you were not supposed to be ready for this for another year, as your bloodline matures slowly because of its importance, but your time has come early, so I recommend that you roll with it, as they say. You must deal with it the best as you can. After breakfast you will belong to Chota. We will talk around noon.”

“Have I got a morning planned for you,” Chota said. “I thought we might start with some Native American dancing, you know, like the rain dance or something like that. You know a good dance can burn up to 342 calories an hour, but then I thought no. Maybe you aren’t a dancer, you know two right feet, so instead I thought I’d start training you with bow and arrow, knife, blowgun, spear and war club. First though, we’ll do some grappling and some throwing, Native American style.”

“Okay,” I replied blankly.

“Hey, Merry, I think he is in a state of shock,” Chota observed with a laugh.

“Any answers that he will be getting from me will have to wait until after lunch, Chota. He must show patience,” Merry stated.

“Finish up your breakfast, buckaroo, ’cuz you belong to me all morning,” Chota told me.

Eating without much gusto I finished up my breakfast and then I washed up in the cabin’s bathroom. Chota took me outside and told me to take off my shoes then he tossed me a pair of grey sweat pants not unlike his own.

“Put them on. Jogging in jeans chafes,” he advised.

“Where do I change?”

“Right here on the beach, buckaroo. I hope you didn’t go commando this morning,” Chota joked. “I’d also get rid of the hoodie because you’ll be sweating.”

“Can I change inside the cabin? I’m not comfortable changing here.”

“Buckaroo, no one can see you and there is never a reason to be uncomfortable about your body, no matter what it looks like. A body is merely a vessel, so change now and don’t be embarrassed,” ordered Chota.

Feeling very exposed I changed right on the beach. Even though in my mind I sort of understood that the mist isle was in a different realm, an in-between realm, I was put off by the young girl water skiing not too far from where I now stood in my underwear. Quickly, I put on the sweat pants.

“Leave the trainers off. I’m a believer in bare feet, although a nice pair of moccasins will do in a pinch. It’s an Indian thing. We like to get used to the terrain, the ground we stand on,” Chota told me. “We are going to start with a jog around the isle on the beach.”

“Around the isle?”

“Twice. It’s a small isle, not that small since space is kind of meaningless in Merry’s realm, but it’s small enough for what I have in mind,” he said then he started running. “Come on buckaroo.”

Twice around the isle for Chota was a warm-up, but for me it was exercise. Once we finished Chota went in and got me a bottle of water and told me to drink. After that he gave me ten minutes to rest. Those ten minutes passed too quickly for me. Chota motioned me to stand up.

“We’ll start this time out with grappling Native American style. What you have to know about the Yuchi, my people, is that we fought for defense, but when we fought, we fought. Speed, commitment, agility, and fearlessness are all that you’ll need to be a good Native American grappler. Now I want you to give me your best attack.”

“Um, I’ve never fought anyone in my,” I admitted.

“How old are you?”

“Thirteen,” I answered.

“Buckaroo, it’s about time you learned. Heck, by the time I was your age, I had fought against other tribes. You watch movies?”

“Yeah.”

“Do your best impersonation of an attack from a movie then,” Chota told me.

“All right,” I said then I ran at Chota with my right fist raised to strike him.

Instead of waiting passively to use my weight and attack against me, Chota dove into me with a body block knocking all the air out of me sending me to the ground. While on the ground I rolled around for a moment in pain then I stopped and forced myself to get up.

“That was the first lesson. Surprise is your best weapon in a battle,” Chota told me. “Now I’m going to take it easy with you because I am a man, but, buckaroo, you will be hurting by the end of our session. I’m not going to take it that easy with you. According to Merry, there isn’t time to take it too easy with you.”

For the rest of the morning, Chota taught me Native American grappling. By the time lunch came around, I had a bruise under my right eye, black and blue forearms, and a rib cage that was sore when I coughed, yet I was happier than I had been in months. No longer was I being treated like a fragile creature; I was being treated like a normal boy. And maybe my father was right; maybe I did have a destiny.

Merry had made a Native American stew for lunch, which included pieces of lamb, peeled potatoes, five roasted green chilies, corn, diced celery, which he covered with water and let cook slowly for several hours. While Chota ate two bowls, I slowly finished up one.

“Didn’t like it, buckaroo?” asked Chota.

“It’s great. I’m just filled with so many questions I don’t have much of an appetite,” I admitted.

“You better eat up, though, because you’re going to need your energy. Food tastes good, but food is also energy for the body, keeps it running,” Chota advised me.

“It’s almost time to answer your questions, Sean,” stated Merry.

“Well, that’s my cue. I’m done. I’ll see you early tomorrow morning, Sean. More jogging, more grappling, and more fun things to come. I tell you I can’t wait until we get to war clubs,” Chota said then he started towards the door.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Time to be a dog,” he answered then he left.

This left Merry and I alone. Merry pushed aside his bowl of stew. My appetite was hindered by what was coming. Merry expected that this day wouldn’t happen for a year, but now he had to decide how much to tell me.

“To begin with, Sean, it was I, who appeared in the black robe the night your parents were murdered by the Aes Sidhe and faced down their attempt to kill you.”

“It was you,” I mumbled.

“Yes, it was.”

Somehow I had convinced myself that I had not realy seen a man stop the mist from coming for me that night. It was just too strange, too impossible, for it to be real. No, it must have been my imagination. But it was true and it was Merry who had saved me. I just knew Merry wasn’t lying to me and considering I saw him bring up a mist and drive onto an isle that wasn’t there, how could I even doubt what he said.

“I got there too late to save your parents,” he told me. “I deeply regret that. They were wonderful, brave people. Your mother wasn’t one of us, but she accepted us and loved your father deeply. And your father, well, your father was very special. He was of the bloodline, eldest, which makes you special, too.”

“Who are we, Merry?”

“We are the people, the Clan, who protect this realm. Simply put: we are the protectors of this realm,” he said.

“Who or what is the Aes Sidhe?” I asked.

“They are a powerful supernatural race that lives in the realm of the Sidhe. They can appear human in form, very attractive, too, but some take a different form other than human. You might not know them by the name Aes Sidhe, which really is their race, but you may have heard legends and myths about them. The banshee is an Aes Sidhe. Pooka, sidhe shapeshifters, are Aes Side, so aren’t the Sluagh Sidhe, the siabra, and leprechaun. There are more races than that. I believe the other day in the woods that stalking you there was an offspring of a human being and a Pooka, or as we know them as: a werewolf. It along with its pack probably was imported from Scotland in order to hunt you down.”

“A werewolf? They’re only in movies. They don’t really exist,” I exclaimed with disbelief.

“I am afraid they do, though in some ways they are more frightening in movies than in real life,” he tried to assuage me. “A Pooka can become virtually anything it wants to transform into, but when a Pooka and a human mate their offspring can only become one animal. I know one offspring who isn’t evil that can transform into a weretiger. Very feral in appearance, but a real pussycat to deal with if you know how to deal with them.”

“Pooka, leprechaun,” I repeated. “How is any of this possible, Merry? They aren’t real. They are folk tales and myths, legends, not real.”

Suddenly, I remembered how Branwyn said that folk tales held truth people didn’t know about. Was this what she meant or was there even more for me to learn about?

“Yes, well, that is a good question. They are real. There are many realms of existence, which are dominated by different races. In this realm human beings are the dominant race. This is just the way it is. You see we live in a very complicated universe, yet its Creator had a simple plan: we are free to live as we choose. Peace is possible, if we choose it. Yet, so is war if we are not diligent. There exist many doorways to these many realms, so these races can mix if they wish, or conquer if they choose. It is their choice. There is the Aes Sidhe, who for lack of a more constructive term, are devious and evil; there are the elves, and the Fey, or faerie folk...”

“Fey. Like Branwyn Fey,” I interrupted him.

“Yes, like her, but not her kind. Not all Fey are evil. You see Branwyn and Morgana have human blood and Fey blood, also know as Fiery. Their actual name is Branwyn of the Fey since Branwyn’s father was a full Fey and Morgana’s mother was Fey,” he explained.

“Branwyn, she’s magical?” I asked.

“She has certain powers, just as Etain and Benedict were born with the potential of druid power in them, not unlike my own druid power, though not as well endowed. Etain is also blessed with something else, but that is not for me to speak of with you at this time. And Benedict, well, he could be well endowed with druid gifts, if only he took his studies more seriously, but he wants to be a warrior” he said.

“And Fintain, Garth, Wayne, and Lance, what are they?”

“They are very special warriors of a special kind, born with powers that develop at a certain age which allow them to defend this realm against the Aes Sidhe and others. You see your schoolmates are special like you.”

“Which am I, Merry? Am I a warrior or a druid?”

“You see, Sean, the inhabitants of these realms have often mixed with each other in a positive way. Branwyn’s father was a fine male Fey, who died protecting this realm. Morgana’s mother lived out her existence in this realm knowing she would have a shorter life span in this realm than in the Fey Realm. She loved it here. The Aes Sidhe chooses to mix in a less than positive way. There are certain humans who are responsible to protect this realm...”

“What am I, Merry?” I asked again.

“You may be the future Cathal, the next great warrior and leader of Proctectors, the next leader for all those humans who battle the Aes Sidhe. But the Cathal is more than that.”

“So I’m a warrior?” I said.

“Bear, you may be much more than just a plain warrior. A Cathal, which is ancient Irish for great warrior, doesn’t come around too often, and I should know, as I have been alive for a long time. A Cathal is something very special. He is someone who can lead the races from many realms because he is so trusted and so well respected. He is the leader of all the protectors.”

“And who are you, Merry?” I asked as questions started quickly filling my mind.

“Who am I? Now that is an excellent question, Bear. It is one a person should ask himself at several stages in their life. Knowing yourself can be a potent tool to have,” Merry said with a laugh. “I have been known by many names. Myrddin was one of them, Ambrose was another name they called me. To the Yuchi, I was known as the Unknown. I am a powerful druid, Sean, born with a gift. My hope is that someday I will be able to pass that gift onto someone who will replace me. So, in not really answering your question completely, Bear, I can tell you that I like the name Merry.”

“All right, Merry, if that’s all you have for me, that’s all you have,” I said then I paused for a moment. “These Aes Sidhe are after me, aren’t they?”

“Yes. When you were born, I knew there was more than a fair chance that you might be the next, the future Cathal, so I told your father to take you away from this area where some of us who protect this realm live and raise you as if you were a normal child. As he had married outside of our clan of warriors, he decided to bring you up in your mother’s home state of Maine. I knew that the longer you didn’t know who you might be, the longer it would take until you started to come fully into you gifts. I knew by the age of fourteen it would be necessary to bring you here for training, but you began to mature early.”

“How? I’m not any stronger than a normal kid my age or any faster. How?” I demanded because it made no sense to me.

“Have you noticed when you meet someone, you immediately know if that person is good or evil or somewhere in between, or if you like them or not, right away. You call it instincts and ignore this feeling thinking it is not really anything important. Well, Bear, I call it a gift which needs to be encouraged and tell you to stop ignoring your gift.”

“But...,” I stopped, “is that all?”

“Sean, a full blooded, immortal Yuchi dogman has thrown you around all morning and you are roughed up only a little. Isn’t that kind of different?”

“Oh,” was my only reply.

“Yes, oh. You are starting to come into your gifts,” he said then he stood up and began to clear the table. “And we need to get you trained up quickly.”

**************

It was the beginning of Samhain. I awoke to the music of Johnny Cash playing in the kitchen, as breakfast was being prepared. The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars. I got out of bed and shuffled my feet to my bedroom door and opened to see Lucan and Kieran cooking up a breakfast too big for just those who lived in the house. Restless by day and by night rants and rages at the stars. Kieran was busy making a dozen or so eggs into scrambled eggs, while Lucan had a skillet filled with shredded potatoes and another with two packages of bacon. It was a mix of odors that made my stomach growl in anticipation of eating.

“Hey,” I said loud enough to be heard over the music.

Lucan lowered the radio to a whisper: “Morning, Sean.”

“Morning, Bear,” added Kieran.

“What’s going on in here?” I asked.

“Tonight is the beginning of Samhain. For the next three nights ending with Halloween, All Saints Day, you, your classmates, Lucan, I, and several others, including Morgana, will be on Merry’s isle for the duration. We are meeting here this morning and I am feeding everyone then we’ll head over to the isle and prepare for tonight,” Kieran stated.

“Why will all of us be on Merry’s isle for three days?” I asked.

“To protect you from the Aes Sidhe, Bear. This is their time of year,” answered Lucan.

“Protect the so called Cathal,” I scoffed.

“The caul between realms is at its thinnest during this period. The Aes Sidhe can move into our world and around in our world almost without being noticed by us. This is not a good thing. It gives them the advantage, which means that they are at their most dangerous during this time of year, so,” Kieran stopped talking and added some pepper then salt to the scrambled eggs.

“Anyone home,” the voice of Morgana yelled from the front door. “I brought homemade doughnuts.”

“We are in the kitchen,” called back Kieran.

“I love her doughnuts,” Lucan stated.

In her usual overalls, Branwyn, carrying a platter of cellophane wrapped fresh plain doughnuts, along with Morgana came strolling into the kitchen. Branwyn placed the doughnuts on the kitchen table, pulled back the cellophane, took a doughnut from the pile, and handed it politely to me. I took it from her, slightly surprised that she even offered it to me.

“Try one. They’re good, probably the best doughnuts you’ll ever eat in your life,” she said to me.

I was surprised by her friendliness towards me. Maybe, it was a trick, I thought, she was setting me up for something. I noticed she was staring at me with a smirk then I realized I was standing there wearing only a pair of sweat pants. I took a bite of the doughnut and smiled awkwardly. The doughnut really was good.

“See, I told you about the doughnut,” I said.

“Yeah, it is good.”

“You’re getting muscles. Merry must be working you out pretty hard,” she commented.

“Chota is responsible for that not Merry,” I mumbled.

“Huh?” she replied.

“It’s Chota who is training me.”

“Oh, Chota. I’ve only met him once in human form. You must be special. He usually doesn’t bother with us, just turns into a dog when we visit the isle and waits for us to leave,” she said with a smile then she looked over at Kieran. “Where’s Fintain?”

“Still in bed,” Kieran stated with a hint of annoyance.

“I’ll go force him out of bed,” she said then she left the kitchen.

“Don’t mind my daughter, Sean,” Morgana said to me. “Since she is part Fey, she tends to have extreme mood shifts. It’ll give you a headache dealing with all her mood shifts. As she gets older she’ll be better at controlling them, though.”

“Really, you Fey get better at controlling your moods when you get older,” Kieran goaded Morgana.

“What are you trying to say, Kay?”

“Nothing, Mo, nothing at all. I’m just surprised that half humans and half Fey become better at controlling their moods, as they get older. It’s surprising to hear.”

“Now, Kay, don’t try and get on my last nerve, or I might use my own special gifts to make it rain constantly over your head for the next three days.”

“Okay, I won’t try,” he laughed. “Can you get me a platter so that I can put the scrambled eggs on it?”

“Sure,” she answered him then she went to a cabinet and retrieved a platter then stood beside Kieran as he dumped the eggs onto it.

“Donovan is coming with his son Benedict,” Lucan said to Morgana.

“Good. We can use the help. Who else?”

“Cedric’s mother, Denara...”

“Goody, the Celtic female warrior druid. She is something when she gets her dander up, real frightening,” Morgana stated.

“Yes, she is,” agreed Kieran.

“Oh, you like her. That’s interesting. I think you’re smitten,” Morgana declared.

“That’s not true. Female druid warriors aren’t my type,” Kieran told Morgana.

“Really, what is your type?” she replied with sly smile.

“Yeah, well, if you two are done,” Lucan interrupted their repartee. “Cedric and his father are staying near the shore instead of the isle as is Wayne, Sr.”

“Well, it sounds as if we are loaded for bear.”

“I resent that remark,” I said making fun of my nickname, as I ate a doughnut.

This evoked a laugh from Kieran and Lucan.

“The more the better at this party,” said Lucan. “I wouldn’t even mind importing a few people clans from Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Britain, and Wales.”

“We have enough good people here to handle the situation. Merry won’t let them on his isle,” Kieran said.

Lucan added the bacon to the platter along with the eggs, while Kieran removed biscuits from the stove. My stomach growled, as the smell of the food ready to eat filled up the kitchen. Fintain, looking half awake with bed head and still wearing his PJs, and Branwyn entered the kitchen.

“So you’re finally up and about, my lazy boy,” Kieran said to Fintain.

“Branwyn told me her mother made doughnuts. I couldn’t stay in bed when I heard that. I love them.”

“Still showing off, huh?” Branwyn said to me.

I blushed as I realized I was still standing in the kitchen without a shirt on. Without making an excuse, I quickly returned to my bedroom to change into some clothes. Rifling through my clothes, I got a pair of jeans on then I grabbed a grey L.L. Bean cotton River Driver’s shirt, pulled up its sleeves then I slipped on a pair of dockers. Meow, meow, I heard outside of the bedroom window.

Meow, meow, the muffled soft sound kept up, so I walked over to the window and saw a black cat with piercing yellow eyes peering up at me. My mother always loved helping stray cats and dogs whenever she could; the thought of people buying animals then either ignoring them or releasing them to survive on their own angered her. She said they needed love just like any pet. Unlocking the window latch, I opened wide the window to let the cat into my room.

“Hi, kitty,” I said.

The black cat jumped up onto the windowsill. It looked at me with its eyes now orange and yellow. I reached over and stroked the fur of the cat’s back, which roused a purr from the cat then suddenly I felt like there was something odd about this feline creature. It was as if an inner voice in me was calling out danger, danger, danger. I looked at the cat I was petting. In the pit of my stomach, a gnawing feeling of anxiety caused a rumble, as a further warning to me. I started to take my hand away from the cat, when the feline hissed, extended its claws and went to scratch me.

“Remove yourself now, unwanted guest, you fiend!” came a roar from Morgana, as my bedroom door opened and Morgana bolted in.

With naturally fast reflexes I quickly pulled my hands out of the reach of the cat, which just missed scratching me, as Morgana seemed to summon up a strong breeze within my bedroom and then blew the cat out through the open window then she shut the window with the same breeze. As her mother exited the room and went into the backyard along with Kieran, Fintain and Lucan to find the cat, Branwyn entered my bedroom. The expression on her face was one of concern, as she grabbed my arms and started looking for scratches.

“Did she scratch you? Did the cat scratch you?” Branwyn asked with nervousness barely hidden in her voice.

“She tried to but didn’t succeed,” I answered, as I pulled my arms away from her. “What was it?”

“A cusith, a cat sidhe. My mother suddenly felt her presence. The Aes Sidhe use them as spies, but they can also cause a mystical fever that can be deadly if they scratch you with their poisonous claws, especially if you are one of us. Are you sure you are all right, Sean?” Branwyn asked me, while checking every inch of my skin on my arms and hands for marks from the cusith.

“I’m fine, really, I’m fine. It completely missed me,” I assured her then I pulled my arms away from her again.

“You have to be more careful than that. That was stupid letting a cat into your room. Aes Sidhe, they have shapeshifters. You have to be more careful,” Branwyn scolded me in a tone that both annoyed and surprised me. The thought of being scolded by someone my age annoyed me, but she also showed great concern for me, real concern, which surprised me. Branwyn’s way of acting towards me had change seemingly overnight.

“I’ll try to be more careful,” I told her then exited the bedroom with her following me.

I started towards the back door to join everyone in search of the cat when Branwyn quickly moved in front of me and blocked my way. With her arms crossed in front of her and her jaw set with determination, she acted as a blockade.

“You have to stay in the house for now. The cusith is still loose in the area. We can’t take a chance with you,” she told me.

“Why do I have stay inside then?”

“Because you are not trained as well as the rest of us yet! You wouldn’t know what to do if you caught the cat and that would endanger you and others,” she answered.

“Would you want to go out there and search for the cusith?”

“Of course, I would,” she said in a dismissive tone.

“But...”

“No, buts. You are staying in here with me and without an argument,” she said. “Do you want anything to eat?”

“No, I don’t,” I said then I sat down at the kitchen table and sulked.

“This is for your own good,” Branwyn told me.

“I’d rather be helping. It was my screw up and I should be helping to fix it, helping to make it better. I’m sick of screwing up.”

“But you didn’t know. Merry has not taught you all about the Aes Sidhe yet, but he’s doing it now. You’ll know in time,” she tried to make me feel better but it was good enough.

I stared at her for a second then I said: “My parents died because of me. I don’t want anyone else to die because of me. I don’t care who I’m supposed to be. I won’t have people dying for me.”

“But, Sean, if you are the Cathal, we will follow you. We will die for you,” she told me in a voice that had no sarcasm or disappointment, but only hope. This intimidated me. I didn’t want anyone to die for me.

“Then I don’t want to be the Cathal,” I growled and then went into a pout.

“If you are the Cathal, you won’t have a choice,” she said then she got up and walked to the kitchen window and looked out to see how things were going.

“They’re coming back in,” she said. “I guess the cusith got away.”

ttttt

I spent the first day and night of Samhain on Merry’s isle sulking around in the cabin. Setting up tents and camping gear the visitors to the isle made themselves comfortable. While the others patrolled the isle and guarded the cabin where I pouted away, sitting in the cabin’s spare bedroom avoiding everyone, except Merry and Chota, who didn’t care if I wanted to be alone. The room was small with only a single bed and a wood chair that looked to be made out of logs. I sat on the bed and Chota sat in the chair.

“So Buckaroo,” Chota said to me, “you’re pouting like a little papoose. That’s real mature. No wonder I like you so much, you remind me of myself when I was your age and everyone expected so much from me.”

“I don’t like the idea of anyone else dying for me, Chota,” I let him know.

“And I don’t like the fact my brother cursed me with immortality, or that my tribe is all but extinct, or the Braves are a bad baseball team this year. There’s lots of stuff I don’t like, but you know what?”

“What?”

“The world, or the Great Creator, doesn’t care what I like or what I don’t like. There is a plan and that plan was drawn up without my permission, and it will unfold without my permission. I just have to deal with it,” Chota told me. “Now I’m in the mood to turn into a dog and run around the isle avoiding our guests. It’s a little too crowded around here for my taste. You want to come along?”

“Why do you like transforming into a dog so much, Chota?”

“I like to lick myself,” Chota laughed.

“No, really, why do you like it?” I asked him.

“Because I feel freer as a dog. As Chota I feel cursed,” he answered with a shrug.

“Okay, I’ll come with you. I could use a run.”

“Hey, maybe I shouldn’t wear my sweat pants, so when I turn back into a human I embarrass the girls with my all natural look?”

“Wear the pants, please, wear the pants,” I said.

“Okay, ruin my fun.”

With Wayne and Garth coming along, also, Chota and I ran around the isle’s beach for exercise then settled in to have some fun. When he had enough of being a dog, Chota transformed back and noticed he had his sweatpants on backwards. After fixing his sweat pants he began to give me his latest lessons in Native American martial arts. On the beach Chota instructed me in several body blocks and throws then told me to try and take him down. With Wayne and Garth cheering me on, giving me support, I attempted to use speed and agility to do as I was told. Wayne had become my biggest booster among my former schoolmates and cheered loudest for me to defeat Chota. I was close several times catching Chota’s leg when the afternoon sky slowly turned light and charcoal grey and thunder rumbled and lightening bolts lit up the sky.

“The Aes Sidhe are searching for you,” Chota told me. “I think that they really, really like you.”

“Yeah, they like me all right,” I said sarcastically.

A lightening bolt flashed from the sky and hit the surface of the lake water. It was followed by a boom of thunder then another bolt hitting the water’s surface.

“Can the lightening hit us?” asked Wayne.

“Nay,” said Chota, “Merry made this isle. They don’t have the juice to break through the barriers he conjures. The man has serious skills.”

“Yeah, he’s got some serious juju,” Wayne agreed with him, which amused Chota.

“I like you,” Chota said to him.

“Thanks,” Wayne happily responded.

“So, should we continue grappling?” I asked Chota.

“Yeah, why not? You’re almost getting good enough to be a challenge.”

For another hour we grappled as the lightening and thunder continued its search for me. Finally, both Chota and I had enough and the storm suddenly stopped, almost as if it had finally found me. We returned to the cabin to find Etain, Branwyn and Benedict being instructed by Merry, who now wore the long black robe I saw him in the night my parent’s died. He lectured on the subtle nature of their powers, while Morgana and Denara watched on with amused expressions on their faces. Everyone else was on patrol making sure that nothing was on the isle that didn’t belong.

“Branwyn, Fey have natural empathy with nature. Where a druid can command nature with its powers, you can befriend and get it to do as you wish. I have found sometimes, most times, that is more powerful to befriend nature than command nature. It is a more organic relationship. Nature, when it is a willing ally, will give you more of itself. It will perform miracles for you. When commanded it will give only what is asked and nothing more. I want you to teach Etain and Benedict how to befriend nature,” he told her.

“Why me, Merry; why not you?”

“Because your affinity with nature is natural, something you were born with, while I had to learn to befriend nature,” he told her then with his right hand he gracefully motioned me to join him.

I walked over to Merry, who placed his arm around my shoulders and began to stroll. We walked for several minutes in silence until no one was near us, then he spoke: “I am glad you have left your room finally and joined us.”

“Chota convinced me to leave the room,” I admitted.

“He has a good affect on you and you have a good one on him,” Merry noted.

“Merry, why did Chota’s brother curse him?” I asked.

“Have you asked Chota this question?”

“No. I thought it might cause him pain to tell the story to me,” I explained.

“That is noble, Bear. Some day ask him the reason. I believe he will tell you,” Merry said. “Now tonight should go without any trouble. My talents are too strong for the Aes Sidhe to breakthrough the barriers I have set up, but tomorrow is Halloween and Samhain and that is a different story. They are one and the same time and our enemy will have extra strength behind their attack. They will draw on all the negative energies in the world and focus it on getting to you, which is why I have a devious plan to foil them.”

“What is your plan?” I asked with a little bit of exasperation in my voice. I was tired of hiding from those who had killed my parents.

“I will hide you in the Fey Realm tomorrow, as a guest of Morgana and Branwyn, who will go with you. How does that sound to you?”

“Like I’ll be running from my enemy, from those who killed my parents,” I stated.

“Oh, Bear, don’t think of it as running, but as a strategic retreat in order to preserve the well being of your troops. We are too few here to handle a large attack. After tomorrow night things we revert to their usual status quo with the Aes Sidhe having limited powers in this realm. All I ask is for one night we avoid confrontation,” Merry explained in a soft, calming voice.

“Merry, if I’m not here then everyone will be safe?” I asked.

“Yes, they will. The Aes Sidhe will risk an attack to get to you, but they will not attack just to attack.”

“Why would the Fey let me hide in their realm? Aren’t they afraid of the Aes Sidhe?”

“Excellent question, Bear. And the answer will surprise you,” he said with a hint of pride. “First, the Aes Sidhe won’t think of looking for you in the Fey Realm just yet. They are willing to attack now because they think you are still untrained and vulnerable, too untrained and vulnerable to be trespassing around in the realms where you might insult some allied race or make some other blunder. Yet, they don’t know you like I know you, which is to say that I think you are more than ready for a visit to a friendly realm.”

“So the Fey are allies to us?” I asked.

“Very much so. They are actually very attracted to humans. There is something about the power of our emotions, which attracts them to us. You see they too hope that you are the Cathal.”

“The Cathal is that important to all the realms, Merry?”

“Yes, he is,” he answered. “Now what do you say about my idea?”

“Yes, I’ll go.”

“Good,” he said then he turned us around and started walking back to the cabin. “I’ve been thinking, as you have made such great progress here with Chota and I, well, I thought you might move onto the mist isle and make the cabin your home with us until I think you are up to speed and ready to rejoin your classmates off of the isle.”

“I’d like that, Merry,” I answered feeling a surprising amount of relief at the thought of living on the isle. Even though Kieran was kind to me, as well as being my uncle, and Fintain was my cousin, I felt more at home on Merry’s isle than at their house.

“It would mean twenty four hours a day, seven days a week of training and being on your best behavior because I like peace and quiet on my isle. I am too old for a loud obnoxious teenager under foot,” warned Merry.

“I still like it,” I said with enthusiasm.

“We won’t have access to the internet, and I won’t allow videogames, and you will find that Chota chooses all the movies we rent down at Elizabethton and his tastes runs to westerns, action, detective, and, oddly enough, an occasional romantic comedy. He won’t allow sci-fi or fantasy. He says his life has enough of that already. Chota is a man of strong emotions and beliefs. Does that dissuade you?”

“No.”

“Good. I’ll inform Kay. He will be disappointed, but I think he’ll understand.”

“Thank you, Merry.”

******************

Merry asked Morgana, Branwyn and me to meet him at an isolated part of the beach at noon. He told everyone else to prepare for a picnic since they would remain on the isle in order to confuse the Aes sidhe. Dressed in chinos and pull over polo shirt along with bare feet, as per Merry’s request, I was the first to arrive, followed by mother and daughter. For this journey into the Fey Realm Branwyn showed up bare footed and dressed in a cotton white short dress, as did her mother. She looked almost embarrassed by the way she was dressed, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. It was more than she was attractive, but that I was starting to feel a strange connection to her.

“Morgana and Branwyn, you may allow the Fey parts of your being to come out,” Merry told them.

With those words, Branwyn and Morgana began to glow. It was as if an internal light had been turned on and started to shine through their skin. It was a yellowish gold glow. Branwyn glanced over at me and saw that I was staring at her. She blushed, which made her glow turn a slightly pink color. Merry noticed this and was amused.

“The Fey are literally a bright and shining people,” he said.

He squatted down and with the forefinger of his right hand he drew a circle in the sand large enough for someone to pass through. Next he stood up, raised his hands over the circle, and began to speak in a language I had never heard before. I assumed it was some ancient language.

“Fata, oiph doirseo celtae mod,” he intoned loudly.

The sand in the circle that Merry had made turned a wet black then turned morphed to glass, which then it turned to ice and finally transformed to what seemed to be water. Merry lowered his hands.

“Well, you can enter the Fey Realm now. I expect you back in the morning, healthy and refreshed and ready for whatever is to come next,” Merry said then he strolled away with his hand behind his back and whistling a Celtic tune.

“After you Branwyn,” Morgana said to her daughter.

Branwyn walked up to the door and fell forward into it then disappeared. Morgana motioned me to go next. With a mix of reluctance and curiosity, I walked towards the circle door, stood for a moment staring at the crystal blue infinite water then I fell face first into it. Much to my surprise instead of water, I fell through a door to the Fey Realm.

Although I thought I’d be on my face, I found that I was on my feet when I exited through another circle. Instead of a realm, it appeared that I entered a room, but it was a room unlike any I had ever seen or been in before in my life. On one wall a river of crystal blue water ran across it and on another wall there were paintings of Fey that seemed to change scenery and actions every few moments with a sparkle and glow. The floor of the room was made of the softest sand I had ever felt. For a few seconds I allowed my feet and toes to enjoy the softness. Branwyn was standing there waiting for me along with a Fey male and a Fey female.

Like Branwyn and Morgana, the Fey shone, but even more so. Their clothes seemed to shimmer and shine and move languidly over their bodies in constant motion. The hair of the Fey was either the color of flame or the color of gold, and their beauty was literally breathtaking and ethereal. Morgana came through the door and it closed behind her.

“Morgana our half sister,” said the female in a musical voice, “and her sired, more Fey than human, you are a welcomed guest. Our brother loved you and changed realms for you. We are honored to have you.”

“And you, the would be Cathal,” the male said in an equally musical voice, “we are honored to have you as a guest. The cursed Aes Sidhe, who have, in this plane of existence been the ender of life for many of my siblings, will not find you here. And if the cursed ones do, we shall die protecting you as you are an honored guest.”

“I am honored to be your guest and would never ask any of you to sacrifice their existence for me,” I replied, which seemed to make both the male and female happy.

“That is not for you to say,” the Female told me, as her glow increased.

“We shall introduce you to our simple realm,” the male told me.

Branwyn walked over to me and with her right arm she linked it with my left arm then she leaned into him and whispered: “They won’t tell you their names because you won’t be able to say them. It is not out of rudeness.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Prepare yourself,” she whispered, “the Fey Realm can be overwhelming.”

We followed the Fey out of the room, which I now assumed was a waiting room, and into the Fey world. Although I was prepared for something remarkable, my senses barely could handle what I saw, heard and felt. It was as if he had gone to a museum and entered into one of the most beautiful paintings I had ever seen. Colors were brighter; the sounds were never harsh or loud, but melodic and musical; smells were more enticing, stronger; and shapes never seemed to stay still for very long. Everything was in movement. My head started to spin with everything so vivid and seeming to be in subtle constant motion and so overwhelming.

The male and female Fey walked through a grassy knoll, where the grass was the color of a honeydew melon, smelled like spices and softly caressed your legs and feet. We followed them to a female Fey who appeared much older than the rest, even though it was difficult to tell age with the Fey. This older Fey had flaming orange hair and she appeared joyous that Morgana, Branwyn, and I were here.

“Child of my son, welcome home. I have missed your presence,” she said to Branwyn, who broke away from me and ran over to her grandmother to give her a hug.

“Hi, grans,” Branwyn said then she stepped back and stood beside her grandmother.

“Mate of my son, how have the days that passed found you?”

“They have been kind to me,” said Morgana, then she seemed to sing a beautiful song without words.

I assumed this was the older female Fey’s name. I watched as Morgana then walked up to the woman and kissed her cheek. Branwyn came back to me and brought me to meet her grandmother.

“Grans, this is Arthur Sean McCoul,” Branwyn introduced me.

The Older Fey’s shimmering and shining clothing seemed to move more quickly and shined a little brighter upon hearing my name. She released a scent that smelled like perfume made from flowers and spices into the air and sang a wordless song to Sean. When she stopped, I bowed to her and then said: “I am honored by your greeting. You have given me the gift of hearing beauty.”

This caused another song to exit the Old female Fey, who appreciated my words. With surprise Branwyn stared at me. Again she shone a bit pink and seemed to be very happy with how I acted.

“I have prepared rooms and food for all of you,” the old female Fey said.

“Thank you,” Morgana said.

“What do we have to eat?” Branwyn happily asked.

“Ahh, delicacies. I have fruit picked from the ocean; glasses of chill evaporated wind; handfuls of berries from the heart of trees; and frozen clouds for dessert,” she answered.

“And what do we have to drink?” asked Branwyn.

“The wine of the sweetest flowers pressed by hand.”

Branwyn looked over at me: “You will never forget this meal.”

“I look forward to it.”

After the most unusual dinner I had ever experienced, the Fey offered me some entertainment. Since this was the Fey Realm the magic here was more powerful. Tables and chairs were removed from the dining room of the older Fey’s house and large, soft, colorful pillows that smelled of honey were brought in for all to recline on, then the roof disappeared. A constant updraft allowed four Fey, two men and two women, to dance gracefully in the air above us. After they finished their dance, another male Fey produced a musical instrument that looked like it had elements both of a guitar and a harp. He played it and it made one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard. The song he played made me think of my parents and I cried.

“Honored guest, you shed tears,” the older Fey said to me.

“Yes. The song made me remember my parents who were killed by the Aes sidhe,” I told her.

“Oh,” she smiled. “It was an evocation song of emotion. You honor the player with your tears.”

“And he honors me with his song,” I replied.

With the entertainment ended Branwyn took me to her favorite spot in the Fey Realm. Our guards on this trip were two male Fey warriors with bows and arrows made of gold and captured lightening. The spot was at the top of a purple mountain and overlooked a sea of shining cerulean water whose waves seemed to dance.

“What do you think of the Fey, Sean?” Branwyn asked me.

“I’m awed by it all.”

“I know. I love visiting here, but I could never stay here. It’s all too strangely perfect. I like our realm,” she told me in an excited voice. “You have made an excellent impression here.”

“I’m glad,” I said with a feeling of relief.

“So when are you coming back to school?”

“Why are you missing Merry as a teacher?”

“No, he’s still teaching us certain subjects,” she answered me.

“How? He doesn’t leave the isle,” I said in shock.

“Well, you see Merry can split off pieces of his knowledge. They look and sound just like him and once they have done their work they rejoin with him. He calls them his other selves,” explained Branwyn.

“I didn’t know that. So if you aren’t missing Merry, why do you want to know when I’m coming back?”

“I wanted to know when you are coming back because I wanted you back. You see we kind of all got off to a bad start with you.”

“I’m not coming back. As a matter of fact, I’m kind of leaving Kieran’s house, too,” I said then I noticed that her shine started to become a shade of blue. “You see I’m moving to the isle to train full time. I won’t be back until I catch up with all of you. Merry thought this would be best and safest for everyone.”

“Oh, well, I didn’t know that,” she replied in a softly, disappointed tone.

“Yeah, well, maybe I can convince Merry to have you guys to the isle more for some group training. I think he’d agree to that,” I said and her shine started to come back.

“Maybe some of us can visit you during Christmas, too?”

“I think Merry will like that. I know I would like it.”

“Good. I’ll tell my mother that we have an appointment for Christmas Eve on Merry’s isle.”

“Yeah, sure, Christmas it is,” I said and suddenly I wished I did go to school in the barn with the rest of them, especially her.

An unexpectedly warm feeling came over me. I looked at Branwyn, whose cheeks were now flushed. A tingle of excitement tickled me, as well as a feeling of interest. These weren’t my own emotions I was feeling, though. Branwyn looked away and suddenly I felt a hiccup of embarrassment. For a moment, I thought I was feeling Branwyn’s emotions.

“Do you want to skate on the top of the water?” she asked me.

“How can we do that?” I asked.

“Didn’t you hear? I’m more Fey than human. I can do everything a Fey can do here,” she told me.

Branwyn then took my left hand in her right hand and started walking off the cliff. Instead of falling the wind became our steps all the way down to the water’s surface. Hand in hand we skated across the surface of the water. She glowed a radiant gold with hints of red. For me it was the most magical thing I had ever done in my life.

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