A New Realm, A New friend
“In Annwyn you will visit with the Celtae Warriors, the spiritual forefathers of the Celtic people. Arawn is the king of them. Gwynn Nudd is the king of Galli Warriors, who are also the spiritual forefathers of the Celtic people. It can be slightly confusing,” Merry lectured me, as Lance, who knew all of this already, stood beside me. Both Lance and I were dressed in all black, just like Merry. “But these proto-warriors helped father the early Celts, which explains why the early Celts were great warriors, but had a difficult time playing nice with each other. They were more individual great warriors rather than a great army like the Romans.”
“You mean they don’t like to be told what to do by a central authority,” I commented.
“Yes, well, sort of. There are also many other races in this Otherworld Realm. There is the Nisse, who are a race of farmers. That is all they do and all they live for is farming the land and reaping the fruits of their labor. There are the Slyphid, who live in the clouds of this realm, and are a kind of airbound Fey folk. Next are the Nixes, who live on top of as well as underneath the great ocean. They are one of my favorite races. I find them calming. Finally, and I chose them for last for a reason, we will meet with the Huldra, who are a race of highly seductive wood nymphs. I must be very careful with the two of you when we meet with them, as they will want to mark you, as they call it. All in all it will be a busy schedule for us to keep.”
“Yeah, it sounds like it’s going to be a real party for us going from race to race to be observed and judged,” I sarcastically remarked.
“Now, Bear, you must be on your best behavior here. Sometimes first impressions are the only impressions you will ever make on someone. I know that you were enjoying the Christmas vacation with class chums, but you have greater responsibilities than having fun. These responsibilities cannot be put off just because you were enjoying your vacation. They must be lived up to,” Merry advised me.
“I should have brought my PSP with me,” I joked, much to Merry chagrin.
“How long will you be gone for?” Chota asked, as we stood near a large rock on the Merry’s mist isle.
“Four days tops, no more than that. Every race in Annwyn should be able to have a looksy in that time period,” Merry answered.
“Well, I think I’ll spend the time you guys are gone as a dog. Life can be easier that way,” Chota said then he gave us a nod and started to jog away. As he went he slowly transformed into a dog, this time leaving all his clothes behind.
Merry took out his pocket watch and looked at the time: “Happy New Eve. Another year comes, and another recedes and time goes on. MY, my, I’ve seen so many years, so many decades, centuries.”
“Is it time to leave then?” I asked.
“It’s time,” Merry answered.
Merry approached the large rock and placed both his hands on it. Lowering his head and closing his eyes, he concentrated and began to chant in his head in one of the many ancient languages he knew. The rock turned to sand, but didn’t break apart and fall to the ground but it turned into a shimmering silver doorway to the next realm.
“After you, gentlemen,” Merry motioned us to walk through the doorway.
First, I walked into the shimmering silver doorway then Lance followd behind me. When we exited we were in the Otherworld Realm, or Annwyn. Much to my surprise Annwyn reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Ireland and Scotland, but with some obvious differences. Instead of a blue sky it possessed a slightly purplish one and the clouds were more powder blue in color than white. The grass was emerald green and I had never seen trees with such thick and wide barks before. A cool wind scented with the smells of nutmeg and other spices blew in our faces.
Suddenly, over the hill a party of fifteen warriors, dressed in what I thought was ancient Celtic kilts, appeared. These men were extremely large men, six foot seven inches or better in height, with knotted, thick muscles and they carried with them wooden spiked war shields, spears, and various sized swords. They were intimidating to behold with rough, garrulous exteriors that seemed to revel in battle. Merry came through the doorway and noticed the large men: “Ahh, good, our greeting party is here. And they look happy to see us.”
He walked passed me and Lance and then he waved to them then called out: “King Arawn and Kind Gwynn Nudd, it is a pleasure to see you again.”
“Merry, you are always welcome to this realm,” King Arawn, an orange haired brute with a thick beard, answered him in an accent that seemed familiar yet foreign to me.
“Your company is always good,” said King Gwynn Nudd, a blonde-haired giant without facial hair, in a similar accent as Arawn.
As they approached these large warriors, Merry bowed elegantly, as did Sean and Lance, just as Merry had taught them, not too deep a bow and never take your eyes off the kings. Arawn and Nudd came up close and looked at the two young boys. Though Lance was taller than Sean by several inches, he appeared small in comparison to these giant men. Arawn took a hand that was almost as large as Sean’s head and lifted his chin up then turned his head to the right then to the left, as if he was examining Sean’s head. He then released him.
“He bares a resemblance to the original Cathal, a strong resemblance. I expect that is a good thing since he was a great leader,” Arawn observed. “What name do you go by?”
“McCoul,” said Gwyn Nudd, “That is a fine clan name. It is a warrior’s name.”
“But Sean. That is weak sounded. It will do for now. If he is Cathal, he’ll need another,” Arawn spat.
“He’s kind of small and fragile looking. Is this all there is of him?” observed Gwynn Nudd.
“He is not done growing,” Merry told him.
“How old is he?” asked Nudd.
“He is thirteen years. He will be fourteen years soon,” Merry answered.
“It takes humans so many years to mature. Such wasted time. We mature by the age of ten.”
“Yes, they do seem so frail. They must break easily,” Arawn wryly observed.
“Not as easily as a giant oaf breaks when it is felled,” I retorted, much to the surprise of Lance and amusement of Merry.
Arawn stared into my eyes for a moment. I stood there defiant and stared back. There was no way I was going to back down. Arawn then began to, as did Gwynn Nudd.
“He has courage. I like that,” Arawn said.
“Let’s hope he isn’t as fragile as he appears,” Gwynn Nudd laughed.
“You won’t always find me so amusing, when I have matured,” I boasted.
“Let us hope that is true,” Arawn stated.
“Kings of the realm, what do you have in store for us this day?” asked Merry.
“First, you shall visit with the Nisse. They will feed you. Then the Slyphid expect a visit from you, where you shall find rest...,” Arawn said.
“Then a visit to the Nixes for feast and more then followed by a date with the Huldra, who will do as the Huldra do, ending in a...,” Gwynn Nudd told them.
“In a grand tournament and feast with us in the Celtae encampment. Celtae and Galli battling against each other for the hero’s portion,” Arawn completed their itinerary.
“Several Annwyn races to see and you will take several days to see them,” Gwynn Nudd told them.
“It sounds like a busy few days then, doesn’t it? I should have packed an alarm clock to keep us on schedule,” Merry commented. “Have you scheduled sightseeing time for us? I’d like to show them some of the highlights of this realm.”
Before Arawn could answer this comment a long black haired warrior from the greeting party guards broke away from the rest, unsheathed his broad sword, raised it above his head and let out a blood curdling scream of defiance, and rushed towards me to slay me. Lance stepped quickly in front of me to protect me and bravely took an unarmed defensive position to face the oncoming warrior. Both Arawn and Gwynn Nudd drew their swords from their sides, also, but there was no need for their actions. Merry raised his hands chest high, concentrated for a moment in order to connect with nature then delicately made the shape of a ball with his hands.
Much to the surprise of the warrior attacking me, the ground beneath his feet came alive and quickly formed an earthen ball around this raging warrior to subdue him. From the force of the warrior inside of it the ball rolled for a few feet but then came to a stop imprisoned in a natural jail.
“What treachery is this! Ahk, this cannot happen here in this realm,” cried out Arawn.
“This cannot stand. A traitor is in our midst. A price must be paid!” called Gwynn Nudd.
Four of the warriors ran to the earthen ball and stood guard over it, even though there was no way for the warrior to escape. The rest of the warriors ran to guard me, who patted Lance on his right shoulder to let him know that he could stand down. Lance moved to my right side.
“Druid, is this Aes Sidhe treachery? Are they that foolish to attack in our realm?” asked Arawn.
“Yes, I am afraid they are that foolish, but they did not attack themselves. They corrupted one of your own to do it for them,” Merry answered. “It has to be either the Aes Sidhe or one of their allies: Dark Elves, Sprites, Goblins, or maybe the halflings. Yes, they would be responsible for this.”
“Whoever it is who did this, they will pay,” Arawn predicted.
“We shall make them pay, all of them, for their actions,” added Gwynn Nudd, “as they have violated our realm, which cannot be allowed ever! We must prepare for an immediate invasion of their realm.”
“No, do not battle them like that, sirs. They did not attack you face to face, but used corruption and manipulation to cause an attack from within,” said Merry. “Wait, wait for the Cathal. I ask you kings to wait. Wait for Bealtaine! See if Sean is the one. The Aes Sidhe provokes us here because they fear what Sean might be. Let him become what they fear then let the war be brought out into the open.”
“I want revenge and I want it now druid. They have insulted the kings of Annwyn and to wait means weakness. We are not weak,” Arawn stated.
“Allow the revenge to wait, to become icy in its execution, and it will be all the greater when you serve it to them,” advised Merry.
“The druid makes some sense,” Gwynn Nudd said. “They did not come here in person, but used one of ours against us. They will expect an invasion now and use that against us somehow. Those realms that remain neutral may not remain so. They may see it that we are the aggressors.”
“Maybe so,” Arawn said then he looked at Lance and I. “If this boy is the Cathal, he already has a loyal lieutenant, who stood up to protect him, I see. That is a sign of good leadership. Maybe this fragile boy is the next one. It is possible.”
“It was impressive to see the boy protect his leader and well done,” added Gwynn Nudd.
“Yes,” Merry said as he turned and looked at Lance and I. “It is very impressive. You have chosen well in whom you brought with you, Bear. And you, Lance, have shown yourself a brave warrior. Your mother would be proud.”
Lance blushed, as I once again patted him on the back with appreciation.
“Now, you will have two of my best men...,” started to speak Arawn.
“No, two of my best men,” said Gwynn Nudd.
“How about one from each of you and no more than that,” amended Merry.
“Yes, that sounds fair,” Arawn agreed. “You will have two of our best men as guards for your duration here. They will give their lives to protect you. We will not allow any more treachery.”
The Nisse were a simple folk and proud of that fact, too. As a matter of fact they took such pride in their simplicity that it almost took on the air of superiority. They wore plain work clothes and lived lives that would seem boring to many, but which they found rich and fulfilling and this showed in their demeanor and attitude towards other. To find a smile on the round, pudgy, pug nosed faces of the Nisse, faces that contrasted with their slender hard bodies, was pretty easy. A perpetual smile graced their faces, which was a sign of the contentment, which they had in their work and their lives.
After borrowing simple clothes from the Nisse to wear for their dinner Lance, Merry and I sat down at the head table of Moss, the lead farmer of the Nisse farm they visited. Arawn’s and Gwynn Nudd’s guards stood at attention outside, ever vigilant and ever ready, of the great hut. Like all Nisse, who had any hair on their heads, Moss, who was average in height at five foot three inches, had a sort of brown stubble growing on top of his head. Along with eyes that were all brown, cornea and iris, he possessed a kind of rosy complexion that highlighted his olive colored skin.
“Bring on the good food. We are hungry from hard work and ready for sustenance,” Moss called.
Twelve male and female Nisse, each carrying an overflowing platter of cooked vegetables prepared in several styles, came into the common hall and started to serve up the food to the fifty who had gathered there. With each server who came by I said yes to their offer of food in order to be polite, so that by the end of the serving time I had two plates of foreign looking vegetables in front of me. Though these mainly root vegetables smelled delicious, causing my mouth to water from hunger, they were completely strange in appearance and color: deep scarlet, orange, purple, blood red, pitch-dark, sunburn, and brown.
“We do not wait for fancy words, or unnecessary talk, here on the farm. That is for other, fancier places. Things are too busy on the farm and our lives are too simple for that. Eat,” Moss told me.
I spied Lance, who began to heartily eat the food on his plate. I decided to ignore the colors and focus on the appetizing smells and sampled the food. The vegetables had flavors I never tasted before and more satisfying than any I had ever eaten. I actually liked them.
“So, Sean McCoul, who doesn’t like the name Arthur, which is a fine name with great tradition and much to be admired about it; are you the Cathal?” asked Tuck, Moss’ son-in-law.
“Well, I think that is hard to say. Um, I...,” I said then paused.
“Aahh, nonsense words,” Tucker sighed.
“Do not be humble falsely with us, Sean McCoul. It is an insult to the Nisse to be falsely humble. We don’t trust humble. Humble hides things, humble can be a false face to show others and hide the truth. Modest we accept, but humble is a mask. The truth is best,” Moss added.
“I might be the Cathal,” I answered.
“Sounds like a bit of humble to me. Might, maybe, could be, these are hiding places for the truth,” said Floss, Tuck’s wife, who sat by his right side.
“It’s not humble. It is honest. Sean, here, does not know yet if he s the one, though all indications make it easy to believe he is the one. He has doubts, though but I faithfully follow him,” Lance told her.
“You don’t have to say that, Lance,” I said to him.
“I mean what I say, Sean. I don’t misuse words. My mother is the Lady of the Lake. She taught me the importance of the words,” Lance replied.
“The Lady of the Lake’s son. We are honored,” Moss said and nodded towards him.
“Thank you, Lance,” I retorted.
“Humble pie is an inedible pie. It tastes are false and measly without any nutrition. We don’t eat humble pie here,” Moss stated. “Honesty, it is simple and the simple ways are the best ways.”
“Life is often not simple, though. It is hard and complicated with many choices to make and many people you can disappoint depending upon your decisions. Simple...well, simple is something that died with my parents one night. I do not live a simple life,” I asserted in a modest tone.
“Ahhh, I see,” Moss said then paused to think for a moment. “Growing things is a simple thing, especially for us, yet the weather can be unpredictable, even here in this realm. Rain comes sometimes too much and then sometimes not enough, cold can sneak up on us, and too great heat can wither crops, but we must adjust and tend the field. Life is like the weather, or so it is for you.”
“You are wise, Moss, a very wise grower of good foods,” Merry spoke up then he took a taste of a mound of mashed black root vegetable. “Delicious. I really need the recipe for this dish. It is one of my favorites.”
“It is called Batata. I will give the recipe to you along with some seeds for planting, so that you may make it on you own,” Floss said.
“You are too kind. My little isle needs a nice victory garden,” Merry replied.
“How do you like our food?” asked a bald headed Nisse named Mould.
“I have never tasted anything like it before in my whole life,” I answered him.
“Ahh, and that would mean what to us who have planted, nurtured, harvested, and prepared the food for you?” asked Mould suspiciously.
“It would mean that it has taken me by surprise. As a child I hated vegetables, they were almost a punishment to eat. Yet, I find the smells, the odors of your vegetables appealing, though I do find the colors kind of off putting. I am not used to the colors,” I told him.
“And the flavors? How do you like the taste of it?” asked Moss with great interest.
“They are the best tasting vegetables I have ever had. They make me think vegetables are not a punishment to eat when bad but a reward for good work.”
“Very good,” Moss nodded his head. “I hope that you are the Cathal as you appear to have fine taste in food. We would accept you as Cathal.”
“We were worried that you might not like it, as those in Alfheim have said you enjoyed their food, which is abhorrent to us,” Tuck noted then he waited for a response.
Merry looked over at me with a smirk barely visible on his face. He, too, wanted to hear how I answered this question.
“Well, as I am human I enjoy a wide variety of foods. There are some humans who eat only vegetables, but I am not one of them. Elf food has its positives as your vegetables have theirs. A perfect diet for a human would be a combination of both kinds of food. This is our way. We enjoy the greatest variety of things,” I explained.
“Well, that is interesting. I have never tasted meat and never will, but if that is your way of your people then that is your way. We must respect races’ differences,” Tuck stated and started to eat his food.
“If you are the Cathal, you will do,” said Moss.
I glanced over at Merry, who winked at me then to Lance, who let a smile slip. The Nisse were satisfied.
Leaving the Nisse and their borrowed clothes behind them, the three of us proceeded to fields of Myriah, where we were to meet up with the Slyphid. Arriving on time and back in our black clothing, a single slyphid came to prepare us for the next part of the trip. In order to visit with all the Slyphid, Lance, Merry, and I needed to be enchanted so that we could fly. Merry himself could have done the enchantment, but the Slyphid insisted as a guest that they should do the enchantment, so if anything should go wrong with the enchantment then it was their fault. It was twilight when the translucent bodied, winged Slyphid, who I thought looked like a see through marble statue of an angel wearing a see through robe, flew down and preformed the enchantment on us. This Slyphid was named Beeze.
The language of the Slyphid was unlike any spoken in the Otherworld Realm and completely unintelligible for Lance and I to understand. There were no real words, consonants, vowels, or the rest. It was ephemeral, as the Slyphid themselves, and was based on emotions and images that were transmitted through sounds. I closed my eyes and listened to it, as Beeze spoke to Merry, who understood their tongue well enough. In its change of decibels and smooth hollow sounds, I thought it sounded like a song sung by the winds with whistles added. I was shocked to hear Merry answer in the same tongue.
“Beeze tells me that we will be sleeping with them tonight in the clouds. Slyphid do not like to mix with other races, but they wish to observe you, Sean. They hope by watching you it will tell them something about you and potential you hold. Are you ready to fly?” Merry asked us.
“They just want to watch me? That’s it. Nothing more, just watch me?”
“Yes, that’s all,” Merry answered me then he leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “The Slyphid judge people by how they sleep and what they dream when they do sleep. They will be reading your dreams.”
“I hope I don’t have a nightmare tonight. I’m pretty gassy after eating all those vegetables. If I have a nightmare, it will probably freak them,” I whispered back.
“Do I have to come along then?” asked Lance, who hated being watched.
“You wish to stay on the ground with the guards, Lance?” asked Merry.
“Come on, Lance. Please, don’t desert me now. I mean we will be going up into the clouds to sleep. That’s an experience you won’t want to miss. How often to you get a chance to sleep on a freaking cloud?” I begged.
“All right, I’ll go with you.”
Merry waved goodbye to the two guards, who merely stood with stonefaces waiting for us to leave. He then bent his knees and jumped into the air and flew. Since it looked easy Lance and I did the same. After doing several dozen uncontrollable rolls in the air, Lance and I understood that flying wasn’t as easy as it seemed once we stopped rolling chaotically around in the air. Another attempt to move upwards led us to smack our heads and then do cartwheels in the air until Merry stopped us. Beeze took me by the hand and Merry took Lance, and they flew us to the nearest gathering of Slyphid near a cloudbank.
Once we reached the clouds, Beeze dropped me on a cloud and joined his people, who had gathered to observe by the dozens. They flew about me taking inventory of the potential Cathal, looking closely at me and checking on how I reacted to them, on how I reacted to being so high up in the air. I tried to remain passive and calm on the outside, even though my stomach was planning a revolution on me out of fear and anxiety.
On a positive note, much to my surprise the cloud had some density to it, a sort of feathery softness that was comfortable to sit on. Merry, who had deposited Lance next to me on the cloud, did not join us. Instead he flew around the cloud acting as if he was enjoying himself. Maybe it was the enchantment, but as I watched Merry fly about, I noticed that I wasn’t cold even though I was fairly certain that this far above the ground it should be very, very cold. Finally, Merry stopped his buzzing of the cloud.
“Gentlemen, I am going to explore the skies a bit. I had forgotten how much fun it was to fly. It’s been decades since my last time. I shall return in the morrow,” Merry said then he waved goodbye and left us to be observed.
I looked down at the ground. I never was one to like heights, preferring staying on solid ground, and now I knew why I felt that way. The ground seemed to be miles below me, too many miles in fact, which made my stomach scrunch up even more into a ball of anxiety and fear. Since looking down caused me great anxiety, I decided to look around me pretending I was sitting on the grass instead of on a cloud, but that didn’t help much. Other than curious Slyphid, all he saw was a navy blue darkness and all I heard was a wind that deafening me.
“Sean, Sean,” Lance yelled.
“What about...,” the rest of his questions became jumbled in the wind.
“I didn’t hear you,” I yelled.
“Bathroom. What do we do if we have to go to the bathroom?” Lance called out.
“Aim carefully,” I yelled back to him and for a moment I thought I heard shrill, little laughs coming from the Slyphid, who still observed me.
“I’ll wait until we get back down on the ground then,” Lance called back.
I understood his decision. Since the wind made conversation almost impossible, I decided I might as well take this time to take stock of things. In a very short time, I had visited three realms, moved to a mist isle, and been told I might be something called a Cathal. Although, I knew Merry would have an answer, I wanted to ask him with all things considered why I still needed to learn geometry or even logic, which my life seemed to defy. Chota taught me martial arts and weapons. That made sense. What Merry taught me didn’t make as much sense, but I was sure it was just as important as martial arts and weapons.
I noticed that Lance had laid back on the cloud and now stared out into the dark infinity of what was above us. I lay down on my side. Again, I was surprised at how comfortable the cloud was. A jaw, crunching yawn crept up my throat and broke wide my jaw and caused me to make a sound that reminded me of a walrus being fed. Another yawn followed and then another. I guessed it was time to allow the Slyphid to read my dreams, so I closed my eyes then I found that sleep was waiting patiently for me.
It didn’t take long for a dream to take hold of me. What was surprising was what I dreamed of: I dreamed of Branwyn. She was dressed in a short, gossamer white gown. In the dream I was watching Branwyn, who was shining in her Fey form, dancing in a field of lavender grass. The color of her glow was pinkish, as when I had embarrassed her in the Fey. Her white gown changed into the clothes they were much like the Fey Folk I had met in the Fey Realm, too, as she danced through the field with a lithe joy and grace that transfixed me. Spinning, jumping, and performing, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I didn’t want either the dream or the dance to end, but they both did when suddenly she stopped dancing and looked at me and said: “What are you doing in my dream?”
“Wake up, gentlemen, time for breakfast. It appears that the Slyphid have seen enough of you,” Merry said with a chuckle, waking me from my dream before I could answer her. For a moment I wondered if somehow I had gotten into a dream Branwyn was having, but dismissed it. I then wished the Slyphid had never read my dreams, as I started wondering what they thought of me now.
“Come on, lazy head, up, up, up. We have much to do,” Merry said again.
I could be easily heard over the wind, which made me think that Merry could have done something to let Lance and I speak easily to each other but I had decided not to. Merry had his ways.
There was only one Slyphid left when I looked around the cloud and that was Beeze. He waved at me with a smile on his face then he drifted off on a stiff wind. Merry offered me his right hand and Lance his left. We grabbed hold of him and he gently lowered us to the ground.
The ocean in Annwyn was located in the Eastern domainnear the Charcoal Cliff, which towered over the ocean like a great marble wall. According to Merry the Nixes lived both above and below the waters of this domain, as they were aquatic by nature and choice. A peaceful people, their whole existence revolved around the ocean in this realm. All that they needed from food, to clothes, to decorations were cultivated from the waters of Annwyn. There was nothing on land that enticed them, yet they were known to be gracious hosts to land dwellers.
As Merry described it, Marei was the name of their primary above the ocean city, a grand wooden structure consisting of buildings and piers that floated elegantly on top of the water. The city was the color of an ocean at sunrise, while the wind and the salt water weathered their piers and buildings. Marei housed a population of over a thousand, while thousands populated their underwater city of Gupi. Since the Nixes had the ability to breathe both air and water, they rotated their population every season from Marei to Gupi in order to give everyone a chance to experience a different way of life. Though, the underwater city fascinated me the most, it was the above water city we were visiting. Merry had an enchantment for flying, but neither he nor the Nixes had an enchantment for gills and breathing underwater. One had to be born with that ability.
For the first time since we had arrived in Annwyn, Merry was so excited in anticipation of their visit to Marei that he appeared to be almost anxious to get there.
“Merry, why do you like the Nixes so much?” I asked him.
“Because I like seafood,” he answered flippantly, as he was in a good mood.
“It’s more than that,” I prodded him.
“Yes, Merry. Why do you like them so?” added Lance.
“It’s hard to explain in words, but you’ll see why in a few moments. They are a people that not only make you welcome, but bring a feel of calm.”
We were strolling on the Salt Plain headed towards the Charcoal Cliff, where a member of the Nixes awaited them. Ahead of us was a figure made diminutive by distance. Merry looked through his hands, as if he was looking through a spyglass: “That is our guide ahead of us. Let us pick up our pace.”
Merry picked up his step from a saunter to a greatly increased stride. Though it was a sunny day, I felt a chilling breeze coming off of the water. We had changed before we started this journey into clothes appropriate to the Nixes, which included a one piece swimsuit that came down to the knees that left the arms exposed and reminded me of a sort of early twentieth-century swimsuit, the kind seen in history books, and a thin pull over sweater, as well as flip flops made from dried seaweed.
It took less than half an hour for them to reach the Nixes, which was both singular and plural, at the edge of the Charcoal Cliff. The two guards were winded and sweaty by the end of our trek, and Lance and I were ready for a nice rest. Merry, however, was excited to get started to Marei.
“I am Piskos,” said the male Nixes, who greeted us in a deep calming voice.
I was intrigued to see that the Nixes almost sparkled in the sunlight, much as some fish did because of their subtly colorful and shiny scales. The first layer of Nixes skin was scale-like, which they occasionally shed then grew back. Also, he saw that they had long, luxurious hair the color of sand that fell to their lower backs and orange and yellow eyes, which were hypnotic. Both their hands and feet were slightly webbed for swimming. Between his appearance and his attitude of relaxed confidence there was something very calming about the presence of Piskos, just as Merry told me. Dressed much like we were, Piskos carried with him a short spear for fishing and defense.
“Greetings, Piskos. I am Merry and this is Lance and...”
“Sean, the reason you are here,” he said. “Greetings from the Nixes. I hope you don’t mind but there are many waiting to greet you in Marei, so if you will follow me, we will dive from the Charcoal Cliff and swim out to Marei.”
“Dive off the cliff,” I said with apprehension. “We have to do cliff diving?”
“I assure you that you will be fine. Even our children dive from the Charcoal Cliff. The water will greet you well and accept you into its bosom,” Piskos assured me.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I commented.
“Well, then, let’s get started, shall we?” Merry interceded ignoring my concerns.
“I shall go first to make sure there are no predators in the water,” Piskos stated.
“What kind of predators?” asked Lance.
“The Schork, which is a large predator with a white belly and grey top and great, sharp teeth and no conscience.”
“I hope we don’t run into a schork then,” I said.
“I hope we do,” Piskos said with a raised spear, “they make for a delicious meal.”
Without any more discussion, Piskos moved to the edge of the cliff and dove nimbly into the water below. He broke the water and then disappeared underneath it. Lance, Merry, and I peered down into the water to saw Piskos waving up at us motioning us to join him.
“Well, who goes first?” asked Merry.
“Well, since you like these people so much, you go next,” I said to him.
“Sir,” interrupted one of the guards.
“Yes,” answered Merry.
“We cannot swim,” he said with great shame.
“Then you should go last so we can save your lives,” joked Merry.
“He’s kidding you,” I said. “You may stay here. You don’t have to go into the water.”
“Thank you, sir,” the guard replied relieved that he didn’t have to face his fear.
“Well, I’m in the mood for a nice swim,” Merry whimsically stated then he took three steps backward and fell from the cliff in a standing position.
Both Lance and I peered over the edge again looking for him. It took almost forty seconds, but his head finally broke the surface then he began to do the backstroke towards Marei, while Piskos waited for us.
“So, Lance, instead of deciding who goes next, why don’t we both go at the same time?” I suggested.
“You don’t want to dive off the cliff alone, do you?” Lance said.
“Neither, do I,” he agreed. “How about we get a running start and jump off the cliff and hope for the best?”
“Sounds like a good idea to me.”
We took several steps away from the cliff’s edge then we turned and began to run off the cliff. When our bodies left the cliff and began to fall towards the water, we both let out a scream of excitement and great fear, which was only muffled when we hit the water and were submerged underneath. The water was cold and refreshing. When we broke to the surface, we started to swim frantically. I noticed as I swam towards the surface lights shining from underneath me. Trying to see what the lights were as I swam, I realized that those were the lights of Gupi, which was far underneath the surface.
Merry, Lance, and I were greeted by a dozen and half young swimmers as we approached the city of Marei. Many sets of hands grabbed at us helping us onto the pier then we were offered towels to dry ourselves.
“I should have twittered this visit to the rest of our classmates. I think they’d be amused by it all,” I said to Lance.
“They’d only be jealous,” Lance laughed.
“Welcome, welcome,” a large Nixes male bellowed, as the other Nixes parted. “I am Porpais, the elected leader of the above water Nixes. We greet you and your friends. Please be welcomed to our home.”
He was similar in appearance to Piskos, except for some added weight and hair that now had streaks of white in it. Porpais walked up to Merry and hugged him then he advanced to Lance and did the same. When he finally came to me, he gave me a hug then he stepped back and observed me for several moments. I started to become used to being observed by the denizens of Annwyn.
“You have an interesting face, a face with great potential, as it shows signs of seriousness along with humor and caring,” Porpais stated. “Yes, I even see a hint of the former Cathal in you. He was a great one. What a great bloodline you come from!”
A cheer came up from the crowd for the former Cathal. I realized I had never asked who the former Cathal was and Merry had never offered an explanation. Some day I’d have to ask so he knew from whom my bloodline flowed.
“Now, we have food from the ocean for you to share,” Porpais stated, “and some entertainment planned. This will be a wonderful time for you.”
“Excellent!” exclaimed Merry.
Now in the presence of so many Nixes, I understood why Merry liked them so much. I could feel their calm and their joy wafting off of them. It was as if they had a form of empathy, which washed over you. I liked being around them, too.
“Let us go to where the tables are set up and get to know each other,” Porpais announced then he said to me: “I hope you are hungry. We have made a great feast for you.”
The tables were set up in what seemed like an outdoor amphitheater overlooking an enclosed section of ocean, where male and female Nixes performed a water ballet. Reminding me of dolphins when they came up out of the water on their tales, then they danced through the water using their powerful legs to propel them. The food reminded me of Maine, which made me sublimely happy. Crustacea and fish by the platter full was paraded past me and I took my fill of it, while Porpais and the female elected leader Nakara, who had prepared the feast and entertainment, filled my glass with sponge wine that was the color of the ocean itself.
“Do you like the entertainment we offer?” Nakara asked me.
“It is amazing. The grace of the dancers combined with the beautiful movements, it is inspiring. I am truly honored.”
“I choreographed it myself,” she said proudly.
“I wish we had this sort of entertainment in our realm,” I told her.
“You honor me. If you are the Cathal, I will choreograph a special piece for you to celebrate you and you shall bring whomever you want to bring to watch it,” she told me.
“Is this not the greatest way to live your life?” bellowed Porpais.
“No, Porpais, that is a question that burdens our guest to make a judgment against other races in our realm, as well as his own realm,” she scolded him.
“I am sorry. I just love our life so much. My pride bubbles out of me sometimes.”
“I can understand why it does,” I said. “This may or may not be the greatest way to live, but it is surely a tempting way to live. I can see why you love it so much.”
This answer delighted both Nakara for the diplomacy it showed and Porpais for the appreciation of their unique lifestyle. They raised their glasses and toasted me with sponge wine.
“You shall spend the night here resting for the completion of your trip. We will ask nothing more of you, but to relax and re-energize. You are our guests,” Nakara stated. “Who is that you visit next?’
“I believe we have a visit with the Huldra next,” I regretfully said.
“No, that cannot be allowed,” stated Nakara, who with a severe expression on her face looked down the table at Merry. “This child cannot be exposed to the Huldra during the day or the night, when they are at their most potent and alluring.”
“I agree, ma’am, that it will be difficult for them, but they must visit the Huldra. It is a responsibility,” Merry replied. “But I shall be there with them and I shall do my best to protect them.”
“Good. They will need you and your great wisdom. You will stay here for the night. Enjoy yourself, Sean. Drink sponge wine, fill yourself on our fruits of the ocean, and be entertained. After this ballet we have planned a game of water polo on seahorses. You will see it as entertaining as the dance, though not as artistic.”
“I look forward to it,” I said then I looked over to Merry and Lance.
Merry had a giant smile on his face, as he lifted his goblet and toasted me then he drank deeply from it. Lance also seemed happy and content. Spending some extra time with the Nixes seemed only right to do and enjoyable as well. I settled back into my chair and watched the ballet as it continued to enthrall and entertain.
After much wine and entertainment, Lance and I were shown into a bungalow that sat alone on a pier. It was a long day and evening and we were feeling tired. Several guards were set about the pier to protect us, as we prepared for sleep. Besides the guards, two musicians were sent to stand outside the bungalow and play their water harp to encourage a restful sleep.
The bungalow was simple. The ceiling was clear, which allowed the moon and stars to be the only light for the room. It had slat floors, which allowed for the sounds of the waves and oceans to fill the room, and two very comfortable beds. Walking across the slat floor, I noticed several of the underwater living Nixes coming close to the surface in order to catch a glimpse of me. I didn’t mind this. As a matter of fact, I was getting used to being on display. I lay down in the soft sponge bed.
“Lance, are you enjoying yourself?” I said to my companion, who also was in his bed.
“Yes, I am.”
“Does being in this realm remind you of Avalon?”
“Yes and no. There are aspects about it that make me feel at home, especially here where everything is so idyllic.”
“Avalon is idyllic?” I asked him.
“In many ways, it is. For some it is.”
“I can understand why you miss it then,” I commented. “Have you asked to live there?”
“I cannot. My mother cannot allow it. It is for her and my sisters not me,” was Lance’s surprising answer.
“Really? Why?” I asked with great surprise.
At first no answer came. We laid in our beds with moonlight casting everything and everyone in a grey paleness. I waited to see if Lance trusted me enough to answer.
“My mother is the Lady of the Lake, the head surviving druid priestess,” Lance finally replied. “She cannot allow her male offspring to live on Avalon, especially one that has no druid powers, but warrior gifts like me. I am not considered druid, though I was born with a druid parent. Avalon must be kept a place of serenity and worthy of training of the priestesses, who are the most powerful druids, except for Merry. Merry is her equal, if not greater than the Lady. But he allows her to sit on the throne of druid power. A powerful male druid like Merry comes around as seldom as a Cathal. I think Merry believes Benedict has his kind of ability, which is why he is so hard on him.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I know, Sean.”
“You visit your mother, right?”
“Yes. I visit her and my sisters. But she sent me away to live with my human father in the human realm. I have no choice,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry, Lance.”
“No need to be sorry for me, Sean. I am who I am.”
I found falling to sleep in my sponge bed, as the rolling ocean waves acted as a tranquilizing rocking chair. Feeling refreshed Lance and I met Merry on the pier, but we did not swim ashore. Instead several Slyphid came to pick us up and fly us to the Forest of Gaudia where the Huldra awaited. Skimming along the winds we traveled the long distance from the ocean to the forest in a shorter time than coud be achieved on foot. What the Slyphid did not do was bring along the guards supplied for us, as Merry thought the temptations of the Forest Gaudia would be too much for the two proto-Celtic warriors.
Dropping us a short distance from the forest, Merry produced a set of new clothes for us to change into. Reaching into a small realm he had created just for this occasion, which he called his suitcase realm, he pulled out white cotton pants along with light blue long cotton button shirts and sandals for us. After we changed into these new clothes, we continued on to the edge of the forest.
The Forest of Gaudia was imposing from the outside with trees that rivaled the great Red Wood trees of California. Large, hulking, and intimidating, the trees acted as an obstacle, yet we strolled into the forest. At first there was no party to greet us, or guide us, other than trees and hints of forest animals hiding from us. Even though it was a bright sunny day, within the confines of the forest there were many shaded areas for both Huldra and animal to hide.
“He, he, he, he,” a giggle, light but sensuous and most definitely female, came from behind a tree.
Merry stopped walking, so Lance and I did, also. He looked at the tree that the giggle came from behind, crossed his arms in a gesture of impatience, tapped his foot, and waited for the Huldra to make an appearance.
“He, he, he, he,” the sound of the giggle came again.
Slowly, a naked, well-formed human leg came out from behind the tree. This leg was followed by an animated tail that moved in a sensual snake-like manner, which was followed by the rest of this female Huldra. If I had to use one word to describe this female it would be: stunning. She wore the most minimal of clothing that strategically covered her curvaceous body. Her hair was long and lavender, which matched her eyes, while her skin was a creamy white, but did not glow since that would distract from looking at her in total. On her full lips a shy smile greeted us as her tail elegantly moved her hair out of her eyes.
“And your name would be, dear?” asked Merry.
“I am called Samfti,” she said in a soft voice that sent a chill up my spine and from the look on his face Lance’s spine.
“Do you know who we are, Samfti?” asked Merry.
“Of course, she does,” said a soft male voice from behind a tree.
The male Huldra exited lithely and blithely from behind his own tree. With a perfectly proportioned and muscular body and a tale that held a short sword, he possessed jade green hair and eyes and a small loin cloth covered him: “My name is Mele. I am your guard.”
“And I’m Meerow,” another female spoke up from behind a tree then she made an appearance with grace.
Merow had slightly longer limbs then Samfti, with her hair and eyes being the color of teal. Merry sniffed the air. He had warned us that they had a high level of pheromones, which smelled of the sweetest fruit based perfumes. It seems to waft off of all the Huldra. He glanced over at Lance and me to see how we were doing. I waved at him and smiled, as I suddenly felt slightly drunk. Merry shook his head in exasperation.
“I am sorry we are so late in meeting you, but it is such a beautiful day to frolic in the woods,” said Meerow.
“No, problem. I thought your timing was absolutely perfect,” I mumbled, not really caring what I was saying, as all I wanted to do was stare at the Huldra.
“Yeah, me, too. I agree with him,” added Lance.
Merry put his right hand to his forehead and rubbed for a moment, in the way he did when he felt a headache forming. The huldra already had Lance and I enchanted. Merry sighed: “This is going to be difficult. You two are already under their influence.”
“We can make it easy for you, very easy, if you wish, Merry, just leave them with us,” said Samfti.
“I’m sure that would make things easy, but I’ve been around too long to fall for that ploy,” he responded to her then noticed that Lance and I were now in staring at the two female Huldra. I wanted to take my eyes off them, but I couldn’t. They had me hypnotized.
“Only a few of our kind are waiting for you,” Mele stated. “We did not want to overwhelm you or the boys. This is a visit to welcome you and evaluate the boy.”
“Oh, that’s good to know. I thought it might be a frat party,” Merry replied, as he watched Meerow take Lance by the hand and Samfti took me by the hand. Unexpectedly, another Huldra came out from behind a tree. She took my other hand and purred: “I am Volup.”
“Yes, of course, you are,” I babbled, as all I wanted to do was spend time alone with Volup and Smafti.
“Do you think he is the one?” Volup asked Samfti, as they led me to wherever we were headed. “He is handsome. That should mean that he is the one. I think handsome is important to being the one.”
“He’s cute enough to be the one, I agree. I like his hair,” she answered.
“I think he’d make a stunning looking Cathal when he gets older. He has fire hair and will have great muscles. Yes, he has possibilities,” Volup commented.
“Yes, he has the beginnings of muscles already,” added Samfti with a purr, as she felt my bicep.
I kept looking from one girl to the other. It didn’t matter which one was speaking, as my head just kept going from looking at one to the other. Lance was lucky in that he merely had to stare at Meerow, who seemed to be purring at him. I heard Merry sighing behind me, so I turned my head to check on him. Mele walked beside Merry, who kept shaking his head in annoyance. I guessed that he did not want us to fall under the spell of the Huldra, but I didn’t care. I thought the Huldra were charming.
“Is he the one?” Mele asked him in an almost conspiratorial tone that was both seductive and obsequious.
“Probably. His father was so close to being th one, but was missing only that ineffable quality that cannot be described, which I believe his son possesses,” Merry answered with a hint of annoyance that he answered the question the way he did.
“Really. How wonderful! Should we mark him now and his comrade? We will be glad to mark him now. I know they are wanting to mark him and his comrade.”
“When you say mark him, what do you mean by that term?” asked Merry.
“Make them knowledgeable in certain things and more willing in other things.”
“No. You shouldn’t mark him. At least, just not yet,” Merry answered then he laughed as if he had an idea. “As they are not fully grown yet making them knowledgeable might affect them in a bad way. It might temper their growth. Remember, sometimes delay gratification can make for greater gratification. When they have fully matured, I can send them back to this realm for marking by the Huldra. How does that sound?”
“We can be their path into maturity, you mean,” he said excitedly.
“Yes, of course, you can. Who else could do it so well?” Merry said.
“That would be a great honor for us,” Mele said then whispered to Merry, yet I could hear him. “I will tell them not to initiate the boys just yet. They will have to use the sweetness of patience. There time will come and very soon and it will be all the more delicious for all involved. When will that time be?”
“Oh, they are only a few years away from being ready for it,” Merry told him in a knowing tone.
“Very good. Oh, yes, very good. This is wonderful news for us,” Mele stated then took his conspiratorial tone again. “I will let the females know to tease with ease and make them riper, but not to pluck them just yet. They need to mature, be made sweeter. Is that all right?”
“Yes, tell them tease the two boys. That will be a good first lesson for them,” Merry agreed with a big smile.
I wanted to disagree with Merry’s decision, but I couldn’t as Volup started running her hand through my hair. Suddenly, I didn’t care what Merry said or anything else, just as long as she kept running her hand through my hair.
Chastened and in a state of post-Huldra affection reticence, Lance and I sat at the feasting table of King Arawn in his encampment of Caer Annwyn. We looked as if we hadn’t slept for a week and had done nothing but run marathons for exercises. Arawn and Gwynn Nudd sat at the center of the table with Lance to the left of Gwynn Nudd, Merry to the right of Arawn, and I in between Arawn and Gwynn. At other tables sat the men and women of the Celtae and the Galli eating cooked fowl and grilled beast and drinking honey and water based mead, as well as beer made from the finest grains.
“In the morning we shall have a great tournament to honor this potential Cathal,” Arawn proclaimed.
“The overall winner of the tournament shall receive the Cup of Allegiance showing that the Galli and Caeltae no longer war and then will be served the hero’s portion of meat at our next combined feast,” said Gwynn Nudd.
“You got that portion for this feast as you are an honored guest,” Arawn said as he elbowed me. I looked down at a great bloody hunk of grilled beast.
“Thanks, it looks great,” I replied meekly.
Arawn turned and looked at Merry with an expression asking him what was wrong with me. He thought that I seemed too subdued because he didn’t understand where I had been. Merry sighed: “He and Lance were entertained by the Huldra all morning and afternoon and now are suffering the effect of dealing with the Huldra.”
“And fine entertainment they do offer, too,” laughed Arawn, who then stood up and announced knowingly to the crowd: “The boys have been with the Huldra, so they are in quiet mood. They are not at their best tonight, but I bet that they are hungry and tired.”
A roar of laughter went from the gathered warriors then Arawn sat back down. He then gave his attention back to Merry: “I was angered when the guards said that you gave them the slip, but now I understand. You didn’t want to share the Huldra with warriors. Celtae and Galli warriors would make the Huldra wild with excitement. Am I right?”
“Of course, you are correct. They boys didn’t need the competition,” answered Merry.
Arawn turned his attention back to me, as I nibbled on some food: “You will sleep well tonight, boy, very well. They say that the dreams you have after spending time with the Huldra for the first time are the best you will ever have in your life.”
“I bet these two boys will dream very well tonight, so well that they wish those dreams never to stop and never to wake up,” laughed Gwynn Nudd.
The meal continued with Lance and I remaining passive throughout it all. After eating came a song of glory sung by Jenwyn, Arawn’s daughter. She was accompanied on the string instrument called the hearpian, which was played by Gwynn Nudd’s daughter named Dyanna. Her voice was melodic and light and filled the air with a recount of past glories for Celtae and Galli. After the song of glory, which lasted an hour or more, a song of heroes was sung by the daughters then Lance, who looked ready to pass out, and I were shown to a tent where we each collapsed on a hay stuffed bed.
When the dream state finally overcame me, I once again dreamed of Branwyn. This time she was not dancing, but she sat on a mountain in the Fey contemplating the sky. I wasn’t sure if she should be there or not in reality. After the last dream, I now had to wonder if I was imposing myself on Branwyn’s dreams somehow. I wasn’t sure and I couldn’t explain it, but it seemed that we were connected somehow.
“Um, Branwyn, is this your dream or is it my dream that I am dreaming?” I asked her as I walked up behind her. “Branwyn?”
“What? Uh?” she reacted in surprise to hear my voice. She turned to look at me. Her expression was one of shock and interest.
“It’s me, Sean.”
“How did you get into my dream?” she asked me.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know how I got here. I’m sorry for this.”
“So that was really you in my dream the other night,” she stated.
“Yes, it was me. You were dancing beautifully. I mean it was amazing to watch.”
“How did you get into my dream?” she demanded, as her color showed she was embarrassed.
“Branwyn, I don’t know how.”
“I’ll have to ask my mother then. She’ll know how. There has to be a reason.”
“And I’ll ask Merry about it,” I told her.
“This is so weird,” she spoke to herself then she looked at me and demanded: “I don’t want anyone other than Merry and my mother to know about this. Do you understand me? No one else can know about this”
“Yes, of course, if that’s what you want. But why?”
“Because it would embarrass me,” she answered. “You’re invading my dreams, Sean.”
“You think I want to be doing this, to be here?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
“Well, I don’t want it. Believe I don’t want anything to do with your dreams. I have plenty of other things to dream about and plenty of other girls I can dream about, too,” I bragged then I immediately regretted saying what I said.
“Really, I’m not good enough for you then,” she sniffed.
“I didn’t mean it that way. You misunderstand me.”
“How did you mean it?” she asked me.
“I just have had a lot to dream about lately. It’s been a remarkable trip to this realm. That’s all I meant.”
“Sure, I bet that’s all you meant,” she said defiantly.
Both of us went silent for a moment. Branwyn took to glancing out at a purple sea, while I craned my neck and looked at the sky. There was more than discomfort between us. Even though I had recently been exposed to the Huldra, I couldn’t avoid the fact that there was something about her that got under my skin even more than the Huldra.
“So, how is Annwyn?” she asked me.
“Strange. Fascinating. Amazing,” I answered.
“Have you met the Huldra yet?” she asked me with a tone of deep interest.
“Yes,” was my one word answer.
“So, what did you think of them?”
“They’re umm... they’re too much. They overwhelm you, take control of you. They are way too much.”
“Too much. That’s the best you can say about them. I heard that they were the most hypnotic nymphs in any of the realms. I mean they are supposed to be able to seduce with merely a look. Is it true?” she prodded me.
“Maybe,” I answered.
“Maybe. You know what maybe means, it means that you liked them more than you are willing to say so. They must be truly as beautiful as they say then,” she teased me.
“They’re not my type,” I defended myself.
“Really... who is your type?”
“Well, I...,” I paused, as I felt my body being shaken, as if someone wanted me to get up. “I have to wake up. The Celtae and the Galli are having a tournament in my honor, which I must attend. I have no choice.”
“Well, you are special,” were the last words I heard before I was awakened.
Merry was the one who awoke me. When I told Merry all about the two dreams, Merry explanation was simple: “The two of you must have made a strong emotional connection in the Fey Realm. The Fey Realm is a highly magical, which sometimes leads to psychic connection. But no need to worry, it will pass in time. At least, it should pass in time. If it doesn’t then we are dealing with a different kettle of fish, which you and Branwyn will have to deal with. I will not be able to help.”
“Oh, that is great because this was weirding me out. It’s going to pass,” I stated with false confidence then I looked about the tent. “Where’s Lance?”
“He is already dressed and out with the warriors watching them prepare. Now the tournament begins after a breakfast of sweet hot rolls and the strongest coffee-like substance you will ever drink, so get up and get dressed in the kilt, shirt and boots that Arawn left for you.”
“I have to wear a kilt?”
“Yes,” Merry answered as he turned to leave the tent.
“What do you wear under a kilt?”
The tournament was as eye opening to me, as watching the elves fight. Never had I seen such brutal battering of people. Men riding horseback with shield and wooden horses rode straight at each other trying to unsaddle each other. Besides men on horseback there were men with war clubs that were padded with attempting to beat each other senseless, then spear throwing, followed by a mile long foot race that was without rules and with weapons, next was an ax throwing contest and finally there was a battle royal where the winners of all the other events entered a muddy field and kept fighting until only one was standing. I saw how far I had to go to be considered a warrior by the Celtae and the Galli.
After the overall winner, a Galli warrior, was given the cup, it was time to return to Merry’s isle. Stepping through the doorway Merry created we were greeted by a barely dressed Chota, who was happy to see us.
“Heck, in the name of the Great Spirit, I am happy to you guys,” he greeted us.
“Chota, won’t believe everything I saw the passed few days. It was...” my words to describe failed me.
“Eye opening,” offered Chota.
“Yeah, eye opening.”
“And you think so, too, Lance?” asked Chota.
“I am completely honored to have been the one to go with Sean to this realm.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t tell me how it was. How was it?” asked Chota.
“It was awesome,” Lance admitted.
“Cool,” smiled Chota.
“Well, I don’t know about anybody else,” said Merry, “but I want a hot bath and to get a good night sleep in a soft bed.”
“Hey, Chota,” I called my friend as we wearily headed back to the cabin.
“After seeing all that I’ve seen in Annwyn, well, I need you to step things up with me. I’m nowhere ready yet...and I need to be.”
“Don’t worry, buckaroo, I will get to where you need to be.”
“Good,” I said as much to myself as to Chota, “very good.”