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Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Black Knight is Schooled

     The Lord Warrior finished his conversation with the Fairy Queen, then turned to face both women, gifting them with his finest smile. Bowing low at the waist, he reached out and took Maureen's hand in his.  This time he spoke in modern English, though the words were heavy with brogue. "The Fates have been kind to drop me in the presence of such beauty. Surely you both be roses among these thorns."  He began to raise her hand to his lips, when a hand fell heavy on his shoulder.

      "I suggest removing your hand from my wife's if you ever plan on using it again."

     Cu-Chulainn let Mo's hand slip from his, and pivoted to face Beckett.  Though the Sheriff was nearly 6' 2, and by no description small boned, he appeared dwarfed by the legend in front of him.  "You have something to say to say to me, Mortal?"

      Before Beckett could respond, the Queen shifted to the end of the branch so that she was hanging directly between the two men, a wide grin dressing her tiny, pointed face.   "Lord Warrior...I'd like for you to meet the Fay's Ridre Dubh."  She paused for a moment, a giggle escaping her lips, then added,  "Sir Knight...may I present Lord Cu-Chulainn...Ireland's greatest champion."

        Cu-Chulainn looked from Beckett to Maureen, his face registering obvious displeasure. "This woman with the hair like flames...she is your mate, Black Knight?"

           Beckett nodded, fists clenched at his side. "Entirely."

        The Lord Warrior spit on the ground.  "You do not play fair, Your Majesty."

         Across from him, the Black Knight agreed.  "No.  She does not."

         The Fairy clapped her hands, and laughed again.  "Such sour faces. Is it difficult for you to admit you have been bested?"

           Cu-Chulainn frowned, looking less handsome, and more like the grim warrior he was.  "I admit no such thing, Lady Queen.  Things will stand as we have determined...and I will be a much wealthier... and satisfied... man in the end."  He looked over his shoulder, and gave Roxanne a wink.

           Beckett pushed his way past the Warrior to stand next to his wife.  "What's this all about Ma..." He considered addressing her in the familiar, and then seeing her narrowed eyes, changed his mind. Pointing a thumb at the legend, he corrected himself. "Your Majesty...why is Cu-Chulainn here?  There is much work to be done, and all this extra nonsense is unnecessary."

          The sunlight around them seem to grow dim, and the temperature strangely dropped several degrees.  Any amusement on the Fairy Queen's face was gone, and her voice was low and solemn.  "What you face is beyond your mortal comprehension, Sir Knight.  Cu-Chulainn is our greatest warrior.  There is no one who can compare.  He has agreed to train you for your destiny.  Learn from him what you can."

          "That's fucking out of the question.  I don't need any help from some fairy tale character. and I'm perfectly capable of doing what needs to be done.  All he's going to be is a distraction."

           The Lord Warrior stepped closer to Beckett, his face only inches away.  "I hear insult in your voice, Mortal Knight.  Tread carefully.  I accept disrespect from no creature on Earth."

           The Fairy sighed, and then slipping off the branch, came to rest on Beckett's shoulder, speaking to him in a tone reserved for petulant children in need of a nap.  Patting his cheek, she whispered quietly into his ear.  "You are a proud man, Ridre Dubh.  Your destiny has brought you to this purpose.  But what will come is greater than any enemy you have seen in your life time.  The Cu-Chulainn can teach you things no one else can...and you will be better for it."

            "Then you don't think I'm capable."

             She tisked, then gave his ear lobe a sharp pinch.  "You mightly try my patience, Sir Knight. For one so intelligent, you often behave as a stubborn child.  I think you more than your mortal reign.  But amongst our people, there is much you do not know."  She pointed to Maureen, who watched them wide eyed with fear.  "If you wish to share a life with your lady, and not leave her a grieving widow, then you must accept the Lord Warrior's help."

               Beckett flinched at her words, and then went deadly still.  "Are you threatening me, Lady Queen?"

               "I do not waste my time with idle threats, Mortal.  I speak the truth, as you know I must. Your victory is an absolute necessity for my people, but it will not come to us by Fate alone.  The ending is not yet written.  Even I have no way of knowing how it will ultimately end.  That belongs to the Creator Himself.  I must do all I can to achieve to ensure our success, and the Lord Cu-Chulainn is a tool we must use."

                "Well if you believe he's the better man for the job, then why aren't you sending him after this Owen?"

                "Despite the power he commands, Owen is mortal.  Cu-Chulainn is not, and therefore forbidden to take his life.  It would mean the loss of his eternal soul.  I will not...can not... ask him to make that sacrifice."

               "Are you saying that you...the Fay...are unable to take a human life?"

               "We are more than able, Sir Knight.  Of that, make no mistake.  The power of our lowest creation exceeds that of any mortal.  We all have the ability to shift energy and matter, something that puts us at a great advantage.  But like mortals, the Creator has set us a code to live by.  It is the greatest of evils to snuff out the flame of His creation, the punishment too horrible to risk."

               "So you need mortals to do your dirty work for you."

                "Dare you judge, Sir Knight?  How many lives have you taken to assure the safety of your own kind?  It is the very reason you have been chosen to defend our people.  As I have told you before, your destiny has been long set before your arrival into this world.  The Creator has seen fit to put you in our midst.  Surely your claiming of Caladbolg is proof of that?"

              "We are puppets then?  Just a means to an end?"

              "What a stupid man you are, Sir Knight!  We are all part of His plan, one needing the other.  I have no time to debate the philosophy of the Universe with you while the Fate of my people hangs on your whims.  You have promised your help in our defense. It is your destiny and you will see it through."

               "I never agreed to interference from...old legends.  If I prove myself, do I have your promise to send him back to... where ever he came from?"

              The Fairy Queen shook her head and sighed, floating off his shoulder and back to her spot on the branch.  Once seated, she waved a hand in his direction.  "Very well, Ridre Dubh. Do as you wish. I have tried to save your pride in front of your lady, but you are as stubborn as a goat.  Face the Lord Warrior if that is your desire.  If you are the victor, I will relieve him of his duty to you."

              The Lord Warrior threw his head back and laughed.  "You wish me to fight the mortal one on one, Your Majesty?"

              "Yes, Cu-Chulainn.  Show him what he soon faces, but keep his injuries to a minimum.  We can ill afford a long recovery time."

              "Aye, my Lady Queen.  I shall go easy on him in this first round."

              "Fuck you both. I don't need any of your condescending bullshit.  Let's see what you got, Fairy Man."

              The Warrior bowed his head in genial agreement.  "As you wish, Mortal Knight."

              Walking to the fence, Cu-Chulainn lifted several of the wooden training swords, testing their weight in his hand.  It was Beckett's turn to chuckle, no humor at all in the sound.  "Really, Fairy Man?  Wooden swords?"  He picked up a fencing sword with a metal blade, removing the rubber safety tip.  "Let's have a real contest."

                The Lord Warrior looked to the Fairy Queen, who nodded her head slightly.  "Remember, my Champion.  No serious injury."

               "As you desire, Lady Queen.  Only his pride will be wounded."  Then, turning to Roxanne, he bent on one knee.  "Fair Beauty, I ask a token to take into battle."

                 Her mouth went dry as she stared into the legend's sea green eyes.  "A token?"

                 Next to her, Maureen whispered, "He wants you to give him something to carry with him when he fights Ted."

                 "But I'm on Ted's side.  I want him to win."

                 "I know...but it's sorta rude to say no when you've been asked.  At least that's what I've read.  Ted knows you support him.  Go ahead. Give this guy something so we can just get this over with."

                  Roxanne thought for a moment, inventorying what she had on her that might do.  She reached back to the base of her neck, and pulled off the red scrunchie that was keeping her hair in a tiny pony, handing it over to Cu-Chulainn.

                   The Warrior put the hair band first to his lips, and then to his nose.  "It carries my Lady's sweet scent.  I shall wear it with pride, and bring to you a victory."  He gathered her hand in his, and pressed it to his lips. "Wish me well, Lovely One."

                   Roxie could only nod, and glancing across the compound, caught Ian's eye.  He frowned, and looked away, suddenly finding detailed interest in the handle of his pocket knife.  Then, bowing to the Fairy Queen, and then to the two ladies, Cu-Chulainn crossed the space to come stand in front of Beckett, wearing Roxanne's scrunch on his left wrist.

                   He nodded to the Ridre Dubh.  "I admire your confidence, Sir Knight, and regret that our first meeting has come to this."

                   Beckett smiled, the expression not meeting his eyes, and curled his fingers in a motion to come forward.  Under the tree, Maureen sucked in a breath, her face suddenly a shade paler than it had been a minute before.  The Fairy Queen snapped her fingers, and both women found themselves in possession of a crystal goblet of amber liquid.

                   "Fear not, Ladies.  This promises to be most delicious entertainment.  The Ridre Dubh will suffer no permanent injury, albeit to his ego.  It cannot be helped.  We might as well enjoy this male spectacle."

                    The first several minutes consisted of a private dance between the men.  On would step backwards, and the other would follow, one to the right, his partner in mirror image.  Words seemed to be exchanged, but Roxie and Maureen could not make them them from their spots on the bench, though above them, the Fairy Queen would giggle, proof that she could hear what they could not.

                    Beckett was the first to engage, lunging forward, his back leg stationary while the front closed the distance between them. It was answered with a quick parry by the Irish warrior, and the pace suddenly picked up speed, Cu-Chulainn countering with a riposte, and the Ridre Dubh barely blocking the attack.  Both men were sweating heavily, the humidity causing the Warrior's pants to stick to every part of him.  Modesty was not even a remote thought to either man, and with only the short kilt for clothing, very little of the Black Knight's anatomy was left to imagination.

                   Roxanne knew she should probably turn her head away in polite indifference, but found she could not, the naked drama unfolding in front of her absolutely riveting.  The Fairy Queen had taken to fanning herself with a large leaf, muttering the words, "My, my" every so often under her breath, and next to her, Maureen swallowed whatever was in the cup in a single nervous gulp.

           It was over quickly.  Cu-Chulainn moved faster and faster, some of his motions barely a blur. At one point, he caught the tip of his blade across the Ridre Dubh's shoulder, and a thin line of
red spread from the man's collar bone to his chest, but he did not stop, deciding again to counter with a stop-thrust.  The ground beneath the men grew slick with sweat and constant friction, and as he moved forward, breathing heavily, Beckett over-compensated the space between them, losing his footing and falling hard on his back side. Before he could move, Cu-Chulainn's blade was at his throat, pinning him down.

            There was no gloating from the Warrior, who steadily held his ground.  "I have my blade at your throat, Ridre Dubh.  You have skill, of that I am certain.  But against what waits, you have much to learn.  I am willing to aid you in your quest, but you must first admit to your weaknesses, and give up any notions as to your foolish pride."

            His answer was a string of obscenities, and then silence, a sound that  weighed heavily across the compound like a thick woolen blanket. Even the Queen leaned forward, in wait of the Black Knight's response.

              Beckett looked at the man above him, the words like bitter sawdust in his mouth as he spit them out between clenched teeth.  "I...concede, Lord Warrior.  Teach me what you can."

              There was an audible sigh of relief from the tree, as Cu-Chulainn put a hand out to offer the Ridre Dubh a boost up.  Beckett ignored the offer, rolling over and pushing himself off the ground. Without another word, he turned and walked toward a bank of trees and into the darkened woods.
Maureen stood up to follow him, but was stopped by an invisible hand in her chest.

               "Let him go, Child.  He will be poor company for several hours.  You are the last person he wants to see right now."

                "But he's injured!  I need to..."

                "He is fine.  That scratch will heal a lot quicker than the damage to his pride.  Let him lick his wounds in private.  To do otherwise would be a mistake."

Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
All Rights Reserved







Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Contract...And A Wager

Cu-Chulainn's reputation
                  The Queen waved her hand, and the strange man lifted off his one knee, coming to stand in front of the tree she was perched on.  He seemed larger than he had when he appeared out of the mist, the span of his shoulders larger than most modern line backers, his neck thick and corded with muscle.  He stood silently for a moment, eyeing Roxanne and Maureen, giving them each a salacious wink, then turning his attention back to the Fairy Queen, speaking in a strange barrage of words and syllables.

                  "It has been too long, Lady Maeve.  You remain as beautiful as ever."

                  "As do you, young warrior.  I see the centuries have not cooled your blood."

                  "Nay, your Majesty.  Until this blood is no more, I live to fight... and love." He glanced at both women, adding a lecherous grin to the wink.

                   The Queen laughed, the light tinkling sound echoing in the open space.  "Tis surely not why I have summoned thee, though so goes the spoils of war.  But I dare say, the Ridre Dubh will have something to say about that."

                    The man grew serious.  "The Ridre Dubh?  Then it has truly come to pass."

                    Maeve leaned forward, also now somber, the goblet disappearing from her hand. "Aye.  Just as the prophesy has foretold.  One has risen from our blood, powerful and perverse.  He can no longer be contained, and his evil threatens all that is our world and that of the Mortals."

                      There was a deep and long sigh from the man, a sense of weariness settling on his handsome features.  "And what of Caladbolg?  Has it reappeared?"

                      "It has returned... and been duly claimed.  Have no doubt, my Great Warrior.  What we have feared for many Earth cycles has finally become the way of things. There is no course but the one that waits ahead.  That is why I have summoned thee."

                    "Then I go to my destiny, Lady Queen.  I surrender my arm to the defeat of this spawn of bad seed."

                      "I have no doubt as to your honor, Lord Cu-Chulainn.  You have proved yourself a loyal and courageous defender of the Fay.  But you know as well as I the tenets of the prophesy, and as such, the rules that govern our kind.  For eons, it has been forbidden to take the life of a mortal.  To do so puts our very souls at risk.  It is also written that the Ridre Dubh must be the one to...extinguish...this flame of evil.  We can no better change our destiny than we can change the shifting of night to day.  It will be as it will be."

                       "Then you frustrate me on all counts, my Queen.  What is it you wish from me?"

                        "The Ridre Dubh is talented on many levels.  He does not hesitate to do what must be done.  But he is inexperienced in the ways of our kind, and more stupidly stubborn than the roots of the oldest trees.  He will need your help in preparing for the destiny he faces.  Life as we know it depends on he being the victor.  If he fails...we fail...and I dare not think of the future."

                         "You wish me to act as...teacher?  Nursemaid? To a mortal?  What you ask is great, Lady Maeve, and in many ways shaming to my title and position. "

                         Her calm demeanor shifted, and the tips of her pointed ears pulsed with a crackle of energy.  "Have you not heard a single word I have said, Cu-Chulainn?  All of our destiny hangs here on this quest.  There is no room... for petty vanity.  Owen must be defeated at all costs.  You dare to turn your back on your kind?  On your destiny?  The Ridre Dubh must be ready for what he will face, and you WILL be the one to see to that reality."

                 Cu-Chulainn leaned on his spear, turning to look at Beckett and the two other men  standing in the open space behind him.  Frowning, he uttered a string of mumbled profanity.  "I see you leave me no room to argue, Your Majesty.  I will do as you ask.  I will ready the Black Knight for his destiny.  But I ask for a boon in return... as tradition allows."

                   "I expected no less, Lord Warrior.  What do you require as payment?"

                    He pointed to Maureen and Roxanne.  "I will accept these two as payment.  They will surrender their love... and their bodies... to me."

                    Again her ears crackled, and her voice was low and angry.  "You try my patience, son of Lugh.  You know very well that mortals have been given the gift of free will.  It has been my law for three hundred years that potions or spells of love not be used on them at the demand of the Creator.  I will...can not... hand them over to you like simple puppet lambs."

                    "I have no need of magic, my Queen, as you yourself are well aware.  I request only that you do not hinder in any way my goal of seduction.  I have been without that particular challenge for  many moons.  I would enjoy the game very much."

                      Maeve thought for a moment, her tiny mouth curling into the vaguest of smiles.  She snapped her fingers, and the goblet once again appeared in her hand.  "Very well. Lord Warrior.  I will grant you what you wish.  You will have access to both women.  Seduce them if you can."  She took a deep drink from her cup, then added,  "Though I believe you will fail."

                      It was the man's turn to feign anger.  "Fail?  At the seduction of mortal women?  Surely you jest, Lady Queen?  You know of my charms...and my reputation."

                      "You are every bit a delight, Cu-Chulainn.  But I still think you will fail in this circumstance.  Their hearts and their desire are already spoken for."

                       He shook his head, again mumbling a string of old Gaelic obscenities.  "Against mortal men there is no contest.  But if you truly believe otherwise, my Lady, then perhaps a small wager?"

                       This time her laugh was hardy.  "You do bring a sense of merriment to the blackest of days, Lord Warrior.  I accept your bet."  She undid the clasp of the blue sapphire necklace she wore around her slender neck, and tossed it to the spider who still stood guard next to the tree. "I wager these jewels on my account.  As you are aware, they have been worn by every Queen before me for  nearly a millennium, and are one of my most prized possessions. If you succeed in seducing either one of them, without the use of magic, then they are yours."

                       "A very generous wager, Lady Maeve.  I expect that you will demand something equally precious."

                      "Aye.  That I will.  If you fail in your attempt, then I keep my necklace, and you will relinquish your service to me for an additional two hundred years."

                       "Then we must not hesitate any longer, Oh Gracious Lady.  I accept your proposition...and your wager.  I will train the Ridre Dubh, and his proxy, in the ways of Fay battle, and in return you will allow me unhindered access to these mortal women.  When I am successful in winning their love, as I surely will be, I will also take possession of your finest jewels.  It seems as if this is the luckiest of days for me."

                        "Then consider this a binding contract between us, Cu-Chulainn.  Your word will suffice."

                     The Warrior bent at the waist in a low bow.  "As will yours, Your Majesty.  Thus it stands.  I will direct the Black Knight's training, Creator be with us!"


              It was as if all time had stopped.  The trees did not sway to any breeze, the chirping of birds, a symphony of noisy proportions only seconds before, had suddenly gone silent.  Across the way, Beckett, Kevin and Ian seemed frozen to their spots, confusion written on startled faces.  The man who had stepped out of the mists approached the tree where She Who Was All had taken repose, and the two were engaged in serious conversation, not a word of which Roxanne could understand.

              He stood directly in front of them, and with the light of the day filtering through the sheer pants, not a whole lot was left to her imagination.  She tried not to stare, but it was hard to draw her eyes away, and it took a direct command from her brain to her eye balls to instead look across the way at Ian, whose face reddened with anger.  Next to her Maureen, strained to make out the words between the Fairy Queen and the porn star stranger.  Her eyes darted back and forth between her husband and the man in front of her, and if she was affected by the fact his near naked package was only inches from her face, there seemed no acknowledgement on her part.

          Across the compound, Beckett stood ram rod straight, his arms at his side, his fists clenched.  The Black Knight's face was a blank mask, no expression at all except for his eyes, which burned very dark and very cold.  Kevin seemed the calmest of the bunch.  He leaned against the fence, eyes closed, lips moving in what she guessed might be prayer.  In that moment, Roxie envied him his faith, pondering how wonderful it might be to have something to hang onto when everything else seemed lost, a gift she'd never possessed.

            When the two immortals finished their conversation, the atmosphere changed around them.  She could feel the warmth of the day again, a sense of the normal creeping back in.  The stranger turned around and walked over to where the swords were leaning across the fence, the light shifting, and now giving her a detailed view of his very toned ass.   Again she shook the thought from her brain.  Why did she keep thinking in that damn direction?  It wasn't as he she hadn't seen a naked man before.  Lord knows, she'd seen plenty, though none as...well...perfect as this one.

              Her tongue seemed to have loosened up, and when the man was out of ear shot, she whispered to Maureen.  "Could you make out any of what they were saying?  It didn't make a shred of sense to me, though the look that guy gave us don't know...some kind of 'come on'.  That type of look I saw plenty of when I was dancing at the club."

               "They were speaking in some very old form of Gaelic.  I could make out a few words, but they were talking so fast, it was hard for me to keep up.  He IS, apparently, Cu-Chulainn, though I find that very hard to accept.  I always thought he was a mythical figure.  Just a make-believe character in some ancient fairy tale.  By now, you'd think I'd know better.  Anyway, he's in Maeve's service, and she wants him to help Ted get ready to take on this Owen character.  He didn't seem very keen on the idea, but I guess they worked out some kind of deal.  I missed a huge chunk of the conversation, so I can't be sure what the terms were, but they both seemed pretty satisfied."

             "Whatever it was, it can't be very good for us."

             "Maeve won't let anything bad happen to us, Rox.  She gave me her word. But I'm guessing Ted's not going to be happy he's here.  You know what he's like.  He wants things to go his way, and if this really IS Cu-Chulainn, then I expect he'll want to be the one who takes charge.  I'm worried the two of them won't see eye to eye on anything."

              "And I think that's an understatement..."
A royal wager

Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
All Rights Reserved








Saturday, November 14, 2015

Of Kilts and Cu-Chulainn


            A huge gourmet breakfast was probably the wrong thing to enjoy before a tough physical training session, but if the Black Knight thought so, he didn't say.  Maureen had out done herself, and the table overflowed with two different kinds of quiches, fresh cinnamon rolls, some kind of potato casserole that oozed cheese and bacon, slices of country ham, and pitchers of freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice.  And while the rest of the group ate until they were stuffed, her husband took a few polite bites and moved the rest of it around on his plate.

            From Roxanne's perspective, Beckett looked preoccupied and edgy.  His demeanor was pleasant enough, and he was certainly quick to banter back and forth in his usual teasing
style, but there was definitely something brewing under the surface.  She wondered if he knew more than what he was telling the group, and then mentally gave the back of her head a slap.  Of course he knew more.  In the short time she had known him, it was obvious that everyone in his life was on a need to know basis.  He told you what he wanted you to know at that given minute.  Nothing more, nothing less, and if you over stepped your bounds and tried to pry it out of him, he cut you off cold.

              She watched as he thanked his wife for her efforts with a romance novel kiss and what appeared to be a intimate squeeze of her behind before leaving the room to set up a training space in the open area behind the cabin.  The Becketts' outward show of physical affection tended to make her feel awkward, as if she were a voyeur in a what really should be a private moment.  Or maybe she was just damn jealous.  It was hard to tell, her own lusting after Ian making it harder to keep him at the arms length she swore to herself she would, and so she was relieved when he picked himself up and followed the Sheriff out the door.  Out of sight, out of mind.  At least that's what she told herself.

            Instead, the investigator in her focused on Kevin and Maureen, at work finishing up the last of the breakfast dishes.  If it had been up to her, those dishes would have been hastily rinsed and shoved in the dishwasher, forgotten until the dry cycle was over.  Not the same for the two siblings.  The whole procedure had the unique feel of a symbiotic relationship, very much like the daily interaction they shared.  Maureen would carefully wash and rinse each piece, then hand it to her brother, who seemingly took it from her hand without even looking, never losing a beat as he continued his conversation.  They were like two cogs in a machine, going about the action without giving it single thought, as if they had done the very same thing a million times before, which in all likelihood, they had.

          Another stab of envy ate at her, and she brushed it away as she had done with the lust.  This was no time to be feeling morose over her family ties, or the lack there of.  Lots of people came from dysfunctional families and still led perfectly normal, happy lives.  The fact that her father had died in prison and her mother in a state hospital wasn't reason enough to sign up for psychotherapy.  And even if she knew where two of her remaining brothers were, it was doubtful she'd want actual contact with either one of them.  No, things were best left the way they were, and any ideas that life had storybook endings was pure and utter bullshit.


           It was obvious the Ridre Dubh had done his homework.  The space chosen to facilitate the training had been carefully marked off, with an odd assortment of wooden horses, targets and large posts set around the perimeter.  A line of wooden and metal swords rested against one fence, while across the compound, Beckett examined a selection of rifles and assorted handguns.  Caladbolg was nowhere to be seen, safely stored in a spot only the Black Knight himself knew.   

           For lack of anything better to do, Ian had joined Fr. Kevin and Beckett in their training, though Roxanne suspected he secretly hoped that he would prove himself the better "partner" to the Black Knight.  She hated to rain on his parade, but it was clear to her that this whole scenario had been set in motion long before his arrival in the 21st Century, and whatever it was, the O'Kenneys and the Becketts were at the center of it.  Never in her life had she been the kind of person to believe in anything of the supernatural sort.  Stories about ghosts and faeries and magic spells were simply the result of a writer's over active imagination, and not a genre that ever held any interest for her.  But recent events had left her with certain knowledge that there was a hell of a lot of weird shit going on that couldn't be reasonably be explained, and nothing at all...nothing... could be completely ruled out.

            She and Maureen had parked themselves in lawn chairs under the boughs of a very large pine tree, acting as honorary cheerleaders and general audience to the training.  As if anyone could still be hungry after that enormous breakfast, Mo had packed a cooler full of fresh fruit, cheese, water and soft drinks, as well as a tub of Guinness, just in case the need arose for refreshment.  The heat of the day was oppressive, and when the men stripped to the waist, it was met with a rousing chorus of whistles, cat calls and applause, giving the moment a party-like atmosphere.  With much flourish, Ian reacted to his admirers, strutting around and flexing his muscles much to the annoyance of Kevin.  He was in a low bow before the ladies, when there came a rustling noise in the woods behind them, followed by the now familiar clicking sound.

              The large spider emerged from the brush, scuttling toward the spot under the tree.  For a second Ian froze, then, grabbing one of the wooden swords, he stood in front of both women, training sword poised like a club in his hand.  From one of the branches above them, there was a low feminine laugh.

               "Silly boy.  That is like taking a twig to slay a dragon.  He will swallow you whole before you can take one swing."

                Ian blanched, but held his ground, the shake in his wrist only visible to those standing closest to him.  "Aye, Your Majesty, that may be.  But I'll naught go down without a fight."

                She laughed again, and slowly materialized, reclining across the branches above them.  "You bring a sense of merriment to a dread situation, boy.  And truth be told, you are fetchingly pretty.  Drop your weapon.  He means you no harm."  The young man hesitated, reluctant to give up his only means of defense.  Her voice dropped an active lower.  "You be wise to do as you are told, mortal.  Your fair looks will only take you so far."

               Ian looked across the way toward Beckett, who nodded his agreement.  Dropping the weapon at his feet, he narrowed his eyes and smiled.  "As your Majesty wishes.  I mean no disrespect."

               She plucked a pine cone from a near branch, and threw it at him, catching him hard across the shoulder, and leaving a red mark.  "Of course you do not, you silly boy.  You have no idea...not even the slightest motion...of what you have involved yourself in.  But destiny has placed you in its midst, and you must move with its waves.  Go...join your mates."  She waved her hand and Ian found himself shoved away from the tree.

                With a another wave, she leaned back, a gold goblet appearing in her right hand.  The spider moved closer, positioning itself next to the base of the tree under which the Queen rested.  Maureen seemed afraid of neither, although her attention shifted back and forth between her husband and her Godmother, who traded contemplative looks of annoyance.

                "I see you are ready to begin, Ridre Dubh.  That is most excellent, though me thinks your attire is a bit off."  With a snap of her fingers, the running shorts on the men disappeared, replaced with the tartan plaid of kilts.  "There...that is oh so much better.  Gives these proceedings a much more festive air, do you not think, ladies?"   A gust of wind swirled around the open space, lifting the edges of the newly placed kilts, causing both Kevin and Ian to tug at the bottoms. 

                Holding the hem down with both hands, Ian shouted, "By the Blade of St. George! I feel a mean draft neath this blasted thing.  It appears I have...have no britches.  I can no way fight without me pants."

                 Roxanne bit her lip, trying to stifle the giggles that brewed up in the back of her throat. She shouldn't laugh...could't Ian's discomfort, but his face held such surprised horror, it was hard not to cave in to the growing laughter. 

                 "Nonsense, pretty lad.  You look most fetching.  Besides, men have fought this way in times past.  It is how things are done.  And it shall make this day most amusing for the ladies."  She shaded her eyes and looked across the space to where Beckett was standing silent.  "What say you, Ridre Dubh?  Do you have a problem with the attire I have chosen?"

                 The Black Knight put his hands on his hips, and shrugged.  "I have no opinion one way or the other, my Queen.  I am confident of my skills in any attire, though I see it as counter productive to have the focus of my men on their modesty rather than their training.  That is... if you are serious about the success of this mission?"

                   She pondered his answer for a full minute, and then with a deep sigh, responded, "You have this way, my Knight, of taking the pleasure out of absolutely everything.  Very well, I will do as you ask.  But for your men only.  You shall remain...unsheathed.  It will break the tedium of the afternoon."

                   With a snap of her fingers, Fr. Kevin and Ian found themselves patting down boxer briefs under their kilts, sighing with relief as they did.  The Black Knight remained silent and unmoved despite another blast of wind that lifted the edge of his kilt dangerously high.  She Who Was All laughed heartily and clapped her hands.  "A point to you, Sir Knight.  Well done!  You shall make this day far more interesting then I hoped."  Settling herself back in against the boughs, she added.  "We are ready to begin.  I have arranged a wonderful surprise for you, Ridre Dubh.  It is quite the coup."

                 The goblet suspended in air next to her, she raised both arms and spoke a string of odd syllables.  In the center of the training space, a pillar of smoke began to materialize, growing deeper and taller as the strange words poured from her mouth.  There was a loud buzzing noise, as if the pillar contained a swarm of angry bees.  From inside the haze, a human form began to take shape. Very tall, and very broad, the image took a step out into the mid day sun, and the smoke instantly disappeared.

                  In the very spot where the haze had once swirled there now stood a man, nearly 6'2, bare to the waist, long auburn hair loose down his back, eyes strangely tiger like under heavy brows.  His trousers were knee length, and so thin as to be nearly see through, held up by a knotted leather belt with ornate silver buckle.  He wore silver manacles on each wrist, worked in an intricate pattern of Celtic design, and in his left hand, he gripped a long wooden spear topped with a silver blade.

                  Upon seeing the Fairy Queen, he knelt on one knee, and placed his right fist on his chest.
His voice was low, and heavy with a brogue.  "You have summoned me, Lady Maeve.  I await your bidding."

                   Roxanne poked Maureen, whose mouth hung open in complete shock.  "Mo...who the hell is that?  Do you know?"

                    Maureen nodded, unsure of her next words.  "I...I think I do. It's...well...too crazy to believe."  She rubbed her hand over her eyes, and then looked again.  "If my memory of Irish Lit class serves me well, I think he's Cu-Chulainn.


Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Meeting Maeve

            He was awake long before the alarm on his cellphone blared a rousing version of Mendel's Hallelujah Chorus.  Years of early morning Mass had helped to set his inner biological clock, and he found himself fully conscious, every morning, at exactly 5:35.  Why he didn't have the confidence to forgo the alarm all together, he never understood.  Each night he would set an alarm for 5:45, and each morning he'd beat it by ten minutes.  It was a routine that somehow made everything in his world seem like it was in the correct place, even when his cautious brain shouted to him that it wasn't.

            Though he  had gone to bed the night before in a state of complete agitation, the morning found him completely rested and with a strange sense of well being.  There was no denying that the bed was comfortable, much more so than the creaky, stiff mattress at the rectory, but the feeling went well beyond that of a good night's sleep.  Fr. Kevin rolled to his right, and shrugged off the summer quilt.  It was then he noticed the absence of a familiar weight dragging down his right foot.  Pulling the blanket completely off, he stared at his naked foot, noting that the heavy walking cast that had completely covered it when he had gone to bed was nowhere to be found.

               He panicked for a moment in both confusion and genuine concern that he might not be able to haul himself out of bed without its support.  The thought of yelling for help mortified him, and so he swung his legs to the edge of the bed, and made a careful attempt to stand up.  To his utter amazement, there was no pain, no weakening of unused muscles.  He stepped out and walked across the floor, pivoting on the once broken foot with ease and grace, letting out a giggle as he did so.  Whispering a whole litany of prayerful gratitude, he dressed quickly in the dim light of early morning, and began to prepare for Mass.

                Maureen had promised to join him, but after waiting nearly an hour, it was obvious she was a "no show", and so he continued on by himself.  When he was finished, he dragged the table that had served as an altar back to its spot against the wall, packed up his sacramentals, and silently made his way downstairs.  The cabin was quiet and dark, the bower of trees surrounding it an umbrella of  arbor solitude.  He found his way to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee in hopes that the aroma would waken the other guests, and later, feeling closed in by the silence of the house, took his cup out to the front porch and waited.

              In the light of day, the over grown foliage looked less threatening, and the wet, rich smell of dark earth and summer flowers was pleasant and somewhat comforting.  He'd pulled the wooden bench closer to the door in case the hideous spider might return, not anxious to see what the wretched  thing looked like in clearness of daylight.  The weirdness of it all should have made his head spin, but for a reason he could not explain, he was instead calm and relaxed, simply enjoying his coffee and the
natural splendor of his surroundings.  He sat there for quite some time, sipping and thinking about all the events that had led him to this point.

              His reverie was broken by the sound of someone moving around inside, and soon Beckett joined him on the porch, dressed for a morning run.  Coffee cup at his lips, he asked,  "Everyone else still asleep?"

             "Seems so.  I thought I'd get a run in before breakfast.  Maybe check out the perimeters of the property.  Determine if anything else has changed overnight."

              "Care for some company?"

              " offense, O'Kenney, but I wanted to actually run, not clump along."

               Kevin raised his right leg, and wagged the foot in the man's direction.  "No clumping anymore.  Cast is gone, foot feels great."

               Beckett looked at him and frowned.  "How?  They usually need a saw to take those things off."

             "I have no idea how it got this way, though I can't say I'm not thrilled to death.  Slept through the whole thing.  Woke up and there it was...good as new."

               "Can you put weight on it?"

                In response, the priest stood up and hopped across the porch.  "Seems to be perfectly healed."

              "That's odd, though frankly, nothing seems normal here.  It's like we're in suspended animation.  Completely lost in our own little world.  I don't like it.  The whole damn thing.  I have this overwhelming sense of being manipulated."

                "I've given up on trying to make sense of any of it.  It makes my head hurt.  I'm just going to trust that I'm moving by the will of the Spirit, as crazy as it seems."

                Beckett shook his head and snorted.  "I don't recall reading anything about giant spiders in the Bible, O'Kenney.  But if it makes sense to you, then you go ahead and believe what you want.  I plan on getting some solid answers."  He bent over and finished stretching.  "Well...if you're coming, then lets go."

                  The two men took off toward the east side of the property, Kevin easily keeping up with Beckett's pace.  There was no conversation, just an easy sense of camaraderie that had been absent between them since Maureen's accident.  Occasionally, one or the other would point out something truly fantastical; a butterfly the size of a small cat, a 3 foot mushroom with moving gills and a strutting peacock in unusual colors of orange and red.  All these things should have stopped them dead in their tracks, a shock to their usual sense of normalcy.  But they seemed to be immune to the oddity of it all, accepting each new sight with a nod of their head, something Beckett knew was strange in itself.  They should have been running away in crazed horror, looking for a way to explain it all, and the fact that they were not made him suspicious.

                  As they moved closer to the main gate, they could hear the familiar clicking sound from the night before.  They slowed their pace, suddenly not anxious to make contact with the huge arachnid.  But the insect paid them no mind, intent instead on spinning a large web from one side of the gate to the other, layering it over the thick layer of leaves and vines.  Despite their fear, they stopped to watch it work as it laid a complex pattern of silk thread across the entry way.

                 Beckett turned to Kevin, finally speaking aloud.  "I wonder if it's building that web to keep something out...or keep us in?"

               The priest shuddered despite the warm temperatures. "I'm not sure I want to know."

                From the trees they heard a familiar feminine laugh.  Searching among the tops, they could not locate exactly where the sound was coming from, but they knew the Fairy Queen was in residence.  Beckett swore under his breath, then called out.  "Good Morning, Your Majesty.  So glad we could provide you with some morning entertainment."

                 The laugh echoed through the clearing, and the spider stopped its spinning, clicking in unison with the Queen's humor.  "Good Morning to you, Ridre Dubh. And yes...I do find you a most interesting source of merriment, but me thinks you give that statement with a heavy dose of sarcasm."

               "Think what you want, Your Majesty.  It doesn't matter to me."

               "Tisk, tisk, Sir Knight.  We are certainly in a foul mood this morning.  Did we not have a pleasant night's rest?  We both know that it was quite...invigorating indeed."

                  "If you know me as well as you think you do, then you are aware that an 'audience' doesn't bother me at all... Lady Maeve. Quite the contrary."  Next to him, Kevin blushed, but said nothing, feeling  like a third wheel in a private conversation.  "We need to talk.  You and me.  Alone."

                   The voice lost some of its lightness.  "You overstep your boundaries, Knight.  Do not forget who rules, and who serves."

                "I haven't lost sight of that, but IF I continue to serve, then it must be with clarification."

                 Behind them, the spider began clicking in earnest.  Kevin took a step back, wishing now that he had stayed on the porch was his coffee.

                "I owe you no explanation, Mortal, nor or am I required to justify my actions. You signed that contract of your own free will.  I should punish you as you stand for your insolence and insubordination."  The insect clicking reached a frenzied pitch, but the two men stood their ground, Kevin in sheer terror, Beckett in stubborn defiance.

                   "Then take your best shot, Madame.  I'm done if we don't...'discuss' things."

                   The spider crawled off the gate, and scuttled toward them, and Beckett's hand moved toward the weapon in his waistband, a cloud of tension settling like a blanket around them. A deep annoyed sigh came from the tree tops.  "This conversation grows tedious."  She spoke a few strange words, and the beast turned with reluctance towards a grove of trees. "And Second,
return to the house and have your morning fare.  This does not concern you."

              Kevin hesitated and unseen force gave him a shove in the direction of the cabin. "Go now.  Have no fear for his safety.  Tell your sister I will speak to her soon."

             The priest looked at Beckett, who waved him off without a word. He turned and walked slowly in the direction of the cabin, keeping a watch out for the reappearance of the spider.  The Fairy Queen and the Ridre Dubh waited until he was out of sight and ear shot.  "Well then, Knight...speak your piece."

               "I'd prefer a face to face conversation, if you don't mind.  It's awkward to keep shouting at the trees."

                 There was a rustle and another loud "tisk" above his head.  The Fairy Queen floated closer to the ground, resting herself on a low hanging branch.  "You try my patience, Mortal, like no one has in nearly two hundred years.  It is only because you are her chosen that I agree to your nonsense.  Now...what has put you in such a disagreeable state?"

                 "Simply put, Your Majesty, you set me up.  Forced me into signing that contract under false pretenses."

                 "Be careful what you are accusing me of, Ridre Dubh.  You are mine, and you owe me your complete loyalty.  What you speak is treason.  I did not trick or fool you in any way.  You willingly accepted the terms of your contract with no hesitation or misunderstanding.  I was open about all that was required."

                 "Open...yes.  Completely"

                 Her small heart-shaped face grew angry, and a blush of pink gathered around her pointed ears.  "Tread lightly, Mortal.  Are you calling me a liar?  That is a grave accusation amongst my kind."

                  "Not a liar.  But we both know you left a great deal of information unspoken."

                 "That entails no falsehood, Knight.  You did not ask the correct questions.  I felt no responsibility to enlighten your thinking.  You asked for the means to rescue your beloved from a time that wasn't your own.  I made that happen for you.  In return, you offered me your service.  I see no reason for your dispute."

                 "Maureen told me everything.  How she and her brother are the last of your line, and how because of Kevin's vocation and vow of celibacy, the fate of your family's genetic future now rests with her."

                  With bored indifference, the Fairy began to collect the dew drops from the leaves she sat upon, somehow fastening them into a chain to wear around her forehead, giving her an unearthly sense of royalty.  He waited patiently for her to speak, and when she did her words were terse and clipped.

                 "Yes.  What you say is true.  She is my last heir. That has no bearing on the contract between you and I."

                 "But it most certainly does.  There is no way you would have left her 'lost' in time.  You would have seen to her rescue in some other manner.  You let me me offer to do it for you, and thus guaranteed my service to you.  You planned this all.  I wouldn't even doubt you were the one who hid the pocket watch in the first place, meaning it to be found all along."

                 "Such complaining and whining does not become the Ridre Dubh.  It was you who offered to rescue your mate.  The hows and whys of the event matter little.  She is your destiny and you could have done nothing else.  Why do you argue about what has already come to pass?"

                 "Because the whole damn thing is a sham!  We're like puppets to you, we mortals!  You pull the strings to make us dance for your own personal enjoyment.  I've had just about enough of this shit, and I want it to stop!"

                  In a flash she was down from the tree and standing directly in front of him, eye to eye. No longer the diminutive wood sprite, she stood the same height as he, her body radiated crackling pulses of blue energy.  Her eyes flashed angrily, and she poked him in the chest with one long painted fingernail, a sharp pain running through him with each jab.  "How dare you, Mortal! You think I do this as some silly game to make merry? We are on the brink of destruction, and the sanctity of the natural order is facing complete annihilation.  For one who deems himself above others, you are as stupid as a common fool!  Do you think that your life up until now has been by chance?  Some benign luck of the draw? How ridiculously naive you are!"

                 She raised her arms and mumbled some words and it was as if everything around them came to a complete standstill.  Not a leaf moved, and all sound seemed to be sucked into a vacuum.
She Who Was All narrowed her eyes and looked right through him, and for a single second, Theodore Beckett, soldier, husband and assassin, suddenly felt his entire conscience laid bare.  When she spoke, the words seemed to reach in and squeeze at his chest.  "You are here because destiny has deemed it so, and your ties to that woman began from the second of your creation.  This is no game we play, Mortal.  If it be your will to walk away, then state so now. I will release you from your binding, and wipe her from your life.  Is that what you wish? Decide now...once and for all."

                  The thought of Maureen gone, the idea of a life without her in it, froze him to the spot.  He tried to speak, but his tongue felt as if it had turned to one solid block of ice, and he could not get a single syllable past his lips.

              "Speak, Mortal!  Make your decision now.  I grow impatient with your wavering."

                Beckett used every once of conscious strength he had, mentally forming each line of the letters, and visualizing himself pushing them out his mouth.  It was brain numbingly exhausting, taking ever bit of energy he possessed, but eventually the word slipped from his tongue.  "No.  She. Is. Mine."

                 The Fairy Queen waved her hands, and the woods returned to their natural state.  "Then it will be as such.  I do not wish to discuss this ever again.  You answer to me, Ridre Dubh, with the promise that you will love her until your last breath.  Anything else is unacceptable.  Have I made myself clear?"

                  He coughed, normal oxygen filling his lungs.  "Perfectly clear, Your Majesty."

                  "That is good to know, Sir Knight.  I suggest you make your way back to the house.  The others grow concerned over your absence."

                    He turned his back on her, and took a few steps in the direction of the cabin, then suddenly turned to face her.  "Can I make just one more request?"

                     She raised one arched eyebrow, but then conceded.  "What is it you require, Dark Knight?"

                      Looking her straight in the eye, he pronounced, "I want you to stay the fuck out of my bedroom...Fairy Godmother."

                      Her face remained impassive for all of thirty seconds, and then with a grin, both suggestive and sly, she laughed  "Why would I ever agree to that, Ridre Dubh, when we both enjoy my presence there."  And then with a wink and giggle, she disappeared completely from his sight.

Copyright Victoria T. Rocus
All Rights Reserved