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 laugh...at 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