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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Black Knight Leads

     
       It took them a better part of an hour to come to some type of decision as to to whom they would tell, and what they'd reveal.  As far as Beckett was concerned, he'd already said too much, and was set against anyone else knowing pretty much anything.  But Kevin strongly disagreed, having been left out of the loop on several occasions and finding it to be a complete disaster.  He reminded the Sheriff in great detail, how his secretiveness regarding the mentally unstable Cassie had nearly cost him his marriage. Though he was carefully not to mention the lost child, its ghost hung there between them, a painful reminder of bad decisions.

        The priest felt a small stab of guilt for bringing up that whole painful memory.  Being hurtful wasn't at all his style.  But if he were to  have an active role in all of this, he did not wish to be untruthful to those he held nearest and dearest.  Besides, he was a horrible liar.  Had the worst poker face of anyone he knew, and could never get his bullshit stories straight.  There was simply no way he would be able to lie to Maureen.  Or Roxanne, for that matter.  They both had an uncanny ability to see right through his feeble deceptions, and keeping something this overwhelming a secret would be impossible for him to do for any length of time.

          He was, however, perfectly willing and able to cut the time-traveling stranger out of the inner circle.  Kevin found the man to be pushy and opinionated, full of comments and suggestions he had no right to be making.  Plus, the way he hung around Roxie, moon-eyed and drooling, annoyed the priest to full proportions.  It was bad enough he had been bamboozled into hiring the man, even letting him live on parish property.  There was no way he wanted Ian Sawyer anywhere near something as important, as mystical and divine, as Caladbolg.

         Beckett saw it different.  He respected the young Patriot, and was both impressed and grateful for the help that he'd given them when they had time-traveled.  In addition, he felt responsible for the young man's well being, as it was because of their intrusion into the past that the he was now living in the present.  Although he would never be as blunt in front of his wife and Roxanne, he felt having an extra male involved in whatever might come their way was surely an asset. Besides, it was his observation that Ian was crazy about Roxanne, and since they didn't stand a chance of separating the two, there was no reason to expend energy trying to do so.  The man clearly had been part of the craziness from the beginning, and to cut him out now would be counter productive.

          They walked back to the rectory in silence, Caladbolg slung over Beckett's arm in some type of back zippered duffle bag.  The night air was warm and calm, a peaceful August evening in direct contradiction to what was churning in both men's heads.  It was a few minutes after 11, and the street was quiet and empty.  Yet every sound...every rustle of a bush, the humming of crickets, their feet scrapping the rough pavement... was amplified in their ears.  It seemed as if they could even hear the blood rushing through their very veins, and Fr. Kevin wondered if it was perhaps because of the sword bouncing against his brother-in-law's shoulder.

          The rectory parlor was dark, the flickering light from the television casting a dim glow on three sleeping bodies, Roxanne and Maureen on either end of the sofa, and Ian stretched out on the floor.  A half eaten bowl of popcorn, and several empty bottles of ale gave evidence to the night's entertainment.  Not wanting to startle them, Beckett went over to his wife and kissed her softly on the  cheek.  She stirred a bit, then drowsily opened one eye.  It took only a second before she recognized the face hovering above her, and squealing, threw herself at him.  The high pitch sound jolted Ian awake, and he was on his feet, in defensive posture, before his brain registered who had entered the room.  All three of them spoke at once, flinging questions and demands, the volume so loud in his head it seemed unbearable.  Fr. Kevin covered his ears with his hands, desperately trying to temper the noise, suddenly frightened about the sword's absolute power over him.

____________________________

            Nothing of importance could be discussed until his sister and her husband had adequately welcomed each other home, which was awkward to say the least.  Their making out at the end of his sofa was embarrassing to both he and Roxanne, though Ian found it quite entertaining, grinning and winking, and making Fr. Kevin like him even less.  Secretly though, he was happy to see his sister happy.  The past few months had been painful for her, and it now appeared that she and Beckett had found some solid ground to their relationship.  It was all together a good thing, but he could feel the presence of the sword, propped as it was against the hallway door, and he was anxious to share his concerns with the group.

            Maureen insisted on feeding the two of them before anything could be done, and the Ridre Dubh let her do what made her the happiest.  Once they had full plates in front of them, and everyone's glass was refilled, all attention turned to Beckett, who did his very best to explain all that had happened since his disappearance from the upstairs bedroom a little more than 24 hours before.  He exhibited more patience than Kevin thought capable, with everyone interrupting him with questions and comments of their own.  He took each of their inquiries seriously, calmly doing his best to appease their fears.  It was a side of his brother-in-law he'd never seen before.  He'd always exuded a sense of leadership, of careful control.  But now there seemed to be a steely sense of quiet reserve where before there had been only humming hostility.  He wasn't sure if it was his role as the Black Knight that had effected the change, or Caladbolg, but it made a striking difference.

            Fr. Kevin had expected the others to be shocked by Beckett's mission.  Imagined them to be as aghast as he had been at the outright murder of another human being. But it was Kevin who was speechless.  None of the three showed the slightest concern over what needed to be done.  Even his sister, who couldn't stand the tiniest mistreatment of others, nodded along when Beckett described what She Who Was All had asked.  It was as if Owen Kelly ceased to be a real person, and had somehow become the monster under the bed.  Both women had blanched at the description of how Kelly planned to increase his own power, the whole idea of creating a life for the purpose of stealing  stem cells an atrocity that made them shudder.   Ian's lack of modern medicine made it difficult for him to understand just what the Ridre Dubh was trying to explain.  His initial discomfort at the sketches the Knight drew describing human reproduction gave way to full anger when he finally understood what the human wizard was up to.  He responded with a string of colorful curses, vowing to do whatever he must to prevent such heinous things from happening.

        Once he was sure the group understood what was involved, the Black Knight unveiled the sword, explaining what he and Kevin had discovered about his history.  For several seconds, no one moved, starring at the thing as if it were a full sized python laying across the Sheriff's palm and not a weapon made of precious metal.  The moment Beckett touched it, energy pulsed through the sword, from its pommel to the tip.  Eventually Ian stepped forward, asking permission to touch it.  Beckett handed the weapon to him, and as soon as it left the Ridre Dubh's hands, it become a simple weapon. Still beautiful, still impressive, but without the strange light that it had exhibited when the Sheriff had possession.   It was the same with Roxanne, the weight of the thing extreme, but showing no signs of the mysterious energy it had a few moments earlier.

         Maureen declined to touch it, uncertainty and fear plain in her expression.  With encouragement from her husband, she eventually laid one hand across the pommel, the other on the blade.  Instantly,
the sapphire in the handle crackled to life, causing her to pull her hands away, and leaving her light headed and queasy.  To prove his theory, the Black Knight then handed the sword to Fr. Kevin, and as it had with Maureen, the large blue stone came alive.  But where its power had made his sister ill, the priest felt energized, acutely aware of every living thing in the room.  His friends stared at him as if they were seeing someone they did not recognize, and he wondered if he looked as odd as he felt.  Beckett went on to explain how the Fairy Queen had spoken of the need for a Knight's Second, of someone who could be entrusted with the sword, and to aid in the quest.  She had told him that his Second was someone he knew well, and that when the time came, Caladbolg would direct him in his choice.  It was as the Queen had said.  The sword had chosen Kevin.

            If any of them had doubts over Kevin's ability to take on this role, they politely kept it to themselves.  Maybe they were simply overwhelmed.  The things discussed in the rectory parlor were certainly unbelievable and fantastic, events far from being explainable.  If the Pastor of Holy Family Church was destined to aid in this war against something evil, then who were they to disagree?  It was obvious Kevin had a strong connection to the sword, and if what they had read was true, and the sword had been handed down from St. Michael the Archangel, then maybe it was not too far fetched to accept the notion that a servant of the Divine would be involved.

             Beckett gave them little time to ponder the mysteries.  He was more interested in a plan of action then debating over the hows and whys of things.  He had decided that he and his Second needed to spend some time seriously training with Caladbolg, as neither of them had experience in wielding a long sword.  He could not rely on help from his usual sources. His role as the Black Knight, his quest, and the presence of the weapon had to be kept completely hidden from outsiders, and in his head, vowed that The Powers That Be would never ever learn of its mystical existence.
He simply could not pull the thing out and practice maneuvering it in the backyard of the deli, or even on the rectory grounds.  He had decided hours ago that the group needed to retreat to somewhere obscure, a spot where they could plan and train in complete privacy.

          When he offered his cabin as that place, Kevin felt the breath leave his chest.  Even Maureen  turned a few shades paler.  Their last visit to Beckett's cabin up north was an unpleasant memory.  It had been a planned as a Thanksgiving holiday, a chance to enjoy their bounty and gratitude in a tranquil, natural setting.  It had been anything but peaceful, and there was little to be thankful for.  In those few days, they had become involved in a young woman's murder, been left with an abandoned baby on their doorstep, and been front row witnesses to Beckett's strange, tumultuous relationship with the psychotic Cassandra Donaghue.  Both Kevin and Maureen had multiple reasons why they never wanted to step foot in the place again, and their obvious negative reaction did little to make Roxanne and Ian want to agree to a visit.

             But the Ridre Dubh refused to take no for an answer.  He was adamant that the cabin offered the best place to prepare for what needed to be done.  It was large and private, offering the space they needed without the prying eyes of others.  It contained all the modern comforts of home, and would be a perfect place for Roxanne to continue to recover from her injuries, as well as enable the five of them to remain together.  It was the best solution to the problem, and he was set on his decision whether or not the rest of them agreed.  If there had been any doubt about who was in charge, it quickly dissolved.  The Black Knight would lead...and they would follow.

 Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
All Rights Reserved

           




Saturday, September 19, 2015

Caladbolg


   

       Kevin stood glued to his spot, the panel of mirrors across from the weight machines reflecting his  expression.  He looked like one of those bewildered cartoon characters, his mouth and eyes perfect round circles that were supposed to covey a message of shock to the reader.  In his case, shock wouldn't begin to cover what he was feeling.  For a brief second, he waited for a punch line.  Prayed for a punch line.  Something...anything... to clarify that Beckett was joking.  When the man remained silent, he was forced to go on a limb to attempt his own rescue.

       "You're joking... right?  Please tell me you set me up for a good laugh."

        The bland expression was back, the mask of indifference settled firmly on his face.  "No, Kevin. I am not joking."

         How did one respond to a revelation like that?  He was, after all, a servant of the Church.  A priest who had been hearing confessions for nearly eight years.  In all that time, he'd listened to countless people bare their souls.  Listened as they spilled the awful truth of human existence into his lap, the one part of his vocation he found the most emotional draining.  During his seminary schooling, he'd often wondered what he would do if someone confessed to the sin of murder.  The Church had specific instruction as to how it was to be handled, but until this moment, he'd been spared that particular challenge.   And now, here it was, the weight of it staring at him from a familiar face.

           No words would come, the Spirit obviously letting him sweat this one out on his own.  He turned instead, and marched back to the desk, pouring himself a double, and throwing it back without waiting for an invitation.  The whiskey burned smooth and hot, the warmth spreading from his throat to his empty gut, churning in rhythm with the confusion in his head.  An assassin.  His sister's husband.   Someone he considered a friend.  The realization sucked the breath out of him, and the shock and uncertainty of a minute ago gave way to anger and hurt.  "So...what you're telling me here is that you are a murderer.  A killer for hire."

            The expression on Beckett's face didn't change, but Kevin was sure he saw the tiniest bit of tightening around his jaw, a slight flicker to his eye lids.  The Sheriff leaned against an exercise bike, resting his weight on the seat.  "I don't like to think of it that way.  I do what needs to be done for the safety of this country.  For its people."

              "Is that what you tell yourself?  That you're a patriot?  That what you do is for the greater good?  Rah rah...raise the flag? You can't really believe that nonsense, so don't go trying to sell me some cart load of bullshit.  You murder people!  In cold blood.  Then you come back here and pretend to be some honorable law man.  A pillar of the community."  He slammed the empty glass down on the desk, the force of it sending spider web cracks through the Waterford crystal.  A thought came to him, like a sudden stabbing pain.  "Does Maureen know this?  Does my sister know that she's married a low life killer?"

              This time he knew he'd hit a nerve.  Beckett's eye's narrowed, and his posture, relaxed just seconds before, changed to stiff tension.  "My wife is aware of my duties.  I told her before we were married."

               "And how does she feel about that?  The idea that she sleeps every night next to a murderer?"

              "Tread lightly, O'Kenney.  You're on dangerous ground."

               Kevin hesitated for a moment, his eyes taking in the assortment of weapons on the wall behind his brother-in-law.  Tried to picture the Beckett he knew using them to snuff out some one's life.  There had always been something hard about the man.  A piece of him that seemed cold and aloof, emotionally keeping everybody at arm's length.  But here was also the guy who coached little league every summer.  Who not only built the town's no-kill animal shelter, but continually funded its upkeep, and spent hours there as a volunteer.  The guy who sat at his table in the rectory for countless games of gin rummy and micro brews. Who without a bit of hesitation, suspended disbelief, and jumped into the unknown to rescue Maureen from the past.  The same guy who made his sister's eyes light up the moment he walked into the room.  He should have felt a sense of righteous indignation.  Revulsion bubbling over with the reality of it all.  But all he felt was a huge sense of disappointment.  Of being tricked and made out as a fool.  The thought shamed him, and it was for that reason he needed to escape the small confines of the strange garage.

           Fr. O'Kenney headed toward the door, bent on just getting the hell out of the wretched place, when another thought came to mind.  He stopped and turned toward the Sheriff, who stood in the center of the room, arms crossed, expressionless.  "Why now, Ted?  Why decide to drop this bomb on me now?"

           And now the mask came down, grim weariness where once there was nothing.  "Because of this, Kevin."  He walked back toward the wall, and reaching under a ledge, pushed a hidden button.  A wide drawer slid open, its contents nestled in yards of black material, an odd bluish light seemingly emanating from the item within.

          At first, he couldn't believe what he was truly seeing, and so he took a few steps closer.  The air in the room suddenly felt warmer, as if heat were somehow radiating from that opened drawer.  Kevin blinked, the light almost too much for his eyes, as the dark jewel in the pommel flashed with tiny burst of white hot flashes.  He put his hand out, and then quickly drew it back, suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of apprehension.  He made the sign of the cross out of habit, and the jewel flashed even brighter.  His mouth felt dry, his tongue like lead, and the words were difficult to push out.  "Holy Mother of God...what is that?"

            Beckett lifted the sword out of the drawer, and laying it unafraid across his palms, said, "Fr. O'Kenney, I'd like to introduce you to Caladbolg.

______________________________

            It was hours before Kevin noticed that late afternoon had turned into late evening.  It seemed like he had only phoned Maureen awhile ago to apologize for being held up by a needy parishioner, but the time on his cell phone was reading 10:00 PM.  He had lost himself in the ancient parchment, the Gaelic words written in some type of long verse narrative.  He and Beckett had been able to translate only half of the words, but the story was beginning to take shape.  It told the story of the Fay, from their creation and beyond, of the first appearance of Caladbolg.  When he had come to the first hint of the sword's orgins, his heart nearly stood still in his chest.  Could it really have come from the hand of St. Michael, the warrior defender of Heaven?   It was too much for an average human to take in, even a human who had built his life on faith alone.

             But here it was, the blue stone crackling with energy, resting on the desk in front of him.  He'd finally worked up enough courage to physically touch the thing, and when he had laid a hand on its hilt, the jolt of electric current ran clear up his arm and into his head.  But it was when it was in Beckett's hands that the thing truly came alive, the metal glowing with pure light.  It was the part of this whole thing that the priest could make the least sense of.  If what was written here was true, and the sword was actual a divine gift from Heaven itself, why would it react so strongly to someone like his brother-in-law?  A man who destroyed life?  Who professed no belief in things of God?

               If he'd truly possessed any sense of decorum, any spiritual logic at all, he would have walked out of that garage the minute Beckett had suggested that he, Fr. Kevin Seamus O'Kenney,  Pastor and Shepard of Holy Family Church, dedicated Disciple of Christ, was destined to be the Black Knight's "second".  He should have run from that place without ever looking back.  But the draw of the Archangel's name, the possibility that he had within his reach a tangible relic of Heaven was too strong a temptation to resist.  And so, with heads bent over the musty, browned parchment, Caladbolg flickering on the desk in front of them, he and the Ridre Dudh changed their lives forever.

Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
All Rights Reserved

              

            

          

 

            

          

         

         

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Beckett Revealed

The reaction reserved for unexpected guests

       The errand was an escape, and Fr. Kevin was grateful for it.  He was sick to death of watching Ian entertain the ladies with amusing little anecdotes and pun-ny witticisms , and when he pulled out a length of clothes line to do some silly rope tricks, the priest knew he needed to get out.  Maureen's request to run over to the deli to pick up some items for supper afforded him an excuse to leave, and though he offered to walk the twelve blocks to the Mega-Mart on 5th and Central, her insistence otherwise found him making due with a short jaunt to Schiller's and the Beckett's apartment above it.

          He was determined to lengthen the experience as much as possible, so he made it a point to stop along the way to chat with neighbors, admire the current state of their vegetable gardens, and gush over photos of the latest grandchildren.  When he finally reached the deli a block and a half away, he had managed to whittle away nearly an hour, and a text from his sister reminded him she was still waiting for her groceries, and that dinner was now going to be later than planned.

         Mo had asked him to retrieve her small roaster from under the sink, and he headed toward the back of the property to make his way up to their flat.  As he unlocked the door, he heard the distinctive clang of metal on metal coming from the large garage situated a few feet from the main building.  He stopped in mid-step, alarm settling itself around him.  The structure was his brother-in-law's private space, a venue you did not breach uninvited.  Several months ago, Beckett had gutted the small brick building, creating a personal gym and office of sorts, a spot he often retreated to when the confines of the small studio apartment felt restrictive.  He doubted more than a handful of people had ever been inside, he himself only given a brief stationary tour when the remodel was finished.  The fact that someone was inside now, when Beckett himself was off somewhere with the Fay, was a serious situation

        Fr. Kevin reached for his phone, first impulse being to call the Sheriff's office about a possible break-in.  Then, he abruptly shoved the cell back into his pocket.  He knew his brother-in-law.  The last thing he'd want was for a bunch of his underlings milling about his stuff.  When it came to privacy, Beckett was near psychotic, and so the priest decided to investigate on his own before involving anyone else.  Maybe it was just one of the Schillers, inside with landlord's privilege, or possibly a neighborhood kid bent on mischief.

            He tip-toed across the tiny plot of grass, careful not to step on his sister's patch of rose garden, and peered into the corner of the window.  Instead of seeing inside, his own reflection stared back at him.  What looked like ordinary windows to the outside world were instead paned with a kind of special privacy glass.  It should have surprised him, but it didn't.  There had always been something odd about Ted Beckett.  He'd known the man nearly three years, thought of him as friend, if anyone could use that term to describe Ted, and considered him family since his marriage to his sister.  But as far as personal information went, the guy was pretty much a complete stranger.  He held his personal history, as well as his emotions and thoughts, completely in check, and the few glimmers Kevin had of the man's personality left him troubled.

              The view being blocked, the priest pushed his ear against the glass, trying instead to distinguish what might be going on by sound alone.  He could still hear the rhythmic bang of what was surely weights, and the underlying sound of someone breathing deeply.  Whoever was inside was obviously using one of the weight machines, and that realization caused him to relax.  It was unlikely a thief or someone up to no good would take the time to use exercise equipment.  Before he could process that thought, he found himself in a choke hold, his source of air cut off, and something cold and metal poking in his ribs.

__________________________________

                 Roxanne tried to concentrate on the conversation at hand, something about brewing ale, a long complicated dissertation that Maureen seemed more interested in than she.  Instead, she was focused on his hands.  Large and strong, callused, and deeply tanned.  The hands of a man who worked out of doors.  She watched as he used them to describe the process of fermentation, nodding just enough to give the impression she was paying attention.

         Charming and sweet, he had tried to entertain them with some rope tricks using a piece of old clothes line that he found in the cluttered rooms over the rectory garage.  Though he was quite good, all she could think about were those hands.  The long slender fingers in control of the rope, the way his thumb slid over the fibers, the cording of the muscles when he pulled both ends tight.  How it might be to have those hands on her came to mind.  It had made her go all gooey inside, the room suddenly too warm despite the air conditioner in the window blowing directly on her.

         It was utterly ridiculous.  The whole situation.  She was still recuperating from surgery, banged up and bandaged, a tangle of tubes still running from both arms, confined to a hospital bed in a strange bedroom.  No.  Not strange.  Kevin's bedroom.  In the rectory. With Ian's beautiful hands sitting across from her.  It was too weird, and it made her sweat.

        Across the room, Maureen pulled out her phone, and checked the time.  "I wonder what's keeping Kevin?  He's been gone almost an hour already.  At this rate, it'll be after 7 before we eat dinner."  She pecked out a text message, and then rose from the chair, heading toward the door.  "I'm gonna go down and put some water on to boil.  Hopefully, my errant brother will return soon with the groceries."  She turned and looked at them both, and catching Roxanne's eye, the flush to her cheeks, grinned.  "You guys good to wait until dinner, or should I fix a little snack?"

        Food?  No.  No food.  How could she think about food with those hands resting on the side of the bed, inches away from her.  "I'm fine, Mo.  I'll just wait until dinner's ready."

        The afore mentioned hand snaked out across the short expanse of bedding, and took hers, twining the fingers between his before she could pull away.  "I too shall wait in anticipation of your culinary delights, Madame.  And until that time arrives, I shall sit here and feast myself upon Miss Roxanne's beauty."

_______________________________

         For a nano second, he couldn't breath, the arm a vise across his wind pipe.  Then it loosened, and a low voice whispered in his ear.  "Damn, O'Kenney.  Sneaking up on people is a good way to end up dead.  Never saw you as the Peeping Tom type."

          He recognized the voice, and his relief was tempered with a tinge of annoyance.  "You're back, I see.  Why are you hanging out here by yourself?  We've been worried sick about you...especially your wife."

          Beckett stuffed the gun back into his waistband, and shrugged.  "Yeah...I understand that.  I needed some time alone before I rejoined you all."

          "Why?  What's wrong?  Where have you been?  And what does the Fairy Queen have to do with all of this?"

            The Sheriff motioned towards the door, and moved inside, with Fr. Kevin a few steps behind him.  He felt a little squiggle of pleasure at being invited into his brother-in-law's inner sanctum, and then berated himself for acting like a little kid with hero worship.  It took a few seconds for him to realize that he still was hearing the same sounds of the weight machine and breathing, despite the fact that no one was using them.  Beckett hit a button within a panel on the wall, and the noise stopped.  He shut the door, and a lock clicked into place.

             "You have a sound track for your gym? Really?  That's pretty weird, even for you."

              Shrugging again, he replied, "It worked, didn't it?  You never saw or heard me coming." Then opening a cabinet, he pulled out two glasses and a bottle of Jameson Special Reserve and raised them toward the priest in question.  Kevin nodded, and for a few moments neither of them spoke as the Sheriff raised the glass in quick toast, and the two men threw back the amber liquid in one smooth gulp.

               Beckett took a spot in a leather chair behind a large wooden desk, and signaled that the priest should take a seat as well.  Kevin grabbed a wooden chair and dragged it to a position near the desk, and noticed for the first time, two large parchment scrolls leaning against the wall.  He waited for the man to start speaking, but instead Beck ignored him, focused instead on an open lap top in front of him.  Finally, he could wait no longer, and asked, "Aren't you going to tell me where you've been for the last 24 hours?"

               His eyes never left the screen, but he answered, "24?  Has it been that long?"

               "Uhmmmm...yeah.  You disappeared yesterday in the middle of dinner.  We had no idea what happened to you.  One minute you were speaking to She Who Was All, and then...poof...you were gone. With no information at all about where you went, or when you would return. Mo's besides herself with worry, you know."

         He felt a prick of guilt, because that wasn't actually true.  His sister was oddly calm about the whole thing, and when he revealed that Brian had given him no useful knowledge regarding Beckett's situation, she had stated most confidently that her husband was fine, and would return when he could.  How she knew this, he had no clue, but she seemed privy to information he lacked and was decidedly
vague about how she had gathered it.  But Maureen was his brother-in-law's weak spot, his Achille's heal, and he had hoped to guilt him into some kind of response.

        " I regret having to worry my wife, but it couldn't be helped.  Besides, its good training for her."

         It was a strange response.  Training?  For what?  As her husband was in law enforcement, it was expected that he would at times be putting himself at risk.  But Dollyville had very little crime, and it was unlikely his job as Sheriff caused her much angst.  Beckett had proved himself more than capable of taking care of himself in perilous situations. Why would she need training for times her husband disappeared?  Little warning bells went off in his head.  That ever building, niggling worry that there was something about the man he was completely missing.

           Fr. Kevin pushed all that out of his head for the moment, and concentrated on the issues at hand.  "So then...where were you?"

          "Frankly, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

          "I wouldn't believe you?  How can you say that after all I've been through!  Or have you forgotten I spent days...weeks...in someone else's body!  Someone else who officially had been dead for a 150 years!  That wretched watch is still my damn responsibility!  I, of all people, am perfectly capable of taking you seriously."

            Beckett thought about that for a moment, and then must have agreed.  " I was in what they call "I idir".

            Kevin quickly did the Gaelic translation.  "The In Between?"  What...is that some kind of Middle Earth place?"

            "Apparently so.  It is the home base for the Fay.  A very strange place indeed."

            The priest sat stunned for a moment.  After all he had been through in the past year, after all he had seen, the fact that a place like that actually existed should not have shocked him as much as it did.  Yet it stopped him cold.  As a kid, he had been drawn to the old legends, Celtic folklore, and the classic writings of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  He had lost himself in tales of dragons and magic, of wizards and epic battles between things unseen.  Hardly appropriate reading for one destined to the service of the Church, but a joyous, guilty pleasure none the less.  Now in hindsight, he wondered if his penchant for such things weren't part of some Divine plan.  "So it's real then?  A real place.  What a wondrous thought."

            "I can't say that was my first reaction.  I'm not particularly fond of being hijacked against my will.  That whole concept will take some getting used to.  Some serious retraining."

             It was the second time he had used that word.  Training.  It struck Fr. Kevin as odd, until he remembered the photo he had seen in the Sheriff's office.  The one in which a younger Beckett was standing amongst a group of men in fatigues, somber and stern, sunglasses hiding his eyes.  He had never much talked about his past, glossing over any questions about his time in military service.  Kevin had once asked his sister about it, and she too had changed the subject.  Why this all was coming to mind now he wasn't sure.

              "Someday, you'll have to tell me all about it...the I idir... but for now, I'm dying to know what it is she wants from you.  All this Black Knight stuff is pretty strange."  He glanced at Beckett's face, usually a mask of bland indifference, and caught a sense of wavering, as if he could not decide how to proceed.  There was a tangible feeling of tension in the room, making him oddly uneasy, and Kevin went to diffuse it using the only method he knew...humor.  "Wait...let me guess.  She wants you to rescue a magical damsel in distress."  There was no reaction, and so he continued.  "In an ivory tower.  And to do so, you need to slay an evil wizard."

            Beckett's stricken face caught him off guard.  Hitting the obvious truth was the last thing he'd expected.  The Sheriff ran a hand through his hair.  "You are more astute than I ever gave you credit for, O'Kenney."   He left Kevin with his mouth hanging open, and moved to the far end of the garage to a wall that held a series of weights and pulleys. "I need to explain something to you, Kevin.  But I need your absolute assurance that what I say remains strictly between you and I.  As a priest, as well as my wife's brother."

             He suddenly felt ill, and any attempt at humor evaporated like rain on a steamy August afternoon.  Fr. Kevin knew with an uncanny sense of resolution, that whatever Beckett was going to tell him, it would change things between them forever. "Of course, Ted, you have my word on that.  Completely."

               He fingered one of the metal brackets, and the wall slid back.  It took a few seconds for the priest to fully comprehend what he was seeing.  The wall behind the sliding panel held a large variety of weapons, everything to small handguns to automatic weapons, with a smattering of odd looking daggers and knives.  There was even what appeared to be a small rocket launcher, if his memory of action movies served him right.  He wasn't sure what he was supposed to say in light of this revelation, and so he went for the obvious.  "What is all this...this stuff?"

                "They're weapons.  All of them."

                "Duh! I can obviously see that.  But why are they here?  In your garage?  I know that as Sheriff you need some type of protection, but this..." He pointed to the rocket launcher thing, "...well, this just seems like overkill."

                Beckett looked directly at him, and their eyes locked.  "I work for the government, Kevin.  I have for a number of years.  I use these things...this equipment...in that capacity."

               The words floated around in his head, with him trying to make sense of what it was the man in front of him was trying to say.  Pieces of the puzzle began to fall in place.  The extreme sense of privacy.  The strange group of friends.  The way he made things happen that were out of reach for ordinary people.  And the ability the man had to change his demeanor, his personality, at any given instance.   The words sounded goofy coming off his tongue, but he said them anyway.  "So...what you're telling me here is that you're some kind of government spy?"

               Beckett stood for a moment, his face grim.  "Spy?  No. Not spy.  More like assassin."


Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
All Rights Reserved

           

       

         




         

       

     



               

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Queen Delivers


           At the Queen's words, the forest around them seemed to stand still, as if every living thing waited on his response.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a strange variety of butterfly, its wings blinking in glimmering shades of blue and yellow.  It hovered to the right of him, hanging in animated suspense, tiny head bent in his direction.  Even the leaves on the foliage stopped moving in the breeze, instead curling toward the direction of their conversation.  Though he could see no one, he had the feeling that hundreds of tiny eyes and ears were centered on him, a sensation that was more than a bit disconcerting and unlike anything he'd ever experienced on any mission before this one.

             Beckett drained the ale in his cup despite the notion that he might be drugging himself.  It was a ploy to gain a few more seconds to think before answering.  Half of his brain was screaming out over the absolute absurdity of the moment.  Fairies and wizards?  Stuff from fantasy tales by Tolkien and Lewis.  Not real.  Couldn't be.  Went against every logical notion he'd ever entertained.  Yet, there was no denying he was where he was.  It wasn't a dream or hallucination.  And the whole time travel mission to retrieve Maureen was proof there were possibilities in the universe he'd never considered.  But what she was asking was cold blooded murder without the guise of patriotism he'd come to rely on.

               He put the cup on the ground, presenting the blandest expression he could muster.  "And if I refuse?"

               There was a physical ripple of energy at his question, but She Who Was All jut smiled in turn.  "You are Ridre Dubh.  You will not refuse."

               Her confidence irked him, and he fired back.  "I will not be threatened, You Majesty.  It's not how I work."

               "I need no threats, Black Knight.  You are many things. Some that darken the soul.  But you are honorable when it comes to your promises.  You freely signed the contract I presented. There was no fairy magic, no falsehood in our deal.  I made it possible for you to retrieve your mate from a time that was not her own, which I will add, was no simple feat. In return, you vowed to act as my champion. To serve as needed. Owen Kelly must be stopped, for the good of the Fey, as well as the destiny of your mortal world.  If he succeeds in his goal, there will be little that will stop him.  His control would have no boundaries... in our world and yours.   It is your quest to stop that from happening, and you will complete it because you are the Ridre Dubh."

                She was right of course.  He always paid his debts.  His wife was back where she belonged, safe and no worse for the experience.  She Who Was All had made that possible, and now he owed her his assistance.  And it wasn't like this Owen bastard was a gift to humanity.  What he was doing went beyond theft.  Beyond rape.  It was a crime against humanity itself.  He had taken other lives for less.

            "Let's say I agree to do this.  I get to handle it my way, correct?  No interference from you as to the methods I use?"

             The Fairy rose and fluttered to a place on his forearm.  "As Ridre Dubh, that is your right.  Handle your quest as you see fit, though I must insist that you move as quickly as possible.  Owen has amassed a large selection of...possibilities.  It is only a matter of time before he finds a way to succeed."

              "How do you know he'll ever be successful?  You said yourself it might never work."

               She looked away before continuing, a signal to him that she was not being entirely forthright.  "It has been prophesied that one such as Owen might appear in this century, but the details as to whether he would be successful are vague.   We can not risk it.  Not with what is at stake.  You must complete this quest, Black Knight.  It must be done.  Here and now."

                Beckett was sure there was something she was leaving out.  Some piece of the puzzle yet out of his reach.  Whatever it was, he'd damn well discover it, a coup he might be able to use to his own advantage.  He put his hand out, and the Fairy set herself on his palm. Her colors flashed with a brilliance that was difficult to watch with human eyes, and he had to force himself not to look away.
"I accept your challenge, my Queen.  I will seek out this Owen Kelly and do as you ask."

              She clapped her hands in pleasure, and around them, there was the distinct sound of excited humming.  "Well done, Ridre Dubh!  As I knew you would!  The Fey Kingdom rejoices in your commitment to our well being."  She snapped her fingers, and two large parchment scrolls appeared in his lap.  "Here is all we know of Owen and his abominations.  Use it to your...advantage, Sir Knight."

              Her stress of the word "advantage" gave him pause, as if she could have possibly read his own mental intentions moments before.  He shook off any concern, and smiled back. "Parchment, your Majesty?  This is the 21st Century.  We now have extensive venues for research and tracking."

             She Who was All folded her arms, and narrowed her eyes at him. "That is all well and good,
Mortal, and I realize that Owen will also have use of your modern technology.  But what you must understand is that your prey is a formible enemy with skills you can not begin to possess.  He has trained in the old ways, and his Fey bloodline allows for ability you can never hope to match.  What you bring in cunning, strength and sheer determination, he will counter with magic.  To defeat him, you must realize what you are up against.  Owen Kelly is a full wizard, one of only a few left in this century.  He is brilliant, resourceful and without honor of any kind.  To underestimate him would be a fatal mistake."

              It was Beckett's turn to narrow his eyes.  "It sounds as if you believe him invincible."

              "He is powerful, but not invincible.  I offer to you a tool that evens up the sides more than a bit."  She jumped from his palm, wings fluttering to soften her landing.  She turned and wandered a few steps away, stopping in front of a large oak tree of ancient heritage.  Its trunk was equal to the size of a small car, gnarled roots pushing up from the ground in front of it.  As the fairy Queen crept closer, the tree seemed to feel her presence, the lines on its bark twisting in rotating patterns, the branches bending low in what seemed a bow.

               She placed her palms on the front of the tree, and with closed eyes, began chanting in a high pitched keen.  His brain on overload, the Ridre Dubh, fought to look away, but found he could not.  His brain kept repeating the same word over and over again..."impossible, impossible, impossible", but the eyes on his face told another story.  The center of the tree struggled to split open with a creaking sound similar to a crow bar on an old frozen door  It began as a small fissure that grew in size as the chanting continued, separating bit by bit, until two sides of the tree swung open revealing a bright light in the center.  It's dazzling whiteness blinded him for a moment, and he was forced to close his eyes.  When he opened them again, the tree stood exposed, the split now a gaping wound in the middle of its trunk, devoid of the light that was there a second before.

          She Who Was All Stood at his feet with a long iron sword in her hand, and though it looked heavy in weight, she showed no stress holding in holding it up. The grip was gold in color, and in the pommel sat a large stone that sparkled like a diamond, but surly could not have been.  The cross guard was worked in a series of runes, its lines, dashes and circular symbols a language he could not begin to understand. The blade was white hot metal, with a point sharper than he had ever seen on similar weapons, and as she stood there, he thought he could hear the damn thing whispering his name.

           " Ridre Dubh, I present to you Caladbolg.  Use it to defend the Fey, as those who gone before you have done."

            She lay the weapon in his hands, which reached out to receive it by no power that was his own.  The sword was heavier than it appeared, and he wondered how the Fairy, a whisper in size, could have held it herself.  He lifted it point up, feeling the power of the thing surge through his arm, when suddenly the white stone in the pommel changed with a flash to the color of deepest blue, with flickering overtones of regal purple.  Seeing this, the Queen squealed in delight, clapping her hands in celebration.  "You have been deemed worthy of the Merlin stone!  More than we could have ever hoped for.  Far superior to the red or green.  It is truly an auspicious omen for success."

            Overwhelmed by the moment, it took Beckett a few seconds to register the word "Merlin", and a quick mental search for the translation of Caladbolg brought him to disbelief.  "Hell...are you trying to tell me this...this sword is Excalibur?  THE Excalibur?  Like in Arthur and the Round Table Excalibur?  Not fucking possible!"

             She raised her eyebrows at him, and made a face.  "Do not get caught up in your mortal tales, Knight.  The sword is ancient, known throughout centuries under many names, though we have been told and do believe it was originally created by one of the Creator's own messengers.  You may know him as Michael, but he also is known under various titles throughout history.  Legends have surrounded the sword's use for centuries, and it is not to be called upon for anything but the most serious of battles.  Its presence here in your hands signifies that Owen is a force to be reckoned with.  Do not forget that."

              "Am I to understand that you expect me to...to execute this man with sword?  In the year 2015?"

              "Aye, Ridre Dubh.  It is the only way.  You must remove his head from his body by means of Caladbolg.  Any other attempt to end his life will fail."


Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
All Rights Reserved