by Cliona in Dark Ages


She awoke from her dream with a start, finding herself lying awake and alone in the darkness. Tears ran cold tracks down her cheeks, drying in patterns running from the corners of her eyes down into her soft dark hair. She turned onto her side, sobs bursting from her chest, her face buried in her pillow as she tried to muffle the sound. The walls of Riona's inn were notoriously thin, as evidenced by the unfortunate knowledge of the couple living beside her. She lay there until the moon sat high above, her sorrow not fading, but rather numbing her until she could no longer find the will to cry.

Cliona sat up, her white nightgown as a cloud about her. She stared out the window by her feet, her gaze encompassing the whole of Mileth and the Eastern woods, until she could see the jagged purple peaks of the Kasmanium Mines. She could also, from this vantage, see the closer hills between Mileth and Abel, round and squat, like sheep sleeping out to pasture. Cliona sighed raggedly and slipped out from between her warm blankets, muttering an oath as her bare feet touched the cold hardwood floor. She could fancy that she could see her breath, it was so cold, but knew it was too early yet in the season for such a thing. Walking over to the fireplace where the dying embers of the night's blaze still glowed, Cliona sat in a soft velvet chair, her eyes unfocused. Without recalling having poured it, she brought a goblet of stout Loures liquor to her lips. She swallowed without tasting it, her mind growing easier to survive in.

In a moment her head was growing dreamy, her chin nodding onto her chest, and in another moment she was once again wide awake, her tears streaming anew. With every blink of her eyes, her mind replayed the events as they were told to her, filled with every bit of gore her experienced mind could conjure. She shivered in fear and horror, standing once again. She crossed her room impatiently. Within a moment she was gone, her feet thumping down the stairs of the inn, her ghostly form crossing the fields upon which the inn lay. A sheet of parchment, many times folded, fluttered to the floor.

Lost his life in the heat of battle…

Her gown swirled about her feet, white upon sheer upon satin upon silk, rustling smoothly, the bodice fitted tightly, looking almost as lovely a bride on her way to find her groom. She ran across the field, seeing beyond the far cliffs of the north Mileth sea, too sheer to build a port, but opening the town up to the sea, the moon reflecting in fragments off the water, glittering as the full moon shone both from above and below.

Cliona ran almost headlong into the fence, gasping for breath, her hands clutching the roughly hewn rails. She gazed up the hillside, where the fence disappeared over the ridge and continued on for miles, horses of all shapes and sizes dotting the far bluffs. Desperately, she watched for him.

Surely enough, he came galloping headlong over the ridge, his ground-eating strides bringing him to her at an unbelievable pace. His mane rode in waves upon his neck, his tail flung out behind him like a banner. Faster and faster he ran until the fence was upon him, then he sat back upon his small hind feet, wheeling to a stop, his chest flush with the rails, blowing hard, his sides heaving with exertion and power. Tenderly, he whickered into Clio's soft pale hand, his big brown eyes dark as pitch in his white face, blinking softly, burying his gray nose into her stomach. Cliona shuddered to feel his softness so near to her, his ears twitching gaily to and fro, catching every soft shuddering breath in her breast.

Tears ran anew down Clio's cheeks, laid beside the horse's nose. He stood still, his nose buried in her stomach, contented as long as Cliona's delicately manicured nails, unused to rough outdoors work, played behind his ears.

"It can't be true, Conleth… it can't be. An awful bloody lie…Gods, don't let it be true…"

The horse whickered; seeming almost puzzled by Cliona's distress. She lifted her cheek from his lovely shaped head, blinking innocently at him. "Have you not heard, fair steud? I received a letter."

Fall, Deoch 6

Ulick stood tall upon the grassy plains of Undine, surrounded by monks of all shapes and sizes. Together, they numbered somewhere close to fifty men and women. Their garments told the tale of their lineage and their travels here. Ulick had long since shed his Mileth Coulette in favor of the noble and true Suomi style, the one which told of his beginnings in the West of Temuair. Some of the monks around him he knew, others were only beginning to grow familiar, while some others he had never before laid eyes on, as the numbers of monks spilling in from the countryside continued to grow.

Some stood, some sat, some lay down, flattening the waist high grass with the weight of not only their bodies, but the ample forms of their horses as well. Some grazed nearby, while one or two dozed, their chestnut coats gleaming copper as the sun blazed a great orange fireball ready to set the distant mountain peaks aflame. Their shadows grew longer until they finally faded into the darkness and still they stayed, no one moving towards the small village below. Baguettes and bits of meat and cheese were circulated throughout the waiting crowd of monks; small campfires popped up on the hillside. Ulick finally wandered from his self-appointed post as guard and warmed himself by the fire, quietly considering the clash to come.

He awoke with a start, to thunder clapping overhead, loud enough to leave his ears ringing with the sound of it. Around him, in the sudden cloudburst and through the blinding flashes of lightning, he could see Aislings running frantically about him, in doboks and earth garb and lotus bodices, rousing all those not already awake, calling them to, quite literally, arms. He flung himself from his bedroll, slipping iron bracers infused with magic onto his wrists. He glanced around desperately, finding horses spooking and pulling against their restraints, their eyes flashing white and fearful in the darkness. Like a ghostly phantom, one stallion was trotting by, seeking not an escape from fear, but a chance back onto the untamed plains.

An ironic grin spread across his face and he grabbed the passing horse's thick mane, pulling himself onto its broad white back. He whipped his head around, eyes scanning the countryside. Off, in the distance, he could see the faint flickering lights of torches, and in the brilliant thunderbolts, he could see the orange flags of Loures crackling from atop their wooden poles. All around him, he could see monks steeling for the fight. The mundane soldiers from Loures had their heavy weapons and thick armor, which, although it protected them, slowed their movements to a heavy crawl, completely immobile should one be pulled from a horse or knocked to the ground. The monks, meanwhile, not only had the spark of Deoch on their side, but also the nimble advantage of their training, their fleetness of foot and hand, and their fierce defense of their own land.

All around him, the monks formed a line of defense. Some shadowed themselves with the form of the white bat, moving as silent and invisible sentries. The Loures army passed by them with not even a glance, instead making their way only further toward the rigid wall of monks.

Suddenly and without warning, the mounted troops roared forward, galloping at full speed toward the seemingly defenseless monks. The riders carried maces, whips, swords, lances, and great curving battle-axes forged by the greatest rogue smiths of Temuair. From his place atop his unanticipated steed, Ulick could see the front lines of his own fellow troops quivering with anticipation. He nodded and knew, from either his own quivering legs or perhaps the adrenaline-fueled excitement of the creature below him, that it was all they could do not to run down and 'greet' their uninvited guests. Slowly, a few monks gathered themselves together, chanting in unison, gathering their own strength and the will of gods to perform for them a small miracle. With a series of small flashes, dim yet somehow brilliant in the intermitted flashes of lightning, several riders dropped, unconscious and fading away, while their horses ran on towards the natives of undine, unable to grasp that they were now free to do as they will. Within seconds, monks shed them of their bulky saddles and armor, dropping them in dirty piles upon the ground, and sprang up onto their bare backs.

The remaining troops charging toward the monks' line of defense were met with a flurry of fists and feet, overwhelmed by the numbers of monks (nearly twelve to one on this assault), and quickly were sent to their rest upon the ground. All was still again.

Soaked to the skin, the monks were shivering in the winter wind, left once again to watch the army and await the charge. There was no charge. The army continued at a steady pace, closer and closer, until neither side could avoid the clash. The monks sprang forward as the army closed the final few paces, some close enough to ambush them from behind.

The two sides became one, a messy conglomeration of angry warriors, the whole of them erupting into a sea of weapons and shouting, anger, blood, and death. The monks fought quickly if weakly, with no time wasted on flourishes or grand show. The soldiers of Loures were trained to add no less than the greatest of embellishment upon their moves, and, despite their imposing strength, they were still mundane, and wholly unable to quicken themselves beyond their heavy-handed strikes.

Ulick found himself, and his mount, surrounded by fighting men, unable to do anything for his cause for his greatest weapons, his powerful legs, able to deliver a killing blow with the most minimal of effort, were engaged instead with his own balance, his continuing place upon this beast. Wheeling his horse around, he dug his heels in and galloped his horse out of the crowd, clutching for dear life to the animal's neck as he leapt over fallen men or whirled in fear or, once, almost fell, as Ulick grasped a rein and hauled him to a stop.

Now outside the greatest concentration of fighting, Ulick took stock of what was around him. Not far away, atop some great furry beast, too heavy, it seemed, to even support his own weight, let alone that of his ample rider, sat who Ulick assumed was their commanding officer, a King, a burgess, or a Guard Captain, at the very least. A plan slowly formed in his mind and, tentatively at first, then at a full gallop, Ulick charged straight toward him. The Captain saw at the very last moment what was about to happen, without time to even brace himself for the impact.

Ulick hurled himself at the man, knocking him from his horse. In an instant, he bounced back up to his feet, waiting patiently while the man slowly gathered himself up. He drew a sword as a matter of course, and Ulick was none too surprised that one such as this would feel no remorse in drawing a weapon to an unarmed man. Behind them, Ulick could hear the armies clashing over and over again, the nauseating sound of sword on flesh, but also the heartening impact of foot upon skull.

Without warning, the uniformed Captain charged at Ulick, his eyes growing wide the moment the little man (by comparison, of course) dodged him for the first time. Obviously, this would not be the fight he had anticipated. Ulick whirled and slammed the man square in the chest with his shin, knocking the wind from him and giving him, no doubt, by the look of horror upon his face, the stun of a lifetime. Ulick stood and bounced upon the balls of his naked feet, his blood pounding in his ears even as he stood historically still. The Captain made a wild slash with his sword and Ulick pulled back, hissing between his teeth as blood bloomed black in the murky darkness, spilling from his arm upon the ground. He clutched the wound and, infuriated, turned his steely gaze to the Captain, no longer allowing this the luxury of play.

With no more than a second of planning, he lashed out with both his fists, screaming loudly and wildly attacking the man with chants of nochd, poison from his own fists, and, most of all, the well-placed blows of his own feet. The Captain, while doubtlessly still a mundane trained in a mundane manner, was a well-trained mundane, his dagger slashing wildly while his sword blocked several of Ulick's well-placed blows, until the old man was bruised almost beyond recognition and the young man was slashed and bleeding from almost every pore.

Ulick stood, panting, his crimson hair dark with blood and hanging into his eyes, obscuring his vision beyond the palest of views. His head swam with weakness and his body quivered with fear, while the old man staggered and tried desperately to keep his balance through the concussion swelling his face and, within his own head, his brain, as it tried desperately to cushion itself from any further attacks. Desperately, the man pulled his helmet from his head, trying to relieve some of the pressure, though surely it could do no good now. His face was swollen to a pulpy mass, wholly obscuring any features his face may have possessed.

With the final surge of energy, both Ulick and the Captain made a final charge, with Ulick building himself up for one last killing blow, slamming his foot into the man's head, twisting his neck and throwing him to the ground, already dead. The old man, at the same moment, threw out his sword and buried it in Ulick's body, lancing him through to his spine, sending his blood fanning out upon the ground in a great spray, while fire burned through him, centered upon his belly, where the sword lay plunged to the hilt.

Dropping to his knees, his gaze fixed upon where the old man now lay dead, Ulick wrapped both his blood-slicked hands around the sword hilt where it lay protruding from his stomach, just above his navel. Wincing, and screaming with agony, he slowly drew from him the sword, inadvertently twisting it within him, ripping his body to shreds. He could feel himself dying and marveled, even through his pain, at the sensation. Wrapping his hands now around the blade of the sword, his hands torn open by its razor's edge, he pulled his all the way out, letting it drop to the ground.

He sat there a moment, panting, his head dropped low, his chest nothing more than a mass of blood, a great gaping hole bubbling from it air and blood and bile as his belly emptied itself, a river of foulness pooling beneath him. His torn hands skuttled across the grass like twin spiders, grasping the sword's hilt once more. He lifted it to rest upon the tip, then levered himself up, up, up onto his feet, slowing coming upright, the sword in his hands. His vision blurred and he turned drunkenly, his body weaving, unable to keep his balance. The army was soundly defeating the monks; their bodies falling like hail upon the ground.

All was silent, suddenly, as the monks froze in their stances, the soldiers stilled with swords poised. In the flashes of lightning and the downpour all about them, it seemed for a moment as silence, until the cadence of the shout changed and one could tell, just barely, that what was perceived as silence was the dying battle-cry of a monk known by few. Ulick Inntinn, native of Undine, as his last act upon this earth, plunged the Captain's sword into the ground, in the ancient Aosdan gesture of peace.

Cliona awoke alone, covered in dew and grass, her body curled up and leaning upon the warm white body of Conleth, her faithful stallion. He was already awake, nibbling at the grass around him, wuffling happily at his new discovery. Cliona wiped the dried tears from her face and blinked, her gaze wandering across the hill. Horses grazed all around, walk and munch, walk and munch. The dew glistened upon the grass like an enormous sack of polished gems had been spilled along the countryside. Grass and morning and the clean smell of horse filled her nostrils until she filled her lungs to bursting with it, then released it in a heavy sigh. She untangled herself from her gown and slid one leg over the horse's back, then gently nudged him into action. The great animal stood suddenly, nearly unseating poor Cliona, then quietly reached around his side to lip at her bare toes.

With a small smile, Cliona urged Conleth forward, shouting suddenly as he gave a little buck and took off at a gallop across the fields, towards the sea.

He ran for a long while, to Cliona at least, before slowing to an easy trot along the sea. There were no fences here, so far from civilization they were, watching the small fishing boats bob upon the water, the laughing gulls begging for a bit of the catch. Cliona sighed and Conleth dropped his head to steal a bit of grass from this previously undiscovered countryside. When Cliona finally tore her gaze from the sea, what she saw stiffened her enough to spook Conleth to jump to the side, seeing nothing but suspecting everything. Clio was unceremoniously dumped onto the ground, but she immediately stood and walked forward for a better look. In the distance, around a hill invisible from her home, she could see Ulick's funeral.

Of course he would have been, as tradition dictated, given his pyre upon the battlefield, with the field around his place of death also burned with him, so that nothing could take life in the time it took for them to move him from Undine to Mileth, where his ashes would, of course, be presented to his mother, his father, or his last remaining loved one. Now, the monks he fought with would sing for him his callaid-bhròin, the chant-song detailing his life and death in brutal detail. In the words of the old tongue, Cliona heard her own name, and realized they sung a song of love. Her heart leapt and she knew he did not die in anger nor in suffering, for a heart with love knows no sad end. As the procession moved into Mileth, Cliona pulled herself onto Conleth's back and raced towards town, the caismeachd of Ulick's death softly singing in her ears.

~ Spring, Deoch 7

~ From the writings of Cliona Malkier al'Fae