I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
W. B. Yeats
They say that it's just a phase
They tell me to act my age,
Well I am
Hoku, Perfect Day
There’s nothing about me that I recognize anymore. This is a good thing. I didn’t like that woman, have no interest in knowing her. The only thing that matters is him. His wants, his needs. When he’s inside me like this, I can forget everything. It’s a gift he’s given me, this freedom. I can get lost inside him, though there are still places he won’t let me go.
He won’t let me go. Ever.
I hate myself and love him in turns, this beast in my bed. I have ripped myself open for him, cast off who I was, that useless girl. Here, I know true power. Hatred. Rage. Purity. Here, I have made my greatest, and my darkest, sacrifice. I tumble into deep sleep and live there among my trees, hiding from myself. Because if I ever find her, the part of me that brought me here,
I’ll kill her.
Like every little girl, I loved fairy tales. Not the princess-type stuff, either. I never wanted to be royalty. The stories I liked best were the ones with monsters. I’d take trolls over dresses any day. But you need to know what I know now, what we should have never forgotten: that those monsters are very real. And they want to kill you. They tried to kill me, and in some ways they did.
This is a love story, at its heart. But very much like love, it’s built of trials and error, death and renewal. It has roots deeper than you can imagine, until you’ve tested them. If you’ve loved someone or lost someone, then you know. If you hang on hard enough, if you fight long enough, love and life give back everything you put into them. Never forget that.
Even when the lights go out, even when you think there’s nothing left…keep fighting.
Long after the last shafts of light had withdrawn their sharp edges from the dark, I arrived. A gentle rap on the door, a genteel smile, a lie, and the woman quivered before me. I pressed her fleshy hands to my lips, the white doughy mass carrying the stale scent of her home.
She hesitates only once, when she sees my eyes. A modicum of instinct, that fascinating devil that had been bred out of her, resists me. For a sliver of time, she is something else entirely, of use. I smile again and the spell is broken; she stands before me, mascara gathered at the corners of her watery eyes, cheeks flushed with pleasure, her attention fixed to me as a dog to its owner as I let myself into her home. My sudden disgust angers me. Are there none left?!
Her home was as unpleasant to the eye as it was the nose. The space was cluttered with tacky furniture. The armchair she gestured towards, that I may sit, wasn’t fit to touch me. I hid my disgust behind a practiced veneer of interest.
“Ricky should be home any minute now,” Sarah assured me, straightening out the t-shirt she wore. Her eyes wandered over my clothing, absorbing the quality. My effect on women is remarkably more evident in fine fabrics and pleasant colors, which draw the eye - but in truth my attire is not what they are attracted to. It is my strength, my beast, my supremacy that makes them bat their lashes and blush before me like maids, when it is that very element of my nature that should make them tremble in fear, as they would have centuries past. She should have been begging me for her life the instant she saw me. She should have seen the creature in my eyes, taken her own life and granted herself the mercy. I have none.
“Plenty of time,” I smiled, and her own smile faltered.
“For-?” the blood leaves her face when three of my men step through the door and into the small house, their presence filling the room with hungry energy.
“We will wait for the boy,” I informed my men, “but the other child is useless.” I smile again at Sarah and exhaled the scent of her infant. The woman had been frozen in horror, but at my words she lunged for me, hands outstretched like the claws of an animal. A mistake.
“You won’t touch her!” She screamed, but the cry was cut off by my hand on her throat.
“I will leave you your daughter. You need only name the locations of the Gifts.”
My grip tightened.
“Tell me,” I demanded in a whisper. She offered no more words and tried to pry my hand from her throat. As her attempts grew more feeble, as the need for oxygen sent her into an unconsciousness from which she would never wake, her eyes mocked with humor not her own.
“You will never find them.” The words poured from her mouth and burned in our ears, the power deafening. I threw her from me.
“Bind and gag her.” My heart was light as I said the words, because I knew I was close. I would soon know that power, would carry the Gifts as my own.
That night, I again watched flesh twist and erupt, black blood fill throats, lungs and hallways and the desperate dimming eyes of a creature that learned of death and met that reaper in one breath.
And later, when the carnage was done, I called out to my adversary. The game we were playing was growing tiresome. He was close. I could feel him.
“What are you waiting for, Hunter?”
I was answered only by the splash of blood as it dripped to the floor in the slow rhythm of a clock ticking. The pulse of death.
Year 750 Ui Thuirtre, Aiirgialla (Present-Day Northern Ireland)
“I did not exist until your eyes found mine. Before my heart loved yours I knew nothing. I have been born to love you forever, and I ask only your love in return.”
His heart thumped in his chest as he said the words. He was grateful for having already knelt before his beloved, for had he been standing she would have seen him tremble. This woman had his heart in her hands, and had always held it with the gentlest care that only she could give. For Daegan, there was never any other and when she smiled, naught else mattered. She accepted his hand and in soft sighs and warm breaths their tears intermingled as they embraced.
“You have my love,” Branwen told him, “and you may keep it forever.”