Chapter 11: Searching For Answers

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm

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Comments: 1

Chapter eleven

Searching For Answers

‘So, when were you planning on telling me you're the son of a forest god?’ Birog’s tone was acerbic to say the least. She stood with feet planted firmly apart and fists on her slender hips. Her hazel eyes were pools of mixed emotions. Anger, confusion, hurt, disappointment.

Cu felt his eyes slipping down away from her intense, accusing gaze. He felt like a child being scolded by an angry parent.

‘I'm Sorry, Birog!’ Cu shrugged his shoulders.

‘Sorry! That’s it? That is all you have to say to me?’ Birog huffed, pacing up and down and then scooped up a clay jug and threw it across the room. It shattered against the wall. 'Hold on!' Birog growled then took a long look at Cu. Her eyes narrowed. 'Didn't that reaver break your nose? Well it looks straight and healed, now! Is that another little secret you would like to spill?'

Cu flinched and held up his hands, ‘I need to ask you something? If I were not here, would you have still gone on that Tain Bo?’

‘What!’ Birog threw her hands up. ‘What has that got to do with anything? Is this called changing the subject? Did you not think I would notice?’ Birog spun around shaking her head trying to regain her composure.

Cu tentatively moved toward her and put his hands on her shoulders.

She shrugged them off and snorted. Cu gripped her shoulders again and spun her around. His cobalt eyes met hers. ‘You could have been killed by that Caledonii reaver. That is all I am saying.’ Cu’s voice overflowed with concern for her. 

‘Well, I wasn’t was I? Because you were there and stopped it with that bloody lightning spear of yours!’ Birog bit back.

The realisation of her words hit him like a wave. ‘You are right! Because I was there!’ Cú repeated her words, like an afterthought.

‘What?’ Birog’s brow narrowed in confusion.

‘Cú brushed a strand of her copper hair from her face. ‘You are my love, Birog, believe me?’

‘Changing the subject, again!’ Birog sighed.’

‘Changing, something!’ Cú whispered absently.

‘What are you babbling about, now?’ Birog shook her head. ‘Did that reaver hit you, too hard on the head? You are speaking in riddles. You sound like Deargal on a bad day!’

Cú shrugged his shoulders and took the insults, ‘ All I know is, I am here now, with you in my arms, and for that, I am thankful.’

Birog rolled her eyes, ‘I give up trying to get any sense out of you, Cú MacTíre.’ Picking up a jug of wine she took a deep swig. ‘Might as well get drunk! Perhaps then your ramblings might start to make sense?’

Cú looked at her. A smile spread across his face, ‘Thank you, Father!’ he sighed under his breath and then picked up a cup and held it out. ‘Leave some for me, why don’t you!’

Birog gave him a dirty look and then reluctantly filled his cup and snorted, ‘Men!’ then took another swig.

*****

Niall forced his reluctant eyes open. He cursed the blacksmith inside of his head hammering out a skull splitting tune behind his aching eyes. His stomach churned like a baker punching and kneading dough. 

Bracken was standing with his back to him, his short legs planted firmly apart. A steady stream of steaming piss flowed between them. Niall coughed and turned away from the horrible sight.

Bracken turned his head, shaking away the last dribbles and tucking his modesty away. 

Ah! The sour faced muttonhead is finally back in the land of the living!’ He grinned.

‘My head!’ was all Niall could muster for a reply.

‘Aye, and an ugly feckin thing it is, too!’ Bracken burst out laughing. Niall cringed at the guffawing Firbolg. The blacksmith in his head continued with his hammering.

The smell of something cooking drifted to his nostrils. Niall turned his head slowly to the crackling fire. Cian was kneeling beside it. three small rodent-like animals were roasting on a spit. Cian gave his brother a smile.

‘Nearly done!’ he said.

‘About feckin time, longshanks!’ Bracken cussed and slapped his belly.

What colour Niall had left in his pasty face, drained away. He turned his head sideways and coughed up a mouthful of sludge.

Bracken twisted his face, ‘For Feck’s sake, muttonhead. We are trying to eat here. Did your Ma not teach you any manners?’

Niall just raised a fist and extended his middle finger.

Bracken looked confused by the gesture. His bushy eyebrows knitted together, he scratched his bald head, ‘One! What the feck does that mean?’ he said then turned to Cian and slapped him on the back. ‘Your brother is one miserable sack of horseshite. If I do not say so myself.’

Cian chuckled then ripped a long leg off one of the roasts and pointed to Niall, who stared back at him with bloodshot eyes and drool spilling from his downturned mouth. 'Aye, you are not feckin wrong there Bracken,' he laughed and tore a piece of juice dripping meat off the bone.

Niall ignored his brother’s jibes and pulled himself up to his feet. He coughed and spat out some sour stuff and then looked down at the round damp patch covering his crotch.

‘For feck’s sake!’ he cursed and slumped back down and held his throbbing head in his hands and closed his eyes.

 

*****

Belisana forced her leaden eyelids open. Everything was blurry. The room seemed to be swaying and bending and stretching in a bizarre way. Her stomach tightened in a painful cramp. She felt sick, but could not manage it.

A shadow loomed over her, it knelt down close to her and leering. Bel blinked the blurriness away from her cobalt eyes. Meala Blaithanan’s pretty face came into focus.

Meala gave Bel a stinging slap across the cheek.

Bel felt rage erupting in her breast at the slap. Her instinct was to jump up and punch Meala in the face, yet she could not move. She was paralysed.

Meala grinned and nodded, ‘Well, Belisana Argetlámh. It seems the death cap mushroom I put in your stew has done its job well. She slapped Bel across the face again, grinning with satisfaction.

Bel lay helpless, like a lump of wood. Tears of rage spilled from the corners of her bright blue eyes. Behind Meala, Fergus was slumped in his chair, his head resting on the table. He too had been poisoned.

Bel wanted to scream obscenities at her, and to hell with her pregnancy! She just wanted to run this bitch through with her sword.

Meala read the seething hate in Bel’s eyes. She smirked with pleasure then held up a knife for Bel to see.

‘You took my ear, Bel! It seems fitting that I return the favour and take one of yours… To begin with!’

She grabbed Belisana’s left earlobe and pulled on it sharply and put the knife to it. ‘Unlike you, though. I will make this a long, slow cut, so that you can savour it.’ Her mouth twisted into an ugly sadistic grin.

Bel felt the sharp pain of the cut as Meala slowly drew the blade upward nicking her flesh. Bel’s rage tore through her. Her heart thumped in her chest threatening to rip it open. Her Bri energy came to life in her veins, pumping through them like liquid fire, incinerating the poison in her bloodstream. Her fingers twitched. Her mouth curled down into a snarl. Her right hand came up and clamped over Meala’s mouth.

'Scal Ghreine,' Bel cried out. Her hand flashed like a sunbeam, becoming translucent. Her veins and bones were dark shadows beneath her glowing skin.

A pulse of light seeped from her palm and poured down Meala’s throat illuminating it like a night lantern.

Meala gagged and fell backward. The knife clattered to the floor. She coughed and choked. ‘What have you done?’ she croaked, tearing at her burning throat. and then she ripped her gown open exposing her plump breasts and swollen belly and cried out.

Inside of her womb, her foetus stirred, pushing against her belly, stretching her skin to almost breaking point.

Belisana’s eyes widened in horror, at the tiny misshapen foetus that squirmed inside of Meala’s belly. She reached for Meala’s dropped knife. Her tingling fingers curled around the handle. She looked up and growled, ‘I am going to kill you!’

Meala screamed in rage and kicked Belisana in the ribs. Bel rolled over, winded. Meala’s eyes flashed wide and full of madness at the knife in Bel’s hand. She bared her teeth and stomped down hard on Belisana’s hand. The knife slipped from her grasp.

Bel growled and swung out a foot, catching Meala behind the knee. Meala fell forward. Bel made a fist and slammed it into Meala’s face with a resounding crack.

Meala’s head snapped back, a trickle of blood dripped from her nose.

Belisana’s head was still swimming, she tried to stand, her legs were weak and unsteady.

Meala screeched and swung her foot into Belisana’s face, sending her sprawling across the floor.

Meala clutched her belly in pain. Her unborn child was in agony, burned from Belisana’s sidhe power that had flowed down her throat like boiling water. 

Belisana was recovering from the poison too quickly. Meala knew she was no match for that damned Danaan warrior woman. She stumbled to the door of her roundhouse and fled outside.

Belisana groaned, she could taste blood in her mouth, she spat out a crimson glob. Her blue eyes turned to slits of pure hate.

‘By the gods, I am going to enjoy killing that bitch!’ she hissed through bloodstained teeth.

*****

Tigernmas sat on a rock isolated from the rest of the raiding party. He was stewing like a leg of mutton in a boiling pot. His temper throbbed in his temples threatening to split his skull open.

He turned his eyes away from that shambling horror that was once Eochid, and rubbed at his temples, trying to relieve the pain that resided there.

‘I see that storm cloud still hasn’t moved!’ Drugal’s thick rasping voice cut through Tigernmas’s melancholy.

‘What stormcloud?’ Tigernmas looked up at his owl face, tattooed friend, who made himself comfortable next to him.

‘The one that follows you around like a love sick puppy!’ Drugal chuckled.

‘Tigernmas waved a dismissive hand, ‘I am not in the mood, Dru, leave me be!’

Drugal looked hurt, ‘Now, where would the fun in that be, you miserable bastard!’ he said laying a hand on Tigernmas’s shoulder. Then turning serious, ‘Come on, my friend, spit it out, what irks you so much, that you look more miserable than usual?’

Tigernmas sighed heavily as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders, ‘What are we doing here, Dru? What is the point of all of this?’

‘Oh, is that all?’ Drugal shrugged. ‘So, you wallow in self pity, and mull over why we are here? Well the answer to that is simple, my friend. Our father’s seeded our mothers, like planting a field of wheat.’

Tigernmas rolled his eyes and snorted, ‘I am not talking about rutting, you dunderhead! I meant why-are-we-here?’ Tigernmas punctuated and slapped the stone he was sitting on. ‘What does that shambling maggot sack over there want from us?’ he pointed at Eochid and Balor.

‘Oh!’ Drugal nodded. ‘Well, Crom Dugh, our God, wills it, so we obey. We raid. We slaughter and we collect our enemies' heads for his glory!’

Tigernmas shook his head at the explanation. Drugal made it all sound so simple. ‘What happens when we have no more enemy heads for him?’ Tigernmas looked up into Drugal’s big close knit brown tattooed eyes.

Confusion washed over Drugal’s face, he just shrugged. He had no answer to that.

Tigernmas leaned forward, ‘You see, that is the problem! Crom Dugh is a God of chaos and destruction. He wallows in sacrifice and the heads we bring him and the destruction we wrought in his name. But what happens when we have conquered all of Tír Dhuchais in his name, and taken the last of our enemies’ heads? What does a God of war do when there are no more wars to fight in his name? Will he have us turn on each other?’

Drugal scratched his head and rubbed his brow as if all of this talk was giving him a headache. 'Leave that stuff to the Druids, to worry about, Tee. We are warriors. We fight. We take heads, and we die. That is our lot in this world, and to be honest with you, I am happy with that!’

Tigernmas felt a presence behind him. He turned to see Eochid, the sluagh na marbh, the deathwalker, staring at him with its bloodshot eyes and maggots crawling around the gash in his skull.

Tigernmas stood up staring belligerently at Crom Dugh’s undead spy. ‘And what are you looking at, you maggot infested cowpat?’ He could not hide the disgust he felt for that pathetic shambling horror.

Eochid struck out. He grabbed Tigernmas under his jaw in an iron grip, lifting him up onto his tip toes.

Tigernmas struggled to free himself from that cold clammy grip, but he couldn’t wriggle free. He struggled to breathe as Eochid squeezed his throat tightly. His neck ached and felt as though it was about to snap. 

Drugal jumped up, his hand reached for his sword. Tigernmas managed to shake a hand at his friend not to interfere.

Drugal snorted, his shoulders hunched over, his mouth turned down.

Tigernmas’s vision started to blacken. He desperately tried to breathe, but that maniacal grip was unrelenting.

Eochid slowly turned tigernmas’s head from side to side as if he were studying his features.

Tigernmas’s cobalt eyes met Eochid’s bloodshot orbs. Eochid’s mouth fell open, He hissed like a serpent about to strike.

Tigernmas reached for his dirk at his belt, pulling it free of its sheath, and went to plunge it in Eochid’s gut. A huge calloused hand gripped his arm, almost breaking it. The shadow of Balor, the giant fomorii king, fell over him. It snatched him from Eochid’s grasp and flung him like a discarded hambone, tumbling across the ground.

Bruised and dazed, Tigernmas rolled into a crouching stance and drew his axe and sword. Balor bellowed, and everyone around turned their heads toward that awful dirge. Balor lifted his eyepatch.

Tigernmas threw his arm across his eyes and turned his head away. He let out a maddened cry through clenched teeth as that poisonous orb sent a burning ray toward him. His forearm felt as though it had been plunged into a roaring fire. His hairs singed and his skin began to blister. And then it suddenly stopped.

Tigernmas  looked up at Balor. The fomorii king growled at him and stomped a huge foot down next to him in threat. ‘Crom Dugh grows weary of your belligerence, warrior! Supplicate yourself before him, now, lest I will turn my gaze upon you once more and turn you into ash!’

A circle of men had formed around Tigernmas. He felt their suspicious eyes on him, just as much as he had felt Balor’s death gaze. Eochid shambled forward and stopped in front of him.

Balor snorted and pointed to the ground with a thick warty finger.

Tigernmas took a deep breath and let it out. He closed his eyes and held onto his throbbing temper as if he were clinging to the mane of a wild horse trying desperately not to be thrown. He took one knee before Eochid and bowed his head.

‘Lower! Kiss the dirt at his feet!’ Balor roared and stamped on the ground sending up a dust cloud.

Tigernmas shot Balor a slitted stare of seething hate. Balor glared at him and reached for his eyepatch.

Tigernmas snorted again and slowly prostrated himself before Eochid, resting his face in the dirt. And then he felt Eochid’s foot press down on his head as he ground his heel into his skull, like he was squashing a worthless worm underfoot.

Tigernmas lay in the dirt under Eochid’s foot. His humiliation was all consuming. He clenched his fists and ground his teeth so hard, they threatened to crack.

Eochid finally lifted his foot off Tigernmas’s head. Tigernmas slowly rose up. He kept his head down. He could not bear to look into the faces of his fellow Pictoi. His humiliation was complete. His standing and respect had been stripped from him. He was worthless in the eyes of his men. He afforded a glance at them. They turned their faces away from him. Tigernmas felt hollow inside. His fingernails dug into his palms till they bled. He watched as Balor and Eochid turned and walked away from him. His mouth twisted into a feral snarl. He would have his revenge on them if it was the last thing he ever did. He would see them fall to his sword and axe.

He turned to Drugal. His dearest friend’s eyes were waterlogged and full of pain, and then he too turned his back to him and walked away.

Tigernmas felt a knot tightening in his throat, he could hardly breathe for it. His eyes became blurred with tears. One escaped and ran down his cheek. Tigernmas wiped it away quickly and set off to a deserted part of the fort, with his head held high and his broad shoulders thrown back and unfaltering steps.

 

*****

Bracken threw a bulging sack over his shoulder, loaded with glistening chunks of blue cobalt. ‘Well you muttonheads, it has been a pleasure keeping company with you, but I must be off now. The weight of the sack looked as if it were about to topple him over. 

Cian whistled. ‘You could do with a pack pony for all of that, my friend. Be careful you do not pull your back out with it.’

Bracken chuckled, ‘Do not worry yourself with that, Longshanks. I am a Fírbolg. We are the men of the bags! We carry our own burdens.’

Niall pulled himself up into his saddle, He had regained a little colour in his cheeks. ‘Where are you headed with that load?’

‘North!’ Bracken wheezed pointing ahead with a stumpy finger. ‘I’m off to Dún Slate. Our Rí needs to know about that thing,’ he spat toward the dead wyrm. ‘Something is stirring deep in the earth. It does not bode well, when one oh, them, wee scrapey’s show their ugly heeds above groond. And what about you two, eh? Plodding on to find yer brother and that wild Danaan woman you mentioned?’

Cian nodded, ‘Aye, It does not feel right without him at our side, it's like missing a limb, if you catch my drift?’ Cian made a face.

‘Well, good luck with that, muttonheads!’ Bracken chirped and shifted the weight of the sack on his back. ‘Look, there’s a wee settlement over yonder hill to the north east. About half a day's travel. Perhaps you might find word of them there?’

Niall nodded, ‘Safe journey, Bracken.’

Bracken grinned, 'Aye, and to you too, mutton.. er, Niall and Cian. Who knows, perhaps our paths will cross again, one day?’

‘Aye, perhaps!’ Cian smiled warmly at the stocky little fellow. And then he turned his horse away, clicked his tongue and nudged his nag in the ribs. Looking back at Niall, Cian grinned. ‘Try and keep up, will you? oh, and try not to either be sick, again, or fall off that nag of yours,’ he laughed then urged his horse into a canter.

‘Oh, everyone is a budding Bard, around here!’ Niall sneered and kicked his horse in the ribs, trying to catch up with Cian, and also hoping that his delicate head would not fall off at the same time as he bobbed up and down painfully in the saddle.

 


Submitted: January 14, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Celtic-Scribe63. All rights reserved.

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Comments

AdamCarlton

Good to see you back, as gore-filled as ever!

Sat, January 15th, 2022 4:42pm

Author
Reply

Thank's, Adam!

Xmas time is a hectic one in the hospitality business. I have barely had time to sleep, let alone write for the last month.

Thank goodness that madness is over and I can get back to what I love, writing. Hopefully the chapters will come on a regular basis.

Thank's for being so patient and sticking with this, It is much appreciated.

Also, I can now find time to read the amazing work of my fellow Booksie members.
I look forward to dipping my toes into stardrop.

With Regards
CS63.

Sat, January 15th, 2022 12:57pm

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