The Damned

Reads: 4497  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 8

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 2 (v.1)

Submitted: May 11, 2013

Reads: 87

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 11, 2013

A A A

A A A

 

 

2

 

Clondalkin, Dublin, Ireland, 10th December 1211

 

Conor’s mother shivered, the December wind rustling through the thin silk of her gown and the fine, expensive material of her cloak. He clung to her leg, the soft fox fur lining tickling his cheek.

“So your lover has cast you off, Aoife?” sneered the man closest to her. His eyes, which were the black of anthracite, were hard and unsympathetic.

As if sensing his mother’s tension, the baby in her arms began to fret. The little face screwed up. “Shh, Faelan,” she soothed, rocking the child. The eyes she turned on her brother were dark and sensuous, forged from the same polished jet as his. “I’ve left him, Lorcan.”

“Why?” a second man asked, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

His mother continued to soothe the baby in her arms as she answered, not meeting her brother’s gaze. Her voice was thick with emotion. “I wanted more from him than he had it in him to give.”

The baby subsided into angry hiccups. He turned a dark-eyed gaze on the men who surrounded them. They were tall and muscular, and all possessed hair of a gleaming ebony. The eyes which viewed the newly arrived trio ranged from pitch black to rich amber, but all regarded them with equal hostility.

The youngest man stood up, stretching lazily. He was the tallest of the eight, but he was not yet as heavily muscled as the older men, his body still slender and youthful. His eyes were a clear, luminous golden. He approached them slowly, his tawny stare appraising Conor as he knelt before him, taking his chin between thumb and forefinger. “He doesn’t look like a gorjo.”

“He’s not a gorjo. He is my son,” his mother said forcefully.

“Your son with a gorjo.” The eldest man’s voice was quiet, yet it cut the air with the ease of a well-honed blade, slicing through the dark glares and uneasy mutterings of the other men.

“Aidan, please,” his mother begged. “I cannot go back. I have nowhere else to turn.”

“You disgraced our family,” the man growled.

“And broke our father’s heart,” said another of his mother’s brothers. His eyes were a very pale golden with a warm, subtle orange tinge. They were so light that it would have been deceptive to describe them as brown. They sparkled as they caught the light, as if they were forged from solid champagne.

“Then let me speak to him, Niall,” she pleaded. Rain drummed on the wooden roof, rising to a crescendo, as if her anxiety had turned to music, creating a liquid symphony which kept time to the nervous beating of her heart.

The men looked at one another uncomfortably, the thunder of the rain like a drumroll in their ears. “I speak for him now,” Aidan said uncertainly.

“Please, take me to him,” his mother begged.

The oldest man sighed, and shook his head uncertainly, as if to clear his thoughts. He looked to his brothers. Seven dark-haired heads nodded in unison, their eyes darting to Conor’s mother in a single, synchronised movement.

His eldest uncle had been leaning against the wall, but he pushed himself upright, and crossed the space of the painted caravan in a single stride. He stood before Conor’s mother, towering over her, though she stood on a height with most men. His shoulders were broad, and his arms were thickly corded with muscle where he had rolled back his shirt sleeves. Conor half suspected that his mother’s family were giants, for lesser men would have been dwarfed beside them. Even his father would have appeared small in comparison, though men had to tilt their heads back to meet his green-eyed gaze. He wished that his father was here now.

The man knelt before him, gently placing one massive hand on his shoulder. Even crouching, he was taller than him. The smell of horses clung to his uncle like perfume, comforting Conor. The same scent had accompanied his father, though on him it had been mingled with the smell of leather, and the sharp tang of the herbs and spices which the serving women poured into his bath. His uncle exerted a light pressure on his cheek, turning his face from side to side, examining him. He grunted, whether with distaste or appreciation Conor could not tell, and with a slap of his broad thigh, he rose to his feet, the gesture incongruously fluid and graceful for such a large man.

Wordlessly, his uncle reached for his cloak, inclining his head towards the door in the same movement, gesturing for them to follow him. His strong arm pulled it open with such force that the wagon shook as it slammed against the side. A burst of freezing air rushed into the small space, so ferociously cold that it seemed to drive the breath from Conor’s lungs. His uncle was unflinching, though Conor could not supress the trembling which wracked his body.

His mother made to follow her brother as he descended the stairs, though she paused in the doorway. She looked after his uncle nervously, reluctant to leave the safety of the caravan, as if half-expecting an ambush.

“Come, Aoife,” Aidan commanded.

She stared into her brother’s eyes, searching for deceit, but slowly stepped outside.

Rain needled his face as Conor followed his mother and his uncle out into the black night. They moved noiselessly across the ground, the dark-haired siblings, though Conor’s boots made a soft hiss with every step he took, the frozen grass compressing beneath his feet. His mother and uncle moved with all the stealth of wraiths, even the baby silent in her arms. They left no footprints in their wake, though marks appeared wherever he stopped.

The quartet advanced into the forest, following a barely visible path. Brambles grabbed Conor’s legs, as if they were trying to ensnare him, and branches snatched at his hair and scratched his face. Still, his mother and his uncle moved easily, as if the darkness was no hindrance at all, as if the mud didn’t pull at their legs as they walked. A root tangled around his feet, tripping him, and he fell to the ground with a thud, crying out. A fierce pain shot through his wrists, and tears filled his eyes.

Aidan paused and turned to look at Conor, his mother twisting in synchronicity. He walked across to him. There was a flash of silver as his uncle drew his dagger. It darted through the air with the speed and delicacy of a kingfisher, slashing through the briars which had trapped him, tangling in his cloak as he sprawled in the mud. As the last thorny stem fell to the ground like a severed limb, Aidan swung Conor into his strong arms. His embrace was gentle, but a dark frown hardened his features. “He may not look like a gorjo, but he moves like one,” he said disparagingly.

They walked faster without Conor to hinder them, his uncle travelling with an easy gait across the rough terrain. The woods were dark and ominous, and the trees created a thick canopy above their heads, hiding the stars. Eyes stared at him, returning his curious gaze, as they progressed deeper into the forest, but he felt safe in his uncle’s arms, unafraid of the creatures which stalked them on silent feet, for the flash of silver was still fresh in his mind.

Wisps of pale mist threaded between the trees as they journeyed deeper into the forest. Scots pines grew densely: the smaller trees conical and almost shrub-like; the taller flat-topped and broad-spreading. The moonlight could not penetrate the foliage, and the glow of the will-o-the-wisps was the only light in the gloom of the evergreen thickets. Fallen needles carpeted the floor, concealing the soft mud, making the footing treacherous. Aidan moved more slowly now, placing one foot carefully in front of the other.

His mother grabbed his uncle’s arm as the trees thickened. “Are you sure you’re going the right way?” she asked, glancing around her uneasily. To their left, mired in shadows, lay the carcass of a red deer, its throat torn open. She tightened her arms around his brother, Faelan, her wide eyes dark and anxious.

“We’re close,” Aidan assured her, pushing onwards, though the woods grew ever wilder. The Scots pines were replaced by huge dark oaks, rising high into the night. The path all but disappeared beneath the tangled stems of hawthorn, but Aidan only moved faster, hacking his way through the brambles.  

Ten minutes later, the woods opened onto a clearing. It was eerily silent, as if a strange calm had descended on the beasts who roamed the forest. The only sound was the howl of the wind as it tore through the trees, even the tattoo of the rain swallowed by the thick foliage. The noise was high and haunting, as if some long-dead spectre sought to drive them from its land. His uncle’s great cloak lifted, as if strong fingers strove to tear it from his back, enfolding Conor like a shroud. His hair dashed against his face, and he could see his mother’s dark curls lifted from her shoulders, swaying on the wind like a column of black smoke.

Conor buried his head in his uncle’s neck, trying to hide his face from the eyes which stared down from the mighty oaks, watching him. There were more eyes in the bracken, below the roots of the trees, in holes in the ground, all appraising him with a quiet hostility.

“He’s here,” his mother whispered. “I can feel them.”

He sensed his uncle’s gaze on his downturned head. The man drew in a sharp intake of breath, his focus on Conor. He seemed not to have heard his sister. “You can feel them too, can’t you?” he said wonderingly.

Conor nervously peered out from beneath his lashes, his fists tightly clenched around his uncle’s cloak. “They don’t want us here. They want us to leave now.”

“Listen to the darkness. They’re simply curious. They don’t want any harm to come to him.”

An owl’s haunting call cried a warning into the night, and a chilling howl rose from the black shadows, where a pair of eyes gleamed. Other voices quickly joined the chorus, the beautiful, terrifying music surrounding them. Conor could feel their animosity.

“Make them stop, Aidan. You’re scaring him,” his mother commanded, her voice high and fearful.

“Do they frighten you, Aoife?” his uncle asked, with the merest hint of a smile.

Her eyes burned like black fire. “I told you to make them stop.”

“You’ve been away for too long, sister. Tell them yourself.”

“Stop playing your games,” his mother chastised. “I have no more power over them than any other man or woman in the street, and neither do you. They are tricks for the lords and ladies, a show for the common-folk. If you want to keep your head, then you had better heed my words. There can be no magic anymore.”

“It’s not magic,” he said softly, “but it’s… something, something in the blood. The boy has it too, Aoife.”

“You see only what you want to see,” she said angrily.

“No, I see what’s there, what you will not let yourself see. The boy hears them.”

“Deaf ears cannot hear their songs.” There was a tightness around her eyes, and anger still flared in their shadowy depths. “He will not hear the things he isn’t listening for. He mustn’t. There is no place for it in their world.”

His uncle looked at her uneasily, as if he wanted to say more, before his eyes found Conor’s. He raised his free hand, and the song of the forest fell silent. Aidan smiled at him, as if to reassure him, a deep sadness etched on his handsome face. “He cannot stay here forever, Aoife. There is no place for him.”

“I know,” she whispered, “but there is no place for me there, and no place for him either. He falls between the cracks of two worlds, and I don’t know which side I should push him towards.”

The trees rustled around them like living things, chanting their ancient wisdom in their ears. But their words did not help his mother. She looked lost and frightened, and Conor did not know how to make her smile again.

“Come,” his uncle said, raising his voice above the shrieking wind. “It’s just down here.”

He crossed the clearing, Conor still cradled in his arms. A full moon shone down on the wild meadow, illuminating a small, silver stream to their left, clear waters swollen by the tempest. The ground near the water was bare and muddy, and Conor could see deep imprints shaped like the tracks of his father’s hounds, though of their makers there was no sign. They disappeared from view as his uncle slowly climbed down a steep incline, traversing the uneven terrain with the ease of a mountain goat.

In the shadow of the hill, the forest was blindingly dark. Conor waved his hand in front of his face, and saw nothing. He could not see his mother behind him, though he could hear the silken rustle of her gown as it brushed along the leaves which carpeted the floor. The baby in her arms made a soft mewing noise, as if the dark frightened him too.

A darker darkness rose before them, his uncle stopping only a few yards from it. A shrill whistle issued from Aidan’s lips, and the shadows took shape, encircling them. They made no sound as they approached, though Conor heard the rustle of leaves as his mother backed towards her brother. A pale spectre loomed in the darkness, and then it was gone, though he could still feel its presence. He closed his eyes, but his terror was inescapable. He could sense the hostility which hung in the air like thick smoke, heavy and suffocating.

“Where are they?” his mother asked. Her face was a pale beacon in the darkness. She turned in a circle, wary, and Conor knew that she felt them as he felt them, though there was nothing to see in the black night. “Answer me!” she demanded, though her voice was shrill and nervous, stealing the authority from her tone.

“They’re waiting for his command,” Aidan said softly. “He knows that we’re here.”

Conor shivered as the cold wind raked its probing fingers through his hair, its touch intimate. He knew that they would catch the scent it carried. He clung more tightly to his uncle, for warmth, but also for safety, for he could feel them still. His face pressed hard against his uncle’s strong neck, Aidan’s musky perfume cradling him in the comforting smell of horses and earth.

The pale spectre he had glimpsed emerged from the black trees once more, trailed by three dark shadows. It stood in front of Conor and his uncle, tall and lupine, its pelt as pale as fresh snow. The creature regarded them from eyes of fire. Even in the darkness, they seemed to change colour as it stared at them: for a moment pale orange, then burning amber, and finally, as a thin strip of moonlight streaked the shadows, striping the animal’s face, red.

Conor heard the breath go out of his mother in a long hiss. “Wolves.”

The white wolf slid forward on silent feet, moving with an easy lope. It was a ghost-light in the darkness, its three shadows trailing behind it, mirroring its every move.

Aidan met them bravely, returning the gaze of their leader, his eyes defiant. Conor’s hand shook, but he raised his face from his uncle’s neck, and held the white wolf’s stare.

In that moment, he was a boy no longer. He was a wolf, with wolf blood in his veins. The wolves halted. Their eyes burned into his: orange, and green, and yellow. Orange, green, yellow… and black, the black of the wolf child. He watched the moonlight silver the coats of the wolf shadows, transforming them into living, breathing creatures. His heart seemed to stop, and then it was inside of them, beating in time to the packs’, the pack which sank onto their haunches on the muddy ground, bowing to the boy.

A smile stole across his uncle’s face. He strode forwards confidently, carrying Conor in his arms. “Wait…” his mother called, though her voice was drowned out by the call of the pack. The wolves raised their heads as man and boy passed, their muzzles pointing to the moon. An unearthly howling sang in time to the frozen wind, welcoming the wolf child.

A caravan loomed before them, set apart from the main camp, half-hidden in the trees. Conor felt his uncle’s change in gait as Aidan ascended thin, wooden stairs. “Father,” he called, pausing at the top. He didn’t wait for an answer, but pushed open the door which blended into the painted images of the wagon.

A tall, broad-shouldered man sat in the darkened caravan, his face obscured by shadow, clothed in a great fur cloak which covered him from toe to chin. The scent of ale was overpowering in the small, confined space, mixed with the bitter stench of cold. A brazier burned beside him, the faint glow emanating from the embers doing little to warm the room.

At the sound of a second set of footsteps on the wooden stairs, the cloaked man turned his head, lifting his eyes to behold his eldest son. The light played across a tanned face framed by black curls. The years had scarred his hair with grey, so that it reminded Conor of a wind-whipped sea flecked with white horses.

But all he really noticed was his grandfather’s eyes, eyes so pale that they were almost colourless, ringed in the deepest indigo, such a dark blue that they verged on black. They possessed a striking, almost inhuman beauty, and they seemed to look through Conor, into his soul, to read the thoughts that no-one was meant to hear.

But the man did not see him. He looked through him, to his mother, who stood in the doorway, illuminated by the light of a torch, holding his brother in her arms. The man started as he saw her. “Ita?” he whispered, standing up and striding towards her.

He clasped her face in his hands as she gently shook her head. “No, daddy, its Aoife.”

“Aoife?”

He looked at her for a long time. Conor did not know how she could stand to meet his strange gaze, so different to his sons’ and daughter’s. He had seen those eyes before; they were the eyes of the white wolf.

“It was a girl who fled, all those years ago, but a woman who has returned.”

“A woman of your blood. Your daughter.”

“More hers than mine,” his grandfather murmured, raising his large hand to her cheek.

“Always more yours,” his mother contested, placing her fingers on top of her father’s. “Wasn’t that what I was running from?”

His grandfather swallowed. “Yes, mine too, poor Aoife. If there was more of her in you, you wouldn’t be standing here now.”

She grimaced. “Didn’t you tell me I couldn’t run from it? It was always inside of me, daddy, the wild blood.”

“Eight years, it’s been. They had you almost as long as I did. I thought that they would have bled you dry.”

A sad smile played on his mother’s lips. “I would have let them, if I could. I would have let them tear it out of me. I never wanted it. I always hated the way that it made them look at me.”

His grandfather’s eyes narrowed. He pinched the rich fabric of her skirt between his thumb and forefinger, his face soured by distaste. “Was it his pleasure or yours to garb you in velvet and silks and make you his own sweet lady?”

His mother reached for the golden chain she always wore around her neck. “It was mine,” she murmured. “I thought that I could make them fit.”

His grandfather’s lips thinned, his strange stare boring into his daughter. His eyes drank in the finery which attired her, her downcast gaze, the pale caste cyclamen root had lent to her skin. “They have changed you, Aoife. They have made you theirs.”

“No, you’re wrong,” she said forcefully. “My blood is the sky and the woods, the wild places. Nothing could change that.”

“Why are you here? Has he cast you aside?”

“He would never do that,” she said vehemently, the anger in her eyes as strange and unfamiliar to Conor as the people and the place. She met his grandfather stare for stare, her black gaze as chilling and unnatural as her father’s, he realised.

The silence was heavy with words unspoken, questions unasked. The man looked away first. “Have you come back to me?” he asked her quietly.

His mother turned her head to look at Conor, tears blurring her vision. Her fist tightened around the golden chain as though it were a talisman. “I have,” she whispered.

His grandfather’s strange eyes softened. “Oh, Aoife,” he murmured, pulling her into his embrace.


© Copyright 2017 Jordana J Sacks. All rights reserved.

Chapters