On the 1st day of July we left Glenroran. The night before John Dardell had treated us to some of his finest wine (a Chardonney from 1560!) and a splendid meal. He assured us that we were always welcome in ”The Banshee”, despite our differences in the past. I was sad to bid him goodbye. John Dardell was a kind of man that was extremely professional and at the same time a man, who knew his friends. Though we had started out merely customers, and tough ones at that (before my time), he had come to like us and looked upon us now as friends. He told us to give the Smith family his best wished, if we should meet them in the north, which I hoped.
The sun was already in the sky, shining brightly when we left. We could not have started out on a better day. We fooled about a lot on the way. It was such a splendid feeling being free and our own masters. We would not take part of anything we couldn’t fully condone for a long while yet!
Our trip north was a quiet one, somehow. The weather was changeable, but I thought the landscape was beautiful no matter what. I had an exhilarated feeling of coming home. Glandor, the northlands, Sean… I wanted each day to last forever and I couldn’t wait to get there at the same time.
We ran into a herd of deer one day and discussed for a long while how to slay one, but ended up leaving it alone. Next day we saw a great herd of cattle, and not just northland cattle. No doubt this was were much of the missing cattle had gone! Tierry was attacked by a couple of very dirty boys, the first people we had seen, since we left Glenroran. They were obviously looking after the cattle. But after we had offered them something to eat and showed them clearly that we had no interest in the herd, we left them in a quite friendly mood.
After that followed a couple of days with bad weather, and we didn’t travel far. Alex and I tried to find the cave we had slept in before, but in vain. The weather cleared up in the late afternoon and we found a good place to camp. I had first watch, but I fell asleep to the sound of bagpipes. I had a dream that night, similar to a dream I had had long ago, that I now knew was the initiation of Angus MacLir. Vision
I woke, not fully aware of the meaning of the dream. It didn’t come to me until several days later, when I heard that a new clan leader of the MacLirs had been initiated, a young boy…
We woke to a blue, blue sky. We reached the valley before Glandor in the late morning. We stopped to admire the view from the hill over the loch, the island and Glandor. Tierry studied the cross on the hill. It was 2½ m. tall and decorated with the sign of the Light and of the characteristic northlandic patterns. Inscribed on it was the words :
In the evening we were told the story of Fhyoné. She had been Fengus MacDorachs sister, who had loved and married a ryendoran nobleman. A sickness had killed her in the midst of a cold, cold winter, and he, Lyon Correlian, had carried her dead body through snowstorms, chased by wolves to bring her to Glandor, so she could be buried in her beloved northlands.
But now we merely pondered the cross and continued down to the town. We approached the guards before the bridge and I asked admission to talk to the laird. I told them my name. A friendly guard with a pipe went into the town and returned shortly after with the message that the laird would see us later, but we were welcome in Glandor. Monsignor Revignon was placed in the cattlepens, Tierry went into the chapel and Alex and I looked for and found Anne MacDorach, the lairds wife, and she found sleeping places for us on the second floor. The beds were merely straw on the floor in small cubicles separated by cloth that was hung up, but suited us fine.
We waited awhile and then we were called to the laird. He received us in a relaxed and friendly manner. I’m sure he recognized both Alex and myself, and I’m in no doubt that he recognized Tierry too, but he was in no way angry or curious about us. We were served a sort of apple-cider of somesuch. I started with asking his permission to stay here, and he saw no problem in that. Then I asked him for three things: 1. transport for us to the harbour, so that we could travel to Sach. Tierry and Alex both felt they had to leave Ryendor for a while, and Sach seemed like the place to go. And I still felt I had to go with them. He obliged; transport would be provided. 2. Where I could find Sean MacFien. He told me that he was out tending the lairds cattle at present, but would return shortly. 3. If I could get another interview with Maithair. MacDorach called his priest and after consulting with him, he agreed. Sean could show me the way, he said, but my friends were not to go all the way with me.
He invited us to dinner that night along with the local leaders. The whole town seemed to party and even Tierry seemed to have a good time. He was worried that the northlanders would recognize him and turn hostile to him, but that never happened. At the dinner I was the only woman present (except Alex in her man-clothes). We understood little of what was going on, since most people spoke only northlandish. A minstrel came and told a long and moving story. We understood little, but his voice was so fascinating that we too were completely absorbed by it. After the dinner the pipesmoking guard joined us and introduced himself: Morgan. Tierry joined him outside for something to drink, while Alex and myself took a discreet swim in the lake. We went to sleep after that.
In the middle of the night Sean came to me. Without a word he took me in his arms and carried me outside. I sensed nothing but him; he was here, I was back in his arms, a yearning I had suppressed for so long was released and I held him as tight as I could, as he held me. Atmosphere
In the morning Sean told me, we should go to Maithair that very same day. Alex and Tierry followed us, as far as they were allowed. On the way Sean told us of the landscape we passed. Gods lived everywhere: in the mountain, in the rivers, in the sky. Everything around us was alive. Everything he said made an echo ring inside of me. All this he had told Fienna long ago or she had grown up knowing it. I knew it and felt it, a fragment of a second after he had said it. I took everything in: the land, him, his voice. I have never been so happy in my life, as I am next to him, seeing things with his eyes. And Fienna was as close to the surface as she had ever been, and she too was happy. We were home…
We reached a waterfall, and Sean asked Alex and Tierry to stay there with the horses. In the grove we were received by the many who lived here. They were all somehow maimed; they lacked a leg, an arm, eyesight, mind. Each of them outcasts everywhere else, but at home here. They fetched the elderly priest I had met before and a young priestess. They showed me the way into the holy cave, where I had met Maithair before and there they left me alone. I sat down crosslegged and called out to Maithair. Not long after I sensed a warmth, a presence and I opened my eyes. Maithair sat before me. I repeated the prayer I had said on the ship, after the storm and the pirates and then asked her, how I could serve her best.
Her voice was sad, old and young at the same time, coming from her mouth, from the walls and from inside of myself. ”What I tell you now, child, is something no mother have any right to tell her child”. She paused. ”I am afraid” she said. I stared at her, startled. It was her I turned to, when I was afraid. I endowed my worries and fears onto her. Now she did the same to me and I wasn’t sure how to handle that. ”What frightens you, Maithair?” I asked. She shook her head lightly ”I am not sure” she said ”It is not the Light. It has existed for a thousand years and frightens me not and it isn’t quite human, either, and yet… I can’t identify it, so I need you to be my ears and eyes and hand. Will you do that for me?”. ”Off course, Maithair!”. How could she doubt that? She smiled, as though she had heard my thought. ”Do you want me to stay here? I am otherwise bound for Sach along with my two friends” I said. ”The thing that frightens me is not of the north. I have nothing to fear here. So go, my child. Of all my children, you are among those I hear best and who hears me best, in the capacity of what you are. We shall hear each other, although you are far away”. ”Can anyone tell me more of this thing?” I asked. ”Maybe the changelings can”. I shuddered involuntarily. Changelings I had heard of. They were in stories only told in a hushed voice and often to scare children to be well behaved. The changelings were placed by the trolls in cribs and beds, where real children and babies would lie. The trolls would then devour the human child. The changeling would often be sickly and die, but they could grow up into strange, silent and erratic grown-ups. Off course, stories of trolls were discouraged in Aurora. Such fairytales were nonsense and at worst heretical. Nevertheless I had heard many of them from an old woman outside of Stevensport, whom my mother made me bring food to every once in a while. ”What are the changelings?” I asked. She sighed lightly ”They are shaped like humans. Often they don’t know what they are, but they sense things easier than humans. They are terribly alone and sad. They might need help”. I was disquieted by this. Then Maithair rose. ”I have a gift for you” she said ”But know that it costs me much”. She walked towards me, the ugliest, most beautiful I had ever seen, old and young, hair like coarse rope and soft as silk. It occurred to me that she was three and all three of her approached me now. I stood up in front of her and she reached out for my face. She held my face in her hands and bent forwards slightly and kissed me on the lips. When she stood back, her face had changed into Fiennas. I was stunned. ”You can talk to her” Maithairs voice sounded. In the beginning we merely smiled at each other. Our arms were joined, we were not separated. Softly I spoke ”I took you in not even knowing your name. I still don’t! I don’t know anything about you from before we met, and I’ve always wondered about that. And why did you leave everything and become Fienna?”. ”I was destined to do so, Judith. The blood of my line has always been strong. From a very early age I knew that I had to follow my father into the shadow realms, and there forget who I was before”. Her voice was exactly how I remembered it from my dreams long ago. There was a slight echo in it, as if it came from far away, and yet I knew that she was still as close to me as she could possibly be. ”I never understood, what happened back then” I said ”What was that intermezzo with the young man, they said you supposedly bewitched? I can’t believe you did it for love, knowing you already had Sean…”. ”I have had to do many things as Fienna, and I never had Sean, I gave him up. Oh! I have cried almost every time I thought of him. He almost caused a rejection of duty and clan, but he was the strong one and bade me go. He said that we would always be together, no matter what. So we both cried…” . She looked terribly sad at that thought. I smiled sadly myself. They were together no matter what, and I was part of that too. ”I can’t thank you enough for Sean” I said ”He is everything I ever dreamed of. A love like that is rare indeed”. She nodded ”He deserves us” she said and smiled. Then I turned serious again. ”Why did you go after the demon back then? And alone too! It seemed a very foolhardy thing to do. Off course someone would have to do it, but why you?”. ”The spirit was a thing imprisoned and dormant. For a thousand years we have watched its grave and others’. Greed and ignorance set it free in a world that could only bring it pain. We were its guardians. It was our responsibility”. ”What do you know about Father Cidron? Alex gave me the impression that you had met him before. Do you know something that I should know?”. ”I only read you and watched your party. The ”father” is a dreadful man”. ”Is there anything you want me to do on your behalf? You know, I’d do anything! You can ask me any questions you want to too. This is a gift to both of us, really!”. ”Only to tell you that I love you. You gave given more than you can imagine. You never have to be Fienna, so you set me free. I am free to live and love, which is a gift greater than life!”. It was strange standing face to face with each other. It was difficult to say or ask anything we didn’t already know or sense about each other. It was like talking to one’s own reflection. Maithair kissed me again and the image of Fienna disappeared. She sat down again, tired. She seemed to flicker for a second. Her eyes caught mine and she disappeared. I stayed a little while to reflect on what had happened and then I left the cave.
When I came out, I asked for the old man. I was shown to a low hut made of peat. A few steps led me down and I entered a dark room. Darkness enveloped me. A sharp smell of smoke, sweat, herbs and blood filled my nostrils. And there he was. He was naked apart from a tartan that covered his lower body. He was big and muscular. Great big scars covered his torso along with a mass of grey-black chesthairs. He had tattoos on his arms, legs, chest and neck. The colour was faded, but the patterns were clear. He oozed of bestial power. Despite his age I found myself sexually drawn to him. His left arm leaned against his leg and he stared into the flames. A young girl had just finished braiding his hair and beard. The gods knew how else she had serviced him. With a flick of his hand, he send her out of the hut. I told him what Maithair had said to me and he listened without a word or change of expression. He merely looked into the fire, as it if was the fire that spoke to him or as if I wasn’t even there. ”Surely you feel it too” he said, his voice revealing his true age, but deep and powerful at the same time. He had spoken in northlandish and I understood him. ”It’s everywhere. The wind sings it. A disturbance of the balance”. He was silent for a long time. ”I myself fear nothing; I have already been dead. But she needs us. Sometimes she is like a child seeking comfort in her mother’s skirts. Maybe the Three Headed One thinks that the changelings can help her. Maybe they know more of the disturbance”. He was silent again. Only the strange object hanging from the ceiling moved in the heat from the fire and broke the silence. I sat down crosslegged by the fire across from his. I treated him with as much respect as I could and asked : ”How can I meet the changelings. Can I speak to them?” ”They are out there, hiding among the sunblind. Often they don’t even know who they really are. Only those who are alive can recognize a changeling”. I pondered at this. ”The sunblind. Do you mean creatures of the night?”. ”Sunblind, those who stare themselves blind in the sunlight and who forgets the twilight”. ”Can you show me where to find them? Or would I be able to recognize them myself?”. ”Are you alive?” he asked with a curious smile. I frowned at his answer. It was like he spoke a language that I didn’t understand. I understood the words, but not the meaning. And I was worried; I had not felt any disturbance myself. I knew practically nothing about changelings apart from fairytales and what Maithair and the old man had told me. I felt a strange sad sympathy for them, and I was afraid of them at the same time. I felt that Fienna knew more about this than I did, but our conversation was over, and we could not take it up again. I thanked him and left.
I found Sean and we went back to were Alex and Tierry had camped. Some of the people from the sacred place stood and watched them, but they had turned in for the night. Sean fetched more wood for the fire and we settled down together and slept in each others arms.
The next day was gloriously beautiful! We took the long way home and again Sean told us about the landscape. His love of the countryside was contagious. I loved it too, but to him it was more than love, it was a great sense of things fitting together, of belonging, of being part of everything. Soon I felt it too. Alex seemed as absorbed as I was, but Tierry was mentioning how the trip seemed so much longer today than yesterday. I told him that I had had the opportunity to talk to Fienna, and he wanted to know how this whole business with Fianna was working. I tried to explain, but he seemed more and more confused. In the end I told him that he should think of me as one whole person, which was how I felt anyway.
It was Alex 22nd birthday and when we came back Tierry and I gave her gifts. Tierry gave her tools for cleaning her pistols and I gave her the little, fine brush. Glandor was preparing for a feast. Today the remains of the MacLir-clan was welcomed back and the new clan-leader was to be introduced. We saw them coming over the bridge and into the town. They were a sad looking lot. Out of several hundred people maybe 30 grown men between 15 and 50 was left. The rest was women, children and old people. They were led by a young boy, who was pointed out to be Declan MacLir, the new clan-leader. I smiled when I saw him: I had seen his initiation in my dream and I knew that he would be capable. Everybody there had lost a dear one; a father, brother, son or husband. The celebration was for life and putting the deaths and loss behind them. Alex and Tierry had a bad taste in their mouths about the whole thing and again we argued. We parted in anger: Tierry went to the chapel, Alex went to the lake-side, as did I, only on the other side. We were so different when it came to this and we would never agree. Later we met again though, over a meal and some applecider. The counsel was to get together and discuss the situation and Sean was participating on his fathers behalf. The celebration was muted and short and we went to sleep early.
Later in the night Sean woke me and said my presence was wanted in the counsel-room. I entered the large and well-lit room and stood in the middle of a horseshoe shaped set up of tables. They asked about what Maithair had said and I told them that she was afraid. I noticed a man in the counsel, whom I was sure was one of the Old Ones from the bog. He was like a wolf in human shape and he already knew everything I said, I felt. Fengus MacDorach asked me ”Is there anything we can do for you?”. I frowned ”It’s more a question about what you can do for Maithair” I said. There were smiles and mumbles among the men and Fengus smiled at me ”Well said” he said and got up. ”When you first came here with your strange story, I seriously doubted the truth of it. I have spoken with my counsellors now and several people who seemed informed about it, and I doubt no longer”. He stepped towards me, carrying a tartan of the MacDorach colours. When he reached me, his great arms encircled me and he gave me a hug, leaving the tartan around my shoulders as he stood back. ”Wellcome back” he said, looking into my tearful eyes, while the counsel cheered. ”We will want to talk to your friends as well” he said ”Will you go fetch them for us?”. I nodded, speechless, and left the room.
I went back to our sleeping quarters and woke the others up. When we came back, Morgan was waiting for us. He showed us back in. We were offered seats and we sat down. Fengus asked for Tierry’s side of the story of the war. He told it, as he had seen it. No one in the room seemed to bear any grudge against him. Again we were asked if anything could be done for us. Tierry asked for means to travel to the Glandor harbour and we were told that in a little week a cattle boat was going that way and we would be welcome. Alex asked of the whereabouts of the Smith-family, whom I had momentarily forgotten. We were told that they lived a few miles north of Glandor and they were all well. We were then excused and we went back to our quarters. Alex and Tierry naturally commented the tartan and I told them, how it was given to me. Tierry looked confused again. ”Now does this mean that you are welcomed into the clan or that Fienna is welcomed back into the clan?” he asked. ”Both, I guess” I said ”But mainly the last”. ”Hmm” was all he had to say to that, and he left the matter alone.
The next day Sean and I went to visit Maggie and her family, who’s family name was really MacDorach as it turned out. It was splendid day! I have always loved that family. It seemed similar to my own family in better days, and they had so readily welcomed me into theirs.
The day after that Sean woke me by taking me into his arms, carrying me into the bathroom and tossing me into the tub with my clothes on. He jumped in after me and helped me remove his and my own wet clothes. It was my 20th birthday and Alex gave me a lavendersoap and Tierry gave me rosewater: real ladies presents! The rest of the day was spent with Sean. Actually I didn’t leave his side for many moments at all the following week. We were always together, even sleeping, hands, legs, minds and hearts entwined. I was very selfish; all I saw was him, nothing else really mattered or existed. I have no idea what Alex or Tierry were doing all this time. My life revolved only around Sean, Sean, Sean.
We talked a lot and walked a lot and loved a lot. I think we constantly touched in some way or other. These were the happiest days of my entire life! I told him about my life and he told me about his. Sean had grown up an only child, but in a great big family of cousins and uncles and aunts. He talked about his father, and a memory of Fiennas seemed to surface: a friendly, hardworking and weather beaten man, who loved the little girl, who used to come and visit his son. He was sick these days, but not seriously as I understood it. It wasn’t his time at all, Sean said he had said, he had no time for that nonsense just yet. Besides, he had started to show a healthy interest in a widow, whom Sean had asked to look after the house in his absence. Fienna had grown up without siblings as well, and they had pretended as children that they were brother and sister. Seans father was Ceann Thigh (clan leader) for our village. He was a local leader in other words, but as he had gotten older and sicker, Sean had taken over many of his functions. Sean leads the cattleherders for his father, he is farmer, judge, mediator, soldier and officer.
The 16th day of July we left the Northlands. A cattle boat was leaving for Glandors harbour, and we could sail with them. The goodbyes were hard… Sean and I stood close, hugging and kissing, absorbing each other. I wanted him as much under my skin as I possibly could. I told him that I would return to him before a year had passed and he promised to wait. He had waited for me all his life, so what was another year?
When we sailed out I stood out stern and kept my eyes on him for as long as I could. He didn’t move a muscle all the while. I was so full of myself that day that I paid no attention to Alex, which I should have.
The day after we arrived in Glandors harbour. We were referred to a sachsish merchant named Fritz Hutter.
Not to be continued...