The Tuatha's Sentence
Seamus Berr knew how he should die.
It had been a long time, enough for empires to rise and crumble, but he remembered. The wind galloping through the grass, the smell of turf in the air, his father's torque glowing softly in the twilight. Do not change what ye have been, son. He had said. You're a good fella, you be. You're a crook, you be. Life, not death, should change what we are.
It had been the last time he had listened to him.
A sudden clang caught his attention; in the dark, he felt the prison's door open, spires of sensitive Dwarf metal gnarling and twisting back into the walls. Someone stepped in, and rows of flames burst along the stone floor. There were no candles in the cell.
-Seamus Berr- a voice announced. -It's the time. The Court waits.-
He looked up, wincing. In front of him was a tall, slender figure, cloaked in heavy grey wool; the face under the hood could me a fair maiden's one, red locks brushing against diaphanous skin and full pensive lips. Bu the hands, the hands were sharp things, smashed with mud and blood and sap. -Arianne, me dear. Already found a suitable punishment? Usually they are so awfully inventive.-
The banshee watched him with black round eyes.
-Get up, Seamus Berr.-
Seamus obeyed, leaning hard against the rock. They had dressed him with his Clan's clothes: black leather pants, horseman boots, a hint of kajal under the eyes as his fathers wore in battle. He had chosen only the shirt: silk, flowing on the skin like water, but of the brightest red. Even a Trial should burst with glory, for the Fae.
Arianne turned and waved to the exit. -This way.-
Seamus followed her, smiling. Do not let them rip your smile. Let it be your weapon and your shield.
The dungeons lied under the Sidhe, down in the dump womb of the Earth. Like in every Fae palace there was no handwork, no groove of tool: the corridors just stretched in the rock, tangling around the Court like veins around a heart. The air was thick with musk and earth and dead things, and still the walls glowed with marbles. It's what fairies do after all: they crunched their enemies' skulls and then dig them in gold.
Arianne was walking in front of him, but everytime his knee blasted on fire and he had to slow down, she waited. Suddenly he took a too sharp movement and the legs just quivered, sending him to crash against the wall. He tried to regain his steps, but the iron cuffs clasped his hands together. Funny, they hurt way more than the broken bones.
A strong harm grabbed him before he could fall. Arianne cringed, staring at him with her black bird eyes. Neither of them said anything.
They continued in silence, left, right, up to the stairs, until the echoes changed and the walls widened around wooden doors. Plain, wooden double doors, but Seamus knew they were carved with the very alder where the Red Man appeared, in a time beyond time.
They stopped in front of the gate, still in silence. Suddenly however, Arianne's fingers shot forward, digging in his silk shirt, in the skin underneath. Something painful and warm flashed on her face. There were moments when a banshee remembered what it felt like being a woman; that was one of them. -Seamus, you don't have to go.-
-But I want.-
-It's tomfoolery. It's madness. If you renounce and publicly repent, the Council would not ask anything. They fear your family's force, they fear your force.-
-They don't fear me. Not yet.-
-But they are a bunch of cowards, so would gladly offer you a position before you could become an issue.-
He shot back, anger punding in his chest so hard he couldn't breathe. -I don't want a position, Banshee.- His voice was shaped to strike, to hurt. -I want the glory, the beauty and the power. I want the mankind whispering my name in fear.-
Arianne let out a bitter laugh. -Then you're condamned behind reach, my friend. Men have not had names to whisper from a long time, or at least, they don't know them anymore. Fairies are not made for wild dreams, Seamus. Enjoy the richness, enjoy the wine and the pleasures, and forget this child nonsense.-
-I'll better die.-
The Banshee dropped the smile; the true Arianne, the red-curled sly sister he grew with, slipped away again. Something clutched his chest.
-You know, it's curious: you despise men more than any of us, and feel exactly like one of them.-
Seamus gritted his teeth, but in that moment the Banshee bolted backward, mingling with the cold and the shadow, and the Court's doors opened with no sound. Light, the eerie harsh lights of diamonds, floated over him after days of darkness. He didn't even flinch.
After five times, some tricks just wear out.
So he just straightened his back, took a deep breath, and stepped forward.
The Court was carved in the same, unpolished stone of the corridors, but no Fae could ever mistaken it for a common hall: because it was nested in a web of roots. Thick branches slashed throught the walls, entwining around the thrones, running up the wide-eyed monsters carved in the rock. Bunches of creamy mushrooms popped from the wood, some portions of bark rippled with worms and decay, and yet from those very branches shone the Fae diamonds human kings craved for ages. Skulls and gold.
-The accused come near.-
As soon as he took another step, a rustle of excitemet rushed though the court. The high-pitched pixies' voice, a brush of moth wings, the foggy irises of a mermaid. He was sure Arianne was somewhere among them.
Seamus walked acroos the hall, calmly, silently.
He felt the anger growl, swallowed it. He drop on his knees before the guards fested on the occasion for trounce him again. And then he looked up to his judges.
Oh, sure, his judges. The Great Five of Eire. The last of the first and forgotten generations, heralds of the Fae Races of Ireland. The Banshee Queen, the Pooka and his silvery ageless flesh, the Elves with their hopeless eyes, the terrible Dullahan.
They lived their lives, their immortal, powerful lives in cozy New York flats, drolling beside sun-kissed pools on the hills of Toscana and Los Angeles. They, all of them, strolled though the world in nice suits and All Stars, worrying about the office and the parties and the plumber that still didn't come for the sink. Until some of them stepped too further, and the council is called.
They remembered what they were only when they wanted to be cruel. He remembered it all the time. And it was why they were about to condamn him.
Clowns. Pitiful, shameless clowns.
The Night Elf squeezed his eyes, a paper-thin hand smoothing the tunic. Long, roots-entwined hair flowed over the dais.
-Seamus Berr, son of the Berr House, you have been convocated before this Court for having outraged our fathers' laws and put in unsavoury danger the glorious Fae People.- His voice was still strong, but not more than any healty man in his sixties. Smooth. Human.
-You're accused of having deceived a human for your goals, to have declared war to three other clans, and to have tried to reveal to the Tall People the entrata to our Banquet. And this, for the fifth times in less than two-hundred years. Is it true?-
Seamus stared at him.
-Yes, this is true.-
-As for all the times before. And as before I ask you, do you regret your pointless mayhems? Come now, me fella: this whole crusade is becoming ridicolous. You should stop with this nonsense right now.-
Seamus tightened his jaw again, feeling all the blood rushing back from his skin like an haunted animal. Oh, sure. The Cluricaun son should dance, the Cluricaun son should delight and amuse. He should not mingle in such heavy questions.
They didn't despite his father only because his Sidhe raised over the greatest vein of gold ever found in Eire, but he knew what they said beyond their back. Cluricauns, troublemakers. Drunkards. Scalawags. Cluricaun Cluricaun Cluricaun.
His kind doesn't seek power and fame; they were supposed to swarm in the canteens and fornicate on mossy beds at the banquets. Not to become king of the Fae, not to ride through the land on silver mares, crimson trapping in the moonlight.
Cluricaun Cluricaun Cluricaun.
He let surface his smile, and it hurt.
-If I have a chance, I'll ravage this Court to the last stone. If I have a chance, I'll tear you off from your thrones, and make you dance like the grumbs you are.- He spat, right on the sacred wood of the Elves. -You traded your history and the glory of your folk for luxuries and cable television. You reduced our kind to inane gadjets for morons!-
The guard's punch was expected, but the iron glove still dug burning grooves on Seamus's cheek. He squeezed his eyes for a moment, waiting for the numbness to wear out. Coppery taste on the tongue.
The goblin leaned on him, blowing hard through his fangs. -Cut the crap, Cluricaun.-
Murmurs galloped through the crowd, indignated for something they didn't even understand.
-Quiet.- The Pooka whispered.
The hall fell in silence; everyone nearly stopped breathing.
Seamus ignored the shiver running along his back. Oh, sure, let the Pooka pronounce the sentence. Pooka the riddler, Pooka the lord of swamps and fogs, Pooka that dances with Death. He too, in every other moment, would fear the little grey man. But not now. Even he didn't have any power over the dead.
The First Pooka, whose name was lost somewhere in the centuries and the languages, got up, tyding up his plain tweed suit. Silvery eyes bulged toward him like a toad's.
-Be quiet, my friends. I know this is an hurtful event and that we do not cherish to see one of our folk, one of our brothers, leaping with such fierceness against our customs. This man has dishonoured his clan and our kin, seeking a barbaric world where we ravaged the pigsties and were invoked by paesants. You're a dreamer, son of the House Berr: you do not see that times have changed, and that as our ancestors had descended in the warm wombs of the Sidhe, now we should mingle again with the mankind, cherishing their glory in ways they could never even imagine. You do not see our path, and therefore, you no longer deserve to walk along it. So, this is our sentence.-
Seamus closed his eyes, rose his head again. The chest's pain was pulsing but not strong, he had not pleading, and he would not see his folk lose itself in a gaudy, vane world. Thre were worse ways to die.
Don't let Death change you, me son.
-Seamus Berr, Prince of the Eastern Crouchans, lord of the Seventh Sidhe, from this moment on, until the Moon cries blood and the Sun drowns.-
He closed his eyes, breathed in.
-...You will be a man.-
His eyes snapped open.
Arianne smiling in the background.
-What?- he blurted out. His throat thightened, he couldn't talk, tried again. -W-what do you mean I'll be a a man?-
- From this moment on you will be deprived of your magic, your longevity and your home. You will not walk anymore among the Fair Folk, nor you will be admitted to the Sidhes. Your name will be brushed away from the People's memory. Because Fae forget, but never forgive.-
Seamus swallowed, heart pounding against his chest so hard he knew they could hear it. Like they did with a man, with a human.
No, no. Please, everything but not that, not that.
The Pooka waved to the goblins. -Guards, proceed. Keep him still.-
Clawed hands grabbed his arms, twisting them behind his back. -No, no.- He fought in the hold. -No, you couldn't do it, you couldn't do it.-
-Actually, we can.- The Pooka climbed down from the dais, slowly, undoing his left glove's buttons.
-I am a prince. I am a member of the council!-
The Pooka smiled, came closer. Seamus knew what it meant, and for the first time in centuries he felt the urge to cry.
My palace. The woods. Smiling lips talking under the lutes' music.
-It's the Council, me dearest. And you too has lived for half a age.- The grey little man stopped before him, lips brushing Seamus's skin. With no breath. -You should know that princes could fall like the last of the beggar.-
And then the Pooka's hand clasped his chest, and it was as if Seamus's soul was being ripped apart.
His fingers were cold, frozen fire smashing his chest and flushing over him and snapping out like a colossal wave. He had screamed, maybe, but he didn't remember. He just found himself crashing against the rock floor, panting hard, dazed like the whole Irish Sea had just poured over him. Peaceful. Normal.
And then it came. The pain. Not the pain he had always known, the hic-cupped tingling he felt everytime his body didn't respond, but something sharper, warmer, harder. He could feel every single bone burning, every scratch and bruise and crack. He felt something wet on his shirt, rose an hand, found blood.
-What- he gasped, and even that shot tendrils of pain down every nerve. -What is...?-
-What is happening to you? Oh, it's simple. Your wounds could not be a big deal for a Fae, but they are fairly serious for a Tall Man. The Tuatha's pain is like air through a cracked flute; human is just flesh and blood. Take him away.-
Seamus would have talk, fight, squirming enough to make them let go. But his flesh was screaming, and he couldn't even breathe. Something grasped his shirt, his body moved across the rock. It hurt, oh Goddess, it hurt.
No, not, it can't be. It can't be.
Whispers, laughs, around him over him far and far from him.
It's curious, Seamus. You despise men more than any of us.
The light faded. It can't be. The roots and the stone twisted, pushing him up, up.
And you're just like them.
Tuatha: The Fairy Folk. The Tuatha De Danann were the ancient inhabitants of Ireland, sons of the Mother Goddess Dana. When common men arrived, they descended under hills called Sidhe.
Pooka: The bad guys of Irish Fairies. Very wise, very ruthless. I completely invented their appearance.
Cluricauns: A race of Leprechaun. More info in the next chapter.