A Drifting Soul

The story of Daithi, a young shaman of the Nioneska prior to the events of A House Of Photographs.

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7. "Home"

Before Daithi opened his eyes he knew someone had their arm over his shoulder. He was sitting on something hard and he heard the sound of horse hooves. When he did open his eyes, he saw he was on a dirt road in the back of a cart with someone sitting beside him. Daring to look, Daithi turned his head ever so slightly and saw a man. The scars on his back ached and the searing pain in his leg and his torso made him scream in his head. Before his captor realized Daithi was awake, he leapt forward to put a distance between them, as small as it was.

The person jumped at the sound and threw a hand to his heart. Then relief fell over him. His angular features relaxed. In an instant he was on his knees with his arms around Daithi.

"Who are you?!" Daithi pleaded as he struggled under the man's weight.

"Daithi! I'm so sorry! You have no idea!" The man wailed. Then he pulled away and smiled hopefully with upturned brows. Daithi was confused and concerned for the man's mental health...but then something struck him. Longish coppery brown hair, a fair skinned face, strong hands, the smell of the wild...Daithi searched this man's eyes for something. The unmistakable blue with green flecks dancing around the pupils. He'd only seen one other pair like them and that was on Callum.

"R....Ronan...?" Daithi breathed. Ronan nodded his head and sniffled.

"Yuré Bruskӧn!"

The two sat in silence, letting the waves of emotions, the sadness, the joy, the anger, all of it sweep over them like a great tsunami. Then Daithi brushed his fingers against his medallion, the family symbol set in the center identical to Ronan's.

"Tell me, where are we going?"

"We're almost home...We're in Norway. You've been asleep for about three weeks," Ronan explained as he laid back against the seat of the driver, who seemed to pay no mind to the family reunion.

"...Home?" Daithi echoed. He looked away and thought back on the events prior. Bijou and Corinna's arrest, his plan for their escape, his farewell to Dominique....At the thought of Corinna he stopped himself and felt for the two earrings that dangled from his earlobes. As much as he believed he'd fallen for her, his heart didn't ache as he realized just how far they had travelled from Paris. He recalled the playful and flirtatious games of keep-away that they would play with his clothes. He remembered the feel of her skin under his fingers and how she would play with his hair at any given moment. And though the fondness of the memories remained, he found that it wasn't hard for him to accept leaving. What was hard to accept was home. A word that had been used in his head so many times in so many different places but not for the one place it should have been.

Ronan's eyes clouded over and a lump formed in his throat when he spoke. His voice was hoarse as he told his side of the story. "When I escaped I ran as far as I could. Thank heavens for Sampsa. He spirit walked into my dreams and told me where to go...but when I got back and they realized you weren't with me...I saw those scars. What...what did they do to you?"

Daithi didn't know where to begin. But he started the telling of his tale with his forced servitude to Edmund Roberts and did his best to gloss over the more cruel and torturous details for his sake and Ronan's. The guilt was as plain on Ronan's face as the scratchy stubble that had grown there. And frankly, Daithi didn't want to fully relive his ordeal. So he told of his escape to France and how he survived on stolen goods. Then he told of how he'd met Dominique and the girls and told countless stories of how they dodged the authorities day after day and earned money through performing. When Daithi talked about his relationship with Corinna, Ronan's ears perked up.

"Corinna? How long was that?"

Daithi's face twisted into a wry smile. "About three months back to when you found me. But I don't know what to call it, but it wasn't quite what I expected. It just wasn't..." Daithi struggled for the right word. He never found it. His train of thought was cut off when the cart rolled into a town and the driver forced the two out.

Ronan slung his bag over his shoulder and paid the man as they left. He turned and pointed at a mountain range and said "Just over those mountains is a 'tunnel'. Sampsa made it. He's the Champas now. He closes it whenever people come back after a trip...Hardly anyone leaves anymore."

Daithi nodded and pulled his cloak tighter around himself, realizing he was wearing warm clothes, soft and familiar clothes. He pulled at the collar of the cloak and saw a washed out blue coat with red stitching. Turning his eyes back to the mountain, Daithi felt a strong tug home. So he followed Ronan into the wilds. Daithi, so used to running from authorities, always kept an eye over his shoulder and a quick step. When the homes and shops were switched with trees and rocks and grass, Daithi noticed just how small and rural the town was. It was perfect. For now. He had seen a few times where a town would explode with activity for no good reason sometimes.

Ronan moved effortlessly, instinctually through the thickening brush. But it took Daithi time to settle back into his old habits and rules of thumb. Running rampant in cities made him an expert at those, but dulled his skills for nature. He tripped and stumbled over his own feet as he went. His embarrassment was highlighted by burning hot cheeks. Ronan even turned his head at the sound. Compared to how silent and ghostlike they had been on hunting trips, Daithi changing into a wolf to track and Ronan following close behind, Daithi had become a thundering bear with no sense of control over the noise he made. It was almost pitiful as his ankles became painted purple with bruises.

Just as a wind began to pick up, tossing their hair into their faces and tugging at their clothes, Ronan began to speed up. His steps grew wider and Daithi knew they had to be closer. In fact, Daithi could even feel it. The trees seemed to lean in and Daithi could swear he saw shadows and shapes darting between the trees all around them. Perhaps it was fatigue from the long journey and the burning sting that was in his legs, but something in his gut made him wary. Daithi stole a view of the valley in the fading sunlight. It took his breath away to see the quiet little town nestled in woodland and soaked in warm twilight. He filled his lungs with the spring air and felt a hint of nostalgia.

When he turned to continue he nearly ploughed into Ronan who stood at the edge of a steep drop. Ronan wrapped his hand around his rune stone and took a breath, and without a word as to what his intentions were, he grabbed Daithi by the wrist and jumped.

All Daithi could do was close his eyes. He felt the air whoosh past as if it were a wall of wind that met them halfway down the rock slope. To his surprise, Daithi felt solid earth beneath his feet again and heard the rush of running water.

Ronan elbowed Daithi the ribs. Daithi moaned when he found that his stomach felt like it had been flipped upside down and inside out. Ronan could tell by the look on his face and apologized. "Sorry. It sort of happens to everyone their first trip through. You alright? Home is just this way."

Daithi, after taking a few deep breaths, followed Ronan and proceeded to ask a few more pertinent question. For example, he was curious if everyone from the tribe, who'd normally congregated in smaller groups of about two hundred were all concentrated in one place. He felt comfort when Ronan told him that wasn't the case and that they lived in little neighborhoods that they called "Andruisks", which was a variant of the Nioneskan word for community. Then Daithi asked about the family. He listened with a sort of detached way when he was informed of Sampsa's three daughters and grandchildren on the way, Siiri's brief pairing with a brawny fellow that they'd grown up with. What threw Daithi for a loop was to hear that Sarafina had died not long after her daughter, only a baby when Daithi had left, had been married. Hearing that was what made Daithi comprehend just how long he'd been gone. He had to stop and think of the years. Twelve years a slave....at least a decade as a vagabond and street rat....five as a gypsy...Daithi felt a lump in his throat. Ronan continued on, but Daithi stopped on a little hill and saw the Andruisk for himself.

A deep depression in the ground with gently sloping edges to climb out of. A massive tree grew and Daithi recalled the legend of trees like it, that they were sorts of portals to the realm where the spirits dwelled when they didn't roam the land. And he saw people hanging lanterns off of its branches and creating a warm and cheery yellowish green light. With the help of that light he could just barely make out doors and windows and walls set into the slopes. From what Ronan told him, they were little compartments built into the earth with the occasional spare room that branched off, and each had a vent hole. He took it in. This was supposed to be home. And he'd be damned if he didn't think it was a lovely thought. To see his family after so long, but with that joy and excitement came worry and shame. Daithi pursed his lips, trying to make himself forget a the things he'd done just to survive another day. Ronan stopped midstride and beckoned Daithi to follow, a wide and cheeky grin on his face. That won Daithi over, and they worked their way through the brush onto a roughly beaten path arm in arm.

At first, no one noticed them come back. Daithi noticed that he didn't recognize as many of the people there as he thought he would. Most of them were younger than he was, possibly even babies when Daithi had come of age and officially given a place amongst the tribe.

Ronan frantically, almost giddily, searched for everyone he knew. All the hustle and bustle gave Daithi enough clues to realize they were preparing for the spring festival. Flowers had been planted in gardens in front of the doors of each home, matching the paint used to label each home with each family rune. When he understood this fact, he hunted for a door with his family rune on it. He spied one way down at the far end of the rather ovular shaped Andruisk. Ronan never seemed to miss a bit.

"That's mine and Callum's. I guess you'll be living with us too. If you're alright with that. There's always a few empty ones if you'd prefer," Ronan pointed out. Daithi had to attempt to contain his snickering. Ronan was positively beaming. Then his eyes turned into saucers. "Ah! Wait! Wait right here!" Ronan instructed before dashing off between the busybodies to find something.

When he returned he brought back a woman. Her eyes were a clear blue and able to stare right through a person as if they were no more than glass. Her mousy blonde hair was cut short and seemed to defy gravity in places. Her skin was also a bit darker compared to Ronan or Daithi, having a sort sun kissed quality which offset her freckles in a spectacular way. But the heart shape of her face and the crinkle of her brows made Daithi excited. It clearly took her as much time to recognize him because they wrapped their arms around each other at almost the exact same time.

"Siiri! I can't believe it!"

"You can't believe it?! Rauri! You've been gone for so long! We thought you were gone for good!" She exclaimed. Her standard tough love and tease routine was replaced with the vulnerability of seeing a loved one back, long dead in her mind. Daithi prepared to say something but knew his voice would hitch when he realized she'd called him 'Rauri' rather than his first name; his second middle name and a pet name of sorts.  "Wait until Callum sees you! And Sampsa too!" Objection wasn't an option when Siiri grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him with a strength any man would be envious of. Ronan was barely able to keep up.

Siiri, without a word of warning, threw open a door without a family rune and pulled Daithi in. Daithi knew Sampsa right away. He'd hardly changed, all except for a gray streak and a few patches here and there. But he had eyes like Siiri's that went wide when they rested on Daithi and the freckled cheeks that twitched. Sampsa stopped mid sentence and made a motion to say to the others in the council that it was being put on hold. He furrowed his brows and got up, taking slow steps, unsure if he was dreaming or not.

"You....." Sampsa began to say something then shook his head, eyes narrowed and lips pursed. Siiri looked confused, absolutely sure Sampsa would have been thrilled. All of them had been worried sick for years not knowing if their baby brother was even alive. But Sampsa didn't react that way. He reached out and touched Daithi's cheek. The sudden chill that jumped from Sampsa's fingertips into Daithi's cheek made him shiver. When Sampsa was sure that Daithi was real he lowered his hand and took a deep breath. Nearly everyone present, including the council could hear his back pop pop popping. Then there was silence. A pin could have been dropped and the sound would have been like a crash of thunder against the dirt floor.

"You grew so tall!" Sampsa shouted at the top of his lungs. In a moment, Sampsa was hugging him and some of the older council members who recognized him and tried to contain their shock. Callum was among them. He felt sick to his stomach. Then he was at their sides, unable to decide if want to join in the affection or that he wasn't allowed to. Siiri forced him in and bundled them all up in her arms. Ronan was just behind and rested a hand on Siiri's shoulder.

Daithi felt positively smothered. He'd forgotten what life was like being the youngest of seven, but it didn't entail this much affection. His pulse quickened and though he would have enjoyed it, he felt extremely uncomfortable. To his relief, they let go within seconds and left him be. Each looked at each other then to Daithi as if trying to decide what to say. Ronan cut in and explained "I've told him most of what's happened. Don't overwhelm him."

From anyone else it would have seemed that his tone and warning was coming from a malicious or haughty place, but Ronan saw the wild-eyed look in Daithi's eye and his frantic search for escape.

"He's been living alone for this long too," Sampsa added, scolding himself as well as the rest of them. He recovered his almost stately yet humble air and told Siiri to find him a home to stay in by himself so he could adjust. Siiri did as he asked and showed him an empty home without a symbol painted on the door and waiting to be used. It was cozy when they walked in. There were shelves made of recovered branches that were secured in slots dug in the wall an a place for a fire in the center of the room just below the vent. One lone window let in the moonlight and cast shadows on the floor. It wasn't hardly a minute that had gone by before Daithi realized he was standing alone, looking at all of it in wonder. It was like their huts and tents they lived in before they settled, but it wasn't at the same time. Siiri reappeared with a bundle of soft skins for sleeping and a few pillows, stuffed with wool traded in the village in the valley.

Daithi couldn't bring himself to say anymore. His leg stung and he realized that it wouldn't heal for awhile. Siiri understood that he would need some time and left him.

He lit the fire with a flick of his wrist and looked at the damage. He pulled down the waist of his pants to see the stabs in his thigh. Daithi saw a blood-soaked bandage and when he opened it he saw a mashed up herb in the wound. He pulled some out and examined it.

"No wonder I was asleep for that long! You idiot!" He shouted out loud. Sure this special herb was able to aid in healing with the proper preparations and his stabs weren't as deep as they might've been, more like gashes, but they had a nasty venom to them that had the power to kill a normal person and knock out a Nioneskan for weeks. Daithi rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. The herbs, the journey, their reunion, it was all too much to bear. He reached up to the ceiling to open the vent, then curled up on his new bed and let himself become entranced by the flames. His lids grew heavy and his breathing was slow and even. The transition from consciousness to sleep was so smooth and subtle he thought he was still awake when he dreamt that night.
 

 

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