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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3. Jacobites

A formal farewell ceremony took place, Daileska blessing Ronan and Daithi and sending them on their way with the entire tribe watching and bidding them "goodbye" and "safe journey". Both brothers bid the family goodbye, promising to stay safe while the others who were chosen did the same. Just as they began to leave, Daithi spied Laurel. He touched his forehead with his knuckles, dragged it down to his chest and thrust his hand into the air as if he was spreading feed for chickens. It was a gesture of goodbye. It meant "I'll think of you, you'll be in my heart."

They all travelled down the same paths that meandered and wound through the countryside. But one by one, each left Daithi and Ronan behind, opting for a different path or shape shifting into an elk or a bird.

Daithi and Ronan reveled in being on their own, no do's and don'ts or nagging from their elders. However, being the older one, the pressure fell on Ronan to bring himself and Daithi home if they insisted on staying together throughout their adventure.  

The days passed within the blink of an eye. Time always seemed to move so fast outside of camp for Nioneskans. But when they reached the army of the Jacobites, time moved faster.

Before, the only weapon that either knew how to use were their own bare hands and Ronan's bow and arrow. 'The Young Pretender', Prince Charles Edward, had them taken away to teach them the ways of the sword. Their days were filled with the swish and clang of steel. Months seemed to pass over the course of a week, days in mere minutes. And all of it was spent either moving, training, or fighting.

The night before the first battle Daithi sat by the fire, tracing the etchings in his medallion, the stone rune being everything that represented home. Ronan played with his too, twirling it on the string it was on.

"Do you miss home at all?" Ronan finally asked in their mother tongue, his voice no louder than the popping of the flames that danced between them. Ronan's voice breaking the silence made Daithi jump. Daithi shrugged, unsure what to say, or what Ronan expected him to say. He loved Ronan, he was closer with him than his other siblings, though his bond was strong with them too. But Ronan had one of those faces that you couldn't read. His voice was the only tell, but in that moment, drenched with excitement and anxiety of all the men, it wavered no matter what he said.

"I'm glad they're movin' away from where home is...or was. I hope t's 'was'," Daithi explained. He looked over at the men asleep beside them. "Le's finish this war so we can go find out where 'home' is," he added.

"Deal. Hey do you have them berries you were gonna pack? Y'know the ones you picked before we left?" Ronan asked quickly, his eyes lighting up at the thought. Daithi froze, remembering he'd eaten the last of them that morning. He shook his head slowly and guiltily. "Of course," Ronan muttered flatly. "Yuré bruskӧn, caught with his hands in the basket again." He rolled over to sleep, his steel at his side and his medallion in his hands.

Come the break of dawn, the sound of shouting and gunfire awoke the pair at their side of camp. Their companions shook them fiercely and shoved swords and pistols in their hands. It happened so fast, neither Daithi nor Ronan fully knew why they ran or what to do when they encountered a line of redcoats being hacked to pieces or peppered with bullets. But when an enemy soldier tried to take a stab at Ronan, he shook himself of the fog that clouded his mind and reminded himself what they'd learned. His body acted on it's own. Daithi watched, astounded at how well Ronan fought. Without intending to, he lowered his sword a bit and stared unbelieving at the shear power and skill Ronan possessed.

A Jacobite was shoved into Daithi and kick started his adrenaline. Daithi did his best, but found he wasn't as useful with a sword as Ronan, so he sprinted off into a safe patch for him to concentrate. Looking to make sure there wasn't an immediate threat of attack or a curious onlooker, he weaved his magic into tendrils, invisible to the eye, but not unknown to the skin. It weaved between the legs of the soldiers and wrapped around the British, burning their skin like a flame. When he was sure his casting had worked, he threw himself back into the fray and tried to mimic those that fought beside him. But his little trick managed to end the battle just as suddenly as it had begun. As it was for nearly every skirmish they were in. The two tender-hearted Nioneskani boys came to realize how ferocious and dangerous these men were and how fast they could overtake a line of redcoats by a simple charge. But as they years dragged on, their hearts bled for home.

 

Daithi knew this was the last battle. He knew this was the defining moment for them all. He didn't tell Ronan, but he wished he would've when he heard the canon fire and saw that flash of pistols in the dust. He heard the moans and cries of men, and with each swing of his steel he prayed that Ronan wasn't one of them. Someone grabbed him by the hair and dragged him to the ground, pressing a dagger to his throat just above his necklace. Wishing he'd prayed for himself and asked the spirits for aid, Daithi waited for the cold kiss of the blade. Yet no such kiss of death came. His assailant fell to the ground with a thud and set Daithi free. Not waiting a second, he ran as far as he could.

The chaotic symphony of screams, canon fire, sword against sword, and gunfire were pounded into his head and burned into Daithi's memory like every song he'd ever learned. Something deep in his gut told him there wasn't any chance anymore. He erased any guilt he might have felt for leaving those men behind. Daithi tried to disappear amongst the trees, seeing other Jacobites running alongside him. The fear in their eyes was enough for anyone to see they were running for their lives.

As he ran, Daithi felt a sting in his side and heard a gun go off, but he didn't dare slow down to look. He kept running until he felt far enough away. He didn't notice that he'd left the other men behind or the bruise on his thigh from his sword slapping against him. When the pain did begin to get to him, he let himself slow down and consider the distance between him and the slaughter enough protection for him to tend to himself. He saw the blood that painted his side and soaked his white shirt and noticed how much pain he was really in. Daithi sank to the ground and breathed shallow breathes through his teeth. And when he heard rustling he accepted defeat. He looked to the sky for comfort, but instead saw a shape move between the leaves.

"Daithi!"

"Ronan?! Thank the spirits! You got away!" Daithi cried with relief.

"Get up here!" Ronan insisted. "There was a cluster of them that passed through to pick off the ones that scattered!"

Daithi nodded, then looked to his wound worriedly. The bullet was a through and through and missed anything important, but river of blood gushed from it and the pain gnawed at him. Steeling his nerve, he climbed up, taking care not to stretch his right side and agitate it. Safe on a sturdy branch with cover surrounding him, he came face to face with Ronan, battered, bruised, shaken, and bloody. Daithi could barely recognize him. Ronan's eyes were feral and his knuckles were white from gripping his pistol so tight.

"Are y-you alright?" Daithi stammered. Ronan could only nod. "Good. Then we should get as far away as we can."

"Deal." But it was then that Ronan saw the blood and nearly fell out of the tree. "What happened?!"

"SHHH!" Daithi froze as he heard the crunch of steps. He held onto Ronan's shoulder to keep him still, and to keep his own balance. Held his breath in case it didn't blend with the wind blowing through the leaves. His heart pounded against his ribs, threatening to break them.

For the first time since they left home time was slower. Their muscles were tense and screamed with the pain of the forced stillness. The mere seconds they were there were stretched into an eternity. Each crunching step was practically hours from the next one. And neither dared look down to see if the ones who approached were friend or foe or how far away they were. Both of them stared off into space, listening to every rustle, every skitter for change. The didn't feel safe until the hot afternoon sun began to sink, leaving a blend of colors behind. By then they managed to have slowly slipped to a sitting position on their branches and fall asleep against the trunk.

Daithi was tormented by horrible dreams; dreams he'd never had and would give anything to forget. He dreamt of blood and flesh tearing and of everyone he'd ever known falling under a blade and bullet. He saw Sampsa defending his family while Sarafina helped them flee. He saw Callum being caught and beaten. He saw his parents and grandparents all get shot down, their bodies falling in the creek. Their blood dyed the water red and stained Laurel's long skirt. Daithi tried to run to her, but a soldier with a menacing grin cut her down. She dropped a bundle in her arms and let out a deafening and heart wrenching cry. Then the soldier turned on Daithi and he felt his mouth fill with blood as he was run through with the sword. But he didn't die. He sank to his knees and his blood drained from his body, but the soldier forced him to his feet to march through the camp and look upon the pale face twisted into muted screams and the wailing of those still alive.

"DAITHI! WAKE UP!" Ronan cried, desperately trying to shake Daithi awake. He woke up with a start, struggling against Ronan's grasp and nearly forcing them both out of the safety of the tree boughs.

"WHAT?! SAMPSA?! LAUREL?! GRANDMA?!" He screamed, his voice dripping with sorrow and agony.

"Calm down! It was just a dream! A bad dream!" Ronan yelled. "Snap out of it!" Ronan grabbed Daithi's face and shook him. Daithi grabbed Ronan's wrists and dug his nails in but realized it was only a dream.

"Only a dream," he murmured weakly. The fear and sadness dissipated, but the hollowness remained. The stench of smoke and death hung on the air like a perfume that never went away. He quickly got his wits about him again and whispered "we need to go now." Ronan nodded in agreement and the looked around for a moment, then leapt to another tree branch just barely within reach. Then another from there....and another from there. They tree-hopped like when they were children until their legs burned and the bullet wound in Daithi's side burned more than usual. They stopped for a moment to get their bearing and Ronan ripped his sleeve into a long strip and doused it with whiskey from a flask on his hip. Daithi took it and pressed it against the hole. He winced and hissed with the pain, but took a breath and tied it around his torso to keep it in place.

"Do y'think we could walk?" Daithi asked jokingly, trying to make light of the situation. They were mentally and physically exhausted and in need of a break, of safety. So he felt a joke was needed.

"Hehe, if you can climb down. Or am I pushing you out of this damned tree?" Ronan teased.

They struggled down, their legs and arms like jelly. But the solid earth was a relief compared to the wobbly and jiggley branches. But with the relief came the sense of exposure. While they felt at home in a forest, were practically raised in them, the eerie silence made it hard to feel safe. Every crunch of earth and twigs made their hearts pounds and the blood rush through their ears. What made it worse was the sound of running water that drowned out any telling sounds. Ronan never dared let go of his sword and Daithi held a pistol as if he were clinging to his life. When they came across the river they heard they took a chance to try and wash away the blood and dirt and the stench that had settled into their skin.

"You first, I'll keep an eye out," Ronan instructed rather coldly. Ronan never feared anything, not a bear, not an angry elk, not a man. But Daithi knew the tone in Ronan's voice was the biggest tell that Ronan was afraid.

So Daithi stripped down and dove in. The water was dark and cold, but it was clean. It wasn't tinged red from the slain, it didn't reek like death. It was clean, freezing cold water. Daithi pushed off the bottom and bobbed to the surface, teeth clacking and a curse on his lips. "Haché! It's cold!" He whinged. Ronan couldn't help but laugh. Daithi laughed with him around clenched teeth as he scrubbed away the dirt and grime. He was all too ready to get out when he scrubbed himself raw. His skin was red with how aggressively he clawed at himself, as if trying to wash away the memory of the massacre. He emerged from the river, his hair hiding his face, his moans of displeasure, and the clumsy movements of his numb limbs made him seem more like a river monster they'd grown up hearing stories about. "Y-your t-t-turn, R-Ronan-n," he stuttered.

Ronan nodded and stripped himself bare. Daithi saw the blood caked in Ronan's hair and the gunpowder staining his hands. He watched it get washed downstream and saw Ronan shake and shiver. Diving and popping back up, Ronan seemed more like a duck than a man.

Daithi was hesitant to put his clothes back on. On the one hand, he didn't want his still wet skin to dampen his clothes and make his predicament worse, on the other he didn't want to put them on again and run the risk of being caught as a Jacobite. But eventually he realized he'd have to put something on and grabbed the first shirt he saw which was Ronan's, indicated by the torn sleeve to make a bandage and that it was considerably longer than Daithi's. Daithi realized it was Ronan's when it went down to just above his knees.

A loud crunch of feet on the ground stole his attention away from that fact and he saw three British soldiers. Before he even knew what he was doing, he made a gesture with his hand behind his back and casted what he hoped would create a pocket of air for Ronan so he could stay there. Daithi tried to leap for his pistol but was stopped by the lead officer's sword.

"Hmm. Seems we've found another Jacobite," he said menacingly with a sickeningly sweet voice that he simply had to be a rich man brought up on superiority and praise.

Daithi listened to the other two prepare to shoot him while never taking his eyes off the lead officer. But his focus was on his brother. He knew Ronan was wondering what was going on and why he couldn't move from the bottom of the riverbed.

"No, I think I'll take this one. After all I did lose a good servant yesterday. It seems only fair that I take a Jacobite to pay for the crime of a Jacobite, don't you agree?"

Daithi's blood ran cold. He shuffled back a step....two....three.

"Ah ah a-ahhh, no no. You're mine now," the officer stated simply as if it were a common phrase to be uttered. "Frye, don't you have a pair of shackles? Give them to me."

With a pistol and a rifle trained on him, Daithi had no choice if he wanted a chance at life but to be shackled. The officer grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back and hissed something in his ear.

"Don't test my patience. You will live to regret it."

Daithi gritted his teeth and fell into an old habit from his youth. He growled from deep in his throat. The simplest language he knew. The only warning he could give that he wouldn't be easy to control as he stole a glance over his shoulder and saw Ronan's head break the surface, gasping and blinded by the water. He growled in his mother tongue. "So will you"

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