DAMN YOU, BARB!
A certain OTHER fanfic writer is currently not only smoking me in the fic department, but also writing hilariously BAD fanfic. And having looked over this LJ, the Shrine, and An_Alien_Sky, and realized that I’m lagging far far behind in the fiction & writing department — Something Has To Be Done. Immediately.
So, My New Year’s Resolution: FINISH THE DAMN REWRITES. GET NEW TALES WRITTEN.
There. And here’s a preview of what’s coming in the new Severed Earth; it’s nothing less than full reworking…and what’s the current catch-phrase…oh, yeah, “re-imagining”. For those who have only seen the original tales, Faolán is Steve Perry/King Phillip.
Morning came too soon, far too soon. Faolán lay sprawled on his back in the warm bed, tangled in the linens and goosefeather quilt, one arm over his eyes. Elena was not beside him, though she had stayed rather late; appearances had to be preserved, even now. He stared up at the carved ceiling, nothing more than shadow and line in the dim light of the pre-dawn hours, not really seeing it, even as his gaze traced the dark lines of the knotwork carvings. He was warm, he was relaxed, and he did not want to move.
There was murmuring, then a light tap on the door. Faolán turned his head, just as the door opened and Gareth came in, his features grey in the faint light.
"Faol?" Gareth said, then grinned when Faolán raised up on his elbows. "Ah. A shame. I was prepared to have Darkwater roust you, if need be."
Faolán slowly untangled himself from the linens, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, stayed there for a moment, blinking at the floor to get his bearings. The air was chill and greyish; everything seemed fluid, moving, as if he was still dreaming and had not quite woken up.
"Come." Gareth laid an insistent hand on Faolán’s shoulder. "Darkwater and Donn are waiting at the baths, and the ciall will be there soon."
Faolán stood up, shivering as his feet hit the cool wood, and he reached for the woven tunic.
"No, not today." Gareth handed him a plain undyed robe. "Here. Just this, for the baths."
He looked at Gareth blankly, then wrapped the robe around himself, crossing his arms to hold it closed. He could not stop shivering; he felt oddly exposed, naked despite the robe. He followed Gareth out of the room, his feet stepping carefully on the the floor, his toes curling over every bump, every change in texture, rough and grainy wood, polished and slick stone, furred skin rug and woven rush mats, all the way to the grittiness of the bathstones and the grouted tiles of the mosaic floor. The air was still, cold, and grey, thick and liquid in the aftermath of dreaming. A mist curled up from the heated water of the baths, silver, blue, green, as it drifted from one patch of window-light to another.
Faolán watched it, entranced. He was cold but oddly relaxed, poised on some edge, some balance waiting to tip over…
"Hurry on, Faol," Gareth said, his voice hushed. "Sun-birth is soon."
He did not know what prompted it. He shrugged the robe off, dove into the water headfirst, knifing through its warm stillness without a splash. He surfaced in seconds, shaking his head and looking back at Darkwater, who watched with no expression, and Gareth, who was grinning.
The water was warm, cradling, and for a moment, Faolán floated, breathing in the steam and colored mist, before paddling back to the edge, to grab a cloth and soaproot and scrub, ducking his head under the water again and again. Finally, breathing hard, he stood chest-deep in the water, head bowed and water dripping, breathing deep of the smells of steam and damp rock as the mist curled around him. He wiped the water from his face, ran his fingers through his hair to work out the tangles, finally looked up to Gareth, expecting a towel, and froze.
A stag stood there.
His brain caught up. No, not a stag, but a brawny, burly man draped in deerskins and wearing a headdress of a stag’s head, with a full rack of antlers, antlers smeared with red and brown. Behind the man stood Donn, a red cloth draped over his arm and carrying a crown of braided horn.
"Ye are Kernos?" It was a whisper, harsh, sibilant.
Words would not come. Faolán stared, caught and silent, until Gareth made a soft, impatient noise. Slowly, Faolán made his way up the stepping-stairs, to stand shivering and dripping at the edge of the pool.
The harsh whisper echoed again. "Ye are Kernos?"
No. I’m not. Say it, dammit.
The crazy voice whispered at him, deep down. Faolán swallowed, forced the word out. "Aye."
The stag-man moved, pacing forward deliberately until he stood staring down at Faolán. Only then did Faolán see the cup the man held, a crudely crafted pottery brimming with dark liquid that smelled of apples and herb, a cup the stag-man held out to him.
"Naked ye cam o’ th’ land," the stag-man whispered. "Naked ye go back t’ th’ land. King, ye’s life be forfeit, to all, for all. Man, ye’s blood go to th’ field an’ wood, birth an’ death. Ye’s life be th’ land."
Darkwater and Gareth had moved in close, hemming him in on either side. Faolán could not stop shivering, his arms crossed against the chill of his wet skin.
There was a sharp nudge in his ribs. "Take it, Faol," Gareth murmured.
Faolán balked. He could smell the alcohol. He had not yet eaten, it was far too early…
The stag-man was watching him.
You’re crazy. They’re all crazy. You can’t be doing this.
Reality was slipping again, here, now, in the curling mist and the man-stag with bloodstained antlers in front of him, and himself, naked and wet and shivering. Before the voice could speak again, Faolán reached, grasped the cup from the stag’s hands, brought it to his lips. The scent was spicy-warm and sweet, but the taste — caédrais, he recognized it, but it was strong, far stronger than what they had served last night, and his head swam after only a few swallows. There was an undertone to it he did not remember, something bitter and dark that brushed his tongue and left him gasping as it struck the back of his throat.
He tried to drink fast, gulping it without tasting it, until Darkwater murmured, "Enough," and pulled the cup from his hands.
Donn had moved forward, as the stag-man turned to take a smaller cup from him. Faolán smelled the rust-iron of blood, as the man dipped his fingers into it and reached to mark Faolán’s forehead, a deliberate circle and cross, wet and itching on his skin. He did not dare scratch, not with Donn glaring at him, and the stag-man moved down to Faolán’s chest, marking interlocking lines and circles in the blood, a trio of thumb-prints over Faolán’s heart, another circled cross far lower down, just above his pubic hair.
His breath short, his heart suddenly pounding, Faolán did not move. He felt light-headed and dizzy; everything was liquid, flowing around him, alive and waiting. It was not a man in front of him, but a stag, a true stag that stared deep into him with dark beast-eyes and turned to lead him away, through the rock and mist.
But Donn stepped forward swiftly, to place the crown of woven horns firmly on Faolán’s head and drape a rough-woven red stole over Faolán’s shoulders, not enough to cover him, leaving him bare to the air and land. Faolán stood there, swaying, shivering, until Gareth gently pushed him after the stag.
He surfaced into light, grey swiftly fading into yellow. Murmurs surrounded him, a whispering tide that parted as he walked, following the stag, flanked by his Guardians. He was barefoot, bare-chested, bare-groined, shivering in the chill air before sun-birth. The cobbles of the city slowly gave way to weeds and field-grass, then to gritty soil, rich with the smell of crushed plants and fertile earth. He was led to a tree, tall and thick and garlanded with ribbons, and Gareth turned him so that his back was to the city and the sun cresting the horizon, towards sun-death, towards Chulain.
Moving, everything was moving, alive, beating, waiting. The land trembled under his feet, cool and cradling, reaching up to gather him in even as the air curled around him, teasing him with the chill breath of morning and caressing his skin and groin until he let out a low moan, shivering, wanting…
Gareth was in front of him, and Faolán blinked. For a moment, Gareth stared down into Faolán’s eyes, then a corner of his mouth quirked up in a half-smile. Gareth said something, off to Faolán’s right, and then Gareth had a hand-plow. He pushed it into Faolán’s hands, and Faolán fumbled, nearly dropped it.
Gareth was grinning. "The pointed end goes in first, Faol."
That was no help. The wood was rough under his palms; the weeds and soil under his feet chilly with dew. Faolán saw movement at the far end of the field — the Chulains waited there, Elena garbed in a simple green robe, open at the front, and crowned with woven stalks of grain. They were watching him, and the crowd noise rose to hushed muttering.
"Open the land," Darkwater murmured.
"Aye," Gareth said, still grinning. He pushed Faolán gently. "One furrow only. I doubt you and Elena could plow the entire field."
"That is my nephew you slander, Realm Guardian," Donn said, from behind them. "Half the Court would say otherwise."
Despite the movement, the warmth, the breeze, Faolán went hot, flushed. He kept his gaze fixed on the far end of the field, on Elena, struggling to get the plowshare into the ground. Finally it penetrated, then dug in and broke soil, overturning it into rich, deep brown. He could smell damp earth, crushed broadleaves and fieldgrass, and the plowed soil was grainy-soft under his bare feet as he struggled to push the plow across the field.
Someone moved in front of him, just to the side of the plow. Faolán looked up, found himself staring into Elena’s eyes. He halted, suddenly unable to do anything more than stare at the sight of her. Her robe was open, baring her naked body to the air and land; her belly and breasts were marked with swirls and the circled cross, a garland of red berries had been strung around her hips. Slowly, it sunk in that he was midway across the field, alone and separated from all the others, and he and Elena were…were…
Faolán swallowed. "Um…I’ve got a comfortable furrow right here, m’lady."
"No," Elena said seriously. "I have the furrow. You have the plow." Then her mouth quirked into a shy grin, as she stepped in close. "And a fine plow it is."
Her warmth radiated over his skin as a light caress, and he picked up her scent, cinnamon, rose, musky. Shivering, Faolán reached for her, seeing only her, not caring about the crowds, or the chill, or the wind…
But someone else was there, suddenly, quietly, a dark shadow on his right. Even as it registered, even as Faolán started to turn, it struck, swiftly, grabbing Elena around the throat and pulling her off balance, then driving a solid kick hard into Faolán’s groin.
It spun him, knocked him away and down, sprawled into the weeds and soil as greyness rose in his sight. Gasping, Faolán struggled to his elbows, fighting to uncurl from the pain, even as Elena started to struggle, even as Faolán stared, stared up into the shadow’s face in utter, unbelieving shock.
Something appeared in Neal’s hand — a long black tube, aimed at Faolán’s face. Faolán froze, the insanity rising in a mewl of terror as he stared into that narrow darkness.
The tube flicked aside, in a sharp shock of noise. Faolán felt a stinging slap to his left thigh, then pain, nothing but pain, and warm wetness burst over his thigh to flood into the soil under him.
The hand holding the tube snapped away, and two more shocks burst in Faolán’s ears, followed by screams, yells, shouts. He struggled to rise, but his leg wouldn’t work, and his hands were clenched in the soil and weeds as he stared up, the aching pain in his leg rising to overwhelm him…
The ugly black tube was now shoved under Elena’s chin, but Elena was staring at Faolán, her face open horror. Neal also stared down at him, a smirk scraped across his face, and Neal stepped back, dragging Elena with him, his gaze not leaving Faolán’s.
Air imploded with a sharp snap of sound. Wind, land, stone, it all swirled around Faolán, vertigo that left him breathless, and he collapsed against the bloody soil, everything draining out of him, fast, hard. Smells pressed against his face, ozone, damp earth, blood, crushed fieldgrass, an odd burnt-metal odor…
…gunpowder, a part of his mind whispered, fading.
Then hands were on him, turning him over, then slapping down to press on his leg. Faolán gasped as that impact shocked through him, and the ache swelled until he clamped his jaw tight around a scream, sucking in air through clenched teeth. He would not let it out. He would not.
There were voices above him, Gareth yelling for a miodhach, and Darkwater…
Faolán forced his eyes open, gasping in air. The Blood Guardian was focused on Faolán’s leg with frightening intensity, his bloody hands pressed hard against Faolán’s thigh. Faolán struggled, wanting to sit up, needing to say it, what he’d seen, what he knew…
"Be still, Faol," Gareth said, pressing Faolán back.
There was another presence to Faolán’s left, someone in green kneeling down and clamping their own hands on Faolán’s thigh, and the white blinding pain dragged him down, deep into the bloodied earth.
"Ayo," Faolán whispered, as consciousness fled. "Ayo…"