The Summerland Path
In the shadow of the Preseli Hills they played, hopscotch, tiggy off ground, and farmer in the dell. They played and played, until their feet took them through a valley whose walls were lined with gnarled oak trees and dark Preseli Hills, through field upon field of fleecy white sheep, running at last…
…across the river and through the woods, to Kerrdia’s house.
the Gwaun Valley, near Fishguard
The eldest rested uneasily, her head in the crook of the overstuffed chair. The soft crackling of the hearth fire did little to sooth her thoughts.
What does it mean?
Kerrdia had dreamed again. Dreamed with a capital “D”. Visions.
She’s seen it as clear as could be; her twin granddaughters leading the people to their deliverance. One would be a great Queen of the Sidhe, a queen of power, guiding them through a gathering darkness to a golden age. Even more wondrous was what Kerrdia saw her other granddaughter becoming – the Pathfinder! She who would find the secret way back to the Summerland!
The eldest would have wept or even danced a spinning jig, except for one tiny detail: she did not have twin granddaughters, but only the one, Cari, whose mother was long since dead.
What does it mean?
She heard them then and smiled; the soft patter of feet. The musical whispers of the elf children as the gathered before her chair. It was only a matter of time before one of the wee little beasties asked it.
“Tell us a story, Memaw”
Kerrdia cracked an eye open; Fingal, of course it would be Fingal.
“Pleeeease,” Gwyneth, Cari and Hamish said in unison.
She laughed, and shook a finger at the children sitting at her feet. “Just one tonight, but then it’s off to bed with you.”
“But, we don’t need so much sleep, we’re not human you know,” Cari said, in her precocious voice.
Kerrdia wasn’t so sure; every generation her people were trapped here, they became more human. Or rather, less Sidhe.
“This old lady needs to, then, so one more it is. Which will it be?”
“The Golden Harp,” Gwyneth said, “I want to hear you sing like Taffy Morgan.”
“Monster Afang” Hamish said, and then he growled.
“Memaw, you must tell us the story of Prince Powell and the King of the Sidhe; it is historic,” Cari said.
The young princess had been told she was a prodigy, and she had clearly bought into the idea. Kerrdia would have kept her granddaughter here with here all year to work such notions out of her head, but protocol required the girl attend the court.
“No. Tell us The Curse of Eremon,” Hamish said solemnly.
“But I swear I tell you that one every night.”
“Pleeasse,” they all whined. It seemed there was no getting around it; the Curse of Eremon it was.
“Once upon a time, long long ago, the Sidhe lived in peace in the Emerald Isles. It was a time of paradise, for milk and honey flowed freely from the Goddess’ Danu’s land to us. And we suffered neither sickness nor death, for we knew the secret paths to the Tir Na Nog-”
“-where we would go to be made young again,” Cari said.
“Yes, very good, dear, now don’t interrupt. One day ships appeared from the east, and from them the sons of Mil came swarming ashore-
“The evil sons of Mil,” Hamish added.
“No, it was only Eremon who was evil,” Cari corrected.
“Children, who’s telling this story, hmm? You or me?”
“You are, Meeemaaaw,” they said.
“Hmm. Well then, listen with ears open and lips zipped, and I’ll tell you the tale.”
And so she, did, weaving the story of the bright day the sons of Mil swarm ashore, waving their swords of iron and shrieking their war cries. The war for Erie began, between the children of the goddess Danu, and Milasians, led by the high king Eremon.
At first, stalemate: the body count of the Celtic savages was perfectly balanced by the sparkling magic of the outnumber Sidhe. Eremon raised a larger host for each battle, but always the outcome was the same: his men would be repelled and scattered.
The Sidhe, however, knew the secret paths to the Tir Na Nog, the land of eternal youth and there they would go after the clash for healing and renewal. Their warriors would return then to Erie merry and whole, treating it all as a game.
Eremon's lust Erie grew fanatical and his defeats to the Sidhe festered in him as a
disease. So he prayed to Teutates, the fell god of war.
In his blood-soaked underworld palace, Teutates heard Eremon's petition, and answered. A boon he granted; Teutates would borrow the horn the death god Donn plays for the dead to make them forget past sins and prepare for rebirth. Eremon would be allowed a single sounding. In return, Eremon and his people would worship Teutates above all gods and would follow only his rites of war worship and blood.
It was a bargain all too easy for Eremon, for he had sold his soul to this path already. As high king he pledged if Erie were his, his people would follow the war god's way for thrice a millennium, which to Eremon meant forever.
The hatred was white hot in Eremon’s voice as he uttered his curse:
"Let no born Sidhe or man remember the way to the Summerland."
When the horn of Donn sounded its dark notes upon the land, the way to the Tir Na Nog closed; the knowledge of the Summerland paths died and vanished from the minds of the Sidhe.
Then followed the battle of Sliab Mis, which raged from morning till evening. When the weary Sidhe found they could not retreat to their otherworld refuge, they desperately resolved to scatter into the world, to flee into the earth itself to live as fairies underhill. For they knew that even with their magic, they must surely die under the relentless crush of the procreative humans.
“And so to this day do we live in hiding among the humans, my little elflings, until the day the pathfinder appears and shows us the way back to Tir Na Nog. Back to the Summerland.”
New York City.
Thirty years later, midnight.
“GREEN LIGHT TO AQUIRE TARGET - DEPLOY QRF- MINIMIZE BLOWBACK.”
BNS Special Agent Samuel "Sammy" Holtz had waited a longtime for this. Stiles had finally gotten around the pin-headed beltway bureaucrats and had given him the green light.
Sammy savored the moment, smacking his chapped lips. “Finally we can move on these terrorist freaks of nature instead standing around with our thumbs up our asses.'
And ‘QRF’ meant using the top-secret zombies that Herr-Doktor and her lab geeks had created. Though 'quick reaction force’ seemed a bit generous, considering how they moved.
Dr. Schmidt called them 'Prototype Re-Animated Operatives,' or REAPS for short, but Holtz knew this was geek speak for 'zombie'. Oh, they weren't real zombies; the 'volunteer' subjects hadn’t died. Somehow, 'Herr-Doktor' had developed a process to erase the higher cognitive functions of the subjects, turning them into biological robots.
“Which turned you into a good little biological robots, right Bob,” Holtz asked the nearest REAP, who didn’t even blink in response. He wondered who the tall muscular ‘Bob’ had been before he ‘volunteered.’ A Rapist? A Murder? Or some unsuspecting moron who didn’t know what he’d signed up for.
Not that it mattered; he called all the REAPs ‘Bob’. They looked creepy as hell, like they were borrowed from the latest episode of The Walking Dead; all pasty-faced, blood shot eyes and black craters under their eyes. They stank to high hell, too, because Herr-Doktor hadn’t managed to control their 'waste expulsion process' as she put it. Which meant they crapped and peed on themselves.
“Yea, you shit on yourself something awful, dontcha Bob?”
Holtz didn’t mind; between his steady stream of diet of junk food and all night stakeouts, his breath probably smelled worse. Given his eating habits, it was one of Fate’s twisted jokes that he was so thin and wiry.
No, the stench of the ‘Bobs’ didn’t bother Hotlz in the least; he loved the REAPs, the power and control he had over his dirty dozen. They were the perfect operational muscle; they executed every order without question or conscience, which made them ideal against the Sidhe freaks - no matter what magic shit the Sidhe pulled, the REAPs wouldn’t panic, since, they were …dead, sort of. They were also ideal for stakeouts, standing silent and motionless for hours …days, if needed. They didn’t feel the autumn chill of the night. They didn’t feel anything.
He peered into his infrared binoculars and smiled. The slut Sidhe 'princess' was walking with her latest john to the park where he and the zombies waited. For once, their inside information
had been good.
“Come to Papa, sweetie; I’ve got a nice surprise for you.”
More than anything, Holtz wanted to capture a Sidhe and take it apart to see what made it tick and what could be used against it. Poked and probed, injected and dissected. All previous attempts had failed, but this time in the dark, with the REAPs, even magic wouldn’t save her.
He didn’t know why he detested them so much, but he did. It was not as if he only hated the fantastic elfin race, he hated plenty of things - Jews, Muslims, blacks, women too. It's that he hated Sidhe the most.
Deep down, in a place his thinking mind feared to look, Holtz knew he was nondescript mid-level hack who would go no higher. Hell, his dirty stubble was the only memorable feature to his face. Maybe that was it? The Sidhe were so fabulous and he mind-numbingly dull. So forgettable.
“Schmidty will soon have her prized Sidhe guinea pig, Bob," Holtz said, breaking the cold night stillness, “and the poor fuck who's with her, well, he’s collateral damage.”
“Deploy,” he barked into the control transmitter, “kill the man, and bring the woman to me …alive.”
The creatures obeyed, moving with surprising speed. Holtz readied the hypodermic needle Herr-Doktor had prepared. He hoped, he dreamed, the ‘princess’ was the first of so many more Sidhe detainees. He had already sent in his brainstorm to the higher ups that they use the now-vacant Gitmo prison to house them. He hadn’t heard back on that one.
Yes, Sammy had waited a long time for this day, and the way he figured, the only thing that could stop him now was hell itself.
Daniel Dana was not in love.
What he couldn’t fathom, though, was the creature walking beside him. Or rather, how he was so lucky to have ended up with her:
Her hair? Like night, or charcoal or soot, or something completely lacking light, except ...well, except, it shimmered, in the full moon night. Watching it cascade and tumble down her shoulders was a sinful pleasure.
Next, his eyes traced her face; he couldn’t help it! Cheeks, defined and high, but gentle too. A button nose which somehow was elegant and cute delicate; such a mystery.
Daniel drank in her every detail and feature, he was intoxicated by... no, -truth here- he was stinking drunk with her... creamy white skin... red full lips that seemed luminous. seemed to beckon...
...and saving the best for last,
Her eyes, deep hazel pools framed by arched black brows and delicate lashes. If he gazed into them too long, he felt himself falling...his life disappearing in mist.
Daniel tried to clear the mist from his eyes, a futile exercise. If Cari weren't standing next to him he would have slapped himself hard: he never acted this way; never let himself get out of control.
He’d just finished a year of field research at Crater Lake National Park, and had a month furlough to kill before he was chained to his desk again at National Park Service Headquarters. When an old college roomie offered Daniel his LoDo flat while he was ‘across the pond’ on an M&A project, he figured, ‘why not?’
He met Cari on day two of his city stay. Not at a bar or restaurant, but at a park (a park! oh the irony). He bumped into her near the duck pond, where she said something hip like, 'nice day, isn't it,' and down he went. That was yesterday morning and they’d only now left his flat for air.
A year alone in the wilderness and then this creature fell into his arms? Already his body was addicted to her; they’d made love too many times to count, and he wanted more!
No, Daniel Dana wasn’t in love.
He was in love with his job that took him deep into the wilderness, he loved nature with a fiery passion, mind and soul. What he felt for Cari was pure carnal lust.
They’d just made love in his flat so many times he’d lost count. And still his body wanted more of her. He and Cari came out for fresh air and wandered to the park for a break.
'A very short break,' he hoped.
Daniel was so entranced, he scarcely noticed the shapes appearing in the path ahead on this crisp Autumn night. And, given his lust soaked state of mind, it was completely understandable he failed to recognize they were zombies.
Cari Summerfield, Princess and soon-to-be Queen of the United Sidhe Peoples, didn’t know if she could say the power words her Memaw had taught her. Or, even if she did, would they do anything, other than make her look stupid? She had to try, though, she was out of options; it was do or die.
"Never use the calling, lass, except when all looks lost...” Memaw’s voice echoed in her mind.
Being surrounded and attacked in a deserted park at midnight by what looked to be 12 walking zombie corpses pretty much fit the bill, she reasoned.
She opened the locket hanging from her neck, rammed her thumb on the sharp needle tip and said:
"Fram blod ceallian ic hunta grim,
hunta riht sculan du faran,
ond hwa du wille mec sculan du cunnan ."
Everything, time itself …stopped.
The stillness was breath taking! Her attackers, Daniel, her latest gorgeous human fling, every living thing near her were turned to statues. Cari’s eyes darted back and forth over the frozen faces, trying to learn something of who they were and their intent:
The zombies’ faces were gaunt, but she read a helpless terror in their eyes. What were they? Who had done this to them? She figured that could be answered by the man behind them with some kind of device in his hand.
She recognized him, from one of Owain’s reports, BNS Special Agent Samuel Holtz, and she categorized his expression as falling somewhere between smug and ecstatic.
He disgusted her, and so she turned her eyes to a more pleasant sight, flashing happily over Daniel beside her; lean, well over six feet, with long dark smoky red hair and ruddy complexion; he was like some ancient Celtic warrior who had stepped through a magical doorway from ancient Ireland. He face wore a look of dreamy expectant lust. She couldn’t help but smile; he had been rather good in bed, such eagerness.
Was this what Memaw’s charm did? To freeze all within earshot of her words? How long would it last. Should she run away?
Then -in slowest motion- a drop of rich red blood beaded from her pierced thumb and fell, on the pure white snow of the ground.
and hell broke loose.
Later and from a distance, eyewitnesses would describe what happened in that next split second as a freak instantaneous appearance of a whirling wind shear or perhaps even a micro tornado, accompanied by high- pitched siren screams. Cari, at the center of the fulcrum, saw something much different:
Dark riders swept down from a midnight sky and rode in circles round and round her. Long-robed men with flowing hair and beards capped by tasseled helmets, holding tall lances with streaming banners; they were spectral warriors, riding fire spewing mounts. The hooves of their black steeds shot sparks as they struck the air, and their eyes glowed as coals. Following at their heels were shadowy hound creatures, fanged and fell.
The sound of horns blaring and dogs baying filled the air and a deep voice issued from the white-bearded lead rider:
“Midden in demWeg!”
“Wod! Wod!” came the whooping response from his spectral warriors.
Faster and faster they rode, until all she knew was a blurring and melding of screams and colors.
Abruptly, the leader stood smiling before her on his jet-black horse. He graced her with his skeletal grin, and in a voice both deep and shrieking, said:
“Blood debt binds us, Princess and we come at your call, granting your wish... in our fashion.”
He saluted with a swift raising of his spear, turned his mount with a jerk of the reigns and leaped back into the whirling vortex. Cari shielded her eyes from the burst of furious wind. Then…
When she moved her hand from her eyes, she was alone in the chilly moonlit park: no riders or horses or hounds, no BNS Agent and his posse of zombies, and no Daniel.
St. Simian Hospital St. Simian Hospital
RN Sister Margaret Fannon, a battle hardened veteran of St. Simian’s Labor and Delivery Room, arrived for the midnight shift much as she had for the last twenty-five years, at 11:55 p.m. sharp. Sister Margaret was relaxed, because at this time of year, birth numbers were low.
At 12:04 a.m., she scrambled into the newborn nursery, to investigate the sounds coming from the room. The evening RN assured her there were no newborns in the nursery tonight; the two babes born earlier were sleeping in their mothers' rooms.
Yet, full-throated WAAAAs blasted from room. What she saw first enraged, then confused:
12 howling infants.
Why didn’t Patty tell me? This had better not be her idea of a practical because it borders on
She started looking for each baby's chart and became infuriated when she found none.
They’re all in this together!
She pressed a call button and was greeted by Sister Sarah Conner’s crisp, “My I help you?"
"This is Margaret. Sarah, how many mothers are staying with us this evening?"
"Two, Samuels in Room 4 and Kreikow in Room 7. Didn't Patty tell you?"
"This isn't funny. How many are staying tonight?"
"I just told you, two..."
"Come down here, now, Sister Conner!” Margaret barked.
Moments later Sarah arrived, and from the shock Margaret read on her face, she knew Sarah
wasn’t in on the practical joke.
"Mother in heaven, where did these come from?” Sarah stammered.
Margaret and Sarah quickly determined several things: they confirmed the babies were healthy, male and had no medical history. None. Zero.
A call to Patty's cell phone produced no clarifying information, for she swore a holy oath the room was empty when she left her shift.
The RNs were bewildered; with fifty years of experience between them, neither had seen such a thing. Yes, the occasional abandoned baby appeared at the hospital door, and once it had been twins, but twelve?
All at once? In the middle of the night?
For lack of a better description, they concluded the babies 'magically appeared' in the nursery ward at the stroke of midnight.
Sister Margaret mustered the strength to dial hospital security to advise them of the 6th floor‘s population increase. Visits from the Police, Press and Head of St. Simian were sure to follow.
“Mary and Joseph! An easy night indeed.” she sighed.
"Hello, Harry? This is Sister Margaret in Labor and Delivery... I need to report a... security incident, I guess... no... a baby hasn't 'gone missing' again. No… we’ve …umm …accumulated some extras... twelve extra babies to be exact…
...What? Harry, please! The sanctity of excrement has nothing to do with it. Calm down
Bureau of National Security Facility,
Poor bastard Sammy, what have they done to you?
BNS Director Morton Stiles looked through the two-way mirror at the man strapped in a chair. Who was, at this moment, screaming,
"Its truuuuue! I was abducted by aliens!"
Stiles turned to the pale blonde woman beside him, the Bureau’s research head.
"He has been sedated, Dr. Schmidt?"
"As much as is prudent, Sir."
Competent, efficient, blond; the qualities he loved in 'Herr Doktor', as she was ‘unofficially’ called -i.e. behind her back- at the Facility.
“And he's still yelling at the top of his lungs! Have you determined what happened to him?"
"The ravings of a lunatic I am afraid. He speaks of being transported by aliens to an unknown location where extensive genetic experiments were conducted. If his ramblings are to be believed, these experiments involved age and gender reassignment, followed by, what I am sure is standard in these cases, some events of intercourse."
"He's claiming he had sex with aliens?” Stiles furrowed his bushy white brows.
He had placed Agent Holtz in charge of the Sidhe tracking unit because Holtz was a ruthless pit bull. Seeing him reduced to this was an immense setback, since the Bureau was on the cusp of gaining the upper hand against the Sidhe.
"No. But he has claimed he watched the aliens have intercourse with another of the 'taken'."
Great, Stiles thought, my best agent has developed a voyeuristic fetish for watching aliens
have sex with humans. Could this get any worse?
He knew –he was certain- the Sidhe were behind this; they had seen 'the unexplainable' from the Sidhe race too many times to think there could be another cause.
The scale and blatancy of this incident surprised Stiles; the Sidhe's modus operandi had
always been to strike with ninja silence. Their capturing and torturing of an agent was a
Maybe they realize how close I am getting and this is a tactical shift to confrontation, he
thought. Perhaps I’ll gain traction with my pinheaded superiors by claiming the Sidhe have breached the Co-Existence treaty?
"It is most annoying this delay and …most intriguing," the doctor said.
"How so?” Stiles said.
"Agent Holtz was scheduled to deliver a Sidhe subject for experimentation last night. As you know, we utilized twelve units from our sub-animation project to assist Holtz in procuring the Sidhe target. It was thought such units would be useful since they were less susceptible to Sidhe metaphysical influences.
Less susceptible to Sidhe magic because they were dead zombies, thought Stiles. What a
world we live in!
"Agent Holtz and I spent months developing an exhaustive experimentation protocol for the proposed Sidhe subject. Agent Holtz demonstrated particular ingenuity in constructing the testing regime..."
That's because Holtz despised and feared these bastards, Stiles mentally added.
"...and now, we have Holtz raving of UFO abductions, we are missing the twelve reanimation units, and we do not have the Sidhe experiment target."
"First order of business - we MUST find those twelve zombies-”
"Prototype Sub-Animated Operatives, Sir," Dr. Schmidt corrected.
"Err, yes, we must find... them... now. I needn't remind you that Project Voodoo - um, sorry, the Sub-ah, Animation Project, was…” Stiles was going to say ‘rogue,’ but caught himself. “I do not wish to explain this to the Congressional oversight committee. Am I clear?"
"Yes sir. We will place their retrieval as priority number 1."
"Very well, Dr. Schmidt..."
"But sir, if I may…"
Stiles reply contained a twinge of annoyance. He thought he was finished with Herr Doktor and had moved on to his next action item - locating his admin assistant, Sher. He needed her to arrange an urgent phone call.
"We have the team assembled to conduct the experiments and I hate to disband them. Holtz had to pull some strings to grab several of them from the projects they were working on."
"It is unfortunate, but since we have no test subject, I do not know of a fix for it."
Dr. Schmidt thrust a photo to him. “This is a Kirlian photograph. Observe the energy spectrum surrounding the photo subject; a positive match for the Sidhe energy spectrum.
"Interesting, Doctor, but I fail to see the relevance-"
"-excuse me for interrupting, Mort..."
She must really be excited! Stiles thought, she never calls me by first name, let alone my nickname. Was Herr Doktor on the verge of an orgasm?
"...but it is relevant, because the photo subject is Holtz."
"WHAT!? Are you saying …Holtz has been turned in to one of them?"
"That is my conclusion; I expect the DNA tests to confirm."
"How can that be?"
"I don't know, but I wish to find out!” Dr. Schmidt 's voice was breathy “The possibility that humans may be changed on a genetic level into Sidhe alters everything!"
It dawned on Stiles what the good doctor was asking.
"You would like to conduct the Sidhe experiments on Agent Holtz."
"The team is assembled and ready.” Her head bobbed. “Please, Mort! Something significant, something profound has been done to him and if we determine the nature of this metaphysical phenomenon, we will gather invaluable intel about the Sidhe: their powers, strengths, and weaknesses."
"Hmm. I'm sure Agent Holtz more than anyone would want to advance the cause against these Sidle abominations. So..."
Stiles opposed the Sidhe even more than Holtz. Indeed, for Stiles, it was a life's obsession, a personal crusade. But while Holtz despised the Sidhe by a kind of racial hatred, Stile's opposition was more fundamental: he could not accept the proposition of something existing outside the laws of physics.
He could not and would not accept the fact of magic.
He wanted the world returned to the way it was before he chanced to learn of the Sidhe's existence. To do that, either the Sidhe would be controlled or … eliminated.
While it was true the United States government had signed a Co-Existence treaty with the Sidhe, Stiles regarded the document as an …inconvenience ...which prevented him from openly capturing or exterminating them.
Stiles was a lifer with the US intelligence agencies and had devoted all of his half century of service to this goal. Now that he was in his seventies and well past the mandatory retirement, he was running out of time - he must use ANY means at his disposal to advance his ends.
And Holtz had just become a means.
"...conduct the full menu of planned experiments on Agent Holtz and keep me updated on your progress. We've got to figure out what was done to him, how it was accomplished and how we may use it to our advantage. In the meantime, I will authorize further attempts to procure the original target."
"So we could have TWO subjects? This is FANTASTIC news!! We would use one as a baseline and..."
My god, she is going to orgasm!
He took another look at his former agent before he left. Holtz struggled still against the straps and …did Stiles hear him correctly? Did the man just yell something about alien probes?
Probes Stiles thought, shaking his head. He soon will know all about probes.
Poor… bastard… Sammy...
The man in the gray flannel suit frowned as gazed at to the website displayed on his computer screen. He rubbed his temples as he puzzled the pieces confronting him:
click. "… a freak tornado in Washington Park at midnight under a cloudless sky..."
click. "...twelve newborn babies 'appearing out of thin air' in St. Simian's newborn nursery..."
He looked down upon his notes from his previous phone calls,
"Hmm... the worm BNS Director has accused us of breaking the Co-Existence Treaty by a carrying out a ‘prohibited magical attack on an agent..."
"And, best of all... a doppelganger of Prince Cari has appeared in the apartment of her latest human boy toy..."
"That about covers it, though it is still early," He checked his gold Rolex wrist watch -
"only the unholy hour of 8:00 AM."
A door to the oak paneled office opened. A tall woman, whose face was smooth but her head was topped by silver hair framed by a translucent purple scarf.
She wore a dark plum floral print dress with a hem falling just above the ankle and what appeared to be comfortable black oxford shoes on her feet. Carrying a steaming coffee mug in each hand, she first set one mug on the dark-wooded desk in front of the man, then sat in one of the deep burgundy leather chairs in front of the desk, cradling the mug with a hand grasping its handle, the other under its base.
"Troubles Mr. Sheen?"
Mr. Owain Sheen, Chief of Security and Defense for the United Sidhe Peoples, grabbed the coffee mug the way a drowning man would grab a life preserver.
"Ahhh coffee. You are truly a queen! My eternal thanks, Kerrdia, I had heard something of your most unexpected visit to our fair city."
Heard something? Unexpected visit?
Kerrdia smiled at Owain’s feigned surprise at her arrival. His counterintelligence and espionage talents were world class, skills for which she had handpicked him to be for his position over one hundred years ago. She reckoned, he knew the exact moment she stepped off the plane at JFK.
Owain was technically correct in calling 'Queen'; Kerrdia Summerfield had reigned as the Sidhe Queen but stepped down from the throne centuries ago to permit her daughter Rhiannon to succeed to the crown. Rhiannon ruled until she was killed in the recent human troubles, the conflict with the humans that led to the Co-existence treaty thirty-five years ago. It has also led to the installation by the Council of her niece, Maev, as a caretaker Queen until the Rhiannon's daughter, Cari, was ruled fit to ascend to the throne.
After a draw on the mug's contents, Owain sighed. "To answer your question, 'all hell broke loose,' last night, to quote your beloved Mr. Milton."
"More of a one way infatuation really,” Kerrdia answered, “the ponderous John Milton absorbed in the penning of Paradise Lost and me hanging on his arm and his every word. But that is, as we say, ancient history.”
With life spans stretching to the millennium mark, when the Sidhe talked 'ancient history,' they meant it.
"I'll save you the trouble of diplomatically asking 'after a thirty-five year self-imposed absence, why the hell is she here?'" Kerrdia said.
"Something fabulous and strange is starting, Owain. You’ve learned this morning, I suspect, it has already begun. I dreamt it for months, and last night I felt something... powerful... enter the world again.
"You felt a tremor in the force?" Owain said with hint of a grin.
"I have never known the like of it and never covers a lot of ground for me," Kerrdia sighed.
Owain could not tell whether Kerrdia's sigh related to the events of the previous evening or she was simply exhausted. It struck him aged Kerrdia looked. After a moment, she continued:
"Amon felt it too - it was quite a sight to see, our all powerful wizard, school girl giddy this morning! We experienced... a burst of enormous magical energy... a massive surge."
"Now," Kerrdia continued, "by fortunate or unfortunate coincidence, the full council is convenes its bi-annual session this afternoon at 2:00 P.M. Amon has advised me that…”
Kerrdia lowered her voice to mimic Amon’s tones, 'Whatever petty items were on the council's agenda are now to be superseded, ex officio. We must now understand what has occurred and react to it.'
And so," her voice returned to normal pitch, "I am here at the office of my favorite Sidhe security chief, seeking answers."
Owain's allegiance was to Kerrdia, regardless of the current crown holder and Council power blocks. She installed him into office and no one dared to risk the eldest Sidhe's ire to remove him.
"Would a recap of the past night’s events, such as I know them, suffice?"
"Why yes, Owain, yes I should like to; I did not travel to New York for the first time in decades to walk blind into what now has become a pivotal council meeting. What 'hell' did break loose last night?"
Owain began: “A metaphysical disturbance occurred at approximately midnight, of such force, that every Sidhe he had contacted this morning reported experiencing it powerfully and intensely.
At that exact time, 911 calls were made, to report a gigantic black tornado appear in Washington Park, although weather reports revealed it had been a completely cloudless frosty Autumn night.
Also at that time, a call to the NYPD reported 12 babies mysteriously appeared in the newborn nursery of St. Simian's hospital; a story which, no doubt, will attract national and international media attention.
Further, Director Stiles of the BNS had called this morning to lodge a formal complaint under the Co-existence treaty, claiming we conducted an ‘unprovoked attack on an BNS agent and either stole or destroyed unspecified government property’.” "And finally,something... um... bizarre, may have happened to, " Owain paused, " ... your granddaughter..."
Kerrdia leaned forward, looking directly into Owain's eyes. "Go on..."
"Relax, I have spoken with her. She is fine. Doubly fine, apparently."
Tension drained from Kerrdia's face, "That is well. But why speak you in riddles about her condition?"
"Because I do not know the full answer myself. The phone line was not secure and for once she followed protocol and spoke guardedly. But she clearly communicated something bizarre occurred to her last night and her voice was shaking. All she would tell me was 'I've met my double! She is here! What do I do?!'"
"Met her double? She said those words?"
"Yes and I have no idea what it means. I have ordered Lucia to pick Cari up and anyone with her at her... human boyfriend's flat..." Owain paused after he spat the last phrase in disgust, "and immediately delivered here."
"Excellent... met her double... such good news indeed..." Kerrdia's voice trailed off and Owain noticed her eyes glaze, as if she viewed something different than what was before her. Then her eyes snapped back to the present.
"No one other than Lucia must know of this. I will tell only Amon. This is critical, Owain, INVOLVE NO OTHERS!"
She nodded, "between now and the council meeting, you and I must gather every scrap of available information."
"No stone shall be left unturned. I must qualify this though, by telling you I have no clue what is going on! Were the possibilities limited to matters of human espionage and political machinations, then the task would not be daunting. Certain channels could be contacted, which would lead to other channels that would eventually lead to the answer. We, however, are dealing with a magical event of extraordinary scope and so, unlike Mr. Sherlock Holmes, in our search for answers we do not even have the luxury of eliminating the impossible! And only a few hours to sort matters out!"
"Stop whinging, Owain! Any jack of a Sidhe can handle human intrigues. But it was for this I picked and groomed you to be in charge of our people's safety and security, Queen Maev's wishes notwithstanding. Time for you to earn your pay. " She smiled slightly.
"Now, I want to see my granddaughter and this ... double, on the double."
“...I know this is not our usual contact time, but events did not go as planned last night...”
“...yes, well... something went wrong, to say the least, although we have no idea what. We thought we calculated every variable but-”
“...yes, that was the deal, to make your 'Princess disappear,' but ...no! no! I swear, we are not trying to double cross ...uh yes, we plan to try again, once we understand what happened.”
“...but I... but... no ...yes... um, no ...you will have to manage the Council as you always do.”
“...and let me know when another opportunity arises and we will… The Yule Ball? As in Yuletide? "
“...I will, personally... we will not fail again...” Director Stiles clicked the cell phone off and started jotting follow-up sticky notes.
Sidhe Sanctuary - Security Wing
The old wizard paced back and forth in the large security cell Owain had directed them to, his long dark blue robes swishing the floor with each step.
"You somehow managed to unleash the magical equivalent of a mushroom cloud on the world, Princess.” He leaned forward so his face was in front of Cari's, "You will tell me everything you know."
"Must I again? We have two hours before the council starts." Cari looked to her grandmother for support, but saw from the eldest's hard gaze none would come.
"Now, once more from the beginning," Amon continued at high pitch, "you say twelve zombie humans accompanied this NSB agent Holtz? By 'zombie' I assume you mean they were dead. Please explain how you knew this and how could such a thing be accomplished?"
"Well, they looked dead for one thing, and they reeked. I tried to sense their thoughts and I couldn't..." "Magister Mannan tells me you seldom attend training classes.” Amon said, "You haven't heretofore excelled in the magical arts, Princess,"
"I may not have shown exceptional 'talent', but I at least have enough to sense when someone is alive."
"But then, how were they moving if they were dead?" Amon said.
"I don't know and …does this matter? The NSB agent meant to hurt me; he had ordered those ...things ...to attack me and-"
"-This 'friend' of yours, where is he now,” Owain said. “He witnessed the entire event? Is he dead? He was not, however at his apartment with you... and the other ...thing. He must be brought here for questioning.”
"Look, I don't know where he is, but this cannot be germane to-"
"-He possesses knowledge helpful to the Sidhe,” Owain said, “and may possess information that if learned by others, will endanger us. We need to take …appropriate actions to ensure he does not find his way into the wrong hands."
"You mean kill to him? I knew you were a jealous lover, Owain, but this surpasses all reason."
"What surpasses all reason is how you manage bed almost every human male or female you say hello to…” Owain was shouting now, the veins in his neck bulging. He took a deep breath, turned to Amon and Kerrdia, and continued through gritted teeth.
“Amon, Kerrdia …my apologizes. I have learned little of Mr. Daniel Dana in the last several hours. He has not returned to his apartment, and his absence is troubling. Preliminary recon shows he is a naturalist with the US National Park Service. Airline boarding stubs in his trash bin indicate he spent the last six months in the Pacific northwest rain forest. Though the Princess strove to be helpful, she was unable to provide any relevant information concerning the man."
"I told you, Owain, my relationship with Daniel was physical.” Cari said. “I appreciated his good looks, amiable company and ardor in bed. I did not wish to quiz him on his life ambitions. I don't know where Daniel is, he just disappeared. Why is this causing so much concern? I was in danger, I called on an ancient power, it came, and the bad guys threatening me were removed. This was a good thing, right?"
"What you brought into the world was wild, chaotic magic,” Amon said. “A force that can cause whole cities to vanish. Only a Sidhe with Power may call the Hunt!"
"I must have... ah... skipped ...Magister Mannan's lecture on this subject... what is the 'Wild Hunt?'“ Cari asked.
"Many centuries ago," Amon's answered, after emitting several 'huffs', "the Wild Hunt would appear at different times of the year, but most often during the Yule season. Primitive humans thought of the Hunt as everything from slain warriors riding out of Valhalla, to the hounds of hell hunting for souls. Though there is intelligence associated with the Hunt - their leader Cernunnos is a god- it is an elemental force of chaos!"
"Oh please!” Cari rolled her eyes. "Aren't you being a bit melodramatic, Amon? You make the Hunt sound so ...apocalyptic."
"What if I told you the story of the flood was true, but it was caused by a short-sighted Sidhe instead of an angry Yahweh."
"Noah's flood?” Cari said. “You cannot be serious!"
"Never more so. My great granduncle tried to end a drought by calling the Hunt. He hoped introducing a bit of chaos into the weather would be enough to nudge it out of its pattern. A poorly worded request by dear Uncle Adalardo, ended with rainstorms lasting for weeks and flooding areas throughout the Mediterranean. He was so grateful Yahweh took the historical fall for it. Something similar happened with the city of Atlantis. But I digress..."
"You're saying I unleashed some kind of... enormous destructive evil... into the city,” Cari said.
"Don't think in human terms. The Wild Hunt is neither good nor evil or sometimes it is both. It is creative destruction; for new crops to grow you must burn away the old growth," Amon said, and then sighed. "The Hunt is worthy of decades of study. I wish you had taken your training seriously; an ignorant summons might well have destroyed us. I find it incredible they came at your call."
"Oh, they came, trust me.” She shook her head. "Words cannot do justice to what I saw."
Amon started pacing again and wringing his hands. "But only a Sidhe with enormous talent could summon such Power. For reasons we don't know, the Hunt stopped answering our call in the Middle Ages. No one has called them for five hundred years! We must understand how you have done it and what it means! Word for word, what did you say?"
"I drew blood by pricking the pin of my moonstone locket and I used the rhyme my Gran taught me on her farm when I was a child: 'By blood call I the hunta grim, Brond, lyft, grund and brim.' Amon had the look of one head-smacked by a 2 x 4.
"You called the ...Lords of Destruction into the world with ...drivel? Our most powerful wizards and witches have labored for centuries to summon the Hunt to aid our people and you do it with a nursery rhyme?"
"It is a fine rhyme, cousin. How your ego must be hurt; you have writing tomes of invocations for 500 years and it was my little nursery rhyme what did the trick. Hehe!” Kerrdia's eyes were twinkling.
"And then what happened,” Amon said, after shooting Kerrdia a nasty look.
The wizard whistled after Cari finished telling of the dark riders swirling descent and of the gray-bearded lead's enigmatic words.
"AMAZING! Cernunnos spoke to you!"
"No living Sidhe has ever spoken to him," Kerrdia beamed. "You are blessed, granddaughter!"
"But if they are Lords of Chaos, then am I Pandora? In loosing them on the world, what have I done?”
Kerrdia stood and walked to Cari, laying her hand on her cheek. She was bubbling; Cari was coming into her power and would soon be ready to rule.
"Be calm child; we will cipher this. Now, about my riddle's meaning …forgive me if I'm a little rusty on what was in my head when I came up with it 300 years ago..."
"...I wrote it for your mother Rhiannon when she was just a wee shaylee... " A memory of Kerrdia's dead daughter as a child bubbled up at the mention of her name; a remembrance of her little one chasing lambs in the field on one of their visits to their farm. Such mother and daughter time alone had been far too short, even with the longer Sidhe life spans. Kerrdia had been Queen of the Sidhe then and embroiled in the turmoil of rulership. When Rhiannon assumed the Crown, her time was also consumed until her murder decades ago.
Kerrdia tried to blink away the mist in her eyes, "s-sorry.” She collected her thoughts, straightened her sagging shoulders, then continued.
"It was meant to be simple and plain enough for my little babe to learn, you see:
"Fram blod ceallian ic hunta grim,
Brond, lyft, grund ond brim.
hunta riht sculan du faran,
ond hwa du wille mec sculan du cunnan."
"For those of us not born centuries ago, could you translate it into English?" implored Owain.
"It is English, my dear."
"Okay, modern English then?"
Kerrdia put her hand to her mouth, "Oh, you poor dear, it must be gibberish to you! I worded it in the common tongue of the time, which was old English, I expect. Never bothered to update it, because it never worked... until now. But it means..."
Kerrdia paused a moment as she worked did the translation,
"From blood call I the Wild Hunt
Fire, air, earth and sea.
To Hunt's justice you must go
and what you will me you must know"
"Sorry I couldn't rhyme the translation... let's see, if I switched the word order of 'sea' with 'earth' and..."
Amon hrumphed. "May we please get on with this? We have the council meeting soon and must solve this mystery! For once in you eight hundred year life, forget about rhyming!"
"Oh all right! No need to get your knickers in a twist you ...prose lover! Anyway ...the first two lines were the power words of calling, invoking the four elements and claiming blood right. Now, our history teaches us the Wild Hunt comes at the call of the Sidhe-"
"-Why?” Cari said, "Why may only we call them?"
"Does it matter?” Amon snapped, "and why have you picked now to develop an interest in your heritage?"
"Don't mind him, dear, he's just grouchy because in the commotion from last night, he hasn't had his Metamucil," Kerrdia said, producing another glower from Amon.
"And it's a fair question: Our historians are not sure, but popular belief is they answer our call as a special dispensation from the Goddess."
Kerrdia continued with explanation”:'To Hunt's justice you must go and what you will me you must know.' The first of course, was meant to rid you of whatever threatened; literally, whoever or whatever was before the speaker would be carried away the Hunt."
"Now the second part of the charm, what did I have in mind?” Kerrdia giggled, "I remember It was a wee bit of justice, to turn the intentions of those threatening her against themselves."
A look of puzzlement crossed her worn face, followed by a flash of excitement. "For example, the 'zombies'. Cari said the BNS agent ordered them to attack her and her human friend..."
"Daniel Dana," Cari said.
"Yes, Daniel Dana. Hmmm. Now, the way I expect this worked is-"
"-these creatures were killed, obviously, since that is what they intended." Amon interrupted. When he paused, a perplexed look crossed his face.
"Something doesn't seem right about this ...what do we know of these so called zombies?"
"That would be my job, as head of security, to know such things as whether the US government has the undead available to do its bidding.” Owain said.
"No need for sarcasm, Owain, if you don't know the answer, there is no shame in admitting it, however disappointing it would be..."
"No sarcasm intended; I do have knowledge of a secret and unauthorized BNS project called Project Sub-Animation. It is also informally known as Project Voodoo."
"So it's true? The government is... is bringing deceased humans back alive in some way?"
"I had not realized they were this far along, but the theory, as I understand it, was..." "What attacked me last night was no 'theory', Owain!” Cari said.
"No, I expect not, however the theory was not to bring the dead back to life, but to deaden or 'kill' the higher cognitive functions of a living subject, so you are left with a kind of biological robot."
"So are they dead or just humans reduced to animal intelligence,” Amon said.
"Ah! An excellent philosophical question,” Owain said, eyes twinkling. “According to William James, consciousness and body cannot be defined one without the other. So can a body lacking higher consciousness be said to be alive? Or, further, without the ability to doubt one's existence, does one lose Descarte's cogito..."
In a swift blur, Amon raised his arm and shot a blue energy ball formed at Owain's head. The security chief just raised his mental shield in time to deflect the charge, which veered into one of the concrete walls with an enormous thud. Owain noted the charge had not been of lethal force and withheld his counter attack.
"I have displeased my lord in some manner?"
"One of the few human virtues is the species' ability to act... they may act rashly, but they do act.” A red-faced Amon screamed, his spittle spraying the air. “We, who are visited by the Lords of Destruction after an absence of hundreds of years, will we act on this omen? Will we move to use this opportunity to save our race? Or will we discuss philosophy? Speak plainly, Sidhe and get to the point!”
"As you command. These 'zombies' are pieces of meat made to walk and perform rudimentary commands. Plain enough... m'lord?"
"Yes,” Amon said, calmer now. “Yet, if the way the Wild Hunt granted Kerrdia's curse was to inflict intent the attackers on themselves and if these humans were already dead, then nothing would happen to them, correct? How could death be brought to the dead? Is this a flaw in the wording of the curse?"
"True," Kerrdia answered, "death would not be death to something already dead. No. But I think you are not giving Cernunnos any credit whatsoever for imagination and subtlety. Didn't you learn anything from what happened to your Uncle Adalardo? When they answer our call, the Wild Hunt will do our bidding, but often in unpredicted ways... Here, bringing death to the dead does nothing, but perhaps bring life to the dead will..."
"Of course!" Owain said. "The twelve unclaimed newborns!" "Excuse me? Twelve unclaimed newborns?” Amon said.
"Excuse me? Twelve unclaimed newborns?" Amon asked.
"Apologies,” Owain said. “At midnight last night, twelve babies 'appeared' in the newborn nursery of St. Simians."
Amon turned to Cari, "And you said twelve creatures attacked you?"
"I counted them,” she answered. “I do know how to count to twelve."
"Yes, wasn't twelve your record for human lovers in a 24 hour period?” Owain offered.
"I don't blame you, Owain I truly don't," Cari answered, "you can't help being who you are - a colossal rectal orifice."
"Children!” Amon said, "Please try to stick to the plot and leave your foreplay for another setting. Now, tell me more about these babies..."
"Haven't you watched the news? The story is plastered on all the networks."
Amon's scowled elicited a swift apology from Owain. "A thousand pardons, m'lord. I forgot your revulsion of human arts and media. The event has captivated the attention of the human populace, both in this country and abroad..."
"It takes little to do so,” Amon said. “Bright shiny objects mesmerize them also."
"Just so, lord. In this instance, 12 newborn babies spontaneously appeared in the hospital nursery. They are, as yet unclaimed and unidentified."
Amon turned to Cari, "And at what time yestereve did you say the Wild Hunt appeared?"
"Yestereve... Oh! Sorry for being slow. At 12 o'clock."
"You are certain of this?" Amon said.
"Surprising as it may seem, besides being able to count, I can also tell time," Cari answered.
"This is because you must keep to such a tight schedule," sniffed Owain. "There are so many humans males in the world and only one of you. It would be much more efficient to take your lovers on in groups."
"ENOUGH!" Amon barked, to circumvent Cari's responses. He turned to Kerrdia, "I agree, cousin. These 12 newborn humans are the creatures who attacked the princess; transformed by the Wild Hunt's execution of your curse. I suspect you have deduced more of this? Care to fill us in as to the fates of the BNS agent and the lover?"
"Patience Amon. And don't fire anything my way or I will have to spank you. Owain, have you news of this BNS agent?"
Owain was startled; he had received information moments before this gathering and shared it with no one. How had she known? And how far ahead of him Kerrdia was in this.
"Yes, I do have intriguing news. I've activated a sleeper at the BNS to get it. Sheryl Miller, an administrative assistant to director Stiles. I placed a dormant spell of obedience on her several years ago. From her, I learned agent Holtz did have plans for Cari." Owain walked to where he stood in front of Cari. "They planned to... dissect you... to experiment on you. They have spent months preparing a project 'research' Sidhe physiology and psychology, and you were to be their prize guinea pig. Why they chose you of all the Sidhe raises other questions."
He lowered his voice so only Cari could hear him. "If I had lost you …I don't know if I could go on..."
"Hush, love," Cari said, her voice soft in return. "It did not happen, it will not happen..."
Kerrdia's eyes misted again. For all their bickering, Cari and Owain loved one another beyond measure. If only Rhiannon had lived to see them together.
Amon broke the spell of the moment by clearing his throat: "Touching, however the relevance of this to the Wild Hunt escapes me."
Kerrdia's eyes flashed, but she her voice remained steady: "Cuz, why did you not tell me you needed a healer, I would have flown from my farm to render aid to you!"
Amon was confused: "Hmm? What aid are you talking about?"
"The enormous rod jammed up your ass must be painful. I'd be happy to try to remove it."
"He is right, you know,” Owain said, before Amon could respond. “There is more, though. Sher told me something strange happened to Agent Holtz. He was changed -and she was - clear on this- from human to Sidhe. The project now proceeds with Holtz as the research subject."
"'and what you will me you must know...'" Cari blurted.
"You see the beauty of it, eh?” Kerrdia shot a cunning smile. “What he intended for you has is visited on him …exactly.”
Amon nodded his head. "Neat indeed. But then, to close this topic, what happened to the human lover? Cari said he also was taken by the Wild Hunt?"
Then they heard a knock at door. "Ah, the ever efficient Lucia here to help solve this last mystery! Come in," Kerrdia shouted."
The half Sidhe Lucia, Owain's lithe, platinum blond and all-black satin clad lieutenant, entered the room, pushing a wheel chair. In it sat a ragged female figure. She was slumped and restrained by a straight jacket. The woman's long dark disheveled hair blocked her face.
"Bring it closer so we may see." Owain said.
Lucia rolled the figure close to where Kerrdia sat. "Remove her hair from her face," Kerrdia said. As Lucia did so, Amon gave a murmur at what was revealed: a face mirroring Princess Cari's features.
"What is the meaning of this?" Amon said.
Owain shrugged. "The Princess found this thing when she awoke this morning in the apartment of her human friend, the now missing Daniel Dana. A working theory is the BNS planned to abduct the Princess and replace her with this imposter. I have not interrogated her in depth; she suffered a massive panic attack when she awoke and required heavy sedation."
"She is not an imposter..." Kerrdia said as she walked over to the figure.
"I truly don't follow you this time cousin,” Amon said.
"Patience; I will explain. Cari, what thought, was in your human lover's head at the moment you called the Wild Hunt?"
Cari blushed. “What Daniel was thinking? Gran, I …um …don't think it germane-"
"-Tell us, Cari!" Kerrdia said.
"Fine." she sighed. "The only thing in that boy's head was how much he wanted to fuck me, but I don't see-" "Thank your Cari, that was all I needed..." Kerrdia cupped the unconscious woman's face with her hands.
'The Wild Hunt works in strange ways indeed! So precise, so cruel. 'Hwa du wille mec sculan du cunnan,'... what you will me...'
'This poor one was caught in the cross-fire... wrong place at the wrong time... And it was my rhyme that did this to …her. oh the Goddess, life is unpredictable and yet…
Something tickled here brain. A riddle, but not her own. Na Sidhe, Na Dynol, Geni daear… Was more at work hear?
She shook her head and turned to face the others.
"I present to you the former human Daniel. She is the genetic identical twin of Cari and... as of midnight last night, no longer a virgin."
the Gwaun Valley, Wales
One cold, misty autumn morning, Dana awoke and dressed in her jeans, jumper and tennis shoes, so she could greet the dawn. She had a chore today, she remembered.
The name she answered to. The name the white-haired woman - Kerrdia - called her by. Or sometimes ‘granddaughter.’ She took both on faith. Almost they felt right. Almost. So hard to remember.
Had something happened to her?
Slivers of individuality returned, in drips and drabs; days and days and days had passed until her consciousness started thinking in "I" terms again. She hadn’t a clue how much time passed before she even remembered she was.
She lived now in a small secluded farmhouse with the cheery white-haired woman who was always busy with something, but also always singing. This place, the one she’d awakened in, neither kept pace with the world, nor cared it didn’t. Kerrdia told her that, until the advent of the internet, the locals -farmers and townsfolk alike- measured days by the Julian, rather than the new-fangled Gregorian calendar.
So hard to remember.
Even her muscle memory was missing in action: she was always reaching for things way out of her reach, or stepping like she had a longer stride, or doing a thousand other clumsy things. And then there were the times she had no idea how to even care for herself.
When those things happened, she would panic. Kerrdia would hug her, until she calmed, and then patiently help her with whatever troubled her. Including basic feminine hygiene tutoring.
But why didn’t she know it already? She should, yes? Everything just seemed off. She thought she must at least be in her twenties.
When she asked the jovial woman, all Kerrdia said was ‘we’re Sidhe, dearie, not human. One never knows when we are 22 or 502. It’s only when we get near a thousand that we start aging. Even that will be reversed if we could return to the Summer Land.’ So of course, that was no help at all. She could be three hundred for all she knew.
Why couldn’t she remember that? Or anything?
Lately, things were improving: she remembered helping with the planting many days ago of hearty autumn veggies from Kerrdia's garden, and harvesting apples and pears in the orchard. She also remembered all Kerrdia said when she taught her where to find wild fruits, herbs and roots from the forest, so it wasn’t as if her memory was completely broken.
Today, Dana remembered, Kerrdia told her to go to the forest to look for a special herb. Kerrdia noticed Dana had “the gift” for the finding them - she somehow knew just where to go and look - and the older woman had begun to train her in herbal lore.
Or retrain. Maybe I already learned this stuff once.
So off she trotted into the misty morn, to hunt, in …Ty Canol Wood, Kerrdia had called it, for a flowering herb called oxlips, which she allowed was excellent in teas for coughs and colds. Migraines and fevers too.
“Not primrose or cowslips, but oxlips,” Kerrdia demanded. The thought of plants with lips seemed pretty funny to Dana.
“Primula elatior,” she blurted. That was… another name for oxlips! Yes! But how did she know this? Why couldn’t she remember more?
“Mmhm. Oxlips, primrose, primula elatior… all human words. We call it sabhaircin.” Kerrdia patted Dana head affectionately when she saw the confusion on the young woman’s face. A standard look for Dana. “Anyway, don’t get your knickers in a twist about that, granddaughter. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t find even a scrawny patch, lass. There’s less and less of it these days.”
“Because it’s …fall?” Dana beamed, thrilled to be recalling more of, well, of how the world worked.
“Good! Good, lass, yes! That, and because there’s less and less of it in this world. Soon it will be extinct as athelas. If you find any, hurry back, because there’s a nasty cold flu going around some of the wee ones have come down with, and I’ll not have them treated with human medicines.”
In the pre-dawn light Dana shivered, and gazed at the pastoral wooded hills blanketed with purple heather, golden gorse and other wildflowers. The confusion that hung about her so much of the time melted away when she was outside, under the open sky, although she had no idea why this was so.
After following the stream path for several hundred yards, on impulse she turned, walked up the valley hillside and into the old oak woods. After wandering about for several hours, scanning the forest floor for signs of the elusive flowering herb, Dana didn’t notice the deep thicket of arching ancient oaks she entered. When Dana looked up, she was amazed to see a white stone standing before her. Or rather, it was a Standing Stone… something from her fragmented memory told her that.
Dana ran her fingers down its face, and found it to be warm rather than cool. And thrumming. Or pulsing, she wasn’t sure what described it best, but the rock felt alive.
She circled behind it, running her finger’s along its face. On the other side, the air was warmer and wetter, and the trees were full of summer leaves.
Laughing, Dana spread her arms wide and spun around; it felt wonderful here!
“Like summer,” she giggled aloud. Her voice echoed strangely in the still woods, and she could have almost sworn she heard a distant answer. Or perhaps not.
then She noticed a nearby cluster of yellow flowering plants, vibrant and succulent. In fact, she recognized half a dozen herbs nearby, sprinkled among patches of plants she recognized not at all. She look at them closely though, before gathering the oxlips for Kerrdia.
Dana looked down the path where maybe the voice had come. It grew greener and brighter the further she looked. And so inviting; she yearned to explore. Something pulled her. But Kerrdia needed the herbs, so back she would go; the path adventure must wait for another day. Reluctantly, she stepped around the glowing Stone, and back into the cold fall air.
As the blue energy sizzles faded Cari saw what had pulled the rare compliment from Amon – her shields had held perfectly. And this time, the old wizard hadn't held back. She would have smiled, but she didn't want to break concentration.
Cari chose wisely, for several more energy balls flew from Amon's finger tips; each exploding against her shields, shaking them. But not piercing.
Amon chuckled a “good girl” before holding up his hands, his signal they were through sparing.
“Your control is improving and you power is exceptionally strong. We’ve done enough for today; let’s resume again early tomorrow. I must say how pleased I am that you are taking your training seriously now. ”
“Thank you Magister Mannan,” Cari said, bowing her head.
She was glad it showed, because she was deadly serious. Since the night she unleashed the Wild Hunt on the world, she'd spent a lot of time thinking about consequences. What if the Hunt had indiscriminately had wrecked the neighborhood she was in, or the entire city even?
And Daniel Dana, the human; she ruined his life. ‘Ex-human’ she reminded herself. Her new twin.
‘Because I was careless.’
She'd taken her position far too casually, exposing herself to her people’s enemies. Never bothering even to learn the nature her last resort curse, the words she blithely spoke and unleashed the Wild Hunt on the world. Daniel paid the price.
She was horrified when she learned how Cernunnos fulfilled the ‘what you will me, you must know’ part of the curse for Daniel. The god was completely literal: as Daniel wanted to fuck her –which was what she wanted as well- he was transformed into Cari’s clone to be fucked, raped, by the Wild Hunt riders. Cari had nightmares imagining it.
From her phone calls with her grandmother since …that night ... the trauma from it caused Daniel -Dana as Kerrdia called her- to lose her memory. Though her grandmother said Dana was healthy and happy if fairly confused, the information did nothing to salve her guilt. She was done running from her responsibilities. Done playing the party girl.
“Yes child,” Amon answered as he slipped back on his normal dark robes.
“Would you have time later for another history session? I would know more of the reigns our past Queens.”
“Of course. I’m free for an hour at, say three o’clock?” Amon looked at Cari as if he was piecing a puzzle together. His next words were tentative: “You know, Cari, at the rate you are progressing, I believe you might be ready to declare at the Yuletide Ball in a few weeks time.”
In years past, when Amon, or Kerrdia, or Owain even, suggested she take her training seriously, and start to accept her responsibilities as the Sidhe’s next Queen, she would scoff or wave the suggestion away. Her reign was years away, or decades. She couldn’t be bothered; there were so many delicious experiences yet to enjoy – parties, men, life. But now, after that night, things were different. She was different.
“That is exactly my intent, Magister.”
To formally declare her intention to become Queen. Under Sidhe protocol, the proclamation must be made at Yuletide, the day of renewal. Upon council approval, her coronation would be during Beltane.
Cari blinked when she saw Amon’s eyes glisten. And stunned when the gruff wizard swept her into a bear hug.
“You cannot imagine how your grandmother and I have longed to hear those words,” he whispered in her ear. “Our people are dying. Becoming more human. We need a strong Queen to survive. Be that Queen.”
“I’m ready to try.”
The Director tried so hard not to think about who this corpse used to be, and especially tried not to read the "Samuel Holtz" on the toe tag.
"You see, Sir, the key was discovering the subject's severe allergy to iron. I'm embarrassed to say I discovered it by accident. I exposed him to a veritable buffet of pathogens..."
'Sammy loved buffets, a Chinese all-you-can eat was his favorite,' Stifles suddenly remembered. 'He'd laugh and brag about how much after his fourth trip back to the buffet line, Mr. Li of Li' Royal Buffet would burst from the kitchen with a butcher's knife in hand, ordering him to reave light now...
"Sir? Did you hear what I said? You seem distracted."
"Hmm? Oh, sorry, Dr Schmidt. I've a lot on my mind. Our contact within the Sidhe Council told me our timetable has moved; we must be prepared to acquire the asset before December 21."
"But Sir! That's less than 21 days! I am uncertain if the newest Prototype Re-Animated Operatives would be ready."
"It can't be helped, Doctor,and um..." Stiles glanced at the corpse in spite of his attempts to pretend it didn't exist. My God! His ears are pointed!
"Sir? You were saying?"
"S-sorry, Doctor, my mind wandered again," Stiles said, trying to shake the image of the dead man's face from his thoughts. He looked so Elvin and noble; very un-Sammy like. "Anyway, according to our contact, security around the asset will become much more stringent after that date."
"But why is it important that we acquire this particular asset, Sir? Already we have wasted significant resources in trying to obtain it. There must certainly be other assets of opportunity which present less risk."
"That is not your concern, Doctor." Nor, will you be concerned about the multi-millions that will
I try not to think about who this corpse used to be. Agent Holtz. I used to call him Sammy. We would have lunch together
Stiles/Schmidt iron shot
Call moving timetable up NS Special Agent Samuel "Sammy Holtz
“Where did you say you found the sabhaircin, luv?”
Dana sat before her vanity, in a pink sleeping shirt covered with cute owls, brushing her lustrous black hair. Kerrdia insisted she do it each night before she slept, tilting her head and brushing from the base of the head forward. As Dana didn’t know any better, she simply obeyed.
“The oxlips. Where in the forest did you find it? Hopefully you can find it again; what you gathered was amazingly potent.”
So potent in fact, the elixir she brewed cured the wee ones’ colds in record time. She hoped Dana’s memory was functioning enough to recall the spot.
“Oh! Yes! Easy peasy.” Dana set her brush down and turned to Kerrdia, who sat in a nearby overstuffed chair, reading a musty book with crumbly pages. “I found it among a whole bunch of herbs, just past this amazingly cool rock.”
“A rock?” Kerrdia glanced up from the book. “What did it look like?”
“It was…” The phrase came back to Dana again, “… a Standing Stone. All white and pretty.”
Kerrdia grew thoughtful. Standing stones were rare but not unheard of, especially in this part of Wales. Ancient power often lingered near them still, giving rise to all sorts of small wonders.
“Hmmm. Come here and look at something.” She motioned for Dana, smiling when the young woman sat on the arm of the chair and leaned into her.
More than anyone, except perhaps her granddaughter Cari, Kerrdia was aware of who Dana used to be. Yet still, perhaps it was her appearance -that she was fully Cari’s twin now- or maybe it was simply the lass’ good heartedness, but Kerrdia found herself growing fonder of Dana by the day.
“There’s a chapter here on magical herbs. As I flip through see if you recognize any.”
Dana ran a finger down a page of the massive book filled with writing Kerrdia called calligraphy; Dana hadn’t a clue to its meaning. “What’s this book called?”
“Draíochta Leabhar d'Laenan,” Kerrdia answered. “Now pay attention.”
Most she didn't know, though the occasional herbs she pointed to got Kerrdia excited. Then something caught Dana’s eyes.
“Go back one page, please.”
Dana smiled, placing her hand on the illustration. “That one for sure.”
“Ya must be wrong, lass, because it’s athelas. An it’s been extinct for centuries.”
“O-kayy,” Dana giggled. “The next time I see it I’ll tell it that.”
Kerrdia laughed. “You’ll do more than that. You’ll dig me up a plant an run it to me fast as your legs can. Ya see its healing powers are wondrous. I ran out of my last dried specs of it decades ago trying to save Rhiannon…”
Dana saw the wistfulness wrap around Kerrdia and thought she wanted her peace. She gave the silver-haired woman a kiss on her head. “Night night, Grandmother.”
Several moments passed before Kerrdia shook off her sadness. She saw Dana had already jumped between her thick covers.
She couldn’t blame her; the autumn nights grew colder, with the Yuletide Ball just a month away. As quaint as her place was, year by year she gave serious thought to jumping head long into the 21st century with an upgrade.
“Or at least the 19th century, dearie,” Kerrdia said to herself. Then she sighed two words longingly. “Central heat.”
Kerrdia chuckled to herself as she clicked her nightstand light off, and burrowed under her own heavy quilts.
“No! Not again!”
Kerrdia howled, her frustration and horror pouring out. Just as Rhiannon did, now her granddaughter lay dying in her arms. Something in the BNS virus Cari had been injected with was mutating and attacking faster than she could heal. Instead of aggressively trying to rid Cari's body of it, the healer was now on the defensive, simply trying to keep her granddaughter breathing.
For the first time in Owain’s one hundred twenty year life, his composed demeanor shattered; his eyes gleamed.
“I will kill them. Every. Single. One.”
Kerrdia felt energy building in the young Sidhe and growled. A distraction she did not need. Yet the moment let a thought burst through that had been suppressed by her fierce concentration.
The young woman appeared at the doorway, making Owain to gasp. At his current stress level his brain must have flip flopped seeing her exact image standing healthy and unharmed before him.
For her part, Dana could only gap at the woman in the bed whose face mirrored her own.
Kerrdia growled again. Dammit! She didn’t have time for this drama. It was for this very reason she had Owain bring Cari in covered in a blanket, and told Dana to stay out of sight when Owain arrived. She snapped her finger and added power to her voice.
“Did you speak truth when you said you found athelas? Did you?”
“Yes! I swear it, Grandmother.”
“Then run! Fast as you can! Bring it to me; your sister’s life depends on it.”
“Wait wait …I have a sister?”
“No time to explain this, Dana! Go now! Or she will die!”
After a moment’s pause to take that in, Dana grabbed her coat and bolted from the cottage for the woods.
After watching Dana run away, Owain turned to face Kerrdia. “Cari’s fate rests in the ability of that thing created by the Wild Hunt to find a plant which no longer exists?”
“No,” Kerrdia answered, briefly gazing out her window to the dark of nearby Ty Canol. “Cari’s fate rests in the hands of a young and very confused Sidhe named Dana Summerfield, who is trying the best she can.”
“Somehow that gives me even less comfort than what I said.”
But Kerrdia did not hear him. She was already reengaged in her struggle against the virus. Which was attacking Cari’s body even faster now than moments before.
Finding the white stone again was easy; Dana reached it in less than ten minutes in a dead sprint. The herb she was desperately seeking? Not so much. In her panic to find the silvery herb, all the plants started to look the same. Soon she was scrambling randomly from green clump to green clump, until…
“Looking for this?”
Dana started and whirled; for a tall cloaked figure, a female one, stood before her. Dana could only see shadows of a face through the cloak’s hood. Her eyes swept down to the plants her feet and recognized them. Yes! Athelas!
The urgency of her task made Dana start to reach down and pluck the herbs but something stayed her.
“M- may I?”
“Of course, love, but - a word of advice- it is traditional to give thanks for this particular gift before taking.”
“It is?” Dana’s chewed on her words, trying to make sense of them. “Who would I thank?”
“People in these parts pray to Danu.”
She so needed to hurry, but a little voice in the back of her brain told her she also needed to understand this. So who the hell was this Danu? The owner of the land she was on? Or something …else? Wait! Hadn’t she heard Kerrdia sing songs about a Danu? She could even hear the words of one in her head:
The river is flowing, flowing and growing,
The river is flowing, down to the sea.
Yours I’ve always been, Mother Danu, carry me,
Carry me, Mother Danu, down to the sea.
“So er, Mother Danu needs, um, a prayer before she will give the gift of Athelas?
Laughter, as chimes, rang in Dana’s head. “Danu loves to hear prayers, tis true, but she doesn’t need them. It’s more for the frame of mind of the receiver than the giver.”
That sort of made sense to her; maybe she would have understood things more if her memory wasn’t so tattered. But she didn’t have time to sort this; Cari was dying.
“Do you like, um, work for this Danu? You’ll pass along what I say?”
“What I hear, Danu knows.”
Fine. Good. She tried to think of what to say. What the hell could she say? Finally she huffed and spoke haltingly as words popped into her mind.
“M-mother Danu , my thanks for this…” on impulse, Dana knelt and closed her eyes, “…and for …soil where it lives …rain to quench its thirst …wind to dance among its leaves …and sun to keep it warm. I …I pray …I am worthy to receive your gift.”
“Well said.” Dana heard smiling approval in her voice. Then the figure touched her index finger to Dana’s forehead, and spoke again. “I give you my blessing, Dana Summerfield, and I claim you. I have tasks for you.”
Dana’s body shivered with energy and when she opened her eyes, she saw the robed woman was walking on the other side of the white stone, down the path. She turned briefly back.
“Dana, daughter, when your memory finally returns, and all is despair, remember, your home lies at the end of this path. Go there.”
“W-who are you?”
“Don’t you know me? You must!” Merriment echoed through the forest trees. “For you’ve just given me the sweetest prayers.”
"Yes. Yes! It's working! Fan it gently but steadily, lass."
Dana could see it working, and her eyes went wide with wonder. Each breath Cari took was deeper, her coloring turned less gray. Kerrdia literally tore the shimmering herb from her hands when she returned from the forest; part to be tossed in a smudge pot which Owain heated with his hands in some way Dana didn't understand. Kerrdia ground another part of the athelas plant in her granite crucible, making a green paste.
Dana's job was to fan the smoke from the to keep the smoke stream steadily flowing over Cari.
'Over this woman who looks exactly like me. My sister, though I've no memory of her at all!'
Dana cast a glance to Kerrdia, who looked like she was almost finished mashing the athelas. She'd be demanding answers from her as soon Cari was not in danger.
"Is it ready yet? Hurry, dammit!"
Dana stared at the speaker, Owain somebody, who had been hovering over Cari every moment he'd been here.
"An I'll send you outside to clean the chicken coop if ya can't behave," Kerrdia answered, as she brought the crucible to Cari's bed. "Dana, fetch me a spoon."
Dana was to the kitchen and back quickly, handing Kerrdia the spoon. Kerrdia scooped pulpy green paste onto it and looked at Owain.
"Pinch her nose, lad, I need her to open her mouth."
After a moment, Cari's mouth opened to gasp air. Handing the crucible to Dana, Kerrdia then spooned the athelas in. After Cari reflexively chewed and her face scrunched, Dana guessed the herb must be plenty tart.
But then, in a wave, a healthy glow spread across Cari's skin. Her chest relaxed, rising and falling in deep full breaths. Her eyes fluttered open.
"Grandmother? I'm hungry."
"Are you now," Kerrdia smiled, her eyes wet and glistening joy. "I'll have some sweetmeats for you lickety split."
She moved to let Owain rush to hold her. In truth, if she hadn't he'd have thrown her aside to get to his love.
"I cannot say thank you enough, lass," Kerrdia said, her arms suddenly around Dana, hugging her tight. "she would have died for certain. Thank Danu you knew where the athelas grew. It's not been seen growing in the world for centuries."
"Centuries?" Dana said looking into the crucible once Kerrdia released her from her bear hug. "But I already thanked Danu when I dug the herb up."
"You did? An how did ya know to do that, lass?"
"The lady told me to."
"Lady? What lady?
"The one I met in the forest. The robed one, who-"
"-Owain? How did I get here?" Cari struggled to sit up in her bed, fully conscious now. "D-daniel? Is that you?"
It struck her as lightening, sizzling her mind. A key, unlocking Dana's memory. Images exploded, flooding back: the night in the park, walking with Cari. Zombie things attacking them. Out of nowhere, a tornado! Grabbing her, carrying her into the sky. She remembered spinning and spinning, her body, stretched, compacted, deformed... reformed...
"No!" Dana fell to her knees..
"Dana?" Kerrdia rushed to Dana's side. "What's wrong?"
...then ...a demon, a god...
...took her in his arms, pushed her legs apart, forced himself on her, in her, filling her with wild energy. Burning her.
Dana hugged herself tightly, whispering, "no!"
"Dear Danu, you remember!" Kerrdia placed her hands on Dana's cheeks. "Shhh. Calm down, sweetie. Everything is okay-"
"Okay? Okay??? Dana screamed. Do you see? Look, goddammit! Look -what -he -did -to -me!!!"
"Do something before she hurts someone, Kerrdia, she's hysterical." Owain said, rising from Cari's side. "Cast a sleep spell and suppress her memory again."
"Wait... wait..." Dana's eyes bled the hurt she felt, the betrayal, when she turned to face the silver-haired elder. "You stole my memory?"
"Please, granddaughter, I had to." Kerrdia tried to send tendrils of soothing energy into Dana. "Once you awoke after the Wild Hunt took you, you were incoherent, suicidal-"
Dana jumped to her feet, her eyes wild and gleaming as they darted. About the room. Owain stepped in front of Cari to shield her. Having almost losing Cari minutes before, he wasn't going to allow anything near her that might endanger her again. A blue glowing energy ball formed in his right hand. He released it, pushing it at Dana, where it...
...bounced off. A blue shield sparkled around Dana when the ball neared her. Leaving everyone stunned.
"Owain! Stop," Kerrdia said, and took a step toward Dana. "Please, lass, sit down, take some deep breaths, and relax. Let me explain..."
But Dana wasn't listening. Instead, she heard a voice echoing in her mind:
...daughter, when your memory finally returns, and all is despair, remember, your home lies at the end of this path. Go there.
Without speaking a word, Dana whirled, ran out the cottage door and into the dark forest.