Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 4, Part 2.16

Posted by harmony0stars on November 1, 2009

Glory could tell Gwythyr was in bad shape as he struggled to rise. Some of the scratches on this face we beginning to ooze blood, but more than that, he held his hand at his side as if in pain. Though these were minor wounds, not life threatening, she concentrated on healing them anyway as she helped him up. Now that she was aware of it, she felt the sword’s protest as the life it had just taken was spent so trivially. She didn’t care. The thing disgusted her, and in the future, she would only use it if there were no other options available.

Blinking at her in astonishment, Gwythyr stepped away, the tiny scratches on his face disappearing almost at once. Stumbling over what was left of his failed executioner, he sent the bones and armor into the bonfire with a kick, and snatching up the axe, he practically bolted into the fray that raged around them. Not that she blamed him. She’d like to run away too, not that she could really get away from herself.

Part of her wanted to follow Gwythyr into battle, but she couldn’t bear the thought of using the sword or allowing it to use her. She need not have worried about joining the battle though, as with the assistance of lady Muireann’s warriors, the Fomorians were quickly overwhelmed. The survivors fled after their leader, while the stragglers and injured were quickly picked off. Apparently Arawn was in no mood for prisoners.

She continued to stand by the dying fire and watched as families embraced and people began dragging the dead away. For the most part, she was ignored, though those who had not witnessed or heard about the nature of her weapon would occasionally smile or wave as they passed. After a while, she went over and sat down on a bench near one of the buildings, where she’d be out of the way and less noticeable.

As dawn broke, one of the dog grooms came in search of her. “Come, Lord Arawn and Lady Muireann wish to speak to you!” he announced, all smiles as he caught her by the arm and drew her to her feet, obviously another one who hadn’t heard about her sword.

Following him into the great hall, she saw that Jess had somehow found her way to the village and stood anxiously near the high table. When she saw Glory, she visibly relaxed. At the high table, Muireann and Arawn sat side by side, and she was surprised to see that he was holding her hand! Gwythyr stood as if waiting for her arrival, looking about as nervous as Jess. Most of the settlement, as well as Muireann’s people, were assembled, which made the large building seem much smaller.

As soon as Glory entered, Arawn stood, addressing his people and herself. “We owe you a debt and an apology. You were not received in the manner you deserve, and we are sincerely sorry for the treatment you… and your people have received in Annwn. To that end, we can only try to make what reparations are possible.” A woman stepped forward with a robe and draped it over the doe. At a sign from Arawn and a softly murmured phrase, Jess changed, her long doe’s legs shortening and thickening into human limbs. She sat for a moment on the floor, dazed and exhausted, before the same woman helped her to her feet and led her away where presumably she would be given clothes and food and a place to rest.

“I think… we all believe, that without your assistance, things might have gone very badly for us all. There is truly nothing we can say or do to express our gratitude… for all that you have done.” As he and Muireann exchanged glances, Glory had the impression that he was not referring to the battle, though exactly what was going on between the two of them escaped her.

There were hushed murmurs of anticipation as Gwythyr suddenly stepped forward and gently took her hand. “I would be honored if you would be my wife and stay with me here in Annwn.” He didn’t seem repulsed by her, which shocked her almost as much as the proposal. Maybe he had simply been eager to defend his home after she healed him? Maybe Aonghas only pulled his sword because he finally realized she was more dangerous than she seemed. Or maybe the gigantic pig-faced Fomorian had been a friend of his…

“I… um, th-thank you,” she stuttered, completely at a loss as to how to respond and blushing furiously. “I’m honored by your offer, but… I have obligations at home. My sister… she’s kind of like Neirin. I need to stop her before she hurts more people. She stole something from me, something potentially very dangerous.”

Gwythyr went pale and for a moment, and she thought she’d insulted him by her refusal and mention of his brother. “I am sorry. Aonghas took the key when he fled,” he explained guiltily. “I should have hidden it before the battle, but I didn’t think Neirin would find me and take it. There is no way to send you back.”

Glory was speechless and her expression must have shown her horror because Arawn quickly stepped in. “No,” he announced, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. “That is not entirely true. When my father died, he left Hafgan, myself, and one other son, our half brother, Heilyn. His mother was a servant, and he was never claimed by our father, though there was no mistaking his heritage. In his childhood, he had the most remarkable knack for magic, but our father apprenticed him to a smith in an effort to crush his talent. When our father died, Heilyn abandoned his master and trade and chose instead to travel. It was he who discovered how to move between worlds. In your world, he fell in love and raised a family, but eventually, many years later when his children’s children were grown and his wife had passed on to the next world, he forgave the way our father had snubbed him and wished to visit with us. It was he who built the door of Caer Wydr and the key in your world to allow his descendants to reach Annwn if they wished. His life in your world weighed heavily on him and made him restless still. He could not bear to go back to his children and watch them grow old, so instead he chose to wander to other worlds more alien yet than your own and he has never come back again, though it has been nearly three score years. Before he left however, he taught me how to go to your world and that is how I first visited it so many years ago and met his great grandson Pwyll, though he did not know who I was, nor did he ever find out.”

Arawn smiled, “Today we shall feast and celebrate our victory over the Fomorians and the peace that finally reigns in Annwn. Tomorrow, I will open a door between our worlds and return you and your kinswoman to your rightful place.”

After cleaning herself up and changing out of her clothes which were held together mostly by dried blood at that point, she returned to the great hall. Where they found the energy to prepare the food or eat it, Glory had no idea, but once the food started coming, it didn’t stop for hours. And it was necessary for her to at least sample every dish so as not to insult her hosts. Gwythyr sat next to his father, and she sat next to him. Dilys sat beside Lady Muireann and chattered happily. If anyone missed Lady Addfwyn, they didn’t show it. Eventually Jess made her way back out, though she stuck to a decidedly vegetarian diet, looking pale whenever any meat dish was set down near her. Cadfael and his sister were especially eager to cater to Jess’ needs and startled her several times before withdrawing in shame. There was really nothing they could do to make amends for what she had gone through.

At the end of the meal, Arawn had various treasures brought out: pins, necklaces, bracelets and other baubles as well as slightly more useful items, like weapons and armor. Though she managed to gracefully decline most of it, she couldn’t completely scorn their gifts without insulting them. Now that they were aware that she was a warrior, and not just a pretty face, they seemed eager to outfit her properly. Though she could have worn the heaviest armor they offered her without worry, she chose instead a thin mail which shimmered like snakeskin and accepted also a short cloak which seemed to be the style. Though she tried to refuse the little trinkets they offered, rings and other jewelry, finally she accepted a few items, resolving to pass them on to Jess when they returned home. Jess, for her part, was given all kinds of fine jewels and decoration till she looked positively ill with embarrassment. After all that she had been through and the months alone in the woods, hunted by dogs and men, she was completely unprepared for the amount of attention she received. She could barely speak above a murmur and flinched if anyone moved too quickly around her. Glory didn’t like to think about what the girl was going to face when they returned home. Who would believe such a story? At least the gold and jewels would help pay for her therapy if she could find a therapist who wouldn’t have her outright committed.

The day and night passed quickly, and the following morning they gathered at the edge of the woods. Glory watched with interest as Arawn spent some time pacing the tree line, searching for supple branches of a specific size or shape whose purpose escaped her. Once he found them, he spent time arranging them, discarding some and cutting others until they lay on the ground, twisted together, and in some cases bound, in a rough rectangle with an open base. With some help from his men, they erected the door, forcing the legs into the ground until it stood on its own. Laying his hand on the frame, he murmured something and the wood immediately sprang to life. New shoots grew from the cut wood, burrowing into the ground while others erupted with green leaves and white blossoms. The aroma of apples filled the air, and along with the scent, the air in the space inside the living door began to shimmer. They watched as the blossoms developed into small green apples and the view through the door solidified to the inside of the mansion.

“It is summer in your world,” Arawn explained, gesturing to the apples. So she had only lost a few months, hopefully. “Once you pass through the door, you will not be able to return. Only the blood of someone from our world or the key will be able to open Caer Wydr from your world.“ As she watched, the branches of the door continued to grow, thickening and adhering to one another until they were two trunks standing together with a thick branch between them which connected them like Siamese twins.

“Thank you,” Glory said, eager to get back to her own world, even if it was full of problems she could not easily fix. Taking Jess by the arm, she gently steered the girl towards the open portal, though she shrank a little from the trees which rustled as they grew taller and thicker as she passed through the door. Eventually, Glory could see that they would grow together into one trunk, just as their constituent branches had grown together in each of the two trunks. The door would seal itself behind them, becoming a full grown apple tree.

Glory took a step towards the door, but Gwythyr caught her by the elbow and held her back, taking her aside where they would not be overheard. “I will probably not see you again, but I am grateful for all that you have done. If you had not yelled at my father, I do not think he would have had the courage to confess his love to my mother,” he announced with a wry grin. “Thank you. For inspiring my parents to forgive one another, and for putting yourself in danger for me. I promise you, I will track Aonghas to the edges of the earth and make him pay for his trespass.” Before she could persuade him that she had never really been in much danger, he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her close, kissing her gently but in a way that clearly said this he had more feeling for her than just gratitude.

Oh, she thought giddily, that trespass.

*          *          *

The ferry boat came a few days later. Without any means of calling off the island and no way of knowing what day it was, they had no way of knowing when the boat would come. Even after several says in their own world with nothing untoward happening to startle her, Jess remained quiet and withdrawn. She barely spoke and jumped at the smallest shadows and sounds.

At least Glory was grateful for the surplus of modern clothing they found in the rooms, despite the story it told of people who would never be coming home. There was also enough food to tide them over during their wait for the ferry. Glory quietly slipped the few baubles she’d accepted from Arawn into Jess’ own gifts and never said a word about it to her. She kept the chain mail and the cloak, rolling them up and putting them in her backpack, though they made it very bulky.

Glory was surprised when the ferry pulled up to the dock. It was not the same one she’d come on. It was not new, but it was certainly in better shape than the previous one had been. Jess was still up at the house, and Glory trotted up to the ferry to ask him to wait for her to run back to the house for Jess. A middle aged man with wiry red hair stuck his head out the captain’s cabin, and she was brought up short. He was not the same man who had originally brought her out to the island.

“Where’s the old captain?” she asked, puzzled.

“What old captain?” he asked, equally puzzled. “I’ve been the only captain for three years. Twice a week, I come out to all the islands, make sure the docks are in good shape and there’s no one looking to get back to the mainland. To be honest, I didn’t know there was anyone here. I haven’t seen anyone around here for years.”

“But… I came out with this old guy a couple months ago. Really rough, thick accent. And his ferry had definitely seen better days.”

The captain went white as a sheet, his eyes bulging in terror. “You… saw the old guy? I mean, you really saw him?” he squeaked.

“Saw him? I rode out here with him,” she replied.

“Holy crap!” he replied, shivering a little. He squinted a little at her. “You’re not pulling a joke on me are you? I mean, it’s just supposed to be an urban legend.”

“What is?” she demanded, just about done with being polite.

“Er, you ever hear of the Black Tom Explosion? Back in World War I or II? I never was too good with history,” he explained with a shrug, then continued when she gave him an impatient nod. “Anyway, there was a captain who ran the ferry back then. Real louse, pretty much run the ferry any time, carrying anything if they’d pay him for it. Did a lot of rum running. One night, this family paid him to take them to the mainland for a party or something, but there were way too many passengers for the old boat. He should have taken half at a time, but they paid him off to take them all, so he did. Thing is, he didn’t have any life boats and had sold off the vests for liquor or something. So some German saboteurs had hidden bombs on board because the family was big into supporting the war, and everybody went down with the ship, no survivors… except the old guy. They found him a couple days later washed up on one of the islands, raving about lights in the water and some pretty weird stuff. Everybody figured he’d been out in the water too long and had exposure or hypothermia or whatever. They blamed the whole thing on him of course, and sent him to prison, but he swore up and down that there was a light in the water that swallowed people. When he got out, he’d ride the new ferry every day. When they wouldn’t take him any more because he scared the other passengers, he took to walking the shores of whatever islands he could get to until one day he just disappeared. Everybody figured he was dead. But then folks started seeing this old ferry in the bay when there shouldn’t have been one, and other people describing the old guy right down to his accent.”

For a moment, they eyeballed each other. Glory couldn’t tell if he was pulling her leg, and he was probably wondering the same thing about her if his story was true. Finally she decided it wasn’t really that important. “Okay… I have a friend up at the house. I’m gonna go get her, and we’ll want to go back to Sybar City. Just… do me a favor. Please don’t tell her that story.”

:::End Book 4:::

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7 Responses to “Tattoo Book 4, Part 2.16”

  1. Fiona said

    Perfect – climatic horrifying magic on Halloween, and spooky sad denouement on All Soul’s Day.
    Wonderful story, thank you.

  2. Alderin said

    Excellent close. 🙂

  3. here2read said

    Loved it

  4. Fiona said

    He said, could this be magic, or could this be love?
    I said, could this turn tragic, you know, magic often does….
    Lonely boats upon the water
    Better save the women and children first
    Sail away with someone’s daughter
    Better save the women and children first.

    -van Halen

  5. Vicki Grimes said

    I absolutely LOVED this part of the story!! You did a great job!!

  6. Wendy said

    Brilliant,each book so far is better that the previous one. I have just read the whole of book 4 at a single sitting and stayed up way too late, but there was no way I could put this down before the end. Thank you.

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