Friday, September 23, 2016

Meghan O'Bries: Part I

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The following short story is a project I started on a whim after imagining a scene one night and wanting to explore its possibilities.  It was harder than I expected, and ended up being longer than I anticipated, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the process.  And now I hope you can enjoy the results as you read the short fantasy of Meghan O'Bries, in three parts...

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MEGHAN O'BRIES

Image result for scottish moors public domain

* * *
The tales are told
by men today
since the days of old
of the one they say
was a queen born poor
one Meghan O'Bries
On the windswept moor
where the blackbird cries

* * *

The plains were eerily silent as Meghan rode, black clumps of soil spraying out behind as her horse sped along the overgrown road. Pale, colorless skies stretched overhead, casting a sickly light on the path, but Meghan could see dark, dangerous clouds gathering on the horizon. That did not bode well. She needed clear weather for her journey tonight.
Slowing her horse to a canter as they crested a hilltop, Meghan paused to scan the open fields, searching for any sign of danger. She had seen no sign of any soldiers, which was surprising, considering her mission. Dairn MacGabhann, the leader of the Free Folk, had sent her to negotiate an alliance with the Siobhan Clan, her mother's people. Heich, the chieftain, was her cousin several times removed, and Dairn hoped that Meghan's connections might sway the Siobhan people in the Free Folk's favor.
If she was successful, the alliance could guarantee the Free Folk's victory over the Nornish invaders. Then Dairn could claim his birthright as the high king over the Free Folk, and the land of Ern would be set to rights at last.

With such high stakes, it was a wonder she had not yet encountered more difficulty. True, she'd been forced to leave behind her escort in the last village to dispatch with the local guardsmen, but they would soon meet her at the rendezvous point, which she could already see just down the hill.

The lack of resistance did bother her. It wasn't right- however preoccupied the Norn may be with the Free Folk, surely they must have had word of her mission. Surely they would have sent men after her to stop the meeting from happening...

Yet aside from the few guardsmen stationed in the village, she had seen no soldiers.

None.

Except... there was the black rider.

Thinking of him woke a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. Meghan tightened her fist and furrowed her brow, remembering the first time she had seen him. Silhouetted against a glowing sunset, astride a tall black horse, seeming both as noble as a king and as ominous as a crow. She could not see his face, or the make of of his clothes, only the black shadow of his being, framed with the light of the setting sun.

Again, she had seen him, but a few miles later, and this time she had notified her escort, hoping they might perceive friend or foe where she was blind. But before any one of them had turned their eyes to the hilltop, he had vanished. Meghan could not shake the feeling that he was watching her, and her alone, and that thought both unsettled and intrigued her.

Whatever the case, she had not seen him again since then. Even still her eyes swept over every inch of the spreading plains in search of him. But in the whispering quiet of the windblown hills, there was not a soul to be seen.

Relaxing her fist, Meghan sighed and took a sip from her water-skin. With one last glance at her surroundings, she urged her horse forward again, trotting the rest of the way to the little hut which would serve as her shelter for the night.

* * *

Meghan's legs ached as she dismounted, but she put aside her discomfort until she had given the horse a proper rub down. He was a strong young gelding, but it had been a long day for the both of them. If she was to meet with Heich and the Siobhan by tomorrow's eve, she would need the horse in good health.

Meghan squinted as she led the gelding into the dark stable. Particles of dust drifted slowly in thin beams of light streaming through cracks in the weathered wood walls. Thick cobwebs coated the ceiling in an eerie veil, and she grimaced as one grazed her face.

Kicking aside a grubby pail, Meghan loosened a bundle of straw and laid it in a stall. She saw to it that it was well stocked with hay, oats, and water, and then left the gelding to his rest.
She rubbed her arms slowly as she entered the hut. Now that she was sheltered at last, she could feel her exhaustion setting in. The October winds had been merciless for days, and though she had not yet seen her reflection, she knew it had taken its toll on her face by the feel of her chapped cheeks.

With a sigh of relief, Meghan shed her coat and scarf and hung them by the cold hearth. She rubbed her brow and bent down to kindle a fire. Not long now and she could have her rest, and be warm for the first time since she had left Dairn's side three days ago. She would wait here until her men joined her and in the morning they would continue to the High Hills where Heich awaited her.
But first, fire. Then rest.

Swallowing, Meghan smacked her lips, trying to ease the dryness in her mouth. She took another sip of water and shook her head. Now that she had time to think, she didn't feel well at all. Her head ached, her muscles ached, her face and lips were raw, and now her mouth was dry. She couldn't afford to be sick now- not when so much depended on this meeting.

Having arranged the firewood in the hearth, she pulled out a flint and struck it, sending sprays of sparks down onto the kindling. Feeling a sudden wave of dizziness, she had to brace herself against the stones to keep herself from falling forward. She rubbed her brow again and kept striking the flint.

There! A small flame licked around the twigs and grew larger. She watched for several moments as the little fire gained its strength. Satisfied, she stood, and promptly stumbled backward, catching herself just in time. Her head spun, and she felt so terribly thirsty...

Megan pulled a chair up to the table and sat with her head in her hands, drinking slowly from the water-skin. She supposed she ought to have gone to the well for fresh, cool water, but she was so tired she only wanted to sit for a while.

Her head continued to throb and spin, and Meghan felt her eyes drooping more and more heavily. She could feel sleep tugging at the corners of her mind, and she did not resist. Too weary to even move to the cot, she put her cheek in the crook of her arms and lay draped across the table.

Something flickered inside of her, a warning, as if there was something she was forgetting. Forcing her eyes open for one moment, Meghan glanced out the window instinctively. And there on the hill, just before she drifted off again, she saw him! The black rider, watching as always.

Starting, Meghan bolted upright into wakefulness. Standing swiftly, she pushed the chair back and rushed to the window, shielding her eyes against the milky white of the sky.
He was gone! Again, she had missed him. Shaking her head in disbelief, she turned to the door and thrust it wide, casting her gaze over the plains, searching. She had a mind to rush out to the gelding and hunt for the mysterious stranger and demand to know his identity, his loyalty, and the reason he watched her these last three days.

But before she gathered up her courage and rushed for the stables, something held her back. That same flickering, nagging warning fluttered in her mind, and she stepped back into the shelter of the hut.

For several moments, she scanned the horizon, watchful and expectant. But, seeing nothing, she closed the door and turned slowly away...

… and froze.

He was sitting there on the cot, looking up at her eyes so dark they seemed seemed to swallow her whole.

“Meghan O'Bries,” he said softly, his voice smooth and level.

Meghan opened her mouth, incredulous. “You...” she breathed.

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To Be Continued....


-Emmarayn Redding

(Image taken from the public domain)
(NOTE:  Due to some very helpful feedback, Meghan's last name has been changed to O'Bries, since the original name bore a disconcerting resemblance to a similar word.  Thank you to those who pointed it out!  I never would have seen it myself.  ;)

2 comments:

  1. Oh- I did not see that coming! I expected their first proper meeting of sorts to be when he attacked and/or tried to capture her. Very exciting.
    I look forward to reading more of this!

    ReplyDelete