Sunday, September 25, 2016

Meghan O'Bries: Part III

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Last time...

“It is not for human kind to divine the future,” Death said slowly, “but for your sake, in your dying moments, I can give you a gift.”

Now...

Taking hold of her shoulders, he turned her so that her back was braced against his chest and directed her gaze out the window.

“Attend carefully,” he murmured.

Meghan swallowed and looked to the horizon, where the hills seemed to roll on and on forever, until they were met by the pale, milky sky. But suddenly, that sky began to shift and twist in her vision, merging with the ground and drawing her in, so that the hut and the wooden panes of the window began to blur and fade. Meghan gasped and felt her stomach drop as her surroundings melted away in a blur, so that all around her there was nothing but vague, dancing colors that swished by like branches in a forest. She felt Death's grip on her tighten, and at once found a strange assurance in that firm hold. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the feel of him behind her, knowing that they still stood together in the hut, safe and on solid ground.

“Open your eyes, Meghan! Don't be afraid.”

Steeling herself, Meghan cracked her eyes open and took stock of her surroundings once more. To her surprise, the world had fallen back into place- but it was not the hut where they stood, rather it was the ridge that overlooked the village of Fainhearn, where Dairn and the rest of the Free Folk were preparing for battle.

She could see him moving far below through the tents of the soldiers they had gathered, talking with the generals at his side, patting the shoulders of the men he passed. Meghan smiled. That was Dairn, ever the friend of the common men, even when discussing the pressing matters of politics and battle strategy. If only she could see his face...

As if sensing her wish, he paused and turned, gazing toward the heavens for a moment in consternation. Meghan drew in her breath, noticing immediately the changes in his countenance. He was marked with grief- fresh and tender, as if he were mourning the loss of a dear friend. And yet, despite that, there was a cool, calm sort of resolution set deeply in his features, and in that moment Meghan knew without a doubt that he would be victorious in whatever battle was to come.

“It is for you he mourns,” Death spoke, his smooth voice slipping into the silence without causing so much as a ripple.

“Me?”

“What you see is the future.”

Meghan's jaw dropped.

Death squeezed her shoulders. “After your death and failure to arrive at the meeting place, your cousin Heich will search for you. Upon finding your body, he and his people will be outraged, and your death shall move them to align themselves with Dairn and his people.”

The scenery began to shift again, whirling into a battlefield, where the sounds of clanging swords and men locked in mortal combat rang out into the cold air. Meghan cast her eyes about for Dairn, and found him at last, in the center of the fray, swinging his broadsword masterfully, bringing down an enemy with each blow. He was blood-spattered and damp with exertion, but he showed no signs of slowing. His face was twisted with fierce determination, and in the falling snow he looked every inch a king.

Death continued, still speaking softly, but somehow able to be heard over the noise. “Together, your forces will defeat the Norn and drive them back to their own land.”

The battlefield fell away, and the land beneath them sped away until Meghan could see the Castle Cutorney, where the Old Kings had once reigned, rising tall and strong from the rocky fells. They seemed to be soaring down toward it through the sky, and as they grew closer Meghan could hear the sounds of a multitude, cheering triumphantly.

She peered closer as she and Death came to rest on the battlements. A great crowd was gathered in the courtyard below. With a sigh of relief, she smiled as she saw Dairn ascending the steps that led to the outdoor dais, where his elders and generals waited to crown him king. Heich of the Siobhan stood there as well, and in his tall, lithe frame Meghan could see traces of her own mother.

Humbly, Dairn knelt with his head bowed low, dark hair shining in the morning sun.

Stepping forward, General Ruel, their right-hand-man held the crown above Dairn's head.
“Dairn MacGabhann, we the people of Ern have gathered here today as freemen for the first time in four generations. When the Norn foreigners invaded and declared themselves our new rulers, your royal ancestors were cast from their place and forced to live in secret. But now you have risen against all odds to lead us, your people, into victory. Now we ask you to continue this duty and take your rightful place as our king. Do you accept this duty?”

“I do,” Dairn said, and the sound of his calm voice ringing out over the crowd brought tears to Meghan's eyes.

The crowd cheered and raised their fists in salute. Ruel placed the crown on Dairn's head and bowed. Slowly, Dairn stood and turned to face his people, raising his hands for silence, then smiled, his eyes shining with both joy and sadness. People of Ern,” he said, “my beloved kinsmen, my heart is warmed by your bravery and loyalty. Though we are a small people who have long been held in bondage, no nation could have matched the courage I witnessed during this war. We have risen against all hope to claim a victory we hardly deemed possible- but my friends, I cannot bear the credit as your leader. I began my quest fully believing it was a solitary one. All I wanted was to bring those who killed my family to justice. But when you flocked to my side, it was only then that I realized we could stand and fight. And even then, there were many moments when I doubted. When had I but had the chance I might have fled from the trials of war and hardship.” He swallowed, faltering. Even from the distance from which she watched, Meghan could see the tears that shone in his eyes.

“No my friends,” he continued, “I would not be here today were it not for the inspiration that drove me, even until the very end- my cousin and dearest friend, Meghan O'Bries, who gave her life for our cause. She who was as a sister to me, whose royal blood shone brighter than my own, was the true life of this revolution.”

The other generals bowed their heads, and Heich put his hand over his chest in respect.

Dairn sighed. “Let us remember her sacrifice, and the sacrifice of all those who have fallen for our freedom. Let us honor their memory as we step into this new era, where justice and freedom shall reign!”

Again, the people cheered. Yet though this cry was more raw and and saddened, it seemed to Meghan all the more beautiful.

“He acknowledged me,” she whispered. “He told them of my birthright, and my involvement. I never asked for it, and yet he has given me a place of honor.”

She bowed her head, and she felt Death release her slowly. When she picked her head up and looked at him again, they were once more standing in the dark hut.

The embers of the fire flickered dimly in the corner, so low now that the room was shrouded with shadow. Yet somehow she could still see Death's face clearly. She found she could return his gaze more steadily now.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

He nodded, giving a slight bow. “It is a privilege I can seldom give. For my part, I was glad to show it to you.”

Then, as if he sensed something she could not see, he shifted and looked out the window. “Are you ready now?”

Meghan looked down and heaved a deep breath. “I think so.”

To her annoyance, she felt fresh unbidden tears spring forward. But before she had a chance to quell them, she felt a hand cup her face.
Death looked down at her and brushed the tears away. “What is it, child?”

Meghan chuckled irrationally. “Nothing! It's just...”
Death looked at her expectantly.

“I never fell in love.” Meghan sighed, ashamed of herself. After seeing all of her wishes realized, how she could still desire more? “I had always dreamed.... that after the war, if we won, I might live long enough for someone to see me, truly see me. To look at me and find beauty both inside and out...”

She trailed off and shook her head. But to her surprise, Death smiled.

“I see all that,” he said gently. Slowly, he bent and kissed her forehead. “Don't be ashamed, Meghan. It is only natural for you to hunger for more life- for despite your hardships, you loved life, and lived it well. You were happy in what you had, and because of that, you can now leave in peace. Trust me, you were loved, and dearly so.”

Holding out his hand, he backed toward the doorway. “Come with me, Meghan. It's time.”

Meghan blinked away her tears and smiled. She felt, after all, that it was time to leave. Her time had come, and she had no regrets. With one last breath, she reached out and took hold of his hand. As his fingers closed around hers, Meghan closed her eyes and thought back to all she had seen, all she had done. It was true- despite her trials and sorrows, there had also been joy, and triumph, and above all love. The love of her parents, the love of her guardian Finn, and of her cousins, Heich and Dairn. And someday, she now knew, the love of her people as well. Her restless heart settled its wings and a sense of peace came over her.

“Are you ready, Meghan?” she heard Death's voice ask again.

I have nothing else to wish for, she realized. This time the tears that flowed held no sadness or shame, only relief. She squeezed his hand.

“Yes.”

They stepped through the door.

* * *

In the winter's cold
there blew a horn
when Free Folk of old
overthrew the Norn
In triumph Dairn
as king did rise
and the land of Ern
loved Meghan O'Bries

* * *

THE END

-Emmarayn Redding

(Image taken from the public domain)

6 comments:

  1. So I just read both this and part two (in the proper order, not out of order, for the record) and- I did not expect that to be how it turned out. But marvelous work all the same!

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    1. Thanks, Sarah! I'm really glad you liked it. It's definitely a different kind of story for me, so it was really fun to work with.

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  2. Well, I didn't expect the story to end this way!
    It's bittersweet.

    Your story found its way into my dreams. I was dreaming that Meghan was an actual historical figure.

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    1. Really? That's cool. I had hoped her struggle would come across as something that could have actually happened in history (aside from the whole personification of Death thing ;).

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  3. Hi Emmarayn, I've nominated you for the Q&A Tag:
    http://loveroflembas.blogspot.com/2016/10/q-answers-and-tag.html

    ReplyDelete