Lorcan was in a thunderous mood. Due to his nightmares, he had hardly slept at all the last few nights, and sleep deprivation was taking a definite toll on him. He was almost to the point where he could see and hear things that weren’t there. In fact, he wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t. His eyes were bloodshot, his movements were sluggish, his thoughts were disjointed, and his emotions were a little delicate, to put it one way. It certainly didn’t help that he was chasing vermin around the chapel, and no matter how hard he looked, he could never find them.
On Sunday, in the middle of what had been a very good service, the room had suddenly erupted into chaos. It started with the sound of chittering voices, and the skittering sound of small feet on stone, then, a woman had to shriek, and send everyone into a panic. All the women in the room began to stand on the benches, holding crying children in their arms, while the men tried to search for the cause of the disturbance, shouting and stopping, trying to attack whatever it was that was running around. It had been an hour before any kind of order could be established, and even then, none of the women dared touch the floor until the squirrels (as it turns out, and three of them that he had seen) were caught. Lorcan, after inspecting the rodents, had discovered little collars on each, numbering them 1, 2, and 4. It was with great dread that he had begun looking for the elusive number 3, and he was still at it.
Lorcan had run himself ragged for two whole days, trying to find the last of the squirrels, and it was driving him to madness. The members of the congregation had personally blamed Lorcan for the event on Sunday, and had collectively declared that they would not return until the last rodent was caught and disposed of. As if it weren’t hard enough to get Terrasylvans into the chapel, now they were holding him at ransom! He couldn’t afford not to have people come, so though it angered him, he needed to find the last squirrel and prove it was no longer in the chapel. But, alas, no luck whatsoever. He could never see the thing, but he could hear it. It mocked him with its chittering voice, scurrying through the rafters, or just around the other corner, just out of reach.
So here he was, storming around the chapel, potato sack in hand, utilizing some choice Norse words he’d picked up from Ul’vade, and promising Shay that she’d receive the most horrible retribution for her actions, and be exposed for the heathen she was. Maybe he’d set up a stake to burn her at? One right outside her house, with her name engraved on it. Wanted posters, as well? Nice ones, that declared her to be a practitioner of the dark arts? Yes, that would do it. Nobody would REALLY believe it of course. At least, not to the point of actually burning Shay at the stake, but she would certainly get some grief over it. Come to think of it, under other circumstances, Lorcan might have even found the prank with the squirrels to be funny. He might have understood the futility of seeking for a fourth squirrel, and discovered the twist in Shay’s joke. But, he was tired, and his sanity was not at the level it usually was.
Suddenly, in the middle of pacing the main hall, Lorcan stopped in his tracks. He angrily threw down the cloth bag, muttering manically to himself. “Oh, hang it all! This miserable squirrel, this awful chapel, Shayen Locke, I should just burn everything to the ground. Yes, I think I will! I’ll burn down the chapel! That’ll take care of the squirrel! Then, I’ll never have to worry about getting people in here. Yes!” Lorcan began giggling madly, looking around him, as if searching for the nearest thing to set fire to. Then, he collapsed to the ground, laughing like a madman. He yelled out, “ALRIGHT SHAY!! YOU WIN!! YOU’VE OFFICIALLY BROKEN ME!! YOU CAN TAKE YOUR PRIZE AND GO!!” With that, Lorcan curled up in a ball, and began rotating between weeping and giggling. Eventually, as he lay there, he fell asleep, silencing his madness.
Puckleflup and Dobble, who had been watching fearfully from the rafters, glanced at each other. “Maybe we should…um…maybe we should stop making them squirrel noises,” said Dobble. Puckleflup looked back down at Lorcan, and nodded slowly.
Whatever it was that had been causing Lorcan’s nightmares, it must have taken pity on him, because he slept much better than he usually did. It was some much needed rest, without any visions, or voices, or portents of his horrible demise, which was nice. Lorcan didn’t see a single thing as he slept, which was for several hours. Though, sometimes, he unconsciously thought that he could hear the sound of a woman weeping in the distance. It was a heartbreaking sound, filled with regret, loneliness, and deep mourning. If only he could find out where it was coming from…
And suddenly, he awoke, facedown, his body cold and shivering. Lorcan lifted his head, squinting through the sudden light all around him. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust, but he eventually realized that he was outside! He had been lying facedown in the dirt-wait. He was right behind the chapel! What on earth was he doing here? He lifted his eyes upward a little bit, in order to get some kind of clue as to how he had gotten here. His eyes immediately fell upon a tombstone directly in front of him. It was cold and gray (unsurprising for a tombstone), sitting in front of an open grave. But, that didn’t make sense; there was a name on it, etched into the top of the marker. He couldn’t quite make it out, so Lorcan crawled closer. As he did, the name became more pronounced. As he read the name, Lorcan’s blood ran cold, his face draining of all color.
“No. What-NO. What is this?” Lorcan reached forward to touch the name engraved on the cold granite, but just before his fingers could reach it, the name vanished. Lorcan recoiled, pushing himself to a seated position, and backing away from the empty grave. The name did not reappear; it was as if Lorcan had imagined the whole thing.
His heart pounding, Lorcan stood and looked around him. The sun was barely visible through the thick clouds overhead, but it was clear that the day was much further along than it had seemed to be a moment ago. He must have been asleep for a long time. Admittedly, he did feel much better, but how had he gotten out here? Had somebody moved him? And why?
Suddenly, the words of Munin, his visitor from the week before, came back to him. ‘Go visit your brother! You’d probably like to see him- er, he’d like to see you before…well, he’d just like to see you.” Surely, nothing had happened to him…right? Lorcan glanced fearfully at the tombstone again. The name L. MacBroin only belonged to two people he knew of: himself, and his brother, Lucan. And with the dreams he’d had recently, what he’d just seen couldn’t be a coincidence. He had to see Lucan, now.
Lorcan dashed around the chapel, dodging graves as he went, and threw open the front doors. Closing them carefully behind him, and locking them, he then proceeded to go to his room. He feverishly opened his wardrobe, and reached for the iron box that sat at the bottom. He opened it gingerly to reveal the Yggdrasil ring, glowing dimly against the dark interior of the box. He picked it up, and lifted it to eye level. Lorcan sighed; he had to try magic again sometime, right? He slipped the ring onto his finger, and closed the wardrobe.
He turned to another drawer nearby and pulled out some parchment and a quill. He scribbled out a brief note explaining that he had left to visit his brother, and would return in the next few days. And, whoever might find this note, tell Shay that she’s a heathen, and will be punished for her sins. With that, he set the note down on the nearest bench to the door. Lorcan figured that with the ring’s power, he could travel between Terrasylvae and Shalemont at a moment’s notice, so he could quickly see his brother, make sure he was alright, and return before anyone missed him.
His resolve firm, Lorcan turned to face the wall. Now, he needed to address the “Gatekeeper” of the place he wished to travel to. For Northern Ireland, that would likely be one of the Tuatha De Danaan. Steeling his mind, Lorcan pointed his fist at the wall and said loudly, “Great Dagda, grant me passage to Shalemont, I pray you!”
There was silence for a moment, then the ring gleamed brightly. Green light appeared on the wall in front of Lorcan, curving and bending to trace the shape of a door, outlined by old Gaelic characters. Suddenly as the doorway was completed, the stone faded away, opening up to a scene of cold, lifeless earth, with mountains barely visible in the distance. Lorcan braced himself, and walked forward through the portal.
Instantly, a dusty, burned smell filled his nostrils. He coughed briefly, and looked around him. The landscape was bleak and dry, with no signs of life save some gnarled, withered trees a ways off. Behind Lorcan was a large boulder, where the portal had already closed. And, behind that…
“Shalemont,” said Lorcan. “Welcome home.” Shalemont was nothing like one would expect Ireland to be. Upon winding up here, one might wonder if they were still in the British Isles. Whereas Ireland was green, rainy, and beautiful, Shalemont was barren, stark, and very, very dead. The village relied wholly on a large caravan of merchants that would pass through town every one or two weeks, so they could trade Shalemont Mines’ iron ore in return for food, medicine, and clothing. Lorcan’s father had owned the mine, and robbed the people his entire life, taking all the money made from the ore, and spending it on his own luxurious lifestyle while the people suffered in poverty, with nowhere else to go. Fortunately, that had all changed when Lucan had taken over the mine. He had been far more generous, and while Shalemont was certainly not a desirable place to live, it was better than being a place to die.
Lorcan strode toward town, which was dully illuminated by the setting sun on the horizon. As he walked down the central street to MacBroin Manor, he observed the condition of the town. The houses were small, many of them now uninhabited, made of patchwork stone and wood. Surely, Lucan had given the miners better wages to pay for better housing, but there was only so much to go around, he supposed. Overall, the town felt desolate. More so, even, than before. At last, Lorcan arrived at the front door to his family’s estate. Taking a breath, he seized the large iron knocker on the door, and pounded three times, sending echoes down the halls inside.
Lorcan waited for several minutes before he heard hurried footsteps approaching. A woman answered the door, fair and redheaded, wearing a simple black dress. She looked at Lorcan suspiciously, scanning him from top to bottom. “Evenin’, she said politely, albeit curtly, “What can I do for you?”
Lorcan bowed his head slightly. “Evening miss, I’m here looking for my brother, Lord MacBroin. Is he here?” He assumed this lovely woman was a maid or some such person, though he didn’t recognize her.
The woman snorted. “Alright stranger, first off, I’m a missus, not a miss, so you get that straight. And, there’s no ‘Lord’ MacBroin here, only my husband, and-” she stopped halfway through her sentence, her eyes momentarily flashing between confusion and realization. “Your…your brother?” She said, half to Lorcan, half to herself. She looked more carefully at Lorcan’s face. She gasped slightly. “Lorcan,” she said, amazedly. She opened the door widely. “Come in,” she said.
Lorcan was just as surprised as she was. ‘A missus’…’my husband’…no…it couldn’t be. Had Lucan married? He supposed it was possible. He hadn’t seen his brother in over three years, so he supposed it was possible, but…wow. He walked through the open door, which closed sharply behind him, he looked more carefully at his supposed sister-in-law. “You’re…Lucan’s wife?” he asked, dumbfounded.
The woman recovered herself, placing her hands on her hips, and looking sternly up at Lorcan. “And don’t you forget it,” she said, pointing at him, in the way only true-bred Irish women can. She struggled to find words for a moment, looking around her as if trying to find somewhere to go. Then, resolve came back into her eyes. “You come with me,” she commanded, gesturing at Lorcan. She walked down a hallways lit by small lanterns, and Lorcan followed her. As they reached the end of the hall, they came to a pair of large doors, slightly ajar, with light shining through the space between them. “You wait here,” commanded the woman again. Lorcan nodded, and after she had given him one last look, she darted inside the room.
A man’s voice came from inside. “My beloved, you’ve returned! And here I was worrying that you’d run off with another man! But, what’s the matter love? You look as if you’d seen a ghost!” A muttered reply, too low for Lorcan to hear, was uttered. There was the sound of a chair scraping, and hurried footsteps, then the door swung wide open. It was Lucan alright; bearded, finely groomed, laugh lines under his eyes, and thoroughly shocked. “Lorcan,” he whispered, as if he didn’t quite believe his eyes.
Lorcan smiled weakly. “Hello, brother.”
Lucan’s face lit up, and he laughed loudly. “Lorcan! Lorcan, you’re alive! I don’t believe it, you’re here!” Lucan laughed loudly again, and threw his arms around Lorcan, who hesitantly returned the gesture. After a few moments, they separated, and Lucan asked incredulously, “What are you doing here?”
Lorcan smirked, “Oh, you know me, I’m just here for a little vacation.” He shoved Lucan jokingly. “I came to see you, you idiot! What do you think, I came to admire the scenery outside?”
They shared a hearty laugh, and embraced again. Lucan placed a hand on Lorcan’s shoulder, and steered him closer to the dining table in the middle of the room, which was lit by a few candles, and had two plates of food upon it. Lucan held out his hand to his wife, who came over and took it, looking relieved, yet confused. Lucan grinned, “Well, it looks like you’ve met my wife already.”
Lorcan nodded. “I have. It’s a pleasure ma’am.” The woman, now considerably more relaxed, smiled warmly, and curtseyed slightly.
Lucan gripped her hand a little tighter. He looked at her with complete adoration. “This is the love of my life, Adeline O’Driscoll. Well, MacBroin now, I suppose.”
Adeline rolled her eyes. “Married for 3 years, and he still believes that I’m still that merchant girl he had just barely met. Can’t even remember that we’re married. Honestly, it’s a wonder I actually haven’t run off with another man already. He’d likely remember my last name at least.” She said that last part with a devilish gleam in her eyes.
Lucan pretended to look nervously between Lorcan and Adeline. He pointed his finger scornfully at his wife, and tried to look angry, but failed to keep a small grin off his face. “Now, don’t you get any ideas. I’ll lock you up in the cellar if I have to. Besides, Lorcan’s a priest, so he won’t be eloping and marrying anyone.” Lucan turned to his brother for support. “Right?”
Lorcan, who had been smiling in spite of himself, suddenly snapped to attention, taken aback. “What? Yes- I mean, no, of course not. I mean, I’m not opposed to marrying, but not right now at least, and certainly not to another man’s wife, I-” Lorcan stopped at the laughter from Lucan and Adeline.
Lucan was clutching his sides a little from laughing. “Goodness man, I was only joking! I’ve never seen a man blush or stammer so badly!” He clapped Lorcan on the back. “Where’s my hospitality? You aren’t some stranger or vagabond, you’re family! Come, sit down, let’s get you something to eat. You must have traveled for weeks, or even months, to get here! Why, look at you! It looks like you didn’t even bring anything with you! You weren’t roughed up by some marauders, were you?”
Lorcan allowed himself to be pushed into a seat, but stopped his brother mid-stream. “Oh hush mother hen, I’m fine. I… well, it’s a little complicated how I got here. I don’t know where to start…”
Lucan sat opposite Lorcan, eagerly looking at him while Adeline fetched some food for the new guest. Lucan waved his hand dismissively. “Start where you like. Tell me where you’ve been all this time. Last time I saw you, you said you were going out to find some kind of purpose in life. I have to ask, do you think you found what you were looking for?”
Lorcan, who had been through a whirlwind of emotions that day, breathed deeply, and smiled. He wanted to take this moment to enjoy himself. He was with family for now. He considered his response for a moment, then spoke. “Yes, I believe I did. I’ll tell you what I can, but brace yourself,” Lorcan smiled wistfully, “It’s a bit of a long story.”