An Empty Grave: Part 2

The sun had long since set on Shalemont by the time Lorcan had finished his story, and the candles in the dining room of MacBroin Manor were now little more than stubs, shedding less and less light on the family gathered around them. Lucan and Adeline sat in rapt attention to Lorcan’s words, hardly moving, save to quickly get up and stoke the nearby fire in the hearth. Lorcan told them of his travels since his last departure from Shalemont; venturing into England, finding the Order of the Rose, and settling down in Terrasylvae. He also explained some memorable experiences from his crusade in the Americans, and his time spent among the indigenous peoples there, as well as the return home.

Lucan and Adeline had been a wonderful audience, ‘oohing’ in all the right places, and gasping at the right moments. They rarely interrupted to ask a question, and courteously stayed attentive, despite the lateness of the hour. Despite wanting to tell them everything, Lorcan held back many details of his adventures. He didn’t want to talk about magic, the Fae, demons, dragons, or really any of the more outlandish aspects of Woodland. Least of all did he want to talk about his adventure with Ul’vade, and his quest to find Mimir’s Well. Most people, of course, believed in such things as magic, Faeries, piskies, and whatnot. It was a part of cultural life. But, it was another thing entirely to realize that all of the stories are true; that gods and monsters, heroes, witches, and magic were all real, and that they still influenced the lives of men. So, Lorcan settled for the more digestible material.

When Lorcan had finally finished, Lucan whistled lightly, and laid back in his chair, smiling wistfully. Adeline exhaled, and sat with her cheek resting on her hand, looking at Lorcan with an interested, though slightly suspicious gaze. She knew he wasn’t telling the whole story. After a momen’ts contemplation, Lucan leaned forward again, smiling at Lorcan. “Now that,” he said, “is one fine story. If it had come from anyone else, I wouldn’t have believed it, but you…” Lucan gestured vaguely to his brother, chuckling. “So, you and your band of merry men go fight in defense of the peasant folk, noble and daring, just like in the stories.”

Lorcan grinned. “And on the weekends we fight dragons, but nobody believes me, so I’ve stopped telling people.” He looked expectantly at the couple before him. They looked very happy together, which delighted him. Happiness is a rare commodity, especially in a place like this. It gave him hope to see that his brother had found someone to bring some light into his life. “So, what’ve you been doing? I mean, clearly, marriage and such, but apart from that, what? Been oppressing the…how’d you call them, the peasant folk?”

Adeline laughed lightly. “The only person who’s oppressed around here is me. He treats the miners all right, but he makes me do all the chores around here. I don’t even get paid for it, I’ll have you know.” There was a playful smile on her lips.

Lucan shrugged dismissively. “I’d send her to the mines myself, but she’s absolutely useless with a pickaxe-I mean-” Lucan swiftly changed tactics as his wife began reaching for a kitchen knife. “That’s to say, I don’t know what I’d do without her here, really. Without my dearest, most beloved, fairest of all women (Lucan added extra emphasis to his words, making Adeline smile), I’d most definitely waste away and die.”

Adeline muttered, “Much better.”

Lucan smiled, sensing the danger had passed. “Seriously though. Not too long after you left, I met Adeline as she and her father came through town with the usual band of merchants. They were fabric and clothing merchants, you know. I’d never seen her before, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. So, I let her rob me for some half decent blankets and clothes she was selling.”

Adeline nudged him mischievously. “You were just an easy target dear. Any merchant could have seen that.”

Shrugging again, Lucan continued. “Fair enough, I suppose. Anyway, every time she’d pass through town, I’d buy from her, and bribe her enough to the point that she accepted my courtship. After a few months, I wised up, and realized that she’d stolen a fortune from me. So, in an effort to get it all back, I asked her to marry me, and managed to trick her into saying ‘yes’.” Lucan smiled widely, putting his arm around Adeline. “And now she’s stuck with me, til death do us apart.” They looked lovingly into each others’ eyes, as Lorcan shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Lorcan was very happy for his brother, and by no means was he fidgeting out of awkwardness, but his brother’s last few words had caught him off guard. He suddenly remembered the reason he came. The image of the tombstone swam before his eyes. He wanted to explain his reasons for coming to his brother, but how could he? His brother looked happy, and in perfect health. He, now that he thought about it, didn’t even feel it to be likely that he’d seen what he’d thought he’d seen at all. He had been half-asleep, and had been seeing things for days. Naturally, it…now. In any case, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything.

Adeline, clearly the more perceptive of the couple, noticed Lorcan’s solemn expression. She eyed him with concern. Lucan also glanced over, and upon noticing Lorcan’s position, grinned and spoke. “What’s the matter? Not jealous are you?”

Lorcan, shaking himself from his brooding, raised his eyebrow at Lucan. “Jealous? Absolutely not! I wouldn’t marry you for all the gold in the world!” They all laughed, shrugging off the dark cloud that had briefly hung over the table.

Chuckling, Lucan waved his hand. “Alright then, I bet I know what that look’s about.” He leaned across the table, an amused, knowing look on his face. “You’ve got a girl of your own, don’t you?”

Lorcan, who had been taking a drink, spluttered and choked. He coughed for a few moments, trying to speak. “M-me?” he stammered. “N-no! Nothing like that, no. I hardly know any girls, and…and none of them are really interested in a priest like me anyway.” Lucan looked unconvinced, so Lorcan pointed his finger at his brother and said, “And even if that weren’t true, you mind your own business. I have enough people asking me when I’m going to marry. I don’t have any plans in mind, so-“

His brother held up his hands in surrender, though still laughing. “Alright, alright, I meant no offense. Just asking is all.”

Lorcan exhaled deeply. He quickly changed subjects. “I noticed that the village is a little more empty than usual. Is that just me, or have you started killing them?”

The lightheartedness faded from Lucan’s eyes. He suddenly grew grim. “Ah, yes, the village.” He looked at Lorcan. “Well, you see, it’s just that…well, I’ll say it openly. The mine is finished.” At Lorcan’s puzzled look, he continued. “We’ve depleted the iron veins in the mine. Nothing we can do about that. The miners have been saying it for months; there’s just simply nothing left here. We can’t survive here if we don’t have iron to sell, so, people have been packing up and leaving to start a better life elsewhere. I support that too; Shalemont has never been a good place to live and die. We’d leave too, but many here don’t yet have the money to leave. I’ve given money to all those I can, and we’re scraping up the last bits of iron to sell so we can send everyone else. It shouldn’t be too much longer, and then everyone will have left, and we’ll follow.” He looked at Lorcan solemnly. “So, you understand.”

Nodding gravely, Lorcan looked at his brother’s suddenly tired face. He wished he had been able to see this side of his brother before. He was strong, noble, kind- all the things he wanted to be. But, where would they go? Neither of them had seen much of the world, and what living could they make? Adeline was a merchant, but with no wares, and Lucan had known only the mine. Suddenly, an idea came to him, brightening his spirits. He smiled at his brother and sister-in-law. “Here’s an idea,” he said. “After you’ve helped everyone leave, why don’t you come with me to Terrasylvae? It’s lush and green there, with many good people from all over Europe, and some from Asia even. You’ll be living in a cottage, rather than a manor house, and you’ll have to find different work, but, you’ll have a new life. Is that something you’d want?” He looked at the two hopefully.

Adeline looked at him, dumbfounded. “You’d…you’d do that? I mean, you’d take us with you? To…to start a new life?” She and Lucan looked at each other, wonder in their eyes.

Lorcan sheepishly looked away. “I mean… if you want. I’m not going to force you, it’s just-” Lorcan’s words were stifled by Lucan getting up, moving around the table, and crushing him in a bear hug.

“Of course we’d want to go with you, you big idiot,” said Lucan, who sounded as if he were fighting back emotion. As they separated, Lucan turned to Adeline. We’ll have to make sure we’re ready. That, and we’ll have to tell-“

“Papa?” came a small voice from behind them.

The two brothers whirled around to see a little boy at the door. His hair was dark brown like his father’s, and his eyes a deep green, like his mother. However, his eyes and cheeks were red and puffy, as if he’d been crying. He was just a toddler, and couldn’t be older than two years old, but strong looking, able to walk (and likely talk) very well for his age. Lucan stepped forward and picked up the boy, looking into his eyes. “Well hello there m’boy! What are you doing up at this time? Was it the nightmares again?” The boy nodded. “Well,” said Lucan, smiling reassuringly, “I’ve brought someone to scare away the nightmares.” He turned toward Lorcan, showing him to the child in his arms. “This is your uncle Lorcan. You haven’t met him before, but he’s very brave and strong. He fights off monsters and ruffians all the time. He’s come to fight away the monsters in your dreams.” Lucan beamed at Lorcan, nodding his head slightly toward the child as if to say ‘Would you look at what I have here?’

The boy looked at Lorcan questioningly, as if deciding if he trusted him. “Uncle Low-kin,” he said slowly, trying to analyze the name for any signs of untrustworthiness. Lorcan must have passed the test, because the boy smiled and waved. “Hi.”

Lorcan smiled back. “Hello lad. It’s good to meet you. What’s your name?” It was a handsome child, he thought. He had definite MacBroin features about him. He immediately felt a swell of fondness for the boy.

“Lysander,” said the child. “Can you really fight away the monsters?” His face was full of childlike earnestness, his eyes swelling with wonder.

Lorcan bowed lightly. “Absolutely I can.” He looked at his brother accusingly. “Lysander. A fine name. Though, if we keep naming all the MacBroin men with an L name, people won’t be able to tell us apart will they?” Lorcan said it as a joke, but greater dread flooded the back of his mind. Another L. MacBroin…

Lucan shrugged. I guess I just wanted to carry on the tradition. And what do you mean nobody will be able to tell us apart? I’m lcearly the handsome one.” He raised his chin in mock haughtiness, making Lysander giggle.

“Mmm… is that what they say?” mused Lorcan. “In any case, I’ll hope the boy takes more after his mother, for his sake.” He offered out his arms to Lysander, who took them, and he lifted him up to eye level, as the boy wrapped his arms around his uncle’s neck. Lorcan and the child yawned in unison. “In any case, it’s late. We’ve all got to sleep, and it would seem I have some monsters to fight off. Good night to you all.”

Lucan, looking relieved, waved goodnight. Adeline called after them, “Lysander took the room across from your old one! And make sure the windows are closed tight, he refuses to sleep with them open.

“A very wise decision,” Lorcan muttered to himself. He turned back to nod his acknowledgement. “We’ll all talk again in the morning.” With that, he walked out of the room, Lysander held up by one of his arms, and began navigating the dark hallways of his childhood home. It had been years since he had been here, and it was pitch black, but no one really forgets the place where they grew up. Guided by nothing but memory, Lorcan found the exact room where his nephew slept. He entered, laid the boy down on his bed, and tucked him in. But Lysander looked anxious, and unwilling to sleep. Lorcan sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at him. “What is it lad?”

Lysander fidgeted. “I can’t sleep when she’s out there.” Lorcan asked him who ‘she’ was, and he shrunk a little into his sheets. “The crying woman.” He looked fearfully at the window, which had some moonlight seeping through. “She’s out there almost every night, sitting by the tree and crying. It’s scary.” Lysander looked up at Lorcan, fear and innocence in his eyes. Why does she cry, Uncle Lorcan (his R replaced by a W)? Is she hurt?”

Lorcan considered for a moment. “Sometimes,” he said, looking into his nephew’s eyes, “people cry because they’re hurt. Other times, it’s because someone or something they love isn’t there anymore, and they miss them very much. Or,” he paused, thinking, “there are people out there who are just sad sometimes. They’ve had to live through things that have made them sad, even though they might not know why, and they can’t help but cry.” he smiled sadly, though reassuringly at Lysander. “They aren’t bad or scary at all. Maybe they just need someone to give them a hug, and tell them they love them.” He patted the head of the child, who lay with his brow furrowed, as if thinking hard.

“Okay,” said Lysander, simply. The fear faded from his eyes, as if he had begun to understand something. “Goodnight,” he said, and rolled over, falling asleep almost instantaneously.

Lorcan chuckled. “There’s a good lad. You’re a fine boy Lysander, don’t let anyone tell you different.” He got up slowly, and walked over to the window. He looked out across the bleak landscape, sighing slightly. As he looked down, however, some movement caught his eye. There was a large dead tree just next to the mansion. At it’s base, nearly hidden in its shade, was a figure, rocking back and forth as if she were crying. “The crying woman,” muttered Lorcan, a chill going down his spine.

He supposed that if he didn’t see what was the matter with the figure below, he would be a hypocrite, so Lorcan quickly and quietly exited the room. He walked hastily through the halls, and soon found himself at the front door, which he pushed open, and stepped outside. The night was cold, and Lorcan shivered, walking around to the back of the house. Yes, there was definitely the sound of somebody crying, loudly. As he approached the tree behind the manor, a new chill ran through him that had nothing to do with the cold outside. The weeping that he now heard was precisely the same which he had heard in his dream, hours earlier. It was hopeless, miserable, and full of regret.

Lorcan peered around the edge of the tree, and found a woman, rocking back and forth, face buried in her hands, crying bitterly. The sound broke Lorcan’s heart. “Um, miss?” he asked tentatively. “Are you alright?”

The woman gasped slightly, startled, and looked up at Lorcan with red, puffy eyes. She was quite beautiful, though weeping had marred her face slightly. She had pitch black hair, and gray eyes, and there was something about her face that seemed almost…fae-like. Something about her eyes, her high cheek bones, her ears, left the impression that while she was no monster, she certainly wasn’t quite human either. She smiled weakly at Lorcan as if recognizing him, wiping her glistening cheeks. “Master Lorcan,” she said. “It’s been a long time. I just… I wish it didn’t always have to be under these kinds of circumstances.” Her lip quivered, her smile fading.

Lorcan looked at her, taken aback. “Do I…know you? W-what do you mean, ‘under these kinds of circumstances?”

The woman bit her lip, as if trying not to cry again. “My name is Deirdre,” she said, bowing her head a little. “I know every member of the MacBroin family. I meet you when you are born, I watch over you as you live, and I mourn you when you die. That is the lot of my kind. Me, and all my sisters, we each serve a noble house of this land, and for many years have I watched over the MacBroin clan. I wept at the passing of your ancestors, Lorcan MacBroin, and I will…I…” Tears began pouring from her eyes again. “I will one day weep for you too. I have mourned the loss of many, but I think I will weep the hardest for you.” Without warning, she flung her arms around Lorcan, and began sobbing into his shoulder.

Lorcan, now quite confused, as well as alarmed, froze, unsure of what to do. He couldn’t help but feel a great swell of pity for this woman, Deirdre. She seemed to genuinely care about him, and he feared what it might be that caused to her to cry so. Cautiously, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in closer. He wracked his brain to understand what she’d said. She was not dangerous, that much was clear. She seemed to care deeply about him, and wept out of real mourning. Then, the word came to him. A Banshee! An old Irish legend stated that a Banshee was a kind of woman-spirit (maiden or hag) that served a noble house, and cried and wailed to signal the approaching death of a member of that family. Fear gripped Lorcan’s heart as if crushed by the claws of some beast. He broke apart from Deirdre, who was still sniffling. “Deirdre,” he asked, urgently,” for what purpose have you come? For whom do you mourn?”

Deirdre looked down guiltily, her hair falling to hide her face. “I’m sorry Lorcan,” she said hesitantly. “I can’t say. Though, I wish I could.” She looked back up at Lorcan, every part of her face conveying loss and pain. “I’m…I’m sorry.” With that, she vanished, leaving nothing save the marks of fallen tears in the dirt, and a feeling of dread in Lorcan’s heart.

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