It was with great dread that Lorcan awoke the next morning. He lay there, staring up at the bare ceiling above him, his body feeling heavy and sluggish. Groaning, he sat up in bed, joints popping slightly, and looked around. The room seemed darker, duller, and Lorcan sat silently for several moments, not wishing to disturb the quiet.
Lorcan winced at the thought, the words from his dreams repeating themselves again. He had dreamed of the monastery, as he always did. Once again, he had been running after Dorian, trying to seek shelter in the woods, always falling short. The monastery, his home for a few wonderful years, his loyal friends, his hope for a peaceful life, all taken from him by raiders from the North. In a single night, he had lost all that he had held most dear, and he’d spent every night since trying to forget it, to no avail. He had gained much since then; the Order of the Rose had been good to him, taken him in, given him purpose. He was grateful, and happy, but no matter how much he tried, the Monastery sat looming over him, distant, but ever present. Today, he was going to confront it.
Lorcan looked around his old room, trying to find anything to distract him from his thoughts. Unfortunately, there was little in the room to aid him. All of the furniture, save the bed in which Lorcan had been sleeping, was gone. Lucan, in his efforts to help those emigrating from Shalemont, had sold everything in the house, leaving only the bare essentials for the family. Lorcan’s old bedside table, his desk, his wardrobe, down to the curtains, were gone, leaving only a thick layer of dust, and melancholy. Lorcan had never loved it here as a boy; his father’s neglectful behavior and a younger Lucan’s tormenting had made this place far from a happy home. But, home it had been, and even then, there had been a feeling of life about the place. Now, everything and everyone had gone. Lorcan thought that sleeping in this bed had felt like sleeping in a graveyard. Your only company was the dead, and vague memories.
Lorcan shook his head, sitting up straighter. What was he doing, moping about? He had a job to do. Lysander was sick, and he had a meeting with a goddess, hopefully to plead for aid for the boy. His mind refocused, and he stood up, rubbing his eyes, his resolve growing firmer by the second. He dressed quickly, donning his traveling cloak and boots. He placed the Yggdrasil ring on his finger, and strapped his rapier to his waist. He strode confidently to the door, and threw it open. He walked through it, but paused slightly, looking over his shoulder at the empty room. A kind of sense of loss pricked Lorcan’s heart for a moment. He had a feeling that this was the last time he would see this room. Shrugging it off, Lorcan closed the door and walked away.
He met Lucan in the entrance hall, the room dimly lit by a lantern set on the ground. Lucan was embracing Adeline, and seemed to be whispering something in her ear. At the sound of Lorcan’s approach, they broke apart, and Adeline stepped away, her expression hidden in the shadows. Lucan turned to Lorcan, his face set in grim determination.
“Are you ready to go, brother?” asked Lucan.
Lorcan nodded. “Yes. As… as ready as I’ll ever be.”
Lucan nodded once. He looked down at Lorcan’s sword, then back up to his face. He turned slightly, gesturing to the wall with a turn of the head. “Well, alright. Do that…whatever it is you do with that ring of yours.”
Lorcan approached his brother, standing side by side with him, both facing the wall. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Aye. Anything to save my boy.”
“Right. Let’s do this then.” Lorcan raised his arm, pointing his fist to the wall. “Oh great goddess that summons me, grant me passage to the ruins of the monastery I once called home.”
The Yggdrasil ring glowed brightly, and gray lines of light immediately began tracing the shape of a door on the wall. As the door was complete, the image of an open field presented itself, a dark sky overhead, with the distant shapes of birds hovering in the distance.
The two brothers looked at each other a moment, nodded again, and stepped through the door- Lucan, a little hesitantly. They were immediately met with a cold wind, which tore at their clothes, making them clutch their cloaks tightly to their chests. The sky was angry and broiling, ready to storm. Large crows swooped and dove all around them, as if indifferent to the cold gusts enveloping them.
And there, a distance ahead of them, was a large mass of crumbling stone. The monastery, once a large fortress, was now little more than fractured walls, piles of stones, and overgrown weeds and ivy. It was nothing but rubble, but Lorcan still recognized it. He could still make out the shape of the front gate, the archway being mostly intact, and the outline of what had once been a tower. Lorcan’s throat constricted a little. That tower had been where his friends William and Dominguez had died. He turned away, pretending to cough into his sleeve.
Lucan patted Lorcan on the shoulder. Lorcan turned to him. His brother had a sympathetic smile on his lips, his eyebrows creased in concern. “Bad memories, I know. I’m sorry you have to come back here; I wouldn’t have, if I’d had the choice.”
Lorcan looked forlornly at the ruins ahead. “They weren’t all bad memories.” He pulled his collar up. “I’m here to see what this goddess wants from me, and ask for help for Lysander, nothing more.”
Lucan nodded. “Aye, fair enough.” He looked down at Lorcan’s sword. “Do you think we’ll be needing that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, and it may not be much good anyway, but I figured it was better than nothing at all.”
Lucan bit his lip. “I suppose you’re right.” He shifted awkwardly, as if unsure of what to say. Finally, he asked, “So, this is a goddess, then? A real goddess? I… I don’t suppose…you know…you’ve ever met a god before?”
Lorcan smiled ruefully. “Once, yes, I think. From what I know, all signs seem to say that we are going to meet a goddess- one native to Ireland. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what to expect.”
Lucan chuckled nervously. “A Christian priest in a world of gods and goddesses. That does put you in a bit of a spot, doesn’t it?”
He chuckled back, though there was little humor in it. “I’ve had to broaden my horizons a bit, that’s for sure. It doesn’t hurt my faith though. They may be considered gods by many, but there’s only one real God I’m aware of.”
“Thanks brother. That does help a bit.”
The two set off toward the ruins of the monastery, hoping to find some shelter from the wind. As they approached, the crows above seemed to gain more interest in them, circling them cawing more fervently. They were too far away to hear very well, but Lorcan could faintly make out words from their calls. It would seem his power of Birdspeech still applied here.
They found the walls of the fortress, and moved as if to go inside, but they stopped just before entering. The winds had suddenly come to a halt, leaving an eerie calm on the desolate field. Even the crows had ceased to call to each other, their wings beating silently above. The brothers looked at each other, sharing confused expressions, as a faint sound was carried toward them across the plain, growing louder and louder. Shouting, screaming, the clanging of iron on iron, crying, begging, warhorns blaring, all growing to a deafening din. The sounds of carnage rang through the field filling Lorcan’s ears. The two men covered their ears, fruitlessly trying to block out the sounds.
As soon as the cries had come, they were gone, fading away like a clap of thunder. Lorcan tentatively lowered his hands from his ears and opened his eyes. Lucan turned around first, eyes widening. “By the angels above,” he whispered.
Lorcan followed suit, a grisly scene of violence meeting his eyes. Men in rough tunics, carrying pitchforks, bearded men in furs, their axes lying next to them, armored nights with gleaming swords, all dead, lying strewn across the field in all directions. Some lay facedown, others staring up at the sky, their eyes glossed over, still others sat on their knees, caught in unending prayers to the various gods that had never saved them. Amongst them, walking barefoot amid the dead, was the woman from Lorcan’s visions, striding slowly, yet confidently toward them.
She was tall, even taller than Lorcan, dressed in dark red, her deep black hair billowing around her despite the lack of wind. Her eyes also were black, emotionless, and piercing. She was beautiful, terrible, regal. Her expression was one of absolute surety. You knew, as did she, that in whatever she commanded, she was going to be obeyed.
“Lorcan MacBroin,” she said, her voice reverberating in the air. “Long have I awaited you, calling to you. You have avoided me, pushing away your visions, until it was almost too late.” She stood, imposing, demanding, before them, neither her face nor voice betraying any emotion. Her words echoed oddly in the air, almost garbled, as if there were more than one person speaking.
Lucan and Lorcan turned slightly, eyeing each other nervously. Lorcan cleared his throat, forcing himself to speak in what he dearly hoped was a calm voice. “My lady,” he began, “I admit I pushed away my dreams. I did not know you, nor what you wanted of me. I neither knew where to go nor what to do.”
“Lies.” The word came out as a hiss, thought the goddess’s face showed no anger.
Voices and sounds came to Lorcan’s ears. Shouts, calls for help, screams, voices calling Lorcan’s name, voices that despite his efforts to forget them, had haunted his dreams for many, many years.
Lorcan jumped. He whirled around, eyes darting through the ruins around him, but saw no one. He turned back to the goddess. “You,” he said. “You’ve been sending me visions. Visions of this place, the night I left, of…of my friends. Why? What do you want from me?” He said this exasperatedly, his hands clenched as fists at his sides.
The woman stared at him impassively. Her face seemed to shift, her features growing both older and younger at the same time. Wrinkles formed on her head and cheeks, wiped away that same moment by a youthful blush. She simultaneously looked bent over with age, and straightened up energetically. She was aged and ageless at once, coalescing into the same body and face, changing, and constant, an effect that made Lorcan’s eyes burn, and made him look away. She spoke again to him.
“You should be grateful, Lorcan, Son of the Raven.” Her blood-red dress swirled about her. “I ask nothing of you, nor have I ever done so. It is you who requires this task of yourself. I wish only to give you a gift.”
At this, Lucan stepped close to Lorcan, whispering furtively in his ear. “Please, Lorcan, be careful,” he hissed. “She’s a goddess, and gods never give anything freely.”
Lorcan nodded, pulling away from his brother. He did his best to look the goddess in the eyes. “My lady, I do know what you mean by me requiring any task of myself. I come to plead only your aid. There lies a child in my brother’s household, on the point of death. I come to beg your help.”
The goddess waved her hand dismissively. “All who call upon the gods wish for such things. Power, wealth, long life, miracles. Many die wishing for the gods to save them, feeling cheated they did not receive more, when they should have been grateful for what they received. But!” She held out her hand, as Lorcan had opened his mouth to speak. “But, I am not unwilling. I am aware of this child. He may yet be spared; there are means available to you which may save him. But at a price.” She looked meaningfully at Lorcan. “Life is not easily given, and death will not be cheated. Where there is death, there will always be death, and there is much death surrounding you, Lorcan MacBroin.”
Lorcan narrowed his eyes. “I’ve been told something like that before. A woman once told me that she mourned those of the MacBroin clan.”
The goddess nodded. “You have met Deirdre, one of my daughters. Many years ago, she was sent to your ancestors, to signal their deaths, and to mourn them, to call their names in tears. A Keening, a cry for those who are about to die.”
Lorcan turned away, so as not to show the worry in his eyes. “What do you want from me.”
The goddess seemed to smile, just slightly, though her dark eyes showed no mirth. “I call you here, Raven-Son, to let you earn what you have sought for so many years.” Her smile widened a little (but for irony or sincerity it was impossible to tell). “Forgiveness. Forgiveness for letting your friends die.”
Lorcan’s heart burned with anger. His lip curled into a snarl, and he clenched his fists harder. “Let them die?” he asked, menacingly. “They were taken from me by vile men, killers. They were slaughtered in front of me and I was-” his voice broke. “I was powerless to stop them.”
The woman cocked her head to the side. “Powerless.” The word was a statement, not a question. “Why, then, do you still hold yourself accountable for their deaths? Why do the cries of your comrades come to you when you close your eyes?” She stepped forward, looming over Lorcan as she spoke. “You stand condemned, Lorcan MacBroin, with yourself standing as the accuser. You carried the bodies of your slain loved ones as a young man. You carry them still. I mean only to liberate you from this burden.” Her words were kind, but they resonated with neither tones of kindness nor malice. There was only her voice, dispassionate, and powerful.
Lorcan forced himself to state up into the pitch-dark eyes of the goddess. “Who are you?”
Thunder boomed overhead, and the sound of cawing crows overhead seemed to magnify. Over this, the goddess’s whisper could be heard, piercing and reverberating.
“I am she who is called Morrigan, wife of the Dagda, and goddess of war.”