Happy Saturday and welcome to the Dog’s serialization of the novel Dark Soul. Sorry this is so late this week, the network at the Dog House was down. This is a work in progress, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions, don’t be shy about offering them up.
If you have just started reading this, you can find the previous chapters at the following links:
This serialization is only available here at Docudharma!
He met the Shadow coming down left hand set of stairs, and the man stopped and gave Tyrone a top to bottom look. Rising both eyebrows the Shadow said, “That look can only mean women. Or should I say woman?”
“Well, there was a woman here, but I really think that it has nothing to do with my look,” said Tyrone, “If I am happy, it is because I am fairly sure that in this basket is a skin of wine!”
“Hmm, yes, I know what a devoted coinsure of wine you are,” said the Shadow. Tyrone did have the decency to flush slightly at this comment but doggedly changed the subject.
“We should find the good brother, and share this with him, don’t you think?” he asked.
The Shadow nodded and said, “Aye, Carli would be very put out if we did not share the food with him. Do you know where he is?” Tyrone had little hope that the Shadow had been completely deflected from the topic of women, but he would take any postponement of the teasing that he could get. No doubt it would gain interest for being delayed, but who knew, they might all be dead tomorrow and he might escape completely.
“I think that he is somewhere in the back,” said Tyrone and walked into the hall.
The Shadow grinned at his nearly transparent attempt to divert him and followed, Tyrone down the hall. The hall ran about twenty-five feet and ended in a wall of natural stone. It was highly polished, but it had obviously not been cut into blocks, rather it had been shaped in place to provide support for the house. They found eight doors, and two hallways that branched to the left and right, giving access to the rooms located under the second floor. The first room to the right was a dining hall, with a long table and a door that the Shadow assumed lead to the kitchen.
Directly across from this was a room with a fire pit. Around the pit were wooden chairs and benches. A hole in the ceiling allowed the smoke to flow out and provided a good view of the sky. The ceiling was covered with cloth, draping down between the ties that held it up. In places patricians of semi-transparent cloth divided the room into sections. The colors of cloth ran the range of the rainbow, from deep reds, through vibrant greens, yellows and golds, on to blues and purples. It was a beautiful and inviting room, but Brother Carlinus was not in it, so they moved on.
“Have you noticed how rich and sensual the furnishings are?” asked Tyrone.
For the second time in less than an hour Tyrone had the feeling that he was missing a joke, when the Shadow replied, “Yes, it must have some purpose, don’t you think?”
The next two rooms where furnished as bedrooms, with the big beds with feather mattresses, and lots of small pillows. They came worked their way through the rest of the doors, finding sitting rooms and more bedrooms. The last door before the stone wall opened on a spiral stair, leading down. As the looked at the stair well they could faintly hear Brother Carlinus’s distinctive singing voice. Tyrone gave the Shadow a questioning look, only to get a shrug and a gesture to proceed in return.
Down the winding stone steps they went, with Brother Carlinus’s singing getting louder and clearer as they descended. The stairs lead out into a hallway that was cut into the granite bones of the mountains. It was lit with many small candles in wall scones. Contrary to the Shadows expectations the air had grown warmer and more humid as they entered the underground tunnel. Fifteen feet away was an arch that lead into a large room, more candle light and the unmelodious voice of Brother Carlinus came from within.
The Shadow stepped into the room and turned left to face the noise, what he saw made him pause for a moment. There, against the stone wall, was a sunken pool, with a brick lip rising about a foot above the floor. The pool was about three feet deep and filled with water that steamed. In the pool, naked as the day he was born sat Brother Carlinus.
His face was red from the heat and lines of sweat rolled down his chubby face. He was lounging back in the water, with his legs floating out in front, the pudgy toes of his feet just breaking the surface.
Regaining his composure, the Shadow asked, “Are you being cooked?”
“What do you mean?” asked Brother Carlinus sitting up in the pool.
“Well, I heard horrible sounds, and when I come in I find you a giant pot of boiling water. So what else could I assume, but that someone had decided to make a meal of you?” said the Shadow leaning arrogantly against a wall.
“Of course you would think hymns where horrible, “said Brother Carlinus primly.
“Those were hymns? I could not make out the words in the face of the profusion of almost notes,” said the Shadow, “So, should I throw a couple of handfuls of mushrooms in with you?”
“You’ll not ruin my mood, Sir Shadow,” said Brother Carlinus, “I have not had a relaxing experience like this since I left my monastery. We had hot springs in a valley near St. Bensons. Nothing like a soak in hot pool to sooth tiered muscles.
The Shadow looked skeptically at the hot water, but it did not seem to be hurting the little priest, so he shrugged and said over his shoulder, “What do you think Tyrone? Is it just one chicken trying to tell other that it is not so bad in the pot, or should we give it a try?”
“I have sat in hot springs my self,” replied Tyrone, “and will again, whether they are cooking up priest soup or not.” He then set down the basket and began to take his cloths off. He removed his sword and set it on the floor near the edge of the tub, then removed his boots and the rest of his cloths. The Shadow, not willing to seem put out, causally did the same.
Once naked, he stepped carefully into the water. The water felt much hotter on his foot and leg than he had expected. It was so hot that the line where the water ended and the air began felt almost cold to him. The Shadow kept his face still as he sat and eased the rest of his body into the water. Once immersed the Shadow could feel tense muscles release and relax, he let out an involuntary sigh. Not wanting to let Brother Carlinus think that he had won anything, the Shadow asked, “So it is not too sinful for us to be in here naked?”
Tyrone groaned expecting a repaly of an argument that he had heard before, but Brother Carlinus surprised him and the Shadow by saying, “Not this time. The light here is low, and the reflections on the water provide enough cover.”
“Well, that is progress, I guess,” said the Shadow, in a voice that had an ever so slight overtone of pouting.
“And it deserves a drink to celebrate!” said Tyrone in triumph as he pulled a wine skin from the basket of food. “I knew that the Celesta would not leave us dry on our first night in their city, ” he said with a grin and climbed into the hot spring. He pulled the stopper of the skin out with his teeth and squirted a mouthful of red wine in his mouth. “Ah, that’s what Moria Costello’s little boy needed!” he said passing the skin to Brother Carlinus.
“May the Lord bless,” started Brother Carlinus.
“Hup! None of that, if you please,” interrupted the Shadow, “You bless that wine and you’ll ruin it for me. Worse, you might bless this water, and that would be the end of me for sure. So, if you please no blessings”
“Humph,” grunted Brother Carlinus with a scowl, “May the Good Lord continue to guide us to triumph converting the Celesta to the Holy Church,” and drank.
Taking the wine skin the Shadow said, “You will forgive me if I don’t say amen? That’s to say nothing of the fact that I am not sure that you will have any more chances to bring the Celesta to heel,”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Shadow!” admonished Brother Carlinus, “Of course we will have time here to bring the Celesta to the Lord,”
“Optimism and faith, that is all that is required of a priest; and you have it in bushels,” said the Shadow after a swallow of vine. “Let’s see what Tyrone’s opinion is. Well, Ty? What do you think of our chances?”
Tyrone slid a little deeper into the water and considered for moment, a small frown darkening his lips. “I don’t know, Shadow. I don’t have a good read on those Elders, and that makes it hard to say. If I had to guess, I think I would say that it is pretty evenly split between welcoming us and slitting our throats, with a little more weight on the side of the knife.”
“What?!?” squawked Brother Carlinus, sitting up straight and sending waves of hot water washing over the other two, “How could you think such a thing? The Celesta are peaceful and friendly and civilized. Look around you, have you not seen this city? Why it rivals the wonders of Rome itself! And this house, the beautiful fabrics, and clever decorations, what hostile people would build such things?”
“Ones that did not have to fight, and liked pretty things,” said the Shadow, “Did you forget what Astiabo told us? These people were conquerors, rulers through the strength of arms,”
“Were, is the important word in your statement,” said Brother Carlinus, “They lost their empire, and these are descendents of the ones that survived. Obviously they learned the lesson of their elders. Tyrone, you have seen what I mean. You tell him,”
“Yes, Tyrone, tell us what you have seen,” asked the Shadow, knowing where it would lead.
Tyrone gave them both a sour look, unhappy to be put in the middle like this, but not able to think of a way out. “Brother Carlinus, I am not sure at all that you are right. It is true that this place is wondrous, but it does not follow, to me, that just because someone makes lovely things that they’re peaceful or even good. I keep thinking of how the people looked at us as we came up the road. No one threatened us, but they sure could have,”
“My son, you have been a fighter too long, it has made you suspicious. Did you see any weapons in the crowd? Oh, I will grant you a few bows, and the boys had slings, but really, where are the swords? Where are the clubs and maces?” The Shadow shot Tyrone a raised eyebrow, Carlinus did notice more than he let on, but he was still wrong.
“Brother Carlinus, most of that crowd had weapons, and knew how to use them,” said Tyrone. “Just because they did not have swords, or armor does not make them unarmed. You might not have seen what a quarter staff can do, living at St. Bensons. But let me tell you, a man who knows how to use one can hold his own against a swordsman on foot. The farmers in the fields all had hoes or rakes; in the city the bakers had rolling pins, there were men and women with hammers of different kinds, and if that were not enough, there was the sheer number of them. No, Brother, I don’t think that this is necessarily a peaceful place,”
“How you can deny the evidence of your eye’s, is beyond me,” muttered Brother Carlinus, taking the wine skin again.
“You brought warriors on this mission to protect you, you should listen to their opinion,” said the Shadow, “Tyrone did not get to be his age by making mistakes where his safety is concerned. You might notice that both he and I still have our weapons with us and in reach.” When Brother Carlinus did not reply, the Shadow turned to Tyrone. “What do you make of our chances, if things turn bad?”
Tyrone shook his head and took a drink of the wine. “Not good. We are deep in a big city, and we have only seen one way out. Did you notice how there is only one entrance to each level? Even in the croplands? This place is a very good fort. About the only advantage I see is the horses, but against this many? Pah! A few bows like Astiabo’s could take us down and we would never see it coming. If the council decides not to welcome us, I think that the best we could do is try to kill enough of them to make them remember us,”
“That’s about how I see it,” agreed the Shadow.
“Where is your faith, Tyrone?” asked Brother Carlinus, “We are on a holy mission. How can you doubt that we will succeed?”
“Brother Carlinus,” said Tyrone with a sigh, “I learned at my father’s knee that most of the time, God fights on the side with the most heavy horse, and that might not be your side. I hope that we don’t have to fight, but that does not mean I won’t be ready to. You can be sure that Celesta feel the same way, just have another look at their city.”
“I would dearly love to know who designed the City, and what they thought they needed protection from. Do you think they where afraid that their enemies would hunt them down?”
Tyrone shrugged and said, “Who could know? But we might have a chance to find out, that or it won’t matter. Is anyone else hungry?”
“Aye,” said the Shadow sitting up a little in the water, “What did our hosts give us?”
Brother Carlinus looked from one man to the other, in disbelief. “I don’t understand you two at all,” he said. “One moment you are talking about trying to fight your way out of the city, and assuming that you will be killed doing it; the next, you are calmly discussing dinner!”
“Another warrior lesson,” said Tyrone, as he rooted around in the basket. “Never let problems in the future distract from what you are doing now. We know that we might be killed, if the Council of Elders so decide. But we also know that all we can do is die valiantly, so we might as well enjoy the time we have left. If it turns out that you are right, well is there any less reason to enjoy ourselves?”
“Eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow we may die!” said the Shadow loudly, “With a strong emphasis on the may,”
“Amen,” said Tyrone, “It looks like we have apples, pears, some goat cheese, and fresh bread!” Tyrone pulled himself up to sit on the edge of the pool, in deference to Brother Carlinus’s stated opinions, used his pants to cover his crotch. He tossed an apple to the Shadow, then one to Brother Carlinus, then ripped the bread into chunks and topped each of the three pieces with part of the cheese. He handed each man one of these, and set his portion and a pear on the broad edge of the pool. He slid back in to the hot water, with whooshing sigh.
He took a bite of the bread and chewed with gusto. After swallowing he said, “You know, the worst part of a long trip in the woods? No fresh bread.” This comment received a couple of grunts of agreement as the Shadow and Brother Carlinus fell upon their food like starving wolves. There was very little conversation for the next few minutes, as the men worked their way through the first fresh bread, fruit and cheese they’d had in weeks.
As they were winding down, Tyrone asked, “So, what of tonight? Do we set a guard?”
“I think so, “said the Shadow finishing his apple, “Astiabo thought that the council would meet till dawn at least. As much as I like him, I would hate to take his words as promises and him be wrong.”
“Some friend you are,” said Brother Carlinus in an accusing tone, “Astiabo is an honest and honorable man, and the minute he is out of sight, you accuse him of lying. For shame, Shadow, for shame!”
The Shadow closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples, as though a headache were coming over him. “Just when I think you might have learned enough to be able to go out in the world, you say something like that,” he sighed. Then looking to make eye contact with Brother Carlinus, he said, “I know that Astiabo is honorable, maybe better than you do. But he in no way gave us his word, nor did we ask for it, nor did I say he did. He told me what he thought would happen, not what he knew would happen. He also told me that he did not know which way the council would decide. So, you can see that I am not accusing him of anything. There is also that fact that Astiabo does not rule this city, and what he thinks may not matter those who do. Be that as it may, I think it safer to keep a watch, until we know where we stand,”
“Do as you like Shadow, but I will not be part of any watch standing. I trust our hosts and the Lord, and between the two I will sleep very well indeed,” said Brother Carlinus. Having made this pronouncement, he sloshed his way to the edge of the pool and climbed out. He slithered into his robe and left without another word.
After watching this performance Tyrone asked, “Why is it that one or the other of you is always stomping off in a huff?” This struck the Shadow as funny and made him spit a mouthful of wine into the air.
“You know, I never thought of it that way,” said the Shadow, handing Tyrone the nearly empty wine skin. “Maybe it is a case of an immovable object and an irresistible force?”
“More like a stubborn priest and a prideful sorcerer,” said Tyrone.
“Or a stubborn sorcerer and a prideful priest “said the Shadow.
“Or both,” said Tyrone laughing a little, “Me, I would give it up after a time,”
“And there is one of the differences between us. I do not ‘give up’, ever. Nor do I like to loose. I’ve had far too little practice to develop a taste for it,” said the Shadow settling back in the pool, so that only his head was above the water.
“So you would fight a fight that you know can’t be won, even if it weakens you to do it?” asked Tyrone.
“Ty, you have just described my life is a nut shell. But where you see a battle that is doomed, I see the chance for many small victories along the way. Who knows? I could always pull an amazing victory from certain defeat, and wouldn’t that be all the sweeter?”
“That water is far too deep for me, Shadow. I am just a poor second son, who fights when he might win, and runs when there is no hope. I leave the grand battles to those with a taste for them,”
“Well, that might just make you smarter than me. Though I highly doubt you have run from battle,”
“Not during, but before, if there is any chance. You can bet your fancy sword on that!” The Shadow snorted in reply. “So, I still don’t have an answer to my question; what do we do about a guard tonight?”
“You stand the early watch, and I’ll take the later. It does not really matter that Carli won’t join us, I would not sleep soundly tonight with him and his trusting ways the only protection,”
“I suppose that is for the best, still we should all sleep somewhere close together, just in case. Let me talk to him, I can get him to at least take that much of a precaution.”
“A deal it is,” said the Shadow standing up, “I am going to change into my other clothes. Why don’t we meet in that hall with the fire pit? It is close to the front door, and we can have a fire and sharpen our weapons, eh?”
“I will meet you there in a while,” replied Tyrone, “but for now I will enjoy the hot water, and some silence,”
“Well, so long as you don’t become soup,” said the Shadow as he gathered his clothes and walked toward the stairs. As Tyrone sighed and relaxed one last parting shot came floating in from the hall. “And be sure not to commit any sins of the flesh while you are alone!” came the taunt and it was followed by the Shadows distinctive laughter getting farther and farther away.
The Shadow had a large fire going in the pit, as well as many small candles burning in their holders when Tyrone entered the room. There was a slight breeze from the hole in the ceiling and it had set the hangings slowly swaying. The fire, candles and gauzy material all conspired to make the room seem filled with a multicolored fog, here translucent, there opaque, but always moving, shifting in color and transparency.
It was quite literally breath-taking, and Tyrone’s involuntary gasp brought the Shadow’s attention to him. The Shadow smiled a thin little smile, as he watched the look of wonder that lit Tyrone’s face.
“You look like a boy that has just walked into his first brothel,” said the Shadow.
“Something, like that,” said Tyrone, slightly abashed at his reaction to the room, “I had no idea that it would look this different at night, with the fire and the candles lit,”
The Shadow laughed and said, “Come on, sit by the fire and do some useful work. That will take the magic out it for you,” Tyrone found his way through the hanging cloth and took a seat on one of the deep seated wooden benches, laying his sword, knives and the tools for cleaning and sharpening them next to him. Leaning his head back, Tyrone could see the early stars coming out above the city. With a blowing sigh, he took up his sword and sharpening stone.
“Do you think all of their houses are like this?” Tyrone asked.
“Oh, no,” said the Shadow, “I know that they are not. I forgot to tell you, this is where young married couples go after the wedding,”
“This whole thing is the bridal chamber?” asked Tyrone incredulously. “They must have many weddings at one time, to need all this space,”
“I think they might do it once or twice a year, and only at that time, else why have all this?”
“Well, you can be sure that is not for passing travelers,” said Tyrone with a snort.
“That is true, but it was not a casual choice to put us here. They have no idea how we live at home, but they can be sure that by staying here, we are impressed with how they live. If they only knew how impressive the city was on it’s own, they might not have bothered,”
“I won’t tell them, if you don’t. I would just as soon not sleep in a stable, if it is all the same to you,”
“I had already been down that path, myself,” said the Shadow, “and I am happy to say that you and I are in complete agreement. If we are going to die tomorrow, how much better to sleep in a bed, than on the ground?”
“Are you worried?” asked Tyrone.
“No, not really, after all, I can’t effect what will happen at the council. I was nearly blind with anger when Carli opened his mouth, but having had a chance to think on it a little it might not be that bad. It galls me that they might spare us because he thinks their god and Yahweh are one and the same,”
“Are they the same?” asked Tyrone
“Who knows?” shrugged the Shadow, “I have no knowledge one way or the other. But Yahweh did like to give help in battle, and there were many that followed him before he sent his son to mettle in things. So, I would give it a one in two chance that he knew something of these people”
“Would God have let them go?” asked Tyrone, “It was long enough ago that he seemed pretty wrathful. Oh, wait, I know, free will right? Kind of a ‘See how you do without MY help, foolish people ‘, kind of thing?” This earned Tyrone a genuine smile from the Shadow, no condescension or mocking to dilute it’s impact.
“Not bad for someone raised in Yahweh’s church. But you had better watch out, they do not encourage civilians to think too closely on the tenets of faith, it is too dangerous.”
“I would say that you have been a good influence on me, but I know you would be upset by the word,” said Tyrone with a smirk. “Truth to be told, I don’t think about religion much, there are just too many other things that are more fun and profitable,”
“With that attitude, how did you get mixed up in the grand quest to convert the Celesta?”
“It is a long story, are you sure you want to hear it?”
“Well, long stories make the work go faster, don’t they?”
“Well, you might say it’s my Da’s fault. See, back when I was ten, my youngest sister Fiona fell ill. It was bad, she had a fever, was pale like a ghost, would not eat nor drink. The talk around the keep was that she would be dead in a day or two. The priest came to give the last rites, but Fergus would not hear of it.
Fiona was the last child of our Ma before she died. She was a lively and pretty thing and though Da’ would have denied it, she was his favorite child. That she was sick and there was nothing he could do about it, struck at his very soul. Da’ was never one to let things lie, if he did not like what was happening, well he would just find a way to change it. Hell, Shadow, we spent all of one summer changing the course of a stream on our land, because Da’ felt it was too far to walk in the winter,”
“Not the kind of man to take a child dying, lying down, eh?” asked the Shadow.
“That is the truth, no doubt. So, here was my poor sister on her death bed, and the priest telling Da’ that he should not wait too long, lest she die without being absolved. But Da’ was having none of it. He told the priest that no one was dying here, and his services would not be needed, and then tossed him out of the room. He sent for the three of us boys, me, Eamon and James.
When we got there he shooed all of the women out and told us what we were going to do. ‘Boys, we are going to save your sister today. Each one of us is going to make a vow to complete a Quest for the greater glory of God, and in exchange he will keep your sister from dying.’
You know what he was like when he wanted to be; he filled that whole room, I swear that he was fifteen feet tall, and his hair and beard crackled with lightning. At least, that is how it seemed to a boy of ten. So, of course we all agreed. That’s not to say that we would not have done anything to save Fiona, but there was no argument or considering of other options when Da’ was like that.
Da’ had us all kneel next to Fiona’s bed, and then he led us in the Rosary. Da’ said it was to make sure that we had God’s attention. After that, he swore that if the Lord would spare Fiona, he would undertake a quest. Then he had each of us swear on the life of our sister and our own immortal soul that we would do the same. It was a powerful and terrible oath, but none of us flinched.
After we had sworn our oath, Da’ kicked us out of the room and locked the door. He said that he would wait for God to fulfill his part of the bargain alone. Me, I ran to my room and fell into bed. I cried myself to sleep. For the life of me I can’t remember if I was crying because I thought Fiona would die or because I was afraid that she wouldn’t.
When I woke in the morning the whole keep was on pins and needles, Fiona had not died, nor recovered, but she was improving. She was asking for food, and talking a little. Now, some of the folk wanted to declare a miracle, but Da’ would have none of it. He said that the Lord would not give half measure for the price, like some merchant in market. No, we would celebrate when the deal was complete.
Two more days passed and sure enough little Fiona rallied and became well. On the day she could stand from her bed, my Da’s famous bellow could be heard throughout the county,” Tyrone finished with a tender smile.
“So, Yahweh saved your sister?” asked the Shadow.
“So said Da’, and when the master of the keep says something, well, that is the way it is. We prayed and celebrated, Da’ even giving Father O’Donnell a big hug to show that all was forgiven. Once the rejoicing was done, Da’ began looking for quest, to satisfy his part of the bargain.
It was in the late fall of that year that he found what he was looking for. On the eastern coast was a nunnery that had long ago been sacked by Norsemen. They had left it mostly standing, but the nuns never returned. Then about forty years ago another band of Norse decided that it would make a good base for further attacks and had moved in.
Da’ decided that it would be his mission to retake, and restore the nunnery. All through that winter he and his fighting men made plans. As the first hint of spring came, they all marched off, taking Eamon, my oldest brother with them.
They came to the nunnery when the Norse were away, and made quick work of the men that had been left behind. When the ships returned with the rest of the band, Da’s troops poured flaming oil over the edge of the cliff and all along the narrow beach there. One ship managed to get away, but it was so badly damaged that it was unlikely that it would have made it to any port. They had done it; they had retaken the nunnery,”
“So you father completed his oath,” said the Shadow.
“Aye, and Eamon too. Da’ gave the refurbishing and garrisoning of the new nunnery to him. For the next four years he stayed there year ’round supervising the work. When he was finished there was a new heavy wall surrounding that nunnery and a separate small fort to protect it. It was said that it was better defended than the keep we lived in, and it was true.
During that time, I was taught the skills that a second son needs to get by in the world; how to ride, how to fight, how to lead. That fourth year was when we fought the battle near Crag Keep, and I met you. Then later that summer, we had the grand re-dedication of the nunnery. The Sisters of Adele had begun to move in and the Bishop of Dublin was coming to bless and open the place. We hurried home for the party. And what a party!
Priests, nuns, Abbots, they were all there, as well as there families and retinues, all come to see the wondrous thing that Fergus Costello had done. And there was Da’ his chest puffed out, taking the thanks and credit for it, left and right,”
“You don’t sound very happy about that, “said the Shadow.
“Well, it was not like he did not deserve the acclaim, no one else had thought of tossing the Vikings back in the sea. But it seemed to me that the reason that he did it was lost, you know, to save our little Fiona.
So, a grand spectacle it was, the fat Bishop blessing everything in sight, food, wine and song, all good fun. Then Da’ pulls James and me aside to remind us of our vows. Not to be hard on us, by any means, but to remind us that we were Costello’s and that we do not go back on our oaths.
I was young and foolish and took it as a slur to my honor, and we got into a huge fight. The kind of fight where every petty irritating thing gets dragged out in to the light, at the top your lunges. I wound up storming off, and did not return for a year and half.
I went and joined the first army that I could find, and we went to France, to lose about half of the time that we fought. I managed to stay alive, so after a while I was commanding a section of horse. I think I am a pretty good leader, but it was not my skills that got me the position, so much as I was still alive.
After a particularly bloody battle, I came upon one of my men, dying in the field. He was kind of an old duffer, but had a way of finding the weak spots in the enemies lines, so I kept him near. So, there he is dying and I knelt down to comfort him. He talked about how he would now miss his sons becoming men, and how they would have very few memories of him.
After he had breathed his last breath, I decided it was time to patch things up with Da’. So, I mounted my horse and headed for home,”
“You deserted your army?”
Tyrone’s voice had grown softer, and started to have more of the musical inflections of his native Gaelic as he said, “Aye. I could tell you that there was not much left of the army, or that our general was a fool who wanted to die, but the truth of it was; I had been washed with enough blood and the man that had just died in my arms reminded me of my Da’ and I wanted to see him again. So I left.
I made my way back to Ireland, and was in sight of the old keep by the end of November. I was looking forward to spending Christmas with all my family, I just did not expect there to more of them there than when I left. Da’ had taken a new wife.
She was the sister of one of the Abbots that had visited for nunnery, and a holy terror. I don’t mean that she was bossy or mean, though she was that. No, she was very deeply, um, moved by the sprit, shall we say?”
“Like Carli?” asked the Shadow
“No, not really. Carli, he can be a pain in the ass, sure, but he at least really believes. Bridgett, on the other hand just used her piousness as a club to get what she wanted, and she always got it,”
“I don’t really see how much difference there is between her and our priest “said the Shadow under his breath.
“Maybe it is a question of degree,” said Tyrone with a shrug, “or it might be that I have had time to get used to Carli, where Bridgett was thrust on me before I had even finished getting off my horse. Da’ swept her out into the court yard along with half of the family and staff. Then he introduces me to my new Mother. You can imagine how thrilled I was to meet her like that,”
“It does seem a little less then polite to spring a new parent on you, in front of the whole keep,” agreed the Shadow.
“Well, it is not as though I would have been any happier if he had done it in private. Whatever other faults Fergus had, not knowing how I would react was not among them. But at the time I was so glad to see so many familiar faces that I did a reasonable job of looking like I was calm. I stitched a smile together and greeted her as ‘Lady Bridgett’, instead of Mother, which was not missed by Da’ but it was enough to get us out of the cold and into the keep.
I will give her this; she did treat my homecoming as an occasion. While we did not have a feast, there was certainly all the food that was available laid out for dinner that night. And there seemed to be a lot more tables and people at them. I was seated between Da’ and Bridgett at the high table,”
“So the prodigal son returns,” said the Shadow sarcastically
“I had thoughts along those lines, myself. But I did my best to ignore her and enjoy coming home. It worked for a few days, but soon I started noticing more and more changes. Not necessarily for the bad, just different.
Do you know that saying that a man can’t step in the same river twice? Well, that was what happened to me. It was home, but it was not my home. I suppose I could have lived with that, but it was the changes in Da’ that got up my nose the most.
I never expected that anyone, let alone a woman would be able to cow the old man, but here it was right in my face. It was not that she ordered him around, but she picked at him all the time, ‘No Fergus, you do not need another horn of mead. Fergus! We are having foul for dinner not venison’; ach it was enough to make me sick.
It did not help to find out that I was the last of us that still needed to finish our oath. James had completed his the year before,” Tyrone said, suddenly cracking a smile.
“If I ask how he did it will I get as long a story?” asked the Shadow dryly.
“I did warn you that this was a long tail, but I will turn aside, briefly to tell you how James did it. It is so typical of my brother that I blush to think of it.
James was always the one to chase the girls. Before he was twelve he was banned from the kitchens and the milk houses, for, err, ‘distracting’ the maids,” Tyrone said with a single raised eyebrow. He got the startled laugh he had been hoping for from the Shadow. “After I had left, it seems that James had worn out his welcome with the families close to our keep, and had to range farther a field for his hobby. One night he was heading home and found a traveling party that had just been robbed. There were two men and a woman, all dead, their throats cut, and all of the valuables gone.
James is nearly as good a tracker as I am and there was a clear trail leading away on to Costello lands. We do not allow brigands on our lands, under any circumstance, and so with more bravery than sense, James followed them. He found the thieves camped a short way from the main trail, sitting at their fire and retelling the foul deed they had just committed.
James is not one to consider, overly much, so he drew his sword and charged. After a few minutes, he was the only one left in the clearing alive. The travelers had been avenged. He found their packs and tied them on his horse and headed for home,”
“Wait, how many thieves were there?” asked the Shadow.
“To hear James tell it, seven to twenty, depending on the amount of beer he’s had and the number of young girls in ear shot. Eamon went back with him and some men to bury the dead, and he tells me it was four. Still, four to one, not the kind of odds I like to face, even mounted. So it was a good story for James and a good lesson to thieves to say far from our lands, but that was all it was, until they looked in the bags.
What they found changed everything. It turns out that the small party was a Papal Nuncio heading to Derry to anoint a new bishop. There was some desire to balance the power of the Bishop of Dublin, but the Pope wanted it to come as a surprise to the Prefect of Dublin, to undermine his growing power. In the bags were the letter declaring the new bishop, new vestments, and alter cloths. Most impressively were the solid gold communion set, encrusted with blood rubies.
James set out the next morning and arrived in Derry before nightfall. He met with the soon-to-be bishop. Well, of course it was lauded as a great deed, and there is James, at total unrepentant sinner standing next to the new bishop, the hero of the hour, all because he could not keep his ‘little sword’ in it’s scabbard,”
“I have never met your brother James, but I think that I like his style,” said the Shadow.
“Nearly everyone does, it is the only thing that keeps fathers, uncles and brothers from hanging him from the nearest tree, “said Tyrone, “But back to my story. I told you about James, because it bears on how I left home, for the last time.
Da’ asked if I would have dinner with him in his rooms one night, just the two of us. That suited me, as I had seen more than enough of the way Bridgett treated him, and had not found a time to talk to him about it when she was not there. I went to the meal ready to have a heart to heart with Da’ about what had been going on since I had left, little did I know that Da’ had the same intention.
The meal started out well enough, but that might be more to the fact that Da’ did not like to talk any kind of business at the table. I should have known that something was up, since we were served all of my favorite dishes, but I was too focused on the after dinner chat to really pay close attention.
As we sat back to drink some mead, I built the foundation of my compliant. I talked about the changes to the keep and the crop lands, I mentioned that things seemed a little more regimented and that I could see that things had changed in the time I was away. To my surprise Da’ agreed with me and even attributed it to Bridgett. But to my chagrin, Da’ seemed to think that things had changed for the better.
I decided that the round-about way was not going to work for this, so I went for the center of the problem, Bridgett. I told Da’ that I did not think that she treated him very well, that she was mean spirited and not even close to the wife that our Ma was. I know, not the smartest way to change someone’s mind, but I was a lot younger then.
As you might expect, this pretty much pissed Da’ off, he told me that I had no right to compare Bridgett and Ma. He said that she made him happy, happier than he had been in years, and didn’t I care about that?
That set me off; I told him that I did not see him being any happier, just more hen pecked. I thought that she was keeping him from the things he loved, and how did that make him happier? I thought that would really start a huge row but instead he just blew a long sigh, and said that it made sense that I saw things that way.
This was so unexpected that it shook the anger right out of me. Da’ and I sat back down across from each other. He looked me in the eye and told me that this was all part of what he wanted to talk to me about. He reminded me that I had not completed my quest for God, and that he and Bridgett had decided that this was why I was not happy.
Bridgett and he! That did not please me at all, but what he said next was worse.
He went over all of the accomplishment of my brothers, since they had completed their oath. How they were now renowned and respected and a credit to Costello name. Then he told me that I would not be welcome in his house until I had finished my quest.
I could not believe my ears, my own Da’ telling me that I could not stay at my home, till I had done what one brother did by accident and the other did with Da’s help! I knew where this was coming from, Bridgett; it was the only answer. I was ready to go at this, hammer and tongs, but then I looked at Da’. This was not what he wanted, but he was doing it anyway. In that moment I knew that Da was not the man I grew up with, and never would be again.
I may be stubborn, but I don’t fight lost battles, if I can help it. I told Da’ that if that was the way he wanted it, then I would leave the next day. Da’ said that I could stay till the holiday, if I wanted, but I would have none of it. I told him that I would see him again, when some quest had fallen in my lap, like my brothers.
I left the next morning, and I have not been back since,”
“You did not go back when he died?” asked the Shadow, a little incredulous
“Nay, I did not hear about it till well after. By then it would not have helped, and I’ll be damned and in Hell before I except the hospitality of that woman, ”
“There are worse things, than being damned, “said the Shadow, trying to lighten the mood.
“Ah, well, I guess I should have used a different oath with you. But for all my stubbornness, I still intended to complete my promise to my Da’. It is all that I had left of him and right or wrong it was very important to him. But it seemed that all the good quests had been used up by my family.
I wondered around, fighting for those as could afford my services, but there never seemed to be a chance to extend the ‘Glory of God’. Then one day I was riding through some woods, and heard some one shouting for help.
When I rode up, I saw three young ruffians robbing a priest. Thinking about James, I rode in and gave them the flat of my sword, to chase them off. Of course if was Carli that I rescued, after dusting him off, I asked if there was anything else that he needed help with. And now, I am here,” finished Tyrone with a dry smile.
“I would think this little trip will keep you from asking that question again,” said the Shadow with a laugh
“Oh, yes, I have learned that lesson, and well!” said Tyrone.
“Well, I thought I had reason to hate my father, but I think that yours might be better,”
“I don’t hate Da’! I don’t, I was disappointed with him for being weak, but I never hated him,”
“I hate my father for being weak, but I was less a son to him than you to your father. Still, I would not be so forgiving if I stood in your shoes, my friend,”
“I know, Shadow, I know, “said Tyrone looking down. He was surprised to see that all of his weapons were now sharpened and clean, his hands had moved as his mind told the story. “So, I will take the first watch, if you like,” he said.
“I will take you up on that. Where is Carli?”
“He is in one of the rooms on this hall. He wanted to spend his time praying for guidance,”
“Just as long as he does not ask me to join him,” said the Shadow standing up and stretching, “I will be up in the first room at the top of the left hand stairs. Wake me when you need to sleep. Good Night, Ty”
“Good night, Shadow,” said Tyrone as he stood and sheathed his weapons. After the Shadow had left he walked to the front door and stood looking out. The moon had risen as they talked and now cast a silver light on the court yard and the city below. After a long time someone with very good hearing might have heard Tyrone whisper, “If we live through this, Da’, will it be enough?”
Tyrone stood his watch, and thought of the man who was his father. He thought of the laughter, the fights, the hugs and the slaps. It is said that a boy stops being a boy on the day that he realizes that his father is not a god. But he does not become a man until he can judge his father’s weaknesses against his own. Tyrone had become a man by that test years before, but on this night it was reaffirmed.