Hello everyone and I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season!
This post is brought to you with the goal of giving you a quick update on the progress with Luathara and to share a little treat (well, I hope you'll consider it a treat and not a rare form of torture ;)). But first, here's the news . . . I have finally finished writing Luathara (woohoo!) but I must read through it once more before sending it off to the editors. The final word count (and this may change a little depending on editing) is around 120,000 words (or about 500 pages long), so I hope you all like long novels . . . Some people have asked for possible release dates, and I'm afraid I can't give you anything sturdy. I would like to finish my own editing in the next week or so (hopefully this week if I have the time and energy), and then it will be in the hands of others, and I can't tell you when they'll be able to get it back to me (and of course, that all depends on how many typos and flimsy plot points that still need removal/polishing ;)).
In the mean time I'd like to share a little something with you all since you've been so patient. For the past several weeks/months I've been working on and off on a scene from Cade's POV (I'll probably be including this in the second short story collection that will feature scenes from Dolmarehn from Cade's POV, though it might have a little more added to it or may evolve a little by then). This one happens to take place between Dolmarehn and Luathara, so I really hope you'll enjoy it while you wait for the final installment. Again, I just want to say how much I appreciate all of your kind comments and enthusiastic questions. Without such awesome readers, I don't know if writing the story would be nearly as fun :). With that said, I'm handing this off to Cade - happy reading!
* * * * *
I dreamed. No, not a dream. A nightmare. I was in my other form, barely aware of anything but the hungry instinct to kill and destroy the enemy around me. My legs and arms were weak, all my resources nearly drained, and I could sense the blood trickling from the wounds I'd taken in the fight. I was so tired and I could tell I was dying, so why didn't I just succumb? The roar of my enemy, a creature similar to me, snapped my attention forward. That's right. I still had monsters to kill and I couldn't die until they were gone. But why?
The harsh cry of a female voice stole my attention. I glanced beyond my adversary and caught sight of her. Dark, curling hair and a pair of flashing hazel eyes tracked my every move. She was tall and lean, her skin pale and smooth, the black and white garment she wore ruined from the mud and her cloak soaking wet. My lip curled and I took a deep breath, drawing in her unique scent along with it. Immediately my instincts told me that this young woman was mine to protect. She was the reason I fought these monsters, the reason I could not die until they were all destroyed. I would not survive the fight, but I had to make sure these beasts couldn't harm her once I was gone. My rage returned like a wildfire, consuming me and driving me on. I fought, my violence tearing into my enemies as much as my hands did. Finally, there was only one demon left, but I was too slow. The creature lashed out and drove its claws into my abdomen. The young woman screamed and then everything fell into a swirling whirlwind of pain and blood and death.
The screaming continued, forcing the agony and anguish into a great cyclone. I felt a heavy weight pressing down on me, and I knew the screaming was coming from my own mouth.
"Caedehn!" a great voice boomed over me. "Caedehn, my son, I've got you!"
I thrashed around, the vivid trauma of the dream still clinging to me as I gasped for breath. I blinked my eyes, unaware that I still possessed them, and the darkness lifted to reveal the blurry shadows and brilliant orange flickering of firelight. Where was I? I blinked some more and reached out, clinging to the person who was holding on to me. I groaned and coughed, dragging air into my lungs as if I had been without it for days; until they hurt. Something cold and hard pressed against me, so I threw out an arm to brace myself, falling free of my savior's grip. My bare skin scraped against icy, damp stone.
"Easy," that deep, familiar voice murmured, "easy now."
The arms loosened a little and let me come to rest on the floor. I glanced down, my eyes finally clearing, to find that I was completely naked and covered in cuts and bruises. As my eyes lingered on the several deep gashes in my side, the memories came flooding back. An open plain, a stormy sky, the Morrigan's Cumorrig transformed into something horrifying, going through my riastrad, Meghan . . . Meghan!
I must have tried to shout her name because a hoarse, panicked sound left my throat. I attempted to speak again, fighting against the other person's hold on me.
"Meghan!" I rasped as my heart pounded against my ribs.
"Shhhh, Cade, hush! Meghan is safe! You need to calm down. You've just come out of the Cauldron and you're still very weak. Collin, Riley! Quick, fetch some blankets now!"
A large warm hand pressed against my forehead and that strong voice, the Dagda I suddenly remembered, crooned to me in the language of Eile. He rocked me like a small child as he sat on the damp floor with me. The scent of mold, ancient earth and the metallic odor of the great Cauldron's magic teased my nose, and despite my incessant shivering, my foster father's attempt at comforting me eased my nerves.
"What happened?" I whispered, my eyes closed.
"The Morrigan finally did you in son," he answered, his voice sounding sad, "but that lovely young woman of yours dragged your carcass all the way back here so that we could revive you."
I had been killed by the Morrigan. My mother had finally murdered me. My emotions were still swirling around like that whirlwind of my nightmare; still trying to find the body they had thought they'd left behind. Several things remained unclear to me, but one idea, one thought, one overwhelming truth rang true through it all and a name floated to the surface of my mind: Meghan. I had done it all to save Meghan. What had the Dagda said about her?
"Meghan," I breathed.
"Safe Cade. She's safe upstairs, asleep in one of the rooms."
Minutes later, something dry and heavy was draped over me and I realized that one of the Dagda's servants had returned with the blanket he'd ordered. Several hands shifted me, wrapping me up in the fabric to ease my cold.
I did not fight them as the Dagda and his household lifted me and carried me away from that deep, dark place. As we climbed higher out of the dungeon where the Cauldron was kept, I couldn't help but feel that although my body was once again alive, my spirit would remain lost until I could see Meghan again.
* * *
Pain. I swam in a dark world of pain. I was certain I was dead, because despite all the agony I'd been through before, nothing ever felt this terrible. Yet, if my soul had departed and I was on my way to the afterlife, then how could I feel anything? Perhaps it was only the memory of the suffering that haunted me because a strange weightlessness enveloped me as well. Then something shifted, the lighting or the temperature of the place where I was, because suddenly the darkness wasn't so black anymore and a new sense came to me. I heard something, but it was so muffled I couldn't understand it. My soul strained to comprehend; to listen. Words, it was the sound of words that flowed over me and for some reason, those words made the pain go away. Maybe it was the voice itself that soothed me, the voice of a young woman. I knew that voice so well but it wasn't my sister who spoke to me, nor was it my mother, the Morrigan.
A black shard of pain struck my heart and I tried to cry out, but nothing seemed to work for me. The pain faded into a dull ache as my conscience realized the Morrigan was nowhere near me. No. It wasn't my mother speaking to me. She had done something terrible; had tried to hurt someone I couldn't bear living without. Perhaps this voice belonged to her, the one I had been trying to protect . . . Yes, now I knew that voice. Meghan. I tried to reach out to her with my mind, but then I remembered I hadn't taught her how to do that yet. Frustrated, I simply lay there, soaking in her soothing presence. Before long, I began to slip away into that dark place again, but before I was totally lost, something warm and soft touched my mouth. Slowly, the black void overtook me, but this time I knew the horrors of my own death would visit me no more.
* * *
The faint whisper and crackle of a fire woke me, or perhaps that was merely the first thing I heard when I regained consciousness. I blinked a few times and stared up into the canopy of a large bed, confused and feeling nauseous. My head pounded as if someone were driving a sword through it and every nerve and muscle ached. I opened my mouth to take a deep breath, but a moan escaped instead.
Something creaked. A chair? A door? And then a familiar feminine face stood over me.
"Oh! You're finally awake! I'll get his lordship."
Before I could so much as ask the time of day, Alannah disappeared through a door and left me to try and figure everything out on my own. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long. My foster father arrived moments later, wearing his kingly robe and looking haggard. I furrowed a brow at him, then winced. Even doing that hurt.
"Ah, Cade, you are back with us. Finally."
"Wha-what happened?" I gritted my teeth. My voice sounded as if someone had scraped my throat raw with sandpaper.
"Do you remember nothing?" my foster father inquired, his voice softer as he moved closer to the bed.
I tried to sit up but cried out in pain when my actions sent a bolt of fire through my abdomen. My nausea only increased after that.
"Steady," the Dagda scolded, leaning in to help me resettle. "You have a bad wound on that side."
So I couldn't even sit up. Wonderful. I sighed, trying to ignore my watering eyes and wounded pride. I searched my memories, wincing when the Morrigan and her warped faelah surfaced in my mind. Meghan had been there as well, and after that I couldn't recall much. Which was typical when my riastrad took over. And let's face it, if the Morrigan had us surrounded by her Cumorrig, then there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I'd made good use of my battle fury.
"All I remember is fighting the Morrigan's hounds," I murmured, "and an unquenchable urge to protect Meghan."
I turned my head on the pillow and looked over at the Dagda, who had taken a seat in the chair beside the window.
My next words came reluctantly, not because it was hard to speak, but because I feared the answer. "Where is Meghan?"
The Dagda's bright eyes landed on me, but I could not read his face. It was hidden under too much hair.
"She is safe in the mortal world Cade, with her family."
Thank Eile. "And the Morrigan?"
"Will not be able to bother her for quite some time, if I can believe everything young Meghan said."
"Tell me," I insisted, fighting the urge to sit up once again.
And so he told me everything Meghan had regaled to him. How her glamour had burst free, engulfing the faelah and driving the Morrigan away. How she had managed to drag me up onto Speirling afterwards so that she could bring me to my foster father and his Cauldron of regeneration. I listened as if my very life depended on it, and sighed in wonder when the Dagda came to the end of his story.
"So," I murmured, "her magic finally woke up."
The Dagda nodded. "Apparently. She should be safe from your mother's reach for now, but eventually the Morrigan is going to recover from her shock and the first thing she'll want to do is get her hands on Meghan."
I nodded, then regretted the action as the pounding in my head worsened. Gritting my teeth, I struggled to sit up again.
"Hold it, what are you doing?" the Dagda asked, moving forward and placing a hand on my shoulder.
"Meghan," I panted against the pain. "Needs . . . to be here . . . magic needs to refuel . . ."
Spirits of Eile, it was hard to think, let alone move my arms and legs.
"Oh no you don't," my foster father growled. "You are in absolutely no condition to do anything but sleep, eat and heal. Meghan is safe for now. When you are better you can go and fetch her."
I would have fought him if I could, but it was as if every muscle in my body had atrophied and I had to wait for them to grow back. Grunting in frustration, I let my head fall onto the pillow. It wasn't a long trip; I'd only managed to lift it an inch or so. Sadly, that small effort had been enough to drain whatever tiny amount of energy I possessed. As I began drifting off again, the Dagda got up and left me to rest, chuckling as he closed the door softly behind him.
I spent the rest of the day trading off between sleeping and eating what the Dagda's household brought to me. The next morning I felt slightly more energized, but not enough to get out of bed. Testing my strength, I managed to push myself up on my elbows and lean against the mountain of pillows piled against the headboard. I had just made myself comfortable when the Dagda came into my room carrying something huge and white in his arms. Straining against the lingering ache in my bones and muscles, I turned my head to get a better look.
"Fergus!" I breathed.
He looked as bad as I felt, slumped against the Dagda's chest, his long legs sticking out like the bare branches of trees in winter.
"I thought you might like some constant company," my foster father said, kneeling down and placing my spirit guide gently onto a giant cushion in front of the fireplace.
Fergus whimpered slightly as the Dagda got him settled.
Fergus? I sent, my thoughts gentle.
Tired. Hurt. Need healing, he returned before drifting off.
"When did he arrive?" My voice sounded raw and I had to clear my throat to fix it.
The Dagda heaved a great sigh and sank into the huge chair in front of the window. He regarded the white wolfhound for a few moments, as if checking to make sure he kept breathing, before facing me.
"The soldiers who saw Meghan to the dolmarehn scoured the hills for him after she crossed safely into the mortal world. They just arrived an hour ago, carrying him in with them."
I nodded and leaned back into the pillows. I still felt like death warmed over, and technically I was, but I was determined to mend, just like my spirit guide.
"Well then," the Dagda planted his hands on his knees and stood, "I'll leave you two alone to get some more rest."
I grumbled, but didn't say anything more. Despite having slept the entire night away, I was too tired to argue. When the Dagda left, I cracked an eye open to check on Fergus. I tried reaching him with my mind, but he was exhausted and already fast asleep. Although I didn't want to, I stopped fighting my own fatigue and followed Fergus's lead. The sooner I could get out of bed, the sooner I could bring Meghan back to Eile.
* * *
The next several days passed by with little excitement as I slowly regained my magic and the use of my limbs. I would wake in the morning to find the Dagda or a member of his household in my room, stoking the fire or offering me and Fergus food. Most of the time between I slept, and when I slept, I dreamed of Meghan. Memories I had let slip my mind would come back to me, simple things really, like how her hair often smelled slightly of lavender, or how she always wrinkled her nose when concentrating on something, or how the sunlight and her own laughter brightened the hazel of her eyes.
Eventually I grew strong enough to get out of bed. When I was feeling particularly adventurous, I'd go outside to visit Speirling in the stables, bringing him carrots and apples and other treats. Fergus would accompany me, always the loyal spirit guide no matter how feeble he felt. Often I regretted the pain it caused me to make the small journey, that is until the open, clean air and the comforting scents of hay and horses revitalized my spirits. Breathing in deeply and closing my eyes, I'd listen to the birds in the trees and the breeze filtering through the branches above. The cool wind would draw out a shiver across my still overly-sensitive skin and the sun's brightness hurt my eyes, but I craved it nonetheless. It was as if the earth herself was taking a deep breath and I was joining in with her. It meant I was alive and beneath every other raw feeling I sensed the warm presence of Eile's magic, working to repair both my physical and emotional wounds.
With each passing day I felt stronger and healthier and went to bed each night feeling less exhausted. I continued to dream about Meghan, but after the first couple of weeks, the dream changed. No longer did I receive snippets of the memories I'd stored away in my mind. Instead the dream would begin with Meghan standing on one of the hills overlooking Luathara's wide valley. The trees were green with fresh leaves and the fragrance of wildflowers drifted past us on the wind. Eile was in the midst of early summer, and I was with Meghan, happy and content. Just as I'd reach out to her, however, Meghan would turn to face me and everything would shift. No longer was she dressed in the casual style of the mortal world, knee-deep in wild grasses and heather. Instead her jeans and sweater vanished, replaced by a royal gown. Her beautiful dark hair no longer free, but pulled up and pinned back with combs encrusted with diamonds. The colors of summer blurred and transformed into the simple stone walls of Danua's palace, and Meghan would regard me with the cool indifference so well-practiced by her mother's courtiers.
After the transformation, she would raise her arm and point, her hazel eyes flashing to a cold grey color, her face absolutely devoid of any emotion. For a heart-rending second she reminded me of my own mother. This was not the Meghan I knew; the Meghan I loved.
"Remove him, please," she'd say, her tone frosty and distant. "I am Meghan, daughter of the high queen."
Despite her coldness, I tried to reach through to her.
"Meghan! Have you forgotten me so easily? I'm Caedehn MacRoich. After I destroyed the Morrigan's Cumorrig, you saved me. Remember?"
A knowing look would come into her eyes then, but it was soon replaced with unrepentant disgust.
"Monster," she hissed, still pointing at me. "Monster!"
"No Meghan, that was only my riastrad. You know me! I love you!" I would cry out as the soldiers dragged me away even as I kicked and thrashed.
About a month after arriving at the Dagda's I woke me from a dead sleep, fighting the sheets on my bed as if they were the soldiers in my dream. My chest hurt but I heaved in one great breath after another. Gradually my heart slowed and I rubbed my hands over my face, the rough skin rasping against several days worth of beard growth. Sighing, I climbed out of bed and stepped into the small bathroom adjoining my room to take a shower. The steaming water refreshed me, warming my chilled spirit even as the memory of the dream continued to haunt me. After pulling on a clean set of clothes and shaving, I returned to my room to find Fergus sitting up by the fire.
Better? he asked.
Yes, just the dream again.
My spirit guide cocked his head to the side. Dreams may teach, but they are also the mind's way of purging itself of the worries that build up during the day. It is only at night that the conscience has no defenses, no way of creating distractions to keep its thoughts occupied elsewhere.
Huh. Philosophical wisdom from a wolfhound. Fergus didn't often share much of the inner workings of his mind with me, but every now and again he managed to come up with something worth holding onto. Though I understood what he was trying to say to me, and I appreciated the value of his advice, it didn't detract from the underlying truth in the dream and I couldn't help but feel my subconscious was trying to tell me something. As much as I longed to see Meghan again, I wondered if it wasn't for the best that I keep my distance. After all, if I had stepped aside like I should have done the moment I discovered who Meghan really was, then Danua would have taken her in without question. And right now the high queen's protection might just be enough to make the Morrigan think twice. Only one quandary remained: was I strong enough to let her go?
Taking a deep breath, I made my way down the long hallway and stepped into the kitchen. I inhaled in the wonderful scent of home cooking, dried spices and fresh wood smoke. Of all the rooms in the Dagda's abode, the kitchen was the most welcoming, at least in my opinion. With its long, worn wooden table, great open brick oven and the collection of windows letting in plenty of morning light, one felt comfortable and at ease amid its rustic simplicity.
I took a seat on one of the long benches and watched the kitchen staff prepare the morning meal. As I waited, one of the women brought me a pot of fresh tea and a mug.
"You're looking well this morning," the Dagda said, sliding onto the bench next to me.
I started, so absorbed in my own troubled thoughts that I hadn't heard him come in.
He regarded my posture, then took one good look at my face. "What is amiss?"
I waited for him to pour his tea and stir in the cream and honey before I continued.
"I've been having a recurring dream. About Meghan."
The Dagda arched an eyebrow. "Oh?" he said in a voice full of feigned innocence. "And is this dream something you should be sharing with your foster father?"
I smiled, his good humor chasing away the last remnants of the dark dream.
"No. It's nothing like that." I heaved a great sigh and ran a hand through my hair. "It starts out with the two of us standing on one of the hilltops above Luathara, but then the scene changes and we are in the castle of Erintara and Meghan looks at me like I'm one of my mother's faelah. Then she orders Danua's guard to drag me away."
I didn't mention the word Meghan used to describe me. Monster. It hurt too much and hit far too close to home. When I was under the influence of my battle fury, I was a monster; a wild animal running on pure fury and instinct.
The Dagda regarded me for a moment. "Perhaps this dream is just the lingering trauma of your fight with the Cumorrig."
No, it was more than that. I suspected it was my conscience or the spirits of Eile fanning the flames of my fears.
The Dagda must have sensed my mood because he sat up straight, furrowed his brow, and gave me a long, hard look. "Now don't you go thinking this dream means you're not good enough for our Meghan."
Well, what else could it mean? I knew my foster father wasn't going to let this conversation go, so I took a small breath and said quietly, "What do I have to offer her?"
The Dagda turned so that he faced me, scratched at his chin with one hand and then smoothed his fingers down his beard. I expected him to argue with me, but when he did speak his voice was soft and kind and nothing more than a whisper.
"I see what you're saying and yes, you have inherited your father's riastrad and your mother is an evil bitch."
I looked up at him, wondering where his logic was heading.
He gave a sad smile and continued on, "You've been emotionally abused by that same mother for years, and you have never had a lasting relationship."
I dropped my eyes and clenched my hands into fists, just as a fresh wave of shame and self-loathing coursed through me. None of these things had ever really mattered to me before. I had learned to bear them as my own personal burden years ago, but that had been before Meghan. Living on my own, with only my sister and the Dagda to worry about my well-being had been enough. The Dagda was a Celtic god and my sister was lethal in her own right, even without having the Weald to protect her, so I never worried about hurting them in any way or causing them any sort of misery. But Meghan . . . Meghan wasn't entirely helpless, or weak. She just didn't know the dangers of our world and all the trouble she could bring upon herself by associating with me. Yes, I cared about her more than I'd cared about any young woman before, but that made it even more imperative that I keep my distance, no matter how much it hurt.
A light touch to my shoulder made me jump. I looked up to find the Dagda gazing down at me, his bright blue eyes sharp and clear.
"But there is absolutely nothing wrong with your heart Caedehn," he murmured, "and that is what Meghan wants the most. Your heart."
A feeling of peace descended upon me and I wondered if perhaps my foster father was right; maybe this dream of mine was merely the residue of my mother's evil working itself out of my system. I loved Meghan, so much so that I'd given my life for hers. And she had brought me back here to the Cauldron so that I might live again. I had to stop letting my assumptions make my decisions for me and pay closer attention to what was happening in front of my very eyes.
"That girl is in love with you, my boy," the Dagda continued. "I can see it in her eyes when she looks at you, hear it in her voice when she speaks of you. And if that still isn't enough to prove her love, don't forget the hell she went through in order to bring you back from death. So, are you going to let some silly dream convince you otherwise? Are you just going to throw that gift away because you're afraid you're not good enough? You died for her Caedehn, and if I know you at all, you'd do it all over again. If that doesn't prove your worth, I don't know what will."
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, I sat up straight and allowed the corner of my mouth to curve into a small smile. I could only hope that what he said was true, but whether Meghan shared my feelings or not, when I was fully healed I would be returning to the mortal world to see her again. My foster father was right. I needed to let go of the self-doubt that had accumulated over the years. Only problem was, I wasn't sure how to go about doing it. Somehow, I knew my troubled past would always be there, lingering in the shadows and never quite going away. But if I had someone to stand by my side, someone who shone a light in those dark corners, then I would have nothing to fear. And that someone was Meghan. I had to fight to keep her safe. The Morrigan had made it abundantly clear that she would stop at nothing to steal Meghan's power. In order to prevent that from happening, that very glamour had to be stoked and trained here in the Otherworld. And the only way to do that was to bring Meghan back to Eile where her power could grow in strength and abundance.
"No," I finally said, returning my thoughts to the present, "of course you are right. I fear that my mother's foul magic has addled my brain. When I am recovered, I'll return to the mortal world to bring Meghan back here. The sooner she's in Eile, learning how to use her magic properly, the better."
The Dagda nodded. "I sent her a note this morning, telling her about your progress. Perhaps a week or two more, I think, before you can go fetch our girl back."
I smiled brightly this time, warmed by the thought of Meghan's return and the way the Dagda so easily accepted her as one of his own.
"Now, do you feel strong enough to take a short stroll with me?"
The Dagda stood and held out a giant hand. I eyed it dubiously before pushing myself up. The simple task proved harder than I'd anticipated, but I refused to let my foster father see my weakness.
"Why would the son of Cuchulainn and the Morrigan need help from a god best known for his hospitality?" I joked.
"Do not forget, you ungrateful pup, that I also have a reputation for outwitting mine enemies."
Despite my show of bravado, the Dagda surreptitiously managed to get his shoulder under my elbow, and I just as furtively pretended not to notice. As the two of us hobbled down the hallway, I wondered what had been written on that note to Meghan.
Two weeks Caedehn. In two weeks, if you are better, you will be seeing her again, I reminded myself.
Forcing an extra spring to my step, I stood as tall as my broken body would allow me and set my jaw in determination. I'd be whole and healthy in two weeks' time, even if it meant letting Allanah and the other women of the Dagda's abode treat me like a new born baby. Of course, that meant taking it easy and accepting the Dagda's fussing, despite what it might do to my pride. Yet if I was being completely honest with myself, the prospect of seeing Meghan again would be the only medicine I'd need to make a speedy recovery.